Last Week: 9-6
Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) at New York Giants (1-4)
Friday 1.20pm NZT
You know who nobody is talking about right now? Carson Wentz. That’s cool because he’s a young QB coming back from a difficult injury so you can’t expect perfection straight away. Might take a bit to settle back in. He’s not playing badly by any means, completing at 67% and getting yards, but his TD% has dropped from 7.5 to 4.1, combining with some narrow defeats where the difference between a touchdown and a field goal can be the difference between a W and a L, and he’s getting sacked roughly twice as much… which feels relevant. Wentz is fine, but maybe the person we need to be talking about is Lane Johnson. Step it up, my man.
You know who everybody is talking about right now? Odell Beckham and Eli Manning. Odell has every right to be frustrated since the dude has a massive contract and almost zero opportunities to show why these days. Poor bugger with all that money. But pro-athletes are prideful fellas and Odell’s feeding on scraps. Eli can’t throw accurately downfield and he can’t move well in the pocket (or anywhere), which causes him to bail on plays early so he doesn’t get murdered by the oppo pass rush. Odell wants to get downfield and express himself but the ball’s outta his quarterback’s hands before he gets a chance to flex.
It’s not that hard. Odell did it himself, after all. He called in a plumber to install his dishwasher and then did it himself right in front of the so-called expert. This is how it’s done. He went to a restaurant, asked to speak to the chef, then cooked his own steak while the chef watched over his shoulder. He marked his own essay paper and gave himself an A+.
Eli isn’t the long term answer any longer. He’s too old, even if he was doing Tom Brady things then that’d still be the case. Thing is, they only had one first round pick. What are you gonna do? They took Saquon Barkley because they can always squeeze another year out of Eli Manning but another year without a running back and they were doomed regardless. They saw more value in Barkley than in Darnold or Rosen. Fair enough, those guys aren’t winning many games either. They were probably going to suck either way so angry New Yorkers can chill out and maybe focus on the Knicks instead since they… hmm, maybe take a year off then and read some books, watch some movies. That film Hereditary’s pretty good, start there. Scary as hell though.
Wildcard’s Pick: Eagles by 3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-4)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Pour one out for the Atlanta Falcons in 2018. Keanu Neal is out for the season with a knee injury. Ricardo Allen is out for the season with an Achilles injury. Deion Jones is out with a foot injury and can’t return until at least week ten. That’s three levels of their defence that’ve been devastated by injury and that’s probably why the Falcons have conceded 163 points in five games, an average of 33.4 per game, fourteen points more than the Raiders who are second worst. Matt Ryan is playing well. 68.3% completion with 11 TDs and 2 INTs, throwing 342 yards per game. Those are excellent numbers. Julio Jones is third in receiving yards. Tevin Coleman’s not doing much but part of that is having to throw the ball for quick points in order to keep up with their sieve of a defence. They’re wrecked, bro.
Five tough games to be fair. Eagles, Panthers, Saints, Bengals, Steelers. Some of that lot have had tough beginnings but all five are contending for the playoffs, or should be by the end of the season. The schedule gets easier after this with none of their next five opponents currently having winning records. But even if they win all five then they’ll only be 6-4, two wins behind where the Saints are already. Then they still have to keep winning against good teams just to stay in the conversation. Fact is, it doesn’t matter if you have a former MVP throwing the ball when your defence is this bad.
Tell you what though, huge game for Jameis Winston. Likely to be starting this week by all accounts and he absolutely needs a big game against this sloppy, undermanned defence. Dirk Koetter’s pretty much invested his job security in him at this point so… yeah.
Wildcard’s Pick: Falcons by 7
Los Angeles Chargers (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Somebody tried to say last week that we don’t know who the LA Chargers are at this point, pretty sure it was during the commentary of the game, because they’ve beaten a couple crap teams and lost to some good one. Mate, we know exactly who the Chargers are. They’re a team that beats bad teams and loses to the best ones. The two teams they’ve lost to? The Rams and the Chiefs. Both undefeated. Take that into consideration and they’re 3-0 against the field.
They also have Melvin Gordon doing amazing things. He has 334 rush yards and 261 receiving yards with three scores within each. Derwin James and Melvin Ingram are playing well. Philip Rivers only has two interceptions. Keenan Allen is getting yards. Antonio Gates is still hanging around at age 38. Plus they’ve got Joey Bosa to come back in about a month. I know that the Rams are the populist-elected Best Team in Football and I know the Chargers have already lost to the Chiefs… but there’s a solid case that the Chargers are the next best out there.
