In news that shocked absolutely no one — today the NFL launched its first dedicated academy outside of North America. Starting in September 2019 student athletes aged between 16-18 will be given the opportunity to hone their skills as well as their athletic abilities with the chance of playing for NCAA college football scholarships. Of course the official line from the NFL is a little more inspiring:
The NFL Academy is a unique programme that gives aspiring young American football players and outstanding athletes the chance to develop their skills and knowledge of the game. Alongside elite coaching, athletes will study courses of their choice at Barnet and Southgate College. There will also be a character development programme for students to give them all the tools to be successful in whatever pathway they take following the NFL Academy. Athletes will be given access to elite sports training facilities, kit and equipment, as well as an opportunity to learn from players and coaches from the NFL. They will be involved in outreach projects in the local community and be given a pathway for apprenticeships and higher education opportunities (in the UK and US). This life-changing opportunity is available for up to 80 students per year, aged 16-18. Selection for the NFL Academy programme will be based on athletic ability, as well as educational and character assessment.
The high school level programme has been a priority for the NFL ever since it partnered with Tottenham Hotspur, with their state of the art NFL purpose built stadium residing less than 5 miles from Barnet and Southgate College. Yet don’t be fooled by key words such as ‘higher education’ and ‘apprenticeships’. Many have long suspected the move, ourselves included, with the NFL likely setting the foundations for a future franchise based in London. To facilitate the long term success of said potential franchise, Roger Goodell believes it is imperative for a market as large and important as the UK to have home grown talent. Consequently, with several British players having varying degrees of success over the past 10-15 years, due in part to the NFL’s International Player Pathway scheme, the NFL has once again decided to show its hand with where it believes future expansion to be. J
So the NFL’s annual ‘next generation’ showcase has closed for yet another year. In the salary cap era the draft is supposed to be the great ‘eraser’ where GM’s across the league earn their money. Yet despite all the pre draft hype surrounding a number of players your uncle Jimmy had taken in his mock draft basement party, it’s easy to forget most of these rookies likely won’t contribute this year — despite an NFL record 40 draft day trades reflecting the immediate needs of a number of teams. Like every draft there were a number of surprises too; Daniel Jones going to the Giants for the 6th pick was a shocker, and several players with legitimate 1st round talent weren’t taken until day 3. Once again the draft proved one thing — no one outside of those respective war rooms knows a damn thing or what to truly expect, ourselves included. Nevertheless, due to said draft, free agency, veteran experience, strength of coaching and schedule, here are our initial power rankings for the 2019 NFL season. J
The NFL Draft is finally upon us. Tonight 32 college players will have their lives forever changed. Following our original draft predictions, not only have several moves been made (Frank Clark being one), but insider whispers have a number of players rising at the last minute. There will undoubtedly be a number of draft day trades, with teams wishing to move up and down the board. Nevertheless, on the assumption that there will be no trades here are our final first round draft predictions. J
The NFL Schedule will be released at 8PM ET (or 1am here in the UK) on the 17th/18th April. Here we take a look at what is almost always guaranteed and how the schedule organizers might spring a surprise.
Lock: Cowboys vs Giants on SNF
The NFL stunned the football world a year ago when they didn’t schedule Dallas against New York for Week 1 Sunday Night Football, opting for Week 2 instead. The NFL loves to have two of its biggest markets in the spotlight even when they’re both terrible. So even though the Giants are expected to be one of, if not the worst team in the NFL this season, expect them to host Dallas early this autumn.
Shock: more of the Jets
Speaking of New York and prime time games, don’t be surprised to see the green half of the Big Apple appearing under the lights more times in 2019. The Jets had two prime time games last year; in Detroit and in Baker Mayfield’s debut in Cleveland. Whilst they probably won’t threaten the playoffs, offseason acquisitions such as Le’veon Bell and CJ Mosely certainly make New York a more watchable team. Couple that with a second year QB and terrible new uniforms and they’re a dead cert for some prime time action.
Lock: Patriots have favourable bye week position
Now, I’m not suggesting that the Patriots ask the NFL to schedule their bye week between weeks 9-11, typically seen as the best time to have a bye as it is half way through the season, but four of the last five Patriots bye weeks have been in weeks 9-11. Expect nothing different in 2019.
Shock: Patriots play the Chiefs late into the season
Now many people think this is a lock for the opening Sunday Night Football (banner night for New England) as the NFL will want a marquee game to bring in a ratings boost early. However, this will certainly be a game that will have playoff implications and therefore to me seems nonsensical to have so early on the season. KC @ NE was week 1 in 2017 and week 6 in 2018, expect the two meet weeks 12-16 this time around.
Lock: one prime time game for ARI, MIA and TB
I mean, you could make an argument for the Arizona Cardinals to have more than one game under the lights simply because of the league consensus that they will draft Kyler Murray at #1, but other than that they are terrible and won’t threaten the playoffs. The Dolphins are equally terrible and just aren’t entertaining enough to be playing in prime time. Bucs games are more exciting due to their electric offense and woeful defence, but that won’t be enough to force more than a single divisional prime time game.
Shock: Baltimore and Pittsburgh meet in Week 17
For whatever reason, since the NFL introduced the rule that all Week 17 games would be divisional games, one of them has never been Baltimore vs Pittsburgh. Maybe it has been seen as too big a game for the final week with too much at stake, but these two are no longer the best in the AFC North. That title now belongs to the Browns, so it would be fun to see these two battle it out for the AFC’s sixth seed on the final day. Will it happen? Probably not, but it’d still be fun. B
With the first and second waves of free agency (mostly) over, all 32 teams across the league appear to have survived the annual trolly dash that will inevitably lead to relative league wide mediocrity. However, whilst one team stands out as having benefited the most from said free agency; here we take a look at who has improved over the last couple of weeks and who continues to struggle heading into the draft.
