Friday, July 31, 2015

College Football Conference by Conference: The ACC (No arrest records tracked)

Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)

Part Two: The Big Twelve (All Ten teams)

Part Three: SEC (Paul Finebaum's opinion excluded)

Part Four: The Pac12 (Finally, a conference that can count)

Next Part Five: The ACC

Two years ago this was the power conference in the Nation. Not the SEC, not the Big Ten, not the Pac12, the ACC. Not only was Florida State the last B(C)S champion but the conference swept all of the major awards.

Flash forward to today and the ACC is no longer on the top step (I think the Pac12 holds that honor) but they are still very competitive at the top, but dismal at the bottom.


Florida State 11-1  (7-1 Conference)
Clemson 8-4 (5-3 Conference)
NC State 8-4 (4-4 Conference)
Louisville 6-6 (3-5 Conference)
Boston College 5-7 (2-6 Conference)
Syracuse 5-7 (1-7 Conference)
Wake Forest 4-8 (1-7 Conference)


Virginia Tech 11-1 (8-0 Conference)
Georgia Tech 10-2 (7-1 Conference)
Pittsburgh 9-3 (6-2 Conference)
Miami(FL) 8-4 (4-4 Conference)
Duke  7-5 (3-5 Conference)
North Carolina 5-7 (3-5 Conference)
Virginia 3-9 (2-6 Conference)

Last year it was the Big XII that had the case of the red-ass when their one-loss (co)champion Baylor was excluded from the College Football Playoff in lieu of Ohio State. This year I predict it will be the ACC that gets the red-ass when their one-loss champion (Virginia Tech) gets left-out of the College Football Playoff in favor of one-loss Georgia.

Part of the problem is that I don't think the ACC has a truly great team this year. As a result, this conference is going to beat itself up.  Plus, Virginia Tech, who I think is the top team coming in, gets Ohio State early in a revenge game for the Buckeyes, who probably won't be breaking in a new Freshman QB this time.

I think NC State and Pittsburgh are much improved, thanks in large part to easy schedules, and I think Louisville is a team on decline, while Syracuse, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia keep hoping for the mythical next year.  As long as David Cutcliffe is the head coach Duke shouldn't be truly bad, but I don't see the talent on their roster to be as good as the last couple of years.

Still, in large part due to their balance at the top, I think this conference puts nine teams in bowl games and emerges with a record over .500.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

College Football Conference by Conference: Pac12 (Finally, a Conference that can count)

Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)

Part Two: The Big Twelve (All Ten teams)

Part Three: SEC (Paul Finebaum's opinion excluded)

Now Pac12:

There was a time that I did not enjoy watching Pac12 football. These were the dark days before Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA started enjoying their resurgence, and when USC just kicked the crap out of everyone.

These days the Pac12 is one of my favorite late-Saturday night views. The Arizona teams are good, there is (for the most part) competitive balance across the league and even the best teams have to work against some of the mid-tier teams.

All that said, I still like Oregon to win their division.

Without further ado.....


Oregon  8-4  (6-3 Conference)
Washington 8-4  (5-4 Conference)
Stanford  7-5  (5-4 Conference)
Oregon State 4-8  (2-7 Conference)
California 3-9  (1-8 Conference)
Washington State 3-9  (1-8 Conference)


USC  12-0  (9-0 Conference)
Arizona State 11-1 (8-1 Conference)
Arizona  10-2 (7-2 Conference)
UCLA  6-6  (4-5 Conference)
Utah  5-7 (4-5 Conference)
Colorado 4-8  (1-8 Conference)

So after it all, I'm returning to the old days of USC vs. Oregon in the championship game. All that said, I think the two Arizona teams will be nipping at their heels. I also think that Washington will get very close to Oregon and will challenge them. With a relatively weak out of conference slate the in-conference games for this should be outstanding.

Of all the games, watch for USC vs. Arizona State as a potential game of the year. On the defensive side of the ball, despite the fact that they're going to have a down year, watch out for UCLA stud LB/part time RB Myles Jack who I think has the potential of becoming a GREAT, not good, LB at the NFL level. On offense, watch for USC QB Cody Kessler who I suspect will get some serious Heisman run.

After all is said and done I think that USC wins the conference undefeated, and makes it into the College Football Playoff where they will be seeded 3rd.  I also fully expect to find them in the National Finals.  Overall I expect the conference to place 7 (possibly eight, if Utah beats Michigan in week one) teams into bowl games where I suspect they're going to do very well due to top-flight athleticism.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

College Football Conference by Conference: SEC (Paul Finebaum's opinion excluded)

Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)

Part Two: The Big Twelve (All Ten teams)

During the era of the B(C)S, the SEC was king. Not only did it win most of the championships, (9 out of a possible 16) It also won seven in a row from 2006 to 2012 which proved, to some, that the SEC was among the most dominant conferences of all time.

Enter the College Football Playoff system and things are expected to be a little different. For one, the system was not designed by a former SEC commissioner with the express purpose of benefiting the conference and, second, there is a premium being placed on winning the conference championship, and the SEC can only name one.

Add to that the fact that I believe the SEC West to be relatively down this year, and I think the currents of power within the conference are changing.

How I think they'll finish:


1. Georgia 11-1 (7-1 Conference) Division Champ
2. Tennessee 10-2 (6-2 Conference)
3. South Carolina 9-3 (5-3 Conference)
4. Missouri 8-4  (4-4 Conference)
5. Florida 6-6 (3-5 Conference)
6. Vanderbilt 4-8 (2-6 Conference)
7. Kentucky 2-10 (0-8 Conference)


1. LSU 11-1 (7-1 Conference) Division Champ
2. Alabama 10-2 (6-2 Conference)
3. Auburn 10-2 (6-2 Conference)
4. Arkansas 8-4 (4-4 Conference)
5. Ole Miss 7-5 (3-5 Conference)
6. Mississippi State 6-6 (3-5 Conference)
7. Texas A&M 5-7 (2-6 Conference)

The problem with making a prediction in the SEC this year is that every team has flaws. The two teams I picked, Georgia and LSU to win their respective divisions seem (to me) to have smaller flaws than the others. The trendy pick in the West is Auburn, but I don't think they have enough offensive firepower to beat either LSU or Alabama, while 'Bama itself has too much to replace to beat LSU etc.

My dark horse here is Tennessee, if they can beat Georgia, in Athens, then they could win the conference as it appears that they are a program on the rise. Speaking of on the rise, while I'm suggesting the SEC will be "down" this year it's important to note that I still have them placing 11 teams in a bowl game, with only 3 missing out.

Of the three non-bowling teams I'm sure my most controversial pick is Texas A&M. As much as I like head coach Kevin Sumlin as a person, he's never won with "his" guys at any program and I think SEC defenses have adapted to what made the Aggies tough to handle, the spread offense.  I don't think Sumlin is in any trouble, but I do think that if he doesn't turn it around next year he could be then.

Whatever happens I think Georgia gets crowned the conference champion this year, and I think they make the College Football Playoff as the two seed despite having one loss. Such is (still) the power of perception when it comes to the SEC.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

For fighting Berto, Mayweather should pay the viewer.

Ah boxing. Not only is it among the worst ran sports in the world (I'm looking at you FIFA) but it's also got the biggest star who has the biggest set of negatives.  Fighting a diminished Andre Berto is not going to remedy this.

I realize that Floyd Mayweather thinks that, by offering this fight on broadcast TV, he can rehabilitate his image with the "fans" (read: PPV buying public) but he's dead wrong. Having a fight on PBC only will serve to bring his shortcomings to an even larger audience.

What Floyd is: A very good (great) fighter who succeeds because his style is boring to the casual fan. Sure, to the purist, he's amazing to watch. The subtleties in his defense are among the best of all time and he can, when pushed, turn street and unleash power that is not world-beating, but which can hurt an opponent and knock him out.

Unfortunately, Floyd Mayweather is on of the most unlikeable people walking the planet. He's a convicted domestic abuser, he's arrogant and not afraid to tell you so, he's also allegedly a liar when it comes to matters of betting/money, and he has an outsized opinion in regards to his legacy.

This fight with Andre Berto is going to do absolutely nothing to change public perception, as Berto is now a shell of his former self and nearing the end of his career. He's a shop-worn fighter who's looking much older in the ring than his actual age.  Coming up I was an Andre Berto fan, I still am. But even I have to admit that he's closer to the end of his career than he is to his prime. Fighting Floyd Mayweather is not the way to turn things around.

