Last Week: 7-7
Los Angeles Chargers (4-5) at Oakland Raiders (4-4)
Friday 2.20pm NZT
The LA Chargers slump has been well and truly abolished after a comprehensive win over the Packers last week... though in the process they also helped end my little prediction renaissance, the bastards. After going 25-4 over two weeks, I tumbled back to 7-7 last week and I knew I was in trouble when I wrote them all down and realised how many road teams I’d picked. Sure enough, every single home team then won on the Monday slate of games. The only road teams to win all week were the Niners on TNF and the Cowboys on MNF.
Having said that, I still feel good about having picked the Vikings pick to beat the Chiefs, they just bottled it is all. Minnesota’s fault, not mine. And the Colts only lost because they missed a last-second field goal. As for the Jets, there’s nothing much I can say but nobody could have consciously picked the Dolphins to win under the circumstances. I do need to stop spite-picking against the Eagles though. They’re killing me.
Ah but it was all worth it because I did predict the end of the Patriots’ undefeated season. They were slightly vulnerable after some sketchy offensive performances lately but for Lamar Jackson and the crew to do what they did against a Pats defence that has been on a historic level so far was incredible. But we’ll come back to that lot later.
The Los Angeles Chargers. How did they do that? And is it repeatable/sustainable?
Defence is how it started. It doesn’t matter that they were up against an all-time great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram brought the heat to lead the way for the Bolts. They only sacked him three times but they were getting pressure all day long and usually with only four pass rushers too. The Packers had a mere 84 yards of offence through three quarters and then the Chargers, a team famous for choking away games, were able to take the pressure off with a solid running game once they got a lead. Melvin Gordon had his best game since he ended his holdout. Not sure that makes him anything special all of a sudden, he’s had some great games in his career but he’s not Zeke or Saquon or Gurley or McCaffrey here and a holdout in his situation looks dumber by the week. But 20 rushes for 80 yards with two scores is a bloody good day for him. Austin Ekeler also had 70 yards rushing and the team had 159 rush yards total. Also Philip Rivers looked refreshed under brand new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, going without a single turnover for once.
It was a bit of a perfect performance really. So is perfection sustainable? Hell nah... but if Rivers can keep this game as a benchmark for himself and the defence can keep making things happen then they don’t need to be perfect, they just need to stick to the script. Which is infuriating to me because after overrating them for the first month I was getting comfortable having written them off and now they’re a win away from an even record in a conference where 9-7 might just get you a wildcard spot. I’m not happy with this development... but the AFC is a bloody mess outside the division winners (Pats, Chiefs, Ravens, and Texans all looking extremely good for those nods). The Raiders are coming off a nice win over Detroit, they’ve been a frisky team all season long. But just as I think I’m out, the Chargers go and pull me back in.
Tell you what though, the more I see Josh Jacobs play the more I like him. They drafted him with a pick from the Khalil Mack trade so perhaps Jon Gruden knew what he was doing after all... haha nope. But Jacobs is legit, check this dude out.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 6
Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-8)
Monday 7.00am NZT
17 of 23 passes for 163 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions
16 rushes for 61 yards with 2 rushing touchdowns
I mean, looking purely at the stats it doesn’t quite make sense. The three touchdowns against that Pats defence are extremely legit but that’s the thing with Jackson: you have to see it to understand it. It’s a little similar with Mahomes in theory too but with that dude the stats are through the roof as well. With Jackson though, watch those highlights and you’ll have a better idea of why he’s so good. When they need five yards, he can get them any way he wants. The pocket collapses upon him and he can get out of danger, extending the play and finding a receiver or beating a linebacker for pace to get the yards himself. It’s the craziest thing.
Plus of course when your quarterback has such a gravitational pull, either by trying to trap him in the pocket or rushing to get the ball out of his hands or whatever, you also then create room for the running back to feast and Mark Ingram, great pickup from the Saints in the offseason, has 585 yards and seven scores at 5.1 yards per rush. The Ravens are on pace to be the first team in NFL history to average 200 yards per game in both the passing and rushing stats.
There is a question about whether teams will figure this out, since Lamar is such a different ordeal for defences and the Ravens (excellent) coaching staff are really creating something unique there that brings out the best in him. But rushing quarterbacks are nothing new. Jackson’s poised to beat Michael Vick’s record for rush yards in a season by a QB and it was deceptively long ago that Robert Griffin III was bursting onto the scene (before he got injured, spoiling a potentially great career). What the Ravens are doing isn’t so much groundbreaking as it is genius. They’re taking the best of what’s gone before and channelling it into what we’re seeing now. OC Greg Roman took Colin Kaepernick to a Super Bowl, remember (where they played and lost to John Harbaugh’s Ravens) and he also worked with Tyrod Taylor at the Bills. Harbaugh’s brother coached that Niners team as well. And of course RG3 is the backup quarterback for this team. It’s an all-star quarterback rush crew.
