The Texans possible dilemma: With 4 games left in the season the Houston Texans (yes my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl) are on pace to get the #1 Overall Pick. As a self proclaimed draft guru I have to say that this would be a mighty tasty scenario for my downtrodden neighbors to the south as they would have two very interesting ways to go with the pick. On one hand would be the “sexy” path as there is no other way to describe the idea behind pairing Jadaveon Clowney, in my opinion one of the 2-3 best defensive prospects to come out of college in the past decade, with JJ Watt, in my opinion the best defensive player in the NFL. Clowney is the most physically gifted defensive player I’ve ever graded yet won’t get my highest grade ever (Julius Peppers still holds that award) due to a questionable motor and mediocre game film this year. Yet JJ Watt isn’t just an elite player on the field but is the consummate pro that could be counted on to guide Clowney on his path to stardom and make sure he stayed motivated and productive. On the other hand is the classic path as the #1 Overall Pick rarely is used on a pass rusher and is traditionally used on the most important position in the sport: quarterback. This year it would be quite easy to fall back on that approach as there is one QB prospect that appears more than deserving of the top pick. Teddy Bridgewater was the #1 rated QB at the end of last year on my board and hasn’t done anything to sway me since. He’s a classic pocket passer with good arm strength, a quick release, and is one of the most accurate quarterbacks I’ve ever graded on the college level. He runs a pro style offense, has started 3 years, has handled the limelight this season with class, and is by far the most ready of the three QB prospects (Manziel and Mariota being the other two) to be the face of a franchise. It would be a very difficult call on it’s own but it becomes even harder when you throw in Case Keenum as he’s a hometown favorite who has played well at times. His QB Rating of 86.1 is ahead of Andy Dalton, RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco, and Andrew Luck despite this being only his 2nd year and not being given starter reps this offseason. A case can be made that in 2014 Keenum would take another step and statistically be one of the Top 15 QBs in the NFL which would give even more credence to the idea of pairing Watt and Clowney with the top pick. In the end it might not matter as in only 3 days Jacksonville plays Houston and if the Texans prevail they could slide from 1st all the way out of the Top 5. Yet they are on a 10 game losing streak and with a few more bad breaks they could still end up with the 1st Overall Pick and the franchise changing decision it would entail. Despite only being a franchise for 12 seasons this would be the 3rd time they get the first pick in the NFL Draft. In 2002 they chose David Carr over Julius Peppers choosing offense over defense. In 2006 they chose defense over offense with Mario Williams over Reggie Bush. Both picks were against the grain with one working out for them and the other, not so much. Only time will tell if Houston even has a chance at either player and what decision they would make if given that chance but if I were them I’d choose the quarterback. Andrew Luck and RGIII two years ago were given far more fanfare than Teddy Bridgewater is receiving this year but in my opinion Bridgewater is neck and neck with Luck as the 3rd best QB I’ve ever graded. The Texans just this Sunday outplayed the Patriots in almost every facet of the game yet still came out losers simply because they didn’t have Tom Brady. When you can get that truly elite QB you do everything in your power to do it and in my opinion Teddy Bridgewater is that guy.
Justin Tuck: Justin on Sunday night had 4 sacks against the Redskins and all I’ve heard is how “he’s back” and how “he’s what’s missing from the Giants” and it cracks me up. After his surprising 4 sack performance he still only has 6.5 sacks on the season and is on pace to have his third straight sub double digit sack season in a row. This isn’t a slump, this is a career trajectory, and it’s been pointing down for awhile. From 2007-2010 he had 39.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles yet in the almost 3 years since then he has only 15.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. The Giants have been a team that has relied on their pass rush to be dominant but anyone thinking Tuck is “just rounding into form” is fooling themselves as he’s a washed up player on the wrong side of 30 and will never again have a double digit sack season. Last Sunday was just a fluke event that re-ignited the hope in Giants fans around the country but in a few games they’ll once again realize that he’s done and will admit that JPP needs a new rushing partner. The Giants let Osi Umenyiora go this offseason despite him having 21.5 sacks and 6 FF (both superior to Justin Tuck) in the past 3 seasons and I think they picked the wrong pass rusher to let go. It’s time fans and commentators stopped talking about how Tuck is in a slump and start talking about how he’s washed up. It’s a much more valid argument at this point in time.
Cutler or McCown: It’s interesting how in the past few weeks I’ve read reports about Jay Cutler “reluctantly accepting” that he’s going to be franchised this offseason. That’s due to the fact that Chicago hasn’t even broached extension talks with him and everyone assumes there is no possible way they’d let Cutler leave via free agency. Yet I personally think that would make a ton of sense as the Bears are a mediocre team that is aging rapidly on defense and the last thing they should be doing is signing a mediocre quarterback to a 5 year $75 million type deal. I wonder if even that would get Cutler signed but, either way, I wouldn’t consider such a pricey deal for a QB with a career QB Rating of 84 and with only one postseason win to his name. This season McCown has clearly outplayed Cutler as he has a higher completion percentage (65 to 63), higher yards per attempt (7.9 vs. 7.2), more yards per game (238 vs. 228), a better TD/INT ratio (9/1 vs. 13/8) and a better QB Rating (103 vs. 88) than Cutler despite playing with the same supporting cast. Combine that with the fact that McCown could be re-signed on a 1 or 2 year deal at a reasonable rate that would allow the team the financial flexibility to add young talent to their aging defense and I think it makes all the sense in the world to trade Cutler or let him go on an overpriced deal to some needy franchise. The Broncos shocked the world by trading Cutler for two first round picks and 4 ½ years later it’s obvious that they were right as they ended up with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Tim Tebow, Rober Ayers, Kyle Orton, Richard Quinn, and Seth Olsen while the Bears only added Jay Cutler and Johnny Knox. Despite Tebow’s ineptness these past 2 seasons it’s obvious this was a landslide victory for the Broncos as the trade essentially set the stage for Peyton Manning’s current offense which is the #1 offense in the NFL this season. What’s so annoying about the Jay Cutler debate is defenders of his will point to his poor offensive line and lack of offensive firepower around him yet this season he’s playing in one of the most talented offenses in the NFL and he still can’t dominate. When your running back is Matt Forte and your two starting wideouts are Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery yet you still can’t be any better than 15th in the NFL in QB Rating then the problem is with you. Cutler has been average to below average statistically throughout his career, he’s never had a single season with a QB Rating higher than 88 (for all you Romo haters out there: Romo’s career LOW QB Rating is 90.5!), and it’s time Chicago pulled the plug. Re-sign McCown, try and trade Cutler for whatever you can get, and re-stock the defense via free agency and the draft as that is a much better plan for rebuilding the Bears than giving Cutler a new contract. I made a similar argument just 9 months ago with the Ravens and Joe Flacco yet they chose the path of least resistance and overpaid for their quarterback. Less than one season later they’re already regretting it and that’s despite having a Lombardi Trophy to ease the pain. Chicago has had some of the worst QB play of any NFL franchise over the past 50 years but that shouldn’t shame them into overpaying for Cutler. With 3 quality QB prospects this April (Bridgewater, Manziel, Mariota) and a solid stop-gap on hand in Josh McCown the Bears have the chance to make a smart yet unpopular decision and end the Cutler era. I doubt they do it but they should.
Top 100 Updated 11/5/13 (PR is pass rusher not punt returner)
- Teddy Bridgewater QB Louisville Jr.
- Jameis Winston QB Florida St. Freshman
- Todd Gurley RB Georgia Soph
- Jadeveon Clowney DE South Carolina #7 6’6 254 Jr.
- Johnny Manziel QB Texas A&M Soph
- Anthony Barr PR UCLA #11 Sr.
- Marcus Mariota QB Oregon Soph
- Robert Nkemdiche DE Ole Miss Freshman
- Marqise Lee WR USC #9 6’1 195 Jr.
- Mike Evans WR Texas A&M Soph
- Taylor Lewan OT Michigan Sr.
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins TE Washington Jr.
- TJ Yeldon RB Alabama Soph
- Amari Cooper WR Alabama Soph
- Aaron Donald DT Pittsburgh #97 Sr.
- Jake Matthews OT Texas A&M Sr.
- Jarvis Landry WR LSU Jr.
- Ifo Ekpre-Olumu CB Oregon Jr.
- Sammy Watkins WR Clemson #2 6’1 180 Jr.
- Jason Verett CB TCU #2 Sr.
- Will Sutton DT Arizona St. Sr.
- Duke Johnson RB Miami Soph
- Vernon Hargreaves III CB Florida Freshman
- Allen Robinson WR Penn St. Jr.
- De’Anthony Thomas RB Oregon Jr.
- Davonte Fields PR TCU Soph
- Jeremy Hill RB LSU Soph
- Leonard Williams DT USC Soph
- Jace Amaro TE Texas Tech Jr.
- Stephon Tuitt DE Notre Dame Jr.
- Rashad Hageman DT Minnesota Sr.
- Kyle Van Noy LB BYU Sr.
- Eric Ebron TE North Carolina Jr.
- Cyrus Kouandjio OT Alabama Sr.
- Tony Conner S Ole Miss Freshman
- Vic Beasley PR Clemson Sr.
- James Hurst OT North Carolina #68 6’6 310 Sr.
- Antonio Richardson OT Tennessee Sr.
- Odell Beckham WR LSU Jr.
- Tyler Johnstone OT Oregon Soph
- Anthony Johnson DT LSU Jr.
- Jalen Mills CB LSU Soph
- Travis Swanson C Arkansas Sr.
- Louchez Purifoy CB Florida Jr.
