Thursday, September 19, 2019

Jamal Adams Fine Reflects Downfall of NFL

By Douglas V. Gibbs

Jets defender Jamal Adams was flagged for roughing the passer and fined $21,000 for essentially playing football.  After the hit that knocked Browns' Quarterback Baker Mayfield on his butt, Mayfield popped up and patted Adams on the top of the helmet.  "Good hit."

But, the No Fun League referee said it was roughing the passer.

In response, the Jets' Safety blasted the league on Twitter, "This league is a damn joke!  I just got fined $21k for this hit, I signed up to play football not two hand touch. Bulls---! I don’t give a damn about these soft rules protecting QBs. Im gonna play MY brand of football everytime I step on the field. SMH."

Adams is right.  I want to watch football, not some soft version of what was once the game.  While I appreciate the attempt to protect quarterbacks (if we were playing the game of my childhood, Tom Brady would have retired long ago), at what point do we say that they've gone too far?

This league is a damn joke! I just got fined $21k for this hit, I signed up to play football not two hand touch. Bullshit! I don’t give a damn about these soft rules protecting QBs. Im gonna play MY brand of football everytime I step on the field. SMH

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Let Jalen Ramsey Go, for the sake of the league

By Douglas V. Gibbs

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey of the Jacksonville Jaguars wants to be traded, and he probably will be by the end of the week.  He is a top five corner, and the Jaguars will be worse on the field without him, but will be better in the locker room without him.

Life is all about attitude, and so is the cohesion of any unit.  If a part of a unit is a problem, it becomes a cancer.

In the NFL, the head coach is the authority figure, and the attitude of the younger generation is now bleeding into the league and is challenging that authority.  With the outside world calling for being rebellious, or "the resistance," the cancer of that kind of attitude has been working its way into families, the workplace, and even American football. 

The Jaguars have a choice, after Ramsey, and head coach Doug Marrone, clashed on the field for all of the league to see.  Either, they get rid of Ramsey, or they can Marrone.  However, whichever choice is made, there is a waterfall of repercussions that result from it.

If you get rid of one, you must stand behind the other, and keep them for a long time.  If you get rid of Marrone, a message will be sent to your players, and the players of the league, that if a player throws a tantrum enough, he'll get what he wants, which means it would lead to more of these types of altercations league-wide.  Keeping Ramsey will encourage his kind of bad behavior.  However, if you get rid of Ramsey, it sends the message that this is a business, and if you don't act business-like with your boss (especially when the whole world is watching on television), it doesn't matter how good you think you are, you could be without a job as a result.

The discontent in Ramsey began long ago.  He was mad at Bortles last year believing the dude cost them a trip to the Big Game.  He's been mouthy about his teammates and coaching leadership all last year, and into this season.  The confrontation on the sideline with Coach Marrone was simply a physical manifestation of the attitude of Ramsey that has been gurgling to the surface for a while.

Don't get me wrong, I think Marrone's coaching has been dismal, and his leadership skills worse.  You, as a coach, cannot bring yourself down to those levels where you go at a player after he goes after you.  There should have not been an argument.  The moment Ramsey began acting up, rather than reacting and essentially giving Ramsey the response he was looking for, Marrone should have simply said, "Get this man off my field, you are out of the game," and then had his other coaches, players, or security if necessary, escort the cancer to the locker room.  And I get Ramsey's anger.  He wants to go out there and strut himself as a premier corner, and Marrone's play calls and formations have not been allowing Ramsey that opportunity.  So, he's ticked off.

But, despite all of that, there is a manner in which Ramsey should be conducting himself as a professional.  You don't act out like that in the public eye.  You have a problem with your coach, talk to him in private later.  If you act out in the public eye like that, you are establishing a precedent in the culture that opens up the opportunity for other players to pull the same garbage.  As a contracted professional Ramsey has the obligation to conduct himself in a manner befitting of that position.  Be a professional.  Act professional.  Play like a professional.  And work with your colleagues and coaches like a professional.  Otherwise, you are nothing more than a cancer that the team does not need.

-- Gibbs Sports

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

2019 Season News and Predictions, NFL Football

Projected Finish/Projected Record/Team

NFC EAST

1/11-5/Philadelphia Eagles ... If QB Carson Wentz stays healthy, the Eagles win the division with ease, and may go deep into the playoffs.  There is no Nick Foles to come to the rescue, anymore, so if Wentz goes down, Philly loses the division to Dallas.  The Eagles traded to make their dismal running game better, newbies Jordan Howard (traded for) and Penn State RB Miles Sanders (drafted) may move the running game into respectability and help Wentz open up the passing game.  Rookie Josh Adams led the team in Rushing last year and will also help as he grows.  TE Zach Ertz leads a very capable, and sometimes explosive, receiving corps.  WR Alshon Jeffrey will get more throws to him, and addition DeSean Jackson from Tampa Bay will add to the high caliber weaponry Wentz will have to throw to.  TE Goedert had good production last year, and I expect the rookie to get better this year.  Philly's pro-bowl Offensive Line is among the best in the game.  Defensive Line is among the best in the game, and as they say, games are won in the trenches.  DT Fletcher Cox leads the group, and the addition of Jaquar Malik Jackson makes the D-Line better.  Tim Jernigan was re-signed.  Inside pressure on opposing quarterbacks is expected, and will elevate Philly's place as a force in the league.  The team's top LB, Jordan Hicks, is gone.  He was injury-prone, so I get it.  They did only a little to work on the linebacker corps, not expecting much from that unit.  Secondary is better than average, but the best quarterbacks, if they can escape the inside pressure from the D-Line, will find their targets with ease and regularity.  Jake Elliot is a good enough kicker, Punter Cam Johnston is phenomenal, and the return game is solid with Darren Sproles and Rick Lovato.

2/7-9/Dallas Cowboys ... QB Dak Prescott is a winner not living up to his capabilities.  If he figures it out, Cowboys dominate.  Ezekiel Elliot is the best RB in the NFL.  WR Amari Cooper can be better.  Randall Cobb signing makes receiver corps better, but not quite what Dallas needs to be a major power in the NFC. Offensive Line is better than most, but is it good enough to keep Dak Prescott on his feet?  DE DeMarcus Lawrence is a star.  The rest of the D-Line, not so much.  Linebackers are young, hungry, and capable.  Are they ready for the faster pace of the NFL? Secondary is a weakness, and the Cowboys did not invest in the far reaching positions during the off-season.  Throwers will throw, and that's the main reason Dallas will have trouble reaching .500.  Brett Maher as a Place Kicker who is good enough.  Mostly, he'll give you what you need, but don't expect miraculous kicks from the guy, and do expect a couple misses.  Punting game is better with Chris Jones being more consistent than his placekicking counterpart.  Tavon Austin and Rookie Tony Pollard should make a number of the returns fun to watch.  I was surprised they got to 11 wins last year, predicting 9.  They are not as good this year unless keep pieces begin to produce.  7 Wins likely, but then again, they got to double-digits last year.  Is it possible they'll do it again?

3/6-10/New York Giants ... Last year was dismal with only 5 Wins.  Eli Manning stays at QB, and may have a good season since he may be sensing he is rapidly approaching his last hoorah.  RB Saquon Barkley is coming off of a Rookie of the Year performance.  The running game is the strongest chess piece the Giants have on the board.  Odell Beckham was traded to Cleveland, reducing the strength of the receiving corps.  Veteran receiver Golden Tate will keep them from becoming laughable, and WR Sterling Shepard and TE Evan Engram will now have an opportunity to show what they have.  Offensive Line is not great, but adequate.  Defensive Line expectations are unknown considering all of the renovation to the position.  The Linebackers are looking for direction, with nobody capable of being a standout player.  This group will struggle, and be a little less effective than one would hope.  A number of pieces from last year's secondary are gone.  Pieces are being moved around.  What we plan to see may be slightly better than 2018, but not by much.  Throwing teams will likely enjoy their games against the Giants.  Kicking battery is top notch, return game not so much.  Overhaul and renovation is the name of the game for the Giants, right now.  Until they get the pieces in place, and find a quarterback to be Eli's successor, they will remain a less than .500 team.

4/2-14/Washington Redskins ... Head Coach Jay Gruden is on the hot seat, and I expect him not to make it as a member of the organization in 2020.  The Redskins, after a four-win season last year, will get worse.  QB Colt McCoy is worthless, Case Keenum is not worth much more, and Rookie Dwayne Haskins is not ready to take a snap in real games.  RB Adrian Peterson is old, but still producing, and will be the single shining star on this struggling team.  Derrius Guice is fighting injuries.  Chris Thompson may provide a little help, and take some of the heavy lifting off of Peterson, every once in a while.  WR position is so bad, it is not even worth talking about.  Offensive Line is pretty good when healthy ... but keeping them healthy has been the challenge.  The Defensive Line is better than good, anchored by youngsters Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.  Matt Ionnidis is also pretty good on the line.  Unfortunately for the Redskins, there is no depth for the defensive line.  Reuben Foster and Mason Foster are better than average, and Ryan Kerrigan on the outside is a proven talent.  What remains is unproven.  Josh Norman had a bad season.  We'll see if he can make a comeback as an elite CB in 2019.  Signing S Landon Collins helps.  Otherwise, the Secondary needs a lot of work.  Special Teams overall is adequate, but nothing special.  Washington also faces a pretty tough schedule, especially during the first half of the season.  Morale will wind up as bad as their record.

NFC NORTH

1/13-3/Green Bay Packers ... Most prognosticators are estimating a continued downward spiral for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.  I disagree.  In fact, I think Rodgers is watching Tom Brady, and listening to the doubters in the media, and has decided to will his 36-year-old body to win, and win big, this year.  If Rodgers stays healthy all year long, his dismal performance last year will be forgotten quickly.  RB Aaron Jones was explosive last year, and while not as explosive, Jamaal Williams is consistent and hangs on to the ball.  WR Devante Adams was among the NFL's top receivers, last year, with 1,386 yards.  TE Jimmy Graham in 2018 had 55 receptions.  Rookie TE Jace Sternberger will get the after-catch yards that Graham struggled with last year, and will encourage Graham to step up his game.  The Offensive Line is strong, and if they want, could challenge the elite groups in 2019 as the best unit in the game.  That's a good thing, because Rodgers has never been real mobile, and he is even less mobile, now.  NT Kenny Clark was the top defensive player in 2018, and anchors a strong D-Line.  Blake Martinez, Preston Smith, and Za-Darius Smith makes Green Bay's linebacker corps among the better units, and then added with the draft physical freak Rashan Gary, who played DE at Michigan, but will be moved to outside linebacker for the Packers.  Rookie CB Jaire Alexander was an all-rookie team inhabitant last year, Adrian Amos was brought in through free agency at Safety, and CB Tramon Williams and Kevin King, while uninspiring last year, all make for a very solid Secondary.  Special Teams ranked at the bottom, last year.  The unit can only get better.

2/10-6/Chicago Bears ... Da Bears will not win the division, but post double-digits in the win column.  QB Trubisky is steadily improving, and Defense is anchored by a beast, Khalil Mack.  RB position is strong, but carry by committee since nobody is standing out.  Mike Davis and David Montgomery will likely get the bulk of the workload.  The youth movement at the WR position is working, and getting better.  The Offensive Line is strong, and Trubisky's ability to run makes them look even better.  Good morale makes unites better, and they are committed to protect their QB when he needs it.  The Defensive Line is reminiscent of past Bears' defensive units, and the LB position, with Mack as its anchor is incredibly masterful at what they do.  With all of the support in front of them, the Secondary was quite productive last year, and will be more so this year.  Free Agency has shook a few things up, but the unit received fine replacements in Clinton-Dix and Buster Skrine, along with exceptional depth, will make this one of the better unites in the NFL, thus capping Chicago's return to defensive dominance.  Kicker Parkey is the "double-doink" guy you've been hearing about.  The replacements are unproven.  Punter Pat O'Donnell has been falling short, literally.  The return game, however, will be strong.

