It has been quieter here than I intended the last few weeks thanks to various things at work, and a trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday to watch the Chelsea women beat Spurs, but games were still picked and I did get to see the Bengals beat the Steelers, which is always a good thing!
However, I do seem to have completely lost the knack of picking games, or at least I haven’t done better than Dan since week five and have sunk below .500. In that time, Dan has kept picking up a point or two and slowly whittled down my lead to two points. I need to turn things around fast, starting with the Thanksgiving games!
Week 11: 6 – 8
Overall: 81 – 83
Week 11: 7 – 7
Overall: 79 – 85
There are three interesting games on this week, with the lines seemingly bigger than expected. The Lions come into their traditional Thanksgiving game with a three game win streak and face a Bills team that have had enough injuries and problems that whilst I expect the Bills to win, this line is a bit rich for me. The Bills are not suddenly a bad team, but they do look a little fragile and that is a problem when your expectations are Super Bowls.
The Cowboys are coming of a complete domination of the Vikings last week and welcome a Giants team that even after a couple of losses are a lot more competitive than anyone was expecting going into the season. I understand why this line is so high, but it is tricky as the Cowboys are the right side of ten, but I just worry that the Giants are going to make this divisional game more competitive than that. I really don’t like this line but am nervously backing the Giants.
The final game sees the 8-2 Vikings looking to get right after their awful loss to the Cowboys last week. Part of that was the Cowboys ability to take advantage of the loss of left tackle Christian Darrisaw to concussion and whilst the Patriots don’t have a pass rusher like Micah Parsons, they are ranked first in defensive DVOA. The Pats are having an existential crisis at quarterback and so if the Vikings get going its hard to see the Pats keeping up. However, as much as Kirk Cousins seems to have been unlocked with a new head coach and offensive coordinator, this is still prime time against a defensive master and so whilst I’m not sure the Pats will win, this line is the wrong side of three for me to back Cousins in prime time against Bill Belichick.
Bills @ Lions (+9.5)
Gee’s Pick: Lions Dan’s Pick: Bills
Giants @ Cowboys (-9.5)
Gee’s Pick: Giants Dan’s Pick: Giants
Patriots @ Vikings (-3.5)
Gee’s Pick: Patriots Dan’s Pick: Vikings
After getting myself level in week eight, Dan and I have either both scored or both struck out, but going into week twelve we only have six points each so hardly a ringing endorsement of our picks.
This week we have both gone for home teams with Dan backing the Seahawks to beat the Raiders, whilst I’m hoping I’m not being a jinx as I back the Dolphins to beat the Texans.
Gee: 6 Dan: 6
Week 12 Selection:
Gee: Texans @ Dolphins Dan: Raiders @ Seahawks
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.
Welcome to part two of my rundown of the disappointed eighteen teams who did not make the 2020 NFL play-offs.
In this post I shall be looking at the NFC conference and I’ll work in ascending number of wins and descending draft order.
The cap numbers for next season still come from spotrac.com and the ranking/numbers were right at time of posting with an assumed team salary cap of $175 million.
Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
The Falcons never seem to have quite got over their loss in the Super Bowl back at the start of 2017 even though they got back to play-offs the following year, and after two losing season and an 0-5 start the Falcons let go both head coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff. The Falcons fortunes picked up initially under interim head coach Raheem Morris who went a very respectable 4-2 in his first six games in charge of the Falcons, but they then lost five straight to finish out the season. It was a strange year for Matt Ryan who threw for over four and a half thousand yards and twenty-six touchdowns to eleven interceptions, but the timing of those interception often seemed to be poor. An offensive ranking of twenty-first undermined and average defence but it is interesting to see the Falcons picking fourth by their record but were ranked seventeenth overall by DVOA. Rebuilding this team could a difficult task, Matt Ryan might have a few years left in him at 35, but this is a team who are $32 million over the 2021 cap, behind only the Eagles and the Saints in terms of being over the cap. There are some painful decisions to make and unsurprisingly for a team picking in the top five, a lot of work to be done but this is one of those situations where we shall have to see what vision their new GM sells to ownership and how well they can implement it. It’s not like there are no good players in Atlanta, but there are a lot of questions and I simply do not know how the Falcons will bounce back next season.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)
I can see why the three teams who are the most over the cap got there, the Saints are trying to maximise their chances of getting back to the Super Bowl at the end of their Hall of Fame quarterback’s last season, whilst both the Falcons and Eagles have been to the Super Bowl in the last five seasons. However, if the Falcons never managed to get over their loss, the Eagles might not have moved past their win. The Eagles roster has frequently been spoken of as one of the deepest in the league in the last few season seasons, including by myself, but familiar names have not saved them from injuries and the slow decay over seasons that finally tipped into losing this year. Worse still, their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz who had to watch their Super Bowl win from the side-lines in 2018 fell apart this season, which having signed a four-year $128 million extension in 2019 that kicks in this season causes all kind of problems this off-season. Carson Wentz was dropped for rookie Jalen Hurts towards the end of the season and it has been stated that Wentz’s relationship with head coach Doug Pederson has completely broken down, but Wentz simply cannot be cut. Wentz will count as $34.5 million on the cap next season and there would be a cap hit of $59 million if he was cut. I’m not sure what cap tricks can be pulled, but at $74 million over the cap, and the salary number is expected to down next season because of the lost game day revenue, there are huge questions about what can be done in the off-season. I am no capologist and I don’t cover the off-season in granular detail, but I will be watching with the situation in Philadelphia with interest. I certainly can’t predict a rapid turn around given this franchise doesn’t look to have functioned to the same level since a number coaches left Pederson’s staff after the Super Bowl win. I do wonder how long the owner’s patience will last if things don’t turn around quickly next season though.
Detroit Lions (5-11)
I left the possibility that Matt Patricia could surprise me before the season, but I did not foresee the Lions improving that much this season and that was very much the case. I questioned Patricia’s ability to create a good defence outside the environment of the Patriots where he made his name as a defensive coordinator, and sure enough they finished this season ranked thirty-second in the league by DVOA at the end of the season. Patricia was let go at the end of week twelve having fallen to 4-7 after a blow out loss to the Texans on Thanksgiving along with GM Bob Quinn. Since letting go of Jim Caldwell the Lions have had three seasons with double digit losses so they need to get the hiring decisions right this off-season. As discussed on the podcast this week, the Lions have the second longest play-off win drought in the NFL (second only to the Bengals) but twenty-nine years is a long time to wait for a play-off win! The Lions are not in desperate cap trouble, but $6 million under when you have the worst defence in the league does not give you a lot of options to work with so this is another team that needs the right GM to build a franchise up over a number of years. There is talk that perhaps they should trade quarterback Matthew Stafford and rebuild from the ground up, but at thirty-two he should have a few good years left though he may fancy a change of team if the right opportunity presents itself. There is too much uncertainty right now to predict how the Lions will fair, but I have a feeling that a multi-year rebuild is coming.
