NFL Sunday opinions

Theoretically I should try to say something intelligent here but I think we all know that would be presenting a false front. Instead I’ll just try and clarify a few abstract thoughts rattling around inside my head.

First up, the Dolphins – they must be toast, even just 2 games in they have all but announced they’re playing for the first pick in the 2020 Draft (poor Tua), which is slightly strange when you consider how Trevor Lawrence should be available in the 2021 Draft. Actually “tanking” in the NFL is pretty strange all the way round, trading any talent you have Draft picks almost makes sense in the NBA where 8 players can realistically alter the trajectory of a team but you need 52 to fill an NFL roster. So it appears an incredibly long process and considering the average NFL career is little over 3 years the Dolphins could be chasing their tails for perpetuity.

The Jets have reached a 2018 San Francisco 49ers number of injuries already this season so its incredibly difficult to judge how Adam Gase is doing in his new job (I mean, I personally lean towards it not going particularly well) since he’s on his 3rd choice Quarterback now and C.J Mosley who appeared to be the leader and organiser the Jets Defence needed at the start of the season got banged up in the first game and they’ve looked very wobbly ever since. With a total of 20 players featuring on their latest Injury Report they will definitely struggle until this storm has passed.

The Eagles have got 13 players on their Injury Report and if they weren’t playing the Lions you’d have to say they were behind the 8 ball this week. Doug Pederson is exactly the sort of person who could coach around an injury ravaged squad but the Lions look to be a team on the up to me. Matt Patricia seems to come for a lot of grief but he seems to have gathered together a Defence that he can work with and the 6 sacks they’ve managed in 2 games appear to point towards a team going forward. The thing about the Eagles is that Carson Wentz has an almost magical ability to avoid taking a sack, last week he threw a completed pass when his knee was about an inch off the ground! If the Lions Defensive Backs can cover the new Receiving corps the Eagles have due to their injuries this could be a very close game.

On the topic of unpopular team’s with an exciting defence the Bills finally get to play a game at home this season and after a 2-0 start to the season the atmosphere should be noisy to say the least. Against a Bengals team who have scored 37 points this season and conceded 62 the Bills should make it to 3-0 but if they don’t get off to a thunderous start then the Bills mafia may start to show their displeasure and the home advantage could quickly turn into a lot of angry people booing!

The Colts and Falcons will be very interesting, both teams won last week but neither team have looked comfortable so far this and they both have players who will be effected by injuries in this game. Adam Vinatieri could have a vital role in what could be an absolutely nerve jangling affair and I’ll be rooting for him purely because it’s always good to see people older than me playing and playing well! Hopefully the Colts will win a good game but I’m sure Frank Reich would take a scrappy win in the last seconds.

The Vikings host the Raiders in what could be a bit of a thrashing, but part of me thinks if there’s one game this week where something out of the ordinary could happen it may well be this one. Who knows which Kirk Cousins will turn up? Will Dalvin Cook be able to hoist the entire Offence upon his shoulders once more? Will the Raiders Defence be able to hold their opponents to 17 points or fewer as they have done so far this season? If Tyrell Williams is back and fit enough to sprint he could record some serious receiving yards against a Defensive backfield that has looked quite disorganised at times this season.

Chiefs v Ravens will be an interesting test for the Chiefs Defence, especially the Defensive front. They’ve recorded 4 sacks so far this season but if they can’t get into the backfield and disrupt Lamar Jackson this game might resemble an NBA game with both Offences scoring for fun and the Defences just there to watch.

Everything else looks pretty straightforward or involves teams with backup Quarterbacks playing so they’re very much wait and see games. Some of them could be very interesting but there’s usually an insurmountable difference between a starter and a backup.

The all important #RugbyWorldCup preview

As a contrarian it’s impossible for me not to see a few upsets coming in the next few weeks but I’ll to try suppress my inner anarchist for the purposes of this document.

That said there’s a real chance that Japan are the surprise package in Pool A (if a home nation can be a surprise). The weather conditions are more likely to suit Japan and maybe even Samoa (although their player base is scattered all across the world these days), baring that in mind I can see Japan qualifying in second place behind Ireland as the disconnect between Scotland’s players and Gregor Townsend grows.

