20 down, 12 to go!

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This is my first blog post since Christmas, and my first of 2019, so I hope you had a great festive period. It’s back to reality now though, and the work really begins for the 8 teams left in the running for the Vince Lombardi trophy.

I don’t want to dwell on it too much as I want to spend the majority of this post looking at the ‘Wildcard 8′ but I feel I must mention – the Dolphins were woeful in the last 2 games of the season, and it’s ended up costing Adam Gase his job. To me, it’s not really a surprise if I’m being perfectly honest. He was even more Average than Average Andy in Cincinnati – going into Week 16, his record was 23-23 as Dolphins head coach, and with owner Stephen Ross’ ambitious expectations for his team, that doesn’t really cut it unfortunately. That being said, I can’t see him being out of a job for long as he’s known as being fairly highly regarded amongst a number of teams, especially the Browns, who are also on the look out for a new coach. I wonder how popular that would be with Jarvis Landry…?! The problem the Dolphins have now is who might come in to replace him – news I’ve heard has Rex Ryan going around telling everyone who will listen that he’s getting the job, which is a bit worrying to me (although I’m not 100% sure how reliable the source of the story was!).

Another final point of note on the ‘Fins before I move on is the annual ‘End of Year Ejections’ from this weeks game. This year, it was Kiko Alonso and Robert Quinn who were ejected in the third quarter for Unsportsmanlike Conduct and Unnecessary Roughness. It’s difficult to defend Kiko on this one; it’s not the first hit like this that he’s made this year, and he’s started to get comparisons to Vontaze Burfict for similar hits. It decimated our defence for the game, but even before that point, we’d established a terrible stat of the most yards allowed in a season in franchise history… not a great record to be breaking.

So, on to the Wildcard 8! There’s four games this weekend for the right to go onto play the Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints in the Divisional round. I’ll go through each of the games and make my predictions…

Saturday kicks off with the Colts visiting the Texans. The Colts snuck through on Sunday night and I’m looking forward to seeing how the Houston rushing game develops. This year, the Colts haven’t allowed a single rusher a 100 yard game – especially impressive considering they’ve faced the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley and Derrick Henry (twice!). As divisional rivals, they’ve met twice already this year, sharing wins. My pick for this one is the Houston Texans.

Next, we have the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Seattle Seahawks. For me, this is going to be the game of the weekend, and is definitely one I’m looking forward to catching. Both teams finished 10-6, and both are largely here due to a really strong finish, with Dallas winning 7 of their last 8 games, and Seattle winning 6 of their last 7. Dallas are a good team but I just think this might be the end of their road, so I’m picking the Seattle Seahawks.

Moving on to Sunday, the early game is back to the AFC, where the Chargers and Ravens meet. This one’s quite straightforward to me having watched quite a few Chargers games this season and being really impressed – I genuinely think that Philip Rivers is finally going to get another Postseason run, so I’m going to go with the LA Chargers. That being said, I strongly suggest you go back and check out the Ravens/Browns game from Week 17, where the Ravens clinched their post-season visit – really good game with an exciting ending.

Finally we have the Eagles and the Bears who meet late on Sunday. These two teams are, in their own ways, a bit of a surprise. Not many people would have picked the Bears to win the NFC North, especially so convincingly. They’ve done incredibly well this year though, and have gelled brilliantly as a team. On the other hand, while it shouldn’t be surprising that the Eagles are there (given that they’re the defending champions), they really struggled with consistency this year, and if it wasn’t for a strong end to the season, they might have missed out. A lot of this is going to depend on how Nick Foles recovers this week – he’s got sore Ribs following Sunday’s game with the Redskins. With Carson Wentz out, they may struggle if he isn’t at his best. This is the most difficult to call of the weekend I think, but I’ll go for the Chicago Bears.

Only one final thing remains before I wrap up for the week – a quick look at how my bet is looking for the Rams:

And that’ll be that. This time next week, we’ll be down to just 8 teams, and there’ll be only 7 games (plus a pro-bowl, which listeners of the pod will know we don’t count!) left this season. Buckle up – there’s still a lot of football to be played!

Until next time…

@TWFDan

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Guest Post: How Things Have Changed

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So at the end of the season with the year about to end, it feels like looking back is an appropriate thing to do and I have a special post I have been sitting. Having been setting us trivia question for two seasons Dan’s Dad is now stepping up to take a crack at this blogging lark, and whilst I started this blog over four and a half years ago with a post called Why American Football? so Dan’s Dad takes a look at his own voyage of NFL discovery, which might feature a couple of familiar stops along the way.

I hope you enjoy!

Why do any of us follow a sporting team? Why do we take on the joys and frustrations, pain even, that come with being part of the club? It’s hard to say. Being part of a group with shared interests is generally a positive thing but back in the 70’s when I first encountered it the NFL was a very much minority interest sport. It has taken decades of the enthusiasm of many to put it where it currently is in the UK. Without the growing awareness, support and dedication of the fans it could easily have died on the vine, but look at it now and without any doubt TV, so often a vilified intrusion, has been a major factor.

Running alongside the BBC’s Grandstand (Frank Bough) was ITV’s World of sport on a Saturday afternoon and this is where I became infected with the NFL bug. It ran from 1965 to 1985 (with Dickie Davies the best known of its presenters) and was possibly best remembered for horse racing and wrestling but it did allow the very occasional sortie into ‘Gridiron’ football. Admittedly this was limited to about one hour of highlights from the previous week’s Super Bowl and to many this was an alien world of men in padded suits and a scoring system of almost impenetrable complexity. The concept of ‘downs’ and playing a game in ten yard chunks was new and to a 60s and 70s US-infatuated Britain became irresistible for many. But limited coverage became a taster and a trial to see if a bigger offering would be justified. We now know that it certainly was.

I was lucky enough to take a trip to the US in 1971 where my first hand awareness was triggered. From that trip I returned with, sorry for this Dan, a replica Jets shirt and an appreciation of someone called Joe Namath who was one of the stars of the day and still a figure due considerable respect. I was twelve, and to a twelve-year-old just being in the States was huge. Do I follow the Jets now? No, but more of that to come.

