Wednesday, August 31, 2016

NFL 2016 Preview: NFC North (Revised before even being published.)

After finishing my review of the major conferences (and the American) in college football it's time to turn my gaze toward the Shield. Or, the league that we all love to watch but also love to hate.  While I'm not as much of an NFL fan as I am a fan of the college game I do realize that there are many out there who will only watch the professional version of the sport.

With that in mind here's the first installment in my division by division look at American football at the professional level:

Part the First: AFC East (Same Old, Same Old)

Part the Second: AFC North (One of these teams is not like the others)

Part the Third: AFC South (The Changing of the Guard)

Part the Fourth: AFC West (Evil Always Wins)

Part the Fifth: NFC (L)East (Not just bad...real bad)

Part the Sixth: NFC North (Revised before even being published)

North W L
Green Bay 14 2
Chicago 11 5
Minnesota 10 6
Detroit 1 15

1. Green Bay Packers. It was not going to be this way initially. I had Minnesota winning the division and making a deep playoff run.  But earlier, when Teddy Bridgewater's knee decided to disintegrate during a practice. That said, Green Bay is probably the best team in the division now by a long-shot. Yes, they still have Aaron Rodgers and yes, Eddie Lacy will probably be good and Jordy Nelson will be back, but head coach Mike McCarthy is a question for me, too risk-averse to really ever be a great coach but blessed with enough roster talent to really ever be exposed as a bad one. Randall Cobb is an outstanding WR2 and they might have the best backup running back in the league in one James Starks. They also have an experienced offensive line which does a moderately good job or keeping Rodger's jersey clean. Where I'm not sold with this team is defense. Clay Mathews is a great LB, and Julius Peppers is a great DL, but both (especially Peppers) are showing signs of age. In the defensive backfield I like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety, but I'm not entirely sold on the CB duo of Demarious Randall and Sam Shields. The remaining LB's are questions as well, as is the DL. Still, they should win the games they should, and have a pretty easy time of it in the division. That's enough to get them the top seed in the playoffs, which I think they'll squander.

2. Chicago Bears. Gone is Forte, but remaining is Jay Cutler.  That and an improving defense should lead them to a wild card this year.  Of course, there are questions. Can Jeremy Langford be a productive RB1?  Is there a WR1 on the roster? Can a revamped O-line keep Cutler from getting banged up? Rookie Cody Whitehair (K-State) will be a key component in that question. But Chicago's playoff chances are going to ride on the shoulder's of Jay Cutler and a new (sort of) no-name defense that shows potential if all of the pieces fit into place. Head Coach John Fox has been to the playoffs before, and he knows how to build a team to get there. What he hasn't done is ever won the thing, and was fired from Denver the year prior to them winning.  He has a solid roster put together in Chicago, but they are going to miss Charles Tillman, who was the physical and spiritual leader of this defense. Still the DB is not in horrible shape. Tracy Porter is a proven commodity at CB, and it appears that Kyle Fuller is going to be legitimate as well.  Safety is a question mark with 2nd year players Harold Jones-Quartley and Adrian Amos teaming up to play the position. If the young infusion of talent works out, watch out, because this team could be better than I predicted.

3. Minnesota Vikings. The loss of Bridgewater will hurt, despite what some pundits are suggesting. Yes, the offense is driven by Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings still have WR's Diggs and Charles Johnson as outside threats and TE Kyle Rudolph over the middle, but someone has to get the ball to them and I'm not sold that Shaun Hill is the guy to do that. If he can't, and I don't think he will, then teams will stack the line and neutralize Peterson, stalling the offense. This team is not going to crater however, and could jump Chicago for a wild card berth, because they are still going to have one of the better defenses in the league under head coach Mike Zimmer's system. The Vikings defense is fast, mean and deep. They run 3-deep at some positions on the line and 2-deep at LB and DB. Not only can they rotate in, they can do so with little to no drop in production.  This has the potential to be a Ravens/Bears quality defense.  Which is why I still think the Vikings will be OK.  The sky hasn't fallen, but they ARE going to miss Bridgewater in the huddle.

4. Detroit Lions. This went from a hot, young team on the rise to a dumpster fire in 2 years didn't it? Yes, they still have Matthew Stafford but it appears that he's not going to be the front line QB everyone had him pegged as. And yes, they still have Ameer Abdullah, but they don't have an experienced line for him to run behind. Gone is Calvin Johnson, and his playmaking ability, in is Anquan Boldin, who I love as a possession slot-guy, but not as the guy who has to replace Calvin Johnson at WR1.  This leaves the job to either Golden Tate (meh) or Marvin Jones Jr. (meh) neither of whom have the game-breaking potential of a Johnson. The strongest unit on this team?  Defensive line. They actually should be pretty good here although depth is a major concern.  There is some depth at LB, the problem is the position is not exactly talented all-around. It's OK but nothing special like you would expect to see in a good 4-3 defense. How bad is the defensive backfield? Former Houston Texan (and opponent highlight reel catch generator) Glover Quinn is starting at free safety. Glover-freaking-Quinn.  By far the weakest position on this team however is at head coach. Jim Caldwell has taken talented teams over at Indianapolis and now Detroit, and made them almost instantly worse. I think the Lions bottom out this year, fire Caldwell, and start the rebuilding process once again with a new man in charge.  Sorry Detroit.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

