We are already approaching the mid-point of the season and yet we still have five unbeaten teams, but this week I want to focus some of the other franchises as there are some curious trends amongst some of the less successful teams.
I wrote after the week four games when the Dolphins fired Joe Philbin that it was unusual to fire coaches mid-season in the NFL. And that certainly used to be the case, although he was the second coach to be fired ahead of a bye week having lost a game in London in the last two seasons. Whilst I am not expecting Rex Ryan to be in trouble yet, Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell is getting ahead of that possibility after their horrible 1-6 start by firing his offensive coordinator and the two coaches responsible for the offensive line heading into the Lions’ trip to London. As the Dolphins did, the Lions have promoted from within, and I am looking forward to seeing in person what, if any, changes this has on the underperforming Lions offence.
Traditionally, it was always the Monday after the end of the regular season, known as black Monday, when coaches got their marching orders. However, with some teams demonstrating that you can achieve some results with a mid-season switch, it is possible that whilst we won’t see the levels of turnover that has so plagued Premiership football teams over here in the UK, it may become more common to fire head coaches in the NFL and it could be worth tracking certain losing teams as they approach their bye week.
A prime candidate if this sacking of coaches is becoming a more common practice could well be Chuck Pagano of the Indianapolis Colts. They may well currently be the division leader, but they have a losing 3-4 record thanks to their defeat at the hands of the Saints at the weekend. More worryingly, they are visiting the Panthers this weekend and then hosting the Broncos before their week ten bye. There is already talk of discord between owner James Irsay, GM Ryan Grigson, and Pagano. This is perhaps not surprising given that Irsay is sure that he has a franchise quarterback and so must believe they have a championship window, but GM Grigson has not surrounded Andrew Luck with enough good players to win, and whilst this will be a source of some of the friction with Pagano, you only have to look to the fake punt coaching disaster of recent weeks to see that Pagano is hardly blameless either. We will know in a couple of weeks if there is going to be a change, but whilst they have three winnable divisional games left after the bye, time is running out for them to sort the problems in Indianapolis.
So whilst the Lions are firing coaches, and the Colts are at least the centre of a lot of disquiet, other teams are having problems with their talent. I am trying to not become boring on the subject, but I do not think it is a coincidence that apart from having top quality quarterbacks, one of the things that the consistently successful teams have in common is harmony between the front office staff and the coaches. You can’t build a team that wins without having talented players, but it takes more than physical ability to succeed in the NFL. When you are dealing with forty-six players active on game day, plus the rest of the roster and practice squad during the week, you have to have everybody pulling in the same direction. Not everybody on the roster has to be best friends, but there needs to be a mutual respect and a commitment to the work that is required in the NFL. Getting the right players, and keeping them motivated and invested is a vital part of creating a successful team and we have had two high profile incidents that highlight that this week.
I have written about what matters to the Cowboys is production on the field, and to be fair they will put in the extra resources to make this work, which has been successful with Dez Bryant. They even have taken to drafting sensibly in recent years, building themselves one of the top offensive lines in the league through the draft. However, they could not stop themselves from signing free agent Greg Hardy despite the moral argument against adding him to the team. I wrote in the preseason that I was glad that the Bengals showed no interest in Hardy, and this week’s antics demonstrate that even if you are prepared to swallow signing a player with no regard for women, and who is in fact a positive danger towards them, you are also signing up for a whole truck load of extra baggage that goes with his on field production. Apart from missing a practice last week, Hardy watched the Cowboys’ special teams give up a hundred yard kick off return. His reaction was not to offer to play special teams or give some positive encouragement; no he barged into the special teams huddle, slapped away the special teams coach’s clip board and got into a shoving match with him. He later got into a heated discussion with Dez Bryant, a man not unused to side line confrontation, but when Bryant is acting as the voice of reason then you know there is trouble. The only thing that makes this even more bizarre is that Jerry Jones went further than just protecting a team asset after the game when he called Hardy a leader. I don’t understand why you would want this man on your roster, yet alone talking about giving him a contract extension already. I would love to know what the other players actually think of him.
