Aaron Rodgers’ Down Years Are Not Career Years for Most QBs

It only took one week for the Russell Wilson MVP season to take a back seat to the Aaron Rodgers 2020 Revenge Tour. A big part of that is Wilson playing fruitless Miami in Sunday’s early slate rather than roasting the winless Falcons on Monday night, but the fact is Wilson already has major competition from Rodgers, who seeks his third MVP and first since 2014.

On Tuesday, Rodgers took to Pat McAfee’s show and had this exchange about his so-called down years and how they would be career years for most quarterbacks:

If he’s counting backups, then of course he’s right about this. Rodgers has done more in the first four games this season than most backups have done in their whole careers.

But if we’re expanding this to the other 31 starting quarterbacks in 2020, then Rodgers is really stretching the definitions of “most” and “career years.” Even if we’re being generous and looking for 15 quarterbacks to qualify, he still comes up short, and it’s only a number as high as it is because of the current youth movement at the position with a lot of first and second-year starters in place.

Step 1: Which Seasons Are Down Year Aaron?

First, let’s figure out what “down years” are for Rodgers so we can count how many quarterbacks haven’t had a career year as good as them. His first year as a starter (2008) was good as far as expectations should go for a first-year starter in that era, but we’ll ignore that one since he technically had nothing to come down from at the time. I’m also going to overlook 2017 when he broke his collarbone again and missed nine full games.

This leaves three obvious choices, which also happen to be Rodgers’ bottom three seasons in ESPN’s QBR and completion percentage:

  • 2015: The Jordy Nelson-less year, the 6-0 start, then the Denver nightmare and fall from grace.
  • 2018: Mike McCarthy’s swansong as Rodgers fell in love with throwaways in a 6-9-1 season.
  • 2019: The Packers made it to the NFC Championship Game, but Rodgers finished lower than ever (20th) in QBR and barely threw for 4,000 yards.

These are the three seasons we’ll work with.

Step 2: Cross Out the Obvious Ones

While we are undergoing a transition period at the position, there are still plenty of accomplished players, both young and old, at quarterback in the NFL. So let’s cross out all the obvious ones who have a career year better than any of Rodgers’ down years. Some of the peak years I’ve chosen could be debated (some have multiple listed for that reason), but there is no debate that these quarterbacks can say they’ve had a career year better than Rodgers’ 2015, 2018 or 2019.

  • Tom Brady (peak: 2007)
  • Philip Rivers (peak: 2008/2009)
  • Drew Brees (peak: 2011)
  • Matthew Stafford (peak: 2011)
  • Nick Foles (peak: 2013)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (peak: 2014)
  • Cam Newton (peak: 2015)
  • Russell Wilson (peak: 2015/2019)
  • Matt Ryan (peak: 2016)
  • Dak Prescott (peak: 2016)
  • Derek Carr (peak: 2016)
  • Carson Wentz (peak: 2017)
  • Patrick Mahomes (peak: 2018)
  • Jared Goff (peak: 2018)
  • Deshaun Watson (peak: 2018/2019)
  • Lamar Jackson (peak: 2019)
  • Kirk Cousins (peak: 2019)
  • Jimmy Garoppolo (peak: 2019)
  • Ryan Tannehill (peak: 2019)

That’s already 19 quarterbacks, leaving 12 left besides Rodgers.

Step 3: The Dirty Dozen

As I list these 12 quarterbacks, note their years of experience in the NFL in parenthesis. Seven of them are in their first or second season.

  • Joe Burrow (1)
  • Justin Herbert (1)
  • Kyler Murray (2)
  • Gardner Minshew (2)
  • Daniel Jones (2)
  • Dwayne Haskins (2)
  • Drew Lock (2)
  • Baker Mayfield (3)
  • Sam Darnold (3)
  • Josh Allen (3)
  • Teddy Bridgewater (7; peak in 2015)
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (16; peak was 2015 or 2018)

Let’s quickly call off the dogs from at least four fan bases, starting with the Bills Mafia. Yes, if Josh Allen plays anything like he has the first four games for the rest of the season, then he’ll be added to the previous group to make it an even 20 quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are rookies just three or four games into their careers. If the starts are any indication, they won’t have a problem soon outdoing Down Year Aaron. Kyler Murray’s had a couple of disappointing games after a good start to 2020, but he’s just 20 games into his career. Give him time.

Given the draft prospects of Gardner Minshew (sixth-round pick) and Daniel Jones (expected bust), their rookie seasons were way better than expectations. They still have potential. Drew Lock has only started seven games, so there’s hardly any certainty there. He’s still better off than Dwayne Haskins, who may not have the job by November at this rate.

Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were the first two quarterbacks off the board in 2018, and they’re certainly looking like disappointments relative to Allen and Lamar. Maybe if Darnold can get away from Adam Gase and/or the Jets he’ll have a shot, but it hasn’t been pretty so far. Mayfield’s rookie season (2018) actually stacks up pretty close to Rodgers’ 2018 from an efficiency basis, so he’s not that far off here. He just is much more likely to throw interceptions, but we’ll see if he can get the Browns back to the playoffs this year.

The only starters with more than three years in the league are Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Bridgewater actually won the division over Rodgers in 2015 before suffering that catastrophic leg injury in the following offseason, so this is only his third year as a full-time starter. This could be his career year for a Carolina team no one expected much from.

That means Fitzpatrick is the only quarterback who has started full time for more than three years and hasn’t really beaten out Down Year Aaron, though he was in the ballpark in 2015 with the Jets when he threw 31 touchdowns for a 10-win team. Fitzpatrick actually finished higher in QBR (62.0; 10th) than Rodgers (60.0; 14th) that year. Almost splitting hairs here. Fitzpatrick is just a Tua placeholder in Miami these days.

If we went back to the 2015-19 period of starters, then we’d still have a lot of quarterbacks who clearly have a better peak year than Down Year Aaron, including Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, etc.

However, Rodgers would at least win the argument over Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler…

Conclusion: Rodgers Was Wrong

So when Rodgers claimed his down years are career years for most quarterbacks, he may have had the Brett Hundleys and Jordan Loves of the world in mind. He probably didn’t think he was just dunking on Fitzmagic, Cheesecake Factory Baker, Teddy’s Wounded Knee, and that hot mess that plays at MetLife Stadium right now. When you go through the starters in this league, what Rodgers said about his down years is simply not true.

Hey, it’s just the facts, bro.

(If you listened to the end of the McAfee clip, then you already knew how I was going to end this)

Russell Wilson Has Never Deserved an MVP Vote, But 2020 Might Be His Year

The history of the NFL is layered with statistical oddities.

  • The 12 teams with the most points scored in NFL history have won zero championships.
  • The Detroit Lions have only won one playoff game since 1958.
  • Bruce Smith has the most sacks (200.0) in NFL history, but never led the league in sacks in 19 seasons.
  • Drew Brees holds most NFL passing records, but has never won an MVP award.

Something that’s being treated as an oddity is the fact that Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has never received a single vote for MVP in his first eight seasons. In a quote I only noticed this week from early in the offseason, Wilson himself joked about this fact:

“Come on? No votes at all? What more I got to do around here, huh? I’m just saying, you know, can we get a couple votes here or there? Why not?”

Russell Wilson, May 2020

Sure, his linebacker teammate Bobby Wagner receiving a vote from Tony Dungy in 2014 is the height of ridiculousness, but a vote for Wilson that year also would have been laughable. It’s not an oddity at all that Wilson has yet to get a vote.

The truth is that an MVP vote for Russell Wilson in any of the last eight seasons would have made as much sense as voting Jill Stein for president in 2016.

When you only get one vote, why would you waste that vote on someone out of pity or for the lesser candidate who has no chance of winning? It would be different if voters had to rank their top three candidates in a points system and Wilson still had zero points in eight years, but that’s not how the NFL does this award.

So we’re going to break this into two sections. First, I’m going to show why Wilson has rightfully never received a vote, and then I’m going to explain why 2020 might finally be his year.

Part I: Russell Wilson vs. 2012-19 MVP Field

Let’s go season by season, and remember the only thing that matters for MVP is the regular season performance.

2012 MVP Vote: Adrian Peterson (30.5), Peyton Manning (19.5)

This one should have gone to Peyton Manning for his transformative impact on the Broncos claiming the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but old-school voters still loved their workhorse running backs and round numbers like 2,000 rushing yards. Wilson’s impact was almost immediate on the Seahawks, but rookies have never won an MVP in the modern NFL and Seattle’s defense and Marshawn Lynch still drew a lot of headlines that season. But the Seahawks were definitely on their way to something special starting with this season.

2013 MVP Vote: Peyton Manning (49), Tom Brady (1)

First of all, former pro quarterback Jim Miller was the lone Brady vote, which should have been the last time he had an MVP vote. Manning should have been unanimous this year after rewriting the record books again with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns for the highest-scoring team in history. Granted, Wilson got the Super Bowl win that year over Denver, but when it came to the MVP, Manning pretty much had that on cruise control since opening night when he threw seven touchdowns against the Ravens.