Case and point...
And who are they playing this w- ... oh dear God. Oh sweet mercy, no. That’s not fair at all.
Wildcard’s Pick: Ravens by 20
Buffalo Bills (6-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Your head coach is an overpromoted used-car salesman? Your star wideout wears six figure watches during games and can’t put the right pair of shoes on? You, yourself, are an interception machine? Your young team which was predicted by many to make the playoffs is drowning at 6-2 in a mess of its own mistakes? Never fear! Detective Mayfield is on the case!
Here’s a weird thing...
The Bills haven’t actually looked nearly as good since they came out of their bye. Teams are probably getting a line on Josh Allen at this point and he’s struggling to create much offence has he’s limited from getting outside and running the thing. He has avoided interceptions, that’s three games without a single pick having thrown seven in the first five games... but three lost fumbles in two weeks is a bad look. This Bills team is bottom ten in pass attempts, pass yards, touchdown passes, interceptions and net yards per attempt. Frank Gore and the rushing unit are doing better but yeah it’s on defence that this team is holding it together.
They’re a dodgy team in this situation. Playoff teams are either going to be good enough to put points on this defence and therefore expose Allen and the offence or they’ll bring out mistakes in Allen and take the defence out of the game entirely. They’re a solid team but I cannot see them going deep this season. Although credit where it’s due because they’ve found a way to win close games all season.
All of which is to set up the idea that the Bills are definitely going to the playoffs. Like, sorry ‘bout it but this is their schedule the rest of the way...
at Browns (2-6), at Dolphins (1-7), vs Broncos (3-6), at Cowboys (5-3), vs Ravens (6-2), at Steelers (4-4), at Patriots (8-1), vs Jets (1-7)
This is a team that’s already 6-2 and they have just three winning teams remaining. And by the time they play any of them they should be 9-2. The Jets and Dolphins are sitter games at this point. You never quite know what the situation will be like in a few weeks let alone a few months but as it all stands the Bills should win at least ten games and that should get them into the playoffs.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bills by 4
Detroit Lions (3-4-1) at Chicago Bears (3-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Mitch Trubisky: “Trying to get some of these TVs in the building turned off. Because you’ve got too many people talking on TV about us and what they think about us — what we should do, what we are and what we’re not — but they don’t really know who we are. Or what we’re capable of as people. Or what we’re going through. Or what we’re thinking. It’s just the outside viewers looking in.”
What TV’s you might ask? The ones at Halas Hall. Which when I saw the headlines I figured that most be some kind of Mediterranean restaurant or something, which would make sense for him to be a bit embarrassed about... but it’s actually way worse. Halas Hall is the Bears’ training facility and a bunch of rooms there have tellies blaring the NFL Network or ESPN and even in their most sacred space the Bears are unable to avoid the criticism.
Mate, when you go three and out on your first five possessions and have just nine yards of offence in the entire first half though, you probably need to start listening to some of that outside noise because the inside noise isn’t up to much. Trubisky is the 33rd of 33 qualified QBs in yards per attempt and it’s not even close. If you go with adjusted yards per attempt then he does rise up a spot to 32, beating out Sam Darnold, but he’s almost a full yard behind Darnold in last place for yards per completion.
He’s also ranked 32 in yards per game with 173.9, which is misleading because he was injured early in one game, but you know who’s first? Matt Stafford with 312.4 y/g. This is a funny matchup for that reason. These two teams are almost completely the same except for being opposites. The Bears have a great defence but can’t get their offence to function at all. The Lions don’t quite have a great offence but it’s good enough except that their defence, which just like the Bears offence should be way better than it is to look at it on paper, can’t seem to figure things out.
Wildcard’s Pick: Lions by 3
New York Giants (2-7) at New York Jets (1-7)
Monday 7.00am NZT
One New York quarterback saw ghosts. The other threw an idiotic interception late in the first half after a black cat had run into the endzone a few minutes earlier. The Giants were up 9-3 when the cat turned up and they went on to lose 37-18.
What a wholesome and beautiful moment. There are few things that can unite humanity in such a non-cynical way as when an animal interrupts a professional sports game. And that radio call was something else, what a champ. You simply have to feel good after witnessing something like that. Almost good enough to be able to stomach a game between the two teams burdened with the New York tag. Urgh, good feeling dissipating... happiness eroding... no... must rewatch cat on field...
