The Wildcard’s NFL Predictions - Week 9

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Last Week: 13-1

Season: 80-39-2


Oakland Raiders (1-6) at San Francisco 49ers (1-7)

Friday 1.20pm NZT

Oh dear God. Just imagine them scheduling this one way back when and thinking, yeah, Derek Carr against Jimmy Garropolo. Marshawn Lynch against Jerrick McKinnon. Amari Cooper going crazy downfield. Old mate Khalil Mack, best defensive player in the whole damn sport. And that is absolutely not what we’re going to get. I mean, Derek Carr is still there but…

… okay Derek Carr’s not playing as bad as people think he is and I’ve been screaming that from the top of this hill for a while now. Not as bad as people think… but still not great. That adjusted completion percentage doesn’t reflect how conservative he’s been this year and you can’t blame him when he’s been a bit awful throwing to anyone remotely covered. It’s slot dudes over the top or he’s having to really extend plays just to find somebody. I blame Jon Gruden. And I sorta suspect that Jon Gruden blames Derek Carr. Little ol’ Derek… he’ll be a New York Giant by February.

I don’t blame Kyle Shanahan for what’s going on in San Fran because clearly it’s injuries that’ve killed them. Any team that loses their franchise quarterback has a built-in excuse. In fact I might even suggest that another year of consolidation with some of their young guys, a few high-up draft picks, and next season they’ll be much better for it.

But, jeez, this is an atrocious game of grid iron football.

Week Nine of the Jon Gruden Experience:

Wildcard’s Pick: Raiders by 6

Atlanta Falcons (3-4) at Washington R*dskins (5-2)

Monday 7.00am NZT

How are the Washington Professional Football Team sitting there with five wins in the bag? Have I been underestimating them all along? Have I missed some crucial shred of evidence that should have changed my opinion long ago? Is Alex Smith really the chosen one?

Or… have they ridden a stupidly easy schedule to this point. There’s no question mark on that last statement because it’s not even a question. The R*dskins have played seven games against seven teams and only the Panthers and Saints currently have winning records. They got Aaron Rodgers at his most injured and they got the Cowboys pre-Amari Cooper (fingers crossed that means something). They have played the one-win Cardinals and Giants as well as the three-win Cowboys, Packers and Colts. Now they get to play the three-win Falcons… but they won’t be the three-win Falcons for much longer.

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The bloody R*dskins, aye. They were the only team to do me wrong last week, I was on the verge of my first ever perfect week of picks but my one real gamble was picking the upset with the Giants over the WPFT. It didn’t happen. Only a seven point game but Eli Manning let me down like he’s been letting down the entirety of New York State… Jets fans excluded. 13 games out of 14 though, that’s pretty decent. Takes me up to 80-39-2 for the season, twice as many right as wrong. A quick check on the ESPN pick ‘em table and 80 correct picks would have me tied first with Trey Wingo and Mike Golic. Not sure that’s a threesome I wanna be a part of but just goes to show they get the big bucks while I put ‘em to shame on an independent website from halfway around the world. Bastards.

Slight concern here because the two games Washington have lost have been the two where Alex Smith was kept scoreless and I’m not really sure the Falcons defence has that in them. However Washington is yet to meet an offence with more weapons than what Atlanta is bringing to town. Matt Ryan has been so brilliant after a shocker of a start away to Philly in week one. Since then he’s had one game with a passer rating under 100 and it was 99.1 against the Steelers (in a game they lost by 24 points). His last six games he’s completing at 75.5% for 347 yards per game with 15 TDs and 1 INT. If he drags this team through to 10 or 11 wins then he’s in the MVP conversation again. It’s without doubt the best he’s played since his MVP award.

Interesting point to note: Julio Jones has 53 catches for 812 yards already this season but is yet to catch a touchdown pass. Second in the league in yardage but you have to go all the way down to number 68th (nice… is that how it works?) to find another joker without a TD catch and that’s Pittsburgh running back James Conner with 323 yards through the air (from 31 receptions) and he at least has nine rushing TDs – second in the league in that category.