Carolina Panthers (5-11)
This was always going to be a tough season for the Panthers who were starting a major rebuild with first time NFL head coach Matt Rhule and a curtailed pre-season. They lost their first two games, but then won their next three despite Christian McCaffery being unavailable due to injury (a situatin that was the case more often that not in 2020) and having heard Rhule on the Peter King’s podcast I was really impressed with how things were shaping up for the Panthers under their new head coach. Unfortunately, what followed was five straight losses and the Panthers were only able to get two more wins over the rest of the season. The Panthers made the decision to move on from GM Marty Hurney who has an overall record of 106-32 with the Panthers but 16-30 since he re-joined in 2017. The Panthers only have marginally more cap space to play with than the Lions so this is yet another franchise who look like they are in for a patient rebuild, but we will have to see and certainly owner David Tepper is not shy of making changes now he has had the team for a while. I still have a good impression of Matt Rhule but it looks like there is a lot more work to do and at some point the question of a franchise quarterback is going needs to be dealt with.
Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
I am almost not sure where to start with the Cowboys who were much fancied going into the season under new head coach Mike McCarthy who started his time in Dallas going 1-4 despite Dak Prescott playing very impressively. Unfortunately, then things went from bad to worse in game five when Prescott went down to a horrible ankle injury that helped turned the sputtering 1-4 start into a 2-7 record before the bye. Things improved in the home run of the season with the Cowboys maintaining a winning record and went into week seventeen with a shot of winning the NFC East. However, a woeful performance from backup quarterback Andy Dalton saw them lose the game as Dalton slipped to a 4-5 record as the starter this season. The Cowboys will face more off-season turmoil about getting Prescott signed to a long term deal but at least he should be fit for the start of next season. The real concern though is the defence, which slipped from sixteenth in the league by DVOA in 2019 to twenty-fourth and the Cowboys go into 2021 with £10 million of space to sign a quarterback so the route to a defence surely lies through the draft and better coaching. It was an odd season for a new coaching staff to take control so you might feel that it is unfair to judge McCarthy too harshly, but it is worth pointing out that McCarthy went 11-16 in his last two seasons with the Packers and his successor Matt LaFleur has gone 26-6. I have concerns about how the Cowboys run by Jerry Jones and how good the coaching staff are so whilst I’m not saying the Cowboys can’t compete next year, they have not been able to compete consistently for a reason which makes it hard to expect good things next season.
New York Giants (6-10)
The New York Giants were understandably frustrated when the Eagles pulled Jalen Hurts at the end of a close game they eventually lost against the Washington Football Team, handing the NFC East to the capitol, but with only six wins the Giants really only have themselves to blame about not making the play-offs. Their season started badly with the Giants going 0-5 and losing Saquon Barkely for the season after only two games. The Giants got their first win for rookie head coach Joe Judge against Washington, but that was followed by two more losses until the Giants went to Washington and swept their divisional opponents. This was followed by two more wins against the Eagles and the Bengals before their marquee win of the season, a masterpiece of a defensive performance that saw the Giants hold Russel Wilson and the Seahawks to twelve points in Seattle and come away with the win. At this point in the season I was really becoming very impressed with the coaching job Judge was doing and fancied them to make a run at the division. To be fair, they were still in the race on the final day despite losing the next three games, but the Giants needed Washington to lose because the their twenty-sixth ranked offence couldn’t score enough points for them to maintain their challenge for the division. I am not convinced by Daniel Jones as a quarterback or for that matter, Jason Garrett as an offensive coordinator but I do feel like this season finally represents progress after three seasons of failing to make the play-offs, even if the Giants still recorded double digit losses. However, the slow progress will have to continue with the Giants over the cap by $9 million next season, and I do think they need another quarterback, but with the arrow finally pointing up and a talent like Barkley returning next year they could well be a surprise in the NFC East.
San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
The 49ers season seemed doomed from the start due to injuries, a problem that followed them all through the 2020 season. Once again Jimmy Garoppolo couldn’t make it through an entire season with the teasing quarterback only playing in six games this season and it would not exactly be a surprise to see the 49ers make a move at that position in the off-season. Still, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have created a great culture in San Francisco so this 6-10 feels a lot more positive than how a lot of teams might feel. Certainly defensive coordinator Robert Saleh did well to get his unit to a ranking of sixth in the league overall by DVOA and it would not be a surprise to seem him as a head coach next season. The 49ers have cap space next season but not necessarily enough to sign a big contract quarterback without some clever moves, but I do expect them to compete again next season. If they can finish the regular season ranked eleventh overall by DVOA despite their raft of injures then with a bit of luck they can sustain a challenge in the very competitive NFC West.
Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
It’s perhaps not a surprise that the Vikings struggled on defence this season given that they let 223 collective career games in their secondary walk out the locker room in the off-season. I should also mention that the Vikings were part of that rare thing, the NFL trade that benefited both participants. The Vikings sent disgruntled receiver Stefon Diggs to the Bills and he transformed the Bills’ offence alongside Josh Allen’s remarkable development, whilst the Vikings used the pick they acquired to draft Justin Jefferson who set a Vikings rookie receiving record which is no mean feat when the pervious record holder was Randy Moss. The Vikings actually made fifteen draft picks in a year with no proper off-season programme so they did pretty well to reach 7-9 with a defence that Mike Zimmer called the worst he ever coached. That said, the defence still ranked eighteenth by DVOA and if anything, it was the problems the Vikings had with winning when running back Dalvin Cook wasn’t available that stopped them from making the play-offs. Still, under Mike Zimmer the Vikings have been to the play-offs every other year and while this is only his second losing season since his first with the team in 2014, I don’t see any major reason why they can’t challenge again next season. Their path there still might not be that straight forward though as they are $17.5 over next year’s cap and so once again they will have to rely on draft picks and coaching. I wonder who else on the current roster might be let go. However, given the Vikings have been consistently able to be competitive I expect them to be so again next season.
Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
The Cardinals pulled off something of a coup in the off-season, acquiring receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a trade with the Houston Texans that most would say the Cardianls got the better of the deal. They also got off to a good start this season going 5-2 before their bye, but were unable to keep pace with the more experienced play-off contenders in the NFC West and just missed out on the play-offs. Though there were no announcements, it seemed like second year quarterback Kyler Murray was dealing with some kind of injury mid-season as there was a notable drop in his rushing production for a number of weeks and this seemed to hamper the offence. Still, they got back to winning ways towards the end of the season but losses to two divisional opponents in the final two weeks sees them on the outside of the play-offs looking in. A year of development is nothing to be sneezed at, but while the three more wins and ten place improvement in defensive ranking by DVOA from their 2019 record is good, as is the thirteenth ranking by overall DVOA, the slip in offensive ranking given the acquisition of Hopkins is a concern. This might all be down to the injury I suspect Murray was dealing with, but I have heard enough concern about head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s play calling and game management to be very curious to see if they can improve again next season or if they hit a plateau or get worse. The Cardinals don’t have a huge amount of cap space available to them next season, and we are once again wondering if this is the last season for veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but I wonder if the results of season rest on the lessons the coaching staff learnt this year and whether they can apply suitable changes to get them over the top next season. To me this is one of the more interesting situations in the league going into next season so I will be watching with interest.
