Last Week: 9-5
Green Bay Packers (4-4-1) at Seattle Seahawks (4-5)
Friday 2.20pm NZT
Huh, what do you know? A relatively excellent TNF game!
It’s very easy to overlook the continued excellence of the game’s best players. Swept up in the storylines of Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Drew Brees… all that lot. And each of them has been incredible, no doubt. But in terms of quarterbacks in this exact moment in history, the two most supremely talented peak-level guys in the league are Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. That nobody’s much talking about them right now doesn’t make that untrue, here are the numeros…
Aaron Rodgers in 2018: 61.1% COMP | 2741 YDS | 17 TD | 1 INT | 100.0 RATE
Russell Wilson in 2018: 66.0% COMP | 1967 YDS | 21 TD | 5 INT | 110.2 RATE
Rodgers is a little down on the average, which is crazy to say when he has 17 times as many scores as picks, but that’s just how good he is. Wilson has also been remarkable, though the passing yards are way down on account of a rubbish offence around him which limits how long they can sustain drives. But nobody has thrown more than Rusty’s 55 touchdowns since the start of last season (but he has the same win/loss record as Blake Bortles and Dak Prescott in that time).
All of which adds to the theatre here because we’re coming into that time of the season when second chances are at a minimum. Neither of these teams have winning records and we’re past the halfway point. Keep in mind that the Seahawks are in the same division as the Rams and they’re playing for a wildcard spot, which probably requires nine or ten wins. The Packers are only two wins behind the Bears and they’ve beaten them once already so they’re still well in that race… but they have the Minnesota Vikings to deal with too. Really scrappy contest. Bit of a must win for all involved, bloody love it.
Hey one thing though… Floyd Mayweather was at the Seahawks vs Rams game last week and both Tyler Lockett and Brandin Cooks handed him game balls after scoring touchdowns. Like, what’s up with that? Even aside from the fact of his extremely dodgy personal history (one of the greatest fighters of all time but not a good human being)… the dude is pretty much a billionaire, he can buy all the game balls he wants. Give it to a little kid or something, jeez. Also that was a lame celebration. Didn’t even make it ceremonial.
Although I did learn something from this instance: I learned that teams supply their own game balls for games and that they usually slap their own logo on them. Why the NFL can’t supply standard issue ones themselves is beyond me. No wonder Tom Brady was able to get loose with the airpump that time.
Random Fact From NFL Operations: “Wilson Sporting Goods provides at least 24,960 official game footballs each season — 780 per team — for game use.”
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 3
Tennessee Titans (5-4) at Indianapolis Colts (4-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
I’m thinking I may have written both these two teams off a little early. Especially the Titans, who are really starting to do some things. Last two weeks they’ve demolished Dallas and then comfortably beaten New England. Best part of the New England win? Absolutely coasting with this savage running of Tom Brady’s favourite lil flea-flicker play. Here’s Tommy B making it work until he remembers that he’s 41 years old and he falls over, stumbling, like in the roadrunner cartoons when Wile E. Coyote is able to run across mid-air right up until he realises the lack of logic of it and immediately falls to a violent… not death because it’s a cartoon but punchline. Seems like the right word. Tom Brady missing an easy first down because he can’t run is a punchline too.
And then Mike Vrabel copied the exact same play and ran it better. This is savage. This is what a confident, cocky NFL team does. This is the Tennessee Titans finding some form at the right time, moving back into the playoff picture after two impressive wins.
Across those two games Marcus Mariota has completed at a shade under 70%, with 468 yards and 4 passing TDs to zero interceptions, as well as 53 rush yards and a ground score. QB rating of 122.2. He has been, no lies, superb. The Cowboys and Patriots are two solid teams too, the Cowboys defence is nothing to be shrugged off while the Patriots have been the best coached squad for two decades. Always believed that Mariota had it in him but it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Hopefully a corner has been turned and this isn’t just one of those Blake Bortles things. (Hmm, Blake Bortles’ name has come up twice already).
