Last Week: 9-7
Washington R*dskins (7-7) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)
Sunday 10.30am NZT
Great news! We’re done with Thursday night games! And because the college football season is over (didn’t even know it’d started), that means these Sunday arvo games are now a regular thing. Gives me more time to write the ol’ predictions, so no worries on this end. Gives the teams more time to prepare and keeps them in their usual rhythm so no worries there either. Hey, you know me. If I was the commissioner that’d be the first thing I got rid of on an extremely busy first day in charge.
Second thing would be putting a call in to Dan Snyder.
Umm, no I don’t believe the R*dskins have any hope of making the playoffs and I don’t even realise how they managed to beat the Jaguars, which, considering how bad the Jags have been, is really saying something. Washington have Josh Johnson at quarterback, who I didn’t even realise was a real person until they signed him. I thought they were talking about Josh Freeman. So nice work on winning a game with only 245 yards of offence with 15 points last week but y’all are going nowhere against a team which has only conceded 15 points in their last ten quarters combined.
The hero for the Titans lately has been Derrick Henry. Just in case his 238 rush yards and 4 scores against the Jaguars seemed like a fluke he went and backed it up with 170 more and 2 scores against the Giants. He didn’t have more than 58 yards in a game this season before that. Washington can defend but if they work him like they did last week then he can do something similar for sure. If this is the Derrick Henry they’re getting every week then that could be a game-changer as they near that do-or-die potential wildcard playoff with the Colts in week 17.
You know, I’ve never seen that movie?
Wildcard’s Pick: Titans by 6
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)
Sunday 2.20pm NZT
People compare him to Michael Vick, and understandably so, but I’d prefer to see Lamar Jackson mould into more of a Cam Newton type, to be honest. He’s not as powerful as Cam and I doubt he’ll ever have the arm strength (not that Cam has his own arm strength at the moment, which is half the problem) but that style of designed run, tight end targets and deep throws feels so perfect for this Ravens team with this dude. Cam literally won the MVP playing like that so fair call.
Huge game this one. The Chargers need the win if they’re going to keep on at the Chiefs for the divisional title and a first round bye and they’re definitely looking like one of the form teams in the comp. Although even with a couple wins in their last two there’s a good chance KCC match them and the Chargers win 13 games and have to play a wildcard game on the road. Life is cruel… for whoever they end up playing.
Mate, that comeback win against the Chiefs last week was outstanding. The absolute cojones to go for two and the win at the end there? Magical. It would have been the opposite if they hadn’t got it, of course, but then you’ve gotta love a coach like Anthony Lynn who will take a shot like that on gut feel. Not sure if he’ll get coach of the year or not with a lot of popular candidates but he’s one hundred percent in the conversation.
But then the Ravens are also desperate and they need the win even more, their playoff hopes might be on the line. With the Browns in the final week, a decent team but one which they match up well against (good defence > rookie quarterback in every incarnation), a win here puts them in prime position for that last wildcard spot. Win out and it’s theirs, pretty much. Baltimore have the better win percentage in conference games which splits the tie with Indianapolis & Tennessee, two teams that play each other in week 17. They’re right there, I tell ya. Just gotta win this game to stay there.
Tel you what else, he’s got two tough games coming up against the Ravens and Broncos defences but a good finish and I’m really liking Philip Rivers in the MVP conversation. The Rams are stumbling at the wrong time of the season. Russell Wilson’s Seahawks aren’t going to win enough games. Drew Brees has started throwing interceptions. Patrick Mahomes is still doing outrageous things but it feels like a three-man race at this point.
11-3 W/L | 69.4% COMP | 3951 YDS | 31 TD | 8 INT | 9.4 AY/A | 112.4 RATE | 3 GWD
11-3 W/L | 67.1% COMP | 4543 YDS | 45 TD | 11 INT | 9.6 AY/A | 114.8 RATE | 2 GWD
12-2 W/L | 74.9% COMP | 3666 YDS | 31 TD | 5 INT | 9.0 AY/A | 116.8 RATE | 6 GWD
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 4
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
And this is why I didn’t particularly care that the Cowboys got mashed into the mud last week, not even with their two competing rivals in the NFC East also getting upset victories. The Eagles and R*dskins are both at 7-7 now, just a game back on Dallas… a team with a propensity for late season choking you may recall. The Eagles made a thing of it a couple games back. But Dallas has the tiebreakers over both of them so an even record sends the Cowboys through, they’re basically two games ahead with two games remaining, meaning a loss to either or a win to Dallas and bingo she’s all over. Good chance of all three happening this week… but the other two won’t matter if Jason Garrett’s lot take care of business against the Buccs, as they absolutely should do.