If things are dysfunctional in Dallas, at least they can point to the injuries sustained by their franchise quarterback and top receiver as the cause. The Texans have been woeful this season, and the ongoing quarterback saga took another twist this week. Having missed a practice through over sleeping during training camp, a training camp that was being televised no less. The much talked about Ryan Mallet missed the team’s chartered flight, and to buy his own ticket to get down to Miami. That the Texans released him is not a surprise, nor is it particularly surprising that Bill O’Brien wanted to cut him before the game and that he had to be talked round by Rick Smith into delaying. However, the fact that we know about this is surprising as that disagreement really should have stayed in house. Someone had to leak that, and you have to wonder what their agenda was. This may be it for Ryan Mallet in the league, but given how short of quarterbacks the league is, there may yet be a team out there that will give him a shot in training camp next season, but he would be on very think ice.
If you pay any attention to the scouting of college players, you will no doubt hearing a lot about physical tools, particularly for quarterbacks, but whilst the empirical testing of physical attributes is helpful, there is so much more to being a success in the NFL and it might help if teams paid a little more attention to this.
Moving towards picks, we were much more solid this week, and whilst I maintained my two game lead over Dan, the important thing is that I have a winning record once again. Now onto the week eight picks.
Gee: Week 7 9-5 Overall 54-51
Dan: Week 7 9-5 Overall 52-53
Dolphins @ Patriots (-7.5)
The Patriots are playing very well, but they are wearing down through injury and given how banged up they are on the offensive line, I wonder if they will be able to get to Tom Brady. I don’t think the Dolphins will necessarily win this game, and it will be fascinating to see how Dan Campbell’s team do against Bill Belichick’s game plan, but I’m not expecting a blow out so I’m joining Dan once again on Dolphins Island this week.
Gee’s Pick: Dolphins
Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
Lions @ Chiefs (-5.5)
The final London game of the season, but it is not quite the contest I thought I would be getting when I bought my ticket. The Lions have really struggled and the Chiefs put together some things last week, I don’t feel good about it, but the Chiefs have a number of players I like on defence so I’m backing them and hoping the points don’t bite me.
Gee’s Pick: Chiefs
Dan’s Pick: Lions
Buccaneers @ Falcons (-6.5)
The Falcons got back to winning ways last week even if it was ugly. This could be the game for them to get themselves going again against a Buccaneers team going through growing pains with their rookie quarterback, and a defence that has not looked convincing. I can see Gerald McCoy having a field day against the Falcons offensive line, but whilst the Falcons have their flaws, I think they have enough to win and I just hope they cover.
Gee’s Pick: Falcons
Dan’s Pick: Falcons
Vikings @ Bears (+1.5)
The Bears may be better than we first thought, but they are not a good football team and the Vikings are quietly going along nicely at 4-2 this season. I can’t look past them in this game.
Gee’s Pick: Vikings
Dan’s Pick: Vikings
Bengals @ Steelers (+0.5)
This game worries me, but then I always seem to say that about the Bengals. Coming off their bye to play the always awkward Steelers in Heinz Field, and I have this feeling that it’s going to be a close one field goal game like so many in the AFC North. The real problem is that Ben Roethlisberger could well be back for this game, the Steelers offence has terrifying weapons, and their defence has been keeping them in games despite the questions surrounding them. I think the Bengals will win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers win at home, but I’m taking a leaf out of Dan’s book for this one and trying to positive. Just don’t ask me about the game on Sunday!
