As 8 teams turn to just 4, we look back at the week that was Divisional Week, and also ahead to the Championship games to make our picks of who we believe will make it to the Superbowl on 5th February. With so much movement on the Coaching Merry-Go-Round this week, it’d be rude for us not to take a look at who has landed there, and there’s also talk about a couple of teams looking to relocate – but is Las Vegas really a good place for a football team?! All that and more this week on The Wrong Football Podcast!
Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Andy Reid, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Cole Beasley, Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, Green Bay Packers, James Harriosn, Jason Witten, Jordy Nelson, Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs, Le'Veon Bell, NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboy lost Tony Romo in pre-season to a fractured vertebrae, and rookie quarterback Dak Prescott stepped into the void and looked comfortable from the get go. Operating behind what is widely regarded as the best offensive line in the league he and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott helped the Cowboys get the number one seed behind their stellar play. As the season went on Prescott was able to increase his grasp of the offence and with a combination of the way Elliott ran the ball and Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley as receiving options, the Cowboys are formidable opponents for the Packers in this game. However, whilst the offence stands every chance of moving the ball on the Packers, the defence has been more of an issue. They do not have the pass rush of the similarly constructed Falcons, but do rank better by overall defensive DVOA. However, they face a really tough matchup in the Packers offence
The Packers come into this game as one of the hottest teams in the NFL having turned a 4-6 record into a 10-6 division win and running out easy winners against the Giants last week. The defence has been battling injuries in the secondary for most of the season, and although they were ranked number one against the run at one point, are another unit in the playoffs that ranks a fair bit worse than their offence. The offence lost Jordy Nelson early last week who will not make this game due to his fractured ribs, but Aaron Rodgers has found his rhythm with his receiving group during this win streak and so will remain dangerous in the passing game. Rodgers has an uncanny ability to move and keep a play alive and is back to throwing receivers open and looking is looking like the best quarterback in the league.
This is not a game I want to predict, the Cowboys can likely dominate the time of possession with the run game and protect their defence, which has been the game plan for most of the season, but Rodgers does not need a lot of opportunities to produce points. This could very well be game of the week, and I for one am heartily looking forward to it.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have been quietly racking up the regular season wins for a season and a half now, and welcome the Steelers to the loudest outdoor stadium in the league.
A lot of jokes have been made about Andy Reid’s clock management over the years, but he is an incredibly good coach whose football teams have won a lot of games. His quarterback has the reputation of a game manager, but Alex Smith gets the job done and is capable of spreading the ball around as required as well as moving the ball with his feet. The Chiefs’ leading receiver this year was Travis Kelce, who will be going up against a defence ranked thirteenth in the league against tight ends by DVOA. However, the emergence of Tyreek Hill as a big player receiver as well as special teams returner has added another dimension to the Chiefs, but he is not the only speed option they have on offence. The Chiefs’ defence has been good rather than outstanding, and has missed Justin Houston to injury for much of the year, although Houston has flashed when he did get on the field and the Chiefs will hope that he plays on Sunday.
The Steelers got an easy win against the Dolphins last week as Antonio Brown stole the game in the first quarter. They will expect that Le’Veon Bell will be able to rack up the runs against a rush defence that ranked twenty-sixth in the league against the run by DVOA, and that could be enough to win them the game with the way Bell has been playing this season. He has needed to be this good as Ben Roethlisberger has struggled at times, and the quarterback left the stadium in a walking boot last week but will be playing this week. The Steelers’ defence played very well against the Dolphins, with the seemingly ageless James Harrison making his presence felt along with the other Steelers linebackers. This is not the same style of defence as in recent years, and they started the year struggling a little, but finished the year just outside the top ten by DVOA and have been very solid in their new cover 2 look.
This is another game that is hard to predict as both teams have been competitive all year, but if feels like the Chiefs have been more consistent all year and are home so I would give them the edge, but this feels like a second toss up game.
AJ Abouye, Atlanta Falcons, Brock Osweiler, Devonta Freeman, Earl Thomas, Houston Texans, Jacoby Brissett, Jadeveon Clowney, JJ Watt, Kyle Shanahan, New England Patriots, NFL, Rob Gronkowski, Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, Tevin Coleman, Tom Brady, Vic Beasley, Whitney Mercilus
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
The injury to Earl Thomas robbed us of the chance to see a full strength Seattle defence go up against the number one ranked offence by DVOA in the league, but this should still be a fascinating contest.
The Falcons have the options on offence, and the players to challenge Seattle down the seams and see if they find a weakness in the secondary without Thomas patrolling the rear of the defence. Their offence has been in great shape all year, moving away on the reliance on Julio Jones to spread the ball around a number of receivers and the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have caused many teams problems out of the backfield. They are a team that run more traditional sets with a fullback than almost any other team in the league, and I am looking forward to seeing how Kyle Shanahan plans to attach the Seahawks defence. The Atlanta defence has pretty ordinary for most of the season, but Vic Beasley led the lead in sacks and with the offence playing so well, they only have to do so much to keep the Falcons in the game.
