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The divisional games mostly lived up to expectations, the last NFL head coach was hired and new staff’s are beginning to take shape so let’s get going.

What I Saw

I’ve been delayed in getting to this week’s post by work and travel so I’m going to zip through the games a bit as I’m pretty sure you know what happened by now!

The San Francisco 49ers win was an impressive team effort based on a defence that limited the Vikings all game and running the ball. Jimmy Garoppolo had a quiet game, but the 49ers looked comfortable and will be confident going into the weekend having beaten the Packers 37-8 in week twelve, but more on the Packers in a moment.

The next Saturday game saw the Tennessee Titans pull of the shock of the weekend as they beat the Baltimore Ravens in a similar fashion to the previous game. The Titans were able to contain the Ravens’ offence, helped no doubt by the injury to Mark Ingram that lessened the impart of the Ravens running game. The Titans didn’t get a great game from Ryan Tannehill, but he did enough whilst Derrick Henry ran for nearly two hundred yards and combine that with special teams and the Titans deserve to be in the conference championship games.

That start of the Sunday pair of games saw a wild game where the Houston Texans produced an almost perfect quarter of football and went twenty-four points up in the second taking advantage of special team errors and Chiefs receivers dropping the ball. However, the Chiefs’ rust didn’t last for long and by half-time they had taken a lead as they scored an unanswered forty-one points. The Chiefs managed to score fifty-one points in three quarters whilst the Texans couldn’t do anything to stem the tide or get back into the game.

The final game of the weekend was the most competitive and was the only one to feature a real quarterback duel. For all that things aren’t exactly humming for the Packers offence, they were able to do enough to take and hold the lead. Down the stretch Aaron Rodgers got the first downs for the Packers not to have to face a final win the game drive from Russell Wilson. I’ll talk about how maddening the game plan was later, but Wilson almost singularly dragged the Seahawks back from 21-3 down to win the game and had them within a score with over nine minutes left in the game. However, as they have done all season, the Packers ran the ball well with Aaron Jones, played good defence and so didn’t need Rodgers to play to the level he had to previously to win games.

What I Heard

The Cleveland Browns have hired Vikings offensive co-ordinator Kevin Stefanski, which wasn’t a huge surprise as he was Paul DePodesta’s choice last season, and after the failure of Freddie Kitchens saw him fired after a year and lost John Dorsey his job it appears the Browns are swinging back behind the analytics model. The only worry is if things don’t turn around quickly it feels like Jimmy Haslam could pull the trigger to early but let’s see how this shapes now.

I also thought it interesting that fresh off helping LSU win the national title as their passing coordinator, that Joe Brady has been hired by the Panthers to their new offensive coordinator. The only way was down for Brady in the college ranks after the year that LSU had but by hitching his wagon to Matt Rhule and his seven year contract he should have time to find his feet in the NFL.

Whilst I’m talking about the Panthers, I just wanted to acknowledge the retirement of Luke Kuechly who was one of my favourite players to watch on coaching tape. He was a linebacker who always seemed to know what was going to happen, never seemed to put a foot wrong and clearly wishes he could still play. It’s not the all time career I said was possible a few seasons ago, the concussions and injuries put pay to that but eight years is five longer than average at one of the tougher positions to play in the NFL and he is a Hall of Fame player as far as I’m concerned. I’m glad he’s stepping away on his own terms. Very few players get to do that.

The Divisional Disappointed

This is going to be a painful section to write as I have a huge amount of affection for Mike Zimmer and what he did for the Bengals, but I’m beginning to think that the Vikings have a Marvin Lewis type problem. Now some might draw the comparison between Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton, but my worry is that Zimmer is clearly a good coach and taken the Vikings to the playoffs three times in his six years in charge. However, I’m not sure if he’s going to win the big one, and for me the problem is that he is too old fashioned in how he wants the offence to run, quite literally running the ball too much into a 49ers defence that was stuffing them. Now the pass rush of the 49ers played a huge part in thee Vikings’ offensive woes, but Cousins is now going to have his third play caller going into his third and final year with the Vikings. We shall have to see how next year’s team are assembled, but the defence is not getting any younger and when you have one of the best receiver pairings in the game should you be as reliant on the run game as Zimmer wants? I await Dan’s Dad verdict on this theory and would love to be proved wrong next season, but I have my concerns that the window for this current version of the team is closing.

The Baltimore Ravens had such a successful year and so the ending of it has to be particularly hard to cope with. Clearly they need to work out a plan B on offence, but this is not proof that you can’t win with Lamar Jackson who did things no quarterback has done before and is only twenty-two. Given the franchise stability you expect the Ravens to improve again in the offseason and they would be my favourites to win the AFC North next season and likely for several years to come. The questions about Jackson in the playoffs will remain until he gets a win, but it wouldn’t surprise me if next year the Ravens get that win and go deep into the playoffs.

