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Dublin: 13°C Saturday 26 September 2020

The Redzone: Crossing the zebras

The longer the referee strike continues in the NFL, the more players will try to take advantage of their replacements

NFL replacement referee Donovan Briggins during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks.
NFL replacement referee Donovan Briggins during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks.
Image: Kevin P. Casey/AP/Press Association Images

A LOT OF NFL chat this week has revolved around the standard of refereeing from the replacement officials.

For those of you who don’t know, the National Football League Referees Association (NFLRA) are currently locked in a dispute with the league. The stumbling block? As so often in these cases, it’s money. The NFLRA want more and the NFL want to pay less, particularly when it comes to pensions.

To ensure the season started on time, the NFL hired a bunch of lower tier college referees and the results have been mixed to say the least.

The biggest issue hasn’t been so much knowledge of the rules – though Jacoby Jones and the Baltimore Ravens will wonder where the pass interference was that cost them their game against the Eagles last week – but more the players now know the replacements are out of their depth and are doing everything they can to take advantage of the fact.

This past weekend saw numerous mass brawls and referees seemingly changing their mind after ‘encouragement’ from high-profile players and coaches.

This week, the NFL have warned all 32 teams to control their players with threats of fines and even suspensions. However, it remains to be seen if that will be enough of a stick for the players.

New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens
This is a big game for Wes Welker. A lot of fantasy owners, myself included, have been badly stung by Welker’s limited playing time this year. The reason is simple enough, the Patriots have locked themselves into the two tight end system – and why wouldn’t they with Gronk and Hernandez – and #83 is at his best in three or more receiver packages.

However, after Hernandez turned his ankle last week, Welker’s playing time increased dramatically giving the Patriots a problem. From a business point of view, they don’t think Welker is worth the money he wants, but from a playing perspective he’s now key. This game could, therefore, be decided by a pay-packet rather than a playbook.

Someone is leaving Baltimore 1-2 and while they Ravens looked excellent in week one, their new high-tempo offence stuttered last weekend.  However, I expect them to bounce back this week and extract some measure of revenge for their playoff loss to New England last season.

Verdict: Ravens by 3

Kansas City Chiefs @ New Orleans Saints
This game is fascinating for one very simple reason. One of these teams will fall to 0-3 with their playoff hopes in tatters.

In September.

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In pre-season, the Chiefs were the sleeper pick for the AFC West given Manning’s untested neck, Rivers’ stuttering Chargers and two guaranteed wins against the Raiders. However, they have spectacularly failed to live up to the hype, mostly because of an inability to defend the run.

You always get the impression that teams take on the personality of their head coach and it looks more and more the Saints are sulking until they get theirs back. They’ve been woeful this year, especially on defence, and there’s a very real chance we won’t see a single three and out offensive drive in this game.

Verdict: Saints by 6

Philadelphia Eagles @ Arizone Cardinals
This could very easily be a battle of two 0-2 teams but both have managed to find ways to win close games and one will emerge 3-0 and with real playoff hopes after Sunday.

The Eagles have been a turnover machine – six interceptions and five fumbles so far – and yet Michael Vick has found a way to engineer game-winning drives.

The Cardinals have been an even bigger surprise. Their defence has played a huge role in their 2-0 start to the season and if they can build on their seven sacks, Vick and the Eagles could be in real trouble.

An interesting sub-plot to this game is that Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb will come up against his former team and will look to put in a big performance. Who knows, he might even combine with Larry Fitzgerald for more than one four-yard pass in this game.

Verdict: Cardinals by 3

Other fixtures and predictions
St. Louis Rams @ Chicago Bears – Rams
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys – Cowboys
San Francisco 49ers @ Minnesota Vikings – Vikings
Detroit Lions @ Tennessee Titans – Lions
Cincinnati Bengals @ Washington Redskins – Redskins
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins – Dolphins
Buffalo Bills @ Cleveland Browns – Bills
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts – Colts
Atlanta Falcons @ San Diego Chargers – Falcons
Houston Texans @ Denver Broncos – Texans
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Oakland Raiders – Steelers
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks – Seahawks

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About the author:

Steven O'Rourke

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