The Turnaround Three

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It has been a season of confusion and narrative, but with so much discussion about off field matters (that are covered again in this week’s podcast) I thought I would stick to matters on the field in this blog.

With so many high profile stars injured and several teams turning their fortunes round from last season, there are new teams and faces challenging for the playoffs so I thought I would take a look at three of these teams.

The most obvious turnaround belongs to the LA Rams who currently stand atop the NFC West division with a 7-2 record having racked up three more wins than they managed all of last season. The changes that rookie head coach Sean McVay has already brought to this team have had a dramatic effect on an offence that has already surpassed the points they put up in the entirety of last season, but it is also an indictment of the previous regimes that not only have the Rams won seven games this year, but the other quarterback who suffered on the 2016 team has already got six wins for himself in the eight games he has played for the Minnesota Vikings.

However, even if the turnaround in record is most impressive for the Rams, the team who lead the NFL with eight wins are the Philadelphia Eagles and this is one more win than they managed in total last season. There are some arguing that Carson Wentz is in the running for MVP, but what is undeniable is that the level of his play has improved and that this has brought the Eagles offence alive. The Eagles clearly believe they can make a strong push into the playoffs as they are still bringing in players to bolster their roster as they pick up injuries. The Eagles have a commanding position within their division and it would be surprising if they can’t convert this into a playoff run.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a less commanding position, but have already doubled their number of wins from last season and share the AFC South lead with the Tennessee Titan. They have the second rank defence by DVOA, which considering they have the thirtieth ranked rush defence is a testament to just how good their pass defence has been. The offence is limited and this is what could limit them going forward but they have just had their first three game win streak since 2013 and for the first time in many seasons they stand a chance of making the playoffs.

None of these teams even had a .500 record last season and in under a year they are seriously competing for a division title. There is a lot of talk of parity in the NFL, but these teams are demonstrating that in the NFL you can turn things round quickly, and I haven’t even mentioned the News Orleans Saints who have won seven straight after their own turn around on defence.

It would be great to see all of these teams hit the playoffs, and I would love for the Bills to make it as well given how long their fans have been waiting for a playoff run but I can see it slipping away. The difference this season is that I genuinely feel like the Bills are building something for the future even if they do miss the post season this year.

I look forward to seeing how all of them do this week.

Gee:      Week 10   8-6                     Overall   82-65
Dan:      Week 10   6-8                     Overall   76-71

Titans @ Steelers (-7.5)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are making harder work of games than they really should given the talent on their roster and they certainly shouldn’t have needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat the Colts by three points on Sunday. This week they welcome a Tennessee Titans team who have quietly dragged themselves to a 6-3 record and a share of the AFC South lead. It has to be said that there did not appear to be any lingering problems with Marcus Mariota’s hamstring as he ran through the Bengals defence. I’m not confident that the Titans will win given they had to score in the last minute to beat the Bengals last week, but I can’t quite bring myself to pick the Steelers giving eight points and I do fancy the Titans to make a game of it.

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

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Week Ten Picks

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Saints @ Bills (+2.5)

The New Orleans Saints are on a great run having won six straight games. They have integrated a number of young players into their defence and now look like they could be one of the teams to watch in the NFC. This week they are traveling to face a Bills team who are unbeaten at home in Buffalo. The Bills may have lost against the Jets last week but they have extra rest and are going against a rush defence that is only ranked twenty-eight in the leave by DVOA. I am going back and forth on this one a lot as I like getting points at home and the Saints can’t keep winning all of their games but I can’t quite pick the Bills in this one.

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

Packers @ Bears (-4.5)

The Green Bay Packers have lost by nine and thirteen points since Aaron Rodgers broke his collar bone and this week they travel to face the Chicago Bears who are coming of their bye week. The Bears’ offence is ranked thirty-first in the league but their defence is pretty stout and should have more than enough to contain a struggling Brett Hundley. I think the Bears should win this one, but giving away four and a half points worries me, in the end I’m going to back the Bears but I don’t feel that confident about it.

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

Bengals @ Titans (-5.5)

The Cincinnati Bengals travel to Tennessee to face the Titans and I do not expect them to win given how the season has gone and the Bengals’ continued offensive problems thanks to a shaky offensive line. The Titans have not exactly been dominant, but they have been grinding out wins. Last week’s matchup was particularly poor for the Bengals but since Bill Lazor become offensive coordinator they have kept most of their other games close or won and so I’m backing them to stay within six points in this game.

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

Browns @ Lions (-11.5)

The Cleveland Browns may not have any wins, but they have kept half of their games to only three point deficits. This week they face the Detroit Lions on the road who have a tough defence and an offence that ranks twentieth by DVOA despite Matt Stafford playing well. I’m not putting any faith in the every other week pattern that suggests this will be the fifth game the Browns lose by three points, but I do just fancy them to keep this game closer than twelve points. I need to remember my rule that I need a very good reason to back a team giving double digit points and whilst it would not surprise me if the Lions manage to cover this line, I feel like it is more likely they won’t.

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

Steelers @ Colts (+9.5)

Ranked top ten by DVOA in defence and offence the Pittsburgh Steelers are a fearsome opponent for anybody, let alone a 3-6 Indianapolis Colts team who have given up on having their franchise quarterback play this season. Still, the Steelers don’t always bring their A game on the road against teams they should beat and the Colts have been competitive in the last couple of weeks. I’m not exactly confident with this one but I am going to back the Colts to keep this one within ten points at home.

