Last Week: 9-7
Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) at Green Bay Packers (3-0)
Friday 12.20pm NZT
I have to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the start that the Eagles have had to this 2019 season considering how many preseason predictions I saw that had them finishing ahead in the division of a Dallas Cowboys team that I’ve been incredibly optimistic about from day one. I already had a big whine about how Dak Prescott is better than Carson Wentz and how finally the proof of that fact is adding up last week so no need to get all vengeance-filled about it now. Philly are going through a bit of a crisis of fit wide receivers and after tight defeats to the Falcons and Lions (decent teams but perhaps not playoff level teams, time will tell) they now get to do what all injury-troubled teams most want to do: to play at Lambeau Field on a short week.
Alshon Jeffrey should be back for this one, DeSean Jackson too as he tries to play through his ailments, which makes a big difference since at least Nelson Agholor won’t have as many opportunities to drop passes this time. But what’s really odd about the Eagles this year (so far) is that a team which seems to be just stacked with quality across the board isn’t really checked in like they should be. Which means that either something’s gone stale or they just don’t have the talent spread throughout all the roster that they thought they did – which I s’pose is what happens when you have a few injuries, to be fair. Because as amazing as any kick return touchdown is… there’s always about six chances the kicking team has to chop a guy down which they don’t take. Jamal Agnew’s one here is not a pretty sight for that Eagles special teams unit…
Then chuck in that there’s bugger all pass rush going on and that Carson Wentz made more defensive tackles than three-quarters of his defensive line combined and there’s a little spark that’s missing from Doug Pederson’s team. It’s also fair to say that Wentz needs to be better though – settling for field goals in the red zone in a game they lost by three points screams: missed opportunity. But he’s much lower down the list of culprits than most.
Which is why it would be the most Philly thing imaginable for them to win this game and I’m honestly tempted to pick them to do just that. They’re better than this and eventually they’ll prove it. But the Packers are 3-0 with Aaron Rodgers having played within himself so far so what am I supposed to do? Pick against that? Nah mate, unless Fletcher Cox suddenly morphs back into his old self then the Packers are going to get exactly what they want.
Also shout out to GBP linebacker Blake Martinez who is way out in front in terms of combined tackles this season. That Packers defence is the real deal.
Wildcard’s Pick: Packers by 7
Washington R*dskins (0-3) at New York Giants (1-2)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Well… I s’pose I’d better talk about Daniel Jones now, hadn’t I? The G-Men rookie staring down a 28-10 deficit on the road with his star running back on crutches on the sideline and the bloody guy only goes and leads his team back to win 32-31. It was utter madness and it ruined my pick for this game (last week wasn’t great for picks, I fooled myself into thinking it was a sitter week because the Pats and Cowboys were such obvious picks but the rest of them served up some real funk, especially those late afternoon kickoffs) but wow was that something to witness.
The key difference between him and Eli is that DJ has a bit of hops about him, as he showed with a pair of rushing touchdowns. But he also threw for 336 yards so he’s got some variety too which feels kinda necessary in the modern NFL unless you’re going to be absolutely top tier as a passer. I think the reason he looked so much at home as the starter for the Giants though is because he looks so much like Eli Manning. This is by far the most accurate thing I’ve seen said about Daniel Jones…
Can I be a dick and spoil the party though? Jones did also get sacked five times and he lost a fumble. Also most important of all is that if the Buccs hadn’t missed a 35-yard field goal as time expired then the Giants would have lost a game that they were second best in for most of the way. They’re not about to start reeling off wins because of this one slightly lucky occurrence. Especially not with this whole situation…
Both these teams are pretty mud but it doesn’t help for Washington that Case Keenum’s been nursing a foot injury all week and hasn’t trained much. I get the impression that he’s still gonna play but when you’re Case Keenum you don’t have a lot of wiggle room between mildly effective and completely terrible and a foot injury could drag him towards the latter. Colt McCoy and rookie Dwayne Haskins are the alternatives. Oh man this is a mess. The Giants with a rookie QB and an injured star RB or the R*dskins with an injured QB and nothing much else. I’ll have to tip it in favour of the Daniel Jones bandwagon for one more week at least.