2014 MVP Vote: Aaron Rodgers (31), J.J. Watt (13), Tony Romo (2), DeMarco Murray (2), Tom Brady (1), Bobby Wagner (1)

This was one of the more undecided years. Manning started hot before fading. Aaron Rodgers had a rough September, but turned it around quickly to go on a big run. Tony Romo was at his best for Dallas. As for Wilson, this was a weird year in that he passed for a career-low 20 touchdowns, but it was his most prolific rushing season with 849 yards and six touchdowns. He also led the league with 13 fumbles. So overall he had a nice year, but quarterback play was really strong in 2014 and you could argue he was behind Rodgers, Romo, Manning, Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. Wilson finished 13th in DYAR and DVOA, but 6th in QBR since he had the rushing impact.

Still, he was more valuable than Bobby damn Wagner, Mr. Dungy.

2015 MVP Vote: Cam Newton (48), Carson Palmer (1), Tom Brady (1)

Out of the last eight MVP awards, I think this is the most debatable and cringeworthy one based on the voting outcome. It’s also the only one where Wilson had a good case.

  • Best QB over the last seven games? Wilson had 24 TD, 1 INT, 132.8 passer rating to end the season.
  • Best QB over the last nine games? Cam Newton had 24 TD, 2 INT, 115.8 passer rating and six more scores on the ground for a team that finished 15-1.
  • Best QB over the first nine games? Tom Brady had 24 TD, 3 INT, 111.1 passer rating for team that started 10-0 before losing four of his last six.
  • Best QB over the whole 16 games? Carson Palmer led the league in YPA and QBR on a 13-3 Arizona team with the most vertical passing game in the NFL.

Ultimately, voters fell in love with Newton’s team record and his total touchdown number (45). Wilson had that blistering finish, but he had a rocky first nine games where he only threw 10 touchdowns and the Seahawks were 4-5. The hole was dug too deep to climb out of. If voters actually cared about which quarterback played the best over the full season, they would have voted Palmer as I would have if I had a vote. Still, Brady and Palmer got a vote while Wilson didn’t, so that mostly tells me the Seattle-based voter isn’t a homer.

2016 MVP Vote: Matt Ryan (25), Tom Brady (10), Ezekiel Elliott (6), Derek Carr (6), Aaron Rodgers (2), Dak Prescott (1)

This one could have gone terribly, but at least half were sane enough to give it to Matt Ryan for one of the most consistently great passing seasons in NFL history. Brady received 10 votes despite the Patriots starting 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett while he was suspended. The votes for Zeke should have gone to Dak Prescott, who I would argue had the best rookie quarterback season to that point. It’s actually surprising a hot six-game finish and playoff trip didn’t earn Rodgers more than two votes, which should have at least been more than the absurd six votes Derek Carr received.

As for Wilson, 2016 is arguably his worst NFL season. He finished 15th with a career-low 57.1 QBR. He was never able to string together more than two or three high-quality games in a row.

2017 MVP Vote: Tom Brady (40), Todd Gurley (8), Carson Wentz (2)

This is the year I refer to as Brady winning a Default MVP since there really was no standout candidate. This was the brutal QB injury year where Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone again, Andrew Luck never played a snap, and other players like Carson Palmer and Carson Wentz were injured. Wentz probably could have won it if he didn’t tear his ACL when he did.

Wilson actually ended up leading the league in touchdown passes (34) for the first time, but again, that was thanks to the Wentz injury. Seattle also missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record and you’re just never going to see someone get an MVP vote with that resume. Despite the touchdowns, Wilson’s YPA was also a career-low 7.2 that year.

2018 MVP Vote: Patrick Mahomes (41), Drew Brees (9)

This was mostly a year-long battle between Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees before Brees faded after Thanksgiving. Philip Rivers popped into the conversation late in the year, but it was always logical to go with Mahomes, who finished with 50 touchdown passes in his first year as a starter. That’s historic stuff and he’s continued to be a history maker ever since.

Wilson had an efficient passing season, but 2018 was when Brian Schottenheimer took over as offensive coordinator and the team began dialing back the number of pass plays. Wilson finished 11th in QBR that year and was never really in the conversation. He had another amazing eight-game stretch (Weeks 5-13), but Mahomes was clearly better from start to finish.

2019 MVP Vote: Lamar Jackson (50)

As I wrote on here last November, Wilson was the clear MVP winner if the award was given after Week 9. But I also warned that with the tough upcoming schedule, these things can change quickly. Wilson in fact did not thrive the rest of the season, throwing just 9 touchdown passes in the last seven games with a 90.7 passer rating, 7.2 YPA, and he took 26 more sacks. The Seahawks also lost three of their last four games with efforts that weren’t even close against the Rams and Cardinals.

Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson only got stronger in Baltimore, a team that wouldn’t lose again until the postseason. After Week 9, Jackson threw 24 touchdowns to one interception with a 130.0 passer rating and 8.06 YPA. He also finished the season with 1,206 rushing yards, an absurd record total for a quarterback in this league. That’s why by season’s end it was a no-brainer choice to vote for Jackson, who received all 50 votes as he should have.

But leave it up to NBC/PFF’s Cris Collinsworth to bemoan during this season’s Week 2 game that he would have spoiled Jackson’s unanimous MVP by voting for Wilson last year if he could have. Why? Beats me, because Jackson was the only logical choice in 2019 when it came time to vote.

Part II: Russell Wilson’s Year?

We’re only going into Week 4, but maybe this lack of an MVP vote stuff has motivated Wilson to play his best football yet. Through three games, Wilson has the Seahawks at 3-0 despite allowing 86 points in those games, the third most ever for a 3-0 team in NFL history. Wilson has thrown 14 touchdown passes, the new record for the first three games of a season:

Notice the other four seasons on this chart all led to an MVP award too. Usually when someone starts this hot, it turns into a prolific season that challenges the touchdown record.

Wilson could be joining an interesting list of quarterbacks who really peaked in the ninth year of their careers in the NFL.

Counting stats be damned, as an expert on Peyton Manning’s career I will tell you that he was never better than he was in the 2006 season when he helped the Colts set records for third-down conversion rate and still won 12 games (then a Super Bowl) despite a horrid run defense that really limited the possessions that team had each week. His drive engineering, the ultimate job of every quarterback, was never better and that was probably his physical peak as well. That was the season where he took a nasty hit against Gregg Williams’ Washington defense that may have started the neck issues that later led to surgery.

Drew Brees had his most MVP-worthy season and won his only Super Bowl in Year 9 with the 2009 Saints. Things never actually got sweeter for Brees and head coach Sean Payton there. Matt Ryan peaked and won his only MVP award in 2016, his ninth season in the NFL. Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers were at their best in 1978, his ninth season and the only one where he was named NFL MVP. Steve McNair won a co-MVP with Manning in 2003, his ninth season. Even someone like Joe Montana had a career-high 31 touchdown passes in 1987, his ninth season, and it was his best numbers to that point until he surpassed them (efficiency wise) in 1989.

There’s not any special significance to the number nine, but if you think about it, that’s right around where a quarterback should be turning 30. At that point of his career, he has great experience and knowledge of the position, but should still be young and athletic enough as the physical decline stage isn’t there yet. It really should be most quarterback’s prime, but we’ll have to see how Wilson finishes this year because having a seven or nine-game hot streak hasn’t been a problem in the past for him. He’s just never had that ungodly season from start to finish that wins MVP awards like it has for Manning, Ryan, Brady, Mahomes, Jackson, etc.

There’s also the fact that 2020 is super offensive so far. We’re talking about the most points scored per game and the highest passing numbers (completion rate, yards, TDs, passer rating, etc.) through three weeks in NFL history. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise in a pandemic year without a real offseason or preseason. Referees aren’t calling offensive holding as much, which definitely helps offenses sustain drives. Defenses look well behind the offenses (New York teams aside), which is what we saw happen in 2011 when the lockout also led to a problematic offseason.

So is Wilson’s hot start just him being more amazing than ever, or is it a bit of “wow, Dallas and Atlanta are horrible on defense and so is most of the league”? Wilson is definitely going to have competition for MVP this year from Mahomes and Rodgers, if not others (dare I say Josh Allen?). The five-touchdown night Wilson had against the Patriots was special, but will voters remember that Week 2 game come January when they vote? There’s definitely a disadvantage to peaking early for MVP, which is why it’ll be crucial for Wilson to continue this stellar level of play throughout the season.

Seattle’s rough looking defense and placement in the toughest division also don’t bode well for a great record by season’s end, but if Wilson’s going to throw for 55+ touchdowns, he’s probably going to get the benefit of the doubt with only 11 or 12 wins.

That means for once, Wilson will actually deserve an MVP vote.*

*Any and all 2020 predictions come with the caveat of “if the season doesn’t end early due to COVID-19.”

The Decade the Scoring Juggernauts Died in the NFL

The 12 teams with the most points scored in NFL history have won zero championships.

Read that sentence a second time and it comes off just as shocking. That’s a dozen teams, including eight from this decade, who scored more points — at least 527 — than anyone in the NFL’s first 100 years, and not a single one of them won the Super Bowl that year. Oh a few were pretty close, especially the 2016 Falcons and their 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, but even that was a disappointing outcome for the offense.

