By David McDonnell

A few months ago when I saw that Tom Brady was coming to play in Germany, I knew I needed to get to that game. 

Unfortunately the tickets got sold before I had realised they had gone on sale, so I put my hopes in applying for a press pass. After hearing that over three million people expressed an interest in attending the Munich game, I can now leave behind any anger, frustration and resentment to the good people at NFL Germany for not even responding to my request.

Sounds like they have had a busy time of it. Maybe I’ll have better luck next year.

I have found it entertaining at times in the run up to the game in Munich this week watching some American pundits trying to gauge the level of interest and knowledge of the NFL in Europe.When I heard one notable journalist ask if the crowd would be cheering wildly when a team came out to punt, I nearly fell off my chair laughing at the ridiculousness of it.

Certainly that journo wasn’t watching when the Broncos were booed to high heaven for punting in the second quarter against the Jags two weeks ago. That booing came from fans wearing Broncos orange in Wembley and I am convinced it was a factor in helping Russell Wilson be more aggressive in throwing the ball down the field. 

So what is the level of interest in the NFL in Europe?

Certainly in Ireland and the UK, since they started showing the full season of fixtures on Sky Sports in 2012, there has been a massive surge of interest in America’s game that has grown year upon year. There is now a whole generation, particularly of young people under 30, who have grown up watching the NFL every Sunday. 

There is also an older generation who have followed the game when it was televised regularly in the early ’90’s, and I remember watching a match-of-the-day type programme on Mondays, which helped inform a generation of the stars of the day and of the basic rules. Certainly the emergence of John Madden Football over the years also helped in that regard.  

But throughout Europe, the interest and numbers of young people playing club and academy football has grown significantly and the most successful semi-professional league has been Germany until the emergence of the European League of Football last summer.

Even in the last five years, the numbers of young players throughout Europe playing American Football has doubled if not tripled and you see young men from countries like Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and the UK with aspirations of playing college football in the States. 

It is a very difficult route not made easy due to a lot of red tape and the system to cater for talented players going to America is not easy. Like every sport the best players come from the working classes and financial costs as well as a lack of opportunity are key factors.  

In my opinion the American colleges and universities are way behind in scouting the talent that Europe has to offer. Many of these players have played the game since they were kids but still the American institutions pay too much attention to the metrics and look for anomalies. To put it simply, they only take the biggest guys that they can find and often not the best football players. 

This is where I believe they are missing a trick.

There are many smart players, tough players, fast players at the skill positions throughout Europe that have not been evaluated properly and it may take one or two safeties, linebackers or receivers to make it at a big university or in the NFL in order to open up more doors for more players to enter the American college system. 

I also believe that a university programme similar to the international pathway programme with fully paid scholarships across all D1 Colleges would help the top talent in Europe and I would also add in Africa from falling away from the sport when they possess the athleticism and aptitude to make it in both the college and in time the professional game.  

So let’s get into three of this week’s match-ups starting in Germany. 

Seahawks v Bucs

Who knew when this fixture was selected for Munich just how important this game would be?

The Seahawks have been brilliant this season and no one outside of the Seahawks’ facility saw this coming. No-one! I remember when talk of a change of head coach and general manager at Seattle was prevalent in pre-season, but such talk has completely disappeared. 

The Seahawks made a number of big calls in trading Russel Wilson and cutting Bobby Wagner, their best player last season but they have come up trumps with undoubtedly one of the best rookie classes I have seen in a number of years.

In addition, the emergence of Geno Smith as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in football has been a revelation again that nobody even suspected. I certainly didn’t and I am no longer waiting for the wheels to come off as he has consistently performed at a high level week in, week out. 

Let’s look further into this rookie class and see how much they have added to the team.

Last April, the Seahawks drafted a pair of starting tackles in Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, who were drafted in the first and third round respectively. Lucas has a 93% pass blocking win rate and is top 10 in the NFL in this regard. Cross has been even better at left tackle and with Cross only 21 and Lucas aged 24, you can see this pair anchoring the offensive line for the next 10 years. 

Any rookie class that drafts two starting tackles would be considered a home run, but they have also drafted two starting corners. Pete Carroll loves to play zone defence and having tall corners has long been a favourite of his.  The 6 ‘3 Tariq Woolen was drafted in the fifth round  and is the only rookie corner-back in the last 10 years to have recorded four interceptions in four successive games. He is playing way beyond his years and could make the Pro Bowl this year. Bryant has been playing nickel and is fast and can double up as a linebacker when needed. They also added Boye Mafe in the second round, who has added to their pass rushing ability 

The jewel of this draft class is running–back Kenneth Walker. 