Pool B is pretty easy to predict as New Zealand and South Africa are the only teams who can progress but there should be some very interesting games between Canada, Italy and Namibia. An upset of sorts could come in first game where South Africa could continue their good run against New Zealand because I’m not sure Steve Hansen prioritises winning the first game of a tournament over winning the final game of a tournament so I think the Springboks top the pool and New Zealand finish a close second.

Pool C is probably the trickiest to call because France and Argentina both have a very high ceiling but an incredibly low floor. England should progress quite calmly but it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the Pumas or les Bleus came a croper against the newly professional USA Eagles. England will almost certainly top the Pool but France and Argentina’s meeting on Saturday should decide which team takes the most confidence into the tournament and I think France under a new coaching regime will finish second.

Pool D is very much a matter of head over heart for me, obviously I hope Wales will top the standings, but I can’t see how they make it through a whole Pool without getting a harsh red card, devastating injury or comical officiating error leading to farcical result so I’m going with Australia as Pool winners, mostly because Michael Cheika scares the bejesus out of normal people. Wales should finish second but I’m not writing anything off.

So Quarter final 1 projects as England v Wales which could all come down to who is fit by then. England hope to have Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell back by then and Wales should have Cory Hill and Adam Beard back from injury. If both squads are at full strength it should be an absolute epic and Wales won’t have anything to fear with 2 wins in their last 3 games but they’ve both been in Cardiff so I can see England winning but I’m inclined to believe that Wales’ extra conditioning training will be crucial in the brutal weather that Oita will serve up, so they will progress.

Quarter final 2 will be South Africa v Japan in Tokyo Stadium and South Africa battered the brave blossoms 41-7 just over a week ago so that seems pretty straight forward.

The 3rd quarter final would be Australia v France and this is toss of the coin stuff. Australia haven’t been in great form for about 3 years largely because David Pocock has been injured and if France have a slightly untested area in their squad its in terms of an experienced breakdown operator in the back row, Camara only has 13 caps, Aldritt 5 and Francois Cros is uncapped. So if Pocock is fit I would have to make Australia favourites to make the semi finals purely because they have a more stable bass to build from buy its definitely beyond France to shock everyone at every turn.

Ireland get another craic at New Zealand in the final Quarter final, now that has to be worth waiting for. I’m not sure Ireland will have the firepower to stop the All Blacks soul crushing machine in a game of such magnitude, after 4 Pool matches Steve Hansen might have even worked out who his best 10 is (spoiler alert – it’s Beauden Barrett).

Semi final numero uno would be the clash would be Wales v South Africa and as much as that suits Wales I’m not sure even a super fit and powerfully motivated Welsh side could stop what by now looks like Rassie’s destiny becoming fulfilled.

The final semi final will be Australia v New Zealand and very much like the Wallabies Quarter final this one could definitely go either way but the general rule when these teams meet is when the All Blacks keep 15 players on the field they win, so baring a controversial officiating decision the first game of Pool B will also be the RWC final, New Zealand v South Africa.

So, these 2 teams play each other an awful lot and this could be a really ugly bar brawl of a game because there’s certainly no love lost between the teams but I think that New Zealand will have the edge. They have an uncanny ability to soak up pressure and throw it back at their opponents in the last 5 minutes of the first half and of the game. I’ll be hoping for a nail biter but Hansen’s men could do it with time to spare.

Now would be a good time to point out that all of the previous predictions are very much dependent on typhoons not playing a huge part in the results. Along with North Korean missiles, seismic activity and the very small possibility of Godzilla arriving in Tokyo Bay.

Overreaction Sunday the NFL addition

Given that expecting anything that happened in the first week of the football season to be a regular occurrence is essentially a huge overreaction I thought I’d join the herd and see if anything I noticed last week were actually indicative of future performance.

The first thing that stood out to me was the Cardinals Defensive line, everyone was talking about their Offensive line (and it looked pretty porous, but they’ve got a College coach and a very mobile QB so there’s not really any surprise there). With Terrell Suggs, Cassius Marsh and Chandler Jones they were always going to generate some edge rush but with rookie Zach Allen, Rodney Gunter and nose tackle Corey Peters they have real physicality up front to allow the pass rushers and Linebacker Jordan Hicks to do their stuff. They play the Ravens in Baltimore this week and while Lamar Jackson made scoring 50 points look easy in week 1 I think the maligned Cardinals could pose much more of a challenge than Miami’s bunch of wantaways did (the Dolphins did actually record a sack on Jackson so a team who actually have some game tape and a roster who don’t want to leave have a very decent shot at disrupting).

