Green Bay hold Ace in the Pack

NFL Week 18 Sunday Preview

By David McDonnell

I hope the Seattle Seahawks lose against the LA Rams later today because I want to see another do-or-die clash when the Green Bay Packers host the Detroit Lions.

How things stand in the NFC playoff position are as follows: Only one of Green Bay, Seattle and Detroit, in that order, can progress to the postseason and two of the hopefuls, the Packers and Lions, compete against one another at Lambeau Field at 1.30 am (GMT)  later tonight.

Should  the Seahawks beat their NFC West divisional rivals, the Rams, then only Green Bay can overtake them in the seedings with a victory. However, should the Seahawks fail to win then the winner of the Lions v Packers will be playing football next weekend. 

I hope you can follow that. 


Lions v Packers 

The last time these sides met was on November 6th when the one-win Lions gave Aaron Rodgers one of his toughest days in the green and gold with a 15-9 victory. At the time no one expected that the Packers with a record of 3-6 and playing terribly would make the playoffs.

I certainly didn’t. That the Lions would be on the cusp of achieving the same feat was unthinkable at the time. I remember Dan Campbell at the after-match press conference saying he wanted to go home and drink a beer, after snapping a five game losing streak when some critics were calling for his head. 

But Dan Campbell is made of stern stuff and so is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has sharpened up to look as good as he has done for much of the last decade and a half.

So where has it gone right for both sides? Let’s start with the Packers. 

The emergence of rookie Christian Watson at wide receiver has been a huge factor and he has racked up nine touchdowns since that loss to Detroit in November. With huge speed after the catch, Watson has the potential to hit a home run on every play. Green Bay have leaned heavily on their run game with Arron Jones and AJ Dillon making telling contributions and the return from injury of David Bakhtiari at left tackle has also been a significant addition in recent weeks. 

However, in the last few games the Green Bay defence has woken up and is making the telling contribution.

It starts up front where they are starting to put pressure on opposing QBs and I have been banging on all season about the talent they have across their linebackers and defensive backs. All of a sudden the Packers D are playing as a unit and competing hard and in particular Jaire Alexander at corner-back and rookie linebacker Quay Walker have stepped up. 

If the Green Bay defence continues to do excel, they could be a potential Superbowl outsider from the NFC.

Tonight, the Detroit Lions’ scorching attack stands in their way.

There is a feeling of optimism around this Detroit team that I have never felt with the Lions before and many of their standout talents are still young in NFL terms.

The strength of this team is their offence. The Lions O-line has been the bedrock of this attack and they have had huge success running the ball. The are anchored at centre by former first-round pick Frank Ragnow and bookended by tackles Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell, who were also drafted as first round talents in recent years. They have allowed their running backs to make hay.

Their best RB is D’Andre Swift who has clocked up 845 all purpose yards and eight touchdowns, while his partner in crime Jamaal Williams has accrued 994 yards and 15 touchdowns.

This team can beat you from the pocket as well and Jared Goff has had a resurgent career year by putting the ball on the money for his receivers throughout the season. In his last five games, Goff has thrown 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions. His best weapon is Amon Ra St Brown, who has become an NFL superstar this season and they have just got the 12th overall pick in the 2022 draft, Jamison Williams, back from injury in recent weeks.

The Lions will be comfortable if the game turns into a shootout. It is when they have been at their best this season. 

On defence, their best players are their youngest players with rookies Aiden Hutchinson, Kerby Joseph and Malcolm Rodriguez adding to other young talents in Jeff Okudah at corner and Derrick Barnes at linebacker. They are not the finished package on defence by nay means and they will be coming up against a better Aaron Rodgers than the one who didn’t throw a touchdown pass in November. 

This game could go either way and to be honest I am expecting a shootout. It should be fun to watch and worth staying up for. I’ll call the Packers to win in front of a packed home audience, as I feel their defence has more playmakers that could make the difference in the fourth quarter.


There is still one place to play for in the AFC after the Jaguars beat the Titans last night to win the AFC South. 

In the running are the Patriots, Dolphins, and Steelers, who play the Bills, Jets and Browns respectively. 

After a very difficult week in Buffalo, I can’t see any team beating the Bills this weekend in what should be a very emotional game after Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the field last Monday. I think it will have a galvanizing effect on the team and their supporters coupled with the fact that they are a much stronger team than the Pats at the moment. 

It should be well contested but New England lacks the firepower to cause too much damage to the Bills. I would be surprised if Bill Belichick can pull out a win given the circumstances and I don’t usually write off the old man.  

That leaves the Dolphins, with Skyler Thompson at quarterback, needing to beat the New York Jets. I wouldn’t be very confident that Miami will win but the Jets are very poor on offence right now. I am not in any way convinced by Mike White at quarterback. But with Joe Flacco starting, it will make things trickier but I expect the Dolphins to pull out a win because their need is greater. 

Should they lose, it leaves the door open for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who should be able to account for the Browns. The Steelers have been getting healthier and more experienced by the week and they are in a much stronger place than they have been all season with their D-line balling out and rookie QB Kenny Pickett looking more comfortable by the week under centre. 

Of the three hopefuls, I’d like to see the Steelers in the postseason. 

The NFC and AFC Playoff Scenario

By David McDonnell 

We are almost half way through December, so from now I will begin to focus more on the teams threatening the top seven in both the NFC and AFC as the NFL begins to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

Lets talk through the current playoff scenario starting with the NFC.


One of the most interesting stories from Sunday was the performance of Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy, who beat out Tom Brady and his Buccaneers in the first start of his NFL career.

Last week, the rookie QB came on after Jimmy Garoppolo broke his leg and was very impressive. From what I saw last night, 49ers fans should be greatly encouraged by Purdy.

I realise I am going by a small sample size but Purdy’s remit is to not turn over the ball and make the throws when asked by Kyle Shanahan. On Sunday, the 49ers rushing offence had over 200 yards on the ground with Purdy throwing to eight different receivers. His throws were on point and he completed 16/21 throws against the Bucs and seemed very comfortable in this offence.

