Last Week: 13-2
San Francisco 49ers (7-0) at Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1)
Friday 1.20pm NZT
Credit where it’s due. I’m still not one hundy percent in on the Niners but as things ramp up in intensity they’re not exactly slowing down. Putting 51 points on a Panthers team that has a stack of well-known names (Keuchly, Reid, Irvin, Thompson, Addison, McCoy, Poe, etc.) is enough to put the whole league on edge if they weren’t already. Jimmy G with a casual 175 yards with two scores and a pick, completing 18 of 22 passes, but as with this whole season it just hasn’t been about him. Tevin Coleman was a superstar against Carolina. Three scores and 105 yards on the ground from 11 carries. That dude is fast. Emmanuel Sanders caught a TD on debut as well.
And Kyle Allen who had attempted 122 passes without an interception to start his NFL career... he was picked off three times. Nick Bosa had a field day on the pass rush. This is not a bad Panthers team. They rocked up to Cali with a four-game win streak. This win was massive for San Fran.
Time to throw some much overdue love the way of George Kittle. 26 year old tight end, doing amazing things, and it’s about time he got elevated to the top tier of tight ends. It was national tight end day last NFL Sunday, whatever the hell that means. Here’s what Kittle has done this season...
7 GM | 40 REC | 462 YDS | 1 TD | 11.5 Y/C
That’s pretty decent. Fourth in yardage for tight ends and that’s on a team that has not exactly been sizzling in the passing game so far. Mostly it’s those singular moments of excellence for Kittle lately rather than overwhelming heroics... but he’s capable of that too if the Niners wanna open things up. 2018 is when Kittle really broke out. 1377 yards on 88 catches at 15.6 Y/C... he was in that holy trinity of tight ends with Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce. What’s more is that he broke the NFL record for receiving yards in a single season, for God’s sake. This man oughta be on the
And old mate knows it too. Check out how much fun the dude’s having these days on an undefeated team. Too good.
Bit of a joker, this lad. He’s also a beast in the block too – he absolutely monstered Luke Kuechly on one rush play (pretty massive deal for a rush-first team) – and that thing about him picking his moments? He’s had a couple TDs ruled off for penalties so that could be flashier than it is (and against an Arizona team that’s struggled against opposition tight ends so far he might be about to add to that number anyway) but it’s on third downs when he really thrives. When Jimmy G needs a guy, George Kittle is there.
Wildcard’s Pick: Niners by 12
Houston Texans (5-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4)
Monday 3.30am NZT
I swear that every single week Deshaun Watson has a play like this. I’ve used the Tony Romo comparison before but I really do mean that, there’s nobody else in the league who reminds me more of Mr Romo with that ability to extend a play and still get a positive outcome. Of course, Watto can also move with the ball which is helpful, something Tony didn’t often have (especially not later in his career).
Ah but there’s always the cruel news too. JJ Watt hasn’t been the player of old but he was still bringing big pressure and leading that Texans pass rush. Considering they traded away Jadaveon Clowney as well, now Watt’s injured, what in recent times has been a major strength for this team now looks like a vulnerability. Be thankful for Whitney Mercilus is all there is left to say.
Funny story, Leonard Fournette hasn’t scored a touchdown of more than five yards since October 2017. His only TD this year came from one yard out, as did six more of his previous nine. There was an 18 yarder in the playoffs to be fair, back in 2018, but he also had three more of 5> in that time too. For a guy who leads the league in rush attempts this year that’s a weird stat. Only one touchdown in 163 attempts and it was from the one yard line. The Jags have 10 offensive touchdowns from 28 red zone visits is probably why, the only teams with a worse percentage are the Cardinals (rookie QB) and the Bengals (zero wins). Bit of an obvious one that needs fixing there.
You might notice the funky times there, that’s because this one’s in London so no home field advantage for either of these folks. Looks like they’re moving the clocks in America too because the Monday morning games kick off at 7am now which... is going to eat into a lot of that day but okay. I can work and watch at the same time. I’m one of the lucky ones. I pray that you are too.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 7
Chicago Bears (3-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Well, here we are halfway through the 2019 NFL season and no two teams have been further below their preseason expectations than these two. Maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers to be fair... but when you lose your franchise quarterback then expectations go out the window unless you’re an elite team like the Saints or, arguably, even the Panthers. Or the Bears, who did lose their starting QB for a few weeks and it didn’t make a hint of a difference and not in a good way either.
