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!

The Final Stretch – Week 14 4-point stance

As we head into deepest darkest December the final 3 weeks of the season are upon us and teams are in 3 categories; those headed to the playoffs (but in what seedings), those battling to break into a playoff spot and those whose attentions are turning to potential changes to coaching staff and front offices in order to change their fortunes for 2020. Who’s hot and who’s not?


LA Rams – was it really 2 weeks ago when the Rams were blown away by the Ravens to fall to 6-5 with a playoff spot disappearing into the distance. Over the last 2 weeks the 2018 Rams offense has returned, Todd Gurley’s wheels are rolling again, and Jared Goff is back in those situations of 3 levels of open receivers to throw to. The Jet sweep is back! It is almost as though Sean McVay was conscious of not being a carbon copy of the 2018 Rams (thinking defenses would adapt) and, as a result, the offense stuttered through the early season. They were dismissive of the (then) NFC #1 seed Seahawks. They will need to repeat the performances over the next 2 weeks (@Cowboys and @49ers) but the Rams are hunting down a wildcard spot now.

Tannehill and the Titans – sounds like a soul band and the Music City Miracles are high at the moment in Tennessee. This has proved to be such a good fit since the Titans benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. His QB rating prior to Tennessee had barely ever broken 90 – he currently sits at 118.5 in this 6 out of 7 run of victories. In tandem with Derrick Henry (already over 1,200 yards rushing) Tennessee now have an efficient offense to line up alongside an always competitive defense. This has catapulted them into joint 1st place in the AFC South and now in a straight shootout with the Houston Texans for the division. Their 2 game in 3 weeks series will decide the division and I would not bet against the Titans, and Tannehill, right now


Dallas Cowboys – dead man walking here. The Cowboys have lost their last 3 and have not beaten a team with a .500 or better record this season. Here’s the quandary – who sits 1st in total offensive yards per game and passing yards per game but 9th in points scored…..? As Jerry keeps reminding us all the pieces are there; Dak, Zeke, Amari Cooper, but they are not converting the possession into points. The defense has not hit the heights of last year and as a team they are goo enough (just) against the weak sides but not against their more direct rivals. With Philly winning against the Giants the situation is now serious. Their will only be the division title spot up for grabs – the Eagles play the Redskins next week whereas the Cowboys entertain the Rams. Dallas could very easily miss out on January football this year and that would surely result in a change at Head Coach.

The Lions, Jaguars, Panthers and Raiders – chosen these 4 because they look like they’ve given up on the 2019 season to varying degrees. Detroit and Jacksonville are both in a tailspin (3-13 combined since week 6) and headed for a change in coaching staff. Carolina, by contrast, have made the change at Head Coach but it has not sparked any fire based on the 40-20 defeat handed to them by the Atlanta Falcons. The Raiders season had shown promise but they have probably reached the limit of the their abilities for this season, and injuries have piled up of late. I do hope they can rally in the last 3 weeks for a respectable 8-8 finish from what has overall been a far more positive season.

Quick Thoughts

Giants – great to see Eli Manning back under centre for what maybe the last few outings and at HT (17-3) everyone wondered who was writing his script but the G-Men’s inability to play 4 good quarters resurfaced, the offense stalled and the OT TD to Zach Ertz is an embarrassment to the D…..

Broncos – have found their QB of the future in Drew Lock. He has been able to sit and watch and learn for the first 3 months of the season, and now looks like he is having fun and reigniting the Broncos offense to a decent final standing. Their draft class of 2019 has shown promise, like the Raiders, and I feel the AFC West will be more competitive next year.

Buccaneers – what is it like to have Jameis Winston as your QB? 33/45 456yds 4TD 3INT…. this game, which the Bucs won in the end, appeared to encapsulate Winston’s career. Must be such a rollercoaster ride – he just keeps slinging in – fun to watch. Probably done enough to earn another year starting in Tampa next season.

Steelers – how far can they go with this team this year. Essentially on one leg (the all conquering D) they are now 8-5. Can they get to the playoffs with just this and Duck Hodges?

