Sunday, September 13, 2015

This Ain't a League, It's a God-Damn Arms Race: A 2015 NFL Preview

No, I'm not proud of that title. But what do you want from me at 2:30 in the morning after an emotionally draining ASU football win? Anyway, I usually only write about movies and music on this blog, but I probably spend as much or more time watching/reading about sports than those two combined. So I figured why not dash off a quick preview on the old blog? That way I can look real smart (or real dumb) come January. I'll give a quick breakdown of each division, mock up the playoffs, and crown a Super Bowl champ, all while trying not to be too big of a homer to my Redbirds and Fins. Here we go!

(* = wild card)

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles – 10-6
Dallas Cowboys – 10-6*
New York Giants – 8-8
Washington Redskins – 5-11
The Eagles are probably one of the 5 most talented teams in football when healthy. That's a helluva caveat for a team relying on Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray. But while Chip Kelly's offense should be strong regardless of who's carrying or passing the ball, I don't trust their receivers and corners, the latter of which is a problem in a division with Dez and ODB. IF they stay healthy, they might win the Super Bowl; I just don't think they will ... The 'Boys won't miss Murray as much as people think—I could probably gain like... 10 yards behind that line. Okay, bad example. But Romo, Bryant, and Co. will put up points, and the D will be just good enough in Year 2 under Rod Marinelli ... I have no idea what to expect out of the G-Men, so .500 should about cover my bases. Eli should justify his newly signed mega-deal and this team will be able to score with anybody, but if that defense implodes without JPP, there'll be a lot of finger pointing (get it??) ... RGIII, Jay Gruden, and a whole lot of others will be gone after what looks to be a disastrous season, but the real problem is the owner. As long as Chainsaw Dan is in charge, I don't think they'll ever build a contender. Oh, and can they change the name now? Please?

NFC North
Green Bay Packers – 12-4
Minnesota Vikings – 8-8
Detroit Lions – 8-8
Chicago Bears – 6-10
The Pack will miss Jordy, but not as much as I miss LeVar Burton's sweet visor. They'll find another unheralded wideout to step up, like they always do. (Jeff Janis? Ty Montgomery? Davante Adams is a given.) We all know about the O, and as long as the D plays like it did the first 55 minutes against the 'Hawks (and not the last 5 and OT), they'll be in it for the #1 seed ... Minny takes a leap in AP's first year back and Bridgewater's Year 2, but not quite into the playoffs in the crowded middle-tier NFC. I like Norv's offense and the pass rush/DBs, but I'm not sure about the run D, which means the D won't be able to get off the field late in games. Next year though, look out ... The Lions will miss Suh (although they could've done a lot worse than Ngata as a replacement), and there aren't a lot of holes on this roster overall (TE and CB being the biggest question marks), but this is a QB league and Stafford is a major question mark. He's just too inefficient (look at his career YPA—it's barely over 7.00). How is a guy with that arm with targets like CJ and Tate not a perennial Pro Bowler? ... Chicago, your team, woof. Cutler is bad, yes, but he's not the problem. The bare cupboard of defensive talent is. John Fox was a great get as the new HC, but he won't be able to turn it around in a year. Still, he'll prevent them from being one of the worst teams in the league. So that's something.

NFC South
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9-7
Atlanta Falcons – 8-8
New Orleans Saints – 7-9
Carolina Panthers – 6-10
This is the toughest division to predict, year-in, year-out. These teams all have warts (the wiener kind), and a team with a losing record could very well take this thing again. But I'm going with the Bucs. While Jameis Winston seems like a vile person, he's a talented QB and there is so much talent on that offense just waiting for a competent QB, which they haven't had since, what? Brad Johnson? Trent Dilfer? Long as the secondary holds up, they'll be a threat to get destroyed by someone in Round 1 ... Matt Ryan and Julio Jones aren't a bad foundation, and I like bringing in Quinn to fix the D, but questions abound about that side of the ball and their running game on the other. If Quinn can manufacture a pass rush and the secondary around Desmond Trufant isn't a dumpster fire, they could easily win this thing. But then, so could any of these other teams ... Speaking of secondaries and dumpster fires, have you seen the Saint's secondary? Because neither will NFL quarterbacks this season. They could give up 30 points a game. It will be tough for a fading but still elite Brees to keep up, what with losing most of his weapons (Graham, Stills, Thomas). I just don't think he can do it ... The Panthers might have a top-5 defense this year... but their offense might be bottom 5. They're starting Ted Ginn (ugh) and something called a Philly Brown at WR in Week 1. On the plus side, Greg Olsen might catch 120 balls this year. An injury prediction: Cam Newton doesn't finish out the year. All hail Derek Anderson!

