Last Week: 11-3
Miami Dolphins (4-3) at Houston Texans (4-3)
Friday 1.20pm NZT
Mate, how are we already into the eighth week of the season? We’re nearly halfway! Time flies when you’re too busy to reach your own deadlines, that’s for sure. Time also flies when you take your eye off the clock (sorta how the Toy Story toys come alive when you’re not in the room) because I’m pretty sure I remember the Texans being immensely disappointing and yet a quick peek at the standings and they’re in first place in the division with four straight victories. Only the Rams and Saints have a longer active winning streak (Chargers and Pats also have four wins in a row).
They’ve beaten the Bills and Colts in that time but they’ve also beaten the Jaguars and Cowboys, neither of whom are outstanding but they’re at least on the fringes of the playoff picture and would have expected to win those games (the Cowboys should have, and responded by pumping the Jags in revenge a week later). They’re a funky team, the Texans. On paper they should have been amazing from the get go and having them at 4-3 if anything would be an underachievement… but based on how they’re playing it seems like the opposite.
Case and point, Deshaun Watson did not travel with the team to Jacksonville last week. Oh he was there, he played and threw 12/24 or 139 yards with a touchdown (the Texans living off the run game), but he didn’t travel with the team. Nah he took a bus to Jacksonville because his offensive line is so bad that he’s been getting smashed multiple times every week, some hits his own fault to be fair, and they figured the air pressure in the plane might be a problem. I’ve literally never heard of something like this before but I’m not making it up.
CBS Sports/Jason La Canfora: “The team was concerned about putting Watson through the air pressure of a plane flight as the quarterback is dealing with the team has called a chest injury. Watson, who has been playing with the injury since Week 5, practiced in full this week and was not in doubt for the game. Watson said after the game he watched football on his bus ride to Jacksonville and slept a lot. Coach Bill O'Brien said his quarterback "is playing hurt" but did not elaborate. The bus ride was first reported by Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, who has reported Watson is suffering from a cracked rib, a bruised lung, and a partially collapsed lung.”
That is, erm… concerning. You’ll remember what happened when Deshaun got injured last season and how the Texans fell to pieces (he wasn’t the only major injury, granted). But then the Dolphins are already without a quarterback and Ryan Tannehill has only just gotten back throwing so he ain’t gonna be here. Brock Osweiler did the business once in the OT win over Chicago then played better against Detroit but they lost. Of course, Osweiler did kinda play for the Texans once and he was abysmal for them. Still made the playoffs… but despite rather than thanks to their QB.
Sun Sentinel: “According to Houston’s players, the Texans got to the playoffs with little help from Osweiler. Osweiler’s Texans teammates and coaches lost confidence in him because of his accuracy issues according to a player on that team, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Osweiler produced a lackluster 72.2 passer rating that season, which motivated the Texans to draft quarterback Deshaun Watson in the first round of the 2017 draft. But before they did, Houston pulled off an unprecedented NBA style trade to unload Osweiler. The Texans sent him and his contract to the Cleveland Browns, sweetening the deal with a 2017 second-round pick to rid themselves of the quarterback.”
Always love a revenge game and this one goes both ways.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 3
Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)
Monday 2.30am NZT
Back in London, aye guv’nor? I don’t know why the NFL bothers but they must do okay financially if it keeps happening.
It was my best week of picks all season in week seven, with an 11-3 record. One miss as the Jaguars not beating the Texans and I’m cool with that pick, it just didn’t happen. Another was the Cowboys losing to the R*dskins and that’s also something I can deal with – Dallas missed a late kick to tie it so I wasn’t off by much. Then the other was the Eagles losing to the Panthers and that definitely was not my fault.
The Eagles were 17-0 up after three quarters. Fifteen minutes (of gameplay, so like an hour in real time) later the Panthers left Lincoln Financial Field with a 21-17 victory. Cam Newton led his team for three touchdowns on three straight fourth quarter possessions. The Panthers’ drives went: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, end of game. Boom, boom, boom. Shook ‘em right down.