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

Vikings @ Washington (+1.5)

Washington showed some real grit to win last week in Seattle but poor kicking from the Seahawk’s Blair Walsh contributed to their win. This week they host a Minnesota Vikings team coming of a bye who have played well despite a fluid situation at quarterback where Teddy Bridgewater has returned to the active roster as week one starter Sam Bradford was placed on injured reserve thanks to a knee injury that has prevented him from playing another game. Still Case Keenum has done an admirable job of filling in and is the starter for this game. This won’t be an easy game as Washington have kept grinding, but in a battle of ex-Bengals co-ordinators I expect Mike Zimmer and the Vikings to win out.

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

Jets @ Buccaneers (+2.5)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are really struggling this year and this week with Mike Evans suspended and Jameis Winston sat through injury, their offence faces an even bigger challenge in overcoming a defence that is ranked thirtieth in the league by DVOA. The New York Jets are coming of a Thursday night win against the Bills and are worthy favourites in this game. I think Todd Bowles has done an excellent coaching job given the overhaul of the roster in the offseason and I expect the Jets to win out in this one despite only being ranked one place better by overall DVOA.

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

Chargers @ Jaguars (-4.5)

The Jacksonville Jaguars have the number one ranked defence in the league by DVOA and get to pit their rushing attack against the visiting LA Chargers twenty-sixth ranked rush defence. They will welcome the return of rookie running back Leonard Fournette and will be hoping he has a point to prove having been sat last week for discipline reasons. The Chargers’ three wins have all come against teams who currently have losing records and it feels like they could struggle against the Jaguars who will be hoping to establish some consistency having now won two in a row. The points line worries me but I like the matchup and so I am going to pick the Jaguars to cover this line.

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

Texans @ Rams (-11.5)

The LA Rams are one of the surprise teams of the season and come into this game have scored fifty against the Giants last week. In fact the Rams have three thirty point plus margin wins and welcome a Houston Texans team who have hope for next season but are pretty much done for this year thanks to injury. The Rams are ranked as the best team in the league by DVOA and are impressive enough that I am going to pick them to cover this line at home, which is probably a massive jink so sorry to any fans of the Rams that are reading this.

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

Cowboys @ Falcons (-2.5)

The Atlanta Falcons welcome the Dallas Cowboys who are about to find out what life is like without Ezekiel Elliott as he finally starts his six game suspension. However, Dallas still look pretty strong whilst the Falcons have struggled this year and with the Falcons defence only ranked twenty-ninth I fancy the Cowboys to cover this if not win despite missing their start running back.

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

Giants @ 49ers (+0.5)

This pick’em game is difficult to call with the 1-7 New York Giants coming of a heavy loss to the LA Rams travelling across country to play the 0-9 San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have picked up a lot of injuries in the last two weeks but the Giants don’t exactly inspire confidence. I’m going to pick the 49ers as the home team who will be desperate to get a win but this is definitely a game to stay away from picking if you can.

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

Patriots @ Broncos (+7.5)

The Denver Broncos gave up fifty points last week and look to be in real trouble. They have struggled to move the ball and have lost by at least ten points in the last four games. Denver has been historically a difficult place to play and Brow Osweiler has actually beaten the New England Patriots before, but even with a thirty-first ranked defence by DVOA the Patriots are 6-2 and seem to be rounding into form. I’m a little hesitant to predict this, but looking at the trends in scores I’m going to nervously back the Patriots to cover this line.

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

Dolphins @ Panthers (-9.5)

The Miami Dolphins are ranked thirty-first by DVOA and have had their offence shut-out twice this year but have still managed to get to 4-4 and narrowly lost against the Raiders last week. The problem is this week they travel to face a Carolina Panthers team who have reverted to running Cam Newton and so may have found a formula to stabilise their offence. Certainly it will be hard for the Dolphins to move the ball on the Panthers defence and I would be surprised if they won the game. However, there were some good things in last week’s loss and I’m not so confident in the Panthers that I can predict them to win by ten points.

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

Halfway Through the Season

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So this could be a giant mistake, but with week nine in the books all teams will have played half of their fixtures and so here is a single sentence round up of the season so far for each team:

Arizona Cardinals

Long term injuries have derailed the Cardinals’ offence so their season now rests on how far a thirty-two year old running back can carry them.

Atlanta Falcons

We’re not sure how much is Super Bowl hangover and how much is the new offensive coordinator but the Falcons are struggling and need to turn it round soon if they are to get back to the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have one of the largest injury lists in the league, but the real issue is the offence and how badly Joe Flacco is underperforming compared to his contract.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills are performing much better than I expected thanks to Sean McDernott and his coaching staff, but with two games against the Patriots and a trip to Kansas City to face the Chiefs the Bills face a tough road if they want to make the playoffs.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers defence seems to take care of itself, particularly when Luke Kuechly is on the field, but the offence has not been consistent and needs to solidify if they want to make the most of a good 6-3 start.

Chicago Bears

The Bears have wedded themselves to a tough defence and running game, which was enough to get them three wins but it feels like something has to change for the Bears to break into the playoff hunt next season.

Cincinnati Bengals

It feels like the end of an era in Cincinnati where a team hamstrung by its offensive line has fallen back rather than recovered from last season’s down year.

Cleveland Browns

The hope of the offseason has dimmed as things have keep going wrong for the Browns but with the front office and coaching staff both having problems and not in lock step it feels like the promising approach is stalling and the question is will the owner lose faith with GM, head coach, or both.

Dallas Cowboys

All the headlines belong to Ezekiel Elliott but for me perhaps the most impressive thing is the way the Cowboys defence is playing and the job Rod Marinelli is doing as defensive coordinator.