Against the Cardinals last week the Lions Defensive line recorded 5 sacks (although it should be pointed out that Kyler Murray took the best part of 3 quarters to settle into the NFL regular season) and in Damon “snacks” Harrison and Mike Williams they have serious power in the middle of the line, they lack the sort of explosiveness that the Cardinals have at Linebacker but they have sort sparkling Defensive Backs so they have the potential to make turnovers and in Matt Patricia they have a Head Coach who has learned from Bill Bellichick. They host the Chargers in week 2 and if Harrison and Daniels can slow the run game down Phillip Rivers has been known to throw interceptions (12 last season alongside his 32 TD’s).

The Saints Defensive line was incredibly impressive last week too (hardly surprising considering they should have been in the Super Bowl last season) and Sheldon Rankins may return this week in L.A against a Rams team who seem as confused by their running back situation as everyone else is. If a fit Gurley appears the Rams have a real chance of winning their home opener but if his number of touches are limited the team with a healthy Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray must be favourites to make a 2-0 start to the season.

On the subject of unsurprisingly good Defensive fronts the 49ers (Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and not forgetting Dee Ford) travel to Cincinnati to test out the Bengals O-line and with a banged up Joe Mixon probably giving Gio Bernard more carries Andy Dalton might need to throw another 51 passes this week and that could spell disaster with Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams patrolling the Defensive backfield.

The Seahawks travel from the West Coast to the banks of the Ohio River too as they visit Pittsburgh for a game that could sink the Steelers season before its really even left the dock. The Seahawks get to unleash Jadaveon Clowney on a Steelers Offence that was completely overwhelmed by the Patriots last week (again, not a surprise) and I quite like the Seahawks slightly smaller but very quick (less Legion of Boom, more Legion of Zoom remember) Defence. The only concern is the Seahawks desire to run when the Steelers did a very good job of shutting down the Patriots run game, they were ripped to pieces by Tom Brady and playaction passes but Pete Carroll seems reticent to use Russell Wilson’s arm as a primary weapon.

Colts, or more accurately Marlon Mack could surprise the Titans this week in Indianapolis this week. The Titans pulled the much hyped Browns pants down in FirstEnergy Stadium largely because the Browns abandoned the run and tried to get Baker Mayfield to win the game (Browns ran it 20 times last week, Mack himself ran it 25 times of the Colts 33 attempts) if Adam Vinatieri hadn’t missed 7 points the Colts would have left L.A with a win.

The Vikings should win in Green Bay but does anyone trust Kirk Cousins not to throw a pass to Jaire Alexander? Probably not. The Bears at Denver could be a very low scoring game if last week is anything to go by as both QB’s looked all at sea and the Bears Defence looked like it could provide pass rush but little else while the Broncos looked anything but a Vic Fangio Defence. The Browns should get an away victory in New Jersey mainly because most of the Jets are either carrying injuries or ill, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Browns completely mess that up.

So, just to recap; Cardinals Defensive front – surprisingly great. Lions should be difficult to run on. Saints Defensive front – dominant. Todd Gurley’s knee – who knows? 49ers pass rush – scary. Seahawks Defensive front – bad news for the Steelers, but the Seahawks need to let Russell Wilson loose. Marlon Mack vs the Titans would be the best way to keep Derrick Henry off the field (& hopefully Vinatieri has new boots). Kirk Cousins in Green Bay, iffy? Can the Bears and Broncos cure insomnia? (probably). Browns gonna Brown? (probably).

AFC musings 2019

Since I went full on crazy old guy at the bus stop on the NFC I really should try to get some thoughts down on the other side of the NFL too.

It has to be the Patriots to lise really and barring some drastic injuries they should cruise into the playoffs. The rest of the AFC East is going to be fairly interesting though, not least because last year the Dolphins finished second after winning 9 games and they’ve gone through a huge transition period and may well struggle this year. The battle for second between the Bills and the Jets could be fascinating, they both have young QB’s and experienced RB’s but neither have particularly star studded O-line (Ryan Kalil is a classy veteran for the Jets but he may be injured and the Bills have bought in Super Bowl winner LaAdrian Waddle from the Patriots) so consistency may be an issue for both. Adam Gase has become the Jets new Head Coach and that could be where the Bills have an advantage, Sean McDermott may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he seems to have the knack of getting his players to believe and play for him whereas Gase seems to struggle with player management and he’s at his 3rd different team in 5 seasons.