- Louis Nix DT Notre Dame Jr.
- DeMarcus Lawrence PR Boise St. Sr.
- Quandre Diggs CB Texas #28 5’10 192 Jr.
- Craig Loston S LSU #6 Sr.
- Shaq Thompson LB Washington Soph
- CJ Mosley LB Alabama #32 Sr.
- Aaron Lynch PR South Florida #19 6’6 265 Jr.
- Josh Stewart WR Oklahoma St. Jr.
- Kevin Hogan QB Stanford Soph
- Gabe Jackson OG Mississippi St. Sr.
- Dominique Easley DT Florida #2 6’2 285 Sr.
- Laquon Treadwell WR Ole Miss Freshman
- Arik Armstread DT Oregon Soph
- Jordan Matthews WR Vanderbilt Sr.
- Bryan Stork C Florida St. Sr.
- Haha Clinton-Dix S Alabama Jr.
- Lache Seastruck RB Baylor Jr.
- Dri Archer RB/WR Kent St. Sr.
- Ka’Deem Carey RB Arizona Sr.
- Chris Young LB Arizona St. Sr.
- Shayne Skov LB Stanford Sr.
- Ben Gardner 3-4 DE Stanford Sr.
- Deshazor Everett S Texas A&M Jr.
- Bralon Addison WR Oregon Soph
- Ego Ferguson Jr. DT LSU Jr.
- Brett Hundley QB UCLA Soph
- Morgan Breslin PR USC Sr.
- Andrew Jackson LB Western Kentucky Sr.
- Dion Bailey LB USC Jr.
- Kyle Fuller CB Virginia Tech Sr.
- Aaron Colvin CB OU Sr.
- Cyril Richardson OG Baylor Sr.
- Brandon Coleman WR Rutgers Sr.
- Zach Martin OG Notre Dame Sr.
- Marcus Roberson CB Florida Jr.
- James Wilder Jr. RB Florida S. Jr.
- Trai Turner OG LSU Soph
- Xavier Su’a-Filo OG UCLA Jr.
- Justin Gilbert CB Oklahoma St.
- Shaq Lawson PR Clemson Freshman
- Kenyon Drake RB Alabama Soph
- Deion Barnes DE Penn St. Soph
- Damian Swann CB Georgia Jr.
- Karl Joseph S West Virginia Soph
- Alfred Blue RB LSU Jr.
- Christian Hackenburg QB Penn St. Freshman
- Dee Ford PR Auburn Sr.
- Kei’Varae Russell CB Notre Dame Soph
- Nelson Agholar WR USC Soph
- Cedric Ogbuehi OT Texas A&M Jr.
- Trey Millard FB OU Sr.
- LaMarcus Joyner CB Florida St. Sr.
- Zach Mettenberger QB LSU Sr.
- Vinny Sunseri S Alabama Jr.
- Devante Parker WR Louisville Jr.
- Derek Carr QB Fresno St. Sr.
A few thoughts: The quarterbacks are going to be the focus the next two drafts (2014, 2015) as Bridgewater and Winston both have everything you could ask for in a franchise type QB and Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota arguably have higher upsides than either of those two guys but will likely be downgraded due to other factors. I have all four players in my Top 7 best players in the nation and I doubt any of them drop from now until draft day. Manziel will be interesting to watch as he continues to worry me with his on and off the field behavior. He got off social media this season but his demeanor on the sideline of the UTEP game was very poor. I’d be hesitant to make the kid the face of my franchise but I still have him as my 5th best player as he’s just too talented to ignore. Mariota is the hot item to talk about right now among scouts but I have him as the #4 QB (McShay thinks he’s the best-as if that means anything but it’s still good to mention) because Mariota is almost painfully shy and I question whether he’ll ever be a vocal leader for a team. The kid could be eaten up by an aggressive media so I hope he goes to a smaller franchise like Jacksonville or Tampa Bay. Also he has below average zip on his passes, had some very poor passing games early in the season, and throws more passes between 0-10 yds from the line of scrimmage than any other QB. That’s why I’m most comfortable with Bridgewater as the kid already looks like he could run an NFL offense. He lacks the mobility of the other three, and therefore has a smaller upside, but I can guarantee that Bridgewater won’t be a bust and I can’t put that stamp on the other 3…….this draft also could be one of the best TE drafts in recent history if all of the underclassmen leave. I absolutely love Austin Seferian-Jenkins and think he reminds me of a slower Jimmy Graham. He will be devastating in the red zone and is a sure-fire first round pick in my eyes yet other scouts have him as their #2 or even #3 TE. Jace Amaro from Texas Tech and Eric Ebron from North Carolina are the other options and all should be taken by the end of round 2. Ebron is a smaller, faster TE and Amaro is a mix of the two as he has the height of Seferian-Jenkins (though not as thickly built) and the speed of Ebron (probably a little slower but comparable). I like them all but prefer Austin due to his size, talent as a blocker, and ability in the red zone. With this infusion of talent I expect even more teams to go to a two tight end offense……Clowney has been ruining his draft stock per the media but I still think he ends up as a Top 3 pick. I said before that Clowney will test Julius Peppers as the greatest defensive end prospect I’ve ever graded and, while I don’t see him overtaking Peppers, I do see quite a few similarities between the two. Both will leave school early, both have elite size/speed ratios, both will have great sack numbers but questionable impact in the run game and other areas, both have reputations as slackers, and both will have dominant Combines. Julius Peppers took plays off throughout his collegiate and NFL career yet as his career winds down it’s important to note that he’s an 8 time Pro Bowler who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Clowney will infuriate a coaching staff from time to time but he’s too talented to be a bust and he will at times be a dominant player. You wish he would put more effort into his game so he could become the greatest of all time but to pass him over in next year’s draft would be a mistake……It will be interesting to see how the wide receiver position shakes out when all is said and done as there are four potentially elite prospects out there and they couldn’t be more different. Do you want a huge wideout with some character red flags who will be a mismatch against every cornerback? Then put Mike Evans from Texas A&M as 1st on your board. Do you want a Percy Harvin clone who can line up at RB one play, WR the next play, and then be your punt returner later on? Then put Sammy Watkins as 1st on your board. Do you want a pure home run hitter with good size as well that will be a Mike Wallace type vertical threat and force a safety over the top of him at all times? Then put Marqise Lee as 1st on your board. Do you want a big bodied, possession receiver type without the red flags of Evans or Watkins and who will outwork all of them combined? Then you want Jarvis Landry as 1st on your board. Landry likely won’t go first but he’s underrated by many as he has the best hands in the draft (you Aggie fans out there need to calm down. Evans has great hands too but he drops the easy one from time to time, Landry doesn’t) and the LSU coaching staff tells stories about how he’s at their facility on the juggs machine late every night. All four wideouts are underclassmen yet I’m expecting all four to come out so it’ll be interesting to see where they end up. Right now I have them ranked as Lee, Evans, Landry, and Watkins in that order but their 40 times could change my opinion as wide receiver and cornerback are two positions where 40 times really do seem to apply to how successful they are at the next level….last year I saw no star talent at cornerback until Dee Milliner blew the doors off the Combine with a 4.37 40. Since then he’s been benched twice by the Jets and is on his way to having one of the worst rookie seasons of any first rounder. Once again I look around and can’t find any star talent at the position as Ifo Ekpre-Olumu from Oregon, Jason Verett from TCU, and Louchez Purifoy from Florida are the top 3 who could be eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft and none look better than mid 1st rounders as of now. Not since Patrick Peterson was patrolling the secondary in LSU in 2010 has college football had a truly dominant cornerback and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Cornerbacks almost never get taken in the Top 3 due to those spots being used for positions like quarterback, left tackle, and pass rusher which are more coveted. History though says that the truly elite cornerback like a Peterson (2011), Champ Bailey (1999), or Charles Woodson (1998) only comes around once or twice a decade and next time one becomes available I think I’m going to trumpet them as deserving of the top selection as they’re worth their weight in gold…..Ole Miss has three freshman (Nkemdiche, Conner, and Treadwell) who are already ranked as Top 60 players. Considering none of them will be eligible till the 2016 NFL Draft, I think Ole Miss will win a few games in the meantime.
With the NBA season ready to begin for Dallas tonight I wanted to take a look at the season ahead for the hometown Mavericks. The media has the Mavs pegged as a “middle class” team in the West that will be battling for the 7th or 8th playoff spots with a number of other teams like the Lakers, Trailblazers, Jazz, and Timberwolves. I disagree with this opinion as I actually am very intrigued by the talent assembled on the fly this past offseason and think this team is night and day better both mentally and talent wise than last year’s squad. Of course I have noticed that when it comes to the Mavericks I’m an eternal optimist but when it comes to the Cowboys I’m an eternal pessimist so maybe this season preview should be taken with a grain of salt. Below I’ll break down why I think the Mavs won’t just make the playoffs but will be in contention for a playoff seeding as high as #4. Last year the Mavs were 41-41 as the #10 team in the West while the Clippers were 56-26 as the #4 seed. I honestly think a 15 game improvement is possible with this squad and below I’ll give the 5 reasons why.
