Last Week: 10-5
Indianapolis Colts (1-3) at New England Patriots (2-2)
Friday 1.20pm NZT
Yeah okay, I get the picture. You’re not allowed to write off the Patriots this early in the season. Every year they have these hiccups but they always figure it out by the time it matters. I know this. I knew this last week too. But I just, honestly, not a word of a lie, could not help myself. I hate them and I hope they lose every subsequent game this season and on into perpetuity.
Bit of drama in the Colts game last week, aye? 27 seconds left in overtime in their own half on fourth & four and coach Frank Reich figured, bugger it, let’s throw the ball. Andrew Luck missed his dude, the Texans took over, Deshaun Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins for chunk yardage and the Texans hit the winning field goal.
Frank Reich: “We’re not playing to tie. We’re going for it 10 times out of 10.”
And bloody good on him. The Colts were 1-2 and in the same division as the Jags and Titans. A loss and they’re already on the outside looking in as far as the playoff race goes. That was the risk of going for it on fourth down and that’s what they’re living with now. The tradeoff is that they coulda settled for a tie and been 1-2-1 right now. Guess what? That’s also got them on the outside looking in. A win, however, and they’re still in the race. For now at least. Frank Reich’s gotten heaps of criticism for the call but I’m on his side here. What’s the point of a tie? A tie and they still lose ground on their division rivals. Might as well try for the win because they’ll need all the Ws they can get if they’re going to make the playoffs, which obviously they aren’t going to do and a win here wouldn’t have really made a difference. Also, in the event of losing they do also boost their draft odds a tad and a team as skint on talent beneath their franchise QB can always use that.
Also, also… a franchise quarterback who missed a decent opportunity to complete on fourth & four and left his head coach in the mud with the hot take crowd. Forget everything else, Andrew Luck cocked that up most of all.
And one more thing, players want to win. Players don’t play to tie. Players don’t put their bodies on the line each week for conservative expectations and compromised results. Reich may have lost the game but he won the locker room.
Quick thoughts on this game, it’s a rematch of the old rivalry from the Peyton vs Brady days but that’s ancient history by now. I don’t think the Colts are awful but they’re away from home, they’ve got a quarterback who is still looking rusty, TY Hilton is out with injury and it’s a short turnaround which usually suits the better team. None of those things suggest an upset, although I do think there’ll be some points in this one.
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 7
Denver Broncos (2-2) at New York Jets (1-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
The Jets had such a great start to the season with that 48-17 win over the Lions, with turnovers galore and Sam Darnold looking like a future superstar. 16/21 passing for 198 yards with 2 TDs and 1 pick, quarterback rating of 116.8. The yardage was down because of the short field he had to work with considering all the turnovers so, yeah, unbelievable debut.
Since then the Jets have lost to the Dolphins, Browns and Jaguars (admittedly all pretty decent defences – although the jury’s out on Miami after last week’s atrocities) and Sam Darnold has done this across those three games…
52.8% COMP | 223 Y/G | 2 TD | 4 INT | 63.8 RATE
Pump the brakes on this season’s breakthrough, then. Darnold’s super young and super talented but these things don’t happen at once. Even Patty Mahomes spent a season on the sideline learning his stuff.
On the other side we’ve got Case Keenum as the latest in Broncos quarterback options since Peyton Manning retired. A list which, wow, does not reflect too well upon old mate John Elway. Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and now Case Keenum. It wasn’t the prettiest picture after Elway retired and it’s even worse post-Peyton. Everybody knew that Case Keenum had just played the year of his life in 2017, he’ll never match those stats again. But the Broncos bet on him being close enough to those Vikings numbers that they could win some games on the back of a pass rushing defence.
Case Keenum in 2018: 61.7% COMP | 988 YDS | 3 TD | 6 INT | 72.1 RATE
He threw seven picks in all of 2017 and has already thrown six this season. He’s never really been a guy that gets intercepted excessively, but he did have 11 in nine starts with the Rams in 2016 so maybe it’s just a matter of him not having played as much in his early years. Whatever it is, this is a little concerning. The one thing you can say is he’s done his best work in fourth quarters when it matters most, with a 90.4 quarterback rating. This is a good opportunity for him to fix the rest if it now.
Wildcard’s Pick: Broncos by 6
Green Bay Packers (2-1-1) at Detroit Lions (1-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
A couple teams I really don’t get, this a quarter of the way through the season. The Packers were brilliant in half a game against the Bears and solid in a tie with Minnesota and an easy win over the Bills. Meanwhile they were dead average in their one away game so far, losing by a couple scores to the R*dskins. The Lions were atrocious in week one and have gotten steadily better since, peaking with their win over New England. But neither has been consistent, neither has figured out where they’re going, neither is easy to judge. The Packers have won 27 of their last 35 games against the Lions but I don’t know.