It had been 243 games since the Dallas Cowboys had been shut out in a game. To be fair they had heaps of chances, they coulda lobbed a field goal near the end but wanted to try win the things as any team would. There was a horrible dropped bass in the endzone by a dude I’d never even heard of, which sounds like atrocious play calling but then they say it’s genius when Drew Brees throws to unknown receivers so meh, and there was also a blocked field goal and a fumble five yards out in the first quarter, a quarter in which Ezekiel Elliott was getting all of his soup and Dallas were dominating. Two turnovers on downs. Another late pick. Those last three were desperate ones caused by scoreboard pressure that don’t really count but the early ones are enough to suggest the Cowboys didn’t play that bad.
So yeah, 243 games since they were last shutout. Way back in 2003, fifteen years ago, in a 12-0 loss away to the New England Patriots. Quincy Carter started that game for Dallas and threw three picks. Bill Parcells was the head coach. Feels like a long time ago because it really was a long time ago. Before I was following the sport, that’s for sure. But you know who was coaching the Patriots? Bill Belichick. And who was quarterback? Tom Brady. And, this is the best part of all, who was the kicker that day, who made two field goals? It was Adam Vinatieri. The same Adam Vinatieri who knocked a couple over for the Colts last week. Incredible. Look how old he looks!
Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 17
Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) at Detroit Lions (5-9)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Here’s another stab at the friendly playoff machine and, tell you what, a few recent results have really opened the doors for those NFC wildcard spots. I don’t think Philly will beat Houston but if they do then they’ve every chance of sneaking back into the playoffs through the side door. After all that we’ve been through and Carson Wentz still ain’t dead. Bloody Terminator Wentz. It felt like Seattle cocking up against the Niners was a killer one for them too but then they’re still in prime position for the fifth seed… the real blow has been the Falcons and the Panthers falling so far out of contention, that’s what’s cleared the path. The fact that Minnesota are probably gonna make it with eight wins while Tennessee, Miami and Baltimore all could win nine and all miss out is a travesty… what is this, the NBA? Teams missing out on the playoffs at the expense of far worse teams because of an antiquated conference system? Ah well, we all knew the rules before we started.
The Lions have been pathetic. They were 3-3 and have lost six of their last eight games without scoring more than 22 points in any of them. Losing to the Bills last week was rock bottom and I fully expect the Vikings and Packers to hand it to them over weeks 16-17. Kirk Cousins likes early games against rubbish teams, remember. He’s the king of garbage time yards and flat-track bully stats.
Wildcard’s Pick: Vikings by 7
Atlanta Falcons (5-9) at Carolina Panthers (6-8)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Everybody raise your glasses! A toast to what might have been!
Wildcard’s Pick: Falcons by 4
Houston Texans (10-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
A month ago the Eagles were sitting at 4-6 with basically no hope remaining, having just been beaten 48-7 by the New Orleans Saints. Then they won a couple games against the Giants and R*dskins to even it out but were unable to complete the NFC East trifecta, going down in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys. Then Nick Foles had to come in for an injured Carson Wentz. Game over, surely… until they came back seven days later and beat the Los Angeles Rams.