Efficient scorers: When looking at the compilation of this roster the first thing one notices is that this will clearly be an offensive team. There are a few defensive gems on this roster like Marion, Dalembert, Crowder, and Ellington but overall this is a team that will win by outscoring its opponent. I don’t think you can win a championship with that formula but you can definitely win enough games to be a playoff team and it was proven last year when poor defensive teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Nets, and Rockets all made the playoffs. Dallas will only need to be an average defensive team to be successful because they have a plethora of scorers on their roster and they all are efficient. Last year the Mavericks had the #2 (Jose Calderon), #31 (Shawn Marion), #32 (Vince Carter), and #45 (Dirk Nowitzki) most efficient scorers in the NBA. That is 4 of the 45 most efficient scorers in the league which is only superior to one team: The Miami Heat, who have 5 of the top 49 most efficient scorers. The average NBA fan focuses far too much on cumulative stats and not enough on efficiency stats as that is where wins and losses come from. The Mavs understand this and have built their roster around efficient scorers who they think mesh well together. The one exception to this case is Monta Ellis who has been one of the least efficient players in the NBA the past few seasons. His last season in Milwaukee where he shot 41.6% from the field and an atrocious 28.7% from three was the low point of his career. Yet he played on a bad team that force fed him the ball and gave him no direction. In 2007-2008 with plenty of talent around him and a talented coach (Don Nelson) giving him pointers he had his best season with 53% FG. Clearly Dallas thinks that if Monta can be put around efficient scorers he will adapt to their style of basketball and change his mindset. That is the expectation as if Monta can reduce his scoring (career 19.4 ppg) and increase his assists (career 4.7 apg) the Mavericks could become an offensive juggernaut.
Low turnover ball handlers: While most focus on FG% and true shooting % when discussing efficiency in the game of basketball the turnover rates of your star players is a stat I like to focus on. Anyone who watched the Mavs last season saw that ballhandling was a problem for them as they had no one who could consistently run their offense and get players the ball in their preferred spots. It showed in the assist to turnover ratio as the Mavs had no one in the Top 20 (Mike James interestingly enough was their best performer at #34) for the first time since 2007. Jason Kidd was a perennial Top 5 assist to turnover performer and the dropoff to Mike James and Darren Collison was often painful to watch. Last year’s Mavs team wasn’t very talented but the point guard play made it sometimes seem even worse as plays weren’t run smoothly, mismatches weren’t spotted, and a flood of turnovers too often knocked the Mavs out of a game that they were just in a few minutes before. That won’t happen this year as the Mavs didn’t just upgrade but went straight to the top with their acquisition of Jose Calderon. Calderon has been one of the three best assist to turnover players in the league each of the past 7 years. He IS the best in the league in this statistic besting everyone over that period including Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Rajon Rondo. This year I think fans will appreciate Calderon’s point guard play as he will protect the ball, distribute it correctly, and return the Mavs to the free flowing style of play Dallas had grown accustomed to under Kidd.
Elite long range shooters: Speaking of Calderon, did I mention that he led the NBA in three point percentage at 46.1%! That is an astounding percentage considering it would mean someone had to shoot 69% from the 2 point area to equal his points per shot production he got every time he shot a three. It was the 2nd highest mark in the past 3 NBA seasons and cements his status as one of the deadliest bombers in the league yet he will hardly be alone in that category for Dallas as Dirk last year was 22nd in the league at 41.4% (1st among non-PG/SG/SFs), Vince Carter was 27th at 40.6%, and Wayne Ellington was 35th at 39.2%. Only the Miami Heat (are you seeing a pattern here?) had a better ranked group of shooters than the Mavs do as they had 4 of the top 27 shooters last year. The Mavs lack the defense to shutdown an opponent but they don’t lack the firepower to win their fair share of shootouts this season and I expect the long ball to play a large role in their offense.
Motivated players: Dirk is coming off two injury plagued seasons which have been rather difficult to watch. The national media has largely forgotten the most recent player, not named LeBron James, named NBA Finals MVP as his team has been an afterthought and his play has noticeably deteriorated. Yet Dirk seems re-energized with a new set of teammates, a new woman in his life, and now a new baby girl born to the married couple recently. Mark Stein indicated it was the best he’s seen Dirk in preseason maybe ever and I fully expect him to return to the +20 pts on +48% FG that we’ve become accustomed to. For Monta Ellis it’s an important season too as this offseason he expected to cash in and instead was served a little humble pie by the 30 NBA teams. Ellis turned down a 3 year $36 million extension by the Milwaukee Bucks and had his agent advise all teams he was seeking a minimum of 4 years $40 million for his services. Instead he garnered no interest in the first few weeks of free agency and eventually settled on Dallas’ 3 year $25.08 million deal which really is a 2 year $16.36 million deal with a player option for the 3rd season at $8.72 million. It’s money that would make most people blush but for Ellis it must have been a huge disappointment. Also it might have been the first time he realized how the majority of NBA coaches and executives think about his game as I can’t remember the last time more vindictive things were said about another team’s free agent. He had an attitude. He wasn’t coachable. He was a coach killer. He was selfish. He wouldn’t know a good shot if it hit him in the head. Ellis has been the best or the 2nd best player on almost every team he’s ever been on yet he’s also played for quite a few bad teams. I have a feeling he’s motivated to not only put up big stats but also to fit in and be a more steady player so that he can prove to the rest of the NBA that they were wrong about him. Finally there is Jose Calderon, the consummate pro, who has had so much success internationally and has been such a star to stat geeks like me but who is still relatively unknown due to his stints in Toronto, Detroit, and Milwaukee. Jose finally is playing in a large market and is finally teamed up with a legit NBA star in Dirk Nowitzki. Now is his time to shine and have his coming out party as if he continues his efficient ways and helps Dallas regain relevancy in the West the attention will come.
Rick Carlisle: The Mavs are replacing 9 of the 15 players on their roster and have 3 new starters around Nowitzki and Marion. Normally I would say that would end in disaster but I’m fully confident Dallas can pull it off because of Carlisle. Other than Popovich there is no coach in the NBA I’d rather have than Rick as he’s a great combination of players coach and disciplinarian. He gets the best out of his players and is adept at changing systems to fit his team’s strengths yet also has a core of beliefs in how you win in the NBA. You win with intelligent players who work hard and work together. Whether it’s the defensive oriented teams he had in Indiana and Detroit or the offensive minded teams he’s had in Dallas you know a Rick Carlisle team will be smart, hard working, and work together as a team. With so many new faces I suspect there will be some early growing pains but by January or February I think Carlisle will have this team playing up to their potential and transform them into a fearsome team to face come playoff time. My prediction is the Mavericks start out slowly but eventually catch fire and surprise people by making a run at one of the Top 4 spots in the West. Due to the slow start I think they’ll come up short but they’ll still end with +50 wins, a playoff berth, and the #5 seed ahead of a few more high profile teams like the Warriors, Rockets, or Grizzlies.
3 trades that should happen: For whatever reason the NFL has fewer trades than pretty much any other professional sport. I’m unsure if it’s the reluctance of GMs, the belief that without a full offseason with a team that a player won’t be able to grasp the schemes, or coaches’ beliefs that their “next man up” strategy will get the job done but every year there are trades that should be made that aren’t and I always wonder why. Below are three trades that I see as a win-win scenario and which should be completed before the trade deadline:
Tony Gonzalez to the Patriots for a 4th rounder: To me this is a no brainer as the Patriots are struggling offensively due to their lack of quality receiving options for Tom Brady and this is likely Gonzalez’s last season so it’d be disappointing to see him waste away on a team that has almost no chance at getting to the postseason. Adding Gonzalez to a healthy Gronkowski would make the Patriots immediate Super Bowl favorites as their two tight end sets would again be the envy of the league and Brady would have a dominant possession target to go to when teams inevitably resume double teaming Gronk. Tony would join Rodney Harrison, Junior Seau, Corey Dillon, and other esteemed veterans who spent their last few years chasing a ring with Brady. I know Tony has denied any interest in leaving the Falcons this season but if a situation like this presented itself I’d be shocked if he declined. Also it wouldn’t surprise me if Gonzalez would continue playing in 2014 if he joined the Patriots as they are the type of no nonsense organization that I suspect he would be perfectly in tune with.
Josh Gordon to the Chiefs for a 3rd rounder: Some might be wondering why the rebuilding Browns would be willing to part with their 22 year old WR who already is their best offensive player and at $632,000 for 2013 is the type of young and cheap talent that every rebuilding team would want. What those people aren’t understanding is that Gordon is in Stage 3 of the league’s drug testing policy and the next positive test against him will get him an automatic 1 year suspension. Gordon to me seems like a kid that lacks the maturity to handle success and I have a feeling that in the next 12-18 months he will get that 1 year suspension. The Browns could very well be enjoying the last bit of production they will ever get from their 2012 2nd round pick and I think it might be the best option for everyone if Gordon was traded to a contender. If he was moved to Kansas City the Chiefs would finally have an outside threat to complement the skills of Dwayne Bowe, who is more of a possession receiver and hasn’t been able to get on track due to team’s double teaming him regularly. Also going from a 3-4 team, and losers of 2 straight, to a 7-0 team couldn’t help but improve his focus on football. The hope will be that getting Gordon to a contender will keep him motivated and focused so he doesn’t get that 3rd strike by the league yet, even if he doesn’t stay clean, Gordon still might be worth trading for as he’s 6th in the league in yards per game at 90 yards a game and could be even deadlier if he gets an upgrade to his quarterback. The Browns could recoup some of what they’ve invested into Gordon by getting a 3rd round pick from the Chiefs and being rid of the constant worry that their best offensive player will be taken from them while the Chiefs can add a supremely talented player for their Super Bowl run in 2013 and gamble that he stays clean. If he stays clean the Chiefs get a steal as Gordon is one of the 5 best young wideouts in the game and if he doesn’t stay clean then at least they were able to use the last bit of his production to help them contend for a championship in 2013.