Denver Broncos

The defence still has the talent but problematic quarterback play behind an offensive line that still doesn’t inspire confidence seems to have doomed the season and leaves some real questions for John Elway to answer.

Detroit Lions

The Lions were never going to be able to replicate the number of close, come from behind wins they had last season but with a good run in the second half they could be fighting for a wildcard spot.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers’ season looks to have fallen apart when Aaron Rodgers went down, which seems to have demonstrated precisely how good the rest of the roster is and what a difference an elite level quarterback can make.

Houston Texans

The Texans have endured many key injuries this year but as sad as everyone was when Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practise, it looks like the Texans finally have their quarterback of the future and how scary could this team be next year with a bit of injury luck.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have made the right decision in sitting Andrew Luck but the people questioning Luck’s toughness should think about what their talented quarterback has fought through in the last couple of years, and then be quiet.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars play defence, run the ball, and it’s working for them.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs’ offence continues to roll despite teams working out that zone defence does slow them down, but the problem is the defence and how much it is beginning to miss Eric Berry.

LA Chargers

The Chargers are lurking after a bad start and will be hoping to turn things round in the second half of the season but it must be miserable playing in such a small stadium that is still full of opposition fans.

LA Rams

What a difference a year makes with Sean McVay surely in contention for coach of the year the Rams have established themselves as serious contenders and look destined for the playoffs.

Miami Dolphins

A topsy-turvy season that has seen two offensive shut-outs, a star running back trade, and a lot of travel, but we’re waiting to see if Adam Gase can pull things together in the second half.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings keep rolling despite the turmoil at quarterback thanks to a really good defence, and a head coach who I never wanted to leave the Bengals.

New England Patriots

The Patriots somehow lead their division despite a defence which has been rooted round the bottom of the league by DVOA as apparently the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady really can overcome nearly anything.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints have finally managed to turn their defence round and in doing so look very competitive, and with Drew Brees they could cause real problems in the playoffs as long as they’re not bitten by the injury bug. Fingers crossed.

New York Giants

The Giants look to be falling apart around Ben McAdoo with the end of Eli Manning’s career looming and you have to think there will be changes in the offseason.

New York Jets

The Jets are playing so much better than anyone expected and this is largely thanks to a great coaching job by Todd Bowles, although this may hurt their chances of securing a quarterback for the future if they were planning to do this in the draft.

Oakland Raiders

I am bemused by the Raiders who seem to struggle except when I watch them play and so I don’t know if their offence is good enough to overcome a defence that is currently ranked last by DVOA.

Philadelphia Eagles

The class of the league so far go into their bye week with an 8-1 record and talk of second year quarterback Carson Wentz being a contender for MVP – what more could you want?

Pittsburgh Steelers

There may be questions over Ben Roethlisberger’s form, but with Le’Veon Bell and a strong defence the Steelers are running away with the AFC North and look to be one of the contenders in the AFC.

San Francisco 49ers

We always knew this was going to be a big project but the other winless team in the NFL are worse than I was expecting and fans will be anxious to see if Jimmy Garoppolo is their quarterback of the future.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are still a tough out and I wouldn’t write them off despite their defence sliding slightly but surely at some point they have to do something about their offensive line?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs season has crumbled with Jameis Winston sitting through injury and a defence that is ranked thirtieth by DVOA, it is hard to see anything other than some big changes next offseason given the expectations coming into the season.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans keep grinding despite Marcus Mariota being hindered by injury, and he is a different quarterback when his mobility is limited, but they are still in the hunt for the playoffs.

Washington

With the divisional losses they already have I think the playoffs are out of reach but this team has been playing hard despite the injuries, I just wonder what the long term plan is having lost both starting receivers last offseason and with Kirk Cousins likely on his way next year.

Gee:      Week 9   8-5                       Overall   74-59
Dan:       Week 9   8-5                       Overall   70-63

Seahawks @ Cardinals (+6.5)

The Seattle Seahawks are still a very up and down team and so whilst they should beat the Arizona Cardinals, this is a lot of points to give up to a home team on a Thursday night. I don’t know how long Adrian Peterson can sustain the kind of workload he was given last week, or if three days of recovery will be enough, but I still fancy the Cardinals to cover this line.

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

AAF: Deshaun Watson

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I am running out of time a little bit this weekend, but with the injury curse hitting the Houston Texans and me planning to take a look at their offence versus the Seattle Seahawks defence – I thought I would look at the good and bad of Deshaun Watson whilst I still could this season.

To do this I’ve picked two plays from the first and second quarters which represent the pass that stood out to me, the interception, Watson’s longest run and the sack that lost the most yards.

The first of these plays was a fifty-nine yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller. In a way this is a simple play. The Texans lined up in 11 personel, with tight end Ryan Griffin initially lined up wide left and then motioning back onto the line whilst Deshaun Watson is stood back from the play to complete the shotgun formation. The Texans then run a simple play action pass, with the fake being enough to hold Seahawks safety Earl Thomas at his starting position for long enough that he is not able to turn and get over to a streaking Fuller to stop him catching the ball behind the defence and scoring a touchdown. The impressive thing about Watson on this play is that Dwight Freeney is coming off the right side of the defence and it is running back Lamar Miller who has to block him. This is not an easy assignment and Fuller can only shove Freeney to delay the rush, but whilst keeping his eyes downfield Watson shuffles in the pocket to avoid the rush and then throws a deep ball over the defence for Fuller to get under and catch falling into the end-zone.

