AFC and NFC South Preview

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Somehow this is the final weekend before our first NFL Sunday, and having take part in the Kickers Matter podcast-athon yesterday, the TWF Dynasty draft is in the home stretch and I think I have time to get the last previews up ahead of Thursday’s season opener.

It has been an odd pre-season given the state of the world and the lack of games so it almost feels weird that we’re going to get actual football this coming week, but here it comes so I had better get to it is as we go through the AFC & NFC South divisions.

AFC South

Houston Texans

The Texans are one of the stranger teams to assess in the league as every year there is plenty of criticism of head coach Bill O’Brien, particularly now he has personnel control and the trading away of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins this off-season has done nothing but encourage that criticism. However, O’Brien has only had one losing season in his six years in Houston, going to the play-offs four times so he has almost always kept the team competitive, even if he has not always had a top tier quarterback to work with. Now that he has a franchise QB, O’Brien will be relying on Deshaun Watson to run his offence without Hopkins, and it will be interesting to see how this goes as there did seem to be two Texans’ offences last year, depending on whether receiver Will Fuller was fit and able to stretch the field or not. To go 10-6 with an offence that only ranked seventeenth by DVOA and a defence ranked even lower at twenty-second is not something I think will be easily replicable so the Texans will be hoping to improve but having traded big names like Jadeveon Clowney ahead of last season, and Hopkins this year, fans will be worried. I have a feeling that given his track record, that O’Brien will manage to keep the Texans competitive and my love of JJ Watt is well documented but my hunch for who is going to win this AFC South is another team, and not the team who came second last season either, but more of that in a moment.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were one of the surprises of the 2019 season, and after a modest start where they went 2-4 with Marcus Mariota as their starting quarterback, the Titans switched to Ryan Tannehill and rolled all the way to the conference championship where they fell to the eventual Super Bowl champions. It was only Mike Vrabel’s second year as a head coach, and he only spent one year as defensive coordinator in Houston before that, but he’s gone 9-7 twice and after last season’s run the Titans will be looking to be good again this season. The issue with that could be they have had to let some players go as they handed big contracts to both Derek Henry and Ryan Tannehill. It is good to see Tannehill succeed after things never came together for him in Miami, but in truth we don’t know if last year was an aberration or if he can finally establish himself as a franchise quarterback. It is for this reason that I completely understand the big contract that they gave Derek Henry. It doesn’t always make sense to invest a lot of money in a running back, but given how central Henry is to their game plan and the fact that it is only guaranteed for two years, it’s an okay investment. They will also be hoping receiver AJ Brown can build on his great rookie season but whether they can stay top ten by DVOA I don’t know. The defence was tough but didn’t rank great last season but it feels like the Titans are one of those teams who have taken on the identity of their coach and so I am expecting them to be pushing for the division all season.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts had a tough season where the shocks started before the opening game had taken place with their franchise quarterback Andrew Luck retiring at age twenty-nine, choosing to step away to do other things and given all the injuries he had fought through it did made sense to me, although that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The Colts season actually started promisingly, but fell flat down the stretch, not helped by Adam Vinatieri at age forty-seven having some health problems and missing some kicks that he hadn’t throughout his career. I have been really impressed by the job GM Chris Ballard has done in building the Colts roster in recent years, avoiding splashing in free agency and building a talented roster but the Luck retirement was clearly a huge blow. They have several QBs on the roster and Jacoby Brissett was able to do a job for them last season but the signing of Phillip Rivers could be a coup if he can regain his form behind an offensive line that will be able to give him the time that the Chargers couldn’t in recent years. It helps that Rivers is familiar with head coach Frank Reich’s offence, and Reich’s success with the Colts has made some wonder how much of the Eagles Super Bowl win was down to his work rather than Doug Pederson’s. In truth of course the answer lies somewhere in the middle but has Reich had success with the offence already and there looks to be potential for them to be really good this year. The defence will be hoping to be nearer to their 2018 ranking of eleventh by DVOA rather than the nineteenth that they were last season, but with Luke Kuechly’s retirement the Colts have probably my favourite linebacker in Darius Leonard so I’m sure I will be watching their defence at some point. I could be completely wrong, but as Dan is desperately trying to make me make bold predictions, I’m going to suggest that the Colts are my pick for the AFC South in 2020.

Jacksonville Jaguars

So last, and actually probably least in this division if not the league we have the Jacksonville Jaguars who were a pretty rotten 6-10 last season, but held on to head coach Doug Marrone despite racking up double-digit losses for the second season in a row. Additionally, after grievances were upheld against the franchise over the excessive use of fines, a scathing letter was released by the NFLPA announcing that more than twenty-five percent of all grievances filed by players in the entire league were filed against the Jags and that players might want to consider this when selecting their next club. The visible reaction to those of us outside of the team was the firing of Tom Coughlin, but GM David Caldwell was retained despite a number of high profile players being moved on and the Jags once again being in rebuild mode. On the field it did not help that their new Super Bowl winning quarterback Nick Foles was lost to injury after four games, but their sixth round rookie QB Gardner Minshew II manage to lead them to a 6-6 record in the games he started giving the Jaguars some life and endearing himself to fans in the process. Minshew now has the chance to prove what he can do, but the trade moves continued with pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue being moved on this off-season to join players like Jalen Ramsey as highly drafted young players who are no longer on the roster. In fact the defence already looks very different to the Sacksonville Jaguars defence of 2017 that carried the team to the conference championship game. The ugly truth for GM David Caldwell is that through the seven years he has been in charge that 2017 team are the only ones to reach the play-offs, in fact they are the only team that didn’t amass double digit losses in a season. The Jaguars need to find out if Minshew can be consistently competitive and if they have found a gem in the sixth round that will set them up for success, but they have already held on to one supposed franchise quarterback for too long considering their on-field results. The Jags have not made life easy for themselves in building a roster given that they selected running back Leonard Fournette fourth in the 2017 draft, ahead of franchise QBs like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, and have not even given Fournette a second contract. In fact they cut the running back after his most productive season so didn’t even get anything back for him. You can’t hope to succeed with this kind of roster churn and I expect the Jaguars to struggle this season. If they can progress with Minshew as quarterback then there could be hope for the Jaguars, but there’s been precious little success over the last decade and I can’t help but wonder when the Jaguars will be truly set themselves up to be a winning franchise.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints

The Saints were one of three NFC teams to win their division with a 13-3 record in 2019, but for the second time in three years lost to the Vikings in the play-offs, this time not making it out of the wild card round. There has been a consistent push to maximise the Saint’s chances of winning a Super Bowl before Drew Brees retires and last season’s success was all the more remarkable considering that Brees missed five weeks with a torn ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand and the Saints went 5-0 with backup Teddy Bridgewater. The Saints have made some big moves in the draft but with players like Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Marshon Lattimore they have built a roster to compete and this offseason seems to be no exception. Brees has returned for another shot at getting back to the big game, and whilst Teddy Bridgewater has moved on to division rivals the Panthers, they signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Jameis Winston to be the backup this season. Winston will be hoping that a season under the tutelage of Brees and head coach Sean Payton will help his development and lead to a chance to start next season, be it for the Saints or another franchise, although the Saints will be hoping the former first overall pick will be sat all season. The front office of the Saints really had done a great job of keeping the Saints relevant in the last few years, but the clock is ticking for forty-one year old Brees and the Saints will be hoping that given the history of old quarterback’s level of play declining rapidly when it does go, that Brees can continue to defy age and they can once again push for the Super Bowl. They certainly could be helped with the continuity of their squad and with Sean Payton trying to get as many players as he can living in a hotel to mimic a bubble I think that it is likely the Saints will be successful in their aim as long as Brees can get somewhere near the level he has reached in recent seasons.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are coming of their second consecutive losing season and have been searching to recreate the formula that took them to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season. The Falcons have had seven winning seasons with GM Thomas Dimitroff in charge and they chose to stay the course with head coach Dan Quinn after he brought the Falcons back to 7-9 after a 1-7 start. In fact the Falcons went 6-2 after the bye week where Quinn and his coaching staff found something to get the Falcons going. To be fair there were a lot of injuries to the defence, but at thirty-five quarterback Matt Ryan will be hoping to get back to the Super Bowl if he can to make up for the tough loss to the Patriots. There are certainly big names on this roster including one of the best receivers in the game in Julio Jones, and with Dirk Koetter remaining offensive coordinator there is a good chance that the offence can improve on their ranking of fifteenth but it is the defence that has not come together in recent years. Some of this is down to health but my concern would be the cover-3 style brought over from the Seahawks by Quinn, which has been great if you had top class talent but hasn’t really been as successful anywhere else and Quinn has struggled to make the defence consistently good in Atlanta. However, this is another team with a good degree of continuity, and I can see them competing for the division this season if they can build on their performance in the second half of last season. However, it is not hard to see things going the other way either so it could be a tough season for the Falcons, but at this point there is definitely hope and we shall just have to see if that survives initial contact with the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It has been an off-season of excitement and frustration in Tampa Bay as after head coach Bruce Arians could only get the Bucs to seven wins in his first year, the Bucs let their 2015 first round draft pick Jameis Winstone walk after he threw thirty interceptions to go with his thirty-three touchdowns and signed Tom Brady to be their new franchise quarterback, if only for however many seasons Brady (now forty-three) has left. The problem is that they are trying to integrate Brady into a new team in the year of Covid and so whilst Brady has been holding plenty of throwing sessions with his receivers before training camp started, he only took his place in the Bucs’ huddle for the first time a couple of weeks ago. In Mike Evans and Chriss Godwin the Bucs have two Pro Bowl receivers that gained over a thousand yards last season, and with Rob Gronkowski coming out of retirement and Brady apparently coaching up OJ Howard there are options at tight-end although who knows how productive they will be.  There have been some very bold predictions this off-season, but whilst I am not prepared to write them into the Super Bowl just yet, I do think that a defence that finished sixth by DVOA last season and an offence helmed by Brady with a better selection of skill players than he has had in a long time means the Bucs do have a lot of potential. I also have a lot of faith in Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles is overly qualified to be a only a defensive coordinator so I expect them to compete but it will be a magical season if Brady takes them deep into the play-offs or to what would be only the second Super Bowl in the franchise’s history.

Carolina Panthers

It is all change for the Carolina Panthers in the off-season as having fired Ron Rivera during a disappointing 5-11 season they let franchise quarterback Cam Newton go as the Panthers embraced a rebuild. They hired college coach Matt Rhule to be their new head coach and gave him a huge contract of $62 million over seven years. The off-season also saw the retirement of standout linebacker Luke Kuechly who in his eight seasons went to seven Pro Bowls and was name First-Team All-Pro five times. Kuechly never dropped below one hundred tackles despite loosing a number of games to concussions and other injuries so as much as I would have loved to see him play for longer, I’m happy he is getting out now. However, the Panthers have had a lot of change this off-season and having signed Teddy Bridgewater to be their starting quarterback this season and handed Christian McCaffrey a four year contract extension they drafted seven defensive players. It should be an exciting time for fans of the Panthers, Rhule hired Joe Brady who was the passing game coordinator at LSU and was credited with having a large part in the turnaround in Joe Burrow’s play last season to be offesnive coordinator. However, with so much change, a head coach brand new to the NFL and coordinators hired from the college game it could take time for potential to turn into results. As good as Bridgewater looked last season for the Saints in the five games he started, it has been years since he was the starting quarterback for a franchise and this is not a one year rebuild. The positive thing from my point of view is that in the contract that owner David Tepper gave Rhule demonstrates a commitment to a long term project, but as ever in the NFL we shall have to see if that commitment survives the results on the field. It will be a year to see progression for the Panthers and we shall have to see how that manifests, but the Panthers are definitely a team I am looking forward to watching this season regardless of their record.

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

AFC and NFC North Preview

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AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens finished last season with the best regular season record but came up short in the play-offs against a Tennessee Titans team on a roll. This will lead to ongoing conversations about Lamar Jackson’s ability to win play-off games. That question is going to hang around until he does, but Jackson was the 2019 MVP for a reason, namely over three thousand yards of passing and twelve hundred yards on the ground. The Ravens did a great job of building their offence around Jackson and had a top five by DVOA defence to boot. The Ravens are in fact one of the better run franchises in the league so as long as Jackson can stay healthy then it is hard not to see this team competing again this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers went 8-8 last season despite losing veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in week two to an elbow injury. Their defece ranked third in the league by DVOA and their special teams was was top ten but a dead last offence saw them miss out on the play-offs. This is perhaps not surprising given they had no killer Bs left after Big Ben went down with Le’Veon Bell underwhelming for the Jets and Antonio Brown’s erratic and troubling behaviour seeing him barely play for Patriots before being cut for a second time having already failed to make the start of the season with the Raiders. The Steelers are another stable franchise so if Roethlisberger can stay healthy while getting somewhere near his best and the defence manages not to regress too much then they should be in contention come the end of the year. There are no guarantees in the NFL, and the AFC North should be a battle this year but I expect the Steelers to be in contention again as they usually are. That said, out of the thirteen season he has been head coach for the Steelers, Mike Tomlin has only failed to reach the play-offs in five, but that does include the last two seasons. I wouldn’t expect this to lead to problems for Tomlin if there are further struggles this season as the Steelers have been famously patient with their coaches and he did a great job under the circumstances, but it could be one to keep an eye on.

Cleveland Browns

Turmoil seems to follow the Browns ever since their return to the league, but last year was a nightmare. They had play-off ambitions with a talented roster and a new head coach in Freddit Kitches who had established a connection with young quarterback Baker Mayfield in his rookie year. However, things were not right all season. Mayfield regressed in his second season with a falling completion percentage and similar numbers despite starting the full season for the first time. One of his new receiving targets, Odell Beckham was injured all year and so did not look like himself and nothing quite clicked on offence. The defence was hamstrung with Myles Garrett got involved in a fight with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, and having hit the quarterback over the head with their own helmet was suspended for the final six games of the season. The Browns come into this season with another new head coach, who almost can’t help being better than Freddie Kitchens and there is still plenty of talent on the roster, but Mayfield needs to take a step as a quarterback and so a lot is resting on how he will run new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system. I have a feeling that thinkg will be better for the Browns, but in a competitive division I’m not sure if they will be able to push for the play-offs or not.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals were truly woeful last year in Zac Taylor’s first season as head coach. Some of that wasn’t his fault as AJ Green was lost to an ankle injury that was picked up at the first training camp practice, which for an NFL 100 event was played on a high school field they should never have been on and soon after that the Bengals’ first round draft pick, left tackle Jonah Williams, was lost to a shoulder injury whilst they were still in camp. In fact, the offensive line was bad all year as the offence struggled so much they had to rip up the approach halfway through to get Joe Mixon going and the defence was bad.  They had the worst record in the league for a reason, but they were within a touchdown in half of their fourteen losses and after several seasons where Andy Dalton could never find the form he showed in the 2015 the Bengals moved on, taking college sensation Joe Burrow with the first pick after his ridiculously good Heisman winning season at LSU where he led the Tigers to the college championship. All the talk is that he’s been learning the playbook during the offseason via zoom and has looked in good in training camp, but who hasn’t looked good in training camp this year? There’s no way to know without seeing him in games, and the offensive line needs to be better for him to operate successfully, but there are still lots of good skill players and if they don’t need a perfect pocket for the quarterback to operate then they stand a solid chance of improving on that side of the ball. The Bengals defence has a re-tooled linebacker group and the team signed some free-agents, but it’s hard to get too excited. I think there is a good chance this team will look better and win some more game, they might even flirt with going .500 but after such a bad season I don’t think you can expect a worst to first type performance with a rookie quarterback, and particularly not in this division. I would love to be proved wrong but I think this should be a season of growth for the Bengals and after last season that will be okay.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