Hakeem Nicks to the Colts for a 2nd rounder: This last trade is the most complex as the Giants won’t be re-signing Nicks this offseason but he’s been productive this year so he will likely be netting them a 3rd or 4th round compensatory pick anyway. That means the Giants wouldn’t even consider trading him unless they can get more than that level of compensation and no one would be willing to offer more than that unless they had a long term extension in place. The complexity makes the Colts the best trade partner for the Giants as they’ve traded away their 1st rounder in 2014 and their 2nd rounder in 2013 for young talents in Trent Richardson and Vontae Davis respectively so they clearly are willing to use draft picks but also because any young wideout would jump at the chance to hitch their career to a young budding superstar like Andrew Luck. If a team like the Chiefs came calling for Hakeem Nicks I suspect his agent would be hesitant to sign a long term contract with Alex Smith as his quarterback but with Luck an extension I think could be worked out with ease. Reggie Wayne is out for the year with an ACL injury so Nicks will obviously help them in 2013 but, with Wayne about to turn 35, his days as a true #1 WR are numbered and it’d be the best scenario for both parties if they could add Nicks which would move Wayne to the #2 WR spot and TY Hilton to the #3 spot. The obvious downside is that the Colts would be missing both their 1st and 2nd round picks in this upcoming draft but considering those picks added young talent like Richardson and Nicks I don’t think you can make the normal argument of a franchise “mortgaging” their future. Those are two Pro Bowl caliber players who are former 1st rounders and will be able to grow old with Luck over the next half decade. It’s a gamble but I think it’s one I would take if I were the Colts GM.
What to make of the Cowboys: I considered doing a full article on this subject but was lazy so I just decided to throw it into my around the NFL segment. I watch a lot of football, both college and pros, and I don’t think there’s a more difficult team to gauge than the Cowboys (maybe the Georgia bulldogs, maybe). One week the defense gets 6 turnovers to lead the team to a Week 1 victory and the next week they can’t get the key stop against a mediocre Chiefs offense in a close road loss. That’s followed by a dominant performance against the Rams where they held them to a Rams’ season low 7 pts yet again was followed up by a horrible performance against the Chargers where they allowed 30 pts and Rivers completed 83% of his passed for +400 yds. And of course no discussion of the Cowboys defense this season would be complete without mentioning the 51 pt debacle against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Giving up 51 pts in a game would make an observer assume they were a terrible defense yet once again the Cowboy did a 180 and in successive weeks held division opponents to 16 pts or less on their way to a 2 game winning streak and sole possession of 1st in the division. The offense has hardly been consistent either with Romo one week throwing for +500 yds and 5 TDs and the next week only throwing for 170 yds. That Redskins game was incredibly flukey statistically as Romo threw for less than 200 yds, the Cowboys leading rusher only had 29 yds, and their leading receiver only had 44 yds yet the team still won by 15 pts. I don’t know what to make of the Cowboys this season. Should we be glass half full people and mention how the 3 teams that beat the Cowboys this season are a combined 17-4 this season and the Cowboys nearly pulled out a win in each of those games? Or should we be glass half empty people and mention how the 4 teams that the Cowboys beat this season are a combined 9-18 and the Cowboys are just the least shitty team in the worst division in football? I don’t know as both arguments have their valid points but also have their holes. I have been impressed with the Cowboys new defensive schemes and how easily they’ve been able to overcome injuries. For decades the Steelers have been able to replace key players when they went down due to a fighters mentality that the Cowboys have noticeably lacked in recent years. Last year everyone cried themselves to sleep over how unfair it was that Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee, and Bruce Carter all were injured at the same time yet this season when Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, and DeMarcus Ware all were injured the Cowboys just sucked it up and continued playing solid defense. Bruce Carter and Morris Claiborne have been benched, Will Allen has been waived, and 3 of the team’s 5 best defensive players aren’t currently playing (with two on season ending IR) yet the defense stays competitive. That is a testament to Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli who have rejuvenated this team with a discipline and expertise that Rob Ryan seemed to lack. Ryan has his pluses but an attention to detail isn’t one of them and I’m excited to be rid of the era of 12 men on the field penalties and blown coverages. I’m also excited to see this team finally drafting well beyond the 2nd round. Later this week I’ll be breaking down the 2013 Draft Class of the Cowboys but “spoiler alert” I think it’s their best mid to
late round drafting they’ve done since 2005 when they netted Marion Barber and Chris Canty in the 4th round. I still don’t know what the 2013 season has for the Cowboys but I do know the future looks bright with Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, JJ Wilcox, and Joseph Randle all already contributing.
Case Keenum: Last Sunday Keenum suited up for his first NFL action. Ironically enough he also started which makes him the rare 2nd year player to never suit up as a backup and have his first NFL game be his first NFL start. I’ve been a fan of Keenum’s for years and was excited to see him finally get his opportunity as I thought he could be a quality pro if he ever found a coach that could overlook his height. Due to Matt Schaub having a season from hell and TJ Yates just flat out sucking Keenum finally has gotten his chance in Houston and I expect him to take advantage of it. In his first game he had the unenviable task of matching up against Kansas City who lead the league in fewest points allowed (11.6 per game) and sacks forced (35). In the end he lost but his numbers, 271 yds 60% completion 1 TD 0 INT 110 QB Rating, were very solid and I expect him to build off it. In my opinion the Case Keenum era has begun and he will show everyone that he deserved to be drafted. I graded him out as a 2nd rounder in my draft analysis and as the #6 QB in that draft yet no media analysts had a ranking on him higher than the 5th round and most had him as free agent/undraftable type. Below I thought it’d be fun to post my analysis on him and see what I got right and what I got wrong with him 18 months ago.
Written on 3/12/2012, “Keenum is set to be the biggest “discrepancy” player in the 2012 draft as most have a 5th-7th round grade on him yet I’m giving him a 2nd round grade as my #6 QB. I think the core of the difference in opinions is due to two factors: arm strength and the label of him as a system QB. The first I think is easily proven to be false as he doesn’t have the strongest arm but is at worst in the middle of the pack in terms of arm strength. He showed that at the Combine where he looked to have a much stronger arm than Kellen Moore or Aaron Corp and a similar arm to Russell Wilson and Nick Foles. Yet it was proven even more emphatically in his games when he threw posts or go routes to Patrick Edwards as it was a common occurrence in their vertical attack and often times I saw him throw 40-60 yd bombs. A great example is a throw I charted this season that was 58 yds in the air and looked like a simple flick of the wrist. I think his arm strength is at least average and likely to get much better as he’s only 208 lbs and when he eventually develops into a 220 lb QB his arm strength should improve making it a non-issue for me. The second issue is that he’s been labeled a system QB and this has unfairly given him a stigma he doesn’t deserve. I’ll be the first to say that the system they run definitely inflates his numbers and makes him look better than he probably is yet calling him a “system” QB is unfair as it insinuates the Texas Tech/Hawaii noodle armed QBs who throw nothing but short passes. Keenum is in a system that accentuates the vertical passing game and he throws the ball downfield far more often than most college QBs. This is important to note b/c just last year I was down on Blaine Gabbert as 80% of his throws were within 7 yds of the LOS. That isn’t the case at all with Keenum and allows you to move Keenum out of the Chase Daniels/Blaine Gabbert types and put him in the vertical spread systems that Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin have come out of. Griffin is a good example of the double standard facing Keenum as they run the same offense (Houston began the offense under Art Briles and continued it after he left for Baylor) with similar principles. It’s a more nuanced offense than the Tech short passing scheme that essentially has 3 or 4 option routes which isn’t structured but is a read and react style. Houston’s is a downfield scheme with audibles and a structured approach more similar to a Mike Martz scheme than what most call a “system” scheme like at Tech or Hawaii. Also I don’t see how RGIII is now being discussed as the best player in the draft yet Keenum is bordering on undrafted free agent status despite the fact they run the same system and make similar throws. I’m not arguing Keenum is on RGIII’s level but no one is even mentioning what system Griffin is coming from yet can’t stop mentioning it with Keenum. I went back through my notes and found big games vs. Tech, Oklahoma St., UCLA, Southern Miss, and Penn St. yet all I hear is how Keenum played a weak schedule. Keenum played quality opponents, the system he’s in isn’t gimmicky, and his arm strength isn’t poor. Once you clear those misconceptions up you get a smart, accurate, experienced QB with underrated athleticism who put up elite numbers yet lacks a great arm and has poor height (6’0 1/2). I am docking him for his poor height so he drops to the 2nd round (had a mid 1st grade on him before he measured in) yet even at that lowered grade he’s still the biggest discrepancy” guy in this draft and he will be of utmost interest to me so I can see if I graded him wrong or NFL GMs did. 2nd rounder who is eerily similar to Marc Bulger and my #6 QB 3/23/12.”
-On the CBS pre-game show this morning I watched an interesting segment where the analysts ranked their Top 5 quarterbacks from the 2011 and 2012 drafts. My rankings were as follows:
1. Andrew Luck
2. Colin Kaepernick
4. Russell Wilson
5. Cam Newton
Honorable Mention: Andy Dalton
It was a lively discussion as Wilson, Luck, and Kaepernick all got 1st place votes showing me that there’s no real consensus right now. I’ve gone on record before about how underrated Luck’s rookie season was and will mention it again as I just don’t think he gets enough credit. Kaepernick has the best offensive line in all of football, Wilson has the best defense in all of football, and RGIII had the #1 rushing attack in all of football last year. Luck had none of those benefits yet time and again led his undermanned team to come from behind wins. This week he went into San Francisco and outplayed Kaepernick to send the Colts to 2-1. He did it with a short passing game that the vaunted 49ers defense couldn’t stop and mixed in a number of audibled runs to Ahmad Bradshaw that allowed them to control the clock (36 minutes to 23 minutes). It was also interesting to me that Luck outrushed Kaepernick 24 yards to 20 yards in this game. With the read option offense looking far less successful this year than last year’s version I think Luck will gain ground in the eyes of analysts who currently underrate him. Andrew is the true franchise quarterback on this list and will prove to everyone that he’s the real deal when he leads another weak roster to the postseason this January.
