Destination London part 2 – Week 9 4-point stance

Up until 24 hours ago this was going to be a review of the issues arising from the week 9 games. Then article appeared in the Athletic which suggested the NFL and the LA Chargers had discussed the possibility of moving the franchise to London. Social media lit up. The latest, as I type, is Chargers owner, Dean Spanos stating “We’re not going anywhere” (with more colourful language). Let’s look at what has happened here and the longer term picture over any possible London franchise.

Timing is everything

It is no accident that the Athletic produced this article following another successful round of NFL London games which were all well attended and after noticeable games in America which have been poorly attended by home fans – the recent Packers invasion of the Chargers match up as an example.

Reading the article it felt as though this was a kite-flying exercise, designed as much as anything to cause debate on the issue to gauge reaction. Naturally the UK perspective from the fanbase has been largely positive with a broad sense that this would be welcomed. The counter point of view expressed from Dean Spanos is about as definitive as you can get. Getting past the initial emotional reactions what are the barriers and the reality of moving a franchise to the UK.

Would they actually be a true UK franchise?

Follow the money. An NFL franchise is a massive operation. Once you move past the 53 player roster you are looking in the region of 200 employees. It is not solely about gameday; think about what goes alongside the ‘on the field’ time. Having this across the atlantic for 1 of the 32 franchises is unlikely to work. I do not think a model where everything moves “lock, stock” to London. I would suggest you end up in a situation where the franchise remains based in America, probably on the East coast, with the playing squad travelling to London for home games. The other main reason for this – tax. The tax systems for the two countries are so different there is no way the players and staff are going to align with living in the UK under UK tax laws.

Who would it be?

Let’s put this marker down. It would not be a particularly successful franchise. It would not be a franchise which is pulling in the crowds. The LA Chargers have been mentioned because their average attendance sits way last at 25,385. Next comes Cincinnati (46,487) then Oakland (moving to Vegas) and Tampa Bay (55,523). The Jacksonville Jaguars have a recent history of playing in London but they make 60,000 fans in the US.

After that, nobody else would dream of moving. Therefore UK fans would be faced with the prospect of a weak franchise coming across – would the fans stick with them, or would they be coming to support the 8 opponents visiting the London team (in which case the franchise is no better supported than where they currently sit).

Attendances at the NFL London games were, by official figures, strong but if you looked around Wembley over the last 2 weeks there were plenty of empty seats. The franchise could not be based at Wembley and guarantee great attendances. And if the performances were then poor my fear would be that 2-3 years in we find this is not working and the talk begins of when do they return to America?

Collective Bargaining Issues

The current 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) runs until the end of the 2020 season. Therefore, discussions will begin soon and this article may be another example floating an idea to see what the reaction was – the other is the idea of additional games in the regular season. A move to a London franchise would have to be part of the CBA and would require the agreement with the NFLPA. Given the increased focus on the health and well-being of players I doubt the additional travel demands of more teams travelling the atlantic would be an easy sell. At the moment there is the arrangement of the bye week following the London game. How would this work with the 8 opponents and with the London franchise itself (even if they only travelled to UK for their home games).

In addition, how high is this on the NFL’s agenda? I think there are bigger priorities such as the 17th game or even 18th game. I think they will also look to take the game to other countries past the current Mexico and UK games. The game is now massive in the UK, granted, but we should not think that we are the only country interested in hosting NFL games. I do think the NFL need to look at attendances for some of the struggling franchises, and I think the move to 2 Los Angeles teams is saturation (it will always be the San Diego Chargers to me).

If it ain’t broke

The current NFL London series of games can be considered a great success. Ticket sales are strong (there are still issues around touting and secondary selling – a whole other article there) and the games have a carnival feel with jerseys from all 32 teams on display. It is the novelty of these one-off games which helps the interest. What could be looked at is moving when these games happen in the season – at present they happen early on (weeks 5-9) when there is little really at stake. It would be great to see more of a spread with games scheduled more down the stretch when a place in the playoffs may be at stake.

That’s my take on it, let’s see what happens!

Look ahead to week 10 match ups – my 4 to watch

Once again at .500 last week. One of these weeks I’ll nail it! Where to go this week?

