NFL

2019 NFL Season Preview

You know the drill. Here is my 2019 NFL Preview with a couple of notes on each team, my Over/Under win total pick (with odds according to Action Network as of 9/1), and postseason and awards predictions.

3/3 CONFIDENCE = Lock

2/3 CONFIDENCE = Bet It

1/3 CONFIDENCE = Push or Close To Push

 

AFC EAST 

  1. New England Patriots
  • The reigning champs have won 15 of the last 16 AFC East titles, and this year is just as much of a lock as ever to make that 16 of 17. Seriously, don’t think twice about this.
  • Tom Brady isn’t the same Tom Brady who threw for 50 touchdowns in a single season and likely won’t be near the top of the yardage leaders by the end of the season…but he’s absolutely still Tom Brady. But perhaps more importantly, he has more talent around him than he has in years – even with Gronk’s retirement. The receiving corps is deep and versatile and they have at least two good running backs in James White and Sony Michel, and even with David Andrews’ serious injury the offensive line is one of the 10 best in the league. If Isaiah Wynn plays up to his first-round grade at left tackle – which a lot of smart people think he will – then you can probably bump this unit up to Top 5.
  • The Pats raised a lot of eyebrows when they handed Stephon Gilmore a $65 million contract before the 2017 season, but through two years it’s looking like one of the savvier free agency moves of the last decade. A true shutdown corner, Gilmore was pretty clearly the best at his position across the league last year – a claim that PFF would verify. He also had a rightful claim as Super Bowl MVP, but even if he didn’t win that, he’s without a doubt the most valuable player on a defense that once again his Super Bowl aspirations.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 11 (1/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. New York Jets
  • I like Sam Darnold a lot too. He has an amazing skillset and was one of the better QBs in the league over the final few weeks of the season, and massive jumps in performance have become the norm for second-year quarterbacks. But let’s temper expectations here. While I’d be optimistic about his pairing with Adam Gase as a Jets fan, Gase is still in his first year with the team – and he comes over from Miami with a shaky-at-best reputation. Darnold is also playing behind a shoddy offensive line and without a true #1 receiver, so I’m thinking that the Pro Bowl nods that are in his future won’t start with the 2019 season.
  • The Jets offseason was certainly entertaining, but one that I wasn’t a huge fan of. I liked the moves to swoop in on Kelechi Osemele and Jamison Crowder at low stock value, but they negated that and more with the contracts given to Le’Veon Bell and CJ Mosley. Bell and Mosley should both be good players for at least this season, but I don’t see the Jets as a win-now team and they went all-in on two guys who I’m not confident will either be superstars in their new digs. Gang Green spent a ton of money this offseason to still be weak on the offensive line, at edge rush, and in the secondary.
  • That all being said, it’s tough to be too critical of the Jets offseason when they landed Quinnen Williams. It’s weird to call the third overall pick the “steal of the draft,” but that might be the case considering it already seems like a foregone conclusion that Williams is the best player in this rookie class.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 7.5 (1/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Buffalo Bills
  • One of my favorite fades of the season, I’d rank the Bills last in just about any other division in the league. My pessimism here is pretty much all linked to Josh Allen, who I don’t think people realize how bad he was last season. I know that rookie struggles happen and that he had an excruciatingly bad supporting cast, but he was inaccurate throwing the football to an unprecedented degree. People are high on him – and the Bills altogether – coming into his second season, but basically all of his value was linked to his scrambling and I can guarantee that was a total mirage.
  • I mostly liked the Bills offseason. To their credit, they are doing what they can to help out Allen. The Mitch Morse signing was one of the best of free agency, and I think Ty Nsekhe is a good player who could thrive in a starting role. And I like the idea of bringing in a variety of running backs and cutting LeSean McCoy. But I hesitate on the offseason as a whole because I hated what they did at receiver in giving pretty big money to both John Brown and Cole Beasley. I’m not sure that Robert Foster isn’t already a better deep threat than Brown and he was already on the Bills roster for next to nothing, and you can’t convince me that ANY third-round slot receiver would’ve returned more value than Beasley. It would’ve been cool to see Buffalo go all-in on an actual playmaker.
  • I keep the Bills at third in the division solely because of their defense. Coming off an amazing 2018 where they finished SECOND in Defense DVOA, they return basically the same group with Ed Oliver in the fold now too. I’m not sure they’ll be the league’s second best defense again, but they do have elite upside with a fairly high floor as well.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 7 (2/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Miami Dolphins
  • I’d like to reward this team for going about a rebuild in a genuine manner, but man they are going to STINK in 2019. It’s just a bad, bad roster from top to bottom – but that’s kinda the point!
  • Even if the Dolphins do take a quarterback with one of the first picks of the 2020 Draft, I loved the move to swipe Josh Rosen from the Cardinals. But that kid cannot catch a break. He has gone from 2018’s worst offensive line under a defensive-minded rookie head coach to potentially 2019’s worst offensive line under another defensive-minded rookie head coach. At some point the excuses will fade and he’ll just need to play better, but for now the excuses are very real and valid.
  • Honestly though, Miami could be a sneaky fun team and I’d expect them to steal a couple of wins. You can bank on some FitzMagic, and the secondary has what it takes the force some opposing QBs into really bad days.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 4.5 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Patriots – 12-4
  2. Jets – 8-8
  3. Bills – 5-11
  4. Dolphins – 4-12

 

NFC EAST 

  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  • I’m not as high on the Eagles as a lot of people are, but there is no denying that they have the best top-to-bottom roster in what is likely the worst division in the conference. Assuming that Fletcher Cox is OK, the Eagles have a fair claim at both the best offensive and defensive lines in the NFL, and that recipe almost always bodes well. (Cox, by the way, is well on the path towards becoming one of the most underrated players in NFL history, and that’s not an exaggeration.)
  • I think it’s pretty naïve to just assume that Carson Wentz is going to return to his 2017 MVP-level form. No doubt he was spectacular that season, but he played with an “organized chaos” style that we’ve also seen from the likes of Andrew Luck. It’s both what made Wentz so good and what got him seriously injured. Considering the contract the front office just handed to Wentz and the consequences that physical QBs like Luck have faced, I fully expect the coaching staff to put a leash on Wentz. He can definitely still be effective, but I don’t think he’ll be the same guy from two seasons ago. (His 11 mostly average starts from last year are also being strangely overlooked.)
  • I lean more towards the “running backs don’t matter” side of the debate than, say, taking one with the second overall pick, but it would have been wise for the Eagles to go bigger at that position. Miles Sanders could very well be the solution, but for a team with a dominant offensive line and an extremely ready-to-win roster, they would’ve been justified in going for one of the Melvin Gordon’s of the world instead of rolling into 2019 with Jordan Howard/Sanders/Darren Sproles/Corey Clement.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 10 (1/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Dallas Cowboys
  • For a team that is so in the spotlight, I really don’t have all that much to say about the Cowboys going into 2019. They are one of the select few teams in the league without any real weaknesses (besides Jason Witten), but they also don’t have too much that generates excitement. I’d be pretty stunned to see Dallas finish below .500, but I’d also be pretty stunned to see them go better than 10-6.
  • Took them long enough, but Dallas finally realized that they do need Ezekiel Elliott in the picture. (I don’t think the Cowboys align with the general running back shift throughout the league.) But even with Zeke at full strength, I hesitate to pencil them in as more than a Wild Card team. I do think Dak Prescott is good and Kellen Moore calling the plays could be a godsend for this offense, but at the end of the day this is still a Jason Garrett coached team with a capped-upside quarterback.
  • I wrote this in this blog last year too…but remind me why Earl Thomas isn’t on this team?

OVER/UNDER – OVER 9 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. New York Giants
  • As anyone who has listened to me talk about the Giants this offseason would know, I am NOT high on their hopes for 2019, so don’t interpret this 3/4 ranking as optimism. The Giants had a bad defense last year, and they open this season without the three best defenders from that team’s roster. Is that good? There are a lot of exciting prospects within this unit, but they are going to suck all over in 2019. It’s a worthwhile bet that the Giants will finish last in the league in sacks.
  • The Giants also have a Bottom 5 quarterback situation, and one that won’t offer any upside whatsoever until the Week 11 bye at the earliest. You might have heard, but they are also replacing ODELL BECKHAM with a suspended and “clearly past-his-prime to everyone besides Dave Gettleman” Golden Tate.
  • Fine, I’ll do some nice words. Saquon Barkley is amazing, and he should have repeat success in 2019. I do think there is real potential for a 2016 Todd Gurley or 2018 David Johnson season given the aforementioned lack of competence, but I’m not expecting it. Despite still having arguably the worst right tackle situation in the league with Mike Remmers now as the Week 1 starter there – and that claim should not be taken lightly – this offensive line actually looks pretty good now.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 6 (2/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Washington Redskins
  • I cannot believe that more people aren’t talking about this team heading into 2019, and NOT for good reasons. The R-Words are going to STINK. Jay Gruden as the first coach fired odds, 2020 Draft first overall pick odds, you name it: take them all while they still have this value.
  • I’m really not trying to be dramatic here, but has anyone else seen this offensive depth chart? Case Keenum, on his fourth team in four years, is the starting quarterback. 34 year-old Adrian Peterson is the starting running back. The wide receivers are…and I’m not kidding…Paul Richardson, Terry McLaurin, and Trey Quinn. The offensive line on paper would be the saving grace, but I’m fairly positive that Trent Williams isn’t suiting up this year, so they’ll be rolling out a left side tandem of DONALD PENN AND ERECK FLOWERS to start the season. Make no mistake about it. This is the worst offense in the NFL.
  • The Redskins defense is absolutely better than the offense…but I also don’t think it’s going to be any good this year. After a couple of years as an underrated unit, the Skins D was quietly pretty mediocre last year, finishing 20th in Defense DVOA. And I’m pretty sure they’ll be worse this year. Landon Collins is a great player who will make this team better, but he’s really at his best within the box and that’s not where this unit desperately needs help. This secondary is going to be truly dreadful. Josh Norman played up to his contract in DC but has major potential to fall off an absolute cliff in the final year of it. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who quit football midway through last season, is in line to see a lot of snaps. And Montae Nicholson, who the Redskins tried to replace during the trade deadline last season since he is not a good football player, is still slated to be their main guy over the top. The defensive line is good, but not nearly good enough to bail out this unit.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 6 (3/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Eagles – 10-6
  2. Cowboys – 10-6
  3. Giants – 5-11
  4. Redskins – 3-13

  

AFC NORTH 

  1. Cleveland Browns
  • Ohhh you better believe that I am buying the Browns hype. I mean, have you seen this roster? Cleveland has a realistic shot at 7-8 Pro Bowlers. This team has real talent at every level with good depth too. A tough division and a new coaching staff could work against them, but I’m not counting on it. The Browns are extremely real Super Bowl contenders this year.
  • I do think we’ve all been a litttttttle quick to coronate Baker Mayfield, but the truth of the matter is that he’s already a good quarterback who has a chance to take a massive jump in his second season. Nick Chubb is already one of the best running backs in the NFL. Odell Beckham is going to go for 1,500 yards and 15+ touchdowns if he plays the full season. There is some cause for concern regarding the offensive line, but I don’t think it’ll be bad enough to derail what should be a dynamite offense.
  • And guess what…the defense should be really good too! It doesn’t get much better than Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon rushing the quarterback from the edges. With the amount of talent in that front four now, I’d be more surprised to see Garrett not be an All-Pro by the end of the year than him making that team. And the secondary anchored by budding star Denzel Ward should be quite good too. There are nitpicks with the Browns, but I just really think this is all finally going to work out for them.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 9 (3/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Baltimore Ravens
  • And that glowing review of the Browns takes me directly into another team that I’m extremely high on. The Ravens won 10 games last year despite a midseason quarterback change to a rookie with a completely different style. They also had one of my favorite offseasons, letting other teams break the bank for some of their free agents while Baltimore simultaneously got better. I acknowledge the real chance that Lamar Jackson doesn’t work out over the course of a full season, but I believe in him and the work that the Ravens have done around him.
  • As I was saying, I think people are evaluating Lamar Jackson too much based off the first three quarters of his playoff game. But people are forgetting that the kid did a ton of good things last year and that he’s not some sort of gimmick. He also has a good offensive line in front of him, some intriguing weapons in the passing game including a potential up-and-coming stud in Mark Andrews, and a running game that should be excellent with Mark Ingram now in the picture. I think it’s slept on that Ingram is still a really physical and really good runner…I think he could finish Top 3 in the league in rushing yards.
  • The Ravens defense was elite as always last year, and you should expect more of the same in 2019. C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith got handed $151 million worth of total contracts this offseason, and yet I don’t expect the Ravens production to fall off much – if at all – with Matthew Judon and Patrick Onwuasor filling in. Oh yeah, and they also added Earl Thomas, just one of the best safeties of all-time who only just turned 30 years old. This group is gonna absolutely dominate.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 8.5 (2/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers
  • The Steelers have an above-average roster on paper, but there’s probably gotta be an odd team out in this division, and I don’t think Pittsburgh did as much to improve as the first two teams this offseason and they already might have been the third best team in the division by the 2018 season’s end.
  • I really don’t care that Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 5,100 yards last year. He’s not all that great. He’ll put the ball in the air 50 times a game and make some big-time throws, but he also doesn’t take care of the ball and will have one less stud receiver to consistently bail him out this year. He still has a ton of help with a great offensive line, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner, but I’m not gonna put my eggs in any Big Ben basket.
  • The Steelers defense should be solid if healthy. They could use another edge rusher and some more reinforcements in the secondary, but they have good players all over and brought in one of my favorite Draft prospects in Devin Bush. He should be able to contribute right away, but even if he’s Jack Lambert I don’t think this defense is slowing down the Chiefs and the rest of the AFC’s elite.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 9 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Cincinnati Bengals
  • Man, it’s hard to find a less noteworthy team going into 2019 than the Bengals. Can we just pencil them in for like the 6th pick in the Draft now?
  • In what could possibly be the final year of the Andy Dalton era in stripes, this offense is not going to be a fun one to watch. Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd are good players, but they’re legit it. The offensive line is seriously bad enough to tank the entire team. I also have no reason for confidence in Zac Taylor as a head coach, and I’m doubtful that AJ Green plays a single snap for this team this season.
  • The defense actually has enough good players to not look so bad on paper, but this is largely the same unit that finished 27th in Defense DVOA last year. There isn’t a single linebacker corps across the league worse than this one. The Bengals will be extremely easy to run against, and teams will be running against them…a lot.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 6 (2/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Browns – 11-5
  2. Ravens – 10-6
  3. Steelers – 9-7
  4. Bengals – 4-12

  