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.
There are plenty of people ready to wave 2020 goodbye, but things are not going to be changing any time soon even as vaccines start to be distributed. We are already looking at the spread of a new more transferable variant of Covid-19 across the UK and we are essentially in another lockdown.
As for the NFL, I was not sure we were going to get here, but here we are – looking at a week seventeen schedule starting on time despite there being plenty of positive tests and several outbreaks across the season. With the expanded play-off format there will be eighteen teams finishing their season on Sunday, but there will still be only one winner come February. The disappointment will be delayed for at least a week for the two additional teams who benefit from the new format, but even then with five teams on ten wins in the AFC and only space for four of them in the play-offs there will be a very good team watching from outside who are desperately disappointed.
However, before we get there I ought to run through week sixteen as we pay full attention to the 2020 regular season before it is finished.
What I Saw
The first game of week sixteen was the Christmas Day showdown between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints that was a very one-sided affair that finished 52-33 thanks in large part to the Saints’ Alvin Kamara rushing for six touchdowns and one hundred and fifty-five yards. It was a performance that won a lot of fantasy leagues, but it was strange to see a Mike Zimmer team have a such a big problem on defence. Drew Brees threw for over three hundred yards but threw two interceptions and whilst the Saints are heading to the play-offs they will need Brees to get somewhere near his best for them to go deep. It would help if Michael Thomas can get off injured reserve but with the NFC path to the Super Bowl going through the frozen tundra of Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers you wonder if the Saints can get back to the big game. As for the Vikings, this is only the second losing season of Mike Zimmer’s seven years with the franchise and with a full off-season to develop their young defence they can improve next season, but they have to be disappointed at losing three games straight having worked their way back to 6-6 from the 1-5 start.
The next game I saw was the Boxing Day game between the Miami Dolphins and the Las Vegas Raiders. The lead story coming out of this game was the remarkable fourth quarter pass made by Ryan Fitzpatrick where he connected with Mack Hollins on a thirty-four-yard pass left whilst Arden Key had hold of Fitzpatrick’s facemask and was dragging him round by it as Fitz threw the pass. This pass when combined with the resulting fifteen-yard penalty was enough for the Dolphins to get a game winning field goal despite only have nineteen seconds left on the clock when Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins’ offence took the field. However, the concern would be that once again Tua Tagovailoa was pulled out of the game and whilst the rookie quarterback completed seventeen of his twenty-two passes, he is still is not stretching the field vertically with this offence. This blend of quarterbacks can only work in the short term and if I was Dan I would be happy with bringing back Fitzpatrick next season in a mentor/reliever role but there is not unreasonable conjecture that one of the reasons the Dolphins are playing Tagovailoa whilst chasing the play-offs is that they have what looks to be the third draft pick next year and perhaps they are evaluating their options. We shall have to see, but there is all to play for as they take on the Bills next week. Meanwhile, the Raiders continue to be let down by their defence and Jon Gruden’s ability to have long term success with the Raiders is going to rest on if he as head coach can make the right hire at defensive coordinator and enable that hire to have success on the other side of the ball. If he cannot master that responsibility, it doesn’t matter how good Gruden’s side of the ball is, if he does not serve the whole team then they can never take that next step and start competing for Super Bowls. To do that Gruden has to first get the Raiders into the play-offs, something he will have failed to do in his first three years with the franchise.
The next game was an unexpected win for the Cincinnati Bengals who followed up their Monday night win against the Steelers with their first road win for Zac Taylor as they beat the Houston Texans 37-31. I’m still not convinced by the direction the team are heading in, particularly when the opposition defence is ranked thirtieth by DVOA but Brandon Allen had a career day throwing for over three hundred and fifty yards with a long of forty-two and there were some nice longer throws to mix in with the numerous screen passes that seemed to be particularly effective. It’s a win that cheers Dan as the Dolphins have the Texans 2021 first round draft pick, but my concern is that this late rally won’t convert into big improvement next season and after five losing seasons and with a talented young quarterback I am running out of patience with the current regime, but that won’t affect Mike Brown’s decision so we shall see what happens. The Texans meanwhile have a franchise quarterback and a lot of questions to answer in the off-season so we can’t speculate too much until they have a new GM and head coach, but there is a lot of work to do with the roster and not a lot of draft picks so I wonder how quickly things can be turned around, but I have thought that before and been wrong.
The final game I watched in full was the Sunday night prime time game between the Tennessee Titans who started slowly in a snowy Lambeau field and lost heavily 14-40 against a now 12-3 Green Bay Packers team. I thought this could be a competitive game but I could also see paths for both teams to win big, but failed to take into account the weather and while the Titans were still finding their feet the Packers had built a nineteen point lead that they never looked like surrendering. The Titans are not a bad team, but the weaknesses in their defence exposes them to results like this, even before they start spotting teams points, and I do wonder should they make the play-offs if they can repeat their run from last year or if they will be found out fairly quickly. Meanwhile, the Packers defence held up in this game but I still don’t entirely trust them, but with the offence running as well as it is at the moment (and they are currently ranked first by DVOA over the Chiefs) and with home field advantage so the Packers are setup to make a deep run into the play-offs and perhaps even make the Super Bowl.
What I Heard
We are in that awkward period between Christmas and New Years where everything is out of synch and this is particularly the case for me in following the NFL so as I caught up with podcasts and reading, I have spent a lot of time kicking myself over missing the context of performances and other details during Tuesday night’s podcast recording. For instance, we somehow missed the Brown’s hot tub fiasco meaning that they could not play a lot of their receivers against the Jets on Sunday. If the Browns miss the play-offs with that as part of the equation then that is on them and not the league, but I feel for their fans as to get ten wins and not make the play-offs, even with an expanded format is going to be pretty hard to take. Particularly when the NFC are going to have a team with a losing record hosting a play-off game in the Wildcard round.
What I Think
In some ways you can take the fact that we are approaching the last week of the regular season as a success, but what we don’t know from the outside is the cost of getting there. I have heard plenty from coaches who feel like they have made a success of zoom meetings and avoiding close contacts. How they didn’t want the current Covid-19 situation being used as an excuse for a drop in quality of their team’s football.
However, this is a big ask not only for all who are involved directly with the franchises, but all those other families and support networks connected to them. I can’t help but read something like this on the NFL’s own site regarding the effects on players’ significant others and wonder what is going on for all the staff who may not have the same union support.
What I Know
As we head into tier 4 restrictions in Dan and mine’s patch of the UK (and for most of the rest of the country to be fair), I can’t but help wonder how this first quarter of 2021 is going to go as we are a long way from done with Covid-19 yet.