NFL 2016 Preview: NFC (L)East (Not just bad....real bad)

After finishing my review of the major conferences (and the American) in college football it's time to turn my gaze toward the Shield. Or, the league that we all love to watch but also love to hate.  While I'm not as much of an NFL fan as I am a fan of the college game I do realize that there are many out there who will only watch the professional version of the sport.

With that in mind here's the first installment in my division by division look at American football at the professional level:

Part the First: AFC East (Same Old, Same Old)

Part the Second: AFC North (One of these teams is not like the others)

Part the Third: AFC South (The Changing of the Guard)

Part the Fourth: AFC West (Evil Always Wins)

Part the Fifth: NFC (L)East (Not just bad...real bad)

East W L
Washington 8 8
Philadelphia 7 9
Dallas 6 10
N.Y. Giants 4 12
1. Washington Redskins. When I first took a look at this division I picked Dallas to win it. Then the 3rd week of pre-season happened and Tony Romo's crepe paper back imploded so I needed a new winner. So D.C. it is. Out of all the divisions I think this one is where there's the most potential for pundits (and idiots like me) to be wrong. The problem is that there's just not a lot of "there" there in these teams. Kirk Cousins is meh, as is Pierre Garçon. DeSean Jackson is, and always has been, overrated in my opinion. Offensively Washington's best asset is a pretty solid O-line. A big minus for them is that they have a body at RB. Something you can tell they recognized as evidenced by the fact they have 7 RB's currently on the roster. Defensively things are better. They, famously, picked up Josh Norman in the off-season who, along with Baushad Breeland, should be one of the best CB tandems in the country provided Breeland doesn't wilt under the constant attention. They have good team speed and good size as well. DeAngelo Hall is a 13 year veteran who can still play a good center field and a good veteran presence.  Still not sold on Jay Gruden as a head coach, but we'll see.

2. Philadelphia Eagles. Coming off the failed Chip Kelley experiment (which is now playing at San Fran) Eagles fans can be forgiven for throwing in the towel on this season before it starts. I wouldn't however. Because if I were to pick a team that could jump up and surprise in this division I think it would be the Eagles.  Yes, they're sticking with inaccurate and moody Sam Bradford at QB, and Ryan Mathews at RB doesn't sight hearts alight.  But Aghalor/Matthews/Huff are a solid group of 3 WR's and Brent Celek is a good security blanket. The O-line might be one of the better in the division, although there are some gaps. On defense the Eagles are young, and are going to need players to improve over last year if they are going to challenge for the playoffs. I remain a huge Brandon Graham fan and think he might have a monster year.  We'll see how head coach Doug Pederson handles the mess he's been given. Still, if the dominoes fall in just the right order....

3. Dallas Cowboys. OK Cowboy fan, a moment of reality.  The Romo back injury is huge and Dak Prescott, while he might be a good QB long-term is NOT a better option than the QB with the crepe paper spine.  Oh, and defensively it could be a long year.  Other than that?  Dez Bryant is still pretty good and by all appearances Ezekiel Elliott is going to be spectacular, but I look for him to tire late in the year, The O-line is average, but not bad, although I think the search for WR2 and 3 could be a year long issue. At tight end it's amazing but this will be Jason Witten's 15th year and he's still going strong. The defense might be OK provided LB Sean Lee stays healthy. He's been suffering from some bad luck, and long stints out due to injury, the last couple of years so the Cowboys could really use him healthy. I wonder who is going to rush the QB for the Cowboys, and I question whether or not their DB's can contain opposing WR's for all of the time I think opposing QB's are going to have because of that. Jokes aside Jerry Jones has actually had solid draft classes the last couple of years and the team does have some talent. That's why I think they could have won the division with a healthy Tony Romo.  Without him? I just don't see it.

4. New York Giants. This team has me perplexed. There are some pundits who are predicting them to win the division and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. Yes, Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz are pretty good WR's and Eli Manning is an above average QB. But the Giants are going to have zero run game and almost no protection for the Manning who still has some arm strength. Defensively this team is not good. They weren't good under former (defensive minded) coach Tom Coughlin and I don't think they'll be good under new (offensive minded) coach Ben McAdoo. I don't see too much explosiveness at LB and the defensive backfield feels like it was put together with a glue gun, with none of the parts making sense in the whole. This team has been pretty bad for a couple of years now, I don't see how just firing Coughlin and promoting the OC of a team that wasn't very good at offensive football last year solves the problem.

