Category Archives: NFL

NFL free agency 2017: As odd and frantic as ever

With the calendar finally turning over to March, NFL fans can celebrate the start of a new season. Well, those that like to watch the fire-sale frenzy that is free agency, at the very least.

As contracts expire and players are allowed to move freely to another team, it’s time for some smooching from GMs and coaches as they try to promise new hopefuls they’ll be big in their city. Most end with heartbreak but sometimes, they can be a match made in heaven.

Here’s a few thoughts on the first few days of free agency.

 

The best just got better

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The New England Patriots didn’t need any help in being good, NFL. You didn’t have to help them strengthen a team that won the whole damn thing last year, y’know?

They’ll never learn.

Bill Belichick is an absolute master of this game and strangely enough, it was two trades that actually impressed the most. Bringing in an exciting young receiver in former New Orleans Saints man Brandin Cooks to be their new number one option out wide for draft picks was a solid move even after picking up the almost-Super Bowl 49 MVP Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers.

Add to that the pickup of Pro Bowl corner Stephon Gilmore, from none other than a divisional rival in the Buffalo Bills, and former Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook to replace Martellus Bennett and that’s a nice little mix.

The focus shifts now to keeping Malcolm Butler and Dont’a Hightower, which would be a frightening thought to the rest of the NFL. Even with all the picks they used up, they could regain almost all of them by sending Jimmy Garapolo to the Cleveland Browns.

 

The poor got a little stronger

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Speaking of the Browns, they made baby steps toward climbing out of the basement.

They started with the offensive line, just in case they finally find someone to stand behind it. Kevin Zeitler weakens an opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals while adding a veteran to the group, J.C. Tretter is another solid addition and extension to Joel Bitonio finally puts this unit back to where they were before they lost Alex Mack last offseason.

Bringing in Kenny Britt was also a solid move, a relatively consistent performer over the last few seasons. Not trying to combine him with Terrell Pryor, especially when the former QB signed a reasonable deal with Washington, does seem a little odd but spend where you need to spend.

Some of that gigantic cap room was used on a blockbuster trade for Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler. While it’s likely they’ll bin the lobster as soon as possible, they bought a second round pick they can add to the pile of 11 selections in each of the next two drafts.

That booty should have enough value in it to tempt the Patriots to move Jimmy G to Ohio. With the champs moving so many picks, surely it’s only a matter of time?

 

There’s money if you’re an offensive lineman

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If you’re a decent lineman this March, you got paid.

Along with the aforementioned dynamic duo in Cleveland, the Los Angeles Chargers slapped a big deal on former Denver Broncos left tackle Russell Okung and the Minnesota Vikings paid a pretty penny to steal Riley Reiff off their fellow NFC North side, the Detroit Lions.

Neither of those played at a particularly high level last year but with needy teams come looser purse strings. Combine that with a draft reportedly thin on the ground at tackle and guard, anyone with experience with a bit of quality was treated like a diamond in the rough.

There’s no doubt some of these players have talent but to be paid $53 million over four years for Okung? That seems a little too steep of a price.

 

But there’s not so much for wide receivers

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Alshon Jeffery is a legitimate number one receiver in the NFL, yet teams looked at him like he’d kissed their wife right in front of them.

Credit to him for taking a prove-it deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, along with a “promise” to stay if he succeeds, but the PED violation hit his value harder than many expected it to. I mean, enhancing your performance is a big sin but players with worse records have earned plenty of bucks otherwise.

As it was mentioned earlier, the market for Pryor was also thinner than some anticipated. He looked a real threat since converting to a wideout but teams still stayed away from a potential one-season wonder.

Even DeSean Jackson settled for a secondary role as a deep threat in Tampa Bay, which shows there just wasn’t that much love for pass catchers this year. In fairness, the talent level was pretty thin too.

 

The quarterback market stay still, for now

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While the players were thin on the ground at quarterback in free agency, we are really still waiting for the big moves to happen, if they will at all.

Mike Glennon joined the Chicago Bears was the only real deal that has gone down so far. That’s not counting some backups signing up but that isn’t going to change a franchise overnight.

Jay Cutler was released into the wild and had a meeting with the New York Jets but there’s been no paperwork as of yet. He may look if anyone else pops their heads up and then decide if it’s even worth lacing up over a cushy retirement.

Jimmy G can’t stop teasing us on Instagram and in fairness, that one will likely rumble on until the draft next month. New England will like to squeeze every last bit of juice from that deal until Cleveland have no option to throw in a sweetner.