I was impressed by the the Seahawks renewed commitment to the run last week, which helped their offensive line play better and sparked an improved performance. Against a defence that ranks twenty-ninth in rush defence by DVOA this might help the Seahawks limit the time the Falcons offence has on the field, but given the problems they’ve had with the offensive line you could see Vic Beasley getting pressure on Russel Wilson. The defence also looked better last week, but the Falcons offence is a very different prospect that the Lions with their injured quarterback.
In the end I fancy the Falcons to win, but we really shouldn’t discount the playoff experience of the Seahawks, but the problems they have had against the pass since Thomas was injured could really hurt them in this one.
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
The Patriots went 14-2 this season despite having Tom Brady suspended for four games, losing one with him and one without. In their previous meeting the Patriots ran out 27-0 winners with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback so it is hard to see anything other than a Patriots’ win in this game.
The offence has been its usual efficient self, and has barely missed a beat since Rob Gronkowski was lost to injury as it appears that nothing can slow down Brady who has managed to get himself into the MVP discussion despite his suspension. The defence struggled earlier in the season, but has come on over the course of the season and whilst finishing a modest sixteenth by DVOA, they will have scheme enough for a Texans offence that has sputtered all season.
The Texans got their win last week, and will no doubt want to put in a better performance than their last visit to Gillette Stadium. However, whilst their defence should be competitive, with a number of players stepping out of JJ Watt’s shadow to lead the team, the offence is likely to struggle. The Texans stressed surrounding Brock Osweiler with options in the passing game, but he struggled to make use of them for much of the year. He looked a bit better last week, but I’m not sure he’ll have the tools to attack this Patriots defence. I can see Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney causing problems with their pass rush abilitiy, and AJ Abouye has looked like an excellent pick up at corner, but you just have a feeling that the Patriots will find a way to win out in the end. They have for most of this season.
Aaron Rodgers, Antonio Brown, Bud Dupree, Derek Carr, Detroit Lions, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Donald Penn, Earl Thomas, Eli Manning, Houston Texans, Jay Ajayi, Jim Bob Cooter, JJ Watt, Matt Moore, Matthew Stafford, Miami Dolphins, Ndamukong Suh, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Odell Beckham, Rodney Hudson, Seattle Seahawks, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz
Last weekend saw us wave goodbye to the four wildcard teams as each suffered double digit losses on the road with the closest margin of victory being thirteen.
The first to go out was the Oakland Raiders, whose strong season started to fall apart when they lost Derek Carr to a broken leg in week sixteen and actually went into their wildcard game with rookie quarterback Conor Cook as their starting QB. You could see his potential, but Cook is not ready to start yet and it showed in this game. He wasn’t helped by the turmoil on the Raiders’ offensive line as Pro Bowl tackle Donald Penn was already out of the game with a fracture in his knee, and Pro Bowl centre Rodney Hudson had to come out for a period as well. The Raiders’ defence has been troublesome all year, ranked in the twenties by DVOA despite some good looking free agent pickups and it was quickly apparent how reliant as a team the Raiders were on their breakout quarterback.
This only goes to highlight that there is a reason that quarterbacks are valuable to their team as the Raiders with their 12-4 record go home with Derek Carr injured, whilst the Houston Texans have soldiered on with JJ Watt for most of the season and travel to face the Patriots in this week’s divisional games. The Raiders should be ready for next season with Carr back from injury as long as the front office can improve the defence and keep the offence competitive.
The next team to be knocked out were there Detroit Lions who spent a large chunk of this season as fourth quarter comeback specialists, which was already something that is hard to rely on even before the quarterback who led all those scoring drives injured his hand. The Lions came into their game against the Seattle Seahawks on a three game losing streak since Matthew Stafford’s injury, and were unable to do much of anything in this game. Their defence was unable to stop a Seahawk’s team that recommitted to the run and found a winning formula on offence, and the offence didn’t have the long strike plays to challenge the Seahawks secondary that was missing Earl Thomas at safety. Even if the Lions’ offence hadn’t been largely predicated on shorter throws, Stafford just hasn’t been the same quarterback since his injury, but the turnaround under offensive coordinator Job Bob Cooter does look to be a consistent upgrade, and so if the Lions can sort their defence that finished the year thirty-second by DVOA then they should be competitive again.
