Josh Freeman gives hope to the Purple and Gold

Josh Freeman gives hope to the Purple and Gold

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked Josh Freeman to the curb and the Minnesota Vikings kindly picked him up.

I know what you are thinking, great another terrible quarterback for a temporary fix. Well, let me try to convince you why you are wrong.

I didn’t see Josh Freeman play at Kansas State a whole lot. Instead, I began paying attention when I picked him late in the 2010 Fantasy Football season to replace my injured quarterback. As it turns out, that was the year to have him because his 25 touchdowns and 6 interceptions were a big reason why I won the league.

I arrogantly drafted him the following year, talking him up like he was the steal of the draft. The league laughed in my face when his turnover ratio dropped to 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with a completion rate well below 60 percent. I bailed on him pretty quickly, making a move for Matt Ryan and finishing second in the league.

My league mates will always hold the Freeman pick over my head, making jokes about how he was supposed to be the greatest quarterback ever. I don’t have much ground to stand on when he continues to fall down the slope further and further, but I stand by the potential I see.

Josh Freeman was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a laundry list of reasons. He was blamed for missing important meetings, being late for practice, doing an unauthorized interview with ESPN and being less than stellar on the field (43 percent completion rate and three interceptions through three games).

All this does not look to good for him, no doubt, but the Buccaneers are a mess on many levels. Head Coach Greg Schiano has no idea what he is doing. Schiano is the same guy who sent his defensive lineman blitzing Eli Manning in the victory formation. He is leading a very talented team in the wrong direction.

Schiano lost faith in Freeman a long time ago and as a result never put him in situations to succeed. Freeman was never going to succeed with a coach that had no faith in him and an organization that was doing everything it could to get rid of him. Well almost everything. Instead of quietly trying to trade him for performance issues, they attacked Freeman’s work ethic, making him out to be a terrible guy. No team is going to trade a draft pick for a guy that is inevitably going to get cut.

Now, Freeman is not a saint in all of this. I’m sure some of the accusations were true, but I like to give him the benefit of the doubt. How would you like to go into work every day knowing that your boss has no faith in you? It has to wear on you.

Why the Vikings?
Freeman wanted out, he was released and the Minnesota Vikings swooped in and grabbed him.

The Vikings are in great situation for Freeman. The fan base has given up on the team’s first round quarterback Christian Ponder. He was limited in his abilities and has shown no sign of improvement.

Conveniently Ponder is dealing with a shoulder injury, leaving the team to turn to Matt Cassel. Cassel was impressive in a victory against the struggling Steelers. He gave the team a resemblance of a passing game, reminding us all that Greg Jennings is a Viking now.

If Ponder is truly injured and unable to suit up, that leaves the Vikings with no backup to Matt Cassel other than their “athlete” Joe Webb. Freeman can come in, learn the playbook and at minimum be the safety blanket the team needs.

But that is not the extent of what Freeman is going to do for the Vikings. It may take a week or so for Freeman to get settled in, but expect him to fight for the starting job this season.

Freeman is 6-feet-6-inches tall and weighs 240 pounds. He is big enough to stand tall in the pocket, but is most successful when he rolls out, creating space and time for his receivers. Do you remember watching Ben Roethlisberger continuously scramble and shed tackles a week ago? It is frustrating to see a sack disappear isn’t it? Well Freeman’s big body gives him the ability to do the same thing. He is tough to take down and is able to make something out of nothing.

Freeman gives the Vikings something they should of had all along: a play action game. When you have one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL, you should be the best play action team in the league. Defenses are scared to death of Adrian Peterson and as soon as they see a motion to give him the ball they commit to stop him.

This may be a new concept to Vikings fans, but when you have a quarterback that can confidently make throws, you can use play action for huge gains. It is something the Houston Texans have been great at over the last few years with Arian Foster and they have a pretty mediocre quarterback in Matt Schaub. Christian Ponder never could take advantage of the play action because after he turns to fake he turns back, looks up field nervously and under throws the ball by 10 yards.

Freeman has the arm strength to make these passes and he also has the threat to run it himself. Imagine the possibilities. Bill Musgrave can call play action passes or play action bootlegs were Freeman can roll out and pick up the yards himself.

Musgrave supporters have always said that he was limited because of Ponder’s lack of ability and arm strength. Freeman should allow him to open the playbook up, making the offense much more dynamic.

