Friday, September 30, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 4 Power Rankings & The Rest

Ranking to 0-3 Teams

4.) Chicago Bears  =  0-3  (45-83)

Well, that was a nightmare. This whole season is a nightmare. If anything good comes out of this year, the Bears can see that they are working off various timelines and windows right now, and the one that absolutely needs to get closed is the Cutler one. Eight years is enough, and this team needs to fully rebuild, and getting rid of the QB who never quite worked out is the first step.

3.) Cleveland Browns  =  0-3  (54-84)

Great to see some fight, and better than that to see some inventiveness. The Browns are run by a lot of smart people with varied backgrounds, and of course took a lot of flak for it. But if the ideas born out of this strange factory are things like alternating QBs and making Terrelle Pryor into a triple-threat, and being very aggressive on 4th down. These are really interesting avenues that the Browns are looking into, and I'm interested to see years from now if it goes well if they will still be so inventive.

2.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  0-3  (54-84)

Gus Bradley just has to go, right? His defense plays one good game out of three. The offense is laughably mediocre. It is easy to say that Blake Bortles is a bust, and maybe he is, but forget the offense. This comes down to Gus Bradley and that teams inability to build a defense that is worth a damn despite investing pick after pick and high-dollar free agents. It may be a good result if he doesn't come back on that trip back from London.

1.) New Orleans Saints  =  0-3  (79-96)

The Saints are pretty clearly the best 0-3 team in the NFL, but the fact that they are 0-3 is still just jarring. Their inability to win at home is just jarring. Even when their defense was bad in years past they could be a safe pick to win at home. I don't even think it is that their defense is so bad (and it is), but their offense doesn't have the same dynamism that it used to. In years past I often criticized the Saints about their inability to get as much YAC from their short throws in road games, but that has now started to stretch into their home games as well.

Ranking the 1-2 Teams

13.) Miami Dolphins  =  1-2  (64-67)

The Dolphins may have rid themselves of one coach who earned his stripes coordinating an offense run by an All-Time Great QB, but maybe they just went and replaced him (Joe Philbin) with another (Adam Gase). The Dolphins may seem to have a strategy, but if the end result is needing three missed field goals by Cody Parkey to beat the Browns, it is not a working strategy.

12.) San Francisco 49ers  =  1-2  (73-83)

Their Week 1 28-0 win is looking more and more like a facsimile of their big Week 1 win last year on MNF. The 49ers offense is so useless right now. Maybe it is Blaine Gabbert, but to me it is more and more Chip Kelly. Good defenses, like Seattle's certainly, just dominate that offense. The Panthers did as well aside from one blown coverage. The 49ers offense is just a disaster right now, and I can't believe Kaepernick can be any worse than this.

11.) Tennessee Titans  =  1-2  (42-57)

I honestly think that if they just lost all of the stupid power running and options and pitchback and full-back nonsense that Mike Mularkey likes to no end, that this could actually be a decent team. The Titans have a QB who is good when not made to work within a ridiculous offense better suited for 1976. The defense has a lot of good players and are coached well. Too bad they are wasting this with just awful coaching and tactics.

10.) San Diego Chargers  =  1-2  (87-73)

I feel so bad that the Chargers have had to live with this injury nonsense again and again. To lose Keenan Allen one week, Danny Woodhead and now Manti T'eo. Philip Rivers had to deal with this in 2010, when he had maybe his best personal season. He dealt with it last year, and now again. I really wish the Chargers and Titans worked out their trade a few years back to send him to Tennessee when Whisenhunt was there.

9.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  =  1-2  (70-101)

The defense the Buccaneers have shown the past two weeks, against two teams that have been fairly mediocre on offense in their other two games, is what I feared when they fired Lovie Smith. The offense has been fine, with two good performacnes and one disaster, but up-and-down is to be expected with an erratic second year QB and a bad OL, but the defense has been very, very poor. Even the Falcons moved the ball at will, and if not for their inability to score in the red zone, the Buccaneers would probably be 0-3.

8.) Detroit Lions  =  1-2  (81-85)

In every way, that was such a classic Lions vs. Packers performance from the 2009-2014 period in Lambeau, where the Lions would play like they were drunk for a half, but make a few big plays, and then make a spirited but ultimately seriously fruitless comeback attempt. I'll give them credit for at least stopping the Packers in the second half, but you could as rightly say that Mike McCarthy stopped the Packers.

7.) Washington Redskins  =  1-2  (68-92)

That was a really impressive win. Their defense was still on the whole unable to stop the Giants, but really played well in the red zone. Kirk Cousins finally looked good, but more than that his receivers looked good. The Redskins took advantage of some 2012-2015 Giants mindlessness, but we have to give them credit for being in position to do so.

6.) Indianapolis Colts  =  1-2  (81-95)

The Colts have an easy schedule, and as we've seen by the Texans last performance, a still-easy division, and they may have saved their season with the long Luck to Hilton TD. TY Hilton remains a really, really good player, and even Phillip Dorsett has started to show signs. What the Colts need the most right now, especially with their defensive issues with pass rush, is for Andrew Luck to play like a Top-5 QB. He can do it in spurts, but he needs to do it for weeks.

5.) Buffalo Bills  =  1-2  (71-68)

I honestly should have seen that coming. The Rex Ryan way is to every now and then inspire his team to play balls-out, especially on defense, for specific matchups. I potentially could say him doing the same thing this upcoming in New England as well. The Bills definitely have a chance to go on a run, and all the right elements are there, but it will come down to whether Rex can inspire them more than once a month.

4.) New York Jets  =  1-2  (62-78)

That was probably the worst game Ryan Fitzpatrick will play this year. In fact, it would be close to historically unprecedented for him to have a game that bad again. Which should, in a way, be a good thing when the score of that game removing defensive TDs was 10-3. The Jets defense is still great, but it was surprising to see that offensive performance. I am really interested to see them go up against the Seahawks this upcoming week. That D-line is just amazing, and will keep them in most games. They just need to ensure Fitzpatrick keeps them in games.

3.) Arizona Cardinals  =  1-2  (79-63)

The Cardinals are in an interesting place. They really should have won that New England game, but they didn't, and know despite all the talent in the team, they've had to face big deficits twice. The Cardinals still have oodles of talent, and won't play a desperate 0-2 team with the motivator of Rex Ryan, but there needs to be an analysis of how to play against teams now that they know the Cardinals pet plays, like the deep ball.

2.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  1-2  (56-75)

That was a surprising loss, and while Andy Dalton becomes just another QB that the Broncos can hang up on the wall like a pelt, it was an alarming performance. The defense was really good for most of that game, and sometimes guys like Demaryius Thomas and Emannual Sanders just go off. Hopefully Tyler Eifert will return soon and add some juice to an offense that is sputtering at the moment.

1.) Carolina Panthers  =  1-2  (76-70)

That loss reminded me a lot of their 2013 Divisional Round loss to the 49ers, where they dominated the game early (the Panthers really did cruise to that 10-0 lead) but ultimately just could not get anything going late. I would chalk that up to just a bad performance, and it was never natural to expect them to be as good as last year, but the Panthers need to block better, need to defend better, and while their next game won't challenge the former, it definitely will challenge the latter.

Ranking the 2-1 Teams

10.) Los Angeles Rams  =  2-1  (46-63)

The comparisons to the 2015 Vikings, the team that lost the 10:30PM EST MNF Week 1 game in San Francisco, are becoming stronger and stronger. The Rams offense finally woke up, and while they have a track record of not being able to carry that over week to week, the defense remains a really good unit. The Rams have definitely rebounded to respectability on offense and that always was good enough for them to go back to that 7-9 range that is so befitting Jeff Fisher and his team(s).

9.) Houston Texans  =  2-1  (42-53)

John Elway remains a really, really good GM. He did not bite on the Osweiler craze, knowing from years of practices and spotty play that he was not as good as that 5-2 record. Osweiler is just not a top-level QB and is very generously overpaid. Their defense is still good enough to have them Rams their way to 9 or 10 wins, but the ceiling really may not be too much higher this year than they were last year when they were Wild Card fodder.

8.) Dallas Cowboys  =  2-1  (77-60)

I'm still not a huge believer in Dak Prescott, but I am a believer that the Cowboys may be in a good enough position when Romo returns to make a run in 2016. The season will really come down to whether Romo can come back and stay healthy. I'm not going crazy about a win over one of the worst teams in the NFL, but the Cowboys defense has done a lot better than I would have expected given their talent drain through cuts and suspensions.

7.) New York Giants  =  2-1  (63-61)

That was a really bad loss. The Giants had an opportunity to make a statement by pushing the defending Division champs into an 0-3 hole - a record no team in the current playoff format era (since 2002) has climbed out of it to make the playoffs. The Giants really have a red zone problem they need to fix. It showed up time and time again the past two weeks and made two games where they, aside from the red zone, completely outplayed their opponent. The Giants are not a trustable team, they never have been apart from 2008, but they had a chance to be something different. They still do, but losing a home divisional game, and blowing a 21-9 lead in the process, is not a good way to start.

6.) Oakland Raiders  =  2-1  (80-79)

If the Raiders put their best foot forward on both sides of the ball, this could be a scary team. For the first time, their defense really showed up, but this time their offense sputtered in the 'green zone' (40 yard line to 20 yard line). The offense, especially the run game, is really clicking, but I feel like too often they play like they know they have Janikowski and can get a long field goal if needed. That has to stop. The Raiders have the potential. 8-8 is the minimum expectation. They have a manageable schedule coming up and need to bank wins by having both sides complement and not alternate.

5.) Atlanta Falcons  =  2-1  (104-91)

I want to reserve judgement on their offense until these next three games are over where they have to play the Carolina, Denver and Seattle defenses. The Falcons have taken advantage of playing three of probably the worst five or six defensive units in the league. But still, they look just amazing, especially in the run game. Their OL has really improved their run blocking this year. Julio Jones hasn't even hit top speed yet. The defense still has major issues, but they can 2011 or 2013 Saints their way to 10-11 wins.

4.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  2-1  (69-49)

Well, I guess the Chiefs still have a pretty good defense then. I still think they need to find secondary pass rushers without Houston - and even when he comes back I don't expect him to be near 100%. Having Marcus Peters and Eric Berry in that secondary really helps. The Chiefs offense still needs work, and their running back trio is far less impressive this season than last, but if they can even get two interceptions a game, they should be in the clear and make the AFC West really interesting.

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  2-1  (65-66)

Well, that was quite surprising. I'm not sure what was worse about that game for the Steelers. Was it the 34 points allowed to an offense led by a rookie QB? Or was it scoring just 3 points despite having an overflowing bevy of skill position players and a great QB. I am truly shocked someone held a healthy Steelers offense to less than 10 points. I would wage that was the least amount of points they score this year, but still, it was quite shocking.

2.) Seattle Seahawks  =  2-1  (52-37)

The defense is still fantastic, and that will carry the team at the end of the day, but there has to be a serious worry about Russell Wilson's ability to stay healthy for the full season. I would consider sitting him against the Jets, especially with the bye coming up. That OL is still a problem, and if Russell is not healthy they really have no shot. The offense really had a tough time moving the ball at all with Trayvon Boykin in the game.

1.) Green Bay Packers  =  2-1  (75-67)

I wouldn't say Aaron Rodgers is completely back, but he never was really all that gone either. Why I really still like the Packers is mostly due to their defense, which has been great so far. Matthew Stafford hit some big plays after Demarious Randall went out, but their run defense has been far and away the best in the league, and they've been able to maintain a pass rush even with a gimpy Clay Matthews. The defense can carry them while the offense comes back in full.