It has been a strange NFL season that has been both familiar and yet uncanny, and whilst I’ve been grateful for the distraction, I’m still not wholly sure it was a good idea to play through a pandemic. Of course, I’m hypocritical enough to be watching so I am not being too judgemental, but it has been a strange year nevertheless.
What I Hope
As the end of the year approaches I hope that this time next year things will be much different, that we will at least have things under control even if things never quite go back to the way they were.
In the meantime, I have one last Bengals game to watch and the play-offs to look forward to as the NFL doesn’t stop for anything, apparently not even Covid-19.
I’m not sure how read this post will be, and in fairness I finished work and hit something of a wall so let’s got through our four Christmas NFL games and I’ll regroup again on Sunday.
Week 15: 10 – 6
Overall: 109 – 116
Week 15: 6 – 10
Overall: 116 – 109
Vikings @ Saints (-6.5)
I think should be a really good contest between a New Orleans Saints team who will want to get their offence running more smoothly now quarterback Drew Brees has returned from injury and get back to winning ways to see if they can regain their number one seeding should the Packers slip up in the next two weeks. I can’t see the Vikings making the play-offs but they will not want to go quietly in these final two weeks and so I do seem them being competitive. However, as I’m getting an extra half point from the consensus, I’m seeing online I’m going to take the Saints.
Gee’s Pick: Saints Dan’s Pick: Saints
Buccaneers @ Lions (+8.5)
The first of the Boxing day games sees the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visiting the Detroit Lions in a game that the Bucs should win by a decent amount. I’m slightly hesitant that it will be by nine points, except this line is actually a whole point less than the consensus online and the Lions defence is not good and I don’t trust their offence to keep up with the Bucs either. I may regret this, but if the Bucs are going to make the play-offs and do more than be there then they need things to come together and with very little of the regular season left now seems as good a time as any for them to do so.
Gee’s Pick: Buccaneers Dan’s Pick: Lions
49ers @ Cardinals (-4.5)
I could be wrong about this, but the San Francisco 49ers are coming towards the end of a long season that has been plagued by injury and with them staying away in Arizona with their families but with nothing left to play for except pride they may struggle against a Cardinals team who are chasing the play-offs. The Cardinals have benefitted from Kyler Murray looking much more like himself in the last couple of weeks and so I’m going to back them to cover this line.
Gee’s Pick: Cardinals Dan’s Pick: Cardinals
Dolphins @ Raiders (+2.5)
A couple of weeks ago this would have been an important game for both teams’ play-off chances and it still is for the Dolphins, but I think the Raiders have lost too many games in recent weeks. I wonder how fit Derek Carr will be despite training in the week, but it is too late for there to be huge changes to the defence that has let the Raiders down all season so whilst I could be wrong, I like the Dolphins to win this game and setup a big finale against the Bills in week seventeen.
Gee’s Pick: Dolphins Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
The best I can do now is draw with Dan and he only has to score one more point to seal the season win. The Ravens saw him through against the Jaguars last week and did the Titans for me against the Lions. This week Dan has got the Saints going against the Vikings whilst I’m pumping for the Texans going against the Bengals.
After a pretty disastrous week ten for picks it is kind of appropriate that I got week eleven off to a losing start, but I suppose I had better start from the beginning.
The last week was pretty rubbish for me given that I was ill for a lot of it, but let’s hope that’s the last week of the season that my routine is affected by illness. I fell another four games back from Dan and so whilst I managed to keep his lead down to single digits, it really does feel like he is destined to take over from his dad as picks champion, which somehow feels appropriate. He has even scored more points than my value tracking numbers, although because there isn’t always a line advantage his winning percentage is over ten points lower, but I am no where near 50-50 this season so I am clearly going to have to re-work things in the off-season.
However, having watched the Seahawks stomp over the pair of us backing the Cardinals on Thursday night, it’s time to swing through the survivor competition and get into the rest of the week eleven slate of games.
Week 10: 4 – 10
Overall: 69 – 79
Week 10: 8 – 6
Overall: 78 – 70
Through ten weeks Dan and I are a pretty respectable eight and seven points respectively. Dan’s confidence paid off last week as he took the Vikings over the Bears whilst my play against the Texans with the Browns worked out for me. Although the Jets are back in play this week, neither Dan or I are trusting enough of the Chargers to risk them as our pick and so while Dan is demonstrating confidence in the Patriots recent run of wins by backing them over the Texans, I am working my way up the list of losing teams and settling on the Vikings going against the Cowboys. I am a little concerned that Jerry’s team are coming off a bye and are getting Andy Dalton back from his concussion/Covid-19 nightmare, but there are fifteen places between them in the overall DVOA rankings and I like how the Vikings have been playing in recent weeks.
Gee: 7 Dan: 8
Week 11 Selection:
Gee: Vikings Dan: Patriots
I can find reasons to pretty much watch any NFL game, but it does feel like this week the exciting contests are a little thinner on the ground and somewhat weighted to the later part of the slate and Monday.
The first of the early games to really catch the eye is the Tennessee Titans travelling to face the Baltimore Ravens, but that is as much because of what it will tell us about the teams than conviction in the inherent quality of the contest. The Titans are a perfectly respectable 6-3, but the concern will be that they have slipped to that record after a 5-0 start and have lost three of their last four games. The defence is not good and the kicking game has been a real Achilles’ heel and whilst the big names have been performing on offence, losses to the Colts and the Steelers will be concerning as they came at home whilst having already lost to the Bengals on the road, the Ravens will prove a stern test. The Ravens are a matching 6-3, but whilst they have another top ten defense and are second in the league in special teams by DVOA, the offence is ranked in the twenties and is definitely struggling after they set the league alight last season. The interesting commentary I have heard over this is that for all the questions about Lamar Jackson throwing the ball this season, he is near the top of the league when throwing on first down, the problem with their run heavy attack is that the Ravens just don’t do this a lot. If the Ravens can figure out their pass-run balance on first down, and they are known as one of the more analytically minded teams, then they could truly terrify, but as I have said all season, they won’t really scare opponents until they can demonstrate the ability to come back from a big deficit. I think they are unlikely to face that problem in this game though, and think they are likely to win a physical game although that line does look generous to me.
The other game I am interested in is the New Orleans Saints hosting the resurgent Atlanta Falcons. The Saints have looked a lot better in the last couple of weeks, but they are obviously going to be a different team whilst Drew Brees recovers from his collapsed lung and broken ribs. The Saints demonstrated they could win consistently without Brees for multiple weeks last year, but Teddy Bridgewater is now starting for the Panthers and it is interesting that at the time of writing the starter is rumoured to by Taysom Hill and not Jameis Winston. Regardless the Saints will be without Brees for at least three weeks as he’s been placed on IR and they start this run against a rested Falcons team who have won three of their last four games. If the Falcons continue to win at this rate it could make how to proceed in the off-season a tricky question, but this is their first real test since their mini turnaround given that it consisted of beating a Vikings team without Dalvin Cook, then facing the Lions, Panthers and Broncos. I think I like the Saints to win out given their experience and defense, but I am not exactly sure about it and the line seems high to me.