Now, the Rams have their issues but the Eagles are making a run at the exact right moment. How bad is tehri secondary? Terrible. But that defensive line makes plays, my friend. Big plays. Michael Bennett, Brandon Graham and especially Fletcher Cox. With Washington coming up in week 17, that defensive line mixed with Carson Wentz is enough to cruise to victory which means a win against Houston and, damn, that’s a playoff team. An Eagles vs Cowboys rematch in round one would be awesome. Just gotta get this win is all…
Houston are gonna go hard with DeAndre Hopkins. We saw what Amari Cooper did to them two weeks ago and Hopkins is even better than that. The Eagles are going to be able to get pressure on Deshaun Watson, no doubt about that… but can they turn the ball over like they did with Jared Goff? Because the Rams still had 413 yards of offence last week, they had more yardage than the Eagles managed. I doubt the Texans are going to run all over Philly but mate they’re just not going to make those killer mistakes. This is what Deshaun Watson has done in the last four games:
74.4% COMP | 248.8 Y/G | 6 TD | 0 INT | 114.9 RATE | 9.21 AY/A
With 161 rush yards at 6.4 per attempt too. The only downer is that he’s been sacked 19 times in those four games and that’s where the Eagles’ best chance comes in. Last game they pressure Goff but only got the one sack. Watson won’t turn the ball over like Goff did but he can be dropped for lost yardage. There’s where this game will be won or lost because Philly sure aren’t gonna stop them otherwise.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 6
New York Giants (5-9) at Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 12
Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) at Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)
Monday 7.00am NZT
The fact that they’re still alive at all in week 16 is mental. But when you’re relying on the Giants to win away from home then you won’t be alive for very long.
Still, a winning record is right there within grasp, something the Browns haven’t done since… jeezus, not since going 10-6 in 2007. Baker Mayfield was 12 years old back then. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2002 and they haven’t won a playoff game since 1994. But you know, one things at a time, please.
Wildcard’s Pick: Browns by 3
Buffalo Bills (5-9) at New England Patriots (9-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Something funky is going on in New England. The Patriots were a win away from clinching the division against Miami and they did something unbelievable by doing nothing and letting Kenyon Drake get round the edge and score on that final play to keep the AFC East alive. It was a game like a few of their recent ones where things just hadn’t looked right. The Patriots of old would never have been so close at that point of that game. Then against the Steelers last week it was even worse, going down 17-10 in ugly fashion where they again just didn’t look like the Patriots.
They’ll still make the playoffs, that’s not in doubt. But they’re looking like missing out on a top two seed and having to play on wildcard weekend for just the fourth time in 16 playoff appearances for Brady/Belichick. That’s dangerous, mate. Winning playoff games for a month straight is damn near impossible. Especially when you’re on the slide. Like, who are you picking tomorrow if they played each other: New England or Indianapolis? Even against Baltimore now that Lamar Jackson’s got that gig for good. I know who I’ve got in both and it ain’t New England.
That’s without even getting to Josh Gordon’s suspension and withdrawal from the league. There goes the only valuable offensive position player not named Brady who would be equally as useful on a team that isn’t the Patriots. The rest are all scheme guys and a busted Gronk.
And I for one welcome this freshly vulnerable Patriots team with the old man at quarterback and no overwhelming complimentary weapons at all on offence, not to mention a defence that’s been leaky all season. In the Miami game, the Dolphins had to score a 69-yard touchdown to win it on the final play. Flashback to the last play of the first half and Tom Brady took a sack that dropped the Pats out of field goal range. Bit costly, that one. Same as the interception he threw in the red zone against Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter, down by four. Or the 14 penalty flags they drew against PIT, second most in the Belichick era. Not to mention all the dropped passes. Very un-Brady. Very un-Belichick. Very un-Patriots. I love it.
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 10
Green Bay Packers (5-8-1) at New York Jets (4-10)
Monday 7.00am NZT
The streak is over! Aaron Rodgers threw an interception!
402 pass attempts it ended at, a new NFL record, and the Packers’ playoff hopes finally and mercifully died with the streak. Eddie Jackson snapped up the sucker for the Bears, just the second pick of the year for Rodgo after a double-deflected pass against Buffalo in week four. But he ain’t resting up for this one despite the injuries he’s been carrying. Said a proper leader puts the team before himself, does the hard yards, all those things. Good on him. Plus he also needs to win this game to avoid going 0-8 on the road this season which is almost unthinkable for a guy like Aaron Rodgers. It’s the Jets though… the Jets.