I think this is one of the more intriguing division in football, and last year’s division winners are an interesting case in point. The Packers went 13-3 and got to the Conference Championship game, but were handily beaten by the 49ers and gave up over two-hundred and fifty yards of running in that game. A lot of the talk through the season and on into the off-season was the play of Aaron Rodgers who still threw for over four thousand yards despite what many were calling a down year and his new head coach Matt LaFleur’s focus on running the ball. If there were to be signs of this approach changing, they were not obvious in the Packers offseason. Not only did they not take a receiver again this draft, but they traded up in the first round to select quarterback Jordan Love. It might be that the Packers are taking the view that you should always have a quarterback in development, or that they saw the opportunity to recreate the transition the Packers had from Brett Farve to Rodgers, but it was a significant move. Given the age of Rodgers (36) and the change of both GM and head coach in recent seasons, they could simply be preparing to move on. However, whilst Rodgers is clearly closer to the end of his career than the start, with modern sports medicine and the NFL’s current rules to protect quarterbacks he should still have several productive years yet and has spoken of playing into forties. The Packers might be expected to regress from thirteen wins this season and will be looking to further improve their defence. I suspect they will remain competitive, but I can’t help but feel this will be a team battling to maintain their success rather than taking a step forward.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings won a play-off game against the Saints before losing to the Super Bowl bound 49ers in the divisional round, but this did give quarterback Kirk Cousins his first play-off win of his career. Under head coach Mike Zimmer the Vikings have alternated years in the play-offs with seasons missing out despite being around 8-8, but they had a busy off-season and they would be hoping these transactions will helps them build on last season’s success rather than having a fallow year. However, integrating a draft class of fifteen was always going to be a big task, but doing so with the current practice restriction in place for this season could be a step too far. This is particularly the case for an overhauled secondary that lost three starting corners with over 223 collective career games. I have a lot of faith in coach Zimmer to look after a defence, but it makes me hesitant to be too bullish on them, particularly given the number of offensive coordinators that the Vikings have been through under Zimmer and the fact that they traded away star receiver Stefon Diggs. Going into the season with so many unknows makes it hard to be certain of anything, and given the limited number of games in an NFL season there is a certain amount of randomness built in. I like that Gary Kubiak is the offensive coordinator having consulted last season before Kevin Stefanski left for the Browns, and I think the Vikings will compete for the division but I can easily see things going awry for them in a potentially turmultous season.

Chicago Bears

There is a large amount of anxiety surrounding the Bears, which mainly stems from the quarterback position as Mitchell Trubisky regressed in 2019 after a promising first season in head coach Matt Nagy’s debut as a head coach. I never liked the trade up to pick Trubisky, and that pick looks even worse given that the Bears picked him ahead of both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. The offence ranked a miserable twenty-fifth by DVOA whilst the defence regressed from first in 2018 by DVOA to eighth in 2019. The defence will likely be good enough, but with Trubisky now having Nick Foles in the quarterback room there is the potential for a quarterback controversy, although it is hard to have a huge amount of faith in either one as Foles has a history of inconsistent play. Special mention should go to Khalil Mack as the fearsome pass rusher he is, but I’m not sure that the fairly traditional for the Bears formula of stout defence and a struggling offence is going to cut it in 2020, and likely wasn’t envisioned when offensive minded coach Nagy was hired. The Bears could surprise me, but I’m not putting any faith in it.

Detroit Lions

The Lions opened last season with a concerning draw to the very inexperienced Arizona Cardinals, dragged themselves to 2-0-1, before falling back to 3-3-1 and failing to win another game. They were not helped by losing quarterback Matthew Stafford halfway through the season, who was playing well and very nearly had two and half thousand yards through eight games. My concern here is that the Lions were a nearly team under Jim Caldwell, but 9-7 was not deemed good enough when the Lions missed out on the playoffs and so Matt Patricia was brought in from the Patriots to get the Lions the play-off success Detroit thirsts so much for. However, Patricia has rebuilt the Lions as a pale re-imagining of the Patriots and has been unable to recreate the Patriot’s defensive formula away from Belichick. The Lions have only managed to win nine games in the last two season and whilst I can see that if everything goes right that the Lions might vault the Bears in this division, I’m not sure if I can see them doing much more. Matthew Stafford has some good skill players around him so it’s not impossible, but given the history in Detroit it could take a monumental effort to turn things around. Equally, the Lions could be due for a change, but for whatever reason, I do not find Patricia inspiring but as I tend to hope for success he could yet prove me wrong.

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

AFC and NFC East Preview

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Despite having a longer run up to the start of their season than the rest of the major four American sports did to restarting their seasons, it feels like the NFL are approaching the 2020 season with a higher degree of improvisation and as a result there are no pre-season games.

This means that as far as I know the season opener will be the first time the NFL plays a game with the as yet untested protocols. Certainly, this is the case for two teams playing each other and only time will tell how that goes.

The inaugural draft of The Wrong Football Dynasty NFL fantasy league takes place this week, and we are under two weeks away from the start of the season so I thought it was time to roll through the divisions to see what I thought about the teams.

I always want to see how a team does rather than speculate too much, and I think that is going to be even more true for the upcoming season, for which we have nothing but training camp reports to work with so there is a lot of speculation and little we know for certain. In fact, I think it’s distinctly possible that things will move faster than a website can keep up with, but let’s start with the two East divisions and see what I can say.

AFC East

New England Patriots

Let’s start how we mean to go on, with a Patriots team who lost an all-time great quarterback, and so were already in flux before half a dozen players opted out of the season due to Covid-19. I can’t find fault with any player deciding to sit out, but with a shortened offseason, a retooled defence, and a Brady-less offence for the first time since his ACL tear in 2008 things are going to be very different for the Pats this season. I would say with their coaching staff they should be fine, but the last time Dante Scarnecchia retired the Pats offensive line really struggled. The pickup of Cam Newton was a canny stroke and I really hope he can get back to his best, but whilst I expect the Pats to compete, this is the first year in a while where you can’t pencil them in for the playoffs, although it would hardly be a surprise if they do make it.

Buffalo Bills

After a seventeen year wait, the Bills have gone to the playoffs in two out of the last three seasons under head coach Sean McDermott and they are hoping that their off-season trade for receiver Stefon Diggs will catapult them to the next level. The aim surely has to be to win a playoff game this season, but Diggs can’t catapult the offence to more closely match the defence’s top ten ranking by DVOA on his own. A lot rests on if quarterback Josh Allen can take another step forward in his third year. It feels like the Bills front office have done an excellent job of building around the young quarterback and he doesn’t have to become elite for the Bills to be a dangerous team, but their ceiling is going to be set by his performance. Still, they look to be the other contender for the AFC East title and will be looking for more than that.

New York Jets

I have very little idea what to make of the Jets coming into this season. They had a top ten defence by DVOA last season, but traded away their All-Pro safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks, their special teams were top five by DVOA, but their offence was ranked thirty-first by DVOA and second year quarterback Sam Darnold missed games with mono. More importantly there seems to be very little stability in their front office and with all the caveats that he’s likely forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, Adam Gase does not inspire confidence and I suspect he is a better co-ordinator than head coach. Even after having said all of this, they still went 7-9 last year so we can’t write them off completely, but I definitely have them pegged for a similar or worse record this season. As ever I would love to be proved wrong, although I’m sure Dan would disagree.

Miami Dolphins

I am pretty certain I’m going to be singing the Dolphins’ infuriatingly catchy fight song on the podcast a time or two this season as despite their 5-11 2019 season, things are definitely on the up for the ‘phins. For starters, they were tanking and so had no business winning five games, yet they still got to draft quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who for many fans was the off-season target all along. More importantly, Brian Flores is probably the first Bill Belichick assistant who truly convinced in their first season as a head coach. They had a raft of draft picks in April and I think the arrow is definitely pointing up for this team. They might not win that many more games this year given the shortened pre-season, but I believe Flores will make them competitive no matter how many games Tagovailoa does or does not start and I feel as confident as I ever remember since I started this site about the Dolphins going forward. I’m sorry if that’s a jinx Dan.

