2019 Wildcard Sunday

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Two games down and two more to go, but first we have this week’s trivia questions, where Dan’s Dad asked us:

‘After the Dolphins made it to Super Bowl VIII after the 1973 season, what was the next season they saw Super Bowl action?

Who did the Vikings play in their first Super Bowl, which was Super Bowl IV, played on January 11, 1970?

The Patriots moved and changed their name in 1971. What was the home city and their name prior to that?’

So the first question is one of those that is worrying me because I know that Dan Marino went to the Super Bowl early in his career, lost and everybody thought it would be okay because he would go back but he never did, yet I’m not totally sold on the year. I think it’s 1982 or 1983 and I’m going to plump for 1982 and hope I’m not trumped by Dan’s franchise knowledge of his own team.

I had an idiot moment when I first looked at the Vikings question as my brain thought Packers before it realized that would be impossible as they are both NFC teams. I’m not totally sure on this, but I think the Kansas City Chiefs were one of the early winners so I’m going to plump for them, and hope it wasn’t the Jets…

I have no idea on the Patriot question as again I don’t remember hearing about a franchise move, and I’m now once bitten twice shy of accusing 3D of being extra devious after being wrong the other week about the Chiefs. I’m wondering if the team have moved from Boston to their current location in Foxborough, but I really don’t know so let’s go with the Boston Whalers, even though that might be a hockey team.

Now over to Dan:

‘So, the Dolphins question I know. 1973 was the third Super Bowl in a row for the Dolphins, and after that I believe it was 1982 (when I think we lost to the Redskins, but I might be wrong there).

Now the guess… while one of our ‘three in a row’ was against the Vikings, 1970 would be the year prior to that run, so it’s not us. I’ll guess it was the 49ers.

And then back to confidence! Before the New England Patriots were the New England Patriots, I believe they were known as the Boston Patriots. And they still weren’t good enough to beat the Dolphins! #FinsUp!’

Minnesota Vikings (6th) @ New Orleans Saints (3rd)

The New Orleans Saints are the fourth ranked team by DVOA, but are a lot of people’s favourites to come out of the NFC in the Super Bowl and have looked good all season, which is particularly impressive as they achieved their 13-3 record with Drew Brees missing five games with a hand fracture. Their offence ranks fourth by DVOA, but their defence that was for so long the Achilles heel of the Saints franchise post the Bountygate scandal ranks just outside the top ten and has done more than enough to facilitate winning. Even their special teams is ranked third in the league by DVOA and so at home they are a particularly formidable opponent for the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings are another wildcard team who had a winning record all season but like the Bills in the AFC East, couldn’t keep up with the division winner as the Packers won thirteen games. This is the second year of Kirk Cousins three-year guaranteed contract but with an 0-9 record in Monday night games and an 0-2 playoff record there are plenty of questions about his performances in big games. The playoff record is a little unfair as Washington have not won a playoff game since 2005 and he wasn’t even the starter in 2012, but to win in New Orleans is a tough ask. The Vikings managed to be the Saints two seasons ago with a remarkable last minute score, but their defence has looked slightly vulnerable against the pass this season, whilst the offence took a while to find its feet. Kirk Cousins has looked really good for a lot of the second half of the season, but in the last couple of weeks an injury to running back Dalvin Cook has hurt their running game and the Vikings come into this game having lost their last two.

I think it will be a close game, but I do think that the Saints likely have too much for the Vikings, which will do nothing to dispel the narrative that surrounds Cousins and I will be interested to see if the Vikings stick with their offensive coordinator if they do lose as if there is a criticism of Mike Zimmer it is his interference with the offence and the number of offensive coordinators he has been through, but let’s get this game out of the way before we worry about that. For the Saints, who have been so close the last two seasons and were essentially robbed of a place in last year’s Super Bowl by a bad call, time is running out for Brees to get another Super Bowl and this could be the year.

Seattle Seahawks (5th) @ Philadelphia Eagles (4th)

The last wildcard game pits two of the most injured teams to make the playoffs against each other. The Philadelphia Eagles are the fourth seed by dint of winning the NFC East, but this took a four-game winning streak against the rest of their division to close out 9-7. The Eagles actually have a worse record than the Seahawks, and rank three places below them in overall DVOA, but they should not be underestimated. However, they barely have any receivers left, and even their leading tight end Zach Ertz is dealing with a rumoured lacerated kidney. However, Carson Wentz seems to have adapted to the recent change in game plan well and running back Boston Scott caught the eye last week, even if his average yards per carry was pretty paltry. The defence is beginning to get its pass rush back, which is important as the secondary is another area where the Eagles have a cluster of injuries.

The Seahawks may not have quite the same number of injuries as the Eagles, but a key injury to left tackle Duane Brown as well as injuries at running back that has resulted in Marshawn Lynch being signed out of retirement have dented the Seahawks attack. It still seems slightly odd that the Seahawks insist on featuring the run so heavily when they have one of the best passers in the game, but it will take all of Russell Wilsons ability to evade the pass rush to keep the Seahawks in this game. Especially as their usually strong defence only ranks eighteenth by DVOA this regular season. Interestingly the Seahawks have actually been better on the road this year, going 7-1 as opposed to their surprising 4-4 home record, which is very poor for a team who pride themselves on being one of the tougher places to visit in the NFL.

This looks like another close game, and I can absolutely see the Eagles doing enough to win the contest, but I give the advantage to the Seahawks simply because we know how good Russell Wilson is and this is Carson Wentz’s first ever playoff game.

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

2019 Wildcard Saturday

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The playoffs start today, and unusually both AFC teams are playing today with the NFC taking over the Sunday schedule so let’s take a look at the two AFC matchups.

Buffalo Bills (5th) @ Houston Texans (6th)

The Texans won out in the AFC South and are rewarded by getting to host the Buffalo Bills. The headline news about the Texans is the return of JJ Watt from a pectoral injury and he has been cleared to play but this is much earlier than is typical for such an injury so I don’t know how effective Watt will be. Of more importance to the Texans in recent weeks is whether Will Fuller will play as the often injured this season receiver seems to have a dramatic effect on the offence through his ability to stretch the field. He was rested last week but it is looking doubtful that can play, and even if the answer at the start of the game is yes the question is whether he can give the Texans what they need and he has already aggravated an injury and had to come out the game once this season as well as missing five others. Interestingly, the Texans are ranked six places lower overall by DVOA than the Bills and not only are the worst ranked of the playoff teams by DVOA, but are ranked below seven teams who failed to make the playoffs. Now two of those teams are special cases as only this year’s iteration of the Cowboys could manage to rank top ten statistically (6th overall by DVOA) and still manage to miss the playoffs with their 8-8 record, whilst the Rams in a down year still won nine games despite having to play the 49ers and Seahawks twice thanks to being in the fearsomely competitive NFC West. The Bills also ranked below the Rams and Cowboys but unlike the Texans, they did not rank behind any other team who failed to make the playoffs.

The Bills has a somewhat quiet season in terms of press coverage despite never coming close to a losing record and finishing the regular season 10-6. They are not a flashy team and have their limitations on offence. In his second year Josh Allen has improved, but he is still far from an elite quarterback but the Bills have done enough to win thanks to their defence, which ranks sixth in the league by DVOA and hasn’t allowed the opposition to score more than seventeen points in the last four weeks. This looks like it should be a really competitive game and I don’t have a clear winner in this one, but I just get the feeling that between the Texans being at home and Deshuan Watson’s ability to conjure something out nothing, that the Texans will edge this one out. That said I love the direction the Bills are heading in, with a front office and coach working in lock step over the last three years, and even if they don’t manage to get their first playoff win since 1995 today, it feels like it is coming.

