MIDSEASON 2019 NFL POWER RANKINGS

After 8 punishing weeks we now find ourselves at the half way mark of the 2019 NFL season. Naturally, some teams have performed better than others — perhaps due to talent, strength of schedule or by simply staying healthy at the right time(s). Conversely, others have flattered to deceive, with a number of owners and coaches seemingly ready to blow their respective rosters up in the hope of gaining an advantage in 2020. Nevertheless, despite the above and a number of exciting matchups still to come, here are our midseason power rankings. J

1. New England Patriots (8-0)

2. New Orleans Saints (7-1)

3. Green Bay Packers (7-1) +3

4. San Francisco 49ers (8-0) +7

5. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3) -2

6. Seattle Seahawks (6-2) +2

7. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) +6

8. Indianapolis Colts (5-2) +6

9. Los Angeles Rams (5-3) -2

10. Minnesota Vikings (6-2) +10

11. Dallas Cowboys (4-3) -6

12. Buffalo Bills (5-2) +3

13. Houston Texans (5-3) +3

14. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) -5

15. Chicago Bears (3-4) -11

16. Carolina Panthers (4-3) +3

17. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4) +1

18. Los Angeles Chargers (3-5) -8

19. Detroit Lions (3-3-1) +2

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4) +3

21. Oakland Raiders (3-4) +5

22. Tennessee Titans (4-4) -1

23. Cleveland Browns (2-5) -11

24. Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) +4

25. Denver Broncos (2-6) +4

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) -1

27. New York Giants (2-6) -3

28. Atlanta Falcons (1-7) -6

29. New York Jets (1-6) -2

30. Washington Redskins (1-7) +1

31. Cincinatti Bengals (0-8) -1

32. Miami Dolphins (0-7)

Who do you have top of your power rankings? Sound off in the comments section below.

NFL 2019 – MIDSEASON TAKEAWAYS

Just how have 8 weeks of the 2019 NFL season passed so quickly?

Despite a number of earth shattering injuries to some of the biggest names in league history the quest for NFL supremacy waits for no man — including Patrick Mahomes it seems. Here are some our biggest takeaways at the half way mark of the 2019 NFL season. Roll the tape…

Zebra’s need help

Every season has bad officiating at times — blown calls, missed PI’s and so on, but this year feels different. The tone appeared to be set in week 2 when the Saints had a defensive TD against the Rams called back despite Jared Goff fumbling the ball — something every man, women and child could see. Additionally, the ability for head coaches to challenge and overturn PI calls has yielded little to no success. Rightly or wrongly, the league appears to not want to go against the officials and instead appears to have the rule in place as a fail safe — in an apparent attempt to avoid the type of controversy seen in last years NFC Championship. Oh did we forget to mention the increased protection QB’s appear to be receiving? Look we get it. QB’s are the lifeblood of the NFL and Roger Goodell wants to avoid another concussion based class action lawsuit, but ‘roughing the passer’ has taken on a whole new meaning in 2019. No wants to see players get hurt but can’t we just let the players play?

The 49ers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders

Hands up if you thought the 49ers would pose a threat to the NFC this year? Put them down and stop lying to yourself. Despite Kyle Shanahan being considered to be one of the games best offensive minds, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has turned this team into a defensive juggernaut. Just look at their defensive line — Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Soloman Thomas and Dee Ford is scary good. Then add Kwon Alexander and Richard Sherman to that. Unfortunately, because the Patriots appear to be enjoying their own defensive homecoming — destroying every single season defensive record and putting up the biggest mid season point differential since the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans in the process — the 49ers are being overlooked for having the NFL’s best defensive unit since the 2015 Denver Broncos. Much to Robert Kraft’s dismay, something tells me we might see Brady vs Garoppolo in February.

The Browns need a Head Coach

The Dawg Pound just can’t seem to catch a break. After drafting elite level talent on both sides of the ball over the last 2 years the Browns went all in (with a view of making the playoffs for the first time since 2002) when they brought in Odell Beckham Jr. during the offseason. However, a team comprising of the league’s best WR and players such as Mayfield, Landry, Chubb, Garrett and Ward (you get the picture) is currently 2-5. Granted they do have a favourable end of year schedule and a 9-7 season could very well get them into the playoffs, but this team has a number of issues. Cleveland have committed an utterly ridiculous 70 penalties thus far and with Mayfield regressing — he has been a turnover machine this year — it would be easy to place the blame squarely on Freddie Kitchens’ shoulders. But Browns GM John Dorsey should have known better than to hire a man who was a running backs coach just 18 months ago. Yes it may seem unfair to make a change so soon into Kitchens’ tenure, but with the Bengals in full rebuild mode and the Steelers having an off year the Browns need to win and win now.

The Chargers need to win or find a new home

It’s safe to say the Chargers may regret moving to Los Angeles. With the team unable to fill a 25,000 capacity ‘soccer’ stadium for the third year in a row, team owner Dean Spanos has had to revise projected annual revenues to $150m — down from the $400m they were expected to make by making the move alongside the Rams. With L.A. perceivably remaining a Rams/Raiders town and home games being regularly ambushed by away fans, the Chargers may ultimately have to move in the not too distant future. Of course all this could be avoided should they ultimately win a Lombardi trophy, or perhaps be in the position to offer L.A. natives the hottest ticket in town by acquiring someone with undeniable cache, someone like Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. for example. Stranger things have happened of course, but the likelihood of at least one of the above scenarios coming to fruition is currently slim to none whilst having a 3-5 record.

