Monthly Archives: December 2018

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DVD Review – Mid90s

Category : DVD Review

Director: Jonah Hill

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston

Year: 2018

13-year-old Millennials have Eighth Grade, 17-year-old Xennials have Lady Bird, and now teenage Gen-Xers have Mid90s, a look at the skate life of young Los Angelinos as the 1900s ended without life becoming the dreamscape that was promised.  Angst and disappointment were hallmarks of growing up in this decade, as were drugs and lost opportunities, and it’s all captured here on the streets of LA, where every day is a struggle and all you’ve really got is your board.  I might have been in a nerd in the 90s, you might never have taken a sip of alcohol, we might not be these kids in this place, but that doesn’t stop this film from resonating anyway, from going straight to the heart of the matter in brutal and unapologetic fashion.

The Movie

Stevie needs an escape, and the kids at the skateboard shop look cool, so in he goes to discover a new life. His mom had a rough start, had kids young, works hard to support her sons, and loves Stevie very much, but it as far from cool as the Sun. His brother, Ian, is private and angry and violent, hiding behind his neatly organized room and his expensively collected wardrobe because he fears reality. Which leaves Stevie on his own, but he’s about to find his true family, the boys on the boards. These skaters take nothing seriously and take no one’s shit, smoking and drinking and trespassing because they want to, not because they have permission. It’s a life that Stevie didn’t know existed, but now that he’s had a taste he can’t get enough, and his next choices will be his most pivotal, as a boy becomes a man amid the decay of the city and the influence of its forgotten children.

But life with this new crowd isn’t all sunny days and hot girls, these kids have serious problems and serious roadblocks in their paths.  Ray is the leader, and he could become a professional skater, but sometimes he feels like his friends are holding him back.  Fuckshit just wants to party, but has some talent of his own, and resents Ray for moving ahead and potentially leaving the group.  Ruben is poor, Fourth Grade is dumb, but Stevie loves them all, loves the kinship of the crew more than anything else, and just wants to be a part of something bigger than himself.  His family won’t like what he’s doing when they find out, and they’ll stop him if they can, though this skater life finally makes him feel whole, giving him a purpose that he never knew he was looking for.

Jonah Hill is a first time director and many in this cast are first time actors, which only bolsters the feeling that we didn’t just watch a movie, we experienced a snapshot season in the lives of a bunch of local kids who have stopped giving a fuck and have started skating instead. This is the dirty secret, the harsh truth, the unblinking look, a map of mid-90s culture as followed by kids on the streets of LA, and here are the players to prove it. Hill grew up here, perhaps he was Stevie, perhaps he was a witness, but the nostalgia hits hard, even if this wasn’t you, because this team bring the story into your life as if it was. I didn’t grow up exactly like this, but a coming-of-age tale told this well and so starkly smacks everyone in the face with the same power, demanding that you turn your head to watch.

I liked Sunny Suljic in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and I loved him in Mid90s, a role he was perfect for, one part hard and one part pliable, a kid trying to do his best without a guide to show him how.  Lucas Hedges was a great evil older brother, with just a touch of sensitivity under the surface that was difficult to watch because it felt so fragile.  And the crew stole the show, this group of amateurs who were just here to skate, to help perfectly capture the mood of the time and the magic of the sport.  I saw it said that Mid90s is the first skate movie to actually be good, and I couldn’t agree more; it’s more than a message about the craft, it’s a kaleidoscope of tiny moments that together form something beautiful.  The grainy camerawork, the time capsule references, the freedom, the camaraderie, the off-the-wall humor; this film isn’t a masterpiece in oil, it’s a mosaic in graffiti, but no less stunning.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (16×9, 1080p HD), you’ll notice that the video is atypical right away.  It’s a boxed format, with black bars of the sides, and the entire film feels captured instead of staged, which is exactly what they were going for.  Some of the footage is supposed to be from the vantage point of a character’s handheld, Hill keeps that vibe flowing throughout, and the quality only lacks the clarity of modern blockbusters because he wanted it to.

