Snakes and Ladders – Week 13 4-point stance

Easy analogy and it happens every week. Some teams took a leap up the board towards the playoffs this week whilst others took a slide which will either hurt their potential seeding or their chance altogether.

Super Bowl LIV Preview?

Baltimore Ravens vs San Francisco 49ers would be a great Super Bowl match up this year, we know that now. The 20-17 win for Baltimore lived up to expectations. Both sides turned up and slugged it out, in atrocious conditions, for four full-on quarters before the Ravens ran the clock down to a 49yd field goal from Justin Tucker with 0:03 left.

This was a game of attrition, centred on the ground game with control of the ball and the clock. In a sport where, for the majority of the other 30 teams, 4th down means punt unless a number of boxes are checked (less than 3 yards to go, only in opposition territory), these sides demonstrated no fear in using 4 downs to get their 10 yards. The 49ers scored on their first 4th down conversion, a 33yd pass from Garoppolo to Deebo Samuel, but it was the decision to pass on a 4th-and-1 at the Ravens 35 yard line with six and a half minutes left which killed the 49ers hopes. They never got the ball back. Having already used 2 of their 3 timeouts the 49ers had no way to stop the clock.

On that play it was interesting to call pass when the run game, primarily through Raheem Mostert (19-146-1TD) had been so effective. Both sides will take positives from this game. Although defeated, the 49ers will take heart that they did limit the free-scoring Ravens – yes Lamar Jackson rushed for almost as many yards as he passed for (105 pass, 101 run) but Mark Ingram’s impact was limited. The Ravens will, of course, enjoy the comeback win and they demonstrated a level of control.

If these two sides do meet again the first Sunday in February I would expect the Ravens to be able to produce more fireworks on offense – especially (hopefully) in better (dryer) weather – and it would be intriguing to see if the 49ers defense could live with the Ravens if they upped the tempo on offense. I’m not sure that, if Baltimore upped the ante, San Francisco could respond. Lots for both to do before that of course and several teams could upset these two – including their opponents next week as the Ravens go to the Bills and the 49ers go to the Saints.

Seahawks – toughest team in the NFC?

Seattle came out on top 37-30 in their Monday night clash with Minnesota. This moved them to 10-2 and first place in the NFC West. In that record 1 win and 1 loss is by greater than 1 score – so they are 9-1 in games decided by 8 points or less. That is a remarkable statistic. It demonstrates the toughness that has always been associated with Pete Carroll’s Seahawks. On Monday night they leaned heavily on the run game, 218 yards on the ground, dominating time of possession at a shade under 40 minutes.

There is a lot to like about the Seahawks; the MVP calibre QB in Russell Wilson, a 1-2 punch at running back in Carson and Penny and a receiver corps headed by Tyler Lockett and exciting rookie DK Metcalf. The defensive front has stepped up in recent weeks in stopping the run, although still feel you can thrown on them. But more than the statistics it is the toughness through the season, with a combination of 4th quarter comebacks and holdouts, which is most impressive. With 4 games to go they have put themselves in the box seat for the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Minnesota pushed Seattle all the way and they remain a strong all-round team who will prove tough opponents in the playoffs. But this will be likely from a wildcard spot (#5), possibly versus divisional rivals the Packers.

Late runs / falls
AFC North – the Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Cleveland Browns all but ended the Browns hopes whereas the Steelers unexpected chances of a playoff spot at #6 get stronger each week. They stand on the edge at 7-5 with pressure coming from….

AFC South – take a bow the Tennessee Titans, also known as the 9-7 Titans. They have finished with that record 3 years running and if they split their last 4 games guess how they end up? They dealt the Indianapolis Colts a severe blow and now have the Houston Texans firmly in their sights – 2 meetings this month will decide the division.

AFC West – we’ve all enjoyed the Raiders renaissance but after the 40-9 defeat by Kansas City they sit at 6-6. Four winnable fixtures follow but they need to rediscover their early November form to make it happen.

AFC East – the Buffalo Bills now sit one game behind the New England Patriots. The Patriots are stumbling towards the playoffs with a faltering offense. They have to play the Chiefs and the Bills in the next 3 weeks. Could the Bills catch the Patriots?

In the NFC the teams likely to qualify are more assured – apart from the NFC East which no-one seems to want to win. Might look at this division in more detail in next week as the Washington Redkins (3-9) have not yet been eliminated! Bizarre!

Who is already looking to 2020?

What if you support a team where the world has caved in this year, as I do, and you are already looking forward to the 2020 NFL Draft in the hope of a high pick to spark your roster into life next season? There are 7 teams with 3 wins or less (almost a 1/4 of the league). Looking at the way the fixtures pan out over the next month there is a lot at stake and positions will change. At the moment the top 3 Draft picks would go to the Bengals, Giants then Redskins. Here are the final fixtures for those teams plus those with a (slightly) better record. Highlighted are the match-ups I think each side will win.

Bengals – @Browns, Patriots, @Dolphins, Browns
Giants – @Eagles, Dolphins, @Redskins, Eagles
Redskins – @Packers, Eagles, Giants, @Cowboys
Dolphins – @Jets, @Giants, Bengals, @Patriots
Falcons – Panthers, @49ers, Jaguars, @Bucs
Lions – @Vikings, Bucs, @Broncos, Packers
Cardinals – Steelers, Browns, @Seahawks, @Rams

Despite the Bengals breaking their duck versus the Jets last week I can only see them splitting their series with the Browns to finish at 2-14. The Giants have forgotten how to win and they have been the punchbag of the NFC East for the last couple of years so all they are getting from me is a W home to Miami (3-13). The Redskins will stumble through the last 4 games against tough opponents but I’ll give them a home W versus the G-Men (4-12). The Dolphins will come up empty from two consecutive trips to New Jersey but will beat the Bengals to finish 4-12. I can find a win for the Cardinals but not the Lions. Detroit, like NYG, are in a tailspin and I think 3-12-1 awaits.

All of that would give us the following top 5 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
2. NY Giants
3. Detroit Lions
4. Washington Redskins
5. Miami Dolphins
Week 14 picks

3 out of 4 correct last week (I’m just going to stop backing the Cowboys…). Week 14 throws up some great fixtures which will impact on the pecking order for teams headed to the playoffs. Oh and I’ve thrown in the Dolphins and Jets…

49ers @ Saints – These two sides could very well meet in the NFC Playoffs. The 49ers are coming off their heavyweight bout against the Ravens whereas the Saints played early in week 13 on Thanksgiving against the Falcons. The extra rest will help New Orleans and the 49ers may just have a hangover from last week. Saints by 6

Chiefs @ Patriots – The Chiefs are just getting things rolling again and they beat down heavily on the Raiders. The Patriots were outclassed by the Texans. I think Kansas City deal them another blow this week, Chiefs by 5

Ravens @ Bills – This could be really interesting. Buffalo are on a roll and they will not fear the Ravens, who themselves are coming off a hard fought win over 49ers. I’d like to think the Bills could win but in the end I don’t think they will have enough on offense to score points needed, Ravens by 7

Dolphins @ Jets – Until last week the Jets looked like they were improving, and then they lose to the Bengals. The Dolphins are also a team which has improved through the season and their 3 wins thus far is more than most would have given them earlier this season. NYJ will be looking to scrub last week from memory and I think the Jets win by 4

Same time next week!

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