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It feels like we are on the edge of change on many fronts, and that is only a partial reference to Brexit. The winter solstice is on Friday and as the days start to get longer again it is all change in the NFL as the playoffs near. We have had our last Thursday night game of the regular season, which will be wrapped up before the new year starts. Closer to home for this blog, with some terrible timing I was ice cold with my picks this weeks dropping to five points behind Dan’s Dad whilst Dan had another double digit total that pulled him to within four points of me. This change of method for Dan is possibly too late to win the whole competition but he could very easily catch me and it certainly feels like the blog will be going purple and gold in the new year. I’m mostly annoyed at myself though as I’m tinkering with a spreadsheet formula for making picks and if I had just listened to that I would have gone 11-5 and things would look very different.
So as the world (and possibly the blog colours) change it also feels like things have shifted in the league. None of this season’s three elite offences have really fired properly in the last couple of weeks. This is probably due to a combination of injuries and maybe some weather but only the New Orleans Saints won this week. The Chiefs at least won the week before but are now level with the late surging LA Chargers in the AFC West with 11-3 records whilst the LA Rams have lost two straight and have just signed free-agent running back CJ Anderson after Todd Gurley picked up a knock against the Eagles.
Speaking of which, don’t look now but through a combination of beating the Rams and the Cowboys getting shut out the Eagles now have an outside shot of making the playoffs, although they have to win out and hope results go their way. It will not be easy to beat the Houston Texans or a Washington team that are somehow not eliminated from the playoffs either thanks to grinding out a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, I should go back to the best teams for a moment as thanks to their ability to keep grinding out wins despite their offence falling back a bit the Saints are now the only team with twelve wins having prevailed in an entertaining game against the Carolina Panthers who lost another game and maybe should look at siting Cam Newton as he does not look right thanks to his injured shoulder.
More interestingly for a competitive postseason, not only have these three elite teams as I called them come back to the pack a little, but there are other teams who are rounding into form. Okay whoever actually comes out of the NFC East looks to be somewhat flawed, but the Chicago Bears won the NFC North for the first time since 2010 thanks to their win over the Packers and whilst Mitchell Turbisky doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence yet their defence certainly does. The Seattle Seahawks still have a game lead on the other wildcard contenders despite their loss to the 49ers on Sunday and facing them if they get through certainly won’t be easy. I’m withholding judgement on the Minnesota Vikings for another game in case the game against a bad road team isn’t a pre-cursor of things to come, but the offence certainly ran the ball against the Dolphins and if they play more like they could be a horrible game for any team they face.
In the AFC, the Houston Texans should not be underestimated with their 10-6 record but the Indianapolis Colts could give a team a nasty surprise with their combination of good offence and tough enough defence (shutting out any NFL offence is impressive, even though the Cowboys rank a surprising twenty-sixth by DVOA ). No one would fancy facing the Ravens’ mix of strong defence and ability to run the ball should they make it and the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots have enough muscle memory that no one will want to play them, even if there are strange things going on with both franchises. I’m sure that if you told Bill Belichick last week that his defence would limit the Steelers to seventeen points that he would have been happy but in further evidence that things are just not right with the Patriots this year they only scored ten points and actually lost the game. We’ve been here before with Tom Brady and the Patriots and I still maintain that I won’t believe it is over until it is over, but Brady is a forty-one year old quarterback so time has to be running out. That said, no one would be surprised if the Pats made another Super Bowl but it’s very possible they have already cost themselves home field advantage and\or a bye with their last two losses. I still don’t know what to make of the Tennessee Titans, other than that they were clearly offended by my terrible pick at the weekend as not only did they beat the New York Giants in the MetLife Stadium, but pitched a second shutout of the week!
For those of you who support teams like my Bengals who are well and truly out of the playoff races, don’t worry the blog goodbyes will start up following the last the week of the season. However, the Bengals did at least manage to halt their losing streak with a win over the Oakland Raiders. Joining the Bengals in the losing record but won their week fifteen game club were the Buffalo Bills, who have actually gone 3-2 over their last five games and snuck out a win against the Detroit Lions, the aforementioned San Francisco 49ers, and the Cleveland Browns who are already above the Bengals in the AFC North and just imagine what they might have done this season if you look at their record since Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired.
We are rapidly approaching the playoffs and I am sad that the Bengals won’t make it, but I’m very much looking forward to what should be some cracking makes. Now, I have to get my newsletter sorted so I can start on my Christmas coaching tape present to myself, namely JJ Watt.
We have to savour the football we have left as it won’t be here for very much longer!