I said eight of these teams happened in the last decade. The 2019 Ravens were the latest to join the group, going one-and-done at home after a season-worst performance on offense in that 28-12 loss to Tennessee to sour Lamar Jackson’s MVP season. Baltimore scored at least 20 points in every week of the regular season on its way to 531 points, the 11th-highest mark in NFL history.

The upset that night had me looking into just how crazy this was for the decade. I found that the 2019 49ers (ranked 17th in scoring since 2010) were the decade’s last hope for a top 20 team in scoring to win a Super Bowl:

T30-2010s

Well, as you know now, the 49ers lost Super Bowl LIV to the Chiefs, who ranked 31st in scoring this decade. The 2014 Patriots (22nd) and 2017 Eagles (30th) were the only top 30 teams in scoring to win a Super Bowl this decade.

That doesn’t greatly differ from the results of the previous decade where only two of the top 30 scoring teams won Super Bowls, but at least the 2009 Saints finished fourth:

T30-2000s

When you go back to the 1990s, eight of the top 25 teams won Super Bowls, including every team ranked 2-5:

T30-1990s

That was back when the league was just getting used to the salary cap and the NFC tended to dominate the Super Bowls until the 1997 Broncos upset Green Bay. As for the offensively-fun 1980s, four of the top 12 scoring teams won a Super Bowl:

T30-1980s

When we get back to the defensive decade that was the 1970s after the merger, we still saw five of the top 30 teams win a Super Bowl with the 1979 Steelers ranking third to end the decade:

T30-1970s

We know winning a Super Bowl takes a lot of things going your way, but scoring a ton of points in the regular season has never really been a big requirement for pulling it off. You can combine the top 30 scoring teams from the 1980s, 2000s and 2010s and have the same number of Super Bowl winners (eight) as the top 30 scoring teams from the 1990s alone. The 90s were really the decade for juggernauts to go all the way and deliver in the playoffs too with not that many upsets around the league. Had Buffalo’s Scott Norwood made his field goal in Super Bowl XXV and if the 1992 49ers were able to prevail instead of the Cowboys (and dust off Buffalo) for that Super Bowl, then we would have had nine of the top 17 scoring teams with rings that decade. Eight of the top 25 is still pretty great when you look at the history here.

With the 2000s, Bill Belichick’s Patriots obviously have a lot to do with those results. The 2001 Rams (20-17), 2004 Colts (20-3) and 2006 Chargers (24-21) were three of the top six scoring teams that decade, but they all lost to the Patriots in the playoffs with disappointing performances on that side of the ball. Of course, the 2007 Patriots also blew it in the Super Bowl with the 17-14 loss to the Giants to deny themselves a perfect 19-0 season. The Patriots’ 589 points that year still ranks second all time. I’d also be remiss to not give the 2000 Ravens some love here. We know they got to face Kerry Collins in the Super Bowl and played a lot of shoddy offenses in the regular season, but they also shut down two of the 10 highest-scoring teams of the decade in Denver (21-3) and Oakland (16-3).

Putting a bow on the 2010s, we experienced so many famous crash-and-burn efforts from some of the best offenses in NFL history. None were bigger than the 2013 Broncos, who lost 43-8 in the Super Bowl to Seattle’s historic defense after setting the record with 606 points in the regular season. From the first snap that led to a safety the Broncos were out of sorts that night. We also saw the Patriots crumble three years in a row (2010-12) in playoff losses, Aaron Rodgers’ best season in 2011 ended with a playoff dud against the Giants, and Belichick once again denied several teams (2018 Chiefs, 2018 Rams, 2016 Falcons) on his way to more rings for the Patriots. But at the very least, Patrick Mahomes put up 31 points in the second half of that AFC Championship Game loss for the Chiefs, the second-highest scoring team of the decade. Very few of these historic offenses can say they delivered in their playoff defeat, but the 2018 Chiefs, 1998 Vikings (damn kickers), and 2011 Saints (36-32 in San Francisco) are three who can say that.

However, one thing we’ve seen several times is that it’s not always your best team that wins the Super Bowl. The 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens, 2015 Broncos and now 2019 Chiefs are all certainly proof of that.

Finally, for those curious here are the results for the top 30 team scoring defenses for each decade:

  • 2010s: Three of the top nine won a Super Bowl (peak: 2013 Seahawks were 4th)
  • 2000s: Six of the top 28 won a Super Bowl, including 1st (2000 BAL) and 3rd (2002 TB)
  • 1990s: Six of the top 28 won a Super Bowl (peak: 1996 Packers were 4th)
  • 1980s: Six of the top 20 using points allowed per game (due to strikes) won a Super Bowl (peak: 1985 Bears were 2nd)
  • 1970s: Five of the top 23 using points allowed per game (due to season length change) won a Super Bowl (peak: 1973 Dolphins were 9th)

That’s 21 offensive champions and 26 defensive champions over the five decades. While you don’t want to rely too heavily on one side of the ball, it’s always fascinating to see how scoring juggernauts have had such a rough time throughout NFL history. If you look at the top 12 (13 total teams due to a tie) scoring teams from 1940-1969, only three of them won a championship. That includes the 1961 Oilers (first 500-point team) winning the AFL Championship Game by a 10-3 score, and the 1964 Browns (tied for 12th) shutting out the ninth-ranked Colts 27-0 in the NFL Championship Game.

The 1950 Rams still hold the NFL record with 38.8 points per game, but they lost 30-28 to the Browns in a classic championship game. Hey, at least they scored 28 and not just a field goal like the 2018 Rams did in Super Bowl LIII.

Coming full circle, I said the 12 highest-scoring teams have zero championships. The 1999 Rams are the reason it’s not the 15 highest teams that are ring-less. They still rank 13th with 526 points scored in that shocking Super Bowl-winning season. But even that example of The Greatest Show on Turf struggled mightily against Tampa Bay, scoring a late touchdown to win 11-6 in the NFC Championship Game. They also caught a break on defense when Bert Emanuel’s catch was ruled incomplete, and then ended up winning the Super Bowl 23-16 over Tennessee after stopping a late completion short of the goal line.

Kurt Warner in 1999 is still the last regular season MVP to win the Super Bowl in the same season, though maybe that’s a streak for Patrick Mahomes to end next year. Yes, it’s all coming back to Mahomes one way or another this offseason. Just accept it now.

NFL Week 14 Predictions: The Best Week of the Year Edition

December 8 was always the date to circle since the NFL schedule came out in April. That was the big Chiefs-Patriots game in New England, but now that we’re here, it’s actually a much bigger weekend with four marquee games. Those two teams aren’t even the current No. 1 seed in the AFC. That’s Baltimore, which has its final big road test in Buffalo, a surprise 9-3 team that almost controls its own destiny for home-field advantage. We also could see the Saints inch closer to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and we should get some clarity on an MVP race that is down to Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson.

It took a little pure dumb luck with the 49ers and Bills stepping up, but the NFL has one hell of a schedule planned tomorrow. It shouldn’t get as big as this again until the playoffs, but first those seeds could really shake up because of what happens on Sunday.

49ers at Saints (-2)

The 49ers come in as a 2-point underdog in a tough place to play, though the Saints haven’t been able to blow out anyone at home aside from Arizona. Don’t forget that stunning 26-9 loss to the Falcons as well. I think the 49ers showed a lot of quality play on the road in rainy Baltimore last week and will welcome the dome conditions in this one. It is a bit of a disadvantage to be on the road in the early slot on the East for the second week in a row, but teams are better at handling that these days with travel.

The main reason I like the 49ers to win is their physical defense. I think they can key in on Michael Thomas — a matchup with Richard Sherman would be fun — as the Saints don’t have another player with 500 receiving yards. They have the front seven talent to harass Drew Brees, who took 6 sacks in the Atlanta loss but only three the rest of the season. Also, the Saints are the first team in NFL history to have just 7 giveaways thru 12 games of a season. They’ve lost just one fumble all year. That screams regression and the 49ers are the type of defense to make them pay there (24 takeaways rank 4th this year).

The 49ers are also No. 2 in points scored and points allowed this season. This is a very good team and I think Jimmy Garoppolo will shine just enough with the running game always being a threat to pull off this road win. If you’re continuing to compare the 2019 49ers to the 2017 Eagles, then think of this as their road win over the 2017 Rams which helped the Eagles get the top seed.

Ravens at Bills (+6.5)

The Bills have seven wins against teams picking in the top 11 of the 2020 draft as of right now. This would be a huge step up in class to beat a Baltimore team that has entered historic territory. The Ravens average 45 yards per drive on offense, which would set a record for the modern era. They can still become the first NFL offense ever to average 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing per game. Lamar Jackson is the MVP front-runner and the consistent threat that Bills fans wish Josh Allen was right now. Allen has been playing better in recent weeks, but the Bills are definitely at a disadvantage with an offense that ranks just 16th in yards per drive and 21st in points per drive. The Baltimore defense is also picking things up and actually do better at forcing turnovers than the Bills.