Minnesota Vikings @ Dallas Cowboys – some big games this week between playoff hopefuls. Both of these teams need to keep the hammer down and the Cowboys stuttered before seeing off NYG whereas Minnesota went toe-to-toe but lost to a Mahomes-less KC. Vikings by 4

Seattle Seahawks @ 49ers – San Francisco are the last unbeaten team coming off a bye but Russell Wilson is pretty much invincible week after week. So hard to stay unbeaten in this league, you slip up somewhere. Seattle by 3

Carolina Panthers @ Green Bay Packers – Panthers were on fire last week versus Titans whereas Packers laid an egg against the Chargers. McCaffrey could torch the Packers run-D and Aaron Rodgers will be pumped up to get back to winning ways. tough to call. Packers by 6

LA Rams @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Sneaky Steelers are back up to .500 and the Rams want to keep pressure on Seattle and 49ers. Think the Steelers will push LA but if the Rams start how they did in London they will take it. Rams by 7

Same time next week!

Destination NFL London. Week 8’s 4-point stance

As we approach the final of this season’s four NFL London games I wanted to take a look at the current situation, the plusses and minuses of each stadium, and where things might go from here in 2020 and beyond.

Wembley vs Tottenham vs Twickenham

I was lucky enough this year to attend two games: Raiders vs Bears (the inaugural game at Tottenham) and the Bengals vs Rams at Wembley last weekend. I’ve also experienced the NFL games at Twickenham back in 2016 and 2017.

Tottenham’s new stadium is awe-inspiring. The unique design with the retractable grass pitch to reveal the NFL astroturf is remarkable, and the lines of sight from your seats are excellent. Although in a 60,000 seater stadium you feel really close to the action. As mentioned by the players and the NFL bandwagon coming across the pond – this is as close to a legit NFL stadium as we will ever get. For me it knocks Wembley down a few pegs – I’ve always found Wembley a bit soulless. The fans on Sunday tried their best to create an atmosphere but it was no match for Wembley. However.

There are two things holding Tottenham back at the moment – transport links and the lack of a tailgate. I did not realise until travelling to the stadium just how out of the way it is. Only one stadium close by (White Hart Lane) which is an overground station, and a 20 minute walk to any other station. Not sure what anyone can do about this but getting away from Wembley was much smoother than from Tottenham. The lack of a tailgate meant that the pre-game experience at Wembley was far superior – Wembley BoxPark had an amazing atmosphere and the tailgate was extensive (but you needed to get there way early to take advantage of all that was on offer).

I’d like to think that Twickenham might come back into the mix at some point as that also had an excellent pre-game setup with the tailgate. Personally I found transport fine both times, driving down with plenty of parking options but i know others found it more difficult than Wembley.

Fixtures are important

The Raiders vs Bears game has gone straight in as one of the best NFL London match ups but last Sunday I think everyone had an inkling what would happen between the Bengals and Rams. Cincinnati put up a better than expected showing gaining yards on the ground first half to help keep pace with a Rams offense which was shredding the Bengals coverage. The Rams pulled away by two scores and when the Bengals turned the ball over on downs inside the red zone with 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter Wembley started to empty pretty quick.

There is still one team that has not travelled to London and it is about time we saw the Green Bay Packers cross the pond. In addition around half of the league teams have only been over in the UK once. It will be interesting to see how the fixtures pan out for 2020 – particularly with several young dynamic players who the fans would love to see (e.g. Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens). But how many games will we see?

2020 and beyond

Next year is the final year of the current arrangement with Wembley and with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It feels as though that could be a turning point for the arrangement and for any potential London franchise. Let’s start there. In my view I don’t think that will happen. The sheer logistics of hosting a franchise on this side of the atlantic including which stadium would be ‘home’ are a huge barrier. I think the reality of a franchise where then the fans have to live with the successes and failures of one team might bite hard 2-3 years down the line. The variety of teams coming to London is one of the unique features of the current arrangement and I think it is best that continues.

The demand to watch NFL games live is there, ticket sales demonstrate this – but i would note that tickets became available in the run up to Wembley games suggesting that 90,000 is perhaps too high a bar. I think Tottenham at around 60,000 will sell out time and time again. The 10-year deal with Tottenham will run through the 2020s and should guarantee two NFL London games for the next decade. Whether Wembley renew their arrangement or if Twickenham or another stadium (Cardiff, Croke Park Dublin or Murrayfield Edinburgh) comes into the mix.

I think all UK-based NFL fans will have a keen eye on and statements coming out about 2020 and more importantly 2021 onwards.