Contrary to what he says, this will not be Floyd's last fight. He sees the money and he sees the legacy that he thinks 50-0 will grant him. In other words, he sees a rematch with either Pacquiao or Cotto.

None of those three fights would I want to see.

I would like to see Mayweather potentially get in the ring with either Kell Brook or Timothy Bradley, I think the former has the power and speed to potentially hurt him and I think Bradley's awkward style has the ability to out-point him.

That we'll never see either of those two fights is why Mayweather's "TBE" talk is just so much background noise.

Time to move on to more interesting fights, and fighters as boxing enjoys a good run after the MayPac debacle. Let's no go back to that time, let's move forward to whatever is next. (pssst....Andre Ward and Ganady Golovkin battling it out for best pound for pound.)

College Football Conference by Conference: Big Twelve (All ten teams)

Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)

Last year it was hard to tell who was the Big Twelve's worst enemy, the College Football Playoffs, or itself.  After floundering around after both TCU and Baylor shared the top spot the conference finally decided that it would have "co-champions" which, in conjunction with Ohio State's 59-0 shellacking of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, meant that they were the first "Big Five" conference to have the red-ass at season's end.

Of course, conspiracy theories abounded and many people noted, rightly so, that had Oklahoma or Texas had been in the mix they would have gotten in because of their bankability. Instead, we were splitting hairs between Baylor, who had a great season but played no one outside of conference, and TCU, who had a more difficult schedule but couldn't get past Baylor in Waco, with both teams eventually left out of the tournament.

This year I think the Big XII is in for more of the same. The battle for the top spot will be pitched between TCU and Baylor, with an improving Texas and resilient K-State making up a pretty strong second-tier. My biggest variance from the experts is Oklahoma, who I feel is a program in decline and getting closer and closer to the point where Head Coach Bob Stoops needs to be shown the door (or, better for everyone, show himself the door).

Of all the Big Five conferences I still think the Big XII is the weakest, by far. I don't see this improving any time soon and I think over the long run this will be the conference that's dissolved as we move to 4 16-team super conferences in the future.

Here's how I see it finishing in the Big XII:

1. TCU  12-0  (9-0 Conference) Conference Champion
2. Baylor 11-1 (8-1 Conference) 
3. Texas 9-3 (7-2 Conference)
4. Kansas State 8-4 (5-4 Conference)
5. West Virginia 8-4 (5-4 Conference)
6. Oklahoma 7-5 (5-4 Conference)
7. Iowa State 5-7 (3-6 Conference)
8. Oklahoma State 5-7 (2-7 Conference)
9. Kansas 2-10 (1-8 Conference)
10. Texas Tech 2-10 (0-9 Conference)

Again, I think the differential between TCU, Baylor and the rest of the league is sizable. I do think Texas will be improved this year because I think Strong is a very good coach. I believe Texas is a pretty solid #3 team here. There is very little to separate K-State from Oklahoma State and the middle of this league could fluctuate with any of these teams getting wins over the other and improving their lot. The bottom of this league is way below the remainder of the rest of the conference in terms of talent and ability. I think Kansas is on the rise again however, but not this year.

That leaves us with Texas Tech, who I want to spend a minute on because I think that head coach Kliff Kingsbury is entering his final year. It's clear he's not ready to man the top spot, and the team is suffering for it.  Maybe on the next coaching search Tech will remember that it needs to win games and not just be hip on social media.

This year, I think TCU wins the conference outright and finally gets the nod into the College Football Playoff. I do, however, think they make it as a #4 seed.

Besides Kingsbury, there could be a lot of movement in the coaching ranks this year as I'm thinking Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and possibly Oklahoma and Kansas State (if Snyder retires) could be in the market for new program leaders.

Monday, July 27, 2015

College Football Conference by Conference: Big Ten (all fourteen teams)

When it comes to the Big Ten this year the East is the Beast. I think that 3 of the top four conference teams will come from that division and that the talent gap is very real.

Clearly, the favorite in the starting gate is Ohio State and I see no reason to bet against them. Head Coach Urban Meyer has done what he's always done, out-recruited everyone and built a power. The clear number 2 teams is (still) Michigan State, with Penn State nipping at their heels as Head Coach James Franklin is loving life now that the post-season ban and scholarship restrictions, stemming from the Sandusky horrors, are finally in the rearview mirror.

In the West, I think Wisconsin is the clear favorite and it's not close. Many are picking Iowa as a dark horse because they have a relatively easy schedule. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes I don't think their team is strong enough to compete. I see Jerry Kill coached Minnesota as a more likely threat to usurp the Badgers than anyone, but I still don't think they have the firepower to do it.

Finally, my team, Michigan. This is the first year of the Harbaugh era and, while excitement is high, I think the team still has several holes in terms of talent that they need to fill before they can truly contend.  Still, I have them making a bowl.

So, without further ado, here's how I think it will go.


1. Ohio State 12-0 (8-0 Conference) regular season (Champion of the East)
2. Michigan State 11-1 (7-1 Conference)
3. Penn State 10-2  (6-2 Conference)
4. Michigan  7-5 (4-4 Conference)
5. Rutgers 6-6 (2-6 Conference)
6. Maryland  5-7 (2-6 Conference)
7. Indiana 4-8 (1-7 Conference)


1. Wisconsin 11-1 (7-1 Conference) regular season (Champion of the West)
2. Minnesota 8-4 (5-3 Conference)
3. Nebraska  7-5  (5-3 Conference)
4. Iowa  6-6  (3-5 Conference)
5. Northwestern 5-7  (3-5 Conference)
6. Illinois 5-7  (1-7 Conference)
7. Purdue 4-8 (1-7 Conference)

To be honest, the bottom half of the Big Ten is still pretty bad. To be fair however, the bottom half of every conference is not that great, it's just that the trend of the media is to try and penalize the Big Ten more than say, the SEC or Pac-12, who have some bad teams making up the bottom half of their conferences.

The thing is, the top of the East is going to be very, very good. Ohio State is one of the best teams in the Country, as is Michigan State, Wisconsin has been tough for years now and Penn State is rebuilding successfully. In the middle there is a lot of parity, with Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska all coming in at about the same level.  I think Rutgers and Iowa round out the Bowl picture for the Big 10, but Northwestern, Illinois and Maryland could sneak in there if they pull an upset or two.  At the bottom, poor Indiana and Purdue are hopeless, they need new directions in both of their programs,.

In the conference championship game I think we get a repeat of last year, and Ohio State wins again, although I doubt we see another 59-0 shellacking.

The good thing for the Big Ten is that all of the teams get to pepper their schedule with some pretty horrible MAC teams thus guaranteeing a winning record for some fairly mediocre teams.  That said, Ohio State's Playoff Championship and Michigan State's bowl win last year revitalized the image of this conference and they're not longer considered a pathetic joke by all but certain talk-radio hosts and sports writers who don't know anything anyway, or are just trying to get some attention.

So, it's Ohio State then, and we'll see them as the number 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. If anyone can upset the apple cart it's Michigan State, but I don't think they have the offensive firepower.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

College Football Predictions: Conference by Conference

When it comes to football, make mine of the Collegiate variety over that played in the professional league. Yes, what's played in the NFL is the "top of the sport" but what's played at colleges across the land has an incredibly bigger amount of diversity, joy and passion.

From an offensive/defensive strategy perspective the College game knocks the NFL into a cocked hat. There are more mismatches that can be exploited, more risks that can be taken and the result is a better brand of football than the NFL's stripped down, bland version of the game.

For the NFL I talked about teams, for Collegiate football I think the appropriate granularity is to discuss conferences.  Because of this, I've analyzed every D-1A Collegiate game, including the games played against D-1AA teams. I've come up with win/loss predictions for all teams both overall, and in conference, and have predicted the conference champions for all of the majors.

After that I ranked the teams as I thought they might be ranked at the end of the year, and have projected the Top 5 teams, including the 4 that I believe have a good shot at this year's College Football Playoff. And, of course, I've selected a champion (thus guaranteeing they will not win [sorry guys]).

Despite the fact that I am a Michigan fan, I don't "hate" any team and I try to stay neutral in my analysis. I realize that I'm supposed to hate Ohio State but I don't, probably because I'm married to a Buckeye.  There are teams that I don't like (Michigan State, Notre Dame, Alabama) but I respect all of them for what they do well.

