Last Week: 6-7
Chicago Bears (7-3) at Detroit Lions (4-6)
Friday 6.30am NZT
What a lovely slate of Thanksgiving games. This is as tasty as I can ever remember, although to be fair I forgot that it was Thanksgiving coming up so now I’m racing to get this thing finished in any semblance of on time so maybe don’t take my word for it. By the way, my favourite Thanksgiving NFL memory of all time was when Aretha Franklin sang the national anthem and took like twenty minutes or something and they did this gag on the telly of time in possession… it was either last year or the year before and I had a yarn about how every second spent with The Queen is a second well spent, regardless. Now she’s gone and that feels kinda sentimental.
The Queen is gone but the legend lives on.
The Chicago Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings last week. That was always going to be a massive game in terms of a feisty NFC East and now here we are, the Bears are surely in the driver’s seat for the division. The Lions also won last week and Matt Stafford’s got a long history of DON’T COUNT HIM OUT but I gambled some emotional resonance on the outcome of that game and the Bears won so I have no choice left but to believe in them. This is the way that the universe pulses and I must obey the vibrations.
Curious… do you think the Bears would still be competing for the division if they hadn’t traded for Khalil Mack? Like, is he the superstar talent that puts them over the top or were they destined for that anyway and he’s just like icing on the cake? I mean, he was incredible against the Packers but they still lost. He was incredible against the Vikings and they won. He had quiet games in the middle and they mostly won. I guess we’ll never know the true answer, it’s been lost to another timeline… mate, I’m feeling metaphysical today, ain’t I?
Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 7
Washington R*dskins (6-4) at Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
Friday 10.30am NZT
My emotional boycotting of the Cowboys season seems to be the best thing that ever happened to them. Two weeks later and they’ve had two of their best wins of the season, back up to a 50% record and primed to pounce, with their best players on offence playing like they ought to be. Ezekiel Elliott, mate. What he’s done the last two weeks has been enormous. 151 yards at 7.95 Y/C against the Eagles and then another 122 at 5.3 Y/C against the Falcons, with touchdowns in each and a further 115 receiving yards (and another score) on top of that. Big dog’s gotta eat that soup, aye.
(Full disclosure: I still watched the whole of both those games so I think the boycott’s been a bit of a farce, really. All I’ve done is written them off and stopped caring if they win. But in the nature of being true to my misguided word, I’ll therefore keep it nice and level about them winning).
And now here Dallas is up against a R*dskins team that’s going to start Colt McCoy. Poor old Alex Smith, I never did believe in the Skins but I am a long time defender of what Smithy does. There’s a lot to be said for a guy who never turns the ball over. It hasn’t been perfect for him by any means, this offence has far fewer weapons than he had in KC and that’s reflected in his poor scoring numbers and yardage… but the wins are much better than expected. Six and three in the nine games he completed. Just gutting to see a guy suffer and injury like that and you only hope there’s more in his tale yet.
Alex Smith in 2018: 10 GM | 62.5% COMP | 2180 YDS | 10 TD | 5 INT | 85.7 RATE
The Skins now turn to Colt McCoy (and freshly inked backup Mark Sanchez!). There’s been some mention about them not turning to Colin Kaepernick but, you know, Kap making his return to the NFL to play for a team with a racist name would be a little too ironic for the cause. McCoy’s not the worst backup out there and he’ll do some things. But honestly, things have just opened up for the Cowboys lately. They might win the division going 8-8 at this rate – I can easily imagine the WPFT going 0-6 or 1-5 the rest of the way considering they’ve got four away games in there. At Dallas, at Philly, home to NYG, at Jacksonville, at Tennessee and then home to Philly. Tough run for a team without their leader. If you want a better indication of what Smithy was doing, see how this offence holds together without him.
By the way, I keep meaning to make note of this dude and forgetting so I’ll do it now. Brett Maher hit the game-winning field goal last week. He’s the dude they relied upon when they cut Dan Bailey, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. Bailey had a back injury and it took him a few weeks to get going, but I think that move was more about money than anything – they had a great kicker but he was getting multiple millions against the cap. Then Maher comes along and he’s close to as good as Bailey and way cheaper. A lot of pressure on Maher to perform then… and he’s been brilliant. After a miss in week one he made 15 in a row before a 3/6 slump between weeks 7-10. But then he bounced back with the winner last week on a 3/3 day and there you go. Four kicks of 50+ out of five. 18/19 PATs. Four different games with 3+ FGs made. Good effort, basically.
Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 10
Atlanta Falcons (4-6) at New Orleans Saints (9-1)
Friday 2.20am NZT
Such a long day of NFL ahead. A long, long day. A happy day too, one might even say…
… nah I wouldn’t go that far. For one thing it’s too early to start drinking and we don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving in Aotearoa so I’ll be working through at least one of these games. But a nice day all the same.
An obvious focus in this game… two of the premier wideouts in the game:
Michael Thomas: 82 receptions, 1042 yards, 8 TDs
Julio Jones: 73 receptions, 1158 yards, 3 TDs
I’m bummed for the Falcons, mate. Matt Ryan has been going so well and they’ve been churning through teams on offence but a horrible start means you don’t have a lot of wiggle room so you stumble in the red zone and it costs you a win against the Browns and you’re in a situation where not being able to produce the goods against a scrappy defence like Dallas and you’re gone. 4-6 with a trip to the Saints who are incredible at home, they did lose that opener to Tampa Bay but, you know, Fitzmagic, and also they still scored 40+ that day. In home games this season the Saints have scored 40 points, 21 points, 43 points, 45 points and 48 points. That’s 197 points… one hundred and ninety seven points in five home games. If this was defence in the inverse then the NFL would make a rule to outlaw it.
Crazy thing is they’ve also scored 40+ twice in five road games. No team has ever done that in their first ten games before . Three straight games they’ve scored 45+ and only the 2007 Patriots, 1968 Browns and 1941 Bears have ever done that before. This Falcons defence is nothing good at all. New Orleans will probably score another 45 points. Drew Brees’ numbers are pretty much pornographic at this point.
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 14
New York Giants (3-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
This game is dumb so instead I’m gonna talk about the Rams vs Chiefs. Here are some thoughts:
Patrick Mahomes wasn’t even very good and he still had 6 TDs and over 400 yards
Todd Gurley had his TD streak broken in one of the highest scoring games in NFL history
There were 105 points, 56 first downs, 1001 total offensive yards, seven turnovers, heaps too many penalties (not blaming the refs, blaming the players – offsides is offsides), 95 total pass attempts (for 64 completions)… it was mental
That’s the future of the NFL and I’m not completely comfortable with it… every middling team out there is going to start trying to emulate these two offences and it’s going to be very messy… sorta like basketball teams thinking they have to play like the Golden State Warriors even though they don’t have any all stars, let alone four of them
Having said that, if this is a preview of the Super Bowl then nobody can complain
I’m concerned by the Rams not running the ball more when they were up, gotta kill that clock bro
Kareem Hunt remains a wonderful running back and both these two hyped up young quarterbacks are massively aided by their two equally hyped up young running backs who bring dual threats to the offence
You absolutely have to slow both these teams down to stop them… and there are teams who can do that out there… I’m very excited for the playoffs already… also very interested to see how the Chiefs go against the Ravens in week 14 and the Rams against the Bears in the same week, testing this theory
These highlights should be nominated for best short feature at the Oscars
Wildcard’s Pick: Eagles by 12
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (3-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Jags by 0.5
Seattle Seahawks (5-5) at Carolina Panthers (6-4)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Ooofh, tough one. A month ago it’d be Panthers all the way but fair to say they’ve lost a bit of shine lately. The hiding at the hands of the Steelers most obvious, though losing to the Lions did more damage in my eyes as it consolidated the poorness of the week before. The good news is they have the Buccs and Browns after this so one difficult win could become a three-game streak in no time at all, nine wins and their final three division games are playoffs for the playoffs.
Seattle are in the same boat but their division battle means nothing as the Rams are already on the brink. Wildcard or nothing, basically. And, like, they beat the Packers a week ago. Kept the dream alive. They’re only at fifties on the W/L% but after starting 0-2 with a pathetic offensive line, they’ve picked up that production up front and, to be fair, their only defeats since are to the Rams twice and to the Chargers. Not a lot to be ashamed of there. All things being even I’d go Seattle for sure. This game being in Carolina alters that a bit… but I’m loving Russell Wilson lately. Not a lot of yardage but he’s clutch as hell. Getting the hard yards. And he’s only been picked off twice in the last eight games. This one could go either way but I’m leaning on the away team… just.