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks – 11-5
Arizona Cardinals – 10-6*
St. Louis Rams – 7-9
San Francisco 49ers – 6-10
The Seahawks should win this division again (dat homefield advantage doe), but they'll stumble a bit on the way. They'll miss Max Unger at C more than they think and, while Graham will help in the red zone, I predict some extended offensive slumps for them this season. On the other side of the ball, the Chancellor holdout, while absolutely moronic on his part, is nevertheless a cause for concern both on and off the field. Something tells me a lot of the guys on the team don't get along in the locker room, and that *will* affect this team negatively come gameday ... A lot of folks are predicting a down year for my Redbirds (ahem, Bill Barnwell), but I just don't see it. If Arians can drag a team led by Ryan fucking Lindley to the playoffs, I don't why they wouldn't be back with a healthy Carson Palmer (or Drew Stanton, or, hell, Matt Barkley). The offense will be better than you think with an ascendant John Brown and a still-relevant Fitzy, and the D shouldn't skip too much of a beat with Bettcher taking over for Bowles at DC. PP21 is finally healthy—so watch out, league ... Same old story with the Rams—beastly D, meek O. Long, Quinn, Donald, Fairley, and Co. *will* end someone's season at some point (hopefully not C-Palms!), but it remains to be seen if Foles is an upgrade over any of the QBs they put out there last season. If he is, they could push for a wild card; if he isn't, they'll be on the receiving end of a lot of 16-10 type losses ... Whatever happens to my Redbirds, I will take infinite pleasure in watching the Niners struggle this year. You don't just lose half your defense to retirement and arrest, two of your only talented skills position players, and one of the best head coaches in football (albeit most bristly personalities) and expect to stay relevant. If only that could fit on a Ned Stark meme.

AFC East
New England Patriots – 11-5
Miami Dolphins – 10-6*
Buffalo Bills – 7-9
New York Jets – 7-9
Like the Sea Chickens, the Patriots will fall back to earth a bit... but they'll still win the division like they always do. The loss of Revis will take their defense down a notch or two, and if/when Gronk misses a couple games, Brady won't be able to outscore everyone by slinging it to his motley group of white receivers. They should be able to cobble together a running game per their usual, but run D could also be a problem (it's not good when DeAngelo Williams gashes you for a buck-twenty). Still, they're a threat for a bye ... It's now or never for my Fins. My boy Tannehill is poised to take a leap and build upon last year/s 4000 yd/27 TD campaign. He's got a lot of new weapons to work with, so if they jell quickly, watch out. The D should be nasty, with Suh and Wake leading the way up front. Corner could be an issue, but with that pass rush, it might not matter. Just hope no one important gets hurt. These guys are thinner than a purging model ... The Bills are basically the Rams of the AFC. If their quarterback (Tyrod Taylor for now) works out, they should snag a playoff berth on the strength of their D. But I don't like his chances behind that O-line (ditto offseason addition LeSean McCoy). I sure don't like having to play that D twice a year as a Fins fan though ... I wish the Jets had kept fired GM Idzik around—this team could have been truly pathetic (and nothing would have given me more pleasure). Instead, the new guy restocked the talent outside the hashes with B-Marsh and Revis. And IK what's-his-name did the team a favor by laying out Gena Smith—Fitzmagic will be an improvement by default. This won't be a fun team to play, but they just don't have the QB talent to seriously challenge for the postseason.

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens – 10-6
Pittsburgh Steelers – 9-7*
Cincinnati Bengals – 8-8
Cleveland Browns – 4-12
This division is always a dogfight, and this year the Ravens have the meanest dog around. They're a legitimate Super Bowl threat with Flacco's big arm, Forsett's versatility, and one of the most ferocious pass rushes around. I have similar concerns with their WRs/DBs as the Eagles, but the cupboard is stocked at the rest of the positions. They always find a way to win, especially on the road—which makes them scary in the postseason ... I have serious reservations about putting the Steelers in the playoffs after watching their D get shredded on Thursday night, but their offense will be top-5 after Bell comes back, and they don't have to face Tom Brady every week. (And 4 doses of Andy Dalton and Josh McCown doesn't hurt either.) Interesting question though: if they miss the playoffs, is Tomlin gone? ... Similarly, if the Bungles don't make the playoffs, will Dalton be gone? He's actually taken them there the last 4 years (all 1st-round losses), but is this the year the wheels fall off? They might not actually need him to do much this year, with the Hill-Bernard backfield and always-solid D. But if he can reach the lofty 4000 yd/30 TD numbers of 2013 (look it up, it actually happened), they should coast to the playoffs. If not, it'll be a slog ... Somehow the Browns finished 7-9 last season. I had no idea. I don't think they can do it again with the putrid offense they're throwing out this year. A single Brown probably wasn't drafted in most leagues, and certainly no one is starting any in Week 1. Joe Haden and the D will keep them in a lot of games, but unless Johnny Pigskin can overtake McCown and provide competent QB play, they'll be closer to the league cellar than the playoffs. (And maybe they can draft a real QB next year.)

