NFL Week 12 Predictions: Under the Weather Edition

I’m not feeling well today and still have a lot of things to do this weekend, so here are the Week 12 picks. Hopefully I’ll be able to write Stat Oddity tomorrow night.

NFL Week 5 Predictions: Return of the Blowouts Edition

The last two weeks in the NFL have been something else. Twenty-five of the 32 games had a comeback opportunity, the highest two-week total since I’ve been following this on a weekly basis. Only one game had a spread larger than 6.5 points, and only one game (Jags 38-10 vs. Chargers) was decided by more than 16 points.

So, you can say the spread and the outcomes were in alignment with the games being close as the spreads were within one score too.

I expect this to change in Week 5, and the schedule backs that up. Six games have a team favored by 7+ points this week, including the largest spread (14) for the Steelers since the 1970 merger as Kenny Pickett makes his starting debut against the Super Bowl favorites in Buffalo.

This doesn’t mean a bunch of three-score blowouts, but a lot of those teams that are heavily favored, I like them to cover as you’ll see below.

First, some of this week’s articles:

NFL Week 5 Predictions

I got my first TNF game wrong this season, because Russell Wilson is a joke in the red zone.

As I said above, I like some of the small-spread games to be won by the home underdog, including the Jets, Browns, and Commanders. It’s not that I necessarily like Washington to win that game, but it just feels like a spot where they can pick up a win to avoid going 2-15 or whatever. I don’ t like the way Tennessee has stopped scoring in the second half the last two weeks and had to hang on.

But back to my theme this week, I really like Green Bay (-8), Tampa Bay (-10), Philly (-5.5), and KC (-7.5) to all cover big spreads. Buffalo was a hard pick because you just don’t know how Pickett will play in his first start. But I know I’ve seen Josh Allen play the Steelers three times and he’s never looked like anything special. It’s easier without T.J. Watt on the field, but the Bills are also banged up at slot receiver and tight end. I’m hoping it’s at least competitive for a while and looking forward to how Pickett handles it. I still think getting him ready after the TNF loss to start at home against the Jets would have been wiser than making at Buffalo his first start, but here we go. It’s a new era in Pittsburgh.

NFL Week 1 Predictions: 2022 Awards Edition

The Buffalo Bills kicked off the 2022 NFL season with a convincing win over the Rams that has me feeling great about my prediction for the Bills to win the Super Bowl this year. But not so great about my prediction to make the Rams the No. 1 seed in the NFC. But there’s 284 games to go.

It’s that time again: Saturday night before the first NFL Sunday of the season, and I’m burned the hell out from the week. All I have left in the tank before I enjoy the couch all day tomorrow are my award predictions and Week 1 picks. You’ve probably seen me write clues or outright pick winners for these awards in other articles as I’m freelancing with several different places this year. But I always like to put this together in a list on my blog.

  • Most Valuable Player: Justin Herbert, Chargers
  • Coach of the Year: Mike McDaniel, Dolphins
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Leslie Frazier, Bills
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Herbert, Chargers
  • Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt, Steelers
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Dameon Pierce, Texans
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aidan Hutchinson, Lions
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

I already detailed my Herbert MVP case here. Not expecting another WR or RB to go off like Cooper Kupp and Jonathan Taylor did last year, I doubled up with OPOY for Herbert.

Another one I’ve been hinting at is Mike McDaniel for COTY in Miami. I think he gets the edge for bringing his system to Miami and making Tua better. While I have the Chargers with the division win, I think Herbert’s MVP season detracts from Brandon Staley. While I have the Vikings going 10-7 and making the playoffs under Kevin O’Connell, I think people will say he took over a team loaded with offensive stars who just needed to finish games better by literally not fumbling in OT or missing a short FG. Nathaniel Hackett in Denver is going to get passed over for Russell Wilson getting the credit for a turnaround. McDaniel is going to get the lion’s share of credit for turning around Miami, so that’s my pick.

I have to cop to some cheating on Assistant Coach of the Year. Obviously, in picking the Bills to go 17-4 and win it all while praising their defense, I expected great things. This is a hard award to predict, and I notice every winner has been on a team with 11+ wins. Not liking a lot of the options out there, I just went with Frazier in Buffalo after that dominant performance we saw in LA. Von Miller is going to pay off so well.

Not loving the DPOY options, but I went with T.J. Watt over Myles Garrett just because I think Watt is better at stripping the ball and creating more splash plays. If he plays a full 17 games, that sack record could belong solely to him. The Steelers also need to play ugly games this year to get by. Defense must step up.

For OROY, it’s wild to think this is the first season since 2007 where no rookie QB is starting Week 1. Kenny Pickett had the best shot, but Mitch Trubisky won the job. I just don’t see Tomlin pulling Trubisky for the rookie until after the bye at the earliest. That makes it too hard for Pickett to win the award. There are a shitload of wide receivers to choose from, but none are in that great of a situation. Ideally, you want someone with a high pedigree (high draft pick) who will start right away and has a great shot to be the leading receiver on a team with a decent quarterback. That’s how you get an Odell Beckham, Justin Jefferson, or Ja’Marr Chase kind of season, but even Jefferson lost the award to Herbert in 2020.

QB shouldn’t be in the mix this time, but I don’t see the George Pickens love. FanDuel is +700 on Pickens as the leader. He’s stuck in a Trubisky-led offense with Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris getting balls too. As great as the Steelers are at scouting WRs, none of them have ever had a 1,000-yard season as a rookie. I just don’t see a WR2 (at best) in Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger getting it done.

So, I ended up picking Dameon Pierce, the Texans starting back. The offense might be surprisingly decent, and he is scheduled to start the season as RB1. I wanted to go Kenneth Walker in Seattle, but his hernia worries me. But Pete Carroll trying to run without Wilson makes sense, and Penny always gets hurt. I also think Isaiah Likely is a huge darkhorse in Baltimore, but he’s not even the best tight end on his team, and no tight end (or OL) has ever won the award.

Should be an interesting class to follow, and the depth of the WR class (13 taken in top 54 picks) is going to lead to so much shit-talking between fans about how that draft turned out.

NFL Week 1 Predictions

Started the year off with a win as I was on the Bills and the under on Thursday night. Just thought it’d be a much closer game than 31-10.

Week 1 and Joe Flacco, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, and Geno Smith are starting games. Is it 2015 again?

The Colts have been hard to trust in Week 1 under Frank Reich, so I am hedging with Houston. Almost wanted to do the exact same thing with the Saints in Atlanta, but man, that Atlanta team looks terrible.

I’m all in on the Baker Mayfield Revenge Game. He won’t go off, but he’ll get to hold a win over them.

Jaguars demand to schedule Carson Wentz every week.

Really looking forward to the Chargers-Raiders and Chiefs-Cardinals games in the late-afternoon window. These West races are going to be incredible. I think the Cardinals can surprise some people tomorrow if the Chiefs struggle on defense like they did to start 2021.

We waited seven months for this. Feels good to be back.

Reasons Why People Lose At Poker

A player’s winning chances in poker are largely determined by their abilities, the quality of their opponents, and the element of luck.

A player’s ability is the most important factor that determines his chances. An inability to make the right decision, take advantage of weak opponents, and keep emotions in check combines to create reasons why people lose at poker.

These are some of the reasons why people lose at Poker.

Poor Strategy

A lack of a tested and trusted strategy can lead to a poor gameplay that can cause you to lose at poker. The inability to adjust your strategy according to your opponent’s play will reduce your ability to impose your game on your opponent and take advantage of their weakness.

Developing a potent strategy which you have tested in several times and improve on will give you an edge over your opponent and increase your winning chances.

Lack Of Emotional Control

Lack of emotional control is responsible for many losses in poker. When the going gets tough, some players often employ deficient strategies that weaken the game and make them vulnerable.

Humans are emotional entities, hence emotional reactions are natural. However, the ability to consciously control your emotions in poker can come with a heavy price.

Learning to numb your emotions while on the table and also employing calming techniques can help you keep your emotions in check.

Lack Of Studying

Studying poker gives players the theoretical knowledge which they will apply in their play.

When you come up against an opponent that studies the game, it will be obvious from their play. Players who don’t study tend to have a poor strategy that results in losses.

If you’re getting outplayed and outsmarted by your opponents, the chances are your opponents study more than you do hence they have better strategies. If this is the case, you need to increase the time you spend studying poker.

Lack Of Planning Ahead

One of the reasons why players lose often at poker is due to the inability to plan ahead. A lack of a tested and trusted strategy results in a poor play that leads to loss.

Inability to plan causes players to make pie choices that all lead to a quick loss of liquidity hence reducing their time and chances at the table. The lack of planning will make you reactive instead of proactive. 

Lack Of Aggression

There are players who fail to employ aggressive techniques even when the odds are in their favor. One of the easiest way to place your sport bet wagers is to be calm and observant. And of course use the right betting platforms!

Lack of aggression is common with ABC Poker type of players who tends to avoid playing when they don’t have their best hands and only raises and calls premium hands preflop.

Non aggressive players rarely bluff or loosen up unless they’re certain they will win. This strategy is often enticing to newbies and average players who don’t want to risk losing money.

They don’t really bluff or loosen up, and try to avoid getting in stacks unless they’re a massive favorite to win. Non aggressive players thrive better when facing poor players who are poor at reading the game.

However, when up against aggressive players, they will gradually lose money while waiting for the chance to win big. Additionally, non aggressive players rarely win big with this style.

Lack of Self-Reflection

Another reason why players lose at the table is due to the inability to recognize their weaknesses. When you don’t know where to improve, you tend to keep repeating the same mistakes.

A lack of self-reflection causes a player to overestimate their own playing ability while underestimating their opponents.

Lack Of Patience

A lack of patience is a common reason why poor and average players lose at poker. There are players who can’t resist the urge to play any good pairs they have irrespective of what their opponents might have.

Lack of patience will make you eager to win, hence you will end up making silly calls that will result in loss. By staying patient, you will be able to bid your time and make a good play and a good return at the right time.

Lack Of Discipline

Even when a player has a poker strategy they might not be able to stick to the game plan due to a lack of discipline.

Lack of discipline will lead to a poor playing technique that will expose your weaknesses and make you easy to beat.

The ability to stay disciplined means you should be able to apply and adjust your strategy and also respect your opponent.

Final Thoughts

There are different reasons why players lose at poker that have little or nothing to do with the quality of their opponent.

The inability to plan, manage, and see off a game combines to create multiple factors that leads to loss in poker. If you find yourself losing at poker, it might be time to examine your game and locate your weaknesses.

NFL Week 12 Predictions: Ruh-Roh Edition

I had a few topics lined up for Week 12 here, but after doomscrolling on Twitter this afternoon, I’ve lost some interest in covering them.

With COVID-19 raging, are we about to see this NFL season get indefinitely suspended, or hit with a significant drop in quality to the games?

It’s bad enough we were already entering the “Mike Glennon and Brandon Allen start games for teams going nowhere” phase of the season. It’s disappointing we could see a Tuesday game between the Steelers and Ravens with JV backfields and RGIII in place of Lamar Jackson, if the game even happens at all in Week 12. It’s even downright scary that a player with a history of cancer (James Conner) has tested positive while a player with diabetes (Baltimore TE Mark Andrews) is on a team with one of the worst outbreaks of 2020.

The NFL had some flexibility with bye weeks earlier this season to move games around, but almost all the byes are gone now, and cases are at an all-time high and popping up on multiple teams. Adam Thielen is not expected to play because of COVID. Larry Fitzgerald has tested positive for COVID.

Pretty soon, every game on the schedule will have at least one player out due to COVID. That’s where things are headed. The only question is how much more of this needs to happen before the NFL takes pause and reconsiders how to finish this season in a way that doesn’t expose a large percentage of the players, the money makers in this business, to a virus that we still don’t know the long-term effects of on our organs.

I’d say enjoy the games while they last, because it’s getting tougher by the week to keep this thing going without a bubble.

Ben Roethlisberger Is Still a Top 10 QB

I could have made a post about this, and maybe still will, but on Friday I decided to do a Twitter thread about some of the blatant disrespect over Ben Roethlisberger’s 2020 season.

While I wouldn’t pick him for MVP right now, and I’m not even sure this is the best he’s ever played, I know he’s done a great job for what the Steelers ask him to do this season. It is different from past seasons, but it’s been effective and they’re winning every week on top of it. He’s not getting easy chunk plays or tossing 2-yard touchdown passes to pad his total this season. He’s throwing with better anticipation than ever before and not taking many sacks at all to help his line out. It works for them.

Maybe some quarterbacks have better surface stats this year, but there’s a lot of hollowness to the numbers for Kirk Cousins, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, etc. I can’t buy those guys having a better 2020 than Ben is. When I look through the divisions and how the quarterbacks are playing this year, I don’t see how Roethlisberger can be left out of the top 10.

  • Josh Allen
  • Drew Brees
  • Derek Carr
  • Justin Herbert
  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Kyler Murray
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Deshaun Watson
  • Russell Wilson

That’s my top 10 in alphabetical order. That’s a hell of a thing to say a QB is holding a team back when said team is 10-0, fourth in scoring, the best scoring differential in the league, and the QB has 24 TD to 5 INT with a barely functioning running game.

Chiefs at Buccaneers: Handshake or No?

Normally I would be amped up to write a big preview about this game, but between the COVID news and the way Tampa Bay is struggling, I’m not that hyped about it right now. Sure, it probably still is the regular-season game most likely to be a Super Bowl preview, but that’s more because the AFC North (Steelers and Ravens) is playing the hopeless NFC East, Drew Brees broke two more ribs carving the Thanksgiving turey, and Super Bowls like Bills-Seahawks or Colts-Packers feel like big longshots.

Green Bay is the only team in the last eight games to not score at least 20 on Tampa Bay, so I’m not concerned with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs being able to put up their usual scoring output on this defense. Sammy Watkins is also expected to return, so the less Demarcus Robinson, the better.

The more decisive matchup should be the Tampa Bay offense vs. Kansas City defense. The Chiefs have allowed over 30 points in their last two games, looking mystified again vs. the Raiders and giving up a lot of wild plays to a game Carolina team before that.

Tom Brady was awful on Monday night against the Rams. He was horrific in Week 9 against the Saints at home as well. Those are two of the three games since the team acquired Antonio Brown. I find it interesting that Brown has 26 targets the last three weeks, or as many as Mike Evans and four more than Chris Godwin. Yet those guys have more yards and touchdowns in that time. They’re the established Tampa Bay receivers, but Brady has to feed AB’s ego (and his own) to justify the move that was largely his making in bringing the troublemaker to Tampa. If things don’t improve soon, at what point should Evans and Godwin feel like they’re getting the shaft in this arrangement?

Speaking of egos, I will point out that Brady shook Mahomes’ hand after the Chiefs beat New England last season. That’s a rare sign of respect from Brady, because you usually have to be a Manning brother or Drew Brees to get him at midfield after beating him instead of watching him run off the field. The fact that people have brought up COVID in defense of Brady doing that after losses (but not after wins) this season is absurd. Here’s a video I put together from the 2009 season of Brady doing what he’s done for most of his NFL career after losing:

So we’ll see if this is a handshake game or not. After their first three losses this year, Tampa Bay won the next game by double digits. I just get the sense that Brady will magically look better this week against a struggling defense, and the Tampa defense will do just enough to slow down Mahomes.

Final: Buccaneers 31, Chiefs 28

NFL Week 12 Predictions

I was 2-0 ATS on Thanksgiving, but there aren’t many underdogs I like this week outside of the Patriots. Just feels like a game where they can move the ball on the Arizona defense. Cam Newton has been playing better in recent weeks.

We’ll see if BAL-PIT is still a go or not this week.

Oscars’ Diversity Problem Has a Simple Solution

There is no NFL on this weekend, but another passion of mine (film) is front and center with the Oscars on Sunday night. I used to watch the award show annually until Shakespeare in Love absurdly beat Saving Private Ryan, so I quit on it for a solid decade until I recaptured a love of film around the time No Country for Old Men won.