NFC NORTH 

  1. Minnesota Vikings
  • This has gotta be the hardest division to peg in football. There should be three good teams, but I don’t feel confident about any of them being great For the sake of that rule about how multiple division winners don’t repeat the following year, I’m not picking the Bears here. (I also think they’re flawed.) And then I just have too many doubts about the Packers. So that leaves the Vikings. I’m sure Kirk Cousins won’t let me down at all!
  • In fairness towards the Vikings, I do like them as a post-hype team following a season where they were commonly predicted to make it to the Super Bowl. Cousins is what he is at this point. No QB is more dependent on his supporting cast, but the Vikings did make a real effort to improve things on that side of the ball. They already had likely the best receiver duo in the league in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, they shouldn’t repeat last year’s identity crisis with Gary Kubiak now in the mix, and the offensive line shouldn’t be as disastrous.
  • The Vikings defense should really be admired. They had a lot go wrong last year: Everson Griffen dealt with scary mental health issues, Xavier Rhodes completely lost his way, and more…and they still finished fourth in DVOA. Mike Zimmer and Co. seem to just have it figured out. This group could even take a step up if Harrison Smith rediscovers his insane 2017 form.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 9 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Green Bay Packers
  • Well, you can’t knock the Packers for staying put following their disastrous 2018 season! This team is going to have a completely different look, starting at the top with new coach Matt LaFleur. On one hand he gets points for simply not being Mike McCarthy…but on the other hand I just don’t think LaFleur is a good coach? I mean, what did the Packers see here to pounce on him so quickly with one of the most desired coaching vacancies of the last decade? He has limited experience and was kinda a big disappointment in his one season in Tennessee. Aaron Rodgers detractors are idiots, but there’s no doubt that the guy is tough to work with. I can just see this playing out where it doesn’t work at all.
  • For at least 2019 though, I do think the offense will be really effective. And that has way more to do with Rodgers than LaFleur. He played injured and in a 1970’s offense for the entire 2018 season and threw for 25 touchdowns with 2 interceptions and nearly 4,500 yards. He’s a freak. It’s agonizing that Green Bay didn’t bring in a legit second receiving option during their offseason bonanza. But at least Davante Adams is an established star, the offensive line is one of the best in the league behind David Bakhtiara, and it sounds like Aaron “Actually Good” Jones will finally get the bulk of the carries.
  • The Packers defense was terrible in 2018 (finished 29th in DVOA), and boy they went IN this offseason. Aaaaand I still don’t think they’re going to be that good. The front seven might be better with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith subbed in and Mike Daniels subbed out, but if you’re going to put $118 million and the 12th overall pick (Rashan Gary) towards this unit, I’d want to feel a lot better about their ability to get after the quarterback. And I feel the same way about the secondary! In theory they should be improved behind Jaire Alexander, who is already good and could make the jump to a Pro Bowler in his second season. Adrian Amos was one of my favorite singings of the offseason too, and his stability will be especially huge with rookie Darnell Savage starting at free safety. Even with all of that, I still think this group could get burnt a lot.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 9 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Chicago Bears
  • The Bears were my favorite 2018 play. I sniped them as a 12 win team, not a big deal. And with that, they are one of my more confident 2019 fades. I definitely don’t think they’ll be bad this year, but I just see a lot of concerning reasons for regression.
  • Can we talk about Mitch Trubisky? Because I’m pretty positive that he isn’t good and that 2019 could very well be the year where everyone catches on. So much of his value – both in reality and fantasy – is inflated by his running ability, which is fine but not exactly comforting when discussing his progression as a quarterback. He plays extremely recklessly and is due for a rise in turnovers, especially with a full year of tape now in existence with him in Matt Nagy’s offense. The line is good and the rest of the offense is solid enough, but I just bet that Trubisky tanks this thing.
  • The Bears defense is still amazing. Anyone who says otherwise is just wrong. But finishing as the best defense year over year is really difficult, especially when your Hall of Fame defensive coordinator leaves and you are due for some worse injury luck. Like I said, this group is still scary, and Roquan Smith can definitely make the Pro Bowl jump this year. If I’m wrong about the Bears it will be because of this defense, but I just see too much working against Chicago.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 9 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Detroit Lions
  • The Lions have been one of the more boring teams in the league for years now. In fairness, I actually liked a lot of what they did to change things up. But they still just have too many things working against them that I think can’t be overcome, so I’m still just not feeling it. Matt Patricia did nothing to shut everyone up – myself including – who thought he was a terrible hire. They hired Darrell Bevell to call the plays on offensive, who was too conservative for the Seattle Seahawks. And they are still paying top dollar to a quarterback who is mired in averageness.
  • The frustrating part of the Bevell hire and Stafford’s gradual decline is that the Lions suddenly have a ton of talent on offense! Kerryon Johnson could be great, and Kenny Golladay/Marvin Jones/Danny Amendola is an exciting receiving corps. They have a good pair of tackles on the offensive line and a potential stud center in Frank Ragnow if he can get healthy, and TJ Hockensen – while he mayyyyybe shouldn’t have been the eighth overall pick – should represent a massive upgrade at tight end. It all falls back on Stafford and the playcalling, but this offense could actually be sneaky good in 2019.
  • The defensive situation is funny. The Detroit Lions – yes, the Detroit Lions – might have the best defensive line in football. They supplemented an already strong group with a pair of studs in Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels. But after the front four, it gets bad pretty quick. The Lions finally did something to get Darius Slay help in the secondary by adding Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman – both of whom have been good players within the past two years. Still, even if they’re not as bad as last year that secondary doesn’t inspire too much confidence, especially with a terrible group of safeties. The linebackers are also among the worst in the league, and have I mentioned Matt Patricia?

OVER/UNDER – OVER 6.5 (1/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Vikings – 9-7
  2. Packers – 9-7
  3. Bears – 8-8
  4. Lions – 7-9

  

AFC SOUTH

  1. Houston Texans
  • If you want to read in-depth on the insanity that was the Texans offseason, go to…literally any football publication. It was madness and definitely stupid, but this blog is about 2019, and the fact of the matter is that the Texans are a much better football team in 2019 now. I still have zero clue why they had to move on from Jadaveon Clowney, but the Texans’ offensive line was the single biggest NFL roster flaw heading into this season, and it’s now been addressed in a major way. Laremy Tunsil is simultaneously good and ascendant, and he single-handedly makes that unit and this team altogether more reputable.
  • The offense has a ton going for them. Deshaun Watson feels ready to make that final jump into the elite QB tier. DeAndre Hopkins has established himself as the true king of pass-catchers, and the receiving corps behind him is really good too. This isn’t a finished product though. Even with Tunsil in the fold, the offensive line as a whole still isn’t good. I also don’t expect them to run the ball very well, and I’m sorry but Bill O’Brien does not do it for me.
  • I don’t have much to say about the defense. They’re good! Pretty firmly entrenched in that second tier of NFL defenses, and that’s essentially where I land on the Texans…a second tier team. They are one of the easiest division winners to predict, but I also really don’t see this team making it to the Super Bowl. I’m not sure they can handle the league’s elite teams at rushing the quarterback or airing it out, and they are a few teams that can do both well.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 8.5 (2/3 CONFIDENCE) ((Deshaun Watson Injury Insurance))

  1. Indianapolis Colts
  • I’m pretty sure the Colts would have been a playoff team with Andrew Luck under center, and I’m pretty sure they won’t be with Jacoby Brissett in his place. I get that Brissett had been one of the better backup QBs in the league and that he’s ready for this, but come on guys. The “Colts actually might not be worse” argument that’s gone trendy is a dumb one. I definitely think they’ll remain competitive, but they’re much worse off without Luck.
  • As I’m getting at, Brissett could be solid. He definitely has a good enough situation around him as a backup QB could hope to inherit. Frank Reich is a great playcaller, the offensive line is awesome, and TY Hilton and Marlon Mack lead a good group of skill players. It won’t be as electric, but the Colts will still score some points.
  • The Colts defense was one of the bigger overachieving units in the NFL last year, and they should be fine this year. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is probably a head coach in waiting, and they have an All-Pro in Darius Leonard in the middle. It’s not as dependable everywhere around him, so yeah I think this defense will be extremely middle-of-the-road.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 7.5 (1/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars
  • No team screams “meh” this year more than the Jags. I just don’t like the upside at all. I understand that the Jaguars needed to do something at quarterback and that the Nick Foles contract was a last gasp by the current front office, but it’s just not gonna go well. Foles is incredibly mediocre, and his supporting cast is so much worse than it was in Philly.
  • The offensive line could actually grow into a good unit this year, but this offense still isn’t going to scare anyone. Leonard Fournette should be better but I just don’t think he’s an explosive player, and HOW do the Jaguars still not have one legit receiver all these years later?
  • The defense will lead this team again, and there is still so much going for them. Calais Campbell is at his peak for what’s becoming a low-key Hall of Fame career, Jalen Ramsey feels ready to grab hold onto the NFL’s cornerback belt and not let go for a couple of years, and Josh Allen might immediately step in and record 10+ sacks with good coverage. But when you look up and down the depth chart, there are way more holes on defense than there were two years ago. That’s what happens when you spend all of your money in free agency and it catches up with you!

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 8 (1/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Tennessee Titans
  • This one feels like a slam dunk. The Titans overachieved to 9 wins last year, finishing 22nd in Offense DVOA and 18th in Defense DVOA. They reek with mediocrity and I think are pretty clearly the fourth dog in this division…and they’re supposed to go .500? I don’t see it at all.
  • If you’ve read these blogs of mine over the past few years, you’ll know that it pains me to say that Marcus Mariota is finally, officially, not good. By midseason I think the Titans will be going back and forth between him and Ryan Tannehill, and two quarterback offenses always go well! Their offensive coordinator is their former tight ends assistant. This is gonna be ugly.
  • The defense should be fine. Jurrell Casey and Kevin Byard are studs and among the NFL’s most underrated players, and there are good pieces elsewhere too. Maybe Cameron Wake can keep defying time, but I just don’t think this defense will do anything in particular exceptionally well. They’ll keep the Titans in games, but they won’t win them.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 8 (3/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Texans – 10-6
  2. Colts – 8-8
  3. Jaguars – 7-9
  4. Titans – 4-12

 

NFC SOUTH

  1. Carolina Panthers
  • I went back and forth on this one more than any other division. I think all four teams could be good and at least two teams could be really good, which strangely works against their records predictions. I just see it playing out where they’re all stealing wins from one another. And I usually don’t like looking into specific schedules during this exercise, but the Panthers are hosting the Saints in Week 17. Calling it months in advance that it’s flexed into the Sunday Night spot and that the Panthers clinch the division at home.
  • I’m all in on a bounce-back season for Cam Newton, not that his level of play even dropped off that much. I’m just hopeful that he’ll stay upright with a much better offensive line in front of him and the most skill around him that he’s probably ever had. It all falls back on Cam’s health, but this offense is going to be physical as hell up front and they are going to fly downfield.
  • The Panthers defense took a step back in 2018, but I like them to rebound as an upper-half unit this season. The defensive line is excellent with Gerald McCoy now in the picture. Luke Kuechly truly makes everyone around him better, but there are real questions surrounding the pass rush and the secondary. I’m a fan of both Donte Jackson and rookie Brian Burns though, so I don’t think either will be major issues.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 7.5 (2/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. New Orleans Saints
  • Don’t get me wrong…I think the Saints should be good again! I just see them as a team that has probably already peaked in what should be a more competitive division and conference. The Superdome remains the best homefield advantage in football, and the Saints will need to dominate there once again to repeat as division champs. If they lose one or two extra games there – the Saints only lost one game at home all last season (and in Week 1) – then that could be all it takes to lose the crown.
  • I do buy into the notion that we’ve begun to see the decline of Drew Brees. He should remain crazy efficient and won’t dramatically fall off a cliff this season, but the Saints offense really slowed down towards the end of the 2018 regular season and into the playoffs. He could not have more help around him, with potentially the league’s best offensive line, running back, and wide receiver. They’re absolutely loaded, but it all goes through Brees’ right arm. (Speaking of the league’s best running back, I think Alvin Kamara could go for 20+ touchdowns this season.)
  • We’re long past the days of the Saints defense dragging them down, as they were once again good in 2018 (11th in DVOA). They have a superstar in Cameron Jordan and have been propped up by breakout years over the past two seasons. The expectation is that Marcus Davenport – the 2018 first-rounder – joins that breakout club, but if not then this group could be due for some regression.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 10.5 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Atlanta Falcons
  • The Falcons were my pick to win the goddamn Super Bowl last year – how things have changed. It’s true that no team had worse injury luck than Atlanta last year, but it’s also true that they had flaws exposed that weren’t fully addressed this offseason.
  • The Atlanta defense is pretty terrible, even with the players who got hurt last year back in the fold. Deion Jones is one of the rare linebackers who actually makes the whole defense better when he’s on his game, but I’m nervous about him with foot issues still lingering coming into the season. Outside of Grady Jarrett from the interior, they have absolutely no pass rush, and the secondary isn’t nearly special enough to make up for that.
  • I do think the Falcons could be quite good though, because their offense rules. Matt Ryan really has gotten better with age, and I think he’s good for another huge season this year. Julio Jones is a threat for 2,000 yards over any fully healthy season, and it would be nice to see Calvin Ridley take the next step up across the field. (Ridley struggled a lot more than let on as a rookie.) The offensive line has concerns despite two first-round picks being used on it, and it’s scary that they are depending on a healthy Devonta Freeman, but I think the Falcons will still put up a ton of points this year.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 8.5 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • This last place ranking is much more a reflection of the division than my thoughts on the Bucs. I think they’ll be improved, and maybe even much improved! The differences between Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles over Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith cannot be overstated whatsoever. Things are going to change for the better in Tampa, but fans might have to express some patience.
  • The Bucs might be the most fun RedZone team in the league. They are going to throw, then throw, then throw some more. With nothing even resembling a running game and an awesome group of pass-catchers, no joke they might average 50 attempts per game. Jameis Winston’s arm might fall off, but it’s going to be fun as hell to watch!
  • I’m not sure the defense is going to be the league’s worst again…but they sure as shit aren’t going to be good. Bowles calling the shots and Devin White making plays sideline to sideline will make matters better, but the secondary has been and still is a complete disaster. The pass rush won’t be any good either, so start all of your fantasy WR’s against this team.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 6.5 (2/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Panthers – 9-7
  2. Saints – 9-7
  3. Falcons – 8-8
  4. Buccaneers – 8-8 

 

AFC WEST 

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  • I was all in on the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes before last season, so you better believe that I’m running it back for 2019. This team is absolutely awesome and they weren’t complacent this offseason either. I’ll put it simply: the Chiefs are the best team in football.
  • The Chiefs offense was the best in football last year – kinda by a lot – and that shouldn’t change. They have the league’s brightest offensive mind in Andy Reid, the best tight end in Travis Kelce, and maybe the best pair of tackles in Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher. Oh, and have I mentioned Pat Mahomes? He threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his MVP campaign…and I strangely think he could be even better? If this is any reason for concern, I could see it playing out where the running game takes a step or two back. I think Kareem Hunt’s skill was taken for granted and the interior of the offensive line isn’t any good. I’m nitpicking though; this is gonna be a weekly fireworks show again.
  • The Chiefs absolutely could’ve won it all last year, but their defense didn’t do them any favors at the end of the day. With how good the coaching and the offense will be, all the Chiefs defense needs to do is be mediocre instead of bad. That should be enough for them to win it all, and I think they accomplished that mission this offseason. Frank Clark is an upgrade over Dee Ford and should pair with Chris Jones perfectly, and Tyrann Mathieu should provide more stability to the secondary than they had last year. Again, average is the goal here.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 10.5 (3/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Denver Broncos
  • What an absolutely confounding offseason for the Broncos. They made probably the single worst move of the spring by dedicating draft capital and a huge chunk of their cap towards Joe Flacco, who has a very strong claim to be the worst starting quarterback in the league. Flacco can probably throw the ball a mile in that Colorado air, but he’s old with a body that’s taken a massive beating, and he’s becoming less efficient by the year as every other team is completing more passes annually. But at the same time, the hiring of Vic Fangio was probably my single favorite move of the offseason. The defensive mastermind is long overdue for this chance, and I think this roster is perfect for the identity that he’s aiming to institute.
  • Even with Flacco under center, I think the Broncos offense can avoid being a total disaster. They can run the ball with the best of them, and they’re going to run it A LOT this season. Phillip Lindsay is really legit, and he could have a Thunder & Lightning backfield going on with Royce Freeman. Behind a solid-if-healthy (big if) offensive line, they are both threats to push 200 carries this year.
  • I’m extremely bullish on the Broncos this year – especially relative to projections – and it’s all because of Fangio and this defense. I think there is a really strong chance that this is the best defense in the NFL this season. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb coming off the edges are going to wreak havoc on every…single…play. I think the expectation for the duo is 30 combined sacks. I also think Chris Harris is good for at least one more elite season, and even if the Broncos overpaid for both Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan, both will be contributors towards a really strong secondary.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 7 (2/3 CONFIDENCE) ((I REALLY want to make this 3/3 but…Flacco.))

  1. Los Angeles Chargers
  • The Chargers currently have the sixth highest Over/Under total and I don’t see that at allllll. I know they’re coming off a 12 win season, but I just think this team couldn’t have more bad energy going into the season. Derwin James being out indefinitely is a total backbreaker, Melvin Gordon has probably played his last snap for the team, and Keenan Allen and Russell Okung have been banged up. They also just so happen to not have any fans. I wrote this last year about the Chargers too, but they essentially play 16 road games and it’s such a bigger disadvantage than people let on.
  • I know that Philip Rivers is really good, as was the offense as a whole last year (3rd in DVOA). I just think they’ve been playing with fire for a while now and that they’re overdue on getting burnt. The offensive line even with a healthy Okung is bad, and without him it will absolutely be one of the worst units in the league. I know that Keenan Allen rocks and that Mike Williams is crazy underrated and that Hunter Henry is back and that Austin Ekeler is probably good. But every year there is a talented offense that is completely derailed by its offensive line, and I’m banking on that being the Chargers in 2019. And if they can’t keep Rivers in one piece, then you’re looking at a team that could finish 5+ wins under projections.
  • The Chargers defense should be one of the league’s elite units, but they can’t seem to have everyone at the field at one time. Last year it was Joey Bosa who missed a ton of time, and this year it’s James already on the sideline. It’s still a good group with a high floor as is, but it’s a bit frustrating that we’ll have to wait even longer to see them at their best.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 9.5 (2/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Oakland Raiders
  • Will the Raiders be better this season? They almost have to be. But will they be good? I know a lot of smart football people are answering yes to that question but I…don’t see it. The pressure is on with their offseason spending spree, Hard Knocks spotlight, and it being their last season in Oakland, but I just think they have too many core problems that couldn’t be fixed overnight.
  • The Raiders offense is a total mixed bag. Even if the Antonio Brown trade has already gone up in flames, that was a trade I make 100/100 times if I’m running the Raiders. Josh Jacobs could be a stud for all I know, and the offensive line is more formidable now with Trent Brown in silver and black (even if his contract is tough). But like I said, all of these shiny new toys don’t fix the existing problems. I’m fairly confident at this point that Derek Carr is just flat-out mediocre without the talent to keep your hopes up. And left tackle Kolten Miller did absolutely nothing to persuade people the Raiders knew what they were doing when they reached for him in the 2018 Draft. And now he gets Joey Bosa, Bradley Chubb, and Frank Clark six times this year!
  • The Raiders defense is baaaaad too. They finished 30th in DVOA last year and their plan to change things up was…signing Lamarcus Joyner? He’s a good enough player, but he’s also a 30 year-old safety leaving a Wade Phillips defense to join one coached by…*looks up Raiders defensive coordinator*…Paul Guenther. Unless the Raiders know something about Clelin Ferrell that everybody else doesn’t – which better be true considering they drafted him fourth overall – then yeah this group is going to royally suck again.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 6 (1/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Chiefs – 13-3
  2. Broncos – 10-6
  3. Chargers – 7-9
  4. Raiders – 5-11 