Finally – trades…

Yawn. The trade deadline has now passed, did anyone notice? Some teams got in early and made important moves to solidify runs to the playoffs (Jalen Ramsey to the Rams for $$$, Mo Sanu to the Patriots and Emmanuel Sanders to 49ers were the highlights). After that there seemed to be two categories – teams desperately trying to offload guys to pick up some scraps in terms of lower round picks (e.g. Giants had a yard sale no-one turned up to) whereas others tried to hold teams for a king’s ransom in order to pick up key pieces to their puzzle – and by doing so a number of bridges have been burned (Jamal Adams and the Jets anyone). At least it is now done and we can get back to concentrating on the match ups for next week. And so…

Look ahead to week 9 match ups – my 4 to watch

It is a recurring theme that I manage .500 most weeks, could this be the breakthrough week? Probably not!

Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars – this is a treat for UK fans. Deshaun Watson vs Gardner Minshew. Much as I love Minshew I think Watson is leading the Texans on a charge. Texans by 7

Minnesota Vikings @ Kansas City Chiefs – assuming Pat Mahomes does not make a miraculous recovery to suit up I think Minnesota will have too much for Kansas. Vikings by 4

Detroit Lions @ Oakland Raiders – both teams sitting around the .500 level and both are franchises heading in a positive direction. I think Matt Stafford is hugely underrated and he will steer Detroit to another win here, Lions by 7

New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens – yes the Pats are unbeaten and yes you can only beat the team in front of you but this is their first real test and Lamar Jackson has a chance to prove his class against the (until now) all conquering Pats defense. One of the games of the season right here, Ravens by 3

Same time next week!

The fog starts to clear. Week 7’s 4-point stance

As we approach the midway point in the NFL 100 season the results seemed to point towards a clearer picture of the teams with playoff potential and those for whom time is fast running out. Let’s start there with a division round up of who is sitting pretty.

Division by Division

AFC East – the Patriots look scary good at 7-0, so scary that Jets QB Sam Darnold was seeing ghosts at the MetLife this week. The Bills are also shaping up nicely for a wildcard spot at 5-1 with their success built on a strong defense and a hope that Josh Allen can keep the ball safe.
AFC North – Baltimore are an offense apart in the league, look at QB Lamar Jackson’s stats – he’s on course to shatter the record for rushing yards by a QB. Their defense has also benefitted from the trade for Marcus Peters. The should stroll the division.
AFC South – the most interesting division without a doubt. The Colts and Texans look like going toe to toe again for the crown and nobody should underestimate the job being done by Colts QB Jacoby Brissett. Remember he was a last minute confirmed starter when Andrew Luck retired almost as the season began. The thoughtfully built Colts roster will be the stronger for me but the Texans should take the wildcard.
AFC West – the Chiefs have been shook by a couple of defeats and the loss of Mahomes but they are still more than a match for the rest of the division who will all splutter there way through the remaining games.

Playoff Teams – Patriots, Ravens, Colts, Chiefs, Bills (WC), Texans (WC)

NFC East – similar to the AFC West there is one playoff calibre team in Dallas and the rest are varying degrees of woeful. Remember when the NFC East was the premier division….?
NFC North – two teams are pulling away in a competitive division. The Vikings and Packers have looked increasingly impressive week by week whereas the Bears and Lions have fallen away. Green Bay has the better QB in Rodgers but the Vikings are the more complete team.
NFC South – one side is outstanding (New Orleans) and have achieved a 6-1 record without their future HOF QB. Teddy Bridgewater has guided the Saints through a potentially tricky period. They have an outstanding roster and may be the #1 seed in the NFC. The Panthers are in good shape at 4-2 but they will have to go some for a wildcard spot in the more competitive conference.
NFC West – turning into the division to watch. The 49ers have leapt into a 6-0 front runner but have they got the offense to compliment their swarming defense? The Seahawks and Rams will both be in the mix and it may be division games which decide this – and Seattle lead this for now.

Playoff Teams – Cowboys, Vikings, Saints, 49ers, Packers (WC), Seahawks (WC)

Trading Season – stick or twist

The first flurry of NFL trades has taken place over the last few days. Teams with a hope of a playoff push, or those that think it could be their year, have made some moves.
Jalen Ramsey (Jags to Rams) – this did feel like trading the family silver (two 1sts and a 4th) but the relationship in Jacksonville had completely broken down and he did make an immediate impact. Still feel the Rams could miss the playoffs, and possibly regret limiting their scope in the next 2 NFL Drafts.

Marcus Peters (Rams to Ravens) – the pick 6 of Russell Wilson on Sunday night suggested this may pay dividends immediately. For a 5th and a swap of reserve linebacker Kenny Young this trade could be great value. Should be fun when the Ravens play the Rams at the end of November.

