It was one of those weird coincidences. I don’t normally bother to read Facebook Memories but Hurricane Ophelia was blowing a gale outside on Monday and I was sitting at home bored so I had a quick glance. In between nights out I’d totally forgotten about and a piece I wrote in 2012 about how Washington were taking unnecessary risks with Robert Griffin III that could shorten his career — even stopped clocks are right twice a day — there was an interview, from exactly three years ago, I had conducted with Kevin Cadle on The42.
I remember our conversation like it yesterday because Kevin was an absolute gentleman despite some technical difficulties on his end meaning we had to restart twice. During our chat, he spoke about his time in the UK, his career as a basketball coach but, mostly, we talked about football and his love of the game. He spoke like an evangelist, one who knew how important his role was as the gatekeeper to the sport for millions of people.
After reading it, I said to my wife that I must see if the number I had for him still worked, to chat about his beloved Buffalo Bills’ surprising start to the season and what he’s been doing since leaving our screens. Literally ten minutes later, I saw a tweet that hit me like a freight train. Kevin Cadle was dead. I genuinely couldn’t believe it, but soon the tribute tweets started flooding into my timeline and I was devastated.
For so many people on this side of the Atlantic, Kevin Cadle was the face of American football and the NFL. Alongside Nick Halling, the pair presented Sky Sports’ coverage of America’s Game for a decade and a half, bringing a mix of mirth and a wide-eyed enthusiasm to even the worst Jets-Jags punt-fest.
Every Sunday night, for four months a year, he was in our homes like a beloved family member popping around for a visit and his absence from Sky Sports’ coverage has been felt by nearly every NFL fan you speak to. With that in mind, it’s only appropriate that NFLUK has confirmed there will be a tribute to the presenter at this weekend’s game in Twickenham between the Cardinals and Rams.
Rest in peace, big man.
Sky Game 1 – Arizona Cardinals (3-3) @ LA Rams (3-2) – Sunday 6pm – London
Who would have thought, in 2017, that Adrian Peterson would be the answer to any question other than ‘what is the name of 2012 NFL MVP who struggled to find a team in free agency and was traded away after four disappointing games this season?’ But you have to credit both the Cardinals for making the trade and ‘All Day’ for making the most of it. Having opened the season with just 27 carries for 81 total yards and zero touchdowns, the 32-year-old was handed the ball 26 times last week against the Buccaneers, racing for 134 yards and two touchdowns in his best single-game performance since week 11 2015.
Peterson will make history this weekend when he becomes the first player to play two London games in one season, having touched the ball four times, for four yards, in the Saints’ facile win over the Dolphins at Wembley back in week four. And while last week’s performance from Peterson came against a Tampa defense ranking 30th in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA — though they are 14th against rush — he could really feast at the home of English rugby against a Rams side ranking 22nd against the ground game.
Of course, it’s the Rams offense that has really caught attention this season. While Jared Goff wasn’t overly impressive against the Jaguars — going 11-of-21 for 124 yards and a touchdown — Jacksonville does have one of the best pass defences in the league so it made sense to turn to Todd Gurley who has averaged nearly 87 yards per game this year, well in excess of his career average and on only two additional touches per game.
At 4-2, the Rams’ biggest rivals for the NFC West title remains the Seattle Seahawks, but this week represents an opportunity to create a real gap between themselves and the Cardinals.
There’s an old saying in football that bad offensive lines don’t travel, and Arizona’s has done a terrible job protecting Carson Palmer this season — taking 21 sacks and on pace for 56 on the season — while LA are coming off the back of sacking Blake Bortles five times as well as forcing an interception.
For that reason, they go into the game as 3.5 point favourites and I think they’ll easily justify that this weekend. It’s also worth looking at the points total (47). No team has scored more than the Rams’ 179 points this season — 29.8 per game — while the Cardinals are managing 26.3 points per game themselves. Because of this, and the fact both rank in the bottom 10 in points allowed, I’ll be taking the over.
Steve’s Pick – Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) – 9.25pm
If ever a match-up screamed ‘trap game’ it’s this one.
