A Goodbye to the Disappointed Twenty

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And so we say our goodbyes to the teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

The Cardinals were basically sunk by injury, as any team are going to struggle if they lose their starting quarterback to injury early in the season and the Cardinals also loss an elite level running back in David Johnson. They go into the offseason looking for a new head coach after Bruce Arians’ retirement as well as a new starting quarterback with Carson Palmer also retiring so big changes are in progress already and no one would be surprised if veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald also retired. With so many changes it is going to be hard to predict how the Cardinals will do next season and I am sure there are going to be some very anxious fans in the offseason.

Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

The Ravens fell out of the playoffs with their last minute loss to the Bengals, and there is a lot of work to do. The Ravens defence played well although they didn’t exactly play a difficult set of quarterbacks and with the retirement of co-ordinator Dean Pees this side of the ball may not be as rock solid as in recent years. Their offence finished twenty-first in the league by DVOA and really needs to improve if they are to get back to where we would expect them to be.

Chicago Bears (5-11)

The Bears were never supposed to make the playoffs but with the performance of their offence it was decided that John Fox was not the head coach to lead them forward. The decision to extend general manager Ryan Pace despite the questionable trade up to get Mitch Trubisky and the receivers they surrounded him with seems curious but we will have to see who their new head coach is and what moves they make to the roster. I would imagine the Bears will be looking for someone to develop their offence and perhaps retain staff on what was the fourteenth ranked defence by DVOA.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

The Bengals have decided to hold on to Marvin Lewis, which whilst I understand from the perspective of an owner who believes in continuity, but feels like a decision based on the last couple of weeks’ results and doesn’t give fans the change that many were hoping for. I have a huge amount of respect for what Lewis has done for the franchise, but the offence needs to get fixed in a hurry and the discipline of this team worries me. I would be delighted to see a turn around and playoff success next season, and I am curious to see what Bill Lazor can do with the offence now that he has been retained and has the offseason to install what he wants, but I am not convinced that a playoff win awaits in 2019 and that should be the target.

Cleveland Browns (0-16)

The Browns became the second team ever to go 0-16, but Hue Jackson has clearly persuaded somebody that it was the GM’s fault and not his. However, he will need to demonstrate clear progress next season and it’s not like the offence looked particularly good this year despite having some good talent. At 1-31 there will be a lot of pressure on Jackson if he doesn’t get off to a fast start next season but at least there are a lot of picks for new GM John Dorsey to work with. A lot is residing on these offseason moves but then it feels like that every year for the Browns.

Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

I’m sure that the Cowboys feel like the Ezekiel Elliott six week suspension cost them the playoffs, but there were signs that the offence needs more options in the passing game this season. With head coach Jason Garrett remaining it is hard to see a huge redesign of the offence, but if they truly want to compete they may have to do something on this side of the ball. Special mention goes to Rod Marinelli for co-ordinating the defence with modest resources, but it wouldn’t hurt to get him some more players either.

Denver Broncos (5-11)

The Broncos have kept Vance Joseph as their head coach but are firing a lot of his coaches. Despite the upheaval, the focus of the offseason will likely be getting a franchise quarterback, but whilst John Elway will get some time thanks to his Super Bowl win, they will need to have some free agent wins and do better in the draft than in recent years to turn things around. It is also worth noting that with roughly $24 million in cap space there would need to be some cap gymnastics if they wanted to get into the quarterback free agent market. The defence finished top ten despite repeatedly getting put into a bad position by the offence, but has taken a step back from recent years so the Broncos really need to get the offence at least league average rather than the thirty-first ranked by DVOA that they were this season.

Detroit Lions (9-7)

The Lions have fired head coach Jim Caldwell, and I would imagine this for missing the playoffs this season. On initial look this seems harsh given that Caldwell has the best winning percentage of any full time Lions’ head coach, three winning seasons and two playoff appearances. However, if you dig a little deeper you will find that his teams had a 4-23 record against teams that finished the season with a winning record and given the way his team played against the Bengals when their playoff chances were on the line it appears that GM Bob Quinn decided he wanted to hire his own coach. The improvement of Matthew Stafford under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has been noticeable and this will be an interesting team to watch in the offseason to see how they step up to the challenge of competing with the Packers and a Vikings team that look set to be competitive for the near future.

Green Bay Packers (7-9)

The Packers failed to make the playoffs for the first time in nine season and with the loss of Aaron Rodgers to a broken collar bone that may not be surprising, but it has prompted the Packers to make a number of moves that may not have happened should Rodgers been available for a few more games this year. They have let go of their defensive co-ordinator Dom Capers and some assistant coaches, but GM Ted Thompson is also moving to a different role as the front office is being re-organised. How this shakes out we do not know yet, but it is just possible that they may be a bit more active in the free agent market than in previous years whilst I am sure they will retain a commitment to drafting and developing their own players. Assuming a healthy season from Rodgers you would expect them to be in the hunt for the playoffs next year.

Houston Texans (4-12)

The Texans season crumbled thanks to injury, but there is hope for this team thanks to the play of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson before his injury and if they can stay healthy the Texans should be good on both offence and defence. That’s a big if, but it they will have some stability on the coaching side as Bill O’Brien is staying as head coach but Rick Smith is stepping back from GM role to look after his wife and we’ll just have to see how things shake out for the Texans in the coming months and into next season.

Indianapolis Colts (4-12)

The Colts were never likely to do well in the first season of their rebuild but when it became clear that Andrew Luck was not going to play at all it was hard to see anything but a lost year for the franchise. Chuck Pagano never really stood a chance this season and although he did not lose his team and finished the schedule with a win, GM Chris Ballard is looking to hire his own coach. Pagano has already been approached about the vacant co-ordinator position in Baltimore and so looks like he will have work next season. A lot of the Colts’ future depends on Andrew Luck getting himself into shape to play football, and having missed the year we now have to see it to believe it but as the league doesn’t have enough good quarterbacks I think most will be hoping Luck makes it. With another offseason to build and having picked his own coach, Chris Ballard will be expecting progress next season but a lot rests on Luck’s injured shoulder.

Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

The Chargers came good in the end and nearly made the playoffs, but when you start the year 0-4 it is always going to be difficult to get into the post season. The Chargers finished the season ranked eleventh overall by DVOA with an offence ranked seventh and a defence that was just outside of the top ten so if they can progress in the offseason and fix their problems at kicker then they should be competitive again next season, although time is running out for veteran quarterback Philip Rivers.

Miami Dolphins (6-10)

The Dolphins season was pretty much dead on arrival with Ryan Tannehill’s season ending injury in pre-season. Head coach Adam Gase was able to pull Jay Cutler out of the commentary booth to play again, but he wasn’t able to stop him being Jay Cutler. He flashed occasionally but threw for a modest two and a half thousand yards, ninenteen touchdowns and fourteen interceptions. I was impressed with Gase in his first season but two shut outs for an offensive minded head coach is worrying and the Dolphins’ front office doesn’t fill me with hope. They have a lot of talent at the skill positions on offence, including a couple of young players who progressed nicely through the year, but the Dolphins will need to improve the offensive line and defence plus hope Tannehill can stay healthy or look to another quarterback. Who know how the Dolphins will do next season?

New York Giants (3-13)

This year was pretty much a disaster for the Giants, whose third win only came in the final week of the season. It got so bad they cleared house during the season and have already hired Dave Gettleman to be their new GM. Gettlemen is a familiar face to the Giants and had some success building the Panthers into a Super Bowl team but was not known for assembling great offensive lines and has been somewhat abrasive with players. There is a lot to do with the Giants roster and the future at quarterback hangs over the franchise. They’ll need to get their head coach in place first, but it looks like there will be a lot of changes this offseason and even if Manning can operate next season behind a line that can protect him, he is not the future. There are some big decisions to be made by Gettlemen in the coming months.

New York Jets (5-11)

The Jets’ coaching team led by Todd Bowles have exceeded the expectations of the media with five wins despite a roster that lost a lot of veteran experience in the offseason and stayed competitive until career backup quarterback now starter Josh McCown’s season was ended by a wrist injury against the Broncos in week fourteen. This success has saved the job of Tod Bowles but possibly costs the Jets a shot at one of the top quarterbacks in the draft as those five wins mean they will be picking sixth in this year’s draft. They could try to trade up, but with the fourth most cap space in the league they could try to make a play for Kirk Cousins in free agency or try to get hold of Alex Smith if he becomes available. However they do it, with McCown already being thirty-eight they will need a quarterback for the future and they do not look to have one on the roster at the moment. Another offseason of growth is on the horizon but if they continue to stick with Bowles they could surprise next season with the right additions to their roster.

Oakland Raiders (6-10)

The Raiders’ season started off strongly enough before four straight losses put them in a hole they were never able to climb out of. This cost Jack Del Rio his job and with the offence taking a step back after the change in offensive co-ordinator and the defence finishing the season ranked twenty-ninth in the league by DVOA there is a lot of work to do. The Raiders have been strongly linked with Jon Gruden and if they land their man it will be fascinating to see if after nine years in the commentary booth whether Gruden has kept up with the changes in the NFL and can build a staff to turn things round. It is way too early to tell how things might go but it appears thing are about to get even more interesting for the Raiders as they wait to move out to Las Vegas in a few years’ time.

San Francisco 49ers (6-10)

There can be few franchises that were ever as happy about a 6-10 record as the 49ers will be thanks to a five game winning streak at the end of the season brought about by their trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. The defence finished the season ranked twenty-sixth in the league by DVOA and there is still plenty to improve in the offence but as long as they can get Guroppolo signed up long term they can set about building the team around him. The 49ers have the most cap space in the league so there should plenty of money to sign Guroppolo and free agents as well as extra picks in the draft. It could all go wrong of course, but it feels like the 49ers should be at least competitive next season and that the trading of Guroppolo is going to be one of those huge what if conversations for years to come.

Seattle Seahawks (9-7)

The Seahawks run had to come to an end at some point, but it was sad to see an era defining defence fall apart through injury during the season. What is more, it is going to be hard for Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril to come back from their neck injuries and play again whilst Richard Sherman will be trying to come back from a torn Achilles whilst turning thirty. Given all this you get the feeling that the offseason will be a busy one as the Seahawks are likely to overhaul their roster. When you have a quarterback of the calibre of Russell Wilson then you should stay competitive but with a rejuvenated Rams team and a 49ers team that look to be ascending the NFC West could be very competitive next season. I wouldn’t bet against the Seahawks given their pedigree, but I imagine it will be a somewhat different team that hits the field next season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

The Bucs started of the season reasonably enough, but having got to 2-1 despite facing a Vikings team that turned out to be one of the best in the league they lost five straight and never got back into the playoff race. The injury to Jameis Winston that cost him three games didn’t help, but it wasn’t until late in the season that he began to find some form and certainly he did not make the progression that most thought he would given the upgrades to his receiving options in the offseason. It appears that Winston’s stronger finish was enough for the Bucs to keep faith with head coach Dirk Koetter despite it being widely expected that he could lose his job but it feels like things will need to turn round next season for Koetter to keep it. They could start this by fixing a defence that finished dead last in the league by DVOA and whilst I respect Mike Smith as a defensive coordinator, they will have to do something to change things regardless of any improvements by Winston. I don’t think anyone will be as excited going into next season as they were coming into this one, but away from the cameras of Hard Knocks and with the right additions in the offseason this team could still look to compete for the playoffs. The big question is whether Jameis Winston can develop or if he will continue to tease with his talent but not quite get there.

Washington (7-9)

I am really not sure what to write about Washington. It felt like they came into the season a little short of peak form, which might not be that bad as it is a long season and team like the Patriots and Seahawk regularly do this but they had lost three divisional games by the end of week eight and four out of their total of seven games. They were never able to recover and with all the changes to the front office in the offseason and the overhaul of their receiving group that never quite worked it is possibly not that surprising. Having missed out on the playoffs, Jay Gruden was not exactly fulsome in his praise of Kirk Cousins who still managed to throw for over four thousand yards and twenty-seven yards this year. It is hard to see Washington using a tag on Cousins for the third straight offseason and so they look to be a franchise in flux searching for their next quarterback. However, I don’t see a clear plan and I’m not convinced they will find a quarterback better than Cousins but time will tell. It is beginning to feel like a very long time since Washington were a franchise capable of winning Super Bowls.