Now it’s time to jump conferences and look at the NFC East

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

The 2019 season was a really odd one for the Eagles with a lot of people, including myself, thinking that they had one of the deepest rosters in the league, but they were ravaged by injury, particularly at receiver and corner and so just getting to the play-offs was in truth something of an achievement. They seemed to put a high priority on speed in the draft, but it is a slightly odd quirk for Carson Wentz is that in his four season in Philadelphia the Eagles have gone to the play-offs the last three season, won a Super Bowl yet his play-off record is 0-1. I think this is just a quirk of some bad injury luck, but I’m sure Wentz would like to get at least one win and put this behind him before the passionate Philadelphia fans start to question their franchise quarterback. I like the Eagles chances of doing just that, but we shall have to see.

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys were a very good team on offence last season, finishing second in the league in offensive DVOA, but a middling defence and poor special teams when combined with some less than inventive coaching led to the end of the Jason Garrett era in Dallas. The Cowboys come into this season with the same offensive coordinator, operating the offence under new had coach Mike McCarthy who made headlines by running a staff without a team last season and professing that he’s been studying analytics. We can’t know if such an approach will survive contact with the season, particularly given McCarthy’s reputation for conservative play calling at the end of his tenure in Green Bay, but it will be fascinating to watch. I don’t understand why they haven’t committed to Dak Prescott yet and signed him to a long term contract, but Prescott will be hoping to prove that it was a mistake not to get him signed up and the addition of rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb gives them a potentially formidable receiving group. The Cowboys really weren’t that far away from winning this division last season and I expect them to compete with the Eagles all the way for the division.

New York Giants

Last season was a mess for the Giants, who went 4-12 with very few positives on either side of the ball. The hire of thirty-eight-year-old Patriots’ special teams coordinator Joe Judge was definitely not a big name hire. I like the idea of hiring a special teams coach who is used to interacting with the whole roster, but it has to be viewed as a gamble with quarterback Daniel Jones going into his second year. The young quarterback has not shone early and the Giants are a team that looks to be a multi-season rebuilding project that they are entrusting to a young first time head coach. The Giants have some good skills players, and in Saquon Barkley a truly special running back, but I’m not sure I trust Dave Gettleman’s judgment of draft value in terms of who he picks where, though he clearly has an eye for talent. I simply don’t know enough about Judge as a coach to have strong feelings about this team, but I would be surprised if they did more than show progress. However, at this point in their team building, that would still be a positive step.

Washington Football Team

It’s hard to know where to start with Washington. It might be easier to go through what hasn’t happened to them. The 2019 season was a disaster on the field and off, leading to the hire of Ron Rivera as their new head coach, and loss of long-time president Bruce Allen. So far this off-season we’ve had the horrible revelations of the climate of sexual harassment around the team. The franchise has finally been forced into addressing their name, but only after major sponsors threated Dan Snyder with pulling out of contracts, and their owner has now also had allegations related to sexual harassment levelled against him. The turmoil does not end there as the conduct of Snyder over the years has led to several minority-owners of the team looking to sell their stakes, and Rivera who has so much on his plate already this off-season has been diagnosed with cancer. The one truly positive on-field news story has been the remarkable return to practise of Alex Smith from his gruesome 2018 leg injury, that after complications and infections nearly cost him the leg. As big a feel-good bit of new as Smith’s return to practise is, it’s hard to see him being anything other than a valued veteran voice in the quarterback room unless Dwayne Haskins continues to struggle in his second year and Kyle Allen (who has followed Rivera from Carolina) can’t get the job done either. The addition of first round draft pick Chase Young should really help this team’s pass-rush, but with so much change it is hard to see this team excelling this season, but Washington are another football team for whom forward progress would be a genuine achievement considering the position they are starting from.

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

It’s Not Possible to Stick to Sports

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Everything is up in the air at the moment, and the NFL is no exception.

I started this blog on Wednesday, and the above was the opening line. The rest can wait for another day.

I was already aware of the police shooting of  Jacob Blake and had the sadly all too familiar sorrow at hearing of another such failure in policing, and anger that despite all the recent discussions that seven shots were fired into the Blake’s back.

What took place overnight was the powerful actions of the Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their playoff game and the rest of the NBA teams in the bubble, as well as the league itself standing in solidarity with them. There were various other teams and individuals from different sports including the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team who also cancelled games yesterday.

There were many NFL players supporting the actions of the Bucks to sit out their game, the Detroit Lions cancelled practice and both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears put out statements regarding the shooting.

We have now also had a seventeen-year-old boy shoot dead two Black Lives Matter protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin who were part of a demonstration about the shooting of Blake,

This is a sports blog and I try to find a balance between writing about the NFL and the other things that can and should intrude. There has been much talk of whether it is worth playing sport in the middle of a pandemic, but also serious discussions about whether NBA players should be going to the bubble to finish the season at all.

Or if their place was in their communities advocating for change.

I’m not sure there is a right answer here. In fact, I fully support all those who have opted out of sports to work in their communities or as a precaution because of Covid-19. We should also support those who thought their loudest platform was provided by what they do.

What the Bucs players, and all those other NBA teams, coaches, and league officials who demonstrated solidarity with them, was leverage the platform they had already built as best they could. Escalating their ongoing protests as another shooting took place despite all the fine words of the last few months.

The Bucks raised their voices in solidarity with those already protesting, and the wider world including those from other sports joined as well.

But it should not be up to sports people to force accountability.

The issues of structural racism, of police brutality, cannot be fixed overnight. It is going to take long hard work to rebuild institutions, to educate, to transform a situation that is the result of hundreds of years of disadvantage.

The NBA, perhaps more than any other American sport, has empowered its athletes to take on such issues and has a much healthier relationship between its owners and players than a lot of leagues, and certainly better than the NFL.

This is an NFL blog and I wonder how this situation will interact with Covid-19 and the leagues desire to get the season done. It will be an incredibly tough season for the players, another thing for them to fight through. They shouldn’t have to, but they will.

The very least we can do is be witness to these efforts, support them how we can, and see these sporting heroes as they are, complex flawed individuals with gifts and shortcomings trying to find their way through this strange world, just like the rest of us.

Football is coming, sport is big business, and some people just want an escape from the world.

Believe me I get that.

However, some things are too important to ignore, and given the unifying effect sport can have, we should never, ‘Just stick to sports.’

My thoughts aren’t on pre-season, roster make up and the coming season right now.

I don’t think they should be.

And in truth, I don’t think yours should be either.

Maybe tomorrow, or the weekend, but not today.

Black Lives Matter

That shouldn’t be a radical statement. We can’t allow it to become an empty phrase.

There are plenty of people trying to prevent just that. It’s really a matter of if you are with them or not.

The Season Might be Coming, the TWF Dynasty League is Hopefully Following

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I can’t complain that the off-season didn’t go as I expected given that no one’s life is what they expected at the moment.

In the swirl of work and trying to hold in with the situation surrounding Covid-19 I didn’t get to what I was planning for the off-season, but I have got two unexpected football bonuses in the last couple of weeks.

Firstly, my long-time partner in crime on this site, and erstwhile podcast producer got the itch again and so with a streamlined editing process, a more relaxed style and a new platform to host – Dan and I are back in the podcast game. I’m very much enjoying it so if you haven’t had a listen then check us out on anchor.fm/wrong-football-nfl or in the words of Dan, wherever you procure your podcasts.

The second is that for some reason, despite my relative lack of experience playing fantasy, when I saw a tweet from Dan it led to this suggestion:

Screen Shot 2020-08-08 at 12.48.40

Well, Dan did think about it and it appears we are go for the inaugural season of The Wrong Football NFL Dynasty League.

The reason I wanted to dive into this variation of fantasy football is that I’ve always been frustrated with the way injury luck has held so much sway over a fantasy season. Now, to be fair injury luck is one of the bigger factors that determines the success of an NFL franchise for a particular season, but unlike for your favourite team, in the fantasy world if your season falls apart there’s little reason to stay invested. Unless, you are in a dynasty league where you can always start prepping for the draft and next year.

So with very little actual persuasion on my part, Dan agreed that we would go for it and so should we get a season this will be the inaugural year of, The Wrong Football NFL Dynasty League.