Audio – The disc was done in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and here’s where the film really shines.  Not only is some of the conversation during the movie about the music of the times, but those tunes are woven well through every fiber of the feature, until you become immersed in this world.  This is one of the better soundtracks of the year, with a ton of attention to getting this aspect just right.  Also available is English Audio Descriptive service, as well as English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

Extras – The special features on the Blu-ray aren’t plentiful, but they’re still worth a watch.  Audio Commentary can be enjoyed along with the feature, 3 minutes of deleted scenes can be viewed, and there are five trailers for other films available.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended. Mid90s is a stunning debut from Jonah Hill, as well as one of the best films of 2018.  It’s audacious and uncomfortable, but it is also powerfully made, with a talent to capture the moment and to bring it alive today.  The music, the scenery, the skaters, that world; it’s all brought to us on a platter, uncovered at just the right moment, and served fresh; I’m not sure what else we could ask for.  Hill has a real eye, he tells his story with comedy, and he couldn’t bore audiences if he tried, so look out for what he might do next, because it could be anything and it’s bound to be good.  The video is sketchy on purpose, the audio is gold, and there are a few bonus features, so the technical aspects won’t let the plot down, and give audiences something extra to enjoy.  One of my favorites of the year, Mid90s is a rare gem and a movie worth watching over and over again.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Review – Mary Poppins Returns

Category : Movie Review

Director: Rob Marshall

Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw

Year: 2018

Mary Poppins is the quintessential Disney musical, the classic of classics that showed us what entertainment could be.  The fact that Mary Poppins Returns is a throwback to that style has thrown critics for a loop, as they scramble to justify their desire to enjoy a film they feel they should and the confusion brought on by a modern movie attempting an old school format.  This isn’t a Beauty and the Beast remake, this isn’t a look from another angle like Maleficent, this is a sequel in the exact vein of a 1960s extravaganza, and that’s not perhaps what most critical minds were anticipating.  But find the glorious history within this feature and you’ll find a loveliness that doesn’t come along that often.

Sensing that the Banks family is in trouble again, Mary Poppins returns to lend a helping hand, and to add a whimsy that is not often sought after but is frequently needed.  The Banks children, Jane and Michael, have grown up, and are having problems of their own.  Jane is an activist like her mother, and Michael is a banker like his father, but that’s not his true calling.  He’s an artist, but the death of his wife has left him as the sole breadwinner, and he’s had to abandon his principles in order to support his family.  He has three children to look after, John, Anabel, and Georgie, but when the old family house is repossessed all of them must start to imagine a life away from the home they all have loved.  Mary knows just how to help, but was she in time, can her friend Jack lend some support as well, or will the Banks’ future turn as grey as the London sky?

I love the original Mary Poppins tale, I read the books as a child, and I thoroughly enjoyed this latest piece, a lovely revisiting of the classic style that I grew up watching and a marvelous tale of family that’s impossible to be cynical toward when you’re sitting next to your own children.  I recognize that as a part of my critical outlook now that I have kids; I can’t watch a movie with them and be totally unaffected by the heart, no matter how cheesy, it gets me in ways these days that it never would have before.  But I’m willing to defend myself this time around; Mary Poppins Returns is not just for moms and dads, but anyone who enjoyed Mary Poppins and was looking for a return to normal, a Disney redo that’s more than a simple money grab.