The final chip to fall anywhere is Tony Romo. The Dallas Cowboys are hoping someone is willing to trade, everyone is giggling at their poker face and are waiting for him to be released and go on a Peyton Manning-esque tour.

That one could go on and on as well, but whether he ends up staying in Texas with Houston or follows in Manning’s footsteps to Denver, it will be the story of the offseason.

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Is Jay Cutler’s NFL career over?

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Cutler has had a pretty poor career with the Bears. Source: blacksportsonline.com

If there is one thing that is for certain in the offseason in the NFL, Jay Cutler will no longer be playing for the Chicago Bears. Their unhappy marriage that has been in counselling for the past few years looks to finally be heading for divorce as the NFC North team look towards a rebuild.

According to NFL.com’s Ian Rappaport, the Bears are looking as to whether there is any trade interest for desperate teams before cutting the 11-year veteran. Unless someone feels that strongly about the former Denver Bronco draftee that they’d throw a seventh-round pick their way, expect him simply to be kicked to the curb in early March.

However, the story doesn’t end there. After a number of tough seasons and coming off an injury-hit year, Rappaport also mentioned that Cutler is considering retiring from football. At 33 and plenty of money in the bank, he could quite easily walk away from the game if he wanted to.

But should he?

There’s no doubt that the quarterback position is the most important position in the game. You can’t really win the Super Bowl with a serviceable quarterback as a very minimum and with so many teams still needing a signal caller, the question becomes whether there are 32 men better than Cutler.

If you look at his recent stats over his career, you have to say no. Other than this season, where he only played five games, he has always had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio including 21 TDs to 11 INTs in his 15-game season in 2015.

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Yes, even the majestic Brian Hoyer was better than him in spots last season. Source: Sports Illustrated.

Then you look at the statistics against the other two quarterbacks that deputised in his absence and you have to say there could be. Both Bryan Hoyer and Matt Barkley, who faded a little in his final two games, equalled or surpassed his output over the 2016 season, unforgivable against a journeyman and a youngster who has barely played any first-team snaps.

That wayward stance has followed Cutler for what seems like his entire career. There are moments where you think he could lead you to the promised land, others when the only place he’ll lead any coach is to the back of the line at the job centre.

Teams like the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Texans and the New York Jets will surely take a long, hard look at him. He’s never had the greatest offensive line, which is likely to be the case again in any of those teams and a dearth of weapons to throw to will also impact his inconsistent arm.

He’s not always the most accurate thrower, he’s also not the greatest deep ball shooter so an offence would have to be built around that. Will one of those rebuilding sides see the worth in changing their game to suit that long-term? Probably not but a contending team like the Texans who need just one more push might see it as a solid short-term risk.

The real question for most of those teams will be is there better out there? Not really. That more speaks to the talent level in the NFL and that in the draft, although there are a few interesting prospects but the Bears will be in that fight along with them.

Leaving Cutler in that space will be an interesting topic to watch over the course of the spring. If a team tries to go for him, he should give it a go but if there’s only sporadic interest or backup opportunities, it might be time for him to ride off into the sunset.

He might fall off the horse and frown about that on the way out, but that’s Jay Cutler for you. He’ll at least never be dull.

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NFL Awards 2017 predictions

Super Bowl LI is on the horizon and with all but the big one out of the way, it’s time to talk about the NFL awards. Who will come out on top? Who will miss out? Here’s a look at my predictions for the end of season festivities:

 

Most Valuable Player – Matt Ryan

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Ryan has been the picture of almost perfection this season. Source: fansided.com

Matty Ice finally got over the hump this year and in such a big way, he has to walk away with this award.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback finished with 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns against seven interceptions and a quarterback rating of 117.1, all career numbers.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a lot of help. The Falcons have a balanced offence with two quality running backs and the best receiver in the league in Julio Jones which when combined with an offensive line that has stayed healthy all season, Ryan has really been able to shine.

Kyle Shanahan’s offence has also made him hot property as a future head coach and his moulding of Ryan this year has been outstanding. No one ever thought that the Falcons QB would ever quite crash through the glass ceiling but he proved any doubters wrong in 2016/17.

There is an argument to having Tom Brady as the MVP as well, his TD-to-interception ratio is ridiculous and he’s had a great season too but this one goes to Ryan. From start to finish this season, he has not hidden away or chocked like in previous seasons and this team would look completely different without him.