 

NFC WEST

  1. Los Angeles Rams
  • If the 24 wins over the past two seasons and a Super Bowl appearance didn’t give it away, the Rams are really, really good. And they’re going to be really, really good again in 2019. Even if Sean McVay got outclassed in the Super Bowl and has kinda become the butt of a joke now that all of his disciples are getting head coaching jobs, the dude is still an offensive mastermind who knows his personnel better than their own mothers. This was the second best offense in football last year, and I see that happening again.
  • The Rams offense on the surface has a couple of things going against them. Todd Gurley might not be at 100% ever again and is in line for fewer touches. And I think the offensive line with its two new starters will slip a bit. And…I’m not sure any of that matters much. Jared Goff has ascended to one of the best pure throwers of the football in the league, and his receivers are going to be running open all over the field. And those receivers are…awesome. Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Cooper Kupp could legitimately each be Pro Bowlers by the end of the season.
  • The Rams defense wasn’t any good last year, but they finished about league-average in metrics singlehandedly because of Aaron Donald. I can’t write anything about Donald in here that hasn’t been written before, but we’ve reached the territory where he’s an annual threat to break the single-season sack record. And considering that he’s doing this all from the defensive interior – where before Donald 10 sacks constituted an amazing season – he’s truthfully on his way towards becoming the Lawrence Taylor of a football generation. As long as he’s on the field, this defense will manage.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 10.5 (2/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Seattle Seahawks
  • The Seahawks were a trendy pick to be one of the worst teams in football going into last season, and I didn’t see it because this was still a team with Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. They went 10-6 and made the playoffs. And now this roster looks better than last year and they’re…supposed to go around .500? Yup, makes complete sense to me!
  • Even though the Seahawks run the ball an agonizing amount and lost the perennially underrated Doug Baldwin to retirement, I think this offense will be good. Russell Wilson has transformed from a dual-threat into the best deep ball thrower in the league, and the Chris Carson/Rashaad Penny duo should efficiently pound the ball. But what gets me excited is Tyler Lockett stepping into the spotlight. The Cinderella of football analytics, Lockett finished first in the NFL in DVOA and Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement among wide receivers last year. This is the same guy who runs a 4.3 and has become a red zone menace, scoring 10 touchdowns last year. He’s not only going to fill Baldwin’s shoes; he’s going to become one of the premier receivers in the league.
  • Guess what? I think the Seahawks defense will be good too! That’s not saying too much with Bobby Wagner in the middle of the field, who you can make a convincing argument around being the best player in football. And then Pete Carroll is a wizard of the secondary so I’m not worried about that group, and now Seattle has Jadaveon Clowney on the edge to balance out a pass rush that was only full of lottery tickets before he got to town.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 8.5 (3/3 CONFIDENCE) 

  1. Arizona Cardinals
  • Would I have made the Kliff Kingsbury hire? No, I would not have hired the guy who got fired midseason from Texas Tech and then bailed on USC a month into his gig. But you know what? I get it, and I think it could work. The Cardinals really hit rock bottom and I respect them going for a complete 180 behind Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. It could blow up horribly, but I do think there’s a chance they hit the jackpot. For Year 1 though, I think it turns out somewhere in the middle.
  • I don’t like pretending that I know how rookie QBs are going to perform, but I do expect a positive year out of Kyler. Assuming he stays healthy – and I know that is a HUGE if — I think it plays out like Cam Newton’s rookie year. Absolute stat stuffing in both the air and on the ground with a lot of mistakes and team losses mixed in. Maybe I’m being too optimistic though, because his offensive line and receivers are both bad.
  • The Cardinals defense really quietly finished league-average last year, a fairly impressive feat for the worst team in the league. Patrick Peterson’s six-game suspension hurts, but this team drafted first-round talent Byron Murphy and signed Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks to go alongside an already solid pass defense. Teams might run down their throat, but overall I wouldn’t worry about this group.

OVER/UNDER – OVER 5 (1/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. San Francisco 49ers
  • I can at least see the logic behind the 49ers being good this year, but I just don’t agree with it. It’s just asking for a lot of faith in a bunch of people who haven’t given us much reason for faith outside of reputation. I know Kyle Shanahan hasn’t had the most talent to work with and has had to deal with more injuries than the usual head coach, but the guy is 10-22 going into Year 3. There is no way of spinning any positives around that.
  • Not only am I out on the head coach, I’m out on the quarterback. Good recipe for success! It’s weird that Jimmy G is still viewed as all potential even though he had three pretty bad starts before tearing his ACL last season. And even though I put almost no stock in preseason, all the talk is that Garoppolo has looked terrible. He also has a receiving corps with Dante Pettis as the main wideout. Even with George Kittle, a good offensive line, and the awesome-when-healthy Matt Breida in the picture, I don’t trust the core of this offense whatsoever.
  • The defense doesn’t do much for me either even though they put a ton of work into it this offseason. There are a few good players spread throughout – including a stud in DeForest Buckner and a potential stud in Nick Bosa – but there are just still weak links. San Fran also overpaid out the ass on both Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, who could both completely crap out.

OVER/UNDER – UNDER 8 (2/3 CONFIDENCE)

  1. Rams – 12-4
  2. Seahawks – 11-5
  3. Cardinals – 6-10
  4. 49ers – 5-11

 

PLAYOFFS PREDICTIONS 

AFC 1 Seed: Chiefs

AFC 2 Seed: Patriots

AFC 3 Seed: Browns

AFC 4 Seed: Texans

AFC Wild Card 1: Ravens

AFC Wild Card 2: Broncos

 

NFC 1 Seed: Rams

NFC 2 Seed: Eagles

NFC 3 Seed: Panthers

NFC 4 Seed: Vikings

NFC Wild Card 1: Seahawks

NFC Wild Card 2: Cowboys

 

AFC Championship Game: Chiefs over Ravens

NFC Championship Game: Seahawks over Rams

Super Bowl: Chiefs over Seahawks

Chiefs

AWARDS PREDICTIONS 

MVP: Patrick Mahomes

Offensive Player of the Year: Jared Goff

Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kyler Murray

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Quinnen Williams

Coach of the Year: Vic Fangio

Comeback Player of the Year: Earl Thomas

Walter Payton Man of the Year: Andrew Whitworth

 

Follow PJ on Twitter @Real_Peej

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NFL

A Performance Review for the Giants’ Offseason (Dave Gettleman Might Be Bad)

The New York Giants are…bad. They’re really bad. The 1-7 record probably gives that away. As does Eli Manning ranking 28th in QBR, the team ranking 24th in DVOA, and the fact that the team is currently slated to pick first in the 2019 Draft. So yeah, the Giants STINK.

But still, I’m going to do my best to avoid getting overly negative here. You can do a simple Twitter search or turn on WFAN for that. What I’d rather do is reassess the past offseason, which was supposed to signify a new chapter for the Giants organization following the worst season in franchise history. The team went 3-13, Ben McAdoo lost the locker room and threw the best quarterback in franchise history under the bus, Jerry Reese seemingly blew another draft…I could keep going. It sucked so bad.

John Mara pegged Dave Gettleman as the man to lead the turnaround, and I was cool with the decision despite considerable blowback from the fanbase. Yeah he’s 67, but I was willing to look past his age because I was a fan of his time with the Panthers. He took them out of salary cap hell, made tough decisions, and was instrumental in building a 15-1 team that went to the Super Bowl. Turns out I, uh, might have given too much credit to his past. Gettleman’s first non-transactional moves as GM included: trashing analytics, saying Jonathan Stewart hasn’t lost a step, and repeatedly bringing up Eli Manning’s 2017 game at Philadelphia…to the point where it’s becoming increasingly transparent that that was probably the only Giants game he watched last season. He insisted and proved with some moves that he believed the team was in “win-now” mode, the same team that is now 1-7 and sold at the trade deadline. (We’ll talk more about what “win-now” actually means as we progress through this.) To put it delicately, he hasn’t inspired a ton of confidence.

Gettleman definitely had some misguided faith, but I don’t mean to insinuate that he believed too much in what was clearly the worst team in the league. A lot of people who are paid to talk about football bought the Giants as contenders this season. I did…not. When I wrote about them prior to the season, I saw them as a deeply flawed team with reasons for cautious optimism. My brain pegged the Giants as a 7-9 team, but my heart convinced me to write down 9-7 in a post that I would like to go back and edit. Still, I thought there was no chance the Giants would be a playoff team, and turns out I was way too correct on that front.

So take that as my performance review of Gettleman’s work so far, but in this article we’re going to look at the notable moves Gettleman made this offseason and during this season. We’ll ignore most of the minor moves and the moves that were fairly obvious, like cutting Brandon Marshall. I’ll include some prospective moves that didn’t happen, but I’m going to avoid writing about moves that were never close to fruition. For example, it would have been nice if the Giants had done more to address the crater at right tackle in the offseason, but with the team strapped for cash and willing to experiment with Ereck Flowers at a new position, that wasn’t discussed nearly as much as our hindsight would like us to believe. So here we go, starting with the best, because we’re trying hard to stay positive in Giants Country:

DEFINITELY GOOD

  • The Players That Gettleman Actually Drafted

If that wording seems strange and unnecessary, just keep reading. Saquon Barkley has been everything as advertised. He’s already one of the five best running backs in the NFL and is a lock to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. His highlight tape after just eight weeks is as loaded as some decent backs would put together over their careers. My fears of him having multiple duds on the ground have been justified (5 of his 8 games have been under 50 yards rushing) and he still has work to do confidently running between the tackles. But c’mon, he’s amazing. He’s breaking tackles at a mind-blowing rate and catches everything thrown his way. He’s special.

As for the rest of the draft class, Will Hernandez looks like a steal at the 34th pick. I think his performance thus far has been a bit overblown (Pro Football Focus has him as the eight best guard in football this year…I wouldn’t go nearly that far), but he still should be a building block for the offensive line. BJ Hill has arguably been the most consistent pass rusher on the team, and Lorenzo Carter has shown some explosiveness on the edge. Looking like Gettleman went 4/4 on his top picks. (We won’t talk about Kyle Lauletta.)

  • Extending Odell Beckham

I can’t believe I have to put this in writing, but paying a hefty price to keep the 25 year-old star of the franchise in town was a good decision. Amidst the offensive chaos this season, OBJ ranks third in receptions and fourth in yards across the league. I have to crunch some more numbers, but that might be good. Yeah, the ESPN interview was bad, but I’d prefer that John Mara get his own shit together instead of constantly reprimanding Odell for plenty of hypothetical shit. He’s our future and I’m 100% content with that.

  • Signing Kerry Wynn

Wynn has probably been the best defensive player (still) on the team this season, so I’d say keeping him around for $500K guaranteed was a good move. Only bummer is that he’s probably going to get paid a lot more than that by a contender this upcoming offseason.

  • Releasing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Hand up, I was dead wrong here. DRC was a Giants fan favorite and only two years removed from an All-Pro selection, so releasing him before the final year on his contract to save $6.5 million pissed a lot of people off. Especially considering DRC’s flexibility when the Giants had an obvious lack of depth in the secondary. But Gettleman was brought in to rip off some Band-Aids, and that’s precisely what he did here. DRC struggled in Oakland before abruptly retiring just a few days ago, so it’s safe to say Gettleman got out in front of this one.

  • Releasing Ereck Flowers

You might think this one qualifies as an obvious move, but taking on nearly $5 million of dead money to flat-out cut a former 9th overall pick is bold, regardless of how bad Flowers was is. But after this season, he’s off the Giants’ books forever. This was a giant middle finger to Jerry Reese’s last few years in charge.

  • Not Trading Landon Collins

I have no proof of this, but I assume a trade of Collins would have fetched a second-round pick at worst, potentially a first-round pick. And that’s hard not to salivate over for a safety on a rebuilding team without any future contract stability beyond the franchise tag. But you can’t just trade everyone. There is still a fan base. There are still games that can be won. And while Collins isn’t playing at his 2016 peak level, he’s still an excellent 24 year-old playmaker who vocally loves being a Giant. He’s the type of guy you want to build around.

LOOKING GOOD

  • Trading Jason Pierre-Paul

The only reason this trade isn’t in the above section is because JPP has been really good for the Bucs so far. His 8 sacks are tied for second in the league. Still, that figure is a bit deceptive. He’s not playing anywhere near his 2011 peak, and it’s pretty obvious that he’ll never get his explosiveness fully back. The same could have been said last year, but that didn’t stop Jerry Reese from handing him a $62 million contract that was preposterous the second it was signed. It’s a miracle the Giants got out of this albatross of a contract, and an even bigger miracle that they got a solid draft pick out of it too that became BJ Hill.

I mentioned before that I’d talk more about what a “win-now” mentality actually means. There were a few moves that absolutely fit into that category, like drafting Saquon and trading for Ogletree. But trading away JPP was as much of a rebuilding move as there is. The Giants clearly could have used JPP’s services this year, but Gettleman pounced at the opportunity to get out of a contract that made no sense for the player. But most importantly, the Giants took on FIFTEEN MIL of dead money doing so. That’s roughly 10% of the cap just gone! For reference to those who don’t closely monitor NFL salary caps (AKA normal people), most TEAMS don’t have that much dead money over a given season, let alone for one player. The front office was clearly looking towards the future with this move, with zero future commitments to JPP now. So I hesitate to say that Gettleman’s biggest issue was going “all in” on 2018. I think the more accurate problem was the lack of any clear vision. The Giants tried to have the best of both worlds, and instead got neither.

  • Trading Eli Apple

Apple actually played fairly well for the Giants this season, much to the surprise and delight of the fanbase. So I was fairly disappointed at first upon learning that the Giants only got back fourth and seventh round picks for a talented CB on his rookie deal. But as some time passed and the more I thought about it, my thoughts on the trade swung. Apple was such a nuisance last season that you could have convinced me at the time to release him for nothing. So getting back some draft currency for him is nice. It also tells me that Apple didn’t do nearly enough behind the scenes to change the brass’ opinion of him. Plus, it’s not like we’re talking about Champ Bailey here. Apple was AWFUL in his first game with the Saints.

  • Trading for Riley Dixon

This is the first of the next few moves in this category that could definitely qualify as “too minor to write about,” but I picked some worth quickly mentioning. The Giants’ special teams had been a complete disaster over the past couple of seasons, especially at the punter position. Dixon only cost a seventh round pick, and he ranks fifth in the league with a 42.0 net punt average. Definitely worth it.

  • Signing Cody Latimer

Latimer didn’t produce too much before landing on the IR, but I think in an alternate scenario this move could have played out like a bargain. Gettleman took a cheap flier on a veteran who never really got a chance to shine on his prior team, something he excelled at while running the Panthers. WR3 was (and is) a definite need for the Giants, and Latimer made some nice catches and stretched the field when he played. It’s tough to say this worked out, but I like where Gettleman’s head was.

  • Signing Michael Thomas

Another move that probably would be getting more praise had it happened for a better team. Thomas has been instrumental in stabilizing the special teams, and he’s played admirably in spot duty in the secondary. His kind of leadership and attitude is well worth it for $2 million.

TOO SOON TO TELL

  • Signing Nate Solder

Ah, the move everybody wants to talk about. And the move that almost nobody would agree belongs in this section. And take this: I’d lean closer to putting him in “looking good” than “looking bad.” But I’ll start with some concessions to the peanut gallery. Solder has been less than optimal in pass protection. It certainly didn’t help that his worst performance happened in the spotlight on a Monday night against the Falcons. It’s somewhat fair to have expected Solder to up his level after receiving the contract that he did.

But that’s the thing: this is close to the level Solder was at last year with the Patriots. He allowed 51 total pressures last season. That’s a lot. Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels just made 51 pressures look a lot better than Eli Manning and Pat Shurmur are. But you know what? Nate Solder does not suck. He has not been a disaster for the Giants. Mario Addison and Preston Smith are both good pass rushers, and Solder had his way against both of them. And he’s still shining in the running game, as evidenced by his good PFF grade of 71.3 so far. I’ll say it again: PFF isn’t gospel, but I’ll take the work of analysts paid to watch every snap over the comments from a few Twitter eggs.

What I truly can’t wrap my head around with all of the Solder criticism though is how fans apparently can’t remember the 2015-17 seasons. Nate Solder is SO much better than Ereck Flowers. And when you make as colossal of a mistake as the Flowers pick was, you’re going to have to pay the price to fix it. $62 million is a ton of money, but it’s not like Solder is a kicker. He plays the second highest in-demand position in football. Solid left tackles almost never hit free agency. Taylor Lewan is no Orlando Pace, and Tennessee made him the highest paid lineman ever just to avoid the open market. You can bitch about the Giants not signing the superior yet cheaper player in Andrew Whitworth prior to last season, but Jerry Reese chose not to invest in a 35 year-old. Turns out that was a bad call, but the logic at least makes sense. Get over it.

