Bills @ Jaguars 

If the Ravens had managed to record a home win over the 6-9 Bengals then the Bills wouldn’t even be in the playoffs. The “Bills mafia” have been thanking Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton by donating $17 (1 dollar for every year of their playoff drought) or $49 (because the winning touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd was a 49 yard completion) the Dalton Foundation has raised around $250,000. Others donated to Tyler Boyd’s fund-raising campaign and so far Boyd has received over $20,000 for a youth athletic foundation in Western Pennsylvania! So arguably the Buffalo fans have made a more valuable contribution to this NFL season than their team. On the road the Bills have won just 3 games all season but if the Buffalo faithful are looking for a glimmer of hope they have won 2 of their last 3. Their last road game was in Miami and the Dolphins gave away 5 first downs with penalties, the Bills Offence actually only managed to gain 18 first downs of their own volition. They’ve really struggled to run the ball on the road and all season they’ve looked like a team who get by on character and stubbornness over any kind of talent or flair. The one player who can provide plenty of skill and flair is running back LeSean McCoy (he’s scored 6 of their 28 Offensive touchdowns) but he will be carrying an injury and even though he’s expected to play he has struggled away from home this season even when he’s been fully fit. 

The Jaguars defence on the other hand has bags of talent, arguably enough talent to get them all the way to a Super Bowl. On average they have allowed opposing teams just 17 points per game at EverBank (and Wembley Stadium), in all of their last 3 road games the Bills have scored 16 points. The Jaguars have scored 105 in their last 3 games at EverBank Field. Injuries have played a part recently for the Jaguars too with star running back Leonard Fournette and several Offensive linemen missing game time, this week they have Tackle Cam Robinson and Centre Brandon Linden along with Tight-End Marcedes Lewis on the Injury Report but they all played at least some part in practice. 

I can’t see the Bills winning this game but there is a very real chance that the Jaguars could lose it. The play calling this season hasn’t always been sympathetic to Blake Bortles talents, they haven’t let him run too often and he always seems more composed and confident after he’s made a few positive plays of his own. If the Bills are to stand any chance at all they will need to run well and tire out the Jaguars pass rush, if they continue with their road struggles and have to resort to a pass heavy attack then Tyrod Taylor will be forced to choose between throwing rushed passes or being sacked by the electrifying Defensive front the Jags have amassed recently.

Bookmakers favour the Jaguars to win a close one (8 points or less) but if the Bills can’t stop Fournette and you’d imagine Chris Ivory on occasion running the ball then the Jaguars Offence could end up racking up the points like they did against the Ravens in London  and the Texans last time out in EverBank. 

Talk of Circadian rhythms, to paraphrase REM’s “Daysleeper”

Circadian rhythms are biological cycles that last approximately 24 hours, they are more commonly known as the body clock and as trans-Atlantic cross-pollination of sports leagues becomes increasingly de rigueur they become increasingly relevant.

Recently there have been 2 rumours attracting public scrutiny, the first and almost certainly the biggest news is that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are considering playing a “series” on the Eastern side of the pond which would seem a huge undertaking and the archetypal logistical nightmare (but if they think it’ll make money then it may very well happen).  Playing a series of games is pretty run of the mill stuff to MLB teams even though you would imagine most other sports (outside of basketball and ice hockey) would shudder at the prospect of travelling to and staying in a foreign city for at least 3 days (more if they are playing more than twice).

OK, now concentrate, here comes the science bit (well loosely speaking, as close as I get to science anyway); according to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information “Prolonged transmeridian air travel can impart a physical and emotional burden on athletes”.  They go on to state that “Jet lag may negatively affect the performance of athletes”.  Circadian rhythms are controlled in the body by the hypothalamus (the suprachiasmatic nucleus to be precise, nope, me neither) located more or less in the centre of the brain.  Circadian rhythms affect many biological factors including core body temperature but they are vitally important to the sleep-wake cycle, the brain uses exposure to light and the resulting secretion of the hormone melatonin to determine whether the body should be asleep or awake.  So really any long haul flight will cause disruption to an athlete’s sleep pattern and, as a result, their performance.  North American athlete’s in particular are habituated to long haul flights (the Seahawks have to fly for 6 hours every time they play in Florida, so don’t expect them to be in London anytime soon) but they rarely have to fly for over 6 hours and they never have to attend fan rally’s the day before the game as they do in London.  It’s widely accepted that travelling East produces more lasting effects than Westward travel as there is excessive exposure light and more melatonin production, so any trans-Atlantic journey will be arduous and the 10 plus hour flight from Los Angeles the Rams face would be more like torture.  The NCIB states that the optimum way to deal with jet lag is to adapt behaviour rather with rely on pharmaceutical products.  It is believed that it takes approximately 1 day to adjust to crossing 1 time zone (so the Rams would need 9 days in early October, they really didn’t think the whole LA move through, did they?) So if the Red Sox and the Yankees did attempt to play more than 1 game on this side of the pond it could be quite a long road trip for both teams.