The Eagles I’m not too fussed about. They’ve had a lot of injuries and their defence is a bit of a mess because of it but Carson Wentz is playing pretty well and they’re scrapping away. Up one week and down the next but that’s what you get with a battered roster. The Bears are the ones actively squandering things. This is a Super Bowl calibre defence being completely let down by the imbalance on offence. Matt Nagy said he has no plans to drop Mitch Trubisky for Chase Daniel and that’s the right call – Chase Daniel is no better than Trubisky so it’d be a pointless decision that would mean pulling stumps on Trubisky’s time in Chicago. What would make much more sense is getting back to the way they used Mitch in his first season, a heavily guarded tactic but one that would prevent errors and silly turnovers. Get him some designed runs too. But mostly go hard on the rush game, shorten the game itself by taking time off the clock, and ensure their defence is well rested and ready to make some big time plays.
That’s something Matt Nagy directly addressed before the LA Chargers defeat and after getting blown out by the Saints and only calling seven run plays all game...
MN: “I know we need to run the ball more. I’m not an idiot. I realize that. Seven rushes and the minimum amount of times, I totally understand that. You need to do it. I never go into a game saying I want to throw the ball 54 times. I would love to go into a game and say I want to run the ball 54 times. But that hasn’t happened. This is what I have to answer to.”
Matt Nagy: Not an idiot, apparently.
And sure enough against the Chargers they had 38 rushing plays for 162 yards and a score compared to 35 passing plays for 253 yards and an interception. That’s a decent balance. It didn’t win them the game but it got them a lot closer than whatever the hell they were doing before. David Montgomery had 135 of those ground yards and that included a 55-yard dash. He didn’t have more than 67 in a game prior to that this season. It’s still pretty ugly for the Bears and there’s no solution to that QB drama now that the trade deadline has passed (the Bengals just announced they’ve benched Andy Dalton for the week after their bye... give the bastards a second round pick and be done with it!). But I haven’t completely given up on them yet.
These two teams were actually the two that I picked to win last week that didn’t. The Eagles I knew right away after pretty much the first offensive drive that they were going to do me in there. I picked that one still too buzzed after the Cowboys win over Philly to wonder whether they could tame the Bills defence and when it became clear that they could at least hold their own in that battle, Buffalo’s frisky but limited offence (sorry, Josh Allen, but it’s true) didn’t have much of a show. The Bears though, they only lost because Eddy Pineiro missed a 41-yard field goal at the end there.
Which by the way is definitive proof that God has a sense of humour, the ol’ trickster, because this is from a few weeks ago when Chicago came back to beat Denver...
Nobody likes a kiss-arse, especially not the almighty.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 3
Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Hey, while we’re on the topic of field goal kickers though, how about the great Adam Vinatieri! He’s the oldest player in the NFL at 46 years old and having nailed one from 55 yards and another from 45 yards against the Broncos last week he then missed an extra point that would have tied the game with two an d a half minute remaining in the third quarter. He’d also missed a 45 yarder on the first possession of the game. As time wore down in a grinding fourth quarter it seemed like those misses would come back to haunt the Colts. No dramas. They got the ball back just under the two minute warning, Jacoby Brissett his an incredible pass down the sideline to TY Hilton, and Adam Vinatieri nailed the game winner from 51 yards. All that in his 200th game for the Colts – something only Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, and Johnny Unitas had previously achieved. Round of applause all around for the old fella.
I didn’t watch the Steelers beat the Dolphins and I’m glad I didn’t. Not sure how much of this one I’ll be paying attention to either. The Steelers fans just need to take the hint and check out for this one year. They’ll be back in contention again next time, they just need to rearrange the deck a bit with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell both gone and Big Ben injured. It’s fine. I’ve had years like that with the Cowboys too. Get a top ten draft pick and take a defensive playmaker. Then grab a big man wideout in the second round. Sign a few linemen in free agency, on both sides, and there you go.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 6
New York Jets (1-6) at Miami Dolphins (0-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Not a good couple weeks for the New York Jets, tell you what. After a stunning win over the Dallas Cowboys (albeit a Cowboys team with copious injuries on their offensive line) they chased that with a Monday Night Football hiring at home against the Patriots, losing 33-0 with Sam Darnold caught on mic saying he was seeing ghosts out there in that Patriots defence.
That was followed by the Jags mascot turning up dressed as a ghost as Darnold threw three picks against Jacksonville in a 29-15 defeat. Darnold was also sacked eight times and Le’Veon Bell only had 23 rush yards. Two absolutely disastrous defeats in a row and at 1-6 this is the worst start NYJ have had to a season since 2014. Adam Gase now has more double digit defeats as a head coach than he has wins and that hire is looking worse every week. If it wasn’t for Gregg Williams’ defence then things would be even worse.
Ah but off the field it gets even sludgier. All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele was on a $9.1m deal this year after being signed by the Jets in free agency. But he’s been dealing with a shoulder injury, which is turns out was pretty bad and he was told he needed surgery. So he asked the Jets but they wouldn’t let him, saying he’d been playing through it so far so might as well keep going. Osemele then got a third opinion which told him that surgery was necessary and he went ahead and did it anyway, with the Jets’ knowledge (although not their agreeance). The surgery was successful but it turns out the injury was worse than anticipated and he’s out for the season. So the Jets responded by cutting him rather than putting him on IR where he could rehab and keep earning his money. Osemele and the Players Association are planning legal action.