The AFC West could be a one horse race with the Chiefs looking to be clearly better than their opponents, the Chargers are struggling with a Melvin Gordon hold out situation and their best player last season Derwin James has a broken foot at the start of the season and is out “indefinitely”. The Raiders have suffered through Antonio Brown’s erratic behaviour and generally concerning conduct all preseason so nobody is really sure how they’ll perform but it’s unlikely to have a positive impact on the team. The Broncos are a really interesting team, they’ve suffered terrible tragedy with the loss of Pat Bowlen after a long illness but they have a chance to write a new page in the teams history with Vic Fangio taking over as Head Coach. Fangio’s arrival should make the Defence a very tough prospect but how the Offence goes under Rich Scangarello with Joe Flacco at QB is very much an unknown quantity.

The AFC South looked like it was going to be the Colts to lose and then Andrew Luck retired, but they still have enough pieces to make a charge for the top and after some frantic trades the Texans look to be their nearest rivals. Jacksonville are being talked about as a challenger too but Doug Marrone seemed to completely lose control of the locker room last season and despite a few roster moves there’s nothing to suggest he’ll be able to keep a lid on it this season either. Added to that Cam Robinson seems to be persistently bothered by knee injuries which will seriously hinder the Offence even with a different QB. The Titans are this division’s mystery team, they could have a QB controversy early on or they could serenely progress although their tough schedule suggests they’ll struggle to make the playoffs this season.

The AFC North will be box office if you believe the hype, the Browns, Steelers and maybe even the Ravens could be battling it out at the top although I personally believe its the Steelers division to lose. Freddie Kitchens seems to be a bit too highly strung to cope with the sudden rise to Head Coach and there’s a lot of personalities to manage in his locker room. The Ravens look to be running a Colin Kaepernick-esque Offence with Lamar Jackson as Greg Roman takes the reigns but whilst Lamar is a physical stand out he may not be the intellectual power house Kaepernick appears to be and that could become an issue. The Bengals certainly appear to be in a transition phase but they do have some stars especially on Defence.

So I’m expecting the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs, Colts, Bills and Texans to make the playoffs

RWC Power Rankings (week 5)

In the final week of warm up games Connacht arose as a surprise dark horse as they beat Russia in Moscow (that’s 2 wins for Irish provinces against teams going to the world cup during the warm up games).

  1. New Zealand – George Bridge carried the ball 247 metres and scored 3 more tries against Tonga than Wales did against Ireland as the All Blacks romped to a 92-7 victory. They seem to be rounding into form nicely!
  2. Ireland – like every good church Ireland run a lot smoother when there’s a good Sexton around and they dominated territory and possession on their way to a 19-10 victory. The World Cup Final we’ve all been waiting for is back on.
  3. England – despise a fairly experimental backline Eddie Jones’ boys thrashed Connor O’Shea’s Italy who can only really take comfort in having Canada and Namibia awaiting them in Pool C.
  4. South Africa – they travelled to Japan to dish out a 41-7 whooping to the very convivial hosts. Just imagine Amanaki Mafi and Eben Etzebeth in the same car park, actually don’t.
  5. Australia – the Wallabies dominated their game over Samoa but didn’t put the game to bed until the 70th minute. Just to add insult to the Samoan injury Matt To’omua scored a try. no really, he did, I swear.
  6. USA – they look to be in a seriously good place at the moment, unfortunately they share Pool with England and France but they could have a very real chance of upsetting Argentina if they avoid too many awkward scrums.
  7. Scotland – 2 wins in 2 weeks for Gregor Townsend’s team doesn’t happen too regularly but they were both against Georgia!
  8. Wales – Ireland have given plenty of teams problem in the Aviva over recent years and while Wales won 100% of their set pieces against a strong pack their ineffectual breakdown work should be a concern.
  9. Japan – losing 7-41 at home is never ideal but when it’s to a team who have beaten and drawn with the All Blacks recently it’s not disastrous. They won 100% of their scrums, only conceded 7 penalties, beat 22 defenders and the brave blossoms snaffled 18 turnovers so there’s plenty of positives to take away.
  10. Samoa – if they had a 10 they’d be dangerous Tusi Pisi looks out of his depth in the Gallagher Premiership so in a Test match he’s a liability. Despite losing 6 line outs and missing 36 tackles they were within 7 points until the 69th minute.
  11. Tonga – they might have been pasted, but they got pasted by an All Black team going for a third successive RWC title. They did only concede 5 penalties (3 fewer than the New Zealanders) in the whole game which is a huge improvement for a traditionally “feisty” team. They will probably on the receiving end against England but there’s no clear favourite to finish second in Pool C so who knows.
  12. Georgia – they scored 9 points in Murrayfield but conceded 8 fewer points than they did last week, small victories an all that.
  13. Italy – even against a hot England team a 37-0 loss is pretty tough to polish.
  14. Canada – Sir Graham Henry seems to have had an instant impact, they lead 12-0 at half time against a very good USA team but tailed off as the substitutes rolled on. Their first Pool B game is against Italy on a short rest week for the Azzuri and their final game is against Namibia after the Welwitschias have played the All Blacks, so with a bit more Henry magic they could have some very close games ahead.
  15. Russia – Lyn Jones had already gone on record bemoaning how their late qualification has effected their build up but losing to a Connacht preseason team should set all the alarm bells ringing!