Tennessee Titans (6th) @ New England Patriots (3rd)

The Patriots won the AFC East for the eleventh year straight, but have not looked quite the same team on offence, with people whispering with a little more evidence this time that Tom Brady is too old and a week seventeen loss to the Dolphins set alarm bells ringing amongst their faithful fans. The Patriots have the number one defence in the league, but have neither been able to get the passing game going whenever they want nor had the power running game they were able to utilise to such effect last season. Between the retirement of Robert Gronkowski and the play of Tom Brady dipping just enough, people are wondering if the end of an era is finally coming.

Part of the reason for this worry is their opponent, the Tennessee Titans who after a rough start to the season switched to Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback and from then went on a 7-3 run that took them to the playoffs. They also enter this game with the rushing champion of the league in Derrick Henry who managed to average over five yards a carry, whilst rookie receiver AJ Brown had a breakout season and seems to have forged a real bond with Tannehill.

This game should be fascinating, although the often-bad January weather looks to be heading into New England. The Titans have a real chance in this game, but it feels like Patriots probably have enough to win this at home, particularly as I am sure that Belichick and his staff with be throwing every trick they have at this game. It is a testament to their history that no one is comfortable writing them off, but this could very well be an end of era, and if the Patriots do win they are going to really struggle against either the Ravens or the Chiefs.

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

Competition Thursday & The Disappointed Twenty: NFC Edition

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Well the picks competition is over and for a second consecutive year since he started competing, Dan’s Dad is pick champion whilst I slipped back to third.

Dan’s Dad: Week 17:   6-10 Overall:   143-113
Dan: Week 17:   6-10 Overall:   136-120
Gee: Week 17:   7-9 Overall:   130-126

Looking back at last year I am three points worse whilst Dan has increased his score by eleven (I suspect through not blindly picking the Dolphins) whilst Dan’s Dad added a modest six to beat Dan by seven, which is a three point increase on his lead over me last season.

The moral of all this is that Dan and I will need to really step are games up next season if we’re stop the blog permanently being purple and gold. I’ll let 3D fill in the rest in his trivia write up, whilst I take a run through the teams from the NFC who left us this week.

The Disappointed Twenty: NFC Edition

The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of talent on the roster, but couldn’t convert good statistics into wins with clear issues in coaching. However, there is still no word out of Dallas about Jason Garrett losing his job despite everybody thinking it would happen. His contract doesn’t run out until later this month, but with a series of solid drafts the big question for next season is what is going to happen with the coach and until we know that, you can’t say too much about the Cowboys’ plans for next year, although they do have to make big decisions on who to re-sign.

The New York Giants had a tough season with a few scattered bright spots from rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, but clearly had a disappointing season finishing 4-12. After two consecutive losing season this has cost Pat Shurmur his job, but interestingly not Dave Gettleman. I mention Gettleman not because I have any wish to campaign for someone to be fired, but the Giants have not won for two season and Gettleman was responsible for picking Saquon Barkley with the second pick two years ago rather than taking a quarterback or even listening to offers. Even in last year’s draft he took Daniel Jones at a position much higher than he was predicted to go when he had a second pick in the first round to use on him. It’s hard to know what is going to happen in the off-season, but I don’t have a lot of faith in this franchise to make enough of the right decisions to improve drastically next season.

The seasons of failure continued in Washington, but Dan Snyder has certainly wasted no time in making changes having fired Jay Gruden earlier in the season. Gone from the front office is Bruce Allen whilst the news of new head coach Ron Rivera’s hiring was broken Monday and made official on Wednesday. There is a lot of work to turn around the culture in Washington and a lot will depend on who the new GM is and who has final say in drafting players and roster moves, but they do at least have an experienced coach who has always had a great relationship with his locker room.

The Chicago Bears finished 8-8 with third year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky failing to develop from last season. There are some big decisions coming with regards to their signal caller, and certainly the move to get him is not justifying itself yet so all eyes will be on him until he either proves himself or another player is given a go. It will be worth watching the Bears in the off-season to see if they make any moves at quarterback.

The Detroit Lions hired Matt Patricia to put them over the top having missed out on the playoffs with a 9-7 record under Jim Caldwell. Unfortunately, Patricia decided an overhaul was needed and the Lions have been rewarded with first a 6-10 season and now 3-12-1 so next season is a big one for Patricia who has kept his job. It may be that the saving grace for him was quarterback Matt Stafford being out for the latter half of the year, but the defence hasn’t been good (it’s never good for a head coach if their side of the ball is not great) and I imagine there will need to be a dramatic turnaround next season for there not to be big changes.

The Atlanta Falcons started the season 1-7 but managed to finish 7-9 and come second in the NFC South as the players seemed to rally round their head coach Dan Quinn and were successful in keeping him his job. However, I don’t know if they can turn things round in the off-season given that things haven’t really been right since they were in the Super Bowl and at some point there may need to be a change to get back to winning ways.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also finished 7-9, although they started 2-6 but their season can be summed up in the performance of Jameis Winston who threw for over five thousand yards and thirty touchdowns, but he also threw thirty interceptions. It feels like the positive statistics means that you have to re-sign Winston, but unless Bruce Arians can find a way to limit the turnovers it is hard to see the Bucs consistently win.

The Carolina Panthers had a rough season, starting with two losses before Cam Newton was sat with injuries that ultimately didn’t see him return to the field. The Panthers turned to backup quarterback Kyle Allen who was able to get the team back to a 5-3 record before things truly fell apart and they could not win another game this season. This led to Ron Rivera being fired before the end of the season, and has overshadowed the remarkable feat of running back Christian McCaffrey who managed to amass over a thousand yards rushing and receiving. New owner David Tepper says he wants to meld old school football toughness with modern analytics and is also overhauling the front office so we shall just have to see what this results in next year.

The LA Rams finished with a winning record, but could never quite compete with the Seahawks and 49ers in their division. They never fell below .500 but Todd Gurley does not look the same running back and as a result for much of the season Sean McVay couldn’t find the right balance on offence. He is still a really good coach, but there are now structural problems with the roster as they have a lot of money tied up Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. Neither player have really lived up to them, and there are other players who also need signing and not many draft picks to refresh the roster. The front office think they have a different formula to compete, but next season will be key to see if the franchise can bounce back or if things are going to go badly.

Finally, we have the Arizona Cardinals who got five wins in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season as an NFL head coach with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray showing promise. Given how much work was needed to improve the roster, it was no mean feat to improve their season record by two wins and a draw from last year given the quality of the other teams in the NFC West. However, they will need Steve Keim to have a good off-season if the Cardinals are to get enough talent for them to challenge for the playoffs and if they fail to make it for a fifth season then perhaps the position of Keim is the one that will need examining.

Wildcard Trivia

‘Greetings Friends

Week 17 has come and gone and the end of the Regular Season has delivered what we hope will be a juicy playoff series.

I will be keen to see if the Vikings can reverse their recent collapse of momentum against the Saints, but with the 49ers lying in wait this will be a big ask. Equally attractive is the Seahawks and Eagles vying for a match up at Green Bay. Yet again the NFC seems to deliver some meaty games.

In the AFC I am less excited by the Wildcard games, although never rule out the Pats is one lesson I’ve learned. The excitement though will be in the next games when the oft-unfancied Ravens and the Chiefs re-enter the battle.

I feel that the week’s gap for 4 teams can go either way. Momentum or recovery time can be important and this is one area where a coach earns their corn.

I’ll stick my neck out now and predict that Superbowl LIV will be contested between the Saints and the Chiefs with Kansas running out narrow winners. There, I’ve given you a stick to beat me with. Ho Hum never mind.

Talking of predictions the Picks competition also ended on Sunday and I agree with Gee’s comments in Thursdays post that week 17 is very difficult to call as some teams have nothing to play for while others would be desperate to position themselves well for either the Play-offs or, don’t forget, who will be on the roster for next year. Already we have seen the coaching merry-go-round starting up and I see this being a very busy closed season.