Rob Marshall obviously had a love for musicals that he was looking to pour into this latest one, and his passion is obvious throughout.  The songs are grand, the music is sweet, the dance numbers are merry; this is what we used to get that we don’t get often enough now, and it’s lovely to see it produced when perhaps something different would have made more at the box office.  You know Miranda is on board for a quality musical, and Blunt has been there, done that, so they were the perfect pair to bring on board.  But, surprisingly, it was Whishaw who took the spotlight and shone, his character was excellent, as was his singing and his presence.  The kids were cute, the animation was simple, and there were enough nods without being steals for fans of the first film to point to and appreciate.  Some cool cameos, some nice throwbacks, and a couple memorable songs; the sequel won’t be replacing the original any time soon, but critics aren’t watching it from the same point as I was, or else they would have seen the magic as well.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Three Identical Strangers

Category : Movie Review

Director: Tim Wardle

Starring: Robert Shafran, David Kellman, Eddy Galland

Year: 2018

This year’s Best Documentary Feature category might be completely dominated by Won’t You Be My Neighbor, but in a close second should be Three Identical Strangers, the shocking true story that’s too wild to be fiction.  It’s a revelation of a life-altering secret, one that affected countless people and shook families apart, and the secret itself is only the beginning of the story.  Behind it all is a debate about the very nature of humanity, of what makes us tick, of how we come into ourselves when the weight of the world is on our shoulders.

When Robert went to college as a freshman, he was confused when other students seemed to recognize him, to assume he was some guy named Eddy, who he had never met before in his life.  It turns out that not only were Robert and Eddy twin brothers separated at birth, but there was a third brother as well, David, the three young men growing up with miles of each other, never knowing that they were triplets given up for adoption and moved into different households at 6 months old.  But that’s not the shocking thing, that’s only the beginning.  The rest is a scandal of epic proportions, an evil manipulation that has to be witnessed to be believed.

Three Identical Strangers is one of the smoothest documentaries I have ever seen, a start-to-finish story that cares little for frills and focuses perfectly on the plot, a story that’s so wild it will shock you to your core.  I don’t mean to be dramatic, but I said “oh wow” out loud more than once, and what you learn was done to these young men when they were babies, not to mention the countless others that have been discovered since, defies belief.  Not only that, but the moral messages brought to the surface by this movie and the debates sparked by its content will have you pondering and questioning for days after.  It’s not every film that can affect an audience so greatly, and we need to take notice of one that is of high enough quality to make this large an impact.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2018, Week 17

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 17 Picks

(11-5 last week, 151-87-2 for the season)

Bye teams: none

 

Mia @ Buf

Atl @ TB

Dal @ NYG

Car @ NO

NYJ @ NE

Jax @ Hou

Det @ GB

Phi @ Was

LAC @ Den

Oak @ KC

Chi @ Min

Cle @ Bal

SF @ LAR

Cin @ Pit

Ari @ Sea

Ind @ Ten

 


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Movie Review – Green Book

Category : Movie Review

Director: Peter Farrelly

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Year: 2018

Director Peter Farrelly only does comedies, and I think that’s exactly why Green Book succeeds.  It’s also exactly why a lot of critics don’t like it, but I don’t agree with that side.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times; Shakespeare knew what he was doing when he layered comedy with tragedy, it makes the jokes funnier by comparison and the deaths all the more deeply painful because you were just laughing.  That’s what Green Book does that works, it balances the humor and the drama in a way that makes the entire film much easier to consume than others of this genre and this focus.  I’m still a critic, I don’t mind a heavy load, but I see how this movie could appeal to a larger audience because of its exact method, and I think the message is one that needs to be heard that widely.

This is the true story of a friendship between two men who were different in every aspect, and yet found a connection through their humanity that transcended color and class.  Tony Vallelonga, known as Tony Lip because of his smart mouth, was an Italian from New York, a bouncer in the Copacabana, a man with a voracious appetite, and the epitome of whatever stereotype of a 1960s white male you want to throw at him.  Donald Shirley was the exact opposite in every way; educated, sophisticated, talented, loved music, and was black, making him a man who didn’t fit in with any group, no matter where he went.  The pair would travel into the deep South together on tour, Tony as the driver and Don as the boss, forging a relationship that didn’t conform to the norms of the time, and lasted decades beyond what anyone would have expected.