The Bears must look beyond Trubisky

With the Chicago Bears narrowly losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in last years NFC wild card round much was expected from Matt Nagy’s boys this year. However, with respective resurgent Packers, Vikings and Lions squads, they currently sit bottom of the NFC North with a 3-4 record. From a team that has one of the best head coaches in the game and a defence that is led by Khalil Mack, Bears fans have rightly identified Mitch Trubisky as the weak link in what is undeniably their best chance of winning a Super Bowl since the mid 80’s. Despite injury the third year QB has consistently struggled with both his second and third reads. To rub salt into their wounds the Bears passed up the opportunity to draft both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017 — trading UP to get him. Can the Bears still win a Super Bowl? No doubt. But it would be a damn site easier if one of those third year QB’s were running this offence.

Mahomes/Watson rivalry is here

Talking of the league’s most electric QB’s, the NFL has patiently waited for a ‘New Age’ rivalry at the QB position ever since Peyton Manning retired and now they appear to have it. What Patrick Mahomes achieved in his first year as a starting QB was nothing short of a miracle — after all, only Tom Brady and the aforementioned Peyton Manning have dropped 50 TD’s during a 16 game regular season. Couple this with the fact that Mahomes was on pace to throw for an utterly ridiculous 7,000 passing yards before dislocating his knee, one has to wonder whether this man will break the record for every statistical category once he calls it a career. Nevertheless, stats don’t win championships and Deshawn Watson has just as much of a chance to win a Super Bowl as Mahomes does. Watson has shown time and time again that you can’t count out the Texans whilst the ball is in his hands. Just ask the Chiefs, who lost to Watson in week 6. Something tells me we are going to see these QB’s square off for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for at least a decade.

Russell Wilson is the MVP frontrunner

I know many will lobby for Aaron Rodgers and others will protest the lack of defensive candidates each and every year — Stephon Gilmore and Nick Bosa come to mind, but in reality there is only one man worthy of league MVP at the half way mark and that man is Russell Wilson. Outside of Tom Brady the Seattle Seahawks QB has been the most consistent player under centre over the last decade. Perhaps influenced by THAT play that cost the Seahawks back to back championships in Super Bowl 49, Wilson has been criminally overlooked in the race for regular league honours. However, this could well be his year and with a stat line that includes 2127 pass yards, 17:1 TD/INT’s and a 77.6 QB rating, should he continue at this pace its going to be hard for those with a vote to deny what would be a career defining season for the diminutive signal caller. J

What are your top midseason takeaways? Sound off in the comments section below.

NFL LONDON GAMES 2019

On Sunday the NFL returned to London for what was the first of four regular season games to be played outside of the United States in 2019 and what was to be the first game to be played at the newly built state of the art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium — the first purpose built venue for American football outside of North America. After losing at home to the Green Bay Packers on opening night the Chicago Bears went into their game with the Raiders on a 3 game winning streak and must have believed they were going to come away from their international ‘business trip’ with an improved 4-1 record. Instead John Gruden put on a coaching clinic and redeemed his head scratching trade of Khalil Mack to Chicago in 2018 in the process, keeping the famed Bears defence on the field for most of the first half by pounding their defensive line with rookie RB Josh Jacobs time and time again. Conversely, the Raiders defence managed to do just enough to stop a later game comeback by the Bears, picking off Chase Daniels late in the fourth quarter to seal a famous win for what is an exceptionally young team.

Yet despite the game proving to be somewhat of an unexpected spectacle, it was the atmosphere that caught most seasoned NFL fans off guard. Put simply this game could have been mistaken for a Chicago Bears home game (for the record it wasn’t). In truth the games played at both Wembley and Twickenham are often attended by a variety of people; ranging from genuine fans of both teams, fans of other teams, casual fans and individuals who just want a good time. The issue with having such a mix of people would be the genuine lack of game day atmosphere, but this game felt ‘different’. I heard one fan say it was due to the sheer volume of fans making the trip over to the UK, whilst another attributed the improved atmosphere to the quality of said game. However, having experienced the game for ourselves it is almost impossible not to recognise the impact of the venue, which was co-financed by the NFL due to the sheer growth of the game over the past decade. In many ways this game felt like it was a ‘vindication’ of sorts for UK fans who long for a franchise to be based in London. Still, although they may have to wait a little longer for this to come to fruition, after witnessing the very best London has to offer, one has to believe this is now a question of when rather than if. J

Be sure to check out some of our photos from the big game below and let us know whether you attended the game, your thoughts and whether this could indeed convince the NFL to have a franchise based in London. Enjoy.

QUARTER-SEASON 2019 NFL POWER RANKINGS

Week 4 is in the books. As is often the case at the quarter-season mark a series of events have reshaped the NFL landscape for 2019. In addition to Andrew Luck retiring, a number of marquee QB’s went down with injury; Ben Roethlisberger and Nick Foles are both done for the season, Sam Darnold is out with mono (yes mono) and Drew Brees won’t return until week 8 after having his thumb surgically repaired. However, one man’s misfortune is another man’s fortune — just ask Tom Brady who went on to achieve G.OA.T. status after Drew Bledsoe was wiped out in week 2 of the 2001 season. Enter Baker Mayfield’s clone Gardner Minshew. The latter has been excellent thus far and has made the injury to Saint Nick look like a potential blessing in disguise, and the Jaguars remain a genuine threat in the AFC should ‘Minshew mania’ continue.

