Last Week: 10-6
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) at Tennessee Titans (7-6)
Friday 2.20pm NZT
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what a 99-yard rushing touchdown looks like. The longest possible play from scrimmage. Derrick Henry, you cheeky geezer. This is all strength. Fifteen yards into the run there’s no way he looks like he can take it to the house but then out comee another couple stiff-arms (fends, as we call them in these parts) and the bloke’s away.
I picked the Titans to win it slightly on the back of an excellent Jags defensive display last week but there’s nothing could make me stump for Jacksonville to win while they’re starting Cody Kessler who is undoubtedly worse than Blake Bortles. I mean, Bort can be atrocious but he can also be kinda useful in patches. He’s had some amazing games in his career. Even this season he had that 4 TD game in a win over New England. Cody Kessler, on the other hand, is mediocre at best and mediocre at worst. You know what you’re getting and it’s boring and useless.
But yeah, I picked the Titans by one score and they ended up winning by three. The Jaguars have now lost eight of their last nine games and it feels more than reasonable to rule them out of the running to make the playoffs… though their remaining three games are against Washington, Miami and Houston who are all still in the running, just as the Colts and Titans were the last two games. Jags with that defence, they can definitely be spoilers. As for the Titans, they’re back in with a shot after two straight wins. With the Giants and R*dskins in the next two weeks they’ve got every chance of that week 17 game at home to Andy Luck and the Colts being a playoff for the playoffs.
Quick word on Derrick Henry, he had 238 yards on 17 carries in this game. Far from just a one-run wonder. He scored four times, which is one shy of his total from the first 112 games combined. The one thing which has always benefitted Marcus Mariota more than anything is a meaningful running game to work behind. When the Titans rush for more than 120 yards this season they’re 5-1 (and that 1 was against the Chargers). When they go under they’re 2-5.
Wildcard’s Pick: Titans by 6
Carolina Panthers (6-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-7-1)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Cam, mate, what’s going on? I realise you’ve got a shoulder thing but a week ago you claimed you were playing the best footy of your career. You said that, mate, I didn’t say it. You did. And to be fair there was a case to be made with ten straight games of 60+% completion and two or more passing TDs. Technically that streak is eleven games now. Didn’t break it against Tampa… but you did throw four interceptions and lose to a team that can’t even figure out who their quarterback ought to be. Like, the Tampa Bay quarterback stat line came from the Carolina quarterback playing against them, somebody swapped their cups.
Good thing nobody swapped their wardrobes, at least. The only thing worse than this get-up would be literally anybody else in the league other than Cam Newton wearing it. The only bloke who can even come close to getting away with this… especially after a 4-INT performance. It’s the hat that spoils it.
Man, all he had to do was not throw a couple of those silly ones and this would’ve been an easy win. The Panthers are gonna rue that L pretty drastically in a few weeks.
As for Cleveland, they’re doing a great job of being close but not close enough. They were deceptively useful against the Texans last week, despite losing by a couple scores. Exactly what they need to be doing. The last thing they need is to ruin things by doing so well that Gregg Williams gets the gig full-time. I mean, it might be that he gets the gig anyway after a long and comprehensive application process but just picking the convenient next man up without playing the field would be a very lame Browns thing to do that’d probably doom them to another three years of trash, upon when Baker Mayfield would leave in free agency. What they need to do is get a good draft pick, grab another offensive superstar or two to complement their QB, the best WR in the class would do fine, and focus on getting Baker to a place where he can make a Goff-esque leap in years two and three.
Mayfield threw three picks last week. Rookie errors. He also threw 397 yards (incredibly 336 of them in the second half). There aren’t too many blokes managed more than that in their first seasons. In fact according to a quick Pro Football Reference search there are only eleven men with more as rookies. Cam Newton did it twice. Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Matt Stafford are also on that list. So is Nick Mullens from last week. Deshaun Watson as well. The other four are Matt Leinart, Marc Bulger, Aaron Brooks and Jeff Garcia.