The Colts have also had some crucial wins lately, none bigger than holding off the Jaguars for a tight W last week. But nothing as good as whupping on the Patriots so nothing that suggests they can hold fort against the Titans here. Digging what Marlon Mack does at RB though (he was crap last week but had back to back 100+ yards rushing before that).
Wildcard’s Pick: Titans by 6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) at New York Giants (2-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
“Yup. Life comes at you fast, my man. One minute you’re Ryan Fitzmagic, the next you’re Ryan Fitztragic. I’ve sure done a lot of living in my time, that’s for sure. Seen some ups and seen some downs. I ended Jameis Winston’s Buccanneers career, you know? What, don’t believe me? Well screw you, I know what happened... I was there! Hell, I’m starting again this week. Sure am, against Eli Manning. What do you mean is Eli still in the league, of course he is! He won against the Niners last week! Had a game-winning drive, jeez, some people don’t have any respect for the greats. I modelled my game on that guy. Gonna whup his ass on the Sunday too. Oh, oh, yeah, walk away! Dickhead. I don’t need your validifi… validififi… I don’t need you! Barkeep, top me up please. Another one just like the other one. I threw two picks last week. Threw two picks the week before too. Probably gonna throw two more this week. I don’t even care, I’m just cashing these cheques. Rather have a bottle in front of me than a [hic] frontal lobotomy… am I right, buddy!? Aye, am I right!? Oh you’re not even listening…”
Wildcard’s Pick: Giants by 3
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Guys. Le’Veon Bell didn’t report, guys. He’s no longer eligible to play this season. He also tweeted in upside down text last week. This is… this is… actually this is pretty cool. I love an outside-the-box thinker and this crazy fool sacrificed more than fourteen and a half million dollars this year in order to see this holdout through to its ultimate conclusion. He really meant it when he said he was done with the Steelers as a player. Didn’t realise that meant he’d never play again but… hey, gotta hand it to a fella with that much conviction.
I’m pretty confident he’ll find a happy home in six months’ time. He’s not injured, he’s a running back, the most gruelling position in the game, and he’s had a year off to freshen up. A proven brilliant player too. He’ll get a contract and he’ll get the money he’s after, especially when we’re seeing the likes of Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson still getting yards in their mid-30s. Hell, he might even end up on this week’s opponents.
But what I didn’t expect was the plundering…
They even stole a mixtape labelled ‘Le’Veon Bell #1’… whatever treasures may exist therein. Oh well, I guess he kinda did deserve it, really. Not like he’s using the cleats anyway. As Cam Heyward said, his ex-teammate: This train stops for nobody.
By the way, doesn’t it seem weird that there’s this rule that if you haven’t reported by this date then you’re just not allowed to play for the rest of the season? I guess there’s a reason for it, probably something to do with stacking for the playoffs, but I don’t really get it. Typical NFL with the arcane and random red tape spread in every direction.
Umm, as for the game… the Steelers are on a five-game win streak and they just put 52 points on the Carolina Panthers (I accidentally typed 52 pints at first, which would have been even more impressive). Yet to lose away in 2018 as well. Meanwhile the Jaguars have lost five in a row and are last in their division. Blake Bortles had his best game in at least a month last week but they still lost to the Colts. I don’t really see this one being particularly close, to be honest. Also: Blake Bortles. Three and done, that’ll be the last you hear of him now.
Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 14
Carolina Panthers (6-3) at Detroit Lions (3-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
The Lions defended last week against the Bears like they were playing with ten men against eleven, their secondary is not very good, aye. Pretty much absent out there. Considering some of the moves that Matt Patricia and the team have made it’s hard not to feel like they’ve already phoned this season in and are looking to build for an attack next year. Realistically there’s too much work to do to save their place in this division so the playoffs are gone and with the missing pieces they still need that does make sense… but I’m against tanking in every context, it’s immoral and deceitful.