The spread feels about right for this one, but if there is a game where Jackson is going to look mortal, it would be a road game against a solid defense. Yet even when he’s contained as a passer, he’s still a major threat as a rusher so it’s been really hard on defenses this year to figure this unique offense out. I think Baltimore delivers on the road and continues holding onto the No. 1 seed over New England.

But don’t lose sight that this is one of the biggest games in Buffalo in the last 20 years. They could really use a win like this.

Chiefs at Patriots (-3)

So much for the 43-40 and 37-31 offensive shootouts of last year. These teams aren’t playing great offensively and that shouldn’t surprise you with New England. The old QB is having one of his worst slumps ever, but it’s rarely mattered thanks to the defense being so strong. The surprise is that Patrick Mahomes has just turned in the worst 8 quarters of his career. Over the last two games, Mahomes has completed 55.7 percent of his passes at 5.85 YPA with just 2 TD and 1 INT. He didn’t even crack 200 yards in either game. Fortunately, his defense picked off Philip Rivers and Derek Carr enough for it to not matter as the Chiefs won both games (sound familiar?).

This is a bad time for Mahomes to be slumping with a road test against a veteran secondary and all-around difficult defense to pass against this year. If the big plays aren’t there like they were for Mahomes last year against NE, then this one could be another ugly offensive game. Keep in mind that despite those high scores last year, the Patriots twice did something no other team has.

In 29 career games with Mahomes, the Chiefs have been held under 10 points in the first half twice: 9 points at Patriots (lost 43-40), 0 points vs. Patriots (lost 37-31 OT).

Mahomes needs to stop fading away from the line on so many of his passes and find a rhythm early so that he can play a complete game against the Patriots and force Brady to actually be good. My thought is that after the ugly loss in Houston, Brady will be sharper at home — I’d be all in on Chiefs if this was in Arrowhead — and the running game that’s gotten going in recent weeks will be used effectively against a subpar Chiefs defense.

So it’s not quite the super important game for the AFC as we thought it would be, but you’d still rather win it than not. It’s just unfortunate that between the Mahomes injury and some of the sloppy play the team has showed this year, even a win in NE doesn’t mean Kansas City won’t have to come back and do it all over again in January in a 3/2 matchup.

Seahawks at Rams (+1)

Their first meeting on TNF was one of the best games this season, one that the Rams would have won had it not been for a missed field goal by Greg Zuerlein. I said this almost two months ago:

Missed field goals have been great to Seattle this year. The 49ers also missed one in overtime that would have won that game after Russell Wilson’s inexplicable interception. So had those two NFC West kickers connected, this would be the 8-4 Seahawks at the 8-4 Rams. But because of two swings of the leg, it’s the 10-2 Seahawks at the 7-5 Rams. Wilson is still in the MVP race despite cooling off, and there’s a lot of disappointment surrounding Sean McVay and Jared Goff right now. What a league.

But it has been a wildly inconsistent year for the Rams and Goff. He’s had a few brilliant games, including last week when he was over 320 passing yards at halftime. He’s also had some major stinkers as has the defense, led by DC Wade Phillips and Aaron Donald, that always seems to escape any criticism.

I said earlier this week that the 2019 Saints and 2019 Seahawks are two of the worst 10-2 teams ever because of their tiny point differentials. Seattle is just +36, the smallest scoring differential ever for a 10-2 team. I think if Lamar Jackson shines in Buffalo and Wilson struggles in this game (another prime time one), the MVP is all but locked up for Jackson. So that’s another layer to keep in mind.

The outcome of SF-NO will give us a better idea of how big this game is on Sunday night, but it’s a last gasp effort for the Rams either way. They have to win this game and they easily could if their star players play up to their potential. I’m not surprised the spread is damn near a pick ’em with how unpredictable the Rams have been and how close to the vest Seattle has been. In the end, you trust Wilson over Goff in crunch time, but as this season has shown, all it takes is one play sometimes to decide a game. I wouldn’t bet on this one like I would the other three big games on Sunday.

NFL Week 14 Predictions

I had the Cowboys on TNF, so there’s another trainwreck to talk about some other time.

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A quick note on PIT-ARI: this would definitely fit the classic Mike Tomlin letdown game on the road. The Cardinals are an interesting young team without a lot of tape that the Steelers are familiar with. I think it’s a game where either the Cardinals win outright, or Duck Hodges has a breakout game against a terrible pass defense. Obviously I went with the former because I think the Steelers lack the weapons to get the job done without JuJu available again. James Washington had his career game last week so I can’t see him repeating it, but I am glad to see the Steelers get back to throwing downfield to wide receivers. This one could be fun, though I’d much rather be watching KC-NE.

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NFL Week 1 Predictions: Awards and WTF, AB?

Normally I would start this by making my predictions for individual awards this season, but Saturday blew that up with some unsettling news that likely would have changed my season predictions on Thursday had it happened sooner.

WTF, AB?

Antonio Brown has a third team this calendar year after getting released by Oakland and signed very quickly by the Patriots on Saturday. I know Mike Tomlin believes the standard is the standard, but why does it feel like 31 teams continue to uphold the standard that the Patriots are brilliant because everyone else is so dumb?

It’s not that I want to be a conspiracy theorist, but something reeks here and I’m far from the only one smelling it. Tampering might be putting it lightly. I’ve seen conspiracies tracing as far back as the end of last season that Brown finessed his way out of Pittsburgh to get to his true destination of New England, but I don’t buy that. However, the Venn diagram of people who think Colin Kaepernick isn’t blackballed by the NFL and people who think New England only got in touch with AB late Saturday afternoon is a perfect circle.

There’s no way something shady didn’t happen here, and 31 teams should be pissed about that. “The Patriot Way” is really just BS media code for “Doing anything they can to win at all costs, even if it includes flat-out cheating.”

The Steelers were never going to trade AB to New England, their main nemesis in the AFC. There was talk in March of a trade to Buffalo, another team that would never trade AB to NE in the same division, but that reportedly never got close and AB didn’t want to go there.

So Oakland became the perfect patsy for AB to exploit this summer. First it was the frostbitten foot in cryotherapy. The Raiders supported him as he missed time for that. Then came the helmet story where he threatened to retire if he couldn’t play in his old helmet. The team supported that when AB filed his grievance with the league, which failed. He was a major distraction in August, even getting an ultimatum at one point from GM Mike Mayock that he’s either with the team or he’s out. AB was in, but things only got dicier this week when after posting a letter of a team fine, Brown reportedly called Mayock a “cracker” and swore at him before Vontaze Burfict had to hold him back. Even after Crackergate the team stood by him and Jon Gruden said AB will play Monday night. That didn’t stop AB from posting a well-crafted video on Friday night that included a recorded phone conversation with Gruden. A larger fine came that would void AB’s nearly $30 million in guaranteed money. So by Saturday, AB asked for his release and the Raiders had enough of this shit and granted it. For some reason AB had a camera crew recording the moment he got his release as well. Nope, nothing fishy there. A few hours later he was signed by the Patriots on a one-year deal worth up to $15 million. Somehow this was expected by everyone in the free world except the other 29 NFL teams. AB had plenty of Pro-Patriot social media posts ready for that occasion as well. Again, totally normal day.

When Robert Kraft is the owner and Drew Rosenhaus is the player agent, that’s a lot of slime involved. I’d suggest they could have done a deal under the table, but we know Kraft likes to operate above the table. AB has been acting up for a couple of years in Pittsburgh, though nothing to the level of the last month in Oakland. Should he suddenly clean up his act on social media and become a good foot soldier for Belichick, the whole thing will reek of a storyline only Vince McMahon could cook up in his prime.

Pat McAfee summed it up well in case you missed it:

So on the eve of the first Sunday of the season, the Patriots go from Super Bowl favorite to…stronger Super Bowl favorite? What, is Gronk going to come out of retirement after Thanksgiving to chase a 19-0 season now? The pathetic division wasn’t enough. The soft schedule that features their toughest games at home wasn’t enough. Now they get to add one of the most talented receivers in the world to an offense that already has one of those (Josh Gordon), plus the uncoverable slot machine who was MVP of the Super Bowl (Julian Edelman).

Frankly, Saturday lowered my interest in the season and in a league where one team always seems to pants everyone else. The only saving grace is that Brown and Gordon aren’t the most reliable guys in the league, Brady is 42, and it is a long season. It’s not like star wideouts are winning championships left and right this decade. AB is more likely to be 2012 Brandon Lloyd than 2007 Randy Moss for this offense. It’s not like Brady’s arm is what it was 12 years ago, nor are the go routes ever his thing. But the potential of it all is scary if he and Gordon stay on the right path.

But in AB’s case, it’s a path that almost certainly took some turns through shady places to get him from Pittsburgh to New England.

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NFL 2019 Awards Predictions

As I said the other day I was going to go all in on the Colts for some of these picks, including Andrew Luck as MVP/OPOY and Frank Reich for COY. But that sure blew up in a hurry.

  • Most Valuable Player: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
  • Coach of the Year: Freddie Kitchens, Browns
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Keith Butler, Steelers
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Julio Jones, Falcons
  • Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Texans
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Devin Singletary, Bills
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Allen, Jaguars
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Le’Veon Bell, Jets

I want to explain a few of these.