So big news out of Australasian sport this week, NRL superstar Valentine Holmes is ditching the Cronulla Sharks to chase the possibility of cracking the NFL. Just like Jarryd Hayne before him he’s stepped away at the height of his powers on a mystical and opportunistic whim and a desire.
Lots of interesting wrinkles to this one. Like how Paul Gallen is a wanker, for example. Also a bit odd that the Sharkies are so pissed about it when he was gonna leave anyway. They said North Queensland Cowboys… but I guess now they meant Dallas Cowboys, dunno. He won’t do anything this year, more about preparing for the 2019 season, and if he doesn’t make it (which he’ll have an idea about sometime soon after the draft as he’d be hitting it up as an undrafted rookie, effectively) then he can only return to the Sharks, no other NRL club, during the 2019 season.
Jarryd Hayne hasn’t been the same player since he returned, though off-field idiocy has a lot to do with that methinks. There’s definitely a concern about what it takes to physically transition between the sports but I look at Val Holmes and I reckon: wide receiver. Which means less physical brutality compared to Hayne as a running back. Maybe some kick returns too but I think Holmes’ hands and his route running would be the ideal.
What I’ll be taking a look at is how his speed compares to other NFL athletes, while the other thing which is harder to judge from afar but more crucial is how well he’s able to pick up NFL playbooks, with the freedom of rugby league swapped for the rigid structure of gridiron. In some ways I think he’s better suited to succeed than Hayne, but then even if he doesn’t make it I won’t be among the crowd of morons calling him a failure. Dude’s taken a gamble on his own potential – that can never be a failure. Actualisation, man. Visualise it and it shall be so. More metaphysical thinking for you.
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 2
Oakland Raiders (2-8) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Man, I wanted to get a good look at Lamar Jackson as a proper starting quarterback last week and all I saw was an option runner. Dude barely had the training wheels off, it was just a bigger version of the same role he’s been playing all season. 13/19 for 150 yards with an interception. 27 rushes for 117 yards. It’s one thing when your running back has more rushes than your QB has throws… something else entirely when your quarterback has more rushes than throws all on their own.
The Raiders should present a more available opportunity but yeah, didn’t learn a damn thing, didn’t see bugger all that I hadn’t already seen. The man remains a mystery… which is not always a good thing. Coaches in the NFL are really good at hiding things they don’t want you to see. That’s because those that can’t do that get fired. I still believe in Lamar, just not sure if we’ll see it this season. Gonna be the Trubisky unravelling of prospecthood rather than the all-in, no holds barred Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen version. Safe to say the recent evidence backs that approach though.
Week 12 of the Jon Gruden Experience:
Wildcard’s Pick: Ravens by 11
San Francisco 49ers (2-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Nooooo deal on this on. No deal at all.
Remember that the Buccs started 2-0. Their third win came in OT against the Browns. Ryan Fitzpatrick got the start last week and he promptly threw three picks against the Giants, Jameis Winston came in and did a couple half decent things and now he’s the starter again. All about the rollercoaster. Excluding the first two games when TBB won and Fitzmagic threw eight TDs… here are the quarterback stats…
Ryan Fitzpatrick: 62.7% COMP | 1547 YDS | 9 TD | 11 INT | 80.6 RATE
Jameis Winston: 65.9% COMP | 1380 YDS | 8 TD | 11 INT | 80.3 RATE
I mean… do you want a punch in the face or a kick in the nuts?
(crazy thing is they’ll probably win this week because the Niners are even worse… hey, wonder if they’re interested in Valentine Holmes?)
Wildcard’s Pick: Buccs by 3
Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
I dunno, it feels like I should pick the Bengals but I don’t really know what to do with two teams who’ve each lost four of their last five games. Also I’m beginning to really like Baker Mayfield. All that jazz about the other rookie QBs… dude, they’ve all been awful except for this guy. Peek at the statties…
Sam Darnold: 55.0% COMP | 1934 YDS | 11 TDs | 14 INTs | 5.3 AY/A | 68.3 RATE
Josh Rosen: 54.8% COMP | 1416 YDS | 9 TDs | 10 INTs | 5.0 AY/A | 68.5 RATE
Josh Allen: 54.0% COMP | 832 YDS | 2 TDs | 5 INTs | 4.7 AY/A | 61.8 RATE
Baker Mayfield: 61.8% COMP | 1984 YDS | 13 TDs | 7 INTs | 6.8 AY/A | 87.5 RATE
Lamar Jackson: 64.5% COMP | 237 YDS | 1 TD | 1 INT | 6.8 AY/A | 85.0 RATE
Add that to a defence with eight separate players with interceptions – not a fantastic defence despite some enthralling aspects to it but a defence which gets mad takeaways – and I kinda sorta wanna pick the Browns. Tell you what… I’ll toss a coin. Head for Browns and tails for Bengals. Because tigers have tails.