Kelechi Osemele: “What do I do? Take Vicodin? Where’s the line? How much should a player play through pain? What is the limit? Is there a limit? Toradol every day? Does my health matter?”
Honestly to treat a veteran player like that is just a disgrace. Nothing more to it other to say that it also reflects abysmally on Adam Gase’s leadership.
And then to make matters worse the trade deadline passed without the Jets doing anything yet rumours of them shopping Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell – arguably their two most talented players – have still managed to upset the locker room even more. Adams even took to twitter and this is not the kind of message you want emanating from one of your best players, the kind of guy you’re supposed to make feel valued and comfortable. This would never ever ever ever ever ever happen on the New England Patriots...
But luckily they play the Miami Dolphins this week so chalk it up as a W number two. Speaking of seeing ghosts, this is a little glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Future for the Jets, having a peek at the withered husk of a team that Adam Gase has already bled dry.
Wildcard’s Pick: Jets by 6
Minnesota Vikings (6-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-3)
Monday 7.00am NZT
There’s something mildly incredible about this Patrick Mahomes situation. We all knew he was a freak with the pigskin in his hand but it turns out he’s literally a freak too. And this ain’t some Halloween jibe either. He dislocated his kneecap on October 17 and was back practicing, albeit in a limited capacity, within two weeks. It’s not expected that he’ll play this week, although it’s still a possibility, but the plan seems to be to see if he’s ready to go next week against the Titans. How exactly has a bloke been able to recover from what looked like a bit of a gruesome injury so quickly? I already told you: he’s a freak.
NFL.com: “Sources say it goes back to how Mahomes' knee is actually built. Because of the way his knee is configured -- and how naturally loose his ligaments are -- only one ligament in his knee was compromised by the scary injury, and that was just barely. None were torn. The fact that he didn't move when the original dislocation happened helped, as well. A layman would say Mahomes is double-jointed and his knee has built-in protection, but the bottom line is, it led to an incredibly quick recovery.”
Speaking of quick recoveries... remember like a month ago when Kirk Cousins was the laughing stock of the NFL and now suddenly people think he’s a top ten guy? Yeah these are wild times we live in... but these see-saw overreactions don’t help things. But say what you will about Cousins, the main beneficiary has been Stefon Diggs who continued his hot streak against the Washington Pro Football Team in week eight. These are his last three games...
vs PHI: 7 catches for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns
at DET: 7 catches for 142 yards
vs WAS: 7 catches for 143 yards
Maybe give him eight catches this week, aye?
Nice and timely with Adam Thielen out hurt too. The Chiefs held their own against the Packers thanks to a 17 point second quarter with Matt Moore throwing two scores. But they lacked the defensive strength to shut the Packers down and in particular Aaron Jones who cashed in with 159 yards and two scores in the passing game (and 67 rush yards from 13 carries). Well, they probably won’t have Mahomes again here and they’re up against Dalvin Cook who is holding pace with Christian McCaffrey this season in scrimmage yards and that’s amazing considering what CMcC is doing...
Dalvin Cook: 8 GM | 1116 YDS | 9 TD | 10.1 Y/Rec | 5.3 Y/A
Christian McCaffrey: 7 GM | 1078 YDS | 10 TD | 8.8 Y/Rec | 5.2 Y/A
Wildcard’s Pick: Vikings by 3
Washington R*dskins (1-7) at Buffalo Bills (5-2)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: Bills by 7
Tennessee Titans (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-3)
Monday 7.00am NZT
That was the second best catch of that game... after the hit that the Tennessee kicker caught on that special teams fake play. Yowza.
No chance of Cam Newton playing here, he’s making progress but is still a little while away. In the middle of his rehab according to Ron Rivera. Which is expected but for the firs t time Kyle Allen walked off the park having had a dud game last week, reminding everyone once and for all that this quarterbacking thing is harder than it looks and that he’s only keeping Cam’s seat warm. But it is pretty warm. The thing about bad results in the NFL is that teams usually bounce back. The Panthers are at home here against a Ryan Tannehill-led offence (who has clearly won that starting gig now, guts to Marcus Mariota who never really had the tools to succeed but maybe somewhere else he’ll have better luck – he’d be starting for the Bears, hate to say it) and you can’t forget they won four straight prior to getting stumped by an undefeated Niners team. Back to winning ways, methinks.
And since I mentioned McCaffrey earlier, here’s a bit of an eye-opener screenshot...
Wildcard’s Pick: Panthers by 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) at Seattle Seahawks (6-2)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Yeah, well played. Well played indeed. Russell Wilson just keeping up his impeccable 2019.