-When I looked at the NFC before the season began I saw four teams head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. Those teams were the Seahawks, 49ers, Falcons, and Packers yet right now three of those four teams are 1-2. It’s early in the season and, some of them have already played each other which necessitates that there would be at least 3 losses among them, yet I’ll be curious to see if these three teams can right the ship. Another loss and they go to 1-3 and suddenly are forced to go 9-3 the rest of the way to get to 10 wins which is usually the number of wins required to make the playoffs. The Falcons have had numerous injuries, the 49ers have no one other than Boldin who can get open as a receiving threat, and the Packers seem to give up +30 points every week so each team has their problems. If some of these “dominant” teams continue to struggle the NFC playoff race could be wide open this year and we could see a number of surprise teams make it.
-Josh Freeman needs to get a reality check. There have been rumors about him potentially requesting a trade due to being disrespected by coach Schiano the past year and a half but I just laugh at that talk. Who would trade for this guy? He’s a pending free agent at the end of the year who had a terrible season in 2009 (59.8 QB Rating), 2011 (74.6), 2012 (81.6), and is well on his way again in 2013 (63.0). The only reason he’s still starting is because his 2010 season, where he had a very good 95.9 QB Rating due to an elite 25/6 TD/INT ratio, bought him a chance to show new management which year was the aberration. Clearly it’s been proven that his 2010 season was the aberration as his career QB Rating is below 80 and his career record is 24-34 in games which he started. Josh can request a trade or lash out at his coach all he wants but if he was smart he’d realize that this will be the last season where he’s the starting quarterback of an NFL team and he should try and make the best of it. Rumors about his lack of leadership and horrible work ethic will cause next year’s free agency to be a rude awakening for the young man as I suspect there will only be backup jobs offered to him.
-I’m still unsure if New Orleans is real or not but I do know one thing: They are making the playoffs this year. At 3-0 they are a full 2 games ahead of everyone else in the division and with a +32 they are only behind Seattle in point differential in the NFC. Rob Ryan has worked his magic and made them an above average defense as they are 6th in points allowed and 10th in yards despite not having even one player on their defense that I would consider a true difference maker. Add to that the incredible number of injuries they’ve sustained on that side of the ball (Will Smith, Victor Butler, Patrick Robinson and Jonathan Vilma were all expected to start yet are already on the IR) and it’s time to praise the incredible coaching job done by the recently fired defensive coordinator. The offense is only 15th in the league in scoring to this point but when, not if with Sean Payton and Drew Brees it’s when, the offense comes around and returns to it’s Top 5 status the Saints will be a scary team to face. They only need to go 7-6 the rest of the way to make the playoffs and I’d be shocked if they didn’t do that. Now the only question is whether or not the Falcons can rebound and force them into a wildcard spot or if they continue their struggles and the Saints run away with the division.
I’ve dreaded writing this article for awhile now. The reason is that Johnny “Football” Manziel is an incredibly complex person and to this point I’ve yet to read an article that gave a balanced and nuanced perspective of him. The ESPN article “The trouble with Johnny” http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/9521439/heisman-winner-johnny-manziel-celebrity-derail-texas-aggies-season-espn-magazine is the best attempt at getting into his head and discussing his off the field issues with perspective but even that didn’t do the man justice as it almost completely was devoid of analysis of his on the field play.
Most articles have either painted Johnny as the villain or as the naïve teenager living in the moment. I don’t think he’s either of these caricatures as he’s too well liked by his teammates and his actions haven’t been severe enough to be the villain yet there’s a consistent and slightly dark pattern to his actions that make me unwilling to consider him naïve or to just blame it on his youth. Johnny to me appears to be a young man in search of a good time. That in and of itself isn’t wrong, and there appears to be a little too much religious or etiquette grandstanding when some analysts comment on his behavior, yet there also seems to be a stupidity to how he goes about his quest for entertainment. Whether it’s his twitter rants, his brazen attempts at getting money for his autographs, or his wild offseason full of storylines and google images to back up those storylines, it all just adds up to a kid that doesn’t have control of his own actions. Doesn’t he understand that by selling his autographs last January he put his collegiate football career in jeopardy and added another strike against him for NFL talent evaluators? He can tell himself he was successful and that he and “Uncle Nate” were smarter than the NCAA yet if that scandal causes him to drop 1 round on draft day it will cost him more than he realizes. EJ Manuel was the 16th Overall Pick (mid 1st round) in the 2013 NFL Draft and signed a 5 year $8.885 million deal. Le’Veon Bell was the 48th Overall Pick (mid 2nd round) and signed a 4 year $4.12 million deal. When the allegations came out about Manziel’s January signing spree the numbers floated were in the $10,000-$30,000 range in regards to the money he received from memorabilia sellers. If that incident causes him to drop from the 1st to the 2nd round he would lose 100-300 times that amount of money. Considering his parents are rich, he’s expected to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft this January, and his room and board is all paid for by A&M I just don’t see why he would take such a risk. Also when you add in the fact that 2nd and 3rd round draft picks at quarterback are usually drafted to be backups initially while 1st rounders are drafted as starters it can be argued that this scandal could cost him a chance to play as a rookie next year. It all adds up to Manziel being irresponsible yet being dumb and being malicious are too different things. In the season opener against Rice Manziel was penalized for taunting when a defensive player was talking trash to him after A&M scored a touchdown. The game was in hand as the TD put the Aggies up 52-28 and it was worth noting that the Rice defender instigated the conversation AND wasn’t showing much class himself by taunting a player in the middle of being blown out yet it was the reaction to the penalty that surprised me. “God damn, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Coach Sumlin reportedly yelled at Manziel as he came off the field. Really? Pointing to the scoreboard when defenders are talking trash to you is the stupidest thing ever? I’ve always considered it going above the fray and pointing out to idiots what really matters. The Rice defenders started the smack talking, despite being in the middle of a blowout, and he can’t point out why they are so wrong? It was a surprising reaction by his coach, yet Sumlin was hardly the only one who overreacted. “How would I have handled it? I would have grabbed him by the throat. That’s not the right thing to do,” said Lou Holtz about the Manziel taunting penalty. Three weeks later TJ Yeldon did a far more vicious taunt in the A&M game when he did the A&M “finger rub” followed by a throat slash yet the reaction to Yeldon’s gesture will be miniscule compared to what faced Manziel despite Yeldon’s gesture being more blatant, being during an actually close game (with the resulting penalty almost costing his team dearly), and being instigated solely by Yeldon. Manziel has a double standard working against him that goes beyond anything I’ve ever seen at the collegiate level. LSU star running back Jeremy Hill was arrested and suspended for battery in relation to a fight outside a bar. Johnny Football possibly was paid for signing autographs last January. Guess which one was the topic of conversation for the past month? Casey Pachall, the quarterback for TCU, tested positive for marijuana in 2012, had his roommate Tanner Brock arrested due to selling drugs out of their apartment (I’m sure he had no idea what was going on), was arrested for a DWI last fall, and left TCU to enter rehab. He returned to TCU 9 months later and immediately regained his starting job yet it’s A&M’s handling of Manziel and that infamous ½ game suspension that drew all the headlines. The objectiveness has gone out the window when discussing Manziel and the media has jumped on the Johnny Football train wreck story without even stopping to determine if it’s a valid storyline. Unfortunately for them they likely will be disappointed, for now at least, as Johnny’s back on the field and seems to be improving mentally each and every week as the off the field news stories give way to his on the field exploits.
The College Player
What is so intriguing to me about the media coverage on Johnny Manziel is that his off the field controversy has garnered so much attention that no one even bothers to dissect his on the field play anymore. That should change going forward as yesterday he lost to Alabama in an incredible game that in my opinion resurrected his Heisman campaign for this season. No one has given him much of a chance at a repeat with ESPN not putting him in their Top 5 preseason candidates, Kirk Herbstreit leaving him off his Herbie Awards, and the SEC coaches voting him as an SEC preseason third string quarterback yet I think he can get it done. In the A&M game he had one terrible mistake, on the 1st half overthrown fade for an INT in the end zone, yet otherwise was incredible and actually had a better game against Alabama than he did last year. Consider some of the stats he put up yesterday: His 562 total yards were 2nd most all time in SEC history, only behind his own performance in 2012 vs. Louisiana Tech. The 628 yards were the most ever given up by Alabama. The 42 points scored were the most given up by Alabama in the 7 year Saban era. Manziel has a QBR of 78.7 vs. Alabama the past 2 seasons which dwarfs the 17.9 QBR registered by all other quarterbacks vs. the Tide over that time span. I’m sure some idiots will make the claim that McCarron outplayed Manziel and should be a Heisman candidate due to their win yet Alabama won due to their running game that A&M couldn’t stop and only were in the game because of Manziel and Mike Evans. For Manziel the Heisman will have to be won by a wide margin in the voters eyes otherwise he will not receive the votes. The tie in other words will go to the field, not Manziel, as he has alienated quite a few voters due to his off the field exploits. Yet if Johnny can put up nearly 600 total yards of offense against Alabama then what is in store for SMU, Vanderbilt, or UTEP later this year? Coach Sumlin knows Manziel is gone at the end of the year so there’s no reason for him to hold him out to avoid injury late in a blowout win and if Sumlin gives Manziel the playing time I expect the numbers will be epic. Of course stats are only part of any Heisman campaign and it will be difficult for Manziel to best his “Heisman moment” from 2012 which occurred late in the season against defending champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Yet late in the season Manziel will be going to Baton Rouge for a night game against LSU and amazing moments have occurred down there in Cajun country before so he will have one last stage in which to perform for voters. If Manziel can put up +500 yards of total offense and come out of there with a win his Heisman campaign could get a boost at the end and allow him to be only the second repeat Heisman winner (Archie Griffin in 1975). Some have already written off Texas A&M from the national championship hunt (I’m already reading how A&M looks destined for the Cotton Bowl again? Really? It’s week 3!) and Manziel from the Heisman race. Both predictions are too dire as there are 9 more games to go for the Aggies and the story of the 2013 Texas A&M football team has yet to be written.