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AAF: Chandler Jones

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For this week’s amateur adventures in film I decided to take a look at the Arizona Cardinals’ Chandler Jones whilst I still could as the Cardinals will not be making the playoffs and Jones currently leads the league in sacks with fifteen

Last week the Cardinals shut out the New York Giants and with their struggling offensive line you would have thought that this would have been a good game for Jones to showcase his talents but slightly surprisingly he finished this game with two tackles, a pass deflected, and no sacks or quarterback hits.

However, the reason for this was mainly that Eli Manning was getting rid of the ball quickly rather than Jones not making a difference.

In fact Jones could also be held up as an example of the flexibility of modern defences as he played as an edge player whether the defence was lined up in its base 3-4 or from nickel and although he spent most of his time standing up when on the four man defensive lines, he did play from a three point stance for certain snaps whilst switched between the left and right sides of the defence. He did spend the majority of his time on the right side of the defence although he took a snap standing in between the guard and centre of the offence as well as many on the left side of the defence.

Occasionally Jones would drop into zone coverage and on one play did pick up a tight end and follow them in man coverage, but for the most part he either played run contain, sealing the edge of the defence, or rushed the passer. He was effective at doing both of these, but one of the problems you have in rushing the passer from the edge is that you have to be phenomenally quick to get round an offensive tackle and to the quarterback without being pushed up the field and past the quarterback. In this game he couldn’t quite get round the tackle to get to Manning who had the space to step up and make quick of often incomplete throws. That’s not to say that Jones didn’t affect the game, he ran stunts and used power rushes effectively as well as being around the quarterback for the two sacks the Cardinals did get on Manning.

However, for a league sack leader it was the other parts of his game that impressed me as he played every snap for the defence, demonstrated his flexibility, and was not a liability when dropping into coverage even if he did slip doing this on one play. He may not have looked like everyone’s idea of a pass rusher in this particular game, but he was still effective and that should not be sniffed at in a game where the matchup apparently didn’t favour him. I may well take a look at more of his games at some point in the future as I’m definitely intrigued and I do wonder about Bill Belichick trading him to the Cardinals given the New England Patriots’ currently rank last in the NFL by DVOA but that’s another kind of conversation.

Week Seventeen Picks

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Heading into the final week of picks Dan and my records stand as:

Gee:      Week 16   6-10                   Overall   134-107
Dan:      Week 16   8-8                     Overall   125-116

Week seventeen is a strange week for picks as there are differing levels of motivation depending on what is riding on the game and how a team are finishing out for their coaches but it also seems odd to talk about the motivation of professional players and this is not a sport you can play at half speed. Dan has decided to go with all road teams baring his Dolphins so we’ll have to see how that works out for him.

Bears @ Vikings (-12.5)

This line worries me a lot as there is a big difference between these teams but this is a lot of points. The Chicago Bears defence is ranked a respectable fourteenth by DVOA but they are twenty-fifth overall thanks to poor offence and a surprisingly struggling special teams unit. They are on the road in Minnesota and it doesn’t feel like Mike Zimmer is the kind of coach who know how not to compete. Combine this with a stadium that offers a genuine home field advantage and that the Vikings need a win to secure a first round bye and I am going to reluctantly back the Vikings to cover this line.

Gee’s Pick:          Vikings
Dan’s Pick:          Bears

Browns @ Steelers (-14.5)

This is the final chance for the Cleveland Browns to avoid going winless this season, but playing the Steelers on the road in Pittsburgh doesn’t feel like the best situation to get one. Still, we don’t know what players may be rested by the home team and the Browns will be desperate for a win. I don’t know if that will be enough to get the win but this line is too rich for my blood despite the Brown’s record against the spread.

Gee’s Pick:          Browns
Dan’s Pick:          Browns

Cowboys @ Eagles (+2.5)

The Philadelphia Eagles head into the playoffs with worries about how they played last week and with a backup quarterback who did not look great last in that game so they will hope to better in the coming weeks or their playoff run could be very shot. This week they welcome the Dallas Cowboys who missed out on the playoffs with last week’s loss to the Seahawks. The Eagles have secured a first round bye so could rest players yet with them picking up points at home I think I’m going to back them.

Gee’s Pick:          Eagles
Dan’s Pick:          Cowboys

Packers @ Lions (-7.5)

This is another game where neither team has anything on the line other than divisional rivalry and with the Detroit Lions hosting a Green Bay Packers team that will be starting Brett Hundley at quarterback it is hard to know how things will go. However, backing a Packers’ team on the road who were shut out last week doesn’t look like a good plan, especially when six of their eight losses this season have been by more than eight points.

Gee’s Pick:          Lions
Dan’s Pick:          Packers

Texans @ Colts (-3.5)

The 4-11 Houston Texans last win was in week eleven and they have scored single digit points in their last two games. The 3-12 Indianapolis Colts are at home and may not have won since week nine but they at least have been close in some of their recent games and so I’m going to back them in this one despite the extra half point.

Gee’s Pick:          Colts
Dan’s Pick:          Texans

Jets @ Patriots (-15.5)

The New England Patriots have secured a first round bye but will want to finish seeded one. However, they are hosting a New York Jets team who have been competitive all year and this line is huge. I doubt that the Jets will win but this line is just too rich for me, even if the Patriots have been ridiculously good against the spread as well as winning a lot of games this season.

Gee’s Pick:          Jets
Dan’s Pick:          Jets

Washington @ Giants (+3.5)

The New York Giants were another team shut out last week and this week host a Washington team who won handily in their last game and so I find it difficult to see things changing this week. In this most unpredictable of weeks I could be wrong but I’m not going to pick it.