Moving to Sunday and the Miami Dolphins were basically out of this game in the first quarter when Antonio Brown scored two touchdowns and racked up over a hundred yards on two plays. Much has been made of the decision of the Dolphins to train in Miami leading up to a cold weather game in Pittsburgh, but it is hard not to conclude that they missed a trick there. Unfortunately, the secondary was too injured and not good enough to contain Brown and once they had the lead the Steelers were able to run the ball effectively. You would want to see more out of Ndamukong Suh given the contract the Dolphins gave him, but this was no one’s best day. The Steelers defence held the Dolphins in check, particularly Jay Ajayi in the run game and had some big hits on Matt Moore including a huge hit by Bud Dupree that was rightly flagged although I didn’t think it was a dirty play so much as highlights the problems that defensive players can face when make tackles at game speed. However, how they were able to get Moore through a concussion test and back out into the game and only missing one play I have no idea. It is hardly surprising that the NFL will be looking into this and re-evaluating the concussion protocol in the offseason.
Overall, whilst this game will be a big disappointment to both fans and the franchise itself, this is still the first time the Dolphins have made the playoffs since 2008 and so should be seen as definite progress. The front office does not inspire confidence in me, but Adam Gase’s first year in charge did see him bind the team into a functional unit that fought their way into the playoffs, and gives him credibility to push forward into next season.
The final game of wildcard weekend had the nearest to a competitive game with the first half remaining tight until the Green Bay Packers scored with a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half to take a 14-6 lead having been trailing 6-0 for most of the first half. During the first half the New York Giants were playing much as they have all season, with very good defence and a grinding misfiring offence. This has not been a great year for Eli Manning, and the Giants have been particularly reliant on big plays by Odell Beckham and so the offensive struggles might not be that surprising except whilst the run game has struggled all year, a receiving group base around Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shepard should have been strong enough against a depleted Packers secondary to produce more. Sadly they were not, and worse still was between corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie going down injured, and Aaron Rodgers figuring out the weaknesses in the Giaints’ re-arranged secondary the Packers were able to turn things round and pulled away in the second half to win easily.
The Giants turn around on defence was impressive as it was a rare case of a free agent splurge working, and they still have the foundation to push on next year, but they need to get the offence sorted. Strengthening the offensive line might help add a run game to the Giants’ offence, and they will want to find a way to get more efficient production from Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, who makes spectacular plays but who could help his team more if he was more consistent.
Aaron Rodgers, Adam Gase, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Wake, Eli Manning, Green Bay Packers, Jay Ajayi, Landon Collins, Le'Veon Bell, Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins, Ndamukong Suh, New York Giants, NFL, Odell Beckham, Paul Perkins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, Wildcard Weekend
With yesterday’s games turning out to be easy home wins, our attention shifts to tonight’s matchups in the hopes of more competitive fixtures
Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
In something of a theme for wildcard week, the Miami Dolphins face the Steelers with a backup quarterback. However, Matt Moore has looked pretty good and has at least won two of the three games that he has played. The Dolphins offence may not be consistently effective, but they have a number of play makers, and Jay Ajayi will be hoping to have the kind of success he had against the Steelers in week six when he ran for two hundred yards and the Dolphins won the game. That win sparked a six game win streak to take the Dolphins from 1-4 to 7-4 but this game is a tough ask. Their defence will face a difficult teat against the Steelers, particularly with their twenty-second ranked rush defence by DVOA goes against Le’Veon Bell, but if Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake can get going then maybe the Dolphins can contain them.
The strength of this Steelers team is the combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. However, Roethlisberger has not quite looked himself since his return from a knee injury and it is very possible that he is banged up. As a result Antonio Brown has not been quite as dominant as last season, but he is still a phenomenal player, and you only have to look at the play he made against the Ravens in week sixteen as he stretched for the winning touchdown to see the impact he can still have. The good news for the Steelers is that they finally come into the playoffs with Le’Veon Bell healthy and having run for over twelve hundred yards in just twelve games. The defence may present some concerns given their up and down performance but they will want to make up for the two hundred yards they gave up early in the year.
If the Dolphins defence can do enough to limit the Steelers, then with their big play options on offence the Dolphins can do enough to win this game, but it is hard to see them doing so. This is Adam Gase’s first year with the Dolphins and their first appearance in the playoffs since the 2008 season, whilst the Steelers are filled with playoff experience and an offence that if it gets going could put this game away quickly. I expect the Steelers to win this game, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Dolphins got beaten heavily or made a game of it.
New York Giants (11-5) @ Green Bay Packers (10-6)
This is the game of the wildcard weekend. The Packers won their division with a six game win streak after Aaron Rodgers stated they would win out and the team backed that up by doing just that. The Packers have had problems with injuries, patching up their secondary and making do at running back. The offence has now found a formula they can make work and have scored thirty or more in the last four games. However, although defence led the league in rush defence early on, injuries have seen this unit slip to be distinctly average. At home they will hope that the offence can take the pressure off, but a young secondary could be the Achilles heel of the Packers in this game.