Here’s one for you Jets fans to riot over, this is ugly...
And if losing to the Miami Tanking Dolphins isn’t a sackable offence for Adam Gase then I don’t know what is. That was as bad as it gets, I still cannot believe my Cowboys lost to this lot.
But just to be fair, there’s one for the Giants too. Lol remember when Daniel Jones was the saviour? One of the many overreactions this season, the NFL is always good for those. Jones is perfectly decent but he’s a rookie with handling issues so chill on him turning a bad team into anything other than still a bad team.
Wildcard’s Pick: Giants by 7
Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) at Tennessee Titans (4-5)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Two months before this season started, Matt Moore was coaching a high school football team and thinking his NFL career was done-skees. He wasn’t even on a team for all of last season. Then Andy Reid gives him the call and he signs a one year deal for a cool million bucks (good work if you can get it) and next thing Patty Mahomes is hurt and Moore is leading the Chiefs to an unexpected victory against what had been a surging Vikings team, Moore completing 25 of 35 passes for 275 yards with a score and no interceptions. He did get sacked five times, earning those dollars the hard way, but he was pretty bloody useful for the most part.
And you have to give so much credit for that to Andy Reid. For a guy that cops it plenty for his late game management and his lack of success in the playoffs – which is a tad unfair since he’s 12-14 in the postseason and has made it that far in 14 of his 20 seasons as a head coach, including a Super Bowl in 2004 (lost to the Pats, of course), which is pretty respectable if not exactly Belichick-ish – he sure knows how to coach the absolute bejeezus out of a regular season team.
But Patrick Mahomes is back this week, at least he should be, so I’m afraid I’m gonna have to not learn my lesson and pick another road team to get the old W.
By the way, Moore’s excellence on those deep throws was unexpected and show exactly how well drilled these guys are and how explosive that receiving group is (although we already knew that, I s’pose) but the most important play the Chiefs made was this 91-yarder from Damien Williams. Which also shows how fast some of those dudes are as Tyreek Hill coula made that tackle if he was wearing a different colour jersey. But the Chiefs hadn’t scored a rushing TD from further than three yards previously in 2019. Get teams to respect the run outside the red zone as well? That’s scary.
Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs by 9
Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)
Monday 7.00am NZT
Umm... lemme think about this a second...
Nope. I’ve got nothing.
Wildcard’s Pick: Buccs by 3
Atlanta Falcons (1-7) at New Orleans Saints (7-1)
Monday 7.00am NZT
So... let’s get this straight. The Falcons are currently 1-7, having lost their last six games in a row. Matt Ryan is only limited in practice at the moment coming off that injury. Their defence has been a wreck and they don’t seem to have any cohesion. To repeat they are 1-7 after the first half of the year. And this is their remaining schedule...
at Saints (7-1), at Panthers (5-3), vs Buccs (2-6), vs Saints (7-1), vs Panthers (5-3), at 49ers (8-0), vs Jaguars (4-5), at Buccs (2-6)
In other words if they even get to three wins this season then they’ve done pretty well. They have one win from the easy half of the schedule. Good Lord. 1-7 and their remaining games are amongst the toughest out there. This is going to get extremely ugly... and with the Dolphins winning perhaps it might just open up the tank race some more. The Bengals do still get to play both NYJ and MIA. The R*dskins are a little better than their record suggests and they have games remaining against both the Jets and Giants. This is actually opening up nicely for a run at the top pick for Atlanta. (Which they could then trade down a couple spots and get an extra second rounder or something because they already have a quarterback, bonus points).
Meanwhile the New Orleans Saints are pushing for the 32nd overall pick the way they’re going. And don’t look now but they’re finally getting healthy...
Wildcard’s Pick: Saints by 21
Miami Dolphins (1-7) at Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
Monday 10.05am NZT
Good News For The Colts: Jacoby Brissett only has a sprained MCL, no structural damage at all, and is already back in limited practice.
Good News For The Colts: Even if he isn’t good to go this week, Brian Hoyer is still a pretty good quarterback who could be starting ahead of two or three guys at other teams, and he showed last week that he can at least do a functioning job with this offence which is all they need.
Good News For The Colts: They’re playing the Dolphins.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 7
Los Angeles Rams (5-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)
Monday 10.25am NZT
So sometimes I get bored or short of ideas with this thing so I gathered up all the scraps of paper that I’d scribbled my picks down on and tallied a couple things up to see which teams I most often pick to win and which teams I most often pick correctly.