I didn’t see any step down from anything Jimmy G has shown this season.

Purdy has a very calm demeanor under centre and comes across a very cool customer whether he is under pressure from pass-rushers or being asked questions on national television in the after match interviews. There may be a fun personality behind that calm façade he is showing presently, and I am sure I am not the only one to notice the Shooter McGavin pistol celebration whenever he throws a touchdown pass. 

The 49ers have now won six games in a row and are genuine contenders to win the NFC Championship. Although Deebo Samuel was carted off with an ankle injury, it is not suspected to be serious.

The 49er main rivals for the NFC crown are the Eagles, who went 12-1 on the season thus becoming the first team to secure their NFC playoff spot after making light work of the Giants. 

The Eagles run game was dominant throughout as the Eagles rushed for over 250 yards and four touchdowns. 

It was all too easy for Philly who went 21-0 up when AJ Brown caught his 10th touchdown of the season. Not to be outdone, Jalen Hurts ran in his 10th rushing TD in the second half.

It leaves the Giants in seventh spot in the NFC rankings with a record of 7-5-1, just one place behind the Commanders, who with the same record somehow jump two places to sixth seeds despite being on their bye week. 

The Commanders and Giants are set to renew acquaintances on Sunday Night Football in Week 15, which is next weekend, which should open the door to the Seahawks and the Lions to stake a playoff claim.

The Seahawks lost their play-off positions for now after falling to the Carolina Panthers who took an early 17-0 lead in the contest. Seattle replied and Tyler Lockett did well to tow-tap his way at the back of the endzone for his first touchdown.

Smith also found DK Metcalf for a touchdown and also connected with Terrace Marshall for a memorable catch. 

Although Geno got his side close, they found it difficult to stop the Carolina run game, who had over 220 yards, while the Seahawks could only amass 48 yards from their rushing attack. 

After starting the season 1-5, coach Steve Wilks has the Panthers at 5-8 and only a game behind the Bucs who sit top of the NFC North with six wins. With both teams lined up to face each other in Week 17, this division is still there to be won. 

Another team that started 1-5 and are on the edge of a playoff position are the Detroit Lions, who lived up to their billing as favourite to turn over the 10-2 Vikings. 

The Lions are littered with young talent across their roster and former Alabama star wideout Jamison Williams opened the scoring with a touchdown on the first reception of his career. 

Dan Campbell has his charges on a roll and with their high powered offence could surprise a higher seed in January. The Lions kept the Vikings at arm’s length throughout and sealed victory when they threw to tackle Penny Sewell to pick up a late first down. 

Another team with their playoff prospects almost secure are the Dallas Cowboys who were pushed all the way by the one-win Houston Texans. 

They needed a stop from Dexter Laurence on fourth and goal from the one yard line which was then followed by a late 98-yard drive from Dak Prescott which ended with an Ezekiel Elliot TD for a 23-27 win. 


The Tennessee Titans dropped their third straight loss as Trevor Laurence continues to build on his recent good form. Derek Henry had a great first quarter running for 96 yards and a touchdown but Laurence led the Jags to 26 unanswered points in the second and third quarters. 

It leaves the Titans looking over their shoulder but with a two game lead and four weeks left to play in the regular season, they still should represent the AFC South in January. 

Joe Burrow got his first win against his Ohio neighbors, the Cleveland Browns, with a routine victory. Burrow opened the scoring in the second quarter when he found Ja’Marr Chase with an accurate pass for his seventh touchdown of the season to go with 119 receiving yards.

Further scores from Samaje Perine and a flea-flicker pass to Trenton Irwin to extend the lead in the third quarter. 

Staying in the AFC North the Ravens won the battle of the backup QBs after both Kenny Pickett and Tyler Hunt had to leave the game injured. They were replaced by Mitch Trubisky and Anthony Brown. 

Although a late Pat Friermuith touchdown left just two points between the teams, Baltimore saw the game out without any drama.

It means the Bengals and Ravens are both 9-4 and they still have to meet later in a few weeks.

Patrick Mahomes took the Chiefs into a 27-0 lead against the Broncos during which he threw a nonchalant touchdown pass to Jerrick McKinnon. 

Another piece of magic in the second half saw Mahomes find Juju Smith-Schuster in the endzone as he added more highlights to his MVP candidacy.

The Kansas City QB wasn’t perfect and threw three interceptions and the Broncos narrowed the gap to a one-score game after receiver Jerry Jeudy scored a hat-trick of touchdowns. 

The Buffalo Bills got their season back on track after a recent dip in form by overcoming the New York Jets. The Bills defence turned up this week and landed some big hits on Mike White. 

The Bills led throughout after a memorable score by Dawson Knox, whose landing in the endzone resembled that of an Olympic gymnastic fail for six points. 

Josh Allen continues to put his body on the line with ball in hand on most third down situations and as big and athletic his frame is, in my opinion, it is only a matter of time until he picks up a significant injury.

The Bills are currently top of the AFC standings at 9-4 and are ahead due to their head-to-head win over the Chiefs earlier in that epic game earlier in the season.

The Bills win leaves the Jets outside the playoff positions, although with the same 7-6 record as the LA Chargers, who overcame the Miami Dolphins  in the late kick-off on Sunday Night: and the New England Patriots, who won on the road against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football: .

It leaves the Pats as seventh seeds in the AFC with four games left to play. Of the three, my two-cents would be on the Chargers and because of Justin Herbert, who in my book is already an NFL superstar.

Don’t worry the rest of you will catch up soon enough.

Pats in Playoff Picture 

By David McDonnell

The Patriots have been going under the radar all season but with four weeks of the regular season to go, they find themselves in play-off positions as the seventh seed in the AFC. 

Their task on Monday Night Football was to win on the road against the Cardinals and their task got a lot easier when Kyler Murray suffered what looked like a serious non-contact injury.  He was karted off the field only a minute and 21 seconds into the contest and was replaced by veteran QB Colt McCoy.

