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NFL 2018

A less waffly / verbose / well investigated (delete as you see fit) for the 2018 season, created by another dead Norseman, Tryggve Olafsson.

AFC EAST

There is no reason for this boringly predictable division to change much. The Bills and the Jets have both made quarterback changes and left it ominously late to decide who will start the season in the key position. Both can field good defences, but not often with any predictability. The Dolphins will probably persist in their laws of physics defying method whereby incredible amounts of movement and activity generate complete inertia. So it looks as if the only thing that could stop the Patriots is injury to the venerable Brady. And even then, it is not a certain disaster.
1] New England 2] Buffalo 3] New York Jets 4] Miami

AFC NORTH

In contrast to the East this division is usually rather lively as the main three teams consistently detest each other and will not allow the historic ineptitude of the Browns to allow any sympathy for that team to creep in. Even when they do not have a strong team, the Steelers conjure up a good home advantage, and this yeat they seem to have a strong team and good depth when the injuries start to stack up in winter. The Ravens are very similar apart from a passing offence that was dreadful last season, retreating into it shell at the slightest sign of danger like a wise old tortoise. What have they done to change that? After a couple of regressive seasons the Bengals needed a big overhaul, but did not do it. Meanwhile the Browns have one win over the last two seasons and four this time would be triumph.
1] Pittsburgh 2] Baltimore 3] Cincinnati 4] Cleveland

AFC SOUTH

Let us start with the Texans. Things were looking good for them last season until rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson got injured. Will he continue how he started or be another rookie sensation that opposing defences had worked out by season two? Their defence is potentially very strong. That is quite encouraging but next on the list are the Colts, who have the possible plus of Andrew Luck returning after a year and a half out - he is bound to be rusty. A mess of a new coach recruitment made the rest of the offseason bad. Next stop is with the Jaguars. They had a great time last season because their quarterback raised his game to the giddy heights of mediocre. It had taken many years to do this and may have been a one-off. The defence will carry them a certain distance. Finally the Titans. They were fancied to move into contention last year and failed. They still have an inexperienced looking roster but if the defence with a new coordinator thrives, they will do what was supposed to happen twelve months ago.
1] Houston 2] Jacksonville 3] Tennessee 4] Indianapolis

AFC WEST

The story of last season was the Chiefs flying start and late fade. Since then they have parted ways with stat-unfriendly but win hogging Alex Smith and go with quarterback youth. They were also one of two teams to have an exceptionally injury free season. Have they drafted for durability or was it luck. They will be relying on running back Kareem Hunt, just like Olafsson's fantasy team. The Raiders off-season saop opera was a contract dispute with star defender Khalil Mack, recently traded to Chicago. With former coach Jon Gruden back from years in television punditry, a big do over was expected anyway. Expecting instant returns is too much. Meanwhile in the Rocky Mountains, the Broncos have quietly tooled up a decent defence, with the trade of Aqib Talib ensuring that there will be fewer punch ups in their matches. At quarterback they got hold of Case Keenum, the supersub that the Vikings did not want to keep. Did they just gameplan him to damage limitation last season or find a genuine way to use the skills that he has? The last team to consider is the Chargers. To do this, get the advice of a doctor. Their recent seasons have been plagued by significant injuries and promising tight end Hunter Henry is already gone for the year. With players like Melvin Gordon, Melvin Ingram, Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa they can win this if staying fit.
1] Los Angeles Chargers 2] Kansas City 3] Denver 4] Oakland

NFC EAST

Rule number one is that the Cowboys are the most hated team in the league, and a loyal Texan media overhypes their best players. Attention hungry over the hill receiver Dez Bryant has gone, and only Cleveland offered him a deal. Long standing tight end Jason Witten has retired, so they should be focussed on running this season and win some games unless tempted to overuse the media favourites, but not enough to annoy people even more. The Redskins joined the Chiefs in a miraculous degree of injury avoidance last season. With Kirk Cousins taking his ability to rouse a rabble into an unexpected win to Minnesota, a backwards step is expected. The Giants problem is that after many, many years of evidence to the contrary, Eli Manning's two Superbowl wins do not make him a reliable sixteen game performer year in, year out. The defence looked to be making interesting progress before the 2017 season. Finally the reigning champs. The Eagles got a cracking performance out of Nick Foles when Carson Wentz got injured last season. Everything else is much the same, other than having nabbed the NFL's leading hippy, Michael Bennett, from Seattle. They are good enough to win again, but ont so good that it is inevitable.
1] Philadelphia 2] Dallas 3] New York Giants 4] Washington

NFC NORTH

All of a sudden this looks like a division where anything could happen. Last season unravelled for the Packers due to injuries, but it is not certain how good they are even if everyone comes back in rude health. The Bears did not seem like much unless their injury prone quarterback can survive the season and claw them into the mix. The defence was a bigger weakness, but the threat to opposing passers from new arrival Khalil Mack has really moved the goalposts on that one. One of the more surprising stats in the NFL is that the Lions in the last nine years have a record against teams with a winning record of 8-61. Even allowing for the implication that having a winning record makes a team better than average, this is outstandingly bad and the story as to why they keep failing to make the upward step seemingly within their reach. Finally we have the Vikings, who had a great season until falling down at the last hurdle when presented with a chance to play in the Superbowl in the home stadium. There is a change at quarterback, but the division remains theirs for the taking.
1] Minnesota 2] Green Bay 3] Chicago 4] Detroit

