In case you missed it!

Although I enjoy putting my own, sometimes random, thoughts relating to the NFL here on I also write for and I’ve concentrated recent efforts on there. Thought it would be worth linking up and providing links to my recent @99YDS work.

First up my recent preview of the NFL divisions as I see them at this point in time. I’m really excited about what the West has to offer, in both the AFC and NFC. I think their inter-divisional match ups will be among the most intriguing and exciting next season.

Part 1 – Go West! (NFC West)

Part 2 – The Wild Wild West (AFC West)

Part 3 – Best of the Rest

I’ve also been interested in how teams and coaches go about building a “Championship Culture”. I put together an article based on interviews Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks  held on their “Move The Sticks” podcast last autumn with several high profile head coaches. It was fascinating how the principles in building a football team could translate to pretty much any team situation, whether sport or in the workplace.

The article “Building a Championship Culture” can be found at

Hope you might find something interesting in amongst these as we wait for the start of the next NFL season!




NFL Draft 2020 – Team by Team review

I’ve already posted my Top 10 takeaways on but i wanted to do a quickfire team by team grade and analysis of the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s dive right in, division by division.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills – A
The Bills did not have a day 1 pick due to the Stefan Diggs trade, but his addition will certainly be worth the trade. They then nailed their next four picks – AJ Epenesa fell to #54 and helps build strength on strength for the Buffalo D. Zack Moss (RB) and Gabriel Davis (WR) are excellent additions to the offense, and then Jake Fromm (who is about as different a QB as you could get from Josh Allen) could develop into a really sound back up to Allen. And I love they took kicker Tyler Bass!

Miami Dolphins – B
The Dolphins had 3 picks on day 1 and, for me, 2 of those 3 were a reach (Austin Jackson & Noah Igbinoghene). They did have highlights though – offensive lineman Robert Hunt in round 2 and edge rusher Curtis Weaver dropping all the way to round 5. They are going through a roster reset and will need to hope the prospects develop how they hope.

New England Patriots – B+
Loved what the Patriots did on day 2 – the defensive trio of Kyle Dugger (S), Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings (EDGE) may help to offset the losses of Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy. They also picked up two tight ends (Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene) who have the versatility to prove themselves as starters in the now Brady-less offense.

New York Jets – A
The Jets nailed it early on to support Sam Darnold by bolstering the offensive line (Mekhi Becton) and a big, imposing receiver (Denzel Mimms). Ashtyn Davis has track athlete speed and a high football IQ – if they can hang on to Jamal Adams they will have an impressive secondary in 2020.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens – A+
Oh c’mon, give us a break… Patrick Queen falls to them in round 1 at #28, JK Dobbins adds to their all powerful run game in the second round and top defensive tackle slips to round 3. They hit home runs all the way down – both day 3 guards (Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips) have the ability to be starters and slot receiver James Proche will prove a very useful pickup.

Cincinnati Bengals – A
The Bengals did not fluff their lines picking first in every round of the draft. Burrow in the bag and Tee Higgins to throw to at the top of round 2. Linebacker help has arrived in Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and late on day 3 Markus Bailey. Hakeem Adniji was also a great pick up in round 6 to add depth on the offensive line.

Cleveland Browns – A-
Big Boy draft for the Browns this year. Every pick should give them a great return. Jedrick Wills is a great tackle (but he’ll likely need to switch to LT rather than Conklin). Grant Delpit (S), Jordan Eilliot (DT) and Jacob Phillips (LB) all improve the defense. They seem to be collecting TEs with Harrison Bryant in round 4 – is David Njoku on the way out?

Pittsburgh Steelers – B
Not too much to get excited about here as the Steelers only had 6 picks but they did make solid choices. Highlight for me would be the second rounder Chase Claypool who has the ability to fulfil a WR/TE hybrid role.

AFC South

Houston Texans – B-
Did they have any picks left? Five picks in total and they managed to do what they could with them. Ross Blacklock (DT) will be disruptive on defense and Charlie Heck in round 4 (OT) is a good prospect. Try and keep some picks in 2021 hey Bill?

Indianapolis Colts – A+
Love it. After bringing in Phillip Rivers they give him the best chance to win by drafting Michael Pittman JR at receiver (he will become their #1) and Jonahtan Taylor (RB) to help keep defenses honest. Then in round 4 they draft Rivers’ potential successor – QB Jacob Eason has a great spot here to watch and learn from Rivers and then take over in 1-2 years.

Jacksonville Jaguars – B+
Nice start on day 1 with their 2 picks as CJ Henderson (CB) and K’Lavon Chaisson (EDGE) help to rebuild the defence. Laviska Shenault JR adds yards after catch as a receiver – as long as he stays healthy. Ben Bartch (OT) is raw and new to the position but shows promise and on day 3 WR Collin Johnson adds size and presence as a pass catcher.

Tennessee Titans – C+
Titans were another team with limited picks. They did need to replace Jack Conklin at right tackle but Isaiah Wilson at #29 could be rich. Kristian Fulton (CB) fell down the boards against other defensive backs so the end of round 2 became good value. Nothing stood out with their other picks.

AFC West

Denver Broncos – A-
The Broncos went all out at wide receiver by double dipping first two rounds. Jerry Jeudy was the best route runner of the draft and KJ Hamler has great speed in the slot. Lloyd Cushenberry is good enough to start at center straightaway and Justin Strnad (LB) on day 3 was another high point.

Kansas City Chiefs – A
Like the Ravens, the Chiefs solidified and consolidated strengths. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB) is a dual weapon 3-down back (as if that offense needed help). Willie Gay JR (LB) is a ferocious downhill defender and L’Jarius Sneed a versatile defensive back which will bolster the ‘Spags’ D.

Las Vegas Raiders – B-
Ok, I get it, they are in Vegas now so it’s glitz, glamour and gambling hereon-in. That’s how it seemed in the draft. Taking Henry Ruggs before Jeudy or Lamb screamed “the need for speed”. I hope he’s not another John Ross. Damon Arnette was a huge reach at #19 when other options were there at CB. Lynn Bowden is perhaps even more exciting than Ruggs in terms of the versatility he brings (they could use him similar to how 49ers use Deebo Samuel). Amik Robertson was my favourite prospect at the nickel CB position – so tough and physical even at only 5’8”.

Los Angeles Chargers – B+
The Chargers got their QB of the future in Justin Herbert and followed up by trading up for LB Kenneth Murray. It cost them in day 2 picks but it will be worth it. Big value on day 3 with, somehow, slot receiver KJ Hill falling to them in round 7.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys – A
CeeDee Lamb at #17? How? The Cowboys struck lucky and Jerry did not blink. Followed that up by improving the secondary (Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson) and Gallimore on the defensive line is a real disruptor. Their luck continued on day 3 with Bradlee Anae (EDGE) in round 5. They should now challenge the Eagles.

New York Giants – B
Solid draft – very much focused on solving the o-line issues (3 of the first 5 picks). Xavier McKinney was the highlight, falling to them in round 2. More help came to the secondary and at linebacker but the fans would have liked to see some pass rush in there.

Philadelphia Eagles – C+
Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson? That could haunt the Eagles in years to come. Reagor was a reach at #21 and using a 2nd round pick for what will be a developmental back up QB (Jalen Hurts) may also prove rich. There were nice picks in here – round 6 LB Shaun Bradley for one, but with the Cowboys improvement they may look back and rue the early picks.