The New England offence has been one dimensional throughout this season playing a traditional smashmouth football style of offence and when Rhamondre Stevenson also left the fray with an injury, it meant that the Pats were without their two starting running backs as Damien Harris was already ruled out pregame.  

At the time I wondered if we would see a change of approach to the Pats offence and I got a definitive answer of No!!!

Instead the Patriots leaned on their two rookie running-backs and that approach was rewarded when sixth round rookie Kevin Harris got the first touchdown of the game and his career.

In the second quarter James Conor managed to run through the middle of a pile and out the other side for a touchdown, while being tackled by Devin McCourty. 

The Pats added to field goals to leave the score 13-13 at half time. 

That was as good as it got for the Cardinals on the night as the New England defence took over in the second half. 

A defensive touchdown gave them a seven-point lead when DeAndre Hopkins fumbled the ball while holding it in one hand, and Raekwon McMillan returned it for a 23-yard score.

Rookie Marcus Jones, who has caught the eye in recent weeks scoring touchdowns on special teams and on offence, then got his first interception of the season, which must be some kind of record.

Later in the drive Mac Jones found Hunter Henry for 39 yards to set up first and goal. At the start of the fourth quarter rookie running-back Pierre Strong, who went on a 44 yard run in the first half, also got his first touchdown of his career to make it a two-score game.

The Cardinals never threatened after as the Patriots defence dominated. In the end they finished with six sacks, three for Josh Uche, an interception and the forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown. 

Bill Belichick has a talented group of young players in New England. If they can add a few pieces to the offence in the off-season, it won’t be very long until they are back in Superbowl conversations. 

For now, with a 7-6 record, the play-offs will do. 

The Chargers and the Jets rate the same in the win-loss column and it should be an interesting race between the three teams to see who is still playing football after Week 18.

Of the three, my two-cents would be on the Chargers.

MNF: Patriots v Cardinals

By Conor Perrett 

The football hasn’t stopped this weekend and tonight on Monday Night Football, we have two teams heading in the wrong direction, trying to rescue their season. 

With the Cardinals coming off a bye week, they host a New England team facing a backlash after a poor offensive performance last week.

Arizona Cardinals (4-8)

Power Rankings: 25th

DVOA Rankings: Offence: 29th, Defence: 24th, ST: 28th, Overall:  30th

The Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Vance Joseph made some comments during the week that raised eyebrows. 

When talking about the Patriots offence, Joseph said: “It’s a very conservative passing game, a lot of screens. It’s how a defensive guy would call offensive plays.” 

Joseph knew who he was aiming at he said this, with former defensive coordinator Matt Patrica running the Pats offence now. A move that came with lots of criticism and Joseph lined up to take some shots himself.

Trash talking is always fun to see in the league, but it comes at a risk. Making comments like this can back-fire, especially when the Cardinals defence has itself been poor. They have stars at all three levels of the defence, but have failed to get the best out of any of them. New England’s offence might be a good start to turn that around, but it’s a risky bet to go up against Bill Belichick like that. 

On the other side of the ball, the Cards offence has to start performing to what we saw at the start of last season. The Patriots have struggled with No. 1 receivers as of late, so with Hopkins back,  expect him to be heavily involved if Kliff Kingsbury knows what he’s doing.

New England Patriots (6-6)

Power Rankings: 15th

DVOA Rankings: Offence: 24th, Defence: 3rd, ST: 10th, Overall: 12th

The Patriots’ playoff chances are plummeting weekly and a loss to the Cardinals would drop them under .500 and leave them last place in the AFC East. Bill Belichick has worked his magic on defence, having it playing at an elite level for the majority of the year. 

But the complete opposite can be said for New England’s offence.

Things won’t get much easier for the Patriots with starters Jakobi Meyers , Isaiah Wynn and Damien Harris all expected to miss the game. Their loss will only add to New England’s worries as Matt Patrica tries to change the narrative around their offence. 

The biggest question marks will be at the offensive tackle positions. With Wynn set to miss the game with a foot injury, back-up Marcus Cannon remains on IR and third replacement Yodny Cajuste is labelled questionable. With left-tackle Trent Brown also questionable, the Patriots top-4 tackles are all in doubt for the game.


With Arizona set to host this game you would expect that to be an advantage, but it actually might not be. The Cardinals have only won one game at home all season.

Both teams are a bit beaten up heading into the game, but Arizona do hold the advantage of a bye week to prepare for the game. New England themselves have had a bit extra time by playing on last week’s TNF, so in the grand scheme of things it evens itself out. 

Hopkins and Hollywood Brown will cause trouble for the Patriots man-coverage but the defensive line should have its way with an average Cardinals o-line.

It has all the markings to be a low scoring game with how both teams have been performing as of late, so I will learn towards the better coach. Belichick is no ordinary coach and Kingsbury has shown us nothing in his career that says he belongs in the NFL. Even with maybe the better roster and home advantage, I can’t see it making too much of a difference and see New England travelling back with the win.

Patriots 21-20 Cardinals 

TNF: Bills v Patriots

By Conor Perrett 

The AFC East is still very much up for grabs, and the outcome of Thursday night’s matchup between the Patriots and Bills could make the divisional race even more interesting. 

After Thanksgiving last week, both teams will be playing on Thursday for the second consecutive week, with Buffalo opening as 3.5 favourites in the bookies. 

New England Patriots (6-5)

Power Rankings – 14th

DVOA Rankings: Offence – 25th, Defence – 2nd, ST – 9th: Overall – 11th 

New England currently sit at the bottom of their division but the AFC East is still very much within reach for them, if they win at home tonight. Buffalo won’t be an easy test though, with them being one of the most well rounded teams in the league. 

Bill Belichick’s defences have tended to struggle against running QBs and Josh Allen has 36 career rushing touchdowns, 12 more than any other quarterback since entering the league in 2018. With an injured elbow as well, Allen may look to take to his feet more, but this year’s Patriots defence is better than past seasons. The matchup on this side of the ball will be a heavyweight bout. 