NFC SOUTH

To get off the mark, we sail down the bayou and take a peek around New Orleans, where the Saints have a very old quarterback (see New England), and an excellent youthful supporting cast such as Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. For the first time in living memory they have good defence, radically reverting to a policy of players who can cover and tackle. What they also have is a ferocious bunch of divisional opponents. The Falcons have been a respectable team for a few years now, and over the close season they took measures to address the gaps and lack of depth that made ten wins last season look a bit of an under delivery. Over on the east coast the Panthers have been contenders throughout the decade and nothing has happened to worry about the defence.The trouble lies on the other side of the ball, where Cam Newton lets them down in critical moments more often each year. On that subject there is the Buccaneers. Their quarterback is suspended for the first three games and they have assembled a potentially amazing bunch of receivers and backs whilst overlooking all the other positions. What could possibly go wrong?
1] Atlanta 2] New Orleans 3] Carolina 4] Tampa Bay

NFC WEST

An splendid division whose recent history is summed up in the epic 6-6 tie between the Cardinals and Seahawks two seasons back. The Cardinals have regressed since, and may find that if they cannot run the ball effectively, the defence, although hanging on to some important bits, is no longer powerful enough to carry them all. The Seahawks have also ha da major roster overhaul, going back to earlier this decade when they began to reel in vast numbers of players that nobody else rated/wanted and moulded a championshp team from them. They still have Angry Doug Baldwin (slightly lame version), Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, and more promising young defenders but these things take time. After rolling up a few wins when the 2017 season was alreadyshot to hell, the 49ers have been a trendy pick for success this season - can Jimmy Garropolo repeat the trick over sixteen games and are the other newcomers a team or random bunch of individuals? That leaves the Rams, with arguably the best running back in Todd Gurley and arguably the best defence going into 2018. They could get more improvement at quarterback but can do well even if that does not come.
1] Los Angeles Rams 2] Seattle 3] Arizona 4] San Francisco

Superbowl: Atlanta beat Pittsburgh

Leading Rusher: Le'Veon Bell (provided he ends his contract dispute and plays from week 1 as 90% of people expect). Plan B is Leonard Fournette

Leading Receiver: Keenan Allen
Tryggve Olafsson's NFL Divisional round Play-offs

Last week we had all the defensively strong qualifiers in the mix over one weekend. Seven days later there is greater variety on offer.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

For much of the season the Chiefs were the team to beat in the NFL. The Patriots pipped them early in the season and then in week 11 the Rams also did beat them. Later on the Seahawks and the Chargers also did it, so the team that dominated the first 60% of the season closed it out looking very mortal. There are also a couple of notes of recent history - Chiefs play-offs campaigns have tended to be very shortlived and remember the travails of relatively inexperienced quarterbacks last week. What the Chiefs have in their favour is a very inconsistent Colts offence lined up against their weak defence and home advantage. And the Colts main strength, their run defence, is not necessarily a big anti-Chiefs tool. No bet.

DALLAS COWBOYS at LOS ANGELES RAMS

The Cowboys got the better of a tense affair last week by getting the running game going in a way that failed against the Seahawks in the regular season. Yet they still only won by two points, so the fact that the Rams are as bad as anyone at run defence is not automatically the alley way to upset avenue. With the expected availability of Todd Gurley now that it matters and veteran star lineman Andrew Whitworth, the rest of the match ups do all favour the chances of a Rams success. This is not surprising as the Rams have gone through the last two years as one of the most injury resistant teams and come play-off time that is a factor with other teams depending on back ups in key slots. Under 49.5 points, at 10/11.  Lost - vindictively spoiled by a late Cowboys touchdown

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

There is a valid criticism of the Patriots that in all apsects of the game they are not as good as in the last, oh, ten seasons or so that Tom Brady has stayed fit. This is likely true but it is based on measuring them against a phenomenally high standard. However in their traditionally weak division they were under pressure early in the season but wre back in control before three losses in the last seven showed their limitations again. The Chargers meanwhile have been very resilient. The usual litany of injuries, kicking woes and bad luck were kept under control and as the Rams faltered they tied them for wins in the division and just lost out on being the AFC top seed thanks to the tiebreaks applying. Only a nutter opposes the Patriots at home in the play-offs. Los Angeles Chargers win, at 17/10 or more. Still in play but 7-35 at half time is a less than promising position to fight back from.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Just when it seemd that the wild card round would go with the season long form book, the Eagles came and saved the day, although it did require a very late missed kick by the Bears. After playing the first part of the season like a team that had spent all summer on the lash, the Eagles eventually knuckled down and applied some grit, plus the mystique of champions. All they have to do now is go to the home of the best tem in the league at the moment, where the Saints only loss was to the Panthers in week 17 when they had nothing to play for. The teams met here in November and the Saints won 48-7. It proved to be the kick up the wotsit that the Eagles needed. The interesting bet, to minimal stakes in a volatile market, is the Eagles top scorer Zach Ertz to nab the first touchdown. Zach Ertz to score the first touchdown at 12/1 or more.
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