3/10-6/Minnesota Vikings ... While the Vikings will have as good of a record as Da Bears, they will lose to Chicago in both 2019 meetings.  QB Kirk Cousins is overpaid and overvalued.  Cousins is adequate, but he's not a QB that can get you into the playoffs.  RB Dalvin Cook is capable, but nothing that will break any records.  Latavius Murray is gone, Ameer Abdullah is excited if he can get over 500 yards, an achievement he has only reached twice.  Third-round pick Alexander Mattison may give the rushing game a little more punch, but nothing like they were used to back in the day with someone like Adrian Peterson.  Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are exceptional Wide Receivers, but Cousins' limitations will limit their star power.  They may get their 1,000 yard season, each, again like last year, but after them there is not much.  There is a significant lack of depth at the WR position.  The 2019 mission for the Offensive Line is improvement.  It is in definite need of a fix.  The Defensive Line is among the strongest units on the team, and perhaps in the league.  DE Danielle Hunter had a career high 14.5 sacks last year, and DE Everson Griffen and NT Linval Joseph both made a trip to the Pro Bowl.  LB Anthony Barr re-signed, and had four straight Pro Bowls under his belt.  Eric Kendricks is solid, and may have an All-Pro season in him.  Depth is a concern among the Linebackers, however.  The best unit on the Vikings is their Secondary.  They were among the NFL's best in 2017, and though they slipped a little last year, they are still a powerful unit.  Punt Returner Marcus Sherels took his exceptional skills to New Orleans.  Ameer Abdullah will carry the responsibilities more so than last year.  Punter Matt Wile and Kicker Dan Bailey return from last year.  Wile is solid, Bailey struggled but is capable.


4/3-13/Detroit Lions ... Woe is I if I am a Detroit fan in 2019.  After a 6-10 Record in 2018, the wins total will slice in half.  Coaching is capable, but under fire.  Matthew Stafford has lost his shiny covering, and we expect no playoffs out of the rest of his career, just like the zero trips to the post-season over the last ten years.  There are no QBs on the horizon to challenge him, either.  The Lions like draft-pick Kerryon Johnson, and he turned out to be a good addition with 641 yards, last year, as RB.  But, he's all they've got.  The Lions' running game will remain as one of the cellar-dwellers in rushing numbers.  At WR, Golden Tate is gone, and there have not really been anybody else that is expected to step up, and Detroit has not invested in the receiving game, either.  Offensive Line is slightly better, and the Defensive Line went from among the league's worst to a unit that is expected to be among the strongest in 2019.  LB position didn't change much, and neither will their average production.  The Secondary has received a lot of attention, and work.  It may be better, it may be serviceable, but don't expect any Hall of Famers out of this group.  There is still plenty of room for improvement.  Once a strength, the Special Teams unit has dropped into a level of mediocrity.  Matt Prater is a good kicker, but Punter Sam Martin had his worse season ever, last year, and if healthy, Jamal Agnew is an All-Pro return man.  Highlight of the Special Teams unit is top-notch long snapper Don Muhlbach.

NFC South

1/14-2/New Orleans Saints ... I will be surprised if the Saints don't make it to the NFC Championship Game.  The Los Angeles Rams are their primary obstacle when it comes to getting to the Super Bowl.  QB Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, and seems to only be getting better.  He is the NFL's career leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, and after 19 years in the NFL, he's hungry for a second Super Bowl Title.  The running game has been good to Brees, with RB Alvin Kamara proving to be among the top NFL rushers.  Latavius Murray joins the unit, and Dwayne Washington shores up the corps of Running Backs. WR Michael Thomas was very productive with 125 catches last year, but there hasn't been much help behind him.  Raider Jared Cook was brought in to help at TE, and there is plenty of youth that can step up in the receiving corps if they want it.  C Max Unger retired, creating all kinds of havoc for New Orleans' Offensive Line.  There is plenty of competition for Unger's spot.  Aside from questions regarding Center, the Saints' O-Line is among the strongest in the NFL.  The Saints used the draft to strengthen their Defensive Line, as well as bringing in free agent Mario Edwards Jr. from the Giants.  Former Patriot Malcom Brown was brought in at Tackle.  The Linebacker Corps was rebuilt last year, and the work paid off.  In fact, the linebackers did well enough that little was done during this last off-season to contribute to the position, aside from seventh round draft choice Kaden Elliss.  The Secondary, like the Linebackers, is stable, after recent acquisitions.  While solid, the Saints did use their fourth and sixth round draft choices to bring in two young Safeties.  Kicking and Punting is outstanding with Wil Lutz and Thomas Morstead.  Lutz hit 93.3% of his field goals.  Morstead led the NFL in net punting yards.  Returns are good, but was boosted with the addition of Marcus Sherels who is also a CB.  Alvin Kamara is among the best in the game at punt and kickoff returns.  Taysom Hill will also be used as a returner in the hopes of lessening Kamara's workload.

2/10-6/Carolina Panthers ... QB Cam Newton throws more than he used to, but he is still a threat to run.  Last year's arthroscopic procedure on his throwing arm was a minor set-back, he seems to have bounced back pretty well, and claims there is no problems with his range of motion.  RB Christian McCaffrey was a workhorse last year and was rewarded with 1,098 rushing yards, 867 receiving yards, and 107 team-leading receptions.  He enters his third year in the NFL as a valuable tool for the Panthers.  There has been some losses and some gains among the WB position, but nobody is standing out as a major threat.  A knee injury led to the loss of LT Matt Kalil.  The unit added free agent C Matt Paradis, and drafted Ole Miss T Greg Little to help the struggling unit that gave up 32 sacks last year.  All-Pro Guard Trai Turner keeps the right side strong as the rest of the line searches for its identity.  The "OK" Defensive Line has made some improvements by adding Brian Burns and beast Bruce Irvin.  Last season DT Dontari Poe and DT Kawann Short struggled, and will be back to prove they deserve to stay.  DT Kyle Love is a strong rotational presence.  Depth is not a problem for this fairly solid unit.  Ten year Carolina team member LB Thomas Davis is gone.  The back-ups and youth will be tested, but is unproven.  S Eric Reid got resigned.  He has been solid for the Panthers for three years.  The corners are adequately manned by James Bradberry and Donte Jackson.  The kicking game does not change and is solid, return duties fall on Rashad Ross who went to the AAF and was a star, and is getting a second chance in the NFL.

3/6-10/Tampa Bay Buccaneers ... Tampa Bay is slowly getting better.  QB Jameis Winston missed a number of games last year as a result of suspension and being benched after throwing four quick interceptions in the first two quarters against Cincinnati.  Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin, who have both been in the league longer than Winston, may be able to take the job away from Winston if he doesn't get his collective you-know-what in order.  Despite the frustrations at quarterback, the Bucs will beat last years 5-win performance.  RB Peyton Barber had 871 rushing yards last year, and may be on the verge of a break out season.  Unfortunately, there is no depth in the running game.  Receiving is not a problem, therefore, whoever is throwing the ball looks better than they are.  Mike Evans anchors the squad.  He is alone with only A.J. Green and Randy Moss with the feat of 1,000 yard seasons in each of his first five seasons in the NFL.  Chris Godwin returns with his better than average hands, and free-agent Breshad Perriman adds needed speed.  TE O.J. Howard and TE Cam Brate are strong and Pro-Bowl caliber.  DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries were lost to free agency. The Offensive Line boasts big contracts for slightly better than average play.  The Defensive Line was overhauled last year, and we are still trying to figure out if the musical chairs made the unit any better.  Rookie Devan White will make the Linebacker corps better, and with Lavonte David also at Middle Linebacker, the attack up the middle could be devastating.  The outside is in good hands with Denver Free Agent Shaquill Barrett, and Deone Bucannon.  Depth is not a problem with capable Kevin Minter and Devante Bond who have experience in the league.  Last year the Secondary was downright disgusting.  Departures were enabled, and three early draft choices were used to hopefully help the suffering unit.  I am not expecting much, and teams with even average passers will have their way with the Bucs.  Special Teams has been completely renovated, is unproven, and will likely not be much better than its usual mediocre self.

4/5-11/Atlanta Falcons ... QB Matt Ryan is capable of Super Bowl heroics.  The rest of the Atlanta Falcons team is not.  Even with no protection up front Ryan is completing more than two-thirds of his passes, and is racking up close to 5,000 yards per season.  The RBs are new and unproven, the receiving corps is good because QB Ryan makes them good, and the front line is atrocious and is among the main reasons the Falcons won't even get close to a winning season, this year.  The Defensive Line is improving and is serviceable, the Linebackers are gutsy and solid, and the Secondary is good enough but not spectacular.  Giorgio Tavecchio is taking over place-kicking duties and should be adequate.  Punter Matt Bosher is pretty good, despite two blocked punts last year.  Return duties are mostly Justin Hardy's to keep, but he does have some young competition.

NFC WEST

1/15-1/Los Angeles Rams ... Can anyone stop the mighty Rams?  Probably nobody.  Maybe, just maybe, New Orleans may pose a challenge in the NFC.  Only New England can beat them in the grand finale.  Head Coach McVay has been masterful, QB Jared Goff encouraged some MVP buzz last year, despite his slight slump down the stretch, and Aaron Donald secured a second Defensive Player of the Year honor.  Goff is only getting better.  2017 Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley should be back to prior greatness after struggling a little last year, especially down the stretch.  But, just in case he doesn't, the Rams picked up draftee all-purpose back Darell Henderson in the third round.  WR Cooper Kupp began his career as a certified star, but a torn ACL ended his 2018 season in November.  Kupp, with Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, poses as likely the best receiving corps in the NFL.  Josh Reynolds gives that group capable depth, which he proved last year when he scored five touchdowns last year in Kupp's absence.  TE Tyler Higbee and TE Gerald Everett  look good, as well, although their opportunity to prove themselves has yet to materialize.  The Offensive Line provides more than enough protection for Goff, especially since LT Andrew Whitworth decided to stay around just a little bit longer.  He lost veteran talent on the line with him (with the loss of Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan), but there is youth available to step into those slots with capable 2017 draft choices Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen.  T Aaron Donald is a one man wrecking crew, and he makes the rest of the Defensive Line better as a result.  Donald's 2018 20.5 sack total was astounding, but with Ndamukong Suh gone, he may begin to see some double-teaming against him.  Fourth Round 2019 Draft Pick Greg Gaines will take over Nose Tackle, helping Donald continue to make the middle a no-man's land for opposing rushers.  The Defensive Ends, Morgan Fox and John Franklin-Myers will be tasked with catching the rotational rushers, and are more than capable.  LB Dante Fowler is finally beginning to fit in well, and Clay Matthews, while a shadow of his former self, is still a powerful influence behind the line.  Plenty of youngsters are present as a part of the Rams' depth at Linebacker.  The Secondary under-performed last year, but the addition of Eric Weddle may get the Secondary where it needs to be.  Rookie Safety Taylor Rapp may not start at the beginning of the season, but will likely be a starter by the end.  He will likely prove to be a valuable talent.  K Greg Zuerlein and P Johnny Hekker may be the best kicker/punter combination in the NFL.  Return duties are pretty much up for grab, but JoJo Natson will likely get the bulk of the duty.

2/6-10/Seattle Seahawks ... Somehow, after a massive roster overhaul, the Seahawks pulled off a playoff visit in 2018.  I am not so sure they can pull that off twice.  I believe that aside from the coaching and QB part of the equation, the Seahawks are essentially rebuilding.  Russell Wilson remains one of the better Quarterbacks in the NFL, and he had a pretty good year in 2018.  RB Chris Carson has emerged as a surprise positive in Seattle, posting 1,000 yards last year.  2018 First Round Pick Rashaad Penny, after an injury-irritated 2018, will likely also get a fair share of carries.  WR Doug Baldwin has departed, leaving the leadership role up for grabs.  The Offensive Line was adequate last year, but don't hold your breath in the hopes that QB Wilson will be running for his life any less in 2019.  The Defensive Line has lost key components, and Seattle has failed to fill those holes.  LB Bobby Wagner is a top notch man up the middle, but the remaining linebacking corps is weak and has struggled through injuries.  The Secondary is longer the Legion of Boom.  Likely contenders for a new emergence of a solid Secondary has been anemic.  Special Teams is continuously in question.  Kicker Jason Myers may be the permanent man in that position.  Maybe.  Rookie Punter Michael Dickson was a pleasant surprise last year with booming punts.  The return game has been horrid, but the 2019 Draft had eleven picks that could try their hand at the duties.

