Contenders and Pretenders

Contenders (teams who look strong enough to challenge)

Buffalo Bills 4-1
Josh Allen has demonstrated great progress in his 3rd year as starting QB. The addition of Stefan Diggs has given their offense an added dimension. The Titans gave them a bloody nose in week 5 and the Bills D does need to get healthy and back to their 2019 standards but they should take the AFC East.

Pittsburgh Steelers 4-0, Cleveland Browns 4-1, Baltimore Ravens 4-1
The AFC North is stacked with three true contenders this year. The Steelers offense is back in business with Big Ben at the helm and rookie WR Chase Claypool looks like another great find. The Browns are for real this year and have shown the ability to adapt gameplans to maximise their chances. The talent on offense should propel them to the playoffs. For the Ravens their offense has been somewhat muted in comparison to their stellar 2019 but they have a very solid roster on both sides of the ball which should see them through. The divisional match-ups will be key to who advances as division winners with the week 6 Browns @ Steelers the first glimpse of who will have the bragging rights.

Tennessee Titans 4-0
Could the Titans repeat the recipe on offense this year with Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry? Apparently so. They followed up three close wins with stuffing the Bills 42-16. With AJ Brown now back on offense, and a weak AFC South they should be able to navigate their win to another division title (and maybe better than 9-7 at last!).

Kansas City Chiefs 4-1
The Chiefs had opened with four straight wins but there have been signs of teams (Chargers and Patriots in particular) working out how to slow Mahomes and company down. Then the Raiders came to town and produced a stunning upset. So, some things for Andy Reid to ponder. This is still potentially the most explosive offense in the league but they may not have it all their own way.

Green Bay Packers 4-0
The focus and the determination of Aaron Rodgers looks borderline scary at the moment. The lowest number of points scored across first four weeks is 30! The script has been flipped since 2019 with the offense dominating and making up for some defensive frailties which may need correcting to be a true challenger or maybe Rodgers is going to do it all himself. Speaking of which….

Seattle Seahawks 5-0
Let Russ cook! That could be the summary. The Seahawks don’t win easy dull games. As with the Packers, the Seahawks defense is not going to win them the championship, but Wilson, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett might.

LA Rams 4-1
Great coaching job by Sean McVay this year, after a disappointing 2019. The switch to Brandon Staley as defensive coordinator has renewed the defense, with Aaron Donald looking like he may be a good bet to beat the season high sack record (2001 Michael Strahan 22.5 – Donald already has 7.5 putting him on track for 24). The offense is back to an efficient scheme, run first then develop play action. They could repeat their 2018 challenge.

In the mix (they may mount a challenge)

New Orleans Saints 3-2, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3-2
Both of these have shown glimpses of their ability to challenge, but they have also demonstrated their limitations. Both have experienced QBs, but Brees and Brady are not invincible anymore and Sean Payton and Bruce Arians may need to scheme their way out of that. Their defenses may need to help dig them out of a hole now and again. The battle for the NFC South title will be scrappy.

Indianapolis Colts 3-2
Are the 2020 Colts the Peyton Manning Broncos? They have a winning record and a top 10 defense but do they enough on offense? Injuries have stacked up (Marlon Mack, Parris Campbell, Michael Pittman) which has limited players available to Philip Rivers to look to. The system looks designed to take the pressure off Rivers and at least he is behind a good offensive line so he has protection. However, he has already looked like the Chargers turnover machine of recent years and that may impact their ability to make the playoffs in a strong AFC.

New England Patriots 2-2
Cam Newton looks like a great acquisition and will be one of the main reasons the Patriots will stay competitive. They remain one of the best coached teams in the league, particularly in terms of defensive game planning and situational football. However, as with the Colts, this could be a brutal AFC race to the playoffs and they may miss out in the end.

Dallas Cowboys 2-3
The Cowboys get to be in this category purely for three reasons: how poor the NFC East is this year, their trio of WRs (Cooper, Gallup and Lamb) and Zeke Elliott. With Dak Prescott now out for the year expect Andy Dalton to lean heavily on his superb trio of WRs and Zeke. The defense needs to press reset but they might win the division just by beating the Giants, Redskins and Eagles.

Frisky (will be a thorn in anyone’s side)

Chicago Bears 4-1
The Bears are 4-1! The Nick Foles Experience is in full effect again. Their defense has helped them to edge out some close games and they are heading for a difficult part of the schedule (Rams, Saints, Titans weeks 7-9 and still both Packers games). Survive those and they might accrue enough wins for a wildcard spot.