The Giants come into this game with a defence ranked number two in defence by DVOA having been thirtieth the year before. This is the largest single year improvement of defence ever recorded by DVOA and is off the back of a bunch of free agent signings and a major step forward by second year safety Landon Collin. In fact Collins leads the team in tackles with one hundred, plus four sacks, and five interceptions, which is an incredible season by anyone’s standard. This defence turnaround is very timely as the offence has really struggled for a lot of this year. The Giants have been unable to run the ball effectively and Eli Manning has thrown sixteen interceptions as he’s struggled to find his receivers consistently. Both Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz have had their moments, but too often the Giants offence has been reliant on big plays to Odell Beckham. That said, Paul Perkins did manage to run for one hundred yards against Washington next week, and if the Giants can be a bit more balanced on offence or find Beckham a couple of times then they stand a real chance in this game.
I am really not sure who is going to win this one, but I am expecting a good game to close out the Wildcard weekend.
As the season draws to a close, it’s time to crown our Divisional Pick’em champion for the year, in what proved just how unpredictable this years league has been! We also take a look at the coaching merry-go-round that is Black Monday, as well as looking at Week 17’s action, and our picks for the first week of the Playoffs – The Wildcards! And as this is a pod for crowning champions, there’s only one way to find out if Gee or Dan finished the year top of the game prediction tree – All this week on The Wrong Football Podcast!
Bill O'Brien, Brock Osweiler, Connor Cook, Derek Carr, Detroit Lions, Earl Thomas, Houston Texans, Jadeveon Clowney, JJ Watt, Khalil Mack, Matthew Stafford, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Tom Savage
Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ Houston Texans (9-7)
There are some that are being sniffy about this game, but there aren’t that many games left so we shouldn’t be too picky and we will be seeing history when Connor Cook becomes the first quarterback to start their first game in the playoffs.
The Houston Texans may have lost JJ Watt early in the season, but their defence still managed to rank seventh by DVOA and this was the year where Jadeveon Clowney started to put things together. There are rumours that Bill O’Brien’s job may not be safe unless the Texans get a win in this game. Certainly as an offensive minded coach who is meant to get the best out of quarterbacks, the struggles they have had in finding a consistent starter at that position in recent years will be a concern. With Tom Savage in the concussion protocol we see the return of Brock Osweiler who struggled a lot this year, and who was cheered when he was pulled out of the game several weeks ago, although I thought he looked a little better against the Raiders when these teams met in Mexico.
It feels like the Raiders had their fairy tale return to the playoffs stolen from them when Derek Carr broke his leg in their penultimate game and to lose their backup quarterback to injury seems particularly cruel. They still have an excellent offensive line, and play with a sixth linemen more than any other team in the league, but with the problems they have had on defensive despite some very good players, they have really felt the loss at quarterback. However, they should not be without hope as there is a chasm between these two teams in DVOA ranking with the Raiders at eleven and the Texans ranked twenty ninth.
This might not be a pretty game, but there is a lot on the line and as a writer would be happy to see Osweiler prove the doubters wrong, Connor Cook announce himself to the league, Khalil Mack demonstate his pass rush ability once more or watch Jedeveon Clowney really announce himself to the league. I think I lean towards the Texans winning at home, but it would not surprise me to see the Raiders win on the road, likely to be proclaimed as one for Derek.
Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks
This is another intriguing if potentially ugly game.
The Seahawks won their division and went 7-1 at home, but whilst the offence has been up and down all year through injuries and problems with their offensive line, the defence has not looked the same since Earl Thomas was lost for the season in week thirteen with a broken leg. It was Thomas’ ability to patrol between the numbers behind the defence that allowed the secondary to play as aggressively as it does, and whilst playing them in Seattle will still be a problem they do look beatable.
The problem for the Lions is that they have had their own problems this year since Matthew Stafford dislocated the tip of his middle finger on his throwing hand. The ball has not been coming out the same, and the fourth quarter heroics that so defined their early season success has dried up in recent weeks. In fact, they come into this game on a three game losing streak and could have a very tough time in this game. The hope will be that Stafford has another week to heal, and the Seahawks are struggling, but they will need to stick to the run more and hope the defence can stand up to a patchy Seahawks offence.
This was the year that Stafford took a step for me and looked more capable of winning on the road, but it is hard to see the Lions getting their first playoff victory since 1957 in Seattle under the circumstance. I would love to be proved wrong, and I could see this being a close game, but I do have a feeling that the Seahawks recent run of playoff success will prove telling.
So with the playoffs starting this weekend I thought I would say goodbye to the teams that sadly didn’t make it to the post-season this year.
Buffalo Bills (7-9)
So one of the longer playoff droughts continues as once again the Bills fail to make the playoffs despite being competitive over the last three seasons. The Ryan brothers were fired, but Doug Whaley gets to keep his general manager job despite being the force behind EJ Manuel starting in week seventeen and given the dysfunction of the franchise, it could be a while yet before the Bill return to post-season. I am very confused by their dealings with Tyrod Taylor who is better than management clearly think he is, so it seems that Bills we be going into the offseason with questions about their quarterback, which seldom ends well.