The Houston Texans are a funny team to evaluate because this is the fourth time in his six years as head coach that Bill O’Brien has won the AFC South, and yet he has never totally convinced. This is the second year in a row that quarterback Deshaun Watson has got his team into the playoffs and he did all he could in this game, but there simply wasn’t enough around him to compete with the Chief’s offensive explosion of points. The truly worrying thing is that O’Brien is defending the trades he made and is keeping control, yet the all in moves got them one playoff win and a horrible loss. For all of Watson’s heroics, this does not look like a team capable of winning a Super Bowl and the Texans are now missing the draft picks they traded away to augment the roster in the offseason. They may well get away with it again next year if the Colts can’t find an improvement at quarterback, but Chris Ballard has been doing great work in Indianapolis and I wonder if the Texans fall back next season.

It could perhaps be argued that the Seattle Seahawks have if anything overachieved this season as they continue their rebuild, but with Russell Wilson they always have a chance. If anything that makes their continued insistence on over emphasising the run even more infuriating. In DK Metcalf they have a fearsome rookie receiver who combined with Tyler Lockett helped Wilson excel and yet in the biggest game of the year they managed a three runs then punt drive and gave Marshawn Lynch twelve carries two weeks after he came out of retirement that yielded only twenty-six yards. It’s one thing to use him short yardage as he scored touchdowns but with the injuries at running back not maximising Wilsons prime seems a flawed plan. I have  a lot respect for Pete Carrol but I am beginning to wonder whether whilst I think floor for the Seahawks is always going to be high with him as coach, I’m not sure if they are going to reach their full potential with a quarterback as gifted as Wilson if they don’t build the offence round him. I’m sure that the Seahawks will be competitive next season, but I don’t know if they will be pushing for the Super Bowl.

What We’ve Been Asked

‘And then there were 4.

I wasn’t surprised that the Viking’s luck finally ran out as the 49ers season has been a good one and they have clearly earned their home field advantage. It was by no means a rout, but any defeat hurts especially when the Packers are still in the hunt. That was resolved by the meeting on Sunday of the Packers and Seahawks at Lambeau Field. A close affair, this went the way of the home team but only by 5. This brings the two 13-3 teams head to head in San Fran next weekend. My pick would be the 49ers but as a Viking I’m conditioned to support the Vikes and anyone playing the Packers. I think it will be close though.

In the AFC the Titans played up to their name to take down the 14-2 Ravens in the only road win of the weekend, and by a decent margin of 16 too. The final game of the weekend saw the Chiefs win a high scoring match-up racking up 51 points and I think they will fare well against the Titans whose luck has to run out sometime.

OK, now for the trivia and I know that I may have caused some frustrations in the ranks. Despite claiming to have no idea they both managed to come up with some answers nearing the truth. So here we go.

Q1. In a game against the Washington Redskins on October 13, 2000, Michael Lewis became only the 7th player in NFL history and the first Saint to do what?

Well he didn’t return two Punts in a game Dan, but he did return a punt and a kick-off for a TD in the same game. Gee also went for 2 kick returns so I feel I have to award them both the points for that, but I will take a note of Gee’s thoughts to bone up on rule changes for next season.

Q2. In a game against the Washington Redskins on October 30, 1955, Jim Patton was the first player to achieve what?

I think that Dan must have a camera in my flat as he managed to sniff out my being in one of my devious phases. Gee’s answer about a 50 yd field goal was good but didn’t quite bring home the points. Again we aren’t talking two punt returns but it is another case of a return a punt and a kick-off for a TD in the same game – Sorry it was too tempting when I found these two facts for two adjacent teams so once again despite having no clue they both delivered…

Q3. This should have been the easier one of this week’s questions and asked: From 1960 – 62 the NY Jets were known as what?

Well, Metros and Cities were believable offerings but the actual answer is the New York Titans.

So this week Dan and Gee score 4 and 2 points respectively bringing the total to 30-26 in Dan’s favour.

Now we reach the exciting Championship Week where the real questions get asked on the field but for those of us without helmets here’s the trivia.

We start at Oakland and the question is:
Q1.  Who did the Oakland Raiders play when they made it to Super Bowl II?

Moving on we get to Philadelphia and I want to know:
Q2.  Which Eagle quarterback threw for 464 yards in one game setting a team record?

Finally this week we arrive in Pitsburgh. So tell me:
Q3.  In the Steelers’ first Super Bowl appearance, who did they defeat?

Well after this we just have the Pro-Bowl and Super Bowl to go, a sure sign we are at the business end of the year.

Happy Triving’