It was a terrible loss for the Eagles – now only four teams in the Super Bowl era have started with a worse record through seven games as defending champions. Far from the only team to start 3-4 but only 19% of teams since 1995 make the playoffs from 3-4. It’s not Carson Wentz’s fault, he’s been great other than a shocking final possession on the weekend… but he shouldn’t have been in that situation. Ask old mates at fivethirtyeight and they’ve got some ideas…
Fivethirtyeight.com: “Meanwhile, Philly’s running game has declined from fourth in yards per carry (and third in yards per game) to 21st in each category, with Eagles ball-carriers slipping from third in yards after first contact per run to 19th.”
And with Jay Ajayi on injured reserve (Mike Wallace too, who was meant to give a new dimension to the passing game) there’s no real sign of things recovering any time soon. Do you know who Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement are? Yeah me neither. Bit of a struggle.
Then again, there’s no struggle greater than that of Blake Bortles. Poor bugger lasted twelve pass attempts before he was benched last week in the defeat to Houston, 6/12 for 61 yards. They don’t even have a decent backup, only Cody Kessler, because they didn’t want to put pressure on Bort like that. Well, that’s going well. Last three weeks he’s completing at 54.6% with five picks and a passer rating of 60.2 which is about as bad as it gets. His season numbers are 60.6% comp with 9 TD and 8 INT at a rating of 80.3 and you don’t even wanna know what happens when you take his one excellent game against the Patriots out of it.
But the Jags have a plan to solve all their woes… they’ve traded for Carlos Hyde. I know they’re missing Leonard Fournette but come on. Y’all need a quarterback more than you need anything. Another running back is putting a sticking plaster on a decapitated head.
Wildcard’s Pick: Eagles by 6
Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Carolina Panthers (4-2)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Eric Weddle: “[Can Newton is] a fast dinosaur, muscular and big and runs people over. He's a very unique quarterback in this league. He's the only one really like him.”
Reporters: What kind of dinosaur?
Eric Weddle: “What's the one with the horns and charges?”
Eric Weddle: “Yes, that one just bowls people over.
Wildcard’s Pick: Panthers by 1
Denver Broncos (3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Patrick Mahomes is on pace for 5014 passing yards this season.
Patrick Mahomes is on pace for 50 touchdowns this season.
Patrick Mahomes is on pace for a 114.0 passer rating this season.
Patrick Mahomes is on pace for 274 rushing yards with five rushing TDs this season.
Patrick Mahomes has the best passing touchdown percentage in the league this season.
Patrick Mahomes has the best sack percentage in the league this season.
Patrick Mahomes is 23 years old and had started one NFL game in his career prior to this season.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs by 9
Cleveland Browns (2-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Somehow the Steelers, who started so slow but everyone always figured they’d get there by the end of the season, are already back on top of the AFC North. The Bengals have lost back to back (including against the Steelers), the Ravens fell to the Saints last week… the Browns are the Browns and even now that they’re playing better they still find ways to lose. Usually in overtime. And that’s what it takes. Hard not to see the Steelers winning the division from here.
It ain’t all winning through. Dunno if you watched the news but there was this $1.6 billion lottery going on and damn near the whole country was stocking up on tickets to win their fortune (because, you know, America is a country founded on ideas of rugged individualism and hard work but in reality was founded on free money and stolen labour). Even Steelers wideout Juju Smith-Schuster was having a go, the champ…
Which reminds me that Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t turned up to play. Forgot about that dude for a sec. it’s been two months now since he began his holdout and it’s costing him $855,000 a week but he’s said all along that he’ll play this season – which means reporting before November 13 which is in the lead up to week 11. If you’re Bell and you’re trying to preserve your body to get that long term deal elsewhere then I can’t figure why you’d report before week 10 at the earliest, really. What’s best about this for the Steelers is that players seem to be pretty fine with it, respecting that he believes he’s doing what’s best for his career in a ruthless sport that churns athletes out with pitiless regularity, and it doesn’t seem to be a locker room issue. There were hints at the start but they’re playing fine without him so just imagine how it’ll go when they chuck him back in there for the last stretch of the regular season and the playoffs… assuming he ever reports at all, that is.
