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This week’s midweek post is writen in the unusual position of being published later than our podcast as we were racing the news.

After a solitary Falcons’ player testing positive on Saturday turned into eight positive tests for the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday, including three players, events have led to the closing of both the Titans’ facility and that of their opponents on Sunday the Vikings.

According to ESPN the three players are from disparate position groups – a starting nose tackle, the long snapper and a practice squad tight-end, but now everyone holds their breath as we see if the cases spread amongst the Titans players and staff, or to anyone with the Vikings.

It is not unexpected for there to be positive tests, but this is the next true test of the protocols agreed by the NFL and the NFLPA and I certainly have been checking for news updates more frequently than normal. What I’m hoping for is that the outbreaks remain in small numbers and that no one has a life changing version of the illness. There are plenty of those who would say that these players get paid enough money to take this risk, but many players earn nothing like the millions the stars do and they only have one body and one life to use it in.

We are living in an uncertain world, and this is yet another stark reminder of that fact. I just hope the plans are up to facing the reality of playing a season in the middle of a pandemic, because just writing that sentence feels ridiculous.

And with that said, I suppose I had better get back to my usual in-season mid-week post…

What I Saw

Week three started with a one side affair in Jacksonville that saw the Miami Dolphins run out comfortable winners 31–13 over the Jaguars. Dan is still annoyed he forget to put the followingin the podcast last night so he would like to say:

‘It was good to see that they allowed the Jags to run at about a third capacity, which actually means that attendance at TIAA Bank Field is up on last season!’

The Dolphins were able to move the ball consistently with a balanced attack, whilst the Jaguars who I praised coming into this game struggled with the Dolphins’ defence playing more zone defence and with the absence of DJ Chark. Undrafted rooking running back James Robinson still looked good for the Jaguars, but wasn’t able to drag the team into contention. It was obviously good for the Dolphins to get the win and Brian Flores has already established a culture with the Dolphins and what they are looking for this season is progress from last year. The only concern is that the future of this franchise lies in the hands of Tua Tagovailoa and as fun as it is to watch Ryan Fitzpatrick play quarterback, the Dolphins are not building towards the future with the thirty-eight year old journeyman and the wonder has to be when Tagovailoa to play. To be fair, we have just seen with Patrick Mahomes that the old way of sitting a quarterback for a year can still work as they learn how to be a pro, but we shall have to see if that is the plan or not. The Jaguars need to get back to winning ways, but a long week before travelling to take on the Bengals might be the very tonic they need.

On Sunday the Bengals decided to tease me with their third tie since 2014 and I was there for the 2016 tied game in London. The Bengals defence looked like it might have coped a little better with the Eagles, but the offensive line is still struggling so Joe Mixon is having to work very hard for his yards and Joe Burrow is still looking poised as he searches for his first win. There was a nasty moment when Burrow was force out of the game after a hard hit and I hope there are not too many more of them and the line begins to come together but I’m not convinced, although some of the young receivers are beginning to get more involved inthe game.  As for the Eagles, there are some very recognisable names on the roster, but things are not working for them right now and they are beginning to look like a bad football team. It is not as if the Bengals are a good team, they haven’t won away from Cincinnati since week four of the 2018 season, so dropping to 0-2-1 when facing a road trip to the 49ers and Steelers makes the Eagles’ prospects look pretty bad, particularly as their week six game is against the Ravens. This is a franchise who need to find some kind of consistent formula to move the ball on offence as their eighteenth ranked by DVOA defence doesn’t looked equipped to lead the way, particularly as their ranking drops down to twenty-third against the pass.

If the Eagles are having a disastrous start to the season, the New Orleans Saints are having a difficult one that saw them lose 37-30 to the Green Bay Packeers in the Sunday Night prime time slot. I actually thought that the Saints offence moved the ball more consistently than the Packers, with Alvin Kamara leading the way on the ground but Drew Brees if not actually bad, is not up to his usual standards though the absence of receiver Michael Thomas still hobbled by injury will not help. However, off-season acquisition Emmanuel Sanders looked to be building some chemistry with Brees in this game. The problem is that whilst a 2-1 start is perfectly fine, the Packers are looking pretty good at 3-0 right now and whilst their defence only ranks twenty-eighth by DVOA, that doesn’t really matter when Aaron Rodgers is looking so comfortable in his second year running Matt LaFleur’s offence. Even without favourite receiver Davante Adams, Rodgers was able to generate big plays with Allen Lazard getting deep multiple times on a day when he finished with one hundred and forty-six yards and touchdown. The Saints home field advantage is lessened by not being able to have their loud fans, but playing in a dome is still preferable to having Brees at forty-one playing in Green Bay in January and that looks a step closer with this loss. There’s plenty of time to make up ground and a lot can change between now and then, but that is definitely the kind of stakes these two teams are playing for so this is a loss that could come back to haunt the Saints..

Finally, the much heralded (including by me) Monday night game saw the Kansas City Chiefs roll into Baltimore and hand the Ravens a 34-20 loss. The Chiefs were able to get a lead and build upon it with their versatile offence, as the defence also managed to contain the Ravens offence. It seems that Ravens still have problem throwing the ball when this is obviously necessary, and so as good as this team are, they have limits when playing against a similar level of opponent right now. This game also served a timely reminder of just how good Patrick Mahomes is, as well as how electric Lamar Jackson is running the ball. We could be in the early stages of what ccould become a spectacular rivalry, but for that to happen Jackson and the Ravens need to find a way or a receiver capable of getting them receptions when the defence knows they have to throw the ball. This matchu cannot be a rivalry if one team always plays a team close but never wins. If there is a franchise that is capable of taking this step then it is the Ravens, but they must stop this narrative taking hold and becoming fact.

What I Think

I think we have been lucky for things to go so smoothly through the pre-season and early weeks of the season, but we are about to find out how difficult it is going to be to get through to the end. Since I wrote the introduction to this post, the game between the Steelers and Titans has now been postponed (perhaps to Monday or Tuesday) and no one knows if something will have to happen with the Vikings at Texans game. Every NFL team and fan is currently holding their breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The NFL has plenty of resources to throw at the problem, but like everyone else it is a non-sentient virus that’s is driving the decisions whether we like it or not.

What I Know

In our dynasty league it is the first TWF showdown between Dan’s Dolphins and Gee’s Tigers and perhaps we need to work on our franchise names.

On the field the matchup I am most looking forward to is Andy Reid’s offence going up against Bill Belichick’s defence.

Off the field, the NFL have issued another strongly worded warning to coaches who won’t wear face masks on the side lines, threatening suspensions and loss of draft picks. With players testing positive, and other players being spotted without masks at a charity event with members of the public, the NFL will want to get hold of the situation because we are beginning to see how the current solution that has worked so far is not that far away from falling apart.

It’s going to take real discipline and a lot of effort to get through the season.

What I Hope

What I hope this week is that we find a way through, if not to the end of the season then without a life changing infection for someone.

That is something that could be said of any season in the NFL, but their is added complexity to it this years. Let’s see what the week holds.

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measuring a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.