Las Vegas Raiders 3-2, Arizona Cardinals 3-2
Both these teams have shown signs they are working things out, particularly on offense. The Raiders have Josh Jacobs on the ground, Darren Waller as a premium pass-catching TE and WR Henry Ruggs as a deep threat. And they’ve beaten the Chiefs, which will give great confidence. Games against the Buccaneers and Browns following their bye week might tell us if they can make the playoffs. The Cardinals are built around throwing to Deandre Hopkins and Kyler Murray’s dual threat. They have stuttered a bit in a relatively soft part of their schedule with 5 NFC West divisional match ups to come. They may not get enough in the W column to make January football.

Carolina Panthers 3-2
In my view probably the best coached team in the league at the moment. Rookie HC Matt Rhule has taken a team predicted to tank in the pre-season and engineered 3 wins in firs 5 games. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady is getting the best out of Teddy Bridgewater and the rookie defensive pieces have helped mould the tough persona Rhule demands from his teams. Panthers will continue to surprise through the season and probably be around .500 which would be a very promising first season.

Season slipping away

Houston Texans 1-4, Minnesota Vikings 1-3
Much was expected from the Texans and Vikings pre-season. Both have disappointed in the first few weeks and are now up against it to mount any sort of challenge in 2020. The Texans have been decisive in sacking their GM/HC Bill O’Brien and they may play with more freedom now and become quite a dangerous team with nothing to lose. Their next two fixtures (Titans and Packers) may decide whether they can flip the switch or are destined for a 6-10 type season. The Vikings look similar on offense to 2019 with the ability to both dazzle and frustrate but the defense is a work in progress. Their run of divisional games in weeks 8-10 (Packers, Lions, Bears) will dictate if they can catch Chicago and challenge for a wildcard spot.

Philadelphia Eagles 1-3-1, San Francisco 49ers 2-3
Both of these sides have QB issues. Carson Wentz looks better running with the ball than throwing it and Jimmy G has the Super Bowl hangover from hell (remember he was probably 1 good deep ball throw from being a Super Bowl winner last year). The Eagles have what feels like perennial injury problems but they are in the dire NFC East so they could challenge the Cowboys. The 49ers are behind the 8 ball in a talent stacked NFC West and have had their own fair share of injuries on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals have got a head start and even with Kyle Shanahan’s ability scheme up the best chance to win it will be hard for San Francisco to return to the playoffs this year.

Detroit Lions 1-3
This should read must do better, for the sake of HC Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn. There are small signs of improvement each week but not enough to secure the wins needed. Games against the Jaguars and the Falcons may dictate the future direction of the franchise. Win and they may be able to salvage something, lose and Patricia and Quinn can be added to the casualties of 2020.

On the mend

Miami Dolphins 2-3
The Dolphins are having some fun. They almost made it into the frisky section of the article. Crushing victories against the 49ers and Jaguars have been in-between close, 1-score, defeats to contenders the Bills and Seahawks. Ryan Fitzpatrick knows he is probably in his final flourish, with Tua waiting in the wings, and he is making the most of it. Again they look a well coached outfit by Brian Flores and his team, and with high picks already in the bag for the 2021 draft things are looking good for the Dolphins. A .500 season would be a step in the right direction.

Cincinnati Bengals 1-3-1, Los Angeles Chargers 1-4, Denver Broncos 1-3
The new shiny QB effects galvanised the Bengals and the Chargers. Burrow and Herbert may not have turned that into W’s on a regular basis yet but the future looks bright for both as they look really composed in their play. The Bengals have also added well to their defense which looks like it will grow into a much improved unit. The Broncos have been unlucky with key injuries which have negated any opportunity to see their young, fast offense in full flow. For the Chargers it is the defense which has been hit hard by injury. Ultimately all three will probably have losing records but they should be able to take positives from this year.

In limbo

Jacksonville Jaguars 1-4, Washington Football Team 1-4
The Jaguars looked good for about a fortnight with Gardner Minshew and rookie RB James Robinson fast out of the blocks. However, since their week 3 stall versus Miami they have fallen behind in games which is a place they cannot recover from, they have to get out in front. It will be interesting to see if they can pick some momentum back up, first of all this week with a winnable matchup against Detroit. If not it could be a long hard slog. For Washington they are in QB turmoil and that is not a good place to start. It looks as though Dwayne Haskins time is up, and the duo of Kyle Allen and the returning Alex Smith will not be able to conjure much with a talent poor offense. Their defense will cause problems for some and Ron Rivera’s effort during his treatment for skin cancer is heroic, but they look like a team in rebuild with one eye on 2021 already.