Then there is the rather improbable, but nevertheless continued emergence of Daniel Jones. After an impressive preseason no one could have predicted how Manning-esque Eli’s replacement would look — completing 69% of his throws for 578 yards and 3TD’s as well as 2 rushing TD’s has been seriously impressive, and all this despite Saquon Barkley being unavailable after suffering a high-ankle sprain in Jones’ debut against the Buccaneers in week 3. The Giants are well on their way to competing with the Cowboys and Eagles in 2020 and may just shock a number of teams as the season progresses.

Continuing the theme of positive early season surprises Aaron Rodgers has to be pleased with his Green Bay Packers. For the first time since his lone 2010 Super Bowl triumph it appears the future HOF’er might finally have some genuine defensive help. The Saints, who as previously mentioned lost Drew Brees to injury, have been exceptional under Sean Payton’s leadership — beating the Seahawks and the Cowboys with Teddy Bridgwater under centre. And what about those Buffalo Bills? Everyone and his dog knew they had an elite defence, but they have finally started to translate that into wins. If it was not for a defensive master class from the reigning champs in week 4 the Bills would be 4-0.

Finally, what of the teams that so much was expected? The Rams have looked fairly pedestrian without a fully fit Todd Gurley, the Chargers appear to have regressed despite Phillip Rivers operating an offence with a banged up receiver corp, the Falcons have yet to get going on either side of the ball and the Vikings have just straight up been Kirk Cousin(ed). Oh and despite all the offseason hype surrounding the Browns, Freddie Kitchens’ boys were brought back to earth by both the Titans and the Rams. With the above story lines and those I have chose to ignore (AB, Burfict et al.) here are my quarter-season 2019 NFL Power Rankings. J

1. New England Patriots (4-0)

2. New Orleans Saints (3-1)

3. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) +3

4. Chicago Bears (3-1) +1

5. Dallas Cowboys (3-1) +4

6. Green Bay Packers (3-1) +7

7. Los Angeles Rams (3-1) -4

8. Seattle Seahawks (3-1) +7

9. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) -2

10. Los Angeles Chargers (2-2) -6

11. San Francisco 49ers (3-0) +10

12. Cleveland Browns (2-2) +2

13. Baltimore Ravens (2-2) +4

14. Indianapolis Colts (2-2) -3

15. Buffalo Bills (3-1) +13

16. Houston Texans (2-2) +3

17. Detroit Lions (2-1-1) +9

18. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) -2

19. Carolina Panthers (2-2) +1

20. Minnesota Vikings (2-2) -8

21. Tennessee Titans (2-2) -3

22. Atlanta Falcons (1-3) -14

23. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3) -13

24. New York Giants (2-2) +7

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)

26. Oakland Raiders (2-2) -3

27. New York Jets (0-3) -3

28. Arizona Cardinals (0-3-1) +4

29. Denver Broncos (0-4) -7

30. Cincinatti Bengals (0-4)

31. Washington Redskins (0-4) -4

32. Miami Dolphins (0-4) -3

WEEK 2 NFL PICKS

The NFL’s 100th season began exactly how the 2018 season finished — with an incredibly tense Thursday night game which saw the Packers defense suffocate the Bears offense to win 10-3. The tone that was set in Chicago carried over to the Lions and Cardinals on Sunday which resulted in a tie for two of the league’s perennial underachievers. Finally, Monday night saw New Orleans pip Houston in a thriller and there was a much needed moral boosting win for Jon Gruden and the Raiders against the Broncos. So what will Week 2 have in store?

Thursday Night Football

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers – 8:20pm ET on NFL Network, 1:20am BST on Sky Sports/NFL GamePass

Both teams started their campaigns with a defeat, but it’s the Carolina Panthers who will be feeling a lot better about their performance than the Bucs. The Panthers went toe to toe with the defending NFC champions in a close 30-27 loss. Christian McCaffrey stole the show for Carolina on Sunday, rushing for 126 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Although Cam Newton had a disappointing game (239 yards, no TD and 1 INT), he will look to set the record straight against a poor Tampa Bay defense.

It was a messy week 1 for Tampa Bay in a 31-17 loss to the 49ers. Quarterback Jameis Winston had by far the lowest rating of all QBs in week 1 (45.4), throwing for just 194 yards and being picked off three times by San Francisco. If the offense does not perform it is hard to see Tampa winning many games this season.

Pick: Tampa Bay 20, Carolina 34

Sunday Slate

Arizona Cardinals @ Baltimore Ravens – 1pm ET on FOX, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

The Cardinals took until the 4th quarter to show up against the Lions, but show up they did — scoring 18 unanswered points, 15 of those with under six minutes remaining — and all of this with a rookie QB. Kyler Murray became the first Cardinal in franchise history to rack up 300 pass yards in his debut game, a promising start for the first pick in the draft and for a Cardinals offense who ranked dead last in all offensive categories last season.