If that was the good, the equalising touchdown for the Seahawks was an interception thrown by Watson on his next series demonstrates some of his youthfulness. Again the Texans lined up with 11 personnel in a shotgun formation, this time on third and ten, with Watson executing a straight drop and throwing an interception. Watson does look right before locking onto Deandre Hopkins coming across the field from the left and throwing the ball, but Earl Thomas simply sits in his starting position watching Watson and jumps the route to intercept the ball and takes it back for a touchdown. I have no way of knowing what Watson’s read should be for this play, but given that Earl Thomas is one of the league’s best safeties, I have to imagine that accounting for him should be part of this and this will be a pass Watson would love to have back..

The run that I want to talk about demonstrates the danger of an athletic quarterback. The Texans are lined up with 11 personnel again, still with Watson in a shotgun position but with Lamar Miller lined up to the left of Watson and further back while Ryan Griffin lined up as full back to the left and further forward of Watson. This is another play action play, but this time defensive tackle Nazair Jones gets good pressure while being held up by right tackle Breno Giacomini, but the pair are very close to Watson when he looks up from the play action hand off. Watson evades the pressure and having seen that Kam Chancellor and both linebackers of the Seahawks have dropped back into zones leaving plenty of space in front of him; Watson takes off and runs for a first down before he has to slide – a very safe way for Watson to pick up eighteen yards.

Towards the end of the second half on second and eight with fifty-two seconds left on the clock, the Texans line up in shotgun with an empty backfield. I am pretty certain they are in 11 personnel with Ryan Griffin lined up to the right of the line, and running back Alfred Blue lined up wide right, but it is hard to make out Blue’s number to be certain. What is clear is that the Seahawks are lined up in a nickel with corner Justin Coleman looking into the backfield from the right side of the defence. Coleman is lined up in a press position opposite the Texans’ stacked receivers on the left hand side of their formation, but when the ball is snapped Coleman immediately rushes the passer and does not get picked up at all. Coleman rushing from the right and Michael Bennett who lined up as left end meet as they sack Deshaun Watson. In this play Watson starts of looking right, and doesn’t sense Coleman’s pressure until it is too late for him avoid the sack.

So what do I make of this overall? There is a huge amount of potential in Deshaun Watson, and whilst his interceptions ultimately cost the Texans the game, without his play they would never have been in the game and how many rookie quarterbacks could throw for over four hundred yards against the Seahawks’ defence in Seattle. Yes Watson is athletic, but the pocket movement on the touchdown to Fuller is as exciting as the long run play. The injury is yet another frustrating one for a league that seems beset by them to franchise players, and it really sucks to have the rookie season of an exciting prospect cut short like this. However, it does seem like the Texans have a quarterback they can develop and I’m sure everyone will be excited about him next season.

Week Nine Picks

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Falcons @ Panthers (-2.5)

This is a strange game for me to pick as the Atlanta Falcons look to be suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, and the Carolina Panthers have been up and down all season. The Falcons offence has not clicked under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian whilst the Panthers have just traded Kelvin Benjamin to a fair amount of consternation from the locker room. Given that I have no confidence in how this game is going to turn out I am going to grab the points.

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

Bengals @ Jaguars (-4.5)

This game pits a defence that already has two ten sack games against an offensive line that has struggled all season. I have no confidence in the Cincinnati Bengals, but this also seems a lot of points for a team whose offence has not been great going against a pretty decent defence. In the end the Jacksonville Jaguars seem to win big or lose, and I can’t pick the Bengals to win on the road so will back the Jaguars and fervently hope to be wrong.

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

Broncos @ Eagles (-7.5)

The Denver Broncos have struggled with their offence in recent weeks and are turning to Brock Osweiler to give them a spark. It is a tough ask from the Broncos to win in Philadelphia given how well the Eagles are playing but this line does give me pause. The Eagles have just lost their left tackle Jason Peters for the season and the Broncos defence is still ranked second in the league by DVOA. However, the Broncos are coming off a three game losing streak where the closest game was still ten points, and in the end I can’t quite bring myself to back them. I could regret this.

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

Ravens @ Titans (-5.5)

This is another game that I don’t know what to do given that the Baltimore Ravens have been up and down all this season and the Tennessee Titans have not exactly inspired confidence. The Titans are coming off a bye and will be hoping the rest will have helped Marcus Mariota get over his hamstring problem fully. However, it still took the Titans overtime to beat the Browns two weeks ago and the Ravens are coming off a big win against the Dolphins on a Thursday night. In the end this is too many points to be giving to a team that may well be better, and are certainly ranked higher by DVOA

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

Colts @ Texans (-12.5)

The injury curse struck the Houston Texans again this week as exciting rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in a non-contact practise injury and will miss the rest of the season. The Indianapolis Colts are not a good team, but with the return of Tom Savage to the Texans offence this line is too rich for me.

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

Rams @ Giants (+3.5)

The New York Giants are coming off a bye, but there is not a lot to hang your hat on this season, whilst the LA Rams are heading up their division and are ranked second overall in DVOA. The Giants have lost all of their home games by more than four points and with the Rams coming off their own bye I don’t feel worried about the Rams giving up points.

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

Buccaneers @ Saints (-7.5)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defence is thirtieth by DVOA, which is not encouraging when you are facing Drew Brees and his third ranked offence on the road. The New Orleans Saints started off 0-2, but have won the rest of their games by a minimum of eight points, so whilst this run could end I am not going to pick it.