49ers @ Saints – lots of coverage already, game of the season thus far. Very promising signs for the playoff games to come. The catch and run by George Kittle at the end – phenomenal. When the game is on the line you go to your top players. Also, loved the coaching of Robert Saleh on Saints last drive. Yes, they scored a TD but Saleh just kept blitzing so their was still 50 seconds on the clock for Garappolo to work with (and 3 time outs – well done Kyle Shanahan hanging on to them after not being able to stop the clock last week against the Ravens). Wonderful game – more of the same come January please.

Performance(s) of the week

Well done to those teams not headed to the playoffs who have not given up the ghost and dialled in their performances. Step forward the LA Chargers (45-10 over Jags), Atlanta Falcons (40-20 over Panthers), and the Chicago Bears who (like the LA Rams) have decided to fight for their lives to try and snag that #6 seed in the NFC side of the playoffs. Unlike some of those sides mentioned earlier, these are teams which are playing with pride to end their 2019 season with some positives even if it does not mean a run at a Super Bowl.

Week 15 picks

Another 3 out of 4 week last week (if the Saints had held at the last minute it would have been a full house). Will I ever get the elusive 100%? Maybe I should just pick some ‘shoo-ins’… might do that week 17! As for this week

LA Rams @ Dallas Cowboys – already trailed it earlier, one team is on the up, the other in disarray. Winner still in with a shout at a playoff berth, the loser could be on their way out. Momentum is everything, LA could give Dallas (and Jason Garrett) the final nail this week, Rams by 10

Buffalo Bills @ Pittsburgh Steelers – tough final run for Buffalo who are hoping they have already done enough to get over the finish line. The Steelers are riding their D as far as it will take them but I think Josh Allen and company will have the ability to bounce back from last week’s defeat, Bills by 4

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers – the Packers are perhaps the least convincing division leaders at the moment (outside of the NFC East!) and the Bears are clawing at every moment to try and make the playoffs. Think Green Bay will raise their game here to send the Bears packing (see what I did there), so it is Packers by 8

Miami Dolphins @ NY Giants – a basement battle for the last matchup. Miami returns to New Jersey a week after losing in the Battle of the Kickers to the Jets. The Giants are in freefall and not even the sudden appearance of Eli Manning can put a good spin on the position of that organisation at the moment. Miami, meanwhile, have shown resilience in adversity and I think they will embarrass the Giants next week to add to Pat Shurmur’s woes. Dolphins by 6

Same time next week!

Snakes and Ladders – Week 13 4-point stance

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

Super Bowl LIV Preview?

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

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

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

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

Seahawks – toughest team in the NFC?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is already looking to 2020?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same time next week!

Making a statement – Week 12 4-point stance

Week 12 is in the bag and, for me, I was struck by a number of statement wins which either strengthened a team’s claim to a playoff berth or proved that they were still alive for squeaking in to a wildcard spot. There were 6 wins of 17 points or more across (43%).

Out in front

Packers 8 – 37 49ers
Ravens 45 – 8 Rams

In two games, on Sunday night and 24 hours later, first the San Francisco 49ers and then the Baltimore Ravens walked all over opponents who should have provided both with a stiff test of their SuperBowl credentials.

The 49ers made the Packers look ordinary. By halftime the score was 23-0 and the game was effectively over. The defense restricted Aaron Rodgers to 104 yards passing but it wasn’t a performance of takeaways (only 1 forced fumble and 3 sacks) but as a pack they harassed Rodgers continually. The D smothered and strangled the Packers resulting in only 1 of 15 3rd downs converted. On the other side of the ball the 49ers play-calling is a thing of beauty at times. The 3TE set which then released George Kittle to be wide open for a TD to make it 30-8 was almost poetic. To me, their invention is this year’s version of what happened when Sean McVay got the Rams rolling last year. Talking of McVay….

The 2019 Rams are not the 2018 Rams. They have struggled to a now 6-5 record and look set to miss out on the playoffs after last year’s Super Bowl appearance. They were humbled by the Ravens. On paper this was a tricky tie. Having to go west coast, away to a side who should have been playing to keep pace in the NFC West. Instead the Rams fell the same way as the Texans, Bengals, and Patriots. The Ravens leaned on the run early on and rolled right over the Rams (285 yards rushing). If ever a team were in a sweet spot it is the Ravens right now. The Ravens D took the run away from the Rams and the addition of Marcus Peters in the secondary is looking a better more week after week.