This is likely to be the worst division in football this year. It will also be one that gets the largest share of nationally televised games. This means, again, the the NFL's prime-time schedule is going to stink, again.  Part of the reason it stinks is because we continue to get force-fed this bowl of crap of a division.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

NFL 2016 Preview: AFC West (Evil Always Wins)

After finishing my review of the major conferences (and the American) in college football it's time to turn my gaze toward the Shield. Or, the league that we all love to watch but also love to hate.  While I'm not as much of an NFL fan as I am a fan of the college game I do realize that there are many out there who will only watch the professional version of the sport.

With that in mind here's the first installment in my division by division look at American football at the professional level:

Part the First: AFC East (Same Old, Same Old)

Part the Second: AFC North (One of these teams is not like the others)

Part the Third: AFC South (The Changing of the Guard)

Part the Fourth: AFC West (Evil Always Wins)

West W L
Oakland 12 4
Kansas City 11 5
San Diego 9 7
Denver 8 8
Team by Team:

1. Oakland Las Vegas? Raiders. In a wide open division full of teams undergoing massive change, or diminishing talent, I think the youthful raiders mimic the Jacksonville Jaguars, win their division and make the playoffs.  Why the Raiders?  A1: Derek Carr. Who is ten times the NFL QB (in terms of work ethic) and has 100 times the protection as his brother David. A2: Crabtree and Cooper. The best WR duo in the division. A3. Latavius Murray, who I predict becomes a star this year.  A4: Edwards/Ward/Ellis/Mack. Easily the 2nd best D-line behind Denver, possibly in the league. A5: Amerson/Hayden/Smith. Young, strong, fast, fundamentally sound. What you want in a CB trio. A6: Reggie Nelson the veteran keeping control of things in front of him while Karl Joseph the rookie causes havoc in front at strong safety. A7: Jack Del Rio is a prick, but he's a proven winner and he knows how to coach.

2. Kansas City Chiefs. Head Coach Andy Reid might just be realizing that he has a problem. In Alex Smith he has a QB whose not (likely) to do many stupid things, but he's not likely to do too many great things either. He's also got a running back in Jamaal Charles who MIGHT stay healthy, and a WR corps that's utterly forgettable (outside of Maclin), and an o-line that is relying on a couple of YOUNG players to pan out.  Oh, and Travis Kelce, who will probably be the team's leading receiver at TE. On defense he has basically the same cast of characters, including many guys that I think are among the most overrated at their positions. Tamba Hali was a player I was screaming for the 49ers to draft, as was Derrick Johnson. Of course, we all know about Houston, and Berry, but Marcus Peters is an unknown.  The biggest problem for this team is that they are starting to get old at key positions. Can they hold it together one more year?  I say just.

3. San Diego Chargers. What to say about team bolo tie?  When you have Philip Rivers as your QB you won't suck, but when you have Travis Benjamin and Keenan Allen as your two 1st string WR's you aren't going to be great either. RB Melvin Gordon seems to be a star in the making, and TE Antonio Gates already is one.  The O-line is solid, if not better than average. They do a good job keeping the statuesque Rivers upright. The defense is full of names you knew from college ball (Mantai Te'o, Brandon Flowers etc.) but who haven't lived up to their full potential in the pros. That said both are pretty good players at their positions. To my mind head coach Mike McCoy gets the "genius" tag applied a little too liberally, for a coach whose career record is decidedly Kubiakesqe. Still, San Diego is beautiful and the team should be entertaining, taking the sting out of what I predict to be yet another mediocre season.

4. Denver Broncos. GASP!!!!  What?  8-8?? For the defending Super Bowl Champions?  Yes and yes.  I say this with confidence for three reasons.  1. The Broncos are apparently going to roll into the season with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch as their two QB's. No matter how good the WR tandem of Thomas and Sanders is, will anyone be able to get them the football? C.J. Anderson is a solid, but not great back.  And Kubiak wants to run the ball clearly.  2. Yes, the defensive talent is still strong, very strong with most of the key players returning.  But the history of Phillip's coached defenses is that by year 2 the opposing offensive coaches start to poke holes in the schemes and the incredible numbers start to drop off. I expect the same to happen here. Plus, they're going to be pressing due to the fact that the offense cannot score. 3. This is a Gary Kubiak coached team, which means that 8-8 is going to be their default setting going forward. (See Houston Texans.)

What a difference a year makes.  And while I think that Oakland and Kansas City make the playoffs, it could be Baltimore instead of the Chiefs or, the Chiefs could win the division and Oakland could miss out.  To me this is one of the toughest divisions to call in all of the AFC.  One thing is for sure, it's likely to be a mess.

