I was sat on my couch at home, agonising over the closing of the game and driving my partner, who doesn’t like the NFL at the best of times, round the bend with my nervous energy and occasional outbursts at the telly.
And finally, in the last minute of the fourth quarter with the Raiders on the Bengals’ nine-yard line and looking for all the world like they could take the game into overtime when linebacker Germaine Pratt got in front of the Raiders’ receiver to grab the ball and make the interception so the Bengals could kneel out the game.
What I felt was relief.
I was so happy. I didn’t see the last Bengals playoff win in 1991. I’m pretty certain there was no way for me to see that game in the UK except for the highlights, but what I did see was the sequence of losses that plagued the Marvin Lewis era. A period where despite multiple seasons with strong rosters and the turn around of the Bengals from league laughing stock to genuine competitor, the Bengals just could not get over the hump.
The 2015 team is the season that still haunts me with how good the offence was and Andy Dalton’s thumb injury that did for us in the post season.
These are not those Bengals though. They had to work hard to beat a team who had played a full over-time period the week before, but they held together and in Joe Burrow’s own words, set the standard.
I don’t know if they will win tonight against the Tennessee Titans, a team I have a huge amount of respect for, particular with what head coach Mike Vrabel has done in his time in charge.
However, what I do know is that for the first time, and I mean the first time given I remember the loss to the 49ers in the second of the Bengals Super Bowl losses but I was nine and knew nothing of what was to come, I am excited about tonight’s playoff game. The thirty year wait is over and while a new one begins and could very well extend into next season, I don’t expect anything like what has just ended.
I was only looking for some genuine progress this year and I got so much more so it is time to sit back and see if Joe Burrow with one of the most exciting collection of skill players in the league can pull of another win, without the weight of the history of the last thirty years hanging around them.
And whilst those players will have had a very different experience to that history, they have changed the relationship of the fans to the team.
It has been a mixed week for the TWF team with the Bengals getting a statement win on the road against the Ravens to get people talking about them, whilst the Dolphins managed a déjà vu field goal loss against the Falcons against a back drop of trade rumours that I think will worry Dan until we are past the trade deadline next week.
What I Saw
For me there’s only one place to start with the Sunday games that I watched this week and that is in Baltimore. The game started as a tight contest that the Bengals edged out 13-10 at half time, but the Bengals’ offence broke out in the second half as the defence clamped down after an early third quarter touchdown for the Ravens to turn a 17-13 deficit into a 41-17 statement win. Ja’Mar Chase had a two-hundred yard receiving day and the rookie receiver now has the most receiving yards through seven career games of any player in NFL history. The defence is what was winning game initially, but now it feels like both sides of the ball are coming together. The Ravens have no need to panic at 5-2 as there is plenty of season left to go and they have too much experience to fall apart after a bad game, but for now the Bengals deserve to be taken seriously, although that also involves dealing with expectations so let’s see what happens next week at the Jets.
The other of the early games I watched was the Kansas City Chiefs getting beaten soundly 27-3 by the Tennessee Titans. The thing I didn’t mention on the podcast this week is that it is really hard to get to four Super Bowls in a row, which is what the Chiefs are trying to do this season. It is even harder if you have not nailed your draft picks or all-in moves in free agency. The key players are there, but right now Patrick Mahomes is pushing and turning over the ball in a way he never used to. They need to find some way to exploit more space underneath or to challenge the two high safety looks that they are now seeing regularly as now the offensive production is slipping and the defence shows no sign of improvement. The Titans don’t exactly have a fearsome defence but had more than enough in this one and it was Ryan Tannehill throwing the ball that was as effective as anything on offence for the Titans, although seeing Derick Henry throw a touchdown pass was undeniably fun.