Nothing to say about the Browns. Nothing left. They’ve gone to overtime in three games out of five so far and every game has been decided by four points or less so they’ve got to be utterly exhausted. That’s cool, lads. Take a load off. You’re not gonna win this anyway.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 3… just to keep up the records. Baker Mayfield with a garbage time score to close the gap
Indianapolis Colts (1-4) at New York Jets (2-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Gonna go with some market correction here with the Colts. They’re bad but they’re not 1-4 bad, having lost a fluke in overtime against the Texans and already having to play (and lose) to both of last year’s Super Bowl teams. Also the week one defeat to the Bengals looks more excusable in hindsight with how good the Bengals have been. The problem for the Colts is a rubbish defence giving up the fifth most yards against and sixth most points against but they did manage to shut down the R*dskins that time for their only win so coming up against a rookie quarterback sounds rather tasty at this point in time.
Also an issue for the Colts: most pass attempts in the NFL & third fewest rushing attempts.
Imbalanced offences don’t tend to go a long way in this league. Especially not relying on a quarterback coming back from like a 16 month injury layoff. But win this and then do the Bills and Raiders and they can conceivably be 4-4 going into their bye… after which it’s a run against the Jags, Titans, Dolphins, Jags, Texans, Cowboys, Giants, Titans… 5-11 sounds about right. So suck it in for a month and live in the moment, Colts fans, this is the one stretch of the season you get to bank on.
And now a moment of appreciation for Isaiah Crowell, once a Cleveland Browns batter running back and now the New York Jets record holder for most rush yards in a single game. And he did it against the Broncos, in case you needed any more proof that the Broncos are having a very weird season. Shout out to Isaiah Crowell. That 77-yarder he pegged was something special.
But he’s nursing an ankle injury at the mo’ so still leaning towards the Colts here.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 6
Seattle Seahawks (2-3) at Oakland Raiders (1-4)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Week Six of the Jon Gruden Experience…
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 4
Carolina Panthers (3-1) at Washington R*dskins (2-2)
Monday 6.00am NZT
There’s lots I could write about this game, from my lack of faith in the R*dskins as anything better than a dead average team to by growing suspicions that the Panthers are actually quite decent but mostly all I wanna do is watch Graham Gano hit the longest game-winning field goal in the history of human existence. This is one of the best things I’ve seen all season, a rare moment of jaw-dropping magnificence. Have a beer, Graham. You’ve earned it.
Wildcard’s Pick: Panthers by 7
Buffalo Bills (2-3) at Houston Texans (2-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
What if I were to tell you that DeAndre Hopkins is the best wide receiver in the NFL? Would you argue the point? Would you suffocate me with your Odell Beckham/Julio Jones/Antonio Brown/Michael Thomas/Adam Thielen/AJ Green jersey? (Yes, I included Michael Thomas in that top five and I mean every bit of it – he’s absolutely that good. Thommo’s caught 93.9% of targets this season which for the volume of yardage he’s got is unheard of).
Technically, I don’t quite mean that. I’d still rate Antonio Brown slightly above him and Julio Jones is always in the picture too. But DeAndre Hopkins is right there with them, no doubt about it. When he did this to my Dallas Cowboys last week I damn near spilled my cup of tea all over the sofa and it was awe not rage that cause it.
Who else can do that? The catch itself is incredible but then to put the wax on the defence with the bonus yards… too good. Julio can’t do that, let me tell you. There are things Julio does that nobody else is capable of but Julio’s not doing that. Even Odell is a question mark… largely because Eli can’t even throw that far anymore. I think DeAndre and Antonio are the only WRs in the game currently capable of making that play.
Oh and who’s leading the NFL in receiving yardage these days? DeAndre Hopkins with 594 of them.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 9
Arizona Cardinals (1-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Vikings by 15
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
It’s only taken sixteen years or whatever but looks like Marvin Jones is finally figuring it out with the Bengals. They’re scoring 30 points a game and Andy Dalton isn’t having to do anything special… he’s just not being useless and that’s the trick, who knew? He’s been picked off seven times which is only one short of Derek Carr’s league lead but with 12 scores and great yardage he’s overcoming the picks by scoring points at the right end. Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard are both ripping off 4.5 yards per carry too, which helps. They have seven made field goals and 16 touchdowns and that, my friends, is a nice ratio.
But they’re playing the Steelers here. A desperate Steelers team that need to start turning it into Ws. A Steelers team that is bitter rivals with the Bengals and famously competed in a bloodbath of a playoff game a few years back. Vontaze Burfict might decapitate somebody here.
Tough to pick, this one. The Bengals have been a pretty useful threshold team so far, beating the Ravens, Dolphins and Falcons, teaching us valuable lessons about all three (as well as beating the Colts who we already knew were a bit average and losing to the Panthers who are very good). So a hugely relevant test for the Steelers now. The assumption is that the Steelers can sort it out by the end of the season, it’s what they always do, same as the Patriots. This is the time they prove that theory.