NFL 2016 Preview: AFC South (The Changing of the Guard)

After finishing my review of the major conferences (and the American) in college football it's time to turn my gaze toward the Shield. Or, the league that we all love to watch but also love to hate.  While I'm not as much of an NFL fan as I am a fan of the college game I do realize that there are many out there who will only watch the professional version of the sport.

With that in mind here's the first installment in my division by division look at American football at the professional level:

Part the First: AFC East (Same Old, Same Old)

Part the Second: AFC North (One of these teams is not like the others)

Part the Third: AFC South (The Changing of the Guard)

South W L
Jacksonville 11 5
Houston 7 9
Tennessee 5 11
Indianapolis 3 13
Team By Team:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars. This is probably my most risky projection of the season.  But I truly believe that this is the year things start to work for the Jags.  Bortles is proving to be an OK QB, and I think that the improvements on the offensive line will help him cut back on turnovers. Plus, Jacksonville's newly retooled defense should help him not have to throw the ball 50-60 times per game.  Not that his targets are bad. The Allens (Hurns and Robinson) are the best 2-WR tandem in the division, and running back Yeldon is a player from which I'm expecting a huge year. Marquise Lee is nothing to sneeze at at WR3. The O-line appears solid, and TE Marcedes Lewis should be just fine. Last year the defense was awful, but talent infusions via free-agency and the draft should help immediately. the D-line of Fowler/Jackson/Miller/Odrick should be solid, if not spectacular, as should the LB corps. My biggest question is in the defensive backfield, where House and Amukamura must play better than recent history, and 1st round draft pick Jalen Ramsey must be as good as we all think he can be. The biggest thing going for the Jaguars is this:  They are currently playing in a dumpster fire of a division.

2. Houston Texans. There is a lot of optimism among Texans fans and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. Maybe it's because the team "finally" spent some money on a quarterback? But that's not right because they spent money on Matt Schaub as well. Is it because they "finally" have a running back and talent at WR?  No, because they had Arian Foster and Andre Johnson before Lamar Miller and Deandre Hopkins, although I do think that Braxton Miller is a unique talent of the likes hasn't been seen in Houston, he's currently languishing 3rd on the WR depth chart behind Hopkins and Shorts. At O-line there is no cause for optimism. Sua-Filo is looking 100% like a bust, Duane Brown and Derek Newton are hurt, and draft pick center Wight is going to likely be out all year due to recently completed ankle surgery. So you have an immobile QB in Osweiler who is likely going to find himself under extreme pressure all year long. Ah but defense you say, the team will shine on defense.  Well, maybe, but JJ Watt is hurt and Wilfork and Cushing are old(er) and the team is one (likely to occur) Jadveon Clowney injury away from having John Simon start at OLB. Add to this the fact that O'Brien is currently known more for his Hard Knocks cursing than actual in-game coaching and you have all of the ingredients for another 7-9 season. Unfortunately, I live in Houston, so I'll be stuck watching it all.

3. Tennessee Titans. This is another team that I think finds itself on the ascendancy, but is not yet at the level of the Jaguars. Like Jacksonville I think the Titans have an above-average QB in Mariota, but are weaker in every offensive area except RB, where DeMarco Murray has proven himself to be the real deal while at Dallas. The WR combination is young, and unproven and contains both Andre Johnson and Harry Douglas, both of whom almost qualify for the NFL version of AARP cards, and the offensive line is talented, but will need a stand-out season from Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan if Mariota is to survive the season sans injury. Defensively this team is solid, if not spectacular. They have a lot of 6-8 year veterans who are, supposedly, in the prime of their careers which doesn't bode well for improvement.  Also, they will be playing CB Brice McCain as their likely nickle corner. If you've been paying attention the last few years that situation is what's known in NFL circles as "a bad thing".  The biggest issue that I have with the Titans however is their head coach Mike Mularkey, who I believe is no where near a head coach at the NFL level.  Mularkey has promised that the Titans are going to play a 90's brand of professional football in the 10's.  Which is like Army refusing to employ the forward pass after Notre Dame roasted them with it back in the leather helmet days.  This team is getting better, but I don't think they pass the Texans until they find and hire a quality head coach.

4. Indianapolis Colts. This team can be summed up in two words: Andrew Luck.  The problem is that they still don't have anything on offense (outside of  T.Y. Hilton) to go along with him.  The O-line might (again) almost get Luck killed, and RB Frank Gore is looking more and more like a back with too much tread taken off the tires. This means that Luck is going to be running like mad from angry d-linemen anxious to knock that neck-beard right off of his head. If he makes the half-way point of the season healthy I'll be surprised.  On defense, the Colts have been, and should continue to be, pretty damn awful. They lack overall defensive speed, strength and strategy. Which brings us to the Colts biggest deficiency, head coach Chuck Pagano. While #ChuckStrong was a heartwarming story, it also brought to the front the elephant in the Colts coaching room.  Namely, when this team was good under Luck, it was the assistant coaches (then OCs Bruce Arians and Pep Hamilton) that were responsible for a majority of the team's success.  The Colts however, learned the wrong lesson and kept Chuck Pagano.  The team has paid for that ever since, and will continue to pay for it, and horrible personnel decisions, this year.