… only thing is I don’t have any coins in my wallet. Credit only, my friend, it’s 2018. Ah bugger it, I’ll just take the Browns. I can’t do worse on the picks that I did last week, ruined my bloody hot streak.
Wildcard’s Pick: Browns by 3
New England Patriots (7-3) at New York Jets (3-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
One thing that’s stuck out this season for the Patriots is that Rob Gronkowski has not stuck out. After a great game in week one with seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, his stats in the next six games he played, before missing the last two with ankle and back injuries, he has 22 catches on 35 targets for 325 yards and zero scores. No games with 100 yards. Only one game with more than four catches. Far from the Gronk that we’re used to. I’m not going to call him washed by any means but with the party boy expected to return for this game it’d be nice to see him looking more mobile, more like the Gronk of old. I mean, who would’ve thought that Gronk would get old before Tom Brady did?
Actually, Tom Brady does look kinda old these days. He is old for an NFL quarterback but he never used to look it all that much. Shows how much the talent around you elevates your own performance, even for the best of the best. I remember Brady looking a little deteriorated a few years ago but then he bounced back and won an MVP. Every year it gets harder to revive all that though, and he’s currently on pace for his worst season since 2013… when the Pats still went 12-4 and won a playoff game so that’s what we’re bloody dealing with, yet again. Whatever happens, no matter how messy or inconsistent or uneasy it might look… the Patriots are going to win double digit games like they have every year since 2002.
The New York media’s been pretty harsh on old mate Todd Bowles. That’s big market tabloid media for you but every little slip they call for his head. Having said that, nobody really coulda argued if he’d been fired after the hiding at the hands to Buffalo… even Bill Belichick would deserve to be fired if he lost by 31 points to Matt Barkley… however I’m not really seeing the point of sacking him now when they play the Patriots twice, are away to the Titans, and have games against Houston and Green Bay remaining. It’s only really the away trip to the Bills which is winnable the way they’re going so no need to disrupt the progression. Sack him at the end of the season with that top three draft pick all sorted. The focus now is not on winning, it’s on teaching Sam Darnold the valuable lessons that allow him to make an enormous Goff-esque leap in his second season.
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 20
Arizona Cardinals (2-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Hahaha, sure. Like I’m about to spend any time at all digesting this game. It’s a Philip Rivers bounce back. He’s playing the Cardinals. It’s already over.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 20
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1) at Denver Broncos (4-6)
Monday 10.25am NZT
The thing about the Broncos is that they hang around. Four of their six losses have been by single scores and, dead average though Case Keenum has been, dead average is still better than bad. They were going to get over the line in a big game eventually and it’s just a bugger for my picks that it came against the Chargers when I’d been leaning on LAC a lot in the pickies. I’m glad for Keenum though. This isn’t a good fit for him – I wonder how things would look if he was still a Viking and Kirk Cousins had signed in Denver – and that’s not his fault. This is still a powerful and intimidating Denver defence and Von Miller is still incredible.
And that’s got me worried about the Steelers. First because they’ve not been the same team on the road as they have at home. Weird to say because they have a better record on the road but that’s because they played Kansas City at home. Specifically Big Ben, who despite the two home defeats is still nursing a 107.9 passer rating at home compared to 87.0 on the road. 14 TDs and 3 INTs compared to 9 TDs and 7 INTs. 10 of his 14 sacks have come on the road. These aren’t chasmic differences which is why they’ve mostly been able to win away but they’re very tangible ones. Especially balanced with the fact that their defence travels even worse. In five road games the Steelers have given up 70.7% completion, 13 TDs, 2 INTs and a 109.3 passer rating to opposition quarterbacks… a list that includes Joe Flacco and Baker Mayfield (… as well, to be fair, as Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton).
