Last Week: 13-2
New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
Friday 2.20pm NZT
What a horrid dilemma, my former team against my current team. What ever shall I do? Well as it happened the not supporting the Cowboys anymore thing never got off the ground because from the moment I said I was done with them as long as Jason Garrett remained, they’ve been bloody excellent. And despite my picking the Saints to win this rather handily they stunned me and the rest of the NFL watching world by shutting down one of the best offences in the world and even picked off Drew Brees at the end there to win it. Jordan Lewis with the insane catch.
Drew Brees Average Thru Wk 1-12:
25/32 COMP | 285 YDS | 3 TD | 0 INT | 10.18 AY/A | 127.3 RATE
Drew Brees vs Dallas Cowboys Wk 13:
18/28 COMP | 127 YDS | 1 TD | 1 INT | 3.64 AY/A | 71.6 RATE
The sense cannot be made. This has been a solid Cowboys defence all season but they hadn’t done anything like this before. Nobody had, the Saints had only twice been kept under 30 points in 2018 and never under 20… let alone with just ten. Coz it ain’t like the offence carried Dallas to this win at all. They faltered in the red zone a couple times, Dak Prescott was sacked seven times. Zeke Elliott had some big plays but wasn’t the dominant force getting at least three yards every pop that he’d been in recent weeks. This was very, very impressive.
Not sure it does too much damage to New Orleans though. We all need a wake-up call now and then and snapping that 10-game win streak gives them exactly that. Now got a couple extra days to rest up before they take revenge on the Buccs for week one. Tricky final run of games, with the Panthers twice and the Steelers in the middle after that, so their quest for a first round bye is in a dose of danger… but other than the Rams I doubt anyone can catch them. The Chicago Bears are next with eight wins, while Dallas are next with seven. Not sure either will go past 11, which is the minimum the Saints should expect.
Huge win for Dallas here. Can’t even overstate it. This gives them room to breathe ahead of the injured R*dskins, an NFC East team finally showing some edge. Beating the Saints gives them confidence to take on anybody in the playoffs. Amari Cooper has opened up the playcalling. Marc Colombo has made a difference at O-Line coach. Good times.
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 10
Chicago Bears (8-3) at New York Giants (3-8)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Speaking of the Bears (briefly), those jokers have got a funky final quarter of the season here as they deal with that injury to Mitch Trubisky, which I doubt is especially dramatic but it does mean Chase Daniel starting this game in all likelihood. Probably the last one MT misses though. With a 1.5 game lead over the Vikings and a five-game winning streak they’re looking good to win the division and make the playoffs though they’re not there yet with games against the Rams, Vikings and Packers still to come (along with the Giants and 49ers). Probably only need to win the two easy ones there as long as the Vikings don’t go crazy and sweep the rest of their matches (which begins with the Patriots in Foxborough this weekend). Never would’ve seen this coming at the start of the year. Strangest thing about it is that they’ve actually been this good. Defence wins you regular season games in this league… but offence wins you playoff games. Not banking on them to win when they get there but the Bears are probably going to the playoffs. I dunno, I just wanted to dwell on that for a second. It’s still odd to me.
Having said all that, the Giants could upset them. The G-Men have made a few improvements lately and the Bears do have a reserve QB gonna start. It’s just that… do the Giants even want to win? Are they happy cruising to a 4-12 season and getting a top five pick? Probably the latter. As I’ve said all along their offence needed a two-year rebuild. Running back one year, quarterback the next. When you’ve won a couple Super Bowls in recent memory you can get away with a cheeky tank too.