 

Coach of the Year – Jason Garrett

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers

Garrett has done a sensational job in turning this team into a contender. Source: fansided.com

Hands up, who actually thought that the Dallas Cowboys would even make the playoffs this year?

Unless your name is Michael Irvin, you are lying. There’s no doubt that the team now have a solid roster but a lot of credit should go to Garrett and how much extra he got out of this team to finish with the second-best record in the NFL.

Yes, they got a lot of help from two special rookies and an incredible offensive line but Garret always got them in a position to win. It was his play-calling that got them the lead that they would rarely surrender and when they did, they managed to recover spectacularly which was highlighted in the win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It almost got them all the way back against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs too but unfortunately, they had a magician playing for them that evening.

With a no-name defence and some strung together receivers outside of Dez Bryant, Garrett worked wonders with this squad. There were a few great coaches this year but none quite stood out like he did.

 

Offensive Player of the Year – Tom Brady

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Brady has a chance to write history and has played phenomenal football all year. Source: USA Today

This is easily the hardest award to predict, given some spectacular performances this year.

David Johnson was sensational, the first to amass over 1,000 yards rushing and 800 yards catching since Marshall Faulk and only the second in NFL history. Le’Veon Bell may have changed the game for running backs with his ever-so patient style that seemingly throws off every defence.

Julio Jones had a monster year that included an insane 300-yard game. Aaron Rodgers produced more miracles than ever before as he scraped by with half of his weapons taken away from him.

However, with Brady missing out on the top award, there is no chance they do not give the New England Patriots something. He has been terrific since his comeback, highlighted by the fact he’s thrown just two interceptions all year which is mind-numbingly good.

Some will argue that his backups did go 3-1 as well but Brady has been a cut above this year. He was mad and it showed on the field.

 

Defensive Player of the Year – Von Miller

NFL: Preseason-Los Angeles Rams at Denver Broncos

Miller has arguably deserved this award for a long time, so he will finally get his reward. Source: predimonentlyorange.com

While Khalil Mack will be in the conversation and could pip him to the post, it was clear this season that Von Miller is a difference maker on defence.

The offence stumbled spectacularly for the Denver Broncos which eventually lead to them missing the playoffs. Their defence did not take any days off and along with a great secondary, it was the play of Miller that kept them in the hunt until the end.

He put up great numbers in the run game, registering more tackles than ever and four stuffs. His 13.5 sacks has only been beaten by Atlanta Falcons’ Vic Beasly and he also forced four fumbles on the year.

Those are some great numbers and why they might not quite be as monstrous as his 2012 numbers, where he was beaten to the award by JJ Watt, they are still very impressive. Aaron Donald would also be a front runner had he not played on such a poor team but Miller finally gets his dues this time.

 

Rookie of the Year – Ezekiel Elliott

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Elliott has come better than advertised, he’s the real deal. Source: Sports Hub

A pretty easy choice, Ezekiel Elliott has been a revelation for the Dallas Cowboys all season long.

He registered 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns in a ridiculous year where he has torn teams apart. From that special late run against the Steelers to dominating almost everyone that stood in his path this season, he’s been superb.

Credit also has to go to his offensive line, something the Ohio State man has regularly stated himself, as they heled create some great creases that Elliott turned into huge gains. His foot speed, his toughness and his ability to make every kind of run really separated him from the pack.

While taking a running back so high in the draft can be a real risk, Elliott looks the real deal. Behind one of the best lines in the NFL, he could become one of the great running backs in Cowboys history and that is saying something.

 

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Dak Prescott

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Prescott surprised everyone, but can he keep it up? Source: IB Times

If the above award is going to one Cowboy, this one has to go to the other.

Dak Prescott has been the surprise of the year. With Tony Romo out before the season even began, many thought that any chance of Dallas doing anything of note this season sat on the injury table with him.

Prescott was excellent in pre-season, which is usually as useful an indicator as Michael Fish telling you a hurricane is coming, but we were wrong to doubt him. He carried that momentum over into the regular season and put in some really solid performances.

He was aided by a strong running game, an incredible offensive line and a great few weapons in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten but he was still pretty special. Whether he simply proves to be lightening in a bottle remains to be seen but for now, he an Elliott are the future of the Dallas Cowboys.

 

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Joey Bosa

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers

Did you expect anyone else than Bosa? *shrugs* Source: USA Today

It is scary to think that Joey Bosa only played in 12 games this season.

It’s been a little while since we have seen a young pass rusher make this much of an impact on a team this quickly. The San Diego Chargers barely had a semblance of pressure last year but with an astonishing 10.5 sacks in 2016, Bosa brought the thunder.

