27.Green Bay Packers – Jarran Reed – DL, Alabama –I feel like run defense has been a need for Green Bay for almost five years now. 21st in the league against the run, and as I touched on in the DC pick, you need to be able to stop the run. Especially without B.J. Raji, Reed makes a lot of sense for a team that needs help up front.
28.Kansas City Chiefs – Eli Apple – DB, Ohio State – Sean Smith and Husain Abdullah both leaving Kansas City leaves a lot of ground for Eric Berry to have to cover. In light of that and of Apple’s slide down to 28, the Chiefs grab a bargain to pair with Berry and last year’s DROTY Marcus Peters. Apple’s raw, but has all the talent to be a shutdown corner.
29. New England Patriots – N/A
30.Arizona Cardinals – Robert Nkemdiche – DL, Ole Miss – Nkemdiche is a dangerous pick, and one a lot of teams have taken off their boards. He’s had multiple problems off the field, and has been inconsistent, both with coaches and with his onfield production. He has all the tools to be a great defensive lineman in the NFL, but he needs the right environment. Bruce Arians I believe has that environment, having turned around other troubled problem players Tyrann Mathieu. I also believe Bruce Arians has fostered the sort of environment where someone like Nkemdiche, who has interests outside of football, can thrive and be comfortable as himself, which sounds like wishy-washy mumbo-jumbo, but is massively important to getting a player to play to his potential. He can reform the legal troubles, and foster the diversity.
31.*TRADE* San Francisco 49ers – From Carolina – Connor Cook – QB, MSU – As I’ve said before, I think that the 49ers are in love with Cook. So much so that I think they’ll trade back into the end of the first round to keep him from the Broncos, who are also in need of a quarterback. It’s a win for Carolina too, who don’t really have a good pick here that wouldn’t be overdrafted.
32.Denver Broncos – Darron Lee – LB, Ohio State – With Trevathan leaving Denver, that leaves a hole in the roster next to Brandon Marshall. Myles Jack’s slide causes other linebackers to slide, including Lee, who played outside in OSU’s 4-3 and has the physical talent to easily switch to inside in a 3-4. It’s not the pick the Broncos want, but I think it’s still a good pick in terms of both value and need.
1.Los Angeles Rams – Jared Goff – QB, Cal – You don’t make a trade like this unless you’re grabbing a quarterback. Defensive linemen, wide receivers, cornerbacks, no other position is worth two ones, two twos, and two threes. There’s no doubt that this is a quarterback, the only question is whether it’s Goff or Wentz. Comparing the two, Goff feels like the more polished, pro-ready signal-caller. He’s not Andrew Luck, but I like Goff.
2.Philadelphia Eagles – From Cleveland – Carson Wentz – QB, NDSU – You don’t make a trade like that if you’re not grabbing a quarterback. Reportedly the Eagles are planning on sitting him behind Bradford this year, which is the smart move; Wentz has sky-high potential, but he’s a project. The big question though is what happens if Bradford holds out? He’s reportedly furious that the Eagles traded up, and is planning to ask for a trade once it’s official that the Eagles drafted a quarterback. If he’s not available, do you risk breaking your rookie and hope for the best, or do you officially wave the white flag for the season and start Chase Daniel? The only thing that’s certain right now is that there will be plenty of drama in the City of Brotherly Love this year. Watch your back, Santa.
3.San Diego Chargers – Ronnie Stanley – OL, Notre Dame – I think Tunsil is a better lineman. If I were the Chargers, I’d count my blessings that Cleveland gave Philly the #2 pick instead of taking Tunsil as the replacement for Mitchell Schwartz and eventual replacement to Joe Thomas, and grab him myself. This isn’t about what I’d do though, it’s about what I think San Diego is going to do. The rumors that San Diego favors Stanley over Tunsil reminds me of the rumors in 2013 that Kansas City preferred Fisher over Joeckel, which I also thought was strange, but it happened. Plus there’s no reason for San Diego to try and create a smokescreen here; no team is going to be able to grab picks one or two, so there’s no trade value by tricking someone into trading ahead of them or with them.
4.Dallas Cowboys – Joey Bosa – DL, Ohio State – I’m 50/50 on this pick. On the one hand, Dallas needs pass-rushing help. They were 25th in sacks this past season, few teams had more trouble getting to the QB. At the same time, the consensus right now seems to be that Ramsey is a better safety than Bosa is a defensive end, a consensus I happen to agree with. In spite of that, I think the Cowboys pick Bosa. A stronger pass rush helps your secondary too, and Bosa’s capable of playing both the pass and the run well. He’s not JJ Watt 2.0 like some reporters have dubbed him, but that still leaves a sky-high ceiling.
5.Jacksonville Jaguars – Laremy Tunsil – OL, Ole Miss – Blake Bortles was sacked more than any other quarterback in 2014. He was also sacked more than any other quarterback in 2015. He’s been sacked a staggering 106 times in two years. That’s not sustainable, he’s going to get hurt sooner or later. Yeah you drafted Luke Joeckel high at tackle in 2013, but A. his play has been inconsistent and average-at-best, B. his contract is up after this year, and C. as Dallas has proven to the league, there’s nothing wrong with stocking up on offensive line talent year after year. Bortles’ growth from 2,908 yards with 11TD/17INT to 4,400 yards with 35TD/18INT is impressive, but it’s all in danger of falling backwards if he continues to have zero protection whatsoever. It’s hard to throw if you’re on your back, and it’s even harder to throw if you’re on injured reserve, which is bound to happen if he keeps taking a beating like this. Tunsil’s fall to five is a blessing for Jacksonville.
6.Baltimore Ravens – Jalen Ramsey – DB, FSU – The Ravens haven’t had an answer to replace Ed Reed since his departure in 2013 after their second Superbowl win. No longer the case, as they pick up their free safety of the future at number six. It’s a win-win for both parties; Eric Weddle will be a great mentor for the Florida State product, as well as taking the pressure off of him to start immediately at free safety. In the meantime, he has the talent and versatility to start out as a slot CB, or to play in the box as a strong safety, letting him go through the typically-harsh learning curve the NFL typically has for defensive backs.
7.San Francisco 49ers – DeForest Buckner – DL, Oregon – Paxton Lynch is a popular pick here, but I believe the Niners are smitten with Connor Cook. I don’t know if Armstead-Buckner will be as effective a pairing in the Bay as it was in Oregon, but I think Buckner has the talent to be a versatile player who can shift around to different spots along the defensive line, a spot where San Fran needs help, both in the passing game where they need pressure(27th against the pass, 29th in sacks) and the running game (29th against the run) where they need anyone on the defensive line to help clear holes for Bowman. I also think Chip Kelly loves the opportunity to add a highly-talented Duck he recruited onto his pro roster, especially one who fits a 3-4 defense.
8.Miami Dolphins – From Miami via Philadelphia and Cleveland – Ezekiel Elliott – RB, Ohio State – I like Hue Jackson. I think he’s a smart, capable coach who knows how to build a solid organization. I think that includes making a trade with Miami, who are a complete mess, trading back up to where they were originally supposed to be drafting so they can grab Elliott. I like Elliott and think he’ll do well, but this move screams an organization in chaos. Miami trading #8 to Philly to go down to 13, then trading with Cleveland to move back to #8, all to pick a RB – even one I like – is like Axl Rose joining AC/DC. I thought it was a joke at first. I thought this was one too because it makes no sense that Miami didn’t just stay at 8 if they wanted Elliott that badly. But it appears to be happening, so there it is.
9.Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Leonard Floyd – LB/DL, Georgia – Tampa needs to get help for Gerald McCoy on their defensive front. Robert Ayers, in his third team in four years, is not the long-term solution. Leonard Floyd fits the bill more. He has to bulk up and develop for the NFL, but he has the ability to be a monster if he can grow in the pros. Being able to sit behind Ayers and serve spot duty in his rookie year can give him that opportunity, too.
10.New York Giants – Jack Conklin – OL, MSU – Reportedly the Giants are planning on taking the best offensive lineman available at #10. This is a pretty reasonable decision, given Eli hasn’t had a ton of protection, and the Giants have had a pretty bad running game in recent years. I don’t like drafting by need, but I think this is reasonable as far as need drafting goes.
11.Chicago Bears – Shaq Lawson – DL, Clemson – Chicago was 22nd in sacks and 22nd against the run. They need help up-front, and while there are offensive needs, those can be resolved in later rounds, especially with Jeffrey and White outside. Lawson only has on year as a starter, but he has massive upside. He looks the part in every way, and shows ability both setting the edge and rushing the passer.
12.New Orleans Saints – Sheldon Rankins – DL, Louisville – The Saints are a complete mess on defense. You start to win and lose football in the trenches, and I think that the Saints grab the best defensive line player on the board, which I think is Rankins, who’s not only a good player, but is the definition of a boring player you never have to worry about off the field, a blessing for the Saints after the headache of Junior Galette.
