Last Week: 12-2
Washington R*dskins (1-6) at Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
Friday 1.20pm NZT
Folks, week seven will forever be known as the week it all clicked. Twelve outta fourteen picks all correct... finally cashing in on these things. I can only assume it’ll all be plain sailing from here. Double digit wins every week. At least I choose to believe that and nothing you argue otherwise can possibly convince men. Sweet as.
Another fella that it’s all clicked for lately is Kirk Cousins. After lighting up Detroit in one of the two games I got wrong last week (the other was Seattle losing to Baltimore – I can live with both of those), he’s pretty much legitimised what was already a sneaky trend back in the positive direction...
KC first 4 games: 64.7% COMP | 183.8 Y/G | 3 TD | 2 INT | 7.12 AY/A | 8 SK | 88.6 RATE
KC last 3 games: 75.6% COMP | 235.3 Y/G | 10 TD | 1 INT | 12.57 AY/A | 4 SK | 142.6 RATE
And that one interception was a dropped pass off Stefon Diggs’ head as well, wasn’t even really his fault. The difference between early Cousins and recent Cousins has been outrageous and it’s another example of great coaching and patience. Cousins is a specific kind of player, he’s amazing at some things and terrible at others (as a pure passer he’s top tier... as a decision maker not so much) but when you can find a way to highlight the amazing things then you’re in business. Dalvin Cook is still the best player on that offence and getting Cousins in a more simplified system heavy with play-action passes has tipped the Vikings into a new tier of quality.
But then Kirk Cousins has done this before, it’s kind of his trademark thing. He plays incredibly against compromised teams and then gets roasted against the big teams. The last three weeks have seen him picking on the Giants (trash), Eagles (not trash but playing trash), and Lions (bang average). This week he’ll get to rip his old mates on the R*dskins to shreds and following that he’ll have a shootout against the Chiefs. Basically what I’m saying is that he’s not really improved that much, he’s just being used better. The plays he’s making lately are the ones he’s always been able to make. And until he does it in primetime against a proper team then nothing has changed. But shout out to the Vikings because at least they’ve struck that ideal balance now – this is a very dangerous side.
Wildcard’s Pick: Vikings by 14
Seattle Seahawks (5-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-6)
Monday 6.00am NZT
But you know what’s not funny? Forest fires.
And also the Atlanta Falcons this season.
Not got much to say on the Seahawks here, they lost last week but they’re still 5-2 and looking sharp with the MVP leader carrying them along. Didn’t have a great day on offence but really the Ravens only got them because Lamar Jackson was unstoppable as a runner and he’s going to do that to plenty of other teams as well. Bad day as the office but you move on and move on quickly when the Falcons are on the agenda next.
Has there been a more disappointing team than the Falcons this year? I can’t see how there could have been. They’re the second worst team in terms of points allowed. Sixth worst in yards allowed. Second fewest defensive turnovers. Third most first downs allowed. Worst in third down defence. Fifth worst in red zone defensive percentage. Worst in team penalties. Last in sacks. Fourth worst in rush yards. Third worst in quarterback hits allowed. Third worst in both offensive starting drive position and defensive starting drive position. Do you need me to go on? Damn, this team was in the Super Bowl a couple years ago.
And to make matters worse, Matt Ryan who was one of the few guys doing anything for this team (as you’d expect from a franchise guy and former MVP), busted his ankle last week and hasn’t been training. He might play, he might not. I doubt it really matters.
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 9
Denver Broncos (2-5) at Indianapolis Colts (4-2)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Meanwhile the Colts just lost their franchise starter QB to an unexpected retirement and are steadily putting together a really excellent season with Jacoby Brissett stepping in and posting a season passer rating of 101.0. He was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week last time after his finest game of the year, maybe of his career, in leading the Colts to a huge boost of a W over the Houston Texans – a team with a pretty useful defence. 326 passing yards. Six plays of 20+ yards. 26 of 39 completion. Four passing touchdowns. No interceptions.