He has a great ability of bull-rushing offensive linemen, putting them under immense pressure and using his hand work to get them flustered. Bosa can be so quick to get into motion that his opponents simply aren’t prepared for it and that puts their quarterback in danger.

His 23 QB hurries is only six behind Von Miller in four less games, he set a record for at least two QB hits in his first three games since 2006 when they were first tracked and had a crazy 17 tackles for a loss.

This kid is going to be very, very good and a much-needed star as his team moves to Los Angeles.

 

Comeback Player of the Year – Landon Collins

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Collins has been on a redemption story all season long. Source: USA Today

Cameron Wake may get this award that tends to go to older players but no one has made a bigger leap in quality this year than Landon Collins.

The New York Giants had a pretty poor rookie season, with questions over his coverage and his usefulness in the backfield. Those worries have been quickly quelled as he has risen to potentially one of the best safeties in the entire NFL.

Four sacks, five interceptions and a fumble recovery all showed how he had really began to affect games in a growing Giants defence. He even recorded his first touchdown as he marshalled a secondary that took a great leap from near the bottom of the league to being one of the best.

Is it really a comeback if he’s never been anything to begin with? Maybe not but it’s hard to deny that Collins has been a difference maker. If you can go from being a “bust” to a Pro Bowler in a season, you have to get recognition for it.

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The San Diego Chargers are dead, long live the Los Angeles Chargers?

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Ew.  Source: CBS

Philip Rivers summed it up perfectly earlier today in a speech to the Chargers’ faithful:

“I’m a little bit numb about it all. It hasn’t really settled in yet.”

Two days ago, the team’s owner Dean Spanos announced in a letter that after over 50 years in San Diego, the Chargers are moving to Los Angeles. They will play at the StubHub Arena, home of the LA Galaxy, for two years before joining the Los Angeles Rams at Inglewood in 2019.

Unsurprisingly, the faithful that had gathered to Qualcomm Stadium for decades were none too pleased over the news. Shirts, banners and formerly treasured possessions were left in a heap outside of the team’s headquarters as many fans turned their back on a team that scorned them for one final time.

Spanos reportedly tried every avenue of finding a solution in San Diego, with him believed to not want to stump up much of his own declining wealth and hoping tax payers would give him the boost. That did not happen, which is more than reasonable from the citizens of a great city and when the NFL did not come running with the cash instead, Spanos instead hit the eject button.

It stung. Reportedly there were ways for the team to stay in San Diego for now and work at something but in the owner’s eyes, the city had plenty of time to do something but instead decided to sit on their hands.

I feel for the city, even though I’ve never been but I have always felt a bit of a connection to because of the team I support. The Chargers have always been my team but they’ve also been San Diego’s, in fact it’s at least one of the reasons I chose to support them.

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The StubHub Center, the Chargers’ temporary home in LA before moving in with the Rams in 2019. Source: LA Times

However, my disappointment will never match their grief. I am sad that I never managed to get out there to catch a game but the fact that they don’t get the chance to after supporting them with everything for so long, it must be heart-breaking.

Also, the badge is super fugly. It has no relevance to the team, it looks too much like the Dodgers logo and it just feels empty. They tried to change the colours but it doesn’t hide it at all.

That’s not to say the previous badge was a work of art but it was wonderful in its simplicity. It was another reason I chose them in the beginning, it was the blandest, simplest badge from such a varied crazy set that I simply fell in love with it.

Now, it does seem to put me in a slightly weird conundrum. Do I stick with the team I supported with the move? Or do I switch after they took away a lot of what I loved about the team in the first place?

Should I follow those players, who have had zero say in the matter, and rally behind them as they move to the same city as the basketball team I support? Or should I abandon them in solidarity for those that lost them?

That wound may take longer to heal than I thought it initially might but Thursday was a sad day for us all. To me, and to many others, they will always be the San Diego Super Chargers.

I have to stop playing that song, too?!? Goddammit, can they really stop stepping on everything I hold dear?!?

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Aaron Rodgers is an unstoppable force of nature

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Rodgers is a video game character, that’s the only logical explanation. Source: Sporting News

Rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated, yet again. Just when people think he’s on the decline or he’s past his best, Aaron Rodgers proves exactly why he is the best quarterback in the NFL.

Back at 4-6, people were thinking that the Green Bay Packers would not be making the postseason for the first time in eight years and that the offence took a big brunt of the blame. Number 12 wasn’t hitting the strikes he had in the past as he struggled to rack up big numbers to support a flagging defence.