Wildcard’s Pick: Giants by 3
Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) at Detroit Lions (2-0-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Patrick Mahomes so far in 2019:
@ JAX (W 40-26): 25/33 COMP | 378 YDS | 3 TD | 0 INT
@ OAK (W 28-10): 30/44 COMP | 443 YDS | 4 TD | 0 INT
vs BAL (W 33-28): 27/37 COMP | 374 YDS | 3 TD | 0 INT
You know how many other players in history have had three consecutive games with 300+ passing yards, 3+ TDs and 0 INTs? Just the one and his name is Tom Brady. Back in weeks 6-8 of the 2007 season which, of course, was the 16-0 season. That’s the company that Pat Mahomes is keeping these days, he’s so far off the charts it’s mental. He has 13 games of 300+ passing yards in his first 20 starts in the NFL. If there’s a way to stop him then nobody’s figured it out yet. And not just him but the entire KCC offence which is on pace to do unprecedented things… Andy Reid you old walrus, you!
Oh dude… imagine if this team actually gets Jalen Ramsey too…
Wildcard’s Pick: Chiefs by 6
Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Matty Ice gets no love, I swear to God. This dude’s a former MVP of the league and you don’t win that thing accidentally. I’m hearing people moan about his inaccuracy and the bloke’s got one of the best completion rates in the damn competition. Cut the picks and he’s in prime form.
Meanwhile Marcus Mariota was sacked nine times last week in Jacksonville (sorry, Sacksonville) and has been sacked 17 times already in three games. Kyler Murray has been sacked 16 times and then Deshaun Watson is next with 12 sacks. Mariota isn’t a rookie like Murray. He’s got to know better than this even if the offensive line isn’t up to much. He’s got the sparks of brilliance but these inconsistencies are what frustrates everyone.
It’s games like this why week four is such a big deal. It’s about now when teams start to settle into the versions of themselves that we can trust and after this, hey, we’re a quarter of the way through the season. There’s a huge difference between 2-2 after four games and being 1-3 after four games. That’s what this pair are going for and honestly I don’t think it’ll even be that close. The Titans just can’t keep up with the Falcons.
Wildcard’s Pick: Falcons by 14
Cleveland Browns (1-2) at Baltimore Ravens (2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
I’m kinda fascinated by this Freddie Kitchens bloke, aye? First off because he has a silly name and he looks a little like Elmer Fudd swapped his deerstalker for a cap and headset and then also because he’s basically the very picture of a Cleveland Browns coach who might have been a tad overpromoted to get to this point and then also because he was literally a used-car salesman. I mean it doesn’t get much more Brownsy than that – and I honestly don’t get why they promoted a first time head coach with such a young and inexperienced core to their roster. A steady hand who’s been around the traps a few times would have made so much more sense… but what can you say? The Browns are gonna Browns. Like last week when Kitchens drew up a draw play on a fourth and nine. D’oh.
Anyway there was a Freddie Kitchens feature on ESPN this week in which the first quote was this…
“I'm not supposed to be here. I'm just a big ol' redneck from Alabama. Nobody ever figured I'd be here. But you know what? I'm here.”
Maaaate. What a man.
You know what I love? When people try weird out-of-the-box things in unexpected situations. Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the game so now he’s moved onto trying what American pundits are hilariously calling a ‘rugby-style drop kick’. It’s as bad as how the Yanks think any chaotic gathering of people with pushing involved constitutes a ‘rugby scrum’. This is something different, this is a flat-end drop kick. The big old looping toss with the backspin… man, that’s cool. Shame he over-hit it by about a mile.
Wildcard’s Pick: Ravens by 7
Oakland Raiders (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Sure. And I’ll tell you what else too, the Colts have dealt with the absence of Andrew Luck a whole lot better than the Raiders have without Antonio Brown. Gruden even admitted that this offence was built through preseason to have that numero uno presence and not having AB has thrown that off kilter. Derek Carr’s completing at 73.5% which is beaten only by Dak Prescott and Gardner Minshew but not only have both those dudes thrown more TDs and fewer picks but they’re lightyears ahead of him in adjusted yards per attempt too… Carr’s third in completion percentage but 24th in AY/A which is one step ahead of Joe Flacco and one ahead of Teddy Bridgewater.