If New England wants to win this game, they will have to do it through Mac Jones.

The offence has been stagnant all year, but last week we finally saw the Pats passing game come to life. The Bills will not have Von Miller this week which will help, as their pressure rate with and without him drops from 39.3 percent to 26.6. Buffalo still has an elite defence but if Jones can stay clean in the pocket, there might be some openings for him to exploit.

Buffalo Bills (7-3)

Power Rankings – 4th

DVOA Rankings: Offence – 6th, Defence – 3rd, ST – 3rd: Overall – 1st 

Buffalo currently sits a game behind Miami in the division, with a seat in a Wild-Card spot. It likely isn’t what anyone within the Bills organisation hopes for, so some divisional wins will be crucial to host a playoff game. Earning a victory on Thursday night would keep Josh Allen and Co. in the mix to push themselves further up the seeds and achieve them goals.

Missing Von Miller will be a big loss for this team over the next couple of weeks, meaning others will need to step up to stop New England’s rushing attack. It’s the strongest part of their game and if they can do that, they’ll be in good shape to secure their ninth win of the season.

Previous Matchups

2021 Season:

Week 13 – Patriots @ Bills, 14-10 Patriots Win

Week 16 – Bills @ Patriots, 33-21 Bills Win

These teams are meeting at the same time as last year where the Patriots took down the Bills in a low scoring affair. Since then both teams’ defences have only improved but you would say New England’s offence has regressed.. 


On a normal slate of paper the Bills have looked a far more impressive team than the Patriots this season. Despite having similar defences, with the Patriots slightly ranked higher through DVOA, the offences don’t compare with the superstars Buffalo have on that side of the ball.

Injuries have started to pile up for them though, with the trenches having some significant losses in EDGE rusher Von Miller and OT Dion Dawkins.

If the Patriots offence can show up like they did last week then this game has a chance to be real close. The problem with that, is we don’t know if such performances were a fluke or real. For that reason I can’t trust what New England has out there and will lean towards the better offence.

With a weaken O-Line, Allen may take to his feet more, something that we know this Patriots defence can struggle with. He has the far superior weapons and a blueprint on how to beat this Patriots defence might have been put out last week for them to copy. 

Bills 20, Patriots 13

Thanksgiving NFL: Patriots v Vikings

By Conor Perrett 

In our next preview of the Thanksgiving games, we’re travelling back up north to Minnesota, as they prepare to host the New England Patriots in the late kick-off at 1.30 a.m. GMT. 

Both teams are coming off low scoring games from themselves. The only difference is Bill Belichick and the Patriots preference is that way and the Vikings hit a major hiccup to their season last time out. 

Minnesota Vikings (8-2)

Power Rankings – 11th

DVOA Rankings: Offence – 19th, Defence – 18th, ST – 26th: Overall – 24th

Despite the 8-2 record, which leaves Minnesota for the tied 2nd best record in the NFL, via football outsiders DVOA’s metrics, they rank 24th in the league.

The gap between the two is enormous and paints a picture into the Vikings performances this season. Minnesota has had the fortune of a fairly easy schedule in the league, but has suffered when playing the big teams. Their win against Buffalo will famously go down as one of the craziest endings in the NFL, but defeats to Eagles and Cowboys have been less watchable.

Minnesota are coming off the biggest lopsided loss in the NFL this season when they lost 40-3 to Dallas. Their offensive gameplay failed miserably and it was an even worse day at the office for the defence. 

The offence, run by former Rams offensive-coordinator Kevin O’Connell, looks promising with Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and TJ Hockenson who are all stars at their respective positions. The problem may just be the guy throwing them the ball, Kirk Cousins. 

Cousins’ current EPA per dropback this season is minus-0.06, which ranks 26th among the 35 quarterbacks. In a new scheme it’s fair to give him time but there’s been questions about Cousins’ ceiling for some time. Cousins has always struggled when the lights are on him in prime-time games and Thursday night will be no different. 

Maybe a win tonight, he can change the agenda around him against the best defence in the league.

New England Patriots (6-4)

Power Rankings – 13th

DVOA Rankings: Offence – 26th, Defence – 1st, ST – 5th: Overall – 11th

Post Tom Brady, the New England Patriots are in a very different place concentrating more on the defensive part of the game now. New England’s defence is 1st in defensive DVOA as they specialise in suffocating their opponents. 

The defence has carried them through games this year, most recently against the Jets when they won without scoring an offensive touchdown.That’s been the story of the Patriots season so far. 

Defence exceptional, but offence diabolical. The main cause to that has been the quarterback position. Mac Jones has been poor in the passing game and opposing defences have taken advantage of that. The running game hasn’t been too bad, ranking 18th in EPA per rush, but teams have made an effort to stop that and force Jones to beat them.


I think it’s safe to say this game will be on the lower end of scoring. I like the Vikings offence but feel the Patriot’s D will match up well against them. 

The Patriots’ offence hasn’t been good this season by any measure, but when the Cowboys scored 40 against the Vikings last Sunday, it creates blueprints for other teams to use. 

Belichick is the master of that and will take advantage of an inexperienced coaching staff. It will be hard to win on the road but I see it being close towards the end of the game and the underdogs Pats taking the win at the end of Thanksgiving.

Patriots 13-10 Vikings

Bills Under Pressure: NFL Week 11 Preview

By David McDonnell

In Buffalo right now, snow is piling higher than a Disney Christmas film and during the week Von Miller woke up to find his car buried under about two feet of snow. 

But just as we were starting to rub our hand in anticipation of an NFL snow game, the No Fun League struck again and moved the game to a covered Ford Field in Detroit. 

I’m not a meteorologist but with heavy snow storms on the scene in November, surely we will have one snow game before the end of the season. So for now, let’s keep trucking with three selected games from the Week 11 fixtures. 

Browns v Bills

Who would have believed three weeks ago that the Buffalo Bills could be sitting third in the AFC East division, after successive losses to the Jets and the Vikings? Interestingly they are still the Superbowl favourites in the bookies but it must be concerning to Sean McDermott that they are coming out the wrong side of closely-contested matches.