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 1
New York Giants (1-3) at Carolina Panthers (2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Every other team in the NFL is going to wonder why they put their petty politics ahead of their team and didn’t sign Eric Reid pretty soon. He’s an incredible player who has been inexplicably left out after joining former Niners teammate Colin Kaepernick in kneeling for the anthem. There has been a stupid argument pervading that Kap isn’t that good and that’s why he’s out on his arse, not because of his protests. First of all, there’s no way a guy who started in a Super Bowl like Kaepernick is worse than at least half of the backup QBs in this league and a fair few starters to boot. But people still say that so I guess not everyone is open to obvious logic. Because that idea dies fast when you consider that Eric Reid has also been frozen out, has also filed a collusion case, is coming off a career year in 2017 and is indisputably one of the best safeties in the NFL.
Shout out to Eric Reid. A proper hero. The idiots say a dude like this will be a distraction for the locker room but if I was an NFL player (god forbid) then I’d be absolutely inspired to play alongside a guy like that with such a strong personality, incredible talent and immovable values. So many teams need a safety and the Panthers are paying him like $1.4mill this season. That’s a jousting stick level of bargain value.
Quick word on the New York Giants: The New York Giants suck.
Wildcard’s Pick: Panthers by 10
Tennessee Titans (3-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Shot Buffalo. Y’all always know what to do.
In back to back weeks the Titans have beaten the Jaguars by three points and the Eagles by three points (the latter in OT). The healthier Marcus Mariota gets, the higher the ceiling is for this lot. Mariota had 344 yards of passing offence with a couple scores and a pick. Threw 30/43 against the defending champs. Now, the Eagles’ secondary looks a bit rubbish at the moment however the Titans are a bit exciting all of a sudden. Mariota, let’s not forget, did that with lingering nerve damage in his elbow, causing a bit of numbness in his fingers. Three conversions on fourth down ion the winning drive – that’s Marcus for ya. Not always the sharpest but he’s massively clutch. Never thrown a red zone interception in his pro career.
And Marcus Mariota has a new best friend. Corey Davis had 161 yards plus the winning touchdown in overtime. Nine passes caught. Davis was the fifth overall pick in 2017 but struggled with a hamstring injury for most of his rookie season, only making 34 catches for 375 yards. He already has 22 catches for 312 yards in 2018. He’s fast developing into a number one receiver and if you give Mariota some long-overdue weaponry and perhaps he’ll finally make that step up. I had him 26th on my preseason QB rankings and already I’m looking forward to moving him up next year… which probably dooms him to a poor game here.
But it’s the Bills so forget about it.
Wildcard’s Pick: Titans by 9
Atlanta Falcons (1-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Gotta say this is a must win game for both teams, isn’t it? Two playoff calibre teams but they’re each dealing with some stuff and have only one win each through four weeks. The Steelers are going to need to come to some conclusion on Le’Veon Bell because they seriously either need him out there getting yards or they need to get some defensive talent back in return for trading him. Figure it out, lads. As for the Falcons, that defence is a mess. Figure that out too.
One of these teams will be writhing with one win going into week six. I’m reliably informed that only 12 teams have made the playoffs after winning only one from their first five games. Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan have actually been putting up quality numbers but their teams cannot protect their own end zones.
Most Points Conceded Thru Four Weeks:
Buccaneers – 139
Raiders – 123
Falcons – 122
Saints – 121
Chargers – 120
49ers – 118
Steelers – 116
Chiefs – 115
Most Yards Allowed Thru Four Weeks:
Chiefs – 1807
Buccaneers – 1783
Steelers – 1682
Bengals – 1677
Falcons – 1612
Both of these teams have time to figure it out, especially the Steelers whose division isn’t going to run away from them while they sort out their lives. The Falcons don’t really have that luxury with both the Panthers and Saints likely to keep winning more than they lose. This is a sneakily enormous game with huge implications and there’s going to be a plethora of points in here too.
Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 3
Baltimore Ravens (3-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
The Cleveland Browns missed a field goal to win in overtime from 43 yards in week one against the Steelers. In week two they blew a nine-point lead going into the fourth quarter against the Saints, missed two point afters along the way, scored a TD to tie it inside the two-minute warning (with the second missed PAT costing them a lead), then allowed the Saints to go 49 yards in 50 seconds to take the lead with a field goal with 26 seconds left, then went 41 yards in two plays themselves but missed a 52-yarder for the tie. Week three was a funky one as they scored through a Carlos Hyde rushing TD with 2:07 left to beat the Jets in a close one. Week four they bounced back to usual Brownery by blowing an eight-point lead with a minute and a half to go and possession. Burnt the clock but missed out on a first down by inches (slightly harsh, tbh) and Derek Carr led the Raiders to level up. Baker Mayfield was intercepted late to take us to OT and the Raiders popped it for three to win.
That, folks, is your 2018 Cleveland Browns. They won one game in the previous two seasons combined but they could be undefeated right now. They could be undefeated at 4-0 or they could be undefeated at 0-0-4. Or they could be winless at 0-4. Every game has been that close.
The Ravens, man. 3-1 and I still can’t convince myself to give a damn about them. The next two weeks, away to the Titans and home to the Saints, should be a much better indication of where they’re at. Defensively there’s no doubt they can play ball. But, you know… Flacco. He was incredible again in the win over Pittsburgh which only makes me more suspicious. The only time Flacco’s started a season better was the year he went on to win the Super Bowl. 1252 passing yards with 8 TDs and 2 INTs.