‘K9’ is phenomenal running with the ball and is my personal rookie of the year so far. He has god-given talent and a natural instinct and if a defender misses a tackle, Walker will take it to the house. He has scored six touchdowns in his last five games and if he keeps going the way he is going, he might turn out to be a generational talent at the running-back position. 

If you haven’t seen much of Walker yet, look at some of his touchdowns that we have posted almost every week this season and you can see what a special player the Seahawks have on their hands.

I mentioned earlier about Geno Smith but what he has done this season has been incredible. He has turned himself from being an after-though and he was a punchline during his time with the Jets a number of years ago to being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He has made big time throws when his team has needed him to and he has led by example in how he approaches his job. 

What he has achieved this year is almost intangible. I believe the legacy of his play this season will show teams that they need to have more patience in developing talent, especially at QB and he is a shining example of a player not hearing the word ‘No’ and continuing to improve and work on his game regardless of criticism and circumstance. 

Indeed, a potential part of his legacy could be winning a Superbowl and the Seahawks look as good as any team in the NFC this season and should continue to be competitive over the next few years.  They are playing as a team and they have been very consistent. 

Playing the Bucs is a good yardstick for how far they have come as the Tampa Bay side still have a host of players who won the Superbowl in 2021. It’s been well documented how poorly they have played this season and they can’t seem to get their run game going at all. They are also not giving Tom Brady enough time to work his magic from the pocket and their defence has tapered off where they were during the first quarter of the season. 

They got an important win against the Rams last weekend and I have been very impressed with the form of Vita Vea at defensive tackle. If the rest of his teammates can row in behind him, I would not rule out the Bucs winning the NFC South. But to be competitive in January, they need to find a way to get the rushing attack going. This is key to solving most of their problems but until I see more evidence of this, I will not be giving them the benefit of the doubt any more. 

For me, Seattle will win and stay on top of the NFC West.

Cowboys v Packers 

Another game that is peaking my interest on Sunday is the Cowboys v Packers. 

I think the Packers are done after their loss last weekend but I hope I’m wrong and if there is one player in the league capable of pressing a switch and turning on the greatness, well that player is Aaron Rodgers.

He is coming off arguably the worst game of his career but being back at Lambeau Field for what is essentially a game of play-off importance should focus the minds. I am expecting Rodgers to pull something special out of the bag. Last week aside, I think he is building up a good rapport with Romeo Doubs and adding in veterans Allen Lezard and Arron Jones, that gives him three options where he can go with the ball. 

Where Green Bay needs massive improvement is their defence, easily one of the most under-performing units in the National Football League when you see the talent they possess in their locker room. They are struggling to get teams off the field on third down and they have been spared the public wrath due to the profile of their QB. Will they be able to stop the Cowboys running game? For me, that is the most important question and if I am honest I don’t think they will. 

The Cowboys are playing to a winning formula of controlling the clock and keeping their defence fresh. The Packers will need to wear this defence down and try to get the Cowboys to play catch up. For this to happen Rodgers will need touchdowns early and try to turn this game into a shootout. I don’t think this Packers team has the fight or possibly the talent to win this game in the trenches. It will be interesting how things unfold. Another loss and the Packers can start preparing for next season. 

Chargers v 49ers

The late kick-off on Sunday night looks like an enthralling contest on paper but I think it will be more one-sided than expected. 

With the 49ers coming off a much needed bye-week and with their roster looking healthier than it has been all season, I think we could see the emergence of the best team in the NFC over the next few weeks. 

This is a side that has in my opinion the best defence in the NFL and a top-three offensive line with a host of attacking talents across their roster.  We will also get to see what Kyle Shanahan has in store for Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel and it’s going to be exciting to watch. 

There is no excuse for Jimmy Garoppolo not to succeed in bringing this team to victory. This team is primed to make a run at the Super Bowl and all they need from their quarterback is not to turn over the ball. I think they will start to build momentum beginning with a victory against the Bolts.

Justin Herbert looked better last week than he has all season but down their top two receivers, I think the 49ers away will be a step too far. The Chargers are relying too much on Austin Ekeler for scores and if the Niners defence can halt the Chargers rushing attack, I expect San Francisco to win comfortably.

Hopefully, we have an exciting weekend ahead, starting in Germany.

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