On fire

Atlanta Falcons 0-5, NY Jets 0-5, NY Giants 0-5
Oh dear. Not a win between them. One HC and GM gone in Atlanta (Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff) and surely one more of each (Adam Gase for the Jets, Dave Gettlemen for Giants) will follow, A case of when not if. All three are already looking at their potential draft pick for 2021. The Falcons have shown a tremendous capacity to lose leads, with a defence which cannot stop the opposition. For the Giants, the offense has been the root of most issues particularly after the early season loss of Saquon Barkley. Dave Gentlemen has not been able to revamp a Giants roster which is still talent poor in areas and he will surely not be given another offseason. As for the Jets it is hard to know where to start. Sam Darnold is being wasted and could be lost for all the talent he has shown glimpses of at times. Worse still it looks as though the players and coaches are not on the same page. As I finish this article I keep refreshing my NFL app expecting to see the firing of Adam Gase, which seems to be the starting point for any recovery.

So where would I point to right now as a potential final four? I’m going to go with possibly the four strongest QBs and expect to see the Chiefs and the Ravens in the AFC, and the Packers and the Seahawks in the NFC. The next month’s matchups will help shape where we are headed!

In case you missed it!

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

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

Part 1 – Go West! (NFC West)

Part 2 – The Wild Wild West (AFC West)

Part 3 – Best of the Rest

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

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

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




NFL Draft 2020 – Team by Team review

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

AFC East

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

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

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

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

AFC North

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

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

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

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

AFC South

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

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

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

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

AFC West

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

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

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

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

NFC East

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

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

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

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

NFC North

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

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

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

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

NFC South

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

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

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

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

NFC West

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Mock Draft 2020 Round 1 – part 4 (picks 25-32)

The end is in sight! Part 4 of my look at round 1 of the NFL Draft and we are into the final 8 picks. Some teams have already picked twice, some not at all. The top 4 wide receivers have all gone from the board but I think there is at least a 5th in these last few picks. Plus a few of last year’s top teams look for those elusive pieces which will help them challenge again next season.

Throughout this mock draft I’ve used the PFN Mock Draft Simulator to help work out potential trades and scenarios –

25. Minnesota Vikings “Free hit”

This is the Vikings second pick after they traded up to #19 to secure Henry Ruggs. With their second pick of the round they are free to take a defensive player to try and offset the losses in free agency. I think they will look to the secondary and another cornerback will come off the board – the question is which one? Three possibilities here I think – AJ Terrell, Kristian Fulton or Jaylon Johnson and I’m going with the latter as the best shutdown corner available here.

With the 25th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Minnesota Vikings select, Jaylon Johnson, cornerback, Utah.
26. Miami Dolphins “Build that offense”

The Dolphins are dipping in for the 2nd time here after moving up for Tua and dealing away pick 18 to the Redskins. Remember that trade also dealt away pick 39 so they will have to sit and wait after this until the bottom of the 2nd round. They might be open for business here with a team like the Texans or Bears – both of whom have 2x 2nd rounders but nothing in the first.

However, I think they should just go and get their running back to compliment Tua as and when he is starting. It is becoming less fashionable to take a running back in round 1 but it is a need for Miami even with Jordan Howard coming in from Philly in free agency.

So, with the 26th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Miami Dolphins select, D’Andre Swift, running back, Georgia.
27 Seattle Seahawks “What does Russ need?”

Picks (7) – 27, 59, 64, 101, 133, 144, 214

Seattle are set up quite nicely in terms of picks with two second rounders to follow this pick so I don’t see them trading – unlike last year where John Schneider, Seahawks GM, went trade happy to somehow turn 4 picks into 11. However, their later picks will probably put them out of range of the next level of offensive tackles or the premier interior linemen.

I’m going to pair them up with taking the first center off the board although they could quite easily go for the tackle spot.

With the 27th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Seattle Seahawks select, Cesar Ruiz, center, Michigan.
28 Baltimore Ravens “Use the window”

Picks (8) – 28, 55, 60, 92, 129, 134, 170, 225

The Ravens are in good shape but they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Lamar Jackson is still in his rookie contract for now and they had an offense few teams could answer during the 2019 season. Defensively though they have had to use the franchise tag on Matthew Judon, so with some uncertainty there it provides the opportunity to go for a linebacker in round 1. And it just so happens there is a great one available at #28.