But now you can’t really have an Oscars discussion without the issue of diversity at the forefront ever since #OscarsSoWhite became a popular hashtag. The other issue has been about the lack of women nominated in categories that are open to both genders such as Best Director or Best Screenplay.

Personally, I’ve always been of the belief that you pick the best options available and you don’t discriminate over gender or race. The Oscars doesn’t need a Rooney Rule. If you think Greta Gerwig should have been nominated for Best Director in what became an all-male field, then that’s fine. Just tell me which of Martin Scorsese, Todd Phillips, Sam Mendes, Quentin Tarantino, and Bong Joon Ho you’re kicking off the ballot.

For me, the Oscars have always had diversity problems, though I’ve looked at it more from the viewpoint of they don’t pick enough foreign films to highlight great efforts from other countries, and they aren’t inclusive enough in terms of genre. You’ve basically had to make a drama to win a lot of the major awards for decades. Comedies rarely get anything and it’s even worse for action/horror/comic book type of “genre” movies. I think this was a big part of my Oscars burnout as a youth because I really couldn’t care less about The English Patient and other yawns they would push on us as being instant classics.

From that standpoint, I think the 2020 field is diverse and impressive to include a South Korean film with subtitles for the major awards of Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Parasite is an incredible film, and while I haven’t seen the full field of nominees yet — I’d really like to see 1917 — it’s the one I would pick to win most of these awards. I also think Joker being up for 11 Oscars is a phenomenal feat for a “comic book movie” that is far more of a character study than any traditional comic book movie. Still, 5-10 years ago I don’t think it would have received any Oscars buzz as the Academy has tried to include more genres. I haven’t seen Jojo Rabbit, but a dark comedy getting recognized is nice to see as someone who loves that genre. Don’t forget, Rushmore (1998) barely received one Golden Globe nominee, let alone anything from the Oscars.

So change has been slow, but the process has been improving over the years to include more diverse films. If the Academy wants to stop taking so much heat for its choices, then the solution is actually very simple.

Nominate more films. 

The most prestigious award of them all is Best Picture, yet did they not already dilute it a bit with raising the nominees to 10 in 2009? We have nine this year, so this has been the standard for a decade now. If you’re willing to “weaken” the field of the top award, why would you not nominate six or eight films for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and the four acting awards? Right now they go with just five nominees for those awards.

This way Gerwig could be nominated for Best Director and more non-white actors could also be included. It’s really that simple, and reading a few more names and showing a couple more short clips isn’t going to overrun a broadcast that is already too long each year anyways. Hell, get smarter and ditch the music performances. You’re not the Grammy’s. You’re supposed to be highlighting films.

How would it not be a benefit to all if more films are nominated? All of these companies would love to stick a “Oscar-nominated” sticker on the Blu-ray of their release. Underrated films like The Lighthouse and Midsommar could get more attention if you include them in expanded categories.

Continuing to nominate five films like they did in the 1930s doesn’t make any sense in a world where so many films are released each year. Just a little expansion can go a long way in making the field more diverse. At the end of the day the Academy still has to vote for the one best choice to win the statue. Sure, people are going to complain then too, because that’s just how people are.

Like how I still complain about that god damn Shakespeare in Love, which was a Harvey Weinstein production in case you forgot…Now that was a shameful moment in #OscarsSoWhiteSoMale history.

Go Parasite.

2019 NFL Predictions

The 100th season in NFL history kicks off tonight and I have written the longest preview of my life for it. Last year I had the Falcons beating the Steelers in the Super Bowl. That almost blew up in Week 1 alone, but it was an enjoyable season…until the very end at least.

As for a few of the specific things I’m watching for this season:

A quarter of the league hired a new head coach, including six rookies. That could be rough, or just easy pickings for the established teams. I still can’t believe Marvin Lewis didn’t beat out the apocalypse in Cincinnati.

Pass interference is now reviewable and will surely come up in a few big spots this year. Overall I think it’s a good addition, but I am nervous about how they’ll apply things in the Hail Mary situations. If the preseason is any indicator, it’s going to be tough to overturn the call on the field, but we’ll certainly keep an eye on the PI flag stats this year.

As far as I know, I’ll continue to post my weekly picks on Saturdays like I have for years. Other content may also show up here this season, or it may be on a new site. We’ll see what happens, but unlike Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski, I’m not retiring from the NFL yet. Let’s get to the predictions.

AFC NORTH

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

I’m not sure what was more annoying: Pittsburgh’s failure to make the playoffs or the offseason drama that was largely generated by agenda-pushing national media and two head cases (Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown) who are no longer with the team. You can read this rant I tweeted in February about my disgust over the way Ben Roethlisberger was critiqued during the AB/Bell drama. As Brown has continued to embarrass himself in Oakland, hopefully the drama has left town and the team can get back to focusing on winning.

While losses of talent like that certainly hurt, it’s still not a bad offense to feature JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner as the leading receiver and rusher. Sure, depth is an issue now, and they also let Jesse James go and are rolling with Vance McDonald at tight end. But the top-end talent in Pittsburgh is still very good, including the offensive line. If Roethlisberger can get on the same page with James Washington that the backups showed with him in the preseason, then the offense may not even skip a beat without Brown. They already performed very well without Bell in 2018. Losing Mike Munchak as the offensive line coach is a bigger loss really, because he’s one of the best in the business.

Despite the criticism over Pittsburgh’s soap opera-level drama last year, let’s not forget Mike Tomlin’s team was 7-2-1. Losses to Kansas City and Baltimore are understandable. The tie in Week 1 to Cleveland that ultimately cost the team a division title only happened after Chris Boswell missed a makeable field goal in overtime. In fact, you could argue no player had more to do with the Steelers missing the playoffs than Boswell. He missed that kick as well as one against Oakland that would have sent that game to overtime. Two better swings of the leg and the Steelers likely were looking at a first-round bye. Instead they missed the playoffs. The Steelers also blew a 16-point lead to the Chargers in a game where the Chargers got a long touchdown despite an obvious false start, and a pass by Philip Rivers in the end zone that should have been intercepted was instead deflected for a touchdown to get that comeback going. The Steelers actually beat New England for a change last year, but still missed the playoffs.

While the hype has shifted to Cleveland in this division, anyone writing off Pittsburgh after last year just didn’t see how many close calls this team had. This is the team with a track record of success in the division. Baker Mayfield may be one of the next big things, but Roethlisberger still played better last year. Despite the criticism over his inconsistency, Roethlisberger passed for at least 235 yards and a touchdown in all 16 games last year. That’s only been done three other times in NFL history. He’s still one of the top quarterbacks in the league and should look to get Washington and Donte Moncrief involved to make up for the loss of Brown. While I don’t think JuJu will score another 97-yard touchdown, he should be in for a huge third season after such a stellar start to his career. Look for his efficiency to drop now that he’s the main target, but the production will definitely be there.

This year I’m not going to spend much time at all talking about defenses in these previews. That’s not because offense is more consistent or important, but because it will get redundant for me to say I’m not that impressed with the defense on paper. That’s how I feel about a lot of these units this year in a league that is increasingly about situational play (third down, turnovers, red zone, final drives) instead of shutting offenses down.

As for the Steelers in particular, the defense hasn’t really been great since 2011, but I think they have a shot to return as a top-five unit this season. It’s a familiar cast, but T.J. Watt and Terrell Edmunds are still growing. They added linebacker Devin Bush in the first round and have kept Joe Haden in town. My biggest concern would probably be teams picking on Steven Nelson or Artie Burns at corner, but that’s why you have to get a good pass rush or safety to help out.

Week 1 should be an excellent litmus test with a trip to New England on banner night. That’s a really tough spot for the Steelers in a game that could determine a first-round bye. The Steelers also go to Baltimore in Week 17 in another game that could determine a playoff season. It’s not the easiest schedule, but the Steelers have gone at least .500 in all 15 seasons of Roethlisberger’s career, one of the longest streaks in NFL history.

Sure, this team will probably lose in Arizona in Week 14 to stay on brand, but the Steelers should be a contender all season long in the AFC.

2. Cleveland Browns (10-6)

Can a team really go from 0-16 in 2017 to the Super Bowl in 2019? There has been no shortage of hype for the Browns this year, but I’m annoyed over the lack of skepticism. What if this is actually just one big flop from a group with no real track record of NFL success? Remember, strong second-half finishes have no real evidence of carrying over to the next season, and the Browns were largely just beating sub-.500 teams last season. Baker Mayfield is very promising, but he only finished 23rd in QBR and Freddie Kitchens is still a big unknown.

Sure, on paper this looks like the beginning of a run of success for a franchise that has not seen the postseason since 2002. Getting back-to-back No. 1 picks, landing a top-tier pass-rusher and franchise quarterback with them, and trading for Odell Beckham Jr. all seem like the right steps for a team to start winning.

But “The Next Big Thing” has failed many times before in NFL history. Let me bring up two team comparisons for the 2019 Browns. We’ll start with the 2011 Eagles, the self-proclaimed “Dream Team” if you listened to Vince Young, the backup quarterback. They paid Michael Vick another fortune, brought in some big names on defense, and looked to build on a playoff season from 2010. It was a pretty solid roster, but hardly the stuff of legends. The dream turned into a nightmare quickly and the Eagles started 4-8 before finishing 8-8. Whoops.

Then you have the 2005 Bengals. Carson Palmer, a No. 1 overall pick, was going into his second season as a starter. He had flamboyant receivers and the offense was expected to be the next big thing after some strong games late in the 2004 season. The offense delivered and the defense intercepted a lot of passes on the way to an 11-5 season and division title, the first playoff season for the Bengals since 1990. I personally was skeptical of the Bengals’ hype going into that season and wanted to see them prove it first before buying in.

As you can judge by the 10-6 prediction, I’m leaning more towards 2005 Bengals than 2011 Eagles for these Browns. Still, I think we need to slow down a bit on the MVP and top QB talk for Mayfield. I’m not in any mood to defend Eli Manning, but the constant remarks of “now Odell has a real quarterback” are amusing to read. This is more of a fantasy football rant, but Mayfield didn’t even produce a 1,000-yard receiver last season. The Browns were led by Jarvis Landry (976) and David Njoku (639) in receiving yards and no one caught more than five touchdowns on a team with 29 of those scores. That’s hardly impressive or proof that Mayfield is ready to help Beckham to one of his prime seasons where he had over 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns. I think this duo will be excellent, and I hope to see the targets distributed logically between Beckham and Landry — meaning Odell gets way more — but don’t fall for the trap that Beckham is ready to explode for 1,800 yards or 20 TD. And let’s not forget Eli once got some pretty nice numbers out of Fake Steve Smith and UFA Victor Cruz.

The offensive line is basically Joel Bitonio and four reclamation projects from around the league. It’s more than serviceable and the Browns did a great job in Kitchens’ games (after he replaced Todd Haley as OC) of keeping Mayfield clean, but the Browns had better lines back when they had nothing worth protecting. Funny how that works. Alas, I would have kept Duke Johnson and not touched Kareem Hunt (suspended), but we’ll see how that works out. I like Nick Chubb as it is at RB. Defensively, you have to love the high draft picks on Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward in recent years. Sheldon Richardson joins his fourth team in four years so that doesn’t do much for me, but I like the Olivier Vernon addition from the Giants. He’s missed nine games the last two years, but he can be a pressure machine and should help Garrett. I mostly just like that Jabrill Peppers is gone and Gregg Williams isn’t there anymore to play the safeties deep in center field. Steve Wilks wasn’t cut out for head coach, but he should be a solid defensive coordinator for this group.

Look, the AFC is absolutely starving for a new contender. Cleveland fans have been dying for a winner again. It would be great for the league if the Browns become that again, but I just think we should temper expectations a little for 2019.

3. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

Going into my process of picking games, the Ravens were a team I wanted to drop to 8-8 and miss the playoffs. But once again, I found myself flirting with 10 wins and the playoffs for John Harbaugh’s squad. I think it’s easy to argue he is the third-best coach in the conference after Belichick and Reid, so the Ravens have that going for them. Baltimore was able to adapt on the fly last year offensively after making the switch from Joe Flacco to a run-heavy, old-school scheme with rookie Lamar Jackson. As usual, Baltimore was strong in the other facets of the game and Justin Tucker might be the GOAT kicker.

The problems I have with Baltimore are Jackson’s growth and durability, the loss of leadership on defense, and the division getting tougher. All of these issues can converge too. If Baltimore has to win higher-scoring games against better competition and can’t control the ground attack, will Jackson deliver? We saw in the playoffs against the Chargers how things didn’t work well when the Ravens fell behind big early, but I’m not going to use a rookie’s first playoff game to paint his career. The fact is Jackson was too inaccurate last season and the weapons they have in 2019 need him to deliver good throws more consistently. They don’t have an elite receiving talent or YAC monster. Jackson ran the ball 128 times in eight starts (including playoffs) and never threw 30 passes in any game. Obviously he can’t sustain that rushing pace over a full season without serious injury risk, and to make matters worse his backup is Robert Griffin III. I just see QB Hell in Baltimore — a familiar sight — if he continues to run at a historic rate. Jackson also fumbled 15 times last year, so while he may not throw many picks, that’s a big concern if the ball starts bouncing to the opponent more.

Granted, the Ravens were 6-2 in Jackson’s starts, but I don’t think this will hold up against the better competition, and Baltimore’s schedule features two offenses in the division (PIT/CLE) that should be really good, and the Ravens also have to travel to the Chiefs, Rams, and Seahawks and host the Patriots. So I think the schedule is going to be tough on Jackson and his progression to keep up as a passer.

It’s also going to be weird to watch the Ravens play defense without a Ray Lewis or Terrell Suggs on the field, cornerstones of the front seven and franchise. Suggs went to Arizona and the Ravens also didn’t bring back Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley. That’s not to say the defense isn’t good anymore, because the secondary looks great on paper and added veteran (and probable HOFer) Earl Thomas. It just may not be as strong of a unit as we’re used to from the Ravens, and I think that’s a crucial part to their success given some of the limitations in the offense.

Baltimore stopped Baker Mayfield with the playoffs on the line in Week 17 last year. But if he and the Browns take the next steps many are predicting, will the Ravens counter with their own improvement? I can’t wait for the Week 16 matchup in Cleveland that should really go a long way in deciding this one.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)

Marvin Lewis was hired as head coach when I was still in high school, so it’s going to be weird to think about the Bengals without him. It was a move that should have happened ages ago, but I don’t think rookie coach Zac Taylor is stepping into a situation for Year 1 success. Andy Dalton hit his ceiling in 2015 and the floor isn’t even that reliable anymore. The rest of the team isn’t as good now as it was then either. Throw in another injury to A.J. Green that will impact the first two months of the season and it’s not a great setup for Dalton to thrive in a new offense. The defense is largely composed of players the franchise drafted and put on the field last year when teams moved the ball at will (31st in yards and points per drive allowed). In fact it’s kind of shocking how little was added here, and corner Darqueze Dennard being on PUP doesn’t help matters.

Even if the Bengals approach mediocrity on both sides of the ball, Taylor will have to deal with the fact that most teams on the schedule are simply better than this one. Even the games against teams of a similar nature (Bills, Jaguars) will be hard to win when Cincinnati’s star players (Green and Geno Atkins) are now on the wrong side of 30. Throw in six games against possibly the toughest division in the NFL and you can all but count the Bengals in for taking a quarterback high in April’s draft.

 

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (10-6)

The NFC North prevented me from having some of the most accurate preseason predictions on the net last year. I was all in on the Packers and Vikings finishing 12-4 while the Bears stunk at 6-10. That was way off, even after the Packers came back from a huge deficit to beat the Bears in Week 1. However, that game also may have had an impact on the season after it looked like Aaron Rodgers suffered a season-ending injury in the first half. He of course didn’t, and he didn’t miss a start the whole season. Yet the Packers still finished 6-9-1 and fired head coach Mike McCarthy, paving the way for rookie coach Matt LaFleur to fix this offense and reinvigorate a slumping Rodgers.