Ranking the 3-0 Teams

5.) Baltimore Ravens  =  3-0  (57-44)

As someone who picked the Ravens to make the playoffs with a wild card this is a good start. I do get that there is a glaring black mark on their 3-0 start which is their list of opponents. From the Bills at home, to the Browns and Jaguars, they have played teams that are 1-8 total. The Ravens showed major calm in stealing a win from Jacksonville that probably shouldn't have been in doubt anyway, but this is also a team that overcame a 0-20 deficit on the road. The Ravens are not a good 3-0, but they are not a terrible one either.

4.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  3-0  (92-27)

The Eagles had the best point differential after each of the first two weeks. It looked like they were probably going to cede that distinction when the Patriots shutout Houston, but then they went and won 34-3. In reality, they have been the best team through three weeks, but they have the same schedule questions on their first two wins that Baltimore has. I think they are basically the 2011 49ers reborn right now, however, with an ex-QB coach, a weird offense and a great defense. It all makes sense. We doubted that team, and they were a fumbled punt away from a Super Bowl appearance.

3.) Minnesota Vikings  =  3-0  (64-40)

The Vikings defense is really special, and better than that they are deep. This is what happens when you draft three defensive players in the first round in 2013-14 and they are all coming together at the same time, and you surround those players with like eight other excellent ones. If Sam Bradford can stay healthy and competent - and his 18-28 for 178 yards is totally competent given the defense he was playing himself - the Vikings will be scary.

2.) New England Patriots  =  3-0  (81-45)

I'll make an admission, if Tom Brady had retired, and I knew this year would be fully run by Garoppolo and Brisett, I may want the Patriots to go 19-0 - I would want them to show the world that Tom Brady was a cog in their machine rather than the machine himself, that he meant less to the Patriots than people realized. Alas, he is coming back in two weeks, they'll probably be 4-0, and they will continue to haunt my dreams.

1.) Denver Broncos  =  3-0  (84-57)

I'll make another admission, Trevor Siemian is giving the Broncos more at the moment than Peyton Manning did in 2015. So if that is true, and the defense is 90% as good as it was last year - which seems true through three games - this team is really terrifying. Given the schedule they've played, including two teams that despite their 1-2 record I feel are legitimate contenders in Carolina and Cincinnati, the Broncos may have earned this #1 spot on merit anyway.

Playoff Projections


1.) New England Patriots  =  14-2
2.) Denver Broncos  =  12-4
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  11-5
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  10-6
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  10-6


1.) Minnesota Vikings  =  12-4
2.) Carolina Panthers  =  12-4
3.) Arizona Cardinals  =  11-5
4.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  10-6
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-5
6.) Green Bay Packers  =  11-5

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

15.) Tennessee Titans (1-2)  @  Houston Texans (2-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Cleveland Browns (0-3)  @  Washington Redskins (1-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) Detroit Lions (1-2)  @  Chicago Bears (0-3)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it the "It's for these games that I don't care I'm traveling on Sunday" Sunday, as I'll probably be in a car for most of the day. Not having Manning in my life means I am more okay than normal taking Sundays off. Of course, I'm not that OK, but for games like these two, I am very OK. Had RGIII still been the Browns starting QB their game may have been interesting from the angle of his return to Washington, but Cody Kessler in the nation's capital has less meaning.

12.) Indianapolis Colts (1-2)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)  (London - CBS)

I call it "Someone may not make it back over that pond alive" Sunday Morning, as the first London game comes at a time where we can continue a nice little London tradition. Two straight years someone has been fired after the first London game. Last year it was Joe Philbin, the year before Dennis Allen. This time Gus Bradley, who would be a ridiculously bad 12-40 if they lose, seems like the easy candidate, but I wouldn't put it past Jim Irsay to can Pagano if they fall to 1-3 in a bad performance to Jacksonville.

11.) Dallas Cowboys (2-1)  @  San Francisco 49ers (1-2)  (4:25 - FOX)
10.) New Orleans Saints (0-3)  @  San Diego Chargers (1-2)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "This would have been so much more fun five and ten years ago" Sunday, as FOX's two premier doubleheader late games have a lot of nice nostalgia to them, but little actual substance. The Cowboys are still missing Romo, and the 49ers these days are a sad reminder both of college coach's having a hard time in the NFL, and how short that Harbaugh renaissance was. Five years ago these two played a great OT game in San Francisco. The Cowboys won it, but in reality it was the Harbaugh 49ers coming out party. For the Saints, it is Drew Brees's first game in San Diego since he left, but since he got the better end of that deal hard to imagine he'll be too charged up. It is more sad that these two teams that used to be offensive powers, that played arguably the only good game we've ever had in London (a Chargers 39-38 win in 2008) are now a combined 1-5.

9.) St. Louis Rams (2-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (1-2)  (4:25 - FOX)
8.) Miami Dolphins (1-2)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)  (TNF - NFLN)

I call it "If they lose, there are serious questions to be asked" Thursday and Sunday, as two preseason favorites (or more truthfully, my two preseason favorites to make the Super Bowl) have started out 1-2, including losing their home opener. Neither the Cardinals or Bengals can afford to slip to 1-3. These would be hurtful loses to either. The Bengals already have tough competition in their division, and Arizona would create tough competition by pushing the Rams to 3-1 if they win. At the end, though, I don't expect either of the 1-2 teams to be challenged too much. A desparate good team is still scary.

7.) Denver Broncos (3-0)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)  (4:05 - FOX)
6.) Buffalo Bills (1-2)  @  New England Patriots (3-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "If the win, let's just go straight to the AFC Title Game and let them duke it out" Sunday, as both the Broncos and Patriots, the two teams that met up in 2013 and 2015 to spar for the AFC Title, get a chance to start 4-0. And these wouldn't be normal 4-0 starts. Both were integrating in new QBs. The Broncos start may actually be more surprising given how many people were passing over them as favorites in that division. Still, while things are changing rapidly in the NFC seemingly, things are more or less staying the same in the AFC.

5.) Seattle Seahawks (2-1)  @  New York Jets (1-2)  (1;00 - FOX)
4.) Oakland Raiders (2-1)  @  Baltimore Ravens (3-0)  (1;00 - CBS)
3.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-1)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)  (SNF - NBC)
2.) New York Giants (2-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (3-0)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "Just a lot of fun football" Sunday and Monday, as there are four really nice games. I wish one of those two 1PM games were in the late time-slot as it would have given me one game in each window. Either way, these are just four really nice contests. The Seahawks and Jets should be a defensive struggle. The Raiders and Ravens should be a nice offense vs. defense match (if the Raiders do win, they would be 3-1, and 3-0 on the road). The Chiefs and Steelers a game between two teams that are really well coached and managed on Sunday Night, which is never not a bad thing, and finally a rare MNF game that seems really exciting, and one that ended up better looking now than it shaped up to be when the schedule came out. Just good stuff all around.

1.) Carolina Panthers (1-2)  @  Atlanta Falcons (2-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Are they for real" Sunday, as the Falcons finally get a real test for their suddenly unstoppable offense. In the last two weeks, the Falcons scored 80 points (73 after removing a pick-6), but that came against what have been probably the two worst defenses in the NFL. The Panthers are not that. Their defense has been great, as a great deal of teh points they gave up in the last two games were off of defense, special teams or short fields. The Panthers themselves need to find their mojo back, and there is no better way than to beat the suddenly hot darlings again in their own building and stake their claim back to this division.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 3 Power Rankings & The Rest

The days after Week 1 is National Overreaction Week. The days after Week 2 is National "The Transitive Property is a Thing" Week, where we stupidly theorize that if Team A lost a close game to Team B in Week 1, and then won big against Team C in Week 2, that Team B must be really great. Anyway, let's go to the rankings.

Ranking the 0-2 Teams

8.) Cleveland Browns  =  0-2  (30-54)

Well, at the very least they are making their tanking really exciting. No team could get a three TD lead, immediately give up a 2-point conversion against them, and then get shutout the rest of the way. And that it happened to the old Browns makes it so much worse. Now we may get to see Cody Kessler. This is just pure hilarity at this point.

7.) Chicago Bears  =  0-2  (28-52)

This ranking is obviously effected by the mass injuries sustained by the Bears in their MNF loss. I didn't like this team much anyway, especially with the weird mix of both rebuilding but still employing Jay Cutler - but either way, the Bears are screwed now. They may as well go full tank and look to rebuild around a new QB in 2017.

6.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  0-2  (37-65)

Looks like the Jags breakout isn't happening. In an effort to immediately steer into the ditch I outlined, by the transitive property, them hanging with Green Bay doesn't look nearly as good now as it did after Week 1. Their defense is still dreadful, and I have to think Gus Bradley is not long for that job. Blake Bortles was also so outclassed at QB by Rivers - hopefully he took notes.

5.) Miami Dolphins  =  0-2  (34-43)

In a way, because they came within a 30-yard strike of tying that game, maybe you can retrospectively say that the stat compiling didn't occur during garbage time. But actually, that is exactly what you can say. I figured that would happen, given the Dolphins Week 17 win last year was what cost the Patriots the #1 seed (and likely the Super Bowl), but the Dolphins came to that game so entirely unprepared - wich is not something I expected from the Adam Gase era.

4.) Washington Redskins  =  0-2  (39-65)

Every game they play, every missed throw by Kirk Cousins, every missed read, we understand more and more why smart football people (including Redskins GM Scott McLoughlan) were so against giving Kirk Cousins a large contract due to 8 good games. Cousins is holding an otherwise talented team back. If they had a Top-10 QB, the Redskins would easily be a Top-10 level team.

3.) New Orleans Saints  =  0-2  (47-51)

Two more games, two more tough losses, and the Saints are proving many things at once. First, their offense is not necessarily good enough to win games - even when their defense plays well. All the issues of the Saints offense outdoors cropped up again. Short throws with little YAC, inability to consistently protect Brees, or get separation. There are more high profile issues going on in Green Bay, but the later years of the Brees-era are a real sad show.

2.) Buffalo Bills  =  0-2  (38-50)

Obviously, it makes no sense that they fired Greg Roman. The Bills offense was the far better part of the team in the Rex Ryan era. The Bills are not bad, yet, but there are obvious issues with that team that firing the guy that made them a passable offense will not fix. It starts and ends with Rex Ryan. I thought pairing his great defensive history with the Bills own great defensive history would be a match made in heaven. Instead, it is becoming a continuation of his 2011-2014 career with the Jets.

1.) Indianapolis Colts  =  0-2  (55-73)

To give them some credit, many QBs have looked equally helpless against the Broncos defense these past year and two games. Andrew Luck wasn't markedly worse than Cam Newton in the Super Bowl, or Tom Brady in the AFC Championship, or Aaron Rodgers last year. That all said, I have lost complete faith in that coaching staff to ever put together a decent defense, or have any clue on how to win games in the NFL of 2016. I like Chuck Pagano as a person, I am very happy he conquered his bout with Cancer. I still think it is time for change.

Ranking the 1-1 Teams

16.) Tennessee Titans  =  1-1  (32-40)

I am still not sure how the Titans won that game. I have no idea if Marcus Mariota is any good, given that weird offense and the situations and play calls that he is put in by Mike Mularkey. The defense is good, I guess, but they got bailed out by penalty after penalty by the Lions. The Titans may end up better than I think, but right now, I am not a believer in their offensive philosopy, and I am just overly bitter that the Lions couldn't cover that game.