Joe Flacco: “It’s always good to start on a roll, especially with new guys. I believe that creating the kind of numbers we are on offense, it creates more of a team atmosphere. Everybody’s in it and everybody’s carrying their own weight. It creates more confidence as a team and more of a camaraderie.”
All I’ll say, Joe, is that you’ve got my attention. Get back to me in three weeks and we’ll see what’s up.
Wildcard’s Pick: Ravens by 3
Miami Dolphins (3-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Ryan Tannehill. Adam Gase. Miami Dolphins. How could you?
Wildcard’s Pick: Bengals by 2
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)
Monday 6.00am NZT
He did it. Patrick Mahomes. Nationally televised game. He wasn’t even that good, it was probably his worst game yet in terms of start to finish, but in the fourth quarter he stepped it up big time to lead his team to victory. There were three or four outstanding plays including that one above and now the world knows what Patrick Mahomes is about. He’s so bloody good.
Ah but you know what? This is his toughest test so far and I’m leaning strongly towards seeing that undefeated streak disappear for the Chiefs. They’re good but a team with such a porous defence they aren’t going to keep winning like this. They just won’t. The Jags are giving up the fewest passing yards per game in the league and have only copped three passing TDs. The Bears have the best defence in football but the Jaguars are close behind (also big on the Rams, Ravens, Titans and Panthers). One way or another it should be a cracking game.
Wildcard’s Pick: Jaguars by 7
Oakland Raiders (1-3) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-2)
Monday 9.05am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 6
Minnesota Vikings (1-2-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-2)
Monday 9.25am NZT
I have blatant evidence that both of these teams are playing poorly.
I have enduring faith that both of these teams will come good.
I have firm trust that they will each make the playoffs.
I have honest belief that the talent is there, the coaching is there.
I have curious recollections that this is a repeat of the NFC Championship Game.
I have minimal expectation that this will be anything like that game.
I have sceptical opinions about both of these quarterbacks.
I have little inclination to try figure out where the worries are coming from.
Wildcard’s Pick: Vikings by 2
Los Angeles Rams (4-0) at Seattle Seahawks (2-2)
Monday 9.25am NZT
It’s early days but if the Rams can get the W up in Seattle then they’re in an outstanding position in the NFC West. That’ll give them a three-game lead only five weeks into the season and the way they’re playing right now that might be enough because what are the chances of them dropping three games this season? They’re smoking every bugger they come up against – beating Oakland by 20 points, Arizona by 34 points, LAC by 12 points and now the Vikings by 7. The Vikes haven’t hit their straps yet but this was still the best team they’ve played and they still scored 30+, as they’ve done every game so far. You can already write off the Niners and Cardies so smash the Seahawks and they’ll probably lap the competition. For real, the Rams might even win more games than the rest of their division combined.
And remember this is a Seahawks team without Earl Thomas. Also without Mychal Kendricks but especially without Earl Thomas. ET spent a whole year rallying for a better contract. He wrote a Players’ Tribune thing and he held out in preseason. He asked for a trade but they couldn’t come to terms. Then he returned and played fantastically until he broke his leg last season. His Seahawks career will be over with that and he’s got to go into free agency coming off a serious injury which is likely to cost him millions. He probably regrets flipping off his own team’s bench in the heat of the moment but it’s incredibly hard for me not to feel sympathetic with him in that sense.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 9
Arizona Cardinals (0-4) at San Francisco 49ers (1-3)
Monday 9.25am NZT
I’ll give you that Josh Rosen looks decent. But taking into account the injuries on the Niners and these are two of the three worst teams in the NFL right now (along with the Buffalo Bills, imo). Not even going to stoop to add anything further.
Wildcard’s Pick: Cardies by 1
Dallas Cowboys (2-2) at Houston Texans (1-3)
Monday 1.20pm NZT
We’re slowly seeing the Dallas Cowboys unfold their offence and it’s so annoying. Annoying because the last two weeks have seen Dak Prescott open things up with some deep balls and last week they really brought Ezekiel Elliott into the passing game, Zeke catching four balls for 88 yards and a score (on top of his usual 25 carries for 152 yards). Plus Dak getting yards on the ground. Seriously, what were/are they waiting for? These things work. Running backs get mismatches downfield, the Cowboys specifically added pace in Tavon Austin, Dak Prescott is a statistically excellent downfield thrower but doesn’t get them called for him hardly ever. Bloody just stop giving him a 1970s offence and play some NFL football.
Dak Prescott threw 220+ yards in his first ten games in the league. Last week broke a streak of six games under that mark. He only had two games in all of 2016 with more than the 255 passing yards he had last week and this was his first multi-passing TD game against a non-NFC East team since week nine of last season.
Argh, I’m getting sad now. Better cheer myself up with some reminiscent viewing…
Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 3
Washington R*dskins (2-1) at New Orleans Saints (3-1)
Tuesday 1.15pm NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 8
BYE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) & Chicago Bears (3-1)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. Sometimes when he’s under real pressure he spontaneously switches hands and starts writing with the left mitt and he’d like to know exactly how Patrick Mahomes managed to steal that tactic from him.
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