Quick nudge on Saquon Barkley. The NFL hype machine loves him because he busts some badass plays now and then but he’s also a running back who gets a lot of touches for not a lot of yards around those big plays. With 829 yards on 171 rushes he’s seventh in yardage and fifteenth in yards per rush. He’s also had five separate games kept under 50 yards rushing. The dude’s a baller for sure, with back to back hundy yard rush games as things stand (he already loves playing Philly, getting 231 yards on 26 rushes with two scores against them in two games this season), so nothing at all to worry about there from a NYG perspective. He’s just a tad in danger of getting misunderstood.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 7
Arizona Cardinals (2-9) at Green Bay Packers (4-6-1)
Monday 7.00am NZT
I didn’t realise that Aaron Rodgers is 34 years old. Feels like he’s been 30 for like ten years but old mate father time, he’s a creeper, aye. We’re starting to get to the point where Rodgo won’t be playing forever and at this rate if he ends his career with only one Super Bowl appearance… one of the most talented QBs that’s ever played… man, that’s a rip-off. With only four wins going into week 13 they’re surely not making the playoffs this season either so if the Packers don’t wanna waste the last five or so years of the best quarterback they’ve ever had then… sacking Mike McCarthy seems like a way to start. I mean, clearly that’s not a happy relationship any longer and you don’t trade a player as good as Rodgers so… if this town ain’t big enough for the both of them then you know who’s gotta go.
There’s a great piece on Sports Illustrated at the moment about the fraying of their relationship. Regardless of what the ins and outs are, they Packers are not good enough at the moment. Aaron Rodgers is partly to blame for that, a lot of QBs get complacent around this time of their careers (Drew Brees sure did – another bloke who has only made one Super Bowl but at least he’s got a team good enough to get back there at the moment) and he’s not always the most coachable fellow, being as hard-headed as he is. But that doesn’t excuse their average defence for the last several years. Their inability to get any kind of rushing game going. The trash play-calling that gets in the way. The rubbish draft history in recent years lingering in their lack of depth and lack of alternative game-breakers (the 2018 haul was their best in years but that effect won’t be seen until they get another year or two of quality alongside). Honestly, next to injuries, consecutive crap draft years is the quickest way to ruin a team. Drafted players are the cheapest leverage for talent.
This from that SI piece: “McCarthy is the play caller, but because Rodgers is so intelligent and such a good improvisational player, the quarterback has the green light to change plays on the field as he see fit. He does, so often that it can be hard for McCarthy to get into a rhythm as the play caller. McCarthy might call the same play three times in a game, without the play actually being run as he called it. And if McCarthy calls a play that Rodgers doesn’t like early in the game, that can sour the mood for the rest of the game. Several sources familiar with the inner workings of the organization say that it devolved into a competition over who can call the better play, and both want the credit when things go right.”
Haha, right. Like I said, Rodgers isn’t immune from criticism. But he is more important. Lucky for him he’ll get to torch the Cardies this week.
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 17
Indianapolis Colts (6-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)
Monday 7.00am NZT
That play is just unbelievable. I saw that live and it blew my goddamned mind. Andrew Luck just keeps on doing what he’s doing and, seriously, he should be on the fringes of that MVP conversation at this point. At least three touchdowns passes in eight consecutive games. In the entire history of the National Football League, here is the list of players who have done that in even five games before:
Tom Brady (New England Patriots) – 10 games in a row in 2007
Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts) – 8 games in a row in 2018
Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts) – 8 games in a row in 2004
Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins) – 7 games in a row in 1986
Yeah so that’s what’s going on in Indy. Luck has the most picks of those fellas across their record streaks but that’s no big deal as long as they can keep winning games. They were 1-5 to start the season and now they’re solid bets to sneak into the playoffs with a wildcard. Not sure that they catch the Texans but they also won’t be afraid of anything left to come.
Look, the Jags have lost seven games in a row. They just got beat by the Buffalo Freakin’ Bills. Across that losing streak Blake Bortles has completed at 57.5% with 6 TDs and 7 INTs. A passer rating of 73.9 and an adjusted yards per attempt of 5.85. He’s been sacked 21 times in those seven. He has been abysmal and it’s taken this for the Jaguars to finally move on… from Bort and also from their offensive coordinator.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by more than enough
Cleveland Browns (4-6-1) at Houston Texans (8-3)
Monday 7.00am NZT
With the Saints losing, you know who has the longest active win streak? The Houston bloody Texans. Eight in a row and probably gonna make it nine this week. It’s been a really clever example of how a team can grow over the course of the year. With Deshaun Watson getting bollocksed every game by opposing defensive linemen the Texans were struggling bad, let alone that he was coming back from an ACL injury. But as the year has progressed they’ve gotten more adept at bringing Lamar Miller in as a focal point and getting that ball out of Watto’s hands much quicker. Slot receivers and screen passes, that kinda thing. It’s not improved that offensive line but it’s minimised the damage they’ve done, which has allowed their offence to function and their excellent defence therefore gets the opportunity they need to make the plays they’re capable of. Football’s a continuum between attack and defence. Each assists the other. And then of course the Texans have a fellow called DeAndre Hopkins who does incredible thing on the regular…
Then again, you can’t underestimate the Browns anymore because they’re on a win streak of their own. All they needed was some quality coaching from Hue Jackson… for the Cincinnati Bengals against them. Then Baker Mayfield, who is far and away the best rookie quarterback at the moment and probably the offensive rookie of the year if he keeps this up, didn’t really wanna shake Hue’s hand but then he did but he did so reluctantly for the cameras. Yeah, Baker ain’t a subtle person. In fact he’s a bit of a dickhead sometimes. But being a dickhead isn’t always a bad thing for a young quarterback trying to carve out a space for himself. Maturation comes later. It did for Ben Roethlisberger.