Here I am again in 2019 putting the Packers and Vikings ahead of the Bears, but we are getting to a very odd place with Rodgers and his legacy. I’ve made plenty of comparisons about Peak Aaron Rodgers (2009-2014 specifically) to the player he’s been since 2015, which frankly just hasn’t been that great outside of a run during the 2016 season. We know the play-action game has been broken, and that was not the case even when the running game stunk during his peak years. So it’s not about the running offense, which actually wasn’t bad in 2018. We know the Packers have gone from the best receiving corps in the NFL to something more along the lines of Davante Adams and Some Young Guys. That plays a factor too.

While the health concerns are valid for Rodgers, it’s not really that helpful to explain his performance when he was still playing every week last season. He still practiced. He still ran around and tried to make the throws he used to make, but hasn’t been able to make as frequently the last four seasons. While Rodgers finished with 25 touchdowns to two interceptions, he set an unofficial record for most passes intentionally thrown away in a season. He also had more dropped picks than real picks, so that ratio was more of a result of extremely passive play and luck. It’s also worth noting that the offense just wasn’t good this way, ranking 16th in points per drive.

I have said there are only three ways we’re going to see a return of Peak Aaron Rodgers. One way is for him to go to a new team a la Brett Favre in Minnesota. That shouldn’t happen any time soon with his contract. Another way is for the Packers to acquire a generational talent at WR/TE, but guys like Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski just don’t grow on trees.

So the most realistic option that the Packers have started the process of is bringing in a new offensive-minded head coach in LaFleur. Now it’s hard to say if LaFleur will have a Shanahan (Mike or Kyle) impact on Rodgers, but LaFleur is from that coaching tree, he was Matt Ryan’s QB coach in his 2016 MVP season, he knows Sean McVay (2017 Rams), and the Titans were a bit dysfunctional (also lacking in talent) under his watch in Tennessee last year as OC. LaFleur doesn’t bring a ton of success, but Rodgers is learning a new offense for the first time in a decade after things had gotten so stale with McCarthy. This also puts a lot of pressure on Rodgers to perform better, because that McCarthy excuse is out the window this year.

The more I type here the more I want to drop this team to 8-9 wins, but let’s stick with 10-6 and a tie-breaker win over the Vikings for the NFC North. I think if Rodgers stays upright in this offense, he can lead this team to at least a split with the Bears and Vikings, and they can get back to beating the Lions like they used to. Then I absolutely trust Rodgers at homes against the likes of DEN/OAK/CAR/WAS, and I think they can win on the road against the 49ers/Giants, and Rodgers has had plenty of success in Dallas (Week 5) too. The schedule certainly looks more favorable than last year when the Packers started 4-6-1 with road losses to the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks and Vikings included. The team all but quit on McCarthy after that, starting with the shocking home loss to the Cardinals. I don’t think losing Mike Daniels was good for the defense, but the Packers have again brought in some fifth-year free agents (Adrian Amos, Preston Brown and Za’Darius Smith) to go against old practices, and the secondary has been really rebuilt in recent drafts.

Is it a championship-caliber defense? Probably not, but with an improved Rodgers, I think it’s all enough for a 10-win season and a return to the playoffs. If not, then expect more articles about how things are falling apart for a quarterback some once thought was on the path to being the best ever. It’s well known I was never on that train, but I also didn’t think I’d be writing about the potential for a third-straight missed postseason for Rodgers and the Packers.

2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

I don’t know if every team with Kirk Cousins at quarterback is destined to hover around .500 while the kicker chokes and games against winning teams go south, but he made the Vikings look like his Washington teams last year. When you were coming off an NFC Championship Game appearance and added The $84 Million Man, that’s just not good enough.

Like in Washington, the disappointment wasn’t usually all of Cousins’ fault. This team would have snuck in as the sixth seed (instead of Philadelphia) had the special teams not been so horrendous in that tie in Week 2 in Green Bay. Cousins was stellar on the road against the Rams, but Jared Goff destroyed that defense in a 38-31 final. Those were the games Cousins played well in early enough in the season to win, but didn’t. Yet like clockwork, people are more likely to remember his flops against the likes of the Bears (twice), Patriots and Seahawks. Those were four ugly losses after the bye where Cousins didn’t look interested in pushing the ball down the field at all.

So now what? The Vikings still have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, providing Cousins with that excellent receiving duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Tight end Irv Smith was added in the draft and maybe Dalvin Cook will see his biggest workload yet in his third season if he can stay healthy. The offensive line was a major issue again last year as Cousins had problems with strip-sacks, which highlighted that horrific upset loss to Buffalo early in the season. It’s hard for the line to be worse this season after drafting Garrett Bradbury in the first round and Brian O’Neill is no longer a rookie.

The defense is still more than talented at each level to be a championship unit, though Xavier Rhodes needs to get back to playing at a high level. But really the team’s biggest problems were on offense last year. I’m going to bank on Cousins feeling more comfortable in his second year with the team, though coming up short of the playoffs in another 8-9 win season would be a really safe bet too.

3. Chicago Bears (9-7)

You’ve probably heard that the Bears are a prime candidate for regression this season, but it’s not as simple as that. I wrestled with this prediction because I do want to highlight the good the Bears achieved last year under rookie coach Matt Nagy. The Bears didn’t have a bad performance in any of their 17 games, including the playoff loss to the Eagles. That’s a rare feat as most teams will throw up some stinkers. The Bears blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to the Packers, blew a late 7-point lead in Miami (missed GW FG in OT too), they had a 10-point lead on the Patriots, lost in overtime to the Giants, and blew another late lead to the Eagles and botched another game-winning field goal at the end. This team could have easily been better than the 12-5 record it had.

It’s no small feat the Bears accomplished this in typical Chicago fashion: great defense, an emphasis on the run, and shaky quarterback play. It wasn’t so much a fluky Chicago season a la 2001 or 2005 or 2010, but it was certainly accomplished in a way that makes it hard to expect a repeat of this success in 2019. Health definitely helped as the Bears were among the least-injured teams in 2018 after being heavily, if not historically injured in the previous three years during John Fox’s tenure.

Nagy was far from a Sean McVay. He did not do a lot to elevate the offense with second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who had some favorable season numbers thanks in large part to a couple of monster games against bad defenses and his best ability: scrambling. He’s an inaccurate, mistake-prone passer who needs to use his legs to compensate. Trubisky had eight games with his YPA below 6.8 compared to seven games where it was above 7.0. He’s basically the deluxe version of Buffalo’s Josh Allen. I don’t think he was poor in the playoff loss, but I would seriously worry about him being able to lead a team to three or four straight wins over quality opponents.

Trubisky needs a strong defense to succeed. He’s 1-7 as a starter when the Bears allow at least 23 points. Fortunately, the defense is still filled with talent, including Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller, etc.. The Bears haven’t lost much on defense, but they did lose defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. I’ll get to him more in the Denver preview, but Fangio is in a great position to masquerade as the reason the Bears regress and the Broncos take a step forward in 2019. I say masquerade because I’m saying it could have little to actually do with his scheme that produces the results.

The Bears had a league-high 36 takeaways last season, including a preposterous 27 interceptions. That’s really impressive in this era, the hardest to get interceptions in. In fact, it’s been so hard that the Bears had 24 interceptions total from 2015-2017. Who was the defensive coordinator those three years? Vic Fangio. So let’s be very careful in associating his scheme with getting takeaways, because for three years with Fangio the Bears were the absolute pits in that area. It sure helped to have a lot more talent on the field last year, so hopefully the defense can at least continue to create splash plays. When Fangio was the defensive coordinator for the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh in 2011, his defense ranked first in takeaways. They fell to 14th the next year, but it was okay since the offense improved and the team reached the Super Bowl.

For the Bears to keep winning this year, the offense simply has to get better, especially if you’re banking on fewer takeaways and more injuries to happen. The schedule also presents a problem. The rest of the division took a lot of steps backwards in 2018, but you have to think the Packers and Vikings can at least be better teams in 2019. The Bears have to go to Denver in September, which is an absurd home-field advantage for the Broncos. Chicago gets the Rams on the road instead of at home this year, and they still have to deal with expectedly great offenses in the Chiefs, Chargers and Saints. Out of Chicago’s 12 wins last year, only two came against teams that won at least nine games.

I haven’t even mentioned the embarrassing kicking situation this team still has, so that’s not a problem they have really fixed yet this year. The Bears slumped to 7-9 coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2007. That wouldn’t shock me again here, but I have them coming in at 9-7 just because I think the defense is still going to be one of the league’s best and I expect the offense to be stronger. I still don’t think Trubisky is good, but I think this young group of players hasn’t peaked together yet so that’s how I wound up at 9-7.

4. Detroit Lions (6-10)

If you told me the Lions swept the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers and beat the Patriots, I would have assumed it was one of the most successful seasons since the merger for the team. I would have been dead wrong. Of course, the Packers proved to be a 6-9-1 mess and Rodgers left the Week 17 blowout injured. The Patriots also weren’t as strong as usual despite the playoff finish.

Matt Patricia’s rookie campaign proved to be a 6-10 year where the offense was largely injured or (in Golden Tate’s case) traded away midseason. Even Matthew Stafford played through a broken back and didn’t eclipse 4,000 yards despite making all 16 starts. His YPA (6.8) was his lowest since his first two seasons. At least Kenny Golladay continued to develop nicely. He has to be even better this year and the team will hope Kerryon Johnson stays healthy after showing a lot of promise as a rookie. Still, it’s Detroit so you don’t really expect the running game to be dominant, but they have been putting in the resources lately to get more there. Also, rookie tight ends historically tend to struggle or at least not post huge numbers. I can’t believe Detroit used another high pick (No. 8) on one (T.J. Hockenson), but lower your expectations there.

Defensively, I just don’t see much to get excited over. Patricia should know Trey Flowers well from New England, but the team has continued to misfire in the secondary (see Teez Tabor cut) and are still relying on Darius Slay to save the day. The Lions allowed 29 touchdown passes against seven interceptions in 2018. I think offenses will continue to throw well against them this year.

Look, Detroit hasn’t turned overnight into a team that will play great defense and allow Stafford to hand off 20 times a week to Kerryon Johnson. That’s what Mike Vrabel is trying to do in Tennessee. Given how consistent the Lions are at losing to good teams, this season could get off to a real ugly start with the first five games being at ARI, LAC, at PHI, KC, at GB.

This team is more likely to establish doubt than the run in 2019.

 

AFC EAST

New England Patriots (11-5)

I was pretty specific and ultimately accurate with my predictions on the 2018 Patriots:

It was the most vulnerable the team looked in years. The Patriots won fewer than 12 games for the first time since 2009 (10-6). The special teams had their worst DVOA in the Bill Belichick era. All five of New England’s losses were to non-playoff teams, including three losing teams (DET/JAX/MIA).

Yet in the playoffs, Belichick showed off his coaching superiority, outclassing the Chargers, Chiefs and Rams on the way to another ring. The pass protection and pass rush in particular in the two AFC playoff games were unbelievable for the Patriots.

Per usual, there was a season-ending scare again, but Dee Ford lined up offsides for the Chiefs on Tom Brady’s last-minute interception. And once again in overtime the Patriots won the coin toss, received the ball, and never had to see an MVP quarterback get a chance. I basically called them the Coin Flip Dynasty in this preview a year ago and I see no reason to take that back. Almost every season comes down to a singular moment that could have gone either way, and more often than not it’s gone New England’s way.

This run of success has lasted 18 seasons, matching the type of 18-year run the San Francisco 49ers are recognized for from 1981-1998. What stopped the 49ers in 1999? An aging Steve Young was injured in September and the season soon after went off the rails as the 49ers lost 11 of their last 12 games. But it wasn’t just an old HOF quarterback getting injured that changed things. The 49ers finally had serious competition from the Rams, who quickly put things together with Kurt Warner (replacement starter), Marshall Faulk (trade), Torry Holt (rookie), and Isaac Bruce (veteran). A team in the division had to put the final nail in the coffin of the San Francisco dynasty.

So which AFC East team is going to end this run for New England? The thought alone makes me feel like this:

GSG

But that’s likely going to be the way it happens where someone pushes New England out of being guaranteed a top four seed and home game in the playoffs. That doesn’t look likely in 2019, so we’ll focus on the actual contenders in the AFC. The Patriots will get to host three of their toughest competition: Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. They will travel to Houston and Baltimore as well. It’s long been projected to be one of the easiest schedules this year, but the key part is those home games with the good teams. It’s just so hard to beat the Patriots at home when they pounce on mistakes better than anyone.

As for the roster this year, Brady is obviously 42 years old. He only needs 60 pass attempts to rank fourth all time in pass attempts by a 42+ year old, trailing only Warren Moon (295), Vinny Testaverde (281), and George Blanda (148). Rookie Jarrett Stidham is Brady’s backup after the team cut Brian Hoyer, so there’s some risk there for sure as he looks to go into uncharted territory at this age.

Brady is also not going to have an all-time talent like Randy Moss or Rob Gronkowski at his disposal for the first season since 2006 after Gronk retired. Maybe he comes back later in the season, but we’ll assume he’s done for now. The Patriots brought back Ben Watson, who is about to turn 39 and will serve a four-game suspension. So we’re talking about an all-time old man connection there. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots getting much out of the tight ends this year, but as always they’ll adjust and take advantage of a deep backfield. The wide receivers also get a big boost with Josh Gordon allowed to play again. He is arguably an all-time talent in his own right, but can he be trusted to last all season? He hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2012 and did not finish last year with the Patriots after 11 appearances.

You know Belichick and his staff will have the offensive line and defense sorted out, but Brady’s age, the hole at tight end, and Gordon’s unreliability all make for a cautious approach to trusting this offense to be there in the end again.

No matter what happens this season, the Patriots have solidified themselves as the team of the decade again, an unprecedented feat in the NFL. Belichick and Brady going into Year 20 together is the main reason for that, but not far behind is the lack of a real contender in the NFL (especially AFC) this decade:

  • The 1960s Packers weren’t also the team of the 70s because Vince Lombardi died before the 1970 season even started, and he wasn’t with Green Bay anymore anyway.
  • The 1970s Steelers weren’t also the team of the 80s because they didn’t draft Dan Marino in 1983 and the league was taken by storm by Bill Walsh and the 49ers.
  • The 1980s 49ers weren’t also the team of the 90s because they struggled with new elite challengers in the conference in Dallas and Green Bay.
  • The 1990s Cowboys weren’t also the team of the 00s because Jerry Jones is a tool.

Maybe dynasties will never be the same again in the NFL. No one has repeated as Super Bowl champion since the 2003-04 Patriots, the longest streak in NFL history without a repeat champ. As the NFL eyes a transitional period in the league’s 100th season, the Patriots remain a heavy favorite to win it all again.

A new power will just have to emerge.

2. New York Jets (9-7)

I Believe That the End of the Reign of Terror Is Soon Near by The Anniversary

I’m not holding my breath, but if any team should end the Patriots’ run in the AFC East, it should be the Jets. They owe us that at least. Out of the other 31 NFL teams, none are more responsible for the Patriots’ dynasty than the Jets. They hired Bill Belichick to be their head coach in 2000 only to see him resign after one day on the job. Belichick then quickly took the job in New England. Three months later, the Patriots drafted quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round. In the first game after 9/11 in 2001, the Jets were playing the Patriots with Drew Bledsoe as the starting QB. Bledsoe was seriously injured on a hit by linebacker Mo Lewis, putting Brady into the QB1 spot.

The rest is history.

For two decades the Jets have done little to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. Their biggest contribution came in 2010 when Rex Ryan’s squad took two out of three meetings with one of the strongest New England teams, including that shocking upset in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Jets haven’t made the playoffs since while the Patriots haven’t missed an AFC Championship Game in the last eight years.

Now the Jets are relying on Adam Gase, their sixth head coach since Belichick ditched them two decades ago. Gase’s enduring career is largely the good fortunate to have known Peyton Manning in Denver. He’s a retread who failed in Miami — the Dolphins ranked 29th in scoring differential from 2016-18 — and he didn’t exactly make a good first impression with the Jets in January:

gasejets

We’ll get back to Gase shortly, but the Jets’ hopes rest heavily this year on Sam Darnold taking big steps forward in his second season. As you’ll see me refer to this season, great quarterbacks usually show their greatness early in their careers. A second season isn’t too soon for Darnold (or Josh Allen/Josh Rosen/Lamar Jackson) to really impress, and you may start to feel concerned if they ever will if things don’t look good this year.