I’ll be honest I didn’t think he was capable of that level of play. I knew he was solid but this was something else, this really does raise the ceiling for the Colts... making them clear favourites as they hit up the Peyton Bowl.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 12
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (3-4)
Monday 6.00am NZT
You know what? For all of how Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota have constantly been linked to each other over the years, and for all of how each of them (Mariota definitely, Winston’s still clinging on) look to be coming to the end of their rookie contracts without having earned another, preparing for the life of a backup quarterback... those were still the correct picks to make at the time. Both teams were coming off 2-14 seasons and desperately needed quarterbacks. Their rostered alternatives were Mike Glennon and Charlie Whitehurst/Zach Mettenberger. And these were the other QBs taken in that draft...
Garrett Grayson (75th) – 0 career pass attempts
Sean Mannion (89) – 53 career pass attempts, 0 TD & 1 INT
Bryce Petty (103) – 245 ATT, 4 TD & 10 INT
Brett Hundley (147) – 326 ATT, 9 TD & 13 INT
Trevor Siemian (250) - 841 ATT, 30 TD & 24 INT
Turns out that was just a bad year to be bad.
Wildcard’s Pick: Titans by 3
Arizona Cardinals (3-3-1) at New Orleans Saints (6-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Hmmm. Look, Russell Wilson loses one game and all of a sudden everyone thinks there’s an MVP race again which is stupid but if you do wanna look at the deeper candidates then this ain’t a bad shout. The other one is Sean Payton in the convo for Coach of the Year, which he’s a pretty good bet to win if they can keep this whole thing going. By the way... Drew Brees is hoping to play this game. If not this week then probably next week.
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 10
Cincinnati Bengals (0-7) at Los Angeles Rams (4-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
I just... nothing involving the Bengals, please.
Wildcard’s Pick: Rams by 13
Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) at Buffalo Bills (5-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Not a good week to be an Eagles fan, aye? I wish I could say I sympathise but I really, honestly do not. But I have to say the irony of the Cowboys picking up an extra weapon in the pass rush and it being a former Eagle when the Eagles are so desperate for pass rush now is the cherry on top of this delicious sundae.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bills by 6
Los Angeles Chargers (2-5) at Chicago Bears (3-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Everybody else has already said it but that camera work on the ol’ spider cam there? Unbelievable work of art. And it was Cordarelle Patterson too which is even better, the best kick returner in the business. Don’t believe me? Well too bad because the stats speak for themselves.
Per The Ringer: “There have been 43 kickoffs returned for a touchdown since Patterson was drafted in 2013. Twenty-six players have one, five players have two, and Patterson has seven, a total that accounts for 16.3 percent of the league’s kick-return touchdowns since he’s been a part of it.”
Speaking of statties, Mitch Trubisky had 251 yards with 2 TDs and no picks on 62% completion on return against the Saints last week. Sounds decent, right? Sure if you ignore the fact that the bulk of that all came in garbage time. 167 of those yards came in the fourth quarter, including both scores, with the Bears already trailing by nineteen points when he got his hands on it in the frame. And it was only that close because of Patterson’s kick return. You don’t need me to tell you that he’s holding this team back, everybody knows it. It’s all a matter of how much Matt Nagy and the lads think they can salvage this and how brave they’re willing to be if they don’t think they can. Luckily they have the Chargers this week.
Ah the Chargers. The Chargers who have made a precise science out of losing games they should win. I’ve seen many shockers in the past from this lot (I’ve always like Philip Rivers and at times have given this team a lot of credit – I had them pretty well poised in preseason in fact which is something I’d like to officially disregard, strike it from the record please, judge). Missed field goals, shocking interceptions, and the like. But nothing that quite compares to what they did against the Titans.