Finally, on Sunday night the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers took on each other and a bomb cyclone in a contest that was understandably heavy on the run game, particularly as at some poins throwing the ball looked like a quarterback’s nightmare brought to life. It’s not that often that you see two running backs from opposing teams run for matching one-hundred and seven yards and a touchdown from eighteen carries, but that’s what the 49ers Elijah Mitchell and Jonathan Taylor managed. The up and down nature of Jimmy Garoppolo season continued as he returned from injury but still hasn’t exactly convinced, while Carson Wentz still tries to do too much and has a nasty habit of in trying to make an impossible play simply giving the ball back to the opposition. The Colts have won three of their last four games after an 0-3 start so their matchup with the 5-2 Titans next week is a pretty huge contest but at least they seem to be finding themselves. As for the 49ers, you are beginning to hear enough questions about the job Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are doing in building this team that there could be questions to face if things don’t start to improve. As good as a play caller as Shanahan is, his career record is 31-39 with only one winning season, though he did take his team to a Super Bow, but if anything it is play of both Garoppolo and Trey Lance that could be seen as the biggest questions for this franchise.
What I Heard
I exist in a state of quantum flux when it comes to discussion of the Deshaun Watson trade rumours, both amazed that any team would consider trading for a player with that litany of complaints and police charges against them and yet simultaneously not at all surprised because patriarchy and football.
One of the teams I didn’t mention on the podcast that has also been floated as a Watson desitination was the Washington Football Team, which I have to think Ron Rivera would oppose given the recent investigations into the Football Team for their toxic work environment, particularly for women. That said, while the NFL through Roger Goodell are stating that they have handled the situation well (there is no report to publish, although they are apparently cooperating with a request from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform for all documents and communications about the investigation into the workplace culture in Washington) you wonder whether Dan Snyder might make the trade, even if he is not running things at the moment..
What I Think
The Detroit Lions may be 0-7, but there are five teams below them in the DVOA rankings and frankly they threw the kitchen sink at the LA Rams on Sunday, made them work and so far this season have only been beaten badly by one team. I don’t think this looks like a winless team, they are still fighting for their coach, and they can perhaps look at the first year of Brian Flores in Miami where the Dolphins also lost their first seven games but closed out the season 5-4. The unfortunate thing for the Dolphins is that after going 10-6 last season, they have not kicked on this season, but to me that hints at how fragile a thing success can be in the NFL.
As a Bengals fan I was hoping for progress coming into the season and prepared for disappointment. I certainly was not expecting a 5-2 start that includes win in Pittsburgh and Baltimore and whilst I’m certainly not expecting the end to one of our two playoff droughts, I can at least dream of it. The Dolphins were unlucky not to get into the playoffs last season with ten wins, but while there are several teams with as bad or longer droughts for appearances, the Bengals, Lions and Dolphins make up the top three longest playoff win drought. The injury to Andy Dalton in 2015 still haunts me as the team who could have been something, particularly as the Bengals haven’t had a winning season since and are without a playoff win in thirty seasons despite Dalton leading the Bengals to the playoffs for five straight seasons from 2011-2015. The Lions’ last winning season was in 2017 and after the spectacular failure of the Matt Patricia tenure the reboot is going to take time and with their one playoff win back in 1991 (a whole season more recent than the Bengals) their drought looks set to continue for a while. Going into the season the Dolphins would have looked best out of these three teams to end their own playoff win drought, and at twenty seasons they have some time before they catch the Lions and Bengals but this year does not seem destined for them to get that win.
The season is more random for teams than many like to admit, but these long streaks demonstrate that for some teams there are definite patterns, even if they felt more competitive to you as a fan at the time. The Marvin Lewis period transformed the Bengals from and national laughing stock to a credible franchise that included several incredibly talented teams threatening to break the playoff drought but they never quite could. There’s no guarantee that Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase can do better than Andy Dalton and AJ Green, or for that matter Carson Palmer and his talented offence so yes I’m cautious, but I am definitely enjoying the game right now.
What I Hope
I have two hopes this week. I really hope that the Bengals are focussed and beat the Jets to maintain their run as there is a lot of season left and they really can’t afford to drop winnable games. I also hope that the Dolphins give Dan something to be happy about come Monday.
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.
After last week’s hubris I won’t be making any claims about schedules so let’s get looking at week two, which had losses for both TWF teams but some cracking contests so let’s see how things are shaping up in the early season.