I think the mixed agendas contributed to one of the lowest scoring weeks we have had. What is pleasing though is that as a group we have increased the total of wins by 9 over last season. Dan and I managed a disappointing 6 each but the week was won by Gee on 7. But how I achieved a rank of 2253 in the whole competition I will never know. Maybe it proves I have a smarter pin than I thought.

One thing that is still running through the post season is the trivia quiz and in week 17 I set 2 questions both around LA Quarterbacks. They were:

I was the quarterback that led the Rams to a victory in the 2000 Super Bowl against the Tennessee Titans. I lost my starting job after I fumbled six times in the first game of the 2003 season. Who am I?

This was correctly identified by both Dan and Gee as Kurt Warner

Which Charger quarterback bounced back from a dismal 2003-04 season, winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award, throwing 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions, and landing himself a spot in the 2005 NFL Pro Bowl?

Here too they both named Drew Brees.

So 4 points each being Gee up to 19 and Dan 22.

This week I will drop in at 3 teams and again there is 2 points for each.

First we are at the Miami Dolphins, so no pressure here Dan.

After the Dolphins made it to Super Bowl VIII after the 1973 season, what was the next season they saw Super Bowl action?

Next we relocate to the Twin Cities to ask this about the Vikes.

Who did the Vikings play in their first Super Bowl, which was Super Bowl IV, played on January 11, 1970?

Finally this week it is the New England Patriots,

The Patriots moved and changed their name in 1971. What was the home city and their name prior to that?

Right then, that’s 2019 done and we look for a vision for 2020. Catch you next week’

The End of the 2019 Regular Season

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So here we are at the end of the regular season, but the start of playoffs and a new decade. I’m going to do a recap of the games I watched in week seventeen before I run through the AFC side of the Disappointed Twenty, and will follow up tomorrow with the NFC side.

What I Saw

The first game I watched in week seventeen had no bearing on the playoffs or draft position, but it still made me happy as the Cincinnati Bengals secured only their second win of the season as they beat the Cleveland Browns in a relatively comfortable manner. The Bengals pass rush was able to harass Baker Mayfield all game and got six sacks as well as picking him off three times. I’ll be talking about both of these teams in my roundup so only thing I will add here is that I was surprisingly happy about this win, even if it was ultimately meaningless in the wider scheme of things.

Whilst the Bengals win had no real affect on things, one of the other TWF teams had a definitive effect on the playoffs even thought they will not be playing either. For a bad season in terms of results, there has been much to be cheered about this season for a Miami Dolphins team, who got more wins that you are supposed to whilst rebooting your roster and look to have found a really good head coach who cemented this view with a win against the New England Patriots that cost their divisional foes a bye week and throws them into an eminently losable match-up against the Tennessee Titans next week. The problems that have plagued the Patriots offence resurfaced this week, but in addition Tom Brady threw a horrid pick-six where he sailed a ball between two receivers that Eric Rowe grabbed and took gratefully into the end zone. If that wasn’t bad enough, Stephon Gilmore did not look at all like the shutdown corner he has looked like for most of the season and the Pats’ defence did not look itself. I’m still not going to declare the Patriots done until I’ve seen them eliminated, but I can’t remember a recent time where the Pats looked this vulnerable this late in the season.

There were two divisions up for grabs in week seventeen and the first of them to be won saw the Philadelphia Eagles finish their mission impossible with four straight wins despite the injuries that plagued them all season. Their final victim were the New York Giants who offered up some glimpses of what Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley might be able to achieve between them as the Giants kept the game close into the fourth quarter, helped by an impressive sixty-eight yard touchdown run from Barkley, but whilst Jones managed to outgain the Eagles’ Carson Wentz through the air, he could not match his care with the ball and the Eagles finished strongly to win 34-17.

The final game of the regular season was to decide the AFC West as the Seattle Seahawks hosted the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers had dipped in form thanks to injury but looked to be getting back to some of their mid-season form in recent weeks and got out to a strong start in this one, building a thirteen point lead that should have been more whilst holding the Seahawks scoreless. The Seahawks have injury problems of their own, hence the signing of Marshawn Lynch out of retirement, who provoked a huge response from the Seattle crowd despite not producing that many yards but did get a touchdown. However, Russel Wilson was able to work out the 49ers defence in the second half and mount a comeback that very easily could have produced the win were it not for a combination of refereeing and the return of late game mismanagement. The Seahawks had three downs on the one-yard line to get the winning touchdown, or would have if they had not been called for delay of game and then failed to get in from the five. The result means the Seahawks travel to face the Eagles and could very well face the 49ers again before the end of the playoffs.

The Disappointed Twenty: AFC Edition

So here is my quick run through the AFC teams who missed out on the playoffs.

The New York Jets finished 7-9, despite losing their starting quarterback to mono and so you could say that this was not a bad year. The problem is that I am not convinced by Adam Gase as a head coach these days, but whilst I don’t think he has done anything to lose his job, a lot will be riding on next season.

I have already mentioned that the Dolphins looked to have found a really good head coach in Brian Flores, and with the influx of picks coming in the next couple of years things could really take off for the Dolphins. They need to find a franchise quarterback, and Dan would very much like them to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick as a mentor/capable backup, but if the Dolphins get the picks right they could be peaking as the Patriots enter into a new phase of the franchise.

Given the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their franchise quarterback to injury in week two, their 8-8 record is very creditable, and Mike Tomlin answered those who suggested that the Steelers might need to make a change at head coach. However, now having fixed the defence it is the offence that needs attention now, and given this franchise’s record of finding receivers in recent years you would like to think this is possible.  However, the Steelers are another franchise who will need a new quarterback sooner than later, but we shall have to see if Ben Roethlisberger has another trip to the playoffs in him.

The Cleveland Browns had a horrible year full of dysfunction and disappointment that ended with the firing of both Freddie Kitchens and GM John Dorsey. I wrote that there were warning signs before the season, and having created a roster full of character issues and not been prepared to change his role after a discussion with owner Jimmy Haslam, Dorsey lost his job for it. There is a lot to put right in Cleveland and it feels like they need a coach capable of building a winning culture at the Browns and sorting out Baker Mayfield. Given their track record it’s hard to have faith that Haslam will get this decision right but the fans in Cleveland definitely deserve better.

The results for the Bengals may have been hugely disappointed, but the culture in Cincinnati certainly seemed to hold up through the season and the players were saying good things about Zac Taylor. It looks like Joe Burrow is going to be the Bengals selection with the first overall pick, which is exciting because of both the player he is and the person he seems to be (Heisman Speech). I always hoped that Andy Dalton would get the right team to prove people wrong as under the right circumstances he was a really good quarterback (that 2015 team will forever haunt me because of his injury) and I hope he gets to enjoy success going forward, but I am ready for a new leader and hopefully a better team. It will need to be given the how good the Ravens are likely to be for years to come.

The Indianapolis Colts had their plans for the season thrown into the air with Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, but further burnished the credentials of head coach Frank Reich by going 7-9 with Jacoby Brissett as quarterback and with some different injury luck could have won more game. I wonder if they will be looking at quarterbacks in the off-season, but given their franchise progress over the last couple of years under GM Chris Ballard I see them being competitive again next season. That said, the other reason they struggled this year was that after a Hall of Fame career, kicker Adam Vinatieri had a bad year before having knee surgery that ended his season. It’s hard to see a forty-seven year old man coming back next season, but you would have said that for a number of seasons before now and it has been an incredibly impressive career that should not tarnished by a difficult season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars had a disappointing year where a sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew outplayed their prime off-season signing at quarterback. The Jaguars have provided a structural conundrum for a while and really need to establish an identity, but it is interesting that after a second season of missing the playoffs they are keeping GM Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone in place having fired Tom Coughlin once the players’ union announced that the Jaguars accounted for 25% of all their filed grievances. I’m really not sure what to expect next season as there are a lot of questions surrounding their roster and we shall have to see if they can get everyone pointed in the right direction next season.