My methodology is simple:  I look at the games, take what I know about the teams, and pick who I think is going to win.  Later in the season, when we get some actual statistics on THIS version of these teams, I'll start deep-diving into those an some of my predictions MIGHT change, but I doubt it.

So, over the next few days get ready for yet another exercise in silliness as I lay-out how I think the College football season is going to go.  Don't worry, if I suggest your team is going to have a bad year take heart. I said before the season started last year that Alabama would not make the Top 4.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: The Playoffs and closing thoughts.

As I noted previously, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.


AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

NFC East

NFC North

NFC South

NFC West

Next: Playoffs, SuperBowl and the usual disclaimers.

For the last week or so I've been giving you my opinion regarding how the next NFL season will play out.  What is this worth?  Exactly what you paid for it.  For kicks though, and because predictions are the playground of fools, here are my way-too-early predictions for the playoffs.

NFC Playoff teams and seeds:

1. Green Bay
2. Seattle
3. Carolina
4. Philadelphia
5. Detroit
6. St. Louis

Wild Card Match-ups:

Detroit @ Philadelphia
Winner: Detroit

Put simply, I'm not sure Kelly's teams are properly built for the tournament.

St. Louis @ Carolina
Winner: Carolina

I've got a lot of belief in the Panthers this year, not much further than this but I think they win here.

Division week Match-ups

Carolina @ Seattle
Winner: Seattle

Home field is too much for the Panthers to overcome

Detroit @ Green Bay
Winner: Green Bay

I think Green Bay is just too good on both sides of the ball to lose here.

NFC Championship game

Seattle @ Green Bay
Winner: Green Bay

The Week 3 match-up between these two teams is pivotal. I have Green Bay winning there (at home) and winning here again (at home).  Were this game in Seattle I might have it differently

AFC playoff teams and seeds:

1. Indianapolis
2. New England
3. Baltimore
4. Denver
5. Cincinnati
6. Kansas City

Wild Card Week Matchups

Cincinnati @ Denver
Winner: Denver

Two things working against the Bengals here: 1. Mile High is a great home field advantage. 2. Cincy can't seem to win a playoff game.

Kansas City @ Baltimore
Winner: Kansas City

This is my pick for the one upset that always seems to happen. Baltimore can be great, or they can suck. I'm betting the latter.

Division Week Matchups

Kansas City @ Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

Home field and a talent advantage ends the Chiefs season.

Denver @ New England
Winner: New England

In the ongoing battle between Manning and Brady, Brady has the clear advantage.

AFC Championship Game

New England @ Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

Why? Because Andrew Luck gets Brady at home and I just think Indy is just that much better.


Super Bowl 50:

Green Bay vs. Indianapolis

Winner and Champion: Green Bay

I think the Colts just aren't ready yet, and this will be Green Bay's year after the disappointment of last year.

Whatever happens, whether I'm right or wrong (most likely the latter) just remember to study your lines and enjoy the season.

All picks are for entertainment purposes only. No offer is being made or accepted from or by the blogger.  (in other words, make your own dang picks)

Last disclaimer: Of course injuries will make all of this preseason work worthless so I'm planning on evaluating again at mid-season.

Friday, July 24, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: NFC West

As I noted previously, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.


AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

NFC East

NFC North

NFC South

Next: NFC West

Seattle Seahawks

Projected record   13-3 First place

For Seahawks fans these are the salad days. Head Coach Pete Carroll has been building the NFL equivalent of the monster teams that he assembled (outside the rules at times according to NCAA sanctions) at USC in the NCAA.  While the Seahawks lost a ton they kept a whole lot more and remain the class in the division.

Offensively they still have two things. Russell Wilson and Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch. They also have a good offensive line anchored by Russell Okung at LT and a new group of WR that should be a marked improvement on last year's lot. The Trio of Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette are penciled in as the opening day starters, but I wouldn't be surprised to see 2015 3rd round draft pick Kevin Lockett from Kansas State make a strong push for playing time in the pre-season. The Seahawks have Kevin Norwood and speedster Paul Richardson providing depth here.

Defensively the unit that has ranked at, or near, the top of NFL rankings is basically similar to the unit in 2014.  The DL is manned mainly by savvy free agent acquisitions in the persons of Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel and Cliff Avril.  The LB corps returns Irvin, Wagner and Wright while the defensive backfield adds free agent Carey Williams to man the side opposite Richard Sherman. What's noticeably missing is the defensive coordinator, who has gone on to coach the Atlanta Falcons. New Defensive Coordinator Kris Richards has a ton of talent returning, so any fall-off would be due to scheme, unless injuries occur.

The x-factor for the Seahawks is their home-field advantage. They decided to copy Texas A&M and call it the 12th Man but whatever you call it it's real, and very loud. Because of their recent run of success (and their colorful uniforms) the Seahawks suddenly have fans where none existed, so they get a band-wagon road bump as well.

The fact is that this is a tough team that only really has to worry about one team beneath them......

The St. Louis Rams

Projected Record    10-6  Second place

The St. Louis Rams are a team that's been on the rise the last couple of years. With the expected collapse of the 49ers (more on them in a minute) and my general feeling that Arizona is going to revert to the mean, I think the Rams have a chance to seize the initiative and make the playoff leap this year.

Offensively they finally cut ties with oft-injured QB Sam Bradford choosing instead to role with oft-injured former Eagle signal caller Nick Foles. While Foles is not a  world beater, he is capable when healthy and he has a pretty good group of WR's in Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedmon Bailey and Brian Quick to distribute the ball to. At running back the Rams have drafted Georgia stud Todd Gurley, who I think has the potential to become the next great NFL running back after Adrian Peterson. As a back-up they have Tre Mason, who is no slouch himself and was competent last year as a starter and should be able to spell Gurley so that the young rookie doesn't wear out after game 13 (when the average College season is finished). Expect the Rams to run a LOT of two TE sets to establish the run, take the pressure off of Foles and get both Jared Cook and Lance Hendricks on the field, which increases their flexibility. Besides Foles the big question for St. Louis is the offensive line, specifically RG and RT where they have two draft picks listed 1-2 on their draft chart at each position.  Still, if the offense becomes left handed running the ball and if Foles can get rid of the ball to speedsters fairly quickly (both of which I think are doable) they'll be fine.

Defensively the Rams have possibly the best DL in the league with Chris Long and Robert Quinn at the ends, and Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers at the guard position. Depth at guard is a concern, which the Rams tried to address via Detroit disappointment Nick Fairly in hopes some new scenery will do him good.  At LB I'm a fan of Laurenitis, and I like Ogletree OK, I don't think they have enough depth to be truly great at that position however.Where the Rams are weakest on defense, I think, lies in their defensive backfield. Janoris Jenkins is their best corner, and I think he is just OK, I'm betting that a lot of teams will identify the Left side, currently filled by EJ Gains, to be a target. Safety play and backfield depth is going to be a concern.

Head Coach Jeff Fisher has both won, and lost, during his time at Tennessee. He seems to have the faith of Rams management that he knows what he's doing so I don't think he's in immediate form unless the bottom falls out for one reason or another.

If the Rams do slip, I don't think the team behind them will be good enough to take advantage......

Arizona Cardinals

Projected Record  6-10  Third place

The Arizona Cardinals are trying desperately to turn things around as the careers of Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer wind down. Unfortunately, I don't think they have the firepower on either side of the ball to do it.

Barring injury, Palmer at QB and Fitzgerald at WR are locks. I also think they have depth at WR in the persons of Malcom Floyd and John Brown. At RB however I don't think there's a quality back on the roster with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and 2015 draft pick David Johnson (Northern Iowa) each fighting for time.  Over the last couple of years the Cardinals have done a good job bolstering their offensive line with free agent acquisitions Jared Veldheer, Ted Larsen and Mike Iupati  joining 2013 first round pick Jonathan Cooper to complete a pretty solid line. The Cardinals will also employ a lot of two TE sets to try and protect the immobile Palmer but their TE group is nothing special.

Defensively I expect the Cardinals to be pretty decent. Their d-line (in a 3-4 scheme) is pretty solid but I worry about their lack of true edge rushers at the OLB spot. Alex Okafor is seemingly the best of the lot. In the defensive backfield I'm a fan of Patrick Peterson and Tyrone Mathieu but am not enamored with the remaining group.  The success of this defense is going to depend, I think, on the ability of the starters to have career years and some of the rookie free agents to provide quality depth. That's a little bit of a reach which is why I think this year will be a step back. The Cardinals are going to pay a small price for all of the draft picks they gave up to shore up the O-line and defense.