Wildcard’s Pick: Falcons by 7

Detroit Lions (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1)

Monday 7.00am NZT

Adam Thielen was an undrafted free agent and now he’s putting up the best wide receiver numbers in the NFL. Thielen now has eight consecutive 100-yard games to begin the season, that’s halfway towards a damn near perfect year, and he’s scored in his last five straight. Here’s an update of the game by game, I know I did this a couple weeks back but nothing’s changed, it’s only gotten better…

  • Wk1 vs 49ers – 6 catches for 102 yards

  • Wk2 at Packers – 12 catches for 131 yards with a touchdown

  • Wk3 vs Bills – 14 catches for 105 yards

  • Wk4 at Rams – 8 catches for 135 yards with a touchdown

  • Wk5 at Eagles – 7 catches for 116 yards with a touchdown

  • Wk6 vs Cardinals – 11 catches for 123 yards with a touchdown

  • Wk7 at Jets – 9 catches for 110 yards with a touchdown

  • Wk8 vs Saints – 7 catches for 103 yards with a touchdown

Thielen’s so good he’s making Kirk Cousins look like an accurate quarterback (don’t @ me, State of Minnesota, Cousins has some immaculate passes and some shockers, he’s far from consistent and deep down you know it). In fact I’ll go one further and say that no question Matthew Stafford is the better quarterback, just in case somebody disagrees. Look, I do a preseason quarterback ranking every year so my opinion matters here.

Detroit got rid of Golden Tate. Trading players at this point of the season is usually a sign that you’re not expecting rings at the end of the season, this one really seems that way and I’m not sure why they’re getting rid of offensive weapons when they’re one game back. Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay are still solid options but… what’s the point of letting him go now? And for a third round pick which they might’ve gotten one anyway as a compensation if he left in free agency. Also a little surprised that Philly opted for a wideout and not a better running back although they did plan on Mike Wallace this season until he was injured early so a decent second option there should go good. Anything to make Carson Wentz happy is something you want to do.

Wildcard’s Pick: Vikings by 9

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (4-4)

Monday 7.00am NZT

The trade deadline has passed and Le’Veon Bell remains a Steeler. He still hasn’t checked in with the team and it’s beginning to feel like he might not bother ever doing so but the more we see of James Connor the less that seems to matter. Now, Connor’s never gonna bring what Bell does to the table, Le’Veon’s one of the two or three best RBs in the business, but this guy’s ripping off 5.7 yards per carry over this three-game winning streak, with at least 110 yards and two touchdowns in each of them. Plus 13 catches for 159 yards through the air in that time. A great offensive line always helps but this fella… how about this fella!?

A month ago these two teams played and Baltimore won 26-14, keeping the Steelers scoreless in the second half. Big Ben threw 47 times and only had 274 passing yards. James Conner had 19 yards in 9 rush attempts. It was one of the finest performances yet from this Ravens defence and the question now is whether they can repeat the dose. There’s no getting caught by surprise here. Mike Tomlin’s got that entire replay to comb through for ideas. I don’t have an answer for that question so I’m just gonna pick the Steelers since I think they’ve really gone up a level since losing that Ravens game. No science, all gut. Come on.

Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 4

Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) at Cleveland Browns (2-5-1)

Monday 7.00am NZT

I’m sorry Hue Jackson, I am for real

Never meant to laugh as your team tied

Or every game you went to overtime

I’m sorry Hue Jackson, I am for real

Missed field goals and intercepted dimes

Coaching Cleveland ought to be a crime

I know they shoulda sacked him months ago, the poor bugger was there to accommodate a tank that finished with the drafting of Baker Mayfield, but I’m going to miss Hue Jackson. His commitment to the art of losing was pioneering. 40 games as a head coach and 36 defeats. Three wins and a tie in forty games, that’s utterly incredible. With a proper head coach this team might be 5-2-1 instead of 2-5-1 and it’s a bummer for them that they’ve wasted a season they probably didn’t need to… but damn it was fun for the rest of us. Don’t expect instant results from this move though. They also sacked their offensive coordinator at the same time to beating a 7-1 Chiefs team with the phenom Pat Mahomes would be an achievement almost as legendary as Hue Jackson’s head coaching career.

Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs by 50

New York Jets (3-5) at Miami Dolphins (4-4)

Monday 7.00am NZT

Brock Osweiler: “Every single week, in my eyes, is the Super Bowl. Every single week is the biggest game out there because this sport is so special and you never know when you’re going to get another opportunity. So when you do get the opportunity, shoot, I play every single play like it’s my last. I put laser focus on every single play, and I’m playing as hard as I possibly can so hopefully I never have to go back to the bench.”

Good for him, might as well dream big. Not that there’s absolutely any way at all he starts ahead of Ryan Tannehill once he’s fit again, not a snowball’s chance in hell of that. This is a tough one to predict, however the last two weeks have really drained my faith in the Fins. Smashed by the Texans, lost comfortably to the Lions… those are not things that happen back to back for a playoff team. The draw is kind so they can recover if Tannehill gets back soon but I’m not buying this Brock Osweiler resurgence in any way, shape or form. Sam Darnold’s not been great either, he’s had two crap games in a row. I reckon that means he’s just about due then.

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Wildcard’s Pick: Jets by 2

Chicago Bears (4-3) at Buffalo Bills (2-6)

Monday 7.00am NZT

Hmm, well I guess the Chicago Bears are staying top of the division for another week then.

The last nine games of their season go Bills (A), Lions (H), Vikings (H), Lions (A), Giants (A), Rams (H), Packers (H), 49ers (A) & Vikings (A)… are there seven wins there? That’d win them the division, surely, but I honestly don’t see that happening. So it probably comes down to which divisional opponents they’re able to beat and all that, making sure they take wins off their rivals as well as adding them for themselves. In that light the week one miracle comeback from a one-legged Aaron Rodgers might’ve killed their season before it even had half a chance. Still, this week’s a sitter and so are the Giants and 49ers based on recent bollocks. Split with the Lions, topple either the Packers or Vikings and that’s at least nine wins and that’s within the conversation, gotta take that in the second year of Mitchell Trubisky.

Speaking of beleaguered quarterbacks, I’d just like to take a second to offer some hearty congratulations to Nathan Peterman, who completed both his pass attempts in the blowout loss to New England a week ago. Baby steps, not giant steps.

Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 10

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) at Carolina Panthers (5-2)

Monday 7.00am NZT

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Yeah baby. Fitzmagic is back! The one and only.

Like, guts to Jameis Winston and all that but I do remember predicting he’d be out by the end of the season and here we are. He’s made three starts and thrown 10 interceptions. That’s thirtieth in pass attempts and tied first in picks. You will not win games of football doing that so, once again, here we are. Now, Fitzy knows how to throw a bucket of picks as well. This is not a solution. It’s merely an admitting that there’s a problem. Which, you know, is the first step towards recovery and all

Carolina have been secretly doing amazing things lately. Just beat the Eagles and Ravens in consecutive weeks. Already popped the Cowboys, Bengals and Giants. Cam’s lot have five wins and should make that six here, meaning that wildcard spot is suddenly looking like theirs to lose. Basically it’ll all come down to the final three weeks when they play the Saints twice with the Falcons in between. Hey and same as how Matt Ryan is playing like his former MVP self to save that lot, Cam Newton’s doing similar things with the Panthers. Not quite as blistering as he was in 2015… but he’s close. Completing at 66.4%, the best in his career by a distance, for 235 yards per game with 13 scores and 4 picks as well as 309 more on the ground to go with another four scores.