Darnold is the latest rookie to get compared to Peyton Manning’s 1998 rookie season where he threw 28 interceptions. Everyone makes this comparison while ignoring how different the passing climate was in 1998, a season where Manning usually ranked 12th or 13 in many efficiency stats while leading an offense with similar rankings. Manning also smashed many NFL rookie records at the time. In comparison, the Jets finished 2018 ranked 29th in points per drive, no offense went three-and-out more often, and Darnold was 30th in DVOA and QBR. So it’s not quite apples-to-apples. Manning also showed real improvement in his final 10 games after a lousy first six. Darnold had a few of his best games in December too after returning from injury, but it wasn’t anywhere near the clean split like Manning’s season.

Mostly people just use the comparison for interceptions, but this is where Darnold scares you a bit. He threw 15 interceptions at a rate of 3.6 percent. That is higher than average in this era, but maybe the more concerning part is that Darnold led the league with seven dropped interceptions according to ESPN.

So you just hope Darnold shows a lot of progression in reading the field and making smarter passes. He looked solid in the preseason action this year, but we know that’s not worth anything really. I like that Darnold has enough mobility to make plays happen, but turnovers will probably be the thing to watch most with him this year. They of course brought in Le’Veon Bell to help the offense, but it’s more or less a way to get a workhorse involved who can catch the ball well (assuming he’s not going to be rusty after taking a year off). I think Bell’s patient style of running behind a lesser offensive line will be one of the most interesting things to watch this season. It shouldn’t be a terrible line, but it’s not Pittsburgh quality. I don’t like the tight ends, but I like the defined role mixture at wide receiver. You have a deep threat (Robby Anderson), a playmaker (Quincy Enunwa), and a slot guy (Jamison Crowder).

The defense made a good addition in linebacker C.J. Mosley, they still have Leonard Williams up front, and the safeties are going into their third season. The Jets drafted DT Quinnen Williams No. 3 overall, but despite the “instant starter” billing it looks like he’ll start 2019 as a backup. This doesn’t look like a championship-caliber defense, but expect Gregg Williams to continue using his aggressive approach as the new defensive coordinator. It should also help that the Dolphins look lifeless on offense, Buffalo is heavily flawed there, and the Patriots no longer have Rob Gronkowski.

That gets us back to Gase, who mastered the art of winning by 3 points or losing by three scores in Miami. Among active head coaches, Gase has the best record at 4QC opportunities at 11-9 and is second only to Bruce Arians with a 14-10 (.583) record at all 4QC/GWD opportunities.

Coach4QCGWD

Last year, the Jets were 1-6 at 4QC/GWD opportunities and tied for the league lead by blowing four late leads. So if they adhere to Gase’s win close/lose big style and see regression in close games while getting better play from a second-year quarterback, you can see how a 9-7 season is possible, if not better should Darnold live up to the draft hype.

I’ll hedge my bets that the Jets didn’t turn into the 99 Rams overnight, but there’s enough newness here (including the MAC-looking uniforms) to feel excited for a change.

3. Buffalo Bills (6-10)

I thought Buffalo was one of the teams most likely to land Le’Veon Bell or Antonio Brown to try to help QB Josh Allen. They almost had Brown for a second, but instead they’ll go with a faster Brown (John) who doesn’t care about which helmet he’s given. It’s not a bad move, but Allen can still overthrow him. I’m also not sure he’ll make great use out of Cole Beasley on the short, timing routes from the slot. At least the running backs should be better this year with the additions of the immortal Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary. However, when an offense’s best play is when the quarterback scrambles, I’m not sure any of these changes are going to make a huge difference.

Brian Daboll returns as the offensive coordinator. If you’re not familiar with him, let me remind you that he was the OC for four terrible offenses in the NFL (2009-10 Browns, 2011 Dolphins, 2012 Chiefs). He downgraded to tight ends coach in New England where he got to work with the best tight end in NFL history and essentially had his position ignored in games when Gronk was out. He then spent the 2017 year as Nick Saban’s OC in Alabama before coming back to the NFL last season to help Buffalo finish 30th in yards and points per drive. Incredible resume for sure. Now I’m starting to see why Buffalo’s best play is an Allen scramble, but of course the lack of accuracy is going to be a problem everyone who plays with Allen is going to have to overcome in the passing game.

Buffalo’s lousy offense wasted an impressive performance by the defense last season. The Bills were 2nd in yards per drive allowed, but 10th in points allowed because of starting with the worst field position for a defense. The special teams were also the worst in the league and didn’t help in that regard. We’ll see if the defense can get more production from the line after the Bills went defense again in the first round with Ed Oliver. That follows LB Tremaine Edmunds and CB Tre’Davious White. Trent Murphy and Star Lotulelei didn’t have strong debuts with the team last year. The addition of Oliver is critical after Kyle Williams retired after a 13-year career. White will look to continue building on a stellar first two seasons, but the Bills really aren’t proven at corner after No. 1 on the depth chart.

Allen making a sophomore surge is certainly the best way for Buffalo to get back to winning in 2019, but I still don’t trust him to be anything more than the third-best QB in the AFC East this year. If the defense slips too then I think it’ll be time to move on from Sean McDermott here after three seasons.

4. Miami Dolphins (4-12)

Tank for Tua has a nice ring to it, but does anyone really know what the Dolphins are doing this year? Why trade a second-round pick for Josh Rosen if you’re just going to start Ryan Fitzpatrick over him? By the time they go to invest in a quarterback they’re going to have nothing to go around him outside of more rookies. Maybe that’s not the worst strategy ever, but having a left tackle like Laremy Tunsil or receiver like Kenny Stills wouldn’t have been bad. Of course, Miami traded those players to Houston for a great collection of draft picks. The Dolphins definitely won that trade in my book, but it leaves little to watch this season. Sure, Fitzpatrick could probably gunsling the team into a few more wins than Rosen would, but we know it’s only a matter of time before he implodes.

So maybe the plan is a two-year flop job to land Trevor Lawrence in 2021?

  • Miami finishes with the 6-10 season they have down to a science this century
  • Flores vows to give Rosen the reigns in 2020
  • GM Chris Grier drafts a stud at another important position in April
  • Everyone realizes Rosen still sucks when he’s been set up to fail
  • Miami lands the No. 1 pick and drafts Lawrence in 2021
  • Finding the next Dan Marino is finally solved

Do I actually think Flores and Grier are the visionaries who can pull that off? No, not really. I’m already down on Flores after the “let’s play eight Jay-Z songs in practice to see if Kenny Stills can handle the pressure” experiment. Apparently the Dolphins couldn’t handle that pressure since they traded the outspoken wideout soon after. These Bill Belichick assistants-turned-coaches kill me. Be an asshole like him if you want, but you better have the brains to go with it. They never do. I don’t expect Flores will be any different in that regard.

The highlight of this Miami season will be in Week 2 when Fitzpatrick leads the Dolphins to a home win over the Patriots, strengthening the conspiracy theory that Belichick purposely loses early-season games to former assistants.

Remember, it’s all about the long con with these guys. See you in 2021 for something interesting to happen in Miami.

 

NFC EAST

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

There has been a lot of love for the Eagles this offseason, and frankly, I get it. They won the Super Bowl in 2017. They had a lot of injuries last year and still snuck into the playoffs and almost had two road wins before a tipped pick. Now the roster looks pretty stacked, especially in the trenches and at receiver. Imagine putting Alshon Jeffery and second-round rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside on the outside while Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson lined up in the slot with Zach Ertz at tight end. That probably won’t even be ideal if second-year tight end Dallas Goedert is expectedly ahead of the curve better than JJAW. Who cares about running backs when you can throw out arguably the best five-receiver sets in the NFL? Even the backfield looks strong for Philly after adding Jordan Howard and second-round pick Miles Sanders. Unless the Eagles set a new standard for injuries this year, Carson Wentz has absolutely no excuse not to have a great season in this offense. Remember, we often see the QB improve in that second year after an ACL injury.

Ah, you knew I would get to Wentz eventually. It’s certainly one of the more perplexing situations in the NFL as those big wins late in the season the last two years came under the guidance of Nick Foles, who the Eagles let go to Jacksonville. Wentz has had injury problems and still hasn’t started a playoff game for Doug Pederson. I’m not going to say the team paid the wrong quarterback, but Wentz gets way too much credit as a finished product instead of a young QB still in development. Let’s not forget the relatively low completion percentage and YPA in 2017 with the touchdown rate boosted by incredible field position. Let’s not pretend he didn’t fumble way too much last year, struggled to score points, and remains one of the worst quarterbacks in clutch situations (now 4-12 at GWD opportunities).

Combine that GWD stat with this one: the Eagles are 0-9 and never scored more than 23 points in any of the games where Wentz threw for his most yards. This is very unusual in NFL history as I showed on Twitter this summer:

When the Eagles rely on Wentz to pull out games late or use his arm for most of the production, they are well below average at winning games than other teams in the NFL. That’s just a fact three years into his career. Maybe he’ll get better and change that, but anymore you can’t write something without people taking it as your future career proclamation. Yet I’m just stating the facts to this day and I can’t help that Eagles fans don’t like it.

So it’s good that Wentz has arguably the strongest roster around him yet. It’s good that the Eagles will get the Patriots and Seahawks at home instead of going on the road to those difficult places. It’s probably not a bad thing that Ezekiel Elliott wants to hold out in Dallas, though scroll down for my full thoughts on that. The Eagles should reclaim this division and have one of the best shots at reaching the Super Bowl, but Wentz will have to show more than he ever has if they’re going to win another ring.

2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

My hope of keeping this section intact before posting was nixed by the Ezekiel Elliott extension (six years, $90M) on Wednesday. As you might expect, I am not in favor of paying him so much and would rather see him traded so Dallas has resources to keep other players in town like Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Demarcus Lawrence is going to make a ton and they already have three offensive lineman making eight figures. At some point the roster isn’t going to have any wiggle room to sign someone who isn’t a rookie or making the vet minimum.

Jason Garrett is still the coach, so penciling in Dallas a game around 8-8 seems perfectly reasonable to me. Going back to the Tony Romo days the Cowboys are constantly involved in close games, and they win way more of them than they are given credit for. It happened with Romo’s tenure and it has continued through the first three years of Dak Prescott’s career. In fact, Prescott’s 15 game-winning drives are tied with Russell Wilson for the most in NFL history through a quarterback’s first three seasons.

But Scott, how will Dallas continue to win these close games if Prescott doesn’t have Ezekiel Elliott running the ball?

First, this sounded better when I wrote it during Zeke’s holdout, but let’s keep it anyway. Second, read this thread where I crushed the total myth that Zeke’s rushing drives Prescott’s game-winning drive success. Finally, I think Zeke’s impact on this offense has always been overstated. People act like this offense resembles the 1970s Bills with O.J. Simpson carrying a nonexistent passing game, but that’s just not the case.

This team didn’t have center Travis Frederick for all of 2018. Frederick is back and so is tight end Jason Witten, though the only positive about the latter is that he’s nowhere near the Monday Night Football booth. I think Tony Pollard and Alfred Morris could have gotten the job done adequately enough if Elliott didn’t return, but that looks to be moot now. Randall Cobb isn’t a bad replacement at all for Cole Beasley, and Michael Gallup showed some rookie promise for sure. More than anything, I believe in Prescott. I also think the defense is solid even if a couple of players (Randy Gregory and Robert Quinn) in the front seven are suspended again, but that’s become a Dallas tradition.

I only have the Cowboys at 9-7 because I think the Eagles are going to get the best of them this year and that road slate (NO, NE, CHI) has a few potential potholes. I also think the Rams and Packers are more than capable of winning in Dallas. Hell, Aaron Rodgers feels more welcomed in Big D than in his own family home. OK, that was a low blow, but I’ve had a rough year. Let me have this one. GB-DAL games have produced some great memories this decade.

Honestly, my biggest fear with the 2019 Cowboys is that this great run of winning close games the last three years runs into some serious regression this year. Prescott will be the media’s fall guy for that, and the “Zeke carries him” takes will never end. It doesn’t even matter if the losses are because Old Man Witten has a crucial fumble and the kicker shanks a game-winner from 35 yards out, or that the defense ultimately blows a lead (something that didn’t happen once in 2018). They’ll blame the quarterback, because that’s what happens in Dallas if your name isn’t Staubach or Aikman.

3. New York Giants (5-11)

I’m happy to say I didn’t spend the spring piling on rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. I did acknowledge that NFC East fans should get a kick out of arguing over whether Jones (6th to Giants) or Dwayne Haskins (15th to Washington) was the better pick in the draft, and I would have picked Haskins. It’s staggering to think Jones went so high when he averaged 6.4 yards per pass attempt at Duke.

Based on the early results, Jones might be serving a ton of crow in the years to come. Then again, Blake Bortles had a fine preseason his rookie year and we know how that turned out. But Jones actually looked quite good in his preseason action when he hit 29-of-34 passes for 416 yards and a couple of scores. That’s 12.2 YPA, which is preposterous even for preseason standards in this league.

But I’m not here to talk myself into Jones as a factor in 2019. Eli Manning needed a replacement and that time will come, maybe sooner than later, but let’s think about this as Eli’s swansong. He doesn’t have Odell Beckham anymore, but Sterling Shepard is serviceable and they still have Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley at the other skill positions. You can do worse than that, but the fear is Eli will just keep checking down a historic number of failed completions to Barkley. I’d love to see some actual creativity this year in getting Barkley involved in more vertical routes since he was billed as being such a great receiver. God knows this offense could use it when they are going to trot Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer out there at wide receiver. Why is it those guys only get to play with a Manning brother corpse? Both were in Denver in 2015 with Peyton.

It’s true that the Giants really picked up the scoring after the bye week in the second half of 2018. Does this suggest Eli was getting more comfortable in Pat Shurmur’s offense, or was it more schedule related? The offense still laid a 17-0 egg to the Titans in Week 15, but I’ll be curious to see if spreading the ball around more might help Eli any before an inevitable pull for Jones to take over.

Then again, 2019 is another one of those years where the Giants play the Patriots, so if Eli had one last hurrah in him, that would really settle what is going to be an excruciating HOF debate.

4. Washington Redskins (5-11)

I called Washington a darkhorse playoff team last year, and that was looking pretty good after a 6-3 start. Then Alex Smith and Colt McCoy broke their legs and it was another pointless 7-9 season. Enter journeyman Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins, and I’m not sure the team is any closer to relevancy. I certainly don’t see it in 2019 with the Eagles and Cowboys clearly ahead of this team. I’d probably have looked to start Haskins right away, but the mishandling of left tackle Trent Williams’ situation isn’t ideal. Now the Redskins had to bring in Donald Penn for Week 1 and are starting Ereck Flowers at left guard against the Eagles. The wide receiving corps is probably the league’s most anonymous. Yeah, maybe we can hold off on throwing Haskins to the wolves after all. At least we can see what RB Derrius Guice has this season.

Health has been a disaster in Jay Gruden’s tenure to the point where you wonder how much accountability he should take for that. Do they just overwork guys in practice or what? Do they not bring them back after enough rest? Is this why Williams is so hesitant to return? Last year wasn’t as bad, but the most important position suffered freak injuries for Gruden and that tanked the season. Still, that was an ugly brand of football the Redskins were playing and I don’t feel like they’ve ever really developed an identity under Gruden.

The defense has top 10 potential after adding safety Landon Collins to the secondary, which still features Josh Norman. But most of the defense has been drafted by the team instead of acquiring those high-priced free agents. No, it’s the offense that is costing Washington $109M in 2019, the third-highest figure according to Over The Cap. Now some of that is bad luck with the Smith injury, but the Redskins also have the most expensive tight ends even though Jordan Reed is often injured. It’s just stunning that such an expensive offense can be so hard to identify by name recognition or anything really.

Maybe Haskins will eventually give the offense an identity in 2020, but that’s likely to happen with a new coaching staff as well.