With the 28th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Baltimore Ravens select, Patrick Queen, linebacker, LSU.
29 Tennessee Titans “Trade away into 2nd?”

Picks (6) – 29, 61, 93, 174, 224, 243

The Titans are not blessed with many picks this year so they may well be open for business and trade down into the top of the second round. I like the idea of them trading with Detroit – a team I highlighted in part 1 as being under pressure to nail the draft. On PFN this could happen with the Lions offering up #35 and #67 (top of round 3) in order to secure the Titans #29.

However, the Titans will feel the loss of starting right tackle, Jack Conklin, and I think they may simply do the obvious in order to keep those running lanes open for Derrick Henry and to continue the renaissance of Ryan Tannehill. Looking at who has gone from the tackle class I think one player has been climbing boards of late and may just sneak into round 1.

With the 29th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Tennessee Titans select, Ezra Cleveland, offensive tackle, Boise State.
30 Green Bay Packers “Make Aaron happy”

Picks (10) – 30, 62, 94, 136, 175, 192, 208, 209, 236, 242

As we progress through round one it is not always easy to see which direction a team might go in as there are so many variables at play. Then there comes a team where you, at least, think it is obvious what they need to do. The Packers wide receiver corps is thin, and it needs a stud. I think the Packers can sit tight in round 1 and then right at the end here a 5th wide receiver gets his name called out. This is another player whose stock has rocketed in recent months and this is a pick which will make Aaron Rodgers very happy indeed – for a while at least.

With the 30th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Green Bay Packers select, Denzel Mimms, wide receiver, Baylor.
31 San Francisco 49ers “Open for business second time round”

Remember that the 49ers have already selected courtesy of the 13th pick from the DeForest Buckner trade. John Lynch and his team should be very happy with the result (Javon Kinlaw as a like for like replacement). They can now sit and wait for the phone to ring from a team looking to get up into the back end of round one.

Again I think there will be a few suitors for the pick including the Texans and Lions but actually the team that I think has capital it could use here is the Denver Broncos. Imagine the two John’s (Lynch and Elway) get on the phone and hammer out the following deal.

TRADE! – SF #31 for DEN #46, #77, #118 (verified by PFN mock simulator)

What could the Broncos do with the extra pick? Back when I mocked their original pick (CJ Henderson) I was aware that wide receiver was another position of need. With all the picks at their disposal they could wait until the second or third round but what if they wanted to make sure they got a quality wideout with the first 5 having already gone. Here we go then with the sixth wide receiver off the board in round one and it is a hometown pick for the Broncos!

With the 31st pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Denver Broncos select, Laviska Shenault JR, wide receiver, Colorado.

I know his stock has fallen of late when he was injured during the combine which impacted his stats but he is a tough physical receiver with plenty of ability in yards after catch. The Broncos met with him at the combine and I think his versatility and competitiveness will appeal to Elway and co.
32 Kansas City Chiefs “Champions next move?”

Picks (5) – 32, 63, 96, 138, 177

The Chiefs are in a similar position to the 49ers one place above them. They may find some value in trading down into the second round in order to gain additional picks. If this were to happen then, unlike the 49ers, I doubt it would be with divisional rivals the Broncos.

For now, I’m going to leave the Chiefs here at #32 and I think they will look to the defense and it could either be for a cornerback (to offset the loss of Kendall Fuller in free agency) or it could be to shore up the run defense which was ranked 29th by DVOA last year. Looking at who is left on the board it was a toss up between Kristian Fulton (who I’d acknowledge has slipped down this mock scenario – I like him as a solid corner but not a 1st rounder) AJ Terrell (who I think is on the rise on some boards due to his toughness and aggressive play) or on the defensive line – Neville Gallimore, Ross Blacklock or Marlon Davison (I think the latter two fit Kansas 4-3 scheme better).

Ultimately I think Kansas can dip back in at #63 to find a player to help the run defense but you should take your cornerback soon as you can and Terrell’s versatility and toughness tip the balance for me.