3/2-14/San Francisco 49ers ... The only thing that will keep the 49ers out of last place in the NFC West division will be the fact that they will pull off a sweep against the Arizona Cardinals.  QB Jimmy Garoppolo is overrated.  Reconstructive knew surgery last year will make him less mobile, and gun-shy.  As bad as Garoppolo is, the depth at QB in San Francisco is worse.  RB Jerick McKinnon's ACL injury decimated the 49ers Rushing game last year.  Former Falcon Tevin Coleman was brought on board, and may help.  Matt Breida was working towards a 1,000 yard rushing year, but he injured his ankle.  TE George Kittle was a bright spot in 2018 for San Francisco with his 1,377 yards receiving.  Otherwise, the receiving corps was unreliable.  The Offensive Line returns all five starters, giving the QB average protection.  Most of San Francisco's off-season work was pointed towards their Defensive Line.  DE Dee Ford will be the most prominent addition, having 13 sacks last year in Kansas City.  DT DeForest Buckner earned 12 sacks and a first Pro-Bowl berth last year.  First Round Draft Picks Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas will add to the strength of the Defensive Line.  Linebacking Corps is not powerful, but good enough to do the job.  Despite very weak performances last year, and nearly no interceptions, the 49ers kept the same Secondary.  Richard Sherman is the key leader in the Secondary.  The off-season ripped any stability out of the Special Teams unit.  Kicker Robbie Gould is now gone.  The Punter is a rookie who will replace Bradley Pinion.  The long snapper, Kyle Nelson, still has six games left on his suspension.  Return duties are adequate.

4/2-14/Arizona Cardinals ... Top Draft Pick QB Kyler Murray is joining a team struggling in its post Carson Palmer era.  The Heisman Trophy winner is expected to take on the title role as starting Quarterback on Day 1.  David Johnson missed having a 1,000 yard season in 2018 by 60 yards, and will be Murray's primary rushing attack.  While last year Johnson was primarily an up-the-middle runner, the plans we've been hearing about includes giving Johnson a larger variety to options to run.  WR Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best ever to play the game, and he remains.  No doubt Fitzgerald will be Murray's favorite target.  This will be the surefire Hall of Famer's 16th Season.  Rookie WR Christian Kirk garnered attention with his 590 receiving yards last year.  Beyond Kirk, however, there is not a lot of depth behind Fitzgerald.  The Offensive Line was the worst in the NFL last year, and that does not seem to be a good thing for a rookie QB who is still trying to learn how to play the faster professional game.  The same characters return, but some depth has been added.  QB Murray will be challenged often, and will likely find himself running a lot as a result.  The Defensive Line is not very impressive, but it is stronger than its O-Line counterpart.  Chargers' T Darius Philon has been brought on board with a two-year deal, and may prove to be a strengthening component to the unit.  All four starting Linebackers return, Terrell Suggs, Haason Reddick, Jordan Hicks, and Brooks Reed, and are essentially stable.  The Secondary has CB Patrick Peterson as a strong anchor of the group, but the remaining part of the Secondary is still young, learning, and unproven.  The kicking game has been a concern.  Last year the Cardinals used three different kickers during the season. Punter Andy Lee is okay, though.  Return duties by Kirk and T.J. Logan (fourth year player drafted from North Carolina) should be adequate.

AFC EAST

1/16-0/New England Patriots ... I don't see anyone on New England's regular season schedule capable of beating the Patriots.  There is a saying... You don't bet against Tom Terrific.  Head Coach Bill Belichick's Patriots may be poised for another Super Bowl Win, which would give Belichick more NFL titles than any other coach ... and with QB Tom Brady continuing to be the best passer in the game, I think it is entirely possible for the Patriots (especially after looking at their schedule) to go undefeated.  Seriously.  42 year old QB Tom Brady continues to amaze.  RB Rookie Sony Michel almost reached 1,000 yards rushing in his first season, finishing with 931 yards.  RB James White is known more for being a backfield receiver.  Though TE Gronkowski is gone, WR Julian Edelman has been a more than adequate target, instead.  The Offensive Line is solid, but the Defensive Line is not.  The Linebackers and the Secondary aren't used as much as the front line, but when they do play, both units are above average.  Special Teams is nothing special, but Belichick is working to change that.  The only weakness that the Patriots has is that eventually time will catch up to Tom Brady, and he'll need to retire.

2/8-8/New York Jets ... QB Sam Darnold, entering his second year after coming to the Jets as a first round pick, is the deciding factor.  If he's the real deal, the Jets will have a winning record. If he's a typical rookie, they will have a losing record.  He definitely has plenty of growth ahead of him.  The addition of RB Le'Veon Bell makes the Jets' rushing game become the real deal.  The receiving game is solid with Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Jamison Crowder.  Potentially, the offensive line could be among the best in the league.  Time will tell.  New York's D-Line is game-changingly good, and the linebackers are adequate.  The Secondary rounds out a pretty good defense.  Special Teams is suspect, and needs improvement.

3/3-13/Miami Dolphins ... The old head coach is gone, and Brian Flores now holds the reins.  QB Ryan Tannehill is gone, so Miami brought on board average with occasional flashes of brilliance Ryan Fitzpatrick, and youngster Josh Rosen.  RB Kenyan Drake had 535 yards, the team leader, Frank Gore, is gone.  WR Danny Amendola, Miami's 2018 leader in catches (59) and yards (575) is gone, but injury prone DeBante Parker remains.  The Offensive Line seemed absent all season long, with key pieces going to other teams.  First Round Draft Pick Christian Wilkins is the most exciting thing I can say about the Defensive Line, and he hasn't played a regular season game in the NFL yet.  In 2018 the Miami linebacker corps ranked among the worse in the league.  CB Xavien Howard has been demanding more money, or he'll take his 2018 Pro Bowl caliber play somewhere else.  The Dolphins gave in.  Despite being drafted as recently as 2016, he's the best player they've got, and they couldn't let him go.  Three quality Safeties are battling over the two Safety positions, so the Dolphins' Secondary is fairly sound.  Rookie Kicker Jason Sanders is a star, Punter Matt Haack not so much.  The whole team is short on talent, and they should feel fortunate that I think they can win three times during the regular season.

4/3-13/Buffalo Bills ... The most consistent thing about the Buffalo Bills in recent years has been change.  Coaching and player changes have been ever-present.  QB Josh Allen, the very talented quarterback that was expected to bring the Bills out of the cellar suffered from rookie growing pains in 2018, leaving the Bills second to last in the league in passing numbers.  Accuracy was among the many problems, but since last year Allen has shown significant progress in his growth as a passer and an NFL player.  RB LeSean McCoy only managed 514 yards last season (QB Allen was the rushing leader with 631 yards).  The goal is to get Allen passing more, and running less, so the Bills signed free agents John Brown and Cole Beasley to help in that department.  Part of the reason Allen was not able to show off his powerful arm, and was running instead, was because the Offensive Line was a disaster.  New players have been brought in, but time will tell if any of them were an improvement.  DT Kyle Williams has retired after serving the Bills for 13 years.  First Round Pick Ed Oliver should be able to fill the void.  2018 First Round Pick LB Tremaine Edmunds turned out to be worth the choice as a Middle Linebacker.  LB Lorenzo Alexander returns for a 13th Season.  Last year he had 6.5 sacks and two interceptions.  The Secondary is the brightest light of the team, with the Bills allowing in a 2018 league low 179.2 yards passing.  Rookie Tre'Davious White established himself as the number one CB on the team, while four players battle for the other corner.  Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer rank among the best Safety pairings in the league.  Special Teams was a mess last year, and there seems to be no improvement on the horizon.

AFC NORTH

1/13-3/Cleveland Browns ... How amazing is it to talk about the Browns as a team that will win the division, and possibly create some real havoc in the playoffs?  QB Baker Mayfield is the real thing, in statistics, as a leader in the field, and as a leader in the locker room.  There is no depth behind him, so Cleveland's dominance depends on Mayfield performing injury-free.  RB Kareem Hunt must serve a suspension the first half of the season, but will rejoin the team in Game 9.  Hunt rushed for 1,327 yards, so he will be missed during the first eight games.  RB Nick Chubb rushed for 996 yards as a rookie last year, and is capable of holding down the fort while Cleveland waits for Hunt to serve his suspension.  WR is solid, and possibly over-populated.  Imagine that, Mayfield almost has too many quality targets to throw to.  Arrival Odell Beckham leads the group in talent, with newcomer Jarvis Landry right behind him in stats and talent.  TE David Njoku was a quality rookie last year, Antonio Callaway joins Beckham in providing plenty of speed.  With the loss of Right Guard Kevin Zeitler, second year player Austin Corbett has an opportunity to step up.  The remaining five-man line is pretty stable and experienced.  The Defensive Line is powerful, and the heart of the Browns' defensive attack.  Miles Garrett being brought on board adds to the quality on the line, with 13.5 sacks last year.  Oliver Vernon played eleven games with the Giants last year, and pulled off seven sacks.  Both Defensive Tackles, newcomer Sheldon Richardson, and Larry Ogunjobi, add to the devastating attack against opposing QBs.  Depth is also a strength for the D-Line.  The linebackers gave up more than they should have last year, so work is in place to make those improvements with the cast of characters in place.  The Secondary is in good hands with Rookie Pro-Bowl Selection CB Denzel Ward, and Rookie Greedy Williams who was taken with the 46th overall pick in the 2019 draft.  Damarious Randall continues to carry the Free Safety responsibilities, and while Strong Safety Jabrill Peppers is gone, Morgan Burnett will likely serve as a capable replacement.  Kicker Greg Joseph is pretty consistent, but missed a handful of extra-points last year.  Punter Britton Colquitt is dependable.  With Peppers gone, the return duties are up for grabs.

2/11-5/Pittsburgh Steelers ... The Steelers are going to exceed most expectations.  Mike Tomlin is a winning head coach with no losing seasons in his past, QB Big Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in 2019 with 5,129 passing yards and 34 touchdowns, and RB James Conner has developed quickly and in 2018 earned a Pro-Bowl appearance with his 973 yard rushing performance.  WR JuJu Smith-Schuster was brought in to fill the hole created by the departure of Antonio Brown for the Raiders.  James Washington will likely emerge as the number two receiver.  Draftee Diontae Johnson will challenge Washington.  TE Vance McDonald had 50 receptions for 610 yards.  The entire Offensive Line returns, and while there is room for growth, the O-Line is pretty effective, and only allowed 24 sacks last year.  Pro-Bowl T Cameron Heyward and NT Javon Hargrave created 14.5 sacks between the two of them.  Stephon Tuitt is expected to improve, coming off of 5.5 sacks last year.  LB T.J.Watt was phenomenal, going to the Pro Bowl, and finishing the 2018 season with 13 sacks.  The rest of the linebackers were less than impressive.  Last year the Secondary struggled, but CB Steven Nelson may stop the bleeding.  Special Teams were terrible last year, and it doesn't look like improvement is on the horizon unless the current cast of characters can pull their stuff together.

3/10-6/Cincinnati Bengals ... The coaching staff is new, but QB Andy Dalton is not.  If his surrounding cast is healthy, the Bengals will be able to make some noise.  RB Joe Mixon topped a thousand yards with his 1,168 yard performance in 2018.  The Receiving Corps offers some top notch pass catchers, led by A.J. Green and anchored by Tyler Boyd.  The Offensive Line could be better, and while some work was done with free agency to improve the squad, more work is needed. The Defensive Line is capable of being better than average, but last year they fell short.  The true weakness defensively is with the linebackers.  Draftee Germaine Pratt is expected to improve the group, and Malik Jefferson now has the opportunity to show what he's all about.  The Secondary is the strength of the defense, with CB William Jackson and S Jessie Bates providing the solid skills needed. K Randy Bullock is consistent, Punter Keven Huber has been stellar.  Alex Erickson is a top notch punt and kickoff return man, but a lack of good blocking may have hindered some of his numbers last year.  With the new coaching we may see a rebirth of the Bengals in the playoffs.