The Denver Broncos finished the season with four wins out of five and in Drew Lock may well have finally found a quarterback to follow Peyton Manning. It may have taken some time for Vic Fangio to get things working for the Broncos in his first year, but if they can build on their late season success in the off-season then the Broncos can be back in contention next season.

The last year of the Raiders playing in Oakland saw them improve by three wins from 2018, but Jon Gruden still finished with a losing record and questions will continue to be asked about quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders lost their first round safety early in the season, but rookie running back Josh Jacobs established himself as franchise back until he was injured and if the Raiders can continue to add talent they can compete for the playoffs in their first season in Las Vegas. There’s still something that is making me hesitate to say they will do this, but if Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have a second good off-season and don’t have the distractions of Antonio Brown they could easily do so.

It felt like Philip Rivers was saying goodbye after the LA Chargers last game, and the franchise seems to be in flux having failed to build on last year’s success, hampered again by injuries and seeming short on fans in LA. I don’t know what is going to happen to this franchise in the off-season, head coach Anthony Lynn seems safe but the Chargers need a new quarterback and something to bring the fans in. To be honest I’m not sure they are going to make a success of life in LA and whilst I think a possible move to London is a non-story (as their owner colourfuly explained earlier this year), I do think they could rue the day they left San Diego, even if Dean Spanos is unlikely to admit it.

That’s it for today’s post – check back tomorrow for a round up of the NFC teams as Competition Thursday swings into gear.

2019 Week Seventeen Picks

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There’s not too much riding on this week’s picks for me given how far I am behind, which is possibly a good thing as this is one of the hardest weeks to pick with many teams not having anything to play for and others resting players ahead of the start of the playoffs. At this time of the season pretty much everyone is going to be carrying some kind of injury and I never like trying to guess the motivation of players and coaches, but I will do my best to get as high a score as possible. Still, for once I feel relatively comfortable with the trivia questions:

I was the quarterback that led the Rams to a victory in the 2000 Super Bowl against the Tennessee Titans. I lost my starting job after I fumbled six times in the first game of the 2003 season. Who am I?

Which Charger quarterback bounced back from a dismal 2003-04 season, winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award, throwing 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions, and landing himself a spot in the 2005 NFL Pro Bowl?

I think I know the answer to both of these questions, including the slightly sneaky second one, The first quarterback playing for the then San Diego Rams in an offence nicknamed the Greatest Show on Turf and was Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, whilst the second I believe is the future Hall of Famer who is now inextricably linked to the New Orleans Saints, but who started his career in San Diego – Drew Brees.

‘I think I know these this week, which I’m very pleased about so let’s see what Gee can do!

Question one is Hall of Famer Kurt Warner – he presents on the NFL Network now and he’s a very knowledgable guy but wouldn’t let viewers forget his Super Bowl ring! Doesn’t mention those fumbles though strangely enough!

Question two is the sure-to-be Hall of Famer, Drew Brees. Known of course now for his legendary career in New Orleans but he started life as a Charger and I think it would have been around this time.’

Falcons @ Buccaneers (-1.5)

The first game in the week’s list makes me hesitate as the absence of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver didn’t hinder Jameis Winston that much last week as he threw for over three hundred yards, but he also threw four interceptions in a losing effort for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Houston Texans. This week the Bucs host the Atlanta Falcons who have won three straight and five of their last seven games, which some are saying is the team trying to save their coach. I don’t have the information to make such a statement but given the way these teams are playing, the Bucs’ injuries at receiver and Winston’s propensity for giving the ball away I am going to grab the points.

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

Jets @ Bills (-1.5)

The Buffalo Bills are locked up as the fifth seed and so technically don’t have anything to play for this week, except this is why the season now finishes with divisional games and it is hard to see head coach Sean McDermott not going for the win. Meanwhile the New York Jets have quietly won five of their last seven, but one of those losses was against the Bengals and I think the Bills are a much better team.

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

Bears @ Vikings (-6.5)

This is a game where nether team has much to play for. The Minnesota Vikings are locked into the sixth seed but will want to make amends after last week’s loss to the Packers, However, Dalvin Cook will still be sat out as they try to get his shoulder injury right for the playoffs so I wonder how much of a reaction there will be for the Vikings. The Chicago Bears meanwhile have been eliminated from the playoffs so this is a tricky road game for them. In this situation I am going to nervously grab the points as right now I can see the Vikings getting three and half points not giving away six and a half, which is a huge swing away from this line.

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

Browns @ Bengals (+2.5)

The Cleveland Browns need to win this game to equal the number of wins they got last season, but they go into this off-season with a very different feel and I don’t know how they are going to react to a disastrous season of dysfunction, It certainly feels like the Cincinnati Bengals are set to take Joe Burrow in the new year having secured the number one pick in the draft. You only have to look at the comeback against the Dolphins last week to see how hard the players are still playing for the Bengals and there has not been the locker room discontent that you often hear from teams with a losing record so I am going to grab the points here and see if the Bengals can show something for next season.

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

Packers @ Lions (+10.5)

This might be a big line but the Green Bay Packers have a shot at the number one seed in the NFC and the Detroit Lions have now lost eight straight and you have to go four games back to find a game where the Lions would cover this line. I could regret this, but I am seeing an even bigger number online so I’m going to back the Packers.

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

Chargers @ Chiefs (-7.5)

The Kansas City Chiefs have won five straight but still need to secure the number three seed as they welcome an LA Chargers team in flux. The Chargers lost last week in front of so many Raider fans in their home stadium that they had to use a hard count and go into the off-season with big questions around their move yet alone their future with Philip Rivers finally looking his age and out of contract. I’m not sure what is going to happen in the off-season, but I’m pretty sure the Chiefs are going to win this game and I’m going to guess by enough to cover this line.

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

Dolphins @ Patriots (-15.5)

The Miami Dolphins were three wins better than they needed to be to secure the first pick in the draft, but they still have plenty of draft capital to take advantage of and Brian Flores has impressed in his first year as a head coach. This is a tough game though as they head into New England to face a playoff bound Patriots team who looked a little better on offence last week. I don’t expect anything other than a Patriots win, but this is a huge line and it is too rich for me.

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

Saints @ Panthers (+13.5)

The New Orleans Saints are one of three teams who could secure the first seed in the NFC and who have looked good for most of the season, even with Drew Brees sitting for a number of games. This is a tricky line for me though as the Saints only beat the Carolina Panthers by three points in week twelve but the Panthers also lost by thirty-two points last week. I could come to regret this as the Saints will be motivated, but on the road facing a divisional opponent I’m going to say this is too many points and hope not to be proven an idiot.

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

Washington @ Cowboys (-10.5)

The Dallas Cowboys are the seventh ranked team by DVOA, and by a lot of stats look to be a good team but this has not manifested itself into a good record. At 7-8 the Cowboys still have a slim chance of going to the playoffs but it relies on the Eagles losing as well as them beating Washington. The issue there is that Dak Prescott is struggling with a shoulder injury and did not look himself at all last week. As it turns out Washington also have quarterback problems with rookie Dwayne Haskins likely out with a high ankle sprain. I do see the Cowboys winning this game, but this line is simply too big for me to back the home team.

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

Raiders @ Broncos (-3.5)

I have very little faith in the Oakland Raiders right now, but they did beat the LA Chargers last week. Yet at 7-8 they only have three more wins than last season and this is Jon Gruden’s second year. Perhaps they can turn things round next season and justify the long contract they gave Gruden, but right now they are the twenty-fourth ranked team by DVOA travelling to face the twenty-third ranked Denver Broncos. The Broncos have won three of their last four games and so you can see why they are the favourites in this game. I’m not confident in the result of this contest, and the Raiders do have an outside shot of making the playoffs but with Gruden talking about not rushing players back from injury I’m going to back the team with more wins over the last few weeks.