New York Jets (5-11)
Tod Bowles gets to keep his job after a tough season where things were bad for long stretches, but the Jets are looking a bit old and will have to shore up their defence and find a long term solution to their problems at quarterback. This is another team where it could take some time to bounce back, particularly as the draft prospects at quarterback are not necessarily that exciting and the Jets have not had the most inspiring of front office approaches in recent years.
Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
The Ravens defence was strong, but the offence sputtered and in the end they couldn’t do enough to get into the playoffs for the second straight year. This was an improvement on their 2015 record of 5-11, but they will need to continue the overhaul of their roster and get more explosive on offence. I would expect a focus on passing targets for Joe Flacco, except this is definitely a team that drafts on best player available but I expect them to be competitive again next year.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1)
A frustrating year for the Bengals that was foreseeable having lost three coordinators in two seasons as well as their number two and three receivers leave in free agency. More reliable kicking would certainly have helped them win more games, but it did look like some of the young receivers were coming on late in the season and first year co-ordinator Ken Zampese will be hoping he gets more games with AJ Green and Tyler Eifert together next year, although Eifert’s back injury is somewhat concerning. A year of stability and a good draft could see things turn round, but whilst no one can deny the transformation Marvin Lewis is responsible for in Cincinatti, it is increasingly hard to have faith that he will be able to get the team over the hump and into championship contention. Another big year awaits, but I feel like I say that every year for the Bengals.
Cleveland Browns (1-15)
This was always going to be a difficult year for the Browns and so it was, although it is hard to think of many teams who were as happy about any win as the Browns were when they beat the Chargers in week sixteen. The Browns need to make hay in the draft to move on, but I can still see the plan working if they stick to it, and the lack of firings so far should be seen as a positive sign, but this offseason needs to go well, particularly with some big free agents re-signing on the horizon.
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
It was a very hard end to the season for the Titans, but Marcus Matioa should come back from his broken leg next season to lead a team who stand as good a chance as anyone to compete in the AFC South. The extra pick they have in the draft thanks to trading down should help that process, and for a team who have been out of the playoffs since 2008, they will be a team to watch next season if they continue to develop as they did this year.
Indianapolis Colts (8-8)
The Colts pretty much alternated wins and losses in a year where Andrew Luck came back from the injuries that ruined the previous season and looked like the quarterback so many want him to be. The problem is that he still takes too many hits and there is not enough around him for the team to win consistently, which considering the division they play in is a worry. After some initial questions whether both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson would keep their jobs, both head coach and general manager roll into the offseason with another chance to build a team that can break through to the next level, but you would have to think that they are running out of chances to succeed.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
Head coach Gus Bradley paid the price for this team not being able to take the step that they kept promising to make, and in fact they had less wins than the previous year. Owner Shahid Khan has been very patient, and there is some talent on the roster so they could come together quickly, but the big question is how good Blake Bortles can be. He has come out after the season and said he was playing through two separated shoulders and wrist tendonitis, but the real issue was his mechanics. Unsurprisingly he has announced he will be working on these during the offseason, but he will need to be functionally good by the time next season starts. Obviously every quarterback would prefer to have perfect mechanics, but Philip Rivers has demonstrated that it is possible to function at a high level with less than perfect form, but Bortles will need consistent accuracy to find his promising young receivers more regularly. The offensive system and coaching he gets will go a long way to determine how the Jaguars go next season.
Denver Broncos (9-7)
Neither of last year’s Super Bowl teams made the playoffs this year, but the Broncos made the better attempt to get in, and if the AFC West hadn’t been so strong they might have made it. Unfortunately, whilst apart from one notable slip up against the Chiefs, the defence played well if not quite up to the standards of last year, but the offence struggled. The big problem for the Broncos was that Trevor Siemian was a good enough quarterback when the run game was working and Gary Kubiak could run his offence as he wanted, but when CJ Anderson went down with an injury the running game never quite recovered and Siemian couldn’t throw them to wins. Given his health problems I totally understand Kubiak’s decision to retire, and with John Elway’s recent run of decisions I expect to see the Broncos back in the playoff hunt again next season despite needing a new head coach.
San Diego Chargers (5-11)
The Charger fans must be some of saddest about their season with it looking like the team are leaving San Diego, the injuries mounted up to prevent them from competing. The Chargers were so hapless that even when they pick a great player like Joey Bosa in last year’s draft, his missed the start of the season through a contract dispute in an era where the contracts almost write themselves, and then he went down injured. The Chargers are looking for a new head coach to replace Mike McCoy and with all the upheaval it is hard to be hopeful about their prospects next season, although most teams are never too far away from turning things around, particularly if you have a quarterback of the ability of Philip Rivers.