This game has bounce back potential written all over it for the Panthers. Whatever happened to them last week against the Steelers, the Lions are not capable of doing. Plus they had a few extra days to prepare so don’t even worry about that. That game was a shock. The Panthers had otherwise been putting together a real quality campaign so I’m willing to bank on that being an anomaly. And also the Steelers being really bloody good on offence. Also, Cam Newton has thrown at least two touchdowns in eight consecutive games so it takes a certain amount of points to beat them anyway. All of which is leading hard on the Panthers with an easy win.
Wildcard’s Pick: Panthers by 10
Dallas Cowboys (4-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Shout out to Julio Jones. Nobody is surprised to hear he’s doing all-time things but gotta worship the success all the same. He scored again last time too. Four straight hundy yards games, he’s coming for ya, Thielen!
Rightio, so the Cowboys celebrated the first week of me not being a fan of theirs anymore (disclaimer: I’m still a fan but I believe my words were that I need to take a break from them while Jason Garrett remains as coach. I stood up for him for a long time but I can’t watch idly by, complicit in the torture, while he ruins Dak Prescott’s early years and potentially his future with the franchise… although maybe they’ll be able to re-sign him cheaper now and pair him with a better coach and then, boom, value and cap space from the quarterback position)… umm, where was I?
Oh yeah, okay, so the Cowboys celebrated the first week of me not being a fan of theirs anymore with probably their second best performance of the year, beating the Eagles 27-20 and getting 410 yards of offence in the process. Dak was good but nobody played better than Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 151 yards at 7.95 per carry and had another 36 yards through the air, with a touchdown via each method. He was magnificent against the Eagles, man. This after two horrible defeats in which the Cowboys weren’t able to unlock him, Zeke getting 94 yards on 32 carries against the Skins and Titans combined.
He also did this:
Not that this is some secret, that the Cowboys offence only functions when Zeke is running the ball well. Which tends to depend on the offensive line stepping it up and injuries there have been an issue in 2018.
Yeah but the Cowboys are playing the Falcons here, with Matt Ryan the best third down QB in the league, with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley and Tevin Coleman, and sure they lost to the Browns last week and that’s something I struggle to find the words to express how little I comprehend it… but this is the NFL where weird things happen. The Cowboys are yet to win back to back games all season so I’m leaning on the home team with more talent.
God, I’m glad I’m not a Cowboys supporter anymore. Go the might New Orleans Saints! (Which, I know, means I should be cheering for the Cowboys over a division rival of the team I fake-temporarily-support… it’s a complex situation for me and I need some space to figure things out… let’s just see how it goes – I tried to do this one with the head, not the heart).
Wildcard’s Pick: Falcons by 7
Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) at Baltimore Ravens (4-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Lamar Jackson has an undisclosed illness so I’d still bank on him starting… but if RGIII ruins the Lamar Jackson party then consider me very upset. Joe Flacco’s been surprisingly decent this year but the last four weeks have been horrible. They started 3-1 in Baltimore and have been 1-4 since. Joe Flacco’s mirrored that almost perfectly…
Joe Flacco Wk 1-4: 64.4% COMP | 313.0 Y/G | 8 TD | 2 INT | 7.73 AY/A | 96.9 RATE
Joe Flacco Wk 5-9: 58.7% COMP | 242.6 Y/G | 4 TD | 4 INT | 5.35 AY/A | 73.7 RATE
Regardless of who plays though, the Bengals are going to win. They’ve slipped back with a 1-3 stretch of their own but people have ignored that the three teams they’ve lost to in that time were the Steelers, Chiefs and Saints. Three bloody excellent offences – probably three of the four best in the league. Now, I’m extremely concerned about the margin of defeat in those games and the win over TBB was way too close for comfort… oh damn I’m starting to change my mind. The Bengals are 2-4 since Tyler Eifert went on IR. Might have to trust in the Ravens defence here after all. Trust in Lamar Jackson too, that’ll at least be fun.