NFL thoughts, well NFC at least.

This is purely for own amusement and also because at the end of the NFL season I can never remember which teams I liked at the start of the season. Might get round to the AFC on Thursday (might not, who knows? It’ll probably just be the Steelers and Chiefs chasing the Patriots again). As the regular season (and fantasy football season) fast approaches I just had to record some thoughts for posterity. Some thoughts based on nothing more than my gut instinct and with absolutely no basis in fact.

I really like the West this season. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Seahawks will have a successful campaign and the Rams could push them all the way. I’m a big fan of the 49ers roster too, with Nick Bosa the Defence should difficult to score on and with Jimmy G and Tevin Coleman they should be able to score reasonably efficiently but after the last 2 seasons I don’t really have any faith in them keeping their stars fit all season.

The NFC South could be the second division to provide 2 playoff teams with the Saints and Panthers having some explosive players on Offence and potentially very strong Defences. The Falcons have got more than enough talent around Matt Ryan to score points quickly but at first glance they might not have the Defensive front to challenge their Divisional rivals.

The NFC North teams face one of the toughest schedules in the league and with a number of coaching changes in Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota they could all suffer which could benefit the Lions. The Lions however only won 6 games last season as Matt Patricia struggled to bed in.

Finally the NFC East, it appears it’ll be the Eagles to lose as they look to have the best Offensive line and a strong Defence. If Carson Wentz stays healthy all season they could finish quite far ahead of the Cowboys and the Redskins and Giants look to be in for rough old seasons.

I expect the Seahawks, Saints, Eagles, Rams, Lions and 49ers to make the playoffs (they’re not strong expectations though to be fair)

RWC Power Rankings (week 4)

Just the 4 games this week, but a few of them point toward who could be successful in Japan.

  1. Ireland – James Ryan comes back into the squad and Ireland win again (sunrise, sunset). But that hasn’t stopped Irish rugby twitter having a Jean Kleyn sized meltdown, well done everyone.
  2. France – they always beat Italy but they don’t always do it with 7 tries and a 28 point margin. 2 forwards binned for repeated infringements might be a concern though.
  3. Scotland – Townsend’s boys have discovered how to win away from home, play in Tbilisi in a half empty Dinamo Stadium.
  4. Fiji – another win for the Flying Fijians but only by 10 points against Tonga who are probably going to get a 60 point spanking in Waikato next weekend.
  5. Wales – Rhys Patchell dusted off his mercurial best and dragged Wales to within 5 points of an equitable draw with a bit of help from half back partner Tomos Williams. They now go to Dublin with Gatland weighing up whether or not to throw caution to the wind in his last 3 months or to stick to grinding opponents into a fine dust.
  6. Italy – Bellini (the 6 foot 3 winger, not the cocktail) and Polledri scored 3 tries against a resurgent French team. Bellini even managed to find time to get sin binned too, busy boy.
  7. Tonga – took an early lead against Fiji through Piutau but then allowed Fiji to score the next 22 points. Yikes!
  8. Georgia – They did score a try against Scotland but their overall performance was so alarming they dragged 35 year old Mamuke Gorgodze out of for retirement for a sweaty trip to Japan.