Wildcard’s Pick: Panthers by 9
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-2)
Monday 7.00am NZT
All Kansas City Chiefs talk comes down to Patty Mahomes (except for the last two weeks when Kareem Hunt is the focus, but let’s not discuss that ugliness now since it’s no longer a football situation as he’s no longer a football player… until the R*dskins undoubtedly sign him for training camp but that’ll be its own story). Mahomes has 41 touchdowns with four games left, the record being Peyton Manning’s 55 scores in his record breaking 2013 season… but Mahomes is already top ten on that list, incredibly.
55 - Peyton Manning (2013/Denver Broncos)
50 – Tom Brady (2007/New England Patriots)
49 – Peyton Manning (2004/Indianapolis Colts)
48 – Dan Marino (1984/Miami Dolphins)
46 – Drew Brees (2011/New Orleans Saints)
45 – Aaron Rodgers (2011/Green Bay Packers)
44 – Dan Marino (1986/Miami Dolphins)
43 – Drew Brees (2012/New Orleans Saints)
41 – Patrick Mahomes (2018/Kansas City Chiefs)
Matt Stafford (2011/Detroit Lions)
Kurt Warner (1999/Saint Louis Rams)
So can he bust the record? I doubt it. Initially I thought he was a dead set because that Tom Brady 50 TD season was so ingrained in me that I forgot about Peyton Manning, but Peyton was 330 yards and four touchdowns every second week that season, he was untouchable. Not even joking either, he had 12 different games with 300+ yards, nine different games with 4+ TDs and seven different games in which he did both. He also had a 7 TD game against Baltimore in there.
Funny story, Mahomes plays Baltimore this very week. A Baltimore defence which is the number one scoring defence in the game and which only the Jaguars and Vikings have conceded fewer passing touchdowns than. He also has games remaining against the Chargers and Seahawks who are top half in passing TDs conceded, as well as closing against Oakland who, to be fair, he threw 4 TDs against last week. So there’s one game in which he’ll cash in still there (unless he doesn’t play, rested for the playoffs… might depend on getting that first round bye). The Ravens arguably have the best performing secondary unit of the season and the Seahawks still have Earl Thomas. Don’t think he does too well this week and the Chargers are always a handful. Gonna say he settles for 48 and ties Dan Marino’s best. By the way, shows you how good Marino was that his stats hold up against these modern passing offence machines.
Funky game this because I can hundy percent envisage the Ravens winning thing but it pays not to bet against excessive offence in this day and age so dunno that I can pick them. You’ve been forewarned though. Lamar Jackson is for real and Joe Flacco ain’t getting that job back. Not if they’re serious about making the playoffs.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs by 3
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Houston Texans (9-3)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Okey doke, we’re deep enough into the season now that it’s time to take a good old peek at the Playoff Machine and see what we’re dealing with here. Particularly with these two teams, the Texans having won nine in a row to surge into first place but the Colts, who dropped a stinker last week but have otherwise been excellent in the second half of the season, still have hopes of catching them.
And for what it’s worth I think they win this week and make a run of it. The Colts only lost to the Texans in OT last time, the first win of the season for HOU, and have gotten massively better since then (last week excluded). Meanwhile we have to be honest and say that the Texans have had a ridiculously easy schedule for this nine-game win streak. They’ve gotten easy games mixed with games against good teams at bad times. Like when they beat Dallas, that was the Cowboys at their worst pre-Amari Cooper and they did it in overtime. Get them now and it’d be a different story one way or the other. They got Blake Bortles as his Bortsiest in a win over the Jaguars. They played Miami without Ryan Tannehill. Got Denver just before they started winning again. It was against Houston that Alex Smith broke his leg.