13.Cleveland Browns – From Philadelphia via Miami – Laquon Treadwell – WR, Ole Miss – Cleveland’s most glaring need is quarterback, but between the extra first-rounder from Philly, whatever they get from Miami, and the lack of QBs who wouldn’t be a reach, it wouldn’t make sense at 13. What would make sense, and what’s a need given the ongoing saga of Josh Gordon, is a #1 receiver. Treadwell has been sliding in large part because of a disappointing 4.64 40, but Larry Fitzgerald ran a 4.63. 40 times aren’t everything, especially for a hands catcher like Treadwell. He’s not going to be chasing down 60-yard bombs, but he’ll be a reliable third-down target who’ll break tackles for YAC gains.
14.Oakland Raiders – Vernon Hargreaves, III – CB, Florida – Oakland’s secondary was 26th in the league last year. They need help against the pass, and much like Cleveland, they benefit from a talented player sliding. Hargreaves can be a bit aggressive and is a little short for the position nowadays, but he shows a great understanding of the game for a cornerback, and should be able to make a safe transition into the NFL.
15.Tennessee Titans – From Los Angeles – Taylor Decker – OL, Ohio State – Mariota needs protection. He’s had no help from his offensive line, and that resulted in him missing four games in his rookie year. Additionally, DeMarco Murray can’t go from one set of turnstiles to another and expect to be productive. Decker is the best lineman on the board, so it’s an easy pick.
16.Detroit Lions – A’Shawn Robinson – DL, Alabama – Call it overdrafting, but Detroit needs help up-front. Ngata is there for another year, but he’s not what he used to be. Meanwhile, Robinson is arguably the best defensive lineman on the board right now, and this is a position of need. I’m a fan of more technically polished prospects over the physical freaks, and to me, Robinson and fellow Alabama alum Jarran Reed are similar players who embody this difference. In this case, I think Ngata gives Detroit a good mentor to coach up the rawer but more talented Robinson, so they roll the dice on the bigger upside prospect.
17.Atlanta Falcons – Myles Jack – LB, Cal – This is a gamble. In terms of how he plays the game, Jack is one of the most exciting prospects in the entire draft. He looks like the next Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis, Brian Urlacher, etc., and arguably is more athletic than any of them. However his knee is a million-dollar question, and one I’m very concerned about. There were a number of teams picking high this year who were burned by injuries taking out their first-round pick last year(Ravens and Perriman, Jaguars and Fowler, Bears and White, etc.) so I expect Jack to drop hard. Atlanta needs help in their front seven, and I think it’s too irresistible a gamble, especially since all their other needs are better addressed later. Whether the gamble pays off and they get a Todd Gurley type recovery, or backfires into a Lattimore/Clowney type situation, only time will tell.
18.Indianapolis Colts – Ryan Kelly – OL, Alabama – A center in the first round? Really? Yes, really. Just ask Travis Frederick how that works out. Kelly doesn’t have the size you want on the interior, but everything else is there. The strength, the leadership, the communication, and the understanding of the defensive front that’s all needed to make a great center. Andrew Luck has never had good protection, and that finally came back to bite Indy this year. Center is one of the most underrated positions in football, second only to the quarterback in terms of responsibility setting up the offense for a successful play. The left tackle gets the most money for protecting the blindside, but the center tells him who to block and how, and reads the blitz to keep the QB upright. Kelly could be the Jeff Saturday to Andrew Luck’s Peyton Manning.
19.Buffalo Bills – Kevin Dodd – DL, Clemson – Defensive lineman? Check. Raw but talented? Check. One-year starter? Check. From a football factory school? Check. Sounds like a Rex Ryan pick if I’ve ever heard one.
20.New York Jets – Paxton Lynch – QB, Memphis – Fitzpatrick doesn’t want to come back at the rate New York is offering. Do the Jets have faith in Geno? Good question. Whether they take a quarterback here or not will answer it, and I think the answer is no. Who knows though, maybe they’ll put Geno up as a sacrificial lamb to keep Lynch off the field and give him a chance to develop. Even if not, it’s hard to do bad with the kind of offensive talent the Jets are stockpiling. Marshall, Decker, Forte, Clady, there’s plenty of good talent to help a rookie out in New York.
21.Washington Redskins – Reggie Ragland – LB, Alabama – Whether Kirk Cousins can replicate 2015 remains to be seen, though I have faith in him. What I don’t have faith in is a defense that ranked 26th against the run last year. Call it a passing league all you want, the Broncos won the Superbowl by shutting down Carolina’s run-heavy offense. Before that, the Seahawks made it to the Superbowl two years in a row by running the football and playing defense. Defense is still key to winning championships, and running the football is key to controlling the flow of the game. Ragland will help DC stop their opponents from controlling the running game immensely. Building up the interior defense fits the McCloughan mold, too.
22.Houston Texans – Will Fuller – WR, Notre Dame – From what I understand, this is already a done deal. Fuller will get to play opposite one of the league’s true current #1 receivers, which should keep attention off of him, letting him and Osweiler hit the ground running in Houston.
23.Minnesota Vikings – Josh Doctson – WR, TCU – Everything I’m hearing about Minnesota is screaming wide receiver. Bridgewater needs better targets, and Josh Doctson is a very nice-looking prospect. Though it’s not towering, Doctson is a big receiver at 6’2”, and fast, with a 4.43 40. He’s also shown great jumping ability to snatch the ball out of the air, as well as strong hands. He needs to work on his route-running, but overall, 23 feels like a great value for Doctson, who can hopefully finally give Bridgewater the receiver he needs.
24.Cincinnati Bengals – Corey Coleman – WR, Baylor – AJ Green is amazing, but he can’t be in three places on the field at once, even though it feels like that. Sanu and Jones leaving means Andy Dalton needs more weapons if he wants to approach the same level as he was until his broken thumb last year. From what I gather, Cincinnati really likes Doctson, but with Minnesota snagging him, the next-best option is likely Coleman.
25.Pittsburgh Steelers – William Jackson III – DB, Houston – It feels like ages since Polamalu and company gave Pittsburgh a menacing secondary to fill out one of the league’s best defenses. “Hard nosed” and “Blue collar” are not what you think of when you think about the Steelers nowadays, it’s the offensive fireworks of Ben, Bell, and Brown. This is a problem when Bell has had two injuries to the same knee in the last two years, and Ben is getting older and older. Pittsburgh needs to fill out its defense, and cornerback was awful for them last year, as being 30th of 32 against the pass should show. Any secondary that Ryan Mallett completes nearly 70% of his passes on after being out of work for months is a bad secondary. Jackson is a good pick here who has been projected as high as 14.
26.Seattle Seahawks – Jason Spriggs – OL, Indiana – Seattle is fortunate that Russell Wilson is mobile, because he’s been running for his life for a while. That’s only going to get worse with Russell Okung leaving in free agency. They’ll also need more blocking to open up running lanes, now that they don’t have a back like Lynch who can be his own blocker every play.
And now we have reached the conclusion of these predictions, the same day that preseason starts. Funny how that worked out. To wrap things up, we have the NFC West, home of longtime football horse Peyton Manning.
Denver Broncos: As much of a choker as he is come playoff time, Peyton Manning's still the man when it comes to the regular season. And once Miller comes back, that defense will be dynamite.
The Broncos have a quarterback, they have blockers - Clady and Vasquez are outstanding, and while losing Koppen hurts a lot, if anyone can get a center into shape, it's Peyton Manning. They'll be one of the best lines in the NFL.
They have receivers - Decker and Thomas were both 1,000+ receivers, with Thomas being #4 in the league. Welker may not be as great as he looks, but if anyone in the league can use him as well as Brady, it's Peyton.
They have a front seven - Von Miller is about as close to a defensive linchpin as there is in the NFL outside of Watt, and with good reason - he defends the run, he defends the pass, he was one of the few people homing in behind Watt for the sack title, with 18.5 to Watt's 20.5. He's about their only tested pass rusher, but that's okay with A. How good he is, and B. How well the rest of their front seven plays the run.
They have a backfield - playoff loss aside, Champ Bailey is still somehow a shutdown corner. And in spite of being the goat on the play that doomed Denver, Rahim Moore was actually a solid safety for the regular season.
The only real gaps anywhere on this team are MLB and RB, both of which were addressed with the draft, but both of which you can afford to have when your quarterback is Peyton Manning. Be prepared for another year of Peyton Manning asskissing - both deservedly and undeservedly - because between a weak division and a great team, Denver is once more the #1 seed in the AFC and once more gets a shot to give a HoF QB an orange ring in his twilight. But like we saw last year, if anyone was hurt by the cold of Mile High in the playoffs, it was Peyton. Will they really be better off being the #1 seed?