Washington Redskins – B
Maybe you get an A just for Chase Young? My concern here would be that if you knew that Trent Williams was on the way out maybe you should have picked up the tackle before Saahdiq Charles on day 3 (could have had Josh Jones round 3).

NFC North

Chicago Bears – B-
Another TE? Cole Kmet is yet another addition to those ranks in Chicago. My highlight would be Jaylon Johnson at CB who would have gone round 1 if not for a current injury he is working through. Not much else of note, with only 2 picks across first 2 days.

Detroit Lions – B
Lots of holes on D to fill and Jeff Okudah (CB) and Julian Okwara (EDGE) go some way to doing that but I would like to have seen more creativity across those first 2 days to get another starting defender.

Green Bay Packers – B-
I can see it. This is a changing of the guard in the way the Packers move the ball. Less reliance on Rodgers and that may not go down well at first or even for a season or two. Love is the future in Green Bay. AJ Dillon is a bull of a running back – let’s hope Rodgers doesn’t mind handing off to him 15 times a game! Really interested to see how Packers play offense in 2020.

Minnesota Vikings – A+
Everything about this should make the Vikings favourites for the division. Justin Jefferson replaces Stefon Diggs. Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler replenish the secondary. Ezra Cleveland will be a great offensive tackle and loved James Lynch (DE from Baylor in round 4). Also watch for EDGE Kenny Willekes from round 7 – no one will work harder to make the team.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – B+
Only six picks but nailed the first 3 – AJ Terrell is a ball-hawk of a cornerback and Marlon Davidson was somewhat in the shadow of Derrick Brown at Auburn but has great rushing instinct. Matt Hennessy was one of the top centers in the draft so pick #78 was great value.

Carolina Panthers – B
All defensive picks? What, all 7 of them? Your offense is fine then, right? Great picks on one side of the ball – loved the opening trio of Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos and Jeremy Chinn but you could have used one guy on offense, surely?

New Orleans Saints – B
Only 2 days work for the Saints with no day 3 picks. Given they are a Super Bowl contender they could perhaps have used their first round pick on Patrick Queen (LB) but instead they renewed the offensive line with Cesar Ruiz. They did go linebacker in round 3 but I would have flipped those two positional picks. Adam Trautman could be the best TE in the class.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – A
You cannot doubt the Bucs are all in. They sought to back up TB12 with a tackle in round 1 (Tristan Wirfs), a running back in round 3 (Ke’Shawn Vaughn) and another receiver to that talented group in round 5 (Tyler Johnson). There were a couple of defensive picks too in there somewhere – Antoine Winfield JR joins at safety.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals – A+
Another group where I loved everything – Isaiah Simmons at #8 then somehow Josh Jones in round 3. Round 4 added to the D-line (Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence) and running back Eno Benjamin falling to round 7 was a mystery but great fortune for the Cardinals. They will compete in a tough division next season.

Los Angeles Rams – B
The Rams lost their way last year, a sort of Super Bowl loss hangover. The draft sought to reaffirm their identity. Cam Akers (RB) helps to fill the gap left by Todd Gurley and Van Jefferson (WR) is as smooth a route runner as you can find. They’ll hope EDGE Terrell Lewis can stay fit on defense.

San Francisco 49ers – B+
John Lynch works magic. He somehow convinced the Bucs to swap places in round one and they still got Javon Kinlaw (their replacement for DeForest Buckner). The Brandon Aiyuk pick later that round show provide the Kyle Shanahan offense with another exciting piece but trading up to #25 may be a reach.

Seattle Seahawks – B-
Seattle continued to pick future Seahawks. The first 2 picks were classic Seattle – raw athletic talent that they feel they can coach on technique. Jordyn Brooks (LB) ahead of Patrick Queen will be contentious if Brooks does not work out. Damien Lewis was a nice grab in round 3 at guard and I love the potential of DeeJay Dallas (RB round 4) and Alton Robinson (EDGE round 5) but they need the early picks to work out.

That’s it – my quick assessment of everyone’s 2020 draft haul. Time will tell!

The QB Crystal Ball

As we approach the first key dates for offseason free agency and the 2020 Draft, a number of stories both confirmed and unconfirmed have appeared. Out of these stories, further narratives are starting to gain interest and traction. Then it is a case of pick your poison because no one really knows at this point – Brady is staying or going, Cam Newton is staying or going, Andy Dalton, Drew Brees, the list of QBs with unclear futures seems endless this off season. So, before any more wild theories are debunked by the truth let’s see how this may all pan out….

Let’s look into the QB Crystal Ball

Name: Philip Rivers

What advice do you seek? I’m looking for a fresh start after being cut by my long-term partner, the LA Chargers

Advice – Hmmm, it seems as though you have been the one trying hardest to keep this relationship going over the last 16 years. Only 2 playoff appearances in the last decade is a poor return, and now. at the age of 38, the Chargers have decided to part company with you.

This may be a blessing in disguise. It is clear that you feel there is at least one good season left and you have moved your family back to Florida and although this does not necessarily point to where the next team may be based there are candidates ‘way out east’. The first, and possibly most attractive, are the Indianapolis Colts. A solid o-line, good running game and well-built roster and management through Chris Ballard are all plus points. There is good history with Frank Reich (Chargers QB Coach and OC with Rivers between 2013-2015. Throw in that the Colts had 10-dome games next year and the Colts is a nice place for a swan song. It would be an upgrade on Jacoby Brissett and could allow Indianapolis to draft a QB 2nd round to sit behind you for 1-2 years.

Other destinations have been mentioned – the Bucs and Panthers in particular. The Bucs have the targets at WR but does Bruce Arians really replace one youthful gunslinger for a veteran equivalent? The Panthers feel like a franchise in complete reboot mode and you may want a franchise with a better chance of a dart at the playoffs. The Colts feel like the best fit here.

Name: Tom Brady

What advice do you seek? After many successful years with my long-term partner it feels like we are drifting apart and maybe I should look elsewhere?

Advice: Hmmm, the 2019 season was the lowest point for you in the last 4 years. Lowest yards per attempt, lowest % completion rate, lowest QB rating. It is not all on you though. There is obvious frustration with the pieces around you and this was evident throughout the season. Gronk has gone. Edelman’s skills are also declining. The Patriots mis-fired in the 2019 draft at WR. And yet. The aura is still there. Rumours of New England still willing to offer $30M a year circle, as does one of the Las Vegas Raiders seeking to offer a 2-year deal out in the desert.

This one feels so big it is almost impossible to get a read on it. Usually the New England Patriots move on from ageing veterans rather than cling on hoping for a late renaissance. But this is Tom Brady we are talking about. Even Bill Belichick may accept to roll the dice one more time and it looks as though Josh McDaniels will remain the OC next season. Familiarity with the system may go a long way. However, the Raiders could be a tempting prospect. Through Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden, the Raiders are headed in the right direction. With another 2 first round draft picks this year the Raiders could supply greater support on offense.

The Chargers have also been mooted but would they swap one veteran QB for another? They do need a ‘name’ at QB to help draw in some semblance of a home crowd but their roster is not on the same upward curve as the Raiders. It does look like Derek Carr could be the odd one out here but Brady to the Raiders is too good to ignore. Oh and the Raiders play the Patriots next year too….

Name: Cam Newton

What advice do you seek? After a difficult time with injuries I don’t think I’m wanted anymore.