I’m not saying that the Texans aren’t a good team, they definitely are, but this nine-game win streak has been fortuitous the whole way and we can’t overlook that. Anyway, here’s what the Playoff Machine regurgitated for me…
Huh. Interesting. Based on that there are a couple enormous games to be wary of. One is Dallas vs Philly this week because that could flip the winner of the NFC East. Then there’s Indy at Tennessee in week 17, a straight up playoff for the last wildcard spot in the AFC. And Ravens at Chargers in week 16 could be the difference between the Chargers getting a first round bye or the Ravens making the playoffs at all.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 6
New England Patriots (9-3) at Miami Dolphins (6-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
It’s Tom Brady against another AFC East team. In his career he’s 79-20 as a started against the AFC East. This will be his 100th career divisional game. He’s thrown 23,678 yards and 181 touchdowns against divisional rivals in his career, both of those numbers alone would have him in the top 100 all-time (84th in passing yards – between Brian Sipe and Norm Van Brocklin – and 60th in passing TDs, between Steve Grogan/Cam Newton and Rich Gannon). That’s insane. That’s all you need to know about this game.
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 7
New York Giants (4-8) at Washington R*dskins (6-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Josh Johnson!? Josh. Freakin’. Johnson!? That name is so obscure that for the longest time I thought they meant Josh Freeman, another former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and one who was almost half decent for a few years there. But no that’s not who they meant, they meant Josh Johnson who as thrown a total of 177 passes in his NFL career, with only five starts, basically a career backup who is currently playing for some random non NFL league which he for some reason still thinks he can keep playing for even while he’s on an NFL contract, who hasn’t thrown a pass in the NFL since 2011… TWENTY-ELEVEN… and he’s going to be the backup to Mark Sanchez on the Washington Sanchize who still have a legit chance of making the playoffs but they’re willing to settle for Mark Sanchez and whoever the hell this guy is.
But they still don’t think Colin Kaepernick’s been blacklisted.
I guess when your team name is a literal racial slur, you’ve got to keep things on-brand.
Wildcard’s Pick: Giants by 3 for karma’s sake
New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
The Buccs have been winning some silly games recently. The incredibly have a better record right now than both the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers, who play each other this week. Thankfully they’re about to get well and truly fustigated by Drew Brees. Revenge game for that loss in week one (one of only two teams to beat NOS this season, the other being Dallas last week). Brees threw 439 passing yards and 3 TDs in that game. Completed at 82% with no interceptions. It took a worldie from Fitzmagic to make it happen and anything short of that again, and we know they’ll fall short of that again, gives us a no contest.
Oh and a reminder, these are Drew Brees’ 2018 stats. He is currently 39 years old:
75.5% COMP | 3262 YDS | 30 TD | 3 INT | 9.7 AY/A | 123.2 RATE
Even after a bummer of a game last week he’s still on course for the highest passer rating in a season ever, a record set by Aaron Rodgers in 2011 which has felt untouchable since. But not anymore, with the top ten as things stand, if the season ended today, featuring four logs from 2018. Brees, obviously. Followed by Patrick Mahomes at 118.1 in fifth. Then Philip Rivers at 115.7 in eighth place. And in ninth is a slightly surprising addition of Russell Wilson, whose passer rating is at a mean 115.5 this year. Hence part of why I’ve got the Seahawks making the playoffs (another part being the implosions of records by the Falcons and Packers).
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 30
Atlanta Falcons (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (4-7-1)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Later bo. The Mike McCarthy thing was a no brainer, he was gonna get sacked one way or another. Got into this last week. He’s fallen out with Aaron Rodgers big time and the team is only getting worse. It ain’t all his fault by any means but it’s not getting better while he’s there. Only surprise was that they sacked him this soon, rather than waiting ‘til the end of the season… but then what are you supposed to do when you lose to the Arizona Cardinals. Bloody playoff hopes on the line and they lost that game. To a rookie quarterback. To a terrible team. Just couldn’t live with that without taking drastic action.