Dallas Cowboys – 8/8
Seattle Seahawks – 8/9
Green Bay Packers – 8/9
New England Patriots – 7/9
Los Angeles Rams – 7/8
Kansas City Chiefs – 7/9
Miami Dolphins – 0/8
Cincinnati Bengals – 0/8
Oakland Raiders – 0/8
Denver Broncos – 1/9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 1/8
Obviously a little bias with the Cowboys, I basically just pick them every single week so I’m not conflicted. I did pick the Pats to lose week one (against the Steelers while Big Ben was still there) and got them right in losing last week, and clearly I’m all in on the Russell Wilson MVP train too – which gained a whole lot more followers with a thrilling comeback last week against a Buccs team that apparently I must hate or something. To be fair they only have two wins (the one game I picked them in was wrong too – the Danny Dimes debut). These numbers don’t include this week, by the way, and I did just pick the Buccs to beat Arizona if it’s any consolation.
And for some reason I keep picking the Rams. Early on I thought they’d be really good, when suddenly they weren’t the schedule was just easier. As for the Oakland Raiders... they’re a plucky team that I’m never comfortable in predicting. I dunno what else to say. I’ve got them losing again on TNF in week ten.
MOST CORRECT PICKS
Washington R*dskins – 9/9
Jacksonville Jaguars – 8/9
Cincinnati Bengals – 8/8
New England Patriots – 8/9
Miami Dolphins – 7/8
New York Giants – 7/9
FEWEST CORRECT PICKS
Philadelphia Eagles – 3/9
Pittsburgh Steelers – 3/8
Detroit Lions – 3/8 (1 tie)
Several teams - 4
Some blatant trends there with the mud teams being easy to predict. Proud to say I haven’t got a R*dskins result wrong yet and that’s because unlike a few pundits I was never convinced they’d be anything but terrible in 2019 and if they’re committed to the rookie Haskins now then doubt that changes – remember Alex Smith is supposed to be their starter, the Skins are another one of those teams dipping into the QB depth.
All those four-tick teams got a bit much to list on the thing so here they are: Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, and Los Angeles Rams. It’s that chunky middle of unpredictability that’s made this season so tricky. But on the plus side in revisiting these I found out that I’d miscounted one week and I actually have one more correct pick this season than I realised. My bad handwriting the issue there, so it goes. I wonder if Matt Patricia and his ear-pencils ever have that problem.
Oh look, the Rams versus Steelers. Two of my most difficult teams...
Wildcard’s Pick: Apparently I always pick the Rams so no reason to stop now, LAR by 7
Carolina Panthers (5-3) at Green Bay Packers (7-2)
Monday 10.25am NZT
Oooosh, that’s no good.
It doesn’t technically end Newton’s season but he isn’t eligible to return for eight weeks now and that means playoff time... which is only possible if Kyle Allen can take this team that far. In which case do you even risk Newton coming in cold in that situation? Doubt it. So effectively that’s it for 2019 and now people get to do that annoying thing again of speculating where he’ll play next season.
Let me just remind you that he has a cap hit of $21m next season which isn’t easy to move even if they wanted to (although it is the last year of his contract). There’s a solid logic to cutting ties, as they could save $19m against the cap by releasing him and could maybe even get something back in return in a trade, where as Newton is in a tricky situation unlikely to get a contract extension before next season considering if he has to go in for surgery he might not even be ready for training camps. For both sides this can get slippery.
But Cam Newton is really, really good when he’s healthy. As long as the Panthers are confident he can get back to a clean hundy percent then there’s no question of them moving on. It’s only if there’s a complication in the matter. He’s proven that he can win, they have a strong team around him, it’s a no-brainer. If he’s healthy.
I s’pose the other complication is how desperate other teams might get in a free agency pool that’s headlined by Andy Dalton, Teddy Bridgewater, and Marcus Mariota. A desperate team is going to be tempted to string together some pretty comprehensive trade bait. Like the Chicago Bears, for example. Although with all the backup QBs playing right now there are plenty others in that trade mix too. The free agents all suck. If you want potential greatness you’ll have to pay for it.
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers with the bounce back win by 6
Minnesota Vikings (6-3) at Dallas Cowboys (5-3)
Monday 2.20pm NZT
Another delightful camera angle brought to you by the incomparable broadcasters of the NFL. Look., the commentary isn’t often at the same standard (sometimes it is, to be fair – depends entirely on the personnel) but the actual pictures that we see are incredible. The sound that they pick up on the mics... especially those NFL films bits... it’s as good as it gets.