But I’m with Jonny boy here because every QB is influenced by the talent around them and of course Carr’s gonna be checking down a lot when his main options are Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams. Like, what’s going on there? I’m sympathetic for the fella there. However I’m also coming around on Jacoby Brissett and I never needed any convincing about the quality that that dude has around him.
And then the other one is that here are the Raiders’ away game results since Jon Gruden took over…
@ Minnesota Vikings – Lost 34-14 (Wk 3 2019)
@ Kansas City Chiefs – Lost 35-5 (Wk 17 2018)
@ Cincinnati Bengals – Lost 30-16 (Wk 15 2018)
@ Baltimore Ravens – Lost 34-17 (Wk 12 2018)
@ Arizona Cardinals – Won 23-21 (Wk 11 2018)
@ San Francisco 49ers – Lost 34-3 (Wk 9 2018)
@ Los Angeles Chargers – Lost 26-10 (Wk 5 2018)
@ Miami Dolphins – Lost 28-20 (Wk 3 2018)
@ Denver Broncos – Lost 20-19 (Wk 2 2018)
They lost their last three under Jack Del Rio as well so that’s a 1-11 record in road games and that one win they got was against a Cardinals team that had the worst record in the NFL last season. That is not a happy trend.
Wildcard’s Pick: Colts by 9
New England Patriots (3-0) at Buffalo Bills (3-0)
Monday 6.00am NZT
Ah yes, of course. Two of the last three undefeated teams in the AFC, the Patriots and the Bills. One of those things was about as predictable as rain on a Sunday picnic but the Bills being 3-0 right now? Bloody strike me down with a rubber fish because I simply don’t understand what life even is anymore.
Updating that number from last week, the Patriots have now scored 106 points and conceded 17 across their three games. The two touchdowns they conceded to the Jets last week were the first two they’ve leaked all season and they were a fumble recovery and a pick six, both long after the result had already been decided (Pats were up 30-0 with 34 secs left in the third when they conceded the first TD). Which means their defence is still yet to give up a touchdown after twelve quarters of play… that’s insanity is what that is.
The Bills have beaten the Jets, Giants, and Bengals so this is as misleading a 3-0 as it gets. That’s Eli Manning’s Giants as well – the Bills were the ones who might have ended his Giants career (let’s not speak so soon though). But they have a well-constructed roster there, including a really excellent defence which is about to get its first proper test, and they also have a quarterback who can make some plays. Is Josh Allen a good player? I’m not convinced. He’s a so-so passer who runs the ball very well. Not the most sustainable plan long term. Ah you know what though? He’s got that intangible knack for making clutch plays and winning games. Another thing which might not be sustainable but I have to say that I respect it. Wins are wins however you get them and he’s won three in a row… four if you include the week 17 win over Miami last year.
Even that highlight reel has a few trash passes but yeah I just wanted to give Josh Allen a quick moment in the sun to say I see you lad before he gets trounced by Bill Belichick.
Wildcard’s Pick: Patriots by 11
Carolina Panthers (1-2) at Houston Texans (2-1)
Monday 6.00am NZT
I know y’all are big on this Daniel Jones fella but the best performing backup quarterback of week three was Kyle Allen and I’d bet even Eli Manning agrees with me on that one. An undrafted free agent in 2018 and he threw four touchdowns and completed 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards in a clinical and composed performance that was bolstered by a huge day for Christian McCaffrey and of course now the buzz is gonna start that Allen should play ahead of Cam Newton every week and that idea is ridiculous… however if Kyle Allen is a legit player after all then he buys them time to get Cam nice and rested and fully fit which is enormous for this Panthers team.
Still like the Texans to take this one though. Too many weapons on both sides of the ball even if they haven’t gotten particularly deep contributions from anyone else. They’re a Drew Brees final drive away from being 3-0 after all.