Bruce Arians is a good head coach and I think he could be onto something if given time to build the team. I worry some about the ability of the Cardinals player evaluation department as they seem to be somewhat piloting without a clear destination in mind.

This year, at least, the Cardinals need not fear the team behind them who has seemingly imploded....

San Francisco 49ers

Projected Record  3-13  Fourth place

How fast the mighty have fallen. From three straight trips to the NFC Championship game to 8-8 to what I'm predicting this year will be an unmitigated disaster. (Full disclosure, the 49ers are MY team so writing this hurts)

Offensively the 49ers are a big mystery. Maybe Kaepernick revers to his form of three years prior and maybe Carlos Hyde can fill the void left by Gore, Maybe the WR group of Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin can turn back time but who is going to stretch the field? Vernon Davis is still around, and the o-line, despite losing Iupati, still has Joe Staley at LT but they are young at the guard position (two 2014 3rd round picks) and RT is a question mark.

Defensively things are looking bleak. The two FA pickups (Darnell Dockett and Glenn Dorsey) are players who have major question marks. Dorsey for his motor and Dockett for his health.  Stud LB Patrick Willis is retired, and Navarro Bowman is returning from a major injury. Maybe you get something from Aldon Smith, maybe not, Only time will tell.  I also worry about the defensive backfield, especially with Whitner leaving who provided some toughness. I still like Eric Reid at safety, but have never been a fan of Antoine Bathea during his time with the Colts. Shareece White and Tramaine Brock are both question marks at QB

Of course, the biggest concern with the 49ers is coaching and the general manager. After Trent Baalke and Harbaugh had it out the promotion of Tomsula was an unusual move. It's clear that Baalke feels an ego-driven need to prove that it's his brilliance, and not Harbaugh's coaching, that led this team to glory. I don't have faith in Mr. Baalke to deliver the goods.

Overall this division is not as strong as it used to be, losing the 49ers from the echelon of top teams, but they are not as week as could be. I think the 49ers are in for a rough fall, but I think the Rams and Seattle are still top teams to contend with.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: NFC South

As I noted previously, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.


AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

NFC East

NFC North

Next: NFC South

Carolina Panthers

Projected Record  10-6 First place

After struggling to start 2014, the Panthers went on a tear and made the playoffs with a record of 7-8-1. They benefitted from playing in the weakest division in football and the resulting schedule. For 2015 I predict much of the same. Except that, this team (and division) are going to be somewhat better.

Quarterback Cam Newton is already a star, at least in terms of endorsements, pundit attention, and I think with his newly minted contract in hand he builds on that. If rookie WR Devin Funchess (from Michigan) blossoms into the solid NFL player I think he might then Cam is going to enjoy throwing the ball to a deep, talented group of WR's that includes former Packer Jerrett Boykins and 4th year man Stephen Hill. I expect veteran Jerricho Cotchery to contribute as well. Outside of Cotchery, the Panther's WR group is young, and talented.

At RB I have no doubt that the free agent defection of DeAngelo Williams will hurt, but I think that rookie Cameron Artis-Payne, veteran Jonathan Stewart and 3rd down back Fozzie Whitaker can make up a good rotation. Add to that mix of targets TE Greg Olson and the Panthers appear set at the skill positions.  On the o-line I think the Panthers have a good mix of players with Oher and Martin (if the latter's head is right) on the outside and young rotation in the middle. Center Kalil Ryan is a good one, but he is entering his 10th year so that's something to watch.

On defense the Panthers get Kuechly back from injury to solidify the LB corps, and they picked up Charles "Peanut" Tillman who's aging, but still a good CB to play across the field from Chris Houston.  On D-line I like the fact that the Panthers have finally decided to address their issues with age, time will tell how this unit gels. Fortunately I think their soft schedule gives them time.

The Panthers are coached by Ron "Riverboat Gambler" Rivera, who I think has been given his moniker by John Gruden based almost entirely on a couple of decisions that weren't all that gambling in the first place. However, I think he's a solid coach and, after the crucible of last year, has what it takes to lead this team into the playoffs.

The Panthers had better mind their business however because of the.....

New Orleans Saints

Projected Record: 9-7  Second place

By every metric, the New Orleans Saints have had a terrible two years. After the bounty fiasco the team had to look in the mirror and realize that what was starting them back in the face was aging, with little in the way of youth to plug the holes. For 2015 the Saints plugged the holes with some timely FA signings, and some pretty solid draft picks that, if they pan out, could provide impact immediately.

On offense the Saints still have Drew Brees, who's status as one of the best quarterbacks in the game was not diminished by two bad team campaigns.  Brees is now entering his 16th year in the league but I expect that he's got one or two more quality seasons in him.  I expect the Saints to platoon RB's Mark Ingram and veteran Tim Hightower, but I imagine they will try to work rookie RB/RS Marcus Murphy from Missouri into their 3rd down package because of his explosiveness.  At WR the Saints have a wealth of riches, which makes them almost worthless in fantasy play but produce real results on the field. Look for 2nd year man Jaelen Saunders (from OU) to possibly have a breakout year. The biggest off-season loss is TE Jimmy Smith, who the Saints will try to replace with a group of players including veteran Benjamin Watson. Along the O-line the Saints have a veteran starting group, who I think will start to be pressed for playing time by a youth movement that possesses NFL talent.

On defense I do worry about the Saints ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They are throwing a lot of mud at the wall in training camp at the OLB (they run a 3-4) position in hopes of finding someone who fits the bill. I think rookie Anthony Stephone from Clemson might be a diamond in the rough.  Defensive line is another area where the Saints are rebuilding. This is a hard group to analyze because, again, they have a lot of roster spots taken up by candidates for the position. If nothing else, they are hoping that some of these guys start and the others can make up quality depth, something the Saints have been lacking. At the cornerback spot the Saints brought in New England CB Brandon Browner to shore up the side opposite Keenan Lewis. To be sure, the team looks better on the defensive side of the ball but there are still glaring holes.

Head Coach Sean Peyton is now fully back in charge, having served his penance for the bounty fiasco, and has rightly long been considered one of the top coaches in the NFL. My wonder is if his voice is starting to be ignored in the Saints locker room, and if a change is in order after another year of not making the playoffs.  Of all the teams I'm picking to finish with a winning record, I think the Saints have the biggest downside.

If the Saints do stumble they could be looking up at the......

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Projected Record   6-10  Third place

The biggest question for Tampa Bay is whether or not rookie QB Jameis Winston is of NFL caliber or no.  If he is, then this team has a bright future. If not, they're going to find themselves resigned to QB hell for the next three years.

One thing Winston will have going for him is the best 1-2 WR punch in the NFL in the persons of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. IF Winston can get them the ball....look out. At RB the Bucs have Doug Martin penned in as their starter, and while he struggled some last year I think he's due for a rebound year if Tampa Bay can produce something in the way of an NFL quality passing attack. To provide Winston with maximum protection I expect to see the Bucs run multiple TE sets, with blocking at a premium. Outisde of OG Logan Mankins and C Evan Smith the Bucs o-line is young and unproven. It will be interesting to see if they grow up along side him.

Defensively I'm impressed with some of the talent on the Bucs roster but I think their best defensive players (right now) are LB Lavonte David and DT Gerald McCoy. This, I think, is the nucleus they are trying to build around. In the defensive backfield I think the corner tandem of Verner and Banks is solid, but not flashy. It is of note that former Texans starting SS DJ Swearinger is listed as the 3rd string Bucs safety. I don't think Tampa Bay is all that strong at the S position so I think this speaks more to the relative overall weakness of the Texans at that position. At LB I think the free agent signing of former Cowboy Bruce Carter could provide David with some much-needed help.

Head Coach Lovie Smith has been solid, but not spectacular throughout his career, but I think he has the right demeanor to steer a young, talented group through a tough season. Fair or not Smith's success with the Bucs is now tied to the development of Winston at the QB position.  Bucs fans had better hope it works out, because they are currently wasting the end of Jackson's career at WR and the beginning of Evans'.

While I think they will struggle, I don't see anyway the Bucs ball behind........