The Ravens looked fantastic in all areas of their systematic beatdown of the Miami Dolphins. One of the biggest questions heading into the season was whether Lamar Jackson could step back and be a pure pocket passing QB. Against Miami he showed plenty of promise — a perfect passer rating is not bad for a QB playing in just his ninth NFL game. This will be a sneaky good game on Sunday, though expect the Ravens to come out on top.

Pick: Arizona 23, Baltimore 33

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins – 1pm ET on FOX, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

Dallas produced a statement performance against the Giants in Week 1. Dak Prescott passed for over 400 yards and threw for four touchdowns, posting a perfect passer rating in the process. The good news for Cowboys fans is that they were able to dominate without Ezekiel Elliott making a major contribution.

Washington raced into a 17 point in Philadelphia before collapsing in the second half, but it’s not all doom and gloom for Redskins fans. Quarterback Case Keenum showed much more of his old Vikings form than he showed last season in Denver, passing for 380 yards and three touchdowns. Whilst the result was ultimately disappointing given the position they were in, the Redskins would have taken a lot of heart from their performance in Philadelphia. Expect a close game with the Cowboys.

Pick: Dallas 23, Washington 20

Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans – 1pm ET on CBS, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

The Jacoby Brissett era nearly got off to the perfect start as the Colts lost a heart-breaker to the Chargers. A steady start for Brissett, but his two touchdowns on the road against a playoff caliber team will do wonders for any pre-season nerves he may have had. Brissett now has the weight of Indianapolis on his shoulders following the shock retirement of Andrew Luck, but on Week 1’s evidence he looks likely to rise to the challenge.

What a win for the Tennessee Titans against an overhyped Cleveland Browns. Tennessee has long been overlooked in the AFC despite having one of the NFL’s best defenses — which often allows them to keep even the most difficult of games close. Whilst Brissett and the Colts will pose a challenge, expect the Titans to move to 2-0.

Pick: Indianapolis 14, Tennessee 19

Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers – 1pm ET on FOX, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

This is a battle between two teams who drastically under performed in Week 1. Whilst Seattle managed to scrape a win, they were massively underwhelming against the Bengals. Although Seattle thrived in the run game a season ago, Chris Carson will have to improve on his 15 carries for 46 yards if Seattle is to be a contender this season. On a positive note Seattle’s pass rush will please Pete Carroll — getting to Andy Dalton on five occasions and constantly pressuring and harassing him throughout their season opener.

It was an ugly Sunday night in Foxborough for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers and Patriots have had many close and exciting showdowns in previous seasons, but looked worlds apart as Pittsburgh could only muster up three points on offense. The defense didn’t look much better either. There were several instances of poor tackling and coverage, particularly the play that allowed Dorsett to be wide open for a 58 yard score. I expect the Steelers’ woes to continue on Sunday.

Pick: Seattle 34, Pittsburgh 28

Buffalo Bills @ New York Giants – 1pm ET on CBS, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

A fantastic road comeback win against the divisional rival New York Jets on Sunday will fill second year quarterback Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills with bags of confidence. In similar fashion to the Cardinals, the Bills decided to only show up late in the game, but it was effective and they looked utterly dominant in the 4th quarter. Bills fans will no doubt be excited by a second straight trip to MetLife Stadium.

Not a good day for the Giants in Dallas. Still, Saquon Barkley looked like he will carry his 2018 form into 2019, firing the Giants into a great start against the Cowboys. Sadly for the G-Men, that’s where the good news ends. Daniel Jones made his first appearance late in the game, but his ball security came into question yet again when he fumbled the ball that helped the Cowboys seal the win. Still, this game is a repeat of Super Bowl XXV and history often repeats itself. However, this time it will be the Giants who will miss a last second field goal and whilst the Buffalo Bills won’t be crowned Super Bowl champions, they will (deep breath Bills fans) move to 2-0.

Pick: Buffalo 13, New York 10

San Francisco 49ers @ Cincinnati Bengals – 1pm ET on FOX, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

It took a while for San Francisco to get going in Tampa but get going they did. Jimmy G and the Niners put up 25 points in the second half and had three touchdowns in the first half hauled back by penalties. Although this will have to change when they play better teams — the early signs are good for Garoppollo and San Francisco.

Whilst the win-loss column doesn’t show it, the Bengals would argue that they were the better team for the most part at CenturyLink Field. Bengals fans would have been pleasantly surprised with their showing in Seattle, but Cincinnati does have a history of starting strong and Seattle starting slow. It will be interesting to see if the Bengals can perform as well against San Francisco as they did against the Seahawks. Expect another high scoring game.

Pick: San Francisco 38, Cincinnati 21

Los Angeles Chargers @ Detroit Lions – 1pm ET on CBS, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

The injury stricken L.A Chargers begun with a hard fought victory over the Colts. Whilst the Melvin Gordon holdout certainly makes the Chargers weaker, they are strong at the RB position and shouldn’t be affected too much by his continued absence. Also expect Rivers and the Chargers to get better and better as the weeks go by — starting this weekend in Detroit.

I was a nightmare finish for the Lions in the desert on Sunday — they blew an 18 point lead in the final quarter to eventually tie with Arizona. The failure to win in Glendale makes this game vitally important for Detroit, who have games against the Eagles and the Chiefs coming up in the not so distant future. A loss here and the Lions could be heading for a winless opening quarter of the season.