So, who do both sides move on to next week? Well…. it’s the 49ers travelling to the Ravens! A Super Bowl LIV rehearsal….

Stayin’ Alive

Raiders 3 – 34 Jets
Dolphins 24 – 41 Browns
Jaguars 20 – 42 Titans

It is no coincidence that each of these victories come in the wide open AFC race for the 6th seed. Three weeks ago the New York Jets were dead and buried at 1-7, Sam Darnold was seeing ghosts and Adam Gase was going to be ‘1 and done’. Three wins later, with Darnold and Gase now on the same page and the O-line giving the QB time to throw, and things are looking much brighter. They blew the Raiders away and face the Bengals and Dolphins in the next 2 weeks – they could be 6-7 in a race where 8-8 might just do it if other results go their way – wouldn’t that be a turnaround!

The Cleveland Browns have negotiated the tricky part of their 2019 slate. They did everything they needed to do against the Dolphins in a convincing victory. Mayfield to OBJ – TD! That’s what the fans have been waiting for and the connections are starting to happen and Nick Chubb is always going to get you 100+ yards on the ground. They are in the soft spot now in the schedule – 4 of their next 5 fixtures would be seen as winnable. A 9-7 finish would give them a good claim to #6 in the AFC.

For the Tennessee Titans, it is not only a wildcard spot they could claim, the AFC South title is still up for grabs. At 6-5, following the dismantling of Jacksonville, the Titans are only 1 game back from the Houston Texans. The Titans don’t get enough love, that almost seems a given in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill has been efficient and effective since his insertion as the starting QB, taking over from Marcus Mariota. Derrick Henry is a juggernaut and ploughed on for 159 yards on the ground. The Titans D will always make you work for yards and points – they are a borderline top 10 D. Tennessee’s fate will be determined in the division – 3 of their last 5 fixtures are against their closest rivals and they do need to win those to improve on their current 1-2 record in the division. Sweep the board and a 9-7 might just be enough for the division or a strong claim for #6.

Sneaky Good

Cowboys 9 – 13 Patriots

Oh they just keep going don’t they. The Patriots are like the Terminator. They never know when it’s done. They themselves admit it, the offense is probably as poor as they have ever had under Belichick. No doubt it is the twilight of Brady’s career. The defense and the special teams are bailing them out week after week. However, it is New England in pole position in the AFC at the moment and who would bet against them if they end up #1 with homefield advantage?

On the Bubble

Broncos 3 – 20 Bills

The Buffalo Bills 8-3 record might be the most surprising of any team so far this season. They are almost, almost, secure in that #5 spot in the AFC. Josh Allen has shown great progression in his second year and the top 3 defense (points allowed) keeps them in any game they play. The visit of the Broncos could have presented a slip up but the Bills leaned on the run (Devin Singletary and Frank Gore on the 1-2 punch) to see them through. The issue for the Bills is they now run into the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers then Patriots. A tough run which could see them go into week 17 as low as 8-7. I still think they make the playoffs, and in #5, but they will be glad of all those W’s in the bank.

Look ahead to week 13 match ups – my 4 to watch

Need i say it was .500 again last week with 2 out of 4 correct. Thanksgiving this week and some great matchups to try and predict.

Buffalo Bills @ Dallas Cowboys – some times a team just has to win. The Dallas Cowboys, and specifically Jason Garrett, are feeling the pressure. Jerry aint happy. The Bills are entering a tough run and I think they get an L here. Cowboys by 9

Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers – unfortunate in many ways that this fixture comes only 2 weeks after the last encounter which ended with such ugly scenes. However, the personnel has changed in the space of 2 weeks. Can the Browns offense continue to burn bright or will Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges give Pittsburgh enough offense to back up their highly impressive D. Steelers by 4

49ers @ Baltimore Ravens – A Super Bowl LIV preview? Who could have predicted that at the start of the season. These are the form teams in the NFL. This will be fascinating. I think the Ravens have more on offense than 49ers. Ravens by 7.