Advice: Hmmm, you are entering the final year of the current contract and carry a substantial cap hit for the Panthers at around $19M. And you are coming off a complete write off of a 2019 season. First a torn rotator cuff then a Lisfranc injury have put fitness and mobility front and centre. The Panthers, and owner David Tepper, are in limbo waiting to see proof of your fitness. Even if you are able to prove your fitness the Panthers may seek to keep you around but probably only for the next year.

Should the Panthers seek to trade where could you end up? You are a QB with star power, so this means looking for a market which needs its stars. Step forward the LA Chargers. They are moving on from a QB with a distinct lack of mobility so if you can prove you are still an all-action hero it could be the ideal switch. Think of the boost to ticket sales, something the Chargers need to do. Yes the Chargers could draft a QB this year but, sat at #6 with little to offer in additional picks, they may miss out. Go west Cam, go west.

Name: Sean Payton

What advice do you seek? I’ve got 3 QBs and I’m not sure which ones to keep.

Advice: Hmmm, the QB room is stacked with talent in New Orleans: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill and Teddy Bridgewater. However, there are decisions to make around all 3 this offseason after another year of heartbreak and underperformance in the playoffs. Drew Brees is 41 years old and currently mulling over whether to spin the wheel one more time with you and the Saints. For Brees it is New Orleans or retirement. It was another good season for Brees and you have proved you can adapt playcalling to suit the talents of the QBs. There is a ‘but’ coming.

In the playoff loss to the Vikings the ‘X’ factor was not Drew Brees, but Taysom Hill. He is your ‘swiss-army knife’ able to run, throw, catch, block punts, anything and everything. Had he been on the field for more snaps in the playoff loss the Saints may well have won through. Hill has been with New Orleans for 3 seasons now and for the last 2 he has appeared in every game taking a small percentage of the snaps. He has been quoted recently as seeing himself as a franchise QB. There is a relatively small sample size at present but enough that New Orleans is considering putting him as a restricted free agent, possibly with a 1st round price tag attached in order to flush out any interest.

It is doubtful that another team will gamble on Hill as their starter at this point in time. What is more likely is that the Brees/Hill combination could start to share out offensive snaps to a greater degree. With your innovative and ever-evolving playacting that could just turn out to be the best way forward for the Saints to greater success next year. The odd man out is likely to be Bridgewater but that may be no bad thing for him. He started 5 straight games when Brees was injured last season and he took care of the ball. Bridgewater could do a nice job elsewhere in the league and would be another candidate for the Chargers if they decided to steer clear of the headlines and go for an efficient if unspectacular new starting QB.

The quick-fire round!

Marcus Mariota – find a team willing to take you on as a backup in a Taysom Hill style role.
Bruce Arians – stick with Jameis Winston. You’ve just got his eyes fixed, you may as well see if that was the problem all along! Short-term 2 or 3 year prove it deal.
Jerry Jones – for pity’s sake just sign Dak to a new contract, what else you gonna do? Pay the man.
Ryan Pace – you can’t leave Trubisky with no-one pushing him to be better in that QB room. Go get Andy Dalton from the Bengals and try to light a fire under Mitch.
Ryan Tannehill – take the new contract offer which will come from the Titans, but hey don’t get greedy, you were good but it is still a small sample size.
Bill Belichick – yes you are right to let Brady go, painful though that is you knew the day would come. Now is the time for a safe, efficient, interim leader and Teddy Bridgewater could be the guy.
Derek Carr – don’t trust anything that comes out of Jon Gruden’s mouth. Keep an open mind, it is only a matter of time before Gruden’s head gets turned.

All, any or none of this could happen in the next month. Should be a lot of fun finding out!

Hail to the Chiefs!

It is in the record books. Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco 49ers 20 – 31 Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs first Super Bowl win in 50 years, and the second in their franchise history in the NFL. Before kick off the common consensus was this could be a coin flip game versus the best all round team (49ers) and the team with probably the most exciting player on offense (Chiefs, QB Pat Mahomes). Talking points aplenty as the Chiefs lifted the Lombardi Trophy, here are my takeaways.

Two Key 4th Qtr Moments

(9:52 left)

Pat Mahomes had just thrown his second INT of the game (on back-to-back drives). The 49ers were approaching midfield and Jimmy Garoppolo had completed 9 of his previous 10 passes for 106 yards. One more clock-chewing drive resulting in a TD (or even a FG) could have all but sealed the title for the 49ers. It was 2nd and 9, play-action called, the Chiefs brought pressure but Jimmy G had Deebo Samuel open for a first down on a slant route – and he sailed it way over Samuel’s head with way too much juice. The throw had to be made. That was followed by an offside penalty and a long 3rd down not made. The ensuing punt gave the Chiefs the ball and Pat Mahomes the time to craft the comeback.

(7:13 left)

At this point the 49ers were nursing a 10-point lead and had the Chiefs 3rd and 15 at their own 35 yard line. Andy Reid and Pat Mahomes went for broke as Tyreek Hill was found all alone to move deep into San Francisco territory. Until this play the Niners defense had taken away the vertical threat of the Chiefs through a combination of their superior pass rush and a well-disciplined secondary playing cautiously deep off the Chiefs receivers. Then the 49ers secondary gave Pat Mahomes the smallest of opportunities and he took full advantage. The problem with playing the Chiefs is you have to defend for the full 60 minutes, in the first 54 minutes of the Super Bowl the 49ers gave up 10 points – then in the last 6 minutes they gave up 21 points.

Following the completion to Tyreek Hill the Niners secondary gave up a defensive pass interference call placed at the 1-yard line. when Tavarius Moore found himself all alone and unable to compete against Travis Kelce (a rare Robert Saleh mistake in defensive playcalling resulting in the mismatch opportunity for Kansas City). Throw in Richard Sherman getting beat by Sammy Watkins for 38 yards on the Chiefs next drive and the tide had truly turned.

After looking completely broken just minutes before, the Chiefs O-line regrouped and chipped away at Nick Bosa and company to give Pat Mahomes just enough time to torch a secondary which imploded in the last 6 minutes of the game.

The Truck and the Trailer

On the Move the Sticks podcast Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks have described how QBs can either be a ‘truck’ (they have the ability to lead or even drag their team with them – they can put the team on their back) or a ‘trailer’ where the QB is more of a game manager, using the sum of the parts available to him to craft the offense. Super Bowl LIV was a match up of a truck (Mahomes) versus a trailer (Garoppolo). Their stat lines were:

Pat Mahomes 26/42 286 yards 2 TD 2 INT (Rating 78.1)
Jimmy Garoppolo 20/31 219 yards 1 TD 2 INT (Rating 69.2)

Neither would state they had their best game. Mahomes’ award of MVP shows unmistakable QB bias. For 3 and a half quarters he had looked decidedly ordinary with no vertical threat options to find. Jimmy G had been steady early on if unspectacular but hit stride during the 3rd quarter as the 49ers stretched into the lead. Both had thrown jarring interceptions which could have had serious consequences for either side. Both had trouble putting the ball ‘on the money’ with incompletions and failing to hit receivers in stride, denying much by way of yards after catch.