What I Saw
I’ll start with the Bengals loss against the Bears that finished 20-17 despite a fourth quarter comeback from the Bengals, which had to contend with a hat trick of interceptions for Joe Burrow including a pick-six and another INT that setup one of the Bears’ two fourth quarter field goals. The really frustrating thing is that the Bengals defence looked pretty solid, despite giving up a touchdown to Andy Dalton in the first quarter they held the Bears to field goals the rest of the way. If the Bengals’ defence might be taking some kind of shape (and it really should given the dollars they have invested in it), the familiar story of offensive line problems seems to still be there, as well as a lot of empty formations that doesn’t exactly do a lot to stop Burrow taking hits, although the running game didn’t help give them much balance either.
As for the Bears, you can certainly see the potential of rookie quarterback Justin Fields and at this point you wonder whether Dalton will get the starting job back once he’s recovered from the bone bruise in his knee. The Bears’ defence sneaks into the top ten by DVOA and looked solid against the Bengals, even if the o-line troubles probably helped but I think we’re going to need a couple more weeks to truly get a feel for where the Bears are and there narrative is going to be about the quaterbacks for a while yet.
The other of the early Sunday games I watched was the 49ers taking on the Eagles in Philadelphia. The 49ers stayed out east having visited the Lions in week one and ran out 17-11 winners, but it was an odd contest for them. On defence they mostly controlled the Eagles offence, given up a lot of running yardage but not a lot passing (the Eagles did in fact out gain the 49ers in yards) and only conceded the one touchdown late in the game. However, it was more the 49ers offence that was really puzzling as their commitment to the run was there as always but was not efficient although they did eventually get one hundred yards. However, the passing game struggled early, with Jimmy Garoppolo missing throws early although he settled down over the course of the game, but whilst his completion percentage was good by the end of the game, his twenty-two completions only yielded one hundred and eighty-nine yards. It’s early in a long season and the 49ers are once again dealing with some injuries but whilst I expect them to be competitive, I’m just not sure how good they can be even if they are unbeaten so far.
The Eagles looked to be what I thought they were coming into the game, strong line play on both sides of the ball will keep them in games and I’m looking forward to seeing how they do in prime time against the Cowboys this coming Monday. The questions are again around the offence and like so many teams the Eagles are trying to work out what they have a quarterback. Certainly, second year quarterback Jalen Hurts is a threat on the ground, and all the usual run options plays were present, but he managed the odd combination of a completion percentage in the low fifties, but his twelve competitions yielded one more yards than the Garoppolo’s and the Eagles were a couple of near misses from having some very big plays. The Eagles have plenty of room to develop, and a 1-1 start is a solid beginning, but we’ll know a little bit more about them after week three.
The final game I saw was the Sunday night game that I’m sure enthralled many as the Baltimore Ravens hosted the Kansas City Chiefs and the home fans saw Lamar Jackson convert a fourth down to seal his first win against the Chiefs 36-35. It was a great game to watch as it features two quarterbacks capable of making you question how they did what you just saw, even if it is in different ways. Jackson is not a top level passer, but makes up for it with his legs, racking up another hundred yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns to make up for the two interceptions he threw. The Ravens defence were focussed on Tyreek Hill, limiting the Chief’s number one receiver to three receptions for fourteen yards, but Patrick Mahomes was more than happy to distribute the ball to his other receivers with eight different players catching passes and Travis Kelce finishing the game with one hundred yards and a touchdown. To be fair, the Ravens had their own one-hundred-yard receiver in Marquise Brown but their shortfall in passing yardage was more than made up by the two hundred and fifty-one total rushing yards. There are still concerns about the Raven’s offence on obvious passing downs, but their offence is built differently and did enough to beat the Chiefs.
There might in fact be cracks showing in this iteration of the Chiefs, they are still terrifying on offence, but the defence is currently ranked thirty-first by DVOA and as good as their offence is, they need to get some stops or turnovers to make them less reliant on Mahomes and the offence. It’s still early in the season so I’m not pushing the panic button yet, but it’s definitely something worth keeping an eye on because to sustainably win, and challenge for the Super Bowl you need a defence that is good enough and through two games that hasn’t looked to be the case for the Chiefs.