Gee’s Pick:          Washington
Dan’s Pick:          Washington

Panthers @ Falcons (-3.5)

The Atlanta Falcons need a win to make sure they stay ahead of the chasing Seahawks and host the Carolina Panthers who are looking to secure their division. This should be one of the better games of the season and with the Falcons needing to get their act together for the playoffs I fancy them to win but the points do worry me. Still, all of the Panthers four losses have been by more than four points and so I’m worriedly taking the Falcons

Gee’s Pick:          Falcons
Dan’s Pick:          Panthers

Bills @ Dolphins (+2.5)

The Buffalo Bills need to win and for results to go their way for the longest playoff appearance drought in the NFL to end and I for one will be supporting them heartily. They travel to face a Miami Dolphins team who have struggled for large parts of the season despite their excellent skills players on offence. Their respective overall rankings of twentieth and twenty-eighth by DVOA backup my feeling that the Bills are the better team this season and so I am going to pick them with hope that they make the playoffs but it feels like something (namely the Chargers) will go wrong to prevent them making it and that could well include this game.

Gee’s Pick:          Bills
Dan’s Pick:          Dolphins

Bengals @ Ravens (-9.5)

The Baltimore Ravens will want to win to secure their wildcard spot and with them hosting the Cincinnati Bengals I expect them to get it. However, this is a lot of points for an AFC North game that has traditionally been close and I do fancy the Bengals to finish the season close against a team whose offence is ranked twentieth by DVOA even if the Bengal’s defence has slipped in recent weeks thanks to injury.

Gee’s Pick:          Bengals
Dan’s Pick:          Bengals

Chiefs @ Broncos (-3.5)

This is a curious game to pick as the Kansas City Chiefs are starting their rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes and I think this explains this line given how the Denver Broncos have been playing this season. It is hard to know how Mahomes will go against a defence that still ranks in the top ten by DVOA even if it has slipped from its recent heights, but the Broncos still rank second against the run so it is doubtful the Chiefs can rely on their run game and Denver has never been an easy place to play. There are too many unknowns to feel secure about this game so I’m going to grab the points and see what happens.

Gee’s Pick:          Chiefs
Dan’s Pick:          Chiefs

Jaguars @ Titans (-5.5)

The Tennessee Titans are another team who need to win and for results to go their way to get into the playoffs but they welcome a Jacksonville Jaguars team who lost badly last week and will want to get things back on track before the playoffs. I also get the feeling that they would delight in sticking it to a divisional rival and stopping them from making the playoffs. Even if this wasn’t all true, this line feels off considering the way the teams have played all season and so I’m going to grab the points.

Gee’s Pick:          Jaguars
Dan’s Pick:          Jaguars

Raiders @ Chargers (-7.5)

The Los Angeles Chargers got the win they needed last week to keep their playoff hopes alive, but they need to win and hope results go their way to actually get in and this could be a surprisingly tough home game. The Chargers stadium will likely be full of Oakland Raiders’ fans and so whilst the Raiders defence ranks a lowly twenty-sixth by DVOA they could still get a boost. Still, this has been a disappointing year for the Raiders and the Chargers are very solidly ranked in both offence and defence by DVOA if only their special teams weren’t so poor. I do still fancy the Chargers to get the win and whilst the points do worry me, I think they have enough to cover this line.

Gee’s Pick:          Chargers
Dan’s Pick:          Raiders

49ers @ Rams (-3.5)

This feels like a strange game in that the Rams’ head coach Sean McVay is resting players as he expects to be home for the first week of the playoffs and then on the road and prefers to get some of his starters rested, whilst the San Francisco 49ers travel to LA on a four game win streak. If Jimmy Garoppolo can get a win against the Jaguars top ranked by DVOA pass defence then he should keep the 49ers competitive in this one. In fact, I kind of fancy the 49ers to win and I definitely expect them to cover with the Rams resting players.

Gee’s Pick:          49ers
Dan’s Pick:          49ers

Saints @ Buccaneers (+7.5)

The New Orleans Saints have clinched a playoff spot but are looking to secure a division win as they travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs may have lost their last five games but only one of them was by more than eight points and the last three have only been lost by a field goal so whilst I can see the Saints winning their division, I do fancy the Bucs to cover this one and keep the game competitive.

Gee’s Pick:          Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick:          Saints

Cardinals @ Seahawks (-8.5)

This final pick of the season is a tricky one for me as the Seattle Seahawks have managed to keep themselves with a chance of making the playoffs, but they need to win and hope that the Falcons lose. They welcome an Arizona Cardinals team whose season was derailed by injury but have remained surprisingly competitive and it is not impossible to see them doing so again against the injured Seahawks defence. Still, the Seahawks’ defence is ranked eleventh and they have a much better quarterback and with something to play for so I expect them to win, but can  they manage to do so by nine points? I’m not sure so I’m going to grab the points and hope in this game.

Gee’s Pick:          Cardinals
Dan’s Pick:          Cardinals

AAF: Blake Bortles

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For this week’s amateur adventures in film I wanted to take a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles to see what could explain the turnaround in his season and how the Jaguars managed to put up forty-five points against the visiting Houston Texans.

Blake Bortles had a terrible season last year and whilst he made the right noises about rebuilding his mechanics in the offseason, his coach did say earlier this year that the perfect game was where his quarterback didn’t throw any passes.

Clearly things went a little differently as Blake Bortles finished this game with twenty-one completions from twenty-nine attempts for three hundred and twenty-six yards and three touchdowns. He also threw no interceptions and was only sacked once when he was forced out of bounds behind the line.

The first thing to say is that Blake Bortles looks like a competent quarterback this season. Last year his mechanics got so out of whack that the ball was ending up near his waist as part of his throwing motion but Bortles looks a lot more balanced and compact now. I wouldn’t say that he is firing the ball to his receivers, but the construction of the offence is clearly better suited to him. Now it could be argued that this is because it is a simpler offence for him to execute, but given the object of the game is to win rather than for your quarterback to put up impressive stats, this is not exactly a bad thing.