And one last thing: this wasn’t a “win-now” move either. You need a left tackle under all circumstances, ESPECIALLY if you’re developing a rookie quarterback. Ironically, this move actually convinced me the Giants were going QB in the first round. Whoops.

  • Trading for Alec Ogletree

Another move that most fans would slot into one of the below sections. But I’ll defend Ogletree…to a degree. Ogletree is one of the favorite targets of football analysts, as he consistently grades out terribly by the PFFs of the world. And that makes some sense. He’s not a sure tackler, and he chooses the wrong lanes against the run too often. But while “natural athleticism” and “leadership” are traits normally used to characterize players who just don’t produce, Ogletree excels in those departments, and they’re both something that Giants’ inside linebackers have been desperately missing for the last decade. Tight ends and third-down running backs had TORTURED the Giants over the past couple of seasons, but that hasn’t been the case whatsoever this year. The only tight end to catch 5+ passes with Ogletree on the field this year has been Zach Ertz, and that was only for 43 yards with most of that damage done outside against Janoris Jenkins. It’s not a coincidence.

There are some parallels between this move and the Nate Solder move. Both were clearly overpays to good-not-great players to fill positions that had been total black holes for the Giants. Do fans not remember UANI UNGA as the Giants’ 2015 Week 1 middle linebacker?! But there are some major differences too. First and foremost, the Giants traded for Ogletree’s bad contract and gave up a fourth-round pick to do so. Definitely fits the “win-now” bill, and I’m doubtful that Ogletree would have even received his contract in the open market. And that’s largely because solid inside linebackers are often available for bargains in free agency. I’m of the opinion that the inside linebacker position has actually become undervalued in recent years, but it’s still tough to justify bringing in Ogletree on a top-of-market contract when he obviously doesn’t belong in the Kuechly/Wagner tier. So while I’d say Ogletree has been a better 2018 Giant than Solder, they both land in this same category because of positional value.

  • Drafting Sam Beal

The casual Giants fan might not even recognize this name, because he was taken in the Supplemental Draft and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury before the preseason. But he’s the reason the Giants don’t have a third-round pick in this upcoming draft. They clearly believe in his talent, which is good because he’s a surefire starter next season.

  • Signing B.W. Webb

A few weeks ago, I would have punched myself in the face for putting Webb in this category. He looked like another castoff corner brought in by the Giants who had no business being on a professional football field. But Webb has actually been solid lately. And with the lack of future secondary depth that I’ve referenced numerous times, the Giants could use all of the capable bodies that they can find.

  • Not Trading Olivier Vernon

 I’m not sure whether or not this was actually on the table, so I’ll keep it brief here. Olivier Vernon is a stud. He’s only played three games this season, and in that time he’s obliterated Jason Peters and Trent Williams. I think he’s one of the ten best edge rushers in football…when he’s on the field. His health is just that big of a mystery. As great as he is, I’d have to concede that I’d understand if the Giants chose to forego nearly $20 million cap hits over the next two seasons. He’s that quality of player, but it’s a lot of money for a guy who gets injured often on what should be bad teams.

LOOKING BAD 

  • Hiring Pat Shurmur

Outside of Mike Francesa, why do I feel like I haven’t heard much noise from the New York media about Shurmur? The team is 1-7 and came into the season with plenty of premier talent on the roster (albeit a deeply flawed roster). He’s supposed to be an offensive guru, yet the offense has been stagnant all season and rarely seems to be on the same page. It’s definitely reasonable to place most of the blame for that on Eli Manning or the offensive line, but Shurmur was extremely successful last year in Minnesota with Case Keenum, Latavius Murray, and a line that might have had less talent than the 2018 Giants. We haven’t seen anything close to the creativity that that offense had, and this is a team with Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Saquon Barkley that we’re talking about. I’m pretty sure that most of the notable offensive minds around the league would be able to scheme up something better than Shurmur has. Some proven coordinators just can’t handle head coaching duties, and that’s my fear with Shurmur.

Still, I’m not completely out on Shurmur yet. Again, I was so impressed with what he did in Minnesota, and I think he could replicate that with a young quarterback to develop. I also think it’s safe to say that Mike Shula wasn’t exactly his first choice for offensive coordinator. And no, this is NOWHERE near McAdoo levels of dysfunction yet. So I think he’s earned his fair chance with better surroundings, but it’s safe to say that his ice is definitely thinner.

  • Trading Brett Jones

The Giants traded Jones for a seventh-round pick, essentially just getting rid of him, right before Week 1 of the season. Jones hasn’t been good for the Vikings so far, but he was solid at both center and guard for the 2017 Giants. We’ll never know if he would have played poorly for the Giants this season too, but basically cutting a guy with his versatility and decent track record made little sense for a team that has already rolled out three different centers and two different right guards.

  • Trading Damon Harrison

This one is tough. I’ve really tried to remove all sentimentality when evaluating this trade, because I love me some Snacks. This definitely qualifies as one of Gettleman’s trademark “tough decisions” that’s designed to set the Giants up for the future. But I still don’t like it. I know Snacks is about to turn 30. I know he’s expensive. I know he plays a position that becomes less relevant by the day. I just can’t accept that the returns are worth it for losing a player of his caliber and presence. Snacks is an elite player by every definition, and he was the single best player on the Giants in a lost 2017 season. He plays hard every down, is beloved by teammates and coaches, and has shown no signs of slowing down. I’d like to believe the Giants wouldn’t voluntarily leave a better offer on the table, but I can’t wrap my head around the best run stopper in the league netting only a fifth-round pick regardless of the current state of the NFL. The fifth round is where teams start buying lottery tickets. And about his contract. It’s not THAT bad. The Giants are still on the hook for over $8 million of it even with him in Detroit, so he’s playing on a 2 year/$16 million deal. That’s a nice chunk of change the Giants will (hopefully) save, but I don’t care if my team is 16-0 or 0-16: I want Damon Harrison on my team for that contract.

  • Not Trading Janoris Jenkins

I still think Jackrabbit is a pretty good player. He’s lost some game since his 2016 All-Pro peak and definitely struggles against speed receivers, but he’s still a guy who did this and managed to shut down Michael Thomas this year. With that being said, he’s one of the last players I’d want around on a rebuilding team. He’s expensive for the next two seasons, and his Achilles’ heel is effort when things aren’t going well. You don’t have to look too far past the Eagles game this year to prove that. And yeah…I don’t expect things to go well too often over the next two years. I have to imagine the Giants were actively shopping him before the trade deadline, so it’s a bit stunning that they couldn’t put something together considering the amount of CB-needy contenders and the front office’s clear penchant for mid-round picks.

DEFINITELY BAD 

  • Not Drafting A Quarterback Second Overall

I mean…I’m sorry I waited this long to mention this, because it’s what it all comes down to. It’s arguably the most win-now move…ever? Saquon is obviously a tremendous player, but this is shaping up as an all-time bad decision on so many levels. So many levels to the point where this will probably be more efficient and I’ll drive myself less insane if I just list them:

  • Eli Manning is bad. He’s REALLY bad. He’s lost a lot of arm talent, refuses to take hits, and might literally be the least mobile QB I’ve ever seen. I desperately wanted the Giants to draft a QB, but I understood the gamble to name Eli the starter again for this season with supposedly better surroundings. It was a really bad bet.
  • I think most Giants fans are underestimating the chances that Eli is the Week 1 starter next year too. It’s his last year under contract, and he hasn’t shown me anything that would indicate his ineptitude is pushing him towards retirement. You might think Kyle Lauletta is the favorite to supersede him, but he can’t even pass Alex Tanney on the depth chart. (His recent arrest definitely didn’t do him any favors either.) So just get a free agent, you say. Well, quarterbacks of Kirk Cousins’ caliber almost never hit the open market, and when they do, they are well beyond the Giants’ price range for the near future. What about Teddy Bridgewater? I’d be on board, but I think he’s going to get paid a lot more than people expect, potentially to stay in New Orleans as Drew Brees’ successor. That leaves us with the Sam Bradfords of the world, and I wouldn’t blame the Giants for just sucking it up with Eli for a year instead. Bypassing a QB in this draft was not a one-year decision.
  • The Giants should have been licking their lips that they managed to go 3-13 in the year that they did. They stumbled into a quarterback class that had been heralded for years by scouts and draft experts as one of the best in recent memory. Instead, they panicked. They searched for something wrong with every top prospect instead of falling in love with certain attributes. And no, I am absolutely not writing off Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen because they’ve experienced rookie struggles. They’ve both shown enough promise to get fans of those teams excited about the future.
  • Now, the Giants are getting ready to pick near the top of another draft, but one that almost everyone agrees only has one first-round talent at QB in Oregon’s Justin Herbert. And he might even stay in school for his senior year. Brace yourself for Gettleman trying to sell us on how Will Grier is actually Andrew Luck 2.0.
  • Say Herbert does enter the draft. Perfect, right? I still don’t think the Giants will be in the front of the line for him. For starters, I don’t think the Giants are the worst team in football. I expect them to finish better than Oakland and Buffalo, and maybe Arizona and San Francisco too. Well three of those four teams definitely don’t need a QB, right? True, but I’m not buying Jon Gruden’s faith in Derek Carr and am definitely buying that he wants his guy under center when the team moves to Vegas. But they might take Nick Bosa or another pass rusher instead, right? Definitely, but John Elway makes the football decisions for a team without many holes but with a gaping one at quarterback. He’s already scouted Herbert in person. Connect the dots.
  • Running backs just aren’t that valuable. I’m sorry, but that’s not some new-age thinking. It’s just the way it is now. That’s not to say that great backs can’t push your team over the top and that all first-round running backs are foregone conclusions as busts. Obviously the Rams would take Todd Gurley at #10 overall again. But so much of Gurley’s recent success has to do with scheme and blocking. And other running backs in Gurley and Barkley’s company, like Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt, were selected in the third round just two drafts ago. Look at what’s gone on in Pittsburgh this year. One of the best running backs in football decided pretty much on a whim to not play this season, and their back-up third-rounder has filled his shoes without missing a beat. Saquon Barkley is already a Pro Bowler. He can improve, but there’s not too much room for growth. The Giants are 1-7.
  • Saquon is already really expensive. He’s only going to get more expensive. Running backs generally don’t get paid much anymore. The Giants are 1-7.
  • Saquon is going to get hurt at some point during his rookie deal. That’s not pessimism or some sick self-fulfilling prophecy. It just happens to running backs.
  • Even great running backs can’t fully function in broken offenses, particularly behind broken offensive lines. Just think Todd Gurley in 2016 or David Johnson this year. Saquon’s done an admirable job this season, but the Giants still have three massive question marks on the offensive line moving forward.

 

  • Restructuring Contracts

The ultimate sign of a win-now team, and something that NO team that isn’t one of the best in the league should be doing. First grade explanation of restructuring is that the Giants took some of the future money owed to Alec Ogletree and Janoris Jenkins, gave it to them now, but it counts against the salary cap over the next two years instead of this year. Yup, the 2018 Giants actually did that.

  • Signing Patrick Omameh

The Giants made more significant bad decisions than this one (check the essay I just wrote about the second overall pick), but this was Gettleman’s dumbest bad decision. Just inexplicably stupid. Omameh is next-level bad. Like, he’s already been benched for a few weeks levels of bad. And he’s in the first year of a 3 year/$15 million deal. That is serious money for a right guard. And if you’re wondering how the Giants didn’t see this coming, I have no answer for you. The Jaguars spent $66.5 million to replace him for god’s sake. (That replacement – Andrew Norwell, who was linked to the Giants all offseason – has been far from great for the Jags, by the way.) To add insult to injury, DJ Fluker has been a bulldozer in the running game for Seattle after the Giants let him leave town despite his decent audition in 2017. Fluker is flawed too, but he’s on a 1 year/$1.5 million contract.

  • Signing Jonathan Stewart

The runner-up in the dumbest bad decision contest! I mean, this move was D.O.A., and it still turned out worse than we expected. The Giants paid Stewart $4 million this season to run the ball 6 times for 17 yards. Who could have seen that coming from a 31 year-old running back who hasn’t been good since 2015?

  • Signing Kareem Martin

Martin hasn’t been a total disaster overall (he was in the first few weeks of the season), but he’s a mediocre player who also signed a 3 year/$15 million deal. The Giants can’t just be handing out contracts of that magnitude to players who would be backups on better teams.

  • Signing Curtis Riley

Arguably the worst player on the team over the full course of the season, Curtis Riley looks every bit the part of an undrafted player who had never made a start prior to this season. He’s just not a very good athlete and consistently takes terrible angles. I’m not sure what convinced the Giants to pick him over Andrew Adams, who played fairly well as a rookie in 2016 and completely balled out in the preseason this year.

  • Signing Connor Barwin

He’s old. He doesn’t do anything. Next.

  • Waiving Romeo Okwara

This one is truly infuriating. Okwara entered this offseason as a third-year player who had shown glimpses of potential during his first two seasons, yet the Giants surprisingly waived him. He signed with Detroit and has already posted 5 sacks for them this season. This is emblematic of a bigger problem with Gettleman. In multiple cases, it seems like his best reason for moving on from a guy is because he wasn’t one of his guys. You can call that selfish, petty, etc. They all apply.

odell saquon

So yeah, that’s basically the State of the Meadowlands. Gettleman has clearly made more bad decisions than good ones, with most of the major decisions being of the negative variety. It’s hard to trust him heading into another offseason, but at least this go-around he shouldn’t have free reign to spend away. So while next season will almost certainly be miserable, I hope you read this and took away some hope for the Giants. They’re going to have great draft picks again, and even if the top one doesn’t end up as a QB, this front office has shown they can crush a draft. And hey, Odell is around forever!

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, I’ve been keeping track of the Five Best and Five Worst players from each Giants game this season. It’s an evaluation system that’s flawed by design, but it’s useful to keep track of who has shown up and who has bogged down the team on a weekly basis. Here are those overall standings through midseason (5 points for the best player, 4 for the second best…). Players still on the active roster are in bold. There is a disappointing lack of bold:

BEST

T1. Saquon Barkley (+15)

T1. Odell Beckham (+15)

3. Kerry Wynn (+9)

4. Olivier Vernon (+8)

T5. Alec Ogletree (+7)

T5. Sterling Shepard (+7)

T7. Damon Harrison (+6)

T7. Landon Collins (+6)

9. BJ Hill (+5)

T10. Will Hernandez (+4)

T10. Cody Latimer (+4)

T12. BJ Goodson (+3)

T12. Eli Apple (+3)

T14. Dalvin Tomlinson (+1)

T14. Janoris Jenkins (+1)

T14. Lorenzo Carter (+1)

WORST

1. Eli Manning (-16)

2. Curtis Riley (-15)

T3. Patrick Omameh (-10)

T3. Chad Wheeler (-10)

5. Kareem Martin (-9)

6. John Greco (-8)

7. Ereck Flowers (-5)

T8. Evan Engram (-4)

T8. Ray-Ray Armstrong (-4)

T8. Wayne Gallman (-4)

11. Kaelin Clay (-3)

T12. Connor Barwin (-2)

T12. Nate Solder (-2)

T12. Russell Shepard (-2)

T12. Nate Stupar (-2)

T16. Jon Halapio (-1)

T16. BW Webb (-1)

T16. Stacy Coley (-1)

NFL

2018 NFL Preview: Five Things About Each Team (with Playoff and Award Predictions)

I usually write up an NFL preview on Facebook, but I pay for this domain now and I stand with Eduardo Saverin so it’s happening here. Just a few notes on each team with an over/under bet, then postseason and awards predictions at the end.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys

  • I know the Cowboys haven’t actually been “America’s Team” for years now, but it’s still pretty surreal to see them with one of the more random rosters in the league. There’s only one household name on that defense, and that’s only because Cris Collinsworth definitely has a crush on Sean Lee. (In fairness, DeMarcus Lawrence might be after this season too.)
  • I’m in the “Dak Prescott is good” camp, but my fellow members and I are undoubtedly going to catch flak for that during this season. His numbers will suffer because he is throwing to safely the worst group of targets in the league. Dez Bryant has been bad for a few years now, but he’d look like 2008 Larry Fitzgerald in this receiving corps. The top wideout is the fourth best receiver from last year’s Jaguars, and the starting tight end is some character named Geoff Swaim. Never trust a guy named Geoff.
  • Ezekiel Elliott needs to put up MVP-level numbers for this team to make the playoffs. They do have the best offensive lineman in the NFL at the moment in Zack Martin, but he’s already battling a preseason injury. Combine that with the autoimmune disease that Travis Frederick is dealing with, and I’m not exactly buying into Zeke’s MVP campaign.
  • I’ve thought the Cowboys defense would absolutely suck going into the past couple of seasons, and that was never the case more than last year. But yet again, they overperformed and turned out to be relatively average. I still think they should suck and I’m definitely not confident in a secondary that’s filled with a bunch of young, late-round picks, but who knows at this point?
  • Remind me again why they haven’t traded for Earl Thomas yet?