After losing in unforgettable style to the Vikes last Sunday, this week they are under pressure to bounce back.

So this is my take on why the Bills are struggling of late.

On offence, they can’t run the ball successfully and this is having a number of knock on effects.  

One, Josh Allen is now passing that ball almost twice as many times as they are attempting to run the ball  and because of that they are becoming more predictable. It negates their use of play-action to get big chuck plays down the field as teams are not coming down to pack the box.The Bills did recruit Nyheim Hines from the Colts to their running-back room but so far it hasn’t had the desired effect.

Two, it has been a factor with Josh Allen throwing interceptions as he is now throwing into more congested traffic in the backfield. The two picks by Patrick Peterson last Sunday means that Allen has thrown six interceptions in the last three games and losing the turnover battle 2-4 was a major factor in contributing to their last two defeats.

Three, because they don’t have a running back excelling in the rushing attack, one thing I have noticed recently and I think teams have caught on as well is that Allen almost always runs on third and fourth down, especially late in the game. Call it a superman complex if you will, but it seems that he trusts himself more to get past the marker through his own athleticism and force of will rather than throw to his receiving corp. 

When it works as it certainly did earlier in the season, it looks spectacular and it was very much one of the reasons why he was the early MVP candidate. At the moment it is clear that although passed fit to start, he is playing banged up. In hindsight Buffalo probably should have started with Case Keenam last weekend but I understand why the coaches and players in Buffalo rolled the dice with Allen.

In my opinion, the Bills have great depth on defence but have been missing a number of starters, especially their defensive backs, who were taken to the cleaners by the Vikes. To sum up, Buffalo couldn’t stop the run and they couldn’t stop the pass. Kirk Cousins looked like Joe Montana as he threw for 357 yards with Justin Jefferson catching for 193 yards and a touchdown. All this while Dalvin Cook ran for 119 yards and another TD. 

So why are they still Superbowl favourites? 

For one thing, they haven’t been able to put their best selection of defensive backs on the field but in another week or two that is likely to be the case. Captain Tre’Davious White is not in the squad this weekend but it only seems a matter of time until he is back from a long-term injury,  while first round pick Kaiir Elam and safety Jordan Poyer are likely to feature having both missed the loss to Minnesota. 

They are also missing Tremaine Edmunds and Gregory Rousseau, both good against the run and with ability to rush the passer and their loss could be felt against one of the best offensive lines in all of football at Cleveland, who also possess the best running back in the league not named Derek Henry in Nick Chubb.  

This match-up between the Bills D-line and the Browns o-line should be worth the entrance fee alone and what makes this game more intriguing than it looks on the calendar. 

The Browns have been playing akin to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde over the last three weeks. Their best performance of the season came against the Bengals on Monday Night Football in Week 8 and they followed this up by allowing the Miami Dolphins 480 yards from scrimmage last Sunday. 

I wonder if Deshaun Jacksion’s return to training had an effect as he undoubtedly would have taken snaps away from Jacoby Brisscett in the lead up to the game and perhaps put questions about whom the other players should look to as the leader of the offence. 

Who knows which Browns will get in Ford Field? 

Cleveland is very healthy on offence. Their plan should be to run the ball behind their impressive offensive line and try to wear down the banged up Bills. I think this would be their best chance of keeping the score tight and then try to win the game in the fourth quarter. 

Especially after losing a high-profile roller-coaster last weekend and the manner in which things unfolded, I am again giving them the benefit of the doubt to Buffalo.  I expect them to  get back to winning ways this weekend. However, should they fall to the Browns, I doubt they will still be favourites in the bookies next week.

Jets v Patriots 

This is another cracking match-up as the 6-3 Jets travel to face the Patriots in Foxboro, a venue where they haven’t been victorious since the 2010 play-offs. This is highly embarrassing for a team that has played there every year since. 

Not only that but should the formbook continue, the Jets will have lost 14 consecutive games against their most hated divisional rivals. 

I have a feeling Sunday may be the day Gang Green gets this monkey off their backs, which might sound strange considering the Patriots beat the Jets in New York only two weeks ago. 

So let me explain! 

In that recent loss, Zach Wilson was the villain on the day as he got intercepted three times, but as i mentioned recently I love the way he throws the ball and I just see enough green shoots in him to believe that he is a young player, who could blossom into an NFL superstar.

In my opinion, the recent loss to the Pats provides Wilson with lessons to improve his game and in time he could see it as a blessing in disguise. For me this is an ideal opportunity in which to show progression with his decision making and also his attention to detail, as he was punished twice  last time out with turnovers that I consider lapses in concentration.

I also want to make clear,  I am not burdening the fate of the game, solely on Wilson’s shoulders because I think he can be a good player. No, I think this Patriots team is limited on offence but have been good at running against most opposition. Where I believe this Jets team is best is in their run defence and Quinnian Williams has become a wrecking ball against the rush and also been good at

helping the D line get after the opposing QB.

It is also Mac Jones first home game, since the Pats fans cheered loudly when he was replaced by Bailey Zappe a few weeks back.  What I like about Jones is he is smart and confidently manages a game, which is what the Pats ask of him to do. But just like Wilson he has struggled for consistency in his sophomore season and he is in a tricky situation for any young player to be in with the outward discontentment from his own supporters. There are many reasons for the difficulties in the Pats passing game but I would put a lack of blue chip talent at receiver and play-calling at the top of my list as to why they are struggling in the passing game, before I would point the finger at Jones at quarterback. 

I’m going for an upset win for the Jets in New England. There I said it. 

Cowboys v Vikings 

The third game that will be good to watch is the Cowboys travelling to Minnesota to tackle the 8-1 Vikings.

The Vikes are coming off the greatest regular season win that i can remember and sometimes it can be hard to figuratively keep your feet on the ground after reaching such heights. The one thing that they have in the locker that will be a problem for the Cowboys is their pass-rush, who have excelled and if Dak plays to the level he did against Green Bay last time out, then the Boys will be in trouble. 