Since then, he has hit 19 touchdowns without an interception, leading his team to yet another NFC North crown and a playoff victory over the New York Giants. After a slow start, it was Rodgers who was the x-factor that turned the game with a quite stunning display late in the first half.

The first magical moment from A-Rod came on the first touchdown pass to Devonte Adams that got the Cheeseheads in front. After some excellent work from his offensive line, especially Brian Bulaga who absolutely decimated a Giants pass rusher, he bobbed and weaved as his wide receivers improvised in the end zone.

With Adams finding a glimmer of space in the left corner of the end zone, the quarterback threw an absolute dart straight into his hands and away from the defender. Without his favourite target Jordy Nelson on the field, his extra options stepped up and he has that special ability to make them better with plays like this that only he can do.

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McCarthy is very glad to have Rodgers back at his best. Source: USA Today

However, there was one big moment yet to come. We’ve seen some truly great Hail Mary plays from him in the past, the winner against the Detroit Lions being the prime example, but to do one in a big playoff game is something to really applaud.

With seconds to go until the break, Rodgers used that cannon of an arm he has to launch the ball high in the air from about midfield. There was a little suspicion of a push off from Randall Cobb, although I’ve never seen pass interference called on a Hail Mary pass, but it was just enough for him to bring it in and send the Packers into the break with a big lead.

To many, that could have been the knockout blow but with the Giants down by just eight points, they had every chance to get back into it. That was a chance they took, bringing the deficit down to just a point but the killer blow came just a few minutes later.

Just a few plays later, Rodgers found Cobb in space again and the wideout sped into the endzone after avoiding a few New York defenders. The master gunslinger simply took the wind out of the Giant’s sails in one fell swoop that the away team never recovered from.

It was a truly expert performance for one of the best to ever pull on an NFL uniform. Aaron Rodgers is probably the most indispensable player in the entire league, with his play being so vital to the Packers that with him in the team in the form he’s currently in, they have every chance of winning it all.

The question now moves to Arlington, Texas where his side will take on the young up-and-coming Dax Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. Can Rodgers perform miracles again? I would not bet against it.

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Loss of Derek Carr cripples Oakland’s Super Bowl dreams

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A sight no one in Black and Silver wanted to see, their quarterback limping off the field on Christmas Eve. Source: Houston Chronicle

The NFL giveth and the NFL taketh away. After breaking their 14-year playoff drought last week and looking like potential Super Bowl contenders for the first time since that loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, star quarterback Derek Carr broke his fibula on Christmas Eve.

Surrounded by his entire team on the field and many players covering the view as he was treated on the sidelines, it was clear by the mood that it was serious. On the floor and on the verge of tears, you could see number three mouth the words “it’s broken” and every Black Hole fan’s worst nightmare came true.

Now their players might be telling you through the media and social networks that this team isn’t done, that they can make an impact in the post-season, but they are wrong. This entire team swings on the quarterback and without Carr for the foreseeable future, the Raiders are cooked.

Before going down against the Indianapolis Colts, Carr was a legitimate MVP candidate. Let’s start with that offence and its leader, MVP candidate Derek Carr. The former second-round pick had been outstanding, throwing for 3,933 yards which included 28 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.

Combine that with a 63.7% completion rating and a 96.7 passer rating, it’s not hard to see why he was the lifeblood of this team. Carr finally gave them hope where they previously had none and with his drive to pull his team out of the mire, he could have been the x-factor once the post-season rolled around.

When you also look at those stats and the surging runs he led in close gains, then add the fact that the Raiders have led the league in dropped passes with 26, you can see why they were so devastated to lose him. No offence meant to Matt McGloin, but he has enormous shoes to fill.

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Mack has been a machine but it may be in vain. Source: Bleacher Report

That will likely mean the team leans on a strong run game, which is currently sixth in yards per game in the NFL. That efficiency on the ground helped open the space up for Carr and if they can continue to pound the football, it may at least alleviate some pressure from McGloin when he does throw the ball.

The issue will be whether they can lean on their defence, which should be the case when you have a destroyer like Khalil Mack on your side. With 11 sacks on the season, yet none in the last two weeks, combined with five forced fumbles and an interception, he is a difference maker on that side of the ball.

He’s even great in the run game, registering six stuffs and forcing teams like the Chargers to force their run game away from him. Mack has become a monster and combined with Bruce Irvin on the other side, who has seven sacks of his own, it has created a beast that strikes fear into every offensive lineman.

