The National Football League has spent the first 15 weeks and three games of their regular season eliminating five teams from playoff competition. Today, tomorrow, and over the next two weeks, the league will remove 13 more squads from consideration to pare down the Super Bowl prospects to 14 teams.
Eliminated are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, New York Jets and Chicago Bears. Two teams are assured of division titles, the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. Those two NFC teams are in a fierce battle to earn the coveted first week playoff bye along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams. Last night, the chances of a bye for the team that was last to fall from the unbeaten ranks this season, the Arizona Cardinals, took a hit with their third consecutive loss.
I recall as a kid going to San Francisco Giants baseball games vendors at the stadium selling programs by saying, “Scorecard, scorecard, can’t tell the players without the scorecard.”
Today, in the NFL, the cry would be “Covid, Covid, can’t know the teams without the Covid list.”
Rules that sideline players because of either positive tests or exposure to the virus have wreaked havoc throughout the league this season. While injuries during weekday game preparation was an occasional occurrence in the NFL, that is, a player suffering a major injury not in a game but during practice, this year any squad is subject to getting a weekday or pregame report that a key player is not eligible because of the virus.
Two teams this week, the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, are forced to open a new can of quarterbacks because their first three choices have all been lost to injuries or Covid protocol. The Cincinnati Bengals host the Ravens today with the two teams tied atop the AFC North Division race … and the Ravens, who were just gaining confidence in backup Tyler Huntley, who replaced an injured Lamar Jackson, now need to count on veteran Josh Johnson to end a three game skid that has seen Baltimore relinquish their bulge in the division standings with three losses by a total of four points.
In the last three weeks, Baltimore has lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-19, while missing a two point conversion at the game’s conclusion; by two points to the Cleveland Browns, 24-22; and again by one point, 31-30, last week against the Green Bay Packers in another contest decided by a missed two-point conversion attempt.
So, how do you think the Ravens team is going to respond today?
First, the team is behind their coach, John Harbaugh, and his trust in them while going for the two-point conversions despite them failing to produce a win. Second, Johnson is an experienced quarterback, he was drafted in 2008 and has played for 13 different NFL teams and will be making his ninth career start today.
Okay, that is not going to earn him a bust in Canton, but it is likely enough to lead a fired-up Ravens team that has seen their once stronghold on first place in their division dwindle like a bank account without deposits.
Nine weeks ago, the Bengals were a touchdown underdog when they met the Ravens in Baltimore, and drilled them by a 41-17 score. In that game, the Bengals came in trailing Baltimore in the standings and caught them with the road victory.
Today, the two teams come into this contest knotted with 8 and 6 records and Cincinnati is a confident favorite.
Few things are worse motivationally than a young team confident of a win against a squad they think they overmatch because their opponent is wounded. With the change at quarterback for their opponent, the Bengals jumped from a three point to seven point favorite, while on my motivational charts, Cincinnati hit rock bottom.
The public wagering has landed on their three favorite plays of the week, they are the Los Angeles Chargers (-11) over the Houston Texans; Buffalo Bills (+1) over the New England Patriots; and Philadelphia Eagles (-10) over New York Giants.
The Qoxhi Picks selections are now posted on this site, and if a Bullet Play develops in the final hour leading to the day’s first kickoff, that game will be added to the list of recommendations by 9:45 a.m. Pacific Time.