So, with the 32nd and final pick of the 1st round of the 2020 NFL Draft the Kansas City Chiefs select, AJ Terrell, cornerback,

And that’s it – all done, 32 picks made. Players who can dramatically change the fortunes of their new team. It has been a lot of fun working through my thoughts on each team – now I doubt that a lot of what I’ve put may end up happening but hopefully I’ve been able to articulate why I have made those choices. Can’t wait for draft night!

NFL Mock Draft 2020 Round 1 – part 3 (picks 17-24)

In part 3 of this look at my mock of round 1 of the NFL Draft we delve into what happens when the 4 best offensive tackles have flown off the board and the run on the top quality wide receivers has begun. In picks 17-24 I think we see at least another trade and a situation where divisional rivalry is also in play for the NFC East.

Throughout this mock draft I’ve used the PFN Mock Draft Simulator to help work out potential trades and scenarios –

17. Dallas Cowboys “Play the hand you’re dealt”

Picks (7) – 17, 51, 82, 123, 164, 179, 231

The predicted Dallas Cowboys free agency drama did not materialise. They look as though they will get the deal done with Dak Prescott, although the price goes up the longer it takes. That will eat into cap space later down the line but for now they have got that plus the Amari Cooper deals sorted. They don’t have a ton of draft capital and I expect them to just play the board how it lies and take what they need to supplement a solid roster. The secondary is likely to be the first port of call, particularly in light of losing Byron Jones to the Dolphins and Jeff Heath to the Raiders.

I had a tough time here deciding whether they went for a cornerback or safety so i settled on who, at this point, I think is the better overall player.

So with the 17th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys select, Xavier McKinney, safety, Alabama.
18. Washington Redskins “A little spite store?”

Remember from part 1 the Redskins acquired this pick from the Dolphins in the trade which took Miami up from #5 to #2 in order to get Tua.

If this did happen they could now use the additional first round pick to spite a divisional rival, the Eagles. The Redskins know that Philly needs wide receiver help but how about Washington take another star wideout off the board before their rival is anywhere near on the clock. However, with so many other needs on the roster and a deep wide receiver class which could be revisited later, I think they go with another need, on the EDGE.

So, with the 18th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins select, AJ Epenesa, edge rusher, Iowa.
19. Las Vegas Raiders “Time to trade?”

We are on the Raiders second pick after they took Jerry Jeudy in trading up from #12 to #10. They could now do with acquiring some draft capital back and they may feel able to drift down a few spots in order to pick up a second rounder where traditional, certainly as a commentator, Mike Mayock has always thought there was good value picks to be had.

Step forward the Minnesota Vikings. They have an additional first round pick courtesy of the Buffalo Bills trade for Stefon Diggs. The Vikings can offer the Raiders a suitable second rounder and leapfrog the Eagles (another team in need of a star wideout) to get their guy.

TRADE – LV #19 for MIN #22 and #58 (verified by PFN mock simulator)

When they do get round to pick #22 the question there will be for Gruden and Mayock will be: how much to the love Jordan Love? This is around the time in the draft I think Love might go – either late in the 1st or early 2nd round. Having mulled this over quite a lot I reckon it will be the Raiders, ever the gamblers, who take Love. After all, in a season or two who doesn’t want to see Mahomes versus Love a couple of times a year?

With the 22nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders select, Jordan Love, Quarterback, Utah.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars “A nice spot to be in”

Another team on its second pick and the Jags have plenty of later round pick to simply sit here and take who they like most. I think it will be linebacker and it could be a toss up between Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen. I’m going with the more proven performer, Murray.

So, with the 20th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select, Kenneth Murray, linebacker, Oklahoma.
21. Philadelphia Eagles “Sat waiting”

Picks (8) – 21, 53, 103, 127, 145, 146, 166, 190

The Eagles are a very settled unit at the moment and a very well run organisation. They made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear last year when players were trooping on a weekly basis into the injury tent. In free agency they have made a nice job of rebuilding in the secondary which was a weak spot last season. However, they remain thin at the wide receiver position and this is one they should address in the draft. The problem will be who is left once we get to pick #21? The Eagles have little to offer in terms of a trade unless they start to offer high 2021 picks into the bargain (which is a possibility). However, in this mock they do still have a day 1 value receiver on the board they can be pleased with securing.