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

Cardinals @ 49ers (+2.5)

The Arizona Cardinals travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers coming off a bye but having lost their starting quarterback. I am not sure if Adrian Peterson can carry an offence without the credible threat of an effective passing game and Drew Stanton doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The 49ers have their own problems, and have stopped keeping games close in the last couple of weeks as they start a rookie quarterback. They will not be looking to start newly acquired Jimmy Garoppolo straight away, but given how closely these two teams are ranked by DVOA, I’m going to grab the points at home for the underdog.

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

Washington @ Seahawks (-7.5)

I’m still kicking myself for picking Washington last week given how many injuries they have on their offensive line and that the overhaul of the receiver group has really not worked. The number of points worries me a little, but the Seattle Seahawks at home are still a formidable prospect and I just don’t see Kirk Cousins and his offence being able to keep up.

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

Chiefs @ Cowboys (-0.5)

I am not entirely sure how Ezekiel Elliott keeps finding ways to start games, but once against he has managed to find a way to take the field for the Dallas Cowboys. This game should be fascinating as it feels like the Kansas City Chiefs are slowing down a little from their fast start, with their defence really missing Eric Berry. A defence that ranks thirty-first against the run could really struggle against Ezekiel Elliott, but the Cowboys are only ranked one place better in overall defence and match up against the league’s second ranked offence. In a pick’em game I will back the better team, but not exactly confidently.

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

Raiders @ Dolphins (+3.5)

The Oakland Raiders got beat badly by the Bills last week and are on the road again as they travel to Miami to face the Dolphins. Setting aside their trade of Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins offence has struggled all season and even if Jay Cutler does start after sitting last week with his broken ribs, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Nor does the fact that they are ranked thirty-first by DVOA and yet the Raiders do not inspire confidence either. The Raiders defence has been poor and the offence does not look like one that should be ranked sixth by DVOA. I feel like this game will be closer than the overall DVOA rankings suggest, and if I’m getting three and a half points at home then I am going to grab them.

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

Lions @ Packers (+2.5)

I’m kinda tempted by the home points for the Green Bay Packers as they come off a bye and so have had time to shape the game plan and play book more to their backup quarterback Brett Hundley’s abilities. However, whilst the Detroit Lions have been struggling in recent weeks, their defence ranks much better by DVOA and in Matthew Stafford they have the kind of quarterback who in recent years has inspired confidence. The points do tempt me, but in the end I fancy the Lions to beat their divisional rivals.

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

What Do They Want?

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And so the NFL circus continues with the trade deadline generating more trades than usual, as well as the continuing saga of the Ezekiel Elliot suspension. More important though is the swirl of stories that continue to surround the ongoing player protests.

Such is the tumult that there are now questions beginning to be asked about whether Rodger Goodell will keep his job. It is hard as an outsider to speculate, but the fact that there was a conference call of seventeen team owners hosted by Jerry Jones to discuss Goodell’s contract extension seems to indicate that there is absolute support.

The curious thing about this to me is that whilst I have many criticisms of the way Goodell has approached his tenure as commissioner, the handling of the player protests is not one of them. It seems as if there is a section of owners who want the problem to go away as it causing them financial problems and they are concerned that Goodell has failed to solve the problem. The difference with this one compared to the other problems Goodell has created is that this one is apparently touching the bottom line.

However, I’m not sure that this is one is solvable. The number of players protesting during the anthem was relatively small until President Trump decided to raise it in a speech. There was plenty of work going on behind the scenes, but Trump’s decision to make it a focus and the Vice President’s stunt of leaving the game fanned the flames and for many successfully framed this as matter of patriotism and respect for the armed forces rather than a discussion about social inequality.

The problem is that there are a wide group of players with different reasons for protesting, and whilst I find it positive that discussions between the league and players are occurring, there is no unified force and so it may be hard to get everyone to stand in return of programs being discussed. However, any attempt to force the players to stand is only going to inflame the situation.

I don’t have any sources or a transcript so I can’t know the context of the Houston Texans’ owner Bob McNair when he said, “we can’t have the inmates running the prison” which he has apologised for and said was never meant literally. It has been suggested it was in reference to the leagues office rather than players and league employee Troy Vincent sought an apology at the time. What did happen was that around forty of the Texans knelt during the anthem at the weekend and a number of people have commented that this has revealed McNair’s true feelings.

Given the complexities involved, and how difficult it will be to solve, I’m not entirely sure what some of the owners are expecting – for once they are facing a problem that can’t be solved by throwing more money at it. This is a group of powerful individuals used to getting their own way but perhaps they are going to find there are limits after all.

There is no good way to segue way from such weighty topics to a picks competition, so here is our overall record and picks for tonight.

Gee:      Week 8   6-7                       Overall   66-54
Dan:      Week 8   9-4                       Overall   62-58

Bills @ Jets (+2.5)

The Buffalo Bills travel to face the New York Jets, and this should be a competitive game. The Jets have played tough all year, but are welcoming a Bills team who have found their own formula under new head coach Sean McDermott and are coming off an impressive win against the Raiders. However, the Bills have only won one game on the road so far this season and in a divisional game they might find the going tough. However, I think they are the better team and so whilst I am tempted by the points given to a home team on a Thursday night, I’m going to back the Bills to win this one.

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

AAF: Cameron Jordan

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I decided to watch Cameron Jordan on coaching tape having been impressed with his performance against the Detroit Lions in week six, but the week seven game against the Green Bay Packers was very different. This was probably because both David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga started for the Packers this week.