Wildcard’s Pick: Texans by 5
Los Angeles Chargers (1-2) at Miami Dolphins (0-3)
Monday 6.00am NZT
You know, I’ll say this about the Dolphins… they’re not quite as bad as they appear. Though three games they’ve been outscored 133-16 but those three games were against three teams that I reckon are deadset to win at least 10 games each, the Pats probably 13 games or more, and in fairness they were feisty against the Cowboys in that first half. They just made so many preventable errors, like missed tackles and dropped catches and the sort. The kinds of errors where it’s like the playcall was fine, the execution was fine… but that last little crucial moment wasn’t completed and it was all for nothing. Poor old Josh Rosen attempted 39 passes for a mere 200 yards and I didn’t think he even played that bad.
For example… one of their main receivers is a dude called Preston Williams who is an undrafted rookie but leads the Fins in receptions and receiving yards. Rosen called him his best mate on the team the other day but best mates off the field doesn’t necessarily translate on it and of eleven targets from Rosen, Williams only caught three – including a would-be touchdown where he couldn’t establish possession in time. The word from out of the Miami camp is that they reckon that despite his undrafted status, this fella has number one receiver potential. But it’s a steep learning curve and when everybody’s on that same error-filled buzz it’s hard to catch a break. So to speak.
As for the goddamned Chargers… I don’t want to talk about the Chargers. They’re killing me with these performances at the moment – they should have beaten the Lions and they should have beaten the Texans… they should really have beaten the Colts by more too but a win’s a win and considering what followed they can’t really complain. This is a team that, as Keenan Allen put it, keeps shooting itself in the foot and Allen’s saying that as probably their best performing offensive player right now. 183 yards with two scores last week for that lad. So it’s a good thing they’ve got the Dolphins this week and it’s a good thing that Melvin Gordon might be ending his holdout and it’s a good thing I don’t have to think too hard about them because I need to take some time away from putting any expectations on this team whatsoever.
By the way, the Oakland Raiders are saying goodbye to their famous baseball pitch now what with the MLB season speeding towards the postseason and the Raiders moving to Las Vegas next year so how about the LA Chargers, still waiting for their new shared stadium (with the Rams) to be completed as they do their thing in a soccer stadium. Having seen far too many footy games (while following the kiwis involved, naturally) in America that take place on artificial grid iron surfaces I can’t say I don’t mind seeing it served back up in the other direction for once.
It’s a pretty ugly sight isn’t it, all those lines? More white lines than at Scarface’s housewarming party. It amazes me that one of the biggest sports leagues on the planet, with so much money changing hands every day, can’t find specialist stadiums or at least make the ones they find look a little nicer. I guess it’s only temporary… I wonder if their weird state of being has any effect on the Chargers and the way they’ve been playing?
Wildcard’s Pick: Chargers by 15
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) at Los Angeles Rams (3-0)
Monday 9.05am NZT
Wildcard’s Pick: This feels like the one where the Rams offence sorts itself out… Rams by 17
Seattle Seahawks (2-1) at Arizona Cardinals (0-2-1)
Monday 9.05am NZT
Haha, Pete Carroll got popped on the noggin by a sprayed ball in warmups. Cut his nose right open and you’ve gotta laugh. It’s always funny when a coach cops one, especially from a distance because you just know he probably unloaded the fury on whichever careless joker was responsible for that one as soon as he got away from the prying eyes of cameras.
It’s also funny how certain teams seem to have these identities where they have these recurring trends that they can never seem to figure out. In this case I think it might be a curse because ever since that infamous Super Bowl in 2015 when they didn’t run the ball at the one-yard line with Marshawn Lynch only Chris Carson has had a thousand yard rushing season and that was last year and he’s responded to that with 159 yards at 3.5 per carry with one score and three fumbles early on in this one. The best rusher on this roster is Russell Wilson and understandably he’s not really about putting himself in harm’s way too often.
That scoreline flattered them in losing to a Saints team with a backup quarterback, it was only garbage time scores that kept them from a much worse defeat. And that’s with Russell Wilson doing things like this…
Russell Wilson thru three games:
71.4% COMP | 901 YDS | 7 TD | 0 INT | 119.6 RATE | 9.9 AY/A | 81 RUSH YDS | 2 RUSH TD
It’s been a strange start for the Seahawks. They’re better than they’re showing so far. A little better in that O-Line, get that defence clicking with its shiny new parts, a few more rush yards… right now it’s all on Wilson’s shoulders but the ingredients are there.