However, in that 4th quarter Mahomes got hot and Garoppolo went cold. In the go-ahead drive Mahomes went 5 of 5 while Jimmy G could not answer throwing 3 straight incompletions, including missing an open Emmanuel Sanders which would have resulted in a TD and a Niners 27-24 lead with 1:30 to go (how interesting a finale could that have been!). The truck stepped up and put the Chiefs on his back, the trailer could not respond. Other throws were missed, targets not seen by Jimmy G as he failed to work effectively through his progressions on certain key plays.

The defeat is not on the QB alone, not by any means, but the result (and the Chiefs playoff run more widely) demonstrated that if you have a truck at QB you are always in the game. If you have a trailer you cannot count on him to be able to go toe-to-toe.

The Fear Factor?

A lot will be made of Niners Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s Super Bowl woes. OC when the Atlanta Falcons were 28-3 up and now HC with the 49ers in a 10-point lead late in the 4th quarter – and no rings to show for it. He is a brilliant Head Coach and in tandem with the leadership from GM John Lynch the San Francisco 49ers are back in contention and primed for a period of sustained success in the NFL.

In the big game though there were a couple of head-scratching moments that pointed to a lack of faith in the offense, and a fear of Pat Mahomes and his capabilities (or at least a too healthy respect). Approaching half time the Chiefs were forced to punt. If the 49ers had called the first of their three time outs they would then have had around 1:50 and 2 time outs to at least take a 3-point lead into the half. Instead they let the clock wind down in order to have 0:59 and 3 time outs. Admittedly it was a 50:50 (or maybe 60:40) offensive pass interference call against George Kittle which killed the drive but with the extra minute they could have still made FG range. It simply smacked of being scared to give Mahomes the ball back before half time as opposed to backing your offense to score and bleed the clock (something they have done all season).

The 49ers also chose to kick a FG on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter when 4th and 2 at KC 24. The Chiefs had no such issue with going for it, twice completing similar short yardage 4th downs in order to accrue their early 10-3 lead. Andy Reid backed his offense in key situations, Kyle Shanahan strangely did not. The Niners had had their way with NFC opponents through their stress free playoff run, not being tested in sudden death competition whereas the Chiefs had been, at times, flying by the seat of their pants since the first half versus the Houston Texans.

Defenses do win Championships (just sometimes it is not the best ones)

Steve Spagnuolo has done a tremendous job with the Kansas City Chiefs defense. It is by no means the best in the league, or anywhere near. But ‘Spags’ has a habit of getting his D to play its toughest football in the most high pressure situations (as he did previously with the Giants SBXLVI run). It was reminiscent of the ‘bend but don’t break’ principle. They gave up yards and points but they kept the 49ers within touching distance. Then when they needed to in the 4th Qtr the D stepped up. Spags knew what was on the line and his D brought the pressure, stifling the run and blitzing Jimmy G. The 49ers went punt, punt, turnover on downs, INT in the 4th quarter. The D had done enough.

Mention must also go to the 49ers defense and Robert Salah, which for all but the last 6 minutes was imperious against the Chiefs. The vertical threat had been taken away and the pass rush increasingly homed in on their target – the Chiefs #15. By the end of the 3rd quarter the offensive line’s attempt at a QB pocket had degraded away to nothing. Mahomes was scrambling almost every play – the only way he managed to gain most of his positive yardage at that point was on the run. The 49ers D is now an established top-5 unit in the NFL and it should continue to be so.

Final Thoughts

This was a great game and a great way to end the NFL’s 100th season. It was a pleasure to watch (probably) the 2 best teams in the league go 12 rounds with the momentum swinging back and forth.

Why did the Kansas City Chiefs win? I’d say that ultimately they stuck to their game plan to a greater degree whereas the 49ers let their concerns relating to the explosive nature of the Mahomes-led offense seep into their own offensive playcalling. And then guess what did for them…

It was fascinating from an X’s and O’s perspective to watch Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan trade blows throughout. Their was great play-design, particularly early on before the pressure grew. At the end when, to an extent the playbook goes out of the window, it was the truck able to adapt, improvise and go off-road whereas the trailer could not change direction.

Roll on the NFL Combine and the 2020 Draft!




Super Bowl LIV – what will be this year’s Miami miracle?

We have arrived. Thirty-two teams have, over the course of the last five months, been whittled down to two. The AFC Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, will take on the NFC Champions, the San Francisco 49ers, in Miami on Sunday 2nd February.

The 49ers dismantled the Green Bay Packers (37-20) in the NFC Championship game whereas the Chiefs withstood early pressure from the Tennessee Titans before leaving them far behind in the rear view mirror (35-24) as the game progressed. In both cases the better team won, and the resulting Super Bowl matchup promises to be a classic. What could be the keys to who walks off with the Vince Lombardi trophy?

49ers offense vs Chiefs defense

On the ground a running back committee (Breida, Mostert, Coleman) has each taken their turn to carry the load and capitalise on well-designed run blocking schemes masterminded by HC Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers have had the knack of quickly assessing what is working on offense in a particular game and then going all-in to capitalise.

However, the 49ers are not one dimensional. The 49ers have been one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL this year (approx. 52% pass to 48% run). Jimmy Garoppolo has proved he can move the ball downfield efficiently and with reliable targets such as Deebo Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle, San Francisco can be as much a threat through the air as on the ground. So, how can the Kansas City Chiefs stop a team which averaged 29.9 points per game through the regular season. Well, the Chiefs are coming off a game where they beat the only team in the NFL to average more points than the 49ers, the Ravens.

There are some similarities here for the Chiefs defense. Their 29th rated (DVOA) run defense stopped Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship game (19 carries for 69 yards, paltry by Henry’s standards). This is where you have to credit Steve Spagnuolo’s aggressive game plans. Spags came into Kansas City this year with a brief to shore up with Chiefs defense, and they have improved throughout the year. Against the Titans the Chiefs committed to stopping the run – in some cases employing goal-line defense formations in midfield. I think it will be more of the same in the Super Bowl.

If the Chiefs can stop or at least slow down the run then they will need to protect the middle of the field against Garoppolo, which is going to require Daniel Sorensen and Anthony Hitchens to really step up. Take away his throws between the numbers and force him to throw to the outside, this will test his accuracy. It will also slow his release down and hopefully allow the Kansas pass rush led by Chris Jones and Frank Clark to get to Jimmy G – and Spags loves to blitz! And if Tyrann Mathieu repeats his AFC Championship performance then just maybe the Chiefs defense can limit the 49ers enough to give their offense chance to keep pace.

Chiefs offense vs 49ers defense

In stark contrast to the balance of the 49ers offense the Chiefs are almost entirely reliant on the performance of the best player on the pitch come Sunday, Patrick Mahomes. His performances during the run to the Super Bowl have proved his importance with an increase in his duel threat to defenses. During the first half of the AFC Championship there were only 3 plays that did not involve Mahomes. The 49ers know that Damien Williams is not going to carry the ball 20 times on Sunday – the focus will be on getting to Mahomes.

The Chiefs have the offensive tools to score heavily – Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and of course Travis Kelce. If the 49ers defense cannot get to Mahomes the Chiefs will move the ball quickly. The Chiefs also have the mastermind of Andy Reid calling the plays – and because of the potential dominance of the 49ers defense I would expect to see some level of mis-direction from Reid in order to put the niners on the back foot. The Chiefs need to get the niners D to hesitate even for a split second in order to give Mahomes the time he needs. Using DVOA statistics it is the Chiefs 2nd rated pass offense versus the 49ers 2nd rated pass defense. Something has to give.