Pick: Los Angeles 27, Detroit 17

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers – 1pm ET on FOX, 6pm BST on Sky Sports

Minnesota had perhaps one of the most impressive Week 1 wins, dominating who many people expect to be a resurgent Falcons team. The defense looked good as always, restricting Matt Ryan and company to just 12 garbage time points, whilst Kirk Cousins and that running offence didn’t look so bad either. They will have to perform just as well on Sunday against the Packers to get the W.

The Packers defense was one of the biggest surprises of the opening weekend, stifling the Bears to just a single field goal. Although they were playing a vaunted defense in Chicago, Aaron Rodgers will be expected to perform better against an equally good defense in Minnesota. This is a big game for Green Bay — a win would put them 1.5 games ahead of Chicago and the Vikings in what is an ultra competitive division.

Pick: Minnesota 14, Green Bay 24

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans – 1pm ET on FOX, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

Whilst all preseason hope may have evaporated when Nick Foles’s shoulder was slammed into the ground in the opening game, rookie QB Gardner Minshew certainly showed that even despite losing their star QB, the Jaguars will be no pushovers. It is, though, now imperative that the defense steps up — they match up against another explosive offense in Houston in Week 2.

Despite the heartbreaking loss in New Orleans, Deshaun Watson showed once again why he is an elite QB, throwing for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Newly acquired WR Kenny Stills began to repay some of his late season trade value by catching the go ahead score in the last minute of Monday Night Football. Nevertheless, despite losing Jadeveon Clowney, expect the Texans to swarm Minshew and the Jags.

Pick: Jacksonville 13, Houston 34

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins – 1pm ET on CBS, 6pm BST on NFL GamePass

These are two teams that had very contrasting opening weekends. It seemed like New England barely had to get out of first gear in their crushing win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady looked brilliant as always, but it was the defense that stood out as they suffocated Big Ben and co. Three points allowed against the Rams in the Super Bowl, three allowed on SNF — notice a trend?

If there is any consolation for Miami Dolphins fans, it can’t get much worse than last Sunday. Still, a game against the division rival, reigning Super Bowl champions is probably not what you want after a 59-10 home loss. Miami is going to need a lot of Fitzmagic to get anything close to a win against the Patriots, but if so, then who knows? Another ‘Miami Miracle’ might occur. I think not, though.

Pick: New England 38, Miami 9

Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders – 4:05pm ET on CBS, 9:05pm BST on NFL GamePass

The Jags defense will be one of the best Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs play this season and they still put up 40 with both Mahomes playing on one foot for large parts and WR Tyreek Hill exiting with a shoulder/collarbone injury. Hill being out for 4-6 weeks does change the dynamic of the offense though — there will undoubtedly be more pressure on Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and rookie WR Mecole Hardman to make up for his lost production.

The Raiders begun their last season in Oakland with a nice divisional win over the Broncos. The win would have come as a welcome relief to Jon Gruden following all of the Antonio Brown drama and it does in some respects feel like a weight lifted from the shoulders of the Raiders’ organisation. Oakland nearly pulled off a win against KC last season, can they get the job done this time around? No. But they will come close once again.

Pick: Kansas City 34, Oakland 31

New Orleans Saints @ Los Angeles Rams – 4:25pm ET on FOX, 9:25pm BST on Sky Sports

By far and away the most anticipated game of Week 2 takes place at the Coliseum. It goes without saying that the Saints will be dying for revenge following the events of January’s NFC Championship game. Drew Brees completed 74% of his passes in a brilliant comeback win over the Texans on Monday night and Alvin Kamara looked good as well, racking up just under 100 yards.

The best way to summarise the Rams’ win over Carolina would be to call it the great escape. Jared Goff had a poor game and will have to be considerably better if they are to beat the Saints. It is vital for the Rams to win this game, especially with it being at home. Additionally, although it may be too early to talk about potential playoff seedings, this could ultimately decide who ends up hosting this season’s NFC title game and if there’s one thing that is absolutely guaranteed — the Rams won’t want to head back to NOLA in a hurry.

Pick: New Orleans 38, Los Angeles 28

Chicago Bears @ Denver Broncos – 4:25pm ET on FOX, 9:25pm BST on NFL GamePass

Having been the talk of the NFL throughout the offseason, what a disappointing start for the Chicago Bears. Mitch Trubisky was nothing short of dreadful against the Packers and will have to do better playing in a difficult environment in the Mile High City.

It does not bode particularly well for the Denver Broncos that the only substantial points they could put up against a questionable defense was in garbage time. The Bears defense is not who you want to play just a few days after a lacklustre offensive performance. On the bright side, no one will know the Bears defense better than former Bears DC, and now Broncos HC, Vic Fangio. I expect Chicago will still be too much for Denver to handle though.

Pick: Chicago 23, Denver 10

Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons – 8:20pm ET on NBC, 1:20am BST on Sky Sports/NFL GamePass

These two teams have produced exciting but low scoring games in two meetings in the last couple of seasons, with Philly coming out on top in both. Philadelphia will have to ensure they play right from the start — rather than waiting for the third quarter — as they did against Washington on Sunday. The defense will need to be better as well, allowing 27 points to Case Keenum is not a good start to the season.