The gatekeeper Cincinnati Bengals. I like it. Especially because they’re away to the Chiefs the week after this. And they have the Saints in week 10 after their bye. Yes, I like this theory very much.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bengals by 2
Chicago Bears (3-1) at Miami Dolphins (3-2)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Reasons the Dolphins will lose:
Bears are coming out of a bye, with plenty of time to target this thing
Khalil Mack is the best pass rusher in the game
The Bears inhale and absorb turnovers with fearsome consistency
Miami’s defence is a bit crap, giving up heaps of yards and points
They’ve lost the last two in a row, after all
Reasons the Bears will lose:
It’s away from home in Miami which sounds less than ideal
The Bears have won three straight and have sole possession of the NFC East lead for the first time since the 2013 season and a fourth win in a row would make it their longest winning streak since 2012… which surely isn’t going to happen
Everybody loves Mitch Trubisky after six touchdown passes in that win over Tampa Bay and a week before that he was talked about like a bit of a handicap for this team and that seems like too much of a narrative flip for one game, especially a game in which Fitzmagic died
Miami’s defence is a bit crap but do have a penchant for excessive interceptions
Ryan Tannehill has been brilliant at home this season
It just makes sense
Wildcard’s Pick: Dolphins by 6
Los Angeles Rams (5-0) at Denver Broncos (2-3)
Monday 9.05am NZT
Wildcard’s Power Rankings after 5 Weeks:
Kansas City Chiefs
New Orleans Saints
New England Patriots
So… remember how the Broncos got torched by Isaiah Crowell last week? Yeah so this week they’re up against Todd Gurley, who has been the MVP through five weeks (it’s him or Brees and I’m leaning hard towards Gurley). He has 415 rush yards already with seven TDs and has caught at least three passes in every game with another two TDs by that way. Last season he had 19 touchdowns all up, this season he already has 9 and he’s only a third of the way through the season. There are 28 examples in history of a player scoring 20 or more touchdowns with the record being LaDainian Tomlinson with 31 of them in 2006. Todd Gurley is quite honestly a possibility of beating that record this season and that’s incredible. So, yeah, good luck to Vonn Miller and his mates with that one.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 6
Baltimore Ravens (3-2) at Tennessee Titans (3-2)
Monday 9.25am NZT
Wow now here’s one for ya. Two teams with plenty of talent but even more inconsistencies. Two teams with a penchant for stepping it up against the best opponents and stumbling all the way down for the worst ones. The Titans withstood the Texans, Jaguars and Eagles in consecutive weeks for a trio of three-point victories and then they got beaten by the Buffalo Bills who are atrocious (but with some scrappy defenders so capable of doing a few things, to be fair). The Ravens played the Bills in the first game and whupped ‘em 47-3… and promptly lost to the Bengals before getting solid wins over the Broncos and Steelers then losing last week to the Browns. You can’t guess with either of them.
These two teams are top three in points allowed per game. Flip that and neither quarterback, Joe Flacco and Marcus Mariota, are even in the top twenty for touchdown percentage. Poor old Mariota is just having a ‘mare. He’s making Dak Prescott look like Drew Brees with the passing volume stats (stab at Garrett there, not Dak. Dak’s my boy.). Flacco on the other hand has attempted more passes than anyone not named Andrew Luck and that’s not a great way to be either. I’m picking a 3-0 overtime win to the Titans, and only because of home field advantage.
Wildcard’s Pick: Titans by 3, as per
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
Monday 9.25am NZT
Literally, as in no exaggeration whatsoever, every single expert/writer/fan/podcaster I’ve heard after that SNF game last week has said what a travesty the game between the Texans and Cowboys was. Every single one of them, honestly. A bloody pile-on. The only person at all who didn’t hate it, in fact he seemed to absolutely adore it, was Chris Collinsworth on the commentary team (hence I didn’t include commentators in that thing), who thought it was pro football at its finest which is a weird thing for an ex-WR to say about a defensive stoush but whatever.
The suspicion I have about that perception is that every single one of those bugger also said they expected it to be a terrible game well before the game had started. Typical American sports culture, aye? Everybody’s an expert so they see what they want to see. I’ve watched much worse games this season than that one and I bloody loved the defensive effort from both lots, as well as my much professed adoration for DeAndre Hopkins. Ezekiel Elliott had an average game, but always enjoy a bit of him, and both DeShaun Watson and Dak Prescott were a bit average but with some immense plays, love both those dudes (but, crazy Cowboys fan take in 1, 2, 3… I reckon Dak’s better, go get it).