The second and more pertinent whispering involves the NFL reconsidering the early kick off times (1:30 pm BST or 2:30pm GMT) that recent International Series games have had to a more traditional (and the original International Series) kick off time of 6pm BST or 5pm GMT (1pm Eastern Time).

This was surprisingly met with a fairly negative response from fans on social media, largely due to the fact a lot of them travel to deepest, darkest North London to watch the games (not as far as the LA Rams travel to play mind you).  Fans concerns may well be one of the factors that the organisers take into consideration when they finalise kick off times but it has to be said that the effects of playing well and truly out of not just their time-zone but also their comfort zone (the Bengals played in front of 84,448 fans at Wembley 13,000 more than their average home attendance and despite twice taking the lead, and, at one stage opening a 10 point lead they finished by tying a game that they could have easily lost).  Both the Bengals and Redskins suffered from a slow start as they amassed 17 points between them in the first half and a far more impressive 37 points in a breathless second half.  Like the Bengals the Colts struggled early on at Wembley (where they were playing in front of around 18,000 more people than their average home attendance) against an unconvincing Jaguars team who were 0-3, Andrew Luck and his Offence didn’t register a touchdown until the 4th Quarter but once they scored 1 they added another 2 in about 11 minutes.  The Rams who played against the New York Giants at (historic) Twickenham Stadium (which has a capacity almost 12,000 smaller than the Coliseum) managed the impressive feat of starting like a house on fire (very impressive considering it was 5:30 am where they had come from) until the Giants scored a touchdown and then the Rams managed to produce 3 scoreless quarters, while the Giants Offence didn’t register their first touchdown until the 4th Quarter to finally put the game to bed.

So, disruption of circadian rhythms, jetlag, call it what you will certainly appear to be a factor in how NFL players perform and since the NFL use the International Series to showcase the game to not just the UK but all of Europe (and to a certain extent the rest of the world) their primary concern is providing a spectacle that is not just convenient to attend but also entertaining to watch.

Purely from a personal perspective I think that Wembley under floodlights is a pretty spectacular venue, the pre-game shows inside a dark stadium are mesmeric.  This year the atmosphere when the Bengals and Redskins finished playing was absolutely electric (it’s pretty difficult to get “rowdy” at 1pm, the bars will have been open longer if they don’t kick off until 5pm or 6pm) so if the NFL feel that changing kick off times will benefit the players and provide entertaining games from the off it can only be a positive.

Because it’s never too early to be wrong about the 2016 NFL Season…..

DSC_019817 weeks might seem like a long time to most people but to us NFL fans who are running out of NBA playoffs to watch it’s almost football season.  The Draft happened a whole week ago and some of the first rounder’s have already signed (about 8 at the last count, but hey-ho) so there’s something to talk about, well sort of.

The Jaguars massive offseason rebuild of the Defence is a good starting point, ESPN journalist Mike DiRocco has predicted that the Jags could only have 2 starting Defence players remaining from the 11 who started on the 7th of September 2014 against the Eagles (although 2nd year Strong Safety James Sample will have to go some to beat out Johnathan Cyprien who is a pretty talismanic member of the Jags backfield, 326 tackles in 44 games is not to be sniffed at).  The Jags drafted 6 defensive players and just 1 offensive player this year having drafted a mere 3 defenders in 2015 (one of whom Dante Fowler Jr. didn’t play at all after he blew his knee out on the first day of mini-camp) and 5 on the offensive side of the ball (now might a good time to point out that in January of this year they fired their Defensive Coordinator, tough break there Bob Babich. I bet he would have liked 6 new players to work with instead of just 2).  Dante Fowler Jr. should he make it out of preseason, will essentially be an extra 1st round pick for the Jags this season and when you realise they managed to snaffle Myles Jack (a projected 1st round linebacker whose athleticism allowed him to play at Safety and once at Cornerback during his college career) in the 2nd round after Jack was quoted as saying “Down the line, possibly I could have microfracture surgery – potentially”.  Jack said his fall from the 1st to 2nd round was “humiliating” (so he’s not lacking in motivation) and for the Jaguars drafting him was a calculated risk, if he’s healthy in the short term they’ve upgraded their linebacker corps but if he does require surgery they have 3 excellent linebackers in Posluszny, Skuta and Telvin Smith and the possibility of Dante Fowler playing as a stand-up edge rusher in certain situations.