However, the worry is the secondary. They rank 30th in yards per game and 21st in points, highlighted by a ball-hawking secondary that maybe takes a couple too many chances and could get burnt by better quality quarterbacks in the playoffs.

That being said, their turnover differential is excellent. In fact, the Raiders lead the league in turnover differential with plus 15 and that is a big driving force in how they have succeeded this season. Simply put, they have given themselves more opportunities per game and restricted their opponents.

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Del Rio has changed the culture in Oakland and should have a shot at stardom for years to come. Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Add to that a good kicking game from Sebastian Janikowski and a solid punting game from dancing extraordinaire Marquette King, they have the start of a quality team. The coaching from Jack Del Rio and his win-or-die attitude has been really infectious as Oakland caught fire from an early aggressive call against the New Orleans Saints.

General manager Reggie McKenzie deserves a lot of credit too for building a solid unit mainly through the draft as well. Regardless of how this season now finishes, he’s given them a foundation for them to compete for years to come.

I had written a piece ready to go last week before Christmas got in the way, saying that if the defence could show something against the Colts, they had a real chance. They did, until Carr went down, now everything is in doubt.

A divisional match-up against a raging Denver Broncos who have nothing to lose could have disastrous consequences. A loss leaves the door open for the Kansas City Chiefs to steal the division from under their noses and could put the Raiders in the playoffs earlier than initially expected.

In fact, it’s hard to see them win a playoff game now. It’s clear from how they’ve won games this season how much Carr means to them and with him gone, so too go their playoff ambitions.

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The tactical interest in the extra point decline

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Tomlin is a two-point purist but more will follow his suit in the next year or so. Source: Fox Sports

The NFL set an unwanted record last week. Well, at least the kickers did.

The unheralded, first-to-blame, bit-part players missed a record 12 extra points at the weekend. Formerly seen as gimmes before being moved back last season, the extra few yards have seen some tumble into drivelling messes and this has been the culmination of what has been a poor year for kickers in general.

When a game will be forever known as the one where two easy kicks were missed, you know they are having a bad time. The 6-6 tie between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks will live in infamy for two terrible field goal attempts that would have won it for either team.

With that, we look at the point after. It was moved from the two-yard line when it turned into an almost pointless exercise, with the knowledge that moving it to the 15 yard line still almost guaranteed a safe hit.

However, the 12 missed in Week 11 highlighted two things that NFL teams may need to think about next season. The standard of kicking across the league has regressed, with more long-distance kickers keeping their job over accurate, safe ones and now whether it really adds to the value of going for two points after a touchdown.

There are a few teams that are already moving towards that line of thinking. Mike Tomlin has had the Pittsburgh Steelers routinely going for two over the last few years, knowing that converting just one can give you a big boost against teams that aren’t as willing to risk it.

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Del Rio showed the guts to go for it and was reSource: SFBay.com

That can also become a disadvantage if you continuously go for it and fail. They were 0-4 against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this season, points that could have changed the complexion of the game if they weren’t constantly trying to make up for what they had lost.

But at the same time, converting the first can be such a big boost and would have negated some of the shortcomings, it’s a real tactical piece.

Take the opening game of the season from the Oakland Raiders, where Jack Del Rio was seen as ballsy enough to call for a two-point conversion to win the game rather than a kick to tie it. Sebastian Janikowski is one of the best kickers in the league, one of the most reliable and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, so why risk it?

Because they succeeded and won the game.

Many will cry that if they missed, they would have lost but that kind of attitude can really pull a team behind you. That’s not trying to say that the Oakland Raiders’ success was created solely from that but the early momentum it gave them was undeniable and that gutsy attitude has pushed them further than people could have imagined at the start of the season.

The hope will be that with these missed points, there’s a view to try and add to our options rather than restrict them. There were outcries to get rid of the extra point altogether, which is an interesting point but takes away some potentially exciting tactical ideas and opportunities from that.

What should take place is more two-point attempts, more risks and more teams willing to pile on the pressure if they can. Do you take the relatively safe, 95% extra point or the riskier two that could be the difference between a win and a loss? It adds an extra layer of intrigue, and that can only be a good thing.

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The Minnesota Vikings are in an alarming tailspin

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Zimmer is a good coach, he just needs more luck and more options. Source: Fox Sports

The NFL is a fickle mistress. One week you can be the talk of the town and a month down the line, you can be shot down to no-hopers that got a little lucky.