Gee’s Pick:        Broncos
Dan’s Pick:        Raiders

Titans @ Texans (+4.5)

The Tennessee Titans have control of their destiny as if they beat the Houston Texans they get into the playoffs. I think the reason that the Titans are favoured in this line is that the Texans’ receiver Will Fuller went down injured again last week and whilst the Texans still won, they look a very different team without Fuller to stretch the defence. I like the Titans to get the win despite losing their previous meeting, but this line really gives me pause. However, the Texans are getting even more points when I look online and will only have something to play for if the Chiefs lose so I’m going to stick with the Titans and hope this isn’t going to make me look very daft.

Gee’s Pick:        Titans
Dan’s Pick:        Titans

Colts @ Jaguars (+3.5)

The Jacksonville Jaguars might have beaten the Raiders after Tom Coughlin was let go but they lost against the Falcons last week and in their final game of season they face an Indianapolis Colts team who won big against the Panthers in week sixteen. I can’t read too much into that game as the Colts had lost their previous four, but the Colts are 18.9% better by DVOA and so whilst I really don’t like this line, I am going to back the Colts to cover it.

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

Cardinals @ Rams (-7.5)

The LA Rams have had a strange year, and were competitive last week against the 49ers but are outside the playoffs, although if they were an AFC team they would have a shot at a wildcard with their current 8-7 record. I think they are likely to win this game with the Arizona Cardinals looking at playing without Kyler Murray who has sustained a hamstring injury. However, this is a big line that the Rams have already covered once this season. I’m actually seeing a better number online for the Rams despite the injury to Murray and that makes me pause but I can’t quite bring myself to back the Cardinals.

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

Eagles @ Giants (+4.5)

The Philadelphia Eagles simply need to win this game to make the playoffs, but the New York Giants come into this game having won two straight since rookie quarterback Daniel Jones returned to the starting lineup from injury. The Eagles recent wins are not exactly against impressive opposition and so whilst I think the Eagles are likely to win this game, the points make me nervous enough to take the Giants.

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

Steelers @ Ravens (+2.5)

This is an interesting game in that it will be curious to see how the Baltimore Ravens run their offence with Lamar Jackson sitting, but the Pittsburgh Steelers simplest path to the playoffs is the Titans losing and them winning this game. Given the situation with the Ravens sitting Jackson this is definitely possible, but the line I am seeing online has shrunk and so this is actually a better number for the Ravens, even if the Steelers only need a field goal to cover. I’m really torn on this one but Jackson has been so good that I think I have to nervously back the Steelers as the Ravens are just losing too much from their offence with Jackson on the bench.

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

49ers @ Seahawks (+3.5)

The final game of the season pits two teams who still have something to play for against each other as a win for the Seahawks could see them seeded anywhere from first to third depending on other results whilst a loss would see them on the road as a wildcard team. However, with injuries at offensive tackle and running back this is an even trickier game than last time these two teams played. You don’t sign running back Marshawn Lynch out of retirement when things are going well. Meanwhile, the 49ers may have lost three of their last seven games, but they have also won two tight games against good teams in the last three and enter this game as favourites for a reason. However, despite the 49ers not covering this sized line in four weeks, I can’t quite bring myself to back the Seahawks given the injury situation and so I am reluctantly backing the 49ers who will be looking to try to secure the first seed if they can.

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

 

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

Competition Thursday: Festive Edition

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Unlike the players who will very much be preparing for this weekend’s final regular season games, I have not been hard at it since Christmas Eve and so I am bringing you a small improvised post this festive week.

My first gift to myself is to have watched my usual amount of games and not write them up, but to have watched them as a football fan.

My second gift appears to be my continued languishing in last place in the Picks competition:

Dan’s Dad: Week 16:   8-8 Overall:   137-103
Dan: Week 16:   9-7 Overall:   130-110
Gee: Week 16:   7-9 Overall:   123-117

I also managed to slip up in my entry into the ESPN site, which is why Dan’s Dad thinks I joined him on eight points when I actually managed to fall a further point behind, although mathematically still able to win the league but I suspect that’s not going to happen.

It has not been an easy season of blogging for me for one reason or another, but the site still binds the three of us who write it together and for our teams 2020 holds: a play-off berth, a first overall pick in the draft, and an opportunity to take advantage of roster rebuild that is already well under way with a coach who looks more than ready to utilise the incoming talent.

I hope you are all having a wonderful festive period, I will pick up the pace at the weekend as we head into the new year, play-offs and Super Bowl LIV.

For now, I’ll leave you with the usual Thursday Trivia roundup from Dan’s Dad.

Week 16 Trivia

‘Some weeks ago I trailed Week 16 as being pivotal in the race to the Play-Offs and so it proved. In particular, the bi-annual Packer-Viking matchup which rarely offers a dull game with little hanging on it, and so it proved was the case this week.

For, I think (factcheck needed), the first time the NFC North’s premier teams would both finish the year with at least 10 wins and on the back of that all seeding scenarios were possible – but after MNF these options have shrunk markedly.

[There was no way that 3D could offer up such a challenge and me not take the bait, but in this instance Dan’s Dad is decidedly wrong as since its inception in 2002 there have been six separate second place teams in the NFC North with at least ten wins including the 2012 Minnesota Vikings – Ed,]

For those who didn’t watch the game in the wee-smalls of Tuesday AM, the Vikings started the first two quarters like a team possessed and despite registering only 16 1st half yards but creating 4 turnovers the Vikings ended the half ahead although the second half played out a very different story. Cousins continued to a 0-9 MNF record and while I saw flashes of brilliance I am never inspired. Witness, if you will, the trick play attempted by Cousins and WR Stefon Diggs where misdirection saw Diggs become a proxy QB and just failed to land a pass to the floundering Cousins in Q2. Note to self – position specialists are just that for a reason and its best not to ask a fish to ride a bicycle. Enough to say, the Packers won (again) and could be highly seeded (possibly even top seed) but the Vikings already had a playoff berth secured but that’s what they will get – although who would relish drawing them in the play offs?

The Picks competition rumbles along and overall only Dan managed to close the gap scoring 9 while Gee and I managed a good but unexceptional 8 each [Actually 7 for me – Ed.]. This, with a week to go, leaves me on a pleasing 137 (which is what I took an extra week to reach last year, Dan is on 130 while Gee has battled up to 124 [123] only 2 [3] behind where he was at this point last year.

OK, enough of the smoke blowing where are we with the Trivia Quizzlette?

Dan led Gee by 3 points (18:15) when I asked:
The Kansas City Chiefs were originally known by what name?

Gee went straight for the “3D is playing the devious card” approach while Dan went for something that sounded plausible. That’s their choices but its Christmas, I was on holiday and I wasn’t playing games. So the answer was simply:   The Dallas Texans.

The Chiefs began play as the Dallas Texans, with the birth of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960. Their owner Lamar Hunt, was also the founder of the AFL, and was only 28 years old at the time. Hunt later helped pave the way for the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, and became the first Chief inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.

Moving swiftly on with no change in the scores we arrive in LA so there are 2 ‘simple’ questions about the Chargers and the Rams worth 2 points each

Firstly for the Los Angeles Rams:
I was the quarterback that led the Rams to a victory in the 2000 Super Bowl against the Tennessee Titans. I lost my starting job after I fumbled six times in the first game of the 2003 season. Who am I?

Then for the Los Angeles Chargers:
Which Charger quarterback bounced back from a dismal 2003-04 season, winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award, throwing 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions, and landing himself a spot in the 2005 NFL Pro Bowl?

Probably best attempted before the drink starts flowing and Nanna’s Sherry Trifle lands in the bowl!

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year in the hope that you have enjoyed my offerings in this post over the last season and that the holidays don’t see too much unnecessary roughness.’

2019 Week Sixteen Picks

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Here we are in the penultimate week of the picks competition, although the trivia will roll right into the postseason.

The Kansas City Chiefs were originally known by what name?

I could be wrong on this one again as I’m not an expert on the early history of football but I do not remember any move or other name of the Kansas City franchise coming up so I am going suggest that Dan’s Dad is living up to his devious moniker and that the original is in fact the Chiefs.