4/4-12/Baltimore Ravens ... With the departure of Ravens QB Joe Flacco, the passing honors now rests completely on Rookie Lamar Jackson's shoulders.  Last year, after Flacco's injury, Jackson won six out of seven games, amassed over 500 yards in rushing, and took the Ravens into the playoffs.  I don't believe his success was necessarily a fluke, but Jackson's pass completion rate was only 58.2 percent, and that is what is going to haunt him during his first year as the primary passer.  If he can get his fundamentals down, however, he could eventually lead Baltimore to winning seasons.  Undrafted Rookie Gus Edwards was part of the reason the Ravens had a potent running attack in 2018.  The addition of Mark Ingram II from New Orleans will add to the potency (as well as veteran leadership), and I am expecting newly drafted Justice Hill to provide some punch.  The Receivers' production dropped last year, but that is likely because of Jackson's learning curve when it comes to the passing game.  While the Offensive Line is a solid group, they faltered when the chips were down in the Playoffs.  The addition of G Ben Powers in the draft may help.  With Brent Urban leaving as a free agent to Tennessee, the once dominant Defensive Line may find itself not as effective against the run in 2019.  The linebacker corps has gone from dominance to being decimated.  Za'Darius Smith left for Green Bay.  Terrell Suggs went to the Arizona Cardinals.  C.J. Mosely went to the Jets.  Now the need for quality falls on the shoulders of the youngsters.  Draftee Jaylon Ferguson of Louisiana Tech who broke Suggs' NCAA record for career sacks with 45 may be the ray of light the Ravens needs among the linebackers.  The Secondary is Baltimore's biggest strength.  CB Marlon Humphrey ranks among the cornerback elite, and Jimmy Smith's production after injury was pretty good last year.  Tavon Young and Rookie Anthony Averett were also solid contributors.  Brandon Carr's veteran leadership with S Tony Jefferson's leadership rounds out the very capable Secondary, despite the loss of Eric Weddle.  K Justin Tucker has emerged as one of the most accurate kickers in the game.  P Sam Koch ranks among the best punters in the NFL. With Cyrus Jones, the return game is in capable hands.  While the Ravens will likely be cellar dwellers this season, if Jackson grows, they may be poised to become regular attendees of the post-season.

AFC SOUTH

1/11-5/Houston Texans ... QB Deshaun Watson wants to prove himself after injury took him down last year.  He's both a passing and rushing threat, but now that he is in his third year it's time to shine.  RB Lamar Miller rushed for 973 yards in his 2018 Pro Bowl season.  WR DeAndre Hopkins is a joy to watch, with hands that can bring in everything.  His astounding 115 receptions and 1,572 yards gives Watson a viable target to take the Texans to the playoffs with.  Plenty of quality receivers join Hopkins.  The worst Offensive Line in the NFL is now gone, with a complete overhaul underway.  DE J.J. Watt continues to be a force, and leads a very strong Defensive Line.  The linebackers are packed with talent, led by Pro Bowler and 2014 first round (second overall) pick Jadeveon Clowney.  ILB Benardrick McKinney was also a Pro-Bowler in 2018, and Zach Cunningham provides immense versatility.  Linebacker depth in Houston is also very good.  The loss of Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson places the Secondary in a position of question marks.  The addition of S Tashaun Gipson and CB Bradley Roby may make up for the losses.  Kicker Ka'imi Fairbaim made the Pro Bowl last year, and Punter Trevor Daniel did an adequate job replacing the retired great, Shane Lechler.  Return responsibilities looks like it will be by committee.

2/10-6/Tennessee Titans ... With the departure of the Colts from the top of the division the title is up for grabs between Houston and Tennessee.  2019 poses a great opportunity for QB Marcus Mariota, but it's do or die time.  Either he leads the Titans to glory, or he will be gone as his contract expires.  His NFL career tells us he will likely be looking for a new team next year.  RB Derrick Henry is not the best runner out there, but is good enough to take on the lead responsibilities, topping over 1,000 yards in 2018.  WR Corey Davis is a quality pass catcher, and TE Delanie Walker has a lot to prove after missing much of the season due to injury last year.  Tennessee improved their receiving corps by adding Adam Humphries to the group from Tampa Bay and drafting A.J. Brown in the second round of the 2019 Draft.  The Offensive Line allowed 47 sacks last year and there is plenty of room for improvement.  Their lack of improvement will be part of the reason Mariota won't achieve what he hopes to in the 2019 Season.  The Defensive Line is weak, and the Linebackers are not much better.  Changes are afoot in both groups.  The Secondary, however, is top notch, with Logan Ryan and Adoree' Jackson serving as solid Cornerbacks.  The real star of the Secondary is Kevin Byard at Safety.  The Secondary also boasts great depth, so there are no worries in Tennessee when it comes to protecting against the long pass.  Kicker Ryan Succop is searching for consistency.  Punter Brett Kern is one of the league's best punters.  The return game is nothing to write home about, and won't be until a permanent man is found for the duties.

3/2-14/Indianapolis Colts ... Indy went from contender to cellar during the pre-season when QB Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement.  Young Jacoby Brissett now has to grab the QB reins, with no depth behind him.  RB Marlon Mack has been uninspiring and his job may be in danger.  WR T.Y. Hilton led the Colts in receiving, accumulating 76 receptions and 1,270 yards.  TE Eric Ebron had 66 receptions and 750 yards.  However, that is the best Brissett has to throw to, and the lack of quality targets will make Jacoby's new job as starting QB a shaky one.  When healthy the Offensive Line provides more than adequate protection, and their counterparts on the defensive side finished 2018 10th in the NFL in fewest points allowed.  Led by Darius Leonard, the linebackers provide a quality defensive attack, and the Secondary plays well enough, but nothing of a star caliber level that the Colts needs.  Kicker Adam Vinatieri continues to be solid at age 46, and Punter Rigoberto Sanchez finished as a strong punter and kick-off man.  The return game is in the hands of Wide Receivers Zach Pascal and Chester Rogers, who do a good job, but don't expect fireworks.

4/1-15/Jacksonville Jaguars ... The retirement of Andrew Luck means that Jacksonville will earn a split in their two games with Indy, thus, preventing the Jaguars from suffering through a winless season.  A couple years ago they were playoff caliber.  Now, QB Nick Foles comes in to hopefully save the franchise, but it'll be more than he can handle.  RB Leonard Fournette comes off of an injury-marred 2018 season after topping over a thousand yards the year before.  The quality of receivers that Foles needs is not there.  Dede Westbrook is the best WR they've got, and he only managed 717 yards last year.  Injury challenged an already lackluster Offensive Line, and four of the five starters from last year remain on board. The Defensive Line is not awesome, but Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell made the D-Line serviceable combining for 20 sacks in 2018, and 27 sacks in 2017.  The already disappointing linebacker corps will be more disappointing with the loss of Paul Posluszny to retirement.  Draft pick Quincy Williams may help.  CB Jalen Ramsey and CB A.J. Bouyue pair up to provide top NFL quality at the corners.  The Safeties are in transition, but should be okay with Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson.  Kicking duties are reliable with former Chargers' kicker Josh Lambo.  Punter Logan Cooke ranks among the top quarter of Punters in the NFL.  D.J. Clark led the team in returns last year, but the job rotated around quite a bit.

AFC WEST

1/11-5/Kansas City Chiefs ... QB Patrick Mahomes was phenomenal in 2018, and Kansas City will remain a force in the AFC as long as the kid remains on board.  Expect the Chiefs to once again go deep into the playoffs, and perhaps battle again in the AFC Championship Game.  The Super Bowl may even be in the cards.  RB Damien Williams rushed for 256 yards in the final five games of last season, and will likely be the primary rusher in 2019, with a chance to top over 1,000 yards.  Despite pain in the ankle, which led to off-season surgery, TE Travis Kelce racked up 1,336 receiving yards in 2018.  Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins have been challenged by off-field issues and injury, but have a firm hold of their receiving duties.  The stolid Offensive Line returns in full force, and the Defensive Line will also continue its reign of terror.  Despite injuries, LB Anthony Hitchens finished the year with 135 total tackles.  The LB unit is adequate elsewhere, but its strength lies in Hitchens.  The Secondary was atrocious last year, so Kansas City invested in the group during the off-season.  Free Agent Tyrann Mathieu will provide much needed leadership in the absence of Eric Berry.  Draft picks also brought a lot of youth into the group, but time will tell if any of them stand out.  Rookie K Harrison Butker did well enough connecting with 89% of his field goals last year.  Punter Dustin Colquitt is a quality punter, and Rookie Tremon Smith's return game last year earned him All-Rookie honors.  Punt return duties will be carried out by youngster Mecole Hardman, who has plenty of speed to spare.

2/11-5/Oakland Raiders ... If Antonio Brown works out, Derek Carr will finally be able to return to his 2016 self when he won 12 games before breaking his leg.  Head Coach Jon Gruden is sold on Brown, and the prolific WR has built a good relationship with QB Carr.  Draft Pick RB Josh Jacobs should provide just the extra rushing power the Raiders need, with Isaiah Crowell there to share the duties.  With the departure of TE Jared Cook, the receiving game needs to pick up the pieces if they are to compete.  WR Antonion Brown's example should make them all better.  The Offensive Line has been pretty bad since 2016, but the Raiders worked to rectify the situation first round pick T Kolton Miller.  The unit should improve this year, and adding a run threat with Jacobs and a passing threat with Brown may help the unit come together.  The Defensive Line has been atrocious since the departures of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.  It's up to the youth, with second-year player Arden Key, and Rookies Maxx Crosby and Quinton Bell.  The building process is still in play with the linebackers, as well as with the Secondary, but a number of additions may strengthen the anemic defensive units.  Time will tell.  Kicker is solid with Daniel Carlson, but Punter Johnny Townsend was horrid last year.  Dwayne Harris returns as return man for both punts and kick-offs, and is fine at both.

3/10-6/Los Angeles Chargers ... The Chargers has always been an underachiever.  Every year we expect big things from the Bolts, but they always find a way to beat themselves.  2019 will be no different.  They will show plenty of spark, but in the end lose it to Kansas City.  QB Philip Rivers continues to be tireless and of high quality, despite his occasional bout with throwing interceptions.  RB Melvin Gordon III with yet another 1,000 yard performance is among the best rushers in the league.  WR Keenan Allen had over 1,000 yards in 2018.  Michael Williams is also a quality target, along with TE Hunter Henry who is returning from injury.  The Offensive Line is stronger and should provide Rivers with better protection.  In the past Rivers has had to constantly run for his life.  With Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram patrolling the edges, the D-Line in Los Angeles is a force to be dealt with.  LB Denzel Perryman leads a strong squad behind the front line, and the Secondary poses as among the best in the NFL.  All-Pro Safety Derwin James recorded 109 tackles, and Corners Casey Hayward and Desmond King are both Pro-Bowlers.  The kicking game is finally in capable hands with Michael Badgley, and the Punter position is under competition between Ty Long and Tyler Newsome.  Desmond King is dynamic as a return man.