Most Pass Attempts Without Interception:
Aaron Rodgers (2018) – 402
Tom Brady (2010-11) – 358
Alex Smith (2015) – 312
Bernie Kosar (1990-91) - 308
Drew Brees (2015-16) - 305
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 10
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) at Miami Dolphins (7-7)
Monday 10.05am NZT
As far as interesting games go, this is not one of them. The Dolphins oughta win this Florida scrap and keep their playoff hopes hanging by a thread but losing to the Vikings last week probably dooms them. Nothing about the Jaguars is fun. Even their defence looks a bit clumsy as the cavernous black hole that is their offence spreads its depression across the whole team.
In the past three games as the starter in place of Blake Bortles, old mate Cody Kessler has done this:
18/24 ATT | 150 YDS | 0 TD | 0 INT vs IND (W 6-0)
25/43 ATT | 240 YDS | 1 TD | 0 INT at TEN (L 30-9)
9/17 ATT | 57 YDS | 0 TD | 1 INT vs WAS (L 16-13)
He had more rush yards than pass yards against the R*dskins and he’s not even a real runner. He also has a fumble in each of those three games and his team is averaging a tad over nine points per game there. Absolute mind-numbing boredom there. They don’t even try.
Which makes me think… how about Joe Flacco for the Jags? I’m not sure if he’s a better one but he’s probably a smarter version of Blake Bortles with the deep throws and the running back priority, he has experience and success in big games in the past (if it wasn’t for Flacco then Colin Kaepernick would be a Super Bowl winner and then that collusion case would really get interesting – obviously Kap would be an even better fit for the JAX but let’s be honest… not gonna happen). Flacco may be a dumpster but he was pretty good this year by his standards and there are plenty of teams where he’d fit as a starter. Washington are another one if Alex Smith’s broken leg is as bad as it’s been suggested. I don’t think he wants to be a backup at this stage of his career and I don’t think he needs to be.
Other potentially available quarterbacks in 2019 could be: Teddy Bridgewater, Nick Foles, Jameis Winston, Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to monitor Derek Carr, Eli Manning or Nick Mullens either. See, these are the things that teams like Jacksonville are thinking about at the moment, hence why the Dolphins, who have a steady quarterback who is playing really well at the moment, should have more than enough.
Wildcard’s Pick: Dolphins by 9
Chicago Bears (10-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-10)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Da Bears are going to the playoffs. How about that? Haven’t been there since 2010 when Jay Cutler was at his dopiest best. There was no Khalil Mack, just Kahlil Bell backing up Matt Forte at running back. They had a young gun at tight end called Greg Olsen. Julius Peppers was their star on defence. The head coach was Lovie Smith. Those were simpler times.
Curious game here because the Niners are playing frisky. Back to back wins against the Broncos and Seahawks who needed those wins for playoff reasons but they got popped by a team that was 2-10. A team which is 3-3 with Mullens as starter and 1-7 without him. They’ve gotten really good production out of Matt Breida too, the running back who was thrust into the starting gig after Jerrick McKinnon was injured preseason, he’s in range of a 1000 yard season with two games left, having bagged 794 to date… albeit with only three scores. And also he’s up against the Bears who are the immovable object when it comes to defending the run. Akeim Hicks, dude. One of the best in the entire game against the rush this season. Yeah so don’t worry about Breida this week.
This feels like a close one but how are you gonna pick against the Bears in a game which will have zero turnovers, based on the usual Niners situation? Mitch Trubisky is a liability when he’s pressured and a solid starter when he’s not. He won’t be. The Bears will win. Narrowly.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 3
Los Angeles Rams (11-3) at Arizona Cardinals (3-11)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Yeah, I’ve got some concerns. Chief among them is that Jared Goff, in the three games since the shootout win over Kansas City, has thrown just 242 yards per game completing at 54.96% with 1 touchdown compared to 7 interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 51.3. For comparison, here are the top five passer ratings over the last three weeks…
Deshaun Watson – 110.5
Derek Carr – 110.0
Russell Wilson – 109.6
Ryan Tannehill – 108.4
Pat Mahomes – 105.2
And here are the worst five…
Jared Goff – 51.3
Josh Rosen – 59.2
Cam Newton – 63.7
Josh Allen – 66.2
Case Keenum – 73.2
Some curious trends there, actually. Derek Carr on his best streak of the season but still looking worse than the numbers and not winning many games. Russell Wilson carrying the Seahawks as usual. Josh Allen and Josh Rosen being crap rookies. Cam Newton wetting the bed. But most dramatic of all is that a midseason MVP candidate and Super Bowl contender has gone all the way back to Rookie Goff. We didn’t think it was possible under Sean McVay but here we are.