Speaking of falls from grace… the greatest quarterback of all time took a hit this week. I’m not talking about Aaron Rodgers either, I’m talking Atlanta Falcons. What, Matt Ryan? No, of course not him… Mohamed Sanu, mate. Came into last week with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 with 6/6 completions for his career for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns. From six passes, dude. But he threw an incompletion on Monday morning so yeah, big dramas. Still has a perfect passer rating for his career but he now has his first career incompletion. A great legend has tumbled down to earth.
This should have been a superb game with all sorts of playoff implications. Instead it’s rather meaningless. I don’t know how these two teams ended up incapable of winning more than eight games each (and only one can get there on account of playing each other here) but that’s the reality we find ourselves in. All that chat about great quarterbacks being essential and here we have two guys playing at extraordinary levels and they’re irrelevant in the playoff picture. It ain’t right, mate.
Wildcard’s Pick: Falcons by 7
New York Jets (3-9) at Buffalo Bills (4-8)
Monday 7.00am NZT
In fairness, Josh Allen was really good last week. Particularly on the ground, where he rushed for 135 yards and was unable to throw any interceptions on account of the ball being tucked under his arm.
In even more fairness I just can’t waste any precious words on this meaningless matchup when there are such fantastic games all around this week of NFL action. It’s all love… but I love some of these other game a whole lot more.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bills by 3
Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) at Los Angeles Chargers (9-3)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Nine kids. Count the two parents and that’s enough to fill out an entire offensive starting lineup. No guesses as to who gets to play quarterback.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 14
Denver Broncos (6-6) at San Francisco 49ers (2-10)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Who is this Phillip Lindsay fella? Undrafted rookie running back, pops up out of nowhere, and he’s getting yards on bloody everybody at the moment. Back to back hundy yard games on the ground against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, he’s up to 937 yards on the season at a crazy 6.1 yards per carry. Across their current three-game winning streak he’s got 346 yards with 5 TDs at 7.86 yards per rush. Making a bit of a name for himself lately.
Case Keenum’s needed it too. This Broncos offence was already stretched before Emmanuel Sanders was ruled out for the season midweek and they’ll be just barely clinging on now. Good thing for them is that they still have a top notch defence and the Niners are not a good football team. They’re better than 2-10 but that’s what happens when you lose your starting QB and RB to injury. I flippin’ like this Nick Mullens guy though. Dude can play. He’s not gonna take Jimmy G’s spot but they’ve got a lad there they can develop behind him and either cover for this situation in the future or flip for high draft picks in a year or two when his contract comes up. Better than when Blaine Gabbert was playing for them, you know.
The lucky thing for the Broncos is they’ve come through a tough run of games and are in for the 49ers (A), Browns and Raiders (A) in a row before closing with the Chargers. That’s almost a guaranteed 9-7 finish to the season and that, friends, will put them in the playoff hunt for sure. There are a few teams in that wildcard hunt in the AFC and doubtful any of them win out. The Colts. The Titans. The Ravens. The Dolphins. Only issue is that the Chargers are taking one wildcard spot so all those teams are playing for one spot (or their divisions). Very feisty indeed.
Wildcard’s Pick: Broncos by 10
Philadelphia Eagles (6-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Put succinctly, I believe the winner of this will be the winner of the NFC East. No pressure, lads.
Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 3
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1) at Oakland Raiders (2-10)
Monday 10.25am NZT
What to say about the Pittsburgh Steelers? Coughed up a 23-7 lead late in the third quarter to lose 33-30 against the Chargers, at least it was the Chargers… making it three games in a row with questionable performances from PIT. First they needed a couple late scores to beat Jacksonville 15-14 after being shut down for most of the way. Then they lost to Denver. Now this. A key theme in all three: minimal rushing priority.
at JAX: 11 rush / 47 pass
at DEN: 16 rush / 58 pass
vs LAC: 17 rush / 45 pass
Obviously they’re not going to put Ben Roethlisberger back on the shelves so this is always going to be a pass-dominant offence… but those play distributions are just stupid. Lucky for them they’ve got the Raiders this week.