Mohamed Sanu (Falcons to Patriots) – when do the Pats ever get these wrong? A 2nd for Sanu seems like good sense for a consistent performer from his time in Atlanta.
Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos to 49ers) – the 49ers are gearing up for the playoffs. Support at WR was a need and Sanders for a 3rd and 4th (with a 5th coming to 49ers) is value. The 49ers get a WR with experience right when they will need it most.

Quick Thought

Teams I have a lot of time for at the moment in the way they have built their rosters – made me think – I’d love to see a 49ers vs Colts Super Bowl this year. Doubt it happens but hope both sides make it deep in the playoffs.

Wembley here I come

The NFL returns to London this weekend as the LA Rams and Cincinnati Bengals meet at Wembley and I will be lucky enough to be there. It will struggle to live up to the Bears Raiders game from the new Spurs stadium and I really hope Bengals put up a fight or this could turn ugly. Whichever way it goes the #NFLUK crowd will be out in force demonstrating again the love of NFL in the UK. Sure we’ll all have a great time whatever the result.

Look ahead to week 8 match ups – my 4 to watch

Back up to .500 again last week but don’t think I’ve been above that for a while. Must try harder (although I try not to pick the obvious ones…..). What’s on the menu this week?

Philadelphia Eagles @ Buffalo Bills – the Eagles are falling away whereas the Bills are cementing their place in the running for a wildcard spot. Tough scoring points in this one but Buffalo will score a few more, Bills by 4

Carolina Panthers @ 49ers – Christian McCaffrey vs the 49ers D-line, that’s where this could be won and lost. Panthers defense is not too shabby either. Hard to stay unbeaten in this league, and I think there is an upset on the cards here, Panthers by 3

Green Bay Packers @ Kansas City Chiefs – interesting AFC v NFC clash here. Would have been so much better with a 100% fit Mahomes. Rodgers and co are hot at the moment with the Matt LaFleur offense. Both defenses give up yardage – Chiefs will give up more, Packers by 7

NY Giants @ Detroit Lions – ah, my beloved Giants, what was that last week vs Cardinals. Turmoil continues in New Jersey and the Matt Patricia led Lions are better than their record suggests. It is a long hard season for the G-Men, Lions by 9

Same time next week

Rising and Falling. Week 6’s 4-point stance

The NFL is a rollercoaster and week 6 provided its fair share of twists and turns. Very few teams are proving themselves as surefire playoff material and, if anything, the overall picture of who can have one eye on January is murkier week by week. The fortunes of QBs are intertwined with those of the team and this was exemplified this week.

QBs on the rise

Step forward two back up QBs proving their worth standing in for illustrious counterparts. Both Kyle Allen (Carolina Panthers) and Teddy Bridgewater (New Orleans Saints) have guided their teams to much improved records when fans may have feared the worst. The Panthers were 0-2 when Cam Newton was injured which could have completely dismantled any run at the NFC South. However, Kyle Allen has marshalled his offense to 4 wins in a row with 5 TDs and zero picks. Yes, the success is built upon the amazing talents of Christian McCaffrey and a blistering, re-energised, defense, but Allen is doing his part, ‘minding the shop’. The decision for Ron Rivera will be what to do when Newton is back. But that is a decision for after a well earned bye week.

In New Orleans it is a slightly different story as Bridgewater has a more established pedigree and more could have been reasonably expected when Drew Brees was injured in week 2. However, there was also more at stake. The Saints reached the NFC Championship last season and, but for one yellow flag that should have been, could have been at the Super Bowl. At the start of this season they were aiming for a return to that level and the loss of Brees could have stopped that run before it started. Bridgewater has (again with the help of a powerful D) kept that flame alive and the Saints sit 5-1 with 4 straight wins.

I think both Brees and Newton will return under center once they are able but when they do it will be Bridgewater and Allen who have kept both teams in the race to win the NFC South and make a run in the playoffs.

QBs on the slide

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are at the same point in the careers. It is a sharp point. It is the point where their careers as starting, franchise-leading, QBs live or die. They are both in dire need of resuscitation. Winston’s performance in London against the Panthers was breath-taking, for all the wrong reasons. An INT with his first throw and one with his last – and a frantic scattergun performance in-between. Five INT in total and sacks and fumbles which resulted from Winston hanging on to the football far too long. There were flashes of the good Winston – if Mike Evans had reigned in the bomb late in the 2nd Qtr the half time score may have been 17-14 and retrievable. Remember this is the Winston who led the Bucs to 55 pts against the Rams two weeks earlier.