Vikings fans are sick of getting other team’s used quarterbacks. They want to get a franchise guy like Andrew Luck in the draft so that they can be set for many years to come. I get that. I would love to see that myself, but it is not that easy.

For the most part the Vikings are built to win now. They have good receivers and an elite running back on offense and a solid pass rush with a young secondary on defense.

History says that Adrian Peterson has about three seasons of elite production left. Yes, he is Superhuman, but a running back with his running style who has gone through major knee surgery is no guarantee. The Vikings want to get all they can out of him, but they would also love to get him to a Super Bowl.

They can sit around waiting for the next Andrew Luck in the draft for years. They don’t come often. Plus, when you have Adrian Peterson, you probably are not going to have the two win season you need to get that first overall draft pick that allows you to get that guy.

To take advantage of Peterson’s best years the Vikings need to find talented enough players to compliment him. Josh Freeman is not going to be Peyton Manning, but at his best, he is going to give the team a good chance to win now.

Freeman comes in with a chip on his shoulder. He is not happy with how things played out in Tampa Bay. The change of scenery is good for him. He will be motivated to bounce back and will get an opportunity to play for a coaching staff that stayed loyal to the less-than-adequate Christian Ponder. It is a situation he should be able to succeed in.

Good signing by the Vikings. I am more optimistic for their future than I have been in quite some time.

NFL Season Predictions Part 9: The NFC North

NFC North

The Green Bay Packers

In Rodgers we trust.

Record Prediction: 12-4 (4-2)

The NFC North drew the AFC North for their non-conference games, which will be a difficult task for all of these teams. The Packers would have been a 12 win team last season had it not been for this play:

All of the other teams in this division have major consistency issues, so the Packers are the safe pick to win this division.

What to like: (This is a bit painful because I have been programed to hate everything about the Green Bay Packers)

Aaron Rodgers is annoying to fans of anyone but the Packers, but it is hard to ignore the impact he has on this team. As long as Rodgers is on the roster and is healthy the Packers are guaranteed to win a minimum of 10 games a season. His career touchdown to interception ratio is 171 to 46, including 39 and 8 last season. I don’t want to admit that he is better than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the numbers he has been able to put up over the past few years are hard to ignore.

Greg Jennings may be gone, but Rodgers doesn’t care. He loves the versatility of Randall Cobb and expects to highlight him in this offense again this season. Cobb led all Packer receivers in nearly every category last season; leading in targets (104), receptions (80), yards (954) and plays of 20 yards or more (17). Rodgers confessed his love for Cobb in an interview with the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel where he said:

“Randall sees the game through the eyes of a quarterback because he was a quarterback. So he understands timing and spacing and when he has to get out of his breaks. He’s an excellent – just like Jordy is – an excellent second reaction guy. When I have to come out of the pocket, where in the past you might have seen some of the balls go to Greg and Jordy, Randall caught more than anybody last year because he was healthy and he also has really good reactions.”

“I think he can be a 100-catch guy. We haven’t had that here in a while. But I think he can. I think he’s a special player. As long as he can stay healthy, I think he’s going to be a big-time star for us.”

Cobb is joined by Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley, all respectable receiving options in their own right. Jones broke out last season scoring 14 touchdowns. That number will be hard to repeat, but he should be able to fulfill a bigger role in the absence of Gennings.

Do the Green Bay Packers finally have a running game to go along with their high-powered passing attack? They added Eddie Lacy (Alabama), a running back that has the ability to be a 1,000 yard rusher. Lacy probably will not be asked to rush for 1,000 yards, but he should be effective enough to at least threaten defenses with a running game.

Concerns:

It really is amazing the Rodgers was able to put up the numbers he put up in 2012 because his offensive line did not help him out very much. Rodgers was sacked 51 times last season. All it takes is one hit for Rodgers to go down and then a 12-4 team turns into a team that battles to get to 8-8.

Everyone questions this teams defense, especially their run defense. They gave up an average of 116 yards per game on the ground last season and were torched by guys like Adrian Peterson and Colin Kaepernick. Their 3-4 defense may not be set up to stop the run as well as it could, but with Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji they still can be effective enough as a whole. Getting destroyed in the running game is not as much of a concern when Rodgers is capable of scoring in a hurry.

