Last Week: 11-5
Detroit Lions (5-10) at Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Well, this is it my friend. We’ve stomped and spun our way to the last round of the regular season, with sixteen more games to decide once and for all which twelve teams get to continue into the real stuff. Sixteen games of which a handful have some incredibly massive repercussions to them while the rest are basically just for pride and giggles. There’s not a lot left to figure out. Nine teams have already booked their playoff spots and even seedings are largely sorted. But we do have a couple big deals on the way. The Colts and Titans have a playoff playoff to scrap away at. The Ravens need to win to advance and the Steelers are waiting ready if they fail. Same with the Vikings and Eagles, each with a job still to do. The Vikes win and they’re in, they lose and the Eagles can leap them. It’s still possible that the Bears can get a first round bye if the Rams lose. First round byes are all up for grabs in the AFC too but the Chiefs and Chargers have it in their own hands. Should be fun.
Not a lot going on in this particular contest though. Good for the Packers, who had to sweat it out all the way into overtime of a game they trailed most of the way but they finally found a way past Sam Darnold and the Jets for their only win away from home all season. That was very nearly quite embarrassing and even with the great escape they still don’t exactly look impressive. Aaron Rodgers threw for 442 yards with 2 TD passes and another two TD rushes and the fact that it took OT to still win against a rubbish team with a rookie quarterback is a sign of how much work there is to be done in the offseason.
Better than the Lions, at least. The whole Matt Patricia thing is looking trash at the moment with the Detroit side incapable of scoring enough points to stay in matches, injuries haven’t helped but one in in their last eight games won’t get you anywhere fast. Sort of like LeGarrette Blount, who doesn’t go anywhere fast either except to the ground. He has 403 yards at 2.8 per carry having been the main man filling in for Kerryon Johnson (642 yards at 5.4 per carry) after he was injured in week 11. We already know they’re short on weapons on offence so that wouldn’t be so bad if the defence wasn’t also so ineffective. Not bad, no team with Ziggy Ansah is going to be bad, but they have the second fewest turnovers and are third worst in net passing yards per attempt against them. Enough there for Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown two picks all season, to feel like he can feast.
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 13
Miami Dolphins (7-8) at Buffalo Bills (5-10)
Monday 7.00am NZT
My name is Dan Marino, king of kings. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!
The Dolphins were 3-0. They’re now going to miss the playoffs. They had the makings of a very decent team this season, as they showed with those three early wins. But then Ryan Tannehill was injured and they’ve done the square root of nothing even after he came back. The miracle win over the Patriots, which is now by far the most positive memory of this season, is the only reason they were still in the hunt a week ago and then they lost to a pathetic Jags offence and don’t even worry about it. Courtesy of the Miami Herald, here are some franchise records that the Fins can break this week against the Bills:
If the Bills bag 247 yards of offence then it’ll be the worst season tally any Miami defence has ever coughed up. They’re at 5876 at the mo’, which is third worst in the league.
If the Bills score 47 points (extremely unlikely, to be fair) then it’ll be the most points allowed in MD history.
Four touchdown passes would set an unwanted franchise record as well. Also unlikely against the Bills, luckily.
If they don’t improve on a 30.5% third down conversion percentage then it’d be the worst since that stat was first measured in 1976.
Nobody’s run fewer plays on offence in 2018 than the Fins, and they’re in danger of setting the new mark for lowest time in possession per game, chilling at 27.4 mins right now with the team record a measly 28:02 in 1988.
The Fins are 30th in offence and defence both, which would make them the first team ever to finish bottom three in both in the same season.
I didn’t even realise it was that bad. Which is all part of the reason why it seems like this will be Ryan Tannehill’s final game with the team that drafted him. That’s a rough one on a dude whose main fault is that he’s been injured a few times too often, but then a change of scenery would do him good too. Tannehill is a solid starting quarterback, possibly even a very good one. I’d take that bloke over Joe Flacco, tell you that much for free. He’d be perfect for the Denver Broncos.