I can love a movie that’s almost pure, depressing weight, I can enjoy a comedy that’s entirely stupid, and I can appreciate a film that’s a little bit of both, finding the balance between audience and critic, that sharp edge between too much fluff and total despair.  Those who don’t like Green Book found it to be too flippant with its themes, too buddy cop or buddy racist or buddy bigot, or something of that nature.  I hold the opposite opinion; I think Farrelly did a wonderful job of making a story with a message work just right for a larger crowd, and I think that’s important because it’s the larger crowd that needs to hear it.  I don’t need to be specifically reminded that opening your life up to those who are different than yourself improves your character and your mind, but honestly some people do, and if it takes a “friendly racist” to get that point across, I’m willing to be pandered to just a little, so that others can perhaps be awakened to a truth they may not have previously thought about.  Anyway, on to the movie, which was funny when it needed to be, heavy at times, and always an enjoyable watch, led by two strong performances from Mortensen & Ali that should be remembered this awards season.  Green Book has important reminders, a solid message, more hope that despair, will crack you up occasionally, and shouldn’t be ignored because it isn’t the Greek tragedy that we perhaps too often see this time of year.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Mowgli

Category : Movie Review

Director: Andy Serkis

Starring: Rohan Chand, Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch

Year: 2018

Mowgli is a Netflix original directed by an actor taken directly from a story we’ve  just seen redone for the millionth time.  Any one of those facts, taken on their own, might have been palatable, but not all three together, not a butchered new version of something we just saw made by a man who doesn’t know what he’s doing released direct to our Netflix accounts and peddled as something good.  I like Netflix content, I like Serkis’ motion capture work, I like The Jungle Book, but my god, the terrible trio was far too much crap to handle all at once, and the result is a movie that’s far worse than I had hoped it would be, but probably just as awful as I would have bet.

Born with man but raised by wolves, Mowgli is the boy who bridges the gap between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, the one who might someday span the distance between the jungle’s inhabitants and those who wish to battle it into submission.  But before he can become a part of his own pack, Mowgli will have to prove that he’s good enough and skilled enough to run with the young wolves, an ancient tradition that keeps the family strong.  If he fails, he won’t belong to the tribe, and will have to join his own kind in the man village.  That might be for the best, because an evil tiger stalks the jungle, thirsty for Mowgli’s blood, and he will stop at nothing to taste it.  Only the pack stands in his way, but Mowgli’s presence changes all traditions and customs, and threatens the balance between all things.

My reaction to the trailer was pretty strong; I saw this flop coming a mile away.  It was far too similar to an American version that just came out, minus the music or musical references, which really are the whole point anyway.  This take on the classic Kipling story is a little darker, which is fine, a little more “realistic”, which is cool, but far worse than all the previous versions I’ve seen, and, again, we would have predicted that to be the case anyway.  Despite a large cast of great voice talent (Bale, Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Naomie Harris, Peter Mullan, Tom Hollander, Eddie Marsan), Serkis was unable to weave a tale worth our attention, instead giving us something we definitely didn’t need in a style that we definitely wouldn’t enjoy.  I know it’s early, but I don’t trust the guy to make movies, nor to act in them either; he hasn’t shown us that he’s up to the challenge.  Mowgli is depressing, choppy, the animation is poor, and I don’t see why we’d remember it had been made in a month or two.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Assassination Nation

Category : Movie Review

Director: Sam Levinson

Starring: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Joel McHale

Year: 2018

Funny story; I met a guy at a wedding who is friends with Cullen Moss, the actor who plays the mayor in this movie.  They were in the same comedy troupe, and the guy I met got to be in some photos with Cullen, whose character is seen in racy shots with another man.  They weren’t even on set, the filmmakers just called Moss and asked him to take some dirty/funny pictures and the two friends obliged.  So I had that story in the back of my mind as I watched this film, which gave it a personal touch, helped in my enjoyment, and will hopefully help in yours.  Not that Assassination Nation really needs it; the story is strong enough to support itself with enough original content to see it through to the end, if with a couple small missteps along the way.