15.) Los Angeles Rams  =  1-1  (9-31)

The Rams are just a joke now, and somehow even more so after beating the Seahawks again. The offense is still a disaster, but it should be said the Seahawks are a great defense and they at least moved the ball. I really do hope that at some point this year Jared Goff gets a chance soon. Todd Gurley also needs to show something. I realize teams are stacking the box, and there is no other weapon to really take the pressure away, but he should be playing better than he has.

14.) San Francisco 49ers  =  1-1  (55-46)

The 49ers got a nice dose of reality in that game, getting pounded by the Panthers offense and having their own offense get mauled apart from some strange mistakes by the Panthers, including a blown coverage on Vance McDonald's TD, and back-to-back fumbles setting the 49ers up in great field position. For the second straight year, the 49ers took advantage of that weird MNF Late Week 1 game, then took their show on the road to a real team and got blasted.

13.) Dallas Cowboys  =  1-1  (46-43)

I still am not a believer in Dak, who has not played a good pass rush yet. It was nice to see Ezekiel Elliott for at least one game live up to the hype, as did that offensive line. The defense still is missing any ability to rush the passer, and is trying to scheme their way into some red zone stops or turnovers. It worked in 2014, but this offense is nowhere near as good now as it was then.

12.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  =  1-1  (38-64)

Well, that was a nice dose of reality. In the end, that game was either gonna be really close, or a complete blowout. The Buccaneers had to face the latter in the Arizona Cardinals buzzsaw smiting after their loss to the Patriots backup QB. Winston has to improve his accuracy, or his peak will be Eli Manning.

11.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  1-1  (45-46)

The Chiefs defense is really missing Justin Houston. There is more talent on that defense, but most of it is older and may be near the end of their peak or starting their decline. The offensive line has been a disaster through two games, and if not for a great comeback in Week 1 they are 0-2. In the end, when Houston returns the Chiefs defense should improve - but they may be too far off by that time.

10.) Atlanta Falcons  =  1-1  (59-59)

I was not expecting that performance. The best result for the Falcons through two games has to be their OL, which has given Matt Ryan plenty of time, enough so to go deep, a lot, to Julio and others. The defense has not been nearly as good, and that may be a lasting problem, but through two games Matt Ryan has been more like the guy he was from 2010-2014 than the seemingly declining player he was last year.

9.) Detroit Lions  =  1-1  (54-51)

Um, what was that? Did they just go to sleep after going up 15-3? What happened to that offense? The defense was decent enough to win, but where was that offense. There is no way that Theo Riddick means that much to that offense that the second he got hurt the offense went to hell. Anyway, the Lions are still to me good enough to make a wild card run, but they have to cut down on the penalties, have to play sixty minutes, have to just grow up.

8.) San Diego Chargers  =  1-1  (65-47)

Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates is still working in Year #11. Philip Rivers himself is still going strong in Year 11. You can take away Keenan Allen, take away Danny Woodhead, but that man can still pull his magic every now and then. That is all I have to say. Treasure this man.

7.) Oakland Raiders  =  1-1  (63-69)

That defense has to be fixed. Opponent Adjustments are not yet in Football Outsider's DVOA rankings this year, but the Raiders are #32 in defense, and probably would be even if opponent adjustments are considered. It has been terrible at every level. Of course, they are also #1 by offense in DVOA. That offense is good enough to win 11 games. They just have to hope when they couple that with the defense, they can win 9.

6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  1-1  (15-19)

Basically, just reverse everything I wrote about Oakland, and you get Seattle. They have been so pathetic on offense, with an OL that is finally so bad even Russell Wilson can't get them to move the ball. Wilson's injury isn't helping, but that is a direct result of the bad OL. The defense is its normal absolutely fantastic self, but with that offense, they are not winning the division, and likely not getting out of the NFC.

5.) Green Bay Packers  =  1-1  (41-40)

Aaron Rodgers sudden devolution is so familiar to this old Manning fan. Rodgers play these last 14 games, where his numbers dropped off a cliff, not reaching 100 passer rating in any single game, is very reminiscent of Manning in 2010, when his brilliance could not any longer compensate for the lack of support, be it the OL, or the receivers. Rodgers is pressing. Hopefully for them, if Nelson can get his groove back, maybe Rodgers finally can as well.

4.) New York Jets  =  1-1  (59-54)

It was surprising they could get no real pass rush against Buffalo, but sometimes games take on styles that are so hard to envision. Both sides would rather have played a 16-13 game instead of a 37-31 game. It is good, however, to see the offense play like that. There is obvious fear that Ryan Fitzpatrick could not be better than he was in 2015, but for one night he was and that offense was. They are one point away from 2-0 right now.

3.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  1-1  (39-46)

Can't criticize the Bengals too much. They've had two road games, both against teams I consider to be very good. They first beat the Jets, and then played the Steelers probably closer than the score indicated, including doing a great job, again, against Antonio Brown, holding him to maybe his worst game in a few years. The offense is still learning to adapt without Sanu and Jones, but the soon-to-be returned Tyler Eifert should help. They have a direct task now, which is to do something they historically have been awful at: beat the Steelers in Cincinnati, as they've oddly had way more success against them in Pittsburgh.

2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  1-1  (61-30)

Spoiler, my #1 1-1 team is the Panthers, but I could have been swayed either way in this one. What this means is really, after a week 1 where both of our reigning NFC Finalists lost their openers due to missed field goals at the gun that would have won them the game, they've returned to being the best, scariest teams in the NFL. The Cardinals probably at this point regret straying away from their blitz and man heavy defense in Week 1. It returned with a vengeance in Week 2, and while Palmer needs to be more accurate, the downfield game worked well also. The Cardinals remain an incredibly balanced team.

1.) Carolina Panthers  =  1-1  (66-48)

As do the Panthers, who are close to being clearly better on offense than defense at this point, which is a credit to their offense. Kelvin Benjamin has returned in truly awesome form, and Cam Newton is hitting incredibly tight windows. May be hard to keep up, but I expect the defense, especially the secondary play, to improve over the course of the year - much like it did in 2014 when they were bringing in new starters. The difference between 2016 and 2014 is this year the offense is so good (and I think their Week 1 performance looks a lot better now) they won't start 3-8-1 when dealing with defensive issues.

Ranking to 2-0 Teams

8.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  2-0  (58-24)

By point differential, the Eagles are the best team in the league through two weeks. Of course, they've played the two teams that I consider to be the worst two in the league, and they didn't pull away from the Bears until the Bears started losing mass amounts of players. In the end, while I like Wentz, he is still somewhat limited, and against better offense, their secondary issues will be more pronounced. 

7.) Houston Texans  =  2-0  (42-26)

The Texans have won their first two games in a way that should seem very familiar to Brock Osweiler. Get average at best play from your QB, who has the ability to hit a few deep shots to his talented WRs, and let your amazing defense take it home. Thing is, the Texans defense isn't as good as Denver's was last year (or at least they haven't shown that against a top team), and Osweiler is really showing some of his limitations and erratic play.

6.) New York Giants  =  2-0  (36-32)

The Giants are due to win some close games, but the real worrying point I have is their offenses inability to translate great talent - and great stats to the most part - into a lot of points. Their resume isn't that impressive at this point. It may have been had they held onto the ball against the Saints and won 31-13 (which was the real way the game should have played out), but they should not need late game heroics to win games against bad teams.

5.) Baltimore Ravens  =  2-0  (38-27)

A lot of people are giving the Ravens flak for playing a close game with the Browns. I, instead, will give them credit for spotting a team 20 points on the road and winning. I get that the Browns are truly, and very much intentionally, dreadful, but for any team to fall behind on the road like that and come back without giving up another point. Flacco looks good. Mike Wallace looks reborn. And when they aren't giving up freak long plays to Corey Coleman and random Browns Running Back, their defense is still rather good.

4.) Minnesota Vikings  =  2-0  (42-30)

My word was that a great defensive performance. I realize the Packers entire offense has a group case of the yips right now, but their coverage was great, their d-line was great, and this was all missing Xavier Rhodes and Shariff Floyd. Sam Bradford even looked good. I feel good for him. He's been duly compensated for having to play on some bad teams and be average at best, but he can succeed with that defense. 

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  2-0  (62-32)

The Steelers offense can score 24 points and it big plays when they're sloppy and Ben is off his game. To beat what I still consider a good team in Cincinnati with Antonio Brown having a notably off game, and Roethlisberger himself throwing two picks. The defense has taken a step up, and while I do worry that their pass rush has been really silent in the first two games, their defense is playing really well by adapting to some of Tomlin's old zone concepts. It is a good, smart defense to pair with that offense.

2.) New England Patriots  =  2-0  (54-45)

In a converse way to what I said about Miami, should we be a little more concerned with the defense after they came somewhat close to actually giving up that 31-3 lead? Probably not, but while they were a good team with Garropolo, there has to be concern with turning to Jacoby Brissett. Of course, this ranking still reflects that the calvary, both in Brady and Gronk, are coming back soon and then, for Pats fans, the real fun begins. For me, the nightmares will as well.

1.) Denver Broncos  =  2-0  (55-40)

There is a non-zero chance their defense is actually better this year than it was last. Well, at the very most Von Miller looks like he is. They are better set to handle the loss of Ware for a bit. But for all of that, the Broncos offense is why they might deserve this #1 ranking outside of the fact I give that to the defending champs until they lose. In running Kubiak's offense, they have been able to rejuvenate their run game, and Siemien seems so well suited to that style. This is a dangerous, dangerous team.

Playoff Projections

1.) New England Patriots  =  14-2
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  12-4
3.) Denver Broncos  =  11-5

4.) Houston Texans  =  10-6
5.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  11-5
6.) New York Jets  =  10-6


1.) Carolina Panthers  =  12-4
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  12-4

3.) New York Giants  =  11-5
4.) Green Bay Packers  =  10-6
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6
6.) Minnesota Vikings  =  9-7

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Cleveland Browns (0-2)  @  Miami Dolphins (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
15.) Baltimore Ravens (2-0)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Los Angeles Rams (1-1)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)  (4:05 - FOX)
13.) San Francisco 49ers (1-1)  @  Seattle Seahawks (1-1)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "Cover Your Eyes" Sunday, as in Week 3 we get our first look at some truly dreadful matchups. Only pieces of interest here to me is the opportunity to check out if the Dolphins can win a game, if the Ravens can become the most uninteresting and nationally irrelevant 3-0 team in the NFL, and if the 49ers can score a point - and if Seattle can continue their 2002 Buccaneers-like pace in terms of points allowed. Still, none of these areas really escite me, and we are better off just moving on.

12.) Chicago Bears (0-2)  @  Dallas Cowboys (1-1)  (SNF - NBC)
11.) Oakland Raiders (1-1)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) San Diego Chargers (1-1)  @  Indianapolis Colts (0-2)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Intra-Conference Average-ish" Sunday, as we get three games with six teams that are at this point fighting to stay relevant, and these being intra-conference games, the loser gets a conference loss that is the toughest to overcome. The Bears and Cowboys get a SNF game that I'm sure NBC would like to have back. The Raiders get a chance to show that their defense isn't historically bad, and that they can grow up and get past bad defeats. The Colts will give Andrew Luck the chance to show off his 2014 form that he found in Week 1, and prove that the bigger issue in last week's game was the team and defense he was facing rather than himself.

9.) Detroit Lions (1-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (1-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
8.) Washington Redskins (0-2)  @  New York Giants (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "The Best Way to Prove Yourself is in the Division" Sunday, as these two divisional games feature teams with a lot to prove, but whether the games are interesting is something else to be seen. The Lions and Packers played two great, dramatic games last year, but historically their games in the Rodgers era have been boring - even the one's the Lions have won. The Lions and Packers both get a chance to say outright they are the early challenger to Minnesota - especially Detroit as if they can limit the Packers offense again, serious questions and heat will be raised in Wisconsin. For the Giants, what better way to stake a claim to the division than go three up on the defending Division champs. They'll have to deal with Philadelphia sooner or later, but for now they can get a real good start on their first division title in five years.