MVP: Mahomes is at a disadvantage in that 2018 was so amazing for him it’ll be hard to repeat or improve on those numbers. MVPs have been won in clusters before, though usually the stronger stat year comes second. Think Peyton twice (2004>2003, 2009>2008) as the last two times it’s happened. However, I just think the kid is so talented and off to this amazing start that he can turn in another unbelievable season in that offense. I also just don’t care for the alternatives with the ages of Brady and Brees, and Carson Wentz is one of the favorites but I just have never seen the MVP-caliber performance from him before. I think Mahomes will have the lack of a defense on his side again as the Chiefs look to get another first-round bye. I’m very excited to see how he plays this season because it’s hard to say he’s yet to have a bad game thru 19 starts.

OPOY: As for why I didn’t pick Mahomes for OPOY too, I tend to split this award to someone who was more stat special at a skill position unless it was an all-time great QB season. So my gut says Julio Jones kills this noise about who is the best wideout in the NFL (OBJ and AB switching teams) and finally has a big TD season. Regression for Calvin Ridley in TDs and more to Julio to go with his usual outstanding yardage. I also have the Falcons back in the playoffs so let me feed that narrative too.

COY: I’ve seen people complaining about this award since Bill Belichick hasn’t won it since 2010, but what year did he really have a better argument than the winner? The only I arrived on was 2016 (Jason Garrett, Cowboys), but I also forgot that they only lost to the Giants before resting starters in Week 17’s loss. Getting Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott was a monster draft for them, but Prescott had to replace an injured Tony Romo in the preseason. So even that wasn’t an overwhelming argument for Belichick.

Anyways, for 2019 I wanted to pick someone who has to bring a team from nowhere to the playoffs, and the only coaches I have in my predictions doing that in their first try are Freddie Kitchens and Matt LaFleur. I was going to pick LaFleur here, and that’s not reactionary to Thursday night when I had picked GB to win the division (and that road opener), but I also saw the defense win the game so I’m not ready to go off on his offensive wizardry. Kitchens has the talent in Cleveland to win 10 games like I predicted, so if he can get the Browns back to the playoffs, I think that’s a pretty good argument for Coach of the Year. I also think if Frank Reich gets the Colts to 9-7 without Andrew Luck, he’ll win it, but I’m sticking with my season predictions (Colts 7-9) and going with Kitchens.

DPOY: No one has won this award four times in their career. I get that picking J.J. Watt to do that sounds unlikely, but is him getting a fourth really that more unlikely than Aaron Donald winning it for a third straight year? My thought is the Texans could again have a better overall defense than the Rams and Watt will get more recognition since the team traded away Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle late in the process. He really has to be great like he was last year when he had 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. Watt can still play at a high level and a defensive back hasn’t won this award since 2010. It’s skewed towards the linemen.

DROY: Finally, I expect a lot of early Sunday afternoon confusion on Twitter this year when Buffalo and Jacksonville are playing, which means a double dose of Josh Allen. There’s the second-year QB in Buffalo and now there’s a rookie defender in Jacksonville. We might need to agree on nicknames to differentiate the two. I’m thinking maybe Good Josh Allen and JAG Allen could work, though JAG Allen might confuse if the Jacksonville player becomes the good one (seems more likely) and people use it for the rookie instead of the Just Another Guy scrambler in Buffalo.

I’ve thought about this too much already, so let’s close with some picks.

NFL Week 1 Predictions

It was a good start on Thursday night after I had the Packers winning outright in Chicago, but man did that game suck. I’m looking forward to PIT-NE, LAR-CAR, KC-JAX and HOU-NO the most this week. More than anything, just show me some good offense again. The Super Bowl and GB-CHI were just miserable games to watch and I was happy when both ended.

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NFL Week 10 Predictions: MVP Talk Edition

My posture is so bad this weekend (sore back) I should be qualified to write about the Detroit Lions, but I really don’t want to. The only thing worse than my back pain is the Week 10 schedule, which features 10 games (out of 14) with a team favored by 6 or more points.

I thought Carolina-Pittsburgh was clearly the game of the week, but even that was a blowout on Thursday night. So I’m sure we’ll be in store for some crazy upsets tomorrow or else this is going to be a brutal week.

That’s why I just wanted to briefly touch on the MVP race since we’re past the halfway point of the season. I’ve seen people bring up Todd Gurley and that James Conner (!) should be in the discussion now.

First of all, no, Conner shouldn’t. Only Ben Roethlisberger could be on pace for a 5,000-yard passing season and have the RB (or WR) get the credit, but that’s possibly a topic for another day.

The 2018 NFL MVP is Patrick Mahomes’ award to lose. He’s nine games through a season that should go down as one of the best sophomore efforts in NFL history. After 1984 Dan Marino and 1999 Kurt Warner, they’ll talk about 2018 Patrick Mahomes. Warner’s season is even worthy of an asterisk in that he was 28 years old and had prior experience in professional football. Mahomes is a first-year starter and has just been incredible. He’s made 300-yard passing games with multiple touchdowns look routine. They have been at times in 2018, but try watching Bills-Jets tomorrow and see just how hard those teams make it look. Mahomes’ era-adjusted numbers should still come out looking great as long as he doesn’t totally falter down the stretch. Remember, the Chiefs hit a snag last year after Alex Smith had a great start, but Mahomes has been even better with 29 touchdown passes in nine games.

It’s cute that people want to bring up other MVP contenders (Gurley/Goff, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, etc.), but this is truly a historic season from Mahomes. He’s No. 1 in DYAR, DVOA and QBR with numbers that could rival some of the best seasons from someone like Peyton Manning.

The best person to replace Mahomes should he falter is Drew Brees, who is tied for the league lead with four game-winning drives this season. He’s completing 76.3 percent of his passes, looking to reset that NFL record once again. He’s thrown 18 touchdowns to one interception. Like Mahomes, he put up 40 points in his team’s only loss of the season. Where I think Mahomes distanced himself from Brees is in Week 8 when Brees had one of his least impactful games as a Saint in an easy win in Minnesota. He only threw for 120 yards that night. He only threw for 217 yards and no touchdowns in a win over the Giants. He struggled a little with Cleveland too in Week 2. Mahomes has been more consistently great so far, and the Chiefs have scored at least 27 points in every game.

I know some people are determined to see Brees win an MVP award since he’s surprisingly never done so, but I don’t think age is a good argument. We shouldn’t hold it against Mahomes that he’s young, or reward Brees for being 39 here. The better season deserves the honor, and so far that’s been Mahomes. It’s just Brees’ bad luck that his peak years have been peak years for some of the game’s other greats. It happened in 2009 when Peyton Manning carried an Indianapolis team with Jim Caldwell at coach to 14-0 with seven comeback wins. Brees might have won that one if we didn’t see him falter in prime time in a comeback opportunity against Dallas when 14-0 was possible. It happened in 2011 when Aaron Rodgers got the head-to-head win over Brees’ Saints in Week 1 and that gave way to a 13-0 start in his best season. Voters may have gone with Brees (especially after Matt Flynn’s 480/6 game in Week 17) if he didn’t have bad games against weak teams like the Rams and Buccaneers in losses.

Now it could be an epic season from Mahomes that pushes Brees aside, but we’ll see. There’s still plenty of marquee games coming up for both. It’s just incredible to look at this list of most MVP votes since 1986 and see that Brees only has .5 more than J.J. Watt.

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NFL Week 10 Predictions

I thought Pittsburgh would win by a FG on Thursday, so 0-1 ATS, but 1-0 SU for me so far.

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A lot of big favorites this week. I think I’d stay away from BUF-NYJ since turnovers could decide that one. Maybe I was a week early on Cleveland playing it close under Gregg Williams, but I still cautiously picked Atlanta to cover. I also think GB and CHI are shaky teams, but at least they’re both at home. I actually like the Eagles to cover even though they’ve only won by more than 6 points in one out of eight games this year. I wouldn’t rule out Mike Vrabel having his Josh McDaniels moment in beating Belichick in overtime, just because the Titans seem to suck everyone into a close game.

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NFL Week 1 Predictions: Awards Edition

NFL 2018 Award Predictions

Let’s start with my picks for the top awards this season. I was 0-for-8 last year after Aaron Rodgers, David Johnson and J.J. Watt all suffered serious injuries before Week 6 ended.

  • Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
  • Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer, Vikings
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Teryl Austin, Bengals
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, Giants
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, Chargers
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Deshaun Watson, Texans

For comeback player, I’m sticking with my predictions that have the Texans edging out the Colts for the playoffs, so Deshaun Watson gets it over Andrew Luck (another great candidate for that) after proving he is the real deal over a full season. I had Aaron Rodgers as MVP last year, and I think that had a decent shot had he not broke his collarbone again. Give Rodgers a mediocre defense and a soft schedule and I think he’ll be on top of things again this year. I struggled with the coaches because I didn’t really pick surprise teams to come out of nowhere this season. So I’m sticking with my No. 1 seed in the NFC in Minnesota as Zimmer wins again with another quarterback.