Atlanta Falcons

Projected Record  3-13  Fourth place

2014 was as close as you can get to a nightmare for the Falcons. They started off the season on HBO's excellent Hard Knocks series talking about being a tough team. They spent the rest of the season proving to everyone that they were not.  As a result, head coach Mike Smith was fired. Obviously seeking to shed themselves of the "soft" label the Falcons brought in Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Mike Quinn to try and turn the situation around. As with all coordinators who are elevated to head coach status, time will tell whether or not Quinn is suited to the job.

On offense, the Falcons flow through QB Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan, who has been both great, and awful, during times in his career. I think he's a good quarterback who's suffered at times from a pillowy soft offensive line with protection issues. To try and remedy this the Falcons acquired free agents Chris Chester and John Assamoah from the 49ers and Chiefs respectively to try and shore up the interior line. The Falcons hope that 2014 1st round draft pick Jake Matthews continues to develop at the LT position although I'm not sure their starting RT (2013 Undrafted free agent) Ryan Schraeder, currently penciled in as the starter, will be able to hold off free agent acquisition Tyler Polumbus for long. At center, they had better hope Joe Hawley lasts the season because they have nothing behind them.

At the offensive skill positions the Falcons still have a very good WR duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White as starters, with do-it-all return man Devin Hester and free agent acquisition Leonard Hankerson behind for depth. At running back they're going all-in on promising 2014 draft pick Devonta Freeman, who showed sparks of brilliance in 2014 but also a frustrating tendency to turn the ball over. I also would worry about Freeman's durability over an entire NFL season were I a Falcons fan.

Defensively this could be an interesting unit.  Head Coach Quinn was very successful at Seattle with what I call a 4-4 alignment.  The Falcons brought in free agent Adrian Clayborne from Tampa Bay to play opposite veteran Kroy Biermann at the end position and Paul Solai from Miami to man the interior next to Ra'shede Hageman.  At outside LB I feel they overpaid to get former Texans LB Brooks Reed in hopes that he can apply some much needed QB Pressure. The Falcons are also hoping that 2015 first round pick Vic Beasley out of Clemson can step in immediately and start. Tough ask.  In the defensive backfield everything is pretty much status quo except for the addition of Charles Godfrey at safety from the 49ers.

Even under the best of cases, I think the Falcons are going to need some time to churn the roster and develop depth.  I could make a slim case for them improving and contending for the playoffs but that would require almost everything to align perfectly and, as we've seen, that rarely happens in the NFL.

Last year this was rightly considered to be the weakest division in the NFL. While I think this year it's improving and now ahead of the AFC South, I think that all of these teams have a long way to go. While, based on the schedule, these are my picks, I would be less surprised to see it play out exactly as picked than I would be to see the standings and records flipped.  This remains a very hard division to handicap.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: NFC North

As I noted previously, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.


AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

NFC East

Next: NFC North

Green Bay Packers

Projected Record:   14-2 First place

For Green Bay, it's all about offense. Specifically, it's mostly about Aaron Rodgers, with a healthy dose of Eddie Lacy and Jordy Nelson thrown in for good measure.  On the defensive side of the ball, you talk about Clay Matthews Jr and Julius Peppers and you think Wow! This team is loaded!

However, then you look at the rest of the roster, the other players who are OK but not great, an offensive line that's good but not great, a group of defensive backs that are slightly above average, and a defensive line that's just "meh" and you start to think 'why in the world am I picking this team to win a lot of games again?'

The reason I'm picking Green Bay to win a lot of games again is because what's good about this team, is among the best in the league. Aaron Rodgers is the type of quarterback who can will his team to a win, Clay Matthews Jr. is a controlling type of linebacker, and Julius Peppers has been on the top of his game for years now with no signs of falling off. Coach Mike McCarthy is a good coach who understands what makes this team work so well, and he seems to have the players ears in the locker room.

So, it's Green Bay again for me, with a team that's threatening to nip at their heels if they suddenly get old.

Detroit Lions

Projected Record: 11-5  Second Place

Let's get the obvious out of the way first.  IF Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson stay healthy and IF Haloti Ngata is the same player as he was with the Ravens and IF RB Ameer Abdullah is as good, and runs as hard, in the pros as he did at Nebraska then this team can be very good.

If Abdullah is not an NFL quality back and Stafford and/or Johnson get hurt and Ngata gets old in a hurry this team could finish 6-10 because the rest of this roster is pretty average, lacks depth and still seems to have an infuriating tendency (for Lion's fans) to shoot itself in the foot in key moments. They thought that they were going to solve this issue by hiring head coach Jim Caldwell to replace Schwartz but they still have problems with little things like penalties at key times etc. Getting rid of Suh might help some of that however.

My issue with the Lions is that my problems with them aren't entirely surrounding the talent on their roster, it's the amount of maturity in their heads. Because of that I've a feeling I'll never pick the Lions to win until after they do.  So this year I'm not picking them to win but wouldn't be surprised if they had the ability to take advantage of things should Green Bay falter.

In this division, there's a long way between the top two and the bottom two.....

Chicago Bears

Projected Record   6-10  Third place

As goes Jay Cutler, so go the Bears. Unfortunately for Chicago fans I'm not much of a believer in Mr. Cutler. Yes, he likes to sling the ball around the field and he's been given some decent offensive tools to play with.  Matt Forte is a top RB in the NFL and is perpetually underappreciated. I think that the team is really hoping Michigan State draft pick Jeremy Langford develops into a quality back-up to Forte.  At WR the Bears have Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal, and seem to be hoping that former Baylor WR Kevin White will emerge as their new #1 option.  The problem I think they might have is that Baylor players are severely impaired coming out of college, in terms of digesting and absorbing NFL offenses.  I worry that what's good about the Bear's O-line is getting old, and their draft picks do not inspire feelings of joy.

Defensively I still think this team's strength is at LB.  Lamarr Houston and Mason Foster are two pretty solid players and I think 3rd year player Christian Jones has the physical talent to become a solid contributor. The worries, in my mind, lie with the defensive line.  There is some talent there in the persons of Ego Ferguson and Jarvis Jenkins and they are big (only one DL on the current roster is under 300 lbs). I do worry that they lack a true edge rusher.  The coaching staff is relying heavily on Theo Ratliff (aged 34 and oft-injured last year) which should worry Bears fans a little.

On the coaching front the Bears are going with dismissed Denver man John Fox, who couldn't get Manning and the talented Broncos over the finish line. Vic Fangio is a proven defensive coordinator, so there is a chance my worries about the defense are overblown.  I just don't think Fangio has enough raw talent with which to work a miracle.

The best news for the Bears is that they play in the same division as the.....

Minnesota Vikings

Projected Record   3-13  Fourth place

One of my biggest nits to pick with so-called "professional" NFL analysis is that most analysts are reluctant to pick a team to have a horrible record. Despite this in every season there are some that do. The key is to honestly assess who you think is most likely to have the wheels come off.

In the NFC North I think this team is the Vikings. I say this despite liking quite a lot of the talent on their roster.

Offensively, when he's focused and healthy, Adrian Peterson is still the top RB in the NFL and it's not close for second. The WR duo of former Steeler Mike Wallace and Cordarrelle Patterson is fine as well. In the slot I even like Jarius Wright OK.  The Vikings have a good line, but I do worry about Loadholt, Sullivan and Berger getting old. Where I really worry on this team is at the QB position. I've yet to see anything from Teddy Bridgewater that convinces me he's a QB that can lead a team to the playoffs.

Defensively I think the Vikings have two above-average CB's in Captain Munnerlyn and Terrance Newman, although the latter is entering his 14th season. I think the S position is weak, and the Vikings lack depth throughout the DB. At LB I like (don't love) Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway. I'm uncertain about the other two positions however. It's the DL that I think is suspect. DE Everson Griffen is a player, but I just don't see all that much around him. With little pressure on the QB I'm afraid that the Vikings could be on the downside of some higher scoring games.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer waited a long time to finally get his first head coaching nod. Now that he's gotten it I think the jury is still out on whether or not he's a coordinator or a head coach. I think he will be tested this year as the off-season mess surrounding his best player will not fully disperse and the locker room could be a shambles. All that said, if there's any team on the bottom in my predictions that I could be wrong about it's the Vikings.  As I said, I really like a lot of their talent on both sides of the ball. If this team stays healthy, and most things go right, then they could contend for a playoff spot.  However, when I analyze the games on their schedule right now I have a hard time putting them there.