38-21 vs. BAL, 1-0
24-21 @ NYG, 2-0
24-10 vs. OAK, 3-0
41-20 vs. PHI, 4-0
21-7 @ DAL, 5-0
44-10 vs. JAX, 6-0
28-24 @ IND, 7-0
27-13 vs. WAS, 8-0
14-10 @ SD, 9-0
38-13 vs. KC, 10-0
31-24 @ NE, 10-1
24-23 @ KC, 10-2
42-13 vs. TEN, 11-2
28-14 vs. SD, 12-2
38-24 @ HOU, 13-2
28-0 @ OAK, 14-2
San Diego Chargers: Poor Phil Rivers. You can never question the guy's toughness or passion after the 2007 postseason, but his career has gone downhill. It's not entirely his fault though - the Chargers line was somehow worse than the Cardinals. Rivers has no time to throw, and once he gets it out, who can he target? Jackson's gone, Meachem and Royal were bleh, and Antonio Gates is done and gone. Ryan Matthews had more serious injuries in 2012 than he's had 1,000 yard seasons, or really, good games for that matter. He's a bust. There is nobody but Philip Rivers on that offense, blocking, catching, or running, and he gets an unfair amount of the blame. Whoever nabs him up when San Diego decides stupidly to let him walk after this season, congratulations, you just got a great deal on a good quarterback.
San Diego's going to suck this year. The receivers suck, the runningbacks suck, the line sucks, the rushers suck, the corners suck, the only things that don't suck are the kicker, the punter, and Eric Weddle. Everyone else, rookies possibly aside - good luck Manti - needs to be tossed. This team sucks, and it's only gone unreported because people are more enamored with the Jets when it comes to trainwrecks, and like to laugh and poke fun at the Jaguars more because they're the Jaguars. That, and it's easy to hide how bad you are when you share a division with Oakland and KC.
Mike McCoy was an idiot to take this job, and his former coworkers will be laughing at him twice this year. The most important decision he has to make the next two years isn't about winning games, it's going to be about making sure he uses this pick on the next Ladainian Tomlinson, not the next Ryan Leaf.
24-7 vs. HOU, 0-1
21-10 @ PHI, 0-2
14-10 @ TEN, 0-3
33-31 vs. DAL, 0-4
24-10 @ OAK, 1-4
14-10 vs. IND, 2-4
24-13 @ JAX, 3-4
48-35 @ WAS, 3-5
14-10 vs. DEN, 3-6
28-21 @ MIA, 3-7
24-14 @ KC, 3-8
28-17 vs. CIN, 3-9
21-14 vs. NYG, 3-10
28-14 @ DEN, 3-11
28-21 vs. OAK, 4-11
21-17 @ KC, 5-11
Oakland Raidahs: It still bugs me that Terrelle Pryor's probably done. The guy never even got a chance to play, and honestly, in spite of his recent admissions about his throwing abilities, I think he could play, especially with the read-option becoming popular.
It won't matter though, because Oakland, like San Diego, sucks. I have faith going forward in Dennis Allen, but even Jimmy Johnson had to survive 1-15 before he won two rings. This is going to be a terrible season for Oakland; Matt Flynn's a castoff who the best you'll get from is "Worse than Russell Wilson," Tyler Wilson's alright, and I like him as a future sleeper, but he's no Andrew Luck. Speaking of whom, Luck is happy to have Wilson's would-be target, Darrius Heyward-Bey. Pryor's not going to be given the start, because even though he's a veteran he's only started one game, yet you're still going to hear idiots go "Well you're the veteran here in Oakland, you know the system," Which he doesn't with all the system change. "So why don't you rock?"
Whoever wins doesn't get much help. Josh Cribbs is a return man, he's not a good WR. Jacoby Ford has failed to compile 750 yards, 5 touchdowns, or 50 catches in three years. Nobody else in their WR corps is worth mentioning. Marcel Reece wastes away in a backfield where he's stuck as second fiddle in spite of his talent to Darren McFadden, who has a ton of talent but is about as durable as TO's integrity. Every single good player is gone, and I don't blame them. Unless Oakland has the draft of the century, everyone on this team except Marcel Reece, Josh Cribbs, and Sebastian Janikowski suck. Horrifically. It's depressing. Oakland is a barren wasteland of nothing where players go to die unless they're Seabass, who thrives in it. Anyone else donning the silver and black, god help you.
28-10 @ IND, 0-1
14-10 vs. JAX, 1-1
24-10 @ DEN, 1-2
24-10 vs. WAS, 1-3
24-10 vs. SD, 1-4
28-17 @ KC, 1-5
21-17 vs. PIT, 2-5
28-10 vs. PHI, 2-6
28-3 @ NYG, 2-7
23-10 @ HOU, 2-8
28-17 vs. TEN, 2-9
38-24 @ DAL, 2-10
10-3 @ NYJ, 2-11
24-20 vs. KC, 2-12
28-21 @ SD, 2-13
28-0 vs. DEN, 2-14
Kansas City Chiefs: The Andy Reid era begins in KC. How will it fare? Well, that largely depends on which Alex Smith shows up. If it's the Mike Singletary Alex Smith, the Chiefs are as bad as last year. If it's the Jim Harbaugh Alex Smith though, the Chiefs can contend.
In spite of being the team with pick #1 last year, Kansas City has a ton of talent. Jamaal Charles will run less and catch more with Andy Reid, but that's fine since he does both well. Reid made the smart decision to retain Dwayne Bowe. KC's line is actually pretty good, especially with the addition of Eric Fisher.
Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are a tough combo rushing, especially when you consider they barely led at all - including no regulation leads until week 10 - so they rarely got to rush a quarterback. Eric Berry kept the back-end of the defense surprisingly solid, and Brandon Flowers was an elite corner.
KC actually has a solid defense, although the hole tragically left by Jovan Belcher needs to be filled. If the offense can back them up, then the Chiefs can contend. But again, that's all on Alex Smith's shoulders. We shall see, Reid, we shall see.
24-10 @ JAX, 1-0
24-20 vs. DAL, 2-0
28-17 @ PHI, 2-1
24-20 vs. NYG, 3-1
21-14 @ TEN, 4-1
28-17 vs. OAK, 5-1
21-14 vs. HOU, 5-2
24-17 vs. CLE, 6-2
24-23 @ BUF, 6-3
38-13 @ DEN, 6-4
24-14 vs. SD, 7-4
24-23 vs. DEN, 7-5
28-24 @ WAS, 7-6
24-20 @ OAK, 8-6
21-14 vs. IND, 9-6
21-17 @ SD, 9-7
And there you have it. Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders is your pecking order for the AFC West. Your playoff seedings are as follows:
1. Green Bay Packers - 12-3-1
2. New Orleans Saints - 11-5
3. Seattle Seahawks - 11-5
4. Washington Redskins - 10-6
5. Chicago Bears - wildcard - 11-5
6. Atlanta Falcons - wildcard - 11-5
1. Denver Broncos - 14-2
2. Baltimore Ravens - 12-4
3. New England Patriots - 12-4
4. Houston Texans - 11-5
5. Indianapolis Colts - wildcard - 10-6
6. Cincinnati Bengals - wildcard - 9-7
Honestly, these predictions don't mean a whole lot. Since I started making them, injuries to big names like Dennis Pitta and Jeremy Maclin happened, suspensions to names like Von Miller happened, and surprisingly very poor conditioning/unexpectedly fat players happened like Eddie Lacy. There are a ton of games I'd change the results of. But, lets see how accurate this ends up. It's been fun.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled divisional predictions to bring you an important announcement. The NFL has decided that the Pro Bowl needs some changing, which is correct. However the way they have decided to change it, as far as I'm concerned, is stupid and wrong. So, in light of recent changes, I feel like ranting and raving about the changes that I think should be done to the NFL's all-star game:
Leave it AFC vs. NFC. Yes, non-conference/divisional/league based teams are done. But if you look at the big three American sports - baseball, basketball, and football - both of the other two are like this. AL vs. NL, eastern conference vs. western conference. Hell, even Honkbal Hoofdklasse has north vs. south. Not having it this way is stupid. I'm fine with fantasy draft things, but restrict it by conferences. It'd be stupid having Tom Brady beat the AFC team.
Use hall of fame coaches, not hall of fame players. I like the idea of HoF coaching. But I'd rather see someone other than a HoF player there. How cool would it be to watch Madden coach against Gibbs, or Parcells against Belichick once the latter retires? Coaches also pay more attention to more positions. HoF players are always going to focus on two positions; what they played, and who they played against. WRs and corners will always value CBs and WRs more. LTs will always value LTs and DE/OLB rushers more. Because that's what they know, and that's who could give them fits.
Change its time. This is the one I'm most skeptical about of my thoughts, because in a sport as violent and contact-filled as football, waiting until the end of the season actually makes a lot of sense. At first I was thinking make it week 9 and give everyone a bye then, but again, with the injury potential that's silly. So what about week 16 or 17? Maybe have the voting over the offseason, and use it as week 4 of preseason? Or something else even? All I know is a big part of its problem is it's when nobody cares about it. Everyone's either looking forward to the Superbowl or talking about the conference championships. I don't know where to move it and when, but it needs a different spot.
Give it some stakes. Obviously you'd have to play out to Superbowl LI since you already gave someone XLVIII, XLIX, L, and LI. But after that, take a hint from the MLB and how they drummed up interest in the ASG, have the winning conference's champion host the Superbowl.