By 1982 Channel 4 started showing weekly highlights and that, for me was the match that lit the fuse on the game in the UK to an ever widening audience. By the time that the Bears defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XX the game was firmly established with no fewer than four million tuning in for that game.

It wasn’t just a spectator sport either and many would argue that crowd control issues in other sports compared to a very safe environment offered by the NFL sport drew audiences. There was also a growth in the number of local teams which culminated in the creation of the UKAFA in 1985 and when Budweiser announced a £300,000 fund to grow the sport in the UK in 1986 when the Leicester Falcons and the Birmingham Bulls played to determine which team would be Britain’s inaugural entry into European competition. The Bulls came out on top in a 32–18 victory.

1986 also saw the first ever official NFL game at Wembley between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys. This recognised the growth of the game, its ethos and the personalities it brought with it. The players were the celebrities and none bigger, literally, than William Perry also known as The Fridge. 6ft 3 and 350 lbs Perry was the immovable object both for the Bears, drafted in 1985 and latterly played at the Eagles but had the name that everyone knew. He will forever be remembered as part of the Bears team which took on the Cowboys in the first official NFL game at Wembley.

Channel 4 ceased broadcasts in 1997 but returned in a cut down format in 2010 as a free-to-air offering against Sky whose coverage has become the ‘go to’ product in the view of many.

When Sky TV came to the table and brought their extensive coverage of sport to UK NFL viewers was, for me, an enormous leap in the sport’s fortunes, bigger than that which Channel 4 gave it. I have a downer on turning free to air into pay-to-view and feel that in one way or another football, cricket, golf and F1 in particular have suffered, or sometimes the genuine fans of these sports have been disadvantaged. However, while the above sports were ripe for modernisation, maybe plundering is another word, and Sky could offer that, NFL was on the cusp of becoming mainstream.

Where various channels had ‘dabbled’ and Chanel 4 was largely a highlights offering, the real demand was for live games and Sky could offer that in abundance. With regularly five or more live games (albeit in the middle of the night all too often) and a rolling highlights offering the fan is well served. Include the benefits of Game Pass and the package is almost complete.

The only ‘next step’ is for fully live games and thanks to the advances over the years and the growing, and well supported, International Series the UK has to be approaching its own franchise.

I was lucky to get the opportunity to see a live game during a business trip to Minneapolis in 2003. Even fifteen years later the whole event remains memorable. After five wins the Vikings hosted the Broncos at the Hubert Humphrey winning 28-20 thanks, in part to a majestic lateral from Randy Moss to Moe Williams on the last play of the first half rivalling the double lateral by the Dolphins in Week 14!

It was interesting to see, in the flesh, everything that happens not just what the TV chooses to show. The game is almost choreographed as the various teams switch in and out seamlessly but it’s when there is a game break or a review that you see the complexity of the game.

In the same way I remember my first soccer game, West Bromwich Albion at Leicester, in the days where the Police would watch the game not the crowd. It is so often the first team you see that becomes ‘your team’ and thick or thin (Dan and Gee will both recognise this) they are that for life. So I am a Viking, a Purple People Eater.

The opportunity came along to visit the US again in 2008. We had seen Wembley games but Dan and I managed to see the Vikings at the Bears and the following weekend the Dolphins hosting the Bills. We had to miss that year’s Wembley game to do it but it was worth it. For the record the Bears won 48-41 while the Dolphins won 25-16. While Wembley was special, doing it in the US was another level. Now it would not, probably, be overly unusual to find Brits going to games over there but back then the US fans we met were blown away that a couple of Brits were doing a road trip. That shows how the whole game has evolved here, and how that has shrunk the world and I can only see that continuing.

Look at the development of new arenas in the US. Each new one seems to be grander that the one before, bigger, better facilities – it won’t end but while the UK is keen to get more that also serves the US. It’s not global domination they want, but expanding influence is financially advantageous all round.

With an ever growing opportunity for blogs, podcasts, websites, TV including the BBC and other ways for the fan base to get their NFL fix it is almost inconceivable that the UK will not have its own franchise within ‘a handful’ of seasons. The expansion of the International series was clearly a good way of proving that the UK could support one and the results seem most positive. So advanced are the plans that we also have stadia being built as multi-sport venues even enabling the swapping out of a pitch to suit the next game – and moving to something that size is akin to a new sport being launched. So if the next move for a pitch happens to be about 3500 miles so be it. That would be some Field Goal.

2018 Week Seventeen Picks

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So here we are going into the final week and thanks to my best week all year I somehow have managed to take a slender point lead over Dan’s Dad going into the final week.

Gee:                Week 16   13-3           Overall   126-114
Dan’s Dad:    Week 16   7-9              Overall   125-115
Dan:               Week 16    8-8             Overall   117-123

However, not only is this an important week but it’s one of the trickiest to pick as we don’t know how teams are going to react to playing meaningless games or what teams are trying players with an eye on who they want for next year rather than performance this week. But before we get to the giant week seventeen picks there’s the minor matter of our trivia competition and after getting to the same answer via very different (and in my case insanely jammy) means we move to a somewhat deceptively simple question:

Who is the only NFL Player to have a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?’

Now I’m sure there are others, but the only former NFL player that is working as an actor that leaps to my mind is Terry Crews so that is going to be my answer.

Firstly, I was convinced that I’d at least tie it up last week but that plan was thwarted by Gee’s random team generator (and a little bit of logic) in the end. This week’s is tough too… it’s got to be someone who has done something noteworthy outside of football to be on the walk of fame. My first thought was Dan Marino, but having been to the Hollywood walk of fame (and as a Dolphins fan of course) I would have spotted and remembered that if he was there. I think I’m going to go with OJ Simpson though. Little less obvious and something just tells me he’s the kind of person who would have a star.’

Falcons @ Buccaneers (-1.5)

The first one of these games is almost an archetypal week seventeen game with both teams not having anything to play for except for individuals trying to keep themselves in the league. However, the Falcons have won two games straight with pretty convincing scorelines including a fourteen-point win over the Panthers in Carolina and that is convincing enough for me.

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

Dolphins @ Bills (-3.5)

I really don’t like this line as the extra half point tempts towards the Dolphins except they have been a bad road team all season and are a warm weather team travelling to play outdoors in the cold. When you add to that the fact that the Dolphins have only won in one of their last six visits to Buffalo and I’m going to go against my numbers and hope it doesn’t bite me.