For a while now the two best teams in this division have been the Indianapolis Colts, and the Houston Texans. This year I'm starting to get the feeling that the guard is changing, possibly has already changed. I think in terms of pure talent both Jacksonville and Tennessee find themselves at the top of the pile.  While I think Andrew Luck is certainly still the best QB in the league, I think Jacksonville and Tennessee dominate all of the other position groups save D-line, where I think the Texans still have the advantage, if only due to JJ Watt. (when he's healthy). In addition to all of that, I think this is the 2nd worst division in football (behind the NFC lEast) but I believe the Jaguars will take the crown this year.

Friday, August 26, 2016

NFL 2016 Preview: AFC North (One of these teams is not like the others)

After finishing my review of the major conferences (and the American) in college football it's time to turn my gaze toward the Shield. Or, the league that we all love to watch but also love to hate.  While I'm not as much of an NFL fan as I am a fan of the college game I do realize that there are many out there who will only watch the professional version of the sport.

With that in mind here's the first installment in my division by division look at American football at the professional level:

Part the First: AFC East (Same Old, Same Old)

Part the Second: AFC North (One of these teams is not like the others)

North W L
Pittsburgh 13 3
Cincinnati 12 4
Baltimore 11 5
Cleveland 3 13
Team by Team:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers. I'm putting the Steelers up this high and I'm cringing a little.  Le'Veon Bell is a beast of a running back, with the self-control of a child apparently.  But when he's right (and in the lineup) I believe the Steelers are the best team in the division by whisker. During the three weeks he's out the Steeler's have Washington (W), Cincinnati(L - maybe) and Philadelphia (W) on the schedule so I think they'll be fine.  Oh yeah, they play the Bengals at home so that will help as well.  What else do the Steelers have? Oh just Rothlisburger, the best receiver in pro football and a defense that is big, fast and nasty (albeit getting old in places).  It will be interesting to see if Harrison makes it through the entire year without being suspended for PED's but, even if he is, I don't think he's an integral piece to this defense today.  Tomlin is an OK, but not great head coach who could use a division championship to quiet the hounds.

2. Cincinnati Harambes Bengals. This team feels as if it's window is closing rapidly. I love AJ Green, the running back duo of Hill and Bernard, and the defense.  What I don't love is Andy Dalton and the coaching staff, most of the good assistants have been selected to coach other teams. I think they probably have the best O-line in the division, and Eifert is another good weapon, IF Dalton can get him the ball.  Defensively it's basically the same group from last year, but they are getting old.  And I think that is the reason I feel the window is getting closer and closer to slamming shut on the Brown family.  Although, given the team history, they probably won't care.  My question is whether or not HC Marvin Lewis can survive another good regular season, and then a flame out in the post season, which I think is on the offering for the Bengals this year. Also, can Zampese and Guenther replace Gruden and Jackson successfully at the coordinator positions.

3. Baltimore Ravens. First things first. Joe Flacco is NOT an elite quarterback. He's a good quarterback who has ridden a stiff defense to a SuperBowl. That is nothing to sneeze at but it does not make one elite. Beyond Flacco however, this team has a ton of questions on offense. Can Justin Forsett carry a full-time load?  Will Steve Smith Jr. be healthy? Is Mike Wallace a dependable #1 WR? Will an aging O-line hold up one more year?  On defense however I think this team is fine. The unit of Suggs/Mosely/Orr/Dumerville could be dominant at LB, the D-line is big, and deep, and the defensive backfield (on paper) appears much improved. Add to all that the man who I believe is the best head football coach in the division, and I think this is going to be one of those weird years for Baltimore where the regular season is pretty good, but they lose out on the playoffs in a tie-breaker due, in part, to playing in a pretty strong division. (And offensive issues).

4. Cleveland Browns. Let's assume a best case scenario for the Browns.  That RG III plays like his pre-ruined by Shanahan self and that Isaiah Crowell is a true NFL running back (I prefer Duke Johnson Jr.) and that Terrelle Pryor, Corey Coleman and Andrew Hawkins are for real WR's and that Josh Gordon comes back healthy and keeps two cents rattling around his head in order. Let's assume that every player on this relatively young defense continues to improve and that 1st year head coach Hue Jackson really is as good as some of us think he is.  Even if all of that is true (and odds are it's not) and even IF the Browns avoid the injury gremlin this year (and odds are they won't) do you see this as a .500 team?  I don't, which is why I have them at 3-13 this year with one huge caveat:  I think that, unlike in prior years, if you're a Browns fan you can say with some optimism that this should be the lowest point going forward. I think this team is finally in a place, with coaches and young talent, that an ascendancy is possible. I'm not sure you could really say that before.