The Jaguars are a running team, and a lot of Bortles throws are based on play action and running the ball. The Jaguars use plenty of two running back sets, but they also use double tight end single back formations with Bortles either under centre or standing in shotgun. The Jaguars are also not afraid to run the ball out of shotgun, and as ever, this balance makes the passing game more effective.

The Jaguars do actually have injuries at receiver but rookie receiver Keenan Cole shone in this game, and not only did he have his first hundred yard game but he finished with one hundred and eight-six receiving yards including a seventy-three yard play. Cole also had a kick-off return for a touchdown but let’s get back to the main subject of this post.

One of the main problems with Bortles last year was turnovers, but in this game not only did Bortles not throw an interception but I don’t remember him making any dangerous throws. He threw the ball away when forced out the pocket and when he missed receivers under pressure the ball it was not dangerous. Whilst he didn’t display a huge amount of mobility, he moved enough in the pocket to avoid pressure and also took hits whilst completing passes.

Overall I was pretty impressed, and whilst I don’t believe Bortles is suddenly an elite quarterback he has done well enough with this team to make you wonder what the front office will do in the offseason. There has been much talk of what the Jaguars will do at quarterback and if they might replace Bortles but if he continues to play well into the playoffs then perhaps the Jaguars will be happy to stick with what they know.

I’m not sure you would have said that before the season.

Week Sixteen Picks

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Falcons @ Saints (-5.5)

This game sees the second ranked by overall DVOA New Orleans Saints host the Atlanta Falcons who rank sixteenth. This should be a great game as both teams are fighting for a playoff spot and the Falcons won the reverse fixture two weeks ago. It also pits the Saints’ number one rush offence by DVOA against the Falcons’ thirtieth rush defence. I do fancy the Saints to win, but it is a question if they can cover this line and whilst I think they definitely can the line does worry me. However, with Alvin Kamara fit and healthy and with a point to prove I’m going to nervously back the Saints.

Gee’s Pick:          Saints
Dan’s Pick:          Falcons

Bills @ Patriots (-12.5)

The New England Patriots are coming off another comeback win, but having beaten the Steelers they now host the Buffalo Bills. The Bills are still in the playoff hunt and have been playing most teams tough. I would expect the Patriots to win, but given that they are coming off a physical road game I do not expect them to find this division game easy.

Gee’s Pick:          Bills
Dan’s Pick:          Patriots

Browns @ Bears (-6.5)

The Cleveland Browns have been failing to even cover games yet alone win them, and it is hard to see them turning this around on the road in Chicago even if the Bears are hardly setting the league alight. The Browns’ defence ranks a respectable sixteenth in the league but their thirty-second rank offence does not inspire confidence. Nor does the fact that the Browns are 1-5 against the spread on the road and so by default I’m going back the Bears to cover.

Gee’s Pick:          Bears
Dan’s Pick:          Browns

Lions @ Bengals (+4.5)

The Cincinnati Bengals are struggling with injury and stuck in limbo with a head coach that is likely leaving so it hard to see them having much luck against the Detroit Lions who still have an outside chance of making the playoffs. The injuries at tackle will not help the struggling Bengal’s offence and whilst having linebacker Vontaze Burfict back may help the defence, I’m not prepared to suggest that this will help the Bengals keep this game close.

Gee’s Pick:          Lions
Dan’s Pick:          Lions

Broncos @ Washington (-3.5)

Washington are limping towards the end of the season whilst the Denver Broncos have won two straight. The Broncos will want to take another look at Paxton Lynch, but with the oft injured young quarterback still struggling with an ankle sprain it looks like Brock Osweiler will get the start in Washington. I don’t have much faith in the home team despite their win against the Cardinals last week but nor do I have much faith in the Broncos and yet with the Broncos coming into this game with a little extra rest and getting an extra half point on the road I’m going to back them to stay within four points in this one.

Gee’s Pick:          Broncos
Dan’s Pick:          Washington

Rams @ Titans (+6.5)

With the LA Rams on the road as they travel to face the Tennessee Titans the points should tempt me except the Titans have not been playing well for a while now and the Rams are peaking at the right time. I am sure I should be taking the points for a home underdog but with the scores the Rams have been running up this season I can’t bring myself to do it.

Gee’s Pick:          Rams
Dan’s Pick:          Rams

Dolphins @ Chiefs (-10.5)

The Miami Dolphins have been so up and down that it is hard to predict what they are going to do, but on the road facing a Kansas City Chiefs team who have rediscovered some of their early season form and who have one of the best home field advantages in the league it is hard to say the Dolphins will have a good performance. However, it is a lot to ask for any team to win by eleven points. I don’t think the Dolphins will win this game, but this number is too rich for me.

Gee’s Pick:          Dolphins
Dan’s Pick:          Dolphins

Chargers @ Jets (+6.5)

The LA Chargers rand into a buzz saw last week and are on the road for a second week. They travel to face a New York Jets team who have lost two games by double digits since quarterback Josh McCown was lost for the season to a hand injury in Denver. The points do worry me, but the Chargers are still only a game back from the wildcard spots and are the better team.

Gee’s Pick:          Chargers
Dan’s Pick:          Chargers

Buccaneers @ Panthers (-9.5)

The Carolina Panthers have won two straight and seem to have found themselves on offence. They welcome a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team who got a strong performance from Jameis Winston last week but the third year quarterback has struggled a lot this season as has the team. This is a lot of points but not enough to persuade me to pick against the favourite.

Gee’s Pick:          Panthers
Dan’s Pick:          Buccaneers

Jaguars @ 49ers (+4.5)

The San Francisco 49ers have had an incredible run since starting Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback but those three wins have come against the Bears, Texans, and Titans whereas this week they face the Jacksonville Jaguars and their league leading by DVOA pass defence. This should be a fascinating game but it feels like this is the game that Garappolo finally loses. The points are tempting, but in the end I’m going to trust the superior talent across the board for the Jaguars and who would have predicted that before the start of the season?