Even with a trashy and busted up offensive line that gets him sacked every couple minutes he’s still completed at 65% for 1832 yards at a passer rating of 99.0, 17 TDs and 7 INTs. Low volume stats but he’s only played ten games and his team has never lived up to their possibilities. RT earns some blame for their red zone woes but that’s about it. Unfortunately his cap hit is just way too much for a guy with his current production, games missed through injury included.
Ordinarily I’d back them to crunch the Bills but I dunno this week. It might be of more use to lose and leap up the draft board given they might be on the lookout for a new QB. And the Bills have been scrappy recently. They’re at home with a pretty healthy side and a 3-3 record since getting pumped by the Bears in week 9. It’s easy to forget that LeSean McCoy is still on this roster, especially when he only has 10 yards on seven carries in the last two weeks, but give him the ball against Miami 25 times and get the defence playing at the level they have recently and that’d be enough.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bills by 3
New York Jets (4-11) at New England Patriots (10-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 10
Carolina Panthers (6-9) at New Orleans Saints (13-2)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Being the final week of the season, there are certain housekeeping matters that need to be dealt with. Such as dishing out my predictions for the end of season awards. A conversation which will probably take several predictions and which begins with the scrap for MVP, which at this point has come down to three men: Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers. I shall begin with a simple glance at the statistical comparisons…
74.4% COMP | 3992 YDS | 32 TD | 5 INT | 9.0 AY/A | 115.7 RATE
66.4% COMP | 4816 YDS | 48 TD | 11 INT | 9.5 AY/A | 114.0 RATE
68.8% COMP | 4132 YDS | 31 TD | 10 INT | 8.9 AY/A | 107.7 RATE
Drew Brees is the guy taking care of the efficiency stuff, while Mahomes is slaying the quantity numbers. Rivers has probably fallen off into third the last couple weeks as his numbers don’t stack up against either of the others on those two ends of the scale and he’s lost momentum with a couple tricky performances, losing to the Ravens didn’t help last week. He did beat the Chiefs and Patty Mahomes the week before though. But, yeah, to be honest anything that Rivers has in his case Drew Brees has already done better and anything Brees hasn’t done better Mahomes has done better.
So we’ve got an arm wrestle between Brees and Mahomes. My sentimental side wants Drew Brees to run away with it, he might be the best QB in history never to have won an MVP and at 39 years old it’s his last chance, potentially. With 13 wins and seven of them via game-winning drives he certainly has a hefty case… but I’ve got to stay real and admit that Patrick Mahomes has been the most valuable dude.
Value is a tricky thing to quantify, it’s a debate that we always have around this time, but Mahomes is the sun at the centre of the Chiefs universe. He’s not just been raking in the numbers with ruthless glee like Peyton Manning used to, he’s doing it with an insanely exciting style and influence which is going to make him one of the most emulated dudes in the whole sport pretty soon if he isn’t already. Some of those plays he’s made, there’s nobody else can do that. It’s weird that we’re this deep into the season and the unanimous MVP hasn’t emerged yet. But the competition shouldn’t fool ya. Mahomes is the bloke. Don’t overthink it.
But Drew Brees can have the Offensive Player of the Year as consolation. He deserves it.
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 6
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (10-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
All these games are divisional battles, which is always a hoot. It also means we don’t really have any games between competitive teams. There are exactly two games between teams that both have winning records. Hopefully that means a nice 14-2 or something on the picks, the last month or so I’ve lost a heap of momentum as results got wonky but a good finish and I could get back up the personal leaderboard. I am still in range of my best ever season but it’ll take getting fifteen out of sixteen to make it happen. Most likely we’re looking at third place… and it’ll help if jokers like the Jaguars stop winning unexpected games like they did last week and a few weeks back against the Colts. Goddamn buggers.