Cameron Jordan played mostly left end in this game, although he did occasionally line up on the right standing up, or on the right as part of a 3-3 nickel look. As a consequence he spent most of this game going up against right tackle Brian Bulaga unless the blocking scheme sent Bulaga somewhere else. In fact the one quarterback hit Jordan did get was against a play action pass where tight end Richard Rodgers was assigned to block him and couldn’t hold up which allowed Joran to get to Brett Hundley whose pass was incomplete. Jordan was able to flush Hundley out the pocket on one other play when he lined up on the right and was able to get into the backfield but otherwise he was only able to apply pressure whilst fighting an offensive linemen.

Despite usually lining up in a four point stance, it was not so much first step and quickness that Jordan was using as speed to power rushes, but for the most part Bulaga held up, although Jordan was able to push the pocket more than once. In fact, on the final drive in the fourth quarter he was able to push Bulaga back and get a hand on a pass to break up the play. This was not the first time Jordan got his hand in a passing lane but was the only time he got a hand to the ball.

For me this is one of the harder bits of coaching tape to evaluate. It is pretty easy to comment on a speed rusher getting lots of pressure, but when the stats are quiet and there’s an equal battle going on between defensive lineman and offensive lineman it is hard to evaluate if you don’t know all the nuances and are not a coaching expert. To my eye Cameron Jordan held up in the run, was strong enough to hold up blocks, was double teamed several times, and did manage to get some pressure. It was not the kind of game where Jordan would definitely catch the eye, but it feels like he had a solid game and the Saints defence definitely looks to have improved on defence.

Week Eight Picks

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I could not have been much more wrong about the Thursday night game, which both proves that we know nothing about this season and that picking this week’s game is going to be no fun at all but here we go anyway.

Vikings @ Browns (+9.5)

This is the final of the London games this season, and once again I’m not sure what affect the travel will have on these teams as the Minnesota Vikings have gone out early and the Cleveland Browns didn’t leave until Friday. The Vikings have a really good defence and are doing enough on offence that they lead their division, whilst the Browns are searching for their first win of the season. I really don’t like what head coach Hue Jackson is doing with his quarterbacks at the moment, and whilst you can’t rule out a surprise – especially when both teams are on the road – it is hard to see anything other than a win for the Vikings. Can the Browns stay within ten points? I’m not sure, but with a struggling team on the road, and players complaining about the trip I feel like it’s more likely the Vikings win big than anything else.

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

Falcons @ Jets (+4.5)

The Atlanta Falcons travel to face the New York Jets this week and if we’ve learnt anything this season it is that the Falcons are not as dynamic on offence and the Jets are a much tougher opposition that anyone was thinking before the season started. It’s not that I’m super confident in how this game is going to go, but if you’re going to give me four and a half points as a home team in what could be a close game, I’m going to grab them.

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

Raiders @ Bills (-2.5)

The Oakand Raiders have struggled except for the two games that I have watched them and are coming off a dramatic win against the Chiefs last week. However, even with a long week they are travelling to face the Buffalo Bills who have been nothing but competitive this season. It may be that Derek Carr looked better last week, but can the Raiders keep the momentum going? In the end I feel like I have more trust in the stability of the Bills so I’ll back them to cover this one.

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

Bears @ Saints (-8.5)

This is a curious game to me as the Chicago Bears asked their rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky to drop back to pass just seven times last week as they ground out a win against the Panthers, and this week they travel to face a New Orleans Saints team who currently rank twenty-ninth in rush defence by DVOA. However, it is hard to see Bears keeping up with the Saints’ third ranked offence by DVOA using such a run dominated game plan and I fancy the Saints to run out winners in this one. Will they cover? The Bears have only lost two games by more than nine points, but I have a feeling this will be the third.

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

Colts @ Bengals (-10.5)

The Indianapolis Colts have really struggled all season, and are coming off a shutout loss against the Jaguars where they gave up ten sacks. The Cincinnati Bengals managed a half of competitive football last week before their offence stalled again, but facing the Colt’s thirtieth ranked defence by DVOA is a lot different to facing the Steelers. I could be wrong, but I think this should be a game the Bengals can use to get back on track and whilst I’m not confident about anything to do with my team, I think they can and will cover this line.

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

Chargers @ Patriots (-7.5)

The New England Patriots got a good win last week, but I’m not sure where the balance lies between their defence improving and facing the Falcons and the Jets the last two weeks. Still they are at home facing an LA Chargers team who have won three straight and who are coming off a solid win against the Broncos. Their only loss by more than eight points came against the Chiefs in week three, and I just fancy the Chargers to keep this one closer than eight, although I see the Patriots running out winners in the end.

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

49ers @ Eagles (-12.5)

This is a hard game for me to pick as the San Francisco 49ers had kept all of their games close until last week when they were steam rollered by the Cowboys. This week they travel to face an impressive Philadelphia Eagles team with the best record in the league, but the Eagles did pick up a couple of injuries last week, with the loss of left tackle Jason Peters really worrying me. I would expect the Eagles to win this one, but this line scares me, yet at home against a team who have not found their way I’m going to nervously back one of the few things I feel relatively confident about in the league.

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

Panthers @ Buccaneers (-2.5)

I have no real idea what to do with this game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have looked good on offence but their defence is ranked last by DVOA and this week they welcome a Carolina Panthers team who just lost to the Chicago Bears. The Panthers were without Luke Kuechly last week but the Pro Bowl linebacker has cleared concussion protocol and should play this week. In this game I am just going to grab the points and hope that the Panthers can put enough together against the bad Tampa defence.