Washington had the fifth ranked offence in the NFL this season, with Kirk Cousins throwing for four thousand nine hundred yards, and went into week seventeen with their destiny in their own hands but could not get the win at home against the Giants they needed to make the playoffs. Their defence really struggled and they are looking for a new co-ordinator as they looks to fix that side of the ball in the offseason, but all the headlines will be about Kirk Cousins contact. I don’t like to be too prescriptive so I don’t want to say too much about whether applying the franchise tag for a second year will prevent them getting a long term deal, but Cousins feels like a very similar quarterback to Andy Dalton in that they get good numbers, but questions remain about their ability in the big moments. I think that Dalton has improved in this area as he has gained experience, and whilst you can’t truly comment without being in the building every day, from the outside I would be inclined towards doing a deal to sign up Cousins as there are simply not that many good quarterbacks in the league and with even an average defence Washington could make life very difficult for a lot of teams next season.
Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
The Eagles couldn’t maintain their strong start to the season, but finished the year strongly and given the problems they had at receiver and corner, could be happy with the progress they made this year. Certainly it looks like they have their franchise quarterback for years to come in Carson Wentz, and the question will be how they choose to build a team around him, but my only concern going forward if I was an Eagles fan would be the strength of the division, which looks to be one of the best in the league given that 7-9 was only good enough for fourth.
Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
The piling up of injuries, at offensive tackle as much as anywhere, is what did for the Vikings who were the final undefeated team, but who could not maintain this success. The offence still needs work, whilst the defence stayed in the top ten by DVOA. You can read the declaration that Sam Bradford will be next year’s starter as taking the pressure of Teddy Bridgewater who has a long way to come back from his horrible pre-season knee injury. There have been no big changes in the front office, but there will be a lot of pressure on them to maintain their competitiveness given the trade to get Bradford, but with a shored up offensive line and a viable running back the Vikings will be a team to be feared next season.
Chicago Bears (3-13)
I appreciate the patience the Bears are showing in keeping John Fox as head coach, but whilst there are some hopeful signs for some players, the Bears are heading into the offseason looking for a quarterback. There is a lot of building to be done in Chicago, but I suspect that Fox will have to get his team to make definitive progress next year if he is to keep his job. However, if nothing else you have to think there will be some regression to the mean in terms of injuries and that alone could help the Bears win more games next season.
Tampa Bay (9-7)
Ten seems to be the magic number if you want to make sure that you get to the playoffs, but after a slightly shaky start the Buccaneers really improved, going on a five game win streak in the middle of the season that saw them beat the Chiefs and Seahawks in back to back weeks. They will obviously be disappointed to miss the playoffs, but this is a big step forward for a team that haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, even if they did get ten wins 2010. I was concerned by rookie head coach Dirk Koetter’s performance early in the year, but coaches as players have form and given the way they improved through the season it looks like the Bucs are set to kick on into next season.
New Orleans (7-9)
Once again New Orleans were close but couldn’t make the playoffs despite Drew Brees having another five thousand yard season. It looks as if Sean Payton is staying with the Saints as there are multiple changes to the coaching staff, but the Saints will need to improve the team around Brees despite the salary cap problems they still have if they are to get back to the playoffs. I have a nasty feeling that the Saints could be heading for more of the same, although it would be truly weird if they went 7-9 for a fourth straight year next season.
Carolina Panthers (6-10)
It is often hard for the losing Super Bowl team the next season, but the Panthers really struggled. They lost more than Josh Norman from their secondary, although he grabbed all the headlines, and the settling in of the rookies in the secondary contributed to this team falling to 1-5 from where they never really recovered. The offence also struggled with Cam Newton playing well below the peak he reached the previous season, the running game was often stalled, and the offensive line continued to have problems. There is plenty of work to do in the offseason, but what worries me most was the reaction of Luke Kuechly to his latest concussion and what his future could be. I would love to see him play and get back to his best, but I’m not sure I would enjoy it as with his concussion history he should very possibly retire. Only his doctors and he will know the whole truth of the matter, but in this modern NFL where we know so much more about head injuries it is hard to ignore such a situation and we really shouldn’t if we want to enjoy football being played.
Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1)
The Cardinals finished with a pretty credible record considering how much they struggled at times, and it will be interesting to see how the team responds to a season where they were very much in win now mode. Unfortunately Carson Palmer could not match the heights of his performance last season and the offensive line struggled to protect him. Indeed for large stretches of the season the offence seemed to revolve around David Johnson who is amongst the best backs in the league and the seemingly ageless Larry Fitzgerald whose move to slot receiver has paid dividends over the last couple of years. Their defence ranked third by DVOA and so they should have a strong chance to bounce back into the playoffs next year, but they will need to fix the offensive line and come up with more from their quarterback, be it Carson Palmer or someone else.