New England Patriots @ Houston Texans – The Patriots keep rolling, doing what they have to do each week to get the next win. The Texans have slipped up time and again just when you think they should be dominating the AFC South. I think Deshaun Watson puts on a show and the Texans win by 3.

Same time next week!

Comebacks and breakouts – Week 11’s 4-point stance

Vikings and 49ers Houdini act

Going in to Week 11 the Vikings were riding high after a statement win over the Cowboys whereas the 49ers were seeking to re-establish their claim to the NFC #1 after their first loss of the season to divisional rivals Seattle. On paper, both had good reason to think their week 11 games could be straightforward (49ers vs Cardinals and Vikings vs Broncos) and another W on the record. They could not have been more wrong.

At one stage on Sunday night the 49ers were 16-0 down and the Vikings were 20 points down. Defeats would have severely dented both teams credentials as NFC contenders and could have sowed seeds of doubt in both camps. Instead both sides stepped up, as champions do in adversity, to overcome the odds and claim victory.

The change at half time in the Broncos versus Vikings game was stark; two halves of football that were like night and day. The key thing here was that the Vikings stuck to their game plan, they didn’t panic. They moved the ball on offense responsibly, sticking to their strengths in the play action and Kirk Cousins (29/35 for 319yds 3TDs) slayed another demon in marshalling the comeback. At the end the defense, who rampaged through the second half, held a goal-line stand to rubber stamp the win.

The 49ers will have seen the danger signs two weeks ago in their first tilt against the Cardinals – a team who have been improving game by game. San Francisco were also missing key pieces on offense such as Matt Breida and George Kittle. Without Breida the run game stalled which added more pressure to the shoulders of Jimmy Garoppolo. The further loss of Emmanuel Sanders, already a key piece for 49ers since his trade, could have completely derailed Jimmy G. Instead he stepped up with 424yds and 4TDs.

In both cases the Vikings and 49ers will be emboldened by their comeback wins. They have a number of similarities, imposing defence, solid run game and QBs who have their doubters. Both, however, are well on course to be in the mix come January.

Oakland rookies lead the way

When the dust was settling after the 2019 NFL Draft one of the big questions was whether the Raiders rookie class would prove their worth given the additional picks the Raiders have gathered from trading away high profile players. There is no doubt, with still 6 games to play, that the 2019 Oakland Raiders draft class is one of the best in recent history. What is most pleasing to see is the value they have gained from the lower round picks; 4th round pick DE Maxx Crosby already has 6.5 sacks, 5th round WR Hunter Renfrow (one of my favourite picks in the entire draft) is becoming a reliable target for Derek Carr. Throw in TE Foster Moreau, EDGE Clelin Ferrell and did we mention RB Josh Jacobs yet….

Oakland sit at 6-4 right on the bubble on spot #6 in the AFC playoff running. With the Jets, Titans, Jaguars and Chargers in the remaining games 10 wins could be on the cards. If they achieve this, and a playoff spot, the Raiders rookies will have played a large part.

Check on playoffs

So, a few weeks ago I put out a prediction for the playoffs. These were the teams I thought had the best shot of January football.

AFC Patriots, Ravens, Colts, Chiefs, WCs Bills and Texans
NFC Cowboys, Vikings, Saints, 49ers, WCs Packers and Seahawks

How does these stand up four weeks later? In the AFC the Patriots and Ravens look like locks for the #1 and #2 seed – which way round will be the question. Although the Chiefs have had a recent wobble I think they still take the AFC West. The AFC South tips back n forth. The ‘wild’ wildcard could be the Raiders. If they finish strong they will challenge for a WC spot and they may well upset either the Bills or Texans/Colts for the final place.

In the NFC it looks as though it will be these 6 teams headed to the playoffs. However, in two divisions (West and North) the records are so close that who ends up divisional winners and who is left the wildcard will be the race (Packers/Vikings, Seahawks/49ers).

2020 Draft – what now for Tua?

Almost from the first snap of the 100th NFL season the story in the background has been ‘Tank for Tua’. The Alabama QB, Tua Tagovailoa, was considered such a sought after commodity in the 2020 draft stakes that it was felt teams in desperate need of a new franchise QB would write off this season just to snag him with #1 pick next April.