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New York Giants

  • The Giants are putting A LOT of faith into a 37 year-old quarterback who hasn’t been good in three years. I’m one of the biggest Eli fans in the world and have gone to great lengths to defend his legacy, but this is a huge gamble by the front office. Yes, he was excellent in the one game he played with a healthy supporting cast last season. And the front office did everything possible to surround him with more talent. And the Giants upgraded at head coach from the literal worst offensive mind in the league to one of the best. So I think he’ll be better, but if Eli doesn’t rediscover at least his 2014-15 form, then a lot of fans will be wondering after only one year why the Giants didn’t draft a top college quarterback when they had the chance.
  • Giants fans should rightfully be psyched about Saquon Barkley, but they should do so with their feet over the brake pedals. His college tape is incredible and filled with highlights, but he also had three games last season where he averaged under 3.0 yards per carry against Big 10 opponents. He doesn’t have much history of breaking tackles and is dependent on his elusiveness, and that’s tough to bank on in the NFL. Not to mention, he’s running behind a still mediocre offensive line that people think is suddenly solid because the Giants broke the bank on a good-not-great left tackle. I think his final stats on the year will be good (probably great from a PPR fantasy perspective, considering he’ll catch 70+ balls), but I think he’ll have multiple games on the ground this season that are total duds.
  • Paying Odell Beckham all of the money in the world was 100% the correct decision. He’s safely one of the three best receivers in the league, and unlike the other two (Antonio Brown and Julio Jones), he’s not on an offense that is stacked at every unit. In other words, it’s easy to argue that he’s the most valuable non-quarterback offensive player in the league. (Yes, wide receivers are generally more valuable than running backs in 2018.)
  • Olivier Vernon is one of the biggest X-factors in the NFL this season. He’s the only surefire pass rusher on the Giants, and that’s with them switching to a 3-4 base defense this year. That sounds ominous, but Vernon is actually that good where he can singlehandedly make quarterbacks uncomfortable. The only thing that can stop him is his own body, and that should make Giants fans nervous considering his missed a lot of action last season and is already dealing with a high ankle sprain. The injury doesn’t appear to be that serious, but he really needs to be at 100% for this to be a good defense.
  • The secondary is probably going to be a major issue, and it seems like no one is talking about that nearly enough. Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins are going to do their jobs, but it’s pretty tough to hide a gap in your secondary…and the Giants have a few. Free safety is just one big question mark, and Eli Apple is in line to play 90% of the snaps this season. Yikes.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Philadelphia Eagles

  • The reigning Super Bowl champs added reinforcements to what was already the best roster in the league. Sure.
  • It’s not exactly all pillows and rainbows in Philly though. Eagles fans are terrified about Carson Wentz, right? And that’s not as much a question of “if he will fully recover” as it is “when will he come back?” The Eagles have the most complete roster in the division, but that doesn’t exactly mean they can go for a few weeks without their starting quarterback and still cruise to the NFC East title. (Who am I kidding…Eagles fans think Nick Foles is the second coming of Tom Brady.)
  • The Mike Wallace signing was super underrated. Torrey Smith wasn’t able to hold defenses accountable over the top last year because he’s not good at football, but Wallace should do a better job of that.
  • It’s annoying how deep that offensive line is. And that defensive line. I’m annoyed.
  • I think this secondary will get a lot more exposed this year. The dominant pass rush and great safety duo of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod will do a lot of heavy lifting, but you can’t hide cornerbacks, and I think this is a Bottom 10 group of corners. The Eagles hugely benefited from a career year out of nowhere from Patrick Robinson last year, but now he’s in New Orleans. Ronald Darby is a fine CB2, but I don’t think Jalen Mills is any good and a lot of faith has been put in Sidney Jones for a dude who’s played one game in his career.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Washington Redskins

  • I wouldn’t necessarily say the Redskins upgraded at quarterback, but they definitely didn’t downgrade. Alex Smith is good, and Kirk Cousins has never been as good as his stats might indicate. Smith doesn’t have Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill anymore, but the ‘Skins have an underrated group of weapons, and their offensive line is better than Kansas City’s. I wouldn’t be shocked if he tears it up.
  • Not to be overdramatic about a rookie injury, but Derrius Guice’s torn ACL is so, so bad. I don’t watch too much college football or pretend to be a scout, but I thought Guice was one of the most impressive players in this draft and his north/south running style fit PERFECTLY with the Redskins. I know I just spoke glowingly of Alex Smith, but he’s not a carry-the-offense quarterback. They need a pure runner to balance the offense out. As for his replacements, the Bottom 2 running backs in the league last season in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) per Football Outsiders were…Adrian Peterson and Samaje Perine. Again, I feel crazy saying this about a running back who’s never played a regular season down, but I think Guice is the difference between this team being a playoff contender instead of just middle-of-the-road.
  • The Redskins have had Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay as their offensive coordinator within the past five years. Dan Snyder gonna Dan Snyder.
  • The front seven is…um…kinda great? They have a bona fide superstar in Ryan Kerrigan, a very good edge rusher on the other side in Preston Smith, a tackling machine in Zach Brown, and a defensive line that’s young, deep, and talented. If this group gets the positive injury regression that it’s due for, no joke this could be a Top 5 front seven in the NFL.
  • …the same cannot be said about the secondary. It’s basically all of the same shit I said about the Giants’ secondary, except Josh Norman/D.J. Swearinger is a step down from Jenkins/Collins. The Redskins are gonna be dropping at least two people into coverage on any given play that I’ve literally never heard of.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Eagles – 11-5
  2. Giants – 9-7
  3. Redskins – 8-8
  4. Cowboys – 6-10

 

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

  • I won’t run that long for the rest of the divisions. I just know most people reading this will be a fan of NFC East teams, so provided some extra depth.
  • I’m sorry to any Bills fans reading this for wasting one of the five bullets with that anecdote. And I’m sorry for doing it again here.
  • But I’m doing it for a reason: quite simply, this is the worst team in the NFL.
  • They have Bottom 5 quarterback, receiver, and offensive line situations. The one threat in this offense is a 30 year-old running back who has a domestic violence black cloud hanging over him.
  • The defense is pretty bad too. But if you’re looking for a bright spot here, the Bills have a really good secondary. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is an excellent safety combo, and Tre’Davious White was silently just as good as Marshon Lattimore last year.

OVER/UNDER 6 – UNDER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Miami Dolphins

  • Nothing says “the NFL is back” like the Dolphins having the dumbest offseason in the league. No lie, it’s happened for at least five straight years now. It’s honestly amazing. I started to think things were changing when Miami picked up two draft picks for a glorified slot receiver that they were never going to sign long-term (Jarvis Landry). But lo and behold, they followed that up by handing out TWO big contracts to slot receivers that aren’t as good as Landry (Danny Amendola and ALBERT WILSON)!
  • The Dolphins definitely signed Frank Gore so they can tweet something when he passes Curtis Martin on the all-time rushing list, right? We’re all on the same page here?
  • I will give some credit to the Dolphins front office: the Josh Sitton signing makes a ton of sense to help out Laremy Tunsil. And while I can’t endorse any team voluntarily taking on Robert Quinn’s contract, he is a really interesting buy-low candidate. He’ll get a ton of chances playing opposite Cam Wake.
  • I understand the Dolphins moving on from Ndamukong Suh’s monster contract, but I’m still not sure that was the wisest move. Suh didn’t rack up big sack totals while he was in Miami, so naturally he flew under the radar even though he’s still an incredible player. And the Dolphins run defense looks absolutely hopeless without Suh playing up the middle. Free advice: this is the team you want to start your running backs against in fantasy.
  • I hope the Dolphins plan on playing Minkah Fitzpatrick at cornerback, only because that way I can tell people I’ve heard of one of the Dolphins cornerbacks.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

New England Patriots

  • What goddamn voodoo did Bill Belichick do to get this level of incompetency out of the AFC East for almost TWO DECADES now? I tweeted about how insane this stretch of mediocrity has been.
  • Look, the Pats are going to cruise to the division title again. And they’re probably going to have it clinched before November is over.
  • Here’s the thing about the Patriots this year though that hasn’t been the case in the past: the roster isn’t all that good. They’ve drafted like total shit the past couple of years. They’re probably still going to win 11+ games because they have Tom Brady, but I’m not sure this is a .500 team with an average quarterback behind center.
  • New England has one of the worst pass rushes in the league. It’s Trey Flowers and a bunch of nobodies. That’s not optimal when teams are throwing against you for most of the game.
  • The good news is…the secondary is strong, even without Malcolm Butler. The gamble on Stephon Gilmore is paying dividends, and Devin McCourty continues to be one of the most underrated football players of my lifetime. (A 31 year-old with two rings and three All-Pro selections…we’re usually having different conversations about players like that at this point in their careers.)

OVER/UNDER 11 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New York Jets

  • I’ve been seeing a lot of the Jets as a trendy dark horse pick, and while I don’t agree with it, I kinda get the rationale. We’ve already covered how the Bills and Dolphins don’t look any good. But I’m pretty sure it’s more of a Sam Darnold thing. The kid has looked awesome in preseason, and it’s not typical for the third overall pick in the draft to be called a “steal.” For 7 of the past 8 seasons now, at least one rookie QB has succeeded right away (Watson, Prescott, Winston, Carr, Luck and Griffin and Wilson, Newton, Bradford). Makes sense that people are betting on Darnold to join that list after this season.
  • Darnold has some weapons at his disposal, but there’s not a true playmaker on this offense. Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell are fine. Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse are fine. They’re fine.
  • This offensive line is not fine though. It is bad. Expect a lot of sacks and interceptions for Darnold.
  • The secondary might be the strength of this team. Trumaine Johnson is bound to become one of the worst contracts in the league in a few years, but for now he’s still a solid player. Buster Skrine is one of the better slot corners in the league, and Jamal Adams seems on his way to superstardom. They’re all going to need to be at their best, because the Jets might not have a sack all season. (Leonard Williams is great, but he’s more of a run stuffer.)
  • Todd Bowles is a good coach, right? Because I think Todd Bowles is a good coach. I know the Jets only went 5-11 last year, but he still did an incredible job. They were universally picked to be the worst team in the league going into the season, and yet they won 5 games and lost 7 games that were within 10 points.

OVER/UNDER 6 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Patriots – 12-4
  2. Jets – 7-9
  3. Dolphins – 5-11
  4. Bills – 2-14

 

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

  • I really loved the Bears’ offseason. They hired a head coach who will actually spend a minute developing Mitchell Trubisky. They bought low on Allen Robinson and took a chance on Trey Burton. I loved the picks of Roquan Smith and Anthony Miller. And now they just got Khalil fucking Mack. Good things going on in Chicago.
  • Kinda just hinted at it, but I’d be excited about Trubisky this season as a Bears fan. He was far from special last year, but he had some of the worst coaching in the league and absolutely nobody to throw to. Now he has weapons everywhere and a reinforced offensive line that should be solid if healthy. I wouldn’t expect a Carson Wentz sophomore jump, but I could definitely see him turning into an above-average QB this year.
  • I love fantasy football, but I also hate fantasy football. I say this because it convinced the public that Jordan Howard had a disappointing sophomore season. But this was a 22 year-old who rushed for over 1,100 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry on a bad offense. Yet people think he stunk because he didn’t have much PPR value.
  • Did you miss the Bears having one of the better defenses in the league last year? Because I bet you did. Granted, they got breakout years from Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos, but this defense still has good players in every unit with a good combination of youth and experience. You could have called the pass rush a weakness, but now the Bears have addressed that by trading for one of the 15 best players in the NFL. Sure. Throw in Roquan Smith and the potential for fellow Top 10 pick Leonard Floyd to finally record double-digit sacks playing opposite Mack, and this is probably one of the five best defenses in the league.
  • I’m sure you’re guessing that I like the Bears a lot this season. Well, I do. I’d pegged them as one of my sleeper playoff teams BEFORE the Khalil Mack trade, but now you can remove sleeper. I’m not worried about them playing in the best division in football. This team is too talented.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Detroit Lions

  • This is the most “meh” team in the league this year. It’s such a boring roster. I can’t think of one good reason to tune into Lions games this year as a neutral fan, unless you’re one of those weirdos who’s obsessed with Matt Stafford. Speaking of which…
  • I’ve been seeing a lot of “Stafford is a top tier QB” takes. Well, he isn’t. Zero career playoff wins in nine seasons, and that’s with a Top 10 receiver of all time for seven of them and an excellent duo of receivers for the past two. Yes, I’m comfortable calling the duo of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones excellent. They both catch anything thrown within their vicinity.
  • The Lions have four running backs on the roster with fantasy football relevancy. I don’t have much insight about that. It’s just weird.
  • I enjoy watching Darius Slay play football. That’s literally all I have to say about this defense.
  • I couldn’t be more out on Matt Patricia. There’s something to be said about the previous two defensive coordinators under Belichick to get hired as head coaches (Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini) quickly flaming out. And I was never impressed with Patricia’s in-game abilities. You’re telling me he couldn’t figure out a single adjustment to slow down NICK FOLES in the Super Bowl?

OVER/UNDER 7.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Green Bay Packers

  • The NFL QB landscape is in somewhat of a strange place right now. There are more good quarterbacks than usual, but there are only two “if he’s playing, they’re in the playoffs” quarterbacks. Tom Brady is one. Aaron Rodgers is the other.
  • I don’t think Davante Adams is one of the Top 10 receivers in the league, but he’s going to have Top 5 production. I’d be stunned if he doesn’t score at least 12 touchdowns.
  • I wouldn’t have advised the Jimmy Graham signing, but I get it. He’ll score at least 10 touchdowns too, but that might be on 50 catches for 500 yards. He’s essentially filling the Jordy Nelson red zone role. (You might think that’s harsh towards Jordy, but he has not been good since tearing his ACL three years ago. No, I haven’t forgotten about his 2016 season with 97 catches and 1257 yards. Playing with Aaron Rodgers is just that chill.)
  • Hey Green Bay, turns out good things can happen when you don’t voluntarily sit out of free agency! The Mo Wilkerson signing was just silly. He fits like a glove into a front seven that is going to be impossible to run on. Jake Ryan missing the entire season sucks, but Clay Matthews is versatile enough so they should be fine.
  • I’m not ready to call the Packers secondary good yet, but I think it could be? I was praying the Giants would somehow end up with Jaire Alexander or Josh Jackson in the draft. Welp, the Packers got both of them.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Minnesota Vikings

  • I know I’ve already thrown some backhanded shade at Kirk Cousins in the Redskins section. I’m not a fan of his, but it’s not like I think he’s bad by any means. He’s solid, but the Vikings basically gave him all of that guaranteed money to consistently play as well as Case Keenum did last year during his miracle season. If you’re expecting Kirk to take things to a much higher level, I’m not sure you’ve watched him play before. (His stats are probably gonna be awesome, and I’ll undoubtedly get chirped about them. But c’mon, the Vikings might have the best group of weapons in the league.)
  • I do think there’s a chance the Vikings offense is even better this season, which seems crazy to say considering they finished 2017 ranked fifth in DVOA per Football Outsiders. But that has less to do with Cousins than it does with Dalvin Cook. I think he could explode in this offense if he stays on the field for 16 games.
  • More so than the Bears or Packers, two other teams in this division with great rosters, I think the Vikings might have a fatal flaw. That offensive line really sketches me out. They were actually solid last year, but they stayed relatively healthy and wildly overperformed as a unit. But I think there’s a good chance they crash down to earth hard this year, especially with Nick Easton already done for the season and Pat Elflein doubtful for the start of the season as well.
  • I don’t feel the need to write too much about the Vikings defense. It’s great at every level. I mean, they added Sheldon Richardson to an already loaded defensive line. There’s almost no scenario where this isn’t a Top 10 D.
  • They are choosing to roll with a rookie kicker. Good things the Vikings have never had kicking issues before.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Packers – 13-3
  2. Bears – 12-4
  3. Vikings – 11-5
  4. Lions – 6-10

 

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens

  • I don’t have a damn clue about this team. Will Joe Flacco play better with better surroundings? I don’t know. Will Lamar Jackson take over the starting job? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure they won’t be awful, but I’m also pretty sure they won’t be great. I just don’t know.
  • Wild move by the Ravens to sign like 17 receivers this offseason. “Bold strategy, Ron Burgundy. Let’s see how this escalates quickly.” – Trey Wingo.
  • Just as a fan of football, I hope Marshal Yanda gets back to dominating again. He’s probably already a Hall of Famer, but a few more Pro Bowl seasons would seal that.
  • I’m pretty sure Terrell Suggs is made out of vibranium, but if this is the season that he finally slows down, then I have no idea who’s gonna rush the quarterback on this team.
  • ^That might not matter though, because this secondary is GOOD. Jimmy Smith’s four-game suspension isn’t ideal, but they have crazy depth at cornerback so they’ll be fine.

OVER/UNDER 8 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence) ((I’d go 0/3 Confidence if I could.))