Skill competitions. I'm not the biggest fan of these, but people like them. Have skill position players run sprints, have everyone try and outrun Chris Johnson in a 100M dash. Have quarterbacks play an elimination bracker of Horse, making trick throws to different WRs. Have kicking duels, which I can say are actually entertaining, and hell, let them do trick kicks. If Kickalicious could go viral, letting kickers spend the Pro Bowl doing that would be a great draw. Have linemen from both sides sumo wrestle each other. Be absurd, be silly, and be entertaining, because that's what makes a good ASG. Letting coaches and captains pick players for these things actually works, too - right 2013 MLB All-Star homerun derby winner who wasn't voted an All-Star but was picked for the derby Yoenis Cespedes?
Don't outlaw kickoffs. First off, by outlawing them, you're eliminating a trip to the Pro Bowl for guys like Josh Cribbs and Devin Hester, who would never get there otherwise. Second, lets not pretend that you just want to eliminate them from the Pro Bowl. Goodell has spoken about eliminating them from football altogether. That's just stupid. If there were no returns, then the Broncos never make it a close game in Denver in the playoffs, the Ravens win 35-21, but then the Ravens are in trouble, because the power goes out while they're driving in Louisiana, so they never get a touchdown, so the 49ers win 28-27. Kickoffs change the game dramatically, and eliminating them is the stupidest of all stupid things that this change to the Pro Bowl does or even suggests.
Continuing our journey through the NFL landscape, today we visit the AFC South, which, at its conclusion, will leave us with one more division to predict the records of.
Houston Texans: JJ Watt terrifies me. He should give any offensive coordinator nightmares, too - he had more passes defended as a defensive end than anyone in the league had sacks, other than himself, Aldon Smith, and Von Miller. Speaking of sacks, he's also really good at those, notching 20.5, the most in the league and more than the entirety of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Barring injury or other setbacks, Watt is going to be a force for years to come, and as long as he's there, that D will be good and Houston will have a chance. That includes this year. Andre Johnson is old, but still good. Schaub is still getting it done, though I do still believe the Texans should trade him after this year and start working with TJ Yates. He was great in relief in 2011, and showed potential that could be capitalized on. Yates isn't Brady, but it has a feel similar to Brady-Bledsoe to me.
Arian Foster, oddly enough, is the wild-card. For the second time in three years, he finished in the top three for carries, with the most of anyone in 2012. And the year in-between in 2011 was only 6th. Injuries were a concern for Foster coming in, and he's yet to return from a calf injury he suffered in OTAs. Houston needs him, as he's the engine for everything in their offense. He runs, he catches, he pass blocks, he's a do-it-all back, and any problems for him kills Houston.
Lets assume he's healthy, because I've already made one injured star pick in these predictions in the NFC West. Watt won't have the same year he did last year, but he'll be a terrifying presence nonetheless, and finish as a strong favorite for the DPOTY he won't win.
24-7 @ SD, 1-0
28-10 vs. TEN, 2-0
24-21 @ BAL, 2-1
28-14 vs. SEA, 3-1
28-24 @ SF, 3-2
38-7 vs. STL, 4-2
21-14 @ KC, 5-2
28-27 vs. IND, 5-3
28-13 @ ARI, 6-3
23-10 vs. OAK, 7-3
41-0 vs. JAX, 8-3
21-14 vs. NE, 9-3
31-28 @ JAX, 10-3
24-20 @ IND, 10-4
38-24 vs. DEN, 10-5
14-10 @ TEN, 11-5
Indianapolis Colts: What a season for the Colts. On the back of Andrew Luck, they went from the worst team in football to a playoff team. Chuckstrong indeed. The Colts are primed for the future, as Luck continues to progress. However the D is a problem. The line isn't horrible, but it's not good. Landry can be an effective strong safety, but he's hurt way too often. The only defensive player I trust on there is Vontae Davis, who's leave from Miami still confuses me.
The offense will continue progressing, as Luck's favorite targets other than Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, who shall be referred to as Ty Hilton from now on because T.Y. doesn't stand for anything, and Ty's a name I want to see more in sports, and the two TEs, Fleener and Allen, are all entering their second years along with Luck. This'll be a big payout for Indy when they're all up for contracts at once, but whoever they keep should have great chemistry with Luck. Unfortunately, Wayne will start regressing; he proved a lot of critics, myself included, wrong last year, but the man is going to be 35 in November. Players like Darrell Green and Jerry Rice who can dominate at skill positions in their forties are virtually nonexistent.
The Colts will show a ton of future promise, and will make the playoffs as a wild-card thanks to an easy schedule. But do not expect a deep playoff run, as they drop their last game, falling out of the crown and into a wild-card.
28-10 vs. OAK, 1-0
21-10 vs. MIA, 2-0
21-17 @ SF, 2-1
28-24 @ JAX, 3-1
21-17 vs. SEA, 4-1
14-10 @ SD, 4-2
28-24 vs. DEN, 4-3
28-27 @ HOU, 5-3
24-16 vs. STL, 6-3
28-24 @ TEN, 7-3
24-17 @ ARI, 8-3
24-17 vs. TEN, 9-3
21-10 @ CIN, 9-4
24-20 vs. HOU, 10-4
21-14 @ KC, 10-5
28-27 vs. JAX, 10-6
Tennessee Titans: No more excuses, Chris Johnson. You've still got getting away from the cops speed, and now you've got good blocking. Levitre is one of the best in the NFL at guard, and Warmack was the top OL prospect last year, and would've gone #1 if there wasn't such a discrepancy between the value of a good tackle and the value of a good guard. Velasco is still there from your 2009, 2,000+ line. Roos and Stewart are both solid, too. We're not expecting 2,000+ again. But you have nobody to blame but yourself if you don't return to being an elite RB this year.
Locker also needs to have a breakout year for this team to contend for anything. Kenny Britt has a world of potential he hasn't reached because of personal issues, but I have a good feeling for him in 2013. Kendall Wright did well in spite of being the #3 man on the team. The blocking is there. Locker has to be the man this year.
Especially because I don't trust their defense. Pollard's a hard-hitter, but he's an extra linebacker, he's not a good cover guy. The line's not awful, but I don't trust it at all, McCourty's good, but the secondary needs more. Ayers and Brown played well, but your linebackers in a 4-3 are only as good as the guy at mike making all the calls in my mind, and I can't trust Colin McCarthy to stay healthy. Inexperience doesn't help either. He could prove me very wrong, but I need to see it.
This is going to be a very pivotal year for Tennessee. In spite of complete and utter neglect from the national media, they have become a better team so far. But if the Titans decide they want a new direction after another .500 or less season, it could all fall off the rails right as it's coming together. If they stay the course, 2014 could finally be the year for the Titans.
24-10 @ PIT, 0-1
28-10 @ HOU, 0-2
14-10 vs. SD, 1-2
14-10 vs. NYJ, 1-3
21-14 vs. KC, 2-3
28-14 @ SEA, 2-4
20-10 vs. SF, 2-5
21-20 @ STL, 2-6
14-7 vs. JAX, 3-6
28-24 vs. IND, 3-7
21-17 @ OAK, 4-7
24-17 @ IND, 4-8
42-13 @ DEN, 4-9
17-10 vs. ARI, 4-10
28-21 @ JAX, 4-11
14-10 vs. HOU, 4-12
Jacksonville Jaguars: I have loved the Shahid Khan era aesthetically. The new uniforms are awesome, the new logo is great, and I actually like the gradient helmet. On-field...well, this is a reclamation project that's going to take a while.
There are a few bright spots; Cecil Shorts had a good year last year - especially considering his quarterbacks - and Blackmon came on at the end, though he has to serve his suspension. They're both bolstered though by the return of Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD is definitely hurt by the loss of Greg Jones, who, like any good fullback other than Vonta Leach, is under-appreciated, but if he's fully back from his injury, he's still one of the best. Joeckel and Monroe should form a solid pair of outside blockers.
Nothing in the front seven inspires confidence in me at all on defense. Hopefully Brandon Marshall - not that Brandon Marshall, this one's a rookie linebacker - can have some impact, but especially with an organization with as erratic draft success and failure as Jacksonville, I need to see it to believe it.
The secondary could be decent, with Gratz apparently shining so far in camp. But is that because he's good or because he's playing against Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne? Cyprien was a nice pick at #33, and Lowery's good when healthy, so the safety position might be good, but Lowery's health is a concern.
Then there's the quarterback situation. The Blaine Gabbert project needs to end - the poor kid had a ton of potential, but was shoved in too early, and he's beyond salvage now, at least in an organization that's in rebuilding mode and doesn't have a talented offense. David Caldwell is either delusional or knows his best bet is to sink this season so he can draft Bridgewater next year.
Chad Henne was outstanding at the end of last season, and he could save - or sink if you buy my conspiracy theory about Caldwell - the season when put in("Not worst team in NFL" save, not "Put us in the playoffs" save), but ultimately, I just can't see Jacksonville being any good. Sorry Primus. On the bright side though, Khan actually seems like he's smart enough to know he has to have consistency to make a competitor of Jacksonville, so he's not going to tear everything up and ruin what's building in Jacksonville after a few years.