4/3-13/Denver Broncos ... The downward slide is not finished in Denver, just yet.  The search for a Quarterback will not end with the addition of Joe Flacco.  Rookie RB Phillip Lindsay was a pleasant surprise with his 1,037 yards rushing, and if Royce Freeman can bounce back from his injuries in 2018, the tandem should be fun to watch.  WR Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, and Tim Patrick, all second year guys, may be the future of pass catchers for the Broncos.  The addition of TE Noah Fant is expected to make the passing game stronger.  The high-paid Offensive Line was overpaid, and under-produced.  Remaining healthy will be the key for any quality when it comes to the O-Line.  While the Defensive Line is going through changes, it should be strong with Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, and Adam Gotsis at the helm.  At linebacker, the Broncos excel.  Von Miller is MVP caliber, and Bradley Chubb had 12 sacks in 2018, the most for an NFL rookie in seven years.  The Secondary has lost its luster, with only Chris Harris Jr. remaining from the great "No-Fly Zone" group of recent past.  Despite being a group in transition, quality replacements may emerge the group as one to watch in 2019.  Kicker Brandon McManus is solid, but the rest of the Special Teams unit is in shambles.  Don't expect much from them.

POST-SEASON


  • NFC Division Winners Seeding Order

1. Los Angeles Rams
2. New Orleans Saints
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Philadelphia Eagles

Wild Cards

5. Chicago Bears
6. Carolina Panthers

NFC Championship Game

New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams

NFC Champion

Los Angeles Rams


  • AFC Division Winners Seeding Order

1. New England Patriots
2. Cleveland Browns
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Houston Texans

Wild Cards

5. Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Oakland Raiders*

* Due to the release of Antonio Brown, the Raiders will not make the playoffs, and won't even have a winning record, for that matter, and in their place the final wild card team will be the Los Angeles Chargers.

AFC Championship Game

Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots

AFC Champion

New England Patriots

  • SUPER BOWL: Los Angeles Rams vs. New England Patriots

  • SUPER BOWL CHAMPION: New England Patriots

Saturday, September 01, 2018

A tale of two Jon Gruden Eras

By Douglas V. Gibbs

Khalil Mack is no longer a member of the Raiders' organization.  He was traded to the Bears, and Oakland gets a couple first round picks in the draft in return.  And just like that, the contrast between Jon Gruden's first Raiders ride and his new role in the Raiders organization became clear as can be.

Under Al Davis, Gruden was just a coach.  Unlike his contemporaries, owner Al Davis inserted himself as a major influence on everything regarding the Raiders.  The son of the late Al Davis, Mark Davis, is not quite so hands on.

Even Reggie McKenzie, the general manager, is suddenly not as involved as before.  The person to impress, if you wish to be in on the new Raiders revolution, is head coach Jon Gruden.  And, when it came to Khalil Mack, the best defensive player in the NFL, apparently either Gruden was not impressed, or Gruden believes he can build a better defense without the Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

So much for Oakland's foundation having the big bad Khalil Mack as its cornerstone.

The deal to the Bears gives Chicago a huge paycheck they have to pay Mack (which is expected to soar to record levels), and to the Raiders goes two-first round picks (2019 and 2020), a third-rounder (2020) and a sixth-rounder (2019).

Fellow defensive edge protector Bruce Irvin was shocked, tweeting "No f***ing way".  Quarterback Derek Carr also tweeted "No way" shortly after.

The shocking development has rocked the Raiders organization, to say the least.

The question is now if the Bill Belichick control in Oakland Jon Gruden now has is a good thing, or a bad thing.  I am not saying that Mark Davis taking an interest in the way his dad did would be a good thing (or would be even possible), but the great work putting this team together that Reggie McKenzie has accomplished being put aside in such a sudden manner can't be exactly what the Raiders faithful may have been hoping for when they jumped up and down over the return of Gruden to the Raiders.

That all said, the whole reason the last union of Gruden with the Raiders ended not so well was purely because Gruden did not have a hold of enough of the reins, and Al Davis .  The reality is, personality-wise, Gruden has a Belichick kind of personality.  He's a "my way or the highway" kind of guy.  One simply wonders if the Gruden pathway is the right one.  I suppose it doesn't matter.  Gruden is there for ten years, so Oakland has no choice but to find out.

Sure, success often requires risk, and Jon Gruden is a calculated risk with fairly good odds attached, but is it really a good idea to give him so much control that even Reggie McKenzie is waiting nervously in the corner and the team's best player heads out the door?

Mark Davis seems not to be worried, commenting, "[Gruden’s] vision is going to be most important building what type of team we’ve got. That vision, and that direction is going to be helpful to Reggie more so than not. I think they’ll work together very well."

Davis later added, “Jon’s the head coach and he’s going to be here a while, so it’s important that he gets the players he wants and builds a team he wants to build. Reggie is there with his staff to find the players, and also to keep the cap and everything else in order.”

In short, Jon Gruden’s vision is the most important one in the franchise.  He not only has sole possession of the reins, but everyone else has been thrown off the cart.

The Raiders may or may not be fine without Mack, but I will venture to say that my prediction of a 5-11 finish for the Chicago Bears may be grossly inaccurate, and an AFC West crown for the Raiders may not be a few seasons away.

If, once in Las Vegas, the Raiders become a powerhouse, and Gruden's decision brings the Raiders back to winning ways largely because of the draft picks he got because of the Mack deal with the Bears, we may have to put up with Chuckie's trademark smirky grin, and a hearty "I told you so."

Right now, however, for Raiders fans hoping to get the ship turned around sooner, rather than later, that possibility not only irks them, it is a death nail for the City of Oakland, who was hoping to at least be able to celebrate one more winning ride with their Raiders before the team takes off for a vision of greener pastures in the middle of the desert.

-- Gibbs Sports

Sunday, August 26, 2018

NFL 2018 Team Preview and Predictions

2018 NFL Season Predictions

AFC EAST

13-3 … New England Patriots:  I have never been a fan of the team, but I know greatness when I see it.  I remember when the Patriots were so bad that they nearly lost their franchise.  Then the dynasty arrived, and Tom Brady continues to defy time, and injury.  While I never bet against Tom Brady and his Patriots, the last Super Bowl revealed that Goliath can be slain.  But, that beating will not come easily, and only happen rarely.  Brady is still the best, and the 41-year old quarterback's age will not pose as a factor in keeping the Patriots out of the Super Bowl.

Brady’s targets are Rob Gronkowski, who is working to come back from an ACL injury, and Julian Edelman who is near the top of his game.  Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett round out the rest of the weapons, and they are fast.  Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels is going to have fun getting creative with that kind of speed.

The running game is good, not great, but with Brady at the helm, setting up a passing game with a strong running game is not a concern.

Last year the defense looked great until the Philadelphia Eagles tore a giant hole in the Patriots’ defensive scheme and scored 41 points.  Is the New England defense weak?  No pass rush, and a linebacker corps that is drastically underachieving.  While the secondary is strong, and a return of Dont'a Hightower from injury will return some edge power for the linebackers, a quick short game by talented offenses could give New England's opponents some opportunities to score higher than the Patriots would like.

Thanks to injuries, the special teams unit is nothing to scream about.

While New England should easily be able to win their division, they are no longer a slam dunk to go to the AFC Championship Game, much less any more Super Bowls.  I am not saying they won’t, or can’t, I am just saying that championship seasons are no longer a guarantee.

8-8 … New York Jets: The Jets have an interesting problem.  They have nowhere to go but up.  Draft pick Sam Darnold is looking like everything they’ve hoped for.  Josh McCown is still a capable quarterback if needed.  Teddy Bridgewater wants to prove he can still start in the NFL.  While they don’t have a blistering running back or a top notch receiver, they have capable solid players in both places. 

New York's defense, like the offense, is not necessarily bad, but nothing to plan for the playoffs with.  

Special teams is solid, and will be the best part of the Jets' game.

I am expecting McCown and Teddy Bridgewater to be gone early, as soon as some big quarterbacks somewhere in the league go down with injury, and teams out there somewhere beginning looking for reasonable replacements.  With Darnold behind center, the Jets will be better, but the rebuilding project is still a couple years out from bringing a winning recipe to Jets fans.  They will miss a winning season by one game.

7-9 … Buffalo Bills: In my opinion, Josh Allen was the most talented and most athletic quarterback in the draft, and while the Bills are still trying to build upon their playoff visit in the 2017 season, and they won’t be any kind of powerhouse, their improvement with Allen under center will be vast and noticeable (even if they wind up with less wins).  While the receiving positions still need to be filled with better talent, reliable ball catchers are available at tight end.

Last year’s defense was not bad, and improvements have been made.  The defensive line is a pretty good one, and the secondary is exceptional.  I believe they could have a winning record if they can find a way to keep the Jets from sweeping them, and they pick up a shock win.  It’ll be a slow start, with a tough schedule and a new quarterback, out the gate.  No playoffs.  It’ll be close.  They will be the team that almost has a winning record, and almost has a chance to go to the playoffs, but both things will elude them, giving rookie quarterback Josh Allen just enough encouragement to break out in 2019.

2-14 … Miami Dolphins: Everyone has decided the Dolphins will be bad.  Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is coming back from a knee injury, but he was not that great in the first place.  In the draft, the Dolphins said otherwise, not drafting any replacement, and putting all of their faith in their less than .500 QB.  Jarvis Landry is gone, so Tannehill will need to find a new favorite receiver.  The running game is capable, and newcomer Frank Gore, a likely Hall of Famer, should be an improvement. 

The defense is very young and very inexperienced.  The pick up of Robert Quinn from the Rams does put a much needed veteran in the mix.  The Secondary is good, and perhaps the strongest part of the whole team, with Rashad Jones leading the secondary at safety.  It’s a slow unit, but better than most realize.


AFC NORTH

13-3 … Pittsburgh Steelers: Experience and maturity matters.  Pittsburgh has both.  Everyone was surprised when the younger, less experienced, and less mature Jacksonville Jaguars knocked the terrible towel wielders out of the playoffs, last year.  A Tom Brady rematch with Big Ben Roethlisberger was fully expected, and it was disappointing that it did not happen.

The great Steeler defense lost all of its pizzazz when Ryan Shazier was lost in Week 12 last year.  That loss may be a large part of the reason Pittsburgh didn’t go deep into the playoffs.  The defense has been reconstructed, and the secondary is better as a result.  Special Teams, as always, remains more than reliable.

Big Ben is not as fast as he once was, but he’s dang-near as tough, and he is still a very capable quarterback with good enough pieces around him to make winning happen.  The AFC rematch between Pittsburgh and New England seems to be in the cards.  In the case of Pittsburgh, however, there are enough obstacles in the way that they will have to work to achieve it.  They will dominate in the win column, but each victory will be a fight that lasts all the way into the fourth quarter.

8-8 … Baltimore Ravens: I have always believed that Joe Flacco is overrated.  He’s an average quarterback that has somehow accomplished better than average things.  His success has largely been due to the fact that he’s been surrounded by extremely talented players.  That said, rookie QB Lamar Jackson is not going to dislodge him … yet.  The offense will be fine now that Flacco has put the back injury of last year behind him.   With Jackson nipping at his heels, Flacco will not regain his Super Bowl form, but will be good enough to keep the Ravens in serious contention.

The arrival of Crabtree will help when it comes to targets for Flacco, and he will have no shortage of reliable targets.  The return of a pretty good running game last year will carry into 2018.

The defense returns as it was.  While there were no improvements made, until they met Pittsburgh just in time to keep them out of the playoffs last year, Baltimore’s defense was a dominating force.
Punting and kicking is a powerful force for the Ravens, but the returners remain a question.

Baltimore is not championship caliber, but they will be solid enough to remain above .500 for most of the year (but the .500 finish at 8 and 8 will be heartbreaking for a fan base that is used to winning).

8-8 … Cincinnati Bengals: Little is changing, but with the Ravens dropping in the win column a little, the Bengals will smell the blood in the water and kick up their game a few notches.  The very bad offensive line will have to get into an acceptable mode of play.  The running game depends on it.  The passing game depends on the running game getting going.  In short, if Cincinnati can’t get their game in the trenches rolling, they may not be able to get into the win column.  Granted, quarterback Andy Dalton has A.J. Green, and a pretty reliable set of receivers to throw to, but that won’t matter if he’s running for his life every snap and has no running game because of a failed O-line.

The defensive coordinator left town to go to the Raiders.  The defense has not been horrible, but it’s not been anything to write home about, either.  I will admit, the locally developed secondary is more than capable and ranks among the better pass defenses in the league.