Mentioning Mason Crosby here is kind of laughable, but he has to be a concern. Crosby was 21 of 33 last season and somehow the Packers were confident enough in him to bring him back for anther season. For better or worse, kickers can have a huge impact in close games and Crosby is not a guy I would want kicking a game winning field goal.

Bold Prediction:

Not very bold considering Rodgers said he wanted to get him 100 catches, but I will say Cobb leads the team in receiving and scores double digit touchdowns, with a few being a result of some rushes out of the backfield.

The Detroit Lions

Can’t escape their own history

Record Prediction: 9-7 (4-2)

The Detroit Lions were 10-6 in 2011, but then in typical Lions’ fashion, the team underachieved finishing 4-12 last season. Lion critics poke fun at the Lion franchise’s history, with their 0-16 record a few years ago and all of their years underachieving. I get it, but the Pittsburgh Pirates just capped off their first winning season in 20 years so why can’t the Lions finally be as good as they should be based on their pretty darn talented roster? At 9-7 the Lions would likely still miss the playoffs, but I do like the Lions to be in the hunt for a Wild Card and maybe even be in the running to win the division.

What to like:

The defensive line may be the most intimidating in all of football. Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh has to be the leader of this defense. Obviously there is some personality issues with Suh who has caused some trouble with late hits in the past. The word from Detroit camp is that Suh is taking the leadership role well. If he deals with the attitude, but keeps his competitive fire, it is hard to ignore his talent. He had eight sacks last season, a pretty high number for defensive tackle. Only the Bengal’s Geno Atkins had more with 12.5 last season.

Nick Fairley lines up beside Suh and brings anther 5.5 sacks to this defensive line. When a quarterback walks to the line and sees these two guys in front of him he has every reason in the world to be a bit scared. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly I guess) the Lions used another high pick to get Ziggy Ansah with the fifth pick in this years draft. He will line up as the defensive end opposite Jason Jones, the acquisition from the Seattle Seahawks. This defensive line will get pressure on the quarterback week in and week out and with poor offensive lines in Chicago and Green Bay they could really run up the sack statistics as well.

This offense was above average last season and with the addition of Reggie Bush it has become scary good. Bush’s career high in receptions was 73 in 2007 when he was working with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. His career high in rushing yards came in 2011, when he rushed for 1,086 yards. In Detroit he will bring both his running and catching abilities to be a very dangerous weapon for this offense. The Lions have needed a running back like Bush for a number of years. Personally, I always had hope for Javid Best, but his unfortunate concussion issues got in the way and we never will know what he could have been capable of. Bush will up the level of this offense a significant amount.

The one guy that is going to fall in love with Bush is quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford has finally put the injury concerns behind him, having played in two consecutive full seasons (knock on wood) and has been near the top of the league in passing yards both of those ear (4,967 yards in 2012 and 5,038 in 2011). There are two things that Stafford critics use to knock him:

  1. His 2012 touchdown to interception ratio was 20 to 17, showing some glaring consistency and ball protection issues.
  2. His success is tied to the league’s best wide receiver: Calvin Johnson who brought 122 receptions for 1,964 years in 2012.

The first issue has some validity, Stafford does need to protect the ball better overall, but look at his numbers the previous season when he threw 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Obviously the interceptions look a lot better when you score a lot of touchdowns, so yes, it would be better if he cut that number down to 10 or so, but if this offense is able to score to the level of their offensive talent then they can get away with the higher interceptions, much like Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Calvin Johnson is a stud and he does elevate the level of the guys around him, including Stafford, but the quarterback still deserves some credit. We have seen plenty of mediocre and terrible quarterbacks continue to be awful despite having a great receiver to throw to (Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona for example). If you take away Johnson from this offense, Stafford probably would not throw for 5,000 yards, but he still is a solid starting quarterback. I know I would take him on my team.

Concerns:

I probably should mention their defensive secondary here, because they are still an unproven group, but I am not going to waste any more space than that in doing so.

The biggest issue with the Detroit Lions is a lack of control and discipline. With this issue all fingers have to be pointed at head coach Jim Schwartz

Schwartz should have the shortest leash of any head coach not named Rex Ryan. This team has far too much talent to not be in the hunt for a playoff spot. At some point the Lions front office has to move on. I get that Schwartz is the same coach that got this team to the playoffs in 2011, but he just is not the guy to deal with some of the personalities on the team.