Gee’s Pick:          Jaguars
Dan’s Pick:          Jaguars

Seahawks @ Cowboys (-4.5)

This feels like a trap game as the Seattle Seahawks are a team who constantly challenge what you think they can do and the Dallas Cowboys have been up and down this season. However, the Seahawks were battered at home last week and are facing a Cowboys team who can rush the passer and who are also get running back Ezekiel Elliott back from suspension. I could regret this but with the Cowboys coming into this game on a three game winning streak I’m going to back them to win at home.

Gee’s Pick:          Cowboys
Dan’s Pick:          Cowboys

Giants @ Cardinals (-4.5)

This is a strange game to pick with both teams’ seasons going badly and neither team having much to play for. The Arizona Cardinals have not scored a touchdown in two games whilst the New York Giants are marking time until the end of the season when the overhaul of their roster can begin. I think the Cardinals are the more likely team to win but the Giants are a surprising 4-3 against the spread on the road and this is just too many points for me.

Gee’s Pick:          Giants
Dan’s Pick:          Cardinals

Steelers @ Texans (+9.5)

The Pittsburgh Steelers should have won last week and now travel to face a poor Houston Texans team who just want the season to be over. The Texans have lost their last four games and the last three by double digits so whilst the Steelers’ loss of receiver Antonio Brown does worry me, as does their  propensity of playing down to their opponent, the Steelers need to keep winning to get a bye week and I think they should get right in this game. Particularly with the Christmas day record of 17-2 to road teams, which Dan made me aware of in this week’s podcast.

Gee’s Pick:          Steelers
Dan’s Pick:          Steelers

Raiders @ Eagles (-8.5)

The Oakland Raiders are the other team on the road this Christmas, but if last year was the first to feature home wins in the Christmas day games I expect another home victory this year. The Raiders have been struggling all season and this week they travel across the country to face an Eagles team in Philadelphia who demonstrated that they can move the ball with their backup quarterback Nick Foles. It was the Eagles’ defence that struggled last week despite their top ten ranking by DVOA and they will want to look better this week and going against a Raiders offence that ranks a surprising eleventh by DVOA despite their problem, I think they will.

Gee’s Pick:          Eagles
Dan’s Pick:          Raiders

Saturday Picks

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As we head into the last two weeks of the regular season the playoff situation is becoming clearer, but as much as the focus has been on the turnaround of the new teams that are going to make it like the Philadelphia Eagles, the LA Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars there are a lot of familiar and experienced quarterbacks lurking or in pole position. No one would be surprised if Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady battle it out in the AFC championship game, but in the NFC whilst there are three inexperienced quarterbacks looking like they will win their divisions, the NFC South looks like it could send Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan into the playoffs. That’s three quarterbacks who don’t just have playoff experience but have been to a Super Bowl and in Brees’ case, won one.

With Carson Wentz’s injury the Eagles are less dominant in the NFC and it certainly feels like any one of the six teams that would go through if the season ends today could get on a run. The AFC is a somewhat murkier, especially given the partially torn calf muscle of Steelers’ receiver Antonio Brown. It is a fool’s game to be predicting what will happen, but it does feel like the NFC teams are stronger this season, but as we witnessed in their game last week, you should count the Patriots out at your peril. Something Dan and I failed to take into account when picking against them, although we both had winning records last week.

Gee:      Week 15   11-5                   Overall   128-97
Dan:      Week 15   9-7                     Overall   117-108

Colts @ Ravens (-13.5)

The Indianapolis Colts were competitive for a half last week, but in the end they were thoroughly beaten by the Broncos and this week they travel to face the Ravens in Baltimore who have been playing well of late. The Ravens have also pitched three defensive shutouts this season and I suspect the Colts will struggle to move the ball on them. This is a big line, but the Ravens have won six games by fourteen points or more this season and so I’m going to nervously back them to do it again this week.

Gee’s Pick:          Ravens
Dan’s Pick:          Colts

Vikings @ Packers (+6.5)

The Minnesota Vikings just keep rolling and with the Green Bay Packers placing Aaron Rodgers back on IR after they were eliminated from the playoffs it is hard to see anything other than a Vikings win in this game. It is a divisional game so it could be more competitive than generally assumed, but Rodgers’ absence has demonstrated how important he is to this team, and I think the Vikings should cover this line.

Gee’s Pick:          Vikings
Dan’s Pick:          Vikings

AAF: Sacksonville Jaguars

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So for this week’s amateur adventure film I took a look at the self-appointed Sacksonville Jaguars defensive line going up against the Seattle Seahawks in Jacksonville.

There is always an interaction between a defence’s pass rush and their ability to cover, and it has to be said that there were not a huge number of plays where the defensive line got straight through the Seahawk’s offensive line. Considering the reputation of both units this is a little surprising, but clearly the offensive line has improved over the season and with the addition of Duane Brown. However, the Seahawks also worked round the defensive line with screen plays, outside runs as well as relying on the manoeuvrability of Russell Wilson to escape pressure and make plays. That Wilson very much did, although whilst the Seahawks were only recorded as giving up two sacks, they gave up another pair of sacks that were negated by penalties against Dante Fowler for illegal use of hands.

So before people begin to wonder where all the focus on the Jaguars has got to, let’s get on with looking at their defensive line. Going back to my comment on the interaction between coverage and pass rush, part of what makes the defensive unit of the Jaguars successful is that they can get enough pressure whilst regularly only rushing their four linemen. On the majority of the defensive snaps the defensive line are the only ones rushing the passer and this allows them not to take risks in coverage. Now this is not to say that this is a static group of players as they lined up with a number of different alignments to stress pass protection and there was also an impressive rotation of players with several catching the eye.

The obvious place to start is with Calais Campbell who friend of the pod Nick Ferguson suggested to Dan this week was one of the top five defensive players of the season. Campbell lined up at both end and inside at tackle and was consistently able to cause disruption even if he did not get any sacks in this game.

Another of the line players who leapt out to me was Yannick Ngakoue who played mainly at end, but on several snaps was stood up as part of moving front and who rushed the passer like a blitzing linebacker although on one play he dropped into coverage from defensive end. He may have only got one tackle but he should have had two sacks if one of them had not been cancelled out by one of the previously mentioned Dante Fowler penalties.