Special teams is essentially reliable, but still hasn’t proven to be among the better squads.  Likely, the best Cincinnati can do this season is an even .500.  Basic football, but nothing spectacular.

2-14 … Cleveland Browns: The Browns have won one game in two years.  They literally have nowhere to go but up after going winless last year, and with drafted quarterback Baker Mayfield, and Tyrod Taylor from the Bills, hope reigns supreme, and the light at the end of the tunnel has been official relit.  That said, don’t hold your breath just yet.  It will take time.

Taylor will be the starter in game one.  Eventually, his ineffectiveness and injuries will draw Mayfield into the starting position somewhere around the midpoint of the season (perhaps earlier).  Taylor will win one.  Mayfield will win one.  By the end of the season, unless there is an injury that makes the decision for them (and with Tyrod’s hand injury in week 3 of the pre-season, I wonder), the Browns will go into the offseason with the same problem: An equal competition between the two quarterbacks where going into 2019 the starting job remains up for grabs.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know that Baker Mayfield is considered the future of the franchise by the Cleveland organization.  The question is not if he becomes the starter. It’s when.  I think circumstances may work in Mayfield’s favor this season.

The offensive line has holes, especially with the departure of Tackle Joe Thomas who decided it was time to retire. The receiving corps is somewhere between a talent range of the XFL and the CFL.  The running game does not look promising, either.  If the offense is going to get kick-started, Taylor and Mayfield will have to light the fires themselves.  Whichever one is capable of that spark will likely be the one to start next year.

Last year the defense was downright awful, but with a reasonably decent draft the Browns may have improved upon their otherwise horrid defensive situation.  Draft pick Denzel Ward at cornerback is definitely an improvement for the secondary, Jamie Collins returning after a knee injury should enable the linebacker corps to be better, and the defensive line was not the most glaring weakness last year and may be serviceable this year.  The rookies on special teams have a year under their belt, and will likely be a lot better than last year, as well.  In the end, the Browns are better, but they are still a basement dweller for the time being.  However, they will win two games, which is twice as many wins as their complete win total over the last two years.

AFC SOUTH

12-4 … Jacksonville Jaguars: Talk about going deep into the playoffs.  The Jaguars reached the AFC Championship Game last season, and now they have to prove they belonged there.  The offense is better, the defense is near the top of its capabilities, I expect Jacksonville to continue to do well.
Quarterback Blake Bortles gets to keep his offensive line, and running game.  The receiving corps may have gotten better after replacing a few targets.

The defense, last year, pretty much ranked first or second in most of the categories.  The talent is returning, and more has been picked up.  What’s that saying?  You win games with offense, but you win championships with defense.

If there was any weakness, last year, it was on special teams.  The long snapper, after last year’s injury, will be returning, and there will be a few more returners in the mix.  Chances are, special teams will improve.

If the Jaguars don’t become their own worst enemy with smug arrogance, they may have a shot to reach the Big Game.

9-7 … Indianapolis Colts: While I don’t want to worry too much about what we see in the pre-season, Andrew Luck is not looking good on the field, and even if he was 100% healthy, the Colts have a lot of work ahead of them if they wish to compete.

In Week 2 of the preseason against the Ravens, Luck was sacked twice.  He also threw an interception.  He could not find any kind of rhythm.  Was it an offensive line problem?  Or is Luck a long way away from returning to his once great form?  As for his shoulder, this year’s pre-season is the first time Luck has played since his January 2017 shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum on his throwing shoulder.  A labrum injury is an impact injury, and a very painful injury, and it limits shoulder mobility and strength.  With the injury Luck is now, from a physical standpoint, only an average quarterback with a 50% chance of re-injury.  Fear of re-injuring the shoulder will make him skittish, more careful.  Unless the offensive line can protect him in ways that rivals the best O-lines in history, Luck is going to be sub-par.  One good thing from Luck’s point of view was that when he was sacked by Suggs in game two of the pre-season, and that shoulder was pounded as his right elbow was driven into the turf when he fell on it (in a manner similar to when he originally injured his shoulder), he got up and the shoulder survived.  Maybe the percentage of re-injury is not as high as we may think.

Under new defensive management, the scheme is switching from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 formation.  I wonder if the change will keep off balance a defense that already ranked near last last year in total yards and points allowed, and even worse in sacks.  The secondary still needs to prove itself.

The most stable part of the Colts’ game is kicker Adam Vinatieri, the ageless wonder who, in his 23rd year, keeps knocking them through the uprights.

The Colts are in a tough division, and there are a lot of questions.  It’ll be a tough return for Andrew Luck, but they’ll fight through it and maybe they’ll get into the playoffs, too.

8-8 … Tennessee Titans: A new beginning.  New helmets.  New uniforms.  New head coach (Mike Vrabel).  They finished last year with one playoff win.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is no longer a rookie.  He’s an interesting player, with so much talent and capabilities, yet he struggled last year.  The Heisman winner has yet to pull off a 16-game season.
The receivers show potential, but again there has been injury issues. 

The running game is anchored by Derrick Henry who is capable of slamming through defensive lines, but struggled last year, achieving only two 100-yard games.

The offensive line is the strength of the offensive unit in Tennessee, and with a couple of free agent acquisitions, the O-line is one of the things that is not a concern for the Titans.

Like the offense, the defense has promise, but has not been proving itself like it should.  Rookie linebackers Rashaan Evans from Alabama and Harold Landry from Boston College will make opposing quarterbacks nervous.  The secondary is solid thanks to some key signings during the off-season. 

Special teams remains a strength, with Kicker Ryan Succop and Punter Brett Kern ranking as the best in the league.  This is a team that should be capable of reaching the playoffs, again, but I don’t see it happening.

2-14 … Houston Texans: Injuries killed the Texans.  New free agents and draft picks fill the roster.  Ownership understood it was just a perfect storm of bad luck, and decided to leave the coaching staff intact.  Quarterback Deshaun Watson was one of those injuries, so he remains an unproven rookie.  I am not sure he’s the great QB that his supporters say he is, and I am not even sure he’s ready for the regular season after the torn ACL he suffered last November.  The offensive line was pretty awful last year.  The running backs were lack luster, with no speed or big-play surprises.  Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins was last year’s high point, with over a thousand yards and an NFL best 13 touchdowns.  The rest of the receivers and tight ends never got a chance to show what they could do because they all were hit with injuries.

Defensively, J.J. Watt should be back from injury, as well as most of his defensive side battery mates.  Jadeveon Clowney will be frightful against NFL offenses.  This was a unit that was first in the NFL in 2016, but was crushed by injuries last year.  The secondary got some help with free-agent additions CB Aaron Colvin and Safety Tyrann Mathieu, which is a good thing because last year they were under fire the whole season.  Punting with Shane Lechler and kickoffs with Ka’imi Fairbairn are good, but consistency with field goals was not quite there.

Not a great lineup, and there has been questions about the ability to remain healthy.  Maybe it’s time to find some players who can stay healthy.  In short, the rebuild is not complete.


AFC WEST

9-7 … Oakland Raiders: The success of the Raiders depends on if the Jon Gruden experiment pays off as quickly as Mark Davis is hoping.  Gruden is the perfect coach for Quarterback Derek Carr, and Carr is the kind of talent Gruden needs.  Gruden believes in being tough, and exposing a QB’s talents through that hard work, and Carr is willing to learn.  Could we see a return in 2018 of the MVP Candidate Carr that went 12-3 before he broke his leg a couple seasons ago in 2016?

Gruden believes in a powerful running game that compliments a strong passing attack.  While I am not sure the running game can meet his expectations, I believe the receiving corps Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson (fresh in from Green Bay) combined with Carr returning to his gunslinger ways is something that may be able to make Coach Gruden proud.

With Khalil Mack, the Raiders Defense is monstrous.  Without him, it’s all a question mark.  At the time of the writing of this article the beast that is Khalil Mack is still a no-show.  Should Oakland give in and pay him what he thinks he’s worth?  Can they get along without him?  Rookie tackles P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst are ready to prove they can replace him, or compliment Mack if he decides to join the team.  Defensive End Mario Edwards is solid.  Bruce Irvin will likely have to be a pass-rush specialist off the edge, which will work fine for the man who started at outside linebacker last year.  New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther may be able to get these guys making some interceptions and sacks, something that was not happening last year (especially during the first 10 games under Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. who was fired at that point).

The secondary is in the middle of an overhaul, but since it was the largest weakness of last year’s defensive squad, the newcomers with 2017 first round pick Gareon Conley, strong safety Karl Joseph and free safety Reggie Nelson as the anchors could be a much better part of the defensive scheme.
I can’t say the same about the linebackers.  The defensive line has some great rookie additions, and should be a better unit in 2018.

Marquette King is gone.  Sebastian Janikowski was not re-signed.  Georgio Tavecchio is okay, but how do you follow behind the great Sea-Bass?  Returner Cordarelle Patterson is gone, too.  Special teams poses as a huge question mark.

The Raiders will definitely finish better than last year’s disaster, but I don’t see them recapturing the magic of the 2016 season’s 12-4 finish.  Carr, if he plays as he is capable, and if the Gruden magic does in fact get the Raiders back into high gear, it is possible the Raiders will get into the playoffs, especially with the rest of the division struggling, but they are definitely not a high odds favorite to do so in 2018.  Greatness may take a couple years.  That said, the Oakland faithful is hoping for a great season this year, because it might be their last one in Oakland.

8-8 … San Diego Los Angeles Chargers: I am still having trouble with that "The Chargers are in Los Angeles, now" thing.

San Diego always knew that Philip Rivers is a quarterback that should be winning, but he’s never had the personnel around him to help him do so.  Every year he’s running for his life thanks to a weak offensive line, and when he does get the passes off, the receivers have butter-fingers.  Experts say that won’t happen, this year.  This is the year Rivers finally gets his due.  The thing is, they said that last year, too.  I am not as convinced as they are.

The playoffs eluded the Chargers by one game, last year.  This year, the Raiders are experimenting with Gruden, the Chiefs have lost their quarterback Alex Smith, and the Broncos are still stuck in their losing ways.  Could that be a recipe the Chargers can use to win the division?

Antonio Gates is gone.  Keenan Allen remains.  The other targets are question marks, as is the running game.

Defense was manageable last year, and the Chargers worked to improve upon it with their first four draft picks.  Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were fantastic last year, and with the new recruits the Chargers may be getting a lot more production from their defense than they’ve seen in a long time.
On paper, the secondary looks great.  Injuries haven’t helped.

Special teams have been a special problem, and last year the Chargers were better off going for it on fourth down.

Gruden’s Raiders will edge the Chargers, and Rivers will likely miss the playoffs by a slim margin, again, likely thanks to a downward plunge at the last minute.

They will likely finish second in the division.

7-9 … Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes is not Alex Smith.  He’s a rookie.  He’s unproven and being thrown into a situation he is likely not ready for.  I don’t believe the start of the Mahomes era will be a complete disaster, but it won’t be the wonderful rise that Kansas City fans are making it out to be.  While he’s a physical specimen, and has shown himself to be a talented passer, the reality is that the NFL is a whole new animal that he will have to quickly adjust to.

Tyreek Hill will likely be his favorite target.  Hill is fast, and makes plays.  Sammy Watkins will be out there, too.  The free-agent has a proven record, when healthy.  Travis Kelce at tight end will likely be a capable target as well.

Kareem Hunt leads a strong running game.  The offensive line is solid.  Therefore, if Mahomes can hold it together and play his game, he definitely has the right supporting cast around him.

The defense does not have as glowing of a record as the offense.  Quarterbacks threw the ball with ease against the Chiefs’ defense, last year.  That said, the secondary has undergone a huge overhaul.  Perhaps there will be improvement. 

The Chiefs are good with their inside linebackers.  The defensive line still needs improvement, and the draft and free agent acquisitions from the off-season won’t do it.

The Mahomes offense may win some games, but the struggling defense will lose its fair share, as well.