Wildcard’s Pick: Ravens by 5
Houston Texans (6-3) at Washington R*dskins (6-3)
Monday 7.00am NZT
I don’t know what’s going on but it needs to stop. This is enough. If it doesn’t cease immediately then we’re running the risk of the Washington Professional Football Team winning this division and making the playoffs and that would be unacceptable. Come on.
Hopefully this is the beginning of the end, coming up against the streaking Texans with a banged up offensive line which has already put Alex Smith under some pressure and now gets to take on JJ Watt and Jadaveon Clowney. We’re talking about a Washington team which has scored 25 points or more just once all season, in a 31-17 win over the Packers, and in the modern NFL I cannot see how that lasts. 27th ranked scoring offence and they’re two games clear in the division, riddle me that one, mate.
One to keep an eye on: during their six game winning streak, the Texans have taken away 12 turnovers (while giving up just six and none in the past three). Meanwhile the R*dskins are tied-first in the NFL with only seven turnovers (along with Atlanta and the two LA teams). Win the turnover battle, win the game. That’s what they say.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 6
Denver Broncos (3-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Let’s play a little game that sports writers like to do from time to time, it’s called guess which player is which. I’ll give you two sets of stats and you can try predict which one is future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers who has started 201 consecutive games now, longest active streak among QBs, who is quietly putting together his best season in years, whose team is on a six game winning streak… and which one is Case Keenum who had one good season with the Vikings and then got signed to a multi-year starter’s deal with the Broncos.
PLAYER A: 67.3% COMP | 2459 YDS | 21 TD | 4 INT | 9.92 AY/A | 115.4 RATE
PLAYER B: 63.6% COMP | 2400 YDS | 11 TD | 10 INT | 6.58 AY/A | 83.9 RATE
Could you guess? Was it that obvious?
Man, the Case Keenum thing is a bust but I feel sorry for him. The Broncos just don’t have the players (or coaches) to do what Minnesota did and it’s clearly a poor fit, he ought to be a backup on a better team, that way he goes back to being an asset and the Broncos can figure something else out in who’ll throw the passes.
Of course, there’s a young up and coming quarterback who just became available who looks like the exact image of what John Elway seems to like in a quarterback…
Oh Nathan Peterman. What ever will we do without you?
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 15
Oakland Raiders (1-8) at Arizona Cardinals (2-7)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Week 11 of the Jon Gruden Experience:
Wildcard’s Pick: Josh Rosen The Chosen One… Cardies by 6
Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) at New Orleans Saints (8-1)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Cannot say enough about how well Drew Brees is playing this season. He’s stuck around long enough to get one last incredible team to play one – something that in the post Super Bowl years it looked like might never happen, like he was happy to chill on 7 to 9 win teams each year – but here we are and he’s doing Aaron Rodgers things. I think he’s edged up to the MVP frontrunner and I reckon the feel-good storyline of the whole thing, Brees has never won Most Valuable before, will get him over the line.
The Eagles might want a few tips on how to rebuild after winning the Super Bowl but they’d probably rather the Patriots tip sheet of repeating immediately rather than the Saints one of waiting five years before being good again. Losing to Dallas, honestly. I don’t know how you justify that. One guy who is certainly not to blame is Carson Wentz… nah it’s pretty obviously the defence that’s killing them. That and Jay Ajayi’s injury.
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 10
Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) at Chicago Bears (6-3)
Monday 2.20pm NZT
Watch and grieve, Jon Gruden. For this is what thou hast forsaken!
Big game here as far as the NFC East goes. The Lions can bugger off but the Packers are also well in this race still, if Aaron Rodger can still stand on two feet – in fact one would probably be enough, as he proved against the Bears earlier in the season – and the maths still make it possible then the Packers are in contention. This might be the most fascinating divisional race of them all. The Bears are great in almost every way except their quarterback but he’s been good enough under strict instructions (not as strict as last season) to win them plenty of games already. Not sure this is a team that can hold its own in the playffs yet but that’s not what we’re talking about. The Vikings do have playoff pedigree and Kirk Cousins… hey, fair play to him because he’s been very good. Better than I expected… although this is the team that got Case Keenum his current contract so probs best not to be too shocked there.