2017 – 171-85
2014 – 170-85-1
2016 – 160-94-2
2013 – 159-96-1
2015 – 154-102
Yeah I’d bet you didn’t realise I’d been doing this that long. Don’t worry, nobody read it back in those days. Which reminds me… whack an ad if you do appreciate the NFL reads so that I can keep doing them next season, and a bit of Patreon support never goes astray either. As an independent media scrapper, The Niche Cache does rely on the generosity of readers to give back and allow us to keep doing all this. So cheers to you if you’re up for it – we do take care of our Patreons with extra benefits too, just quietly.
Also just quietly, taking a peek at ESPN’s ‘Expert Picks’ I see that… well, first of all their overall records are a bit weird… but assuming those numbers are their overall correct totals then, mate, I’m better than the lot of them. 156 correct picks has me out on top even after a couple dud weeks. CBS do a similar thing in which I would only be tied for fourth but, man, ESPN sucks. They should be paying me.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 9
Dallas Cowboys (9-6) at New York Giants (5-10)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Quick question… which quarterback is Eli Manning and which is Dak Prescott…?
QB 1 – 66.5% COMP | 3998 YDS | 19 TD | 10 INT | 7.5 Y/A | 92.4 RATE
QB 2 – 68.3% COMP | 3498 YDS | 18 TD | 8 INT | 7.3 Y/A | 94.7 RATE
Eli is 1 and Dak is 2 but it hardly even matters. Other than 500 yards of offence, which is largely offset by Dak’s 305 yards and 6 rushing scores, it’s pretty damn, to be honest. But Eli is completely washed and Dak is only partly doubted as far as the court of public opinion goes.
Funny thing is that it’s true, too. Prescott’s value is deeper than his passing, he’s able to create plays with his feet and he has a running back who chews up a lot of field for him. Manning has a very good RB but Saquon Barkley’s a hit or miss runner at this stage of his career (but in two years I can’t help but feel like he might morph into prime Le’Veon Bell, which is scary). There’s also the extremely relevant stat that Dak’s Passer Rating rises to 100.3 across the last seven games (of which Dallas has won six), completing at 73.5% with 262 yards per game. Yeah, that makes a very important difference. Ultimately because of the six wins as much as anything. That’s the NFL for ya, at the end of the day the only stat that really matters is the one in the win-loss column and Dallas are headed for the playoffs while the Giants are not.
Dallas ain’t resting anybody who’s fit for this game either, which I like. Don’t spoil the rhythm of a team that’s been playing well (well enough, at least) by getting ahead of yourselves, playoff implications or no playoff implications. Let the lads go to work, smash a divisional rival, and walk into that wildcard game feeling pumped in a week’s time. Ideally with the rushing title in Ezekiel Elliott’s hands… although with a 183 yard lead over an injured Todd Gurley it’s hard to see how anyone can even come close to him. He already has a career-best 567 yards receiving too. If only his team allowed him to score a few more touchdowns then he’d be having an MVP convo kinda year. But when you have the same amount of fumbles as rushing scores (six) then you don’t really get to sit at that table. Christian McCaffrey (1925) and Saquon Barkley (1886) are the only other jokers in range of joining Zeke in the 2000+ yards from scrimmage club for 2018 – since Gurley ain’t playing the finale.
Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 10
Atlanta Falcons (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Another game with nothing to play for, other than Julio Jones gunning for the receiving title. He does have a couple injuries at the moment so he might not even bother playing but the ideal scenario is that he comes in and Matt Ryan throws to him twenty times. Then TBB, who have been in several shootouts this year, decide they might as well try and keep up and we get a 45-40 game with mass offence all over the show. Julio has 1539 yards on 104 catches so far, which is a healthy 114 yard lead over DeAndre Hopkins and 121 yards ahead of Mike Evans… who is playing for TBB here and a couple long receptions in the first half and this could be a belter.