 

AFC SOUTH

1. Houston Texans (10-6)

I absolutely had the Colts winning this division, and then Andrew Luck shocked the world and retired. Then the Texans lost Lamar Miller and traded away Jadeveon Clowney before bringing in Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. The draft stock they gave away is going to hurt too, but let’s keep it on the short-term focus on 2019.

I don’t believe in Bill O’Brien, but I believe in Deshaun Watson. That’s one of the nicest things I can say about this team as I am not confident at all in this pick. But I believe in Watson, who was going to have an all-time great rookie season before he was injured. Last year he wasn’t nearly as prolific, but you still saw some jaw-dropping plays that give you hope. He just needs to get rid of the ball a bit quicker and not take as many sacks. That’s why while I understand the Tunsil addition, I think barring a massive shift in playing style for Watson, he’s still going to take his share of hits. He just can’t take nearly as many as last season or he’ll end up on IR again and this team is royally screwed.

I’m not sure the Texans are better off than they were last weekend. Tunsil should improve the offensive line, and I think they can survive the Miller loss just fine with Duke Johnson (excellent receiver) and Carlos Hyde. Clowney is a considerable loss this close to the season, but he never was the dominant force he was expected to be as the No. 1 pick. At least they still have J.J. Watt, who returned to form last year with 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles. So the pass rush has taken a hit here, but it’s not like trading away Khalil Mack with nothing left a la 2018 Oakland.

As for the Stills addition, I think he’s too similar to Will Fuller (deep threat) to make a huge impact, but since Fuller struggles to stay healthy that might just be good insurance. But obviously DeAndre Hopkins is amazing, they have two deep threats now, and I think Keke Coutee is an interesting slot receiver. Tight end is still a dead spot, but Watson has enough around him to score this year.

The Texans play the Titans twice in the final three weeks. I have the AFC South being decided by those games, and I give Houston the edge in the final game of the season at home. But don’t think I’m at all confident in predictions for this division this year. The Luck retirement blew everything up.

2. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

Watching the Titans play football isn’t much different than begrudgingly going to church. They both take place early on Sundays. The dryness of a communion wafer is on par with the blandness of the Tennessee passing offense year after year. Both can make 60 minutes feel like forever before you leave unfulfilled, pondering a new hobby for your weekends.

The Titans have really mastered the art of finishing 9-7 without exciting anyone (see 2011 and the last three years). So where do I have them at? 9-7 again. At least coach Mike Vrabel’s rookie season wasn’t a disaster and he had some good wins (PHI/NE/DAL) to start 5-4. He even had a chance to make the playoffs in Game 256, but Andrew Luck once again put the Colts over the Titans.

That’s why the Titans are arguably the biggest beneficiaries of this tumultuous offseason in the AFC South. Luck retired, so move the Colts down and make them a potential sweep for Tennessee. The Jaguars still have plenty of issues. The Texans have lost Lamar Miller and traded away Jadeveon Clowney. Even though I’ve been yawning the whole time I’m writing this team preview, you have to respect the Titans for having some stability and a plan. They’re going to run Derrick Henry, hope Marcus Mariota can deliver on play-action and third downs, and play good enough defense to keep the game close.

Mariota hasn’t lived up to the hype so far, but maybe this could be the year when a monster payday would be right around the corner if he delivers. At least tight end Delanie Walker will be back after missing 15 games in 2018. Taylor Lewan’s suspension is also only four games, and the Titans have a chance to really load up on wins after the bye week. With two of the last three games against Houston, we might just see Tennessee in Game 256 playing for the postseason once again.

3. Indianapolis Colts (7-9)

Crying over you, crying over you

Yes, now you’re gone and from this moment on

I’ll be crying, crying, crying, crying

Yeah, I’m crying, crying, over you

— Roy Orbison, “Crying”

It’s still shocking to think that Andrew Luck retired. I wrote about it here recently, but the whole situation really throws in a wrinkle to the 2019 season. Had Luck been healthy coming into 2019 — that means no cramp issue or anything — I was going to make him my pick for MVP and for the Colts to have a serious shot at a first-round bye. Did I think the Colts would win the Super Bowl this year? Absolutely not. I think the team would still have big issues against the Patriots/Chiefs/Steelers in the playoffs. But I thought a great regular season would have been within reach with a healthy Luck.

Alas, here we are with Jacoby Brissett taking over. I don’t think he’s good, but I think the Colts are in a way better situation coaching and talent wise than they were in 2011 and 2017 when they also had to play without their franchise QB. In 2017, the Colts could have been much better record wise, but the defense was terrible at holding leads and Brissett played poorly in the second half of those games. I don’t think he can replicate the success Luck had last year in moving to a rhythm passing game, but I also think Frank Reich is a coach who will tailor the offense more to Brissett’s skills. Brissett is mobile and he can throw deep. The defense also has the potential to improve with Justin Houston coming from Kansas City to join a cast filled with draft picks from the last three years.

The Colts won’t have to win many shootouts, and the road games that should prove to be very tough (at LAC, KC, PIT, NO) were already games they would have been at a disadvantage in even with Luck. My biggest fear is that the Colts put together a complete team season now that Luck has retired instead of ever doing it while he was active. So while I think this retirement moves the Colts out of the playoffs, I still think there’s enough here to win seven games.

I know, it’s disappointing, but that’s life.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)

I wanted to find more wins for the Jaguars, but it proved to be too difficult. I still really like the defense and expect Nick Foles to take advantage of that unit better than Blake Bortles did. The Jaguars lost the most fumbles per drive on offense last year. The problem is Foles might be the best part of this offense now and he’s simply never been that type of quarterback. He needs the system and talent around him to really succeed, or else you see more of the failed completion master he was with the Rams. I’m not big on the receivers, line, tight ends or Fournette as the featured back here.

The other connection people likely have written about is John DeFilippo coming in as the offensive coordinator. He was the quarterback coach in Philadelphia when Foles had that magical run on the way to Super Bowl MVP. However, let’s not think the position coach was the lynchpin in that happening. DeFilippo was supposed to be a hot head coach candidate in 2018. He settled for the Minnesota OC job and was fired during the season, underachieving with Kirk Cousins, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and company. He has even less to work with here with Foles, so other than familiarity with each other I’m out on this being a huge plus for the offense. But then again, I’m trying to sell myself on this offense putting together long drives with Fournette runs and short completions by Foles to NFL-caliber (but not star) receivers. They’re not going to morph into the 2003 Patriots or anything, but the defense should still be good at each level to give Foles and the offense a fighting chance most weeks.

And hey, two games against the Colts just got a lot easier. I’m still scratching my head in disbelief over the 6-0 win the Jaguars pulled off against Indy last year. The Jaguars finished 5-5 last year when allowing fewer than 21 points. The rest of the NFL won 79 percent of its games when that happened. Look for the Jaguars to improve and possibly even surprise this year, further cementing Foles as having one of the strangest legacies in NFL history.

 

NFC SOUTH

1. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)

Atlanta topping Pittsburgh was my Super Bowl pick last year, and it only took a couple of weeks for that to blow up in my face.

The Falcons were one of four teams (NYJ, NYG, SF) to blow four fourth-quarter leads last year, a problem for all of Dan Quinn’s tenure. They wasted a year by Matt Ryan that was arguably the best a quarterback has ever had for a team with a losing record (7-9). I can’t deny the offense disappointed during the five-game losing streak, but offense is not the main problem in Atlanta. The team’s general injury luck before 2018 was excellent, so it wasn’t shocking to see injuries pile up right away last year, including defensive starters going down in Week 1 in Philly. It was a rough year for the defense all around, but they will be happy to get Keanu Neal and Deion Jones back. It’s still not going to be a great unit, but look how often just one more stop would have turned losses into wins for the Falcons in recent seasons.

This is one of my shortest write-ups because the Falcons are pretty set in their ways and haven’t made wholesale changes from last year. You just have to hope for fewer blown leads for a change. I’m not going to pick Atlanta for the Super Bowl again, but I trust Ryan and a talented offense to deliver enough wins from a schedule that should ease up down the stretch.

2. New Orleans Saints (9-7)

Let’s get this part out of the way: Yes, the Saints should have been in the Super Bowl last year. That was DPI and it was horseshit that they didn’t flag it. That would have taken the clock down near the end and the short field goal likely would have been made to send the Saints to face the Patriots. Do they win that game too? I don’t know, but it sure would have been more entertaining I bet.

Unfortunately, I can see that heartbreaking ending being the final nail in the coffin for the Payton-Brees era, at least as far as the championship window is concerned. Yes, Brees returns at 40, but he without a doubt slowed down last season and you should always be worried about that with a quarterback of his age. It was almost a 2014 Peyton Manning type of change. Brees was having one of the best seasons of his career, then he had a four-week period where throwing for 200 yards proved to be a real struggle. He used to walk into the building with 200 yards in the bank. The Saints only failed to crack 24 points six times last year, but five of those games came after the shocking loss to Dallas on a Thursday night. Without a tipped pick against the Eagles, this could have possibly been a one-and-done season for New Orleans even before the controversial finish a week later against the Rams.

So when I go with 9-7 for the Saints this year, I do it because I see a tougher division around them, and I built in a lot of caution over Brees’ age. I also think smarter defenses can look at this offense and realize how much of it goes through Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara and they should do more to contain those guys. Thomas was particularly ineffective against the Rams in the playoff game. There’s a reason this team tried to get Dez Bryant on the field last year before he was immediately injured. There’s just not a lot of depth after Thomas. Mark Ingram is also gone from the backfield, though I don’t think Latavius Murray is a bad backup plan. Jared Cook should be an upgrade at tight end if he plays like he did for Oakland last year. But it’s still mostly a Thomas and Kamara offense with Brees throwing a ton of passes short of the sticks and them making it work with precision and YAC.

I wouldn’t fault anyone for still picking the Saints as the class of the NFC, but “Best Team in the NFC” is basically a one-year role. Things change often here unlike in the AFC. The schedule also doesn’t do many favors for the Saints. They’ll go on the road where they’re rarely as potent against the Rams, Seahawks and Bears. They’ll also end the season on the road with the Titans and Panthers. I also want to point out that the Saints were a league-best 7-1 in close games last season, holding seven fourth-quarter leads and not blowing any until the infamous playoff loss. These things tend to regress the next year, and it’s not like we haven’t seen the Saints defense collapse time and time again, or the team finish 7-9 over and over despite superb efforts from the quarterback and offense.

I think the NFL is better when Brees and the Saints are good, but I’m just worried that they won’t be good enough for the playoffs this season.

3. Carolina Panthers (8-8)

If you watched All or Nothing on Amazon, you were reminded that Carolina had a very interesting 2018 season. There was the 63-yard field goal against the Giants and the 17-point fourth-quarter comeback in Philly to build a somewhat misleading 6-2 start. Then they had their doors blown off in Pittsburgh, allowing 52 points, or five fewer f-words than Ron Rivera dropped in the locker room at halftime. That kicked off a seven-game losing streak that saw the team botch a two-point conversion attempt against Detroit, lose a shootout with the Seahawks, throw a pick parade against the horrific Tampa Bay defense, and blow a superb defensive effort against the Saints on a Monday night. Cam Newton shut things down for health reasons the final two games and the Panthers missed the playoffs again.

I’ve seen plenty of people putting Carolina back in the playoffs this year, but I still think Atlanta and New Orleans are stronger in the division, and I don’t see the South getting three playoff teams again. I’m big on Christian McCaffrey and the linebackers. I think the young wideouts should take good steps forward this year. Newton’s play has been up and down since the MVP season, but he’s still more reliable than most quarterbacks in the NFL.

Maybe 8-8 sounds disappointing, but keep in mind it would still be the fourth-best record in the nine years for the Newton-Rivera tenure.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

If you want a real darkhorse for the playoffs in 2019, look no further than Tampa Bay. The Bucs haven’t been to the postseason since 2007. Bruce Arians comes in with a track record of success and should love Jameis Winston’s vertical approach with the weapons they have. Last year, the Bucs quietly had one of the most interesting passing offenses in NFL history. You just didn’t get the full feel of it because Winston split time with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the Tampa Bay QBs combined for 5,358 yards, 36 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. That’s a staggering amount of production, but also far too many turnovers.

This is really Winston’s best shot yet to shine, or else the Bucs will want to look at moving on in 2020. He has the receiving talent around him to succeed, though the offensive line and backfield are nothing special. Winston’s best ability is to throw beyond the sticks and make first downs, but he has to cut down on the mistakes that limit his team’s scoring.

They’re going to need the points with this defense that has been awful for years. I actually like the front seven this year, but the secondary still leaves a lot to be desired. Playing in such a strong quarterback division has been a problem for the Bucs, and I see that continuing again this year.

Last year, the Bucs were 0-7 at 4QC and 1-7 at 4QC/GWD opportunities. Arians has the best record of any active coach (27-17-1, .611) in such games. If everything comes together offensively and the defense is stronger, and if the Bucs start winning some close games for a change, then you can see how an unexpected 9-7 season can emerge from all of this. I wouldn’t hold my breath on it, but it shouldn’t take you by surprise if it happens.

 

AFC WEST

1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

Part of me just wants to fill this section with tweets I made about Patrick Mahomes’ incredible first year as a starter. I feel like I can confidently say no quarterback has had a better 19-game start to his career than Mahomes. Even in the five games the Chiefs lost last year, he was stellar.  I’ll start with some highlights:

The Chiefs have scored at least 26 points in all 19 of Mahomes’ starts (including playoffs). For an idea of how impressive that is, the longest streaks in NFL history of scoring 26+ points (playoffs included) belong to the 2012-13 Broncos (19 games), 2018 Chiefs (18 games), and the 1983 Redskins (15 games). No other team has a streak longer than 12 games. Keep in mind that the Chiefs’ official streak is at 18 games since Mahomes did not start the playoff loss to the 2017 Titans (Alex Smith did).

So we are witnessing truly historic stuff that really only 1984 Dan Marino compares to. Mahomes looked the part in every way too last year, delivering accurate bullets and playing great under pressure with his mobility and arm making him the ultimate dual threat.

Naturally, you expect regression from the offense this season after one of those all-time great years. There’s a chance Mahomes will never reach those numbers again, but let’s not bother speculating on that with the direction the game is headed and how good he can be. I think Mahomes deserves to be the MVP favorite again this year even though the expectations of matching or exceeding his numbers last year could hurt him when the time comes for that. But he should have another great year in an offense still loaded with talent (Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins). We’ll see how the backfield shakes out after just adding LeSean McCoy, but I’m sure Andy Reid will figure something out. The offensive line is still shaky to me, and that was an issue in the postseason when Mahomes was under pressure too often. Still, he pulled off the rare feat of positive DVOA under pressure so he can handle it.

Regardless of how much the offense declines, the defense has to start picking up the slack. They couldn’t stop the Patriots from scoring 43 in the first matchup. They couldn’t hang onto an interception Jared Goff gifted them in the 54-51 classic. They couldn’t stop Philip Rivers on the final drive at home on Thursday night. They were lit up by Russell Wilson’s deep throws in Seattle. Dee Ford lined up offsides at the worst time ever against New England, and the Chiefs failed to ever give Mahomes a chance with the ball in overtime. We need to see more stops from this defense in crunch time.

There’s not a game on the 2019 schedule where I wouldn’t trust Mahomes to be able to outscore the opposition, but the reason I still predicted four losses was the defense. They said goodbye to Eric Berry, Justin Houston and Ford, but at least brought in Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Bashaud Breeland, and Tyrann Mathieu. Still, I’m not convinced the defense is better on paper, but at least coordinator Bob Sutton is gone. Reid brought in another old friend in Steve Spagnuolo to fill that post, but Spag’s resume is very shaky. He’s best known for the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl run, but he’s also coached horrible defenses in three different NFL cities. At the very least, it’s a fresh set of eyes.

The Chiefs couldn’t finish off the Patriots in two attempts last year. They still have played them about as well as any team in recent years, but it’s all about finishing. We’ll see what happens in Week 14 and possibly another playoff matchup this time around. A more balanced team that is still great offensively might just be the key in 2019.