24-10 vs. KC, 0-1
14-10 @ OAK, 0-2
41-3 @ SEA, 0-3
28-24 vs. IND, 0-4
24-17 vs. STL, 0-5
44-10 @ DEN, 0-6
24-13 vs. SD, 0-7
31-7 vs. SF, 0-8
14-7 @ TEN, 0-9
28-21 vs. ARI, 0-10
41-0 @ HOU, 0-11
14-3 @ CLE, 0-12
31-28 vs. HOU, 0-13
31-28 vs. BUF, 0-14
28-21 vs. TEN, 1-14
28-27 @ IND, 2-14
And there you have it. Houston will conquer the AFC South for a third time, but once more they will falter going into the playoffs, which may spell a third one-and-done. Luck and the Colts get into the playoffs as a wild-card again, but that's more because everyone else sucks and they have an easy schedule than because they're so great. They're trending upwards. Tennessee fails to deliver on a make-or-break year, and Bud Adams decides to blow the whole thing up. Then there's Jacksonville, which I really should've given a 1-15 prediction to, but I just didn't have the heart. Still a terrible team though, and still getting the #1 pick.
That leaves only the AFC West, and my 2013 regular season predictions will be complete. It's been fun, but honestly, it's kind of a relief to almost have them done. Might not even do playoff predictions because I just want to relax.
Let us continue our journey through the NFL landscape, this time stopping in its eastern american division. We're probably going to be brief here, because this is one of those really boring, depressing divisions where everyone knows what's going to happen.
New England Patriots: Much like the defending world champions, the demise of the New England Patriots has been greatly exaggerated. I hate saying it, but the fact of the matter is that as long as No. 12 is under center, New England will be a team you have to watch out for. They've only missed the playoffs twice since they won Superbowl XXXVI with him, and only one of those seasons was Brady QB for the majority of the season. No Hernandez, no Welker - who was really an overrated slot receiver, more on that in a minute - no problem. Seriously, do people other than overzealous Bills/Fins/Jets fans really think losing a few receivers is going to kill New England, or is it just media frenzy?
Lets start with Wes Welker. He will not be missed, despite what everyone thinks. Yeah I know the whole "With so many targets he's guaranteed to drop a ton" argument, but that's invalidated because A. He wasn't the leader in receptions, he was #4. Yet he still had the most drops. He also has the highest percentage of drops. And while those three ahead of him played a traditional role, most of Welker's passes were either screens or slants and curls within 5-10 yards of the line.
Now I do have to give credit where credit is due. Close Encounters of the Pollard Kind aside, Welker has been a great example of a guy who's stayed healthy in spite of being a small guy playing the slot. That's not something you can say for Amendola, especially if he has to tackle Welker's 100+ catch workload. Outside of his drops, Welker has been the best slot receiver there is. But that's all he is; a slot receiver. This sounds crazy, but he is the greatest modern example of how a guy who's just a solid role player can become a huge cog of an offense, have a great career, be productive, and become known as a great player.
But durability aside, Almondola is a complete upgrade.
Hernandez will be missed, but as long as Gronk is healthy, he can be compensated for. Hernandez was mainly used kind of like Welker, in the sense it was shifty stuff that was all about mismatches. New England has been compensating by moving Shane Vereen around. Expect him to play roles similar to what Kevin Faulk and Darren Sproles did/do for NE and NO, respectively. It's all about exploiting matchups, and Vereen, while not a burner, is fast, shifty, and small.
Gronk, if healthy, will continue to be one of the best there is. Unfortunately, that's a big "if." I don't believe he was injury prone coming into the league, but five surgeries in eight months? Gronk may have world class trainers, world class conditioning, etc., etc., but it takes time to get back in shape after recovery from surgery, especially in Gronk's case where it's not some minor outpatient stuff. Adrian Peterson only had to recover from one operation. I love the big meathead, but unfortunately his future is in question.
A lot of this is alleviated not only by Tom Brady, but also by a young man named Stevan Ridley. I've said it before, and Tom Brady said it in different words; a running game is a quarterback's best friend. That pressure off of his shoulders and his receiver's shoulders will be wonderful for New England. As long as he's recovered from getting Pollarded, Ridley looks very ready to build on a breakout season in which he was 7th in yards, tied with AD for 3rd in TDs, and averaged 4.4 YPC.
I'd talk about the defense, but, well, it's New England. When was the last time since the Cassel season that they needed one? Seriously, they could make a gamble that every time they score, they give the other team a touchdown, but on the fifth touchdown, they get a free possession, and they'd manage to win. New England will look like Atlanta did for a while last year, going undefeated into week 7. But then, one of those freaky, "Any given sunday" games happens, and against the Jets, no less. Still cruise to an AFCE crown and a week 1 bye though.
43-21 @ BUF, 1-0
31-14 vs. NYJ, 2-0
31-27 vs. TB, 3-0
21-14 @ ATL, 4-0
31-21 @ CIN, 5-0
28-27 vs. NO, 6-0
21-10 @ NYJ, 6-1
28-24 vs. MIA, 7-1
14-0 vs. PIT, 7-2
41-28 @ CAR, 8-2
31-24 vs. DEN, 9-2
21-14 @ HOU, 9-3
41-0 vs. CLE, 10-3
24-21 @ MIA, 11-3
41-38 @ BAL, 11-4
28-0 vs. BUF, 12-4
Miami Dolphins: Big spenders in Free Agency never seem to prosper. Especially when they neglect to retain their elite LT in spite of having the space to do so easily. Miami will be better, but not "beat New England" better. That's just the facts. Wallace is happy to be out of the Steel City, but he's still a drop machine. Ellerbe's a great athlete, but I do not trust his skillset in a 4-3, or his playcalling and reading skills. I also do not trust whatshisface replacing Reggie Bush until I see him perform. ...Unless Miami gets Leach that is. I hope they don't because I want him to come back to Baltimore, but getting him would be a boon both for RB nameless, and Tannehill. They're out of talks with him though. Also, speaking of Tannehill, he'll continue progressing. He won't be Marino yet, but he'll be going in the right direction.
It's a good season for Miami to build, but not a playoff season, and technically not a winning one. It's trending upwards, but Philbin needs to cut his losses, trade/cut some of these players he doesn't/won't need/want, and implement the lesson I had hoped he'd carry over from Green Bay: Winners build through the draft and supplement through free agency, not the other way around.
14-10 @ CLE, 1-0
21-10 @ IND, 1-1
24-20 vs. ATL, 1-2
21-14 @ NO, 1-3
24-17 vs. BAL, 2-3
28-13 vs. BUF, 3-3
28-24 @ NE, 3-4
24-14 vs. CIN, 3-5
17-10 @ TB, 4-5
28-21 @ SD, 5-5
34-30 vs. CAR, 5-6
24-7 @ NYJ, 6-6
21-18 @ PIT, 6-7
24-21 vs. NE, 6-8
28-10 @ BUF, 7-8
14-10 vs. NYJ, 8-8
New York Jets: On the one hand it's really kind of sad what's about to happen to Rex Ryan. In spite of building a good defense, and, for all his hot air, taking it on the chin when the Jets crumbled - he called out turnovers, but I don't think he ever outright said "This guy cost us the game" or anything like that in spite of plentiful chances - his neglect of his offense and insistence on hitching his wagon to a disappointing quarterback - though his neglect has as much to do with Sanchez's failures as any shortcomings of Nacho - will end up costing him his job, right as things are in place to start looking up.
Then again, you reap what you sow. Rex made the contentious locker room, the perilous, free agent-fueled cap fiasco, and chose idiots for offensive coordinators and coaches. I guess it really depends on what you think of Rex. I do know he won't be out of a job for long though, bad as the Jets have been, their defense has kept them in games they had no business being alive in. He'll be unemployed for five minutes before his phone is off the hook with teams looking to give him a cushy DC job he can dominate with. Rex the HC is in over his head, but Rex the DC is one of the best in the business.
Fortunately, Rex is smart enough to know what he should start Sanchez. Geno needs to sit on the bench to learn, and no sense wasting the kid's career in a futile attempt to win more than eight games in a division you're arguably the worst team in. I do feel sorry for him though; new organizations like to bring their own signal callers in, and while hopefully Idzik will protect him, I've got a bad feeling that he's looking for a new gig when Jim Schwarz - remember him? I predicted he's getting canned and coming to NYJ? - comes to town.
The defense, once more, keeps the Jets in games they have no business having a chance to win. And the offense will squander so many of those opportunities. DL looks good, and Cromartie's solid, as Milliner should be, but who do they have at safety? Or either ILB position? Or even at OLB outside of Coples, for that matter?
It's rebuilding time for the Jets. And what a reclamation project it's going ot be. On the one hand you have a ton of great defensive components. On the other, you have nothing worth saving on offense, Ferguson, Mangold, Keller, and maybe Kerley, Geno, and Ivory aside. And it's all under the NYC spotlight. Hey, Jim Scwartz managed to get to the playoffs with a team that used to be 0-16, and tough as this division is, the NFCN is tougher. Don't count him out just because he's in New York and green instead of blue.