With the 21st pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select, Justin Jefferson, wide receiver, LSU.
22. Minnesota Vikings “Replacing Diggs”

Picks (12) – 22, 25, 58, 89, 105, 132, 155, 201, 205, 239, 249, 253, (WR, CB, EDGE)

As explained above, the Vikings have both the draft capital available and the need (to replace Stefon Diggs) so I am simply joining the dots here. Yes, there are other needs on the defensive side of the ball but pick #25 is ready and waiting to start addressing that. The ability to jump a couple of spots and steal a march on sides in need is very appealing.

So (remembering they have jumped up to 19) with the #19 pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select, Henry Ruggs III, wide receiver, Alabama.
23. New England Patriots “Life after Tom”

Picks (13) – 23, 87, 98, 100, 125, 172, 195, 204, 212, 213, 230, 235, 241

The Patriots are awash with draft picks, as a result of their oft quoted strategy of allowing high price veterans to leave, usually when they are just starting to dip in terms of performance. The same has been true of this free agency period with the likes of Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and, of course, Tom Brady exiting the building.

It will be incredibly intriguing to see how the Patriots map their way through the draft and further down the line I would expect to see a number of the later round picks bundled up in order to gain some additional picks across rounds 2-4. However, I expect them to stay put in round 1 and start to rebuild to offset the losses on defense.

With the 23rd pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the New England Patriots select, Zack Baun, edge rusher, Wisconsin.
24. New Orleans Saints “For now or later?”

Picks (5) – 24, 88, 130, 169, 203

The Saints remain one of the powerhouses of the NFC and with the return of Drew Brees for one last crack at another Super Bowl title with Head Coach Sean Payton they are most definitely in ‘win now’ mode. There could be scope for trading down whereas they do not own much by way of picks and there could be a scenario where they trade with a team which has no first rounders but two 2nd rounders such as the Houston Texans or Chicago Bears. That scenario would not surprise me come draft day.

However, taking into account the need to push for a championship let’s leave them at pick 24 and try to secure one of the final pieces in their roster puzzle. Let’s hand them a real physical cornerback.

With the 24th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the New Orleans Saints select, Jeff Gladney, cornerback, TCU.

So that’s 24 down and 8 picks left to go. Now we are getting to the teams who will be hoping to return to the playoffs next year and probably have one major need – will the right players still be there for them to take with their all-important 1st round pick.

NFL Mock Draft 2020 Round 1 – part 2 (picks 9-16)

In part 2 of this look at my mock of round 1 of the NFL Draft we have a situation where three QBs have gone (Burrow, Tua and Herbert) but none of the talented wide receiver class have been selected. This is about to change with picks 9-16….

Throughout this mock draft I’ve used the PFN Mock Draft Simulator to help work out potential trades and scenarios –

9. Jacksonville Jaguars “Capital to play with”

Picks (12) – 9, 20, 42, 73, 116, 137, 140, 157, 165, 189, 206, 223,

Another team in reboot and with a Head Coach / GM combination (Doug Marrone / David Caldwell) under significant pressure to improve on the 2019 season (4th place 6-10). In free agency they’ve been forced to swallow dead money to move on from Nick Foles which has proved an expensive mis-step. They seem united on offense behind Gardner Minshew but the once vaunted defense has crumbled into the dust with a chain of recent departures. Only Joe Schubert, linebacker from the Browns, has come the other way in terms of a high profile capture.

Lots to do in the draft and they do have a dozen picks to work with. I think they will sit at #9 and see who falls into their lap before probably bundling up some late picks to possibly get another 2nd or 3rd rounder. This is where I think it is dependent on who the Panthers take at #7 ahead of them. In this scenario the Panther took Okudah which leaves the Jaguars with Derrick Brown, which is a good result and a definite need. It could very easily go the other way round which would leave Jags with Okudah.

So, with the 9th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Jacksonville Jaguars select, Derrick Brown, defensive tackle, Auburn.

10. Cleveland Browns “The Prove it year”

Picks (7) – 10, 41, 74, 97, 115, 187, 244

Oh how it all fell apart last year. After the offseason fanfare the Browns began 2019 being talked up into a playoff spot and a run at a championship. Then we all watched as discord broke out on an almost weekly basis. Baker Mayfield’s production dropped. OBJ didn’t look happy, neither did Jarvis Landry at times. Freddie Kitchens could not keep this talented group of individuals together as a team. The result – 6-10, and Kitchens was gone. Kevin Stefanski is in and the Browns doubled-down in free agency with big money signings such as Jack Conklin and Austin Hooper. Much is expected, again.