0-16 feels like a long time ago now. The Browns turned the NFL on its head when they bagged Odell Beckham Jr., bringing a generational star wide receiver back to the AFC North just as another departed. The trade means that Cleveland won’t be on the clock until the 49th pick in April; a stark change for a franchise that seemingly always has a top 5 pick. Whilst the trade for Beckham Jr. will get all the headlines, don’t underestimate the other moves made by the Browns. Kareem Hunt is a steal, and look for 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson and former 3rd round pick Olivier Vernon to strengthen a potentially lethal defensive line. Whilst they may still be behind the Pats and the Chiefs, the Browns are loaded, and might just be the 3rd best team in the AFC; something that was unthinkable for the Dawg Pound before John Dorsey took the reins in 2017.
The Titans narrowly missed out on consecutive playoff appearance seasons (9-7), but their additions in free agency certainly show they intend to get back to their first Super Bowl in 20 years. Many people will disagree, but the trade for Ryan Tannehill might well be Tennessee’s most important move with Marcus Mariota fast becoming the NFL’s equivalent of Mickey Mantle (injuries not talent). Whilst Tannehill won’t light up the scoreboard in Nashville, he is a better option at the backup QB position when compared to Blaine Gabbert, and could propel this Titans team into the 10-11 win bracket when called upon. And how about stealing Adam Humphries from under the noses of the defending champs? Humphries will fill a huge need at a team crying out for a wide receiver. Nevertheless, one potential roadblock for Tennessee could be what is now looking like a loaded AFC South. Time will indeed reveal all as to whether Tennessee can challenge in 2019, but their free agency additions certainly have done them no harm.
Whenever a team acquires arguably one of the league’s best players for just a third and fifth rounder, they are onto a winner. Whilst the trade for Antonio Brown in itself was not surprising, the value (or lack of) that Oakland had to give up to acquire him was. It gave the impression the Steelers were so desperate to ship Brown they were willing to trade him anywhere outside of New England, including a fellow AFC powerhouse franchise for peanuts. Unbelievably the Raiders are still sitting pretty with three first round picks in the upcoming draft. Brown wasn’t the only big name to head to the Bay Area, though. Super Bowl winning offensive linesmen Trent Brown will offer Derek Carr some much needed protection (the Raiders were 27th in sacks allowed in 2018), whilst LaMarcus Joyner (formerly of the NFC Champion L.A Rams), and Vontaze Burfict (who has had multiple run ins with Antonio Brown), will certainly sure up Oakland’s sieve like defense. All in all, expect the Raiders final season in Oakland to be considerably better.
New York Giants
Yikes. The free agency period went about as badly as you could imagine for the G-Men. Along with Jabrill Peppers and two draft picks, the Browns seemed to have also sent the accolade of ‘basement team’ to the Giants. For a team that doesn’t score an awful lot (23.1 PPG in 2018), trading your star receiver isn’t going to help. The 2019 Giants offense will consist of Saquon Barkley and… not a lot else. Not a lot includes the signing of Golden Tate (now 31 years old) to a 4 year, $37.5m deal, but his best days are behind him, and worryingly for New York, Tate will be the best wideout on their roster. Additionally, the departure of Landon Collins for the division rival Redskins leaves a big hole in the safety position on an already flaky defence that gave up 25.8 PPG in 2018. The positives are hard to find for fans of the Giants, aside from the fact they could draft the successor to Eli Manning in April. Bold prediction: the Giants will hold the first overall pick in 2020.
Kansas City Chiefs
No, this is not me saying this because I am Chiefs fan, but I genuinely cannot see how the Chiefs have improved during free agency. Providing Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the offense light it up again in 2019, the Chiefs are a reliable defense away from winning a championship. KC ranked #31 in total defense in 2018, and Andy Reid literally gave away their best defensive players in the form of its league leading pass rush duo of Dee Ford and Justin Houston, and its defensive leader and fan favourite Eric Berry. Whilst these departures freed up a lot of cap space, the most recognizable name on the Chiefs defense is Tyrann Mathieu; who has a lot to prove going into to the 2019 season. The problem for the Chiefs is they are in win now territory; after all they were a coin toss away from a first Super Bowl appearance in 49 years last season. In an offseason where the defence just needs to be improved from the league’s worst to an improved status of simply ‘mediocre’, they will once again be exposed when it most matters, unless they have one hell of a draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will look a lot different next season. No Brown. No Bell. Simply put, Pittsburgh has imploded ever since the end of the 2017 season and that implosion carried on throughout 2018 and free agency. Letting Jesse James leave is a strange move, but it has ultimately been overshadowed by the departures of the double B’s. James would be a starting TE on most teams and now leaves a Pittsburgh offense looking remarkably thin. Sure they still have Big Ben, Juju Smith-Schuster and breakout RB James Conner, but does their offensive firepower really compare to the Browns? Probably not. Consequently, Pittsburgh’s season will be heavily influenced by the performance of their division rivals in Baltimore and Cleveland, but it is very difficult to see whether the Steelers are any better than third best in the AFC North at present. Certainly worrying times for fans in the Steel City. B