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

Cowboys @ Giants (-6.5)

This is a curious game in that the New York Giants are actually ranked as the better team by overall DVOA and yet it is the Dallas Cowboys who are resting players having got their playoff seeding set whilst the Giants have only won five games this season. More worrying is the fact that with their recent form there is now noise that Eli Manning will be back next season, which only delays the inevitable transition that needs to take place. Not knowing how much the important players for the Cowboys will play is making this a really hard game to pick, I hate the line and the situation, and want to stay away but as I don’t have that choice and I just don’t have this much faith in the Giants I’m going to grab the points and hope for the best.

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

Lions @ Packers (-7.5)

The Green Bay Packers don’t have that much to play for but Aaron Rodgers wants to finished the season with his teammates and having come back from behind last week they welcome a struggling Detroit Lions teams. I don’t like this line going past the -7 but the Lions have real problems on offence thanks to injuries at the skills positions and have the worst defence in the league by DVOA. My spreadsheet actually has a higher number than this and so I’m going to throw caution to the wind and back the Packers to cover this line.

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

Jets @ Patriots (-13.5)

It would not surprise me at all if the New England Patriots do well in the playoffs, but things are not quite right with Tom Brady and for a team that often runs the ball and tries to shorten the game in week seventeen this line seems too big. The New York Jets look to have found their long term answer at quarterback, but a lot depends on how they build round him. However, for the last four weeks the Jets have at least been competitive, they beat the Bills in Buffalo and didn’t lose by more than a touchdown, which either means I am right in thinking they will keep this game within two touchdowns or the Patriots are about to get a big score ahead of going into the playoffs.

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

Panthers @ Saints (-10.5)

This game sits squarely in the awkward pick category as the Saints are openly talking about game planning without their starters whilst the Panthers are down to their third string quarterback. Having sat Cam Newton for the rest of the season to start the recovery from his shoulder problems, Taylor Heinicke injured his elbow last week and so undrafted rookie Kyle Allen will get the start at quarterback this week, on the road, in New Orleans. I don’t have a lot of confidence in how this game will go and so I’m going to grab the points, but it would not exactly be surprising if there was a lopsided game.

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

Jaguars @ Texans (-7.5)

Here we are with another line that I don’t like. The Houston Texans can get up to the second seed in the AFC if they win and the Patriots falter, but they are a hard team to rely on given the quality of their offensive line and the injury to Lamar Miller. Meanwhile the Jacksonville Jaguars essentially punted the season when they sat Blake Bortles for the rest of the season and stuck to that decision, even after it Cody Kessler was only able to generate single digit points in his first two games. They have still not cracked twenty points with him at quarterback and this is unlikely to be enough to beat the Houston Texans but with a top five defence by DVOA they might well keep this game closer than eight points, which is what my spreadsheet says and so that’s where I’m going, but I can’t pretend I feel great about it.

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

Bears @ Vikings (-5.5)

This is one of the games with meaning for both teams as if the Chicago Bears win and the Rams lose they could get the second seed, whilst the Minnesota Vikings need to win to get into the playoffs. I’m not sure how much of their offence tricks that the Bears will want to show in this game as it is a potential playoff preview, but this seems like a lot of points to be laying by a Vikings team who have three less wins than their opponents. The Bears currently possess the league’s best defence by DVOA, and by ten percentage points at that so I think they will cause problems for a Vikings offence that has improved in recent weeks thanks to a new direction but that still has limitations. In a competitive game I’m going to back the Bears to keep this one within six points.

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

Bengals @ Steelers (-14.5)

This line worries me slightly as it is not inconceivable that a Pittsburgh Steelers team who need a win to get into the playoffs and who are playing at home could cover this line, but I basically never lay this number of points as it is one of my guiding principles when making picks. That said part of me does worry about this game because of how banged up and poor the Bengals defence has been this season, but they’ve seemed somewhat better in the last few weeks and so I’m going to hope my usual rules hold in week seventeen.

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

Browns @ Ravens (-6.5)

If the Baltimore Ravens win they are in the playoffs and whilst they also get in if the Bengals beat the Steelers, they will not want to rely on that. However, the Cleveland Browns are no slouches and in this biggest of rivalry games I can’t see anything but a competitive game. The Ravens turned their season around with the addition of Lamar Jackson into their starting line-up but the Browns have gone 5-2 under their current coaching setup and have won three straight. My spreadsheet has this as a pick for the Ravens but I don’t like this number in this situation given how the teams have played in recent weeks and so I’m going to back the Browns to keep the game closer than seven.

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

Chargers @ Broncos (+6.5)

The LA Chargers still have a chance of getting a bye if they win and the Chiefs lose, but it feels likely that they will end up as a wildcard even though they have one win more than any AFC team not named the Chiefs. The Denver Broncos have nothing left to play for but pride, which explains the line which is tempting despite the problems on the offence and that might be what tips it for me. The Broncos lost their one-thousand-yard undrafted rookie Pro-Bowl running back Phillip Lyndsay last week, and so even with their home field advantage I wonder how competitive they can make this game given they have lost to the 49ers, Browns, and Raiders in the last three weeks. That said they did beat the Chargers last time they played and my spreadsheet is very clearly indicating Broncos and with this many points and in a divisional game I feel like the smart play is to back the Broncos. I could regret it and look very silly, but my turnaround was down to trusting the numbers so that’s what I’m going to do.

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

Raiders @ Chiefs (-13.5)

The Kansas City Chiefs have something to play for this week as they can tie up the number one seed and home field advantage with a win. Despite this being a divisional game I do expect them to win against an Oakland team who have gone 3-3 in their last six games. However, the Chiefs have lost their last two games and haven’t beaten a team by fourteen points or more since week nine and so this line is too rich for me.

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

49ers @ Rams (-9.5)

The LA Rams should be looking to rest Todd Gurley another week and trust themselves to win and get themselves a further week to get Gurley healthy for the playoffs. They welcome a San Francisco 49ers team who got two of their four wins in the last three games and have been competitive in all of them. That said this was also a three game home stand but still, travelling to face a Rams team who haven’t quite looked the same since the bye week they could keep it close. My worry is that the spreadsheet says one thing completely counter to what my natural inclination is in this game and with it being week seventeen, I’m not sue which way to lean but in the end this is just too many points for me.