NFL Week 1 Thoughts

Steelers at Browns

The weather for this one sounds brutal with a ton of rain in the area this weekend. I’d imagine they’ll keep the field in better working condition than the time Heinz Field had a 3-0 game with Miami in town (when the punt stuck in the ground). But it could be pretty nasty so I definitely like the under in this one.

It was only a 21-18 win by Pittsburgh in Week 1 last year, one of Cleveland’s closest calls on the way to 0-16. The offense scored just 14 points after getting a punt blocked for a touchdown to start things. That’s right, even with Le’Veon Bell, who finished with 10 carries for 32 yards, the Steelers’ starting offense scored 14 points on the Browns last year.

That’s why I’m hoping people can be rational, especially if the field is a mess, if the results of this game are not favorable to the offense with Bell holding out. For one, I think James Conner will be just fine in his absence. But as I just showed, the bar was already set so low for the offense with Bell in Cleveland last year. You know the Browns, with a much improved roster, will be fired up to finally win a game by beating their hated rival. If Myles Garrett and company wreck the line like they did a year ago, it wouldn’t matter if Bell was playing or not.

So I’m a bit worried about the outcome of this one driving a ton of irrational “Pay the man!” and “This is what you get Steelers!” hot takes. Since 2014 the Steelers are 12-6 without Bell. They score just about as many points without him as they do with him. Let’s not act like Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger haven’t had first-round bye seasons and been to multiple Super Bowls before Bell.

As long as the offensive line plays well, Conner should be just fine. However, this is a game the Steelers should win on the road against a team not expected to be anything this year. So you know I’m already skeptical of a good performance coming from Pittsburgh in this one. If the weather evens the playing field even more, well we could be looking at the upset of the week right here.

Texans at Patriots

This was one of the better matchups in 2017, a game that Houston should have won had it not dropped a late interception by Tom Brady. That was only Deshaun Watson’s second start and our first glimpse at just how exciting he can be as a dual-threat quarterback. He threw for over 300 yards in that game and had the Texans over 30 points in Foxboro, a very difficult feat to pull off. I’m excited to see him and J.J. Watt back, but the Patriots have done a very good job of limiting Watt in past matchups. It’s also a fact that we haven’t really seen Watt playing at a high level since the 2015 season.

DeAndre Hopkins won’t have Malcolm Butler to deal with, but the Patriots still have Stephon Gilmore and will likely make Houston’s other receivers try to beat them. Will Fuller did not play in that game last season. I’m interested to see how the Patriots operate without Julian Edelman (suspended) and Danny Amendola (Miami). At least Edelman will be back soon, but for a month they’ll have to go without one of their prototypical slot receivers. They still have Chris Hogan, Gronkowski and the receiving backs, but it’s another new-look offense for the Patriots, albeit one that’s less impressive than last year’s.

Bears at Packers

I usually groan at this matchup that we probably get in prime-time every single year, but this one could actually be good on Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers is back, which is the only storyline Green Bay really needs. The Bears have a new offensive-minded coach, Mitchell Trubisky is no longer a rookie stuck in a dead-ball passing offense, they have noteworthy receivers again, and they managed to add Khalil Mack. The Bears should finally be watchable again, but how about good?

I think the Packers should feel very fortunate that they get this home game in Week 1. Chicago should be a much better team later in the season when the offense gets to mature together under Nagy. You get Mack and rookie Roquan Smith arriving very late in the preseason, so that too can take time to get the front seven going. I think they can give Green Bay a good fight tomorrow night, because most teams do with the Packers these days. But I wouldn’t count on an upset just yet unless Mack is an absolute monster to spoil several drives for Rodgers.

NFL Week 1 Predictions

I’ll be picking every game against the spread this season. In my first partial season of trying that, I finished 60-59-5 (basically .500) last year. I’m looking to do better, but I already am 0-1 after picking the Falcons to win by a touchdown in Philadelphia, forgetting about the cursed red zone.

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NFL Week 17 Predictions: Fitting 2017 Finale

So this NFL season has kind of sucked.

I’ve been pretty consistent in saying that throughout a year that has put far too many great talents on the injury list. There was way too much attention and misinformed angst over the player protests, or anything involving Papa John’s, the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, or any stupid thing a stuffy old white owner had to say.

I’m sad that the Colts seemed to have botched Andrew Luck’s career. I’m sad that Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone derailed Green Bay’s season. I hate watching DeShone Kizer blow every cover for the Browns, though watch him come through tomorrow since I put money early in the week on the Steelers before they decided to sit stars. I’m tired of John Fox and conservative coaches like him, or that Jeff Fisher might return in 2018 just because of how many jobs are expected to be open. I can’t stand Oakland’s wasted talent on offense, or that Miami thought bringing Jay Cutler out of retirement was a good idea, or that Buffalo benched Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman. I hate watching the Colts blow every halftime lead or watch the Titans make sure every game is an insufferable slog for 60 minutes. I’m so disappointed that Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston didn’t help their teams take the next step this season. I can’t believe how much the Giants and Broncos have fallen off.

That’s not to say everything has been bad. The Vikings may have something special here with the Super Bowl in Minnesota. The return of the NFC South (minus Tampa Bay) has been good, as will seeing Drew Brees in another postseason. Jacksonville’s talent on defense is finally paying off. Alex Smith actually hit some deep balls and threw for 4,000 yards this year. Sean McVay has totally transformed the Rams into watchable TV again and should be Coach of the Year. It’s exciting what Jimmy Garoppolo has done for the 49ers after a late-season trade.

But overall, this thing has kind of sucked, and Week 17 is a pretty fitting end to this regular season. While it is New Year’s Eve on Sunday night, the NFL still couldn’t find a great matchup with deep playoff implications that was worthy of a prime-time slot. The closest thing we have to a game where both teams give a damn because it matters is Carolina at Atlanta. The defending champions need to win to get in, but the Panthers still have an outside shot at the NFC South if the Saints slip up in Tampa Bay. Crazier things have happened, and let’s face it, Tampa Bay is known to ruin things anyway.

The race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC is basically over. It’d take an act of God for the Jets to win in New England with Bryce Petty at quarterback. I still think it’s a big mistake for the Steelers to blow off the Cleveland game with resting stars. I’d play a half, go up big like last week and then rest. You have the bye week to rest. Don’t rest an additional week too. You’d have to piss off the football gods something fierce to lose Ben and Bell to injury in this game.

Otherwise, I’d like to see Baltimore get the No. 5 seed and the Chargers get the No. 6 seed. I just don’t want to see the Titans, who haven’t won since I said they were arguably the worst 8-4 team ever, get in this year. I also think it would be so fitting to be able to say that the 9-7 Bills missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker because they started Nathan Peterman over Tyrod Taylor. Sure, the game may have still been a loss with Taylor, but it wouldn’t have been that brutal as The Five Pick Man’s performance.

In the NFC, I’d honestly rather see Seattle get in than Atlanta, just because I think Russell Wilson and the remaining talent on defense are more capable of putting a run together than these Falcons, who easily can be anywhere from 3-12 to 13-2 right now.

I wasn’t going to comment on the MVP race now, but why not? It’s 2017 and we’re all miserable anyway. The race itself is a microcosm of this lousy season.

Tom Brady: The Default MVP

Tom Brady is probably going to win the 2017 NFL MVP by default, because he’s the only legitimate candidate who managed to make it to Week 17. He’s certainly not finishing in style based on the last month of play. Now I think it’d be hilarious if he threw a couple of picks against the Jets, but the Patriots still won 16-3, and he’d get the award anyway. That could even happen, because who else would you vote for? Check the timeline.

1. We start with the fact that a lot of teams never even really had a viable MVP candidate. Here’s looking at you Miami, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Jets. I could piss off more fanbases by listing more names, but you get the point.

2. Andrew Luck couldn’t even get on the field in Indy this year.

3. David Johnson couldn’t make it through Week 1 for Arizona before injury ended his year.

4. We lost a superstar wideout in Odell Beckham Jr. to injury and Ezekiel Elliott to a six-game suspension while he was the league’s most valuable rusher.

5. Aaron Rodgers was off to a strong start in carrying a flawed team, but his collarbone broke in Week 6 and so did Green Bay’s season.

6. Deshaun Watson was a rookie phenom who made the Texans a scoring juggernaut, but a non-contact torn ACL in practice ended his season after 6.5 games.

7. The only quarterback this year who can really come close to the dramatic shift in his offense’s success than Watson is Jimmy Garoppolo, but you’re not going to vote for him for a 5-0 stretch to end the season on a bad team. But it is so intriguing for the 49ers next year.

8. How about Matt Ryan for repeat MVPs? That died around mid-October when his receivers tipped more interceptions in a couple of games than any other quarterback’s had in a full season in years. That’s continued all season for Ryan and Atlanta in an offense that is nowhere near as good as 2016’s incarnation.

9. Alex Smith actually had a good case, but the GWDs allowed by his defense against the Raiders and Jets in games he played so well killed him. Then he had the offensively inept losses against the Bills and Giants, and people were just ready to write off KC entirely. Don’t do that, but yeah, no one’s going to vote for Alex Smith as MVP.