Wildcard’s Pick: Seahawks by 3
Minnesota Vikings (2-1) at Chicago Bears (2-1)
Monday 9.25am NZT
What can you say? He’s a man for the big moment.
There’s a fair bit in common between these two teams. Both are built upon really, super, excellent, amazing defences with quarterbacks who can do a job when you give them a nice lead but who turn into disasters when asked to bust it open. Which makes this such a difficult game to predict as well. One thing I won’t be doing is throwing the I Ching again like last week because that one turned out terrible and that’s exactly what I deserved for trivialising the ancient wisdom. So I’ll just do the old favourite and settle on the home team.
Wildcard’s Pick: Bears by 3
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at Denver Broncos (0-3)
Monday 9.25am NZT
I just love this guy so much. He’s playing outstandingly right now too and while the dude he’s replacing could drop a few lessons about why a positive rookie season doesn’t mean long term stability in anyone’s career, I think Minshew’s got a great perspective on it all so he’ll be fine. In fact if he keeps this up against different defences then the difference between him and Nick Foles might not be all that vast. Especially considering Foles hasn’t done anything at all for this team yet thanks to that injury.
Last week was a stunning one for backup quarterbacks but most of them it’s still silly to say they’re better than the bloke they replaced. Kyle Allen isn’t replacing a healthy Cam Newton, right? Daniel Jones might have swamped Eli Manning but Eli was on the outer already. But that Nick Foles contract was a stretch from day one, a desperate move from a team that had been all Bortles’d out after those tragic years (granted: remember that time Blake Bortles nearly beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship game?). And here’s where it gets funky…
Gardner Minshew’s Cap Hit: $542k in 2019 / $632k in 2020 / $722k in 2021 / $812k in 2022
Nick Foles’ Cap Hit: $12m in 2019 / $22.2m in 2020 / $26.9m in 2021 / $27m in 2022
The key to building a great team in the NFL these days seems to be getting mass value out of rookies, specifically rookie quarterbacks. Then once you’ve got that framework it’s up to your ability to draft well to sustain it. The LA Rams are a benchmark with the production they got out of Jared Goff on his rookie contract and the best possible example might be Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks… once upon a time it was rookie Wilson vs free agency acquisition Matt Flynn competing for that starter’s gig, those were the days. The Jags though… you can never predict these things but mate that Nick Foles contract looks like a shocker considering what they could do with that extra $20-25mill per season in cap space while still getting close enough on QB capabilities.
Here’s another brick in the wall that is the Legend of Gardner Minshew II…
Wildcard’s Pick: Jaguars by 2
Dallas Cowboys (3-0) at New Orleans Saints (2-1)
Monday 1.20pm NZT
I’ll spare you the wanky Cowboys fan yarn this week… fair play to the Saints though because having won against the Seahawks last week with Teddy Bridgewater not even playing that well but that deep-as roster around him stepping up just like I told you they would and now the Saints are playing with house money until Drew Brees comes back because they should beat the Buccs next week and when Breezy gets back it shouldn’t be too deep of a hole they find themselves in. Hell, they might even have a winning record and if that’s the case then we’re looking at a Super Bowl contender after all… not this week though. This week it’s all about the Dak Prescott MVP wagon and… oh sorry I said I wouldn’t do that. My bad.
Wildcard’s Pick: Cowboys by 6
Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3)
Tuesday 1.15pm NZT
I saw someone say it on twitter the other day and it’s true… the Pittsburgh Steelers are the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NFL. Well, over the last decade that is. Scrub out the Steelers long and illustrious history. But they had Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown all together and never really did anything. Beaten by 19 points in the Conference Championship in 2016, that’s the peak. Three playoff wins in the last eight years. That’s still a lot to be proud of but it highlights that this was one of those what-if teams… just like the OKC Thunder. Coz Mason Rudolph really doesn’t look very good. And the Steelers are doomed this year. At least they should be better than the Bengals… and Minkah Fitzpatrick had a good game last week though, so there’s that.
Wildcard’s Pick: Steelers by 8
BYE: New York Jets (0-3) & San Francisco 49ers (3-0)
The Wildcard is a staff writer for The Niche Cache. Don’t interrupt him at the moment though, he’s trying to meditate.
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