How good is Julio Jones, aye? This is already the 32nd best season in history for receiving yardage and it’s not even his second best year. The last five seasons in a row he has at least 1400 yards through the air. The Falcons have made the Super Bowl and he was the same. They did whatever the hell this was all season and he was the same.
2014 – 104 REC | 1593 YDS | 6 TD (Third in YDS, third in REC)
2015 – 136 REC | 1871 YDS | 8 TD (First in YDS, First-equal in REC)
2016 – 83 REC | 1409 YDS | 6 TD (Second in YDS, 17th in REC)
2017 – 88 REC | 1444 YDS | 3 TD (Second in YDS, ninth in REC)
2018 – 104 REC | 1539 YDS | 7 TD (First in REC & YDS)
Wildcard’s Pick: Falcons by 5
Oakland Raiders (4-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Week 17 of the Jon Gruden Experience:
Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs by 14
Arizona Cardinals (3-12) at Seattle Seahawks (9-6)
Monday 10.25am NZT
A first overall pick is on the line for the Cardinals and they probably won’t want to take a quarterback, which is all good for the four-win teams like the Raiders and Jets (the Niners are sorted at QB) who won’t feel like they need to tank their last game. The Cardies need all sorts of help in basically every imaginable position including quarterback but they’ll persevere with Josh Rosen and he’s shown enough in a very sloppy rookie season to think he can step it up with more talent around him and more experience within him. They are the worst team in football, after all. Only so much a rookie quarterback can do in that situation.
Bloody Seahawks still floating on into the playoffs. Too many other NFC teams fell by the wayside and even on an off year they were still good enough to sneak through with a week to spare. Russell Wilson has had a year which in other times would be in the MVP convo. Chris Carson has invigorated their rushing game with 1029 yards to date, one of eight blokes to have already topped the four figure mark. But, like, that defence is nothing compared to what it once was. But fair enough, they’re still a worthy playoff team and guts to me because they’re likely to play the Cowboys in week one. In fact here’s what my current picks will have the playoffs looking like…
Colts at Texans
Chargers at Ravens
Eagles at Bears
Seahawks at Cowboys
AFC Bye: Chiefs (1st) and Patriots (2nd)
NFC Bye: Saints (1st) and Rams (2nd)
Some tasty games there. Hard to see many of the other lot losing in the second round once they come into it, except for the vulnerable Patriots that is. The Saints and Rams are going to be tough to stop from meeting in the divisional champ game. The Chiefs have a great deal for their playoff push. Wouldn’t discount the Colts or Chargers, however. Eh, it’ll all take shape soon enough, no reason to get ahead of ourselves.
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 10
San Francisco 49ers (4-11) at Los Angeles Rams (12-3)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Next award on the agenda is Defensive Player of the Year and we have some excellent candidates. Holding the fort together for the Seahawks has been the immense Bobby Wagner. JJ Watt has been totally resurgent this season, doing things that would make offensive linemen and quarterbacks quiver the whole world over were it not that he’s actually been even better in the past. And a few weeks into the season it felt like a no doubter that Khalil Mack was going to win this thing… and it’s not like he’s eased up since then either.
But Aaron Donald has 19.5 sacks with a game to play. He could even break Michael Strahan’s all time record of 22.5 in a season and he’ll surely get a half a one to make him the eleventh man to get to twenty in a season. And this bloke, don’t overlook this fact… is a defensive tackle. He is not an edge rusher, he is doing that damage coming straight through the middle of the line. Nobody applies more quarterback pressure than him. Nobody shakes an offensive guard with more abandon. Shout outs to Aaron Donald.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 7
Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) at Denver Broncos (6-9)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Next is Coach of the Year and… Vance Joseph, step right up!
Nah, jokes. Basically I see five candidates out in front of the rest. Anthony Lynn of the Chargers is one of them. Imagine making the Chargers into a functioning team that doesn’t choke horribly and finally lives up to their ability on the field. Philip Rivers has had possibly his best ever season. They’re going to win 12 games. Lynn has constantly taken positive risks and seen the reward for that, as you have to do in the modern NFL.