10. Just like how no one will actually vote for Case Keenum, because he’s Case Keenum. He still has a shot to finish No. 1 in passing DVOA, which is just incredible given his career to this point. Minnesota’s third quarterback of the year and he just may be leading the NFC’s Super Bowl favorite.

11. Of course, the Eagles were that Super Bowl favorite, but then Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14. Nick Foles has gotten credit for two pretty soft GWDs since then, and also threw four touchdowns against the Giants in a win. I don’t think you can possibly argue Wentz for MVP based on his 13 games, but I expect he’ll get at least a vote so it won’t be unanimous.

12. Russell Wilson could lead the NFL in touchdown passes if he throws at least two more to get to 34 and surpass Wentz (33). He’s had a very interesting season for Seattle. I think the “absurd percentage of team’s offense, leading the Seahawks in rushing by 300+ yards, and setting the NFL record for touchdown passes in the fourth quarter in a season” are all sexy MVP arguments. He’s clearly very valuable, but he hasn’t always played that well this season. He’s had some bad turnovers early in games (namely losses to ATL and JAX) that hurt. He didn’t pull out the GWDs in those games. He had the huge fumble in Green Bay in Week 1. He just got a win in Dallas where he threw for 93 yards. It’s a flawed offense this year, and sometimes Wilson is part of the problem. Seattle may not even make the postseason, so I just can’t get behind his MVP case this year. If he had his 2015 finish this year, then yes, but that’s not the case.

13. Todd Gurley has been finishing real strong, and sometimes that’s all you need as a RB to win MVP. Finish strong and get those flashy numbers. Adrian Peterson took away a sure MVP from Peyton Manning in 2012 just because he reached 2,000 yards rushing and helped the Vikings make the playoffs in Week 17. Unfortunately, Gurley isn’t even going to suit up for the Rams tomorrow. He’s resting for the playoffs, so he’ll finish with 2,093 yards from scrimmage, which is appealing, but not as appealing to voters as 2,000 rushing yards for some reason. And he’ll have 19 touchdowns instead of a shiny 20. No chance for Gurley to finish really high and jack up those league-leading YFS and TD numbers, and it’s not even his fault. He’s helped the Rams back to the playoffs, which is of course going to have a lot of the credit go to rookie coach Sean McVay. But Gurley has had a great year and I think he’ll at least take home Offensive Player of the Year, or the Stat Whore’s Consolation Prize as I like to call it. Okay, that probably sounds more disrespectful than it needs to be, but that’s basically what the award has turned into.

14. There is a big problem with Week 17. Not only will Gurley sit out, but so will Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and of course Antonio Brown. So Brady will play against the lowly Jets and basically have no pressure from anyone else adding to their cases.

15. Brown was probably Pittsburgh’s best mainstream MVP candidate, but oh yeah, he was injured in the second quarter of that huge game with the Patriots in Week 15. That game really decided the MVP as far as I’m concerned. Had the Jesse James touchdown not been overturned, and had Ben Roethlisberger not had that awful decision to force a fake spike into traffic for a game-ending interception, then I actually think Roethlisberger would take over as the MVP favorite. He’d still be top 3 in DYAR, he’s had 29 TD to 13 INT, he’d lead the league with 4 4QC and 5 GWD, and he’d still be near the top in passing yards for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. That’s another game-winning touchdown pass in a huge game everyone was watching after game-winning drives in prime time against the Packers, Bengals, and Ravens in recent weeks. The five-pick game against Jacksonville was a disaster, but check out the numbers since that point and he’s been as good as he has been in years. That reversal and pick wrapped this regular season up for the Patriots.

16. Then you have Brady himself. The numbers, as I show below, are good enough to fit the profile of an MVP QB season. Cam Newton’s weak 2015 win aside, Brady’s numbers are on the lower end of these seasons, but good enough when you add the caveat of being 40 years old. But the 29.3% passing DVOA would only rank as Brady’s 8th-best season in his career, and he hasn’t been too good down the stretch here. When you have a stat like “first time he’s thrown an interception in five straight games since 2002”, you are hearing Father Time coming.

MVPQBStats

Anyone making the argument that Brady is carrying a bad D this year is not looking at the numbers properly. When NE’s defense stunk early in the season, the Patriots were very fortunate to be 2-2. They couldn’t beat the Chiefs and Panthers when the D was lousy. Against Houston, Brady did give up a touchdown on a fumble-six in that game, and he got away with a game-ending pick on the game-winning drive. Then the Patriots didn’t allow more than 17 points in eight straight games, almost unheard of in this era. Bad day in Miami and it was another loss. Not a great day defensively in Pittsburgh, but the Patriots got the ball back for Brady, and they again came away with the biggest interception of the NFL season with that unbelievable Roethlisberger decision at the end. You don’t have to call the New England defense good, and it certainly has benefited from multiple touchdown calls getting reversed this year. But don’t act like Brady has had to overcome this defense to get to another 13-win season. He’s had to overcome some risky throws he made himself more than anything, and the D has done well at keeping the score down the rest of the year.

So basically, Houston dropping a game-ending Brady INT in Week 3, then the end of the PIT-NE game is what’s going to bring this one home for Brady. If he implodes against the Jets in the upset of the year (after already losing in the upset of the year in Miami), then I don’t know what voters will do, but maybe just giving it to Gurley is the right thing at that point. Hell, I might just vote for Deshaun Watson anyway if that happens.

I think Brady won MVP by default in 2010 too, and this happens from time to time when no one just dominates from Week 1 to Week 17 in a special year. 2008 Peyton Manning was a default MVP too. But this 2017 race is the gold standard for a default case. It’s also just a reminder of how everything that looked so great at one point this year often ended in disaster with injury or things falling apart.

Maybe that happens to Brady too in the postseason. No one has won the regular season MVP and the Super Bowl in the same season since 1999 Kurt Warner.

2017 Week 17 Predictions

2017Wk17

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Week 11: 8-6 (Spread: 8-5-1)
  • Week 12: 12-4 (Spread: 7-9)
  • Week 13: 11-5 (Spread: 10-6)
  • Week 14: 6-10 (Spread: 7-9)
  • Week 15: 14-2 (Spread: 7-6-3)
  • Week 16: 12-4 (Spread: 7-8-1)
  • Season: 152-88 (Spread: 52-51-5)

NFL Week 13 Predictions: The MVP Race Is FUBAR

We’re into Week 13, so it is about that time for me to rant about the NFL’s MVP race.

The 2015 MVP Race Is FUBAR

Seriously. Where in the world is Carson Palmer (and Carmen Sandiego for that matter)?

This has been a terrible season for MVP discussion, because it seems like the people having the discussion have never paid any attention to what usually qualifies for an MVP season in the NFL.

Team record has been driving the debate this year with the Patriots (now 10-1) and Panthers (11-0) having their quarterbacks on top of most lists regardless of performance. Team record matters, but you never had to be a No. 1 seed just to be discussed. Look at Aaron Rodgers last year. Of course, some like to be hypocritical and throw J.J. Watt into the mix, but I thought we killed that noise last year of how a defensive player almost can never be MVP. And are we really just going to ignore that the Texans were behind by over 40 points in two different games to start this season? Give him his DPOY (if that) and move on already.

Yet I saw a Friday poll on NFL Network for MVP that included Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and J.J. Watt.

Frankly, I’m shocked they didn’t throw in Aaron Rodgers after a gift-wrapped Hail Mary to beat the Lions. Sure, we’ll just ignore he’s having his worst season since 2008.

But Andy Dalton? Yeah, through six games he was right up there, but we’ve seen more of the old Dalton emerge in recent weeks. He’s having a nice year, but it’s not in the MVP range.

Cam Newton’s season is not even close to what you’d expect from an MVP season. It’s more like a classic Steve McNair year, and I don’t even mean 2003. People just wanted to give him the award before the year started because he lost Kelvin Benjamin, yet for the fifth season now, we’ve seen that Newton essentially posts the same statistics every year regardless of what’s around him. And they are just solid, not spectacular numbers even if you adjust for shortcomings around him (while also adjusting for his own problems with overthrows and inaccurate passes). Defense is what drives the W-L record in Carolina, and it always has in the Newton era. Newton has played better since the Green Bay game, but if we prorate his numbers to a 16-game season, this would have to be one of the worst seasons ever for a MVP winner. And it’s coming against a Charmin-soft schedule that might help this team get to 16-0.

I saw another link from a top site that asked if Adrian Peterson can make this a three-horse MVP race. If that wasn’t bad enough, the article excluded other quarterbacks and had the nerve to say “Brady’s putting up better numbers with worse players.”

That statement is vomit inducing to say the least.

For all but two plays and two drives, Brady has had Rob Gronkowski, the best TE in football, all season long.

Dion Lewis was having an incredible season in terms of forcing missed tackles. He was the third-most targeted receiver on this team, and he’s missed four full games and most of a fifth. He wasn’t knocked out for the season until Week 9.

Julian Edelman is one of the best YAC receivers in the game. He has missed two full games and a large chunk of the Giants game.

Danny Amendola is about the closest thing you can have to an Edelman replacement. He missed some of the Buffalo game and one full game (Denver last week).