7.) Arizona Cardinals (1-1)  @  Buffalo Bills (0-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
6.) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (2-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Inter-Conference Above Average-ish" Sunday, as we get two games between AFC and NFC teams that have also a lot of storylines, if not great play coming. The Cardinals take their high-flying show to a place where another blowout win for them may spell the end for Rex Ryan - or at the very least the beginning of the end, given how poorly teams that start 0-3 usually end up being. While the Battle of Philadelphia looks a lot better right now than it did before the season, I am still skeptical of the Eagles given who they've played, and expect them to receive a dose of reality from having to play a competent team for the firs ttme.

5.) Atlanta Falcons (1-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (0-2)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "The Nostalgia Bowl" Monday, as the Falcons and Saints play in the Superdome, nearly 10 years to the day (and in NFL terms, exactly 10 years from Week 3, 2006) from when the Saints re-opened the Superdome after Katrina and beat the Falcons 26-3 in an emotionally charged festival. That highlight will be played a lot. And while that is a great memory of a truly inspirational moment, the game itself is a sad reminder of a period from 2010-2013 or so when this used to be one of the best rivalries in the NFL. Since then, both franchises have fallen off, and while the Falcons showed some signs of life, this matchup will probably be meainingless long term, which is sad considering how good these teams used to be.

4.) New York Jets (1-1)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)  (4:25 - CBS)
3.) Houston Texans (2-0)  @  New England Patriots (2-0)  (TNF - CBS)

I call it "The Less Fun of the two Inter-Conference High-Profile Matchup Duos" Thursday and Sunday, as these four AFC contenders square off. The Chiefs are lucky to be 1-1, but if they can beat a good Jets team that is unlucky to be only 1-1, it may help them write the ship after a tough two weeks. For the Texans, if you want to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender, you go to New England and beat a team led by Jacoby Brissett. For the Pats, this is a chance for Bill Belichick immortality, and for us Pats haters, also a nice little piece of ammunition to make the case for Manning against Brady. To be honest, if the specter of Tom Brady's return didn't appear on the horizon, I might want a Garropolo/Brissett led Patriots to go 19-0.

2.) Minnesota Vikings (2-0)  @  Carolina Panthers (1-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
1.) Denver Broncos (2-0)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Let's Just Hope the Best Games are the Best Games" Sunday, as these are the clear best two games on paper. The Vikings defense and the wonderful (so far) Sam Bradford renaissance had added some juice into this game - and while the Panthers are seemingly a better version of the Vikings across the board, there is a real opportunity for Minnesota here. In Cincinnati,the Bengals get a chance to play at home and assert some dominance and beat the defending Champs. With the way Denver's defense is playing, and the way Siemien is not screwing up, this game looks a whole lot better than I thought it would heading into the season. We are going to get some heavyweight inter-division AFC fights this year, and this is the first one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 2 Power Rankings & The Rest

Ranking the 0-1 Teams

16.) Cleveland Browns  =  0-1  (10-29)

Weirdly enough, most of the favorites won in Week 1, and teams played, to some degree, to form and expectations. Exhibit A is the Browns absolutely sucking the life out of their fans in a truly awful display. I got a lot wrong (and am already dreading what the 2016 New England Patriots are going to do to my sanity), but I can say that I got the Browns right. They are so phenomenally bad. I realize that is the point, and in a sense am happy they are embracing how bad they are. By the way, in a week full of close games, this was the largest margin of defeat - the only team to lose by double digits!

15.) St. Louis Rams  =  0-1  (0-28)

Well, I'm already regretting my Rams as the #6 seed pick. I will caution myself that just last year Minnesota went to San Francisco for the late MNF game and looked about as bad as St. Louis looked yesterday. They ended up just fine. But at least they scored, at least they had a pulse. Maybe the Rams get one when/if Jared Goff comes in, but for now this team is an unholy mess on offense.

14.) Tennessee Titans  =  0-1  (16-25)

Looks like Mularkey ball is a disaster. If they ran a normal offense, they win that game. Instead, they gimmicked it up, made Mariota run the fucking option, and gave up two defensive TDs and lost in embarrassing fashion. What is worse is that there actually seems to be some modicum of talent on that club. Instead, they are destined to ruin Marcus Mariota's career seemingly. On the bright side, the defense was really good, especially the run defense.

13.) Chicago Bears  =  0-1  (14-23)

The Bears had their chances, but ultimately, just weren't as good as Houston. Also, it seems that they paid so much attention to JJ Watt they let the rest of the Texans front just wreak havoc, especially Whitney Mercilus. The offense looked ok at times, but far too little of the consistency in short to medium gains that they showed off last year in the Gase offense. It looks like it may be a long year in Chicago.

12.) Atlanta Falcons  =  0-1  (24-31)

The Falcons have become just a more boring version of the Saints. They too will always end up with some staggering numbers on face value, but they have such a hard time transferring production into points. Matt Ryan, by the numbers, had a really nice day, but they only scored 24 points and were not really in this game in teh second half. When they were going 13-3 or 10-6, they absolutely win that game. Now, the Falcons are looking like a clear pick to finish last. The defense is the real issue, as they let the Buccaneers just stomp over them for 60 minutes.

11.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  0-1  (23-27)

The final score says it was a four point game, and the Jaguars were 15 yards away from potentially winning the game, but I still came away underwhelmed. Their defense definitely looks better, but unless one of the Allens is making a great catch, I really dislike the production from Blake Bortles. He seems to have no real touch or feel, and while these areas could get better, they rarely do after two-plus years in the league. Good to see that Gus Bradley defense put up a fight for once, though.

10.) Indianapolis Colts  =  0-1  (35-39)

On the plus side, Andrew Luck looked like the player he was in 2014 when he threw 40 TDs and looked like the next great QB. On the down side, that defense is dreadful. Admittedly, they are worse than they should be due to injuries, but they have such a stunning lack of playmakers on that side of the ball. You would think they would luck into one by now. Scheme can only do so much, and while earlier versions of the Colts defense would have held the Lions at bay, this one was completely powerless.

9.) Miami Dolphins  =  0-1  (10-12)

Really like that performance by the defense, but as usual there were key errors. Their secondary was a mess all game, and if the line didn't get to Russell Wilson (which did often happen), Doug Baldwin was running wild on them. Of course, the offense was not very good, including dropped TDs (Holy Lord, Kenny Stills!) and a seeming inability to recognize a blitz even one time.

8.) Washington Redskins  =  0-1  (16-38)

I was shocked to see the Redskins actually put up 330 yards of passing, and Cousins was, on the whole, rather accurate. That said, to me he was scatter-brained, checked-down way too much, and threw as many interceptions in that game as he had the whole second half of last season. The defense also had no real answer for anything the Steelers threw at them. They still have an offense that could keep up with most teams, but the Steelers are not most teams.

7.) Dallas Cowboys  =  0-1  (19-20)

The limitations of Dak Prescott cost them the game. Now, that is fine, as Dak is a 4th round rookie and we shouldn't expect so much, but his inability to read defenses in the red zone, and reliance on the checkdown option, kept the Giants in the game despite being thoroughly outplayed. In many ways, this game had a lot of similarities to last year's opener in Dallas, but the clock management worked this time for New York. Dallas's defense was surprisingly frisky, but they better get those suspended guys back quickly.

6.) Buffalo Bills  =  0-1  (7-13)

Well, at the very least this version of the Bills looked more like what we all expected last year when Rex took over and started Tyrod Taylor. The offense was anemic, the defense was good but made some key mistakes including leaving Mike Wallace open in a middle-seam. This was such a classic Rex Ryan performance, and while I think the Ravens are pretty good, they are now staring an 0-1 start and divisional games ahead.

5.) San Diego Chargers  =  0-1  (27-33)

What the heck happened in the 2nd half? This offense was in full-in 2013 Chargers mode for 45 minutes (that year they were #2 in Offensive DVOA and Philip Rivers was a monster) and then just suddenly could do nothing. I leave that game disliking both teams, but really hating the Chargers throwing away a key winnable division game. Also, I feel really bad for Keenan Allen, who is destined to never fulfill the promise he showed as a rookie in 2013.

4.) New Orleans Saints  =  0-1  (34-35)

I guess the Saints aren't any better than a historically bad defense after all? Of course, the offense still has certain skills in the dome, but it has to be really worrying that they get an A game from Drew Brees, 500 total yards, and can't even beat the Raiders - and while I think the Raiders are good, the Saints absolutely cannot drop home games like that if they want any shot at the playoffs.

3.) New York Jets  =  0-1  (22-23)

Honestly, I was really impressed with the Jets. Despite missing Sheldon Richardson, their D-Line was completely dominant, not seeming to miss Damon Harrison at all. They have to be concerned about Revis, but maybe it was more about how damn good AJ Green is than Revis slipping. Certainly, against a team without a dominant receiver, their defense will be even more effective. On offense, they have a lot of room to improve, and the talent to do so as well. Hard to see Marshall with as many drops again.

2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  0-1  (21-23)

This ranking is partially a sign that the Patriots might be a juggernaut, and a sign that the teams that were supposed to lose did end up losing, so it is easy for a team that surprisingly lost to still seem better. The Cardinals did move the ball reasonably well, but it was stunning to see them so lackadaisical, showing none of the inventive blitzing and aggression that was their hallmark. I feel they were lulled into a very, very false sense of security playing New England down so many players. Suddenly, their Week 2 game hosting Tampa is much trickier than previously believed.

1.) Carolina Panthers  =  0-1  (20-21)

I think if you play that game 10 times, the Panthers win 7 or 8. I'm still not quite sure how it went away so quickly, and they were one out of two teams (the other being Arizona) who were felled by inaccurate kickers. Kelvin Benjamin looks great. The offense looks good. If the refs call Roughing the Passer correctly they win anyway. I also have to believe the run defense will not be that bad again, as that performance was very out of character for what is generally such a good tackling team.

Ranking the 1-0 Teams

16.) San Francisco 49ers  =  1-0  (28-0)

That win says way more about the Rams than it does the 49ers in my book. Also, we just saw this script last year. The 49ers throttled trendy favorite Minnesota 20-3 in the 2nd Monday Night Game. How did that work out? The offense still looked really slow, and while the defense looked great, I think most defenses will this year against the Rams. I'm holding off announcing them as sleepers.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  1-0  (29-10)

It shows how bad I think the Browns are that the team with the best point differential after Week 1 is the team I have second to worst out of all the winners. It is just a fact that I won't give any credit to teams beating the Browns, and anyone who even plays a competitive game against them should think of it as a moral loss. Still, it was a nice debut by Carson Wentz, and that defense has a lot of talent.

14.) Minnesota Vikings  =  1-0  (25-16)

Much like Philly, this ranking is more of discounting who they beat. With Minnesota, it is also based on how they did it, as winning because of two defensive TDs and very specious defense is not a repeatable recipe. The defense is sitll very good, but if Peterson can't have better days than that facing stacked boxes, there is a real concern on their offense.

13.) New York Giants  =  1-0  (20-19)

Odell Beckham is still very good, but I was happy to see Victor Cruz look healthy and contribute greatly. If they can get even the Victor Cruz from 2013 (73 catches, 998 yards), this is going to be a scary passing offense. The defense still has no pass rush, but they tackle really well, have a knack for turnovers, and for at least one game, their major Free Agent signings worked out. Snacks Harrison helped clog up the run game and really limit Zeke Elliott, Janoris was solid at corner, and Oliver Vernon got a handful of hurries. But against non rookie QBs, that was not a good enough effort.