Mariota is also mired in inconsistency but his appears to be a lack of spark. Additional tools were added in the off season but, aside from the week 1 43-13 demolition of the Browns, the Titans offense remains in neutral for large parts of games. Three of the last four games have yielded a total of 14 points. He was pulled for Ryan Tannehill last week although that did not alter the course of the result against, to be fair, a very impressive Denver Broncos defense.

The issue for both the Buccaneers and the Titans is how long can they continue with Winston and Mariota leading the way. My guess is that both are on their last chance but I doubt either can produce enough consistently great performance to earn a further contract. Interesting side note here – the Titans are home to the Bucs on 27th October. Winston versus Mariota would be an enthralling sub-plot.

Defenses do have the answer

The Kansas City Chiefs and the LA Rams were both high octane offenses last year run by coaches ranked among the very best creative minds on that side of the ball. Well it appears that this year the defenses are starting to bite back, certainly on these two sides.
The Chiefs have only lost the last two weeks but there has been an upward trend in terms of how to stop them. Keep the ball away from them. Both Baltimore and Detroit ran them close and held the ball for 32-33 minutes. In the two subsequent defeats Houston and Indianapolis have dominated possession (40 minutes and 37 minutes respectively). For the Rams I was extremely impressed with the energy the 49ers defense demonstrated and the way in which they attacked the edges of the line with pace and power. Squeezing the Rams worked very effectively. Also a passing note on the Denver Broncos – currently 2-4 but their defense has started to produce the goods. They will be hard to score against for the rest of the season which should improve their record still further.

Performance of the week

Two teams – Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers – both proved that they may just be the real deal this season. The 49ers are built upon one of the best defences in the league, and an intuitive head coach in Kyle Shanahan who has spent the last couple of years quietly rebuilding the 49ers roster. In Minnesota Kirk Cousins proved he can step up as the Vikings ripped the Eagles secondary apart. An offense with Diggs, Thielen and Dalvin Cook will provide points and, as with 49ers, a solid, mean defense will make life tough for any opponent. Both sides are primed and ready this year.

Look ahead to week 7 match ups – my 4 to watch

Well the least said about last week the better as I suffered a complete blowout 0-4. Ouch! A lot to make up for this week – what we got…

Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts – key divisional match up with both sides coming off a good week (Texans beating Chiefs, Colts sitting back watching Titans and Jags lose). More impressed by Houston each week so I’ll take Texans by 4

Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions – Vikings are riding high after beating the Eagles whereas the Lions are coming off tonight’s Packers clash. I’m backing the Vikings to pick up where they left off, Minnesota by 6

Baltimore Ravens @ Seattle Seahawks – another battle of two mobile QBs, Lamar Jackson (look up his yds rushing already!!) versus MVP-in-wating Russell Wilson. Seattle is a difficult place to go and win so its Seahawks by 7

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys – the NFC East is wide open at the moment and the Cowboys are in free fall. Divisional match ups are always key to the destination of the NFC East title. Think the Cowboys will halt the slide, Dallas by 4

Same time next week!

London puts on a show. Week 5’s 4-point stance

Sunday 6th October – the first NFL game at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, the Chicago Bears @ Oakland Raiders. The new venue, purpose-built with NFL in mind, lived up to expectations and the two teams put on a classic which immediately placed it as one of the best games in the history of the International Series.

Raiders get it right (eventually)

This was Oakland’s third trip to London and it was certainly a case of third time lucky. Their preparation, arriving in the early part of the week to allow for acclimatisation, put them on course for the win from the start as they marched into a half time 17-0 lead.
The game plan was very efficiently executed, certainly for the first two quarters. The Oakland O-line was on the front foot from the start, punching holes in the Chicago D to allow Josh Jacobs to eat up ground and dominate time of possession. When dropping back to pass, plays were designed to move Derek Carr in the pocket away from the likes of Khalil Mack. The result – zero sacks for the much vaunted Bears defense.

On defense the Raiders out-Bear’d the Bears, hurrying Chase Daniel and limiting the running game to less than 50 yards. However, this being the Raiders there had to be drama. They imploded in the 3rd quarter off the back of a wayward toss between Carr and Jacobs, blown blocking assignments which halted a drive and costly penalties. Throw in Tarik Cohen’s almost returning a punt for a TD and the Raiders managed to turn round 21-17 down at the start of the 4th quarter.

The 4th quarter hinged on a bold 4th and 1 fake punt call which was made and then almost lost on a fumble. This was part of a 97 yard drive which resulted in a 24-21 lead with 1:57 to go. The defense made a final stop – an INT where Chase Daniel could have been picked by 3 of the Raiders secondary and a deserved London victory was finally theirs.