Most of Brady’s 2015 stats were compiled with these players on the field. If we look at since Week 9 when the slew of injuries (one every week) started, Brady’s numbers have clearly dropped to a non-MVP level.

  • Brady Weeks 1-8: 68.9% complete, 20 TD, 1 INT, 8.34 YPA, 115.8 PR
  • Brady Weeks 9-12: 58.6% complete, 8 TD, 3 INT, 7.35 YPA, 90.3 PR

Gee, it’s almost like the value-added parts of the team have been hurt in the last month. And you expect this to happen to any QB when they lose so much in a short period of time. But please stop pretending he’s put up his numbers with scrubs or that he’s still putting up MVP numbers. In this span he also should have thrown a game-ending interception against the Giants on a terrible pass, but Landon Collins dropped the ball.

In any other season, the quarterback on the No. 1 scoring offense with a 9-2 record with dazzling stats would be right at the top of the MVP discussion, yet that is not happening for some reason with Carson Palmer this year in Arizona.

He’s averaging 8.8 YPA, which is phenomenal at this volume.

Palmer’s average pass is thrown 11.0 yards beyond the line of scrimmage — highest in the NFL — and he is still completing 63.6% of his passes. Tom Brady’s average pass is 7.7 yards. Newton’s is high too at 10.5, but he’s completing 57.1% of his passes.

ESPN’s QBR has had strong correlation with MVP winners. Palmer’s 82.1 QBR is well ahead of No. 2 Dalton (73.1), and much higher than Brady (67.5) and Newton (58.5). Newton ranks 20th on the season. Palmer’s season has been more consistent than any of them.

Palmer had the big prime-time performances in back-to-back weeks against the Seahawks and Bengals, leading a GWD in each game. He’s led a GWD in three consecutive games.

Palmer slipped up late against the Rams and in Pittsburgh, but he still threw for over 300 yards in both games (over 400 in Pittsburgh) and had the team in position late. He would have liked a dropped pick in Pittsburgh.

Let’s not act like Palmer has a loaded cast here either. Never mind that his defense isn’t as strong as NE or CAR, but his offense is basically driven by three wide receivers best suited for intermediate to deep routes. John Brown and Michael Floyd are also weekly fixtures on the injury report. Chris Johnson just went down. They don’t really have much at TE. This is a vertical offense predicated on the QB being accurate down the field, and Palmer has excelled this year. If you’re someone in need of a storyline for the award, having a career year at 35 a year after a torn ACL is pretty damn good.

Guess which offenses rank first and second in average starting field position? That would be the Patriots (31.72) and Panthers (31.40). That’s very valuable to have, and none of it is driven by the QB. Arizona is solid at 7th (29.44), but again, not as favorable as what Brady and Newton have had.

Palmer should be running away with this MVP race so far, yet he’s a footnote at best in mainstream media. Offering him the “Comeback Player of the Year” award is a slap in the face.

Arizona gets Minnesota on Thursday night, and will finish the season with Green Bay and Seattle. If these quarterbacks continue to play the way they have, we’ll find out just how much of a popularity contest this award has become.

2015 Week 13 Predictions

I knew better than to start trusting the Lions, because once you do, they do something like that on Thursday night against Green Bay.

Winners in bold:

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

This feels like a week where Miami fired someone and will remember how to play good football for at least one game.

Luke McCown almost beat the Panthers in Carolina this year, so it’s good to have Drew Brees back, but the Saints are just playing lousy football right now. Panthers should win.

I like the Giants mainly because Darrelle Revis is out. Beckham in DFS, yes.

Browns are only punishing themselves by not starting Johnny Manziel. Austin Davis is not the future.

Really intrigued by Seahawks in Minnesota. Think the lack of passing game and soft running D from the Vikings hurts them in this matchup. Still, hard to trust Seattle in early road game. Should be a close one.

Normally I’d pick the Falcons to bounce back, but Tampa Bay goes against what I think this year. So I went with the opposite of my opposite pick and just stuck with Atlanta.

I expect Denver to run wild on the worst run defense in the league, which Brock Osweiler will somehow get the credit for.

Tom Brady won’t throw five touchdown passes against the Eagles, but the Patriots still might score five offensive touchdowns.

I expect the Cowboys to split the series with Washington down the stretch here, but give me the Redskins at home on Monday night.

Obviously the main game I’m focused on is Colts at Steelers. It was an offensive display last year with Ben Roethlisberger having the game of his career. He has to forget all about that one and just play the way he has this year. He’s piled up the yards in the games he has finished and has his full plethora of wide receivers for this one. I want to see if Matt Hasselbeck can win a shootout. He’s getting a lot of credit for 4-0, but this could be the toughest test yet if he has to score 28+ to win on the road. Yes, Pittsburgh’s defense has given up plenty of 300-yard passing games already, but points have been harder to come by. I think Hasselbeck is the perfect QB to repeatedly take advantage of Pittsburgh’s soft pass defense (big cushions), but you can’t do that the entire game. He’ll have to hit some big throws and the running game is still as unreliable as ever. Should be a fun game, but I like the Steelers at home here in a pretty important game for both teams.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Week 11: 9-5
  • Week 12: 8-8
  • Season: 107-69 (.608)

NFL Week 1 Predictions: At Least Try Covering the Best Receivers

Maybe next year I’ll remember to include this part at the end of my season predictions.

Award Predictions

  • MVP: Andrew Luck
  • OPOY: Andrew Luck
  • DPOY: J.J. Watt
  • Coach: Chip Kelly
  • OROY: Amari Cooper
  • DROY: Vic Beasley
  • Comeback: Sam Bradford

I guess that completes the jinx for Indy (top seed, MVP, SB team) I bestowed upon the 2014 Saints a year ago. At least Rob Ryan isn’t in Indianapolis (or T-Rich).

Antonio Brown and Historic Receiving Streaks

Whether it’s real football or fantasy, the wide receivers have been stealing the show lately. 2014 was the greatest rookie class of WR’s ever, as it seems to be one of the few positions colleges are developing these days. A.J. Green is the latest in a line of wideouts to sign a huge contract. He deserves every penny for having to deal with Andy Dalton’s inaccurate throws.

With one game in the books for 2015, we saw more greatness from two members of the 2010 draft: TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Antonio Brown. Gronk might already be a HOF lock if he retired today. He’s just that dominant with 58 TD in 68 games. The 2015 Steelers are just that stupid to leave him so frequently open as they did on Thursday night. That game was also proof that you don’t need a 41-38 final to be an offensively-dominated game. Those defenses were both lost. In the rare event they were in position someone usually just made a play anyway. That someone was usually Brown, who continued his unmatched streak of consistency. Just how consistent has Brown been? I dug into the regular-season streaks since 1960 at PFR.

ABrownHist

Not only does Brown continue to have 5+ catches and 50+ yards in 33 games, but he recently set the record for consecutive 80-yard games at 11. He’s still on record streaks for 60+ and 70+ yards as well. We see Calvin Johnson’s recent dominance, Josh Gordon’s incredible 2013 feats and Odell Beckham Jr. has a shot to set a new mark for 90-yard games with a 10th on Sunday night.

How about receptions?

MostREC

No one has ever had consecutive games with 13+ receptions, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen soon.

Unique Quarterback Debuts

Tyrod Taylor will start his first game in his fifth season in the NFL. That’s pretty rare. The only relevant QB I can think of who did not start a game until his fifth season was Jeff Hostetler with the Giants. That also might be the best-case scenario for Taylor’s career prospects, because late-blooming quarterbacks are almost unheard of.

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the first two picks in the draft, will start their first game against each other. Think the NFL had a good hunch on how the draft would turn out to schedule that one? Otherwise it’s pretty hard to hype up these two franchises. I believe this is the first game in the modern era (since 1950) where two rookie quarterbacks started against each other in Week 1. Forget the top two pick part, I’m talking about any rookie QB.

I’d write some more but I’m really tapped out at this point and just want to see some 2015 action.

2015 Week 1 Predictions

I had the Patriots beating the Steelers ever since I knew this was going to be a game in New England. I slightly hesitated when it didn’t look like Tom Brady was going to start, but all along I figured the Steelers would start 0-1. They played closer than I expected at least.

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

I was getting worried when I kept picking road team after road team, but it evens out to 8-8 in the end. Hopefully I’ll finish better than 8-8 after no losing weeks in 2014. My only .500 weeks in 2014 were Week 1 and the Divisional round.

The Rams won’t get their special teams advantage this time over the Seahawks, though I think it can be a close one. I like the Colts to pull out an ugly one in Buffalo, because you still have to score a decent number of points to down that team. The Bills aren’t the type of team the Colts usually lose to. Maybe I’m drinking some Hard Knocks kool-aid, but I like the Texans to get a minor upset at home with Bill O’Brien helping to make Brian Hoyer look competent. I think Mariota outplays Winston, but the run game and a late turnover gives Tampa a close win. It’s important for Peyton Manning to get off to a quick start in Gary Kubiak’s offense. How they look in this game will weigh heavily in how I project the Thursday game in Kansas City. Finally, I can’t wait to see Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray in this Chip Kelly offense. That could be a very entertaining game in Atlanta.