Next is Matt Nagy for what’s going on at the Bears. Were they supposed to be this good? Not in my books. The defence has been the driving force there, with Nagy’s delegated hands taking care of that one after the front office brought in Khalil Mack. Then the offence has been beautifully managed around the limitations of Mitch Trubisky. I sorta think the Bears are more where they are through the sheer talent they’ve accumulated on the roster though, rather than maximising them in creative ways. Nagy is absolutely in the top five here… but might be more a case of Executive of the Year for Ryan Pace, which is an award I don’t care about so leave it at that.
Frank Reich’s turning the Colts from tankers to competitors came so suddenly that it took half a season to realise that Andrew Luck was playing his best ever footy and the Colts were on their way possibly to the playoffs again. I’ve got them getting there anyway. It’s possible that Luck hogs the credit in the media narrative about this team but Reich’s been essential. Getting that offensive line to stay on its feet. Finding ways to get receivers open despite TY Hilton being the only one anybody had heard of a year ago. That’s just beyond incredible.
I don’t think Sean McVay is on this shortlist this season, as good as they started there have been cracks in the second half of the campaign and he did kinda win it last year, which usually means you’ve gotta do even better to get further recognition. But old mate Walrus Face Andy Reid taking the Chiefs to a new level means he gets a mention… although not sure they’ve done enough to get rewarded for MVP and COY at the same time. And the other chap is Sean Payton because look how good the Saints are.
And the winner is… Frank Reich!
On a different note, here’s a screenshot of some project thing Philip Rivers did when he was ten years old. They showed it on the telly so here it is to fill out some space and bring a little colour.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 6
Chicago Bears (11-4) at Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1)
Monday 10.25am NZT
I could be wrong… I could be extremely and embarrassingly wrong… but I’m not going to bet on Kirk Cousins against the Chicago Bears defence not even at home with a spot in the playoffs on the line.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 3
Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Not even a question that it’s Baker Mayfield. Saquon Barkley is the only person who is even still close enough to make out his shadow on the horizon.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: As much as I love me some Leighton Vander Esch… and Derwin James has been straight up great too… there’s no doubt in my mind that the winner of this one is Colts linebacker Darius Leonard. Geez that lad’s talented.
As for the game in question, the Ravens need to win to make the playoffs and the Browns are doing it for the sake of the Steelers… hmm, let me think for a minute which team has the stronger incentive, yes, okay, rightio then, definitely the Ravens. Yes, definitely the Ravens.
Wildcard’s Pick: Ravens by 7
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) at Washington R*dskins (7-8)
Monday 10.25am NZT
It’s Nick Foles, isn’t it? That’s what’s happening. Because if the Bears do as predicted and beat the Vikings and the Eagles win this game then the defending champs are back in the playoffs despite all the struggles and all the toil this season. It must be the Nick Foles Effect.
When Carson Wentz was injured last season up stepped Foles and he won three straight playoff games to lift the Super Bowl title as the game’s MVP. This time up he’s stepped again with the season on the line and Wentz injured and in consecutive games he’s done this:
at Rams: 24/31 | 270 YDS | 0 TD | 1 INT | 89.4 RATE | W 30-23
vs Texans: 35/49 | 471 YDS | 4 TD | 1 INT | 120.4 RATE | W 32-30
Not always pretty against the Rams but he led them to victory. Then against the Texans, another team with double digit wins, he was bloody superb in putting up numbers reminiscent of the Super Bowl performance. 74% completion all up at 9.3 yards per attempt. The Eagles had only scored 30 in a game once this season and have now done it back to back against two playoff teams. Now here they are and they’re probably (according to my picks at least) going to make the postseason again. I don’t know how likely Carson Wentz is to return this season, sounds like he won’t, but even if he makes a miracle recovery I’d still leave him the hell on the sidelines for these playoffs. The fates have spoken.