Now in the early days I was asking about things like individual defensive players and other options that were opening up before us as I researched how we would run the league. However, given the speed with which we needed to set this new endeavour up, and our distinctly novice (at least for me) experience in this area of football fandom, we decided to model our league on a standard format with a couple of twists and the necessary additions for dynasty.

This means that our rosters will be sixteen strong with a starting line-up of:

1 QB
2 RB
2 WR
1 TE
1 Flex (QB/RB/WR/TE)
1 DEF/ST
1 K

As you can see from the above, the first tweak is a super-flex that gives the options of starting a second QB, which I believe will likely lead to a second quarterback starter but gives you options should suffer injury problems so your team shouldn’t be doomed.

The other tweak is that we are modelling the league on PPR, but using a tiered scoring system of 0.5 points for running backs, 1 for receivers and 1.5 for tight ends. This should balance up the scoring a bit and make tight ends more relevant than they usually are in fantasy.

Now, because I’m suddenly commissioner of a league and this is my first time ever doing that, yet alone for a dynasty league, I ran this all by Justin from dynastyfreeks.com to get his view. He also runs leagues on my chosen host of fleaflicker.com so that was a relief, as was his general approval of our scoring and use of Taxi squad (I’ll get to this in a minute).

Justin did suggest we up the roster size and starting line-ups, but frankly when he talks about rosters of up to 30 players, I might be interested if we were going with defensive players as well but given the circumstances, Dan and I thought it was best to start relatively standard and build from there. Particularly, as we are already looking at a twenty round initial draft.

Now if you were paying attention you will have notice that I said a twenty round draft when the roster size is sixteen. As this is a dynasty league, once we have the franchises setup you can keep up to all of your 16 player roster, but we are going to have a Taxi squad (basically a practise squad) where eventually we are going to allow the sorting away of up to seven rookie and second year players. However, in this first season we are going to allow up to four rookies to be placed on this squad. To do this we are going to draft four extra rookie players in the draft, and get everyone to assign their rookies and then cut the roster down to the actual limit for the season.

I will keep the rest of the minutia to within the league communications, but I’m sure there will be discussions on the pod or mentions here although it won’t be taking over too much. We already have six owners, but there are six more potential slots open so if you are interested then let Dan or I know and we’ll send you an invite.

It still seems strange that training camp has started, but the only normal feature of my pre-season schedule that is running this year is Hard Knocks. You have to be a little bit sceptical of if we’re going to make it through the season given the NFL’s approach to Covid-19 as opposed to say the NBA, football in Europe or cricket with their variations on bubble environments. It is also brave to jump straight into the regular season without staging any practice games in the new game day environment.

As we follow the news and start Hard Knocks this week we might get a feel for how likely we are to get to the end of the season but frankly, there are more important things taking place. The NFL season might be coming, and the TWF Dynasty league will hopefully follow, but whilst the fan in me would welcome the distraction and some good news, I’m mainly hoping for health and good things for those players who have not already opted out. It feels like the NFL are planning to carry on regardless, but whether that is actually possible or even a good idea is up for debate.

For now, all we can do is watch and wait, but my usual off-season cry of football is coming, has a very different feel to it at the moment.

That’s All Folks

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Here we are, the season is done, and we have our Super Bowl champions.

What I Saw

Kansas City Chiefs: 31 – San Francisco 49ers: 20

There was only one game on everybody’s mind this week and what a fascinating contest it was. For three quarters the 49ers looked like the better team and maintained a lead, but in the end Patrick Mahomes found something of his normal form and was able to help the Chiefs offence stage another comeback to clinch the game with a score that in truth slightly flatters the Chiefs.

The marquee matchup of this game was the 49ers defence against the vaunted Chiefs offence, but through pass rush and coverage the 49ers were able to make Mahomes have one of his worst games in a Chiefs’ uniform. However, the Chiefs were clearly expecting the 49ers game plan to an extent as they ran the ball well with Damian Williams who amassed over one hundred yards, sealing the game with a thirty-eight yard touchdown as the Chiefs ran out the clock. However, it was only in the fourth quarter when the quick strike resurfaced for the Chiefs that the offence truly came alive when Andy Reid ran a play that Mahomes had been asking to try again. The third-year quarterback was able to connect Tyreek Hill for a forty-four yard play, which was the first big chunk pass of the game. Within a minute on the game clock the Chiefs scored their first touchdown since the first quarter and began the twenty-one-point swing that took place in the final seven minutes that also included a thirty-eight yard pass to Sammy Watkins to setup the second touchdown before Williams sealed the game with the aforementioned run.

As for the 49ers, they came up with the right game plan and so nearly executed it well enough to win the game. They generated over three hundred and fifty yards of offence and into the fourth quarter they looked like the more likely team to win. There were a couple of occasions where they came away with field goals, which would have frustrated Kyle Shanahan, and Jimmy Garoppolo couldn’t execute to the level they were both hoping. In this game Mahomes actually threw the same number of interceptions as Garoppolo but we left this game with some questioning whether the 49ers QB is a true franchise quarterback. This might be a little unfair as Mahomes is an exceptional talent and this is now the second Super Bowl where Shanahan was coordinating the offence and his team couldn’t hold a lead. The question I do think is worth looking at is how much the 49ers tried to run the ball given that they only had twenty-two carries in this game at well over six yards a carry. This is actually less carries than the Chiefs, which you would not have expected going into the game. However, there is much to love about the 49ers offence, whose one receiving touchdown was to a fullback and who also accounted for the 49ers longest receiving play.

In the end, despite history seeming to favour the more well-rounded team with the better defence in the Super Bowl, it was Andy Reid with Patrick Mahomes and that offence who found enough to win the game whilst their defence did enough to get the win. I’m sure the 49ers will be really hurting after this loss, but both teams are relatively young so whilst they will be different next season, both look in good shape to have a run at the Super Bowl next year. Given the quality of this game I think we could all live with that.

What I Heard

I have to report that Dan was not that impressed with the half time show, but I enjoyed it. Although it is interesting to compare some of the complaints about the risqué nature of some of it to what was happening during Janet Jackson’s performance before her legendary wardrobe malfunction.

The reason I started there, apart form the play on words, is that the NFL media has covered the win and almost already moved on to off-season news.

I’m not ready to go there quite yet, although I will have to seek out the Mic’d Up segments which are always entertaining if not informative.

What I Think

I was surprised by how much I was supporting the Chiefs and Andy Reid getting that Super Bowl win in this game, and that now ends the argument that Reid can’t win the big one and likely cements his place in the Hall of Fame.

Given how many games he has won for so long, and the innovation he has show throughout his career I think there was a pretty good case for him getting in anyway. This season we had two teams in the Super Bowl that apart from division rivals, noone would particularly object to see winning. I thought it was a lovely touch for the Eagles to show their support for their former coach, and it does also demonstrate some of how well Reid is liked around the league.

What I Know

I will be taking some time off for a couple of weeks, but I will try to follow something of the pattern of last year’s off-season and do a couple of off-season posts either on the next step of the year-round football news cycle or what I’ve dug into.

I would love to have the time to dig into the coaching tape of this game at some point, and later in the year I very well might but things have been very difficult this season for reasons outside of football so I am ready for a break.

There may be some changes in process and posts next season, I evaluate the blog every year but there may be some factors that could affect my writing time so we shall have to see how things shake out. Rest assured though, that The Wrong Football will be back in some form for our seventh regular season at the start of September.

What I Hope

That everyone has a productive off-season and fills the time spent on football reading books, pursuing other hobbies or relaxing. We only have so much time gifted to us so make sure you use it wisely.

And now, for the last time this season over to Dan’s Dad:

The 2019 Trivia Contest

‘They Think It’s All Over…

Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous Wembley commentary in 1966 is no less relevant now than it was then.

The Superbowl was acknowledged as one of the best and a comeback worthy of Lazarus! It rounds off a season in which the un-predictable became a regular feature but with some teams coming to the fore that were not always the usual suspects. One big event in 2019-20 was, of course the Pats failing to win playoff game with the inevitable Brady-fest which followed it. That could be an interesting story to play out on the way to next season.

For one last time this term we move to the quartet of questions for the final week. We begin with Dan in the lead by 33 to 30 and this week its 3 points per correct answer.