They now sit 3-2 in the AFC West and would snag a wildcard spot if the playoffs were decided today. I wouldn’t bet against them being in the mix come December but they do have to go to the Packers and then the Texans off the back of their well-earned by week. Whatever happens, I think the Gruden / Mayock partnership is beginning to bear fruit.

Bears take a step backwards

This was a tough loss for the Chicago Bears. Coming off a tough divisional win against the Vikings they will have headed to London (a little late) on a high, but will have left the capital needing to regroup. They looked sluggish at the start of the game and, key for me, lost Akiem Hicks early in the first quarter. This dented the D and Oakland’s O-line took control. Whatever was said at half time worked but only after Oakland had gifted Chicago its first 7 points.

Chase Daniel had one good quarter, which is not enough to win any NFL game. Stepping in for Mitch Trubisky, this performance will raise doubts about his ability to carry the team on his back for any long stretch. Their inability to run the ball effectively, evident in almost every game so far this season, makes Chicago increasingly reliant on the defense. This is going to impinge on any attempt to make the playoffs in a very competitive NFC North.

After the Bears have the week off to lick their wounds they come back to a schedule littered with challenges. A repeat divisional title looks a long shot at the moment.

Tottenham – new London home of NFL

No question this is a great stadium. It’s design from the outside is nothing short of beautiful and the most impressive thing for me was the view from the seat. Even up in the top tier you felt close to the action. There has been lots of post-match praise and I would agree it feels like a proper NFL stadium (I did like Twickenham but have always found Wembley a bit soul-less).

There are things to build on – it needs some form of tailgate, this is integral to the true American NFL gameday experience and was missing from Sunday’s pre-match build up. Inside the stadium think they do need to take into account a NFL game lasts a bit longer then 90 minutes of premier league (so don’t run out of things like beer!). As often happens, catering inside the stadium leaves a lot to be desired – hence the need for proper tailgate food areas.

Transport links are the other issue. I know there was the option to pre-book some link transport but, that aside, Tottenham is not the easiest to get to with most stations (White Hart Lane apart) around a 20-30 min walk. If you are going to host evening kick offs, which seems likely going forward, then how 60,000 people make it home / to hotels at 10pm on a Sunday night needs to be looked into.

Performance of the week

Carolina Panthers Christian McCaffrey – 176 yards rushing, 237 yards total (53% of team total). This is a special player who is spearheading Carolina with the absence of Cam Newton. In a wide-open NFC the Panthers look like they will be thereabouts at the end of the regular season.

Look ahead to week 6 match ups – my 4 to watch

Back up to .500 for the season as 3 out of 4 last week – thank you to Seahawks, Raiders and Panthers (what was that Cowboys). Let’s see if i can continue to upward trend this week.

Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (London) – second Tottenham fixture and should be a doozy of a divisional match up. The Bucs ran the Saints close last week after putting 50 points on the Rams the week before. I do like Carolina but think Tampa Bay will have more firepower – Buccaneers by 4

Philadelphia Eagles @ Minnesota Vikings – both sides warmed up with very straightforward victories over the New York franchises. Both are 3-2, and both need to win this to flex their muscles in the NFC. Kirk Cousins blows hot and cold – this week cold, Eagles by 6.

Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs – the Chiefs are vulnerable and the Texans come off a big win against the Falcons. Two next gen QBs to drool over and points a plenty I think. Real shootout, but the Chiefs bounce back by 7.

49ers @ LA Rams – Are the 49ers for real? They are 4-0 and look very efficient. The Rams need to halt the slide after 2 defeats on the spin. Sometimes great sides find something from somewhere when they just need to win, by hook or by crook. 49ers to get a rude awakening as McVay, Goff and co. craft a Rams win by 9.
Same time next week!

Correction Weekend. Week 4’s 4-point stance

So last week’s stance was entitled “The Cream Rises to the Top”. Well, the cream curdled in week 4 with what everyone seems to be calling “Correction Weekend”. Several great games and a number of the pretenders to the throne proving that they are the real deal. Let’s get into it.

Not so fast

Green Bay, Indianapolis, Houston, Baltimore, Los Angeles all lost home which reeled them in back to the pack in their respective divisions. Throw in Dallas losing at New Orleans and, in comparison to last week, many divisions have been thrown wide open. I predicted divisional winners last week and I have to stick with my predictions but there were a number of impressive performances which will make people sit up and take a second look at some teams.