But I like the Cowboys for this game because their need is greatest. The Cowboys need to win to keep up their play-off hopes in a hotly contested NFC East division. They were having an excellent season and their defence should be able to do a lot better than Buffalo did last week in getting after Cousins, who is flying high now but we have seen from him so many times how inconsistent he can be week-to- week.   

For Dallas to win, Dak needs to step up and control the game on offence. With Ceedee Lamb coming off his best game of the season and Tony Pollard also going well, I think they are well-placed to take on a Minnesota team that still haven’t yet convinced me of their merits. 

A Wonderful Week 4 in Store 

By David McDonnell 

Buffalo Bills @ Baltimore Ravens 

This is a game I am really looking forward to as the two best teams on form in the NFL this season clash in Week 4. 

Interestingly what these sides have in common is that they both lost epic battles to the Miami Dolphins in the last fortnight

Although still early, this will also be a battle for a lead in the race for post-season home-field advantage as I expect, barring injury, both teams will still be playing football in January and this fixture potentially the AFC Championship match-up later in this season. 

They say a week is a long time in politics and that is certainly the case in the NFL. Tua Tagovailoa’s concussion on Thursday Night Football shows how a team’s plight can change in one play and both the Ravens and Bills chances of Superbowl success would go up in smoke if either of their quarterbacks were to pick up a significant injury. Then again, that would be true for every Superbowl contender, so let’s not dwell on such hypotheticals. 

There has been some fun in the run-up to this game. 

Bills quarterback Josh Allen began the week buttering up his opponents, while also highlighting the potential mine in the Ravens’ building. As has been widely reported, Lamar Jackson has yet to come to an agreement with the Baltimore franchise over a long-term contract extension that has been parked by both sides until the off-season. 

Allen said that Jackson “should be the highest paid player in the league” with the way he is currently playing, and this was then put to Jackson in a televised interview. 

Lamar reacts to Josh Allen statement

I’m not sure those holding the purse strings in Baltimore would have appreciated it, but the sentiments are hard to argue with. Jackson has been amazing this season. 

That he has done most of his damage on the field with his arms rather than his legs has shown the progression he has made as a quarterback and the less punishment his body takes throughout the regular season could pay dividends in the postseason, as he is the most electric QB running with the ball the game has ever seen. 

He is now in the prime of his career and is a better quarterback than when he won the league MVP in 2019. 

His opponent on Sunday, Allen is also a leading candidate for Super Bowl and MVP honours this season and the Bills are currently the bookies favourites for the title. They are not without their faults, as their secondary was exposed by Jaylen Waddle at times last weekend and surprisingly their offensive line had their hands full when Miami rushed four men throughout the second half last week and routinely got the Bills attack off the field on third down.

I expect last week’s defeat to the Dolphins to be a blessing in disguise as it gives Buffalo lessons to learn from, while also helping them get their feet back on the ground, after expectations were threatening to get out of hand in upstate New York after their impressive start to the season. 

I expect the Bills offence to get back to themselves this week against a Baltimore defence that has looked porous at times. On the back of that observation, I expect the Bills to emerge victorious on Sunday. 

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Arguably, the best match-up of the weekend is the late one on Sunday night when the Chiefs go head-to-head with the Buccaneers in a repeat of Super Bowl 55 in February, 2021. 

That game too was in Raymond James stadium so let’s reminisce about that old battle before this next episode. On that night Tom Brady led his then new team convincingly to the title, after the Bucs defence made bits of the Chiefs offensive line and put quarterback Patrick Mahommes under the pump all night.

This time Mahommes returns with a much stronger offensive line, an All-Star cast including Pro-Bowlers Orlando Brown Jr, Joe Thuney and Creed Humphery. This group is up there with the best in the league and sets up a battle in the trenches that will be worth the entrance fee alone.

Whichever group emerges as dominant in this key battle should be a signpost of a team with serious credentials of competing for the Superbowl in Glendale, Arizona on the second Sunday in February.

The Bucs defensive line has been outstanding this season and they are, in my opinion, the best side in football at defending against the run, led by the man-mountain that is Vita Vea and teammates Akiem Hicks and William Gholston. They also possess the pass-rushing talent of Shaq Barrett. 

What makes the Bucs defence particularly formidable is the supporting cast with linebackers Levontae David and Devin White, the latter of whom is catching the eye in every game and will likely be in the conversation as the best defensive player when the honours are handed out near the end of the season. Their secondary also is very strong and full of experience with Antonie Winfield Jr now one of the premier safeties in the game.

Last week when the need was greatest they managed to stifle Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offence on multiple drives throughout the second half, which gave Tom Brady a chance to bring the game to overtime.  

Where the Bucs have struggled so far this season has been on offence.  

Brady has the talent in the locker room but they have been plagued with injuries and suspensions to their best starting receiving core. Chris Godwin has yet to feature through injury and Julio Jones is also doubtful for Sunday. Mike Evans, however, will be back after serving his one game suspension for his altercation with Marshon Lattimore after the whistle in Week 2. Once fully fit, they will be a frightful proposition for anyone. 

The Chiefs have also had their own struggles on offence, which only became apparent to me last week during their surprise loss against the Colts. 

Of course everyone knew they would miss the speed of Tyreek Hill but his loss has had a few knock-on effects. For one, it has narrowed the playing field somewhat for Mahomes with less options farther down the field. Also it has resulted in his favourite target Travis Kelce getting effectively double-teamed on almost every play of the game. 

It means that they will need to find a different way to win. 

It is no wonder that Mahomes is getting frustrated in the pocket as was seen with his sideline argument with offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy at halftime last week. 

This weekend, they are unlikely to get much change from their rushing attack out of a mammoth Bucs defensive line. Also the Kansas’ running game lacks the type of bruising running back that will get you that first down through force and strength of will. I am a fan of running-back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and his versatility but his quick-stepping and good hands sees him play in a ‘third-down back’ role on all three downs. In my opinion, they could do with some brute force in their running game to make them less predictable.  