It helps that Ben Roethlisberger is on pace to set his career best for passing yards this season. He’s actually throwing deep less than he has been in recent years but he’s making up for that by throwing a whole lot more – the Steelers have run roughly half as often as they’ve thrown so far, including absolute domination over the middle to his tight ends, running back and slot receivers.
Big Ben’s dropped back to seventh on the passing yards list for 2018, behind Matt Ryan (2335), Pat Mahomes (2223), Kirk Cousins (2162), Jared Goff (2130), Joe Flacco (2067!) and Eli Manning (2061!!!)… but only because the Steelers had the bye. Roethlisberger’s 302 yards behind Ryan which is nothing when he’s been throwing 338 per game on average. Although a quick shout out to Matty Ice, who’s on the bye this week, after he’s thrown at least 355 yards without a pick in four of his last five games. Not all leading to accumulation in the win column but it ain’t his fault. It’s extremely hard not to respect numbers of: 71.1& completion, 2335 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and only two picks (the last of which in week two) at a passer rating of 114.2 – that’s right up there with his MVP season which I s’pose I can look at in more detail next week when he’s actually playing.
Anyway, the Browns and Steelers tied in week one in a game that both should’ve won, though I guess you can say that in every tie. That Cleveland defence is also one of only two to give Roethlisberger and his wide receivers some real trouble, the other being Baltimore, but it’s hard to parse all that with the current day when CLE have a different quarterback and PIT are just plain playing better. It’ll be the first of many times that Baker Mayfield visits Heinz Field and I doubt it’ll be an enjoyable one. Hey, one more lesson for a rookie quarterback in the AFC North.
Did The Cleveland Browns Go To Overtime?
Week 1 vs Steelers: YES (10:00 - Tie)
Week 2 at Saints: NO
Week 3 vs Jets: NO
Week 4 at Raiders: YES (8:14 - Loss)
Week 5 vs Ravens: YES (9:58 - Loss)
Week 6 vs Chargers: NO
Week 7 at Buccs: YES (8:30 - Loss)
Meaning the Browns are 0-3-1 in OT games this season and have played an extra 37 mins and 42 secs this season already compared to the majority of teams that haven’t experienced overtime yet. That’s more than an entire half of football. At this rate they’ll be playing a whole extra game in no extra time. Exhausting, man.
Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 3, as is the norm between these two
Seattle Seahawks (3-3) at Detroit Lions (3-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Interesting one here. Especially as they’re both NFC teams unlikely to win their divisions and therefore directly in competition or the old wildcard spots (named for yours truly, I can only assume). Translation being: this game matters heaps.
Of all the various storylines here, one is that these are a couple teams who have struggled massively for running back production in recent years, each with a quality quarterback struggling to carry the whole team (Russell Wilson’s way better though). Just quietly, Chris Carson (4.5 y/c) and Mike Davis (4.6 y/c) are doing alright though. With 180 rush attempts, they’re second in the league and are seventh for rush yards (20th for rush TDs, which is a problem). Secretly getting a few things done there even if they’ve been vulnerable to the same thing back the other way. Still, they’re 3-1 when rushing for over 100 yards this season.
Meanwhile the Lions have a fella called Kerryon Johnson. The rookie has had good games and he’s had bad games but he snapped their enormous streak of games without a 100-yard rusher in week three and against Miami last week he bagged 158 yards on 19 carries for his best effort yet as a pro. With 6.4 yards per attempt you know he knows how to cash in. Also his brother is former Breakers import Kerron Johnson, which is cool. I’m all in on the idea that whoever wins the battle up front will get the biscuits in this one.
I had the Lions predicted almost the whole way but I don’t think I can do it. Lord give me strength.