For the Raven this win is particularly impressive given the injuries that they are already dealing with, but they are another team where it might be worth keeping an eye on their defensive ranking, but at least they have the history of competence on that side of the ball. The big question is whether they can be good enough on offence in high leverage moments as the days where you could win with stellar defence and competent offence have been replaced by the inverse, but it would be great to see a team win big with a different formula.
What I Heard
It’s been an interesting week for NFL media, a lot of the early coverage is either hot takes, or knowing over-reaction, which makes sense as it generates content whilst we work out how good the various teams are. The NFL is such a fluid league that even with a relatively sure quantity like the Chiefs, there are questions about them and already we have one or two teams slated to be bad play better than expected, even if actual wins are as low as expected. It’s such a short season with so much variance that we should be very careful to read too much into two games.
What I Think
I mentioned this whilst recording the podcast last night, but both West Divisions are looking impressive this year.
In the AFC the Raiders and Broncos are unbeaten, and the Chargers and Chiefs are lurking below them at 1-1 and whilst I’m sure this picture will become clearer in the coming weeks, it’s certainly somewhere between a good to promising start for all four teams and I’m intrigued at how the Broncos and Raiders build on their early success.
Meanwhile, in the NFC West there are three unbeaten teams in the Rams, 49ers, Cardinals with the Seahawks sitting right behind them on 1-1. This has been a tough division for several years, and while I have my concerns about the 49ers right now, the early returns on the addition of Matthew Stafford to the Rams has been impressive, whilst Kyler Murray looks more like himself with the Cardinals this season and their defence is currently ranked sixth by DVOA and I am looking forward to seeing Chandler Jones who had five sacks in the Cardinals’ opening game. When you talk about the Seahawks, you’re expecting tough defence and an offence focussed on running the ball, which was the formula that they tried to revert to during the second half of last season. However, once again their offence ranks higher by DVOA than their defence and whilst I expect them to compete for the playoffs as they always do, I am intrigued to see the new offence and how it evolves over the season.
What I Know
The Bengals have an interesting game coming up against the Steelers, which as much as fans of the Bengals sports-hate the Steelers, it can’t be a true rivalry until the Bengals win a lot more games. There are enough injuries floating round the Steelers for there to be flutters of hope in my fan heart, but I know that it’s unlikely the Bengals will win. Still, strange things can happen so we shall just have to see.
What I Hope
Right now, my hope is that one of the Dolphins or the Bengals will put an offensive line together that enable their young quarterbacks to maximise their potential but I’m not sure we’ll see that any time soon.
I’m not sure when I’m going to feel like I have a proper routine back in my life, yet alone the blog, but after life events overtook writing at the end of last season we have been right through pre-season and whilst podcasting started, writing hasn’t. Until now, so whilst I’m sorting spreadsheets out and trying to get organised suddenly there’s picks to be made and a game tonight.
I mentioned it on the pod, and it is sort of my plan this season to take a leaf out of the Patriots/Rams’ approach and ramp up in September as we prepare for the long haul to the Super Bowl, which now includes an extra week in the regular season. There are other commitments kicking in next month too so I will have to sort out once again where I can find watching and writing time, but I want to keep this fun for me to write and hopefully for you to read. It’s also been far too long since I won a picks competition, so let’s see if I can get the year off to a good start, knowing that as ever, we are in for a marathon and not a sprint.
Cowboys @ Buccaneers (-6.5)
The first game of the season is a humdinger of a contest that as usual sees the Super Bowl champions opening up at home, and once more Tom Brady gets to open the season, this time welcoming the Cowboys to Tampa as Dak Prescott sees his first action since last season’s horrific ankle injury. I’m looking forward to the game, but it’s a strange one to pick because the Cowboys did not sparkle last season after Dak went down and the defence never looked right. All the skill position players are there on offence but will the offensive line be good enough for them to hum and can an awful defence be good enough for the team to be truly competitive. It’s not an easy task to go against a stacked Bucs team that brought all of its starters back and now have Brady well established in the offence after a slow start when he joined the Bucs last season. Interestingly, this is a good number looking at what is available online, but I’m feeling conservative, particularly given how little we’ve seen in the pre-season and I’m not ready to be handing out a touchdown’s worth of points given hope good a quartrback Dak is. The numbers are saying I’m wrong, but I was bitten too often last season and so I’m backing the Cowboys to at least keep it competitive. I just hope this isn’t Hard Knocks having too much of an influence on me.