From the rest:
The Bengals are a two-win football team for a reason, and after a really great win against the Titans they were battered by the Steelers last week. This is a very winnable game, but the experience of Alex Smith worries me, even if it is amazing to see him come back from the injuries he had to start in the league once more. If the Bengals don’t win this one though, you will likely find my querying the directions of the franchise under Zac Taylor in next week’s podcast.
The Eagles still stand atop the NFC East despite their loss against the Giants last week, but they were meant to come back stronger from the bye not lose another game and this is a tough match up as they travel to Cleveland to face a Browns team with twice as many wins. The Eagles are going to have to really improve to compete in this one and if they don’t soon then a very winnable division is going to slip through their fingers. It is a sign of how far the Browns have progressed this season that there’s not a lot to say this week and we are not focused on Odell Beckham’s injury.
The story breaking about last season’s Lions having a party at the end of the season because they would be free of Matt Patricia is not a ringing endorsement of him as a head coach, and having just finished a biography about Bill Belichick for all his testy relationship with the media, his players like and respect him and he wins, something Patricia with a 13-27 record has failed to consistently do. Having beat Washington by three points last week the struggling Panthers provide another opportunity to pad the win column, but it still feels like the Lions are a franchise marking time until off-season changes.
With two consecutive wins the Patriots have dragged themselves back into contention and are only a win away from get back to even wins and losses, which they really should get this week against a Texans team who can’t really compete now that Deshaun Watson no longer has DeAndre Hopkins to throw to. The slow rebuild the Texans are going to need over the coming seasons will stand testament to how GM Bill O’Brien let down head coach Bill O’Brien.
The Pittsburgh Steelers unbeaten streak was never in doubt against the Bengals last week, and I doubt they will struggle to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville, but it will be worth keeping an eye on this game just in case the Steelers have one eye on their week twelve Thanksgiving meeting with the Ravens.
Falcons @ Saints (-4.5)
Gee’s Pick: Falcons Dan’s Pick: Saints
Bengals @ Washington (-1.5)
Gee’s Pick: Bengals Dan’s Pick: Bengals
Eagles @ Browns (-3.5)
Gee’s Pick: Browns Dan’s Pick: Browns
Lions @ Panthers (-1.5)
Gee’s Pick: Panthers Dan’s Pick: Panthers
Titans @ Ravens (-6.5)
Gee’s Pick: Titans Dan’s Pick: Titans
Patriots @ Texans (+2.5)
Gee’s Pick: Patriots Dan’s Pick: Patriots
Steelers @ Jaguars (+9.5)
Gee’s Pick: Steelers Dan’s Pick: Steelers
I think there is a singular stand out game in the late slot, which is the Green Bay Packers taking their 7-2 record to Indianapolis and a Colts team who have won consistently but haven’t quite convinced yet. This should be a really interesting contest when the Packers have the ball as it will see Aaron Rodgers running Matt LaFleur’s offence against a Colts defense who are currently ranked top five by DVOA, but it will likely be determined by how well a fading Philip Rivers can operate a Colts offence that hasn’t quite found its feet this season against a Packers defense that has so far done enough to win games thanks to their offence being second only to the Chiefs by DVOA. I am really looking forward to this one.
From the rest:
It is a testament of how things are coming together for the Dolphins that this looks like a straightforward game for them given that the Broncos are struggling to do anything consistently and Drew Lock has failed to prove himself the answer at quarterback despite the promise he had shown coming into the season.
The team without a win meets the team who seem to specialise in close losses, and something has to give. It is not exactly a surprise that the LA Chargers are favourites, but the Jets could be more competitive than this line suggests coming off a bye
The Cowboys will be hoping that the return of Andy Dalton gives them a boost as they also come off the bye, but the Vikings have looked a different team since getting Dalvin Cook back and will have an eye on a run to the play-offs in the final seven games of the season. However, with games on the road against the Buccaneers and Saints to come, they can’t afford any slip ups, including dropping a game against the struggling Cowboys.
Dolphins @ Broncos (+3.5)
Gee’s Pick: Dolphins Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
Jets @ Chargers (-8.5)
Gee’s Pick: Jets Dan’s Pick: Chargers
Cowboys @ Vikings (-7.5)
Gee’s Pick: Vikings Dan’s Pick: Vikings
Packers @ Colts (-2.5)
Gee’s Pick: Packers Dan’s Pick: Packers
Sunday Night Football:
Chiefs @ Raiders (+6.5)
This tasty looking Sunday night game feature a divisional matchup where the Chiefs will be looking to revenge their single loss of the season to the Las Vegas Raiders, which is the only game where Patrick Mahomes has thrown an interception. The Raiders continue to struggle with Covid-19 protocols as one of the most heavily fined teams in the league had over half of their defensive starters put on the Covid-19 list this week due to close contact to a person with a positive test. As of Saturday there had been no further positive tests so if that holds they should get them all back for this game, but they have not been in the facility whilst the Chiefs are coming off a bye and Andy Reid has an 18-3 record after the bye so I have a feeling I know which way this contest will go. The Raiders will be hoping to confound this record but have not exactly had the ideal preparation to do so.
Gee’s Pick: Chiefs Dan’s Pick: Chiefs
Monday Night Football
Rams @ Buccaneers (-3.5)
This should be a really good game as the LA Rams have been compeititve in pretty much every game this season and have a top ten offence and defence. The issue could be that Jared Goff is a quarterback who tends to either look really good or confused, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with their best defence by DVOA absolutely have the capacity to take Goff out of his game. The additional problem for the Rams is losing Andrew Whitworth at left tackle to a knee injury against the Seahawks last wee as even at 39 Whitworth was playing great football and he will be a big miss. The Bucs have only three losses this season, two against a Saints team that seem to have their number and to a Bears team that the Bucs should have beaten on a Thursday night if it was not for the number of penalties they gave away. The unsurprising bad news stories that follow the unstable Antonio Brown hit this week, demonstrating the dangers of signing him but for now the Bucs are coming off a big win against the Panthers and will be looking to prove their status against the Rams and Chiefs ahead of their week thirteen bye. I would not like to bet against the Bucs winning this week, but the line did give me pause picking the game, but as much as I rate Sean McVay as an offensive mind, the known issues with Goff against good defences would already worry me before he lost his left tackle.
Gee’s Pick: Buccaneers Dan’s Pick: Buccaneers
DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measure a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.
The split of this Sunday’s games is a little more even this week because of the Masters golf tournament so we actually have more late games than early ones. I felt happy with my Thursday night pick up until half time, but the Titans demonstrated why all three phases of the game are important and I should remember that lines which cross key numbers or in that game’s case, go from giving to getting points mean it is a bad plan to stick with the giving number. Luckily Dan thought as I did so I only dropped a game back from being evens, but it is another thing to remember as we run through the week ten games.
I think there are two games that stand out in the early slate, and Dan has already commented on the podcast about my interest in one of these games so if you can’t hear his disappointment from reading my words, have have a listen here.