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 5… strength got lost in the mail
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
The Bengals could use a win.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bengals by 10
New York Jets (3-4) at Chicago Bears (3-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 8
Washington R*dskins (4-2) at New York Giants (1-6)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Can I get away with picking the Giants? I mean, it’d be a very NFC East thing for the R*dskins to beat the Cowboys and really take control of the division only to lose that control the next week by immediately losing to a one-win Giants team in disarray. Yeah, it just sounds right, aye?
The Giants have made a couple trades though, suggesting they’re ready to phone this season in. Eli Apple is a Saint, Damon Harrison is a Lion, both for future draft picks. But they still have Saquon Barkley and they still have Odell Beckham doing things like this…
And also things like this…
By the way, during the Cowboys-R*dskins game they had this stat on the telly coverage that it was the first game between the two teams since like 1994 or some random year where they were playing for first place in the division… as if that means a single damn thing. Honestly, the NFL (and USA sports in general) have some of the stupidest most meaningless stats imaginable and they roll them out like they’re saying something profound when Drew Brees becomes the first quarterback to throw for exactly 456 yards with three touchdowns at a completion percentage above 75% without a touchdown in a win by less than seven points against a team with fewer wins than them on a Sunday after 4pm with a coach whose birthday falls on a Tuesday this year on artificial turf. And I’m assuming that Blake Bortles leads the league in passer rating during the last three hours of the lunar cycle. Sometimes nonsense is just nonsense.
Wildcard’s Pick: Giants by 1… what a brave bastard I am
Indianapolis Colts (2-5) at Oakland Raiders (1-5)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Just like to say cheers to the Raiders for the fire sale. Same as foretold, Amari Cooper found his way to the Dallas Cowboys for the price of a first round pick. That’s a steep cost for a team that needs depth up front and on defence but that’s fine, he’s still on a rookie contract this season. Gonna be expensive next time when the new deal needs to be done, the new deal that Oakland are avoiding, but Dallas will have cap space next time and Cooper is much better than whoever would be available in free agency so really it all balances out. Huge for Dak Prescott, finally having a deep threat who isn’t a rookie or a wash-up.
I’ve heard debate over whether Derek Carr will find his way into the rebuild or not. I’m convinced he won’t be traded but after the season for sure there’s the possibility he gets cut. He’s on a huge deal, remember. And he isn’t producing anything at all right now – his 6.7 AY/A is… I mean, Philip Rivers is at 10.1 AY/A, right? Jared Goff is next at 10.0. Matt Ryan third at 9.7. Drop down to 14th and you have Eli Manning at 7.5, then Tom Brady (lotsa short completions, Tommy makes up for it with 16 TDs) and Mitch Trubisky, also at 7.5 AY/A. Then it’s all the way down to 23 and there is Derek Carr. Below him, of players with at least five starts, you have Luck, Keenum, Bortles, Darnold, Mariota and Allen. The only one there who isn’t in a crisis is Andrew Luck, since he’s got 20 TD passes which largely makes up for the incompletions.
But I do still like Derek Carr as a player and it’s pretty much throwing him under the bus to trade his favourite receiver and then put the focus on his performance. Could be that Jon Gruden has already seen all he needs to see from him, they have three first round picks now so getting a QB is easily done. I dunno but I hope they do cut or trade him because I’d like to see what he does for a few other teams. The Jaguars would be a hoot. Buccs would be another. Even the Giants, mate, that’d really get my attention.
Ultimately, the whole thing comes down to one man and one man only and it’s not the quarterback. A billboard like this one makes you wonder if Gruden will be the only one left in town when they move to Vegas in 2020.