The 49ers defense is about as complete a unit as there has been in the NFL. Strength everywhere – Bosa, Buckner, Alexander, Armstead, Ford, Williams, Warner, Sherman….. It has been a daunting prospect for opposing offenses. And yet. The sheer potential explosiveness of the Chiefs weapons and Reid’s playcalling may just open up enough windows for Mahomes to work his magic. Just the thoughts of the Chiefs comeback against the Texans may put the 49ers on the backfoot even if not intentionally – I’m sure Robert Salah will be telling them to attack but what if? The Chiefs will take shots downfield.

If I am the 49ers I watch the tape of…..

…..the Chiefs week 4 win over the Detroit Lions 34-30, it may have been a win but only just as Detriot’s offense ran and passed their way downfield at will.
…..the Chiefs week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans 32-35, where the Titans stats on offense probably mirror what the 49ers will be trying to achieve with balance on the ground (Henry 188 yards 2 TDs) and through the air (Tannehill 181 yards 2 TDs)
If I am the Chiefs I watch the tape of…….

…..the 49ers week 14 win over the New Orleans Saints 48-46, because if the Chiefs are to win it is likely via a shootout and Drew Brees carved up the niners in the way Mahomes will need to.
…..the week 10 and week 17 divisional match ups against the Seattle Seahawks – one win one loss on a last gasp goal line tackle. (What would have happened if that tackle had not been
made…). Pete Carroll may well be on Andy Reid’s speed dial this week!

SO……keys to victory

Chiefs – stop/slow the run, force Jimmy G to throw outside, then mis-direction and speed on offence

49ers – get to Mahomes, defend the deep threat, dominate the clock to keep Mahomes on the sideline

AND……my Super Bowl prediction

The 49ers are the best team and Patrick Mahomes is the best player on the pitch. The Niners have Kittle, the Chiefs have Kelce. The Niners have Sherman, the Chiefs have the Honey Badger. There are so many facets to this game. It promises to be special. I don’t think the Chiefs D can stop the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling. And I don’t think the 49ers can stop the sheer will and magic of Pat Mahomes. There will be points and lots of them.

Ultimately I am going to go with team over individual and the old mantra of defenses win championships. The 49ers to win this by one score.

San Francisco 49ers 38 – 34 Kansas City Chiefs

And the MVP? George Kittle! He blocks to get the Niners +150 yards on the ground and has 100 yards receiving with 2 TDs.

The end of the NFL’s 100th season will be a classic.

The Tannehill Titans

I have a soft spot for the Tennessee Titans. Now, I know everyone will be saying that as they head into the AFC Championship game next weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs. I wrote about the AFC South during the 2018/19 season and grew to respect and admire the 9-7 Titans – as they could legitimately change their name to since 9-7 has been their regular season record for the last 4 years. A good, solid, competitive franchise which had enjoyed relative success with GM Jon Robinson guiding the way. However, they were a team which could challenge but was never thought of as a true Super Bowl contender. Until now.

In the lead up to the NFL’s 100th season there was a big question mark over the Quarterback position in Tennessee. The team had nurtured strength in the offensive line and running game, and had a defense which was aggressive and competitive. But, in order to be a true contender then needed another trick, another wrinkle to the offense, through the air.

For 4 straight seasons Marcus Mariota had flattered to deceive, unable to consistently impose himself on games, usually coming up short when the game was on him. There was some mitigation including an inability to draft or acquire offensive weapons for Mariota to target. Then in the 2019 offseason the Titans acquired reinforcements. At the wide receiver position Adam Humphries arrived in free agency from Tampa Bay, and then in the 2019 Draft the Titans selected AJ Brown from Ole Miss. No one could have foreseen just how good a pick that would become. This season was always going to be make-or-break for Mariota with the Titans needing to make a decision whether to enter into another contract with him, or to move on from the former 1st round draft pick.

They made one more change on offense which would prove crucial, bringing Ryan Tannehill in from the Miami Dolphins. Somewhat similar to Mariota, Tannehill, himself a 1st a round draft pick, had never set the world alight with the Dolphins mired in a relatively poor run during the last decade. He would, however, provide a capable backup if needed – although this again pointed to a season of perhaps a small incremental improvement, not a run deep into the playoffs. The start to the season bore this prediction out. After week 6’s defeat to the Denver Broncos, where the Titans were scoreless, their record sat at 2-4. They were at a crossroads. If they fell behind, Mariota could not bring them back, not even close. During that week 6 defeat a decision was taken which changed their season. In the 3rd quarter Ryan Tannehill came in for Mariota. He could not alter that result but he showed enough spark to take the starting job from week 7 onwards.

Since that date, October 20th, the Tennessee Titans went 7-3. Ryan Tannehill finished the 2019 regular season with a league high QB rating of 117.5, off the back of a 70% completion rate, 22TDs and only 6 INT. By no means was the improvement in the team’s record all on him but he had become an ultra reliable cog in the machine. He quickly developed a knack of finding AJ Brown who has gone over 1,000 yards receiving and the passing game now acts as a complimentary part of the attack assisting the all powerful running game led by the juggernaut himself, Derrick Henry (over 1,500 yards rushing). There is now balance, with defenses having to at least acknowledge the threat Tannehill poses. He has been the definition of efficient and very effective as a drive-manager on the field, vastly improving the Titans efficiency in the redzone.

So the Titans now find themselves one game away from the Super Bowl with only the Chiefs standing in their way. This will be their first AFC Championship game since 2002 and they come into the game after dispensing with 2 of the pre-playoff AFC favourites: the Patriots and Ravens. In both games the plan has been broadly the same – lean on Derrick Henry, use that focus to pull out the odd trick play, and seek to capitalise on the mistakes of others (very Patriots like). Against the Ravens the Titans scored 21 points off the back of turnovers.

Can they go all the way? Of course, they can, but the AFC Championship game may present the most difficult opponents left for the Titans to play. The Titans defense has been ordinary against the pass this season (ranked 21st by DVOA). Now they must face Pat Mahomes’ Chiefs, fresh from their 50-burger against the Texans, after giving Houston a generous 24 points head start. However, the Chiefs defense ranks 29th against the run (again by DVOA), suggesting Derrick Henry will again have a field day. Both teams should be able to put points on the board – and the (albeit simplistic) task will be – stop Mahomes and stop Henry, or at least slow both of them down. In the midst of this battle don’t be surprised if at a crucial point the Titans go play-action and trust Tannehill to deliver another downfield surprise on the Chiefs.

In a way Tannehill reminds me of Nick Foles and his Super Bowl run with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. Yes, the Eagles perhaps relied more on Foles than the Titans do on Tannehill but Philly also had a strong running game (twin-headed by LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi) and in both cases the QB now at the helm had started the season as a backup, unsure they would receive any great opportunity. And look what happened in 2017. The Titans may be the Cinderella team left in the playoffs but fairy tales do happen. What odds a ‘Tennessee special’ in this year’s Super Bowl?

Other thoughts on the divisional round

I’ve been surprised (sort of) to see the reaction to some of the losing teams from the divisional round (and from the wildcard round before that) and how quickly we lost sight that these were the 12 best teams in the NFL this year, so they must be doing something right.