Particularly impressive was the Cleveland Browns dismantling of the Baltimore Ravens, notching up 40 points, and the Carolina Panthers grinding out a 16-10 victory over the Houston Texans. Oh, and somehow the Buccaneers put 55 points on the board against the Rams. I’ll write that again. The Bucs, 55 points, on the Rams. Let that sink in.
Hopefully this is not a one-off weekend and we do have double figure teams with a good shot at playoff football. Of course, some sides, seemingly remain impervious to challenge – both the Chiefs and Patriots rode out rough periods versus the Lions and Bills respectively to stay unbeaten.

Performance of the week

Okay, somewhat unusually, this week the award is going to a losing side – the Detroit Lions. They have not received the due recognition for their early season form and they ran the Chiefs close on Sunday, very close. Matt Patricia has them competitive and they are going to play for him and fight for every yard and point in a tough NFC North. Their inherent bad luck continued (the fumble on the 1 yard line returned 100 yards was a case in point. But they had a ‘never say die’ attitude which will serve them well in the coming weeks, and I’m backing them for the playoffs.

For some it looks over before it began

Step forward Washington, Denver, Arizona, Miami, and of course whoever loses tonight between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Not a win between them. I think you can also throw in the Jets (on a bye this week) and the Falcons (what is going on there..?). That’s a quarter of the league. For all but the Falcons there are issues at QB and leadership of the offense and for some they look in the midst of a roster reset. I’d like to see the Redskins give it to Haskins from this point on – look at how it has injected new life to the Giants having Daniel Jones running the show. Although his debut was a bit of a horror show (3 INT) this was the first instalment of an intriguing match up for the next decade – Jones vs Haskins.

London baby yeh

This weekend sees the first NFL fixture at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium when the Oakland Raiders take on the Chicago Bears – and I will be there (if my tickets every arrive). Incredibly lucky to be going and I think it will be an amazing atmosphere in this new stadium, purpose built to accommodate the NFL. There is probably a whole other post about the farce which has been the Ticketmaster mis-handling from the ticket selling through to the (non) posting out of tickets (almost £20 in admin and postage fees for them not to be tracked…..just saying).

However, let’s focus on the game and both sides come to London of the back of big victories – the Raiders surprising the Colts, and the Bears with a divisional win over the Vikings. It is going to be HUGE! The NFL London games are always a great atmosphere and I think the combination of fans of both these franchises and the UK NFL fan base will have the stadium rocking. All i hope is that the match and the score live up to expectations.

Look ahead to week 5 match ups – my 4 to watch

Uh-oh 1 out of 4 last week as I fell victim to the ‘Correction Weekend’! I need to get back on track here, let’s see where we can pick up points.

LA Rams @ Seattle Seahawks – off the back of their astonishing defeat by Tampa Bay surely LA will want to show their divisional rivals a clean pair of heels. Unfortunately i think Seattle is the sort of side which can scent blood in the water, Seahawks by 3

Chicago Bears @ Oakland Raiders (London) – love this fixture, and as mentioned earlier both sides will be feeling good coming to the UK. I just think the Raiders are going to be epic on Sunday, even in the face of the Bears D. Raiders need to erase the memory of London game last year too (Seattle 27-3 Oakland). Raiders by 6

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Carolina Panthers – both sides are 2-2, both sides have excellent running game, both sides on a backup QB. Lots to like about the way they are going about their business. Just feel Carolina are a more efficient outfit and their D is going to be able to smother and contain Fournette and Minshew. Panthers by 10
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys – both were knocked off their perch last week and both will be seeking to bounce back. This match up has so much recent history and rivalry and I’m certain this will be another classic. Think Dallas’ loss against New Orleans was more of a blip than the Packers, so I’ll take the Cowboys by 7

Same time next week!

London calling (update)

A few weeks ago I took a few leaps of faith to try and second guess the NFL London 2019 fixtures and now we know who is coming across the pond next season. So, how did I do – well I got one spot on (Bengals @ Rams) and one sort of right (Bears @ Raiders – I went for Mexico but this one is coming to London). Interestingly the NFL went against previous years and have included a couple of divisional match ups which should add a bit more spice and rivalry to the games. Let’s rank the London games just for fun:

  1. Chicago Bears @ Oakland Raiders – huge UK fan base for both these sides and following the Bears’ success, and the Raiders’ well-documented issues under new HC Jon Gruden, interest in this fixture will be high. Don’t forget the Raiders have 3 first-round picks in the draft. I hope this is one of the latter London fixtures to give the Raiders’ much changed roster time to bed down – and it has to be Wembley as they will sell out the 90,000 seats easily.
  2. Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars – the Jags have developed a strong following in the UK over a number of years and Wembley is their second home. As this is an AFC South match up that will add to the interest and, as reigning division champs, the Texans have much to defend. QB sensation Deshaun Watson will also be a big draw for the crowds.
  3. Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – the Panthers are coming to the UK for the first time and that will no doubt draw interest from UK fans. Another divisional match up, versus the Bucs who will be led by Bruce Arians. He has put his faith in Jameis Winston but they also have 5th first round pick – who will that be. Think the UK crowd will also be excited to see Christian McCaffrey and hopefully a fit Cam Newton.
  4. Cincinnati Bengals @ LA Rams – would have put this higher, particularly in view of the Rams who could be coming across as reigning Super Bowl champs. However, looking at the Bengals they need to make huge offseason improvements in order to make a game of this – and they are yet to confirm the HC for next season. Fear this one could be a blowout so it comes in fourth.

Overall I’m pleased to see divisional match ups included and teams coming across for their first trip (Carolina and Houston) but we are still waiting to see the Green Bay Packers in the UK and it is a shame they won’t be over in 2019 – let’s hope they can be included for the 2020 fixtures.

I know I can’t wait to get confirmation of where in the season these fixtures will sit and how tickets will be released. Also looking forward to Spurs’ new stadium hosting games, although I miss Twickenham as feel this was a stadium well suited to the NFL fixtures.

Which games are people most keen to see?

London Calling in 2019

2 Jan 2019 – Updated following NFL confirmation of home team opponents.

The NFL has released the names of the home teams for the 2019 NFL International Series games and we have: the Jags, Raiders, Rams, Chargers and the Bucs. All of these bar the Bucs were to be expected as part of current deals with the NFL on the recent or upcoming franchise moves (Rams and Chargers to LA, Raiders to Vegas) or the Jags long-term commitment to London up to 2020. Four of the five match ups will be in London (2 at Wembley, 2 at the new Spurs stadium) with the fifth in Mexico City.
The question now is who will they play and there are some pointers here and we can take an educated guess to narrow the field down a bit. Let’s work on the assumption that the NFL will not select any direct divisional games, there have only been 2 of these since 2007.
Then look at how the fixture list pans out during the 2019 season.
AFC East vs AFC North AFC East v NFC East
AFC West vs AFC South AFC North vs NFC West
NFC East vs NFC North AFC South vs NFC South
NFC West vs NFC South AFC West vs NFC North

Plus games where 1st place plays 1st place across the divisions in each conference (and so on 2nd plays 2nd etc.).
That gives quite a list of possibilities so (and here comes a big assumption) let’s second guess the NFL that they will seek to include teams who have not recently been involved in the International Series. (Updated plus we now have confirmation of the home team opponents for 2019 season).
2018 Eagles, Titans, Seahawks
2017 Ravens, Saints, Dolphins, Cardinals, Vikings, Browns
2016 Colts, Giants, Redskins, Texans (Mexico), Bengals
2015 Jets, Bills, Lions, Chiefs

If you plug all that in then this is what you get in terms of possible opponents:
Jags – Chiefs, Jets,
Chargers – Packers, Steelers, Texans
Rams – Bengals, Bears,
Bucs – 49ers, Texans,
Raiders – Bengals, Bears, Lions

(Update – this narrows the field considerably, perhaps more-so  than i should, but let’s go with it.)

Out of those I think there are a few more assumptions which could be made which will help us further. The Packers have never played in London so ink them in, and I think it will be the Raiders playing in Mexico. As the Raiders played Texans in 2016 in Mexico I doubt this would be the match up again and the Texans may well be London-bound. I also doubt the NFL would put high profile match ups in a London slot (casts doubt on a Rams v Bears) Finally the International Series is usually a mix of inter- and intra- conference games. Taking all that into account I think this gives us:
Chicago Bears @ Oakland Raiders (Mexico City)
Green Bay Packers @ LA Chargers (London)
Cincinnati Bengals @ LA Rams (London)
Three down and two to go. The Texans have also never been to London so this leads me to:
Houston Texans @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (London) (Although I’d also love the 49ers in this slot)
One left (Jags) and this is a straight 50/50 toss up Jets or Chiefs, so let’s go Gang Green:
New York Jets @ Jacksonville Jaguars (London)

What do we think of those as the potential 2019 NFL International Series? From the perspective of London games would love to see Packers  over for the first time and the Texans with Deshaun Watson, and the Jets with Sam Darnold. Four of these sides would also have new Head Coaches. I’d be certainly in the queue for tickets. Can’t wait to see what the actual fixtures look like!