I really think that this is going to be Green Bay's year to do some damage. I also think that we're starting to see the Lions figure things out. In the future I think this will be the strongest division in the NFL with four pretty solid teams duking it out. Right now however I think the Bears and Vikings still have some growing pains to work through.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: NFC East

As I noted previously, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.


AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

Next: NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

Projected Record  10-6  First place

There are so many people this year who are doubting on Chip Kelley. I, however, am not one of them.  While I don't think the Eagles will be "great" I also don't think that they'll be awful, probably just good enough to win a relatively weak division and make the playoffs once again. If anything, I think the Eagles will be better offensively this year when you consider that Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray are upgrades over Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy respectively.

The current group of WR's is going to rely heavily on USC draft pick Nelson Agholor, who I think will be in strong contention for NFL offensive rookie of the year.  Overall I think Kelley is getting real close to having 'his' group of players installed and the results on the field are going to show it.

Defensively I think the Eagles will be fast, active, and not able to turn the ball over too much.  This is why I think that their record will only be 10-6 and not something better. I think this team is going to struggle a little bit out of the gate, but will get things rolling in the latter part of the season.

If the Eagles do stumble worse than I think they will, look for......

Dallas Cowboys

Projected Record   9-7  Second place

I have two questions about the Dallas Cowboys offensively this year.  One, can Tony Romo keep his 13-year veteran body healthy and two, who's going to make up for DeMarco Murray's offensive production?

If either Romo goes down, or the Cowboys can't figure out a way to run the ball, then 9 wins might be optimistic. If anything I see this as being generous to the Cowboys and assuming everything goes as planned.  It's possible that Darren McFadden stays healthy and remembers that he was once considered a top running back, or that Seastrunk is what some people seem to think he is.  Regardless, with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and a host of young, talented receivers, look for the Cowboys to be more pass-happy this year, which means that Romo will have multiple opportunities to turn the ball over, as is his wont. One thing going for the Cowboys is a very, very good offensive line which should, at least, keep Romo upright.

Defensively Dallas has talent, but are going to miss Greg Hardy for a couple of games. However, Sean Lee and Ronaldo McClain are two very good LB's and the Cowboys probably have the best collective group of defensive backs in the division.  Until they get Hardy fully back however, I think rushing the passer will be difficult for the Cowboys.

Jason Garrett, the Cowboys head coach, is not someone who generates a ton of trust in his big game coaching ability. And Jerry Jones is not a GM that generates much confidence in his talent evaluation. All that said, the Cowboys have been doing a better job with talent evaluation and Garrett has been doing just enough to keep themselves in playoff contention the last couple of years. Will they stay in contention this year? I doubt it.

The good news for the Cowboys is that, even if they stumble, they shouldn't fall behind the......

New York Giants

Projected Record   7-9    Third place

Every year we're subjected to the same NY Giants questions "Is this the year Tom Caughlin gets fired, Is Eli Manning an elite quarterback?  For me, the answers here are pretty clear. 'Yes' and 'No'.

Eli is an OK quarterback, and he has two very good WR's to throw the ball to in Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. What the Giants are lacking is a competent O-Line, and a running back who might be able to run the ball consistently.  When you're as limited as the Giants are at the QB position, running the ball will be key.

Defensively the Giants are an ageing, mediocre mess. It's clear that free agency defections and poor drafting have depleted this team greatly, and I don't see much changing that anytime soon. The Giants have drafted defensive talent poorly, and I'm not that excited about their haul this year either.

To my mind this is the year that Tom Caughlin finally gets let go by the organization, they need a massive revamping of their roster, and I don't think he's the one to pull it off.

If they don't start getting better fast they're going to be looking up at the.....

Washington Redskins

Projected Record  5-11 Fourth Place

I'm not optimistic about the Redskins chances, either to keep their nickname long-term or for the current administration to turn the team around.  2nd year coach Jay Gruden reminds me a lot of Joe Philbin, a man who's going to be a much better coordinator than he will be a head coach.

The Redskins biggest problem lies at QB, where I think the owner's insistence on force-feeding RG III into the starting line-up despite the fact that Griffith's skill set is less suited to Gruden's offense than is backup QB Kirk Cousins.  As long as Daniel Snyder continues to push for Griffith as starter, as many have insinuated that he is, then I don't see them having sustained success. As for the rest of the offense I think that Alfred Morris is a sold starting RB, but the Redskins have depth concerns behind him, the WR group is solid, if not spectacular. Garcon and Jackson are good, not great starting WR, but I see some difficulties with depth and the 3rd WR slot.  The offensive line is fair, but far from the Hogs of old.

Defensively the team from Washington is struggling outside of the corner position, where DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver are a good pair.  I do like the defensive end tandem of Ricky-Jean Francios and Frank Kearse but, again, they need backup help. The defensive tackles are sketchy, at best. They'll need to improve rapidly for the Redskins to be successful.  The linebacking group is so weak that the Redskins training camp roster looks like an open tryout.

Of all the picks that I've made this year it's this division about which I'm the most unsure. The Eagles are an unknown but I'm willing to give Kelley the benefit of the doubt based on his past performance. The Cowboys, Giants and Redskins seem to be teams facing major rebuilding projects in the future. In fact, I think this division is a lot closer to being viewed the weakest in the conference than it is the strongest in the conference.

Monday, July 20, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: The AFC West

As I noted previously, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.


AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

Part IV: The AFC West

Denver Broncos

Projected Record: 10-6    First place

There is one central question swirling around the Denver Broncos this year.  Is Peyton Manning over-the-hill or is what we saw last year down the stretch just a blip on his career radar?

For the long-haul, I think Peyton is trending downward. That said I think he's still good enough to lead a roster this talented to the NFL Playoffs for one more run.  I like, don't love, his WR targets and I like, don't love, the idea of Mont'ee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson as a RB tandem. They're going to miss Thomas at TE, but they still have Thomas at WR and new HC (like, don't love) Gary Kubiak has brought in TE Owen Daniels who should thrive given Peyton's love of the dump-down.  Even IF Peyton flames out quicker than we think, I like (don't love) Osweiller as a back up and I think there are enough pieces in this offense to allow them to sneak across the line.

Defensively there are a couple of things that I love. First is the idea of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware rushing opposing passers, the second is Aqib Talib anchoring one corner position. Everything else on defense?  Like, don't love?  I'm worried about the defensive line, and the inside linebacking unit and I don't see two quality safeties on their roster. They have good safeties, but not great ones. I'm also unsure about Rick Dennison and Wade Phillips as defensive coordinators.  We've seen this show before, in Houston, and we saw the mediocre to poor results.

I also worry about Head Coach Gary Kubiak's tendency to move teams toward the mean. If history is any indication, the Broncos had better make noise this year because they have a steady diet of 8-8 or thereabouts in their immediate future.

Their problem is, I think they have someone nipping at their heels.....

Kansas City Chiefs

Projected Record: 9-7     Second place

The Chiefs will start poorly, thanks to schedule, but then things will even out and Andy Reid will get this team pointed in the right direction.

The reason I'm so high on the Chiefs is because I think they have the two most talented players on either side of the ball in the division.  On offense: Jamaal Charles and on defense Justin Houston.

Offensively the WR unit can't get worse than last year.  As in 0 TD's scored all season.  This year they brought in Jeremy Maclin to stretch the field and Jason Avant to act as a possession guy. They have a nice mix of rookies as well so I think this unit might be a surprise.  At QB they are solid, not great, with Alex Smith, but Reid seems happy with him and, so far at least, the numbers have been OK. Most of this is due to a healthy Charles and an offensive line that is among the best in the business currently, despite being underrated by media and fans. The line is young, athletic and they continue to bring in new arrivals who seem to possess the same traits.

Defensively, besides Houston, the Chiefs have two of my favorite role-players Linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. They also have safety Eric Berry and a capable, if not flashy, group of cover corners.

The trick for the Chiefs is keeping their stars healthy, and Alex Smith upright and unpressured. If they can do that I have them sneaking into the playoffs again. If not, they're going to be passed by the..........

San Diego Chargers

Projected Record: 9-7 Third place

I have the Chargers third, with an identical record as the Chiefs, because I have the Chiefs beating them twice.