There have been calls that the Vikings and Texans (and the Saints and Patriots before that) are going to need to rip it up and start again. Issues in relation to the salary cap and/or lack of draft picks have been cited, as have the futures of QBs (Brees, Brady and even Cousins – one week after he was revered for the demolition of the Saints). Whilst there is some credence to this (e.g. the Vikings and Saints are up against the cap, the Texans have frittered away their draft picks, and who knows where Brady ends up) these are well run and well coached franchises who have appeared in the playoffs time and again in recent years. I think all the 2019 playoff teams will be competitive again next year.

Championship Predictions

AFC – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs – love what the Titans have been able to achieve this year and they have beaten two of the toughest opponents possible. But can Derrick Henry keep carrying 30 times a game in this level of intensity. And how do you live with the high octane madness of the Chiefs offense when they hit stride? Kansas just has too much for Tennessee.

Tennessee Titans 24 – 34 Kansas City Chiefs

NFC – Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers – the 49ers looked so good last weekend. The bye week had helped to rest and recuperate their key players. Their defence stopped Dalvin Cook and they can stop Aaron Jones this time around. I love the Smiths on Green Bay’s defense (Za’Darius and Preston) and I think they could seek to take the middle of the field away from Jimmy G. Then there is Aaron Rodgers. He must know he does not have too many more shots at this given the competitive nature of the league. Rodgers will be a thorn in the 49ers side but San Francisco are simply too good across the roster in the end. Could be a classic though!

Green Bay Packers 23 – 26 San Francisco 49ers

Same time next week when we will have our Super Bowl match up!

Wildcard weekend – winners and woes

The first weekend of the 2020 NFL Playoffs delivered big on drama – 2 games went into overtime and all were decided by one score. Quarterback play was at the forefront of the deciding moments – for some it was their first playoff appearance or win, and for others it was, perhaps, their last moments in the spotlight.

End of an era (or two)….?

Two of the defeats may prove to be of great significance to the losing teams; the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. In the other matchups there is hope in defeat for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills, led by Josh Allen, will come again. For 3 and a 1/2 quarters they dominated their game against the Houston Texans. Then the wheels fell off. Allen showed his limitations and inexperience, and Sean McDermott would probably like some late coaching calls back too. Taking that into account it is still a successful season for the Bills and they are well setup to come again in 2020. The Eagles were potentially the most ‘beat-up’ team in playoff history. Their lineup looked more like a preseason game than a must win one-off. Without Wentz, after he had put the team on his back for the last month to make the playoffs, the Eagles were doomed to lost to a Seahawks team which did just enough. As with the Bills, the Eagles will remain strong in 2020.

The losses which have the potential to impact future success more centre on their respective QBs, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

The Patriots reached the playoffs in-spite of their offense. A soft schedule and the performance of their defense guided them to 12-4 (4-4 over the last 8 weeks). And yet, they could have beaten the Titans, and had numerous situations to help them do so. Up 10-7 in the second half they had a 1st down at the Tennessee 1-yard line – and came away with 3 points. They punted on a 4th and 3 on the Tennessee 47, and then on 4th and 4 at their own 37 late in the 4th quarter. Compare that with the aggressive way in which many teams now approach 4th and short. Also, this is Tom Brady in a playoff game – and Belichick did not trust that TB12 and Josh McDaniels could engineer the 1st down. In the end it was as though the Patriots new the jig was up, and they submitted.

Some of the wash-up around the reasons for this happening has to fall at the player recruitment on offense, the weapons that Brady simply did not have. The Patriots missed on Adam Humphries in FA and then drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round – compare his rookie year to AJ Brown (2nd round to Titans), DK Metcalff (2nd round to Seahawks) or Terry McLaurin (3rd round to Redskins). Could Brady have made more with any of these alternatives? The loss of Gronk to retirement added to the problems in Brady having targets to choose from. The question of whether Brady wants to return to the Patriots in 2020 probably starts with him asking, “so, who are you going to go out and get for me to throw to?”.

The New Orleans Saints suffered playoff heartbreak again, making it twice in three years to walk-off TDs by the Minnesota Vikings. The result was justified, if not the decision on the final play (we’ll leave that for now). The Vikings were simply the better team. The defence, using similar tactics to the Atlanta Falcons from their week 10 victory of New Orleans, rushed the interior to great effect. On offense, the Vikings were fluid, running off tackle well and Kirk Cousins had a very effective game. Minnesota could be one of the most complete ‘teams’ in the playoffs, which makes them dangerous to all opponents. The problem for the Saints was this game highlighted a decline in Drew Brees’ ability. If it wasn’t for the astonishing ‘make things happen’ effort of Taysom Hill, the Saints very-own swiss army knife, this game would have been lost well before OT. Brees could not drive the offense forward consistently and he made 2 game-killing turnovers. Before half-time he rushed a play off rather than wait for the 2-minute warning and threw an INT into double-coverage. Minnesota replied with a TD and the Saints then missed a FG. The half time score was MIN 13-10 NO, it could have been MIN 6-17 NO. His fumble, down by 3 in the 4th quarter could have ended the Saints hopes altogether. Again, it came at a point where the Saints could have gone 24-20 ahead but instead they had to scramble at the death for a game tying FG to go to overtime. The scrambling also came as a result of some very suspect time management at the end of the 4th quarter from the Saints sideline.

This performance now puts Brees’ future firmly in focus. Both he and Teddy Bridgewater are unrestricted free agents and Taysom Hill is a restricted free agent. Tough decisions ahead for the Saints to ensure that in week 1 of the 2020 season they have the right guy under center, as the rest of the team should remain strong. One to watch with interest between now and March.

Divisional Round

In both the AFC and NFC we have the #6 seeds visiting the #1 seeds. This year the #6 seeds are as dangerous a proposition as I can remember. The Tennessee Titans can run over teams all day long with Derrick Henry, and as mentioned above, the Minnesota Vikings are a complete team who are on a roll after executing a near flawless game plan at the Saints.

It will be interesting to see whether the teams which had the luxury of the bye week will be up-to-speed or off the pace against the teams which had no rest. In the last 5 years only 4 out of 20 teams winning in wildcard weekend have gone on to win in the divisional round. The rest seems to give an advantage. However, I would see these 4 teams as perhaps the strongest quartet advancing to the divisional round against the previous 5 years. And of course, in the AFC you always had the Patriots lying in wait.

So predictions……considering i was 1 out of 4 in wildcard round…….

Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers – the Vikings were so good last weekend, excellent game plan and execution. They will put up a good show against the 49ers but ultimately I think San Francisco will prove to be too good. 49ers by 7

Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens – one surefire stat for this weekend is that this game will have more yards rushing than passing. Derrick Henry vs Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram. Heavyweight clash for sure. The Ravens wish it was anyone but the Titans. But I’ve got to think Baltimore has too much going for them, Ravens by 4

Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs – the Texans won through from nowhere and if they can get Will Fuller back, and JJ Watt is one week ‘fitter’ then they will cause the Chiefs issues. But this is Pat Mahomes, he has as many tricks as Deshaun Watson, and he has Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Chiefs by 6

Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers – the opportunity for the Packers to show they deserve to be #2 seed. Seattle are like the ‘undead’ it is almost impossible to shake them off. But they are still banged up and despite Russell Wilson’s one-man show I think Rodgers will guide Green Bay to the W, Packers by 3

Same time next week for the Championship round!

47 yards version of playoff analytics….