Los Angeles Rams (4-12)
Unfortunately for Jeff Fisher the Rams couldn’t even manage 7-9 bull excrement football this season. The offence was woeful all year, and questions surround the ability of Jared Goff who they traded up to select first overall in the draft. The defence has a lot of talent, but having won two games without scoring a touchdown things fell apart for them down the stretch and it is hard to think of a much worse start for the Rams in LA. All the talk is that they will need to make a splashy hire for their new coach to secure their place in a crowded LA sports scene, but I would argue the more important thing would be winning. An offensive minded coach makes sense given the talent on defence and the investment in a young quarterback, but despite having the talent of Todd Gurley at running back, it will be a big job to turn this team round even for an offensive mastermind.
San Francisco 49ers (2-14)
If the Cowboys entered week seventeen thirteen and Giants, then the 49ers finished the season Rams and fourteen with their only wins coming against their struggling divisional rivals. The 49ers have not only fired their coach, but also sent GM Trent Baalke packing after a series of problematic drafts. No team would have found it easy to recover the talent drain that occurred two seasons ago thanks to some big retirements, both timely and otherwise, but it hard to think of a bigger rebuild in the NFL. At least the Browns appear to have a plan and a bucket load of picks this offseason, not to mention and innovative offensive head coach whose schemes work. I don’t know if Chip Kelly will get another chance in the NFL, but I can’t see it as a head coach and I will be curious if any head coaches thinks they can play a complimentary style to Kelly’s up tempo offence, or if Kelly will be willing to more malleable in his approach. It could be a number of seasons before the 49ers return to competitiveness and a lot is resting on the hires that Jed York makes over the coming weeks.
Looking at the week’s line, and not being sure who will be playing is making picking games pretty hard, particularly as Dan had a stunning week sixteen and overhauled a four point deficit to go into this final week with a point lead.
Still, for the final time for this season, let’s go through full sixteen game slate.
Gee: Week 16 8-8 Overall 114-126
Dan: Week 16 13-3 Overall 115-125
Bill @ Jets (+3.5)
The Jets have limped into the end of the season with a horrible loss to the Patriots last week, and given their performances over recent weeks, I can’t see them winning this one at home, even if they are playing the inconsistent Bills. I don’t know what effect not having the Ryan brothers coaching, or EJ Manuel will have at quarterback, but in a competition where I can’t skip games, I’m backing the Bills to cover this one.
Gee’s Pick: Bills
Dan’s Pick: Bills
Bears @ Vikings (-5.5)
The Vikings lost against a surging Packers team last week and now host a Bears team who got their own drubbing last week. This feels like to many points for the Vikings to cover, but the Bears were horrible last week. It’s a hard one for me to predict, but my gut says this is too many points for a disappointing Vikings team.
Gee’s Pick: Bears
Dan’s Pick: Bears
Ravens @ Bengals (-2.5)
The Ravens got knocked out of the playoffs last week, but they are a consistent team that will be looking to cement a winning record and this could be Steve Smith’s final game in what has been an impressive career for the receiver. The Bengals keep teams close, but I find it hard to believe that they will win this one and I don’t believe they are the better team and so I’m taking the points.
Gee’s Pick: Ravens
Dan’s Pick: Ravens
Browns @ Steelers (-6.5)
With the news of the various players on offence that the Steelers are resting, I think that the Browns may well cover in this game. I’m going to look a fool if Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, or Antonio Brown do play, but under the circumstances I think that the rest makes sense and so the Browns follow up their first win of the season by covering. Hopefully…
Gee’s Pick: Browns
Dan’s Pick: Steelers
Cowboys @ Eagles (-2.5)
This is another game where starters could be rested as the Cowboys have secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They also travel to Philadelphia to face an Eagles team coming off an excellent win against the Giants the previous Thursday night. It’s a hard game to predict, but in the end I’m going to stick with the home team.
Gee’s Pick: Eagles
Dan’s Pick: Cowboys
Texans @ Titans (-2.5)
The Titans not only were knocked out of the playoffs last week, but lost Marcus Mariota to a broken leg and it is hard to see them winning out in a game against a Texans team who really need to find a rhythm with recently promoted to starting quarterback Tom Savage leading the offence before the playoffs, whilst their defence has been good for most of the season.
Gee’s Pick: Texans
Dan’s Pick: Texans
Jaguars @ Colts (-4.5)
This is a hard game to pick given that the Colts are coming off a close loss to the Raiders and a big win against the Vikings, whilst the Jaguars were beating the Titans even before Mariota was injured, but both teams have disappointed this year. In the end I’m not prepared to back the Jaguars on the back of one good game, and if I could stay away from this game I would, but as I can’t I’ll reluctantly chose the Colts to cover.