So new Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash (alongside the 76 year old Monte Kiffin who has been named as “Assistant head coach of Defence”) certainly has a lot of toys to play with and the shiniest of all is first round pick Jalen Ramsey, but how he chooses to use him will be very interesting.  Ramsey himself said “I can play where they need me too.  I feel like I can work outside, in the slot or play deep”.  It’s that sort of humility that’ll hold him back you know!  To be fair to him he did suffix that quote with the old timey cliché “I have a lot to learn”, Ramsey ended his college career as a Cornerback but in his first year he also played Free Safety and became what Florida Sate call a “STAR” defender switching between Safety, Slot back and Linebacker.  Since the Jags have signed former Browns Safety Tashuan Gipson (who lead the NFL in interception return yards in 2014) Ramsey will probably line up opposite another new boy Prince Amukamara at Cornerback, but the Jaguars will certainly have the depth to rotate and interchange their Defensive backs regularly.  Personally I think Ramsey’s potential to become an Ed Reed style ball-hawking Free Safety is huge and since he ran on the FSU track team he could rattle up even more interception return yards than Gipson in the coming seasons, ally this with the fact that Sports Illustrated called him a “Force wrap tackler who thrives in the physical facet of the game” and I don’t think he’d be out of place at Safety in the NFL.

Rookie Defensive End Yannick Ngakoue broke the school record at Maryland last year for the most sacks in a season as he notched 13.5 in 12 games (he also forced a fumble and defended a pass), alongside Super Bowl 50 winner Malik Jackson, the already mentioned Dante Fowler Jr. and Miles Jack should assist Jared Odrick who lead the team in sacks last season should add much needed grunt up front for a team who recorded a pitiful 36 sacks last season (20th in the NFL).  They also drafted Tyrone Holmes in the 6th round who they have signed to a 4 year contract and they believe he could play in the Defensive line or as a strong-side linebacker their other 6th round pick was Johnathan Woodard who is a whopping 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 217 pounds so he may have some impact although his University of Central Arkansas College team were far from imposing during his career.

One slightly incongruous thing stands out from the Jags recent Defensive splurge though, Monte Kiffin is the man (along with Tony Dungy) known for developing the “Tampa 2” defence which is largely predicated on zone coverage and speedy, often undersized players (particularly Defensive backs).  The undersized part is already out of the window with this Jags defence, the linebackers and defensive backs are all fairly big but do fit incredibly speedy criterion.  Tampa 2 seems a strange Defence to lean toward in the AFC South where the main deficiency has traditionally been Offensive lines (the Jaguars themselves are no exception to this rule).  Between the 4 teams they allowed 178 sacks last season and all 4 teams finished in the bottom half of the league standings in terms of how well they protected their Quarterbacks so adopting a Defensive system where pass rush is key would seem a wiser decision as oppose to one where a premium is put on defending passes once they have been thrown and trying to make turnovers by hitting receivers hard instead of strip sacking the Quarterback which lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory.  Obviously a strong pass rush will assist the DB’s task when it comes to making turnovers, but to fully adopt the Tampa 2 Defence in a division that includes DeAndre Hopkins, Braxton Miller, T.Y Hilton and Dorial Green-Beckham certainly appears to be tempting fate even with the big hitters the Jags have accumulated in the defensive backfield.

In addition to the peculiar recruitment of the Tampa 2 guru the question marks over the Jags own Offensive line remain and if they are to have the dominant Defence they crave they will need a strong running offence to build long drives and allow the Defence to rest.  Signing Chris Ivory, who rushed for 1,070 yards last season (the most in the AFC) to work alongside with last year’s leading rusher TJ Yeldon (and hopefully my personal favourites Jonas Gray and Denaruis Robinson) is an excellent move (and they will need to share out the carries because all four of them have injury effected career’s) but with Kelvin Beachum (who is recovering from a left knee ACL injury) likely replacing Luke Joeckel and former Cowboy (the Dallas kind) Mackenzy Bernadeau likely to replace Zane Beadles who has joined up with another former Jaguar Blaine Gabbert in San Francisco at left guard there may well be a bedding period for the new combinations.

There’s certainly a lot to deal with for Jaguars Head Coach and with so many big names arriving in north-eastern Florida one would imagine the pressure to get almost immediately would be immense but GM David Caldwell was quoted recently saying that Gus Bradley’s job does rest on recording a winning record in 2016.  This came after Jaguars owner Shahid Khan claimed that a winning record was “everybody’s reasonable expectation” for the coming season.  While Caldwell’s view that the Jaguars are looking to the long term is commendable with the players the team have acquired and the coaching team they have in place the Jaguars should be looking for more than just a 9-7 record this season.  Although that record did win the AFC South last season they should reasonably expect 10 wins from a Head Coach who they signed to a one year contract extension in January even if Gus Bradley’s overall record is a less than convincing 12-36.