12.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  =  1-0  (31-24)

Jameis looks really good. Now, maybe it is Atlanta's defense that is dreadful, and maybe it was just a good day. Certainly, Jameis had similarly good days in 2015, but also complemented those with some awful ones. Still, it is interesting to take a trip down memory lane one year ago, when the day after Week 1 Marcus Mariota had a perfect passer rating and Jameis looked awful. Things have changed slightly, huh?

11.) Houston Texans  =  1-0  (23-14)

Brock Osweiler probably thought midway through that game that absolutely nothing had changed from his time in Denver. He got the support of a great defense, some excellent receiving targets, and managed to put up a really nice game while also showing some of the issues that ultimately convinced John Elway to not go forward with him. Still, the Texans right now are sitting really pretty in that division, and this is even without having a 100% JJ Watt.

10.) Detroit Lions  =  1-0  (39-35)

The Lions have now won 7 of 9 games dating back to last season, and generally been very good on offense in all of them. It is hard to get too good a read on them given how bad the Colts defense is - especially after seeing top guys get injured - but the Lions varied approach to making up for the loss of Calvin Johnson is really intriguing. Stafford just looks really calm and confident in that Jim Bob Cooter offense. The defense was startlingly bad, and they will have to hope they just ran up against Andrew Luck at his best, because there were serious breakdowns in coverage.

9.) Baltimore Ravens  =  1-0  (13-7)

Could that have been a more Ravens-esque win? It has to be a great sign that despite never leading by more than a score, the Ravens defense never relented and just slammed the door on the Bills the entire game. They never let them get anything going, and this is with a Terrell Suggs who is still trying to get into game shape. The offense was not great, but it was more mistakes than an inability to move the ball, so there is hope as well. The Ravens really late into the preseason predictions period became a trendy playoff pick, and for a week they showed why.

8.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  1-0  (33-27)

Give them credit for the comeback, for sticking to their plan, for the defense finally getting stops despite numerous injuries. But still, we need to remember this team was trailing 24-3 at home. The Chiefs defense was so lethargic early on, and while I realize Philip Rivers at his best can do that to any team, this was another level of disinterest. Better teams would not give up 17-point leads. Still, the Chiefs picked up their 11th straight regular season win.

7.) Oakland Raiders  =  1-0  (35-34)

Even had the Raiders lost that game, I would still think of them as one of the better 0-1 teams. Instead, they won in one of the craziest ways possible. Before we just write this off saying the Saints defense sucks, let's remember the Raiders went into the Superdome, went down 10-24, and won the game. This is a huge moment for a young team. You hope the defense comes together and does a better job getting after the passer, but there will be few games so challenging form them than the Saints in the Superdome on offense.

6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  1-0  (12-10)

The good news is Russell Wilson's injury doesn't seem too serious, and they still won the game. The Seahawks defense spent most of the game playing in the dominant fashion they ended last year and displayed in 2013-14. But my word was that offense bad. How are they still so bad at pass protection? How does Jimmy Graham get 1 catch in a game where Wilson throws in 43 times? At this point, you have to seriously wonder if Wilson plays 16 games, and if he can even be allowed to reach the level he showed late last season.

5.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  1-0  (38-16)

The Steelers could not have drawn up a better performance. It was almost prime Manning-era Colts in its effectiveness. Roethlisberger was brilliant, Antonio Brown was even better, and DeAngelo Wiliams looked like the 2009 version of himself suddenly. My hesitation in ranking them higher is their defense. That pass rush is nonexistent. While this may work against most teams - certainly they can look to those Colts on how to win a lot of games by running and hiding on offense, but against top teams they need some of those young, talented front-seven players to take a step forward.

4.) Green Bay Packers  =  1-0  (27-23)

Maybe the Jaguars are a good team, and if they are this result looks a whole lot better. The defense had some huge plays late, and they still employ the best QB in the NFL, and they saw two of the three primary alternate contenders for the NFC crown lose, but there are some causes for concern. The main one is the offense. Aaron Rodgers went 20-32 for just 199 yards, and needed to do some incredible Aaron Rodgers stuff to get his two TDs. Where is the offense that dominated the league in 2014? Maybe Nelson isn't fully fit, but they better hope he does become so soon.

3.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  1-0  (23-22)

Other than the two teams ahead, no one had a more impressive win than the Bengals going to play a good team on the road and winning despite a performance that left a lot to be desired. The Bengals pass defense should get better over the course of the year as their younger guys get more seasoned in the secondary. The passing offense still looks great as Andy Dalton, when he wasn't get put on his ass, was able to fire strikes and make good use of even his non-Green targets. The team looks every bit as good as last ear, and a tight Week 1 test should be a good way to start that off.

2.) New England Patriots  =  1-0  (23-21)

Let's just face it, they are going at least 14-2, if not 16-0. Let's move on before I break my monitor.

1.) Denver Broncos  =  1-0  (21-20)

Still the Champs, still undefeated, and thus, still #1. I was impressed by the Broncos defense for still being so damn good even without Jackson or Trevathan. Sooner or later, Von and Demarcus will get you. The offense probably has a low ceiling, but seems to also have a high floor, especially if they can run block the way they did against Carolina - looking a lot the Kubiak-era Texans and nothing like whatever hodgepodge Kubiak threw together last year.

Playoff Projections


1.) New England Patriots  -  14-2
2.) Cincinnati Bengals  -  12-4
3.) Oakland Raiders  -  10-6
4.) Houston Texans  -  10-6

5.) Pittsburgh Steelers  -  11-5
6.) Baltimore Ravens  -  10-6


1.) Green Bay Packers  -  13-3
2.) Carolina Panthers  -  12-4
3.) Seattle Seahawks  -  12-4
4.) New York Giants  -  10-6
5.) Arizona Cardinals  -  10-6
6.) Detroit Lions  -  10-6

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Baltimore Ravens (1-0)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
15.) San Francisco 49ers (1-0)  @  Carolina Panthers (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
14.) Seattle Seahawks (1-0)  @  Los Angeles Rams (0-1)  (4:05 - FOX)
13.) Tennessee Titans (0-1)  @  Detroit Lions (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Games I Don't Really Have Any Interest In" Sunday, with four games that I really don't care too much about. For the Ravens and Lions, they have seemingly easy paths to nice 2-0 starts and some nice national praise, especially the Ravens who easily could have another great defensive performance. Carolina gets to lick their chops against what is still a bad team, and the Seahawks get to flex their muscles against what is most definitely a bad team. Only interesting question to me is do the Rams make it two straight shutouts? Very likely, honestly.

12.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)  @  San Diego Chargers (0-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "The loser can kiss all Wild Card hopes behind" Sunday, as while I don't think either of these two teams have realistic playoff chances, the loser almost certainly doesn't. Generally one team a year will make the leap from 0-2 to the playoffs, but it is hard to imagine either of these two doing so. For the Jags, an 0-2 start would be particularly painful.

11.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)  @  Chicago Bears (0-1)  (MNF - ESPN)
10.) New Orleans Saints (0-1)  @  New York Giants (1-0)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) Atlanta Falcons (0-1)  @  Oakland Raiders (1-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "The random fun 0-1 vs 1-0 games" Sunday and Monday, I like these 0-1 vs. 1-0 matchups as the most likely outcome is the Week 1 loser wins and we learn we don't know too much about any of these teams. I can easily see that, both with the Eagles riding high after beating up on a truly awful club, or the Giants realizing that not every QB is Dak Prescott, or the Falcons.... well actually with the Falcons, I think we know who we are. The Raiders can actually go 2-0 for the first time since 2002.

8.) Dallas Cowboys (0-1)  @  Washington Redskins (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Yeah, let's just get these NFC East Games out of the Way" Sunday, as after this game there will only be 10 more of these ridiculous contents. Neither team came out too well after Week 1, particularly the Redskins, who were outscored 38-10 to end their Monday Night Game. If there is one thing to look for, it can be that given what we saw DeAngelo and the Steelers run game do to the Redskins, we might actually get to see what that Ezekiel Elliott hype was about.

7.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)  @  Houston Texans (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Miami Dolphins (0-1)  @  New England Patriots (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "I really had no where else to put two games I'm mildly intrigued in" Sunday, as it is hard to get too hyped for these games, but in a post-Manning NFL where I'm open to just enjoy the games for once, I can get into these games a bit. Let's start with the Chiefs and Texans, where we get two 1-0 teams that both are trying to return to the playoffs. For the Dolphins, had they held on to their lead, and had Chandler Catanzaro hit his field goal, this game would have been way up the list.

5.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)  @  Arizona Cardinals (0-1)  (4:05 - FOX)
4.) Indianapolis Colts (0-1)  @  Denver Broncos (1-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Surprisingly Intriguing intra-conference Week 2 Games" Sunday, with two really nice games. After the Bucs surprising week 1 win in Atlanta, and the Cardinals pathetic performance, this is suddenly a big game. The Bucs can get a 2-0 start with two road games, the Cardinals can get an 0-2 start with two home games (really hurting my Super Bowl pick), or you know we can get a nice course correction. For the Colts, their defense gets an easier test, but their offense get a much tougher one.

3.) New York Jets (0-1)  @  Buffalo Bills (0-1)  (TNF - CBS)
2.) Green Bay Packers (1-0)  @  Minnesota Vikings (1-0)  (SNF - NBC)
1.) Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)  (1:05 - CBS)

I call it "The Bad, The Good and the Great of Divisional Week 2 Games" Thursday and Sunday, as we get three nice divisional games in Week 2. The Jets and Bills both have playoff aspirations. For one of them, they will be 0-2 and really in a hole. The winner stays in pace with the Patriots in the division - but let's be real, this will be a mess of a game with the Color Rush jerseys and all that mess. The Packers and Vikings play a game that suddenly looks a lot nicer after Week 1, with a sullen Packers performance, and great Vikings defensive performance making this seem like a much more interesting game. Also it is the opening of the Vikings new stadium. And finally, another great game featuring the Bengals. If the Bengals can get their revenge win, they would start the season 2-0, both on the road against AFC contenders, just a huge opportunity for them.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 1 Picks

Carolina Panthers  @  Denver Broncos  (Panthers -3)

This line seems a bit easy. The Super Bowl, based on a per-play game, was far closer than 24-10, and that was with the Panthers making umpteen mistakes and the Broncos having a QB who had played a game before. The Panthers are a really good team, out for revenge, and with a manageable line to cover as well. They match up well with what Kubiak likes to do, with zone concepts to hurt a roll-out / deep-throw game, and a run defense that can swallow up the Broncos run game. It seems easy, though I know it won't be.

Panthers 20  Broncos 10  (CAR -3)

Chicago Bears  @  Houston Texans  (Texans -6)

This seems a little high, especially with many people thinking the Bears have an outside shot at a Wild Card spot. Overall, I think people are way too high on Houston, and I could see some course correction here with them, as this really does seem like an inflated line. I'm not all that high on either team, but to me they are close together than this, especially with a likely less than 100% JJ Watt against a fully healthy, for now, Bears offense.

Bears 20  Texans 17  (Bears +6)

Cleveland Browns  @  Philadelphia Eagles  (Eagles -3.5)

This is actually one of the few games the Browns could win this year. I saw some people pick a 0-16 season for the Browns, and while I wouldn't be that shocked (that is, you know, the point of what they are doing), it would be strange if they start off 1-0. Still, it is against my consciousness to pick them to win a road game, and even to cover when their 'relatively' stronger unit, their offense, may be neutralized by the Eagles strength on defense.