After a slow start they will begin to win, but it won’t be enough.

5-11 … Denver Broncos: Champions, no more.  The downward spiral to the AFC West cellar happened quickly.  Having no solid quarterback leadership will do that to you.  The latest dabble will be Case Keenum.  He gave Minnesota some good moments.  He protects the ball, and plays basic football.

The coaching staff is largely gone, but head coach Vance Joseph got to stay. Bill Musgrave, after joining Denver after a couple years with the Raiders, will go from QB Coach to offensive coordinator.  Problem is, he doesn’t have a lot to work with.

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders serve as two viable receivers, but they’re all Keenum will have, for the most part.  The running game is in disarray.  The offensive line needs improvement.
The only reason the Broncos have been competing at all is because of their defense.  But, 2017 was not a banner year for them, either.  Has the Von Miller-led squad lost a few steps? 

Special teams is a hit and miss.  Rookie returner Isaiah McKenzie fumbled six times, last year.  They have added former Raider Marquette King, which means the punting part of the formula will not be a problem.  Otherwise, special teams is a disaster.

I am not sure Keenum is the guy, and there are too many holes for the Broncos to effectively compete.  The basement will be their dwelling place in 2018, and likely next year, too.

NFC EAST

11-5 … Philadelphia Eagles: Repeating as Super Bowl Champions is near impossible.  It has been done.  It can be done.  But, it’s not likely.  Especially with a hobbling starter, and a back-up who surprised everyone last year.

Carson Wentz thinks he’s ready, after tearing his ACL last December.  Nick Foles proved he’s a more than capable back-up, winning the big game, and grabbing the MVP award to boot.  One thing is for sure.  Both quarterbacks are more than capable . . . when healthy.

The QB job still belongs to Wentz.  Foles, however, can not only handle the job if needed, but he has a good attitude about it, realizing the team really belongs to Wentz.

Philadelphia is an interesting brew.  Nobody really pops out as a star, yet the receiving corps is more than capable, and the offensive line surprised everyone with a solid performance in 2017.

The defense also surprised a lot of doubters, but finished fourth overall last year.  The defense was solid, racking up plenty of sacks and big plays when needed.  Even the secondary, who started slow in 2017, finished strong and formidable.

Jake Elliot’s rookie leg was nailing most of his field goal attempts last year, proving that he was the guy to kick it.  Sproles turned out to be a very capable returner.

Most of the team is back, most of them are healthy, and the team is built to pound its way through its schedule.  The Eagles will be in the mix, though I am not sure if they can repeat the Super Bowl magic of last season.

9-7 … Dallas Cowboys: America’s Team may be ready to pull it all together.  Dak Prescott has solidified his spot at quarterback.  Tony Romo is gone and the Cowboys are fine with it.  Wide Receiver Dez Bryant and Tight End Jason Witten are gone, too.  That’s okay.  Prescott has Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, and new targets to play with.  With the kind of offensive line Dallas has been sporting, Prescott will have all the time in the world to find his receivers.  All he needs is for them to catch the ball.

The defensive unit in Dallas has been good, too.  Replacements and rookies are in the mix, and they’ve completely remade their secondary, but on paper it all looks pretty strong.

If there is a concern, it’s special teams. 

Head Coach Jason Garrett would like to keep his job.  A winning season will help.  A playoff bid would be better.  With only two playoff appearances and one postseason win in seven years at the helm of the Cowboys, he’s on the hot seat, and I think he’ll respond.

Being in the same division as Philadelphia, the New York Giants, and the Redskins will make it difficult to get into the post-season, though.

8-8 … New York Giants: Eli Manning and his New York Giants stunk up the place, last year.  3-13 is a rough thing to go through.  At one point Eli Manning even got benched.  The Giants are ready to rebuild, but it seems they think Manning might have one more run for a championship left in him.  There’s two seasons left on his contract.

It doesn’t hurt to have Odell Beckham Jr. on the team.  An ankle injury only sidelined him for a while, but it looks like he’s back to his old self.  Sterling Shepard is a nice second target.  Saquon Barkley has been added to the mix, providing a running game that might be exactly what Manning needs in order to open up his passing game.

Manning, however, must produce.  This is his chance to do what needs to be done, and go out like his brother did, notching a fairytale ending to his career.

Unfortunately, New York’s horrid defense may be horrible again, which was a shock because it went from being among the best to the worst pretty quickly.

While many of the old defensive unit remains, the scheme will be changing from the 4-3 to the more aggressive 3-4 formation.  A few new faces will be in the mix, as well.  We’ll see how it all works out.

Special teams is a problem every year.  Don’t hold your breath about it in 2018.

The Giants are a contender, if Eli makes it happen.  It’s all up to him.  Everything seems to add up nicely on paper.  Manning has better protection, and that was the key to fix all of their problems, the Giants leadership believes.

4-12 … Washington Redskins: The Kansas City Chiefs did well with Alex Smith at the helm. Was it the quarterback, or the personnel around him?

The Redskins are now in possession of Alex Smith, an underrated quarterback who surprised quite a few folks while he was in KC.  Cousins is off to Minnesota, and while Smith is older than the QB he replaced in D.C., I think he’s the better field general.  The ‘Skins opted to use the 2018 draft to build a team around Smith.  They did, however, decide to keep quite a few of the players Cousins had to work with, as well.  The O-line is solid.  Tight End Jordan Reed is explosive.  The other targets, Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant and Terrelle Pryor (the QB turned WR) are good ones as well.  Free agent Paul Richardson will definitely add to an already better than average receiving corps.

Setting up that passing game, however, may be a challenge.  There is essentially no running game. 

Last year the defense finished last in the NFL.  Repairing such a glaring problem became a focus of the Washington off-season endeavors.  They drafted big linemen, and used free agency to boost their run defense after re-signing the lead tackler from 2017, Linebacker Zach Brown, and keeping their linebacker unit from last year.

Pass defense was the strong-point in Washington, last year.  Nonetheless, more talented secondary players were brought in via the draft and free agency.  Since some of their key secondary warriors were lost during the off-season, it is a wonder on if the Redskins did enough to keep their secondary competitive.

The punting game is fine, but return men never seemed to be a consistent thing.  Nine different players shared the kickoff return duties in 2017.

The Redskins are better, and are getting better, but I don’t see a winning season on the horizon, just yet.  It’s coming … just not in 2018.  This season they will fall short of .500, not just because they are still building, but they’ve also got a pretty tough schedule.  Alex Smith, however, gives them hope that a winning season will happen sooner in their future, rather than later. 

NFC NORTH

12-4 … Minnesota Vikings: Last year the Vikings, at times, looked like the best team in the league.  They were 13-3 with Case Keenum as quarterback.  They had a good running game and a powerful defensive game.  All they needed was a more capable quarterback to get them over the hump.  Knowing that the QB position needed to be addressed, Minnesota’s management grabbed Kirk Cousins from Washington, and rewarded him with $84 million.  Cousins needs to prove himself, but the Vikings offense is willing to do what it can to make him look good.

Cousins is coming off of 4,000 plus yard seasons three years in a row.  With Running Back Dalvin Cook setting up the passing game, and a whole list of capable receivers at his disposal, I am thinking the offense will have no problem scoring.

The trenches is where the Vikings were winning last year, and that offensive line unit remains intact.  Minnesota made solid acquisitions to give the O-line some help, as well, just in case.

The defense is where the Vikings really shined, last year.  They led the league in fewest points allowed, and yards allowed.  Injuries left the unit largely alone last year, and the secondary has two first-team All-Pro picks in free safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes.  Some draft picks help to solidify an already strong defensive unit.

Place Kicker Kai Forbath struggled last year, but it was an uncommon anomaly.  He has a big enough leg to carry the duties.  Punter Ryan Quigley had a rough year in 2017 as well, but his ability to turn it around remains questionable.  Kick returns are not a weakness, with Marcus Sherels and sensational rookie Mike Hughes out of UCF (taken 30th overall in the draft).

With the size of the contract given to Cousins, the Vikings have shown that they have faith in their new quarterback.  In interviews, Cousins has proclaimed the same love for his new team.  The talent is definitely there.  A Super Bowl is definitely not outside of the realm of possibilities for this team.  It all comes down to chemistry.  If Cousins fits in well, the Packers have a tough division-mate on their hands in Minnesota.

11-5 … Green Bay Packers: There is an argument being waged about whether Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady is the best active quarterback in the NFL.  Regardless of the answer to that one, there is no doubt that Aaron Rodgers is the top NFC thrower.  Last year’s injury season for Rodgers was devastating for the Packers.  Last time he was injured, his rookie year in 2013, he came back and pulled off an MVP.

Last year Rodgers missed seven games, which caused the Packers to miss the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, and finish with a losing 7-9 record.  Rodgers says he’s back to full strength.
Another challenge is a new offensive scheme.  That means new coaching, new plays, and an additional obstacle to crawl over.  The new receivers, however, should be a boost.

The passing game is complimented by a running game that has a lot of potential, but the second year running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones are still in a learning curve.

On defense, the defensive coordinator Dom Capers is gone.  The defense underachieved, so changes were made.  A couple cornerbacks were drafted, four capable defensive linemen remain, and Green Bay hopes their linebacker unit can make some leaps toward improvement.

The kicking game is solid.

The Packers may pull off the division, and they may visit the playoffs, but it won’t be the season Aaron Rodgers wants, or is capable of.  They will win, but because their great quarterback will have to carry the Packers on his back.  If he doesn’t get injured, the Packers will make it interesting, but the NFC elite won’t have to worry about them going very deep into the playoffs.

9-7 … Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford is a good quarterback.  With the right folks surrounding him, I believe he could be a great quarterback.  The Lions agree, and have been moving around their roster to try to find the right combination. 

The time is now.  Stafford is in his prime.  Despite a rash of injuries to his supporting cast, he still pulled off a reasonable season in 2017.

Detroit invested in the off-season in the running game, signing LeGarrette Blount, and drafting Kerryon Johnson.  The offensive line has been overhauled, as well.

Receivers are ready for the big plays, with Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and Kenny Golladay having no problem getting down the field quickly.  Theo Riddick is a great target out of the backfield.

Last season the defense lacked toughness.  It ranked 27th in yards allowed, and it had its share of injuries.  Detroit’s General Manager addressed the issues, bringing in bigger linemen and a more pound-happy linebacker cast of characters – led by first round pick Jarrad Davis who hammers the run quite well, and who started all of the 14 games he played as a rookie.

The secondary was already a strength, and so there are no worries, there. Cornerback Darius Slay had eight interceptions in 2017, and Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson were strong at safety.  Free agency and draft picks have added talent to an already strong secondary.

Detroit’s special team unit is considered to be one of the NFL’s best all around squads.

The problem is that the Lions, as good as they seem to be, share their division with the Vikings and the Packers.  A winning record is not enough.  They have to slay the monsters in their division, and so far, they’ve not figured out how to do that.  In short, the Lions will be pretty good, but the best they can expect in their division is third place with another 9-7 finish.

5-11 … Chicago Bears:  Da Bears can’t remember the last time they’ve had a winning season.  The last four seasons have resulted in double-digit losses and basement dwelling in the standings.  New head coach Matt Nagy hopes to change all of that, but it will take time.

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has a lot of promise.  The problem is, the personnel around him are substandard.  Free agency was used in the off-season to give Trubinsky some targets, but the running game is a big gaping hole.  Running Back Jordan Howard has been impressive in his first two years with the team, but his lack of talent as a pass catcher limits his versatility. 

The offensive line is a work in progress, and the progress has been lacking. 

Defense remains to be the strength in Chicago, and much of the top ten squad remains in place.  The secondary is solid, complimenting a strong linebacker corps, and sturdy front line.

In the past the special teams has been something to wonder about in Chicago.  Placekicker Cody Parkey may be exactly what they need to put a cork in the problems.

The Good news is that the Chicago Bears are going to be better.  Bad news, they share their division with three much better teams.  Worst news, they will likely not have a better record than their 2017 offering of 5-11, and even if they did, there is no way they are going to get over .500.