It was an ugly loss for the Atlanta Falcons in Minneapolis. Although the 28-12 scoreline may suggest otherwise, they were utterly dominated by the Vikings run game. A loss here and the Falcons will drop to 0-2. Too soon to panic? Perhaps, but only 11% of teams starting 0-2 make the playoffs. it goes without saying but a big home win is needed for Atlanta. However, I predict Philly will edge another narrow win over the Falcons.

Pick: Philadelphia 27, Atlanta 24

Monday Night Football

Cleveland Browns @ New York Jets – 8:15pm ET on ESPN, 1:15 am BST on Sky Sports/NFL GamePass

If they make the playoffs the Browns might look back and believe their Week 1 humbling to Tennessee to be the best thing to have happened to them. But make no mistake, it was a catastrophe for Cleveland, who now find themselves in what is now a must win game. The team simply has too much talent to fail, but there are clear teething problems — Baker Mayfield looked terrible and his receivers were largely ineffective all game. Still, I expect him and Browns to bounce back soon rather than later.

It was all going so well for the Jets before they completely lost their way in a calamitous 4th quarter against the Bills. To make matters worse they will be without QB Sam Darnold for at least two games — who was ruled out on Thursday with mononucleosis. Oh and Le’veon bell has been listed questionable for the game too. Both teams entered the NFL’s 100th season with plenty of promise but one will be 0-2 after two games and that team will be the Jets. B

Pick: Cleveland 30, New York 17

SHOCK NFL NEWS – ANDREW LUCK RETIRES

In news that sent shockwaves across the NFL and many a FF owner, Indianapolis Colts starting QB Andrew Luck announced he would retire before the start of the 2019 regular season, aged just 29. Selected with the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft — a move that would see Peyton Manning released — Luck was universally recognised as the most pro ready QB to come out of college since John Elway. The projections were accurate as he would go on to enjoy great success in what will now be viewed as a criminally short career — being selected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, leading the league in touchdowns in 2014 and being named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2018 after sitting out the entire 2017 season with a serious shoulder injury.

However, the injury sustained in 2017 was not an isolated event — Luck had torn his right Labrum in the same year and suffered a lacerated Kidney that ended his season in 2015. Ultimately, a calf/lower leg injury would hinder his ability to practice this offseason and it now appears to have taken a much greater toll on Luck than had previously been reported. Rumours of his retirement had circulated during the Colts preseason game against the Bears, causing mass confusion amongst fans which led to a chorus of boos as Luck exited the Lucas Oil stadium sideline at the end of the 4th quarter. Once inside the Colts locker room Luck would inform his teammates and would later confirm those earlier rumours in what was a highly emotional press conference —

“I’m in pain, I’m still in pain. It’s been four years of this pain, rehab cycle” luck said.

“It’s a myriad of issues — calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain. Part of my journey going forward will be figuring out how to feel better”.

“Honestly it’s the hardest decision of my life, but it is the right decision for me. And it’s been unceasing and unrelenting, both in-season and in the off-season”.

Luck finished by saying “I felt stuck in it, and the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away, I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live”.

From the above one can clearly see that Luck was struggling with day to day life. As fans we rarely get to see the man behind the star player. Walking away from a sport that has given so much joy to Luck must be hard, especially as QB’s are now playing into their mid 40’s. Nevertheless, one thing is certain — the sport will miss Andrew Luck more than he will miss the sport. Here at Benny Given Sunday we wish you all the very best with the next chapter in your life. J

FANTASY 5IVE (II) – ROOKIE MOVERS AND SHAKERS

Ok, I admit preseason games are rarely an indicator of future success for a rookie. With the vast majority of veteran players not participating until the regular season, those receiving regular reps are rarely tested against the very best the league has to offer. Nevertheless, these games do give FF owners an opportunity to unearth potential game changing additions to their rosters, additions that could ultimately make the difference when one of your star players inevitably goes down with injury and/or suspension. Subsequently, with the second round of preseason fixtures now complete — here I take a look at 5 offensive rookies who have a real shot of contributing to their respective teams this season.

1. Jakobi Meyers, WR (New England Patriots)

As the de facto GM of the New England Patriots Bill Belichick has rarely landed talent at WR during each of his last 20 NFL drafts. The last great success was Malcolm Mitchell (who had is career cruelly cut short due to a chronic knee injury). Yet he might have unearthed another diamond in the rough. Enter Jakobi Meyers. Despite going undrafted, the 6’2″ former NC State QB/WR had a great college career in what is widely considered an ultra competitive ACC. Having received rave reviews during training camp Meyers has excelled in each of his first 2 preseason games despite limited game time; posting 12 catches, 151 yards, 2 TD’s as well as hauling a two-point conversion. Despite Josh Gordon’s reinstatement, at this rate Meyers will not only make the Patriots active roster — he could very well start alongside Tom Brady and co. week 1 of the NFL regular season. Draft him while you still can.

2. Jalen Hurd, WR (San Francisco 49ers)

Who better than Kyle Shanahan to unlock the potential of a 6’5″ former RB transitioning to WR? Selected with the 67th pick, the former Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year has everything to be a future success in the NFL. Starting opposite fellow rookie WR Deebo Samuel against the Cowboys in week 1 of this years preseason, Hurd caught each of his three targets — with two resulting in TD’s. Subsequently, the 49ers could very well have shown their hand with how they wish to utilise Hurd long term. Rarely does a player have both the size and speed to be a genuine red zone threat in the pros and he has significant experience running the ball. Because of this I expect Hurd to see meaningful game time in 2019. Additionally, due to said size and athleticism, I really would not be surprised to see him line up as a flex TE against some of the more weaker offensive lines too, thus allowing the 49ers to look for a potential mismatch that George kittle can exploit.