I’d picked the Titans so I was hoping against hope here but clearly I’d forgotten quite what the Chargers tend to do. Trailing by three points with 2:35 on the clock, after the Titans had been stiffed on a terrible spot from the refs after a quarterback sneak on fourth and one on around the halfway line, and Rivers hits a couple passes to take it into the red zone. Well within field goal range. He then hits Austin Ekeler who seems to dash in for the score... but is marked down at the 1 yard line. 39 seconds left and one yard to go, with the option of a field goal to tie. But the next play is a false start, moving back. The next play is a clear defensive pass interference. Back to one yard shy with all four downs. Melvin Gordon goes right and is ruled short. He goes right again and fumbles the ball, recovered by the Titans. Game over. Just a mindblowing defeat there, you couldn’t hardly lose that one if you tried.
Nobody who has been watching the Chargers will be surprised to learn that they lead the league in missed tackles on defence. 63 of them in seven games. Nine missed tackles per game, just think how many first downs that’s cost them. How many drives have been extended for points because of errors like that. It’s not the worst thing in the world because the Packers, Cowboys, and Rams all miss tackles too but then they also get after quarterbacks more often (missed tackles can still be pressure, especially with swarming defences like those ones). And the Chargers don’t even blitz much – third lowest rate in the NFL and the Lions and Niners who are below them don’t miss nearly as many tackles.
Here’s another Chargers thing that absolutely blew my mind, there really isn’t any excuse for this either...
Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 7
New York Giants (2-5) at Detroit Lions (2-3-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
In the last three weeks the Giants have lost all three and Daniel Jones has completed at 55.8% for 188.7 yards per game with five interceptions as well as three fumbles. For a Lions team that has specialised in bad beats so far amidst what’s been a pretty rough schedule this is exactly the kind of game they need to play.
Also shout out to Matt Stafford. It’s easy to forget what a gunslinger he used to be after having a couple seasons used mostly as an over-the-top pocket passer but he’s had his leash loosened again this time and last week he passed 40,000 passing yards in his 147th career game – the fastest to ever achieve that, beating Matt Ryan by four games. Staffy’s also got the record for fastest to 15k, 20k, 25k, and 30k.
Wildcard’s Pick: Lions by 10
New York Jets (1-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Nothing involving the Jets either, please. How do you beat the Cowboys one week then folk like a busted deck chair against the Patriots the next? Is Bill Belichick really that intimidating that you’d rather not get out of bed in the morning? He probably is, actually... but still. A modicum of consistency would be nice.
Wildcard’s Pick: Jags by 7
Carolina Panthers (4-2) at San Francisco 49ers (6-0)
Monday 9.05am NZT
It was raining in Washington the other day. Raining so bad that both teams basically gave up trying to throw the ball through it all and by the end of it there were 65 combined rushing plays compared to 33 pass attempts (plus another five sacks). So much running the ball that the game was over inside two and a half hours making it the shortest NFL game in a decade. Considering the R*dskins were involved... that was probably for the best.
I realise that Niners fans are a bit pissed that they aren’t getting more credit for being one of only two remaining undefeated teams but like what do you want people to say: congrats for beating Washington? The Niners literally have had the easiest schedule in the NFL so far – teams they’ve played are a combined 11-28. Only the Rams have more than two wins of their vanquished opponents. But don’t panic because it all gets real from this point on – they only have one more opponent with a losing record the entire rest of the way (including, we can safely presume playoffs if they get there) and that’s the Atlanta Falcons in week 15 and that’s a long way away. There’s heaps to like so far. Kyle Shanahan is an offensive mastermind. Their rush game’s been immense. That defence can compete in the secondary and rough you up in the front too. It’s time to warm those floodlights up because the Niners are entering the stadium of attention.
Emmanuel Sanders, a month ago: “Times are rough around here. Obviously the past three years -- it's been tough. Trying to get it right. We sit at 0-3, living in a world of suck. Football is still fun but it's not so much fun when you're losing, especially when you prepare as hard as you can, you go out and have four targets, two catches and 10 yards. But there's always next week, so I'm optimistic.”