Four friends help each other through the roughest parts of adolescence in a town called Salem, a place like any other with the typical problems and people and preppies.  Lily, Bex, Em, & Sarah help each other through it all, supporting one another when the going gets tough.  And the going is about to get real tough, not just for them, but for every single inhabitant of this unlucky town.  A hacker breaks into the phone of Salem’s mayor, revealing his sordid life, and the fallout is astronomical.  But that’s not the end of it; next is the vice principal, then some popular kids, then the whole school, then the whole town.  With every dirty secret out in the open for every open eye to see, no one’s reputation is safe, and somehow our four heroines find themselves at the center of a societal collapse where they are the target of every vigilante.

Assassination Nation is basically Men, Woman & Children meets The Purge, and that’s not too shabby.  Men, Women & Children is not the perfect movie, but it was kinda groundbreaking, for a film most people haven’t ever heard of and that starred Adam Sandler.  I’m serious; it’s sexual, it’s provocative, it’s modern, it asks questions, and it examines our use of technology, even putting texts across the screen in a way that I don’t remember seeing before but has since quickly become the standard.  Assassination Nation is a take on this same idea, but with a violent streak that caters to those who are looking for a little more blood.  It’s also a major critique on our current culture, on sexism, on privacy, on so much more, to the point that it’s a little overwhelming.  The movie does get to that point, where it becomes a bit too much, and it does start so much better than it ends.  But taken as a whole, it has loads to say; it’s a darker tone than, say, Eighth Grade, and also not as good, but definitely worth your attention.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Aquaman

Category : Movie Review

Director: James Wan

Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe

Year: 2018

People who decry the failure of DC forget that Marvel has had its bumps as well, and took some time to get in the proverbial groove.  I’m not defending the majority of what DC has given us to this point, far from it, but Wonder Woman was a legitimate success and Aquaman looks to be a relative win as well, so perhaps this universe has found its place in the stars.  Who would have thought that Wonder Woman and Aquaman would be the figures to save the franchise that Superman and Batman put in jeopardy, but here we are, and the future could still be bright.  That’s the state of the DC union, but that’s not exactly my opinion.  While I did thoroughly enjoy Wonder Woman, I also thought that Man of Steel was strong, but I’d like to go on record as saying that Aquaman is incredibly dumb, and shouldn’t be considered the savior that it will ultimately be labeled as.

We’ve met the metahuman named Arthur Curry, the Aquaman, and have seen what he can do in battle.  But now we learn about his past, and get to see where he’s headed as his future unfurls.  Arthur’s mother and father met at a lighthouse on a stormy night.  Well, that’s much too simple; Arthur’s mother was the queen of Atlantis and she washed up on shore trying to escape an arranged marriage.  She and Tom Curry fell in love, had Arthur, but Atlanna had to leave her family when she realized that the undersea kingdom would never let her go.  Now grown, Arthur knows he’s special, has fought with the Justice League, but doesn’t want anything to do with the world that took his mother away from.  But when his half brother, King Orm, the Ocean Master, declares war on the surface world, the Aquaman will have to claim his throne to protect his adopted world.

If you ever wondered if one monotone actress with flame-red hair can ruin an otherwise passable superhero movie, the answer is yes, yes she can.  Amber Heard destroys whatever could have been successful about Aquaman, because she destroys every scene in which she appears, and she appears in a lot of them.  Her performance is flat, faky, uninspired, and terribly-written; Mera might be the worst character that has ever been introduced into a superhero franchise, or perhaps any movie ever.  But she wasn’t the only flaw, not by a long shot, she was just the most glaring.  The dialogue in the film and the choices made by the director were simply stupid; juvenile, amateur, silly, unpolished, and stupid.  The one-liners, the stately undersea kingdom talk, the “surprise” explosions that stunned the main characters time and time again; I found myself shaking my head in disgust far too often.  James Wan is a director of bad movies; why were we expecting something different this time around?