Now I think there is room in amongst picks 10-12 for movement. The Browns are set at wide receiver, and have other pressing needs. However, the two teams behind them, the Jets and Raiders could both have eyes on getting their first choice wide receiver. The Raiders, ever bold in the Manock / Gruden era are going to deal and the Browns can probably afford to fall a couple of spots and still get their player, plus additional pick(s).

Back to ProFootball Network for the trade details to be verified.
TRADE – CLE #10 for LV #12 #80 and a 2021 5th rounder

When the Browns do get on the clock at pick #12 it turns out they can further support their offensive line with possibly the most pro-ready left tackle of the class, Andrew Thomas.

With the 12th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Cleveland Browns select, Andrew Thomas, offensive tackle, Georgia.

11. New York Jets “All set to improve”

Picks (7) – 11, 48, 68, 79, 120, 158, 191

The Jets have been active in free agency, particularly with a view to adding greater protection for Sam Darnold. The acquisitions of George Fant and Connor McGovern may mean that the Jets can focus elsewhere with their first round draft pick. The loss of Robby Anderson is not offset by picking up Breshad Perriman from the Bucs and I think the Jets will focus on taking the best receiver on offer with pick #11.

With the 11th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the New York Jets select, CeeDee Lamb, wide receiver, Oklahoma.

12. Las Vegas Raiders “Always the wildcard”

Picks (8) – 12, 19, 80, 81, 91, 121, 159, 226

As mentioned above I think the Raiders will look to leapfrog the Jets in order to take their pick of the wide receivers on offer. Their free agency signings were very much focused on adding depth to their defense which leaves them free to go after key offense positions early in the draft.

With the 10th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Las Vegas Raiders select, Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver, Alabama.

13 San Francisco 49ers “Like for like”

Picks (7) – 3, 31, 156, 176, 210, 217, 245

This is the pick the 49ers gained in trading DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts. This was a move which made sense for both teams but for the 49ers in particular it gives them the opportunity to draft a like for like replacement to their defensive line at a fraction of the cost. Excellent roster building strategy from GM John Lynch. It will be interesting to see if their guy is not still there at #13 – if not then expect them to trade back as they have precious few early picks.

With the 13th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the San Francisco 49ers select, Javon Kinlaw, defensive tackle, South Carolina.

14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers “What does Tom need?”

Picks (7) – 14, 45, 76, 117, 139, 161, 194

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the equation is simple. They have signed Tom Brady for the next 2 years. Their defense is a top-10 unit, particularly in run defense. On offense they have options for TB12 to find – they just need to keep him upright and provide a complementary run game. This is Bruce Arians swan song and he is all out for a championship. If round 1 pans out like this then it is a simple call, take a top-rated tackle to keep Tom on his feet, then come back for the running back in either round 2 or 3.

With the 14th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select, Jedrick Wills, offensive tackle, Alabama.

15 Denver Broncos “Lots to play with”

Picks (10) 15, 46, 77, 83, 95, 118, 178, 237, 251, 254,

The Denver Broncos are now looking to kick on with Drew Lock at the helm as their starting QB. They have plenty of draft capital to play with this year with 5 picks in the top 100. It will be interesting to see how they use that value but, for now, I think they stay at #15 and have the opportunity to replace veteran CB Chris Harris (lost to divisional rivals LA Chargers) with a top prospect at the same position.

With the 15th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Denver Broncos select, CJ Henderson, cornerback, Florida.

16 Atlanta Falcons “Defense the priority”

Picks (7) – 16, 47, 78, 119, 143, 228, 230

The Atlanta Falcons are in a position where they can field an offense entirely of 1st round draft picks next year – that is astonishing. Now, they have all found their way to Atlanta by a variety of routes and career ups and downs but it does mean they can look to revamp their defense in the draft. Everyone could run on them last year and that needs fixing, starting with their first round pick.

With the 16th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Atlanta Falcons select, K’Lavon Chaisson, edge rusher, LSU.

That brings us to the halfway point of round 1. Still plenty of talent on the board as we enter picks 17-24 next time. Some teams have a second pick, some still with their first to take – and maybe others who may want to try and gate crash the first round?

The Tannehill Titans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other thoughts on the divisional round

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

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

Championship Predictions

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

Tennessee Titans 24 – 34 Kansas City Chiefs

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

Green Bay Packers 23 – 26 San Francisco 49ers

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

Wildcard weekend – winners and woes

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

End of an era (or two)….?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divisional Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same time next week for the Championship round!

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!

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!