Good news! He’s escaped the World Of Suck, the veteran traded to the Niners in exchange for third and fourth round draft picks. It’s an interesting move from a couple angles. One is that it means the Denver Broncos are officially a selling team, despite them being 2-2 since that 0-3 hole they began in. This isn’t a terrible Broncos team... but they also don’t have a ceiling above like 7-9 so it does make sense to start restocking the shelves. Sanders has had some injury issues the last couple years but he had three straight 1000 yard seasons between 2014-16 and on a team with an actual quarterback we’ll see what he’s got left. He has 30 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns so far this season which would rank second only to George Kittle on that Niners unit which has been so reliant on their rushing game. Kittle is top tier at what he does, no need to argue that one. But another weapon for Jimmy G seems like a smart idea.
Speaking of Garoppolo, he’s now started exactly sixteen games, a regular season’s worth, and his winning record is 14-2. It’s not always pretty and it sure wasn’t on the weekend in the pouring rain but the dude gets results, what can you say?
Still no sign of Cam Newton, he’s not back in training yet but apparently other teams are ‘highly interested’ in trading for the former MVP. Which is, like... hey I’m highly interested in dating a supermodel too, come on. Of course teams would trade for Cam Newton, man. But why the hell would the Panthers part with him? Because Kyle Allen has done nicely in a limited role while he was injured? If they were to trade anyone it’d be Allen, plenty of teams could work with a guy like that.
Anyway this one is a very enticing game that comes down to a specific area. That SF49 defensive line has been incredible so far, they’re pressuring opposing quarterbacks on a league-high 33.8% of plays and are keeping teams to less than 11 points per game. Their success can be defined by their dominance at the line of scrimmage on both sides... so how does Carolina get Christian McCaffrey to keep up his insane productivity? Because he has been the key to their own success. It’s a pretty fascinating battle, really.
Wildcard’s Pick: Niners by 4
Oakland Raiders (3-3) at Houston Texans (4-3)
Monday 9.25am NZT
That man is something else. That’s Tony Romo level of extending the play and you know I don’t say that lightly. It’s a weird time for quarterbacks, when I was doing the preseason rankings it really struck me what a precarious time we’re in, with a number of those middling dudes all in situations where they could tumble down the ranks while there’s this heaving underbelly of guys like Watson and Prescott and Wentz and one or two others (Mahomes is already there) ready to claim legit top ten status for the next half decade. Off the top of my head, so don’t hold me to this, this is about where I’d have everyone based on 2019 performance/prospects specifically...
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 10
Cleveland Browns (2-4) at New England Patriots (7-0)
Monday 9.25am NZT
So many joke captions for this one I can’t even decide. You can make your own instead, go on be creative.
If you were hoping for a Josh Gordon revenge game then maybe stop doing that because Gordo’s sore knee has seen him placed on the IR. Which made the decision to trade a second round pick to the Falcons for Mohamed Sanu look a whole lot more understandable. Gordon twisted his knee making a tackle two weeks ago, aggravating an existing injury, and it sounds like even though he could return in eight weeks time, the Pats are going to release him before then anyway.
Sanu is the first player in his 30s that the Pats have given up a second rounder for in fifteen years. Corey Dillon back in 2004. This is not a normal Bill Belichick thing to do which, Belichick being Belichick, is exactly why I’m worried about this. If he’s going against type then it’s not out of reckless abandon, this is something he feels the Pats need to do (and replacing Josh Gordon seems like reason enough on its own) and that’s terrifying. These suckers are already 7-0. Like, when are they losing that first game? Not here, the Browns are too inconsistent. Next week against the Ravens? They’ve also for the Cowboys and the Texans and the Chiefs. And the Bills gave them a fright a few weeks back. But if they’re anything less than 14-2 by the end of it then I’ll be stunned.
So... Baker Mayfield leads the NFL with 11 interceptions. The Pats defence has more picks at this stage of the season than any team since 1986. That’s all, folks.
