As we head into deepest darkest December the final 3 weeks of the season are upon us and teams are in 3 categories; those headed to the playoffs (but in what seedings), those battling to break into a playoff spot and those whose attentions are turning to potential changes to coaching staff and front offices in order to change their fortunes for 2020. Who’s hot and who’s not?
LA Rams – was it really 2 weeks ago when the Rams were blown away by the Ravens to fall to 6-5 with a playoff spot disappearing into the distance. Over the last 2 weeks the 2018 Rams offense has returned, Todd Gurley’s wheels are rolling again, and Jared Goff is back in those situations of 3 levels of open receivers to throw to. The Jet sweep is back! It is almost as though Sean McVay was conscious of not being a carbon copy of the 2018 Rams (thinking defenses would adapt) and, as a result, the offense stuttered through the early season. They were dismissive of the (then) NFC #1 seed Seahawks. They will need to repeat the performances over the next 2 weeks (@Cowboys and @49ers) but the Rams are hunting down a wildcard spot now.
Tannehill and the Titans – sounds like a soul band and the Music City Miracles are high at the moment in Tennessee. This has proved to be such a good fit since the Titans benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. His QB rating prior to Tennessee had barely ever broken 90 – he currently sits at 118.5 in this 6 out of 7 run of victories. In tandem with Derrick Henry (already over 1,200 yards rushing) Tennessee now have an efficient offense to line up alongside an always competitive defense. This has catapulted them into joint 1st place in the AFC South and now in a straight shootout with the Houston Texans for the division. Their 2 game in 3 weeks series will decide the division and I would not bet against the Titans, and Tannehill, right now
Dallas Cowboys – dead man walking here. The Cowboys have lost their last 3 and have not beaten a team with a .500 or better record this season. Here’s the quandary – who sits 1st in total offensive yards per game and passing yards per game but 9th in points scored…..? As Jerry keeps reminding us all the pieces are there; Dak, Zeke, Amari Cooper, but they are not converting the possession into points. The defense has not hit the heights of last year and as a team they are goo enough (just) against the weak sides but not against their more direct rivals. With Philly winning against the Giants the situation is now serious. Their will only be the division title spot up for grabs – the Eagles play the Redskins next week whereas the Cowboys entertain the Rams. Dallas could very easily miss out on January football this year and that would surely result in a change at Head Coach.
The Lions, Jaguars, Panthers and Raiders – chosen these 4 because they look like they’ve given up on the 2019 season to varying degrees. Detroit and Jacksonville are both in a tailspin (3-13 combined since week 6) and headed for a change in coaching staff. Carolina, by contrast, have made the change at Head Coach but it has not sparked any fire based on the 40-20 defeat handed to them by the Atlanta Falcons. The Raiders season had shown promise but they have probably reached the limit of the their abilities for this season, and injuries have piled up of late. I do hope they can rally in the last 3 weeks for a respectable 8-8 finish from what has overall been a far more positive season.
Giants – great to see Eli Manning back under centre for what maybe the last few outings and at HT (17-3) everyone wondered who was writing his script but the G-Men’s inability to play 4 good quarters resurfaced, the offense stalled and the OT TD to Zach Ertz is an embarrassment to the D…..
Broncos – have found their QB of the future in Drew Lock. He has been able to sit and watch and learn for the first 3 months of the season, and now looks like he is having fun and reigniting the Broncos offense to a decent final standing. Their draft class of 2019 has shown promise, like the Raiders, and I feel the AFC West will be more competitive next year.
Buccaneers – what is it like to have Jameis Winston as your QB? 33/45 456yds 4TD 3INT…. this game, which the Bucs won in the end, appeared to encapsulate Winston’s career. Must be such a rollercoaster ride – he just keeps slinging in – fun to watch. Probably done enough to earn another year starting in Tampa next season.
Steelers – how far can they go with this team this year. Essentially on one leg (the all conquering D) they are now 8-5. Can they get to the playoffs with just this and Duck Hodges?
49ers @ Saints – lots of coverage already, game of the season thus far. Very promising signs for the playoff games to come. The catch and run by George Kittle at the end – phenomenal. When the game is on the line you go to your top players. Also, loved the coaching of Robert Saleh on Saints last drive. Yes, they scored a TD but Saleh just kept blitzing so their was still 50 seconds on the clock for Garappolo to work with (and 3 time outs – well done Kyle Shanahan hanging on to them after not being able to stop the clock last week against the Ravens). Wonderful game – more of the same come January please.
Performance(s) of the week
Well done to those teams not headed to the playoffs who have not given up the ghost and dialled in their performances. Step forward the LA Chargers (45-10 over Jags), Atlanta Falcons (40-20 over Panthers), and the Chicago Bears who (like the LA Rams) have decided to fight for their lives to try and snag that #6 seed in the NFC side of the playoffs. Unlike some of those sides mentioned earlier, these are teams which are playing with pride to end their 2019 season with some positives even if it does not mean a run at a Super Bowl.
Week 15 picks
Another 3 out of 4 week last week (if the Saints had held at the last minute it would have been a full house). Will I ever get the elusive 100%? Maybe I should just pick some ‘shoo-ins’… might do that week 17! As for this week
LA Rams @ Dallas Cowboys – already trailed it earlier, one team is on the up, the other in disarray. Winner still in with a shout at a playoff berth, the loser could be on their way out. Momentum is everything, LA could give Dallas (and Jason Garrett) the final nail this week, Rams by 10
Buffalo Bills @ Pittsburgh Steelers – tough final run for Buffalo who are hoping they have already done enough to get over the finish line. The Steelers are riding their D as far as it will take them but I think Josh Allen and company will have the ability to bounce back from last week’s defeat, Bills by 4
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers – the Packers are perhaps the least convincing division leaders at the moment (outside of the NFC East!) and the Bears are clawing at every moment to try and make the playoffs. Think Green Bay will raise their game here to send the Bears packing (see what I did there), so it is Packers by 8
Miami Dolphins @ NY Giants – a basement battle for the last matchup. Miami returns to New Jersey a week after losing in the Battle of the Kickers to the Jets. The Giants are in freefall and not even the sudden appearance of Eli Manning can put a good spin on the position of that organisation at the moment. Miami, meanwhile, have shown resilience in adversity and I think they will embarrass the Giants next week to add to Pat Shurmur’s woes. Dolphins by 6
Same time next week!