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

Eagles @ Washington (+6.5)

The Philadelphia Eagles need a helping hand as well as a win to get into the playoffs but their divisional game takes them to Washington to face a team who have struggled all season and been overcome by injuries. I think the Eagles will get their win but this is too many points for me to ignore given that Washington have made life difficult for too many teams this season. That said, it would not exactly be a surprise if the Eagles were to win by a touchdown but they have too many problems for me to predict it.

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

Cardinals @ Seahawks (-12.5)

This is a surprisingly tricky pick given that it is a huge line, but the Arizona Cardinals have been pretty woeful this season and are bottom of the league by DVOA by quite some gap. They finish the season in the notoriously difficult to play in CenturyLink Field and the spreadsheet says that the Seahawks should cover this line and looking at the Cardinals’ results I can see why and so despite my instincts saying otherwise I’m going to back the Seahawks.

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

Colts @ Titans (+1.5)

The final game of the weeks is a winner gets in to the playoffs matchup between the Tennessee Titans hosting the Indianapolis Colts. I have been bullish on the Colts for a lot of the year whilst the Titans have tripped me up a lot thanks to their up and down play, but with Marcus Mariota suffering a re-occurrence of his nerve issues and questionable to play I’m going to ignore the home underdog and back the Colts to come out winners in this one.

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

AAF:Vikings’ Offence

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Two weeks ago the Minnesota Vikings fired their offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and having won their last two games by twenty-four and eighteen points I thought I would take a look at their offence against the Detroit Lion in this week’s amateur adventure in film.

The first thing that strikes me as I sit here to recount the game is a warning that whilst there has been a turnaround in the team’s results, meaning the Vikings have a chance of making the playoffs with a win this week, they did not look that great on offence in this game. This might be somewhat worrying considering how lowly the Lions defence rates by DVOA and the comeback the Vikings had to make in the first half.

Now, I’m not going to hold the opening three and out drive against the Vikings as they started the game pinned against their own goal line thanks to a great punt/coverage. However, there were several other drives that also stalled early or broke down through a commitment to the running game that was not necessarily justified by the result. The Vikings only managed to amass one hundred yards on twenty-eight carries but if you look behind the numbers things look a little better as Dalvin Cook did manage to maintain a 4.5 yard per carry average and Latavius Murray was stuffed on a number of runs at the end of the game when the Vikings were running out the clock and did break an eleven-yard run earlier in the game.

The most effective groupings for the Vikings seemed to be a mix or 11 and 12 personnel. Their most effective receiver in this game was actually their move tight-end Kyle Rudolph who caught all nine balls that were thrown to him as well as scoring two touchdowns. Apart from moving round the formation Rudolph also was a key part in the Vikings success in the play action game as he repeatedly blocked initially before leaking out onto a route and catching the ball. This success with the play action pass is one of the benefits in the Vikings’ renewed commitment to the run and it helps that apart from having a versatile tight end in Rudolph who they moved around the formation. They were also comfortable with tight-end David Morgan’s blocking and it has to be said that both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are good blockers for receivers and would often be brought close to the formation for run or play-action run looks.

This was actually quite a quiet game for Diggs catching the ball who on his day can compete with any receiver in the league, but it was his fellow receiver Adam Thielen who had the big day in the receiving group with eighty yards. You can understand why with one of the better receiving duos in the league that DeFilippo could have got caught up in the passing the game, particularly given the way the league is trending. However, given the defence the Vikings possess you can see why Mike Zimmer wanted to run the ball more and it seems to help Kirk Cousins manage the game better. I’m still not sure how good a quarterback Cousins is as at times he looks really good and then he will have some bad turnovers. It feels like for these last two games that less is more for Cousins, and being able to build from the run and play-action game that the Vikings have a better foundation for success. This could be because their offensive line struggles at times, although interestingly they rank much better in the passing game (seventh) than run blocking (twenty-second) when looking at the Football Outsiders offensive line stats. However, when you have a defence who is as good as Minnesota’s, particularly in recent weeks, then a more conservative approach can help both sides of the ball function in balance and I suspect it is a combination of this and asking Kirk Cousins to do slightly less that has turned round results in recent weeks.

Whether this is enough to defeat the Bears and see the Vikings succeed in the playoffs, only time will tell but I could certainly see the Bears defence being good enough to cause the Vikings problems today and success through limiting a quarterback is not why you pay a quarterback twenty million dollars a year, even if that was the cost of getting your man in free-agency.

As the Season Dims

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Here we are, Christmas is done, the year soon will be and so will the NFL regular season. We have one more round of games left and then we’ll wave goodbye to the disappointed twenty and focus in on the post season games.

So what important changes did we get the weekend before Christmas? Well, the New England Patriots claimed their tenth straight AFC East title with a win over the Buffalo Bills but they didn’t exactly convince. The Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East with a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to secure home field advantage through the playoffs. That result also places the Steelers playoff hopes in jeopardy as they have to beat the Bengals (probably not that hard) this weekend and hope that either the Ravens lose to the Browns (distinctly possible) or that there is a tie between the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans. There are other permutations involving a tie with the Bengals and a Ravens’ loss but all the Steelers control is their result against the Bengals. If you look back at the season it’s hard to be too upset about a three-point loss to the Saints in New Orleans, and it will be the losses to the Broncos and Raiders that will haunt the Steelers if they do miss the playoffs. Meanwhile the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts face a winner gets in week seventeen games, which is why that will be final game on Sunday.

Over in the NFC, five teams have secured their playoff berths and the only question left is whether the Philadelphia Eagles can complete their remarkable late season surge by beating Washington and hoping that the Bears can beat the Vikings. There is a route where the Bears could end up facing the Vikings in the Wildcard round so it is likely that the Bears will not pulling out all of their offensive tricks in this Sunday’s game, but apart from that it will be each team for itself and the Eagles hoping for the best. There are even whispers that Nick Foles might be the better quarterback but given his age compared to Carson Wentz it’s hard to see him not moving on in the offseason unless he keeps producing the miraculous.