It is not all doom and gloom. The arrival of Juju Smith-Schuster in the slot gives him another strong option on third down and in the endzone and certainly, when Mahommes gets time in the pocket he has the skill-set and ability to disact any defence. For me, he is the best quarterback plying his trade in the NFL.

A few days ago, it was looking like this game was going to be moved to Minnesota due to the storms in Miami. Luckily for gridiron fans across the globe, Hurricane Ian managed to bypass the stadium in Tampa Bay and we can expect it to be full on Sunday night with what promises to be an enthralling contest. 

This game is so close, many of the bookies don’t even have a favourite for this contest, which doesn’t happen often in sports.The Bucs defence swings it for me and I’ll swing for a home win. 

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints 

I’ll move quickly through the first match-up of the year in London. 

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium looks an excellent venue for American Football and provides an atmosphere that you don’t get at Wembley as the fans are that bit closer to the action. 

The London games are historically difficult to predict, but I’m going to side with Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings in this one. They are coming off a late win against Detroit last week and Kirk Cousins should be comfortable in London. He has been over to the UK many times and he has the weapons to put on a show for a crowd that will get behind the team that can make big plays. The Vikings have a good defence and look to have one of the more balanced rosters in football. 

However, the main reason why I’m picking the Vikings is the uncertainty at quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. Just when he seemed to have turned the corners, quarterback Jameis Winston has turned back around again into a turnover machine, throwing five interceptions the last two weeks, which proved costly to the Saints in both games. 

He is doubtful coming for this game with back and ankle injuries, with Andy Dalton a safer pair of hands, waiting for his chance on the sideline. Even if Winston starts and he continues to turn the ball over, it won’t be long until we see Dalton on the field anyways. 

Additionally, their offensive line is missing the presence at left tackle of Terron Armstead, since he left for Miami Dolphins in the off-season and I think this also impacted on the productivity of  their ground game with Alvin Kamara playing banged-up through the first three weeks.

All indicators point to a Vikings win but as i said before, London games have a history of taking on a mind of their own.

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers

Historically, this is a match-up that would usually take top-billing match-up as Aaron Rodgers and the Packer faithful welcome the Patriots to Lambeau Field.

If the opening three weeks is anything to go by, it is likely to be a borefest or let’s say, one of the purists. These are two excellent defences coming up against two sides who again are struggling on offence. 

Green Bay is still feeling the loss of wide-out Devontae Adams and Rodgers has not gelled yet with his new receiving core. There were some green shoots in the first half last week when he started to build up a repore with rookie Romeo Dobbs but in the second half in Tampa Bay, the Packers could not extend drives which nearly cost them the game. 

This week, these struggles could continue as they face the greatest defensive mind in the history of the game in Bill Belichick. He is likely to frustrate the Packer offence once again and it will be interesting if Rodgers and head-coach Matt LeFleur can game plan their way around this. 

If they can, it could be a turning point in their season as their defence has been very impressive in the opening few weeks. 

I expect the Green Bay defence to stifle what will be a Brian Hoyer led offence after Mac Jones was ruled out yesterday. The Patriots will put the ball in the hands of Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris and try to wear this Packer defence down. The Pats have become very one-dimensional on offence this season since the loss of offensive guru Josh McDaniels and are badly crying out for a blue-chip playmaker on the outside. 

With Green Bay having the huge advantage at quarterback, it should be three wins in a row for the Cheeseheads but it will be the manner of their victory that will be more telling of what the season could hold in store for them. 

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders

An AFC West division match-up between two sides that have looked better on paper than they have on the field. 

Russell Wilson has yet to click with what should be a high-powered offence but he is coming off two wins in a row. Rome wasn’t built in a day and there were bound to be growing pains for a quarterback in a new scheme with new teammates. I will not overreact to my concerns over this team just yet and give the Broncos the benefit of the doubt for now. 

They face a Raiders side that is in danger of starting the season 0-4 and a loss on Sunday will see them soon to be preparing for next season. Maxx Crosby has lived up to the hype on defence but he needs a few of his teammates to step up and help him out. While on offence Derek Carr needs to start balling out and get the pigskin into the hands of the highly talented play-makers at his disposal. 

Head coach Josh McDaniels must be disappointed with their run game in particular. They are putting the ball in the hands of their running backs but their rushing attack has been limited so far leaving Carr with more third and long opportunities than he would like. It is also stifling their play-action attack. 

When the need is greatest, a team will either come together or crumble. The need is very great in Las Vegas right now. Desperation might be their biggest asset on Sunday, but I wouldn’t be anyway confident the Raiders will get the job done. It should be a good game to watch with the Broncos for me taking the win.  

NFL Week 2 Preview Column

By David McDonnell

Steelers @ Patriots

One of the most intriguing contests of Week 2 sees the two most successful franchises in NFL history collide when the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Which defence will prevail?

This fixture also pits the two longest-tenured head coaches in the National Football League with the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, in situ since 2007, continuing a remarkable record of never having a losing season, while his opponent, Bill Bellicheck has embarked on his 23rd campaign as the boss-man in New England.

What makes this game fascinating is both teams are renowned for their defence prowess and neither side set the world alight on offence during Week 1. 

Let’s start with the Pats. 

Despite a 20-7 defeat to the Miami Dolphins, their defence played well limiting an explosive Dolphins offence to one touchdown when speedster wide-out Jaylen Waddle took the ball on a slant, broke cover and took it 42 yards to the house. 

New England’s offence was dismal last week. 

It is hard to see how they will improve their plight as they have no blue-chip talents at the receiver positions. They are paying the price for spending big on offence in free agency in 2021 and failing to land a difference maker. More importantly they have lost the offensive mastermind Josh McDaniels, who took up the head coaching job with the Las Vegas Raiders. Certainly there were a few eyebrows raised when former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia took over this role for the ‘22 season. 