To my way of thinking, this is one of the strongest divisions in football, despite not having the best team (New England) or the best coach (New England) or even the best quarterback (Brady) they probably have both the best offensive and defensive lines, some of the best skill players, and three of the overall best TEAMS in the AFC. Then you have Cleveland, which is decidedly not like the others, but finally appears to understand what it takes to begin the process of getting there.

College Football: 2016 Season Predictions (SEC West Updated)

See my original SEC projections here.

Given the bad Auburn news that's surfaced since my initial projections I'm forced to downgrade Auburn's chances significantly.  Given that they've lost their best offensive weapon, and the fact that they seemingly can't keep players from getting arrested, my projected SEC West now looks as follows:

LSU   12 0
Alabama 11 1
Arkansas 9 3
Ole Miss 7 5
Texas A&M 6 6
Mississippi State 6 6
Auburn 4 8

Also, the entire SEC moves from 9 bowl teams to 10, with the Aggies sneaking into a probable Houston Bowl bid.

It's just too much negative for Auburn to overcome.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

NFL 2016 Preview: AFC East (Same Old, Same Old)

After finishing my review of the major conferences (and the American) in college football it's time to turn my gaze toward the Shield. Or, the league that we all love to watch but also love to hate.  While I'm not as much of an NFL fan as I am a fan of the college game I do realize that there are many out there who will only watch the professional version of the sport.

With that in mind here's the first installment in my division by division look at American football at the professional level:

The American Football Conference:

East W L
New England 14 2
N.Y. Jets 6 10
Buffalo 6 10
Miami 2 14
Team by Team:

1. The New England Patriots. Yes, everyone not living in the Boston area is giddy over the prospect of Tom Brady being out the first four weeks.  And yes, there is a little bit of reason for fans of the team to be nervous given the early pre-season 'meh' that is Jimmy Garappolo.  But the Patriots are still a talented team with one of the best quarterbacks of all time for 3/4th of the season.  While Tom Brady is barred from playing football and off trying to take money from the clueless and easily swayed with his "superfood" supplement business, the Patriots play Arizona (Loss), Buffalo (Win), Miami (win) and the Houston Texans (win).  Yes, I think they will go 3-1 against that less-than-murderers-row of a schedule and greet Tom Thumb back to the lineup in.....first place.  They should win most of the rest of their games and be in contention for the number one AFC playoff seed yet again.

2. The New York Jets. This is a trendy pick (by a few) to jump up and grab a playoff slot who happens to be one Fitz concussion away from starting Geno Smith. Offensively, outside of Brandon Marshall, this team is undertalented and lacks a quality #2 WR. (Currently Eric Decker is penciled in as the starter). At RB they're relying on father time to not catch up to former Bear Matt Forte, who is capable but might not have much running room behind a rebuilt offensive line. Defensively Darrelle Revis will grab all of the headlines, but their ability to stop the pass will probably be more determined by whether or not Buster Skrine can develop into a quality NFL CB.  Their LB corps are young, and their D-line is....meh.  Coaching is their biggest deficiency.  Todd Bowels seems like a nice man, and was a helluva coordinator. I'm not yet convinced he's of head coaching quality. Two entirely different skill sets. I see the Jets struggling and failing, again, to make the playoffs.

3. The Buffalo Bills. To my way of thinking, this is the most overrated team in the most overrated division in the NFL.  Everyone WANTS them to do well, in part because they're from hardscrabble (read: awful) Buffalo and party because their head coach is Rex Ryan. Ironically, I think Ryan is one of the reasons this team is going to be pretty bad this year.  That and QB play. I find starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor to be just OK, but not much else. However, when your backup option is E.J. Manuel, OK is A-OK.  Sammy Watkins is a good receiver but currently not top 10 in the league, and RB LeSean McCoy can score, but he can also be injured. It's OK to root against this group solely due to the fact that all-around bad guy Richie Incognito is staring on the O-line. On defense they have a group of guys and Shaq Lawson who might end up being pretty good.  But these are the Bills, and their coach is Rex Ryan, whose going to try and make it very much about him and no one else. I think the off-season will be very much about him getting fired. (again)

4. The Miami Dolphins. I think head coach Adam Gase might turn out to be a pretty good coach. Unfortunately he's been saddled with a roster that's only got slightly more talent than a top-level college football team. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a bust in progress, RB Jay Ajayi is meh, and backup RB Arian Foster is a worn-down injury waiting to happen. WR Kenny Stills has some potential, as does C Mike Pouncey.  But if you're having to talk about the center on an offense as a bright spot you've got some issues on that side of the ball. This defense could either be pretty good, or a total dumpster fire.  I'm going with the latter as low-motor guy Mario Williams teams up with crazy-motor guy Ndamukong Suh to form the most dysfunctional d-line in the league. Alonso, Jenkins and Maxwell might turn out to be a pretty good LB corps, but the DB talent cupboard on this team is BARREN. Rebuilding without a GM who knows what they are doing is hard.