Week 14 of the Jon Gruden Experience:
Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 17
Detroit Lions (4-8) at Arizona Cardinals (3-9)
Monday 10.25am NZT
There’s probably something worth paying attention to in this game but with four other middle games going on this week and all of them better than this particular matchup I sure can’t think of anything.
Wildcard’s Pick: Lions by 6
Los Angeles Rams (11-1) at Chicago Bears (8-4)
Monday 2.20pm NZT
An update on the Todd Gurley record pace. With 165 total yards and 2 TDs he’s back on the horse following a disappointingly quiet one against Kansas City the week before, with mass passing offence winning out that day. With four games to play he’s up to 1649 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns. Falling off that record pace for both but unsurprisingly leading the league in both for 2018. Got a scrap on his hands with Zeke Elliott for the yardage though.
In the last ten years, David Johnson and LeSean McCoy are the only dudes to have scored 20 TDs in a season. Gurley should achieve that with three games to play this very game.
The Rams have already sealed their playoff berth. They wrapped up their division last week, a second straight NFC West title, and a win here would guarantee them the first round bye. Biggest issue is probably staying focused this far out from the playoffs – they’re more than a month out from their likely first postseason game. But the Bears have a mighty fine defence that’s welcoming them to the Windy City. They did lose last week but crucially Mitch Trubisky will be back for this one. When the offence is built around the limitations of one particular quarterback, putting another one with different but still plentiful limitations in his place is a messy endeavour.
The question is simple: can the Bears take the ball away from the Rams offence while applying pass rush pressure? Because if they can then they can win this thing. If not then it’ll be a long day at the office. Not a complicated or particularly insightful suggestion but this is a simple game sometimes. The three times the Bears have allowed more than 251 passing yards against them they’ve lost. Every other game’s been a victory except for the OT defeat last week with a backup QB.
Not really sure they’ll be able to do it. Great game though.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 7
Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1) at Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
Tuesday 2.15pm NZT
I kinda alluded to this earlier but the path has cleared for the Seahawks. Tough times have been and gone and the road to the playoffs is paved in blue and white. Or something like that. Currently they’re chilling at 7-5 but their last three games after this admittedly tough one are: San Francisco (A), Kansas City (H) & Arizona (H). The Chiefs game should be a belter and I reckon the Hawks have a shot at winning that one. They’ll definitely be watching close to see how Baltimore handle Pat Mahomes and then build from there. But the other two… I s’pose that’s the benefit of playing in a weak division. Winnable games against crap teams when it matters most.
The Falcons and Packers can, at best, get to eight wins each. It’s easily feasible that the winner of the NFC East has just nine wins. The Vikings and Bears are still in a scrap which could leave a wildcard candidate of the loser but the Panthers are going to need to beat the Saints once to get to nine wins and twice to get to ten. With the Seahawks, they have two sitter games around a very difficult one but even if they lose to KCC then the other two wins take them to at least 9-7. Which means that if they can topple the Vikings here and deal a massive blow to a massive rival in this race, taking themselves to a likely 10-6, then that should be a postseason berth right there.
Minnesota have that tie-breaking tie on their side but it’s a difficult run in for Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and the lads. Seahawks away, followed by Dolphins at home, Lions away and Bears at home. A very good team could settle for 2-2 there but that won’t be enough for Minny to crack the postseason. Strange team, this lot. They haven’t changed too much from last season aside from improving at QB and yet they’re just not the same team. Still got the best third down defence in the league though, which is a positive.
And I love Adam Thielen raging at Bill Belichick. Big Bill had a conveniently injured player at a time when he was deliberating whether to throw a challenge flag or not, which he eventually did, and Thielen did not rate the gamesmanship.
For the record, Belichick raged at the Dolphins doing the same thing against him two months ago. Typical Patriots.
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 6
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. But in his spare time he designs hats in the distant hope that Cam Newton might one day wear one to a post-match press conference.
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