2. Los Angeles Chargers (10-6)

First order of business: a holdout by RB Melvin Gordon doesn’t really change my prospects for this team. We saw how other backs were successful last year, and Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are capable of filling in for Gordon. Hunter Henry is also finally healthy at TE, though it wouldn’t be a Chargers season without a big injury before Week 1. Safety Derwin James will miss major time after a stellar rookie season last year.

I am really skeptical of giving this team so many wins again this season. Let’s not forget that 2018 was the first time the Chargers won double-digit games since 2009. Philip Rivers has really only had two great seasons since that time, and both led to the playoffs (2013 and 2018). I still expect him to be fine at age 38, though I thought his numbers were a little inflated last year with a couple long touchdowns on absurd plays where a lineman clearly false started, and they got away with a push-off (OPI) to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City. The offensive line also scares me a bit this year. Rivers has avoided injury with the best to ever do it, but all it takes is one snap.

However, for a change the Chargers weren’t massively crippled by injuries and didn’t implode in close games over and over last year. They saved their dumb moment for the playoffs in New England where they seemed completely unprepared for what Bill Belichick would do. The seven defensive back wrinkle was cute and effective against run-heavy Baltimore, but that wasn’t going to work against the diverse Patriots. That game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score suggests either. Rivers has still never beaten the Patriots with Brady at quarterback.

The Patriots aren’t on the regular season schedule again either, and the Chargers catch a few other breaks like getting the Colts first without Andrew Luck, and they’ll get to host the likes of Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Houston, and Minnesota. I know, it’s basically the worst home-field advantage in the NFL, but it’s better than a true road game. So the schedule is favorable enough that I still have the Chargers winning 10 games, but I’ll still trust the Chiefs and Mahomes more to take the division once again.

3. Denver Broncos (7-9)

The first thing I look for in trying to find a turnaround team: new coach and new quarterback. The only teams that qualify this season are Denver, Arizona and Miami. The Broncos bring the experience here with Vic Fangio (his first head coaching job) and Joe Flacco, but I’d be skeptical of both.

Let’s start with Fangio, the 61-year-old who is so old school he wouldn’t even pass a kidney stone before his preseason debut in August. He comes over from the Bears where he was the defensive coordinator for the last four years. From 2015-17, the Bears were the worst defense in the NFL at getting interceptions (24 total). Last year they had 27 picks in a stellar defensive season led by some big-name talent that wasn’t always there in past years, including the trade for Khalil Mack from Oakland. Fangio is a long-time coordinator and he’s coached about as many top-tier defenses as he has bottom-tier. It often comes down to the talent rather than any revolutionary scheming.

This is why I think Fangio could get some overstated love this season should Denver improve and Chicago regress. Both of those things can be expected to happen on turnover regression alone. Fortunately, the Broncos have plenty of defensive talent, led by Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Derek Wolfe, and Chris Harris. It’s not the defense has fallen off since the Super Bowl 50 win, but it just hasn’t been as great, and it’s been hampered by a bad offense.

I’m not a fan of hiring defensive-minded coaches, especially ones who have never had the top job before. This could start to look like Grumpy Old Men on the sideline. Joining Fangio is an old friend, Ed Donatell, who will be an NFL defensive coordinator for the first time since 2006 (Falcons). He’s 62, which is just the inverse of 26, which is how many yards Donatell’s Green Bay defense had to defend on fourth down in the 2003 playoffs in Philadelphia. He was fired after that failure. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello is the pup of the group at 47 years old. He coached Kyle Shanahan’s quarterbacks the last two years in San Francisco, but has never been an OC in the NFL until now. He’s definitely from the Shanahan coaching tree, so that suits Elway and the Broncos well, or at least in the past it would have. We may not see a great modern approach to this offense this season.

As for Flacco, things have rarely been the same since that month he stopped in Denver and Rahim Moore acted the fool, ruining quarterback contracts for eternity. Flacco’s cap hit is $18.5M this season before going back into the 20’s next year. He has a good chance to hold off second-round rookie Drew Lock, but Flacco has not been a valuable QB in some years. In fact, I’ve done multiple studies for ESPN Insider before to show that he was one of the least valuable in the game relative to how well his running game, defense, and special teams performed. Despite Flacco’s flaws, he was on Baltimore teams that were .500 or better in five of the last six seasons since he peaked with his Super Bowl run in the 2012 season.

So if you think the defense will be elite and Phillip Lindsay will be a productive runner behind an offensive line John Elway has tried to improve, then perhaps Flacco will again be insulated better than most quarterbacks this season. I would have some doubts about Emmanuel Sanders being highly productive at 32 after tearing his Achilles, but he’s still the most reliable target on the team. Courtland Sutton is an interesting No. 2 in his second season though.

For a change, Denver doesn’t open the season with two straight home games. The Broncos beating the Bears at home in Week 2 might be my lock of the year pick, but overall, I don’t see Denver having enough firepower or elite enough defense to get ahead of the Chargers and Chiefs in this division.

4. Oakland Raiders (3-13)

My pick for the worst record in the NFL goes to Oakland. The Raiders already played near that level for Jon Gruden last year where their only convincing win was on Christmas Eve against a Denver team hoping to get Vance Joseph fired as their present. A shaky head-to-head win over Arizona was the only reason Oakland didn’t pick No. 1 overall in 2019.

Obviously I don’t think much of the Antonio Brown trade here. Will he still put up some numbers? Sure, but it can’t be understated how good of a connection he had with Ben Roethlisberger, who wasn’t afraid to get the ball to Brown. That connection suffered for the first time last year, but Brown still led the league with 15 TD catches in 15 games. I don’t think Brown is right in the head these days, and I don’t mean the fit of his helmet. Derek Carr is unreliably aggressive, meaning he will try a back-shoulder pass 20 yards down the field or a go route, but he’ll also dump the ball down in fear of getting hit with the best (read: worst) of them. If Brown couldn’t get along with Ben anymore, just imagine where this relationship with Carr will go. Also, I don’t get why they wouldn’t bring back TE Jared Cook and why bother with a first-round RB when you have so many holes?

I actually think Carr will have the second-best season of his career this year, but it won’t be enough to mean anything. Defensively, this unit was predictably pathetic without Khalil Mack at getting pressure last year. It’s hard to go anywhere but up in 2019, but there’s little to get excited about here.

On the way to 3-13, I gave Oakland an 0-8 road record and a 1-5 division record. The Chargers are better period, and with the Kansas City offense and Denver defense, I see rough times for Oakland in the AFC West. Even if they double their wins from my prediction to finish 6-10, it’s still yet another failed season for a team that’s almost exclusively dealt in them since Gruden saw his Buccaneers beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

 

NFC WEST

1. Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

Losing the Super Bowl isn’t a curse. It’s a disappointing end to an exciting season, which is exactly what the Rams had last year. They won a lot of high-scoring games, including the 54-51 classic against the Chiefs. Say what you want about Jared Goff, but with him at quarterback the Rams were able to outscore the Chargers, Vikings (arguably the best passing performance any QB had in 2018), Packers, Seahawks (twice), Chiefs and Saints last year. That’s why the 13-3 dud of a Super Bowl was such a massive letdown. Even Sean McVay knew immediately how badly he botched that one, his first big test against Belichick’s Patriots.

As far as the NFC goes, the Rams still look as talented as any team out there. They have McVay and Wade Phillips on the coaching staff. They have the best defender in the league in Aaron Donald. They added Eric Weddle to a secondary that still has Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. We’ll get to Goff soon, and we know Todd Gurley can be big in this offense, but it still doesn’t skip a beat without him either. The Rams might have the best wide receiver trio in the league with Cooper Kupp back healthy. That was one of the most significant injuries last year as he can help open this offense up.

The Rams mostly lost out on the No. 1 seed last year because they lost in New Orleans midway through the season. This year they get the Saints at home in Week 2. We know the Saints just aren’t as potent on the road, so there’s an advantage. The Rams’ toughest road game may prove to be at Pittsburgh, but that’s after a bye week. The Rams have beaten Seattle three straight times, so the division power has definitely swung there.

As for Goff, I’m writing this section hours after his big extension news came through. It’s hard to believe one of the worst rookie quarterbacks ever is inking a deal worth $110M guaranteed just a couple years later. His rookie year is now irrelevant of course, and I’m probably a bigger Goff fan than most out there. Still, it’s a bit crazy to think how quickly things have changed here, but he was the No. 1 overall pick for good reasons. Even if he lacks the flash of some of the other young quarterbacks in the league, Goff is effective at running the play-action heavy offense McVay wants him to run. When Goff throws for 300 yards, the Rams are 11-2 and average 36.2 points per game. That’s up there with anyone you can name. If he could have just delivered a better throw to Brandin Cooks in the Super Bowl, he might have a ring already.

Speaking of that dreadful Super Bowl, I never wrote any of my thoughts about it. I thought about saying something in March before free agency as I thought maybe it would have been ideal if the Rams traded for Rob Gronkowski (before he retired of course). When I look at that game, I see ineffective offense by both teams, but the Patriots still moved the ball well as long as Gronk and Julian Edelman were involved in the passing game. Brady was terrible when targeting anyone else, but those two receivers, who primarily work the slot and middle of the field, were able to eat up every coverage and defender the Rams threw at them. Edelman of course won MVP, but Gronk made the big catch down the seam that set up the game-winning touchdown.

Meanwhile, McVay did nothing easy on early downs for Goff, like the RB passes or screens they usually do. Goff was stuck in a lot of third-and-long situations and failed to deliver. On several of the biggest plays of the game, he tried to hit Cooks deep, but Stephon Gilmore had a great game, including that monster interception late. To me, that proved to be the difference in the game. The Patriots had their studs make plays look easy, while Goff was stuck trying to hit vertical passes to outside receivers matched up with strong corners. It’s not like Brady was going to attack Aqib Talib deep down the field when Edelman was getting open quickly everywhere. That’s why I think the lack of a great tight end — the position accounted for one target and zero catches in the SB — is the only thing the Rams are missing offensively, and why the return of Kupp in the slot should be a huge help to Goff and McVay. Josh Reynolds just wasn’t as good.

Not that I expect a SB rematch, but if you remove Gronk and add Kupp, that definitely tilts things in favor of the Rams. Of course, the Patriots do a much better job of getting back to Super Bowls while we just don’t see it as much in the NFC. The last team to repeat was Seattle in 2013-14. In fact, the 2013-14 Seahawks are the last team to repeat in NFC Championship Game appearances.

2. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)

It’s going to be weird to see the Seahawks without Doug Baldwin or Earl Thomas. Then again, it was weird to see them without Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor last year and they still made the playoffs at 10-6. But this continued loss of talent — the old core is essentially down to Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright — is one of the reasons why it’s hard to keep Seattle among the NFL’s eltie. The other problem is the rise of Sean McVay’s Rams, the team with three straight wins over the Seahawks and the last two NFC West crowns.

So you’re almost starting with the idea that Seattle will have to go on the road as a Wild Card to get to another Super Bowl, which is bad news for a team with one of the league’s best home-field advantages. The Seahawks forgot Wilson was their quarterback in last year’s playoff loss in Dallas. It would have been nice if they forgot that at the end of Super Bowl XLIX — I will never let this go — but the team has not returned to the NFC Championship Game since that 2014 season.

Much like with Baltimore in the AFC, I sat down for this process with the idea that Seattle would regress to 8-9 wins and miss the playoffs. But I believe in Wilson so much that I had them finishing 10-6, and that was even before the weekend when they acquired Jadeveon Clowney in a trade from Houston. I think Clowney and Ziggy Ansah haven’t fully lived up to their top 5 draft status in this league, but it’s not a bad duo to have as your edge rushers. The linebackers remain great, but the secondary still looks like a development project after the Legion of Boom went to ashes.

For as much as the coaching staff frightens you with their insistence on running the ball, you still have to think of Pete Carroll as one of the best in this coach-deficient era of NFL history.

I’m curious to see what Wilson gets out of rookie receiver DK Metcalf, and how Tyler Lockett adapts to being a No. 1 WR after an extremely efficient 2018 season. I still expect the Rams to maintain their superiority in the division, but look for a so-so Seattle team to finish strong and win their last three games to set up another postseason.

3. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)

The 49ers were one of my five biggest misses last year. I bought into the Jimmy Garoppolo hype and had them finishing 9-7 (actual: 4-12). Was I a year too early? Are we not on the brink of this Kyle Shanahan experiment closing up shop if they can’t get their rich QB playing well and win more than six games? This is Shanahan’s third year and the team moved backwards in 2018. I’ve mentioned several times in game recaps how officiating has gone against Shanahan in close games, and injuries weren’t kind either last year. So maybe there’s some reason for hope there if Garoppolo can look more like the QB he was late in 2017, but I’m not really in love with anything on the offense besides George Kittle. And even he may take a step back last year if those big YAC plays don’t come to fruition again, but he’s one of the best tight ends to watch now.

The defense has continued to pour resources into the line without much to show for. Nick Bosa is already hurt to start his career. Dee Ford, worst-timed offsides ever aside, is a good, proven addition from Kansas City, but he really has to pick up a lot of slack in the rest of this front seven. Richard Sherman isn’t what he used to be and injuries have always prevented Jason Verrett from becoming what he could be.

If this team can survive September (at TB, at CIN, PIT) then I think it’ll be an interesting season, but the schedule just gets tougher after that and it’s always a hard spot to be in when you’re no more than the third-best team in your own division.

4. Arizona Cardinals (4-12)

More great quarterbacks are always good for the NFL, but I also want to see No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray succeed just to further diminish height as a prerequisite for the position. Murray had one of the most ridiculous seasons in NCCA history last year: 11.6 yards per pass attempt, 42 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and he rushed for 1,001 yards (sacks included) and a dozen more scores. But this is the NFL and his preseason was lousy: 5.4 YPA, no touchdowns or picks. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his regular season, but if you’re going to predict he has a Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott type of impact on this team as a rookie, note that they had strong, productive preseasons as rookies. Some have suggested rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury purposely held things back from his offense in the preseason, but that’s a bit of a tough sell to me. There’s a pretty good chance this thing could be a disaster for 2019.

In fact, I’d say it’s about 85 percent disaster, 15 percent success in Year 1 for Murray/Kingsbury. They’ll want to account for his height and mobility and move the pocket, though I’m not crazy about the offensive line they’ve mashed together. Larry Fitzgerald is 36 now, and it’s hard to get excited in 2019 about Michael Crabtree, Maxxxxxx Williams or Charles Clay. I think the strength of the defense should be the veterans up front (Terrell Suggs and Chandler Jones), but star corner Patrick Peterson is suspended for six games.

I say bring on the Air Raid to the NFL, but let’s not forget that Arizona peaked in 2015 and has only seen the roster decline since. This is a work in progress.

 

PLAYOFFS

AFC

  1. Kansas City (12-4)
  2. New England (11-5)
  3. Pittsburgh (11-5)
  4. Houston (10-6)
  5. Cleveland (10-6)
  6. Los Angeles (10-6)

I like sweeps this year. This Sunday night’s game in New England ultimately gives the Patriots another first-round bye over the Steelers, which sets up another rematch there after the Steelers take care of the Chargers. The Steelers fall in New England again. Meanwhile, the Browns finally get a playoff win in Houston before losing in a shootout with the Chiefs at Arrowhead. In a direct rematch from last year’s title game, the Chiefs don’t get shutout in the first half this time and finally get over the hump by smashing the Patriots at home to reach the team’s first Super Bowl since the 1970 merger.

NFC

  1. Los Angeles (12-4)
  2. Philadelphia (11-5)
  3. Green Bay (10-6)
  4. Atlanta (10-6)
  5. Seattle (10-6)
  6. Minnesota (10-6)

I know it’s far too neat to have all 12 playoff teams with 10+ wins, and I’m probably setting myself up for failure with 19 teams winning at least eight games. Alas, I have the Rams and Eagles taking the first-round byes to also set up a 1 vs. 2 matchup again. I think the Packers will beat the Vikings at home while the Falcons nip Seattle in Atlanta again. McVay starts his playoff revenge tour by beating the Falcons, the team that took them out in his rookie year. Meanwhile, Carson Wentz finally starts his first playoff game and he outplays Aaron Rodgers for a win. But as Wentz returns to the site of his torn ACL from 2017, Aaron Donald and the Rams shut the Eagles down in a crucial game for the McVay vs. Pederson debate. McVay gets to Super Bowl No. 2 first.