Another issue with the Patriots offence against the Dolphins was their second season quarterback Mac Jones took a lot of punishment as his offensive line was consistently under pressure throughout the game. A tackle from his namesake Brandon Jones saw the ball knocked free and Melvin Ingram gathered before walking into the endzone in the second quarter.  After the game, Jones reported to his medical team with a back injury but has since returned to training and will start on Sunday. 

With the much vaunted Pittsburgh defence coming to town, I expect the Patriots to go back to a traditional running game with Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris figuratively and literally carrying much of the load. Look out for tight-end Hunter Henry to be targeted more than three times this Sunday, especially when the Pats get into the red zone. 

Last Sunday Pittsburgh opened their season with a win after an epic contest against the Cincinnati Bengals. Their defence wreaked havoc recording seven sacks, two forced fumbles, four interceptions and a defensive touchdown and they must be licking their lips after the Patriots’ struggles in Miami. 

Unfortunately, the Steelers travel to Foxboro without their best player, TJ Watt, after the current Defensive Player of the Year was ruled out after tearing a pectoral muscle. It is expected that the defensive-end will return later in the season. 

The Steelers offence is also likely to  struggle to get the chains moving after QB Mitch Trubisky only completed 21 of 38 passes thrown last time out. His only touchdown was to running-back Najee Harris from the one yard line. 

This game is likely going to be a one for the purists, with the Steelers winning a low scoring affair. 

New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

The best match-up of the weekend comes in  the NFC South when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host divisional rivals New Orleans Saints. 

Most surprisingly the Saints go into this contest having won the last seven regular season fixtures against the Bucs, with the Tampa Bay side overturning the form guide in the playoffs on their way to the Superbowl in 2021. 

This shouldn’t have any significance as both franchises have new head coaches after promoting from within.

Saints Head Coach Denis Allen got his reign off with a come-from-behind last gasp fourth quarter victory against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1. Trailing by 16 points in the fourth quarter, Jameis Winston led his team to victory throwing for 16/17, 213 yards and two TDs. Kicker Will Lutz managed to win the game at the death with a field goal from 51 yards to give the Falcons a metaphorical kick in the gut to open their season. 

Two things were particularly noteworthy about this victory. The first was that Winston threw no interceptions in the game. The second was the return of Michael Thomas to what looked like his 2019 form when he set a new NFL record for single-season receptions with 149 catches and earned him end of season Offensive Player of the Year honours. If Thomas can keep this sharpness up, then the Saints have the offensive power to trouble any opponent. 

New slot receiver Jarvis Landry had seven catches for 114 yards and first round pick Chris Olave caught all targets thrown his way for 41 yards as well as an important two-point conversion in that comeback win. With a supporting cast that includes running-back Alvin Kamara, the Saints look primed to make it to the postseason if Winston can remain consistent with his decision making.

The hometown Buccaneers return to Raymond James Stadium with their veteran quarterback Tom Brady lining up once again for what is expected to be his final season. 

In the Bucs opening weekend victory against the Dallas Cowboys,  Brady spread the  ball around between receivers Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin all seeing their share of targets. Godwin is ruled out this coming Sunday with a hamstring injury.

The Tampa Bay defence also impressed with Devin White, Vita Vea, Levontae David and Antoine Winfield Jr all impressing out the gate. I will side with the hometown Bucs to emerge victorious for their first regular season win against the Saints since 2018.   

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks

Geno’s Back

One of the best football rivalries of the past decade continues on Sunday when the Seahawks host 49ers. 

It is curious that Seattle sit atop of the NFC West after week one as they were widely expected to be the worst team in the division, but that is where they stand after an exciting victory last Monday against their former quarterback Russell Wilson and his Denver Broncos.

It was a close game that came down to a missed kick after Broncos Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett decided to kick from 64 yards instead of going for it ‘fourth and five.’ This was much to the surprise of most pundits after the Broncos had acquired Wilson in the off-season for exactly this type of situation.

What was most noteworthy of this victory was the return to prominence of QB Geno Smith. Before Monday’s contest, he had not been named a Week 1 starter for a team since 2014, after serving as a back-up since. Coming off the field after the best performance of his career. it was put to him about the many people who had written him off? Geno replied with aplomb: “They wrote me off, but I ain’t write back.”

The San Francisco 49ers have been perennial contenders for the past few years but lost unexpectedly to the Chicago Bears on a wet Soldier Field last Sunday. Leading in the second half, they couldn’t stem the Bears’ momentum once they got going. 

Most concerning for 49ers fans was the poor display by Trey Lance in the QB role. After giving up three first-round picks to acquire Lance in the 2021 draft, he was given the starting role at the expense of Jimmy Garropolo in the off-season. With their former quarterback of the last four seasons now sitting on the bench, it will be interesting if Head Coach Kyle Shanahan changes his mind during the season. If Lance fails to perform or secure victory away at their fiercest rivals, he will be under severe public pressure. 

I think the 49ers win this one as they have a terrific defence and with tight-end George Kittle likely to return, this will give Lance a top catching talent to target. 

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears 

In Sunday’s late night contest, the Chicago Bears buzzing with excitement after last Sunday’s triumph over the 49ers will welcome their most-hated rival in the Green Bay Packers. 

In this fixture last season, Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers shouted at the Soldier Field supporters “I still own you ” after extending his record to 22-5 against the Bears. This is unlikely to be forgotten and expect the home crowd to be vociferous against their nemesis from the outset. 

The Bears looked bereft of ideas in the first half of last Sunday’s contest against the 49ers but their fortunes changed after a heads-up play from QB Justin Fields saw him find the unmarked Dante Pettis in the third quarter for a touchdown.  He then threw the winner to former Packer wide-out Equanimeous St  Brown for a morale-improving win.

Green Bay started their season with a loss against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 with Rodgers clearly frustrated with his new cast of receivers throughout the contest. An example of this was when second-round pick Christian Watson dropped a clanger when he looked certain to race into the endzone in the first quarter. 

I would like to see a closely-fought contest and for the Bears to turn the tide in this one-sided rivalry but until it happens, I expect Rodgers to continue his historical form against the Bears and emerge victorious.