We started in Tampa and asked:   The Bucs played in only one tie game in the 20th century. Who was it against?

Well the guesses were the Lions or the Falcons, but unfortunately for Dan and Gee the team was actually the Packers.
This happened on October 12, 1980. Packers kicker Tom Birney missed a 36 yard field goal attempt as time expired, ending the game in a 14-14 tie. The two teams finished the 1980 season tied for last place in the NFC Central at 5-10-1.

It’s the ‘tied for last place’ that did it for me, devious to the end.

Right next was Tennessee and the simple question was: Which player started at quarterback for the first game of the 2005 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh?

Both correctly identified Steve McNair so it’s 3 points each.

On now to DC where I threw in this, the Washington Redskin franchise began in 1932 in the NFL. What was the team’s name in that season?

This one threw me too, but the backstory is more than interesting.

We got some interesting fantasy team names but the answer is Boston Braves.
The franchise was named the Boston Braves for their first season, then changed their name to the Boston Redskins for four seasons before moving to D.C. Their first season in 1932 brought them a 4-4-2 season record, for a fourth place finish of eight teams. The Chicago Bears won the title in the season for going 7-1-6, although the runner-up Green Bay Packers went 10-3-1.

And finally…

Also with a Washington and a Superbowl element I finished with: Which famous football czar ended his career in Washington as coach.

Czar was perhaps a bit of a giveaway, but both successfully went for Vince Lombardi – 3 points each.

For the record Daniel Snyder wasn’t the first Redskins owner to spend a lot of money to bring in a veteran coach and players and try to win an instant championship but Lombardi was too good to overlook.

Which brings us to the final scores and we end with Gee on 36 against Dan’s 39.. So congratulations and commiserations in equal measure to the pair who have been tormented for another season which I’d say was probably my most devious yet. On well – Onwards and Upwards.’

I would like to send my congratulations to Dan on a well-earned trivia victory and thank Dan’s Dad for his efforts all year as well as congratulate him again on keeping the blog in Vikings’ purple and gold. I’m sure he’s already working on more sneaky or downright evil questions to ask us for next season.

This blog wouldn’t be the same without either Dan or his Dad, and I am very grateful for their involvement and all the effort they put in.

Until next time, live long and prosper!
Gee

Super Bowl Sunday

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Here it is the big day and the last game of the season, plenty to write about, but there is the final round of trivia to go through first.

Dan’s Dad asked us:

‘First stop this week are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tell me:
The Bucs played in only one tie game in the 20th century. Who was it against?

Moving onto the Tennessee Titans so tell me:
Which player started at quarterback for the first game of the 2005 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh

At last we get into DC and for the Washington Redskins tell me:
The Washington Redskin franchise began in 1932 in the NFL. What was the team’s name in that season?

Trawling for questions throws up some interesting info and with the closing question for the season, which I predict will be got by both, is

Which famous football czar ended his career in Washington as coach?

This is a mixed bag of questions for questions, some of which I think I might know and some that are a real shot in the dark, with the majority being the latter.

We’ll start with the opening question that very much falls into the shot in the dark category, but I am going to plump for on NFC team on the grounds as they play them more and going with Atlanta Falcons as a divisional opponent who have been around long enough to up the chances by having more games.

As for the Titans’ quarterback, my first thought was Vince Young, but I think that 2005 is a bit early so I’m going to plump for the only other Titans quarterback that I can think of from around this period and hope 3D isn’t living up to his nickname – that quarterback, Steve McNair

I have really struggled with the early franchise names and this is no exception. I have no memory or knowledge of a previous pace for Washington and it seems baffling that they changed to a name that many find offensive so I don’t know what they could have had before or if they were even in Washington. I’m going to have to try a total guess so how about the Washington Presidents? I’m sure it’s not that but I genuinely have no cluse.

This problem had me stumped the most, particularly with the whole football czar angle until I had slept on the question and instead of trying to pick out some complex link to a modern coach that I couldn’t work out, I had what I hope is a flash of inspiration. As I have very much discovered this season, my knowledge of NFL history is somewhat patchy, but for all that Vince Lombardi is forever associated with Green Bay, I think I remember listening to a podcast on him and unless I’m completely misremembering his final year of coaching was with Washington. I think…. Well that’s it, I can’t do any more this season so over to Dan:

‘Final week then, it’s all down to this! After having amassed a 3-point lead, I could grumble about this week being 4 points per question, but I shall resist! Couple of guesses, couple I know this week.

I’ve got a feeling that Tampa’s tie was this season and I think it was against the Lions – probably wrong but I’ll go with that.

For Tennessee, I’m slightly hesitant as I’m not sure if this guy was still there by 2005 but I’ll go with Steve McNair as I know he was in Tennessee for years and would have been roughly around this time.

The former name of the Redskins I have no idea of, so I’ll guess at the DC Defenders, and forfeit that question!

And finally for the bonus question, my first thought was John Madden, but Im fairly sure he retired as a Raider (or at least was there for years) and then the timing hit me – I’ll go with the trophy namesake, Vince Lombardi!

Enjoy the Bowl!’

Kansas City Chiefs Vs San Francisco 49ers

This is game has the potential to be one of the best Super Bowls we have had in a while, with a couple of outstanding play-calling coaches whose offences will have different approaches but are no less effective so let’s take look at the match-ups before I take a swing at how this game might go.

I’ll start with what is going to be the strength on strength match-up when the Chiefs have the ball. The Chiefs finished the regular season with the third ranked offence by DVOA but that doesn’t tell the whole story as Patrick Mahomes missed a pair of games after he dislocated his knee cap and it took several more weeks after his return to look like last season’s all conquering MVP. However, whilst he couldn’t match last years numbers the Chiefs finished the season winning six straight games and rolled right into the playoffs. There is a compelling argument for Mahomes to be the best quarterback in the league right now and with the speed that the Chiefs have at receiver this makes them one of the fastest strike offences in the league. If the combination of Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and rookie Mecole Hardman at receiver were not scary enough, the Chiefs also have one of the premiere pass catching tight-ends in Travis Kelce who actually led the team in receiving yards like this. Andy Reid has always liked his offence to throw the ball, and the devastating speed is how the Chiefs can be twenty-four points down in the second quarter of a playoff game and go into half time leading,

However, the 49ers had the second ranked defence in the league by DVOA in the regular season and will hope that they can stifle the Chiefs’ devastating speed with their four man pass rush and quality coverage. A lot of the pass rush plaudits have gone to rookie Nick Bosa, but they have five first round picks in their defensive line rotation and it is Arik Armstead who led the team in sacks. However, one of the important things in this game will be the defensive line’s ability to rush in a coordinated manner as apart from his remarkable ability throwing the ball, Patrick Mahomes is also a capable rusher as he demonstrated against the Titans with over fifty yards of rushing. If the 49ers hope to win with coverage, that will be tested by both the Chiefs’ team speed but also their pre-snap motion and the myriad ways of that Andy Reid likes to attack a defence. There will be screens a plenty the 49ers will be hoping to keep the Chiefs in front of them and have them consistently maintain long drives.

When the 49ers have the ball they will build of their running game, which they have lent on heavily in the post-season. One of the narratives of the build up as has been that the 49ers have lost faith in Jimmy Garoppolo, but the team have vehemently denied that in the build up this week and my mind can’t help but go back to the week fourteen game against the Saints where Garoppolo threw for nearly three hundred and fifty yards and four touchdowns. I suspect the 49ers will be hoping to run the ball and control the clock to an extent, but they will be aware of how the Chiefs sold out to stop the run against the Titans in the previous round and so there will be more passing in this game. The 49ers have their own quality receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel, but whilst Kelce is one of the best pass-catching tight-ends in the league, this season George Kittle has established himself as one of the best all round tight-ends in the game who loves blocking as much as catching the ball and refusing to be tackled. I expect the 49ers to be a more balanced offence than the Chiefs, but with the speed the 49ers have at running back the are capable of deep strikes on the ground they will be hoping the mixture of outside zones and power running will still be effective against a defence that is likely to be setup to stop them running.