3. Mecole Hardman, WR (Kansas City Chiefs)

According to Draft Wizard Mecole Hardman’s current ADP is down to #161. Of course this is likely where one would expect a rookie wide receiver who was selected in the second round to fall. Nevertheless, despite his elite speed and exceptional college career, what makes Hardman such an intriguing prospect is the organisation to which he was drafted. With Tyreek Hill facing indefinite suspension amid allegations of child abuse, Hardman was largely considered to be Patrick Mahomes insurance policy heading into 2019. However, with the NFL reinstating Hill due to a perceived lack of evidence the Chiefs suddenly find themselves having to incorporate both players into what is already considered to be the NFL’s most explosive offence. With Mahomes, Hill, Watkins and Kelce drawing significant attention, Hardman could legitimately wreak havoc across the league. Additionally, as a special team specialist Hardman will likely take the field as the Chiefs primary kick/punt returner — much needed points that are often disregarded by FF owners.

4. Devin Singletary, RB (Buffalo Bills)

With a backfield consisting of veterans LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore, the Bills were always going to add a much younger, cheaper option at RB during the 2019 off-season. However, many across the league gasped when the Bills took a shot on Devin Singletary with the 74th overall pick having played for a relatively unknown college program at FAU. However, during his last 2 seasons Singletary would lead all Division I FBS RB’s with 54 combined rushing TD’s. Despite said risk, production like that was obviously too hard for the Bills to turn down and Singletary could potentially pay dividends. Add to this rumours of the Bills waiting to release McCoy before the regular season and with Gore turning 36 years old, it would come as no great surprise to see Singletary move up the depth chart as the season progresses. Additionally, as inclement weather inevitably approaches, expect Brian Daboll to run the ball as much as he possibly can — making Singletary a prime target for any FF owner between weeks 10 and 16.

5. Ryan Finley, QB (Cincinnati Bengals)

Ok, having observed the first 2 weeks of preseason Ryan Finley is somewhat of a wildcard. Nevertheless, question marks remain over Andy Dalton’s fitness as well as his ability to perform at the highest level — having thrown for just 1 TD and being picked off 6 times in 4 postseason games (all losses). Additionally, two of Cincinnati’s AFC North rivals (Baltimore and Cleveland) have their QB’s set for the foreseeable future and it won’t be long until Pittsburgh have to find Big Ben’s successor. Put simply, the Bengals are not expected to win in the short term and could very well give significant game time to a player former Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner believes to be “the most impressive rookie QB” in this years draft class. Yes it may take some time, but I fully expect the Bengals to be out of the playoff picture by week 10 and Finley could very well stand to benefit from any further decline in Dalton’s game. Will he post huge numbers? Probably not. But if you want to be your FF league’s Jedi Master and like to gamble, then stash Finley away and hope he gets the call from Zac Taylor when Dalton inevitably fails to impress. J

Notable mentions: Hunter Renfrow, Preston Williams, Jarrett Stidham

FANTASY 5IVE

With the 2020 NFL regular season fast approaching and with many of our readers ready to join family, friends and colleagues in Fantasy Football leagues across the country, here we begin our weekly series of FF tips designed to highlight the traps you will want to avoid, as well as the moves that you will need to make to ensure FF domination from week 1.

1. Avoid drafting from New England

I understand the temptation to draft players from New England. After all, they, more than other franchise, put their players in positions to succeed. Yet you would be best served to resist drafting players from the reigning Super Bowl Champions. No one plays the field week to week better than Bill Belichick. Those who have fallen foul in recent years will know that sinking feeling of drafting Rob Gronkowski, believing he would grab a pair of TD’s and 100+ yards when playing against the 32nd ranked pass defence in the league that week — only to find out New England ran the ball down their throats all day. Similar scenarios have appeared when drafting Julian Edelman, James White or Sony Michel (we would know). Said players can of course have impressive FF numbers at times, but guessing when that player will be utilised to do so remains almost impossible whilst BB is in charge.

2. Take a RB early

Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley (if fit), and Le’veon Bell (once game ready). Concerns notwithstanding, these are the players to target in the first 2 rounds of your draft. All have been tremendous value for Fantasy Football owners in the past and will likely continue to churn out huge numbers this season. However, if you fail to draft one of these tier 1 backs, or have to wait until your pick gets back to form or full fitness, then ensure you take one of these backs — David Johnson (due a rebound year), James Connors (who will get plenty of touches for an effective yet predictable Steelers offence), Christian McCaffrey (a back who will see even more of the ball due to his QB’s injury worries), and Nick Chubb (the motor behind the Browns resurgent offence). Sleeper hit? Josh Jacobs of the Oakland Raiders.