Gee’s Pick: Cowboys Dan’s Pick: Cowboys
Dan beat me in both competitions last season, and with his pick of the Jaguars I can see the starts of a similar tactic to what he had going last season in going against the Texans. I can see his logic, but there’s too many new parts in Jacksonville for my liking and so I’m looking at the 49ers and their experience against a Lions team who are starting a big rebuilding project as what I’m hoping is a solid survivor pick to start the season.
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.
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.
I had a good week thirteen and so closed the gap to seven in the picks competition, but I need to somehow keep the pressure up on Dan as right now he is in primed to sweep both the Survivor and the Picks competitions, as well as having the best record in the dynasty league. Given how well the Dolphins are doing it seems everything in the NFL world is going well for Dan.
Week 14: 10 – 5
Overall: 93 – 100
Week 14: 7 – 8
Overall: 100 – 93
Patriots @ Rams (-5.5)
This is a tricky game for me as this line is right between two of my numbers so one system suggests picking the Patriots, and the other suggests the Rams should just cover. I’m also trying not to second guess myself as Dan sent me his pick at lunchtime before I had a chance to go through my process. Frustratingly, the only time Sean McVay has faced the Patriots and Bill Belichick is in the Super Bowl, where a really good Pats defence very much got the better of Jared Goff. We have already seen the 49ers best Goff this year so there is a chance that the Pats can do this again, except this is a different defence and it’s hard to trust the Pats this season even if they have won four out of their last five games. In the end, I am going to trust the numbers that are 97-63 over the course of the season and ignore any secondary thoughts so I am going to go for the Pats. I am really looking forward to watching this game tomorrow, but the pick is going to bug me all the way through.
Gee’s Pick: Patriots Dan’s Pick: Rams
Another week of consistent scoring saw Dan maintain his one-point lead over me in the survivor competition as his pick of the Chiefs over the Broncos held up as did mine of picking against the Jets with the Raiders, although only just thanks to Gregg Williams calling a cover-zero-blitz with seconds left protecting a lead. This week Dan is going against the Jaguars by selecting the Titans. That is the most promising selection when I look at the schedule, but I’m trying not to follow Dan so there are two options I’m considering, I can’t think that the Bengals will beat the Cowboys but that’s a bit of risky one so I’m going to settle for Saints visiting the Philadelphia Eagles.
Gee: 10 Dan: 9
Week 14 Selection:
Gee: Saints Dan: Titans
Bold Prediction of the Week
So I wasn’t sure what Dan would allow as bold this week so I went into the bod recording with three options and finished the segment with two left standing, which are:
The New York Giants will beat the Arizona Cardinals
The Miami Dolphins will cover getting seven and a half points against the Kansas City Chiefs
So after the longest NFL week in history, we start week thirteen on Sunday with the games planned to roll to Tuesday night. I had a winning record in week twelve but Dan extended his lead to a whopping double digits so it would seems hard to predict that I will make a comeback at this point.
Still, I will run through our usual Competition Thursday bits as we prepare for the final week with teams on a bye, and eye up the run-in over the final quarter of the season.
Week 12: 9 – 7
Overall: 83 – 95
Week 12: 10 – 6
Overall: 93 – 85
Both Dan and I got back to scoring ways last week, with the Browns having to work a little harder than the Seahawks to get their win, but win both teams did. This leaves Dan a single point ahead of me going into week thirteen. It is getting harder to find teams now, but Dan has found a matchup he likes with the Broncos visiting the Chiefs, whilst I am nervously going to the well of picking against the Jets one more time to take the Raiders, but I don’t exactly feel great about it.