The Chiefs’ defence may only rank fourteenth in the league, but that is a twelve place improvement on where they ranked last year and with an offence as potent as Chiefs, they don’t need to be top ten for them to win the game. The concern is that their rush defence only ranks twenty-sixth so if they are to contain the run they may have to commit eight players to stop the run leaving the secondary exposed. In Tyrann Mathieu the Chiefs picked up a versatile safety who will be important in getting the defence lined up and it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs try to cope with the 49ers varied attack.

We have known for years that Andy Reid is an excellent coach, his teams are always competitive and the results of pairing him with a truly elite quarterback have been impressive. There have been questions about his clock management but this looks to be as good a team as he has ever had. This is not Reid’s first Super Bowl and there has been plenty of talk about this being his chance to secure a Hall of Fame slot. If Mahomes can stay healthy then there could well be more, but people thought that about Dan Marino and he famously never made it back to the Super Bowl so we can’t take it for granted. If Andy Reid has scars from his previous Super Bowl appearance then so does Kyle Shanahan who was the offensive coordinators for the Atlanta Falcons when they suffered the incredible turn around from the New England Patriots. This game pits two of the best offensive minds in the game against each other, and as good as Reid is coming off a bye you can argue that the 49ers have the better overall team.

I’ve heard the arguments for both teams, with the 49ers being tipped as the better overall team and others unwilling to pick against Parick Mahomes. I wouldn’t want to pick this game. I have seen Garoppolo keep his team in a shoot out with the Saints and win, but we should not forget the skills players that Mahomes have to work with. If the 49ers defence gets on top it could be a dour game but I think the most likely outcome is a relatively high scoring game and I have a feeling that the winner will be whichever team has the ball at the end. So much could happen, but I feel like this could be a truly exceptional game. There are no guarantees, but I think this last game of the 2019 season could for once live up to the hype, and I can’t think of a better way to finish the season.

Let’s settle in for the big one – as Super Bown LIV is here.

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

The Show Goes On

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It has been a very strange week, particularly after Sunday as whilst the actual Pro Bowl game was being played the news of Kobe Bryant’s death broke.

This has been huge news round the world and has given a different feel to Super Bowl week. The approach Bryant took to his sporting career transcended the sport of basketball and made a Bryant a significant figure in NFL locker rooms. He had pursued also his new post playing career with as much vigour as his basketball. I can think of any other league MVPs who by age forty-one also had an Oscar.

He was also a complex individual, and with all the positive stories surrounding him, it is also important to acknowledge that he was charged with sexual assault in 2003. At the time he flew back and forth from the court case to play games and eventually the case was dismissed as the victim refused to testify. The woman, nineteen at the time of the attack had her name leaked several times as well as being smeared by the defence team. What we do know is that after initially denying the incident took place, Bryant admitted to not explicitly asking for consent and after the case stated that he understood that she had a different understanding of the event to him. Bryant also settled a civil suit, part of which was a non-disclosure agreement on his side.

As ever, a lot of the recovery of his reputation was down to returning to winning ways on the court and society’s view of successful men. However, Bryant also became a committed family man, taking pride in being a girl dad and an advocate for women’s sport as well as reaching out and mentoring a number of sports people. He was interested in many things including his next chapter and storytelling, but one of the sadder aspects of this whole situation is the death of his middle daughter Gianna, who was only thirteen and was pursuing her own basketball dreams.

In this era of real-time social media reactions and the seeming desire to divide in good and bad people we forget that everyone is hugely complex and good deeds in one area do not negate bad actions in another, but if we are to believe in redemption or at least the attempt to make amends then we have to give people a chance to improve. We can’t ignore or excuse Bryant’s actions in this case, but nor can we define him solely by them and so the man who was capable of great feats on the basketball court is the same person who was involved in the sexual assault case and approving his legal defence. It is the same man who inspired people round the world as well as his peers, who doted on his children. When you contemplate his death you think about the family without a father or daughter, the other children and parents from the same team who also died, the woman who is witnessing the reaction to Bryant’s death filtered through her own trauma and complex feelings about what is happening.

People are complex and only here for a short time and so we have to make the best of what we have, strive our best every day, and face the consequences of our actions whether we intended the outcomes or not.

There’s no easy way to segue out of this topic and back to football, and it feels like a lot of the Super Bowl coverage has been subdued because of that very fact, but I can steadily make my way back to football because what I was just writing about is relevant to one of the key players for the Kansas City Chiefs. For all that I’m a big fan of Andy Reid, and I’m so impressed by Patrick Mahomes, one of the key skills players for the Chiefs is Tyreek Hill who has his own complex history. A fifth-round draft pick by the Chiefs due to a domestic assault of his then pregnant girlfriend, which saw him dismissed from the Oklahoma State football team. He’s been a successful player for the Chiefs going from a speedy returner to one of the best receivers in the game, but in the off-season he was investigated over the care of his son, who we know had a broken arm and was taken into care. The investigation was dropped and he has been given a contract extension, in part because of his conduct around the team and I have read the stories about how he has matured but as ever, if you have talent then often it seems you get to play your way out trouble. I’m hugely looking forward to the Super Bowl, but this will be itching away at the back of my brain because we shouldn’t forget that as great as some of these players are, they are human and complex and in some case you wonder where the line between rehabilitation and facilitation lies.

My schedule has got out of step this week, so I’m going to wrap up with a couple of quick points, and will drop my proper preview of the Super Bowl Sunday morning so you can get up to speed because as strange as the build up as been, the actual games looks like it could be one for the ages.

What I Saw

I saw a few video highlights of the quarterback throwing competitions and other of the periphery competitions, but the Pro Bowl is not a proper game of football and I freely admit to not watching it, even if it does get a very high rating in the States.

What I Hope

There is so much to hope for having been repeatedly been reminded of the frailty of life over the last few weeks.

In life I hope we take on board the lesson that we have to make sure we make the most of every day and the opportunities that gets presented to us as there are no guarantees that we will get another chance tomorrow.

What I hope for Sunday is that the game lives up to the potential I see in it, and for a few hours a large section of the world sets aside the struggles of life and gets to enjoy what could be a truly glorious game.

In the meantime I’ll hand over to Dan’s Dad for normal service on the trivia front, and don’t worry, I very definitely have thoughts about the oncoming game.

What We’ve Been Asked

‘The penultimate game of the season has come and gone. Apart from stating that the AFC ran out winners by 5 points we can switch focus to what I can see as a potentially great Super Bowl this weekend.

I’ve harboured a liking for the Chiefs’ work all season and have said as much. My thoughts were that the Saints would be my choice to represent the NFC in Miami, after the Vikings rolling them over in Wild Card week. The Vikings were less successful in the Divisional week losing to the 49ers and from there San Fran rolled over the Packers to become a very capable contender.

In a 49ers / Chiefs Superbowl, who wins? I’ll leave Gee to do the coaching analysis but for me, while SF have a great momentum the Chiefs may benefit from by-passing the Wild Card game so I’ll plump for H.C Wolf to edge out Sourdough Sam by 6 points,

And in the Trivia nothing really changed in terms of Dans lead of a still gettable 3 points.

For the Pro Bowl the questions were on the 49ers and Seahawks.

For San Fran I asked one of my occasional stinkers which was, “How many 49er quarterbacks were inducted into the Hall of Fame in the 20th century?”

Well I was impressed by the ideas that came through and the guesses were plausible, but the answer was actually just 1.

Only Y.A. Tittle (1971) was inducted in the 20th century. Although Joe Montana and Steve Young played in that century, they were inducted in the 21st.

Moving up the coast to Seattle I asked what turned into a head scratcher with, “Which player finished the 2003 season as the Seahawks starting quarterback”?

The answer of course was Matt Hasselbeck. He started every game for the Seahawks in 2003, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

2 points each to Gee and Dan for that one leaving us with scores of 30 – 33 respectively.

Which brings us to the final game and the completion of our road trip round the 32 teams with the final 3 teams, and 4 questions – because I can!

First stop this week are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tell me:
The Bucs played in only one tie game in the 20th century. Who was it against?