Browns 13  Eagles 23  (PHI -3.5)

Minnesota Vikings  @  Tennessee Titans  (Vikings -2.5)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers  @  Atlanta Falcons  (Falcons - 3)

Green Bay Packers  @  Jacksonville Jaguars  (Packers -5.5)

San Diego Chargers  @  Kansas City Chiefs  (Chiefs -6.5)

Buffalo Bills  @  Baltimore Ravens  (Ravens -3)

Oakland Raiders  @  New Orleans Saints  (Saints -1.5)

Cincinnati Bengals  @  New York Jets  (Bengals -2.5)

Miami Dolphins  @  Seattle Seahawks  (Seahawks -10)

Detroit Lions  @  Indianapolis Colts  (Colts -3.5)

New York Giants  @  Dallas Cowboys  (PICK)

New England Patriots  @  Arizona Cardinals  (Cardinals -6)

Pittsburgh Steelers  @  Washington Redskins  (Steelers -3)

Los Angeles Rams  @  San Francisco 49ers  (Rams -2.5)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

NFL 2016: Previewing the NFC

NFC East

1.) New York Giants - 9-7 (4)

Who's In: (DE) Olivier Vernon, (DT) Damon Harrison, (CB) Janoris Jenkins

Who's Out: (WR) Reuben Randle, (DE) Robert Ayers, (CB) Prince Amukamara

I said I wouldn't do this when I did a pre-camp Power Rankings. I said I wasn't going to get fooled into picking the Giants to win the NFC East again, but then the rest of the division went all kinds of crazy with injuries and trades. You can make a case for every team, but I think the Giants are the easiest one to make - and I'm not picking them to go 12-4 or anything like I did so many times from 2010-2013. The Giants still have an offense that found a good rhythm late last year under Ben McAdoo, a beast in Odell Beckham, an exciting rookie in Sterling Sheppard, and three defensive additions that make sense, if admittedly well overpaid. The Giants don't need to improve too much, but just be a respectable #20-25 type defense, and retain their offense and load up against a weak division. Now, I could write the same sentence about any of the other three teams, but suddenly the Giants have the most secure QB situation (more on Kirk in a second), which I like overall.

2.) Washington Redskins - 7-9

Who's In: (TE) Vernon Davis, (DE) Kendall Reyes, (CB) Josh Norman, (CB) Greg Toler, (S) David Bruton

Who's Out: (QB) Robert Griffin, (RB) Alfred Morris, (DE) Jason Hatcher, (LB) Keenan Robinson, (CB) Chris Culliver, (S) Dashon Goldson

Kirk ended the season in incredible form, leading the Redskins to a complete surprise division title, and then the Redskins rewarded him with the franchise tag. Just that alone is a great sign that the Redskins have reservations on what the real Kirk Cousins is, and that it likely is not the guy that had a Aaron Rodgers-like 2nd half last season. The defense lost some key players, and while Josh Norman is a headline like addition, we've done this dance before in Washington. Also, we've done it with Carolina as well, who has often now lost defensive players who have done far worse in their new situation (Captain Munnerlyn in Minnesota, for isntance). The Redskins probably weren't 9-7 good last year, and I really don't see why they should be any better against a tougher schedule.

3.) Dallas Cowboys - 6-10

Who's In: (RB) Alfred Morris, (DT) Cedric Thornton

Who's Out: (G) Mackenzie Bernadeu, (DE) Greg Hardy

A very quiet offseason for Dallas was made far less quiet when Tony Romo hurt his back, again. At this point, there is no reason to expect that if Tony Romo does come back around midseason he can stay healthy. We just saw that last year, when after his first back injury, he played 1.5 games before hurting it again against Carolina. The Cowboys are built to sustain the injury in theory, but there has been no real change (apart from Zeke Elliott) from last year's roster that went 1-11 without Romo. The defense is still bad, and missing key parts to suspension. I'm giving them a slight chance of getting a healthy Romo for some part of the season, as if not I might have gone even worse than 6-10 if it was a season of Dak Prescott. Let's remember there is no real history of 4th round rookies getting shoved into action and doing well.

4.) Philadelphia Eagles - 4-12

Who's In: (QB) Chase Daniel, (WR) Reuben Randle, (G) Brandon Brooks, (C) Stefan Wisniewski, (LB) Nigel Bradham, (CB) Leodis McKelvin, (S) Rodney McLeod

Who's Out: (QB) Sam Bradford, (QB) Mark Sanchez, (RB) Demarco Murray, (DT) Cedric Thornton, (LB) Kiko Alonso, (CB) Byron Maxwell, (CB) Eric Rowe, (S) Walther Thurmond

I don't think any team was as active in the offseason as the Eagles, who did all of the above and traded away a lot to get the pick that became Carson Wentz. A lot of what they did in the 'Who's Out' section was get rid of Chip Kelly guys, and while that may be a sound long term strategy, especially in the case of the onerous Maxwell, Alonso and Murray contracts, it does hurt the team in the short term. All of the players they brought in are either average or old, and while just clearing the air of Kelly's reign may be seen as an improvement, there are serious talent deficiencies on offense, and a rookie QB coming from North Dakota State may have a hard time compensating for them in Year 1. This year anyway is probably a write-off for Philadelphia, so real kudos on them for stealing a 1st Round pick for Bradford, making up for the one they gave away to pick Wentz.

NFC North

1.) Green Bay Packers - 12-4 (2)

Who's In: (TE) Jared Cook

Who's Out: (WR) James Jones, (DT) BJ Raji, (LB) Mike Neal, (CB) Casey Heyward

I had them at 11-5 before the Bridgewater injury (still easily winning the division), but I do think this bumps them up a game. I want to say, I don't actually think they are this good of a team. For instance, I don't think the 2016 Packers will be as good as the 2014 Packers were. The losses on defense could hurt them, as their drafts have been less than stellar on that side of the ball, and I want to see how Jordy Nelson does the first year back from his knee injury. While I expect Aaron Rodgers to play more like his MVP self than last year's imposter, there are reasons to think they have peaked as an offense. But the Bridgewater injury clears up the division for them. The Packers stunning 4-6 end to the season was uncomfortable to watch at times, but getting Jordy back and assuming last season's level of play from Rodgers was a fluke and personnel related gives them a great opportunity to return to one of the NFL's better teams.

2.) Detroit Lions - 7-9

Who's In: (WR) Marvin Jones, (WR) Jeremy Kerley, (G) Geoff Schwartz, (DE) Wallace Gilberry, (S) Rafael Bush, (S) Tavon Wilson

Who's Out: (WR) Calvin Johnson, (G) Manny Ramirez, (DE) Jason Jones< (LB) Stephen Tulloch, (S) Isa Abdul-Quddus

The Lions have a giant gaping hole this season at WR after Calvin Johnson's shock retirement, and while they've tried to go out and fill that void with Marvin Jones, that is a clear downgrade. What could help off-set the loss of Calvin is the continued growth of Matthew Stafford, who is still, stunningly, just 28. Stafford played really well towards the end of last season as the Lions finished 6-2 (and were a Hail Mary away from a 7-1 finish). The defense is still the strength of the team, and they did really well in replacing a lot of Ndamukong Suh's value - mainly because of Ezekiel Ansah took a giant step forward in his development, making him basically the only good player from the Top of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Lions have a weak division now to play with, and while I don't think they are better than last year, holding steady at 7-9 would be an achievement after losing a Hall of Famer.

3.) Chicago Bears - 7-9

Who's In: (T) Bobby Massie, (C) Ted Larsen, (DE) Akiem Hicks, (LB) Danny Trevathan, (LB) Jerrell Freeman

Who's Out: (RB) Matt Forte, (TE) Martellus Benneett, (T) Jermon Bushrod, (G) Matt Slauson, (LB) Shea McClellin, (S) Antrel Rolle

That is a lot of turnover for a team that in theory is building up towards something nice, but can you really do that when you have a 32- year old QB who was probably at his best last year - a best that really isn't all that good. A lot of credit was given to Adam Gase, so there is worry with him leaving for Miami and Cutler reverting back to his previous form. Of course, there are questions I have if his Gase-led form was even that good anyway. The defense is building in pieces, but I don't know if Danny Trevethan will be nearly as good outside of the Broncos scheme and personnel around him. The Bears may be slightly better this year with more health and a weak division, but I am not a believer, and sadly with Cutler still there, not a long-term believer as well.

4.) Minnesota Vikings - 6-10

Who's In: (QB) Sam Bradford, (T) Andre Smith, (G) Alex Boone, (S) Michael Griffing

Who's Out: (QB) Teddy Bridgewater, (WR) Mike Wallace, (S) Robert Blanton

I guess you can argue of Bridgewater should be in the 'Who's Out' category, but for 2016 he is out, and Sam Bradford is in. Forget the fact that trading a 1st for Bradford is already a panic move, what is more hilarious is that they are still planning on reportedly starting Shaun Hill in Week 1. OK, what the fuck? Why do the move then. Anyway, the Vikings are really ruined with this injury. I already thought the Vikings were going to regress from their 11-5 record from last year, due to injuries catching up, or them just not being that good in 2015. This just makes it worse. I can see the Vikings lucking in to some 16-13 type wins, but the margin for error is incredibly small now, and I'm not sure how that defense will play indoors. I already wasn't a fan of the Vikings this year, but this just sealed the deal.

NFC South

1.) Carolina Panthers - 11-5 (3)

Who's In: (C) Gino Gradkowski, (DT) Paul Soliai

Who's Out: (CB) Charles Tillman, (CB) Josh Nornam, (S) Roman Harper

This is a pick in the belief of Dave Gettleman, Ron Rivera, Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short. This is a pick in the belief of a franchise that has done everything to deserve a lot of benefit of doubt given their play the last few years. The Panthers are still really good, with a lot of premium talent. Their biggest hole is at cornerback, but it was also last year before Josh Norman exploded, or the year before, or the year before. The Panthers have had tremendous turnover in the secondary because that is not, in their eyes, integral to the success of the defense - and they've been right so far. I should also add Kelvin Benjamin to the 'Who's In' area. Actually, I'm starting to wonder why I didn't pick 12-4 for them. The Panthers are really good still, and even if luck isn't as much on their side, they were so good last year 11-5 is about their floor in a way.

2.) New Orleans - 8-8

Who's In: (TE) Coby Fleener, (DT) Nick Fairley, (S) Roman Harper

Who's Out: (RB) Khiry Robinson, (WR) Marques Colston, (TE) Ben Watson, (G) Jahri Evans, (LB) David Hawthorne, (CB) Brandon Browner

The continued attrition of the Saints is startling, as their mess of a cap has forced an annual drain of their personnel. So why exactly am I predicting they get better in 2016 by a game? Because their defense just cannot be so bad again in 2016 as it was in 2015, when it allowed 40 TDs and was historically awful. You can easily argue the best QB in the NFL in 2015 was the collective QBs who played the Saints. Just pure regression to whatever awful mean they have dictates they will improve. Of course, maybe this is the year Drew Brees falls off a cliff, but predicting that is difficult. The Saints are still not a good team, and they went an equal 7-9 in 2014 with a merely terrible defense, but given their relatively easy schedule, I think they sneak back to .500.