Stepping away from the playoff picture for a moment, even if I didn’t actually pick it to happen it did not surprise me that the Oakland Raiders won what looks to be their last game in Oakland. After being sued by the city, the Raiders are not planning to play their final year in Oakland before their new Las Vegas stadium is ready and there is some talk of them playing in London for the 2019 season. It seems doubtful that with the logistical challenges of placing a team in London, that the Raiders would try it for a solitary year but it seems that the recent NFL franchise movement has not exactly been a flying success so far and it’s hard to see the Raiders bucking the trend. The now LA Chargers are playing in a small capacity venue and are routinely outnumbered by road fans despite having an 11-4 record. The LA Rams are doing better thanks to their previous links to the city, but it is still not exactly unusual for the well supported teams in the NFL to have sizable contingents present for games. At least Stan Kroenke will own the mega-campus he’s building for the Rams and the NFL, but I do wonder about the long term viability of the Chargers, who will be tenants in the Rams’ facility. The Raiders should make money in Las Vegas given the combination of locals who have already take their NHL team to heart and who could embrace their new football team, and the travelling fans who will leap at the chance to go to Vegas to see their team. How difficult an environment this will make for visiting fans remain to be seen, and there are an important couple of drafts coming for Jon Gruden and whoever is hired to execute his plan as the new GM. However, with no home for next season, a GM to appoint and a vital draft coming it feels like there is too much uncertainty for everything to come good even if some thrive in chaos and for those who are choosing to stick with the Raiders, they will be hoping that Gruden is such a person. It does feel like there are a lot of things that could potentially go wrong for the Raiders in the next couple of years.

Getting back to the week seventeen slate, it seems to make sense to focus on the battle for the playoffs and what is left of this season before worrying too much about the offseason. It is likely to be the games I’ve already mentioned that will be the ones worth watching. This last week features divisional matchups exclusively, which I’m sure the NFL will hope ensures competitive games (even amongst teams who have nothing to play for) but there are careers and jobs on the line as there are every week.

We haven’t even reached the end of the season and there are already stories of the Packers interviewing potential coaches and Matt Patricia is apparently ‘pretty confident’ that his job with the Lions is safe. There is apparently a press conference scheduled for Monday for Marvin Lewis but I have long since given up speculating on how to make sense of the Bengals coaching situation. I’m just hoping the long term plan does not involve Hue Jackson being made head coach, but it is a genuine possibility that worries me a little as I’d favour someone from outside of the central brain trust to freshen things up, although I might take current offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. We can cover all of this and more next week as I write up the disappointed twenty, but for now let’s enjoy the spectacle of those fighting to make the playoffs, and for those of whose team’s aren’t going to make it, as ever there is always next year so let’s grab our last chance to watch them this season.

2018 Week Sixteen Picks

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So here we go with the week sixteen weeks, but before that there’s the minor matter of our trivia competition.

‘In Week 3 the Browns beat the Jets 20 – 17, but how many days, and against whom, prior to Sept 20 is it since they had last won? As it’s Christmas I’ll allow you 25 days either way but give 3 points for an exact hit.’

So as odd as this might sound, I’m going to start with the days as I remember that apart from last season’s 0-16, the year before the Browns only went 1-16 (making it all the more remarkable that Hue Jackson kept his job) and there was real talk of them going 0-16 that season so I’m going to work on the theory that they got that solitary win in week sixteen. Counting along the calendar that gives me Sunday the 25th of December 2016, but whilst I think there were some games on Christmas day I don’t the NFL played the full slate and I hardly think the Browns would be a prime time game so let’s say the Browns won on the 24th of December 2016, so the Browns went six hundred and thirty-five days without a win. Now here’s the frustrating problem, I have no idea who they beat. Like none… So I’ve gone to a random NFL generator online and spun their wheel. The first team to come up were the Panthers, but I don’t like that as it would be more likely to be a fellow AFC team than an NFC team so I spun again and got the Bengals, but I think I would remember that, so once more I spin and I get the then San Diego now LA Chargers. I have no idea if that is right, but I’m sticking with the Browns beating the Chargers six hundred and thirty-five days before they beat the Jets this season.

‘Ok, I know this. I happen to know that it was a nice little Christmas present for the Browns with their precious win being on Christmas Eve 2016. Their game in week 3 was on the Thursday night, so if I’ve done my maths correctly (and I’ll be annoyed if I’ve not!), I make it 635 days between wins. And the win was against the then San Diego Chargers.’

Falcons @ Panthers (-3.5)

The Atlanta Falcons got their first win in six weeks last week and this week they visit a Carolina Panthers team who having fallen out of the playoffs last week, are sitting Cam Newton so he can start treatment on his injured throwing shoulder. On almost any previous week I would have backed the Panthers in this game, but I’m going for the Falcons in week sixteen given the comparative form and who is starting at quarterback.

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

Bills @ Patriots (-12.5)

The New England Patriots are very much in control of their own destiny and I’m not going to suggest they will lose to the Bills at home, but things have not been right with them for a number of weeks now and with Josh Gordon stepping away from football for the good of his mental health it doesn’t exactly look to be getting better for the Patriots offence. The Bills defence is still ranked third in the league by DVOA and that alone is enough for me to take the step of backing the Bills to keep this game within thirteen points. I just hope the Patriots usual ability to cover big lines doesn’t suddenly re-appear this week.

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

Bengals @ Browns (-6.5)

Given their comparative form I have no issue with the Cleveland Browns being favoured in this game, but six and half points feels like a little much given the way the Bengals have played over the last two weeks. The fact that the Bengals have now lost leading receiver Tyler Boyd as well as all the other receiving options does give me pause, but I don’t feel like the Browns are going to win the battle of Ohio by a touchdown. I hope I am right at any rate, even if the Browns will be supremely motivated to beat Hue Jackson.

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

Buccaneers @ Cowboys (-7.5)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Ravens last week and now must travel to Dallas to face a Cowboys teams who will be looking to bounce back from their shutout loss the week before. I’m not sure how competitive this game will be, but the line worries me as they were not at all competitive against the Colts. The Cowboys will be feeling the pressure with the Eagles beating the Rams and Washington managing to stay one game behind but this line is just that little bit too rich for me.