It’s not all bad; like I said, Heard wrecked what was otherwise passable and half-decent.  The biggest positive I can attach to is the visual marvel of the majority of the film, because there is a lot to be proud of when it comes to the pure spectacle.  There is a battle at the end that rivals any fantasy war scene that we’ve seen before, it’s that good, and almost makes up for the poor quality of the rest.  The colors, the weapons, the creatures; I might try turning off the sound next time, that might make it all better.  Jason Momoa doesn’t suck, that’s for sure, he’s a budding star, but unfortunately everyone around him was awful.  Heard, Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren; no one stepped up to the plate.  And what’s more, they were all made to look more ridiculous by swimming through water like Derek Zoolander as a Merman, by speaking stiffly which juxtaposed terribly with Momoa’s vibe, by having super-strange hairstyles, as weird as that is to say.  I didn’t hate Aquaman, it was rather fun, and I’m glad that DC might be turning a corner toward something more interesting.  But it was too long, too goofy, its cast too weak, its dialogue too lifeless, and too many mistakes were made for me to get fully on board.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Ben is Back

Category : Movie Review

Director: Peter Hedges

Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges

Year: 2018

It seems odd that Hollywood’s duo of young It Men are both in addiction stories at the same time, that they’re going head to head to see who can sell the pain best.  I guess it’s not uncommon for one idea to get two simultaneous takes, it happens a lot, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or whatever.  But this topic is much too raw to become a competition; this isn’t Armageddon and Deep Impact, people.  It’s addiction, it’s serious stuff, and and one film far outdoes the other anyway, and not simply because it was released first.  Timothee Chalamet plays his tortured character to perfection in Beautiful Boy, even if his supporting cast and the pace of the film are equally boring.  Lucas Hedges and the team behind Ben is Back chose a different path, but, unfortunately, it turned out to be much worse.

Ben arrives back home for Christmas just in time to celebrate with his family, but this isn’t the joyous occasion you might imagine.  Ben is an addict and has been in rehab, away from the drugs and the temptations and the life that almost killed him.  He has put his family through hell, and should not be back home yet, none of them are ready, but he arrives anyway and now they all have to ask themselves what they are going to do about it.  For his mom, Holly, his visit is a wish come true, even though she knows his presence comes with a lot of stress.  She’ll have to set ground rules, follow him into every room for the next 24 hours, but that’s something she’s willing to do; she simply wants to be with her son.  But an unexpected attack sets off a series of events that send Ben spiraling back into the world he’s trying to escape, and Holly into a mother’s worst nightmare.

While Beautiful Boy is extremely realistic, is based on a true story, and plods depressingly along, Ben is Back decides to make addiction a little more exciting, and that was its first mistake.  It quickly becomes an adventure movie, a boy and his mom slipping into the underworld for a night, hoping to return to the suburbs by morning.  I don’t mean to belittle addiction, but I think that’s exactly what the film ended up doing, making a more commercial version for a larger audience, but forgetting why this is a story that needs telling in the first place.  I said that was the first mistake; I think I was wrong, that’s the second mistake, the first was casting Julia Roberts.  She couldn’t convince us that she’s a grieving mother if they paid her, which makes it all the more upsetting that they did.  She’s awful, the side actors are as well, Lucas Hedges can’t save the day on his own, and he was really never given the shot.  The film fails to capture the point and make it clear, and what we’re left with is just another shoddy attempt.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2018, Week 16

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 16 Picks

(9-7 last week, 140-82-2 for the season)

Bye teams: none

 

Was @ Ten

Bal @ LAC

Cin @ Cle

TB @ Dal

Min @ Det

Buf @ NE

GB @ NYJ

Hou @ Phi

Atl @ Car

NYG @ Ind

Jax @ Mia

LAR @ Ari

Chi @ SF

Pit @ NO

KC @ Sea

Den @ Oak