The Pro Player
As an amateur scout the discussion of how Manziel will translate to the NFL is an incredibly interesting one for me. He’s such a rare player that it’s hard to compare him to anyone but if I was to give the three players I’m reminded of the most it would be: Michael Vick, Doug Flutie, and Russell Wilson. He’s listed at 6’1 210 but to my eyes looks more like 5’11 which would put him in between Flutie (5’10) and Vick (6’0) and equally with Wilson (5’11). In terms of speed he appears to me to be in the 4.3-4.4 range which would put him behind Vick (4.2 but at the VA Tech pro day aka unofficial) but ahead of Flutie (he was before the Combine but looked like a 4.6 type) and Wilson (4.53). His accuracy, especially on the run, is uncanny and would put him ahead of Vick or Flutie for sure and even ahead of Wilson in my opinion. His arm strength is well below Vick’s (his ability to throw a ball +70 yds in the air with just a flick of the rest is legendary) and slightly below Wilson but well ahead of Flutie and to me is underrated as he gets good velocity on his throws and has a far stronger arm than Marcus Marriota from Oregon. His mechanics and footwork have improved tremendously after working with George Whitfield this offseason and is far superior to Flutie or Vick who both were lazy in that regard but slightly below Wilson whose over the top release point is elite and helps him overcome his smaller stature. And his character has to be considered well below Flutie or Wilson and on par with Vick as both have a victim like mentality when criticized that is a huge negative due to playing such a high profile position like quarterback. Johnny Manziel will be a major gamble for a GM to take next April as he will be a lot like Tyrann Mathieu was this past draft in that he’s a larger than life persona (Honey Badger with Mathieu, Johnny Football with Manziel) that has maturity issues and is undersized for his position. Yet I truly believe that in the right scheme Manziel could be a Pro Bowl caliber player as Russell Wilson broke NFL records as a rookie yet Manziel is faster and more accurate as a prospect and more productive in college as a player while having similar size issues to overcome. His potential as a zone read QB is immense and his improvement as a passer hasn’t been discussed enough by analysts. This season he’s running less than he did last year as he has only 51 yards rushing per game this year which is down from 108 yards per game in 2012. He’s doing that on purpose as he’s wanting to show the NFL that he’s a threat as a runner but that he can be successful as a pocket passer as well. His completion percentage, yards per attempt, passing TDs per game, and QB Rating all are improved year over year and the game film looks equally as impressive as his footwork, release point, and consistency all are noticeably better. His off the field antics likely have cost him a chance to be drafted in the 1st round but all it takes is 1 team to fall in love with him for that to occur and with the proliferation of both the spread offense and the zone read in the NFL it wouldn’t shock me if someone nabbed him on Day 1 of the draft. As a Cowboys fan I would dread this but don’t be shocked if Chip Kelly trades Nick Foles this season and makes a trade next April to move up into Round 1 late to get his future QB. He recruited Manziel heavily a few years ago and the fit couldn’t be more perfect both in terms of scheme and temperament as Kelly is about as easy going of a coach as you’ll find in the NFL and would probably get along better with Manziel than a disciplinarian like Jeff Fisher or Bill Belichick.
The Johnny Football story has been a wild one to this point. It was part fairytale as he went from an unknown redshirt freshman battling for the starting job to a Heisman trophy winning celebrity in a matter of months. It was part childhood actor cautionary tale as the fame probably came too soon for him and he noticeably struggled under the increased scrutiny. He also resented how with fame didn’t come fortune and went about correcting that, no matter the possible long term consequences. Yet it’s also part football experiment as the Johnny Football story is intertwined with this new era of football of spreading the field, exploiting mismatches, and the rise of the dual threat quarterback. The Johnny Football story wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the advent of this new style of football and wouldn’t be nearly as controversial without the advent of twitter. Jameis Winston has crashed onto the scene in similar fashion this year yet Johnny came first and will forever have his place in history. Johnny broke the boundaries as the first freshman to ever win the Heisman, Johnny’s actions with memorabilia sellers publicized an already divisive issue about NCAA rules regarding amateur athlete status, and Johnny’s exciting style of play further broke down the barriers to the spread offense as now even the legendary SEC is being overrun by it. This is only Year 2 of the Johnny Football story, a rather shocking fact considering how many twists and turns have already occurred, and it’s far from over. Will Year 2 end with a second Heisman, a national championship, a suspension, further controversy, or an anticlimactic injury? No one knows at this point, not even Johnny, and I think that is what makes the story so fun.
With the NFL season under way tonight I thought I’d get my Power Rankings and Predictions in now. Since it’s a monumental task I filled in what I could and published it and will go back and complete the Power Rankings for the other teams over the next few days. They’ll all be done by Sunday so feel free to check back over the next few days if you’d like to get my thoughts on a team that hasn’t been written about yet.
- Seahawks: (13-3) Until the Seahawks lack of playmakers in the passing game becomes an issue I see them as the team to beat in the NFL this year. Last season they had the #1 scoring defense in the league and likely will be even better on that side of the ball. They added two pass rushers in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and have a group of young stars in Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, KJ Wright, and Bobby Wagner that should only be better this year as they enter their prime. It was a dominant defense last year and I expect it to be even better this season so the offense just needs to not turn the ball over and be league average in points scored for the Seahawks to be the NFC #1 seed this season. I suspect a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch and the football IQ of Russell Wilson will get that accomplished and is the reason why I have them as my Super Bowl pick this season.
- 49ers: (12-4) Their offensive line is the best in the NFL, they have not just the best but also the 2nd best linebacker in the NFL, Aldon Smith has more sacks in his first season than anyone in NFL history, and Colin Kaepernick has the talent to be a Top 5 QB. It’s very understandable why most have them as the best team in the NFL but I watched the 49ers-Seahawks game last last season and I can’t consider them the favorite because of that game. The 49ers will be missing Michael Crabtree for the majority of the year, NFL defenses will have much more film on Kaepernick this season than last, the defense lost their top safety Dashon Goldson, and Justin Smith might not be fully recovered from his shoulder injury. All are reasons why I have the Seahawks not the 49ers winning the NFC West, getting the top seed in the conference, and representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. The 49ers will be very good but the Seahawks will be even better.
- Texans: (13-3) The Texans and Falcons seem to be the ugly ducklings of the NFL as no one wants to pick them as Super Bowl picks despite both having rare talent on both sides of the ball. The Texans especially as they boast the reigning DPOY in JJ Watt, a linebacker corp that will be dramatically improved with Brian Cushing’s return, and a secondary that now has ballhawking Ed Reed on the back end. Combine that with an offense that is one of the more balanced in the league and it’s surprising how few people think the Texans will take the next step. Their achilles heal is the Patriots but I’m predicting a down season for Tom Brady and company and therefore have the Texans as the AFC Super Bowl representative.
- Falcons: (12-4) The Falcons join the Cowboys as the best skill position players in the NFL. Matt Ryan at QB, Tony Gonzalez at TE, Roddy White and Julio Jones at WR, and now the recently signed Steven Jackson at RB gives the Falcons unlimited options. Their big issue is on the defensive side of the ball as they only have one above average pass rusher (Osi Umenyiora) and have a secondary full of inexperience. With Asante Samuel battling injury and age the Falcons will often be playing two rookies at cornerback and, while I thought Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford were very talented prospects in the draft, it will be a tough task to be throwing into the fire immediately like they will be. They will have their growing pains but the Falcons offense should keep the team afloat as the rookies adapt and the hope is that by playoff time they will no longer be playing like rookies. If that occurs the Falcons will be legit title contenders but if the rookies don’t develop or there are significant injuries to their defense then the 2013 title chase could be derailed as the Falcons aren’t deep and could end the season with a defense in the bottom quarter of the league.
- Broncos: (12-4) The Broncos are most people’s pick as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl. While it’s not a terrible pick I worry about all of the injuries that have occurred already for the Broncos and also question their pass rush, running game, and secondary. I think too many people are focusing on Manning and his trio of wideouts (DeMaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker) and not enough on the fact that their top pass rusher (Von Miller) will miss the first 6 games, their #2 pass rusher left and was replaced by a player half as talented as Dumervil was, their top cornerback (Champ Bailey) looked average last season, their top rusher (Willis McGahee) was cut, their top center is out for the year, and their #2 center is on the PUP list which will cause him to miss at least the first 6 games. I call it the fantasy factor as the Broncos have a great fantasy football team with all of those wideouts catching passes from Manning and with Montee Ball possibly set for a breakout season but when you look at the Broncos as a team I see a lot more holes than I do on the Top 4 teams. Also Peyton Manning hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2009 season yet everyone has him winning the AFC this year? It just seems a little odd to me and I’ll go against the grain by putting the Texans ahead of them.