 

Cincinnati Bengals

  • This is the most overlooked team in the NFL. Look, I don’t think the Bengals are going to light the league on fire. But they have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. If Andy Dalton plays ok, then I see no reason for them not to be a .500 team. If he plays anything like he did in 2015, then I think this is a playoff team.
  • I’m not on the Joe Mixon train like a ton of other people seemingly are, but I’ll concede there’s a chance I’m wrong there. Either way, the Bengals running game will be fine. Gio Bernard continues to be one of the most underappreciated players in the league. He does everything he’s asked to do well year after year, and he’s somehow still only 26.
  • AJ Green is still the fourth or fifth best receiver in football. He’s coming off his worst 16 game season, but I’m betting on the big rebound. Like All-Pro rebound.
  • I thought the Bengals had the worst offensive line in football going into last season, and they definitely were in that conversation. It’s still not a good unit, but they made a serious effort towards improvement by drafting Billy Price in the first round and trading for Cordy Glenn.
  • This team is going to be freakin’ tough to throw against. Geno Atkins/Carlos Dunlap/Carl Lawson is a terrifying pass rush, and I expect William Jackson to make the All-Pro jump this season. Jackson was one of my favorite college prospects in recent memory coming out of Houston, and the Bengals “stole” him with the 24th overall pick. People forgot about him because he tore his ACL and missed his rookie year, but he returned last year and immediately dominated. He was the fifth highest graded cornerback in the entire league by Pro Football Focus. If you’re not a believer in PFF, then here’s a simpler Jackson metric. The number of catches Antonio Brown had while covered by Jackson: zero.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Cleveland Browns

  • Ah, our beloved Browns. Look guys, the roster doesn’t totally suck anymore. But this team still isn’t good. Six-win improvements from one season to the next are incredible. So 6-10 should be the dream, not the expectation.
  • I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about it, and I can’t come up with any worse leadership going into a season in recent memory than Hue Jackson/Todd Haley/Gregg Williams. Even before the Hard Knocks exposure, this had disaster written all over it. Pretty sure Hue needs to go like 15-1 to keep his job next season. And seriously, HOW is Gregg Williams still getting a Defensive Coordinator opportunity in 2018? He’s basically the answer to the question of, “what if Urban Meyer didn’t know shit about football?”
  • I don’t really have any strong opinions about Baker Mayfield. He wasn’t my favorite QB in this class, but I get the logic behind picking him first and think he can be really good. That all being said, I just haven’t liked what I’ve seen from him leading into this season. He really seems to already think he’s hot shit for someone who’s never played a professional down. Maybe it’s just insane confidence, but I don’t really want my rookie QB doing underwear ads. And yeah, I know I sound like an old fart radio host right now, but I just don’t like it. I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets all pissy sitting behind Tyrod Taylor, who’s likely better than him right now. (No, Baker does not remind me of Manziel at all.)
  • There are few players across the league that I’m more intrigued by this season than Jarvis Landry. I think Landry should be a great player. He’s got amazing hands and physicality. I just don’t think he is one. Last season, he caught 112 balls for 987 yards. Maybe that was just a product of Miami’s play-calling, but 8.8 yards/catch is so shitty. That’s like a baseball player getting 200 hits with 180 of them being bunt singles.
  • Myles Garrett needs at least 15 sacks for this even to be decent defense.

OVER/UNDER 5.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • I couldn’t have possibly been less impressed with a 13-3 team than I was with the 2017 Steelers. They won an improbable amount of close games, including three-point wins over the Colts, Browns, and Rodgers-less Packers.
  • I’m so sick of hearing people fawn over Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, he can still play. But he’s totally immobile, an injury risk on any given down, and has lost more than a few ticks off his fastball. And if he was still (or ever) an elite quarterback like people insinuate, don’t you think he would have otherworldly numbers playing in an offense with a great line AND the best running back AND the best receiver in the league? Because he doesn’t.
  • Speaking of the best running back in the league…we’re days away from their season opener and Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t reported. And now his offensive linemen are openly talking shit about him. I’m not sure if you’ve watched a Steelers game before, but he usually gets the ball about 40 times a game. Totally nothing to worry about here!
  • And speaking of the best receiver in the league…Antonio Brown has been putting on a Jerry Rice clinic for the past five seasons and some of you morons have the audacity to debate between who’s tops in the game. 116/1570/10. That’s AB’s AVERAGE stat line over the past half decade. Case closed.
  • Uhhh I think the Steelers D is super average. I’m not going to blame them for a second for falling apart after the Ryan Shazier injury, but the truth is this group was overperforming even with him in the lineup. They gave up 45 points to Blake Bortles in their playoff game. Forty. Five.

OVER/UNDER 10.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Bengals – 10-6
  2. Steelers – 8-8
  3. Ravens – 7-9
  4. Browns – 5-11

 

NFC SOUTH

 Atlanta Falcons

  • Yeahhh…this roster is amazing. I know it’s really similar to the one they had last season that lost in the Divisional Round. But they were coming off the biggest Super Bowl heartbreak of all time and had a brand new playbook to learn. Not to mention, they still managed to go 10-6 in a season that everyone labeled a disappointment. That’s usually a good sign to me that big things are in store.
  • I’m a functioning human being with a heartbeat and two eyeballs, so naturally I’m concerned about Steve Sarkisian calling the plays. There’s some concern about Matt Ryan too, to a lesser extent. But if this offense clicks, they should average 30 points per game.
  • If you’re like me and think the first 2000-yard receiver is going to happen within the next few years, then Julio Jones this season wouldn’t be a bad bet.
  • I know this wasn’t a great draft for tight ends, but not one stood out for the Falcons? A first or second round talent at tight end would be lethal in this offense.
  • Cue the “the NFL is a copycat league” cliché, but it’s true that when a team develops an innovation that works in a big way, the other 31 teams will install it ASAP. And sacrificing size for speed on defense, like the Falcons have done, feels right up that alley.

OVER/UNDER 9 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Carolina Panthers

  • I feel really bad for Cam Newton. I’m a huge fan of his, as in I think he’s one of the five best quarterbacks in the league. I just do not think this season is going to go well for him whatsoever. The Panthers finally fired Mike Shula, and who do they bring in to call plays for one of the most gifted quarterbacks to ever play the position? You called it…Norv Turner!
  • Have I mentioned how much fantasy football sways our perception of players? Because Christian McCaffrey was total dogshit running the ball last season. He’s essentially Wes Welker with running back eligibility. (He got 113 targets!) That’s sweet if you’re trying to win your PPR league. It’s not if you’re trying to establish a balanced offense in the NFL.
  • This offensive line is going to be SUCH a problem. First, they lost All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell in free agency. Then All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams mangled his knee in training camp. Then the Kalil brothers…oh who cares they both suck anyway. Basically, what I’m saying is…good luck Cam!
  • Good news for Panthers fans is this team will still cover tight ends and shut down the run as well as anyone. God bless Luke Kuechly.
  • Bad news for Panthers fans is that might not matter, because teams should learn to throw deep against this defense every single play. The pass rush is deep but without a difference maker on the edge, and that secondary is rough. And it was rough before Ross Cockrell, one of my favorite offseason signings, broke his leg in training camp.

OVER/UNDER 9 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New Orleans Saints

  • The Saints might be the most hyped team going into this season, and as much as I like to play contrarian…this roster is nice.
  • I’m not sure what else there is to be said about Drew Brees. He’s a consensus Hall of Famer and still feels like the most underrated player in NFL history. The wheels are going to fall off eventually, but it won’t be this year.
  • Alvin Kamara could experience some significant statistical regression and still be one of the five most productive running backs in the league. That’s how incredible he was last season.
  • You might not know much about Cameron Jordan if you casually play fantasy and watch RedZone, but he’s one of the 25 best players in the league. He had 13 sacks last year, and honestly that feels low for how often he was in the backfield. Jordan led the league in batted passes too. That’s some JJ Watt in-his-prime shit.
  • Man, that linebacker corps is baaaaad. Like, “set back a defense that had its first good year in almost a decade last season” baaaaad.

OVER/UNDER 9.5 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Please don’t make me write about this team. You just know this is going to be a miserable season for everyone involved.
  • I think we’ve gone a little far with the Jameis Winston hate. If you wanna write him off for his off-the-field behavior, that’s fine. Hell, I’ve done it. But he doesn’t completely suck as a football player. I’ve given up hope that he’ll ever be great, but can still make things happen.
  • Mike Evans might be better with Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center than Jameis. I have nothing concrete to back up this claim. Just feels right.
  • You know what, serious props to the Bucs front office for the goddamn Queer Eye-level makeover they did to the front seven. JPP is past his prime and Vinny Curry has something to prove outside of Philly, but pairing them with Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy and first-rounder Vita Vea is some nice work.
  • ^Who cares though, because this secondary could absolutely be the worst in the NFL this season. HOW is Chris Conte still a starter?

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Falcons – 12-4
  2. Saints – 11-5
  3. Panthers – 7-9
  4. Buccaneers – 4-12

 

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans

  • The Texans are where I differ the most from my fellow NFL prognosticators heading into this season. I’ve seen a good amount of people penciling them into the AFC Championship Game. I think they’re going to stink.
  • I love Deshaun Watson. I think he’s special and already one of the three most fun players to watch in the league. I still can’t believe 11 people were drafted in front of him. (If you think this is some revisionist history, peep my tweets on the matter.) But even with all of that, I’m not high on him this year. For starters, as electrifying as he was last year, he did not take care of the football whatsoever. In just seven games, he threw eight picks and put the ball of the turf three times. And that doesn’t even include the high number of risky passes that either fell to the ground or were miraculously caught by DeAndre Hopkins. The sophomore slump can be very real for quarterbacks, and I just see it happening to Deshaun. I really hope I’m wrong, but there’s a ton of red flags.
  • One of those red flags being the offensive line. It’s so bad. Like worst in the league bad. Like “holy shit on who’s watch did this happen?” bad.
  • This isn’t providing any incredible insight, but it’s true that the hopes and dreams of this defense all rely on the health of JJ Watt. If he gets back on the fast track to becoming one of the greatest players of all time, then yeah this is suddenly a Top 10 defense. But this is two years and two major injuries later. I’m not sure we’ll ever see that level of game wrecking from Watt again.
  • Watt aside, there are a ton of wild cards in this Texans defense. Jadaveon Clowney has gone from “overrated in his first few seasons” to “wait I actually think he’s underrated now.” Whitney Mercilus is back after missing most of 2017. Jonathan Joseph is ancient but still somehow the top cornerback on the team. And I have no idea what to expect from Tyrann Mathieu, but I know teams don’t just cut 25 year-old superstars. Considering he wasn’t great in either of the past two seasons, maybe we should all lower our expectations here?

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Indianapolis Colts

  • The catastrophic damage that Ryan Grigson did to this roster as the GM is truly unbelievable. The new regime has started to turn things in the right direction over the past two years, but there is still such a lack of talent and experience on this team.
  • I’m really rooting for Andrew Luck. He’s so easy to make fun of that I think a lot of people conveniently forget how great he was. Good thing is there’s actually some reason for optimism on the offensive line this time around. Just keeping him in one piece would be an upgrade.
  • What in the name of Edgerrin James does Luck need to do to get a quality running back???
  • Maybe the most anonymous defense I have ever seen heading into a NFL season. I’m familiar with three players.
  • I’m excited to see what Malik Hooker can do in a full season. He was such a baller at Ohio State and had a three-game interception streak last year before tearing his ACL in Week 7. Could be a Pro Bowler if he stays healthy.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • The Jags are one of the toughest teams to peg going into 2018. On one hand, they led the Patriots late in the AFC Championship Game before they went conservative and had calls go against them. On the other hand, last year was kinda a perfect storm with everything going right for the defense. They should be good, but how good is the question.
  • Blake Bortles’ ceiling is about as low as it gets for a NFL starting quarterback. But I liked the way he played in the playoffs. This offense can at least be effective if he just takes care of the football and scrambles a few times a game. The less he puts the ball in the air, the better. (Let’s be real…even if he had any accuracy, these receivers wouldn’t do shit to help out.)
  • ^Going off that point, Leonard Fournette might carry the ball 350 times this season if he plays 16 games. I think that’s a good strategy? As in, I think that Fournette is good? No doubt he’s a freak of nature, but he only averaged 3.9 yards/carry last year and didn’t contribute much in the passing game. His impact definitely goes beyond the stats, but it would be comforting for Jags fans to see them improve a bit.
  • I mentioned it earlier, but last year was a too-good-to-be-true season for the Jags D. They stayed healthy for 16 games across the board, which is practically unheard of. They also had over half of the starters have career years. That’s not exactly a coincidence, since this defense is a mix of huge contracts and high draft picks. But you can probably bank on slight regression from some of the stars, and there’s just no way they’re going to avoid injuries at the same rate.
  • That’s not to say this defense won’t be elite again. Oh, it will be. Is having the best pass rush AND the best cornerback duo good?

OVER/UNDER 9 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Tennessee Titans

  • There are very few others rosters in the league that look better than this one on paper. There is talent in every single unit on both sides of the ball. If there’s a real weakness here, not sure what it is. I wrote this earlier about the Falcons, but I love teams that are coming off “disappointing seasons” that were actually successful, all things considered. The Titans fit that bill too.
  • I’m not entirely sure what Mike Vrabel did to earn a head-coaching gig, but he gets points just for not being Mike Mularkey.
  • I’m excited to put this in writing this year, because now I’ll have something to look back on when I inevitably think about making this prediction again next season: THIS is going to be the year for Marcus Mariota. I just can’t quit him, and I genuinely don’t think I should yet. High hopes for what he can do with a playbook that doesn’t resemble the 1950s Packers.
  • I couldn’t have loved Dion Lewis the signing more for the Titans. One of my favorites of the offseason. A four-year deal to a 27 year-old running back goes against just about everything I believe in, but I just think Lewis is that good and has that much left to give. He was one of the ten best running backs in the league last season, albeit in limited action. I think he’s better than Derrick Henry, and I think he’ll see a lot more than just third-down work.
  • The Titans D was incredibly average last year, and they didn’t do a complete overhaul of it this offseason, but I still think it might be awesome this year? Jurrell Casey is one of the ten best defensive linemen in football. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo is a great edge-rushing duo, and in relief they have rookie Harold Landry, who somehow fell to the second round. They have a thumping pair of inside linebackers. And then Malcom Butler was added to an already solid secondary. There’s a ton of injury history among this group, but that’s really all I can see derailing them.

OVER/UNDER 8 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Titans – 11-5
  2. Jaguars – 10-6
  3. Texans – 6-10
  4. Colts – 5-11

 

NFC WEST 

Arizona Cardinals

  • I don’t like the looks of the team, but man, I don’t think they’re going to be picking Top 3 in the 2019 Draft like a lot of other people apparently do.
  • Do you think a bridge quarterback with 8-8 upside who’s going to be done for the season by Week 4 is worth $20 million? Because I don’t!
  • David Johnson’s 2016 was one of the best running back seasons of the past decade, but I’d be surprised to see him regain that level of production. Nothing to do with his health…that season just happened in Bruce Arians’ high-octane offense with a lot more talent around him. This Cardinals offense will be night-and-day from that one.
  • The funny thing about this offensive line is it might be Top 5 in the NFL in terms of name recognition, but it also might be considered a Bottom 5 unit by season’s end. Most of the linemen are either overrated or past their primes, and each one of them carries major injury risk. Starting center AQ Shipley is already out for the reason. Please don’t put Josh Rosen out there to die.
  • This defense is fine! They lost their coordinator and some marginal talent, but this group finished fourth in DVOA last season. Chandler Jones is still there. Patrick Peterson is still there. The Cardinals’ main problems won’t be on this side of the ball.

OVER/UNDER 5.5 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Los Angeles Rams

  • Part me of thinks it’s an oversimplification to call this the “Dream Team 2.0,” but it really does remind me a lot of that 2011 Eagles team. I just think acquiring as much talent as possible without regard for culture and scheme is bound to backfire. I’d love to fade this team altogether, but I’m really not a fan of this NFC West, so I’ll begrudgingly pencil them in to win the division.
  • I wasn’t that impressed by Jared Goff last year. His numbers were good, but he didn’t take control of that offense or every really “wow” me. And that’s with an offensive genius calling the plays and the Offensive Player of the Year in the backfield. He really sucked in that playoff game too. I just don’t see him becoming an elite QB any time soon.
  • This was one of the best offensive lines in football last year, but I think they might collapse this season. I’m not adding up the ages of all 32 lines, but I gotta imagine this one is the oldest. They all stayed healthy last year too, and that shit just doesn’t happen twice in a row.
  • I’d say I’m nervous about the Rams pass rush because they have absolutely no edge presence…but Aaron Donald. So yeah, the pass rush will be great. Just because of Donald.
  • This secondary has stupid depth, but I’m not exactly wild about it. The Marcus Peters/Aqib Talib starting duo is beyond worrisome. You just never know with Peters, and Talib is already 32. Plus they’re both shitheads. The Rams will probably be among the league leaders in interceptions, but I don’t think this is going to be the shutdown unit that a lot of people are expecting.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

San Francisco 49ers

  • I’m in on Jimmy G. I think the 49ers have something. I’d just exercise a little bit of patience here. I feel pressure to either be all-in or all-out on him this season, and I just think he’ll be pretty good? I will say…I’d be really surprised if he sucks. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets MVP votes.
  • This feels mean, but I think the 49ers are better off with the Alfred Morris/Matt Breida backfield combo than Jerick McKinnon as the prominent three-down back. I didn’t understand the McKinnon love this offseason whatsoever. He’s been in the league four years now…and he’s been pretty bad the entire time. He averaged 3.4 and 3.8 yards per carry in the past two seasons with 150+ carries in both of them. Like, what was I missing here?
  • Whatever the Marquise Goodwin yardage over/under is, give me the over.
  • For a defensive line that has three guys drafted within the first 17 picks over the past four years, this unit should be way better. DeForest Buckner is a beast by all accounts (I admittedly haven’t watched him much), but that’s about it. Solomon Thomas had about as silent of a rookie year as a third overall pick can possibly have.
  • I’d be psyched if Kyle Shanahan was a coach on my team, but for god’s sake let’s hesitate on declaring him the next Bill Walsh.