I think the obvious big game is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who will be desperate to get right after their horrible loss to the Saints last week. The Bucs travel to Carolina to take on their second divisional opponent in a row and a Panthers team who may only have a 3-6 record but are not an easy team to face even if they have lost their last four games. The Panthers pushed the Chiefs hard last week and only lost by a field goal to the Saints in week seven so I can see them putting up a credible effort against the Buccaneers. However, two of the Bucs’ three losses this season are against the Saints whose coaching staff seem to have the number of both the Bucs offence and defense so whilst I like what Matt Rhule and his staff are building in Carolina, the Bucs are still ranked second overall by DVOA so I like them to win this game, but I’m not so sure about them covering a five and half point line.
The other game of interest to me is the Philadelphia Eagles travelling to face the New York Giants, that is a divisional matchup from the NFC East – the division so bad that all four teams have losing records. I actually like some of what Joe Judge has been building with the Giants and picked them to beat the Washington Football Team last week, but the Eagles are coming off a bye and will be hoping that some rest and returning players enables them to push on in the second half of the season and win the division. I think the Eagles are still the team to beat, but they have to persuade Carson Wentz that throwing away the ball if the pass is not there is an okay thing to do, and get some kind of consistency from the offences. The Eagles still have a good pass rush, but they have not been a good football team this season, which makes the divisional matchups even more important. The Giants own defensive line has been doing some interesting things, but I think they are likely to fall short in this game, If the Giants could get the win they would suddenly be in a wide open race for the division, but I really don’t know what we should expect. It might not be the prettiest game to watch, but I think there is a certain fascination in this one and it might well make it on my watch list for week ten.
Points from the rest:
If the Browns are to continue their push for the play-offs then they need to beat a 2-6 Houston Texans team who interestingly are ranked eighteenth by DVOA. With Baker Mayfield back from the Covid-19 list as the Browns come back from the bye they should do so and with the Browns looking like a competently ran franchise I like them to do just that, even if the line does make me nervous.
The Washington Football Team visiting the Detroit Lions feels like a game for the die hards only. It was always going to be a big job to turn the Football Team round, whilst the Lions look like a team who are going to fire their head coach after three years.
The Green Bay Packers are laying a huge number of points in this game because the Jaguars are bad. That said, rookie quarterback Jake Luton did a couple of nice things in his debut last week so the line might be in danger but I very much doubt the result is.
Texans @ Browns (-3.5)
Gee’s Pick: Browns Dan’s Pick: Browns
Washington @ Lions (-4.5)
Gee’s Pick: Washington Dan’s Pick: Lions
Jaguars @ Packers (-13.5)
Gee’s Pick: Jaguars Dan’s Pick: Jaguars
Eagles @ Giants (+3.5)
Gee’s Pick: Giants Dan’s Pick: Eagles
Buccaneers @ Panthers (+5.5)
Gee’s Pick: Panthers Dan’s Pick: Buccaneers
I can make an argument for watching all six of the late game but I’ll stick to writing up a couple of them so this post doesn’t get out of hand.
The Buffalo Bills beat the Seahawks last week and take their 7-2 record on the road to face another NFC West team in the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are a very respectable 5-3 but if you look at their wins, the only win against a team with a current winning record was against the Seahawks. The Cardinals are actually ranked two places better overall than the Bills and are in a tougher division, but with the Cardinals having feasted against NFC East teams and the Jets I think the Bills are a more battle tested group and I like the Bills getting points.
One of the matchups of the week is the NFC West divisional game between the LA Rams and the visiting Seattle Seahawks. I have a feeling this will be an entertaining game as the Seahawks pass defense is struggling and with a sluggish pass-rush you would think that Jared Goff will be able to make the Rams’ offence look like its best self. That might not be enough to get a win against the Seahawks, but I think it should be a highly entertaining game and certainly not one to be missed.
Points from the rest:
The Las Vegas Raiders host a Denver Broncos team who seem to be kings of the comeback but can’t put a complete game together and so I fancy the Raiders to get the win, although I’m really not sure about covering the line.
The Miami Dolphins host the LA Chargers in a showcase of two rookie quarterbacks exciting their fan bases. The Dolphins’ players who were put on the Covid-19 list is a concern for this game, but at this point I will believe the Chargers will win consistently only when they prove it, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a third win this week.
I don’t know if the Cincinnati Bengals visit to Pittsburgh will live up to it’s hard hitting reputation, but I would like Joe Burrow to at least look good against the Steelers, a team that has beaten the Bengal in eleven of their last twelve contests
The 49ers visit to the New Orleans Saints should be a marquee matchup, and it’s possible that head coach Kyle Shanahan will muster some tricks from somewhere against the Saints’ defence, but with the 49ers enormous injury list and the Saints looking ominously good last week I wouldn’t like to predict it.
Bills @ Cardinals (-1.5)
Gee’s Pick: Bills Dan’s Pick: Bills
Broncos @ Raiders (-4.5)
Gee’s Pick: Broncos Dan’s Pick: Raiders
Chargers @ Dolphins (-2.5)
Gee’s Pick: Chargers Dan’s Pick: Chargers
Bengals @ Steelers (-7.5)
Gee’s Pick: Bengals Dan’s Pick: Steelers
Seahawks @ Rams (-1.5)
Gee’s Pick: Seahawks Dan’s Pick: Seahawks
49ers @ Saints (-9.5)
Gee’s Pick: 49ers Dan’s Pick: Saints
Sunday Night Football:
Ravens @ Patriots (+6.5)
In recent years this would be a great Sunday night game, and it still might spring something of a surprise, but between the players who opted out of the season or just aged out the Patriots are not a good team this year. The Ravens’ offence may not be firing on all cylinders and you would expect Bill Belichick and his staff to have some wrinkles for that offence, but with twenty-one places between their overall ranking by DVOA and this line dropping below the key number I am seeing online I’m going to pick the Ravens. I am nervous about this pick, but lets not forget that the Pats did nearly lose to the Jets last week.
Gee’s Pick: Ravens Dan’s Pick: Ravens
Monday Night Football
Vikings @ Bears (+2.5)
The Minnesota Vikings won their second game in a row last week when they soundly beat the Lions, and they have a couple of winnable games coming up so if they can beat the Chicago Bears there is an outside chance of them dragging themselves back into the play-off hunt after a poor 1-5 start. It is a long shot, but the return of Dalvin Cook has given the Vikings’ offence balance and enabled Kirk Cousins to succeed in play-action while the defense is now ranked fifteenth in the league by DVOA despite the overhaul of the secondary. The Bears defense is of course the strength of the team once again, but even though it is ranked in the top five, the Bears offence is ranked twenty-eighth and their special teams are only a little better. Things have got desperate enough in Chicage that Mat Nagy has handed over play calling duties to Bill Lazor, which is a move I do like as it means Nagy can concentrate on managing the game. However, the Bears’ quarterback situation does not cover up the problems they are having on the offensive line and I kind of fancy the Vikings to win this one so with this liner once again dropping off a key number I am seeing online, that is the way I am going to pick.