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

Vikings @ Lions (+5.5)

The Detroit Lions’ up and down season continue to falter along and whilst most of their problems would seem to be on offence from injury, it is their defence that ranks thirty-first in the league by DVOA and I’m sure some questions are going to asked of their first-year head coach Matt Patricia in the offseason. It doesn’t get any easier for them this week either as they welcome a Minnesota Vikings teams who rediscovered their offence last week on the back of a renewed commitment to running the ball and scored forty points for the first time this season. In a league that never has a big sample size it is dangerous to read too much into one game, but it at least makes sense that reducing the amount Kirk Cousins is asked to do leads to a more efficient game and I like the Vikings to carry their new form into this matchup.

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

Packers @ Jets (-0.5)

The New York Jets made last week’s game competitive against the Houston Texans and did take a lead in the fourth quarter, albeit a short lived one. However, there are thirteen places between them and the visiting Green Bay Packers in the overall DVOA rankings and whilst this has only manifested itself in one more win this season, Aaron Rodgers is planning to play out the season with his team and even on a down year I’m going to back him in this matchup.

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

Giants @ Colts (-9.5)

I like the direction the Indianapolis Colts are heading in and they remain in the playoff hunt. Coming off a strong showing against the Cowboys you can see why they are favourites against a New York Giants team who have struggled all season despite their talent at the offensive skill positions. Having got shut out and lost by seventeen last week, it is not like setting this line against the Giants is an insult but the Colts themselves got shut out two weeks ago by the Jaguars and so I’m not so confident that I will predict they win by ten. I could be wrong, but this line is just that little bit too rich for me.

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

Jaguars @ Dolphins (-4.5)

The Miami Dolphins got beat badly last week but they have also been terrible on the road losing every game bar their first against the Jets. That said, they are 6-1 at home and this week welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars who after a 3-1 start to the season have only won one game since then. The change at quarterback has not exactly invigorated the Jaguars offence and on the road I don’t expect them to set the world alight but it is still hard to have this much faith in the Dolphins. It’s not that they don’t deserve to be favourites, but this feels like too many points to be giving up for a team I don’t trust. I’m sure Dan would be very happy to see me proved wrong.

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

Texans @ Eagles (-0.5)

This is a sneaky good game as the Houston Texans take their 10-4 record to Philadelphia to see if they can beat an Eagles team who dragged themselves back into the contest for the NFC East with their win over the Rams last week. The Eagles chances still rests on the Cowboys slipping up but they have something to play for and looked much better against the Rams last week. What I’m not sure about is how these teams will play against each other and this line is not exactly helping but their 5-2 record on the road looks to favour the Texans yet I’m not sure they are two and half points better than the Eagles, which is what this line suggests. I’m going to nervously back the home team and hope I’m not making a big mistake.

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

Bears @ 49ers (+3.5)

The San Francisco 49ers have won two straight and found a little something toward the end of what has been a difficult season. This week they face a Chicago Bears team who clinched their division with a win over the Packers last week and whilst there is some potential for a let down for the Bears, they are now only a game back from the Rams and so a playoff bye week is up for grabs. Perhaps more importantly, the Bears number one defence in the league by DVOA will make it a very long day for Nick Mullens. This line is really tempting as home underdogs usually are but in the end, I’m going with the Bears.

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

Rams @ Cardinals (+14.5)

This is a surprisingly big game for the LA Rams who have now lost two straight and have not looked themselves for weeks now. They will be looking to get right against the bottom ranked team in the league by DVOA and whilst early in the season I might have backed them to cover this line, right now I think it is way too high. The Arizona Cardinals have had a miserable season but they actually rank fifteenth in the league on defence by DVOA and fifteen point wins are not that common, especially for a team who haven’t looked right and need to rest an injured Todd Gurley.

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

Steelers @ Saints (-6.5)

This should be a cracking game as the league leading New Orleans Saints welcome a Pittsburgh Steelers team who got back on track last week with a win over the New England Patriots. The Saints are a really good home team but their offence has gone down a notch or two in recent weeks yet they’ve kept winning thanks to their defence gradually improving across the year. The Steelers have been more up and down and dropped a bad game on the road against the Raiders in week fourteen. I know that Ben Roethlisberger is not the same quarterback on the road as he is at home, but I this line is too much for me given the recent points output of the Saints as I think this should be a close and fun contest.

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

Chiefs @ Seahawks (+2.5)

We follow one cracking game with another as the Kansas City Chiefs visit Seattle to take on a Seahawks team who will be smarting having lost on the road to the 49ers last week. The Seahawks still have an edge in the NFC wildcard hunt but they can’t afford to keep dropping games even if they do play the Cardinals in week seventeen. The Chiefs come into this game with the better record and DVOA ranking, but with receivers banged up and having cut Kareem Hunt a couple of weeks ago when the video of him kicking a woman was released by TMZ, their offence has not looked the same. As strange as it might have sounded at the start of the season, Patrick Mahomes is what is making the Cheifs’ offence go right now but Seattle is a tough place to play and that is enough for me to grab the points with the home underdog.

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

Broncos @ Raiders (+2.5)

Out final game of the week sees one team who only fell out the playoff hunt a couple of weeks ago visiting a team who all but announced they were rebuilding at the start of the year when they traded away Khalil Mack. That move catapulted the Bears into a division win whilst I still can’t understand it for the Raiders, who may have beat the Steelers in week fourteen but crashed back to earth last week when they lost 16-30 to the Bengals. Two of the Raiders’ three wins have come at home and getting points might be tempting, but their defence ranks thirty-first against the pass and twenty-seventh against the run by DVOA and with undrafted rookie running back Phillip Lindsay heading to the Pro Bowl I think a Broncos team with twice the number of wins will have enough to see the Raiders out. This looks like it could be the Raiders last game in Oakland, which could throw a spanner in the works but I’m going to trust my numbers on this one as I can’t stay away.

Gee’s Pick:          Broncos
Dan’s Pick:          Riders

AAF: JJ Watt

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For this week’s amateur adventures in film I decided to give myself the Christmas present of JJ Watt on coaching tape so I took a loot the Houston Texans’ week fifteen game against the New York Jets.