Gee: 8 Dan: 9
Week 13 Selection:
Gee: Raiders Dan: Chiefs
Bold Prediction of the Week
My bold prediction on the podcast this week is that the Detroit Lions will bounce back from the Matt Patricia firing and beat a struggling Chicago Bears team. Dan could not see it happening so allowed it, and I’m not exactly totally convinced but it certainly qualifies so let’s see how it goes.
When discussing the slate of games on the podcast Dan was not that excited about it but I found several contests that catch my eye.
I’ll start with the New Orleans Saints taking on the Atlanta Falcons, which I think could be interesting for several reasons. After an 0-5 start that saw head coach Dan Quinn fired, the Falcons have gone 4-2 under Raheem Morris and are coming off the demolition of the Raiders last week. I am particularly intrigued to see what the Falcons defense can do against Sean Payton working with Taysom Hill at quarterback. The Saints stuck to a simplified game plan last week with the Broncos not having a starting quarterback so this week’s divisional game will prove a sterner test. I can’t guarantee it will be competitive, but I have a feeling it will be.
The other game that catches my eye in the early slate is the Cleveland Browns’ visit to the Tennessee Titans. This is a meeting of two 8-3 teams who both like to run the ball a lot. I would give the advantage to the Titans given how they have played recently, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is playing better than the Browns’ Baker Mayfield. It should be a really physical and competitive game so whilst they are not the biggest names in the NFL these days, they have been having very solid seasons and should put on a good game.
Points from the rest:
The Lions will be looking to bounce back from their last two poor performances after the firing of both their head coach and GM, whilst the Bears’ offence continues to struggle and though the defense maintained it’s top five ranking by DVOA, did not look that good last week. I’ve picked the Lions to win as my bold prediction of the week, but to be honest this is a hard game to read.
We don’t have word on whether Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagovailoa is going to start for the Dolphins but it also doesn’t feel to me like it matters that much. The line was too rich for me to back the Dolphins, but I fully expect them to win this one at home against the Bengals
The Texans lost receiver Will Fuller and corner Bradley Roby to PED suspensions and cut Kenny Still this week, whilst the Colts have activated Deforest Bucker from the Covid-19 list so whilst I’m curious about how competitive the Texans will be, I think the Colts should win this one
This week’s game has suddenly got a lot more important for the Las Vegas Raiders having lost two games in a row. That does make me nervous, but they should beat the Jets because at this point it feels like pretty much everyone should beat the Jets. That’s not to say that everyone will and after their demolition by the Falcons last week I’m not as trusting as the Raiders as I was two weeks ago.
The numbers suggest I should pick the Vikings, and I do expect them to win but there was more of a balance to the Jaguars offence last week with journeyman quarterback Mike Glennon starting and I think this could be a closer game than the number suggests.
Saints @ Falcons (+2.5)
Gee’s Pick: Saints Dan’s Pick: Saints
Lions @ Bears (-3.5)
Gee’s Pick: Lions Dan’s Pick: Bears
Bengals @ Dolphins (-11.5)
Gee’s Pick: Bengals Dan’s Pick: Bengals
Browns @ Titans (-5.5)
Gee’s Pick: Browns Dan’s Pick: Titans
Colts @ Texans (+3.5)
Gee’s Pick: Colts Dan’s Pick: Colts
Raiders @ Jets (+8.5)
Gee’s Pick: Jets Dan’s Pick: Raiders
Jaguars @ Vikings (-9.5)
Gee’s Pick: Jaguars Dan’s Pick: Vikings
The game that leaps out of the late games is the LA Rams coming off a tough loss taking on an Arizona Cardinals team with struggles of their own. The concern for the Rams is the play of Jared Goff, who did not look at all good against the 49ers last week and the usually ultra-positive Sean McVay criticized Goff publicly, although McVay did say he did it because he though Goff could take the challenge. The Cardinals meanwhile come into this game having lost three of their last four games with Kyler Murray nursing an injury and not running the ball as well as he was earlier in the season. This is the first time these two division rivals face off and so I expect a good contest, but I think the Rams are the most likely to win out.