Remaining Schedules in NFC North:
Packers (4-4-1): Seahawks (A), Vikings (A), Cardinals, Falcons, Bears (A), Jets (A), Lions
Vikings (5-3-1): Bears (A), Packers, Patriots (A), Seahawks (A), Dolphins, Lions (A), Bears
Bears (6-3): Vikings, Lions (A), Giants (A), Rams, Packers, 49ers (A), Vikings (A)
Yeah so as you can see from the info there, this is almost a must-win for the Vikings. They’re good enough to beat the Patriots and Seahawks away from home and the Packers game is for a tiebreaker after they tied in Wisconsin already… but this is about as tough an upcoming month as they could hope for. If they’re 6-6-1 by the end of it then I’m not sure nine wins will be enough for the playoffs. It might be with the win percentage bonus of that tied game, I do reckon two teams from this division make the playoffs… but that’s no given with the Seahawks, Panthers, Falcons, Eagles, Cowboys all scrapping for two wildcard spots along with whoever doesn’t win the NFC North.
Better luck for the Bears in their schedule. As the Vikings play away to Seattle and New England, they’ll be getting the Giants and Rams so that’s a guaranteed 1-1 and they’ll take that if they can make some room at the top by winning here. Also got the Niners in week sixteen, which is a sitter. 8-8 is the bare minimum from here. Beat the Lions and split with the Vikings and they’ll surely be in the playoffs.
The Packers are a trickier prospect with three sitter games in there but littered with some tough ones too and with their deficit in the win column there’s way less room for error. Today’s game with Seattle is enormous for them. Enormous for both teams.
Gonna say this one comes down to pressure on the quarterback. No QB likes is and these two know how to bring it – each is top five in total sacks. The Bears are also the team with the most interceptions so they do all sorts of harm to opposing quarterbacks. Your move, Kirk.
Wildcard’s Pick: Vikings by 3
Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) at Los Angeles Rams (9-1)
Tuesday 2.15pm NZT
I still sorta feel like the Chiefs are getting a slightly overrated time of it. Good as they are, the defence hasn’t made any drastic improvements from the start of the season and the very best teams are still going to put heaps of points on them. Can’t argue about anything Patrick Mahomes does, I tried to find some dirt on him because if seem like he’s been out of the headlines a bit recently, at least compared to his miraculous start to the season, but turns out he’s had four straight games with a passer rating above 125 so I guess that one ain’t getting off the ground.
And yet this feels like a comfortable Rams pick and I’m not sure what the difference is. Todd Gurley, probably. Another score for him last week and he’s up to 17 total touchdowns this season – could use a three or four score belter to get him back on record pace though. 1390 yards from scrimmage is doing some damage too. I dunno, I find it’s best not to overthink these must-watch games because you don’t wanna be taking in any biases that affect how you enjoy what’s surely going to be a 45-43 win to one of these teams. Take that one to the bank, points will be scored.
They were supposed to play this game in Mexico City but apparently the field wasn’t up to scratch so it’s back in Los Angeles, which has pissed off a few people as a decision made only six days out. Pretty ruthless to those fans who’d bought tickets probably months ago. But then I copped at look at the Azteca Stadium and it’s hard to disagree with the move.
Ah well, so it goes. Unfortunately none of the Mexican fans who had tickets will probably be allowed into America under the current administration so that’s a bummer too. But it should be an incredible game. Looking forward to trying to survive the midday heat long enough to sit in front of the telly that long.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 6
BYE: Buffalo Bills (3-7), Cleveland Browns (3-6-1), Miami Dolphins (5-5), New England Patriots (7-3), New York Jets (3-7) & San Francisco 49ers (2-8)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. But he doesn’t actually write these things, he pays Drake’s ghostwriters to do all that.
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