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

Texans @ Seahawks (-5.5)

The Seattle Seahawks got a solid win on the road last week against the Giants and look to be coming to the part of the season where they come good, even if their offensive line is still troubling. This week they welcome a Houston Texans team coming off a bye and in turmoil. The comments of their owner at last week’s league meeting have caused real anger in the team and led to a ninety minute air your feelings meeting on Friday. It is possible that the Texans are going to stage a protest on Sunday, and in a notoriously difficult place to play I will back the Seahawks to be the more focussed team and cover the line.

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

Cowboys @ Washington (+2.5)

The Dallas Cowboys got a solid win but travel to Washington this week in a divisional game that both teams desperately need to keep in contact with the Eagles who are already three games up on both teams. Washington rate a little better by DVOA but neither team are exactly inspiring confidence at the moment. This is a game where I’m going to grab the points for the home team and hope, I could be very wrong as Ezekiel Elliot did look good last week.

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

Steelers @ Lions (+3.5)

The Detroit Lions are coming off a bye week having lost a strange game where their defence didn’t look that bad whilst giving up fifty-two points against the Saints the week before. However, this week they face a Pittsburgh Steelers who seem to have found their identity on offence whilst their defence is ranked second by DVOA and overall they are the best team according to DVOA. The Lions may be at home, but in this one I fancy the Steelers to continue their good run.

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

Broncos @ Chiefs (-7.5)

The Denver Broncos just got shut out by the LA Chargers and this week travel to face a Kansas City Chiefs team who have lost two straight for the first time since 2015. The Broncos offence has been struggling and Arrowhead stadium is not the kind of place to rediscover your form. The Chiefs offence has struggled a little bit against zone defence in the last two weeks and it is hard to know if the Chiefs can find their explosive early season form again but a healthier receiving group will help. The Broncos’ defence is still very good and as a divisional game it feels like this should be a close game, but having lost badly to the Giants and the Chargers I can’t quite bring myself pick the Broncos covering this line.

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

The Way Forward

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It was a frustrating weekend for me as a Bengals fan, with a competitive game in the first half dwindling into failure as the Bengals offence stalled once again. We are still in the first half of the season but the 2-4 record feels very different to the 3-3 that was possible with a win. On its own it was not a particularly bad loss, the Bengals were playing one of the best teams in the AFC rounding into form and playing at home, but the frustration of a division loss seemed to signal the final death knell for any hope of a turnaround. That’s not to say that the Bengals can’t salvage something for themselves, but it feels like this cycle is done and although there are young developing players, particularly on defence, the offence continues to need work and I don’t see how things turn round this season. The offensive line just wasn’t good enough at the weekend, and whilst bad offensive lines are becoming more common in the NFL, the Bengals do not have a quarterback in Andy Dalton who can overcome this.

I am mindful of the change that Marvin Lewis has been responsible for over his tenure, and how the Bengals are no longer a laughing stock but it may be time for a fresh approach. Although a change doesn’t necessarily guarantee success and there is no shortage of teams struggling this season.

Still we are rapidly approaching the half way mark in the season and yet there seems to be a lot of teams for which we still have questions, two of which play tonight.

Gee:      Week 7   7-8                       Overall   60-47
Dan:       Week 7   11-4                     Overall   53-54

Dolphins @ Ravens (-3.5)

The quality of the Thursday night games have been better this season, with last week’s game being something of a cracker, but in this one we see one team with a backup quarterback visiting a team who may have their starter, but that starter looks like a shell of the QB who led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl win.

The Ravens have a huge injury list so their record may be understandable, but right now they are struggling and whilst the Miami Dolphins have not looked good doing it, they are on a three game win streak. We get to see how Matt Moore will do on a short week, but this line is just that bit too much for me to back the Ravens to cover. This could be a big mistake on a Thursday night game, but I am going to back the road team to at least be within four points.

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

Week Seven Picks

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Buccaneers @ Bills (-2.5)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have announced that they are starting quarterback Jameis Winston despite pulling him from last week’s game due to a shoulder injury, but whether he will be effective against a Buffalo Bills defence that currently ranks second in the league by DVOA is another question. To be honest, at the moment I would say that the Bills are the better team and I would expect them to win out at home against a Bucs team that hasn’t quite come together this season.

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

Panthers @ Bears (+3.5)

The Chicago Bears managed to get a win in rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s first start, but he was only asked to make sixteen passes as opposed to fifty-four rush attempts. This is a very specific formula and they are facing a Carolina Panthers’ rush defence that ranks sixth in the league by DVOA. More worrying is that the Panthers’ offence is also coming together and I would expect them to win out after losing a close game to the Eagles last week. Sadly Luke Kuechly won’t be playing as he is suffering a concussion for the third straight year, but that is not altering my pick.

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

Titans @ Browns (+5.5)

The Cleveland Browns are going back to starting DeShone Kizer, which is the right long term decision for the team as they need to find out if they have their quarterback of the future, but it does seem that Hue Jackson is feeling the pressure of not having won a game this year. This week they welcome a Tennessee Titans team that have to restrict Marcus Mariota’s movements out the pocket but they got back on track with a win last week. I would expect them to win again this week but I’m not sure they will win by six points.

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

Saints @ Packers (+5.5)

As if Green Bay Packers didn’t have enough injury problems already with their offensive line, they’ve now lost Aaron Rogers to a broken collar bone in his throwing shoulder. The Packers’ backup quarterback Brett Hundley has been at the Packers for a couple of years but will run a different system to Rodgers and whilst he will try to keep them in the playoff hunt, this is a tough proposition. The New Orleans Saints have actually improved on defence this season, and defensive end Cameron Jordan will be looking forward to facing the Packers’ beat up line. However, whilst the points make me nervous, the Saints have won their last three games by a minimum of seven points and so I’m backing them in this one.