So, it's more of the same in 2016 for the division that's seen much of the same for the last decade or so. As is usual, New England is the cream of the crop while the remaining three teams spin their wheels trying to gain traction.  Last year I caught some grief (a little, not a lot) due to my 3-13 record for the Dolphins. This year I think they go one game worse than that and challenge for the 1st draft-pick in 2017.  The Bills and the Jets continue to be the Bills and the Jets.  In other words, same old, same old.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

College Football Preview: The B1G.

I save the B1G for last because I'm a Michigan fan and it's really the conference I care about the most. Unfortunately, I still think Ohio State is the best team in the conference but the gap is getting narrower.

The numbers:

East W L
Ohio State 12 0
Michigan 11 1
Michigan State 9 3
Maryland 8 4
Penn State 6 6
Indiana 4 8
Rutgers 1 11

West W L
Nebraska 10 2
Minnesota 9 3
Wisconsin 8 4
Iowa 6 6
Illinois 5 7
Northwestern 4 8
Purdue 1 11
Conference Championship:
Bowl Teams: 9 (Not including 5-7 team bids)
CFP: Ohio State
Big 6: Michigan
CFP 2: None
Others: Michigan State
Penn State
Most Underrated: Maryland
Most Overrated: Iowa
Coaches on Hot Seat: Indiana

The teams:

1. Ohio State - I still think that that damn school down South has the team to beat. I think Urban Meyer is a fantastic coach and I think he'll get his offensive issues sorted. I don't think we understood just how big of a loss then OC (now HC at Houston) Todd Herman really was to the Buckeyes but I think we do now. I see an undefeated run for the Buckeyes and a return engagement into the CFP. (More on that later).

2. Michigan - I place them number 2. in the conference because I think they are better than Nebraska. There's a LOT of CFP betting interest in the Wolverines this year but I'm not buying in, yet. I think Michigan is going to be very, very good defensively, and struggle a little bit on the offensive side of the ball early on.  That said, I think Harbaugh is amassing insane amounts of talent at the school and. if (hopefully) he and Meyer decide to stick around, we could be in for a new 10 years war. (fingers crossed).

3. Nebraska - Here's the thing, I don't think the Cornhuskers are going to be all that great this year. What I do think is that they are going to ride a pretty favorable schedule into the conference championship game where they are going to take a drubbing from Ohio State.  Still, given their recent woes this is a good result for the Cornhuskers and represents an improvement.

4. Michigan State - There will be no "kick-six" this year to bail Sparty out, and I think they will take a step back this year but will still be able to beat everyone in the conference save Michigan and Ohio State. State also has to travel to South Bend to play Notre Dame which I think is going to trip them up. Dantonio's team is going to be solid on defense, but not so solid on offense again this year.

5. Minnesota.  - Last year was brutal for the Gophers with the mid-season retirement of Jerry Kill. I think that obscured some talent on the roster that will fully reveal itself this time around. I like the Gophers offensively and expect them to run the hell out of the ball. On defense they have decent, but not great, speed which should hold up except against the top teams in the conference. 

6. Wisconsin. - Poor Wisconsin. I don't think they are a bad team but they're slated to play a potentially great team in LSU to open the season and I think that's going to be a bridge too far. There are teams in the B1G that I think can hold up to, and beat, the top SEC teams this year (more on that later) but I don't think Wisconsin is one of them.

7. Maryland.  - Ugly helmets, pretty good team. Last year I thought Maryland under achieved but this year I think they can put it together due to experience and, to be honest, a better all-around team. They also have a pretty favorable schedule catching Ohio State and Michigan State at home. Tough games include Minnesota on the road however which could be their biggest surprise of the season.

8. Penn State.  - The rebuilding from the Sandusky disaster continues, and head coach James Franklin is still trying to work against negative perceptions in recruiting.  Gone is QB Christian Hackenberg, In is SO Trace McSorely who will be more mobile. To be fair, a kitchen counter would be more mobile than Hackenberg. The Lions are harping on their Sr laden O-line, but people forget that the returning players haven't been that good. Mediocrity this year, maybe better down the road if they can recruit some linemen.