- Packers: (11-5) The Packers are the last team in my Power Rankings that I consider “Super Bowl caliber.” Ironically enough I actually have the Bengals finishing 12-4 while the Packers only finish 11-5 but Green Bay has one thing Cincinnati doesn’t have that trumps everything: A franchise QB. Rodgers has 1 title under his belt and I fully expect him to have 3-4 before his career comes to an end as he’s on pace to become one of the best quarterbacks of all time and is the rare player that can single handedly win a Super Bowl for a team. Last year he got an absurd lack of credit for the season as the Packers were decimated by injuries and had a game stolen from them by the replacement officials, yet still finished 11-5 to win their division. Football Outsiders ranked them 1st with 108.1 Adjusted Games Lost (a complicated formula that ranks not just the number of games lost but also how valuable the player is who was lost aka Tom Brady’s ACL tear in 2008 was more impactful to the Patriots than Tyrone Crawford’s injury in 2013 will be for Dallas) and a lot of that came on offense as Greg Jennings (8 games) and Jordy Nelson (4 games) missed a number of games, Donald Driver regressed dramatically, their offensive line gave up the 2nd most sacks in the league, and their running game was below average (22nd in yards per attempt). Even with all of those issues Aaron Rodgers was 1st in the league in QB Rating (his 2nd year in a row at #1 and his 4th straight season in the Top 4) and the team was once again one of the Top 5 scoring offenses in the league. Everyone loves to say they think Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL but when he gets 0 first place votes for MVP (Adrian Peterson got 30 votes and Peyton Manning got 19) and NFL players voted not one but two QBs ahead of him (Manning was #1 and Brady #4 with Rodgers at #6) then I think it’s fair that I argue he’s underrated. The Packers don’t have a Super Bowl caliber roster but they still will be Super Bowl contenders until Rodgers stops playing at the historically high level he’s currently playing at.
- Bengals: (12-4) The Bengals are the best team in the league that isn’t a Super Bowl contender. The cutoff this season was at 6 teams and the Bengals are the 7th with the main reason being Andy Dalton. He’s been a very solid QB and the statistics back that up as he was 16th in the league in passing yards, 13th in QB Rating, and 7th in passing TDs yet when I watch the tape I see a player that holds back the offense more than accentuates it. He lacks great arm strength, isn’t a threat as a runner, and relies too much on the greatness of AJ Green. Take Green away from Dalton and we’re talking about a player that has below average numbers and is talked about as more of a great backup type player. Fortunately for Andy, AJ is on his team and will likely be for the next 10 years so there is a chance he’s able to continue to develop and take the next step as a QB. The Bengals surely are hoping for that as they have one of the better offensive lines in all of football and added two young playmakers (Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard) with their first two picks. The Bengals are neck and neck with the 49ers as the deepest roster in the NFL yet unless Dalton takes the next step as a QB they’ll still be on the outside looking in come late January/early February.
- Patriots: (11-5) The Patriots have won 10 or more games each of the past 10 years so it’d be rather dumb for anyone to write them off this season. Yet with Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Welker they were defeated rather easily at home by the Ravens and the formula is the same each time. If a defense can come in and pressure Tom Brady with their front four and drop 7 into coverage the Patriots offense comes to a screeching halt. That is what occurred last year against the Ravens, that is what occurred two years ago against the Giants in the Super Bowl, and that is what occurred in Game 3 against the Lions this preseason. Preseason football must be taken with a grain of salt but that was starting unit on starting unit and at halftime the Lions were up 16-3 and Tom Brady couldn’t find an opening receiver anywhere. The Patriots will still win the AFC East, as it’s arguably the weakest division in all of football, but they won’t do anything this season in the playoffs. They are the #8 ranked team on my list and are not Super Bowl contenders in my opinion.
- Redskins: (11-5)
- Cowboys: (10-6) Da Boys are absolutely stacked at the skill positions with Tony Romo at QB, Jason Witten at TE, DeMarco Murray at RB, and Dez Bryant and Miles Austin at WR. Yet they’ve been that way for the past two seasons and have yet to end a season over .500 as an overmatched offensive line and an underachieving defensive unit have been their Achilles heel. This season I think they made strides in fixing both problems and expect them to go 10-6 and sneak in the playoffs as a wildcard team. They sent away Rob Ryan and brought in Monte Kiffin which should lead to more discipline and consistency from the defense. Also the impact injuries had to the Cowboys defense last year can’t be overstated as by the end of the season they were missing both starting defensive tackles (Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent), both interior linebackers (Sean Lee and Bruce Carter), and their starting strong safety (Barry Church). Those injuries gutted their interior and caused a few horrific performances late in the season against the Saints and Redskins. Every year for the past 4 seasons I’ve looked at the Cowboys roster and considered it a playoff caliber team. This year is no different but we will have to wait and see if Dallas can finally put it all together and get to the postseason. I suspect they will as Dez Bryant appears poised to have one of those rare seasons of +1,500 yds and +12 TDs while the defense should be improved and could become dominant once Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff get back from injuries.
- Rams: (9-7) If I could choose one team for being the most underrated going into the 2013 NFL season I would choose the Rams. Last year they were 7-8-1 while having a winning record (4-1-1) against their division opponents. That is important as they play in the toughest division in football and it only got tougher after the 49ers and Seahawks upgrades this offseason. The Rams led the NFL in sacks last year and have one of the best defensive lines in all of football. It’s also a line that is improving each year as Chris Long is the elder statement at only 28 years old with Kendall Langford (27), Michael Brockers (22), and Robert Quinn (23) being at the ages where each year they should take another step in their development as NFL players. Add in to that mix an impressive duo of corners in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins as well as two stud linebackers in James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree and you have a defense that easily could ascend like Seattle’s did last year. Sam Bradford and the offense is the main question mark as the defense at worst will be a Top 10 unit and if the offense can better protect Sam and the young group of playmakers around him can develop the offense could be above league average. I gave Bradford an elite grade coming out of college due to his impressive arm talent as he’s tall (6’4), strong armed, and accurate yet to this point he’s been a disappointment. His career high in QB Rating is only 82.6 which means that at his best in his first 3 seasons he’s only been slightly below average. That won’t get it done and with the additions of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin to the passing game and Jake Long to the offensive line I think the supporting cast is sufficient around Bradford that anything less than an 8 win season will put the blame on him. This is a make or break season for Bradford and I suspect it will end well as the Rams have too much talent on their roster to not at least compete for a wild card spot next season. They are my surprise team for 2013 and I could easily see them make the playoffs.
- Colts: (10-6) From Year 1 to Year 2 Peyton Manning went from a 26/28 TD/INT ratio and a 71.2 QB Rating to a 26/15 ratio and a 90.7 QB Rating. That was the impetus that had the Colts flip record wise from 3-13 to 13-13 and is the type of development I expect this year from Andrew Luck. RGIII won ROY and Russell Wilson broke Peyton Manning’s rookie TD passing record but Andrew Luck was the rookie who impressed me the most as the Colts were one of the 5 least talented teams in the league last year yet somehow ended with the 6th best record in the league at 11-5 and much of it had to do with the toughness and clutch play of Luck. He was sacked 41 times last year which was 4th most in the league and was pressured an NFL leading 268 times (per Pro Football Focus which counts sacks, hits, and hurries) yet somehow still threw for a rookie record 4,374 yds. He has been given more help this year with an improved offensive line as well as Darius Heyward-Bey and Ahmad Bradshaw yet it will still fall on Luck’s shoulders as I don’t consider this roster playoff caliber. That being said I think Luck is that rare talent who will be leading his team to the playoffs year in and year out no matter the roster composition and expect him to take that Peyton Manning level jump as a 2nd year player. That puts me in direct conflict with guys like Matthew Berry who expect him to regress and if they are right and I’m wrong it will be obvious immediately as few teams need their quarterbacks to do more than the Colts with Luck. If he’s up to the challenge like I expect than they will be 10-6 and repeat as playoff contenders yet if he isn’t they could be 8-8 or worse as this offensive line is still shaky and their defense has little star power on it.
- Bears: (9-7) It seems like for the past decade the Bears have been a dominant defense and have always been just bad enough on offense to keep them from being a playoff team. Since their Super Bowl run in 2006 they’ve been between 7-9 and 11-5 each of the past 6 seasons yet somehow only made the playoffs twice. This year appears no different as I have them as the 7th best team in the NFC or the best non-playoff team in the conference. Once again Cutler will force feed the ball to Brandon Marshall, often at the detriment to the overall offense, and once again there will be huge blowout wins for the Bears. Yet in the end the Bears will be just short and next offseason will become very interesting as Cutler, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, James Anderson, DJ Williams, Major Wright, Devin Hester, Robbie Gould, and Roberto Garza are all free agents at the end of the season. I can’t remember ever seeing a team go into a season with 6 pending free agent starters on a defense and I could see it become a distraction. If the season gets off to a poor start things could get ugly but both the offense and defense have enough talent that I expect them to keep it together and play somewhere around .500 ball this season. Then the housecleaning likely will begin as this team was built by Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman has gone with the idea that we keep this team together for one finally season and then begin reshaping it into a team of his own creation.