Disaster struck the young QB last weekend when a dislocated right hip ended his season. Comments like ‘career threatening’ were quickly out in the open and we can only hope that with the right rehabilitation programme he makes a full recovery. There is no doubt he is a top talent, easily capable of making his mark in the NFL, and we can only hope this is still possible in the long run.

What happens now in the draft? Will teams still want to take Tua early on day 1 depending on the information available to them by next April. Doubts may creep in and push him down the board for some sides. However, there always seem to be half a dozen sides who would be in the market for their new franchise QB and 2020 will be no different. I still think that Tua will go on day 1 (assuming his recovery is on course) but this injury is going to shake up teams’ plans for their early pick – luckily they still have around 6 months to plan!

Week 12 ones to watch

Back down to 1 out of 4 last week – right back down to earth for me! Some great games next week to pick from, let’s see how we go.

Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots – Another NFC East opponent for the Pats this week but are they catching the Cowboys at a bad time? Dallas have regrouped and thrown the offense behind Dak more whereas the Patriots struggled on offense versus Philly. Dallas hand New England its second loss – Cowboys by 4

Green Bay Packers @ 49ers – The last time the Packers came way out west they laid an egg versus the Chargers. The 49ers came back last week – will they have Breida and Kittle back? I think this will be another Aaron Rodgers magic show, Packers by 3

Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles – Seattle will be nice and rested after the bye whereas Philly will be steaming after the home loss to Pats. Eagles D will make it tough for Wilson and Co but he always finds a way doesn’t he? Seahawks by 7

Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans – Is the AFC South ultra-competitive or is nobody good enough to break from the pack and command the division? The Texans were beat down on bad by the all conquering Ravens whereas the Colts kept on trucking over the Jags. I think Deshaun Watson bounces back from last week, Texans by 6

Same time next week!

Behind the curve. Week 10’s 4-point stance

When the New York Giants lost to their Big Apple rivals the Jets last Sunday night it dropped the G-Men to 2-8 for the season and a staggering 10-32 in the last three years since their last playoff appearance. With the Giants on a bye this week, and calls for the head of Shurmur, his coaching staff and GM Dave Gettlemen getting louder, I wanted to concentrate on where it has all gone wrong for NYG.

Date: February 5th 2012

The Giants had done it again. Four years after their improbable Super Bowl XLII victory over the New England Patriots, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning held the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft. Super Bowl XLVI, Giants 21-17 Patriots. Nobody could have predicted this would be the last playoff appearance for NYG under Coughlin, and that the rest of the decade would only see one playoff game for Big Blue.

Where did it all go wrong?

In short, poor management of the roster through both the draft and free agency is at the root of the problem. However, the Giants also appear to have failed to realise where their main assets lay and how to capitalise on them at the time.

In 2012 Eli Manning was 31 years old. He was probably at the height of his powers. He’d just completed a virtually flawless set of performances in the playoffs leading to the Super Bowl victory. However, the clock was ticking. As an NFL quarterback the Giants could have safely assumed the next 4 years would be his purple patch and after that, once in his late 30s, it could reasonably be expected to see his performance levels decrease.

In order for a QB to be successful he needs a good supporting cast. The o-line to keep him upright, receivers to catch the passes and a solid running game to keep opposing defenses honest in their approach. In all cases the Giants investments in these areas were relatively poor. Through 2012 to 2015 the Giants looked to the draft in the main but year on year the returns became worse, epitomised by the 2015 class where Ereck Flowers was taken in the first round. Flowers, rightly or wrongly, became the signature example of everything that was wrong with the Giants recruitment at that time. There were some high spots (Pugh, Richburg, OBJ) but all have since left.

When the Giants have looked to utilise free agency that too has not worked as they would have wanted. In 2014 they secured Shane Vereen from the Patriots. After one decent season his fitness and numbers never recovered. In 2016, after firing Tom Coughlin, the Giants finally went big in free agency. They retooled the defense with Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon high ticket arrivals. A defensively dominant Giants rode their luck in most games winning several tight encounters to achieve an 11-5 wildcard spot. The now notorious boat trip by a number of high profile players was a precursor to a sound beating by the Green Bay Packers. Three years and 10-32 later, the high profile acquisitions have one by one been shipped out with only Jenkins remaining (for now). This in turn has had a severe impact on their room to manoeuvre against cap space. In everything they have done the Giants have seemed to be behind the curve, allowing their roster to deteriorate and their moves to then improve the situation have appeared desperate.