Wildcard’s Pick: Eagles by 9
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Regardless of how this game goes, the Steelers have already blown it. With four defeats from their last five games it’s all out of their hands now, they need the Ravens to bugger up at home to Cleveland (that Baltimore defence against a rookie QB, remember) just to have a chance. Losing by three to the Saints wasn’t so bad but those earlier defeats to Oakland and Denver look absolutely brutal right now. After that incredible mid-season run of form with four straight 100+ yard rush games James Connor has been hobbled by an ankle injury and has missed the last three games completely so that hasn’t helped. In fact it’s taken all the variability out of that offence and left Ben Roethlisberger to do pretty much everything… and old mate’s obliged… but that’s not enough. From 7-2-1 the Steelers are on the brink of missing the playoffs altogether and there’s plenty of blame here and it’s all directed at the bathroom mirror. Mike Tomlin’s gotta cop a fair bit of that too, sorry to say.
There is one other way they can make the playoffs even if Baltimore wins and that’s for the Steelers to win and the Colts vs Titans game to be a tie. It could happen… but I doubt it will. God, imagine telling Antonio Brown a year ago that he’d be relying on a Cleveland Browns victory in order to make the playoffs. At least that’s not such a ridiculous proposition under the current state of affairs.
Mike Tomlin: “We made the bed, we’ll lay in it. I'll expect us to lay very well in it and perform. We’ll control what it is we control, and that’s our preparation and play next week. All other things out of our control, we won’t worry much about. Like everyone else, we’ve had 15 opportunities to this point to state a case for ourselves. We won’t lament about our positioning. We’ll just simply control the things that are in front of us, and that’s our preparation and our play.”
Yeah you lads lay in that bed and perform, right on.
One thing to peek at is Ben Roethlisberger on the brink of his first ever 5000 passing yard season. He needs 158 more to top that mark and become only the sixth person to achieve that. He’s already attempted 630 passes in 2018 which, at 36 years old, is the most he’s ever done and that’s with a game to spare. Bloody Young Matt Stafford numbers, those ones. Patrick Mahomes is also likely to top 5k if he plays, plus he’s got 48 touchdown passes. Nobody else is touching that unless Matt Ryan throws for 444 or more.
The Steelers should have no trouble getting past the Bengals, but they’ll be bloody lucky if other results go their way and let them into the postseason. Scrappy as they’ve been, it’s hard to imagine any team in the AFC isn’t relieved to be dodging the Steelers in the playoffs. Except maybe the Patriots, because they always beat them in the playoffs.
Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 10
Indianapolis Colts (9-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-6)
Monday 2.20pm NZT
Finally, the one game this week that really, truly matters for both teams. The one game which is win at all costs. There’s no consolation of playoff seedings here, whoever loses is going home to stay and whoever wins should be kitting up next week in the wildcard round against the Texans which, tell you what, is winnable for both (and winnable for the Texans too, sure). This is what week 17 is all boiling down to and it should be a fascinating clash between two sides with a fair bit of form at the moment.
Although, uh, if the Titans are going to overcome the odds then they’ll have to overcome a fella that they’ve never managed to top before despite being divisional rivals. Andrew Luck is 10-0 against the Titans in his career. 18 touchdowns against 8 interceptions in those games with a passer rating of 97.2 and a completion of 63.2%. Not his finest numbers but he didn’t used to be a guy that put up efficient stats the whole way through games… it’s the four game winning drives against the Titans that should really scare a team that doesn’t score a huge amount of points.
Coming back from a 1-5 start, the Colts have been the team that is playing more like challengers. They are the more consistent team now, the team that most deserves this final playoff spot. I don’t expect the Titans to go down without a real tussle but she’s a ruthless old sport at this time of the year. No room for sentimentality.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 1
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. He is better at this game then all of the experts on ESPN and is doing it for a fraction of the salary. Just thought you ought to know that.
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