If the season in the NFL has been characterised by a few teams with good records and some with very bad records who are already turning their eyes to next season, then my season covering it has been one of scrambling to get posts out, and occasionally getting coaching tape watched. This week I find myself further behind in my process than I would like to be so let’s see what I can get out this evening.
What I Saw
The first game of week ten saw the Oakland Raiders host the LA Chargers and run out narrow 26-24 winners to get themselves into the playoff hunt despite a five week streak of road games that including them hosting the Bears in London. It was not a spectacular team performance, but Josh Jacobs gained one hundred combined rushing and receiving yards as the rookie running back continues to impress as the centre of Jon Gruden’s offence. I also through that Derek Carr looked sharp and in control of the offence, but with a total of only two-hundred and seventy-eight yards it was the team performance that got the win. The LA Chargers actually out gained the Raiders in total offence and rushed for one hundred and forty-six yards but the Raiders were able to get five sacks as they got pressure all game and picked off Philip Rivers three times with another voided by a holding penalty. That voided interception would have been Eric Harris’s third, but he still got over one hundred return yards and a touchdown from his two picks that counted. The Chargers have been competitive for a lot of their games despite their injuries but at 4-6 they would need a spectacular closing run to make the playoffs and I struggle to see them winning five or six of their remaining games to get to the nine or ten wins they’ll likely need to get to the post season.
On to the Sunday games and I’ll start with the Cincinnati Bengals hosting the Baltimore Ravens, which was no contest and there’s really not a lot I can say further about the Bengals. There wasn’t much difference in result for the Bengals, although Joe Mixon got a hundred yards off the back of thirty carries as the offensive game plan was rejigged for rookie quarterback Ryan Finley’s first regular season start, who was not great and threw a couple of interceptions but wasn’t awful. The defence is awful though, but the worst part is that I love the Ravens setup at the moment, Lamar Jackson is a special player to watch and the spin move he pulled off in this game is going to be on many a highlight reel. In fact Jackson has the eleventh most rushing yards in the league as well as being top ten in passer rating so it’s no surprise that he is in the discussion for league MVP. I also want to mention Patrick Ricard who is playing both ways for the Ravens, lining up as a three hundred pound full-back and playing on the defensive line, picking up a couple of solo tackles and a sack in this game. There really a lot about the Ravens that the TWF team are enthused by, I just with they weren’t in the same division as the Bengals!
Speaking of the TWF team, the other Sunday game I watched was Dan’s Miami Dolphins taking on the Indianapolis Colts and recording their second win of the year. It wasn’t a pretty game, and the defences did most of the work, but despite all the roster turnover and being bottom of the DVOA rankings, Brian Flores has made the Dolphins competitive for several weeks and now has two wins. It may not be what they wanted in terms of draft position next year, but I think they have a coach that is going to maximise the influx of talent is coming. As for the Colts, they were also competitive and the roster is still playing well, but the injury to Jacoby Brissett was a quarterback injury too far and they will be hoping that Brissett will be there for the run of three division games that are coming up. They are not out of the playoff hunt, but as the situation muddies in the AFC this is a loss they could come to regret.
Finally, the Monday night game lived up to its top billing as the Seattle Seahawks won in the last seconds of overtime with a field goal separating them for the now beaten San Francisco 49errs. It was a topsy-turvy game where the 49ers looked the better team at the start with their defence halting the Seahawks and the 49ers taking a ten point lead that held up until half-time. However, the Seahawks took a lead in the third quarter that despite getting level multiple times, the 49ers were not able to regain and the worry for the 49ers is that when it really mattered, it was Russell Wilson who got his team into a position to win and got them over the line. It could well be different the next time these teams play, but Jimmy Garoppolo could have thrown a couple more interceptions in the second half if Seahawks defenders were able to hold onto the ball and that is a worry for the 49ers. We get a rematch in week seventeen and I am already looking forward to it!
What I Heard
I don’t have big central point to expand on here, but there’s several snippets that spring to mine. One is that the volatility of the league was on full display, and that’s not an excuse for another poor week picking.
The Atlanta Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints, which I’m not sure anyone saw coming, although the points should have been tempting in this divisional game where both teams were coming off a bye. The interesting thing from my point of view was the talk of the Falcons pass rush chasing Drew Brees around, which is surprising as the Falcons pass rush has been struggling this season and the Saints offensive line is one of the better units in the league, so I’ll be taking a look at that on coaching tape if the opportunity arises.
What I Think
I am not ruling any team with five wins out of the playoff hunt, but there are a couple of those five win teams who have really pulled themselves back into contention rather than are still hanging on. The Raiders have won two weeks in a row to take second place in the AFC South, but the team who have caught my eye are another AFC North team, and not the Cleveland Browns. The Pittsburgh Steelers started the season 1-4, lost their franchise quarterback, and I was as surprised as anyone when their response was to trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick and not stock up picks and prepare for a high draft pick next year. In stead Fitazpatrick has helped the Steelers defence turn into the third best unit in the league by DVOA, and it is this defence and not asking backup quarterback Mason Rudolph to do too much that has enabled the Steelers to win four straight games and drag themselves back into the playoff hunt. I’m not saying they’ll get there, but the Steelers stand more chance than the Browns and that is thanks to some really impressive coaching by Mike Tomlin and his staff, plus the work done by the Steelers’ front office.
What I Know
I am still enjoying the NFL season despite the woeful performance of the Bengals, and I’m not feeling the grind as Dan and I have in the past back when we were podcasting, but it would be nice if work calmed down a little bit so I could dig in more. Sadly, I suspect that is unlikely and this is going to be the shape of the 2019 season. I shall make the best of it as I can, we are now past the halfway point of the regular season and before we know it the Thanksgiving games will be here and we’ll be staring at the playoff schedule.
What I Hope
I’ve not been able to settle on a singe NFC team to embrace to counteract the Bengals losing, but thanks to covering the league there’s plenty of intrigue and things to watch – but I hope the Bengals get a win at some point. It’s one thing for a season to go wrong and to get the first pick in the draft, controlling the whole might be exciting when we get there, but I wouldn’t wish a winless season on any player yet alone those playing for the team I support.