‘I’m really stuck with this. I don’t know anything really about KC’s history (note to self, research just in case for next year!) so I’m going to have to guess something which rolls off the tongue. I’ll guess they were previously the Kansas City Cowboys but I’m 99% sure that’s wrong.’

Jaguars @ Falcons (-7.5)

Of the five wins that the Atlanta Falcons have this season, four of them have come in the last six weeks and they include sweeping the Panthers and beating the Saints and 49ers. The welcome a Jacksonville Jaguars team who won last week and who have just fired Tom Coughlin after the NFLPA announced that a quarter of all grievances their players had brought against NFL teams were against the Jaguars. I wonder if there will be some relief for the team now that Coughlin won’t be fining them anymore and this line is just too high for me given how up and down the Falcons had been.

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

Bengals @ Dolphins (-1.5)

Dan and I have been very aware of this matchup all season, even more so when it became clear that both teams looked to be in with a chance of the first pick. With their one win the Bengals have the inside straight to the number one pick yet somehow this number favours the Bengals even though I don’t think they are the better team and I think Brian Flores has looked the better coach. I’m really not sure about this line so the only thing I can do is back my team and hope for bragging rights.

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

Ravens @ Browns (+10.5)

This is a big line, but the Cleveland Browns are a mess and the Baltimore Ravens have the most wins in the NFL for a reason. The line worries me a little but having scored over forty points five times this season I think that with the extra rest coming off Thursday night that the Ravens cover this.

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

Saints @ Titans (+2.5)

The New Orleans Saints looked really good last week whilst the Tennessee Titans lost against the Texans in the big AFC South matchup. However, the Saints have picked up a few injuries in the last couple of week and for all that he is a Fall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees is not as good outside of a dome and so despite all that has gone on before – if you’re giving me points at home for a team that has played like the Titans in recent weeks I’m going to grab them.

Gee’s Pick:        Titans
Dan’s Pick:        Titans

Panthers @ Colts (-6.5)

Despite their struggles in recent weeks, I don’t have a problem with the Indianapolis Colts being a favourite in this game and with a rookie quarterback starting for the Carolina Panthers I might even understand this line but it is too rich for my blood when I don’t trust either team at this point in the season.

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

Giants @ Washington (-2.5)

This is another game that has two teams that I don’t trust. The New York Giants got their third win of the season last week giving Eli Manning an emotional send off in what looks like the last home game of his career. However, it looks like Daniel Jones could come back from his ankle injury this week as the Giants travel to Washington to take on another bad team. There were people who reported that Dwayne Haskins looked better last week, even if Washington did lose the game but I have no strong feeling on this game. As is the case with these things though, I’m seeing this as a much more advantageous line for the Giants with a 3.5 swing from what I’m seeing online against this number so based on that I’m taking the Giants.

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

Steelers @ Jets (+2.5)

The Pittsburgh Steelers may have lost last week but they are the better team and so whilst the New York Jets will want to put in a better performance than the one that saw them lose by twenty-one points to the Ravens last week, I like the Steelers to win this one.

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

Lions @ Broncos (-6.5)

The Detroit Lions have now lost seven games straight and so I can see why the Broncos could be favoured, but they have only five wins themselves and have a cluster of injuries on the offensive line. I really don’t have a strong feel for this game, and my instinct is to not trust the Broncos to cover this line but this is a half point better line that I’m seeing online so the number suggests that the Broncos is the way to go but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. Stay away folks, stay away!

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

Raiders @ Chargers (-5.5)

I don’t like either team particularly at the moment and this is a curious game as the Raiders have lost rookie running back Josh Jacobs for the rest of the season as well as the previous four games, but will likely have more fans in the crowd than the LA Chargers. However, the Chargers have one less win and have been almost the model of inconsistency. I like the Chargers to win but I just don’t trust them to win by six points and so even though this line is good value for the Chargers, I still can’t quite bring myself to pick them.

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

Cowboys @ Eagles (+2.5)

This is a big game in terms of the NFC East, but the Philadelphia Eagles have been overwhelmed by injuries whilst the Dallas Cowboys have been massively inconsistent. The Cowboys would be an easy pick were it not for the injury to Dak Prescott who hasn’t thrown all week as he has picked up a shoulder problem. With the injury I would stay well away from this game if I could, but as I have to pick I’m going go with the better team by DVOA.

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

Cardinals @ Seahawks (-9.5)

The Arizona Cardinals got their first win in seven games las week, but I am not sure they are going to follow that up with a win in Seattle. However, the Seahawks have not been as dominant at home this season and whilst I expect them to win, this line feels big to me and so whilst I could feel foolish tomorrow, I like the Cardinals to keep this divisional game within ten.

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

Chiefs @ Bears (+5.5)

Don’t look now, but the Kansas City Chiefs’ defence is now ranked eleventh in the league by DVOA and if you combine that with their offensive fire power then they are a formidable team. The Chicago Bears really need this win, but they are 27.1% worse than the Chiefs and I think they will struggle in this one, even if they are at home as the Chiefs have plenty of experience of playing in the cold.

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

Packers @ Vikings (-4.5)

This game will go a long way to deciding the NFC North, particularly if the Packers win but it’s a strange one to pick as the Minnesota Vikings are a good home team and the Green Bay Packers have won but look slightly off on offence. In fact, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t look like Aaron Rodgers at the moment, and I think the Vikings are the favourites but this line concerns me. I may come to regret this, but I’m not sure I can bring myself to back the Vikings to win by five.

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

 

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

Competition Saturday: 2019 Week 16

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I don’t know if a different schedule will change things, but to overturn the deficit, I needed to make up some ground last week and instead I have fallen further back after both Dan and his Dad had solid ten point weeks and I very much didn’t. I’m still above .500 but it certainly doesn’t look the blog will be returning to black and orange in the new year.

Dan’s Dad: Week 15:   10-6 Overall:   129-95
Dan: Week 15:   10-6 Overall:   121-103
Gee: Week 15:   7-9 Overall:   116-108

Texans @ Buccaneers (+2.5)

The Houston Texans are in pole position to with the AFC South having beaten the Texans last week, but they can’t afford to slip up on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who have kind of quietly won their last games. You still would want Jameis Winston to tame the turnovers but he has already thrown for over four and half thousand yards and could well top five thousand by the end of the season. This is the start of a strong Saturday schedule, and I am really tempted by the home points but the Buccaneers have now lost both Evans and now Godwin at receiver and with Will Fuller back for the Texans I’m going to back them in this one.

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

Bills @ Patriots (-6.5)

The Buffalo Bills are one game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East and having secured a playoff place they will be looking to win the division for the first time since 1995. It’s still a big as ask but this is also a big line and whilst it seems unlikely the Bills can win the division and it is tough to win at Gillette Stadium but I do see the Bills being competitive after the Patriots struggles continued last week and so I’m going to back the Bills to keep the game within a touchdown.

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

Rams @ 49ers (-6.5)

The LA Rams were badly beaten by the Cowboys last week and so their chances of making the playoffs seems pretty low. They face a motivated San Francisco 49ers team who are being pushed by the Seahawks and if the Rams offence struggled against the Cowboys pass rush, I can really see them struggling against the 49ers’ second rank defence by DVOA and in particular their fearsome defensive line. Their earlier game ended in a 7-20 loss for the Rams but the injury to the 49ers have lost their starting centre so I am trying to weigh this up in a must win game for both teams. Given this is a crucial divisional game for both teams I am tempted by the points but changing my mind almost always leads to wrong picks so 49ers it is.

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

Week 9 Trivia

There are just 2 weeks to go and the playoff picture took another step to becoming clear this week.

There are two storms gathering this weekend. The first is the Bengals visit to Miami. For many it may hardly register but believe me the WhatsApp feed at TWF Towers will be in meltdown. The season has not been kind to either team and this is an opportunity to secure bragging rights.