28-14 vs. TB, 0-1
31-14 @ NE, 0-2
21-17 vs. BUF, 1-2
14-10 @ TEN, 2-2
65-3 @ ATL, 2-3
21-10 vs. PIT, 2-4
21-10 vs. NE, 3-4
28-10 @ CIN, 3-5
14-7 vs. NO, 4-5
21-7 @ BUF, 4-6
28-13 @ BAL, 4-7
24-7 vs. MIA, 4-8
10-3 vs. OAK, 5-8
26-14 @ CAR, 5-9
14-10 vs. CLE, 5-10
14-10 @ MIA, 5-11
Buffalo Bills: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. I'm sorry, I had to do it. That is literally the only thing that will make me smile at all for the entire Bills prediction.
Buffalo is just...I don't know. On the one hand there are some great players there like CJ Spiller, Jarius Byrd, and Stevie Johnson, who somehow always gets forgotten in spite of producing three straight quality seasons with awful quarterbacking. Stephon Gilmore and Nigel Bradham are solid, Leodis McKelvin I don't remember much from in coverage but I do remember plenty from in return duties, and whatever schlub is behind the line, they'll have good enough protection from Wood, Glen, and Ubrik.
Everything else though is just...EJ Manuel is like a bigger, less buff Kaepernick, rawness included, yet all indications suggest that Buffalo's starting the overdrafted quarterback. Robert Woods could be good, but I never trust an offensive USC prospect outside of the line anymore. Marquise Goodwin could be great, but he is so goddamn raw. If you thought Mario Williams looked out of it last year, wait until this year when they go to the 3-4. Congratulations Buffalo, you have managed to take the crown as worst team in the AFC East. That is somehow an accomplishment. Writing the game records for this team honestly does have me literally shaking my head in dismay. It is depressing that this team has found a way to be this consistently awful. Truly, truly depressing. The Doug Flutie Curse is real, boys and girls.
On the bright side, BUF @ JAX is a surprisingly great OT thriller, in the "both teams suck equally" sense, not the "both teams are amazing" sense. Still a great game.
43-21 vs. NE, 0-1
30-21 vs. CAR, 0-2
21-17 @ NYJ, 0-3
24-10 vs. BAL, 0-4
14-10 @ CLE, 0-5
24-17 vs. CIN, 0-6
28-13 @ MIA, 0-7
45-27 @ NO, 0-8
24-23 vs. KC, 1-8
21-7 @ PIT, 1-9
21-7 vs. NYJ, 1-10
31-10 vs. ATL, 1-11
10-3 @ TB, 1-12
31-28 @ JAX, 2-12
28-10 vs. MIA, 2-13
28-0 @ NE, 2-14
And that wraps it up. New England, despite popular belief, continues to crush everything in the division. Miami is stronger, but not a competitor. Jets are better than advertised, only because what is advertised is 0-16. The Bills...goddamn. The Bills are seriously depressing. I applaud the Bills fans that still manage to go to a game and have a good time. That's commitment, people.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cincy's a lot like Houston. They're a good team on paper and a team that made the playoffs two years in a row for the first time in a long time, and they should be able to succeed in theory, but theory never means a thing in the NFL, because no plan survives in a sport like football.
As far as I can tell, Cincy has two problems that will stand in the way of them moving forward. #1 is safety. Drafting Shawn Williams is nice, but excuse my skepticism of the 84th pick to do the work of two safeties, because whether they start Taylor Mays, or some random other guy, I'm not confident in whoever's across from Williams, even if he plays at a ROTY level.
My other question mark for the Bengals? Andy Dalton. People thought I was silly for being so skeptical after his rookie season. A year later, I like to think I've been somewhat validated. Like I said when defending Christian Ponder, you cannot sincerely tell me that Andy Dalton's success has been in no small part due to the incredible target that is AJ Green. And even that he finds ways to screw up. Dalton isn't bad, because as Kolb showed us in Arizona wasting Larry Fitzgerald, bad QBs can squander even HoF WRs, but I am more skeptical than ever of Andy Dalton. Don't be surprised if Cincinnati starts having thoughts of other quarterbacks if he continues to regress, especially if he continues to be worse than bland in the playoffs.
Those two questions aside, Cincy's a solid team. Unfortunately for them though, in a division with arms like Big Ben and especially Flacco, you need good deep coverage, and the other question is at as important a position as QB. I'm debating whether they get a wild-card, but if they do, it's time for Dalton to step up, especially in the postseason. Can he do it?
23-10 @ CHI, 0-1
24-17 vs. PIT, 1-1
31-17 vs. GB, 1-2
24-13 @ CLE, 2-2
31-21 vs. NE, 2-3
24-17 @ BUF, 3-3
38-30 @ DET, 3-4
28-10 vs. NYJ, 4-4
24-14 @ MIA, 5-4
21-17 @ BAL, 5-5
18-14 vs. CLE, 6-5
28-17 @ SD, 7-5
21-10 vs. IND, 8-5
14-13 @ PIT, 9-5
14-10 vs. MIN, 9-6
24-23 vs. BAL, 9-7
Pittsburgh Steelers: Heads-up to Big-T and Death Switch, there's a pick in here I have to make because of a bet-deal thingy that you're going to really hate.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the flagship franchises of the NFL. I respect them, though I loathe saying it. They run a good ship. However if there was ever a year where they're destined to be down, it's this year. Big Ben has already hard at work fulfilling the annual injury quota in his contract, the backfield is in shambles, the WR corps has just as many question marks as Baltimore's, the line is its usual self, Heath Miller tore his ACL.
It doesn't get any better on the defensive side, either. Jarvis Jones, LaMarr Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons look good, but aside from that, not much. Steeler fans are starting to throw the word "bust" around when talking about Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel is going to be 35 in September, Larry Foote is good-not-great, Jason Worilds does not inspire a world of confidence.
The backfield there's some improvement, but it's still mixed. William Gay is an above-average zone corner at best, Ike Taylor is good unless he screws up, which sounds stupid, but if you watch him you'll get it, but he's also 33 at a position like CB, and being a man-to-man CB, he's speed-dependent. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Cortez Allen shows a lot of promise for the future. Not much else is promising though. The rest of their CBs do not give you a lot of faith in their nickel package, and then you get to safeties. Polamalu was dominant for years, but he's 32, he was only on the field for 7 games this year, and he wasn't particularly amazing anymore in those games, notching not even 30 tackles in them. Much like Ed Reed, it's been fun to watch him play the way he plays, but he's done. He has one, maybe two years left. Ryan Clark did a good job picking up the back-end slack for Polamalu last year, but he's 34 in October. He doesn't have long left, either.
Pittsburgh could get by with a secondary of two good corners, a good but old FS, and a great but old and hurt SS, if not for their awful defensive line situation. If there was ever a down year for Pittsburgh, this is it.
24-10 vs. TEN, 1-0
24-17 @ CIN, 1-1
21-7 vs. CHI, 2-1
24-23 vs. MIN, 2-2
21-10 @ NYJ, 3-2
14-10 vs. BAL, 3-3
21-17 @ OAK, 3-4
14-0 @ NE, 4-4
21-7 vs. BUF, 5-4
28-17 vs. DET, 6-4
13-7 @ CLE, 6-5
28-17 @ BAL, 6-6
21-18 vs. MIA, 7-6
14-13 vs. CIN, 7-7
21-20 @ GB, 7-8
24-0 vs. CLE, 8-8
Cleveland Browns: Like I said last year, it's the Browns. Even they will find a way to screw things up when they're finally competing. Lo and behold, they did. Lets be simple and quick with this:
~Their new owner who had them on the right track is under investigation for fraud. That speaks for itself. Come to think of it, what'd happen if Haslam is booked? A Baltimore arena football team had to fold because their owner was found guilty of fraud. Obviously NFL is much bigger and a team like the Browns won't fold so easily, but who'll take ownership? What if the new ownership decides to leave Cleveland for LA, forever proving that there is a divine curse upon Cleveland sports? And why does LA Browns not sound terrible?
~Josh Gordon, their only decent receiver, is having character issues - which were why he was in the supplemental draft - and hanging out with the wrong crowd. I'm not saying he's going to go out and kill someone, but character issues and having bad people around him were what made Aaron Hernandez slide as far as he did.
~Brandon Weeden is old. Weeden is going to be 30 in October. It's a problem when your quarterback is already past his prime when his rookie contract is up. Like I've said time and time again, by the time he's comfortable in the NFL, he'll have three or so good years left.
~They're running an offense they don't have the pieces for. They have to change their offense, because the WCO Pat Shurmur tried so hard to implement in Cleveland was dry, simple, and predictable. That doesn't work when your most explosive player is Greg Little. So they need to switch it up. But the pieces don't fit Norv Turner's scheme either. They don't have the speed to go vertical, and running is a question. Speaking of which,
~Trent Richardson's health. He was injured most of last season. He's already hurt in camp. Injuries were a concern in the draft. Cleveland you stupid idiots I told you giving up the #3 pick and taking Doug Martin later was the smart thing to do.
~New scheme. Cleveland's defense last year was keeping them in games they should've been out. So what does Michael Lombardi do? Switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which loses Jabaal Sheard and Ahtaya Rubin right away. It also hurts Desmond Bryant and D'Qwell Jackson.