Don’t hate that, you know. Don’t hate that at all.
Meanwhile savour a bit of this, mate. The numbers are astounding.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 6
Carolina Panthers (6-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
From 6-2 to 6-5, the Panthers have fallen off a bloody cliff. Not sure where to lay the blame for that because Cam Newton has hardly been terrible over the spell, he’s still at almost 70% completion in 2018 which is easily his best. And Christian McCaffrey sure did nothing wrong with 237 yards from scrimmage in the defeat to the Seahawks last week. One pretty obvious candidate is that they haven’t forced a turnover since November 4 in the win over TBB (who they’ll plan on beating again and getting back on track this week). 14 defensive takeaways in six wins, just one defensive takeaway in five defeats. Actually… leave it there. That sounds like evidence enough already.
Now, what do you need to do when you aren’t getting turnovers? You need to start getting turnovers. And one way to do that is to play against the Buccaneers, who are last in the league for offensive turnovers and fourth to last in takeaways themselves. That sounds like the recipe right there.
Wildcard’s Pick: Panthers by 15
Buffalo Bills (4-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Dolphins by 6
Denver Broncos (5-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Andy Dalton is done for the season and so are the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s about all I have to say about that. Dalton ain’t Aaron Rodgers but he held this team together. Without him they’re gone.
As for the Broncos who have the exact same record but somehow have a much healthier outlook… they just beat the Chargers and Steelers in a row. That is not a thing to worry about at all. Two very big wins. Before that they lost by two points to the Texans and seven to the Chiefs. Bloody awful stretch of games and somehow came out of it with an even run despite not having a better quarterback than Case Keenum. This a team that has also lost to the Rams and Chiefs by a single score earlier on, who has been beaten by the league’s best defence in Baltimore.
They did also lose to the New York Jets so it ain’t all roses but keep that in mind with the Broncos. This has been a ruthless schedule and it’s about to even out. Bengals (A), 49ers (A), Browns, Raiders (A) and Chargers. That’s a Chargers team last that might be resting blokes for the playoffs too. They should get to nine wins and that makes it funky in an AFC that is running out of challengers. Ravens, Colts and Chargers are the battlers in the same lane as the Broncos. Two spots available between them. The Broncos aren’t out of this is all I’m saying.
Wildcard’s Pick: Broncos by 4
Baltimore Ravens (6-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Lamar Jackson. The passing stats honestly do not show the full picture. He brings a whole new dimension to the Ravens offence, which was numbingly boring with Joe Flacco involved despite some efficient numbers, only 328 passing yards with one score and three picks in his first two starts, completing at 61%, but he’s run for 190 additional yards with a touchdown at better than five yards per carry. And his ability to break out of the pocket keeps linebackers on their toes which has allowed the Ravens to boost their production from the running back position. The last two games haven’t just been their best two in terms of rush yards… they’re the best two games by more than 120 yards each. Chuck that alongside the league’s number one offence in both scoring and yards allowed and you’ve got a team that’s back in the playoff picture all of a sudden.
Only drama is that they have to play away to the Flacons, Chiefs and Chargers in their remaining games and 8-8 won’t be good enough. Makes this a rather important game then, doesn’t it? A couple different birdies going head to head, beak to beak.
The Falcons have the same record as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccs have thrown more than 20 interceptions while Matt Ryan is doing things comparable to his MVP season, as far as the stats go. Yet they have the same record. Playing out of the same division. Absolute insanity.