Watt may not be in the discussion for MVP like he was in his pomp only a couple of seasons ago, but he has amassed fourteen and a half sacks this season that has him tied for second in the league with Denielle Hunter and Von Miller, behind only Aaron Donald. Watt book-ended this game with two sacks and in between was a destructive force throughout. He was spelled a couple of times for a handful of plays, but for most of the game he was on the field at left end, be it as part of the Texans’ 3-4 base defence or more their more predominantly used in this game 4-2 nickel look. That said he also played right end at time as well as lining up as a pass rush defensive tackle lined up opposite an offensive tackle, although he would rush the guard inside him.

On the Jets’ opening drive, Watt got round first the left tackle and then the right tackle on successive plays before stalling the drive with a sack. The things that perhaps I was most impressed with by Watt was his use of hands. I was praising David Bakhtiari last week for his patience, which was because of how good he was with his hands when he engaged the pass rush and Watt has a similar ability being put to the opposite use. Watt has the knack of either avoiding blocks or getting off them thanks to his ability to control contact and this combined with his still formidable physical gifts allows him to play the run incredibly well as well as being a danger rushing the passer. He might have had even more sacks were it not for a couple of holds that were called and some more that I thought could have been called. Watt is not a straight speed rusher but often uses speed to power, or dips his shoulder round the tackle to power towards the quarterback as well as straight bull rushing the offensive player in front of him. He also frequently nearly got tackles in the backfield that he had no right to get near and forced the quarterback to move in the pocket even if the offensive player stayed in front of him.

The Jets did not slide all their protection to Watt, but it was common for him to be double teamed or get bumped by a running back or tight end as they went past. There was one play where I’m sure the right guard Brian Winters was pointing out something for the protection scheme, but it did look for all the world like he was saying he’s there, Watt is there. The results for the Jets could have been worse, but for all that he has looked like a rookie this season, I thought that Sam Darnold showed good awareness in the pocket and moved to deliver the ball as well as scrambling effectively a couple of times. He has not got a lot of strength at the skill positions and the Jets might have a player to develop around in the coming years.

I really enjoyed watching this tape as there was a time in the last couple of seasons where it felt as if Watt was never going to get back on the field and whilst he may never quite live up to the previous highs he reached, Watt is once again an all pro player and I wouldn’t like to bet against him repeating this play in the future. That is perhaps as good a Christmas present as I could have hoped for.

2018 Saturday Picks 2: The Revenge

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It was a terrible week to go ice cold with my picks, which as I mentioned in this week’s blog post gives Dan’s Dad a five point lead with two week’s left. I just hope I can turn things round and make the score respectable if not prevent the blog going purple and gold, which takes us to our second round of Saturday picks.

Gee:    Week 15   5-11            Overall   113-111
Dan:    Week 15   9-7              Overall   109-115

Washington @ Titans (-10.5)

This is a huge line considering that the Tennessee Titans only have one more win than Washington and yes the team from the nation’s capital are much more injured and down to their fourth quarterback of the season, but having beaten the Jaguars last week it feels like they will keep this game more competitive than eleven points. I’m slightly nervous as the Titans have been a team I have struggled to pick all season and they shut out the Giants last week, but my spreadsheet agrees with my gut feeling and so I’m going to back Washington.

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

Ravens @ Chargers (-4.5)

I’m really looking forward to this game and I hope to able to watch it at some point on Sunday. The LA Chargers are right up there with any team in the league, but they don’t exactly have a huge home field advantage and this week they welcome a Baltimore Ravens team who have been competitive for a number of weeks now and who are still in the hunt for the playoffs. It might be that the Chargers run out winners, but I’m not hugely confident in that and I like the Ravens to keep it closer than five thanks to their tough defence and ability to run the ball.

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

I’ll leave you with a reminder of this week’s trivia question.

‘In Week 3 the Browns beat the Jets 20 – 17, but how many days, and against whom, prior to Sept 20 is it since they had last won? As it’s Christmas I’ll allow you 25 days either way but give 3 points for an exact hit.’

The Changes of the Season

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It feels like we are on the edge of change on many fronts, and that is only a partial reference to Brexit. The winter solstice is on Friday and as the days start to get longer again it is all change in the NFL as the playoffs near. We have had our last Thursday night game of the regular season, which will be wrapped up before the new year starts. Closer to home for this blog, with some terrible timing I was ice cold with my picks this weeks dropping to five points behind Dan’s Dad whilst Dan had another double digit total that pulled him to within four points of me. This change of method for Dan is possibly too late to win the whole competition but he could very easily catch me and it certainly feels like the blog will be going purple and gold in the new year. I’m mostly annoyed at myself though as I’m tinkering with a spreadsheet formula for making picks and if I had just listened to that I would have gone 11-5 and things would look very different.

So as the world (and possibly the blog colours) change it also feels like things have shifted in the league. None of this season’s three elite offences have really fired properly in the last couple of weeks. This is probably due to a combination of injuries and maybe some weather but only the New Orleans Saints won this week. The Chiefs at least won the week before but are now level with the late surging LA Chargers in the AFC West with 11-3 records whilst the LA Rams have lost two straight and have just signed free-agent running back CJ Anderson after Todd Gurley picked up a knock against the Eagles.

Speaking of which, don’t look now but through a combination of beating the Rams and the Cowboys getting shut out the Eagles now have an outside shot of making the playoffs, although they have to win out and hope results go their way. It will not be easy to beat the Houston Texans or a Washington team that are somehow not eliminated from the playoffs either thanks to grinding out a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

However, I should go back to the best teams for a moment as thanks to their ability to keep grinding out wins despite their offence falling back a bit the Saints are now the only team with twelve wins having prevailed in an entertaining game against the Carolina Panthers who lost another game and maybe should look at siting Cam Newton as he does not look right thanks to his injured shoulder.