The final single player I wanted list was Malik Jackson who was the other player to get a sack that stood as he got Russel Wilson on what turned out to be the Seahawks’ final drive. This was the third consecutive play on which right guard Ethan Pocic gave up pressure and was really the only time that the Seahawks line looked as bad as has been discussed throughout the season but it was a good inside move that Jackson used to get pressure for a second consecutive play that resulted in a sack. This did not surprise me as he had got penetration throughout the game.

I think it is likely to be hard to separate the pass rush from coverage for most good defences unless the pass rush is incredibly quick to the quarterback, but it is clear to me that the Jacksonville Jaguars are number one in pass defence by DVOA for a reason, and whilst their secondary clearly plays a part, this line is not one to be taken likely and their ability to rush four and still get pressure makes a huge contribution to the collective whole.

Week Fifteen Picks

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Dolphins @ Bills (-2.5)

The Buffalo Bills are one of four teams in the AFC with a 7-6 record and do have a shot at a wildcard spot but they also have to play the Miami Dolphins twice and face the Patriots next week. As such, they have to win at least two of those and hope to get into the playoffs. The Dolphins are one of the hardest teams to predict given that their plays is incredibly up and down, they are ranked twenty-eight overall by DVOA, and yet they have a 6-7 record. The Dolphins impressive win against the Patriots on Monday would give me pause, except that I have no faith in their ability to play consistently from week to week and for whatever reason they do give the Patriots problems at home. As such, I’m backing the Bills to win out in this one and they only need a field goal to cover.

Gee’s Pick:          Bills
Dan’s Pick:          Dolphins

Bengals @ Vikings (-10.5)

This could be a really painful game for me as the Bengals leave Cincinnati after a bad loss to the Bears and head off to face the Vikings in Minnesota. The Vikings are coming off three straight road games and only lost to the Panthers last week, but they are a much more balanced team than the Bengals not to mention a better one. The Vikings’ defence is going to cause the anaemic Bengals offence problems and with the injuries at linebacker mounting up I don’t see the Bengals covering this line in a tough stadium to play in.

Gee’s Pick:          Vikings
Dan’s Pick:          Vikings

Ravens @ Browns (+7.5)

The Baltimore Ravens are travelling to face the Cleveland Browns and I do wonder about picking the Browns to cover this one, but it feels like every time I do that I lose and so with the Ravens in the playoff hunt and still possessing the best defence and special teams in the league by DVOA I am backing them to cover. Although I will be interested to see what the Browns’ vocal new GM John Dorsey gets up to in the offseason.

Gee’s Pick:          Ravens
Dan’s Pick:          Browns

Packers @ Panthers (+0.5)

The Carolina Panthers got the win last week against the Vikings and are part of a tight three way race in the NFC South. This week they face an excited Green Bay Packers who have their talisman back in Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have a slim hope of making the playoffs but they will need to win their final three games and Rodgers will have to hit the ground running in his first game back since breaking his collar bone. I can understand the excitement as the Packers had to win out last season to make the playoffs and they did, but it is a tough three games and the Packers did not look at all convincing without Rodgers as their quarterback. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rodgers gets the win on the road, but I’m not sure I can pick it.

Gee’s Pick:          Panthers
Dan’s Pick:          Panthers

Jets @ Saints (-15.5)

This is an awful lot of points, but with the New York Jets losing starting quarterback Josh McCown for the rest of the season to a broken hand and the New Orleans Saints getting rookie sensation Marshon Lattimore back at corner as well as rookie running back Alvin Kamara clearing concussion protocol it doesn’t feel like the Jets will keep it close. I could regret it, but with the Saints having extra rest and being at home I think they are going to have a big game.

Gee’s Pick:          Saints
Dan’s Pick:          Jets

Eagles @ Giants (+7.5)

It is so frustrating that Carson Wentz is done for the year, but the Philadelphia Eagles will still be a tough team to face. The New York Giants continue to argue amongst themselves and I suspect that the end of the season can’t come soon enough. I think the Eagles will still win this game, but with a backup quarterback I can’t pick them to win by eight without seeing some evidence first.

Gee’s Pick:          Giants
Dan’s Pick:          Giants

Cardinals @ Washington (-4.5)

The Arizona Cardinals have remained competitive in a lot of games despite the injuries and this week they travel to face a Washington team who have been equally beset by injury. The Cardinals defence is fifth in the league by DVOA and I think they will be competitive so whilst I think Washington are more likely to win, I’m not going to pick them to win by five.

Gee’s Pick:          Cardinals
Dan’s Pick:          Cardinals

Texans @ Jaguars (-11.5)

The Houston Texans have won one game in their last seven and travel to face the Jacksonville Jaguars with an offence that ranks twentieth in the league by DVOA. This is a problem when you are facing the number two defence in the league by DVOA and the number one pass defence. The Texans rush attack doesn’t look to stack up that great against the comparatively weak Jaguars run defence either. The points give me some pause, and it still feels strange to see the Jaguars giving this number of points, but I don’t think anyone is going to fancy playing the Jaguars in the playoffs and this is going to be a tough game for the Texans.

Gee’s Pick:          Jaguars
Dan’s Pick:          Jaguars

Rams @ Seahawks (-2.5)

The Seattle Seahawks lost a bad tempered game to the Jaguars last week and are increasingly reliant on Russell Wilson to do the impossible as the injuries continue to mount on defence. The LA Rams lost to the Eagles last week and this game can be seen as something of a measuring stick on whether they are going to be a dangerous team in the playoffs. The Rams have made tremendous progress from last season, but do seem to have struggled against tough defences and this is a bad time to have some injury niggles on the offensive line. Still, with Bobby Wagner not having practised all week, the Seahawks must be worried even if it looks like the linebacker is going to try to play with his hamstring injury. The Rams have beaten the Seahawks in recent years and I think this is the time we find out how good they are going to be and I think they edge this one.