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Seattle Seahawks

  • I know everyone outside of Seattle is excited for the Seahawks’ downfall. But I just can’t see it drastically happening this year, barring a Russell Wilson injury. I have basically the same exact outlook for this team as I do for the Panthers, but no one seems to be talking about how Carolina is doomed like they are with Seattle. Teams with Top 5 quarterbacks will always stay at least mildly competitive. Wilson is a Top 5 quarterback.
  • That said…this roster is terrible. By my count, the Seahawks have EIGHT good players, and that’s including no-show Earl Thomas and the rookie punter who was the preseason MVP.
  • Even ignoring the reports that Rashaad Penny is a fatso now, the Seahawks could be tried in court for drafting a running back in the first round with the amount of holes they have all over the depth chart.
  • The game-changing middle linebacker is an endangered species, but the Seahawks have one of the few in Bobby Wagner. Everything I said about the team not falling apart because of Wilson can also be applied to the defense and Wagner.
  • I’m not gonna throw the t-word around, but Russell Wilson missing the season and the Seahawks subsequently going 2-14 might be the best way to make this team really good again in the near future. (OK, they should tank.)

OVER/UNDER 8 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Rams – 10-6
  2. 49ers – 8-8
  3. Seahawks – 8-8
  4. Cardinals – 6-10

 

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

  • No team made me more money against the spread last season than the Broncos. I thought they were transparently terrible from the get-go but it took the betting public until about Week 13 to catch on. I do not expect that to be the case again this season. This could be a sleeper playoff team if a few things break right.
  • I laughed out loud when the news broke that Case Keenum got a 2 year/$36 million contract. But the more I think about it, the more I get it. Would I be psyched if my team planned to start a 30 year-old journeyman QB with only one season in his career that didn’t completely suck? No. But there’s no getting around how awesome Keenum was last year, fluky as it seemed and probably was. You could justify the contract on the gamble alone that he’ll play that well again. But when you consider that the gap between an average QB and the Broncos QB situation last year is about the same as the gap between an average QB and Tom Brady, it makes even more sense to pay him.
  • Wanna bet that Demaryius Thomas puts up a line of at least 80/1000/8 again?
  • 20 sacks seems in play for Von Miller this season, especially with Bradley Chubb on the other edge.
  • Vance Joseph has to be the least inspiring head coach in the league, obviously excluding Hue Jackson. You can tell Elway is already pretty out on him. If this team doesn’t have a winning record by Week 8, I could definitely see him getting canned.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Just about every season in the modern NFL, there’s an offensive phenomenon that no one sees coming. Last year it was the Rams. Before them it was the Falcons. And before them it was the Panthers. This year, I’m all in on it being the Chiefs.
  • There’s nothing in particular that Pat Mahomes has even done to get me on the bandwagon. I just think Andy Reid will be the premier offensive mind in the NFL until the day he retires, and if he’s willing to trade away Alex Smith after the best season of his career for this kid, then yeah I’m gonna guess that they know they have something. I think the Chiefs coaches have spent all offseason giggling behind closed doors.
  • Some other teams have amazing groups of weapons, but no one’s sniffs the Chiefs. They’re elite at running back, receiver, AND tight end. Throw in an offensive line that isn’t spectacular but has a high floor, and I seriously think this is going to be the highest scoring team in the league.
  • The defense has sooooo many question marks. It was one of the worst in the league last year, and the best player from that group is now in LA (Marcus Peters). They were the literal worst team against the run by DVOA, and all they did to address that was sign a career-average linebacker in Anthony Hitchens. So yeah, expect some shootouts.
  • I think there’s more reason for optimism on D than people are giving them though. Eric Berry and Justin Houston are both back, and I’m not ever going to count out either of them. And I think the gamble on trading for Kendall Fuller, a slot corner coming off the first full season of his career, to play outside will pay off.

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Can someone tell me when and why Philip Rivers became the muse of NFL writers? I get that he’s still crazy efficient for his age, but seriously people like Philip Rivers now?!?! IT’S PHILIP RIVERS!!!
  • ^That was all about Rivers as a person, but let’s talk about him as a QB too. He hasn’t been to the playoffs in five years. He hasn’t helmed a 10-win team since 2009. As much yardage as he’s put up lately, this is the same guy who has led the league in INTs twice within the past four years. And he almost always has weapons at his disposal. I cannot get over the Rivers fascination. It’s truly confounding to me. (And do NOT even get me started on Philip Rivers, the Hall of Fame candidate.)
  • Hunter Henry’s ACL injury really blows. He was going to catch 80+ balls in this offense, and now his replacement is the ghost of Antonio Gates. But hey, that just means more targets for Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
  • As you can tell…I’m pretty out on Rivers, the person and quarterback. But I’m not out on this Chargers team. I am super in on this defense. They are going to be fairly easy to run against, but DAMN they are going to tough to throw against. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are going to hit opposing quarterbacks on every single dropback. And Casey Heyward is the best cornerback in football – stop writing him off.
  • No joke, I feel like I have to dock this team at least one projected win for playing in a soccer stadium that’s regularly filled with 90% visiting fans. People talk about a Chargers curse as if this all isn’t total karma for quitting on San Diego.

OVER/UNDER 9.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Oakland Raiders

  • I know I wrote earlier that the Dolphins had the dumbest offseason. They were neck-and-neck with the Raiders for most of the offseason, but then Gruden and Co. dramatically swooped in at the final hour with the Khalil Mack trade to take home the title!
  • It’s never a good sign when my first reaction to a team’s offseason is a gut feeling that foul play is involved. That’s how much I hate what the Raiders did to a roster that I already didn’t really like. It’s old and lacking talent. Winning combo!
  • I seriously think this team is going to be so, so bad. I know that isn’t bold. But however bad other people are guessing, I’ll go 2-3 wins lower.
  • I don’t think Derek Carr is good. Honestly, I’m not even sure he’s average. That magical 2016 season he had, where his numbers weren’t as great as I remember them being, is just starting to feel more and more like a flash in the pan.
  • This is the worst defense is the NFL. The secondary doesn’t suck, but there was one great (let alone good) player on the entire defense and now he plays in Chicago.

OVER/UNDER 7.5 – UNDER (3/3 Confidence) ((Sorry for making you wait until the end for the easiest bet of the season.))

 

  1. Chiefs – 12-4
  2. Chargers – 9-7
  3. Broncos – 9-7
  4. Raiders – 3-13

 

NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

  1. Packers
  2. Falcons
  3. Eagles
  4. Rams
  5. Bears
  6. Saints

NFC Championship Game – Falcons over Packers

 

AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

  1. Chiefs
  2. Patriots
  3. Titans
  4. Bengals
  5. Jaguars
  6. Chargers

AFC Championship Game – Chiefs over Jaguars

 

SUPER BOWL

Falcons over Chiefs

matt-ryan-julio-jones

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Offensive Player of the Year: Pat Mahomes

Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Jackson

Coach of the Year: Matt Nagy

Walter Payton Man of the Year: Benjamin Watson

NFL

Eli Manning Was A Top 5 Quarterback In The League For Multiple Years (With Bonus Segment Of Ideal Landing Spots For Eli)

I’ve had the idea for this blog in the docket since launching Epiblogue. I knew it would take a lot of time and research to put together in the way I wanted it, so I figured I would chop away at it in the offseason while the 24/7 sports media inevitably discussed whether the Giants’ newly drafted top quarterback prospect should start the 2018 season instead of Eli. But then, as everyone knows, things changed this week. Tuesday, November 28th became The Day The New York Giants Publicly Humiliated The Best Quarterback In Franchise History. I had to get to work right away to defend the honor of Elisha Nelson Manning IV.

As for the decision itself, I’m not gonna spend much time at all writing about that. Every single blogger, writer, radio host, podcaster, etc. in the New York market has already covered it, and everyone is echoing the same thing. Just listen to this peak Francesa rant to know how we feel about it. It’s nothing short of a fucking outrage. Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese know their seats are a trillion degrees right now, so their last-ditch effort to save face was scapegoating Eli as the reason for this nightmare of a season. They know Eli is the only real QB on the roster. They know Geno Smith blows. (Despite being the next Drew Brees, Geno barely even made the team this year.) They know Davis Webb sucks too and isn’t CLOSE to ready. The kid hasn’t even dressed for a game yet, and now we’re supposed to trust McAdoo to get him game-ready in just two weeks? I sincerely hope he does well once he gets his chance, but it’s just not gonna happen. He’ll be throwing to the same anonymous receivers that Eli has been, and he’ll be playing behind the same tissue paper offensive line. They think they’re doing Webb a favor by waiting to start him until a home game, but MetLife is gonna be hostile with all of the booing and Eli chants. In all likelihood this will shatter his confidence and set back any potential that Webb might actually have, but McAdoo and Reese obviously don’t care. They are selfish, spineless cowards who didn’t see any problem with hanging the most beloved player on the team out to dry.

The worst part of this whole fiasco is the proposed master plan where Eli would start games then get pulled at halftime, just to keep his Iron Man streak going. It’s been three days and I’m not even one percent less agitated at this suggestion. It just shows how out of touch with reality Giants leadership is that they thought this was some sort of kind gesture to Eli. It’s a slap in the face then a punch in the gut then a kick in the balls. It’s pretty much the move the Bills pulled with Tyrod Taylor just two weeks ago, a move that was laughed at by just about every football fan. Only difference is the Giants did it to a two-time Super Bowl MVP who was on multiple occasions a Top 5 quarterback in the league.

Now I know what your reaction to that last point might be…“Top 5 in the league for multiple years? The guy who is a walking meme? Um, no?” If you look back on the past ten seasons though, it’s a case that can absolutely be made, and a case that I absolutely will be making. Allow me to explain my methodology:

  1. This is essentially a ranking of “if you had to pick a quarterback to start a game the day after that specific season ended, who would you pick?”
  2. I used a combination of standard stats, advanced stats, regular season records, postseason performances, and eye tests. (For all my fellow Moneyball nerds out there, I consulted metrics like DVOA and DYAR, but I left them out of the write-ups to avoid getting too technical.) And yes, measuring “eliteness” is a totally arbitrary thing, so this is some mildly opinionated analysis.
  3. Past performance matters. So basically, you have to work your way up into the Top 5. This prevents us from having to consider cases like 2013 Nick Foles. He arguably had one of the five best statistical years for that specific season, but I don’t even think his mother would admit he was a Top 5 quarterback in the league.
  4. It takes a truly mind-blowing performance to break into the Top 5 if that quarterback wasn’t a fringe candidate for the prior season. Think 2015 Cam Newton.
  5. A quarterback can lose his spot in the Top 5 to injury, but doesn’t automatically lose his spot to injury. Like Aaron Rodgers is currently one of the best QBs in the league despite his broken collarbone. We all know he’ll come back and be fine. But say he ruptured his spleen? We wouldn’t be so sure.

 

2007

 Top 5: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Carson Palmer

Explained: Brady puts up probably the best QB season of all-time, even to this day. He leads the Patriots to a 16-0 season, throws 50 TDs with only 8 interceptions, and leads the league in just about every important passing category. Besides Brady’s performance, this was one of the worst quarterbacking seasons in modern history. This was the year where Derek Anderson legitimately made the Pro Bowl. (Probably not the best call to start with this season, but we’re running with it.) Peyton has a down year by his standards, but still an excellent year compared to the rest. The other three wouldn’t crack most other year’s Top 5 based off their 2007 performances. But Brees followed up his breakout 2006 by finishing second in yards to Brady, and Favre came out of nowhere with a vintage season where he led the Packers to a 13-3 record and made the Second All-Pro Team. There’s no solid claim for the final spot…cases could be made for Tony Romo or Ben Roethlisberger but neither of those guys had yet become what we know them by now. I’m giving it to Carson Palmer, who was the league’s best young QB at the time and put up his third great statistical season in a row.

Eli’s Year: The coming-of-age season for Young Elisha, where he put together an excellent postseason that culminated with him winning the first of his Super Bowl MVPs. But even with a six-game winning streak during the regular season and playoff run that included four straight road wins, Eli couldn’t justifiably be put in the Top 5. The offensive/defensive lines were the real key to the Giants’ success, Eli tied for the league lead in picks, and he finished middle of the pack in most important QB stats. The first great overall season for Eli, but he was more 2012 Joe Flacco at this point.

 

2008

Top 5: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger

Changes From Last Year: OK, 2008 was even worse for quarterbacks. CHAD PENNINGTON finished second in the MVP voting. Kurt Warner arrives on the list after he backs up his strong comeback season in 2007 with an even better 2008. Yes, he had peak Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, but he also nearly won the Super Bowl for the fucking Cardinals and threw for over 4500 yards. The last spot is dicey. I give it to Roethlisberger, who had an awful regular season but caught fire in the playoffs and balled out in the Super Bowl for his second ring. (People forget that Roethlisberger had one of the worst Super Bowl QB performances of all time in 2005, even though the Steelers won.) It seems wrong to reward a guy who finished the season behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen, and Kyle Orton in QBR, but Big Ben had an awesome statistical season just the year before. Three guys fall off the list: Brady shredded his ACL in the first quarter of the first game, and this was pre-2012 Adrian Peterson when we thought that injury was nearly impossible to come back the same from. Favre unretired for the first time to play for the Jets with half of a shoulder, and Palmer barely played because of injuries. Philip Rivers is the notable omission here, after leading the league in touchdowns and passer rating. But this was the year where he and Jay Cutler tried to out-pout each other for the AFC West title at 8-8, and we all couldn’t figure out who we hated more.

Eli’s Year: Eli makes his first appearance in the Top 5, although he kinda backs his way in. Look, he finished fifth in QBR (a sketchy stat, I know), cut way back on his turnovers, made the Pro Bowl, and led the Giants to the NFL’s best record at 12-4. It was no doubt a great season, but he cracks the Top 5 mostly because of injuries to other stud QBs. The Giants also got stomped by the Eagles at home in the playoffs, and Eli’s newfound confidence took its first hit.

 

2009

 Top 5: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers

Changes From Last Year: Thank god, quarterbacks became good again in 2009. Brees becomes the league’s top QB. Both the Saints and Colts started 13-0 this season, and Brees followed up wrongly losing the MVP to Peyton by outplaying him in the Super Bowl. Favre unretires again but this time it goes wayyyy better, having a Cinderella season where at the age of 40 he put up maybe the best numbers of his career and was one cross-body throw away from taking the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Brady proves that he’s still really good, but he did throw 13 picks (insane for him) and got demolished at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Ravens. Rivers finally cracks the list, as he leads the Chargers to a 13-3 record in the first post-prime year for LaDanian Tomlinson. Warner has a good year and wins one of the best playoff games ever against the Packers, but in the next round his time on the list and, ya know, in the NFL is forever ended by Bountygate. Roethlisberger has a really solid year, but doesn’t compare to the Top 5. A certain QB in Green Bay has his first monster season but just misses the list.

Eli’s Year: Eli’s 2009 falls in the same camp as Big Ben…a nice season, just unspectacular. He cracks 4000 yards for the first time and throws almost twice as many TDs as INTs, but the Giants go 8-8.

 

2010

 Top 5: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers

Changes From Last Year: Brady proves that he’s still REALLY good. He becomes the first unanimous MVP and puts up an absurd 36:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Peyton and Brees have their usual big years, but Brees slides back for throwing 22 picks. (Saints also lost to the 7-9 Seahawks in the playoffs that year, but Brees had a huge game.) The ascension of Aaron Rodgers is complete, as he sneaks the Packers into the playoffs then goes on an all-time run to win the Super Bowl. No one really did too much to earn the fifth spot, so I’ll let Rivers keep it after another strong season where he had no supporting cast. Favre falls off the list after he unretires one last time, but this time he should’ve stayed on that farm in Mississippi. Big Ben went to another Super Bowl, but that team was also anchored by its defense and Roethlisberger’s future was in doubt this year after his sexual assault suspension. Matt Ryan makes his case for the first time, but his second straight bad playoff game keeps him in the waiting room. Mike Vick took the league by storm this year, but he also lost in the first round of the playoffs and we weren’t sure if it was fluky yet.

Eli’s Year: This was the first year Eli’s haters started showing their faces in public. He cracked 4000 yards again and threw for 31 touchdowns, but he also led the league with 25 picks. The team went 10-6, but just missed out on the playoffs after they lost two huge games down the stretch. First real glimpses of Good Eli, Bad Eli.