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 10
Green Bay Packers (6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)
Monday 1.20pm NZT
It was always going to take a while to settle in with a new offensive scheme. It’s not just that the Packers were working with a rookie head coach in Matt LaFleur but he was also replacing Mike McCarthy who had been there for so long. Thirteen seasons he was there for. And in thirteen seasons of running roughly the same offensive systems there’s an element of complacency that’s going to set in and for a new coach to come in and shake that up... it’s not going to be an instant fix. But the Packers have such a great defence and that defence really carried them in those first few weeks, leading people to question Aaron Rodgers. Question Aaron Rodgers? Please. R-E-L-A-X. This is what happens when you question Aaron Rodgers...
25/31 COMP | 429 YDS | 5 TD | 0 INT | 158.3 RATE | 17.06 AY/A | 1 RUSH TD
Incredibly that was the first perfect passer rating of his career. He also completed passes to eight different receivers. So yeah, that’s for all y’all who didn’t think Aaron Rodgers was coachable or adaptable like this and the Packers are right up there with the best teams in the NFC. And this performance from Rodgo might have been the crowning of that but he’s been simmering the last few weeks.
Woah boy everybody sure lost it quickly at the prospect of Patrick Mahomes being injured, aye? I mean it’s no good but like the panic of having to go back to a league without Pat Mahomes... pretty sure we’ve still got guys like Russell Wilson, Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Christian McCaffrey, DeAndre Hopkins, Aaron Rodgers... there’s no shortage of sizzling players in the NFL. Injuries happen and you just gotta roll with them. Anyway, while everyone was freaking out about Mahomes all the chat coming out of the KCC medical team was that it wasn’t as bad as it looked so people settle down, alright?
In fact Mahomes is ALREADY BACK IN TRAINING AND COULD PLAY THIS GAME. Considering he already had a bad ankle I cannot see why that would be a good idea but okay, at least we know there’s nothing to worry about for now. The Chiefs are two games clear at the top of the division. They have a tough game here and a tough one next week at home against the Vikings so if I’m Andy Reid I’m playing it very safe with Mahomes here and certainly not playing him in this match... but they took some risks with him in terms of play calling when he already had that sore ankle so I dunno. I’m gonna bank on him missing this one pick accordingly.
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 6
Miami Dolphins (0-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4)
Tuesday 1.15pm NZT
Predicting the rest of the Miami Dolphins season...
Wk8 @ Pittsburgh Steelers - LOSS
Wk9 vs New York Jets - LOSS
Wk10 @ Indianapolis Colts - LOSS
Wk11 vs Buffalo Bills - LOSS
Wk12 @ Cleveland Browns - LOSS
Wk13 vs Philadelphia Eagles - LOSS
Wk14 @ New York Jets - LOSS
Wk15 @ New York Giants - LOSS
Wk16 vs Cincinnati Bengals - LOSS
Wk17 @ New England Patriots - LOSS
Tell you what, the Tankbowl is heating up because the Fins only actually play three more games against teams that currently have winning records. Week 17 games are always a bit funky and the Patriots will have long since wrapped up the division by then but their reserves could put 40 on the Dolphins so no dramas there. The Colts and the Bills are the kinds of teams that a re pretty solid at grinding out results too so no dramas there either. But even this Steelers game has slight oddness to it – the Steelers are not playing well at the moment. The Jets were insanely disappointing against the Pats following on from looking so good in beating Dallas. The Giants have reverted hard after the initial Danny Dimes buzz. The Browns and Eagles are beating themselves over and over. But those teams are all trying to do their best while the Dolphins are in the opposite situation... where this really gets funky is that week 16 game, the battle for inadequacy, the mediocre matchup, the rumble for irrelevance, the scrap for the top overall draft pick. Cincinnati Bengals, currently 0-7, away to the Miami Dolphins, currently 0-6 having had their bye week. There may never have been a worse game in the one hundred year history of this league and I cannot wait.
Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 8
BYE: Baltimore Ravens (5-2) & Dallas Cowboys (4-3)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. He’s got a black cat bone. He’s got a mojo too. He’s got a John the Conqueror root. He’s gonna mess with... trying to pick NFL games.
If you appreciate the yarns on TNC then maybe have a pop on our Patreon page to support us
Also whack an ad whenever you read a good one
Keep cool but care