More interestingly for a competitive postseason, not only have these three elite teams as I called them come back to the pack a little, but there are other teams who are rounding into form. Okay whoever actually comes out of the NFC East looks to be somewhat flawed, but the Chicago Bears won the NFC North for the first time since 2010 thanks to their win over the Packers and whilst Mitchell Turbisky doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence yet their defence certainly does. The Seattle Seahawks still have a game lead on the other wildcard contenders despite their loss to the 49ers on Sunday and facing them if they get through certainly won’t be easy. I’m withholding judgement on the Minnesota Vikings for another game in case the game against a bad road team isn’t a pre-cursor of things to come, but the offence certainly ran the ball against the Dolphins and if they play more like they could be a horrible game for any team they face.

In the AFC, the Houston Texans should not be underestimated with their 10-6 record but the Indianapolis Colts could give a team a nasty surprise with their combination of good offence and tough enough defence (shutting out any NFL offence is impressive, even though the Cowboys rank a surprising twenty-sixth by DVOA ). No one would fancy facing the Ravens’ mix of strong defence and ability to run the ball should they make it and the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots have enough muscle memory that no one will want to play them, even if there are strange things going on with both franchises. I’m sure that if you told Bill Belichick last week that his defence would limit the Steelers to seventeen points that he would have been happy but in further evidence that things are just not right with the Patriots this year they only scored ten points and actually lost the game. We’ve been here before with Tom Brady and the Patriots and I still maintain that I won’t believe it is over until it is over, but Brady is a forty-one year old quarterback so time has to be running out. That said, no one would be surprised if the Pats made another Super Bowl but it’s very possible they have already cost themselves home field advantage and\or a bye with their last two losses. I still don’t know what to make of the Tennessee Titans, other than that they were clearly offended by my terrible pick at the weekend as not only did they beat the New York Giants in the MetLife Stadium, but pitched a second shutout of the week!

For those of you who support teams like my Bengals who are well and truly out of the playoff races, don’t worry the blog goodbyes will start up following the last the week of the season. However, the Bengals did at least manage to halt their losing streak with a win over the Oakland Raiders. Joining the Bengals in the losing record but won their week fifteen game club were the Buffalo Bills, who have actually gone 3-2 over their last five games and snuck out a win against the Detroit Lions, the aforementioned San Francisco 49ers, and the Cleveland Browns who are already above the Bengals in the AFC North and just imagine what they might have done this season if you look at their record since Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired.

We are rapidly approaching the playoffs and I am sad that the Bengals won’t make it, but I’m very much looking forward to what should be some cracking makes. Now, I have to get my newsletter sorted so I can start on my Christmas coaching tape present to myself, namely JJ Watt.

We have to savour the football we have left as it won’t be here for very much longer!

The Dolphins were terrible, but my picks weren’t!

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Well, that was a bump back down to earth!

After last week’s miracle in Miami, I suppose it was only right that normal service would resume and we’d struggle, especially away from home where we’ve struggled all year. It was more than a little embarrassing though – long time readers will know that my dad is a Minnesota Vikings fan, so I can only thank my lucky stars that he picked this week to fly 7 hours away so I don’t have to put up with quite as much gloating as I could have expected any other week!

Much like an Alan Partridge talkshow, the Dolphins started poorly and went downhill from there. With the game only 13 minutes old, we’d already gone down by 21 points and lost Frank Gore, who it now turns out is going to be out for the remainder of the season, thanks to a sprained ankle [Actually sprained foot, which somehow sounds words – Ed.]. But the most telling thing in terms of how things went for the Dolphins can be deduced from the following 3 stats:

Total Passing Yards: 108
Tannehill Sacked: 9 times for 71 yards.
Net passing yards: 37

There’s got to be a share of the blame here. Tannehill did go down a couple of times for making poor decisions in holding onto the ball when he could have thrown, but he was not helped in the slightest by his Offensive Line. And I’m getting a bit sick of repeating myself about how beaten up we are, but it’s taking its toll now, and we just looked embarrassing on Sunday night. I can’t imagine all of those hits helped number 17’s injured Shoulder… or his injured Knee… or his injured Ankle!

The Vikings on the other hand looked very good. Their offence had taken a lot of flack in recent weeks, and they even parted company with their OC John DeFilippo last week, but the team’s response was nothing short of impressive. They looked clinical in their approach, with Dalvin Cook (who rushed for 136 yards) Stefon Diggs and Tyler Conklin seeming to find it all too easy to find holes in Miami’s Defence.

The only positive for the Dolphins was a bit of an emergence of Kalen Ballage, who had 12 Rushing attempts for a total of 123 yards, 75 of which were in one play at the beginning of the second half. We seem to be doing pretty well in recent seasons in bringing through young RBs, so hopefully Ballage could be the latest in that list.

Anyway, the game finished 41-17, I ended up with the hump, and the Dolphins are back to 7-7.

Even the Rams lost, giving me more cause for concern with my bet after such a good start to the season! That’s made the chart look like this…

Outside of those games, there were a couple of goose eggs this week, as the Titans and the Colts shut out the Giants and the Cowboys respectively. And my favourite moment of the week came in the form of a Patriots punt cover which saw some an incredible mid air stop and the ball being grounded at the 1 yard line. It wasn’t all good for New England though as a poor throw midway through the fourth quarter pretty much handed their game to the Pittsburgh in what could quite easily cost New England their home advantage in the playoffs.

Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No! It’s Jonathan Jones!

Picks-wise, I’m catching up! Once again I went against instinct, and once again, I got a double-digit score… if that’s what it’s going to take to turn this very blog Aqua and Orange, then so be it! Just 2 weeks left, and this is getting close!

This will more than likely be the last time I get chance to blog before Christmas Day. Like many people this time of year, I’ll be busy visiting family and friends, and eating more than can ever be seen as healthy, but I very quickly want to ask you to take a moment to think about those who aren’t as lucky. Many will spend the cold Christmas period alone and on the streets, but you can help to make things a little better. On Christmas Day, I’ll be making my annual Christmas donation to Crisis, a charity who not only provide a hot meal and a bed for the night for those less fortunate over the festive period, but also provide health checkups, hot showers, and support to help people to turn their lives around, and hopefully not face the same predicament again next Christmas. If you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written this year, please consider making a donation to Crisis using this link: www.crisis.org.uk/ (this year, the suggested donation is £28.18, but anything you can give will help!).

Have a safe and happy Christmas, and make sure you enjoy A LOT of football!!

Until next time…

@TWFDan