In the build up to the first weekend of the playoffs everyone is putting forward how they think the next month is going to pan out. Like many people I’ve had a go at the SuperBowl challenge which I did on the basis of what did I ‘feel’ was going to happen. But then I thought let’s try and look at it from a more analytical point of view. Therefore, i plucked (pretty much out of the air) a few factors and looked at how they impacted on each playoff team.

It is just a bit of fun…..but interesting nonetheless….


Regular season opponents results (schedule strength)
Regular season record
2019 record in close (one-score) games
2019 record against each other
Strength of offense and defense
Homefield advantage in the playoffs
Seeding advantage (i.e. the bye week)
Recent (last 2 years) playoff appearances


It was noteworthy here that this disadvantaged teams that had played against the weaker divisions – the AFC East and NFC East. This impacted on the Vikings & Packers, the Eagles, and the Bills & Patriots. Teams which benefitted were the Chiefs, Seahawks and Texans who all played against stronger sides, broadly speaking.

Regular season record goes hand in hand with the seeding advantage and home field advantage so this is where teams such as the Ravens, Chiefs, 49ers and Packers gained ground – the road to a Super Bowl is long and hard for the likes of the Bills, Vikings, Seahawks and Titans.

I feel 2019 record in close games is important as a team which has been blowing sides away in the regular season may struggle when faced with a close finish in the playoffs. This category really benefited the Seahawks (10-2), Packers (8-1) and Texans (8-3) whereas the Vikings (2-4) and Titans (3-3) suffered a little.

At this stage having a regular season win against a playoff opponent could also be a help. Now this category was fascinating and a good sign for exciting matchups throughout the playoffs. The Ravens (5-1) were standout winners here but the Bills (1-4) and Vikings (1-4) struggled again. Most of the other sides were around .500 in these games, with the Saints having the least number of games against playoff opponents (3-1 over 4 games).

In terms of offense and defense I used points per game – on offense how many times did they score 24 points or more, on defense how many times did they concede less than 24 points. (24 is a fair estimate for a mean score in an NFL game.) This then ranked the teams – the offensive stars were the Chiefs, Ravens, 49ers and Saints, on defense it was the Patriots, Bills and Ravens on top – with the Titans and Vikings just behind.

So, all this was plugged into my supercomputer, pinch of salt and pepper, and this gave each team a final record and a percent as it would in their 16 game season. And the result was….

Ravens 0.567
49ers 0.552
Chiefs 0.545
Texans 0.527
Seahawks 0.524
Patriots 0.521
Saints 0.521
Titans 0.497
Packers 0.488
Bills 0.466
Eagles 0.464
Vikings 0.461

I don’t think there is any surprise to see the Ravens, 49ers and Chiefs way out in front. I would have put the Saints level with the Chiefs but I think their lower score is a reflection of falling down the seeds and having to enter at the wildcard stage and then go on the road. Conversely I think the Packers low rating is an illustration that there have been question marks over Green Bay during the regular season (particularly on offense) and that their hopes are boosted by being #3 seed and the comfort of their potentially hostile home environment. If the Saints had been the #3 seed this would have put them on a par with the Seahawks on this scale.

The surprises are the Texans and Seahawks – they were solid throughout the process are particularly impressive in the close games scenario. I don’t think this exercise captures how ‘beat up’ the Seahawks are right now or that the Texans are reliant on a fit WR trio of Hopkins, Fuller and Stills for Deshaun Watson to throw to. But, maybe both could surprise and go further than expected.

The Patriots benefit from their recent playoff excursions and the performances of the defense this season. It suggests they will manage to see off the Titans but would then fall to the Chiefs, which seems entirely justifiable at present. Seeds #5 and #6 in both the AFC and NFC will struggle on these metrics although all have the chance to be ‘beserkers’ on their day.

Using the pct generated we get the Texans, Patriots, Seahawks and Saints advancing to the divisional games. Then it is the Ravens, Chiefs, Saints and 49ers into conference title weekend.

At conference level the Ravens would beat the Chiefs, and the 49ers would beat the Saints. In the Super Bowl the Ravens take the title.

But all that is a very raw, soul-less, look at games where emotion, passion, determination and toughness can win the day. I’ll leave it their and now get ready to settle down and enjoy the first weekend of the playoffs.

So now we know – Week 17 4-point stance

After 256 regular season match-ups we now have our 12 playoff contenders for Super Bowl LIV. Week 17 did not contain many upsets in terms of who was ‘in’ or ‘out’ but it did impact on the final seedings and which teams now need to go on the road to get to the Hard Rock Stadium, Miami. In the AFC the road to the big finale goes through Baltimore, in the NFC it is via San Francisco. Let’s take a look at the contenders and the wild card round of fixtures.


In the AFC the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs are worthy #1 and #2 seeds, and they can now benefit from the bye week in order to rest, regroup and take advantage of the opportunity to watch seeds #3-#6 scrap it out this weekend. Both sides are an embodiment of new wave, exciting, offenses with several generational talents in terms of their skill and speed. I doubt an AFC Championship of Ravens vs Chiefs would disappoint.

The final standings in the AFC represent a changing of the guard. The New England Patriots have, rightly, been displaced and will now need to fight tooth and nail on the road to make their 10th Super Bowl appearance in the Brady/Belichick era. There is no doubt the Patriots have struggled this year, specifically on offense, and their 12-4 record is an achievement in of itself. In previous years Foxboro has been the graveyard of many an AFC contenders playoff hopes – not this year.

Although divisional winners, the Houston Texans, can be bracketed alongside the wildcard spots won by the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. All 3 could been seen as looking to upset the odds against the more established higher seeded teams. They have already achieved successful seasons in qualifying but how far could they go?

AFC Wildcard games

Buffalo Bills @ Houston Texans – interesting match-up, the Texans have more on offense but they go up against a Bills team stronger on defense. It doesn’t feel like a high scoring game and if they keep it low and close I think Buffalo will take this, Bills by 3

Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots – the Patriots are on the ropes but now in the arena they thrive in, knock-out football. Do they have what it takes to stop Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill and AJ Brown. The Patriots will need their defense (again) to bail them out of this one. I don’t think Tennessee will find this straightforward but, in the end, Titans by 6


The New Orleans Saints must be wondering how on earth, with a 13-3 record, they are only #3 seed and not taking the week off. In the NFC the San Francisco 49ers, arguably as a result of one missed PI call, are the #1 seed and, somehow, the Green Bay Packers are the #2 seed. The 49ers have been impressive all season long, particularly (on offense) since the FA deadline signing of Emmanuel Sanders. The defense started the season super aggressive and although there has been a recent decline the 49ers are the team to beat. The Packers defense, upgraded during the 2019 off-season, has propelled Green Bay to several wins whereas the offense has often mis-fired for long periods of games which may hurt them in one-off playoff games.

The Saints are the best #3 seed in a long time whereas the final division winners, the Philadelphia Eagles, have slugged their way in great adversity to the #4 seed. This may serve them well through January. The Minnesota Vikings have limped through the final stages of the regular season , 4-4 in the last 8 weeks. After being in contention for the NFC North title they fell short to the Packers in week 16 and then sat a number of starters which resulted in a meaningless game against the Bears. This was in some ways an odd move – week 17 could have been a chance for a mis-firing offense to regain momentum, instead they go into a wildcard game in no kind of form, despite being one of the more well-rounded rosters headed to the playoffs.