Speaking of which…
Week Eight of the Jon Gruden Experience:
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 7
San Francisco 49ers (1-6) at Arizona Cardinals (1-6)
Monday 9.25am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Cardies by 6
Green Bay Packers (3-2-1) at Los Angeles Rams (7-0)
Monday 9.25am NZT
Todd Gurley disappointed me last week. Still had three total touchdowns but only 86 combined yards which drops him way back on the 30/3000 race. One game short of the halfway stage he’s now got 14 scores and 956 yards from scrimmage. That second one… he’s just not churning out the Adrian Peterson 2012 sorta numbers that’ll allow you to challenge the all-time numbers. Unless he starts ripping off some huge distances in the passing game then Chris Johnson’s record of 2509 yards in 2009 is comfortable for another year. Upon reflection, banking on Gurley to beat the record by 500 clear yards was a bit much…
But he’s still in the running (no pun intended) to challenge LaDanian Tomlinson’s 2006 record of 31 touchdowns in a single season. And I guess 2509 yards is a possibility if he has a few big ones. All aboard the Hurley Gurley Man Bandwagon. He’s already the frontrunner for MVP… him and Pat Mahomes, anyway.
So who’s gonna beat the LA Rams? Here’s the remaining schedule…
Green Bay Packers (H)
New Orleans Saints (A)
Seattle Seahawks (H)
Kansas City Chiefs (H)
Detroit Lions (A)
Chicago Bears (A)
Philadelphia Eagles (H)
Arizona Cardinals (A)
San Francisco 49ers (H)
If they’re going to lost – and that’s a big if the way things are going, we’re talking about a team ranked third in scoring offence and fourth in scoring defence – it’ll have to be in the next four weeks because I’m not seeing too much to threaten them after the bye week. I mean, if the Niners missing their starting QB and RB are able to topple them in week 17 then bloody good on them, it’ll be a 30 for 30 one day.
Aaron Rodgers can beat anyone though, you never count out the best in the business. And the Saints are playing amazing these days as are the Chiefs who can score points to catch any team in the comp. Seattle have their moments and division rivals never go easy. Three of those four games are at home which doesn’t help the L column but should be a belter month regardless. You always want to see the best teams going head to head. And I’d suggest the Rams need to bottle some of that as for all their wondrousness they are short on playoff experience.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 6
New Orleans Saints (5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (4-2-1)
Monday 1.20pm NZT
Adam Thielen, ladies and gents.
I don’t fully agree with Mr Carter there, there are a couple guys at least on par with Thielen (I did this the other week anyway) but you can’t argue with seven straight 100 yard days. As consistent as it gets. And he’s going head to head with Michael Thomas who never drops a catch so if classy wideouts is your thing (and really, isn’t it everyone’s?) then dig on into this bad boy. It’s a must watch.
You honestly can’t say enough about what Drew Brees is doing at 39 years old. For one, he literally has not thrown an interception this season and it’s not like he’s holding back – he’s thrown at least 29 times in every game, including twice with 45 or more attempts. That in itself is incredible. Also incredible is that he has 1870 pass yards with 13 TD passes, proof that the end product is there as well as the safety, and he’s completing at 77.3% through six games. That’s just… these are ridiculous stats.
And now I wanna throw some love towards Taysom Hill, Drew Brees’ backup… although not really. He’s not so much a backup QB as an alternative QB who they use on trick plays but I’d guess Teddy Bridgewater starts ahead of Hill if Brees were to miss a game, God forbid. But Hill is cool, man. Sean Payton’s always been a guy to mix it up and they get him involved in such funky ways – this is a quarterback who has lined up as a read-option guy, as a running back, as a wide receiver, as a tight end, as a kick returner, as a special teams blokes… there’s even a possibility of him throwing a pass Drew Brees’ way, with Breezy lining up out wide a couple times, though so far only as a dummy.
Flashback to the last time these two teams played…
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 6
New England Patriots (5-2) at Buffalo Bills (2-5)
Tuesday 1.15pm NZT
And thus we end with a massacre. A violent, horrific, disgusting massacre. Don’t even bother.
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 15
BYE: Tennessee Titans (3-4), Los Angeles Chargers (5-2), Dallas Cowboys (3-4) & Atlanta Falcons (3-4)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. He has just tied the record for most 4000-word NFL prediction articles to start a season, going ahead of Bill Simmons and Peter King in the process.
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