There is a lot to like about this Chargers team and Philip Rivers is one of those things. Entering his 13th year however I'm wondering how much longer he can will this team to victory. He'll have targets this year, as the addition of Jacoby Jones to the tandem of Keenan Allen and Malcolm Floyd will add a deep threat to a group that was aging. Unlike some, I'm ambivalent about the Melvin Gordon draft pick, but I think he'll be OK as a pro.  Oh, and Antonio Gates is still around so Rivers maintains his security blanket. (Unlike Peyton, who lost his).

Defensively I'm not sure. In the backfield I like Brandon Flowers and Patrick Robinson OK but I'm not sure who they're going to line up to start. At safety I realize that Eric Weddle is a name, and a "blue collar" player, but I prefer to have a faster white-collar player with some toughness hovering around.  There's nothing in their linebackers or defensive backs that are poor, but there's nothing that makes me sit up and pay attention either.  Solid unit, but a lot of question marks. If Manti Te'o is being asked to assume a leadership role on your team, you have yourself some issues.

From a coaching/Front office standpoint I'm not all that enthralled with Mike McCoy, he's an OK coach but rumors that he's not the best at game preparation should be worrisome to fans. Tom Telesco as a general manager is OK, but he's just another guy you know?

Much like the Texans, the Chargers have time to improve because the team behind them is nowhere NEAR being ready for contention.....

Oakland Raiders

Projected Record: 5-11 Fourth place

I expect the Raiders to come out and play hard this year for the lengthening list of Raider Greats (RIP Stabler) who have passed.  Unfortunately that's about all they'll be able to do is play hard because this roster is lacking the talent and depth to play well.

Unlike his brother, Derek Carr might turn out to be the real deal. He's got good pocket presence and the ability to remain calm under pressure. He's young though, and prone to making some bone-headed throws to people wearing the other team's jersey but that will come in time.  At WR I really like Amari Cooper, I like Josh Harper (both rookies) and I'm very "meh" about Michael Crabtree. Maybe that's the 49ers fan in me but Crabtree is more blow than go.  I have no idea what this team is going to do at RB. Trent Richardson can't play ball, Helu was a good NCAA running back but not quite at the NFL level, Maybe Michael Dyer works out? Khalif Barnes is a good offensive linemen, everyone else?

I think the Raiders could have one of the blossoming stars in the NFL in Khalil Mack at LB. I think he could be a Ray Lewis type, if he's given time to properly develop. I also like DJ Hayden at CB and I think that Justin Tuck still has a few good years left.  Outside of that the defense is a crap shoot.  Well, except for the ageless Charles Woodson who is as good a coach on the field as you're going to find in the NFL.

Perhaps my biggest problem with the Raiders is head coach Jack Del Rio.  There was good Del Rio, at the beginning of his days in Jacksonville, and then bad Jack near the end.  What are the Raiders getting here?  Time will tell.  Not this year though, because they are clearly the 4th best team in this division of 4.

Despite not having the flashy teams, I think this is the toughest division in the AFC.  I have both Denver and KC making the playoffs with San Diego being the first team out. I have Oakland improving and clearly ranking as the best "worst" team in any division.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: The AFC South

As I noted previously, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.


AFC East

AFC North

Part III: The AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

Projected Record: 14-2  First place

I like the Indianapolis Colts offense very much this year.  Andrew Luck is a top 5 QB right now, the WR grouping of T.Y. Hilton and new-comers Andre Johnson (Free agency from Texans) and draftee Phillip Dorsett (Rookie-Miami) has the potential to light up score boards. The removal of Trent Richardson from the offensive backfield is addition by subtraction. Suddenly the guy forgot how to run the ball.  In his place I think the Colts might try a 3-back rotation.  Before he was hurt last year Vick Ballard seemed to show some promise, Dan (Boom) Herron from Ohio State or Josh Robinson from Mississippi State could provide some young legs, and the Colts picked up veteran Frank Gore from the 49er's large pile of discards who is a back that I still think can provide some value if used properly.  He's always been excellent at short yardage and he can catch almost anything out of the backfield.

Yes, the defense is a problem, but the good news is that the Colt's play in a division where strong offensive play is their exclusive domain. Plus, they start the season against 4 teams who don't have much in terms of QB's (Jets, Bills, Titans and Texans) and a team with an OK QB but nothing else (Jaguars)

As a matter of fact, I don't see the Colts losing until they get an angry New England team in Week 6.

The biggest problem with the Colts defense is that it is inexperienced. After the gift they've been given schedule-wise I think they'll have a lot of that sorted out by the time they get to the tougher games in the 2nd half of the season.

Despite the questions on defense, the Colts are in zero danger of being caught by the......

Houston Texans

Projected Record: 8-8 Second place

For the past 5 years now my season prediction for the Texans has been between 7-9 and 9-7. While two years I was proven wrong, I see no reason, with this team, to change that trend now.

The main reason that I consider the team to be mediocre is that you are really only evaluating 1/2 a team. The defense, if everyone stays healthy, should be incredible. Baltimore Ravens historically incredible. With a defensive line anchored by JJ Watt and Vince Wilfork, two decent, if not spectacular, corners in Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, and a LB group that (again, if healthy) should be improved, this could be the best defensive unit in the AFC.

The problem with the Texans lies on the offensive side of the ball.  How is this team going to score?

Quarterback has always been a problem for this team, since it's inception they've never seemed to get it right (although what passes for media in Houston insisted for years that Schaub was "OK" it takes more than "OK" to win at this level). That trend will continue this year as the team is trying to decide whether Browns cast-off Brian Hoyer or Patriots cast-off Ryan Mallett will take the reigns and try and get the ball to a questionable receiving unit. With the departure of Andre Johnson the WR corps now has depth and quality issues as well.  While the fan base is in love with new No. 1 WR DeAndre Hopkins I'm not sold he can be near the receiver Andre was, and the 1st round draft pick of Jaelen Strong feels like just another "safe" Rick Smith draft pick, a character guy with limited upside.

Unlike most, I'm not sold that running back Arian Foster is a viable solution going forward. He's already shown himself to be fragile and his work-load is likely to increase in 2015 because there's no one on the outside to catch the balls the QB's are trying to throw. This means either a steady diet of hand-offs or dump passes to Foster in the flat, and offensive scheme that should remind fans of the David Carr/Joe Pendry era.  All of that and I still haven't mentioned what I think is a shaky offensive line, tight ends that serve no purpose, and a general manager who seems clueless.

It's a good thing this team plays in the AFC South in front of the.......

Tennessee Titans

Projected Record: 5-11 Third place

It almost feels hollow, as a Houston resident, to laugh at the Titans now that they are struggling. Their offense is a work in progress. Maybe we see Marcus Mariota under center maybe we don't. It won't matter though because the top WR target is the uneven ex-Giant Hakeem Nicks.  Add to that a group of running backs with no punch (Bishop is named after and old decaf coffee brand fittingly) and an offensive line with the potency of a wet paper towel and you have the makings of a long season.

The defense should be OK. Not great, not bad, just OK. I think that Brian Orakpo and DaQuan Jones might be something to build on. Jason McCourty is a good veteran to try and hold together a young defensive backfield, and Michael Griffin is a very good safety in a league that's suddenly devalued them.

I'm not too inspired by the recycling of NFL average coach Ken Whisenhunt, but I'm not too sure whether EVP and General Manager Ruston Webster is getting clear direction from the management team on the heels of the passing of long-time team owner K.S. "Bud" Adams.  This team will need to find a permanent management structure and sort some things out before making marked improvement.

Fortunately for them, they share a division with........

Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected Record: 4-12 Fourth place

Let's get this out of the way.  The Jaguars are terrible and they're going to be for the foreseeable future until they can find a way out of Jacksonville Florida.

That said, the new ownership group has done some unique things with the stadium experience and seem to be embracing the crazy London experiment that Roger Goodell seems intent to saddle the league with.

Offensively I like Blake Bortles and I thought the 1st round pick of TJ Yeldon was a good fit for the team. At WR I'm not as thrilled considering they lost Cecil Shorts III (who I thought was their best receiver not on suspension) and don't have a current receive on the 2-deep with more than 5 years experience.  To top it off, their best receiver is one Justin Blackmon, who is a great talent with a two-cent head. At RB I thought the Bernard Pierce FA signing was smart, but I'm not sure what the team plans to do with former Michigan QB Denard Robinson. The guy has some physical skills, but very little football IQ.

Defensively this team is a shambles. They have questions at defensive end, defensive tackle, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, both safety positions and cornerback. Other than that, things seem OK.  There are smatterings of potential talent, but the veterans they have are more locker-room guys than impact players, so their young 'uns are going to have to grow up rapidly for them to beat my prediction.