Gee’s Pick: Bengals
Dan’s Pick: Bengals
Cardinals @ Browns (+5.5)
We don’t know who the Browns quarterback is going to be on Sunday, and Josh McCown’s success with the offence is the one thing this Browns team had going for them. I think they may well struggle on offence against the Cardinals opportunistic defence and I think the Cardinals should have enough to win this. I’m a little worried about the Cardinals on the road as I’ve already been bitten by them once already this season when they played the Steelers, but they could have won that game and I’m hoping the Cardinals cover the points in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Cardinals
Dan’s Pick: Cardinals
Titans @ Texans (-3.5)
This is a horrible pick to have to make as the Texans have been blown out twice this season whilst giving up over forty points. However, the Titans look likely to be without Marcus Mariota again this season and haven’t demonstrated much since their week one win against the Buccaneers, which was the template of their season last year. I’m reluctantly backing the Texans in this one as they are at home, but I don’t feel good about it.
Gee’s Pick: Texans
Dan’s Pick: Texans
49ers @ Rams (-8.5)
The 49ers were pretty solid on defence last week, but their offence was awful and visiting the Rams in St Louis is not likely to improve their performance on that side of the ball, particularly given their protection issues. The points give me a slight pause, and I expect the 49ers to have a reaction to their disappointing loss to the Seahawks, but I expect the Rams to win and I can’t bring myself to pick the 49ers to cover.
Gee’s Pick: Rams
Dan’s Pick: 49ers
Giants @ Saints (-3.5)
The Saints are coming off a second straight win as they welcome the Giants, but I’m really not sure how much I can trust their improvements. The offence is moving the ball better, there are signs that the defence is coming together, and Sean Payton also worked in a fake field goal last week. Meanwhile, the Giants were outgained last week but got touchdowns in all three phases of the game, although they had to get a one hundred yard kick off return touchdown to win the game. So whilst this is a game that might tell us things about both teams, it’s not one that I’m exactly keen to pick. That said, I’m going to rely on home advantage and stick with the Saints momentum. Worriedly…
Gee’s Pick: Saints
Dan’s Pick: Giants
Chargers @ Ravens (-3.5)
The Ravens season is mired in problems with the passing game on both sides of the ball, and having fallen to the Cardinals last week, welcome a Chargers team who if nothing else can move the ball through the air. However, their defence is not good and it is possible that Justin Forsett who has only flashed this season might be able to take advantage. The problem is that the Ravens have not demonstrated any consistency this season and whilst the Chargers just got beaten by the Raiders, I don’t think that Joe Flacco has the tools to keep up with Rivers and the Chargers offence.
Gee’s Pick: Chargers
Dan’s Pick: Chargers
Jets @ Raiders (+1.5)
The Raiders really have a candidate for offensive rookie of the year in Amari Cooper who has been so good for them, but the Jets are significantly better on defence than the Chargers, whilst the Jets offence is ranked a surprising sixth by DVOA! There is a significant jump to the Steelers ranked fifth, but apart from being able to run the ball, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been getting good production from both Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall at receiver. In a game that is near as damn it a flat pick the winner, I’m backing the better team even if they are on the road.
Gee’s Pick: Jets
Dan’s Pick: Jets
Seahawks @ Cowboys (+6.5)
The line worries me about this one, but whilst the Cowboys have the tight end in Jason Witten to test the Seahawks ongoing issues with tight ends, the Seahawks are beginning to play much better on defence as they settle in with their new defensive coordinator. I am worried that this is a pick based on my distaste and distrust of what is going in Dallas, but they are also ranked twenty-sixth in DVOA in rush defence and Marshawn Lynch was looking much more like himself last week.
Gee’s Pick: Seahawks
Dan’s Pick: Seahawks
Packers @ Broncos (+2.5)
The unbeaten record ends for one of these teams this week, and given the problems the Broncos are having on offence I think this is the game where their defence finally can’t do enough to win the game.
Gee’s Pick: Packers
Dan’s Pick: Packers
Colts @ Panthers (-6.5)
I’ve written extensively about the Colts earlier in this week’s column, so I’ll simply say that a really good defence and a strong running game is exactly what they don’t need to be facing, especially on the road. I don’t foresee any issues for the Panthers in covering this line, which is probably the kiss of death, so I’ll apologise in advance to the fans in Carolina but I’m backing them anyway in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Panthers
Dan’s Pick: Panthers