Gee’s Pick: Colts
Dan’s Pick: Colts
Patriots @ Dolphins (+9.5)
The Dolphins have a pretty good record against the Patriots in Miami, and this seems a surprisingly large line given that the Patriots have little to play for this week ahead of their bye and so I will join Dan in backing the Dolphins in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Dolphins
Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
Panthers @ Buccaneers (-6.5)
The Panthers looked back to themselves for a small stretch this season, but Cam Newton has not been playing well and the loss of Luke Kuechly to concussion has hurt the defence a lot. The Buccaneers theoretically still have a chance to make the playoffs, but for all practical purposes they are eliminated, yet they will still want to win this one and at home they stand a fair chance. However, the big question is whether they can cover this line, and although their overall DVOA is pretty similar, the weighted by opponent ranking significantly improves for the Bucs and in the end I just have this feeling that they will.
Gee’s Pick: Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick: Buccaneers
Saints @ Falcons (-6.5)
This is another large line, but the Falcons have been playing well and against many teams might be good to cover it, however the Saints are coming into this game with their own two game winning streak. However, as good as Drew Brees has been, the Saints defence is likely to struggle to slow down the Falcons who can secure a bye with a win and in the end I think they will be too good for the Saints.
Gee’s Pick: Falcons
Dan’s Pick: Falcons
Raiders @ Broncos (-1.5)
The Broncos lie third in the competitive AFC West as both of last year’s Super Bowl teams failed to make the playoffs. Meanwhile the Raiders can secure a bye week with a win but sadly lost Derek Carr to a broken leg last week. I don’t know if backup Matt McGloin can get them the win or what the Raiders can do in the playoffs, but the Broncos have struggled on offence all season, and even their defence struggled last week. Coming into this game with a three game losing streak I find it hard to pick the Broncos and the Raiders need to prepare what they have for the playoffs.
Gee’s Pick: Raiders
Dan’s Pick: Broncos
Chiefs @ Chargers (+5.5)
I am wary of this game as the Chargers won a prospective final game in San Diego last season when it seemed like they could be leaving, and it looks like they will be moving this year, but the team is just so injured and the Chiefs are a team with playoff seeding to play for. I could be wrong, but I do see the Chiefs continuing their excellent regular season run and covering this line.
Gee’s Pick: Chiefs
Dan’s Pick: Chiefs
Cardinals @ Rams (+6.5)
The Rams continued their losing streak against the 49ers despite having a 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter, but they still struggle and it is hard to see them beating a Cardinals team who appear to be trying to finish strongly. An impressive season from David Johnson has not helped the Cardinals push for the playoffs, but they will want to avenge their week four loss. The line makes me worry, but there is a big difference in the DVOA figures between these teams that makes me think the Cardinals will cover, albeit slightly nervously.
Gee’s Pick: Cardinals
Dan’s Pick: Cardinals
Giants @ Washington (-7.5)
Washington needs to win this game to get in the playoffs, and the Giants have nothing to play for as they are locked into the fifth seed. The line makes me pause, but the offence of Washington has been playing very well for much of this season and if the Giants begin to rest their starters ahead of the playoffs I can see Washington covering this line. I’m changing my mind on this one, which is always dangerous, but under the circumstances and with the game being played in Washington, I think that Washington can and will cover.
Gee’s Pick: Washington
Dan’s Pick: Giants
Seahawks @ 49ers (+9.5)
This is another big line, and I find it hard to think that the Seahawks will definitely cover this one given the problems they have had on offence thanks to the injuries. In fact the Seahawks are limping into the playoffs having lost start safety Earl Thomas to injury, but that said the 49ers have lost to everyone bar the Rams in a season where they have really struggled. I want to pick the 49ers, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Gee’s Pick: Seahawks
Dan’s Pick: Seahawks
Packers @Lions (+3.5)
This is the big game of the week, with the winner getting into the playoffs. The Lions have faltered in recent weeks, whilst the Packers who were at 4-6 had Aaron Rodgers claim they would win out and are now only this game from doing just that. He has also played very well as the Packers won five straight and it does feel that the Packers have all the momentum coming into this one. A lot of the Lions success was built on last minute comebacks, but a 9-6 record belies their ranking of twenty-seventh by DVOA and in the end I can’t pick against the Packers in this game. I am really looking forward to seeing what happens though.
Gee’s Pick: Packers
Dan’s Pick: Packers
Well with Christmas out of the way, it’s back to the Football – this week saw the AFC’s play-off team finalised as well as most of the NFC, so week 16 turned out to be an exciting Christmas present to us NFL fans, and we’ve watched some of the best of them! We also talk about what’s going on with Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, and what’s next for the newly job-less Rex Ryan… and with one week left, and just 1 point separating us, we reveal who we’ve picked for Week 17’s games.
Source: The Wrong Football Podcast – The Wrong Football Podcast – Episode 37