Lessons Learned?

Well not really. The Giants have again been duped by the Patriots in free agency. Desperate for quality at left tackle they signed Nate Solder in 2018 and made him the highest paid offensive lineman at that time. He has consistently shown signs that the Giants overpaid. Patrick Omameh was another bought in to boost the O-line, to no avail. Before that, in 2017, the Giants signed WR Brandon Marshall from the Jets as a big target for Eli particularly to boost redzone productivity. He was a complete bust. In 2019 the Giants paid big money again for Golden Tate only to see him banned for the first 4 games for violating NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Results in recent NFL drafts have also been mixed. From the 2017 class the only players of note are TE Evan Engram and DT Dalvin Tomlinson whereas the 2018 class (Gettlemen’s first) brought in Saquon Barkley, Will Hernandez and Lorenzo Carter – all of whom should be integral to a renewed roster. The 2019 class has its high spots – Dexter Lawrence, Daniel Jones and Darius Slayton but it has not improved any area significantly. The Giants look destined for a top 5 pick in the 2020 draft and will have to use this wisely.

What next?

It will be interesting to see where the blame for this record sits once the season has played out. The Giants come back from the bye week to face the Bears, Packers and Eagles. It might be safe to assume that by the time they face the Dolphins on 15th December Big Blue may well be 2-11. The manner in which they play those 3 games plus whether they can then beat two other poor teams (Dolphins and Redskins) may determine Shurmur’s fate. There is an argument separate to that of the roster which would suggest the Giants coaching, and specifically play-calling, are stuck in a conservative dark age which has now been consigned to history by the innovation prevalent in much of today’s NFL.

However, is it the coaching or is it the strength of the roster (or lack of strength) provided by Gettlemen. The GM could argue, with some justification, that he is still sorting the mess handed to him from the mis-management of the roster during Jerry Reese’s time in charge. Pat Shurmur could argue that he needs another season to improve this very young and inexperienced roster. Defiant, if not successful, performances over the next 6 weeks may save Shurmur and his staff. A set of weak losses will definitely see a change.

The 2020 blueprint

The Giants will enter 2020 with a healthy amount of cap space (approx. $60M) to play with but a roster with more holes than swiss cheese. Almost every position group needs help. A downhill runner to compliment Saquon, healthy WRs, support at TE, O-line upgrades, a pass rush… The list goes on.

Free agency moves will need to be better value than the moves for Tate, Marshall, Solder, Omameh, Vernon, etc. and the Giants do not own a slew of draft picks so they will need to count and provide at least 2 or 3 day 1 starters.

This is not a quick fix. Given the current roster and what improvements can reasonably be achieved for 2020, I don’t see a winning record for the Giants in 2020 either. However, if they can correct the short-term mistakes of the past and look to the next 5-10 years then the 2020s can be an increasingly successful decade for Big Blue.

Look ahead to week 11 match ups – my 4 to watch

Almost a clean sweep last week – 3 out of 4. So close! Let’s see what this week brings.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns – Cleveland saved their season last week against the Bills but the Steelers are on a D driven role. Conner likely to be back to keep Steelers rolling on the ground so that and the D should be enough. Pittsburgh by 6.

Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens – Watson vs Jackson, two of the most exciting QBs to watch and I expect this one to be close and plenty of points. Ravens are so impressive. Baltimore by 4.

New England Patriots @ Philadelphia Eagles – Philly Special! The Eagles tails are up having drawn level with Cowboys in the NFC East. Patriots are out to prove the loss to Ravens was a one off. I like Philly here. Eagles by 3.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts – Colts are in reverse with several crippling injuries. For the Jags it is time for Nick Foles to step up and show why he is worth the contract and I think he will. Jaguars by 7.

Same time next week!

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!

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!