That’s exactly what has been the case for the Minnesota Vikings, the darlings of the early season. Despite some serious injuries, they were 5-0 heading into their bye but since then, they have been 0-4 without many signs of turning that around.

So, what has gone wrong? Where have they fallen off after such a promising start?

The first issue many will point to is the running game, that sits bottom of the NFL at a staggering 69.8 yards per game. They have only had one game where they totalled over 100 yards on the ground and only two more games over the 80 mark, a figure not helped by the absence of future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.

However, this was an issue before the bye that just hasn’t got better. Their worst total of 30 yards rushing came in a victory over the Green Bay Packers, while the 93 yards they managed in the defeat in Philadelphia swaps the 58 and 65 they got in wins against the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans respectively.

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Bradford has given the team a decent return, he just needs a better offensive line, which he has for almost his entire career. Source: twincities.com

Sam Bradford’s production has declined slightly but he’s not giving the ball away from passing, with only 2 interceptions this season. Since the bye, the quarterback has been sacked 16 times, double what was given up in the first five games.

Some may pin some of that liability on the Matt Kalil injury and while he is a good left tackle, they need a better contingency plan. Now that Jake Long is out for the season as well, it doesn’t look like the poor offensive line that has struggled in both blocking and protection will recover.

Added to those woes is the fact that their offence just doesn’t always get going. They are 25th in the league on third-and-out percentages, with 23 coming this season. It was most evident in a woeful display against the Chicago Bears, where they racked up five in a row in the first half and allowed a poor team the lead that they could not claw back.

The well-liked offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned seemingly out of either pride, empathy or in an effort to save his reputation. The group has not gone forward since he left and there simply aren’t enough pieces outside Stephon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph to pull them out of the mire.

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Diggs has been a breakout star that can become a key in the future, at least. Source: Heavy

The buck is then passed on to their stout defence, something that coach Mike Zimmer is a specialist at. They trampled over teams in the opening third of the season, essentially winning them games in some respects, but have they kept it going?

The easiest way to say that is no, even if they do rank first in points allowed this season. First of all, they simply aren’t creating the havoc they had in the first few games of the season against a few teams that have struggled to keep their QB upright.

Their pass rush amassed 19 sacks in five weeks to start the season. That statistic has dropped off considerably to three in their last four, which shows that the pressure from their front liners is not as panic-inducing as previously thought.

They have also stopped turning the ball over, which was a huge factor in their wins to start the season. The defence had seven interceptions and six recovered forced fumbles in those five wins, just 3 INTs and 2 FFs since then, giving their offence less possession and their defence more time on the field that seems to have worn them out.

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Rightfully cut, it has been such a disappointing downturn for the once-promising Walsh. Source: Yahoo Sports

All of that is then compounded by a poor kicking game from Blair Walsh. He is 12/16 on field goals this year and has missed four extra points, including one against the Detroit Lions that would have seen them win the game.

It really looks like that kid has not recovered from the miss against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs last year. There was no surprise when he was cut earlier today.

All of that combines for a team going down, down, deeper and down. There is a chance for them still, with a relatively soft schedule and in a division without anyone doing much better, they could still make something of this season.

But saying that, they can’t afford many more slip-ups. If they can’t recover against the Arizona Cardinals or especially against the Lions, this team is cooked.

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Newton should not change, the NFL should

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Newton may look like a Batman villain but he speaks the truth everyone needs to hear. Source: Twitter @Panthers

You know what, whenever I write about this topic, it feels like I am banging my head against a brick wall. However, every time I do, it’s something that needs to be addressed.

Last week, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to chat about the lack of protection he has been receiving from referees for illegal hits. Then on Sunday, he was hit with a jarring shot to the head by Los Angeles Rams safety Mark Barron, which the referees did not throw a flag.

Another sack from Aaron Donald was borderline high on the quarterback in the pocket and this comes a week after Arizona Cardinals defender Calais Campbell hit Newton in the knees. The referees did not call a penalty on that play but Campbell was retrospectively punished by the league.

Let us put the record straight, there have clearly been a few pretty heinous hits on Newton this season. Some are while he is a runner and players taking a shot while it’s legal, when it really shouldn’t be to any player, and others have been whilst he’s been in the pocket, where every other quarterback is protected even if someone brushes their helmet with a hand.

Many of the players that saw him complain about this issue have simply told him to get on with the game. Repeated statements of “it’s a man’s game” and “it’s his fault for being a runner” are continuously sprouted out as bulletins hiding as insidious remarks about someone who has rubbed them up the wrong way.