- Saints: (9-7) No team is as more one sided as the Saints. I expect them to have one of the top 3 offenses in the NFL this year but also expect them to miss out on the playoffs as they will have the worst defense in the NFL and possibly the worst defense in NFL history. Last year they gave up the most yards ever in history and, while their change in defensive coordinators from Steve Spagnaola to Rob Ryan should help, their personnel looks even worse this year. They’ve already lost Victor Butler, Will Smith, and Kenyon Coleman for the year but also have Jonathan Vilma on IR with the designation to possibly return. That is four starters out for most if not all of the year and the season hasn’t even begun. Their best pass rusher appears to be Martez Wilson, who only has 4 career sacks, and their best cover corner is Jabari Greer who probably would slide in as the #3 CB on many NFL rosters. The Saints will be a part of a lot of shootouts this season but I doubt they win more than half of them and will again be on the outside looking in.
- Giants: (8-8) While many people look at the Giants winning 2 Super Bowls in the past 5 seasons and consider them a dynasty I look at the fact that they’ve missed the playoffs 3 of the past 4 years and consider them a team on the decline and an asterisk team for history ala the 2004 Detroit Pistons. The Giants once were a hard nosed team that ran the ball regularly and beat up an opposing offense with a dominant front four. Neither aspect appears on this 2013 Giants team as their offensive line is already a mess with David Diehl, their right tackle, and David Baas, their center, out to start the season and their front four is high on recognizable names but low on production. Justin Tuck is coming off back to back down seasons and is one more poor season away from being considered washed up. Jason Pierre Paul had an underrated season last year as his sacks were cut from 16.5 in 2011 to only 6.5 in 2012 but still was a force in the run game. That being said he’s coming off back surgery and appears to still not be 100%. If he were to have a down year and Tuck continued his regression the vaunted defensive line of the Giants would be in even further disarray and that would be a deathblow for the Giants as the offense has looked atrocious in the preseason and the linebacker and secondary are mediocre at best. This team will live and die by how their defensive line plays and in 2013 I think they will die by it. This time next year people will no longer be talking about the Giants as former champs but will mention them for what they truly are, a struggling team without an identity that has been habitually overrated by the media. Final thought: With the Cowboys in Week 1 and the Broncos in Week 2 I fully expect the Giants to start 0-2 and have the full spotlight of the NY media on them early this season.
- Steelers: (10-6) Yes the 10-6 Steelers are lower on my power rankings than the 9-7 Giants are but that’s just because the AFC is very top heavy. After you get past the Texans, Broncos, Bengals, and Patriots there is little else to really fall in love with. I eventually settled on the Steelers as Roethlisberger is night and day better than Flacco and because the Steelers had a very nice draft this year with players in Rounds 1 (Jarvis Jones), 2 (Le’Veon Bell), and 4 (Shamarko Thomas) that not only will contribute in 2013 but fit the Steelers mold. This infusion of youth along with a bounce back season by Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley should allow them to sneak into the playoffs as the #6 seed. I’m hardly a fan but they’re the best looking horse in the glue factory so I’ll go with them.
- Buccaneers: (7-9)
- Cardinals: (7-9)
- Titans: (8-8) Ironically enough the Titans would be a playoff team this year if they benched Jake Locker and went with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Locker has been outplayed this preseason, and I consider Fitzpatrick a far superior QB to Locker, so I think it’s just a matter of time before the QB controversy begins in Tennessee.
- Ravens: (8-8) I’ve been arguing for awhile that the 2013 Ravens will be terrible as they lost their emotional leaders on offense (Anquan Bolden) and defense (Ray Lewis) as well as some underrated talent (Paul Kruger, Dennis Pitta). Yet I no longer am as sure about this as I was months ago because I really like the Elvis Dumervil signing and can’t put my finger on that #6 seed in the AFC. In the NFC I have 8 teams I really like as playoff guys with the Rams and Bears (both barely missing the cut as my #6 seed in the NFC) being neck and neck with the Colts who easily slide in as the #5 seed in the AFC. I’m still going with the Ravens on the outside looking in but I just not as sure anymore.
- Lions: (7-9)
- Dolphins: (7-9)
- Vikings: (6-10) The Vikings look primed for a fall from the playoff seedings. They still have Adrian Peterson and a very underrated offensive line with Matt Kalil, John Sullivan, and Phil Loadholt being all severely underrated by the media, yet I don’t see the formula working this year. It all will depend on whether Christian Ponder takes the next step this season and since I don’t see that occurring I can’t justify this roster as playoff caliber. Greg Jenning, Kyle Rudolph, Cordarrelle Patterson, and John Carlson is a solid enough duo of wide receivers and tight ends but neither Ponder nor Cassel will be able to get them the ball. Next year they will be looking to replace
- Panthers: (6-10) At some point it has to be Cam Newton’s fault right? After two seasons of below .500 football Cam will FINALLY have a target on his back. Yes he’s a great fantasy QB due to his running ability but at the end of the day he isn’t accurate, isn’t a leader, and can’t consistently threaten a defense down the field. After Year 1 he was an up and coming superstar, after Year 2 his lack of success was both accentuated but also overshadowed by the storylines created by “the trio” (RGIII, Luck, Wilson), but after Year 3 people will finally begin turning their back on Cam. He’s supremely talented but 3 straight seasons of non-playoff football will change his reputation.
- Chiefs: (6-10) They somehow have become the popular pick as a surprise wildcard team in the AFC and I just don’t see it. Yes they have a lot of talent at certain spots but they also have holes in other areas and still have one of the worst quarterbacks in football starting for them. The difference between Alex Smith and Matt Cassel is supporting cast. In 2008 Alex Smith was a backup QB with 0 starts that year due to his 2-5 record in 2007 that was largely his fault (57.2 QB Rating that year). In 2008 Matt Cassel was a backup who was thrust into a starting role due to a Tom Brady torn ACL and led the team to a 10-6 record. Anyone in football would have taken Cassel over Smith at that time yet now the roles have reversed and Smith is the hot commodity. In the past two seasons Smith has a 19-5-1 record while Cassel has a 5-12 record yet I still say that at the end of the day they are the same QB. The Chiefs have a good defense and running game so it won’t be a disaster but Alex Smith to me is one of the 5 worst starting quarterbacks in football this year so I still see them getting a Top 10 draft pick next year.
- Bills: (6-10) Buffalo is the team that I’m the most unsure about. On defense they have three elite players in Mario Williams, Jarius Byrd, and Stephon Gilmore yet there are enough holes that I suspect they’ll settle for being a league average unit this year. On offense they didn’t add anyone of talent but possibly could be improved due to their reported commitment to using CJ Spiller more regularly. The last two seasons I’ve been a big advocate of both coach Chan Gailey and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as they held this offense together with duck tape. The past two seasons they finished as the 14th and 21st best scoring offense despite having a combination of no name and previously cut players like David Nelson, Scott Chandler, and Donald Jones. CJ Spiller and Stevie Johnson are the only legit talents at the skill positions yet they’ve Gailey coached them up into an league average offense. I see Doug Marrone as a downgrade over Gailey and EJ Manuel, at least in his first year or two, as a downgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick so I expect them to be one of the worst teams in the league. Many disagree with me and my lack of film study on them makes me unsure but at best I still don’t expect anything more than 8 wins from them so the playoffs shouldn’t be expected.
- Eagles: (5-11)
- Browns: (5-11)
- Chargers: (4-12)
- Jets: (4-12) If Rex Ryan wasn’t coaching this defense I would lump the Jets in with the Jags and Raiders as they have just as little talent. Yet Ryan is still a genius defensive coordinator in my opinion and he’ll have Muhammad Wilkerson and Antonio Cromartie exploiting opposing offenses enough to keep them from being the worst team in the league. Of course that still won’t allow him to keep his job so next season some team will get a huge boost when Rex joins their team as a defensive coordinator only. His schtick grew old years ago in the Big Apple so it’s probably best for everyone that he move on but don’t forget just how good he is. This year he’ll play the goat for the Jets but next year he’ll once again get to play the hero for some lucky franchise: Seahawks? Wow that’d be scary.
- Jaguars: (3-13) The only reason the Jaguars don’t have the lowest spot in my Power Ranking is because of MJD. I think he has 2-3 elite more years left in him and one of them will be this season. The Jaguars don’t have a lot of talent but they do have a pair of good young tackles in Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel which should give them enough running room to force feed MJD. Gabbert will once again fall flat on his face and fail as an NFL starter yet I think that’s actually what management wants as they signed no one last offseason (they still have $17.35 million available) and appear headed for one of the top 2 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. Since the top two teams will get to add either Jadeveon Clowney or Teddy Bridgewater to their roster it makes a lot of sense and there’s no easier way to be terrible this season than to start Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. I’m glad to not be a Jaguars fan.
- Raiders: (0-16) Yes I’m picking the Raiders to go 0-16 but can you blame me? Darren McFadden is always hurt and if/when he goes down again the Raiders will have Terrell Pryor throwing to Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Brice Butler, and David Ausberry. I don’t think those playmakers would be dominant in college let alone the NFL so I expect the Raiders to have a lot of blowout losses similar in style to the 22-6 loss they had last week in the preseason.
NFC East: Redskins
NFC South: Falcons
NFC West: Seahawks
NFC North: Packers
NFC Wild Cards: 49ers, Cowboys
NFC Championship Game: Seahawks vs. Packers
AFC East: Patriots
AFC South: Texans
AFC West: Broncos
AFC North: Bengals
AFC Wild Cards: Colts, Steelers
AFC Championship Game: Texans vs. Broncos
Super Bowl: Seahawks vs. Texans
Super Bowl Winner: Seahawks
Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Defensive Player of the Year: DeMarcus Ware
Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jarvis Jones
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Eddie Lacy