Gee’s Pick: Vikings Dan’s Pick: Vikings
DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measure a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.
Well, it’s not exactly a milestone on the way to overhauling the lead Dan extended by a point in week nine, but I am slowly approaching fifty percent in my picks, which feels like I might get back to some kind of respectability by season’s end even if I don’t pull off the comeback, but I’m not ruling that out either so let’s get to Competition Thursday for week ten.
Week 9: 8 – 6
Overall: 65 – 69
Week 9: 9 – 5
Overall: 72 – 62
Colts @ Titans (-2.5)
I’m really looking forward to this game as it is a big divisional encounter between two winning teams so there are big repercussions on the result. It is also an interesting line as my first instinct is to pick the Titans at home on a short week, but looking at the consensus number online it would seem like this is actually good value line for the Colts. However, whilst the Colts have a really good defence, I don’t entirely trust their offence with a thirty-nine year old Philip Rivers at quarterback, plus the Titans are back to winning ways so whilst I could very well still be wrong, I am going to back my first thought as that is often as good a way to pick as any.
Gee’s Pick: Titans Dan’s Pick: Titans
So, by adopting Dan’s strategy of picking against the Jets I kept pace with him in week nine as he correctly picked the Packers to beat the 49ers. The Jets strategy is unavailable to both of us this week as they are on a bye, as are the Cowboys so looking at the matchups featuring teams with losing records in week ten I can’t go for the Packers against the one win Jaguars as I’ve already used them, so I’m going to go for the Browns hosting the two win Texans. Dan is clearly feeling brave as he is going with the Vikings on the road in Chicago against the Bears but he was clearly feeling good about it when I queried it so we shall have to see how that works out.
Gee: 6 Dan: 7
Week 10 Selection:
Gee: Browns Dan: Vikings
Bold Prediction of the Week
With us recording the podcase early this week, I only have the one bold prediction, which is that the 3-5 Minnesota Vikings will beat the 5-4 Chicago Bears, which was bold enough for Dan to allow and that’s all that really matters to me. I wonder if my prediction had an effect on his survivor pick.
It’s been a weird couple of days, and throw in the first site visit for work in months and my writing time has simply disappeared. The major news appears to still be Covid-19 with the 49ers having to close their facilities and the Packers missing multiple running backs through injury/Covid-19, but tonight’s game is still going ahead. So, as the NFL is waiting for no-one this season I guess I had better get on with Competition Thursday for week nine!
Week 8: 8 –6
Overall: 57 – 63
Week 8: 7 – 7
Overall: 63 – 57
Packers @ 49ers (+2.5)
This is a bit of a cheat line for us, as with the injuries and disruption to the 49ers preparation with their facility closed due to positive Covud tests the consensus line I am seeing is already up to +7 so whilst it’s always possible that the 49ers could spring a surprise, when you add both one of the best tight ends in the game in George Kittle and starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the already extensive 49ers’ injury list it seems unlikely. I’m a little nervous about the Packers run defence going against a Kyle Shanahan co-ordinated offence but the Packers, whilst having their own injury/Covid-19 cluster at running back, have Aaron Rodgers and only need to win by a field goal to cover this line and I like that option.
Gee’s Pick: Packers Dan’s Pick: Packers
Well, Dan changed his plan last week and took the Buccaneers against the Giants and won, whilst I had my third eliminating pick when the Packers had a dud against the Vikings and mainly Dalvin Cook (which in turn makes me marginally more worried about my pick above). This gives Dan a point lead as we go into week nine and Dan has gone for the Packers tonight as he doubles up on tonight’s game. I’m taking a leaf out of his book and I’m going for the Patriots at the Jets, which might be a slightly risky pick but hopefully will pay off in the long run.
Gee: 5 Dan: 6
Week 9 Selection:
Gee: Patriots Dan: Packers
Bold Prediction of the Week
I once again made two bold predictions this week, which as much anything is because I’m struggling to find them and am never sure that Dan will allow them but for week nine they are:
The New York Giants will beat the Washington Football Team.
The Jets will score more points against the Patriots than the Cowboys will against the Steelers.
If I manage another 50/50 week I will be very happy.
Well, week seven was pretty good to me as I picked up three points on Dan so I achieve my next target of getting his lead down to single digits so now I need to get within a couple of points and we’ll have a proper competition. There’s plenty of time left so let’s get to work on week eight’s competition Thursday.
Week 7: 7 – 7
Overall: 49 – 57
Week 7: 4 –10
Overall: 56 – 50
Falcons @ Panthers (-2.5)
This is an odd game to pick as both teams are coming off a loss, but the Atlanta Falcons only have one win this season and the Panthers have now established themselves as a competitive franchise despite the rebuild on defence and the number of veterans who left or retired in the off-season. The consensus lines and numbers are suggesting I take the Falcons and they did run the Lions close in week seven, but right now I have a lot more faith in the Panthers and as they are ranked eight places better than the Falcons by DVOA and are at home on a Thursday night I am going to go for the Panthers as they only have to win by a field goal to cover this line. I am aware that my old maxim of always back the home team on a Thursday night unless there was a really good reason to didn’t hold up, but I have a lot more faith in the coaching of the Panthers so that is where I am putting my faith.
Gee’s Pick: Panthers Dan’s Pick: Panthers
We held serve last week with the strategy of picking against the Jets maintaining a 100% record, and there is little to suggest that will change this week with them taking on the Chiefs, but having lost with the Chiefs against the Raiders earlier this season I have to look. somewhere else in week eight. Looking at the matchups and the teams I have left I think my best option is to select the Packers hosting the Vikings and just hope I don’t’ get any divisional weirdness. Dan has gone in a different direction grabbing the Buccaneers visiting the Giants, which certainly makes sense as a pick.
Gee: 5 Dan: 5
Week 8 Selection:
Gee: Packers Dan: Buccaneers
Bold Prediction of the Week
So Dan allowed both of my bold predictions on the podcast this week in a triumph of doing some preparation ahead of recording, but also ensuring I have to keep doing something I fundamentally disagree with.
My first prediction was the Tua Tagovailoa will have more passing yards against the Rams than fellow rookie quarterback Justin Herbert will against the Broncos.
Secondly, the Bills will score more points this week against the Patriots than they did against the Jets in week seven.
Well ,week five finished with an unexpected result that I called wrong in the picks competition, which is becoming a worrying trend, but at least the Titans are back playing games and the NFL looks like it can keep to its scheduling plan for now. Meanwhile, the Bills after facing two scenarios about who they were playing have to move on quickly as they face the Chiefs on Monday night.
That said, I feel all over the place with the site at the moment, and having spent a chunk of time yesterday dealing with how our dynasty league would managed the waiver wire this week given that we were still locked in week five, I delayed this post by a day as there is no competition Thursday this week as we have no Thursday night game.
So let’s take a look at what happened in week five.