~DB problems. Joe Haden is elite. TJ Ward was surprisingly good. Last year's starting free safety Usama Young is gone. Last year's #2 CB Sheldon Brown is also gone(Though he's still a FA, and if Cleveland's smart - which they're not - they'll re-sign him since they have way too much cap space) Half their backfield is scary, and not in a good way. They could get by, if it weren't for all the questions in the front seven.
Only Cleveland could find a way to take a promising-looking young team, and ruin it, wasting another year of an elite cornerback, a skilled strong safety, one of the best centers in the game, one of if not the best LT in the game, and a pair of very promising young guards. The Browns will continue to disappoint. Jags @ Browns is probably going to be one of the worst games of the year. It's like a series between the Astros and the Mets, you tune in just to get a good laugh.
14-10 vs. MIA, 0-1
28-20 @ BAL, 0-2
31-3 @ MIN, 0-3
24-13 vs. CIN, 0-4
14-10 vs. BUF, 1-5
28-10 vs. DET, 1-6
37-7 @ GB, 1-7
24-17 @ KC, 1-8
14-7 vs. BAL, 1-9
13-7 vs. PIT, 2-9
14-3 vs. JAX, 3-9
41-0 @ NE, 3-10
31-21 vs. CHI, 3-11
14-10 @ NYJ, 4-11
24-0 @ PIT, 4-12
And that should rap up the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens seal themselves into the playoffs, the Bengals may get there to depending on how I think things over with the Colts and Chiefs, the Steelers have a down year, and, well, the Browns are the Browns again.
So, with the NFC all wrapped up, it's time to move onto the AFC, and like with the National Conference, we're going to be going clockwise, which means we'll be starting with the AFC North, home of the defending Superbowl champion Baltimore Ravens!
A heads-up: I am an unabashed Baltimore homer. Always have been, always will be. As crazy as my NFCW predictions were, if there's any division you should throw my predictions out for, it's probably this one. Or alternately, you can take me as an expert because I keep very close tabs on my team and my team's rivals. Your choice.
On that note, I'm probably going to split this one in two as well, because my aforementioned homer is getting the better of me and I want to go position-by-position on the Ravens.
Baltimore Ravens: The demise of the Baltimore Ravens has been greatly exaggerated. WR and LT are question marks, but pretty much everything else, especially on defense, is going to be better than it was last year.
Defensive line, Haloti Ngata finally has someone other than 34-year old two-time former Raven Ma'ake Kemoeatu and likely-bust Terrence Cody to sub in with; Brandon Williams, a 3rd round pick who has been outstanding so far in offseason work, something you could never say about either of the other two. Arthur Jones quietly had a very good season for a 3-4 DE, with 4.5 sacks and 47 tackles in six starts, and should build on that now that he's a full-time starter. The only question mark on DL is whether Chris Canty can stay healthy. But if he can, he's another guy who's looked great in the Ravens system so far.
Ray Lewis' retirement and Dannell Ellerbe's departure got a lot of attention, but the linebacker position, while thin, is better. Suggs has finally been able to rest and really rehab his injuries, and while he probably won't be DPOTY again - though that's as much his decline as it is monsters like JPP, Von Miller, and JJ Watt running around now - he'll be a very good player in all three phases of the 3-4 OLB game once more. Paul Kruger was a role player who benefited from the attention demanded by Ngata and even an injured Suggs. Dumervil will fit into his role nicely, rotating in to replace Courtney Upshaw, who was outstanding as a rookie against the run, on pass situations, a la what San Francisco does with Aldon Smith. Jameel McClain should be back, and while he's not the athlete Ellerbe is, he's the one Ray Lewis trained to read the defense like a book. He was trained to call signals by one of the best ever at it. Across from him, either Daryl Smith, an underrated player who had the misfortune of playing on awful teams, or Arthur Brown, a second-rounder and heir apparent to Lewis, will start and provide a solid #2 MLB.
I watched every single start of Cary Williams' career with a scrutionous eye. He's an average stopgap who heated up and played well down the stretch. I wish him luck in Philly, but with Lardarius Webb coming back, the Ravens won't miss him at all. Corey Graham is solid enough to fit the #2 with a guy like Webb across from him, and if Jimmy Smith can finally live up to his pick, the Ravens would have two great corners. If not, his physicality and size work well in the slot methinks.
Ed Reed is one of my favorite all-time players, and Ravens game aside, I'll still root for him in Houston. But he cannot cover as much ground as before, he is not as dangerous once he picks you off as before, and he can no longer perform the most fundamental skill for a defensive player, especially one at as much of a last-line-of-defense spot as safety: the form tackle. Michael Huff isn't the same caliber player overall, but Michael Huff right now is an upgrade.
I loved Matt Elam going into the draft, and I love him now. He's a great fit for the Ravens - almost as hard a hitter as Pollard, but unlike Pollard, who was basically a linebacker playing safety, including lax cover skills, Elam can cover pretty well. His knock is size, but being 5'10" and under 210 pounds didn't seem to stop Troy Polamalu.
The 2013 Ravens defense will be nothing but improved compared to their 2012 team. As much as we talk about guys like Ellerbe and Williams and Kruger being poached and how Baltimore's a defensive team that wins on defense, this team gave up 214 yards to the Chiefs one week, then 227 to the Cowboys. That's just the yards given up on the ground, not overall yards. And the Cowboys were awful at running this year, with their only meaningful statistic at 29 or higher being 27th most rushing TDs. The offense carried the defense for much of 2012, and the defense will go nowhere but up.
Meanwhile on offense, Ray Rice needs no explanation, nor does Marshal Yanda. Bernard Pierce has come on very strong, and I would not be surprised at all if he dethrones Rice within two-three years. Juszczyk was an all-american at both TE and FB, so expect him to take over the blocking responsibilities for Leach if the Ravens don't get him back - they're trying - and to act as the Aaron Hernandez to Dennis Pitta's Gronk, sans murder. Speaking of Pitta, lets talk TEs.
Pitta came on outstandingly strong, and he and Flacco are apparently BFFs, so expect the two of them to look for each other often. Which shouldn't be a problem, because Pitta's been a pretty good receiving TE the past two years. It won't be Brady-Gronk or Manning-Clark, but it'll still be a pretty groovy combo, especially if Ed Dickson can finally rebound, and Juszczyk doing weird versatility things, too. Which is good, because WR is one of the biggest questions.
Torrey Smith will become an elite receiver. Not Megatron elite, but definitely top ten. I hope it'll be with the Ravens, though unfortunately that's uncertain. But comparing tape of him in the playoffs to him in 2011, it's like watching two completely different players. The progress and improvement he's made has been outstanding, and he's committed to getting better; the biggest knock on him was his hands, so after a Baltimore-area house, the first thing he bought with his NFL paycheck was a JUGS machine so he could practice catching at home. I see no reason he'll regress. He's biggish, he's blazing fast, and he's not afraid of getting hit.
It's very dicey behind him though. Jacoby Jones is a dynamite returner and a solid deep threat, but his route running has never been great, and the other six veterans in the Ravens WR corps have a grand total of 21 catches for 286 yards and 2 TDs. That gets dismal when you divy it up amongst the six of them. Now that said, I have faith in two of those veterans; Deonte Thompson was outstanding last preseason as an undrafted player, and if he can learn the NFL level, he could be great, he's big, fast, and showed good hands. Then there's Tandon Doss, who's never started not because he's bad, but because Torrey Smith was drafted that same year, so got the nod ahead of him. Flacco joined the WR scouting team for the 2011 draft and picked Doss himself, so chemistry is guaranteed. He might be a good WR waiting to happen.
All that's heresay though right now, and I would be neither surprised or upset if the Ravens decide to bring in a Brandon Lloyd or someone similar for at least camp and preseason, because the potential of Doss and Thompson, and even rookies like Aaron Mellette, means nothing until it's proven. WR is definitely going to be interesting to watch. Whatever happens though, due to how thin it is, Ray Rice will become the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in the same year.
OL isn't as bad as it seems. Bryant McKinnie can still play at a dominant level, just ask Von Miller. The question is if he can stay in shape for 16 games. Kelechi Osemele was alright at RT, but outstanding at LG. Gino Gradkowski was trained by Birk, while AQ Shipley was solid in injury relief for Indy last year. Yanda, again, no explanation needed. Oher's average at LT, but good at RT, and should finally start to show his talent with some consistency(09 RT, 10 LT, 11 RT, 12 LT, 12 playoffs RT and dominant, 13 RT again) It's not great, and question marks are definite, but Osemele and Yanda make a good guard tandem, and the tackles have a giant ceiling.
Then there's Joe Flacco. I'd say he's a poor man's Eli Manning, but I can't because he costs more. Meh in the regular seaosn, but when it comes to the big games/playoffs, they'reSuperman. Joe Flacco in 2013 is almost impossible to predict because if you don't like him, there's plenty of reason to believe he'll regress - suspect OL, new contract, lack of receivers, etc. - but if you like him, there's plenty of reason to believe he'll be playoff Joe, not regular season Joe - Caldwell's better than Cameron, young WRs have potential, OL is the same one that was great in playoffs, etc. - but fortunately for him, whichever way it goes, he'll have a defense that actually has his back this year.