The other NFC playoff teams could be dangerous, wounded animals. The Eagles 4-0 run to the NFC East title was completed in-spite of an injury list which seemed to grow by the minute. In week 17 versus the Giants there was a queue for the blue tent: that’s how bad it was. Carson Wentz, with no receivers to speak of, has managed to lead his offense to vital wins. They have the benefit of experience in the recent playoffs and both the O-line and D-line are well established. The Seahawks have also experienced multiple injuries as the season has progressed but they found ways to win games – 12 of their 16 games were decided by one score (10-2). But for that last play against the 49ers they could have been the division winners. With Russell Wilson at the helm they will always be in contention in a one-off game.

NFC Wildcard games

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints – the Saints are purring whereas the Vikings are looking to putting the last few weeks behind them. The Vikings will have the Minneapolis Miracle in the back of their minds but I don’t expect them to be able to keep New Orleans close this time around, Saints by 9

Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles – this could be one ugly slug fest. In week 12 the Seahawks beat the Eagles in Philly by 17-9. Both teams are even more beat up now. Neither possess the talent to blow the other away here and it may come down to whatever Wentz and Wilson can conjure to get it done. I like the way Philadelphia have battled to this point so I’ll take the Eagles by 3

Same time next week!

“It’s a trap!” – Week 15 4-point stance

…as Admiral Ackbar once said. Entering into week 15 we still had several teams with a outside shout of a playoff spot and some had games which, on paper, looked like another W in the column to get them one step closer. However, traps lay ahead.

Who fell in?

Cleveland Browns 24 – 38 Arizona Cardinals
The Browns were 6-7 going into this game with a reasonable shout of at least an 8-8 record and an outside chance of #6 in the AFC playoff race. The Cardinals had fallen to 3-9-1 with 6 defeats on the spin (after a promising start). Arizona smashed Cleveland in the mouth early on and kept on pounding on the ground. The Browns got behind and could not catch up, even with another stand out performance from Nick Chubb. After lots of pre-season talk about the potential in Cleveland they have underperformed and at times have appeared disjointed and ill-disciplined. It will be interesting to see if they move on from HC Freddie Kitchens with the thought that they cannot afford to let the talented roster start to break up and the possibility that a change in the coaching staff could bring out the best in these Browns.

Atlanta Falcons 29 – 22 San Francisco 49ers
What goes 1 – 5 – 1 – 5? Answer, the 49ers as they yoyo between seedings in the NFC. After last week’s game of the season victory over the Saints they got ambushed at home by the Falcons, who have stuttered their way to an unconvincing 5-9 record. As with the 49ers other defeats this season the L came in the last few seconds thanks to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Dan Quinn and his team have rescued the Falcons season somewhat (4-2 in last 6 weeks) but the 49ers should have banked the W to almost lock up the division title. Instead they are back to #5 and probably needing to beat the Seahawks in Seattle in week 17.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 – 16 Oakland Raiders
Not so much of a playoff spot at risk here – Oakland have ground to a halt in the last month with 4 defeats in a row – but more of another example that sport does not stick to any fairytale script. This was the Raiders last game in Oakland before their move to Las Vegas next season, and their opponents looked ideal on paper. The Jaguars had lost 5 straight, all by at least 17 points. Oakland got up early and at 16-6 in the 4th the W seemed assured if not spectacular. However. Two late TDs from Gardner Minshew turned the game on its head as Oakland disintegrated. It takes some more of the shine off what had been a promising season from the Raiders and a disappointing end to football in Oakland for one of the most dedicated and fervent fan bases around.

Who survived?

Philadelphia Eagles 37 – 27 Washington Redskins
This was close. The Eagles are decimated at WR. Their offense survived through RB Miles Sanders and Wentz throwing to TEs and RBs – Greg Ward was the only WR to pull in a catch – 7 in total – with the most important the go ahead with seconds remaining. The Redskins pushed them close but the Eagles survived to go into the all important NFC title bout versus the Cowboys next week.

Seattle Seahawks 30 – 24 Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks were banged up and lost key players during the game, but they go out in front and at 30-10 in the 4th all was going according to plan. But then out of nowhere Kyle Allen and the Panthers scored 14 points unanswered to test Seattle’s nerve. Russell Wilson then converted a long 3rd down and the Seahawks were able to run out the clock and take the edge in the NFC West.

Other thoughts

Tip of the cap to Eli Manning after the Giants beat the Dolphins 36 – 20.
Deshaun Watson to Deandre Hopkins could take the Houston Texans to AFC south title.
The Packers and Patriots could end up being the least convincing #2 seeds ever.
Why can’t Jameis Winston play like that in September, October and November?
Philip Rivers looks done with the Chargers.
Welcome back to the Dallas Cowboys (and goodbye to the LA Rams).
Feeling the Draft – Chasing Young

I feel sorry for Ohio State’s premier pass rusher Chase Young. With still a little over 4 months until the 2020 NFL Draft and the fervour around his destination next year is already building. He has been anointed by several draft experts as the best player coming out of the college system – to such an extent that some even consider that the QB-needy Cincinnati Bengals may pass on Heisman Trophy winning LSU QB Joe Burrow in order to draft Chase Young. It could well be a close call for the Bengals as QB and pass rusher are probably the 2 most coveted positions to nail in the draft. However, I don’t see the Bengals limping on for another 12 months with Andy Dalton (or Ryan Finley) under center.

The more likely destination at the moment would be the NY Giants, still sat at #2 (just). Pass rush is a definite need for the Giants and if Young is on the board when they pick it could be the simplest decision for the front office to make. This plan took a jolt this week when a report came out that maybe Young was thinking of staying at Ohio State in 2020. Social media caught fire. Then, when you delved into the ‘story’ there was nothing of substance there. The report came out of TMZ Sports when they caught up with him at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. For me, if anything, this demonstrated how ready for the NFL Young is. It was a show of great maturity – here he is still concentrating on his College season and the game against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl on December 29th. He did not want the story to become him. He is focused on the game and his team mates. It demonstrated he is a professional.

It won’t be until the book is closed on the 2019 College season before he declares his position – which i think will be to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. If he does so whichever team manages to secure him will be getting a gem. We will though have to put up with numerous stories surrounding him such is the level of interest in the very top College talents. By the looks it though he can cope – I hope the fans of the teams he could go to (Bengals, Giants, Dolphins, Redskins) can too!

Week 16 picks

Back to .500 last week. Some great fixtures in week 16, could this be a 4 out of 4 week? Going for the crunch games so I am sticking my neck out!

Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots – both teams are now in the playoffs and I think this benefits Buffalo more. With nothing to lose I think they will feel the Patriots are there for the taking. New England beat Cincinnati last week but their offense still did not fire. I don’t see many points in this but I see more for Buffalo – Bills by 4

LA Rams @ 49ers – both looking to bounce back after defeats and the need is perhaps more with San Francisco in order to keep up with Seattle in the hunt for the NFC West title. I don’t think the Rams will be able to recover from the beat down the Cowboys gave them. 49ers by 6

Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles – okay you two, one of you has to win the NFC East, who’s it gonna be? I look at what is available to both offenses and on that basis it has to be Dallas. I’ll take the Cowboys by 10

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings – it is bizarre that a team as strong as the Vikings with their record are in line to be #6 with the Packers at #2. No doubts that Green Bay have had a good season but, similar to the match up above, I’ll take Minnesota’s options on offense in the dome, Vikings by 7.

Same time next week!