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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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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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