Hey look what Mike Evans did last week. Imagine if he played for an actual good team.
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 6
Detroit Lions (3-3-1) at Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Cool. The two most confusing teams in the NFL to predict.
Wildcard’s Pick: Lions by 3
Green Bay Packers (7-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Aaron Jones in all of 2018: 26 catches for 206 yards with 1 TD
Aaron Jones last week: 7 catches for 159 yards with 2 TDs
This after he busted out on the ground against the Cowboys earlier this season. They’ve been telling us outta Green Bay for a couple years now that this fella’s legit and now he’s really starting to look it. People focus on Aaron Rodgers but nobody is enjoying the post-Mike McCarthy days more than Aaron Jones.
That, amigos, is not some cheeky screen play and a busted coverage. That pass did some air time for sure... just a bugger he didn’t keep his feet in and that endzone worm dance was for nothing.
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 8
Cleveland Browns (2-5) at Denver Broncos (2-6)
Monday 8.25am NZT
I mean... he’s not wrong. But getting called out by Joe Freakin’ Flacco has got to be a low moment. Coincidentally, Flacco also happens to be injured now with a herniated disc in his neck which means that Brandon Allen will start this game and Flacco will be reassessed during the bye week that follows. So if they were playing scared with Flacco just imagine how scared they’ll be with a sixth round pick in his third year as a pro who has never been on the field for a single snap in the NFL. Probably about the same, come to think of it.
I’ve got some reservations about this one. The Broncos are obviously the lesser of the two teams and they’re starting a completely inexperienced quarterback. However they’re still at home in a difficult stadium to play in and the Browns just had their own quarterback go off in a media situation too and with Baker having thrown 12 picks already (to 6 TDs) and with Freddie Kitchens looking like the used-car salesman that he literally is... nothing about this game offers any predictability. Umm... yeah nah, I don’t like it but gonna have to take the Browns given the quarterback situation for Denver. I’d have backed them with Flacco. And a part of me still thinks they might do it.
Wildcard’s Pick: Browns by 3
New England Patriots (8-0) at Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Monday 2.20pm NZT
This is where we finally get to talk about what Lamar Jackson is doing as a running quarterback. Week one he set it up, throwing five touchdowns (against Miami, granted) to get folks to respect that arm and then ever since he’s brought the dashed back out. The dude has three 100+ yard rush games already, which only Ezekiel Elliot (4), Christian McCaffrey (4), and Dalvin Cook (5) can beat this season and for a quarterback to be in that company... wow.
Lamar Jackson is averaging 82.3 yards per game. No other quarterback is better than Kyler Murray and his 34.9. Lamar Jackson has more than double the rush yards of any other QB. Josh Allen can dash. Deshaun Watson can move too. Even Gardner Minshew’s showing some clean heels. But Lamar Jackson is in a class of his own. For comparison, Tom Brady has played 277 games in his career and has 1006 rush yards. LJ has 576 in seven games.
This is an all-time thing. Through seven games he’s already 27th in history for rush yards in a season by a quarterback. Michael Vick is the only QB to ever register a 1000 yard season on the ground. He had 1039 with the Falcons in 2006. Lamar Jackson is on pace for 1317 yards and that’s while also throwing 235 yards per game through the air – which would add up to 3771 over 16 games.
Could they beat the Patriots? Hell yeah they could. If they don’t then New England are hitting up the bye week at 9-0 and nobody wants to see that. The Ravens are an unusual team because of their quarterback and some quality coaching. They had a defence that can bring it. I just... I just... don’t know if I can bring myself to... do it... argh. Okay fine I will.
Wildcard’s Pick: Ravens by 1
Dallas Cowboys (4-3) at New York Giants (2-6)
Tuesday 2.15pm NZT
The Giants were a little better last week. There are worse teams out there. But I have to say that with the Eagles getting a big win to put the pressure back on the Cowboys during their bye week, I cannot be happier to see the G-Men on the schedule. In a televised game no less! Because, like, say what you will about Danny Dimes and his various merits (and also his copious turnovers and his four straight defeats) but that side of the ball is irrelevant considering what Dak Prescott did to the Giants defence in that week one matchup in Texas. 405 yards with 4 TDs and a perfect passer rating. It was emotional, my friends. I expect a complete repeat.
To finish, here are my power ranking Super Bowl contenders. Not necessarily the best teams in that order but the teams I think are in it to win it. There’s a difference.
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers
San Francisco 49ers
Kansas City Chiefs
Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 17
BYE: Atlanta Falcons (1-7), Cincinnati Bengals (0-8), Los Angeles Rams (5-3) & New Orleans Saints (7-1)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. For Halloween he dressed up as the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl chances while Mitch Trubisky is still their starting quarterback.
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