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Mark Barron’s hit was dangerous, it should have been flagged. Source: The Rams

They then say that he’s a six-foot-five machine that should be able to handle smaller men with ease. That comes from when players are hurtling at him without applying the brakes, throwing their entire bodyweight into their hit and concentrating it to his cranium.

Size doesn’t factor in that as much, other than it’ll hurt even more from the bigger boys. It’s a silly comment, I’m certain that even The Mountain from Game of Thrones would moan if you shot Tyrion at his head from a cannon.

Cam Newton isn’t a wuss or a softie. Cam Newton is a man acutely aware of what numerous, damaging hits to the head can do to a person and would kindly like to be able to live a normal life once his footballing career comes to an end.

The lack of protection in the pocket by the officials on the Barron hit was astonishing. Newton was clearly in the pocket preparing to throw and the safety made no attempt not to hit him in the head, even when most defensive players know if they do that, even on a legal hit, they will be flagged.

Yet no yellow rained down on that play.

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Goodell has made his own mess, again, and he needs to fix it for good. Source: The Ledge

To anyone watching back that doesn’t have any sense of bias or longing for “the good ol’ days” knows that should have been called. If that was Peyton Manning, there would have been outcry but since it’s the dancing, smiling man that speaks his mind, it’s fine for him to get his clocks cleaned.

There should not be any head-to-head contact in the NFL period. It’s a dangerous move on both parties that has led to severe health problems for ex-professionals and the fact it still happens to anyone is shocking.

Newton said in a press conference last week that the game was becoming less fun for him. The 2015 MVP, in a season full of average play and declining ratings, simply put exactly what everyone else was thinking into perspective.

The NFL needs something to change. If this year, with all its oddities and embarrassments, isn’t enough then it may never do so.

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The Bosa saga is a standoff that no-one wins

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What a difference a few months can make. Source: San Diego Union Tribune

Have you ever seen a Mexican standoff where the two opponents wait an age to make any kind of move and just as the sun begins to set, they both draw and simultaneously ping each other between the eyeballs?

Well that’s exactly what is happening between the San Diego Chargers and Joey Bosa right now. It’s quickly becoming a sour, bitter situation that will result in no one winning and everyone coming out a little less rosy on the other side.

The Chargers first round draft pick is yet to sign his first contract with a team over a dispute of how his signing bonus would be paid. The team wants to offset a certain amount, which started at a heafty chunk but their final offer was 15%, while the Bosa camp wants that paid upfront right away.

The reason behind the team’s offer is due to two things, the first they want to save cash if they have to cut Bosa before his rookie contract expires and he joins another team. The second is so that it doesn’t disgruntle the group as a whole as they may have not offered full bonuses to veterans on the team already signed.

That 85% of his bonus would be more than anyone in the last two drafts other than Carson Wentz. Some have been offered their full bonus in the past, including former third overall picks and that’s where the Bosa camp is coming from, they want to guarantee that cash up front.

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President of Football Operations John Spanos has not minced his words during this spat. Source: San Diego Union Tribune

There are plausible arguments on both sides but there are also stronger ones that curtail their pity dispute. The Chargers need all the talent they can get, Bosa fills a big need and the Ohio State defensive lineman has already missed camp and crucial game time.

It took a real turn for the worst on Wednesday when the Chargers went public with their offer and essentially tried to sway public opinion while also revealing future offers will take what he has missed into account. Bosa’s agency replied, stating that it hasn’t exactly helped their relationship and that they will fight for what they believe is right.

The argument against the Chargers is that they are wasting his rookie year, where he’s predicted to do almost nothing with the missed time, and they risk losing a vital pick. This team was awful at times last season and while there are shoots of green in areas, any team in the NFL should be getting all the help they can, especially when they draft that high.

Bosa and his entourage start looking a little silly once you realise that there’s not a case of him not earning his full bonus. Veterans on several teams have told him to get to work and while some will be gleefully pleased at his standoff, none of the owners will be and he can expect an incredibly rough road if he does not join up with the team sooner rather than later.

This wasn’t supposed to happen under the new CBA and while it makes both sides look bad, it will be a footnote when he does sign on the dotted line. Coach Mike McCoy is desperate to get him on board and once he starts to perform and click with the group, this absurd matter will be completely forgotten.

However, don’t be surprised if something like this crops up again. If it does and it gets messy again, then it could be another interesting time once the renewal of the CBA comes around again

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