SUPER BOWL LIV

LA Rams 38, Kansas City 34

It’s not quite 54-51, but this rematch from last year is another classic shootout. The Rams put the ball in Goff’s hands after a couple of so-so games in the NFC playoffs and he delivers on the big stage in an MVP-winning performance. Mahomes sets some kind of record for excellence in a Super Bowl loss.

TL;DR version: Second time’s a charm for McVay as we get the Super Bowl we deserved a year later.

Top 10 Andrew Luck Moments

The shock of Andrew Luck’s retirement this weekend is still with me. Just as the NFL looks to start its 100th season, there has really never been a quarterback of this caliber who walked away from the game just shy of his 30th birthday.

Maybe Luck returns in a year or two, but for now, let’s assume his career is over. This would have to make him the all-time choice for the “what if he stayed healthy?” quarterback. Luck was truly unique despite playing in an era as good as any in NFL history at the position.

I think it’s important to write something like this to preserve his legacy, because Luck could very well be forgotten in the near future. Luck was never a league MVP or first-team All-Pro quarterback. That’s not just a matter of playing the same time as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers either. In fact, Luck saw Cam Newton (2015), Matt Ryan (2016) and Patrick Mahomes (2018) ascend to those levels in the last four years. Luck never threw for 5,000 yards and topped out at 40 touchdown passes (2014). He never reached a Super Bowl and finished with a completion percentage barely over 60 percent and 7.2 yards per attempt. He played in 86 regular-season games and eight more in the playoffs. In all likelihood, he’ll never get a serious push for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Some statistics will look favorable for Luck over time, but overall, he won’t stack up to his peers and the Hall of Famers people thought he’d compare to as one of the most hyped prospects in draft history. Luck was always better on video than he was on paper. Luck was closer to John Elway than he was Peyton Manning, and it’s a shame the Colts kind of screwed the pooch after drafting all three of those players No. 1 overall. The difference is Luck is checking out before we see if he has another level to ascend in his game, or if he would get there by finally having superior coaching and talent around him.

That’s probably the most disappointing part of this all: we likely never got to see Peak Andrew Luck. Health was the main culprit, and we can place the blame in multiple places there, including on the quarterback himself who had a reckless style from Day 1 until Frank Reich had him releasing the ball faster in 2018, his swansong which netted him a Comeback Player of the Year award. When Peyton Manning exploded with 49 touchdown passes in 2004, that was his seventh season in the league. Tom Brady’s 50 touchdown pass season in 2007 was his seventh as a starter. Drew Brees’ best statistical years were in 2009 and 2011, his 9th and 11th NFL seasons. Joe Montana’s statistical peak was 1989, his 11th NFL season. Even the aforementioned Matt Ryan peaked in 2016, his ninth season. Most quarterbacks aren’t like Kurt Warner, Dan Marino and (likely) Patrick Mahomes, who figured things out immediately in their second seasons. Most top quarterbacks have their best moment in the midpoint of their career, but Luck only lasted seven seasons, playing in six of them.

Despite only 94 starts, Luck provided several memorable moments. With respect to the debate this week about whether Luck or Bert Jones was the third-best QB in Colts history behind Manning and Johnny Unitas, I will point this out. Jones really doesn’t have any highlight reel to speak of. Part of it is an era/technology difference, though most hardcore NFL fans who were born after the 70s, myself included, have visual aids for the likes of Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Ken Stabler, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts, etc. I really can’t recall a single play from Bert Jones’ career. The most famous game he played in was Ghost to the Post, a playoff loss to the Raiders in double overtime. Jones never won a playoff game (0-3) actually. He threw four touchdown passes twice in his career, including one loss where he also threw four picks (one for a touchdown in a 45-38 final). His legacy is really that of a three-year stretch (1975-77) where he was incredibly efficient in the toughest era for passing statistics since the merger, and it was highlighted by that 1976 season. Like Luck, his career was marred and shortened by injury.

I’ll take Luck over Jones, and it’s for reasons like the games I’m about to go through. When I shared that tweet earlier about Luck being one of the QBs you can count on to drag a team to double-digit wins, it’s because of games like this where he delivered for rosters that usually had no business winning double-digit games and going to the playoffs. Luck did that four times in his career.

Here are Luck’s top 10 moments as judged by me, a fan since Day 1, who is still trying to wrap his head around the idea that we won’t see any more of this.

10. 2016 Week 17 – 17-Point Comeback vs. Jaguars

The Jaguars had the best defense in the NFL in 2017, and many of those players were on the field for this matchup in the final game of the 2016 season. Jacksonville led 17-0 early, but Luck clawed the Colts back to a 20-17 deficit before getting the ball back with 1:33. He led a 75-yard touchdown drive, finishing the Jaguars off with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle for a 24-20 win. Luck’s elation spilled over after the throw, ending a comeback season after a miserable 2015.

LuckJags2016

9. 2014 AFC Divisional – 3rd-and-16 at Broncos

The biggest playoff win the Colts had in the Luck era came in Denver in the 2014 AFC divisional round. Luck didn’t have a stellar game, but against a strong defense, he came out of the locker room in the third quarter and engineered a 72-yard touchdown drive that gave the Colts a commanding 21-10 lead in a game they went on to win 24-13. The drive was kept alive by a 32-yard pass to Coby Fleener on a big third-and-16.

8. 2013 Week 7 – SNF vs. Broncos

Denver came to town with a red-hot Peyton Manning and a 6-0 record for Sunday Night Football. This was Luck’s first chance to outscore his predecessor in a game and he delivered by throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another in a 39-33 win, handing Denver its first loss of the season.

7. 2015 Week 3 – 13-Point 4QC at Titans

Luck was a major nuisance for the division rival Titans in his career. He was 11-0 as a starter and had four of his 21 4QC/GWD against the Titans, his most against any team. The most memorable happened to be in 2015, Luck’s lost year to injury after he reportedly injured his shoulder in this game. Still, he played through and finished in style. The Colts fell behind 27-14 in the fourth quarter and threatened to fall to 0-3 on the season. Luck led three touchdown drives in a 35-33 win.

6. 2015 Week 9 – Lacerated Kidney vs. Broncos

While 2015 was the roughest playing year of Luck’s career, he ended it on a high note with his game-winning drive in a 27-24 win against Manning’s Broncos. Denver had the best defense in the league that year and Luck had one of the finest games against it, and he did this despite playing with a lacerated kidney. Luck’s season ended after this game, but it was one of the best wins of his career.

5. 2013 Week 9 – 18-Point Comeback at Texans

This was another Sunday Night Football game where the Colts pulled off the improbable comeback, and Luck and T.Y. Hilton became the Houston’s secondary worst nightmare. Down 24-6 late in the third quarter, Luck found Hilton for three touchdowns, including a 58-yard bomb that wouldn’t be the last time Hilton split the defensive backs in Houston. The Colts won 27-24.

4. 2012 Week 13 – 12-Point Comeback at Lions

Luck set a rookie record with seven game-winning drives in 2012. Perhaps none were more memorable than the walk-off score in Detroit in a 35-33 win. The Colts actually trailed 33-21 with just over four minutes remaining. After one touchdown drive, Luck got the ball back with 1:07 left and drove the Colts 75 yards for the win. On the game’s final play, Luck improvised before flipping the ball to Donnie Avery for the score with no time left.

3. 2012 Week 5 – ChuckStrong vs. Packers

This was probably the first moment where it looked like the Colts had something really special in Luck. Indy (1-2) was a touchdown underdog at home against Green Bay, and head coach Chuck Pagano was just revealed to have cancer that week. The Colts trailed 21-3 at halftime, but this would be the first of 11 times Luck led the Colts to a win after trailing by at least 12 points. Down 27-22 late, Luck engineered a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, overcoming three third-and-long situations. Reggie Wayne came up big on the drive and had a 4-yard touchdown. The Colts won 30-27.

2. 2014 AFC Wild Card – TD vs. Bengals

Many of Luck’s big moments were comebacks and close games. This was a 26-10 final, but it was his most efficient playoff performance of his career. The touchdown in particular came at a big moment when the Colts only led 13-10 in the third quarter. Luck stepped up and delivered a dime to Donte Moncrief for a 36-yard touchdown. Luck finished the game by completing 31-of-44 passes for 376 yards. That was his only touchdown pass, but it was as fine as you’ll see.

1. 2013 AFC Wild Card – 28-Point Comeback vs. Chiefs

You knew the second-largest comeback in playoff history was going to be No. 1. In many ways, this is a career-defining game for Luck as it gives you the full experience of his career. His team came out playing disgraceful football as the defense was shredded by Alex Smith and the Chiefs. The ill-fated Trent Richardson trade led to a fumble in the second quarter. Luck was down 24-7 and had only thrown two incomplete passes to that point. He also threw a couple of ugly interceptions in the game, which the Chiefs led 38-10 in the third quarter.

For as bleak as it looked, Luck continued playing his game and eventually led five touchdowns in a six-drive span. He threw for 443 yards and finished the scoring off with a perfect 64-yard bomb to Hilton to split the defenders again. But the ultimate highlight in this 45-44 win that will always survive the test of time is Luck’s recovery of God Dammit Donald Brown’s fumble. Luck corrected his teammate’s mistake by picking up the ball and lunging forward for his own touchdown to save the comeback.

That game was Luck in a nutshell. It wasn’t always pretty, but he found a way to be successful even if the odds and the team around him weren’t in his favor.

Andrew Luck never became the next Peyton Manning, and it appears Patrick Mahomes may go down as the quarterback of the NFL’s next decade. But Luck was a special player in his own right, and for those of us who were able to see him play, we’ll have to talk about him to future generations in the words of the late Rutger Hauer at the end of Blade Runner.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Three 11-win seasons with Ryan Grigson as the brains of the operation. I watched Trent Richardson stumble in the dark near the end zone. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Goodbye, Andrew.

BRunner

Scott Kacsmar: About Me

This blog already has an “About” section, but it’s outdated to where it doesn’t even mention when I started working my first full-time job in 2013. As of today, I am a free agent. I thank Aaron Schatz for giving me the opportunity, and I wish him and the other writers the best going forward.

If you told me I would get fired over something involving Twitter and Patriots fans, I could have believed it. I just would have assumed it would be something that happens in the moment rather than tweets primarily from 2012-13 back when I was a freelancer. Now I’m sitting here, on one of the coldest days temperature wise in my 32 years, to write what really is the most important thing I’ve ever written. Some may advise this is a bad idea, but I only know one way to defend myself, and that is to be brutally honest, transparent, and state my case. I’ve been silent long enough.

Three paragraphs in and a lot of you probably still don’t know what’s going on, which is a huge source of my frustration here. On Wednesday afternoon (1/30), I was alerted that old tweets of mine were collected in screenshots on Twitter from members of “BJBSJ,” a news outlet that doesn’t even have a website. I’ll let one of them explain what their service is:

In other words, they are Patriots fans with an ax to grind as I already had several of the people involved Muted before Wednesday. That means past interactions didn’t go well with these people. I’ve gotten into it with Patriots fans online for 15 years, but this group is particularly obsessed with ending people who view their favorite sports teams differently. Their leader, Craig Bernard, is a self-called “Bountyhunter” and is no stranger to calling people c*nts and pedophiles online (I can screenshot too in case he deletes). Here’s a series of tweets from him on Wednesday where he confirms no fewer than six people dug through my nearly 140,000 tweets since 2011 to pick out about 16 bits of (in their eyes) racist gold. He also refers to me as “Kochsmear,” which I’ve grown used to seeing (or Cocksmear) from those who don’t like me online over the years. It’s just amusing to see it here as this was clearly a smear job as he implored someone at Barstool to run with their attack.

bjsj

On Thursday (1/31), Black Sports Online (BSO) ran with the story, for which I was never contacted for comment. BSO has the tweets in there, but I will get to them all below shortly. None of the tweets had any racial slurs or threats, but some of the tweets were absolutely cringeworthy and I’m ashamed and embarrassed to have my name attached to them. If I had a do-over, I never would have made them, but I did and here we are and that’s far from the last time I’ll own up to them here. Please read along to the end.

I needed to write an apology, but that proved to be more difficult than imagined. Normally, when you offend someone, it’s easy to be direct and offer them a sincere apology. Here, I was trying to write an apology that I would float into the void on my Twitter account over a situation most were completely unaware of (BJBSJ’s not exactly CNN). Looking at what other media members have gone through when they apologized for something, some people will always complain regardless, but this is what I posted and it didn’t go over too well. It certainly wasn’t as detailed as I wanted it to be, but they were all my own words.

1-30-2019apology

Readers didn’t like the “if anyone feels offended, I apologize” part. I understand that, but the problem I ran into there was I didn’t know who the people I was apologizing to were, and I know that not everyone is going to be offended by it as I’ve heard back on Twitter. Trying to apologize for something hardly anyone knows about, and where a lot of people might not even care is not an easy thing to do.

The part that aggravates me more than anything is that these BJBSJ people are not offended by the tweets they exposed. They’re offended by the tweets I’ve made over the years, including this week, about the New England Patriots, their team. That’s why it was such a connected network of Patriots fans that continued to push this story on this week and harass the companies involved over doing something about it. Again, many of the people replying I already had blocked or muted before this started, and several were even followers of mine I had muted. These people were out for blood and I guess they got it for the time being.

If you don’t know me, you should know that I have a longstanding feud with Patriots fans about their team’s place in history. I back up what I say with stats on Twitter and in countless articles, and I’ve never let it interfere with my work as you can see if you look at the last piece I co-wrote — at least I ended the tenure with strong work — where the Patriots got a push over the Rams to win this Sunday. But these people are obsessed enough with someone critical of their team that they’ll do this during the week their team is in the Super Bowl. That’s the kind of petty society we live in today where people can disagree with you on sports or politics and try to ruin you. I’ve had it attempted before with a Trump supporter who didn’t like my Ivanka joke in 2017, yet her own timeline revealed an incest joke about having sex with someone’s aunt. These people are hypocrites at best and deplorable at worst, yet get enough of them together to fake outrage and they’ll mess your life up.

I’m suddenly billed as a racist because that’s the most convenient way to get rid of me in 2019, facts be damned. Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows that is bullshit. As I said in the apology, I acknowledge that I have a history of bringing up race on Twitter, but it’s always been in a quirky, comedic way, and never about hatred or indifference. Here are examples of some tweets that were not brought up this week that I do not feel ashamed about posting:

Have I ever pushed the envelope of decency on Twitter before? Yes. But if I was getting a lot of negative reactions from these tweets, then clearly I wouldn’t be making them. But I thought this was all in good, harmless fun. Clearly I do bring up race more than the average 30-something white guy, but show me where it’s ever been out of hatred. I also have shown I’ll change when I know someone is offended. I used to have “Lover of spreadsheets and Japanese women” in my Twitter bio for a couple of years. After seeing complaints about that, I realized that needed removed and I needed to be more professional. I’m not always tone deaf on these matters. If someone (especially a woman) lets me know that was creepy, then I’m going to fix it.

THE TWEETS

Now for the tweets in question, which were posted by @dontaboomhauer (formerly @designatedkyle). I’ll go through them the best I can to explain my thought process. Sometimes, there simply is no explanation other than I was fucking stupid to post that, but I also hope that with some of these you’ll see just how much these people stretched to paint me as something I’m not.