What I Saw
The week five Thursday night game was a ragged affair that I still found entertaining thanks to the two good defences on display, but it was frustrating to get my pick wrong as my assessment of the Buccaneers ability was fairly spot on but it was their indiscipline on offence that cost the Bucs this game. The Bucs actually went up by ten points in the first quarter of the game as the Bears struggled to move the ball consistently but kept themselves in touch thanks to their defence. The Bucs finished this game with three-hundred and thirty-nine yards of offence, ninety-six yards more than the Bears were able to generate but the Bucs also were flagged eleven times for a loss of one hundred and nine yards. This was forty-three more yards in penalties than the Bears and the combination of penalties and the Bears defence meant that after the first quarter the Bucs were only able to kick field goals for the rest of the game. That said, despite being streaky, Nick Foles managed to complete more passes that Tom Brady, even with Bucs corner Jamel Dean seeming to wage a one-person battle on the Bears’ passing attack at the end of the game. The Bears were able to do enough on offence against a Bucs defence that was regularly getting pressure to eek out a one point lead at the end of the game, but with how tight the game was the key play might have been when Bucs’ running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn caught a short pass and fumbled the ball setting up the Bears offence with a short field and that led to their second and last touchdown of the game in a crucial burst of point scoring in the second quarter. This is a game that I feel the Bucs really could have and probably should have won, but they need to clean up the penalties if they are to reach their potential. Meanwhile, if the Bears can keep getting enough production from Nick Foles on offence then their defence is good enough that they will keep winning games even if they likely won’t maintain their current twelve win pace or compete with the best teams in the NFL.
I don’t want to spend too much time on the Bengals this week as they were very poor, but the problem remains the offensive line and I’m now getting really worried about Joe Burrow operating behind it. In fact, I have a wider concern, Zac Taylor is a young head coach, hired due to his relationship with Sean McVay and the Bengals stressed how much they committed to his plan with rearrangements of both the practice facilities and offices, as well as hiring Taylor the largest staff they have ever had, but the offensive line is a good representation of my wider worry. Taylor’s choice of Jim Turner as o-line coach didn’t sit well with me from the start. Turner not only tolerated the bullying in his position group whilst at the Dolphins, but the investigation into the resulting scandal implicated him in taking part. Not content with this, when he returned to Texas A&M he was involved in another scandal involving inappropriate jokes at a football clinic for women. It’s one thing for a person to make a mistake and learn from it, but I have no patience for bullies or people who clearly have no interest in reforming their ways. The o-line has been a problem since Andrew Whitworth was let go, and the lead in to last season was undeniably tough with injuries and retirements, but it doesn’t feel like anything is changing or that players are developing and if the head coach can’t see this then I have to wonder about their judgement. It is appears I lied about spending too much time on the Bengals, but moving on to the Ravens – the blip against the Chiefs aside the Ravens are clearly a very good football team who will meet far stiffer challenges over the rest of the season and likely emerge victorious from most of them.
The other early game Sunday game I watched this week was the Carolina Panthers winning their third straight game, beating the still winless Atlanta Falcons. It was not a spectacle of a game, but the seventeen points the Panthers scored in the second quarter was enough for them to comfortably beat a Falcons team who have continued to struggle and that ultimately led to both GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn being fired. The Falcons have been trending this way for a while, but it had to be a difficult decision as a lot of the basis for the team that went to the Super Bowl is still there, but they have just not been able to recapture that form. Meanwhile, the Panthers have quietly got themselves to 3-2 despite losing Christian McCaffery to injury in week two, but could very well still be in contention by the time he returns from IR and that is a lot more than I was expecting of them coming into the season. The rest of this year will be strange for the Falcons as both players and coaches will be trying to prove they belong in the league, but it is going to be a long time before the Falcons as an organisation can do anything directly in terms of replacing their GM and head coach. That said, if the head start in the background checks the Falcons get by making the decision now leads to a similar result as what the Panthers have got so far with their new head coach having made an early change themselves last season then they will be very happy.
The final game I got to watch in week five was the closely fought contest that the Minnesota Vikings narrowly lost 27-26 to the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings scored thirteen unanswered points to build a halftime lead, but came roaring back in the third quarter with three touchdowns and were taken to the wire by the Vikings. The big talking point coming out of this game was the Vikings decision to go for it on fourth down on the Seahawks’ six yard line with two minutes on the clock rather than kick a field goal. There may well be a statistical argument for doing what they did, both in terms of if they made the first down and in turning the ball over with under two minutes left on the clock on the opponents six yard line, and I would usually totally support the decision if that was the case. However, there are a handful of quarterbacks that you feel could execute a ninety-four yard drive in that time and Russell Wilson would be very much near the top of that list, particularly with the form he is in this season. The Seahawks did precisely that, scored the winning touchdown but failed on the following two-point conversion. The same conversion they would have needed to take the game to overtime if the Vikings had just kicked the field goal and taken an eight point lead. It is easy to be wise in hindsight, and I would normally support the maths, but this is one of the few times where I would countenance taking the safe option.
What I Heard
I am going to have to start taking better notes as I have heard lots of interesting things and couldn’t immediately bring a lot of it to mind. However, one thing that did stick is that whilst looking for what coaching tape to watch, I decided to look at the Football Outsiders DVOA stats for offensive line and have a look at the best team. Well, according to the site the team with the best adjusted line yards were the Cleveland Browns (closely followed by Dan’s Dolphins [the real NFL franchise, not his dynasty team]) and this was not wholly a surprise. Unlike the Bengals, who many people have commented on as being poor (although not in adjusted line yards where they rank a lofty twenty-six despite conceding the most sacks in the season so far), I have heard several people talking about how good the Browns’ offensive line is, and how impressive this was given they had a new coaching staff that had to install their offence during a Covid- shortened pre-season. A lot of credit has brrn given to their o-line coach Bill Callahan, and whilst I don’t know enough to evaluate him or the praise, it does make sense and I am looking forward to getting a head start on the coaching film this week with no Thursday night game.
What I Think
Despite the situation with the Titans, the NFL has as yet not lost a game from their schedule and they will be hoping the problems in Tennessee were an outlier and not a foreshadowing of what is to come. The NFL are continuing to adjust their protocols and re-enforce existing ones with talk of restricting the roles of those who are found to have been close contacts of players who have tested positive. I am still pretty impressed that the season has run as well as it has so far, but we are now heading into autumn with the weather becoming more favourable for the virus so soon we shall know if this start was the positive beginning of getting the season finished, or the warning signs that things are about to get a lot tougher.
What I Know
I know the Bengals o-line is bad, that the Panthers are better than I thought they were and that I am looking forward to seeing what Andy Dalton can do with the Dallas offence this week. It may not seem like much, but with everything going on at the moment I’m clinging to the small things and hoping the rest falls into place. I just hope the NFL have planned more carefully than that!
What I Hope
There is only one possible thin I can hope after the week five games, and that is both that Dak Prescott make a full and speedy recovery from his horrible injury sustained on Sunday and that it is a long time until we see anything similar.