The Picks started with a mixed bag in which Gee took the chance to make an early start to the week as Dan and I took the now seemingly odd decision to pick The Jets over Baltimore. I think the big spread made us a little picker-happy.

However, after Sunday Dan went into Monday a point ahead on the week and with every chance of closing the gap to 6 with 2 weeks to go. Both he and Gee went Colts but the old fella ignored the spread in favour of home field to take the point from what was nearly a shut out to maintain my healthier 8 point advantage. Sometimes it’s knowing which factor to follow and often it’s gut feel.

That big event happens on Monday with another Packers Vikings scrap. There have been many over the years, but this has a real significance. The Packers are a game ahead, so a win clinches the division, end of story. However, a Vikings win levels up and it’s off to week 17. But therein lies another challenge. The Vikes host the Bears while the Packers take on the Lions, arguably an easier job. And head over heart I fear we bottle it against the Bears. Oh well, Blessed are the Cheesemakers.

Which brings us to the Trivia where last week I asked:
In how many consecutive seasons did the Jaguars make the playoffs in their first five years in the league?

Clearly the answer lay between 0 and 5 and this time it was 4. The Jaguars made it to the playoffs four out of their first five seasons: 1996-97-98-99. They made it to the Conference Championships twice (1996 and 1999) but lost both times, once to the Patriots 20-6 in 1996, and to the Titans 33-14 in 1999.

I knew this would be a Guess-fest and my previous history of teasing the team would reinforce that. Anyway, with both admitting to being unsure it was Dan who scooped the 2 points and extending his advantage to 3.

For Week 16 I’ve relocated to Kansas City and the question to tax the brain cells while I indulge in some eye-wateringly expensive fun in Dubai is this:

The Kansas City Chiefs were originally known by what name?

Easy right? The names will be familiar but the content, maybe not. We shall see but remember that the Trivia will continue through the Post Season so there is still much at stake and additional questions may appear to spice things up some more.

Have a Cool Yule Y’all!’

Already Thinking of Next Season?

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I’m starting this week’s post early as Christmas is already messing with my usual weekly schedule, and it’s still over a week away so let’s see what I can get out written for you and when – the timeline of this week’s post might be a little out of sync.

What I Saw

The final Thursday night football of the 2019 season (which feels like a very odd thing to be writing right now) was a one sided contest where the good home (Baltimore Ravens) beat the poor road team (New York Jets) and covered a fourteen and a half point spread to boot. It was more of the same for the Ravens who continued to sweep away all in their path. I’m thoroughly enjoying watching the Ravens play and the surprising thing about this game was only that they managed to run for over two hundred yards going against the league’s second rated rush defence going into this game by DVOA. I’m curious what happens to the Jets in the off-season as Adam Gase manoeuvred his own person into the GM role, but he has struggled mightily this season whilst his former underachieving quarterback Ryan Tannehil is playing like a man transformed in Tennessee (correct at time of writing, I have not watched the Titans game yet – that’s coming later). Given his win-loss record and that the thing Gase is meant to be is a quarterback whisperer, the performance of this Jets team and Sam Darnold in particular has to lead to some pressure coming Gase’s way as questions need to be asked.

The next game I watched was the Chicago Bears visiting the Green Bay Packers, which was a strange game in that for long periods the Packers defence had control of the Bears offence whilst the Packers offence did enough to eek out a lead. The Packers were able to withstand a fourth quarter comeback as Trubisky found enough success to get to within eight points, but it was too little too late. The funny thing about this game is that for a large stretch of the game the Packers looked better, but the offence still doesn’t look quite right and Aaron Rodgers seems to be having a quiet year, but at 11-3 Packers fans might not be complaining too much until the playoffs. I’m not sure the Packers have what it will take to compete with the elite of the NFC despite their record but that could change rapidly if Rodgers can find some of his previous form and I would be hesitant to bet against that. Meanwhile, the Bears have recovered from some of their problems this season but face some big decisions about Trubisky and the direction of the team in the off-season, which looks like it could start at the end of week seventeen.

One of the games with the most riding on the result in week fifteen was that divisional matchup between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans, where the Texans ran out 24-21 winners but could have won much more convincingly if Deshaun Watson hadn’t throw two interceptions in the endzone. Equally the Titans looked to move the ball more effectively for long stretches of this game and had their own ricochet interception near the Texan’s goal line. The result gives the Texans a big edge in the race for the division and they have the easier game next week as they take on the Buccaneers whilst the Titans have to take on the Saints next week. It may well be that the Titans don’t quite make the playoffs but they look to have found something in Ryan Tannehill and his connection with developing rookie receiver AJ Brown, whilst tight-end Jonnu Smith caught the eye with his speed both catching the ball and rushing for fifty-seven yards from his one snap at running back. The Titans might well be the more consistent team over the last eight weeks, but don’t look to be able to overcome the 2-4 start to make the playoffs, whilst the Texans can compete with anyone when healthy and if they go into the playoffs with receiver Will Fuller healthy then they will be a danger to whoever they face. Their ability to win games whilst being out-gained is what happens when you have a couple of superstar players who can turn a game for you with big moments and receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a huge fourth quarter in this one. I’m sure Bill O’Brien would love his team to play more consistently from week to week, but for a coach whose future is often speculated upon he has gone to the playoffs and won the division in three of his six years and only had one season with a losing record. My worry for this team is the future given the draft picks they have given up this year, but they are a dangerous team that no one will want to face come the playoffs.

The last game I watched was the New England Patriots easy win over the Cincinnati Bengals, which even after we hear more about the dubious taping of the Bengals side-line last week, I’m still not that upset about that and this was pretty much business as usual and no team needs that much of an edge to beat the Bengals at the moment. The Bengals were competitive for the first half and moved the ball okay, but the problems in the red-zone and turnovers once again doomed the Bengals to a loss. This was not helped by Andy Dalton throwing four picks, including a pick-six to Stephon Gilmore who had a second interception and kept Tyler Boyd to three catches for twenty-six yards. The Patriots offence still looked to be struggling, whilst the Bengals ran for one hundred and sixty-four yards against the Patriots defence and outgained the Patriots offence. I still can’t sit here and say the Patriots won’t compete in the playoffs, but it would not exactly be a surprise if this team can’t turn it around in the post-season as there are warning signs. However, we have been here before and having gone to four of the last five Super Bowls and won three of them, I’m not saying the Patriots are out of it until they absolutely are.

What I Heard

There’s been a lot of different topics, including more on the Patriots documentary filming as a section of the film was leaked on Monday.

More interesting to me though, has been the discussion of ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy who has apparently hired himself a staff to be the thirty-third team in the NFL so he can work the 2019 season. McCarthy has also been investigating analytics and was talking about his staff plan for the football technology team he wants. Obviously press like this doesn’t just happen, and after a year off he will be definitely looking to get back into coaching and is trying to drum interest, but it does sound like a positive thing to hear from a coach who was accused of lacking innovation in the final years of the time with the Packers. Despite the focus on young play callers in recent years, it’s not difficult to see some teams going for either McCarthy or Ron Rivera in a few weeks.

There has also been some discussion about former college coach Urban Meyer as he was seen in a press box at Washington, which has fueled speculation that he might be a target as the new coach for Washington or that the Cowboys might be interested in him should Jason Garrett fail to produce a significant playoff success.

It seems the days of waiting until Black Monday after week seventeen to fire your coach and start the search is well behind us, that allows this kind of speculation to get started well before the season is even done.

What I Think

There were a number of unexpected results over the weekend, which in of itself is not that unusual given the parity of the league and the small sample size, but even so the 49ers losing to the Falcons and the Jaguars beating the Raiders were two results that jumped out to me as well as the Cowboys beating the Rams 44-21.