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts – 11-5
Houston Texans – 6-10
Jacksonville Jaguars – 5-11
Tennessee Titans – 5-11
Easiest division to call in the league. Easiest record, too—Luck's Colts have been 11-5 for the last 3 years. They're not much more talented than last year, so why not make it 4 in a row? It should be a hole lot of fun to watch Luck huck it to those WRs, but there's no way Gore lasts a full season and the O-line is suspect. Combine it with a mediocre D and 11-5 sounds about right. Still, Luck could carry this team as far as the Super Bowl and no one would be surprised. Is this the year? ... The Texans are another team in dire need of a competent QB. Not sure Hoyer (or Mallet, or Savage) is the answer. The Foster injury cost them any chance at a playoff push, which is too bad, because who wouldn't love to see JJ Watt turn down for what in the playoffs? Maybe next year they can land somebody like ... Bortles, who can't possibly be worse in Year 2 (although Gabbert was... not a good sign). But the Jags have surrounded him with some intriguing options at the skill positions (Robinson, Hurns, Yeldon) and they've also quietly put together a respectable defense (dem former Seahawks DCs doe). It won't add up to a playoff berth (or even 2nd best team in Florida status), but it's progress ... It figures to be another downer of a year in the Music City, which isn't good news for "Whistlin'" Ken Whisenhunt, whose gotta be gone after this year. Mariota will need at least a year to figure out the pro game, and, unlike Bortles, the options at the skill positions are underwhelming. Now here's a fun challenge: quick, name a player on the Titans defense! (No googling!)

AFC West
Denver Broncos – 10-6
Kansas City Chiefs – 9-7
San Diego Chargers – 8-8
Oakland Raiders – 5-11
This could be the year that Peyton Manning's arm literally falls off. But even if he looks as bad as he did down the stretch last year and in the preseason this year, this is still one of the 2-3 most talented rosters in football. They're stacked at the skill positions on offense, the O-line is solid, and their pass rush and DBs are elite. Run D could be an issue, but if they can a lead, it won't matter. I think a more run-centric approach will take some pressure of Peyton's arm and he can save himself for the playoffs and one last shot at ring #2 ... If this is, in fact, the year Peyton's arm falls off, the Chiefs will be waiting to take the division crown for the first time since 2003. They've got the talent on offense (JC, Maclin, and Kelce), and if/when healthy, the D is as stout as any. But, like the Bengals, a mediocre QB could hold them back. If Alex Smith plays as hyperefficiently as he's capable of and Maclin can revive a moribund downfield attack, this team could be a legit Super Bowl contender. But does anyone really feel like backing Alex Smith on the road in the postseason? ... The good news for Philip Rivers: he successfully avoided a trade to the Titans. The bad news for Philip Rivers: he's stuck on the same old "meh" Chargers team that's floated around. 500 for the last 5 years. Can they pull a 2014 Cowboys and finally break free from the shackles of mediocrity? Rivers has played like an MVP candidate for stretches in the past. He'll need to do it for 16 games to get to the playoffs. Not sure the talent surrounding him on offense can help get him there though ... The Raiders seem to be trending upward. Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper look like legit studs, Derek Carr didn't look like a total train wreck last season, and they could have a strong running game behind Latavius Murray this year. Unfortunately for the Raiders, "trending upward" doesn't mean much when you've been in a black hole of 4 or less wins the last 3 seasons. I think they break the cycle this year though... all the way up to 5 wins.

NFC Playoffs
Wild Card:  Dallas over Philadelphia, Arizona over Tampa Bay
Romo slings the 'Boys past a banged-up Eagles team; the Redbirds D shuts down Jameis.
Divisional:  Green Bay over Dallas, Seattle over Arizona
Rodgers outduels Romo; the 12th man is too much for my Redbirds.
Championship:  Green Bay over Seattle
Rodgers gets his revenge over bickering Seahawks.

AFC Playoffs
Wild Card:  Denver over Pittsburgh, Baltimore over Miami
Pittsburgh's D is no match for Peyton; Tucker boots one late to send my Fins home.
Divisional:  Indianapolis over Baltimore, Denver over New England
Luck outguns Flacco in tight showdown; CJ Anderson runs wild over NE.
Championship:  Denver over Indianapolis
Peyton guts out a win over his one-time heir apparent to return to the SB.

Super Bowl
Green Bay over Denver
I'd love to see Peyton go out on top (à la Elway), but Rodgers gets ring #2 instead.

That's how it's gonna go down. Only thing left is to ask, WHO YA GOT??

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