Points on the Rest:
The New York Giants need every win they can get with them in the race for the NFC East lead, but with quarterback Daniel Jones injured it will be tough for them to win on the road. The numbers are very clear about the Seahawks being the right pick against the spread, but there’s something about the Giants where I wouldn’t be surprised if they did do something in this game, even if they are starting Colt McCoy at quarterback.
The Philadelphia Eagles continue to struggle and so I don’t see anything other than another difficult game for them against the Packers in Green Bay. I would love to be proved wrong but I’m not sure where you can find hope as an Eagles fan this season and much like I was saying about the Lions earlier in the season, it is beginning to feel like there will inevitably be changes in the off-season in Philadelphia.
The LA Chargers have struck gold with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and with the talent on their roster they should be doing better, but this is genuinely a tough spot for them. Bill Belichick has an excellent record against rookie quarterbacks and the Chargers run defense ranks thirty-first in the league by DVOA, and the Pats are not going to miss the chance to exploit that.
Rams @ Cardinals (+2.5)
Gee’s Pick: Rams Dan’s Pick: Cardinals
Giants @ Seahawks (-9.5)
Gee’s Pick: Seahawks Dan’s Pick: Giants
Eagles @ Packers (-8.5)
Gee’s Pick: Packers Dan’s Pick: Packers
Patriots @ Chargers (-1.5)
Gee’s Pick: Patriots Dan’s Pick: Patriots
Sunday Night Football:
Broncos @ Chiefs (-13.5)
It has been a touch couple of weeks for the Broncos as having had to play without a recognised quarterback last week thanks to their quarterbacks breaking Covid-19 protocols, they travel to Kansas City to play the Chiefs. The reverse matchup finished 43-16 in week seven and so whilst the Chiefs have won their last three games by close margins, they are still 10-1 and I expect the Chiefs to do well again in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Chiefs Dan’s Pick: Chiefs
Monday Night Football
Washington @ Steelers (-8.5)
We get two Monday night games this week and the first sees the Washington Football Team take on the Pittsburgh Steelers who are coming off a short week having played Wednesday. The Steelers are a good team, but having had an awkward week of preparation and game moves in week twelve, they have a short week to face Washington and whilst I think the Steelers should win, it would not be surprising to see the Football Team make this game more competitive than this line suggests given how they have been playing recently.
Gee’s Pick: Washington Dan’s Pick: Steelers
Bills @ 49ers (+2.5)
The San Francisco 49ers are hosting the Buffalo Bills in Arizona thanks to not being able to train or play at their own facilities. The 49ers beat the Rams last week and starting to get some players back from injury and might have a chance to drag themselves into playoff contention. The Bills beat the Chargers solidly last week having been unlucky to lose to the Cardinals in week ten, but I think this will be a tough game for them and I would not like to predict a winner, but I do like the 49ers getting the points even if home is not actually home this week or for the rest of the season.
Gee’s Pick: Bills Dan’s Pick: 49ers
Tuesday Night Football
Cowboys @ Ravens (-9.5)
The Baltimore Ravens host the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday night, somehow getting the better end of the schedule this week than the Steelers despite being the cause of their game being postponed until Wednesday. Dan has picked the Ravens depending on the status of Lamar Jackson, but the problems the Ravens are having this season are more than just those caused by Covid-19 last week. The Ravens have lost four of their last five games and the offence has not looked right for the majority of this season. I don’t exactly trust this Cowboys team and particularly as Washington absolutely battered them on Thanksgiving after the Cowyboys had even more problems on the o-line, which leaves me in a conundrum. I think that Dan will likely get to stick with the Ravens as it is thought that Jackson should come off the Covid-19 list by Tuesday, but despite all my concerns about the Cowboys the numbers strongly indicate the Cowboys and given how seldom I have won going against the numbers I’m going to reluctantly back the Cowboys, but I also reserve the right to change my mind nearer the game.
Gee’s Pick: Cowboys Dan’s Pick: Ravens
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.