Top two – I have made many tweets over the years about fireworks in my neighborhood, typically on 4th of July and New Year’s. I was doing it to start this month even. For the 2012 tweet about fireworks in the ghetto, I apologize for that. I meant no harm. I see how “ghetto” can take on a negative racial connotation that I didn’t consider at the time, but I assure you that’s not how I view it. I just tweeted the word ghetto in November 2018 to describe old CD-Rs that were generic. In 2016 I described the Gallagher family on Shameless as ghetto (they’re white if you haven’t seen the show). I’ve lived in an impoverished area my whole life. While it is predominantly African-American, I’ve had neighbors of all races. The biggest offenders for the fireworks have actually been a white family nearby. I had nothing racial in mind when I made that tweet, and the same can be said about the section 8 tweet because “ghetto” and “section 8” are not racial things in my eyes. Again, there is section 8 housing right next to me and the tenants (always of varying races) are a revolving door. This was 4th of July 2016, so it’s more recent when I clearly had a full-time job and good-sized following. Again, I understand the optics can look racially bad to some, but the context I have on my neighborhood is something I should have communicated better to not offend anyone. In the end, I shouldn’t have done either tweet and just commented on my general dislike of 4th of July, as I did in 2015. I’m sorry.

Bottom two – I deeply regret posting these in 2012-13. The first with the “darkest part of Africa” was a reference to Akeem, a white wrestler created out of stereotypical WWF of the 1980s. That was probably the year I was watching old wrestling stuff on Youtube with my friend and laughing at that line in his intro as they introduced him from there. Why would I tweet it to bring up quarterback Browning Nagle apparently getting his jerseys delivered like they do with jerseys people don’t want (SB losers and such)? I don’t know. It was a pathetic joke in poor taste. I’m sorry. The black people’s BBQ tweet, that’s confused me for over 24 hours now. I have no idea what #KGC is. Kentucky Grilled Chicken? All I can think of is I saw a commercial for the movie Grown Ups 2 and commented that I’d rather watch my neighbors cook on the porch than that movie. It was a knock on the movie only, but I apologize for needlessly bringing up black people there. The whole thing never should have been tweeted as it’s not funny or necessary. I’m sorry.

Top two – On calling the 90s NBA low-scoring era “thug ball DEF” in 2014, I clearly screwed up. That’s a case of me being tone deaf on how that word thug can be associated negatively to the African-American players. I need to do better and I think I have in regards to using (or not using) that word. As for the other tweet, I’m disgusted with myself for thinking “a decent portion of blacks” was acceptable to type. I apologize. 2014 was a year I got into some heated debates about whether or not Redskins should change their team name, and that was a poor choice of words. I’m sorry.

Bottom two – the one on the right is where I again mentioned that I live in a ghetto area, which I already explained is not a racial term for me, but I apologize if you feel differently. We’ll just have to agree to disagree there. As for the Adam & Eve tweet, that was one where I clearly knew I was pushing the envelope, but that was due to starting a creationism vs. evolution debate, a touchy subject for sure. But again, that was me in 2014 referring to “blacks,” and that’s just simply not good enough from me. That’s another area where I feel like I’ve made strides to be better in addressing people more respectfully. I’m sorry I didn’t get there sooner in life, but I truly meant nothing racially insensitive there. Religion? That’s a different story, and that was the target of the tweet.

Top 2 – Inception 2 was another poor joke in bad taste that I want to apologize for. It doesn’t even really make sense. So stupid. As for Rajon Rondo being a thug, again, that’s a situation where I need to just stick with “prick” or something that can’t have a racial overtone to it. I’m sorry, and as I mentioned in the previous section, I have gotten smarter to avoid using that word.

2/5 UPDATE: I’ve realized that it helps to read the whole thread for context on some of these tweets. I was asked why I didn’t like Rondo, and that’s when I called him a little thug. When someone mentioned him as a role model (that person’s tweet since deleted), I strongly disagreed and I said I heard him call players the n-word on multiple occasions. So it doesn’t make any sense that I would use “thug” as a substitution for the n-word when my basis for calling him a “thug” was his use of the n-word. So call me tone deaf if you want, but I was not being racial with this tweet.

Bottom 2 – I refuse to apologize for this reach. I did a Bleacher Report article in 2013 about where NFL players were from and I just used Africa as a country in the table so it’d be easier to read. This article was approved by my editor and no one had any racial insensitivity problems with it until this attempt to ruin me. You can question my understanding of geography (country vs. continent), but I have nothing to apologize for there.

There’s the aforementioned Akeem wrestler. Yeah, I used the word “jive” to describe a white wrestler who thought he was from Africa and liked to dance. I’m not sorry for that. As for referring to the Steelers backup quarterbacks as “brothers” behind Ben Roethlisberger (with a list afterwards), I apologize if anyone is offended by that. Again, maybe I’m too comfortable with using a word like that given where I’ve grown up and the people/culture I’ve grown up with. That’s definitely something I’ll think about going forward, but if you think this was a post of hatred, then I apologize. That wasn’t my intent at all. Hell, I’d have welcomed most black quarterbacks over Landry Jones.

2/3 UPDATE: I just realized the thread in question for that tweet started with me talking about how it seems impossible a team could go 93 seasons without starting a black QB. Then I was asked about which team’s used the most, so that led to my comment about the Steelers.

Top 2 – Honda commercial. I’m not going to bother trying to find it to watch it again, but there was some commercial in 2012 where I made a poor attempt at humor. Trying to pass the time during a live sporting event (island games) by making jokes about commercials is something I need to give up on, or at least make sure I’m not being offensive before I hit send. That was the situation leading to a few of these embarrassing tweets. For this one, the target of the joke was the corny white family owning a slave. I can’t believe I have to say this, but I do not approve of slavery and I apologize for making such a stupid tweet.

As for the Oscars tweet, that was right after it ended in 2014, a big night for 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, hence my comment about slaves and space. As for AIDS, that’s just a well-known movie joke that if you play a character with a terminal disease (such as Tom Hanks in Philadelphia with AIDS) then you have a great shot at winning Oscars. I do not regret that tweet, though that doesn’t mean I’m not compassionate for people battling terrible diseases. It was just a movie joke, and if you know my Twitter, you know I watch a ton of movies and TV and talk about them.

Bottom 2 – Again, there were debates about the Redskins changing their name that year that I acted like a douche in. I apologize for that, and I actually recall writing some type of apology back then when it happened. I can’t find it at this time, but again, I am sorry for not being more open minded about this debate as my views have changed since 2014.

Also, there was a 2013 tweet I’m going to delete where I said “It’s ridiculous. And it’s gotten worse so quickly. Saying “retard” was no big thing growing up. Now? They practically ban it.” This isn’t at all race related, but it’s as bad as anything I’ve gone over so far. I have to do better than that, and I will say that’s not a word I use anymore and I have moved it to “r-word” territory when I discuss it now. I’m sorry for that tweet.

Okay, the five shopping days left in Black History Month from 2012 was atrocious. What does that even mean? I don’t know, but it’s stupid, not funny, and I deeply regret posting such a bad joke. As for the Steelers backup QB stuff in 2012, again, I clearly have continued to make tweets for years about players being black or white. Yes, just being. No hatred or indifference about it. So at worst that was just a bad joke, though also pretty true since they did sign a ton of black quarterbacks in that era. Finally, when I say Charlie Batch is black and we come from the same hood, it’s because he is, and we do. I grew up in the same neighborhood he did, went to the same school, and he’s owned property right across the street before. I was replying there to someone asking if he was black or mixed race. I don’t see how this could be an offensive tweet, and if Charlie wants to reach out to me to talk about everything here, I’d really appreciate that since I am a fan of his.

Left – Yes, in 2017 I was in the kitchen with my mom. All of a sudden I saw a kid sprinting through the yard and a cop was giving chase. I don’t know what ever came of it. That’s one of those things you don’t see every day, so in this social media era where we cover everything in our lives, I made a tweet. I understand that identifying him as “black kid” can look bad, but I meant nothing offensive there. The kid literally was a black kid. Had he been white, I still likely would have said “white kid” since that too would be unusual to see running through my yard on what is generally a dead street. So maybe this is an area where I need work, because I would still say things like “white running back” or “black kicker” too. That’s race; not racism in my opinion, as I’m just using those words as identifiers and nothing more. But maybe I need to have a talk with people on this specific topic to understand a different viewpoint.

As for the tweet about First Take in 2013 with Skip Bayless and Stephen A., I think that’s another absurd reach. I said nothing about race, and at that time, Skip (old white guy) was the most irritating part of that show. All I said was they speak loud, dumb garbage and I’m not taking it back. Now the other tweet in 2013 about running a train on a girl (she was legal age at least; I’m not that sick) in a KFC commercial, I absolutely apologize for being a sexist pig there. That should have never been tweeted.

Finally, there’s the Fat Albert Christmas Special, which I watched right before Christmas in 2012, the first year I had Netflix and was looking for something Christmas-y. I tweeted what the literal plot (see IMDb) of the special was and that’s that. That’s not even a joke tweet, hence the “I kid you not.” We’re all doomed if a tweet like that needs apologized for. It was actually my second tweet about the special as I first pointed out the stereotypical writing to call the Scrooge character “Mr. Tyrone.” Again, I have no hope for our future if this Fat Albert stuff is considered problematic.

That concludes the run this group put out and BSO published. That’s what they dished out on me through almost eight years and nearly 140,000 tweets. I’ve given you my honest explanations. I’ve been contrite and accountable when I know I fucked up, and I’ve defended myself where I felt it was deserved. I don’t know what more I can say about these tweets. If you still think I’m racist and want to unfollow, that’s your decision. I can only offer my viewpoints and hope that the interactions I’ve had with people over the years show that I am not that kind of person, though I am admittedly a flawed human being. Based on what I’ve seen from the lynch mob that got me, they are too.

It is all an eye-opening experience of how to conduct yourself on social media in this era where people with nothing better to do can set out to ruin you. Covering sports will naturally paint you as a target, but if you mix in personal stuff with professional, you better be on your toes about what you put out there. I wasn’t good enough in that area in the past, and now I just hope I get a shot at doing so in the future.

It is extra painful to be labeled something you know you’re not by people who only have an interest in destroying you. I’ve barely eaten in two days as I’ve tried to follow along, largely limited to silence, at this ordeal. People who don’t know anything about me aside from that collection of tweets now have a label for me that I know I don’t deserve. I’ve seen someone say “this is the kind of person that gets to write off Kaepernick.” Really? I wrote an article in 2017 that was in such support of Kaepernick being blackballed that the findings in it are going to be used by his legal team in his collusion case. Also, I have been a staunch anti-Trump person and have called him out for racism countless times. So if you lump me in with MAGA you couldn’t be any more off base.

BJBSJ framing my thoughts on race and diversity is a joke when these people only care that I write negative things about the Patriots. From my friendships to relationships to work contacts, I have never had any problems with race or diversity. I hired multiple interns each year and I hired people from different races and backgrounds, always trying to give someone a shot to get their foot in the door. I hired a female intern, which I think was a first. I’ve helped people advance pretty far in this field, and I’ve given advice to countless writers and shared data with others in need of help. Have I always been courteous with everyone I encounter on Twitter? No, but I usually go by a policy of treating you with the respect you treat me. I’ve had death threats and salacious shit thrown at me over the years and I didn’t snap on those people to lose everything.

While I know I’ve screwed up on some things, I know I’m not alone there. I’m also well aware of what I did compared to other sports media people who recently had instances of old tweets using racial slurs or new racist imagery in cartoons. To my knowledge, none of those people lost their jobs, and Jourdan Rodrigue was allegedly just suspended. I’ve also heard about Mike Loyko this week, and I don’t know what’s happened to him, but good lord his old tweets were vile. My intentions were only humor, not hatred.

Where do I go from here? I don’t know, but my first thought is about my health insurance. I still take an important blood thinner, which I may need to pay out of pocket for. As for what comes after that, I’m not sure. I still want to cover football. I think the upcoming years could be really good with the young players emerging in the league. I tried last year to move on to a different company, but that didn’t work out. The scarcity of jobs like the one I had was always a frightening fact I tried to bury deep in my mind. There was really never a backup plan.

So that’s my story. The details of the next chapter are a complete unknown right now, but I know I want to write. I also want to offer one final apology to any readers I have let down with all of this. The readers helped me get my last job, and I can only hope to still have the support of people who take an interest in what I say, respect my effort and passion, and accept me for the flawed individual I am. I know I’ll never be good enough for some people, but I never set out to please everyone. There will always be haters and detractors, but I will never put myself in this position again to let them destroy the life I worked hard for.

NFL Week 1 Predictions: Awards Edition

Once again I wrote so much for the season predictions that I left out the awards. So we’ll get right to those before I talk about a few Week 1 games of interest.

2017 NFL Award Predictions

  • Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers
  • Coach of the Year: Andy Reid
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Wade Phillips
  • Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Christian McCaffrey
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: T.J. Watt
  • Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt

For the top coach, you know I was high on the Chiefs already going into Thursday night, so it’s not an overreaction to that. Andy Reid has won the award once, back in 2002. Surprisingly, every coach to win it in a 16-game season has won 10+ games except for Jimmy Johnson (7-9 with 1990 Cowboys) and Jack Patera (9-7 with 1978 Seahawks). If Todd Bowles finished 7-9 with the 2017 Jets, I would seriously consider him for the award. For real.

As for DROY, might be wishful thinking with T.J. Watt, but encouraged by his preseason and winning a starting job. I would have probably picked Myles Garrett if he wasn’t starting his career injured, which is unfortunate. Was looking forward to seeing him in action tomorrow.

Week 1 Games of Interest

I think the top AFC game is Raiders at Titans, a game I picked to happen again in the wild-card round. It was only a 17-10 game last year, but I’m expecting to see a lot more points with two quarterbacks returning from a broken leg suffered on the same day last year. I still don’t trust these defenses too much, and I am excited to see Marshawn Lynch back in action. I think the Titans will take this one at home, making a statement that this is their year in the AFC South.

The top NFC game for me is Seattle at Green Bay. It really could end up determining the No. 1 seed for all we know, just like it did in 2014 when these teams opened the season. Earl Thomas was out last year and the Seahawks were roasted in Green Bay. They also lost there in 2015, so it’s an important game for this team to win if they want to better their shot of not returning to Lambeau. I think with a loaded defense and healthy Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have the edge over a Green Bay team that still looks shaky to me on defense.

Giants at Dallas is often a solid choice for SNF. I think Dallas gets over that hump after getting swept by its rival last year. Odell Beckham Jr.’s health status is a big question mark, but the Giants still have other weapons. I just think the Cowboys embrace this somewhat unexpected opportunity to still have Ezekiel Elliott available and run a balanced offense with Dak Prescott having his best game against the Giants. That defense has really been his biggest weakness so far in his brief career. The defensive line and secondary are very strong, but I would advise that CB performance can always oscillate wildly. Maybe Janoris Jenkins isn’t as good this year, but Eli Apple could also make up for it by improving in his second season. This is another really important NFC game even though it is just Week 1.

2017 Week 1 Predictions

I start the year 0-1, just like the Patriots. How crazy was that game on Thursday night? I wrote about all the history the Chiefs overcame to win where few teams ever do. I’ve been saying for months that Kansas City is the team to beat New England, not Oakland and Pittsburgh. I just didn’t think we’d see that type of game from Alex Smith, and that was about the most unorthodox passing night for the Patriots in the last 11 seasons. One of Tom Brady’s worst throwing nights in that time for sure. Now it is just one game, but there are going to be some problems for the Patriots against any quality opponent if that front seven doesn’t play a lot better, and if the passing offense doesn’t get back to more short, quicker passes.

Winners in bold:

  • Ravens at Bengals
  • Cardinals at Lions
  • Jaguars at Texans
  • Raiders at Titans
  • Falcons at Bears
  • Steelers at Browns
  • Eagles at Redskins
  • Jets at Bills
  • Colts at Rams
  • Panthers at 49ers
  • Seahawks at Packers
  • Giants at Cowboys
  • Saints at Vikings
  • Chargers at Broncos

I’m interested in seeing how several of the rookie head coaches fare, including both guys in the MNF finale in Denver. Maybe times are a changin’ if the Chargers can go into Denver and hold onto a late lead for a big road win. I also think the Rams get a golden opportunity to start 1-0 with an Indy team missing its best player on each side of the ball (Andrew Luck and Vontae Davis). Tough break for the Colts in an otherwise winnable game given no Aaron Donald (holdout over though). Also think the Panthers could get a good effort from the 49ers’ new-look offense under Kyle Shanahan. I’m excited to see Christian McCaffrey’s debut in that one against a talented, but young front seven.