The other reason is that they’ve been poor against elite defences. Baltimore beat them once and gave them trouble the next time. Jacksonville honestly should’ve won last week – a facemask call probably killed them at the end there. Denver are in that same category and it’s got me feeling like the Steelers are due a loss. Not that I’m in any way happy about picking the Broncs.
Wildcard’s Pick: Broncos by 3
Miami Dolphins (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Folks, I’m here to tell you that Andrew Luck is playing the best football of his career. He was great for an average Colts team early in his career, then he was injured, now he’s no longer injured. Funny to think he’s been in the league as long as he has, actually. He’s 29 this season. His seventh season in the league including the one he missed. Lucky ol’ boy. Ain’t a boy no more… he’s an MVP candidate.
Here are the raw season numbers:
67.3% COMP | 2769 YDS | 29 TD | 9 INT | 7.4 AY/A | 101.8 RATE
That’s pretty excellent… but take a look at what he’s done over the last four games, the four game winning streak that the Colts find themselves on…
74.1% COMP | 977 YDS | 13 TD | 1 INT | 10.64 AY/A | 135.2 RATE
Across four games. With at least 29 points scored in each. And in that entire stretch he has not been sacked a single time. Not once. In fact that particular streak reaches five games because he wasn’t sacked by the Jets the week before either. The teams he’s beaten over the last month haven’t been the best… but the Jaguars and Texans still have top ten defences. If he has six more weeks like the last four then we’re looking at something like 40 TDS to 10 INTs and that honestly should have him in that MVP convo. The sheer brilliance of a couple other jokers means he’s not there yet, but he’s well on his way. Getting rid of Chuck Pagano looks like it might have been a smart idea after all, aye?
Ryan Tannehill should be back for this game, which makes it a really exciting contest. Much more exciting than it would have been a month ago. But I can’t go past the Colts the way they’re suddenly shaping up. Marlon Mack. Eric Ebron. TY Hilton. Go on and get it.
Shout out to Frank Gore though. This is a man in his fourteenth season and he’s now gotten at least 500 yards in all of them (well, as of two weeks ago before the bye but I’ve been waiting to talk about him). 72 more yards and he’ll have at least 600 in all of them. Hall of Famer, no doubt about it. Only thing missing this year is he doesn’t have a rushing TD yet.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 8
Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)
Monday 2.20pm NZT
Two teams who suffered emotionally crushing defeats a week ago. Neither is out of the race just yet (which is enormous respect to the name of Aaron Rodgers that a four-win team is still in it) but this might just be an eliminator. Neither are catching the Bears if they tie again like they did in week two.
Back then that tie led into a crap run of game for both teams. The Packers lost two of their next three and the Vikings lost their next two in a row. I thought it was funny Mike McCarthy blamed the heat and exhaustion from that overtime game for that. That and Aaron Rodgers was injured and Kirk Cousins settling in with his new team. But say what you will about McCarthy, this is a fair point. The kind of thing we don’t normally think about when looking at teams, especially not when we’re watching on telly from the couch. Talent usually wins out, these things aren’t ever a hundy percent to blame… but a reminder that games of NFL are always more complicated than are made out.
Mike McCarthy: “The length of the game … really affected our team probably the next couple weeks just because we had a number of injuries come at us the following week or two and I think that game played into it because we played a lot of football that day and it was hot.”
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 3
Tennessee Titans (5-5) at Houston Texans (7-3)
Tuesday 2.15pm NZT
Is Marcus Mariota playing? The answer at this stage is still a maybe. Which makes me think the Texans and their seven-game win streak are a tasty bet. Don’t rate the Titans when Mariota isn’t doing it. And I definitely rate the Texans when DeAndre Hopkins is doing things like scoring touchdowns in five consecutive games. He’s on pace for 1520 yards and 13 scores but the Texans aren’t getting anywhere near the hype they deserve for this run. Too many early games, not enough statement wins. So a Monday Night NFL clash here against a potentially vulnerable Titans team who have been playing really well but, like, their quarterback’s got a wrecked elbow at the moment… nice opportunity to go wild and make some headlines.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 6
BYE: Los Angeles Rams (10-1) & Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. And this thanksgiving he is thankful for… you, dear reader, he’s thankful for you!
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