The Steelers, of course, are the toast of Miami after ending the Kansas City Chiefs hopes of becoming the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to win the Super Bowl undefeated.
Their gameplan against Andy Reid’s side was to chew the clock — they kept the ball for 36:39 compared to Kansas City’s 23:21 — with Le’Veon Bell seemingly getting going after a relatively disappointing start to his season.
The running back had 191 yards on 38 total touches for two scores and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that his other 100+ yard game came when he had 39 total touches against the Ravens.
In summary, give Le’Veon Bell the football.
Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t asked to do a huge amount against the Chiefs, but there’s still no doubt in my mind that he’s a player in decline. His completion percentage (62.3) is his lowest since 2010, while his 3.6% interception rate is his highest in 11 seasons. The 35-year-old is also averaging just 6.9 yards per attempt — the lowest of his career — while he has a passer rating of 78.2, his lowest since 2006. And the Steelers’ points differential is just 16 — 118-102 — yet his team is 4-2 and atop the AFC North.
The Bengals started the season with three defeats on the bounce and the end of the Marvin Lewis — and perhaps even Andy Dalton — era in Cincinnati looked likely. However, since then, the team has leaned heavily on their defense and rode a two-game win streak into their bye week with only the Bills conceding fewer than their 83 points.
On offense, they have scored just 84 points, but 73 of those have come in their last three games and signs that things were turning for the Bengals came when they pushed the Packers to overtime before beating the Browns and the then-streaking Bills.
There are still issues with an offensive line ranked by Pro Football Focus as 30th in the league after their last game, but their struggles are in creating gaps for running backs more so than protecting Dalton.
The Steelers are 5-point favourites but there are a number of reasons to believe the Bengals can cause an upset. For a start, they’re 6-8 at Heinz Field under Lewis, Dalton looks a completely different player under new offensive coordinator under Bill Lazor and his team has the number two ranked pass defense against a quarterback who is struggling. Even though the points total is low (41.5), the quality of defense on show means I’ll be taking the under.
Sky Game 2 – Atlanta Falcons (3-2) @ New England Patriots (4-2) – 1.30am
What better way for the Falcons to prepare to take on the team that overcame a 25-point deficit to steal the Vince Lombardi trophy from their grasp last February than by throwing away a 17-0 lead against the Jay Cutler-led Miami Dolphins in week six.
It was honestly one of the most astonishing performances I’ve seen. At one stage, four and a half minutes into the third quarter, their win probability was a whopping 98.2% Unlike Super Bowl LI, there was a never a sense the Dolphins were going to make their way back into this game.
They had, after all, scored just 22 total points in their previous three games and there was a groundswell of support for Cutler to be replaced by Matt Moore. In fact, had this game been played in Miami, that change may well have happened at half-time.
Somehow though, the Falcons found a way to lose from a seemingly impossible position for the second time in 2017 but there are lessons that can be learned for Atlanta. For a start, for two and a half quarters against New England at the Super Bowl, they completely outplayed their opponents and that was when the Patriots had a decent defense.
This year, New England ranks 30th against the pass and 23rd against the run so there’s a real chance for Dan Quinn’s side to bounce back from two bad beats either side of their bye week, especially when you consider that last weekend against Josh McCown’s Jets, New England became the first team in NFL history to allow six-straight opposition quarterbacks to throw for 300 or more yards against them.
There was a time when backing the Patriots in a home prime time game was easy money, but they’re just 2-2 at Gillette Stadium on late night TV since the beginning of the 2016 season and were most recently seen losing to the Chiefs in the opening game of this year. In total, they’ve lost two of their three home games this season, and their one win saw them give up 33 points to the Texans in an encounter they easily could have lost.
Despite this, they go into Sunday’s late game as 3.5 point favourites but not only do I think the Falcons will get the win against the spread, I think there’s more than enough talent in their passing and rushing attack to take care of a historically bad Patriots defense straight up. There’s more than a decent chance this game turns into a shootout, but the points total (55) is a couple of points too high for my liking so I’ll take the under.