Wildcard’s Pick: Ravens by 3
Los Angeles Rams (10-1) at Detroit Lions (4-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
I honestly can’t think of anything relevant to say here and I can’t stare at my screen blankly like an idiot any longer. Moving on now.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 9
Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) at Oakland Raiders (2-9)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Honestly, I’m just so bummed about the Kareem Hunt news. Not for his sake, if you do what he’s been accused of then you don’t deserve to be playing in the NFL. I hope he gets the help and the education he needs to become a better person and my thoughts extend to the victim of the incident, who I hope has been able to get past it. It’s stupid that it takes video evidence for the league to take these things seriously. It’s beyond stupid that an incident like this could be perpetrated at all… I cannot even fathom the switch going off in my head that might allow for such violence. Obviously the NFL fetishizes violence but most players know the difference between on the field and off the field. Good on the Chiefs for cutting him. One of their best players and they haven’t suspended him, they’ve straight up booted him. That’s a powerful position which I hope becomes the norm. I’m not a person who likes to demand boycotts and incarcerations, which perpetuate violence and opposition, when usually education is more effective (especially education in empathy). But this has happened to players before and, guess what, the sport has moved on. Ray Rice. Greg Hardy. Players need to know that there’s no shortage of talent out there just waiting to replace you if you bugger up. No room for it at all.
Week 13 of the Jon Gruden Experience:
Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs won’t miss a step, Chiefs by 18
New York Jets (3-8) at Tennessee Titans (5-6)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Some facts about the New York Jets Offence in 2018:
With 221 points in 11 games, they’re 26th out of 32 in scoring despite scoring 48 in week one.
Take that first week out of the picture and it’s third last in points scored.
The Jets are second to last in total first downs on offence.
Only the incomparable Buccs have thrown more interceptions.
The Jets are fourth last in passing yards and passing scores.
The Jets are fourth last in total yardage.
The Jets are third last in net yards per pass attempt.
The rushing stuff isn’t so bad, they’re only in the bottom ten in rushing touchdowns and yards per attempt.
They’re also third last in average time per possession, second last in average plays per possession and third last in average yards and points per possession.
Wildcard’s Pick: Titans by 7
Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1) at New England Patriots (8-3)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Alright. Seffon Diggs, man, getting mindful. I rate this very highly.
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 5
San Francisco 49ers (2-9) at Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Come on Russell, put ‘em out of their misery nice and early.
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 6
Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)
Monday 2.20pm NZT
I was talking about Aaron Rodgers’ legacy earlier. Bit of a mention of Drew Brees’ too… but gotta spare a thought for Philip Rivers who in all his career has never even made a Super Bowl. He’s only once or twice even come close. That doesn’t seem right but then here we are.
Here’s my favourite play from last week:
This is easily the best game of the week and I never like over analysing the best games, preferring to be able to enjoy them with as little bias as possible. Same deal here, I mean I could bust the numbers on the respective offences but why ruin the spectacle? Mostly I look at the two sides and I think the Steelers are due after a couple sloppy performances on the road and the Chargers are too Chargery to pull away in the wildcard race so soon. That’s the length to which I’ll go and no further. Too good a game to spoil… but I will show you this…
Ben Roethlisberger at age 36:
66.1% COMP | 3664 YDS | 24 TD | 12 INT | 7.6 AY/A | 95.9 RATE
Philip Rivers at age 37:
69.5% COMP | 3119 YDS | 26 TD | 6 INT | 9.8 AY/A | 115.7 RATE
We truly are living in the age of the veteran quarterback.
Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 3
Washington R*dskins (6-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)
Tuesday 2.15pm NZT
The Cowboys already won this week so this is a guaranteed loss for both teams even if they win. I’d recommend Eagles fans put on the replay of the Super Bowl instead of watching this one, even though they’re probably gonna win against a busted R*dskins unit. She shan’t be pretty.
Wildcard’s Pick: Eagles by 3
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. He recommends you don’t try the fry bread. Not even joking, aye, that was an ordeal. Yikes.
If you rate what TNC is doing here, and we sure hope you do, then there are two things you can do to ensure we can keep doing this:
1) Whack an ad whenever you read something decent