NFC SOUTH

12-4 … New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees is a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and the Saints’ draft class earns an A+.  Twenty one starters return after winning the division last year, and the hunger is greater than ever after losing in dramatic fashion against Minnesota during the playoffs when the Vikings pulled off the win with a last play touchdown.

Sean Payton’s sophisticated offensive schemes, and Drew Brees’ talent rivaled only by Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, means that the 72% completion percentage in 2017 of Brees, the exceptional receiving capabilities of Michael Thomas (his 196 receptions in the first two years of his NFL career is a league record), and the running game anchored by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara not only has what it takes to win the division, but may be what it takes to go all the way. Meanwhile, the offensive line is one of the best O-lines in the league, giving an elite quarterback like Brees plenty of time to decide where to throw the ball.

The defense was about mid-range in effectiveness last year, but draft picks and free agents being added means that the squad is ready to lead the league, anchored by Cameron Jordon at left end.  The secondary improved with rookie Free Safety Marcus Williams in the mix, and veteran Safety Kurt Coleman balances out the attack.  Punting and placekicking is fine with reliable veterans, and the return and coverage units, while not spectacular, are good enough.

The Saints have emerged as one of the elite teams in the NFC, and not only can they be a Super Bowl contender, Brees is definitely ready and deserving to get another ring … with his last (and only) Super Bowl win being in 2010 (coupled with a big game Most Valuable Player Award).

11-5 … Atlanta Falcons: Almost and close only applies to horseshoes and hand grenades.  In the case of the Atlanta Falcons, after jumping out ahead in Super Bowl LI, and then allowing the Patriots to come from behind and beat them during the fourth quarter, it was like having Rocky Balboa down for an eight-count, and then getting busted in the chops and knocked out during the final seconds of the final round.  They were almost champions in 2016.  Last year they were almost division champs, losing the division by one game.  The Falcons' hunger is unlike any other teams', fueled by the taste of blood on their busted lip, and the smell of turf ground into their facemasks.

The roster is sound.  Matt Ryan is an elite quarterback.  The running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, can pound the ball down the throat of pretty much any defense.  Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are exceptional targets, and are being joined by Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley.  The offensive line is adequate, and Matt Ryan does a fine job with the personnel he has on that line trying to protect him. 

The defensive squad is not as solid.  Personnel changes on the defensive line is a concern.  Vic Beasley, the 2016 NFL sack leader, will patrol the edge.  Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones caps a decent linebacker squad, with budding youngsters all around him.  The secondary could be better, but it is adequate.

Special teams has its high and lows, but does the job overall.

The Falcons are a quiet winner.  Nothing flashy.  Nothing glaring.  Yet, they win.  If it wasn’t for New Orleans, they’d win the division.

8-8 … Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have competed well in their tough division.  They pulled off eleven wins last year.  Cam Newton is talented, and has matured as an NFL quarterback.

Unfortunately, in a division with elite teams in Atlanta and New Orleans, the Panthers were only able to manage having a middle of the road offense in 2017.  While the receiving corps is notable, the backfield is in disarray with the departure of Running Back Jonathan Stewart.  The offensive line is weaker, too, with the loss of Pro Bowl Guard Andrew Norwell who is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In other words, the success of Carolina lies on the shoulders of Cam Newton, who will tell you he is capable of such a thing.  The season will reveal if his shoulders are wide enough.

The defensive line is one of the league’s best.  The linebackers are steady, with two youngsters in the mix, and Thomas Davis who will miss the first four games due to a suspension.  Luke Kuechly rounds out the linebacker corps, serving as one of the better middle linebackers in the game.
If there is a weakness in the defense, it’s the secondary.  The play has been mediocre at best, and Rookie Cornerback Donte Jackson is too new to be expected to carry any weight.  In short, the secondary of Carolina is one that Brees of the Saints, and Matt Ryan of the Falcons will have no problem picking apart.

Special teams is good enough, but nothing to write home about.

On paper the Panthers look good enough to win some divisions, but not the NFC South.  There are too many holes and question marks to expect the Panthers to keep pace with the elite teams they will be facing. 

3-13 … Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback Jameis Winston is a good quarterback, but he competes in a division loaded with Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan.  Good is not good enough.  He couldn’t seem to get the ball deep last year.  That all said, in his three years in the NFL he has been steadily improving.  Each year his completion percentage gets a little better, and his quarterback rating has been on the rise.  He’ll eventually get where he wants to be, but despite his ego longing for greatness now, the fact is, he’s not there, yet.

Winston also has off-field troubles affecting his on-field play.  He will be suspended during the first three games due to an allegation that he groped a female Uber driver.  Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, in his second year with the Bucs after two years as a capable starter with the Jets, will fill in.

DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, and Mike Evans are the main receivers, with sound tight ends Brate and Howard.  They are all capable.

The shortcoming has been the running game, but rookie Ronald Jones II gives Tampa Bay a running back capable of pounding out long yards.  The offensive line is workable, but it's not going to turn any heads.

The defense has been inadequate, and finished last in the NFL in 2017.  An overhaul has been enacted, but it’s a work in progress that won’t do much for the Bucs in 2018.  Special teams has been just about as paltry, but the acquisition of kicker Chandler Catanzaro may change some of that.

NFC WEST

12-4 … Los Angeles Rams: The Rams have emerged as the kings of Los Angeles, and the rulers of the NFC West.  Under Head Coach McVay the Rams have gone from the cellar to the top of the league.  The Rams are not only playoff hopefuls, they are serious Super Bowl contenders.  The free agency and the draft has been good for the Rams, and now this is the year everyone expects them to emerge as champions.

Jared Goff has emerged as a young quarterback on a fast track to joining the ranks of the elite.  Todd Gurley’s flashes of greatness led the running back to finish second in voting for NFL MVP last year.  While target Sammy Watkins has left for different pastures, Brandin Cooks is the perfect kind of deep threat to give Goff in 2018 in the absence of Watkins.  The offensive line is older, but reliable, as long as they stay healthy.

An already solid defense is stronger with the addition of All-Pro Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and All-Pro Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh who during the pre-season has already shown his worth.  Aaron Donald with Suh is proving to be an effective weapon against the rush.  While the Rams are thin on the edge with their defense, the linebacker corps is adequate enough that the Rams have not sought any more linebackers in the draft, or through free agency.

If Kicker Zuerlein can return the way he hopes to from a back injury, he’ll be glad to chase another scoring record as he was on pace to in 2017.  While not used much last year, Punter Johnny Hekker is one of the best.  Returner Pharoh Cooper ranks among the best in the NFL.

The Rams were already stacked, and in the off-season they aggressively improved upon both their offense and defense.  The Rams pose as a major contender, locked and loaded, and ready for a Super Bowl run.  Goff, however, will be facing veteran greats, if they play as expected, and are able to play with the big boys again in the playoffs.  I believe the youngsters in L.A. are ready for it.

9-7 … Seattle Seahawks: Stability has gone out the window.  The coaching staff has been changed, as has many of the players.  Gone are Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Jimmy Graham.  Kam Chancellor has retired, due to being physically incapable of continuing on thanks to a neck injury.  Defensive End Cliff Avril was released due to failing his physical while being hammered by injuries.

The Seahawks have worked to improve their rushing attack, starting with their number one draft pick, Rashaad Penny out of San Diego State.  Free agency was used to work on the offensive line.  

Quarterback Russell Wilson’s passing attack will primary be centered around Receiver Doug Baldwin. 

The defense that once filled offenses with fear has been dismantled, and only Earl Thomas remains in the secondary.  Other pieces are in place, but this group will not be as aggressive as the unit that played in the Super Bowl half of a decade ago.

The powerful leg of Sebastian Janikowski joins the Seahawks' special teams unit.  If he remains healthy, it could help an otherwise struggling special teams body of players.

The loss of talent has been too great for Seattle, and as good as Russell Wilson is, the truth is a rebuild is in place.  The Seahawks will compete, but they will not be consistent enough to go deep into the playoffs.

7-9 … San Francisco 49ers: All eyes are on Jimmy Garoppolo.  San Francisco faithful have painted him the savior of a failing franchise due to the fact that he ticked off five quick wins when he joined the 49ers last season.  While I believe Garoppolo is a capable quarterback, I don’t believe he’s the great savior of the team that once was lead by Joe Montana and Steve Young.

The number one receiver of the team by the bay is Marquise Goodwin, who is among the fastest in the NFL.  Pierre Garcon will be returning, as well, but his neck injury that was repaired through surgery may be a factor in slowing him down.  The running game is above average, and the offensive line is capable, but not great.

Defensively, they are still a mess.  Though the San Francisco defense no longer ranks last, they are far from being a top ten squad.  Richard Sherman joins the team, but his skills are no longer as big as his mouth.  The draft as been the choosing ground for linemen, and while it is improving, the D-Line is still short of where it should be.  Even if Garoppolo turns out to be everything the Niners hope him to be, a great quarterback can't win if his defense is allowing the other side to score big week after week.

The bright spot in San Francisco is Kicker Robbie Gould.  In 2017 he went 39 for 41 in field goal attempts, four of which were from 50 yards or longer.  Bradley Pinion is a good enough return man.
The hype is on Garoppolo.  I believe it is hype.  But, the 49ers won’t be as bad as they were before Jimmy showed up.  Greatness, however, won't be achieved until they give their QB better weapons, and supply a defense that can keep the opposing scores down to a reasonable level.

4-12 … Arizona Cardinals: The Carson Palmer era has ended in Arizona with the rocket arm retiring after 15 seasons in the NFL. Sam Bradford, the former Rams quarterback who also tried his hand in Philly and Minnesota, is now the main guy.  David Johnson leads the rushing attack, receiving great Larry Fitzgerald will be Bradford’s favorite target.  After 15 years, however, as great as Fitzgerald is, one wonders if his final days are on the near horizon.

Defense has been the strength of the Cardinals, but with a switch from a 3-4 formation to a 4-3 scheme, can they maintain their dominance?  Tyrann Mathieu and Tyvon Branch are gone.  Other veterans have followed them out the door.  However, seven-time All-Pro Patrick Peterson remains at cornerback, and Defensive End Chandler Jones (who had a franchise best 17 sacks in 2017) remain.

Special teams is elderly when it comes to football careers, but remains stable.

Bradford does not have the kind of arm that Palmer had, but he’s a capable quarterback.  Unfortunately, the best the Cardinals will pull off in 2018 is hanging out in the basement and looking up at the rest of the teams in their division, and the league.

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2018 NFL Season Final Standings Predictions

AFC EAST

13-3 … New England Patriots
8-8 … New York Jets
7-9 … Buffalo Bills
2-14 … Miami Dolphins

AFC NORTH

13-3 … Pittsburgh Steelers
8-8 … Baltimore Ravens
8-8 … Cincinnati Bengals
2-14 … Cleveland Browns

AFC SOUTH

12-4 … Jacksonville Jaguars
9-7 … Indianapolis Colts
8-8 … Tennessee Titans
2-14 … Houston Texans

AFC WEST

9-7 … Oakland Raiders
8-8 … San Diego Los Angeles Chargers
7-9 … Kansas City Chiefs
5-11 … Denver Broncos

AFC Championship Game:

New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders

AFC Champion:
New England Patriots

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NFC EAST

11-5 … Philadelphia Eagles
9-7 … Dallas Cowboys
8-8 … New York Giants
4-12 … Washington Redskins

NFC NORTH

12-4 … Minnesota Vikings
11-5 … Green Bay Packers
9-7 … Detroit Lions
5-11 … Chicago Bears

NFC SOUTH

12-4 … New Orleans Saints
11-5 … Atlanta Falcons
8-8 … Carolina Panthers
3-13 … Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC WEST

12-4 … Los Angeles Rams
9-7 … Seattle Seahawks
7-9 … San Francisco 49ers
4-12 … Arizona Cardinals

NFC Championship Game:

Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints

NFC Champion:

Los Angeles Rams

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Super Bowl LIII Champion:


Los Angeles Rams