3. Don’t underestimate weekly NFL schedule

One mistake every FF ‘noob’ undoubtedly makes is going into his/her weekly matchup believing they are playing their opponent. No. You are playing the NFL schedule, the betting lines, and everything in between. You will need to make calculated decisions as to who your star players are playing each week, how banged up the secondary/defensive line is that your WR’s/RB’s will be going against, whether your players are carrying injuries that will likely limit their production, how bad the weather will be in Buffalo in week 14, or whether one of your QB’s gets to play inside a dome against one of the league’s worst pass rush/pass defence teams. All of the above will matter, and will be the difference between finishing in playoff contention, or having to play against your 12 year old nephew; who regularly torches you at Madden, in a meaningless end of season dead rubber matchup.

4. Wait it out for your QB

Not even the most seasoned of FF players could have anticipated Patrick Mahomes having a 50 TD/12 INT/5000+ yard season. Why? Because this type of season has only been witnessed a handful of times in NFL History, with Marino in ’84, Brady in ’07, Rodgers in ’11 and Peyton Manning in both ’04 and ’13 being the other notable QB’s to have ripped up the stat sheet. Nevertheless, try to wait until the 2nd, or even 3rd round to draft your QB, because said seasons are rare, and there are many ‘face of the franchise’ QB’s who will post incredibly similar numbers over the course of a regular season. Indeed outside of Mahomes, Luck, Rodgers and Watson, who will all likely get the keys to their respective offences in 2019, there is some real value in the next tier. Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Baker Mayfield will all air the ball out a bunch, and players such as Carson Wentz, Cam Newton and Derek Carr are all due comeback seasons. However, if Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy, and he is able to sing from Kyle Shanahan’s hymn sheet, ensure you take him, even if you have drafted your starting QB. This leads us to………

5. Get a ‘backup’ for your star player(s)

Once again you must remember you are playing against the league, not your weekly opponent. This means you will have to contend with multiple bye weeks that could ultimately wreck your chances of winning, and winning well. Avoid taking multiple kickers, multiple defences and TE’s. Instead secure yourself a top 5 statistically ranked RB, WR and QB, if given the chance, then ensure you draft ‘backups’ that play for teams that rely heavy on that player’s particular skill set. This will do one of two things. First, it will give you options — again you play against the league, the schedule and everything in between. Second, although all starting calibre players are prone to a bad day, it reduces the risk of having a significant drop in points from one week to another. Subsequently, one or perhaps two, of your regular starters will pick up the slack that ensures yet another weekly FF win — helping get you into your end of season championship round. J

Benny Given Sunday will post weekly ‘Fantasy 5ive’ Football tips as the NFL regular season approaches. Additionally, we will also be hosting our own FF league this year and if you or anyone you know would like to be a part of it please get in touch by emailing us at bennygivensunday@outlook.com

TODAY IN NFL HISTORY

If you have ever wanted to own the equivalent of an NFL ‘Sports Almanac’ then look no further. After finishing ‘Today in NFL History’ I have come to the conclusion that Ben Isaacs (author), is the Three-Eyed Raven of American Football. Isaacs really has managed to compile every notable event in ‘gridiron’ history into one single format, one that will likely be impossible for future NFL historians to follow without citing his work. As someone who has followed the game for over 25 years, who attends games both in London and the US each year, and who truly thinks he knows everything there is to know about this sport, I was truly humbled to learn so much. The book is not without humour and heart as well, with the events of ‘the whizanator’, ‘Shareece Wright’s Uber’ and ‘the first indoor post season game’ being just three of my personal favourites. Slated to release for eBooks only (I assume due to the shear size of the book) my hope is that Ben Isaacs and his publisher will reconsider print format — because this deserves to be on every NFL enthusiast’s book shelf. J

‘Today in NFL History’ was supplied to Benny Given Sunday by Ben Isaacs.

You can preorder your copy here

Should you have any questions for Ben Isaacs you can find him on Twitter @tweetsfromben

NFL LAUNCH UK ACADEMY

In news that shocked absolutely no one — today the NFL launched its first dedicated academy outside of North America. Starting in September 2019 student athletes aged between 16-18 will be given the opportunity to hone their skills as well as their athletic abilities with the chance of playing for NCAA college football scholarships. Of course the official line from the NFL is a little more inspiring:

The NFL Academy is a unique programme that gives aspiring young American football players and outstanding athletes the chance to develop their skills and knowledge of the game.​ Alongside elite coaching, athletes will study courses of their choice at Barnet and Southgate College.​ There will also be a character development programme for students to give them all the tools to be successful in whatever pathway they take following the NFL Academy. Athletes will be given access to elite sports training facilities, kit and equipment, as well as an opportunity to learn from players and coaches from the NFL. They will be involved in outreach projects in the local community and be given a pathway for apprenticeships and higher education opportunities (in the UK and US). This life-changing opportunity is available for up to 80 students per year, aged 16-18. Selection for the NFL Academy programme will be based on athletic ability, as well as educational and character assessment.

The high school level programme has been a priority for the NFL ever since it partnered with Tottenham Hotspur, with their state of the art NFL purpose built stadium residing less than 5 miles from Barnet and Southgate College. Yet don’t be fooled by key words such as ‘higher education’ and ‘apprenticeships’. Many have long suspected the move, ourselves included, with the NFL likely setting the foundations for a future franchise based in London. To facilitate the long term success of said potential franchise, Roger Goodell believes it is imperative for a market as large and important as the UK to have home grown talent. Consequently, with several British players having varying degrees of success over the past 10-15 years, due in part to the NFL’s International Player Pathway scheme, the NFL has once again decided to show its hand with where it believes future expansion to be. J