3.) Tampa Bay - 7-9

Who's In: (G) JR Sweezy, (DE) Robert Ayers, (LB) Daryl Smith< (CB) Brent Grimes

Who's Out: (DT) Henry Melton, (LB) Bruce Carter, (CB) Sterling Moore

The upward trend continues in Tampa. A lot of the indicators last year liked them better than their ultimate 6-10 record, such as their gap in yards per play run vs allowed, and overall yardage and efficiency stats taking away turnovers. If they clean up on turnovers they could do quite a bit better than 7-9. I don't think that will happen immediately, and I am worried about the defense. Mike Smith steps in to run whatever systems of his he still has at this point, but what we saw over the years in Atlanta can't be too inspiring. Lovie Smith at least had a system, and now that is gone. The personnel upgrades are two players past their prime (Smith, Grimes), and a player who is a great candidate to perform worse with worse talent around him (Ayers). Overall, just not a fan of the defense, and thinking it will hold back their progression to Wild Card favorite another year.

4.) Atlanta 7-9

Who's In: (WR) Mohamed Sanu, (C) Alex Mack, (DE) Derrick Shelby, (DE) Courtney Upshaw, (LB) Sean Weatherspoon

Who's Out: (WR) Roddy White, (T) Jake Long, (DT) Paul Soliai, (LB) Justin Durant, (S) William Moore

I like that in the year the Falcons moved on from Roddy White (about time) and William Moore (stunned, actually), they brought back Sean Weatherspoon. The Falcons have such a quick drop-off from their best player (Jones) to the rest of the team, and I say only Jones because there is evidence now that Matt Ryan has completely peaked as an NFL QB, and his decline started last year. If that decline continues, this may be an optimistic 7-9. Let's remember, they finished last year 2-7 after a 6-1 start, including losing to some awful teams (Mettenberger-led Titans, Hasselbeck-led Colts). Of course the Falcons still have Julio Jones, and I do like their non-Weatherspoon pickups this year, but the ceiling is just too low for this team now.

NFC West

1.) Arizona Cardinals - 12-4 (1)

Who's In: (G) Evan Mathis, (DE) Chandler Jones, (S) Tyvon Branch

Who's Out: (G) Jonathan Cooper, (C) Lyle Sendlein, (DT) Cory Redding, (CB) Jerraud Powers, (S) Rashad Johnson

They may be the most balanced roster top-to-bottom in the league. There is no real weakness on this team. In years past, it would have been the OL, but that was mostly solved in the 2015 offseason, or the pass rush, which was greatly helped by the Chandler Jones trade and Robert Nkemdiche selections. The Cardinals can do everything. The only worry is around Palmer, in that he may get hurt like he did in 2014, or he may have had a 14-game nirvana period that ended in the 2015 playoffs. Not a huge believer in the latter, and too much of a fan to believe the former. They even got a nice pickup in Tyvon Branch to step in and relieve the Honey Badger early in the season if he's rusty or can't play too many snaps. This team should be really, really good.

2.) Seattle Seahawks - 11-5 (5)

Who's In: (T) Bradley Sowell, (T) J'Marcus Webb, (DE) Chris Clemons

Who's Out: (RB) Marshawn Lynch, (T) Russell Okung, (G) JR Sweezy, (DT) Brandon Mebane, (DE) Bruce Irvin

The Seahawks have been essentially an 11-5 or 12-4 team four years running, with a ceiling of 13-3 in their best year, and a floor of 10-6 in their worst. So to me they are right back in there. A few reasons why I don't think they'll be better (and let's remember they were 10-6 last year) come down to still hating their OL, not thinking Russell Wilson will continue his completely absurd play at the end of last year, and continued age and attrition to their front seven. The Seahawks are still excellent, with a manageable schedule. Their biggest worry may be continuing to drop games against the Rams like always.

3.) St. Louis Rams - 9-7 (6)

Who's In: (DE) Quinton Coples, (DT) Dominique Easley, (CB) Coty Sensabaugh

Who's Out: (TE) Jared Cook, (DE) Chris Long, (DT) Nick Fairley, (LB) James Laurinatis, (CB) Janoris Jenkins, (S) Rodney McLeod

I don't really know why I think they will sneak in a wild card. Part of it is I think 9-7 could nab a wild card (which hasn't happened in the NFC since 2007) and I still really like their defense, and with a full year of Todd Gurley, the offense may be good enough to pull a Texans 2015 type season. That should be the goal. I have no idea if Jared Goff is good (early indicators are a negative, I have to say), but they don't need an offense that can score 27 points, 20-23 will likely do the trick enough weeks to get to nine wins. Their list of offseason losses seem more drastic than they really are, as they have depth, or newcomers to replace a mostly past their prime or overrated group.

4.) San Francisco 49ers - 4-12

Who's In: (G Zane Beadles

Who's Out: (RB) Reggie Bush, (WR) Anquan Boldin, (G) Alex Boone

The 49ers were 5-11 last year, but they really should have been 3-13. They were probably on the whole the worst team in teh NFL. And truthfully, I don't think they are any better. I am not a huge fan of Chip Kelly the coach and really don't see the pieces on that offense that could play his style. Color me very skeptical of Blaine Gabbert succeeding in that offense - let's remember Mark Sanchez was no better in Kelly's offense than he was with the Jets. The 49ers defense has no real top-line talent. They are not horrible, but they will have to be great to make do with the dreck that populates that offense.

NFC Playoffs

Wild Card

(3) Panthers defeat (6) Rams 20-6
(4) Giants defeat (5) Seahawks 23-20

Divisional Round

(1) Cardinals defeat (4) Giants 31-20
(3) Panthers defeat (2) Packers 27-24

NFC Championship Game

(1) Cardinals defeat (3) Panthers 27-20

Super Bowl LI Pick

(N1) Cardinals defeat (A1) Bengals 27-24

Monday, September 5, 2016

NFL 2016: Previewing the AFC

AFC East

1.) New England Patriots - 11-5 (3)

Who's In: (WR) Chris Hogan, (TE) Martellus Bennett, (DE) Chris Long, (DE) Shea McClellin

Who's Out: (WR) Brandon LaFell, (DT) Dominique Easley, (DE) Chandler Jones

There's less turnover in New England this year (my who's in list doesn't include two guys who were ballyhooed signing who are already gone in Terrance Knighton and Nate Washington), which is nice because they have a giant question mark obviously in Brady not playing the first four games. I think the most likely outcome is 2-2, though 1-3 or 3-1 would not shock me. Either way, I think this would be a 5th straight 12 win season with Brady playing the full year, and Brady being out costs them a game. The offense still has a lot of questions at OL, especially after Sebastian Vollmer's season ended, and that could really impact the offense with a young QB and then an old QB who seemed more susceptible to bad OL play than he has in the past. The defense should be good, but I don't like them just giving away Chandler Jones. Belichick is a master at manufacturing pass rush, but to have no real edge rushers could be a problem. At the end, they are the Patriots, they are a great team, but slightly less great with QB concerns. And there is always a 10% chance this is the year age catches up to Brady. As we saw most recently with Manning, and even with Favre in 2010, the end comes very, very quickly.

2.) Buffalo Bills - 9-7

Who's In: (C) Fernando Velasco, (CB) Sterling Moore

Who's Out: (WR) Percy Harvin, (DE) Mario Williams, (LB) Nigel Bradham, (CB) Leodis McKelvin

There's a lot to digest with the Bills, who were a Top-10 defense in 2013 and 2014 with two great defensive coordinators running very different schemes (Gregg Williams in '13, Jim Schwartz in '14), but then became a very mediocre defense under Rex Ryan. There were stories of a few players not buying in to his defense, most notably Mario Williams - but then he was basically given away in what the Bills are hoping is addition by subtraction. The Bills, to me, are still a decently good team with a lot of talent on defense. I don't think they got bad overnight with Ryan, and am hoping they revert to form because for whatever his ills, Rex Ryan is a very good defensive coach. The offense should be better with a better line, another year of seasoning for Tyrod, and hopefully more health and presence from their receivers. I still think this puts them a bit short of the playoffs, but they are buildign nicely with a good draft for a bright future.

3.) New York Jets - 8-8

Who's In: (RB) Matt Forte, (T) Ryan Clady, (NT) Steve McLendon, (LB) Bruce Carter

Who's Out: (RB) Chris Ivory, (NT) Damon Harrison, (LB) Demario Davis, (CB) Antonio Cromartie

Personally, I think the 2015 Jets was the peak of this group, at least for now. They are a veteran laden team on both sides of the ball, and while the Jets have done a good job of getting young players on defense that can step in and keep them good for years (Darron Lee, Leonard Williams last year), but the offense is a concern. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick really going to be that good again? Are Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, who are both on the wrong side of 30, going to continue to stay healthy for another full season? I also see concerns in replacing D'Brickshaw Ferguson, who missed all of one play in his career, with Ryan Clady, who basically has played 15 games in three years. I don't expect the offense to be nearly as potent as it was at times in 2015. The defense is still really good, and while I think losing Harrison definitely hurts, more of Leonard Williams should help mitigate some of that loss. The Jets defense is still good, but it will have to even improve to make up for what will almost definitely be a worse offense.

4.) Miami Dolphins - 5-11

Who's In: (RB) Arian Foster, (T) Jermon Bushrod, (DE) Mario Williams, (DE) Jason Jones, (LB) Kiko Alonso, (CB) Byron Maxwell

Who's Out: (RB) Lamar Miller, (WR) Rishard Matthews, (WR) Greg Jennings, (DE) Olivier Vernon, (DE) Derrick Shelby, (CB) Brent Grimes

I still have no idea what the Dolphins are doing, cycling in and out average younger players (and Vernon, who is a good younger player), for used-to-be above average aging players, which to me is really a wash. The only reason to expect the 2016 Dolphins to be any better than their 2015 counterpart is Tannehill improving - which in Year 5 would be somewhat unexpected - and Adam Gase meaning that much. Personally, I think Gase is a little overrated as that Chicago offense was also similarly overrated, but he probably can't hurt Tannehill and the offense. The O-Line can, however, and that unit is still a mess. The defense has Suh, who is still really great, but losing Vernon and Shelby hurts the rest of that DL, which really shouldn't be expecting anything from Cameron Wake at this point. There is no unit you can say the Dolphins will be great in, and while I don't think they are much worse than they were last year, with a really tough schedule, I don't know why they will be any better.

AFC North

1.) Cincinnati Bengals - 12-4 (1)

Who's In: (WR) Brandon LaFell, (LB) Karlos Dansby

Who's Out: (WR) Marvin Jones, (WR) Mohamed Sanu, (T) Andre Smith, (LB) AJ Hawk, (CB) Leon Hall, (S) Reggio Nelson

Surprised? I am, as I've reconsidered this projected record a whole lot of time, but I will be sticking with it. First, this team, with Dalton playing, was the best team in the AFC last year, probably finishing 13-3 with him, getting the #1 seed, and maybe making the Super Bowl. This year, I still like the Bengals to be the best, most complete team. Andy Dalton turned a corner last year. He was markedly better in Year #5, when a lot of QBs take a step up (look at Eli Manning in Year 5 onwards). People have concerns with him losing Jones and Sanu, but neither player was all that great or stayed healthy. People have concerns about Hue Jackson leaving, but they've lost coordinators before and kept on swimming. Finally, they still have a defense, which should be even better. The Bengals have become almost Steeler-esque in drafting for future need, and now with guys like Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson and Andre Smith leaving, they have recently high drafted players ready to step in. The Bengals are still really well coached, really talented, and I think primed to still be among the best in the AFC.