Gee’s Pick:          Rams
Dan’s Pick:          Seahawks

Titans @ 49ers (-1.5)

It is not often that you see a 3-10 team favoured over an 8-5 team but the Tennessee Titans are coming off an ugly loss to the Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers have won two straight since Jimmy Garoppolo became their starting quarterback. The Titans have been winning ugly this year, and really need this one to stay in the playoff hunt but Marcus Mariota has not looked great in his third season. I’m going to back the team with the momentum in this game and just hope that Garoppolo keeps his winning streak going for another week as he has to lose at some point.

Gee’s Pick:          49ers
Dan’s Pick:          49ers

Patriots @ Steelers (+2.5)

In a game that many see as deciding who will come out of the AFC to be in the Super Bowl by determining who will have home field advantage in the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the New England Patriots who are coming off a tough loss to the Dolphins. The Patriots will have Rob Gronkowski back from suspension and in recent years have shredded the Steelers’ cover two defence, which is worrying given the injury to Ryan Shazier. However, the Steelers’ offence feel like it has more than enough to keep up with the Patriots offence, particularly with there being injury problems for the Patriots at right tackle. The Patriots almost never lose two straight under Bill Belichick but getting points at home is too much for me to pass up in this cracking game.

Gee’s Pick:          Steelers
Dan’s Pick:          Steelers

Cowboys @ Raiders (+2.5)

The Oakland Raiders have really struggled this season and with the league’s worst defence by DVOA I see them struggling against a Dallas Cowboys team that has won two straight and seem to have got themselves back on track.

Gee’s Pick:          Cowboys
Dan’s Pick:          Cowboys

Falcons @ Buccaneers (+6.5)

This week’s Monday night game see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Atlanta Falcons. The Bucs have really struggled and losing Gerald McCoy will really hurt a defence already ranked thirty-first in the league by DVOA. The Falcons offence may not have reached the heights of last season, but having found a way to win against the Saints despite Matt Ryan throwing three interceptions last week I expect them to win again this week. I’m just not sure they will win by a touchdown on the road given that they haven’t managed it all season.

Gee’s Pick:          Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick:          Falcons

Saturday Night’s Alright for Picking

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Well after a disastrous Thursday night pick where I failed to foresee that Brock Osweiler would come in and play really well, we move to the two Saturday night games.

Bears @ Lions (-5.5)

I am tempted by the points in this one with the Chicago Bears coming off a very good looking win against the Bengals last week. However, I’m not sure how much was the Bears good play and how much was an injured Bengals team coming off a tough Monday night game that put a final nail in the coffin for their playoff hopes. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions did enough in Tampa Bay to win the game and with an outside shot at the playoffs I think they should win this one and hopefully cover this line.

Gee’s Pick:          Lions
Dan’s Pick:          Lions

Chargers @ Chiefs (+1.5)

This should be a really interesting game, and part of me definitely wants to take the points for the Chiefs as they have one of the better home advantages in the league. However, they have only won one game in their last five whilst the visiting LA Chargers have won four straight in the same period. More worrying for Chiefs fans is that their defence has been struggling and Chargers’ receiver Keenan Allen seems to be going from strength to strength with four consecutive one hundred yard games. I’ll be a little nervous about it, but I’m going to back the Chargers to win out in this one.

Gee’s Pick:          Chargers
Dan’s Pick:          Chargers

Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

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With the loss of Carson Wentz for the rest of the season it really feels like NFL fans just can’t have nice things this year.

That said, as upsetting as it was to have the team with the best record in the NFC lose its starting quarterback, it still pales into insignificance when compared to the spinal injury the Steelers’ linebacker Ryan Shazier picked up the week before.

I was travelling to and from Newcastle last week and so didn’t really have time to write about what happened during the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night clash with the Cincinnati Bengals in the right kind of detail and I’m still not entirely sure what the correct thing is to say. I didn’t enjoy watching the game, there was a sense of inevitability about the Steelers come back and I am very bored of the lack of discipline and the chippiness in these games. Particularly on the Bengals side but the sight of the various hits that concussed players given what had happened to Shazier was difficult to watch. We know the game is dangerous, and at some level we have to make peace with that, but that Monday night game showed a side of football that has to brought under control and that doesn’t include the play where Shazier was hurt.

To be honest I just want him to be okay, and I don’t mean a return to football. Given that the man had spinal stabilisation surgery, I want him to be able to walk around and lead his life.

Last week also saw firings in New York and Cleveland with the Giants clearing house when they fired both GM Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo whilst the Browns let go of Sashi Brown.

There have been problems with the roster for a while in New York and so letting go Jerry Reese despite him being involved in two Super Bowl wins but there is talent to build upon for whoever takes over, although the issue of a quarterback will be the major headache.

As for the Browns, I don’t really know how much was the quarterbacks they didn’t take in the draft; the failure of the AJ McCarron trade due to the paperwork not being sent in on time; or the relationship with the rest of the front office, owner, and head coach Hue Jackson who is apparently safe for now but some mix of these things got Sashi Brown fired and they have already replaced him with John Dorsey. Only time will tell how much this will affect their approach, but I would imagine something will happen around the quarterback position ahead of next season. I’m also not entirely sure that Hue Jackson will survive, particularly if the Browns fail to register a win this season despite his current vote of confidence.

I really hope that things turns round for the Browns, they have such a loyal fan base despite the woeful performance of the team for a number of years.

And now a recap of the week fourteen picks and tonight’s game.

Gee:      Week 14   8-8                     Overall   117-92
Dan:      Week 14   6-10                  Overall   108-101

Broncos @ Colts (+2.5)

This not exactly a game to set pulse rates racing and with the Denver Broncos winning their first game since their week five bye on Sunday visiting the 3-10 Indianapolis Colts. The Broncos have not won on the road all season so is this the week that they start? I don’t know is the honest answer and whilst I could regret this, I’m reverting to home team Thursday night rules and grabbing a couple of points unenthusiastically although I am curious to see how this game plays out.

Gee’s Pick:          Colts
Dan’s Pick:          Broncos