The Cowboys need to stop starting games so slowly. Basically all their defeats have come when they’ve fallen behind early, especially the Packers and Jets ones, and even last week they were 9-3 down midway through the second quarter. The Dolphins game had a slow start too. When they heated up quick against Philly, meanwhile, thanks to early turnovers it was a bloody riot. This lot is built to play from in front with a clinical quarterback and a dominant run game. Get that lead and control the game from there.
The delight here is in watching possibly the two most talented running backs in the game go to work. Okay, Christian McCaffrey deserves a mention in that convo and Nick Chubb’s stats are up there with the best of them too but Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott are top tier regardless of how you cut it.
Dalvin Cook: 9 GM | 177 ATT | 894 YDS | 9 TD | 5.1 Y/A | 99.3 Y/G | 3 FM
Ezekiel Elliott: 8 GM | 158 ATT | 741 YDS | 6 TD | 4.7 Y/A | 92.5 Y/G | 1 FM
Zeke hasn’t really had that bust-out game yet either, last week’s 139 yards against the Giants was his best of the season though he has topped 100 on five out of eight occasions already. Hasn’t scored more than once in any game. Yet his numbers are still up there in the top few of most categories which is kinda mental knowing there’s more in the tank yet to come. Wouldn’t mind seeing him used more in a few screen pass sets either, that’s something they haven’t done as much this year with more emphasis on play-action... though that’s working out nicely when they stick to it so no need to complicate things. Zeke’s getting two fewer receptions per game than last season but Dak Prescott’s playing his best ever footy so can’t really argue.
As for Dalvin Cook, he also has five games with 100+ rush yards, though only two in the last six games. Balance has been a struggle for Minny, who have won thanks to Kirk Cousins and won despite Kirk Cousins and lost thanks to Kirk Cousins and lost despite Kirk Cousins. But Dalvin Cook is equally as confusing as they’ve lost a game (week two vs GB) when he rushed for 154 yards at 7.7 per carry and also won a game (week six vs Philly) when he rushed for 41 yards at 2.56 yards per carry. However you cut it though Dalvin Cook has been outstanding overall. He’s on pace for more than 1500 yards and crucially after injuries affected his first two years in the league he is looking healthy and unstoppable.
Wildcard’s Pick: You know the drill – Cowboys by 2
Seattle Seahawks (7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (8-0)
Tuesday 2.15pm NZT
It’s not getting easier for either of these teams. Wins on the board are lovely but we all know the most important thing is how you end the season and a little divisional battle here could be crucial in how that plays out. These two also meet again in week 17 which could be a belter.
For the Niners, they’re the last undefeated team but they still haven’t earned the respect that some others have – they probably just spent the week wondering why everybody’s talking about the Ravens when the Niners still have that big zero going. Wins are the only currency that matters but it has been a recurring theme that the first half of the season was pretty easy for the Niners in terms of who they’ve played. The Rams and Panthers are the only winning teams they’ve faced and one of them is all of a sudden going through a crisis with their offensive line and the other’s starting a rookie backup QB. But of course it all gets serious from here on in.
Niners remaining sched:
vs Seahawks (7-2), vs Cardinals (3-5-1), vs Packers (7-2), at Ravens (6-2), at Saints (7-1), vs Falcons (1-7), vs Rams (5-3), at Seahawks (7-2)
So their first eight opponents currently have a combined record of 22-43-1 and their next eight have a combined record of 43-24-1.
But at least they have that Falcons game in there to mix it up. Also three straight home games starting with this one as it all ramps up. The Seahawks though... their remaining games are just as tricky and without a simple win amongst them. The Cardinals, perhaps, but the Niners play them too. At least they don’t have to play the Packers, Ravens, and Saints all in a row though... yeah gotta tilt it towards the Niners road being harder for that reason. Seattle have already lost to the Saints and Ravens this season, their only two defeats.
Seahawks remaining sched:
at 49ers (8-0), BYE, at Eagles (5-4), vs Vikings (6-3), at Rams (5-3), at Panthers (5-3), vs Cardinals (3-5-1), vs 49ers (8-0)
Anyway, to finish here’s your weekly reminder that Russell Wilson is going to win MVP...
And that Tyler Lockette has emerged as an elite receiver...
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 3 to keep it interesting... but I’m pretty sure I’ll instantly regret it
BYE: Denver Broncos (3-6), Houston Texans (6-3), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5), New England Patriots (8-1), Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) & Washington R*dskins (1-8)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. He struggles with the fundamentals.
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