And shout out to Eric Reid, still keeping it real…

Wildcard’s Pick: Panthers by 17

Los Angeles Chargers (5-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-3)

Monday 10.05am NZT

Consider that a humourous wake-up call that the Seahawks are doing things. The offensive line from the start of the season to now is night and day. And Russell Wilson had a perfect passer rating last week.

But y’all know I’m down with the Chargers so sorry Rusty.

Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 6

Houston Texans (5-3) at Denver Broncos (3-5)

Monday 10.05am NZT

Bit awkward for Demaryius Thomas, aye? Traded by the Denver Broncos where he’s played his whole pro career and now his first game as a Houston Texan is… away to the Denver Broncos. Poor bloke only wants to make new friends and the fellas that remember him from before are there to spoil his first impressions.

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By the way, it was a long time ago now… but don’t sleep on Deshaun Watson’s efforts on TNF. Turns out bus travel really agrees with him (he’s flying again now, though).

I still think Bill O’Brien is a bad coach but that defensive talent is starting to step it up, Deshaun is hurling TDs again and even Will Fuller’s ACL injury was immediately offset by the trade for Thomas. The Texans have a five game winning streak going here.

Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 6

Los Angeles Rams (8-0) at New Orleans Saints (6-1)

Monday 10.25am NZT

Great game. Nothing to add.

Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 3

Green Bay Packers (3-3-1) at New England Patriots (6-2)

Monday 2.20am NZT

Great game. Nothing to add.

Wildcard’s Pick: Pats by 9

Tennessee Titans (3-4) at Dallas Cowboys (3-4)

Tuesday 2.15pm NZT

Ah yes, the battle between Marcus Mariota and Dak Prescott. The NFL’s two most subordinated quarterbacks. Two excellent talents, no doubt about it. A lot of people seem to forget that too. They forget it because of the absolute dross their teams have left them to work with, regularly failing to replace complimentary talent, not to mention the dearth of coaching that each has experienced. The numbers are close enough to be comparative, the narratives are definitely comparative.

Marcus Mariota in 2018: 66.0% COMP | 1030 YDS | 3 TD | 5 INT | 78.5 RATE

Dak Prescott in 2018: 62.1% COMP | 1417 YDS | 8 TD | 4 INT | 87.4 RATE

There are a lot of similarities between these teams this season, from the quality defence to the cluelessness on offence, to the quarterbacks, to the lack of points scored, to their identical records. Marcus Mariota has had the bye week to rest up which is crucial… but I’ve gotta side with my Cowboy lads on the lone account of trading for Amari Cooper.

Dak Prescott must’ve woken up like it was Christmas morning the other day. A deep threat WR who can actually catch and get separation from man coverage!? It’s not a lie to say that Dak Prescott has literally never had one of those in his professional career. Dez Bryant was never a separation guy, he was a catch it regardless of triple coverage kinda guy. Jason Witten was old and slow (but still had magnets for hands) in his last couple seasons. Even Cole Beasley only gets the shake over the middle because of his first move, chuck him out wide instead of in the slot and he’d be anonymous. Huge move from Jerry Jones to actually do something to help his team. Presumably a five year extension for Jason Garrett will be next, in order to balance it out.

All of which makes me feel sorry for Marcus Mariota even more. He has three touchdowns in six games, that’s terrible. He averages 171.7 yards per game, that’s also terrible. But take a look at what he’s got to work with, man, Derrick Henry is about the least effective starting RB out there: 273 yards at 3.3 Y/A. Corey Davis is pretty good out wide but he’s about the only one. Adam Thielen has almost as many yards as the entire Titans passing game. Safe to say Dion Lewis hasn’t quite done what was hoped of him yet as well, even if he hasn’t been awful.

Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 2

BYE: Arizona Cardinals (2-6), Cincinnati Bengals (5-3), Indianapolis Colts (3-5), Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5), New York Giants (1-7) & Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)

The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. Much to everybody’s surprise, he made it through the international NFL writers trade deadline untouched.

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