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

Jaguars @ Colts (+2.5)

This is a much harder game for me to pick as the Indianapolis Colts have managed to win a couple of games and welcome a Jacksonville Jaguars team who lose one week and win the next. However, there is a big difference in the DVOA rankings and every Jaguars win has come on the road including their one home game win that was actually played in London so despite them giving points to the Colts I’m picking the Jaguars this week to continue the trend.

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

Cardinals @ Rams (-3.5)

The LA Rams are hosting the Arizona Cardinals at Twickenham stadium in London and this is a really fascinating game. The Rams continue to lead their division thanks to the turn around on offence that Sean McVay has brought about, but their defence is a surprising rank of twenty-two against the run by DVOA. Two weeks ago this would not have been a problem against a Cardinals team who had lost David Johnson and were really struggling on offence as a while. However, having traded for Adrian Peterson, they looked a much better balanced offence and were able to run out easy winners against the Buccaneers last week. How consistent this turnaround is I don’t know, and with the added variant of a trip to London I really don’t know how to pick this game. In the end, I’m going to grab the extra half point given to the Cardinals, but as much as I’m looking forward to watching this game, the pick is very much a shot in the dark.

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

Jets @ Dolphins (-2.5)

This is another game that I find hard to pick as I really don’t have a handle on the Miami Dolphins, who for large parts of the season have just not looked very good, but then their defence will play tough and Jay Cutler will look like a competent quarterback. They welcome a New York Jets team who have already exceeded the expectations going into the season with their three wins, and although they lost their last game, the Jets put up a credible fight against the Patriots.

Both teams have similar DVOA rankings, but this is only the Dolphins second true home game this season and with a two game winning streak I’m going to pick them nervously, but I could easily see the Jets winning this one.

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

Ravens @ Vikings (-5.5)

The Minnesota Vikings are developing one of the better home advantages in the league and welcome a Baltimore Ravens team whose offence only ranks twenty-sixth in the league. I would expect the Ravens to struggle to move the ball on the Vikings in their noisy stadium and can see the Vikings covering this line, which is why I am picking them.

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

Cowboys @ 49ers (+6.5)

The San Francisco 49ers have specialised in close losses this season, so the fact that they are getting six and a half points at home is pretty much getting my pick straight away. The Dallas Cowboys may have Ezekiel Elliott, but their offence has not quite played up to last year’s level although they are ranked fifth in rush DVOA. Their defence is currently ranked thirtieth by DVOA though and in this game whilst I would expect them to win, I do expect the 49ers to cover.

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

Bengals @ Steelers (-5.5)

The Pittsburgh Steelers found their formula last week by focussing on the run and their zone defence was able to hold up the Chiefs enough to get a win. They are rightly favourites at home against a Cincinnati Bengals team who have fought their way back into the season after a poor start. These games are usually close, and whilst I’m not sure the Bengals can win this game I do strongly fancy them to stay within six points.

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

Broncos @ Chargers (-1.5)

The LA Chargers don’t really have a home advantage as even in the smaller stadium they are using in their first season in LA they have been unable to sell out and have often had a large numbers of away fans in attendance. They welcome a Denver Broncos team who had problems last week as they gave the Giants their first win of the season. The Broncos have some injuries at receiver and Trevor Siemian had to come out the game last week with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder but is expected to be back this week. I find it hard to believe the Broncos will be as bad this again and it’s got to be dispiriting for the Chargers to be playing in that stadium so I’m backing the Broncos to get things back on track in this game.

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

Seahawks @ Giants (+5.5)

The New York Giants got their first win of the season last week despite all the injuries at receiver and this week welcome a Seattle Seahawks team who have slipped out of the top ten rankings in defensive DVOA and whose offensive line is struggling even more than usual. I fancy the Seahawks to find a way to win, but with an offence with a clear game plan and a defence that played better last week I fancy the Giants to cover this line at home, although it does make me a bit nervous.

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

Falcons @ Patriots (-3.5)

I am still not quite sure how the Atlanta Falcons lost last week having been seventeen points up at half time, but they managed it and this week they travel to face the New England Patriots who had the amazing comeback against the Falcons in the last Super Bowl. The Patriots have got back to the top of their division despite a defence that still ranks last in DVOA and who has given up three hundred yards of passing to every quarterback they have faced. The question about giving up leads will follow the Falcons until they have won enough games to put it out of people’s minds, but they will be looking for revenge in this game and have a quarterback capable of exploiting the Patriots’ defensive issues even if things are not going as well for them having lost co-ordinator Kyle Shanahan.

I’m really not sure how to pick this game, and the half point strongly tempts me to pick the Falcons but having won the last two games and with them generally finding a way, I’m going to back the Patriots.

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

Washington @ Eagles (-4.5)

This is one of the games of the week with the Philadelphia Eagles welcoming their division rivals who they beat handily in week one. Things have improved for Washington who are the Eagles closest rivals in the NFC East division and who really need this win to stop the Eagles from taking a commanding three game lead, which would be very hard to claw back.

The Eagle are ranked second in the league by DVOA but Washington are not that far behind them and now that Washington are enough weeks away from a pre-season that didn’t seem to prepare them for the start of the season very well, I feel it will be a close game. In fact close enough that this is too many points for the Eagles to be giving away. I just hope I’m not wrong.

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