 

2011

 Top 5: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger

Changes From Last Year: The year where quarterbacks put up Madden numbers. Matt Stafford threw for over 5000 yards and 41 touchdowns, and he wasn’t even really considered for the Top 5. Also the year where Aaron Rodgers became the elite of the elite with one of the best regular seasons ever by a quarterback. It seems crazy to slide Brady back after he threw for over 5200 yards and took the Pats to the Super Bowl, and Brees too after the Saints went 13-3 and he broke the single-season records for yards and completion percentage. But that’s how good Rodgers was in 2011…the dude had a 45:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and was one random loss away from a 16-0 season. Big Ben breaks through to crack the Top 5, but trust me he doesn’t have a firm grasp on that spot. (I mean, he got outdueled by Tim Tebow in the playoffs.) Peyton falls out of the Top 5 for the first time after missing the entire season with his neck injury. That might seem harsh, but we really had no clue if he’d even play again. The Colts let him walk for god’s sake. Rivers has a decent season, but with his 20 interceptions we see some foreshadowing of his 2012 meltdown.

Eli’s Year: Undoubtedly the peak of Eli’s career. In a year of legendary quarterback play, Eli earned his spot in that top tier with Rodgers, Brady, and Brees. He was flat-out sensational. He had a great regular season where he almost reached 5000 yards, but in the postseason he took his play to another level we didn’t even know he had. As awesome as his 2007 run was, 2011 was significantly better. He embarrassed Matt Ryan in what was supposed to be a first-round shootout, outplayed Rodgers on the road in the second round, took it to one of the best modern defenses in San Francisco in the NFC Championship, then grabbed his second Super Bowl MVP two weeks later. In those playoffs he averaged over 300 yards per game, had a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and made arguably the greatest throw of all time.

 

2012

 Top 5: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Eli Manning

Changes From Last Year: Not too many changes to report…the best stayed the best. Oh, and Peyton came back from potentially catastrophic neck surgery somehow even better. He carried the Broncos to a 13-3 record, led the league in QBR, and narrowly (but correctly) lost the MVP to Adrian Peterson. Peyton jumps over Brees on the list, who was still great and led the NFL with 43 TD passes, but also led with 19 INTs. Matt Ryan makes by far his best push to get into the Top 5, but I still give the final slot to Eli over him and Big Ben. You might think that’s biased, since Ryan absolutely had the better statistical 2012 season and won his first playoff game too. But he also had a 24-14 halftime lead at home in the NFC Championship that his team lost 28-24, and all season he was throwing to one of the best receiving duos in recent memory in Roddy White and Julio Jones. As for Roethlisberger, he is a pretty easy cross-off. He played well enough in 2012, but this was the season where he started feeling all those hits from years before. He misses three crucial games, keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs. “Is Joe Flacco elite?” also becomes a thing, but his regular season numbers are so middling that he is hardly considered for this list.

Eli’s Year: Eli follows up his best campaign with another solid year, but the Giants go 9-7 and narrowly miss the playoffs. So while revisionist historians will say that Matt Ryan should have that fifth spot, try to remember how we talked about QBs back then. Eli was still fresh off his pièce de résistance, and Matt Ryan was still the guy who couldn’t win the big one. If you asked coaches at the time to pick one of them to win you a big game, I bet 9 out of 10 would roll with Eli.

 

2013

 Top 5: Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck

Changes From Last Year: The Top 4 stay the same, except Peyton moves back up to the top spot after totally normally having his personal best season at the age of 37. (What was really in that package shipped to his wife…?) All jokes aside, his season was seriously insane before it crash-landed against Seattle in the Super Bowl. He broke Brady’s single-season passing touchdown record by FIVE, and lowkey broke Brees’s single-season passing yards record too. This was right after the “Year of the Rookie Quarterback,” when young running QBs were understandably all the rage. Cam Newton bounced back from his sophomore slump to take Carolina into the playoffs with a 12-4 record, Colin Kaepernick followed up on his near-Super Bowl run with an excellent regular season (he was really so good guys), and Russell Wilson put up clean numbers on his way to winning the Super Bowl. Wilson would be a fine pick for the fifth spot even as the quarterback on a running team that was anchored by it’s Top 10 all-time defense, but any GM at the time would tell you they’d rather have Luck. He took a straight-up mediocre Colts team to its second straight 11-5 record and postseason appearance, where he engineered one of the biggest comebacks ever against Kansas City.

Eli’s Year: In pains me to look back on this season, but Eli comfortably falls out of the Top 5 with a truly terrible year. This team started 0-6 and fell as far from its heyday as a Super Bowl team possibly can in two years. Up until this current season, it was safely the worst offense Eli has ever had to work with. ANDRE BROWN led the Giants with 492 rushing yards, and neither Victor Cruz nor Hakeem Nicks were very good. (Ever consider that both of them reaching their individual heights in 2011 might have had something to do with Eli?) Still, Eli couldn’t pass too much of the blame. He did throw 27 interceptions after all.

 

2014

 Top 5: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees

Changes From Last Year: No changes to the Top 5 for the first time, but the order does shake up. Rodgers wins his second MVP and is a botched onside kick away from reaching his second Super Bowl. Yes, Brady won his first Super Bowl in 10 years and took home MVP honors for the game, but he stays just behind Rodgers for now. (Trent Dilfer is and has always been a moron, but this was the “they’re not good anymore” year.) I think people choose to conveniently forget how great Luck was (and I’d argue will be again soon) not that long ago. He led the league in passing touchdowns, finished third in yards, and took another shitty Colts team to the AFC Championship. He beat Peyton’s Broncos on the road in those playoffs, which is the main reason for the passing-of-the-torch on the list. Peyton started off the 2014 season on fire, but towards the end of the year it started to become pretty obvious that he was losing it FAST. This was a phenomenal year for quarterback play, Brees included, but there were more than a few options to replace him. Tony Romo had his best season, leading the league in QBR and going 12-3 under center. Roethlisberger arguably had his best statistical season too, but he just misses the cut yet again. Russell Wilson was also great, but throwing the worst interception in NFL history definitely doesn’t help his case. Oh, and a certain goofy looking QB that plays in New Jersey also happened to light it up…

Eli’s Year: Eli is BACK. Eli returns from his worst season with one of his most productive. The team goes 6-10 and misses the playoffs, but that had nothing to do with the play of #10. Eli throws for over 4400 yards while throwing more than twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. While a Mr. Beckham Jr. certainly propped up the numbers, this was a forgotten yet incredible season for Eli.

 

2015

 Top 5: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson

Changes From Last Year: No changes at the top, which might be surprising if you just look at Rodgers’s numbers compared to Brady’s on the surface. But this the year where Rodgers played without Jordy Nelson and essentially an offensive line, had RICHARD ROGERS as his second most productive receiver, and still threw for a 31:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio while almost Hail Mary’ing the Packers into the NFC Championship. Cam Newton leaps Brees right into the third spot, which speaks to how transcendent his MVP season was. The Panthers went 15-1, he threw for almost 4000 yards with 35 TDs, and he ran for over 600 yards with another 10 TDs on the ground. Russell Wilson finally breaks into the Top 5 after he carries a decimated Seahawks offense into the playoffs. Leading the league in passer rating while throwing for over 4000 yards and 34 touchdowns ain’t bad either. Ironically Peyton easily falls out of the Top 5 in the year where he won his second Super Bowl, because I’m honestly not 100% sure that I couldn’t win a title under center on that roster. Luck also bows out after two years on this list, as his team’s total ignorance for blocking finally starts to take its toll on him. Carson Palmer is a tough guy to leave out for his 2015, after he was arguably the best pure passer in the league.

Eli’s Year: Another guy who is tough to leave out…Eli Manning! That awesome 2014 he had? Well take pretty much the same numbers and just add 5 touchdowns. I’m an obsessive Giants fan and I forgot just how insanely good Eli was for these two years. Now I’m just upset we couldn’t have the 2016 defense for either of these seasons.

 

2016

 Top 5: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan

Changes From Last Year: Brady finally reclaims the lead. He was the best QB in football for the 12 games he played, and he led the Patriots to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. (But never forget that he threw a brutal pick-six right before halftime.) Fifth place might seem like a rough placement for Matt Ryan after his MVP season, but you have to consider the elements. From 2013-2015 he was…decent I guess? Definitely not great. Ryan’s 2016 numbers are eye-popping and he deserves a ton of credit for them, but he also played with unreal talent and probably the best playcaller in the league last year. And you might credit him for almost winning the Super Bowl, but man he fucking blew that game. (“Matty Ice” is up there for biggest misnomer ever in sports. I still have “Big Game” James Shields in the lead.) Cam’s run on the list is a quick one, as he falls off after failing to stay healthy and watching his production nosedive as a result. The only real challenger for the Top 5 is…you guessed it…Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben posted superior numbers than Wilson and his team went farther in the playoffs, but he played in ideal surroundings while Russ stayed effective despite running for his life on every play.

Eli’s Year: Um…it wasn’t good. The Giants went 11-5 and made the playoffs, but it was like a parallel universe compared to 2015. The defense put the team on its back and Eli tried dragging them down. The standard stats actually aren’t so bad, and the offensive line definitely didn’t do him any favors. Still, he was deservedly right near the bottom of the league in QBR. He actually played really well during a disastrous playoff game, but it was already a season that couldn’t really be saved for Eli.

 

Totals (5 for 1st, 4 for 2nd…):

Tom Brady 36 (2007, 2009-2016)
Aaron Rodgers 30 (2010-2016)
Drew Brees 28 (2007-2016)
Peyton Manning 27 (2007-2010, 2012-2014)
Brett Favre 5 (2007, 2009)
Eli Manning 5 (2008, 2011-2012)
Andrew Luck 4 (2013-2014)
Cam Newton 3 (2015)
Kurt Warner 3 (2008)
Russell Wilson 3 (2015-2016)
Philip Rivers 2 (2009-2010)
Ben Roethlisberger 2 (2008, 2011)
Carson Palmer 1 (2007)
Matt Ryan 1 (2016)

 

I’m not at all suggesting this as some sort of definitive ranking of quarterbacks. It’s for sure an imperfect system. It doesn’t account for performances that would’ve finished in the Top 6-10 range, which is where Roethlisberger might have finished like five times. (To be fair, this would only further boost Eli’s point total too.) Still, I think it provides fascinating insight into which QBs worked their way into that highest level and how they stacked up to their peers during these respective seasons. (The whole purpose of this blog is to celebrate the career of Eli Manning, but you could absolutely read it as the Drew Brees Appreciation Blog. He’s consistently been a Top 5 quarterback for each of the past ten seasons. I know Mardi Gras is a religious celebration, but one year they should just mix it up and hold it in honor of Brees.)

I think this offers a good measurement for Eli’s standing among fellow quarterbacks over the past decade. His highs were incredibly high and his lows were incredible low, but overall I’d estimate that he falls in that Top 5-6 range which is exactly where this chart places him. Does that make him a Hall of Famer? I’m really not sure. Anyone who definitively tells you yes or no is either from Philly or is Cooper Manning. The truth of the matter is that while the Football Hall is pretty lenient for most positions, it’s incredibly stingy when it comes to quarterbacks. Only 14 QBs who played their entire careers in the Super Bowl era are in Canton. If you are in the pro-Eli camp because of the two Super Bowl MVPs, you’re definitely right that it’s the top bullet point on his resume (although the consecutive starts streak should be right up there). Still, Jim Plunkett went 2-0 in Super Bowl starts and grabbed one of the MVPs, but he’s on the outside looking in. Even fellow Giant Phil Simms can’t seem to get in, and he has two rings and was one of the league’s best QBs for a five-year stretch. (I know Simms didn’t start in Super Bowl 21, but that Giants team doesn’t even make the playoffs without him.) And if you’re in the anti-Eli camp because he had some bad mid-career seasons and never even came close to winning any regular season hardware, he’s not alone in that regard either. Troy Aikman never won a MVP or made an AP All-Pro Team, and the middle of Kurt Warner’s career is pretty much non-existent. I would guess that Eli eventually gets in, especially since I didn’t expect Warner to get inducted as quickly as he did. And I get the vibe that voters view Roethlisberger as a shoo-in candidate, which if true should make Eli an absolute lock. Their cases from a performance standpoint are way more similar than people like to admit, and from a character standpoint (which the Hall values) it’s not even debatable. Eli has won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and is universally known as one of the best guys in the league, while Ben is an asshole with some seriously awful personal history that doesn’t get nearly the attention that it deserves.

Still, nothing would help Eli’s Hall argument more than one last playoff run. I still think there is some life in that right arm, so here are the Top 5 destinations where I’d like to see him play next year:

  1. Giants

I know, I know. It’s wishful thinking at this point. The reason Giants fans are so devastated is that the announcement effectively and unceremoniously ended Eli’s time with the Giants. Next offseason will probably be like the Tony Romo situation from this offseason all over again. I expect the Giants to field some calls, but I don’t foresee any team offering a package that would be more beneficial to the Giants than just releasing Eli. (It’s way better on the Giants impending cap situation to cut Eli, and they need all the money they can immediately get.) Eli also has a full no-trade clause, so even if the Browns call up the Giants and offer seven of their fifty second-round picks, he’ll just shoot it down. It’s not like we can expect him to approve a less than ideal trade just for the Giants’ benefit.

Still, I’m holding out hope that McAdoo and Reese get canned right away, and that the new regime makes things right with Eli and names him the starter for 2018. Look, I’m not delusional. I know he’s not an above-average quarterback anymore, even if he has been better this year than he was last year. But this is the same Giants roster that was the most commonly picked team to win the NFC East prior to the season, with many experts even picking them to reach the Super Bowl. It’s been a hellish year for injuries, they had some unlucky losses, and the coaching has nowhere to go but up. In the ONE game where the Giants had all of its best players on the field for all four quarters this season, they lost on a 61-yard field goal on the road in Philly. The defense contained Carson Wentz, and Eli threw for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns. What I’m saying is, this team could content next year. My dream scenario is the Giants take a quarterback with their presumably Top 5 pick and sit him behind Eli to start the season. If Eli plays well, then the rookie is learning from one of the best in action. If Eli sucks it up, then the kid eventually comes in and fans aren’t upset that Eli is benched for the actual future. Which turns out is…not Geno Smith.

  1. Steelers

This one might be an uncommon pick, but it’s absolutely what I want to happen when things probably don’t work out between Eli and the Giants. I’d bet on Roethlisberger retiring after this season. He heavily weighed it before signing up to play this year, and his body has only taken more of a beating. I know that the Steelers are 9-2 and that Ben hasn’t missed any games yet, but if you’ve watched him this year then you know he’s already on the steady decline. He’s completely immobile in the pocket, and he doesn’t just absorb contact like he used to. Pittsburgh apparently likes Josh Dobbs a lot, but I’m sure they’d prefer to sit him behind a veteran for another season. And in terms of pure talent, the Steelers probably have a Top 3 roster in the league. Eli would only have to throw the ball 20-25 times a game, he wouldn’t take many hits behind a great offensive line, and having Antonio Brown is always a good thing. He’d go from suddenly one of the worst run franchises in the NFL to maybe the best. If this happens, bet the Le’Veon Bell receptions over.

  1. Jaguars

The most obvious post-Giants destination for Eli, and the logic holds up. First, Tom Coughlin is running the show there and his close relationship with Eli is well documented. Second, Blake Bortles stinks, which you may have known. The Jags can get out of Bortles’s fifth-year option scot-free, and they’d be left with a ton of cap space that could partially be used to handsomely reward Eli for a year or two of his services. This team is already playoff bound in spite of its quarterback, and the defense and running game should be just as dominant next season. I can’t guarantee Eli would want to play in Jacksonville or wear those hideous uniforms, but at least he could talk to the locals about retirement plans during his off days.

  1. Bills 

Another potential option that you might not hear much about, and maybe that’s because this is part of a personal fantasy. One of the only plausible trades involving Eli I can think of is a swap involving him and Tyrod Taylor. All of the other 31 teams know the Bills are low on Tyrod, despite him being good at playing quarterback in the National Football League. I can’t guarantee the Giants would be on board with this plan, but T-Mobile could make shit happen immediately with Odell and Co. As for Eli, he wouldn’t have to go too far and would play for another fan base that embraces him. The Bills could be a trendy playoff pick with Eli behind center, although he’d definitely need some better receiver options.

  1. Jets 

I’m sure you were expecting a different quarterback-needy team here, probably like the Broncos or Cardinals. I think Denver as a possible destination for Eli is a lazy guess…he’s not just gonna bank on getting his second wind there because it worked out for his older brother. The Broncos also kinda suck. The defense is still good but it’s aging, and offensively they have a terrible line and no running game. As for Arizona, their cap situation isn’t great and I don’t think the oldest team in football will be too interested in bringing in a 37 year old QB.

So take everything I wrote from the Giants section about Eli starting 2018 in front of a top draft pick, and just apply it to the Jets. I hope I speak for all reasonable Giants fans when I say that Eli playing a year or two for the Jets wouldn’t really bother me. It’s not like he’d be playing for the Eagles, Cowboys, or Redskins. Even though the Jets were better than expected this year, it’s likely that Eli wouldn’t contend as the quarterback of the current Jets roster. Still, the Jets would pay him a shit ton of money, the team wouldn’t totally suck, and he wouldn’t have to move his family. All chances of a third Super Bowl would probably go out the window, but it sounds like a pretty cushy deal. And at the end of the day, all I want is the happiest possible situation for Eli Manning.

 

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