The only actual problem with the game other than the obvious passing weakness for Dallas and rushing weakness for Houston, both ingrained long-term issues and both a little bit systemic too, was that both coaches were bloody awful. Just terrible. And I’m not a Jason Garrett hater but I found it hard to justify him shredding the Cowboys hopes on fourth and one in the Houston half, midway through overtime. They’d just cocked it up on third and short and Garrett got spooked, punting the ball away and the Texans drove down to win it. Dallas never got the ball back.
Jason Garrett: “Yeah, it was a long one. You know, we had a third-and-2 and we didn’t make much on it and we just felt like at that point in the game, the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there. Chris [Jones] did a great job with the punt. They got the ball on the 10-yard line and hopefully you make a stop and you win the game coming back the other way with a game-winning field goal.”
Mate, they’re two first downs away from winning the game with a field goal and you throw the progress away to start from scratch with your defence. That’s nice for the defence, they really were doing great and it’s not impossible that they might’ve gotten the stop. Jaylen Smith was immense. DeMarcus Lawrence is always a threat. But the absolute strength of this Cowboys team, the very purpose for their existing, is to be a team that bullies the line of scrimmage. The offensive line is weaker this season without Travis Frederick (best C in the game) but they’re still more likely than not to convert on fourth and short. Actually, stat time, here’s what the Cowboys’ record is on fourth and one since they drafted Ezekiel Elliott: 18 out of 19. An NFL best 94.7%. The league average is 65.3% which is enough for any team to want that so for the Cowboys of all team… shameful.
Now, this is an interesting game. Were the Jaguars and Cowboys to swap quarterbacks then I’d have no issue in giving the Jags the win by double figures. A good Cowboys defence can stick with them for a while but the best corners in the game against the worst WR group (debatably) would put mass pressure on Zeke to do everything and if there’s only one outlet then any defensive coordinator in the game is shutting that down. But they won’t swap QBs which means… drumroll… BORT.
Blake Bortles at home in 2018:
67.5% COMP | 306.3 Y/G | 6 TD | 2 INT | 8.11 AY/A | 101.1 RATE
Blake Bortles on the road in 2018:
54.3% COMP | 303.0 Y/G | 1 TD | 4 INT | 4.48 AY/A | 59.1 RATE
Which leads me to confidently predict a bounce back win that’ll keep The Clapper in a job for a little while longer (honestly, I cannot see him getting sacked until after the season at the earliest).
Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 3
Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) at New England Patriots (3-2)
Monday 1.20pm NZT
The Chiefs of Kansas City, winning five from five
Are looking rather pretty, the zero still alive
Pat Mahomes is magic, touchdowns all day long
The defence may be tragic but the team can do no wrong
But here’s one worth a gander, reigning champs of AFC
Hated by bystanders, New England Patriots, you see
The game is held in Foxborough, the Sunday Night prestige
Billy B in hooded armour, angry Boston fans besiege
They’re not the same as normal, though Brady still ignites
Gronkowski’s lost his form or maybe running backs are light
Yet still they tend to muster, ways to win when cards are down
The Chiefs will need some bluster if they’re gonna take the crown
Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs by 5
San Francisco 49ers (1-4) at Green Bay Packers (2-2-1)
Tuesday 1.15pm NZT
A few years ago the Packers got off to a rough start and Aaron Rodgers said: R-E-L-A-X.
This year the Packers have two wins from their first five and doesn’t it seem like this happens every year? Nobody’s gonna blame Aaron Rodgers here, not even an injured Aaron Rodgers, for this repeated issue. Everybody already blames Mike McCarthy. I’m not all in against McCarthy like a lot of people because in my mind you don’t win a Super Bowl and make repeated playoffs by accident. But obviously he’s never helped this team to reach its potential.
This season is no different. Rodgers is playing hurt, probably more hurt than he’s let on. He wants to see Aaron Jones given the ball to run more often and it isn’t happening. Jimmy Graham was supposed to be the big addition to the passing game and he has one touchdown in five games. Tom Brady once apparently said that if Rodgers had Bill Belichick as a coach then he’d throw 7000 yards a year and this is why.
The good news is that they’re playing the Niners this week and that’s a game they should win every time. Like, CJ Beathard versus Aaron Rodgers, come at me with your arguments please. But after this the Packers have the bye followed by two away games against the Rams and Patriots. Then they’re home to the Dolphins. Then away to the Seahawks and then Vikings. None of those games are simple and they could very realistically lose four outta five. They could also conceivably win all five because, you know, Aaron Rodgers… but Pack fans should be concerned by this. Very concerned. Try making the playoffs from 3-6-1. The problem isn’t now and what they’ve done so far… it’s what’ll happen if they don’t improve.
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by bloody 20
BYE: Detroit Lions (2-3) & New Orleans Saints (4-1)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. As the wind does blow, at the grass does grow, as the rain does tumble so his picks do crumble.
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