Naturally it ain’t all Goffy’s problem. The offensive line has capitulated in the last month which has led to heaps of pressure which has led to all this. Their inability to get Todd Gurley working as the main cog in the offence is a kicker as well. The dude does not have consecutive 100+ yard rushing games all season. Man, he should be getting a hundy every damn game. It’s all on McVay now to live up to hype and prove why everyone loves him on NFL twitter.
You know what’ll happen too. The NFL influencers love the Rams because they’re super modern, super creative. They have a young head coach and two young superstar leaders on the offence and have built the team extremely cleverly. They don’t really wanna shrink on their Rams = 2018 Champions predictions so LAR will host the woeful Cardinals this week and put forty on them and the narrative will be all about how the Rams are back and McVay solved everything. But really all that woulda happened is they beat the worst team in the league. Good luck repeating that against the Bears or Saints in the playoffs. The Rams are 3-3 since the start of November.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by exactly 40
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) at New Orleans Saints (12-2)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 6
Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) at Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
Monday 2.20pm NZT
The Seahawks aren’t very good, are they? With the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot they instead drew 14 flags for 148 penalty yards in an overtime defeat against the Niners. A new franchise record for penalty yardage. Their offensive line has gotten better than the abomination it was in the early days, enough to spark a decent running game with Chris Carson and give Russell Wilson the room to create some things. But it’s still not anything worth much of a damn. Their defence is way down in most ranks, the only thing in their favour is that they don’t give up too many points, enough to keep Seattle in the game.
And that’s why they’re a team I wouldn’t like to see in the playoffs (and so naturally they’re the team most likely to play the Cowboys in the playoffs). A scrappy bunch of jokers who can keep the ball away from you, with an elite quarterback and a habit of finding a way to win. Doug Baldwin is looking fit again. Chris Carson just had possibly his best ever game. After starting 0-2 their only defeats have been to the Rams x2 and the Chargers plus now the Niners. That was a terrible performance from a pretty mediocre team but the things that they have going for them are enough to make a push in the playoffs… sort of like how a useless Green Bay Packers team usually gets hot on the back of Aaron Rodgers and wins a postseason game most years.
They will lose this week. They’ve been losing to the best offences whenever they’ve played them because they’re the only teams that they can’t keep close enough to strike (the Cowboys are not one of those teams). All good, they only have to win one game to make it and they play the Cardinals next time. As for the Chiefs, gotta keep grinding them out to get that first round bye ahead of the Chargers.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs by 6
Denver Broncos (6-8) at Oakland Raiders (3-11)
Tuesday 2.15pm NZT
Tuesday meaning Christmas Day in Aotearoa, if you didn’t click. Probably won’t be watching this one then, by 2.15pm the port club will probably be in session and by the end of the game I’ll either be chowing down on dinner/leftovers from an enormous lunch or I’ll be completely out of circulation. We’ll see how it goes. Doubt I’ll be missing anything when these two teams play anyway, although it’s a tough one to pick. The Broncos are the more talented team… but back to back losses to SF49 and the Browns make them hard to back at a time when the Raiders have been doing some things lately. Derek Carr was on his best run of the season until he only completed at 55% against the Bengals, getting sacked five times and only throwing at 6.9 yards per attempt. As much as I have no faith in Denver, I have even less in Oakland. Carr hasn’t thrown a pick since week five and a visit from the Denver defence feels like the right time to end that.
Week 16 of the Jon Gruden Experience:
Merry Christmas, friend. Have a bloody marvellous holiday season.
Wildcard’s Pick: Broncos by 3
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. The port club is now in session.
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