The Ravens are going to repeat as division champions. The only team that'll challenge for it are Cincy, and I don't trust them(More on that in a minute!). Superbowl champions? Wait and see. I hate to say it, but they'll lose the opener, but still have a good season.
St. Louis Rams: On the one hand, I applaud Jeff Fisher for improving the line protecting Bradford. But at the same time, did he have to get rid of every single decent weapon they had to do it? Amendola's gone, Jackson's gone, everyone is gone. I do like that they drafted two receivers from the same school though; these two know each other, already have chemistry, I like it.
I'm not sure I trust Zac Stacey though, and I definitely don't trust Bradford. I don't dislike him, but I'm not fully convinced a lack of a supporting cast is the only reason he's had trouble.
Ultimately,as long as Bradford works out, they'll help make the NFC West a dangerous division for years to come, with a quietly good D behind him. Like Detroit, they're much better than their record, and with this early draft pick, will be very dangerous in the future. They just have too many holes on offense for me to trust them right now.
24-18 vs. ARI, 0-1
28-14 @ ATL, 0-2
4-3 @ DAL, 0-3
34-13 vs. SF, 0-4
24-17 @ JAX, 1-4
38-7 @ HOU, 1-5
21-14 @ CAR, 2-5
14-7 vs. SEA, 2-6
21-20 vs. TEN, 3-6
24-16 @ IND, 3-7
28-14 vs. CHI, 4-7
28-14 @ SF, 4-8
17-10 @ ARI, 5-8
17-10 vs. NO, 5-9
28-27 vs. TB, 5-10
48-0 @ SEA, 5-11
Arizona Cardinals: With a competent quarterback to finally throw to him, as well as surrounding talent - Michael Floyd had a decent rookie year when you consider who he had throwing the football, and Andre Roberts somehow gets overlooked when he was only seven receptions and 40 yards behind Fitz - Larry Fitzgerald and the Cards offense will flourish.
It's not all peachy though. The line is still scary, and not in a good way. Better, but not good. There's no run game, with Rashard Mendenhall not being a very inspiring starter.
Their defense was a giant part of why they started 4-0 last year. I really like their line, which was hit quick with injuries last year, but still managed more sacks than either Superbowl team. With or without Daryl Washington, they'll have a solid pair there with Kevin Minter and Karlos Dansby.
In the secondary, Peterson is solid, and I really like Tyrann Mathieu, who seems contrite about his past, and I do really believe it's behind him. Plus he has his old buddy Patrick Peterson keeping him in line.
I don't trust the other safeties though, while Jamell Fleming and Antoine Cason do not inspire CB confidence. But hey, teams have done more with less, especially recently. Right 2012 Ravens and 2011 Giants secondaries?
Much like everyone else in the division, the Cards are trending upwards. Unlike everyone else though, they do not have their quarterback of the future. Palmer is 33, and hasn't been himself since that playoff injury. He's gone in three years at most. Will they find their future in the 2014 draft?
24-18 @ STL, 1-0
31-24 vs. DET, 2-0
30-10 @ NO, 2-1
24-20 @ TB, 2-2
31-24 vs. CAR, 3-2
27-14 @ SF, 3-3
28-21 vs. SEA, 4-3
31-17 vs. ATL, 4-4
28-13 vs. HOU, 4-5
28-21 @ JAX, 5-5
24-17 vs. IND, 5-6
21-20 @ PHI, 6-6
17-10 vs. STL, 6-7
17-10 @ TEN, 7-7
37-21 @ SEA, 7-8
24-20 vs. SF, 7-9
This is probably the diciest division to predict. You can make a solid case for either San Francisco or Seattle to win it, and even once you get past them, it's really hard to determine what you think of Arizona or Saint Louis, because while they both have glaring weak spots, they also have some pretty nice strengths.
Ultimately, this is the division I'm most likely to get wrong since my prediction requires a season-ending injury for Kaepernick. I don't want to see him go down, so I hope I'm wrong. I see it happening though at one point or another. Seattle takes the opportunity when it appears, stealing the division and sealing themselves in the #2 seed, a very dangerous place with a homefield advantage like CenturyLink Field. The Cardinals finish above the Rams, who get a high draft pick, but neither team is particularly bad. The Rams are definitely the better long-term team though, in spite of being 4th in the division and not even having six wins to their name. Why? Because now they can cash in big-time on this top ten pick. Trade it to someone who needs a Terry Bridgewater or a Jadeveon Clowney or a Tajh Boyd, get yourself a solid mid first-rounder, a second-rounder, and some later picks, and turn those into an elite receiver, a solid RB, and maybe a safety or two, and suddenly the NFCW is a three-team race, not a two-team race.
For all its hype, the NFC West, barring catastrophic injuries like mine happening regularly, is going to be a very tight, exciting division for years to come, and probably will see at least three or four Lombardis over the next decade.
...One more playoff team in the NFC, that is. With only one NFC playoff spot left, one favorite team will be out. Who will it be and why? Lets find out, and as always, we'll start with the division winner, the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers will be a good team. However they will lose their shot at the playoffs when they lose Colin Kaepernick for the season. I've never doubted the guy's arm strength, athleticism, or work ethic, but I have consistently doubted A. His game management, B. His experience, or lack thereof, and C. His durability. He's started seven games, that speaks for itself. He's shown a tendency to forget the game clock, even on a stage as big as the Superbowl. This was most evident in Maimi, when San Fran burned four timeouts to prevent DoG penalties. And I've said it time and time again, look at those skinny little legs. As jacked as his upper body is, he's one hard hit away from a torn ACL down there. How will these elements combine to doom his 2013? We'll get to that in a minute.
Coming against Houston, Kaepernick has been struggling with game management, so that's been stressed in practice. Early in the 2nd quarter, he forgets the play clock again, but then remembers right as the clock's at two seconds. He panics, skips his cadence, and hurries the snap. The result is the 49ers studly line fails to protect him on the play because they're caught off-guard. Two seconds later, a nasty sack from, ironically enough, Brian Cushing, puts Colt McCoy under center for the 49ers for the rest of the season.
Fortunately the 49ers, like the '08 Pats, are still good enough to win a ton of games with a backup. They'll reach a 10-5-1 record, but unfortunately for them, again like the 2008 Patriots, that's not good enough, as they're one yard away from the playoffs, literally - week 16, down by six with two seconds left, they're stopped a yard from scoring a game-winning QB rushing TD that would put them into the playoffs.
They're going to be a force next year provided Kaepernick is smart, which I haven't seen anything to indicate he's particularly not, and improves his game management and decreases his running, but a downed quarterback kills their 2013 before it really begins.
28-28 vs. GB, 0-0-1
31-14 @ SEA, 0-1-1
21-17 vs. IND, 1-1-1
34-13 @ STL, 2-1-1
28-24 vs. HOU, 3-1-1
27-14 vs. ARI, 4-1-1
20-10 @ TEN, 5-1-1
31-7 vs. JAX, 6-1-1
24-20 vs. CAR, 6-2-1
21-10 @ NO, 6-3-1
19-10 @ WAS, 6-4-1
28-14 vs. STL, 7-4-1
21-13 vs. SEA, 8-4-1
14-10 @ TB, 9-4-1
20-14 vs. ATL, 9-5-1
24-20 @ ARI, 10-5-1
Seattle Seahawks: It's weird to think, but for a team that's mostly made of young, up-and-coming players, the Seahawks could already be in a now-or-never place because between hot divisional competition and all the suspensions/off-field issues/etc., this team might not last much longer.
The Seahawks initially have stiff competition from the 49ers, but it's smooth sailing to an NFC West crown for them once Kaep's down. Wilson's not going to become a TD machine, as Seattle will still seek to control the ball on the ground, with Beast Mode Beast Moding his way to another 1,500+ season, with 10 Skittles TDs. Wilson will however reap the benefits of A. Another year of experience, and B. A much-bolstered receiving corps with as versatile a weapon as Percy Harvin.
While the Seahawks are 8-0 at home, they do struggle on the road, compiling only a 3-5 road record. On the bright side, they have a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game. But if they have to play the #1 seeded Packers, will the Seahawks be able to carry their magic to Green Bay, or will it be a fish out of water?
24-14 @ CAR, 1-0
31-14 vs. SF, 2-0
41-3 vs. JAX, 3-0
28-14 @ HOU, 3-1
21-17 @ IND, 3-2
28-14 vs. TEN, 4-2
28-21 @ ARI, 4-3
14-7 @ STL, 5-3
28-0 vs. TB, 6-3
28-24 @ ATL, 6-4
28-7 vs. MIN, 7-4
34-21 vs. NO, 8-4
21-13 @ SF, 8-5
28-27 @ NYG, 9-5
37-21 vs. ARI, 10-5
48-0 vs. STL, 11-5
The NFC West was so hyped, that it wouldn't all fit into one post! It almost did, but I decided it made more sense to do it 50-50 than 95-5.