It feels odd for the final Raiders game in Oakland to be a 16-20 loss to the Jaguars in week fifteen, and a fairly ignominious end for one of the most famous home sections in the league. The moving of franchises always feels alien to me as it is something that happens so rarely in the UK, but with two teams moving to Los Angeles and now the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, there are a lot of franchises in flux at the moment. The Vegas move might well be the most successful in terms of fan support (the Rams are having problems and the Chargers nearly always play to more away fans their tiny temporary stadium), but it still feels sad to be the Black Hole. The Oakland stadium needed renovating or replacing, but you can’t just replace or recreate the Black Hole and there is something inherently sad for those fans even if all things must end.

What I Know

I know that I need a miracle to turn around the picks competition, and that this off-season I really need to find time to go through my spreadsheets from the end of last season, work out my method/formula and combine that with my pick system this season and see if I can come up with a formula to get back into contention next season.

What I Hope

I am actually beginning to embrace the idea of the Bengals selecting Ohio raised Joe Burrow in the draft and seeing if he can turn round the team next season, but a lot of other things also have to improve for us to recover from a woeful 2019 season. Still there’s good football left to enjoy this season so let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much.

2019 Week Fifteen Picks

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It’s time for a quick run through our week fifteen picks picks, but first there the small matter of our very tight trivia competition.

In how many consecutive seasons did the Jaguars make the playoffs in their first five years in the league?

I’m really not sure about this one, I think I have a vague feeling that after the first year the Jaguars were surprisingly successful for an expansion team, but this is another of those you have to know questions and I don’t. I’m going to go for three seasons as that’s the number that popped into my head first, but I feel like I have a one in four chance of being right and I’m not happy that I’ve plucked the right number out of the air.

‘This is going to be one of those ‘one way or the other’ questions where it’s either more than you might think, or none. I think I’m going to go high, but I don’t think it will have been all five years, so I’ll guess at 4. Complete guess though!’

Bears @ Packers (-4.5)

The Green Bay Packers may have three more wins and be playing at home but I’m not sure there is this much difference between the two teams and so with Mitch Trubisky playing better I am going to grab the points.

Gee’s Pick:        Bears
Dan’s Pick:        Packers

Patriots @ Bengals (+9.5)

This is a really awkward pick because the New England Patriots are unlikely to lose three games straight, and could well beat the Cincinnati Bengals by ten points or a lot more, plus the number has moved so that this actually offers value to pick the Patriots but the Bengals haven’t lost by more than eight points in four weeks.

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

Broncos @ Chiefs (-10.5)

The Kansas City Chiefs have not been healthy all year and whilst Patrick Mahomes will play, he suffered a hand injury last week so whilst I like the Chiefs to win the game, going against a Denver Broncos team who are on a two game win streak I am going to back the division rivals to keep the game within eleven points.

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

Buccaneers @ Lions (+3.5)

I hate this particular line as we know the Detroit Lions are really struggling, you don’t lose six games in a row if things are going well, but looking at the lines this is an advantageous number to pick the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The issue there is that I have no faith in them given their inconsistencies and so if I do pick them I am beholden to Jameis Winston. If I had the option to, I would run a mile from picking this game, but I don’t so I guess I have to pick the Bucs…

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

Texans @ Titans (-2.5)

Both the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans have an 8-5 record so this is the first of a huge pair of games between these two teams that could well decide the fate of the AFC South. The Texans have been up and down this season, as they have been for most of head coach Bill O’Brien’s tenure, whilst the Titans have won four straight and are one of the form teams of the NFL at the moment. I’m going take the team I think have been consistently better.

Gee’s Pick:        Titans
Dan’s Pick:        Titans

Dolphins @ Giants (-3.5)

The New York Giants come into this game as slight favourites, which is surprising given that they have lost nine straight games, although they did take the Eagles into overtime last week. However, they are welcoming the Miami Dolphins who only have one more win and are a lot worse by DVOA, but I think if you ask anyone following the league you would rather be in the Dolphins situation than the Giants. The Dolphins are not built for winning this season but Brian Flores looks like the real deal as a coach and so that sways me in this one.

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

Eagles @ Washington (+5.5)

This is a strange game where thanks to the long-standing problems of the franchise in the nation’s capital, it is likely that there will be more Philadelphia Eagles fans in the crowd than home fans. It does seem that Washington has stabilised under Bill Callahan, but this doesn’t mean that they are a good team. However, neither are the Eagles, who through injury and loss of coaching staff look a pale imitation of the team that won a Super Bowl two seasons ago. This seems a lot of points to be laying on the road for a team who needed overtime to beat the Giants last week, but Washington have picked up some injuries as well as lacking roster talent. The numbers say take the Eagles so that’s what I’m gong to do, but I really don’t want to.

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

Seahawks @ Panthers (+5.5)

Teams who fire their coach often get a bounce, but this very much did not happen last week for the Carolina Panthers who clearly held Ron Rivera in high regard. This week they welcome a Seattle Seahawks team who got beat badly by the Rams last week. I’m concerned about this number of points but I think the Seahawks are in a much better place right now and will be looking to make amends for last week’s showing.

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

Browns @ Cardinals (+2.5)

I don’t want to pick the Cleveland Browns laying points on the road, but I think I am going to have to as the Arizona Cardinals have fallen from a promising 3-3-1 to 3-9-1, although they have faced a lot of good teams. That said, the nearest they cam to covering this line was against the Buccaneers and they failed that so I’m going to hold my nose and back the Browns.

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

Jaguars @ Raiders (-6.5)

I hate this line, I have no faith at all in either team right now, but whilst this is a lot of points for a team like the Oakland Raiders to be laying, the Jacksonville Jaguars have lost five straight by seventeen or more points and so in the end there’s only one team I can bring myself to pick.

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

Vikings @ Chargers (+2.5)

The LA Chargers are the eighteenth ranked team by DVOA and the Minnesota Vikings are the seventh ranked team. The LA Chargers have very little home field advantage and Philip Rivers has not been playing well. The Vikings may have lost four games, and should still install more confidence but something about Kirk Cousins makes you worry but with the Vikings only need to win by a field goal I’m going to go with who I think is the better team.

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

Falcons @ 49ers (-10.5)

I hate this line as the San Francisco 49ers have proved themselves to be one of the best teams in the NFL and are coming off an amazing win away at the Saints. They have also just lost their starting centre for the season and I wonder if this is too many points. The problem is that the Atlanta Falcons are not a good team, but have won three out of their last five games. This is the first non-divisional game they have played since their bye week, which only makes that last period harder to evaluate. I’m not as convinced of the gap between these two teams as I was between the Ravens and Jets and having got away with one enormous points cover I’m not going to tempt fate again, although I can absolutely see the 49ers proving me wrong.

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

Rams @ Cowboys (-1.5)

The Dallas Cowboys are not a good football team right now, but they only have to be better than the Eagles to make the playoffs. I’m not sure the Rams are going to make the playoffs despite having a better record, but they seem to have found something in the last few weeks and so with a line as close as this I’m going to back the better coach.

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

Bills @ Steelers (-2.5)

This could be an ugly game to watch as both teams have strong defences and limited offences, but I respect both coaches and this should be a truly competitive game. I’m seeing this line as getting an extra point and a half and so for that reason alone I’m going to back the Bills but Mike Tomlin has done an excellent job with his team and it would not surprise me at all if the Steelers actually won.

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

Colts @ Saints (-9.5)

The line I am seeing online has actually come down a little, and so by my process that should mean backing the Indianapolis Colts, but I am really not sure about that. Given the retirement of Andrew Luck the Colts have been impressively competitive thanks to a well-constructed roster but the only game they have won in the last six weeks was against the Jaguars as key injuries are hampering them as well as kicking woes. On the other hand, the New Orleans Saints are definitely a good team as their 10-3 record clearly demonstrates, but the points worry me. The Saints scored a lot against the 49ers last week but also gave up a lot and so I don’t know if they can beat this line. I’m going to reluctantly take the points, but I don’t feel great about it.

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

 

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