2.) Pittsburgh Steelers - 10-6 (5)

Who's In: (TE) Lardarius Green, (T) Ryan Harris

Who's Out: (TE) Heath Miller, (T) Kelvin Beachum, (NT) Steve McLendon, (CB) Brandon Boykin, (CB) Cortez Allen, (S) Will Allen

The Steelers season, like all of their seasons, will really just come down to injuries. They will have to survuve three weeks without Le'Veon Bell, but as long as he can stay healthy when he gets back, their run game should be fine. The Steeler WR Factory is continuing to churn and should be able to adequately replace Martavis Bryant with more from Wheaton or Sammie Coates. The offense still has a Top-3 QB in Roethlisberger and a Top-1 WR in Antonio Brown, and that is basically good enough for a very good offense. The defense still has very few top-level players but less glaring holes than in years past. Their Front-7 is a #10 type unit, which really can bolster a mediocre secondary. I'm assuming normal levels of injuries, but if Ben can play all 16 games, they should be able to do quite well and make it back to the playoffs.

3.) Baltimore Ravens - 10-6 (6)

Who's In: (WR) Mike Wallace, (CB) Jerraud Powers, (S) Eric Weddle

Who's Out: (T) Eugene Monroe, (G) Kelechi Osemele, (DT) Chris Canty, (LB) Daryl Smith, (S) Will Hill

The Ravens have had a lot of stories about this being the end of an era, and while a lot of that makes sense. They have lost talent on both sides of the ball, losing a lot of players from their stacked teams from 2008-2012, but I don't think all is lost in this world. They still have one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL. I like the addition of Mike Wallace in that type of offense. I think the OL is still among the league's best. And the defense is steady, and Eric Weddle is a perfect addition for the team. On the whole, the Ravens are still quite talented, playing a relatively easy schedule, and should be able to do well with their players actually playing. I have never seen a team go through such a rash of injuries to top players last year, and assuming that cataclysm of injuries does not happen again, the Ravens should be able to switch a few of those close losses from last year into close or medium-sized wins. The Ravens of 2015 were closer to a 7-9 type team despite the injuries. Their roadmap to 10-6 is closer than what people would think from a 5-11 record.

4.) Cleveland Browns - 2-14

Who's In: (QB) Robert Griffin III, (G) Austin Pasztor, (LB) Demario Davis, (S) Rahim Moore

Who's Out: (WR) Travis Benjamin, (WR) Brian Hartline, (T) Mitchell Schwartz, (C) Alex Mack, (DT) Randy Starks, (LB) Karlos Dansby, (S) Tashaun Gipson, (S) Donte Whitner

The Browns are trying something that has rarely ever been attempted in the NFL - a total clearning of the house, removing basically all their relavant personnel that were free agents, adding a few low-impact additions, and traipsing the world to collect as many draft picks as humanly possible. It may work, and if they do well in the draft when they finally get around to drafting players, it will work. But that remains to be seen. If anything, the Browns test really starts in April, 2017, on draft day. Until then, we have to watch this trainwreck of a team, but at least they are heading to a brighter future with a clear gameplan for once.

AFC South

1.) Indianapolis Colts - 12-4 (2)

Who's In: (RB) Robert Turbin, (CB) Patrick Robinson

Who's Out: (TE) Coby Fleener, (LB) Jerrell Freeman, (S) Dwight Lowery

For the first time in the Pagano/Grigson era, they had to spend so much money internally to lock up internal players they were restricted in free agency. They really could do nothing, and that was smart. They locked up Andrew Luck, locked up Dwayne Allen, already had TY Hilton, and decided to ride along with what they have - and it may work. Part of my 12-4 pick is homerism, part is an easy schedule with the always sad AFC South, and the, to me, relatively weaker AFC West and NFC North. There is a clear road to top of the division, which let's remember even despite the messiness of last year they finished just one game behind Houston. The last time Andrew Luck was fully healthy, he threw for 40 TDs. The team is now better around him than it was then, especially the ceiling of the OL. The defense remains a concern, and while they are well coached and can do a good job against bad offenses (they always end up between 11-19 in defensive DVOA). They will still struggle against good passing offenses due to their still present lack of pass rush, but that is a problem more likely to show up in a January disaster than hurt them from taking the division back.

2.) Jacksonville Jaguars - 7-9

Who's In: (RB) Cris Ivory, (T) Kelvin Beachum, (DT) Malik Jackson, (CB) Prince Amukamara, (S) Tashaun Gipson

Who's Out: (G) Zane Beadles, (C) Stefan Wisniewski, (DE) Chris Clemons, (S) Sergio Brown

My projected rise for Jacksonville from 5-11 to 7-9 is not due to any faith in Blake Bortles or expectations for that offense. I still think Bortles is at best an average QB and needs to improve a lot to ever take the Jaguars to being an elite offense and team. However, I really like what they are building on defense. Add to their additions of Jackson, Gipson and Amukamara, to the return of last year's #3 pick Dante Fowler, to the presence of rookies Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. The Jaguars have a lot of young, good players and a nice set of veterans complementing that. If Gus Bradley can't turn this group into a good defense, he really doesn't deserve the job he has and will likely be fired. There are no excuses for him anymore. The offense still has the Allens, and I like the Chris Ivory addition, but it will come down to Bortles. If he can a legitimate big step forward to an above-average QB, this team could challenge for a wild card even. He may do that eventually, though I have my doubts for 2016.

3.) Houston Texans - 7-9

Who's In: (QB) Brock Osweiler, (RB) Lamar Miller, (G) Jeff Allen

Who's Out: (QB) Brian Hoyer, (RB) Arian Foster, (WR) Nate Washington, (G) Brandon Brooks, (C) Ben Jones, (DT) Jared Crick, (S) Rahim Moore

The Texans took advantage of a Luck-less Colts season to win the division, and on paper they seem better with Osweiler at the helm, but I am not so sure. First, I don't think this team was 9-7 good last year,` and while Osweiler is definitely a step up from some of the QBs, he may not be from all of them that played last year in Houston. DeAndre Hopkins excluded, the weaponry around him is not markedly better than it was in Denver, and under Osweiler last year, the Broncos were not a good offense. The OL in Houston has gotten worse, and Osweiler's biggest failing in his 7-game run last year was his lack of pocket presence. The defense should still be good with Watt and Clowney, but Watt is dealing with injuries, and the linebacker core has started to look really thin. Overall, I don't think Osweiler makes up for an overall loss of talent to a team that probably wasn't as good as they showed last year.

4.) Tennessee Titans - 5-11

Who's In: (RB) Demarco Murray, (WR) Rishard Matthews, (C) Ben Jones, (CB) Brice McCain, (S) Rashad Johnson

Who's Out: (LB) Zach Brown, (CB) Cody Sensabaugh, (S) Michael Griffin

The Titans are still in their rebuilding process, but I fear sticking with Mike Mularkey may hamper that. To be transparent, I used to be a Mularkey fan and thought he got run out of Buffalo after 2005 way too early (the Bills best team this century was their '04 group with Mularkey), but what he's since done in Jacksonville and now in Tennessee have really made me reconsider. He seems truly committed to playing a style that just doesn't work anymore. Carolina can, because they still have an incredibly complex, varied passing attack and a mountain playing QB. The Titans seem to take the running the ball principle from Carolina, but none of the creativity the Panthers use. Worse for Tennessee, their defense has no discernable strengths in any one area. The wild card here is Mariota. If he is what people thought and still think he will be, they can beat this projection and rise up in this division quickly, but I don't think he is talented enough to rise above the system that will hold him down.

AFC West

1.) Oakland Raiders - 9-7 (4)

Who's In: (G) Kelechi Osemele, (LB) Bruce Irvin, (CB) Sean Smith, (S) Reggie Nelson

Whos' Out: (T) Khalif Barnes, (DE) Justin Tuck, (CB) Charles Woodson, (S) Larry Asante

Again, this is partly a homer pick, but there is reason to actually think they can go 9-7. To me, the question is will the rest of the division be worse, and I think there are reasons for that too. The Raiders were hanging around at 6-5 last year before running into an extremely hard late-season schedule, including four losses to Kansas City (twice), Pittsburgh and Green Bay, but they weren't embarrassed in any of those games. Improvements by Carr, Cooper, Murray, and the 'triplets' for Oakland can help make that team a Top-10 offense. What also helps is arguably the league's best OL, which has depth to withstand injuries as well. Defenses that are built mostly on free agents are a bit scary at times, but Smith, Nelson, Irvin are all young enough to still contribute and build up the young players. In what could be one of the last couple seasons in Oakland, they might finally get back to where they haven't been since 2002.

2.) Kansas City Chiefs - 8-8

Who's In: (T) Mitchell Schwartz, (S) Stevie Brown, (S) JImmy Wilson

Who's Out: (T) Donald Stephenson, (G) Jeff Allen, (G) Ben Grubbs, (CB) Sean Smith, (S) Husain Abdullah, (S) Tyvon Branch

There is a lot of optimism surrounding the Chiefs after their 10 straight wins to end last season, but with various injury concerns I too have overall concerns. The biggest is Justin Houston, who will start the season on PUP and there is no real timetable for his return. The other losses to the defense can hurt their front seven as well beyond even the loss of Houston. The offense still has Andy Reid calling the plays and Alex Smith has gotten effective in that scheme, but I worry too about the losses to the OL. The Chiefs were a veteran, deep team in 2015, but after losing some of that depth make them just a veteran team now. There are a few new bright spots like Marcu Peters, but I do worry about them that 2015 was the peak of the Alex Smith era.

3.) Denver Broncos - 7-9

Who's In: (TE) Garrett Graham, (T) Russell Okung, (T) Donald Stephenson

Who's Out: (QB) Peyton Manning, (QB) Brock Osweiler, (TE) Vernon Davis, (TE) Owen Daniels, (T) Ryan Clady, (T) Ryan Harris, (G) Evan Mathis, (G) Louis Vasquez, (DE) Malik Jackson, (LB) Danny Trevathan

Here's my thinking. Even if Siemian is decent at QB (skeptical), it is highly likely that defense is not historically good again, and there is even less chance they do that well in close games. The Broncos defense won't get too much worse, but a worry has to be their sudden lack of depth now after losing guys like Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. They can probably replace them on the starting lineup, but if there are injuries (something else they avoided on defense last year) things can really get escalated quickly. The offense is a complete unknown. The OL still looks awful, but with the skill position talent they have there seems to be a floor. Last year, if they could get to 17, they would win most games. This year, that number may be raised to 20, and that can be a problem for an offense that may have a hard time getting there.

4.) San Diego Chargers - 7-9

Who's In: (WR) Travis Benjamin, (DT) Brandon Mebane, (CB) Casey Hayward, (S) Dwight Lowery

Who's Out: (RB) Donald Brown, (TE) Lardarius Green, (DT) Kendall Reyes, (LB) Donald Butler, (LB) Kavell Conner, (CB) Patrick Robinson, (S) Eric Weddle

Simply put, the Chargers have way more talent than last year's 4-12 abomination. Whether it is still employing a great QB, whether it is getting in receiving targets that seem to mesh well with the McCoy / Whisenhunt offense (the last time we saw this was 2013, when the Chargers were a Top-5 offense in the league). The defense is still a concern, but there are bright spots, like the cornerbacks where they have Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers. The defensive front gets coached up well by John Pagano, but there is a ceiling to a defense without any natural pass rush - this is a problem John's brother Chuck faces as well. The Chargers are better than 4-12, but even Philip Rivers can't drag them up too far.

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card Weekend

(3) Patriots defeat (6) Ravens 23-20
(5) Steelers defeat (4) Raiders 27-21

Divisional Weekend

(1) Bengals defeat (5) Steelers 31-24
(2) Colts defeat (3) Patriots 31-27

AFC Championship

(1) Bengals defeat (2) Colts 30-20

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.