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It feels like 2020 as a year has emphasised how important it is to be able to rely on different parts of our lives, and I’m sure that those working in the NFL feel no different, so as we approach the US holiday of Thanksgiving it feels more important than ever to think about the things we are grateful for in our lives.

I have been enjoying recording a podcast again, even if we have been a little more sporadic than we would have liked coming into the season, but thankfully the missed weeks were not for any serious reasons. I have had enough of those through the year and as odd as it still is to be missing part of the team I am used to have working on this site, it has been so good to speak to my friend Dan nearly every week, both on the pod and around recording. The dynasty league is also getting to the business end of the season, and the teams’ records are closing nicely to keep things competitive to the end. I’m grateful for a relatively smooth-running league given it is my first season as a commissioner and the disruption that Covid-19 threatened early in the season.

What I Saw

The first of the week eleven games saw the Seattle Seahawks tweak some of their game plan as they hosted the Arizona Cardinals in a divisional game, that the Seahawks ultimately won 28-12. Part of the Seahawks plan was to re-balance the offence with the return of running back Carlos Hyde from injury allowing Russell Wilson to make a more reasonable twenty-eight pass attempts as opposed to the fifty he had when these teams faced each other earlier in the season. The Seahawks’ defence also seemed to have a better plan for containing the Cardinals and Kyler Murray, with the Cardinals quarterback only rushing for fifteen yards in this game. I’m not sure that the addition of Carlos Dunlap was the entire answer, but with three QB hits and two sacks it certainly helped, although I suspect it will always be odd for me to watch the long time Bengal play in a number forty-three jersey after his decade in orange and black wearing ninety-six. The NFC West continues to be fearsomely competitive, and I think the Seahawks could well be mounting another run on the play-offs. I’m not panicking about the Cardinals as their destiny is still in their hands, but playing the Rams twice will be the very opposite of facing the NFC East teams still on their schedule.

Moving on to Sunday and the early game I watched was the heart-breaking loss of the Cincinnati Bengals to the Washington Football Team. It was horrible to watch for obvious injury related reasons, but the first half was frustrating as the Bengals generated plenty of yardage but could not score points and so only took a 9-7 lead into half time. It was painfully obvious just how many offensive line problems Joe Burrow was covering up by getting the ball out as the Bengals just couldn’t move the ball without him. My resolve to watch every snap is going to be tested over the next six games as I’m really not sure what there is to be taken from these games, and I am not at all convinced by this coaching staff. As for the Football Team, they did what they needed to win in the second half, and it is still a source of joy to see Alex Smith back on the field. I really don’t want to call who will emerge from the NFC East to host a play-off game, but you cannot count anyone out of it now all four teams have three wins, so it seems there could be many twists and turns to come.

The last Sunday game I watched was the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Kansas City Chiefs, who went into the game coming of their bye, a situation that Andy Reid’s teams were 18-3 in before Sunday and now stand at 19-3. It was a back and forth game with the Raiders all the way through, but Patrick Mahomes is just behind the tax man and death for inevitability, and led the Chiefs to their final touchdown score with a pass to Travis Kelce to put the game away 35-31 with twenty-seconds on the clock. This drive followed on from Derek Carr giving the Raiders the lead a little over a minute earlier with his own touchdown drive that ended with a pass to a tight-end. The Raiders are a serious team this season, whose defence has risen to the lofty heights of a twenty-fourth ranking by DVOA, and whilst it still looks like the Cheifs and the Steelers are the best of the AFC if not the NFL, I am sure no one would look forward to facing the Raiders with the way they are playing at the moment.

The final game I saw was the Monday night contest between the LA Rams visiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneer, which was another back an forth game that saw both teams trade score, but the Bucs only took the lead once and were eventually defeated 27-24. This game did not go how I was expecting, and as much as Tom Brady struggled again and threw a couple of bad interceptions, it was the fact that the Buccaneers could not disrupt Jared Goff and the Rams offence even with veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth missing through injury. A couple of weeks ago it felt like the Buccaneers were shaping into one of the best teams in the NFL, but they seem to have fallen back in the last few weeks. This dip does seem to coincide with the signing of Antonio Brown but it might not be that, and those of us outside the franchise can’t truly know. I am still inclined to think this is the growing pains of a team still assimilating a lot of new players without a proper off-season programme, but they are running out of weeks to get everyone on the same page ahead of the play-offs. There should still be time, but I do not feel as confident that they will pull this off as I did only a couple of weeks ago. The Rams meanwhile continue to compete and whilst there are going to be questions regarding Jared Goff in the big game until he repeatedly proves people wrong, he still does enough to win more often than not and has already played in one Super Bowl for Rams. I am not sure he can live up to his contract, but I think the criticism of him often goes too far the other way and I expect the Rams to be there or there abouts come the sharp end of the season.

What I Heard

There has been a lot of talk about the Joe Burrow injury, with lots of people pointing out how often he had been hit this season and everyone agreeing what a blow it was. As a fan the tweet is still pretty heart breaking, even with the positive attitude:

I’ve heard positive things from medical commentators that he should come back as good next season, and I just hope the Bengals have an improved situation for him to work with.

Still, hearing Alex Smith on Peter King’s podcast was an even greater comeback and as much as the loss was painful, there’s not another quarterback I’d rather lose to than Smith after all he went through to get back on the field.

It’s a timely reminder of the lengths these highly talented athletes go through to have a career and the risks they are taking even before you take Covid-19 into account.

What I Think

The fates appear to have been listening to Dan and mine’s conversation on Tuesday regarding Covid-19 and the NFL’s commitment to getting the season done as demonstrated by its upping of all teams to the intensive protocol. We mentioned the Raiders issues last week that still saw them play the Chiefs this Sunday, and mentioned that the Ravens were already operating virtually after some positive tests.

In a move that I think Dan is taking as a deliberate pre-empting of the podcast release tomorrow, the Baltimore Ravens game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh has been put back to Sunday. In the context of how the protocols are running it makes perfect sense as this gives the Ravens enough days that they can get five clear days of tests for those close contacts to the positive tests, and as long they don’t get an escalating situation that we’ve not seen since the Titans outbreak earlier in the season, then it seems likely the game will take place on Sunday.

I really wasn’t sure when the season started whether that the NFL was going to get to the end of the season, and I certainly expected them to have to run late, but in fairness the league and franchises (including all players and staff) are currently on schedule with no lost of games yet, and there are contingencies if the worsening situation should affect teams and the schedule more dramatically. The real world test of all of this is continuing to escalate, but on then league’s own terms it is a case of so far so good.

What I Know

If the trues wisdom is knowing that you know nothing, then the 2020 season has been a very apt demonstration of it.

I feel like you can trust perhaps two and a half teams to win regularly at the moment, and then there is a large number of teams that win or lose games when you are least expecting it. Let’s not even start on the mess that is the NFC East where all four teams have a riotous three wins and a shot at the play-offs.

There’s always a large element of randomness in the short NFL season, but that has never been clearer than in this Covid affected season with its absence of proper off-season, expanded practice squads,  more relaxed IR rules, and varying Covid-19 protocols. All that said, whoever does eventually win the Super Bowl, if and when it has been played, will have truly earned a championship.

What I Hope

This week I hope to be proved wrong, and that the Bengals give us something to enjoy. I’ll take Bandon Allen starting and helping this team develop in Burrow’s absence.

Of course I will be hoping for a full and swift recovery for Burrow as well, but I can’t write that every in post from now until next season so let’s just take it as read.

Get well Joe.

As for the rest of you, look at the things you are grateful and tell the people responsible thank you. I think we could all stand to hear that at the moment.