9. Iowa. - Last year was a dream season for the Hawkeyes, this year I think they come crashing back to Earth. They won't be bad, they have too many winnable games on their schedule, but they won't run the table as they did last year either. I think we're going to see that they lack enough overall team speed to really compete with the big guys this year. They make a bowl, but they won't get as lucky. No one can.

10. Illinois. - Hardee, Turner and Cain might be the best WR grouping in the conference. The question is will transfer QB West Lunt be able to get them the ball? The Illini are relying on a SO and true FR to man the guard positions this year so running the ball and pass protection will be key. I don't think the Illini have sufficient talent on this roster to be all that competitive in an improving league. I'm also not sold that HC Lovie Smith's transition to the college game is going to be seamless either.

11. Northwestern.  - Coach Pat Fitzgerald has always gotten the most out of his players, and he always seems to be hanging around fringe bowl contention. I don't think so this year however because I think the Wildcats are rebuilding. Yes, they have a roster full of Jr's and Sr's but those are, in large part, guys who have been behind more talented starters for a couple of years now. Still, they are a well coached team and could pull an upset or two and squeak into a Bowl, I'd never put that past them.

12. Indiana. -  I think this is the year that HC Kevin Wilson's run with the Hoosiers comes to an end. The former OU offensive coordinator has never really seemed to be able to recruit the type of player that he needs to run his offense, and defensively they just haven't been all that good. Couple that with an unfavorable schedule and I think you have a recipe for an off-season coaching search. Houston HC Herman will be at the top of their list of course, but I think Herman should stay far, far away from this mess.

14a. Purdue. - This place is a mess. The only reason I place them before Rutgers is because P comes just before R in the alphabet. In truth, both Purdue and Rutgers are dumpster fires of athletic programs. This is coach Hazell's 4th year and I think it's his last.  There are so many holes on this team it's hard to find too many strengths.

14b. Rutgers.  - This place is, also, a mess. New HC Chris Ash has inherited a program with little talent or morale right now. I think Ash is a good coach, but I'm not sure if he can overcome the structural deficiencies at the State University of New Jersey right now. To be honest, the B1G should have tagged UConn for expansion over Rutgers. This is not a power 5 program and I don't think it will ever grow into one.

Monday, August 8, 2016

College Football Preview: The American Athletic Conference (sort of)

I bring the American in at this point because I want to discuss two teams.

The numbers:

East W L West W
South Florida 11 1 Houston 12-0
Cincinnati 10 2 Navy 8-4
Connecticut 8 4 SMU 5-7
Temple 7 5 Tulsa 5-7
East Carolina 5 7 Memphis 4-8
UCF 2 10 Tulane 2-10

Conference Championship:
Houston defeats South Florida
Bowl Teams: 6 (Not including 5-7 team bids)
CFP: None
Big 6: Houston
CFP 2: None
Others: South Florida
Most Underrated: Houston
Most Overrated: Memphis
Coaches on Hot Seat: East Carolina

1. Houston - Here it is:  I think the Cougars beat OU in the season opener, beat Louisville and run through a tough conference, winning the conference title game against USF and finish the season 13-0. And I STILL think they get boxed out of the CFP. If coach Herman is smart (and I think he is) he'll hang on here until a big, big name comes knocking. Not Purdue or Washington State or someone like that. I mean USC or LSU or Auburn. IMO he can accomplish more at Houston than he can any tier-two team at a power 5 conference.  The only thing he cannot do at UH is get into the CFP, but he's not likely to be doing that at a less than blue-blood program anyway so......

2. South Florida: I think they beat every team on their schedule, except Florida State but I think they make that game close. They won't get enough credit for being as good as they are because the National media is underrating the entire conference.  The AAC is just as good, if not better, than the Big XII (currently X) and the ACC and South Florida is one of the main reasons why.

The rest: Cincinnati will be good, as will Navy UConn and Temple. And the middle tier teams could expand the bowl roster for the conference beyond 6 if they pull an upset. Yes, UCF, Tulane and Memphis will probably not be very good, but they're probably not any worse than the bottom of the ACC, and most of these teams could probably beat Kansas.

The media, with their conference affiliations, does it's level best to help the power 5 conferences maintain the status quo. This is good for business (money). In everything from recruiting ratings (player star ratings have been known to move up or down depending on the school with which they sign their ROI), stupid early season top 25 polls (we don't pay any attention to early polls here at The Public $$$) and coverage.

If you don't believe me, watch ESPN's attitude toward the B1G this year now that they've signed an agreement with Fox Sports.  ESPN will pimp the ACC & SEC, Fox Sports the PAC-12 and B1G, NBC rides Notre Dame and CBS only recognizes the SEC, barely admitting the other conferences exist. The Big XII (Now X) and other conferences will be left with table scraps.

It's a crime because I think two of the better teams in the Country might be playing football in what many consider to be a "minor" conference.

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