Moving onto the Tennessee Titans so tell me:
Which player started at quarterback for the first game of the 2005 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh

At last we get into DC and for the Washington Redskins tell me:
The Washington Redskin franchise began in 1932 in the NFL. What was the team’s name in that season?

Trawling for questions throws up some interesting info and with the closing question for the season, which I predict will be got by both, is

Which famous football czar ended his career in Washington as coach?

Three points for each question this week so there are twelve points on the table so go for it!

And so, to Miami – Lets play Ball!’

A Week for Trivia

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I am not a fan of the Pro Bowl and with all that’s going on at the moment I am taking it a bit easy this week. I’m really looking forward to the Super Bowl and I am hoping to do my usual coaching tape break downs of the game in the following weeks, but I am very aware that the season is nearly over. However, even facing up to the oncoming football desert, the weird half game of the Pro Bowl does not tempt me. However, 3D’s torture of us continues unabated and so I have to take a look at this week’s questions.

Dan’s Dad asked us:

‘San Francisco 49ers:

How many 49er quarterbacks were inducted into the Hall of Fame in the 20th century?

Seattle Seahawks

Which player finished the 2003 season as the Seahawks starting quarterback?

Now this first question feels like a trap. The obvious candidates are Joe Montana and Steve Young, but I have a feeling that one if not both of them might have got in after the year 2000, but was there an earlier player I’m not thinking of? I am going to plump for two as I think Montana might have got in before the first of January 2001 and there was someone earlier. I could, as usual, be overthinking this one.

As for the Seahawks question, it took me a moment to dig the name out of my memory, but I believe it was Matt Hasselbeck who was quarterback at this time and who took the Seahawks to the Super Bowl at some during his run with the team. I’m not remembering any great changes of things to note, other than I think he took over from former Bengal Jon Kitna so I just hope 3D hasn’t got something sneaky I haven’t thought of planned for this question.

Now over to Dan:

‘Right, for the 49ers, I can only name Steve Young and Joe Montana off the top of my head. I’d imagine I’ll kick myself when I’ve forgotten someone obvious when the answers are revealed but I’ll go for 2.

The Seahawks question has been a real head scratcher for me. I want to say Matt Hasselbeck but something is telling me that 2003 is a bit early for him. Also the wording ‘at the end of’ suggests it’s someone different to who would have started but I can’t think of any other names. I’ll just go for Hasselbeck and hope for the best I think!

The Toughest Loss

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Well, we know the Super Bowl match-up, which looks as good as I can remember for a long time so let’s take a quick look at how we got them before we say goodbye to those who fell at the final hurdle.

What I Saw

The first game on Sunday followed the pattern of the Chief’s previous game, but whilst putting up a better fight that then Texans, the Tennessee Titan’s ultimately could not keep with up with the Chiefs on the road.

The Titans took an early lead and held it for most of the half, but they were not able to hold it until half time as the Chiefs once again demonstrated just how explosive their offence is. This time it was Sammy Watkins who led the teams in yards whilst Tyreek Hill caught two touchdowns.  Patrick Mahomes once again looked remarkable for the Chiefs, scoring the go ahead touchdown on an unforgettable run as well as once again demonstrating that he is possibly the best quarterback in the game right now.

The Titans didn’t exactly do badly on defence, but you are going to have to score points to beat the Chiefs and Derek Henry could only managed sixty-nine yards after the sequence of heroic games. With the run bottled up and the play-action passes slowing down after the initial outburst the Titans were not able to keep up with a healthy Mahomes and there’s no shame in that.

The next game was much less of a contest as the Green Bay Packers were held scoreless in the first half, going in 27-0 at half-time and whilst the Packers technically won the second half, they couldn’t get to within two scores of the 49ers.

The toughest thing to take for the Packers and their fans is the complete domination of the run game with the 49ers’ Raheem Mostert running for two-hundred and twenty yards and the 49ers only attempting to throw the ball eight times. I wonder how the 49ers will approach the next game but that’s a discussion for another day.

If feels like we have got two great teams in the Super Bowl, but it has been interesting to hear how these are probably the worst games to lose as you’re so close to the Super Bowl, which even if you do lose there will still be the stories and the build up. I can’t bring myself to care about the Pro Bowl so let’s say goodbye properly to the Titans and the Packers.

The Toughest Loss

The Tennessee Titans had a rough start to the season, but in took off when they made the switch to Ryan Tannehill as starting quarterback. In Derek Henry they had the league’s leading rusher and iookie AJ Brown broke a thousand yards receiving although he was quiet in the playoffs. The big question surrounding their quarterbacks seems to have been answered as it is hard not to see Tannehill returning, but there are several other players who also need resigning and we’ll have to see how they manage to pull things together but it feels like this team have taken on the character of their coach Mike Vrabel, and it seems like they may well be competitive again next season.

With Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback you should always have a chance, but time is running out for the Green Bay Packers to get a second Super Bowl with him, and whilst this was a more balanced team than in recent years, the offence looks like it could use more receiving options and the defence has to shore up its run defence. The Packers have re-modelled their roster since Brian Gunterkist took over, but there is still work to be done and a closing window of opportunity before they have to find Rodgers’ replacement.

What We’ve Been Asked

‘It’s nearly the end of the season and I believe that the Super Bowl could be one of the most appetising prospects for some time.

What took me aback in the first game last weekend was that the Titans took an unexpected and significant early lead, but the Chiefs were not tardy in making amends and gained a lead they would not lose before half time. A dour scoreless third quarter was followed by an effective Chiefs performance which augers well for the 2nd Feb.

The NFC game, it is true, brought together two teams who have had solid, consistent seasons and the prospects were good. It’s not just because I’m a Vikings fan which makes it hard to favour the Packers but I’ve seen the 49ers consistently turn in workmanlike performances and that is what happened here. With the Packers shut out in the first half the game was all but over before there was a reply. Even with SF easing down the die was cast and my expected Super Bowl was delivered.

For the record, I’ll pick the Chiefs by 6

Which brings us, must we, to the Pro-Bowl. I know many find it a nice way of rounding out the season but for me it’s my ‘bye week’.

The idea of sending two coachloads of very rich athletes, who haven’t played well enough over the season to make it to Prize Day, off on a ‘jolly’ just doesn’t do it for me. Whether it’s like a prize for turning up or another money making-opportunity, you choose.

I can’t see how, in such a short time, even a good coach can mould a disparate crop of athletes into anything more than a team akin to a good College set up I don’t know. OK, some fans get a few days away and get to see some players playing together which they wouldnt get to see but still it leaves me cold.

Rant over, it’s time we moved onto the Trivia.

There were 3 questions this week as we steer toward completing the 32.

We started in Oakland asking “ Who did the Oakland Raiders play when they made it to Super Bowl II?” I think Gee’s thought process was well argued and he correctly scored the point for picking the Green Bay Packers.

The Raiders met the Packers on January 14, 1968 in Miami at the Orange Bowl. The Packers beat the Raiders 33-14.

Moving on it was Philadelphia where I asked  “Which Eagle quarterback threw for 464 yards in one game setting a team record?”

This was Donovan McNabb and they both mcNabbed a point for giving me the right answer.

McNabb’s big day was against the Green Bay Packers on December 12, 2004. The Eagles won 47-17 at Lincoln Financial Field. Randall Cunningham set the previous mark at 447 yards in a win against the Redskins in 1989.

Finally we hit Pittsburgh so tell me, “In the Steelers’ first Super Bowl appearance, who did they defeat? “

Gee had the jitters because while it would fit, he didn’t know if 3D was coming into play. Well, this time it wasn’t (but it may return soon)

The answer was, “Minnesota Vikings”

Super Bowl IX saw Pittsburgh defeat the Vikings 16-6. The game capped off a 10-3-1 1974 season and was played January 1975 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana.

No points either way so this week it ran out 2-1 to Gee bringing the totals to Gee 28 v Dan 31. Very close with 6 questions to go.

The first 2 of which are

San Francisco 49ers:

How many 49er quarterbacks were inducted into the Hall of Fame in the 20th century?

Seattle Seahawks

Which player finished the 2003 season as the Seahawks starting quarterback?

Enjoy the Pro Bowl’