This is, by far, the weakest division in the AFC, possibly within the entire NFL.  Last year there was a credible argument to be made for the NFC South, but I see some improvement there so this group takes the crown.  Because of this, I only see one playoff team, the Colts, and I predict they will get the one seed and (importantly) home field throughout the playoffs.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: The AFC North

As I noted in my last post, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.


AFC East

Part II: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Projected Record: 11-5 First place

In what I think will be the strongest division in the AFC I still see the Ravens as being the cream of the crop here.  Even with their notable losses, they still have the best defense in the division, the best coaching in Harbaugh and the best GM in Ozzie Newsome.  Last year they all but replaced Ray Lewis with LB CJ Mosely, and this year I think they got the best WR in the draft with Breshard Perriman from UCF.

Yes, at QB they are always a question mark. You never know whether or not you'll see good or bad Flacco.  I'm betting on good, since he seems to alternate years. I also think the diverse WR corps that they have for him to target is going to have a good year as well.  Watch out for Perriman, but also for Steve Smith Sr.

I don't think this is going to be easy, and I think these teams are going to beat up on one another some, but I do think that the Ravens will have a slight edge over......

Cincinnati Bengals

Projected Record: 10-6 Second Place

Of the things I like about the Bengals Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill as a 1-2 RB tandem is among the tops.  After that it's AJ Green and their WR corps.  Next is what I think, with the addition of AJ Hawk, will become a bruising LB group, and a DL that's going to return to form with Geno Atkin's reactivation from injury.

Of the things I dislike about the Bengals is QB Andy Dalton.  Also as a dislike is their front office/ownership's ability to seemingly make lemons out of lemonade.

That said, there's a lot of talent on this roster I just can't help but wonder if having the voice of long-time head coach Marvin Lewis is starting to get a little stale?  If this team falters, it won't take much for them to fall below.......

Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected Record:  9-7 Third Place

Last year's 11-5 finish and division win was, in my book, a great coaching job by Mike Tomlin.  Yes, the Steeler's have a capable NFL QB in Rothlisburger, a top-flight WR in Antonio Brown, and a budding star RB in L'eveon Bell.  I do however think that Bell's suspension will hurt (greatly) early and that the Steeler's real faults on the defensive side of the ball are going to be exposed.

That said, despite my concerns that the defense is 1) old, 2) slow and 3) surprisingly non-physical for a Steelers team, I do think that Tomlin is a good enough coach to overcome this through creative game plans and only occasionally having to step onto the field of play to try and stop opposing kick returners.

The secondary has too many questions for me to feel confident in today's pass-happy NFL. They have some talent at corner, but too much youth as well.  If this doesn't pan out it could be a long year in the steel city.  All that said, I don't see them in any danger of falling behind......

Cleveland Browns

Projected Record: 4-12 Fourth place

My lead question regarding the Cleveland Browns is probably the same as everyone else's:  Who in the heck is going to start at QB?  Then you consider that, at WR, they have a suspended Josh Gordon (insanely talented but monumentally stupid) and a whole bunch of experiments that might, or might not work out (Hello Terrelle Pryor!) and an RB unit that's, to be kind, uninspiring. I like the thought of Duke Johnson Jr. as a starting NFL running back but he's unproven. Pretty much everyone else (Shaun Draughn?) are not starting caliber.

Add to the dearth of skill position talent an O and D line that are OK but uninspiring and a LB group and DB that is (Outside of Karlos Dansby and Joe Haden) young and still developing and you have a young team with talent but no proven producers, a coach who still hasn't shown the ability to win in the NFL and a General Manager in Ray Farmer who's sole purpose in life seems to be to confuse the heck out of observers.

When you add all of that up it leads to high draft picks, and a losing record, which the Browns appear to be headed toward once again.  Amazingly they even got the new uniforms wrong.  Is this franchise this generations Raiders?

Unlike the AFC East I think this division gets two playoff teams, the Ravens (of course) and the Cincinnati Bengals who will, undoubtedly, lose again in the first round.  Still, I consider this to be the 2nd toughest division within the AFC and, if you take away the Browns, it's possible the most difficult from which to advance.

Friday, July 17, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: The AFC East

As I noted in my last post, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall.  Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.

I thought I'd start, with the AFC East....

New England Patriots

Projected record: 13-3 First place

I'm a little more positive regarding the Patriot's chances in 2015 than are other pundits. I've seen them predicted as low as 10-6, with the average being 11-5.  This presupposes that the AFC East, and by default the Patriot's 2015 schedule, is unusually tough.  I neither believe that nor do I believe that the Belicheck/Brady duo has fired the final bullet in their gun.

I predict that Brady's suspension will be reduced to two games, and I have them losing both of them.  However, I then have them only losing one remaining game once Brady returns.  With Gronk seemingly back to his old form and several steps taken to shore up both the defense and offense I think an angry Patriots team is a dangerous Patriots team.  History has taught us this much.

This Patriots team seems especially motivated to prove the nay-sayers wrong because of deflate-gate and the fact that their legacy is now suddenly in question by some.

Buffalo Bills

Projected record:  8-8 Second place

The trendy pick for the Bills this year is that they finally break their playoff drought. Much of this excitement is due to the presence of a coach (Rex Ryan) that I view as amazingly mediocre in all but rhetoric. The Bills still don't have a franchise QB, they are thin at several positions (notably WR) they are very young at LB and I'm not as excited about their defense as everyone else.

Maybe Percy Harvin finally lives up to his potential?  Maybe either EJ Manuel or Tyrod Taylor evolves into a starter?  Maybe LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson still have tread on the tires?  Maybe some of the linebacker's develop?

I may be being generous here.

New York Jets

Projected record: 8-8 Third place

Part of the reason I'm not high on the Buffalo Bills is the same reason that I'm a little more optimistic about the New York Jets.  Rex Ryan is no longer there to screw this team up.

I like every position on the offense save QB and RB.  Now, granted, those are two pretty big positions not to like but I think you can get to average with what they have on the roster. 

In Houston, we've seen the Ryan Fitzpatrick show and know that he's a QB who can't win one for you, but will rarely lose one for you either.  Geno Smith is smelling like a bust, and there's little evidence to suggest that Bryce Petty will make the jump to NFL-ready QB this year. I do like Stevan Ridley enough when he's not fumbling, and I think Chris Ivory was an underused basher in the New Orleans system. Maybe Zac Stacey remembers how to play football?

On the WR side the Jets have good professionals, with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and speedster Devin Smith, who caught everything at Ohio State.  They also have DeVier Posey, who is insanely talented but never seemed to catch on with the Texans for some reason.  If he can flourish......

Defensively the Jets will probably go back to having the best defensive backfield in the Nation with Revis and Cromartie manning the corners.  Add to that a strong, but aging, linebacker corps and a tough, tough defensive line and I think the absence of the Rex side-show makes them better.

If they can find a quarterback.

Miami Dolphins

Projected record: 2-14 Fourth place

I can find very little on the Miami Dolphins roster to like.  I think Ryan Tannehill is exactly what he's shown himself to be (a quarterback with an above average arm and not much else) and the situation at RB and WR appear dire outside of Kenny Stills.

Defensively the Dolphins are considering starting Brice McCain, who was so bad for the Texans their defense actually improved when he was replaced by a street free agent.  Their rebuilding has not gone well, as the roster feels bereft of top talent outside of Suh, who they picked up in free agency. Still, one man does not make a defense, even if he is as dominant as Suh.

I'm also not a believer in head coach Joe Philbin.  He reminds me of Gary Kubiak or Mike Tice, a much better coordinator than they ever were head coaches.  I predict this will be the last year for a lot of things in Miami, Philbin being among them as new GM Dennis Hickey will look to install his own hand-picked coach.

While many are predicting this to be the strongest division in the AFC I actually thing it's the 2nd weakest, ahead only of the still pathetic AFC South.  That said, the Bills and the Jets are getting closer, but will remain in mediocrity for the coming year.  Of the two teams I think the Jets are on the correct trajectory for improvement.

The woeful Miami Dolphins are going to begin a 2nd rebuilding project after this year I think, and the New England Patriots will keep it rolling for at least another couple of years.  In other words, status quo of the last 5 or so years in this Division.

The Patriots are my only projected playoff team in this division as the #2 seed.

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