I have said this before, but I will write it here too; if the Detroit Lions fire Schwartz, the team’s talent may be enough to get Nick Saban to leave Alabama and give the NFL a chance. I think Saban may be getting a little bored winning National Championship after National Championship. If he was offered the Lion’s job he would look at the talent across the board (especially the defensive line) and would take the job in a heartbeat. Saban is just what the Lions need. As a fan of the NFC North, I would be scared of the Lions if that was their future.

Bold Prediction:

I have two for this team:

  1. Reggie Bush finishes the season ranked second on the team in catches, only behind Calvin Johnson.
  2. The defensive line itself combines for at least 20 total sacks.

The Chicago Bears

Clear eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Finish

Record Prediction: 8-8 (2-4)

The Bears are a tough team to peg. The past two seasons they have jumped out of the gate quick. The Bears started 7-1 last season before going 3-5 through their last eight games to, finishing 10-6 (losing the tie-breaker with the Minnesota Vikings). Maybe this year they are able to put together a full season, but my gut says this team struggles a bit, finishing 8-8.

What to like:

It is a new regime in Chicago, with Marc Trestman taking over the head coaching role. There is not much proof that Trestman can make it as a head coach in the NFL, but he does bring a impressive resume (by Canadian standards), having led the quarterback of the Montreal Alouettes to two consecutive MVPs. He is not likely to elevate Jay Cutler to MVP status, but he should be able to utilize his strong arm.

Rumor has it that the Bears have finally solidified their offensive line and if that is even half true, Cutler and the offense should be able to be more productive. The success of the offensive line could elevate the success of Brandon Marshall. Marshall is a dominant. There are few, if any, defensive backs who are able to prevent him from getting the ball in his hands. This is pretty essential when Jay Cutler is your quarterback, because he typically has no time to go through his progressions to find the open receiver. Marshall was the reception leader of the Bears by a long shot. He caught 118 balls for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns. Earl Bennett, who was second on the team in receptions had only 29 catches for 367 yards.

An improved offensive line in the passing game, should also result in an improved offensive line in the running game, opening the door for Matt Forte to have a big season. He has given the Bears nearly 1,000 yards in each of the last five seasons, taking some of the attention away from Marshall and the offense. It is pretty simple, if it were not for Forte’s production, Jay Cutler would likely get hit twice as much because of the constant pass rush that teams would bring.

It is impossible to mention the positives of the Bears without mentioning the defense. The Bears had 24 interceptions last season and eight of those were returned for touchdowns. Tim Jennings led the team and the league with nine interceptions. Charles Tillman had three interceptions and returned all of them for touchdowns. The secondary is elite and the pass rush is not to shabby itself. Julius Peppers quietly had 11.5 sacks in the 2012 season and as long as he is bringing pressure, quarterbacks will make some nervous mistakes.

Concerns:

I had to think about this one a bit, because this team seems strong enough to be competitive in the division, yet I have them dropping off to an 8-8 season. The main reason for this is because of the offensive line. The team has had a poor offensive line for several years and until they prove to be solid, it is hard to put any faith in this team. Jay Cutler is also hard to trust. He has the arm strength, but he also has a terrible habit of staring at Brandon Marshall and no one else. This will lead to a ton of big plays for Marhsall, but it likely will also lead to a ton of forced interceptions by Cutler.

Bold Prediction:

This one is not very bold, because defensive touchdowns are hard to repeat one year to the next, but I say that the Bears defense takes a step backward in interceptions and touchdowns. (This is probably the worst prediction I have).

The Minnesota Vikings

Built to win now……oh wait I think we forgot something

Record Prediction: 7-9 (2-4)

The 2012 Vikings season was a memorable one thanks in large part to a historical performance by the running back. They exceeded every expectation (except for KFAN’s Paul Allen, who just predicts a 10-6 season year after year). If you looked at last year’s roster and thought that it was a 10-win team then you should probably go get your head checked. Entering the 2013 season, there is no doubt that the Vikings are an improved team on paper, but that does not mean they are an 11 or 12 win team. It is possible to improve on paper while taking a step backwards in the win column. This is exactly what I think this team does, finishing the season 7-9.

What to like:

I could write 20,000 words on how good Adrian Peterson is, but instead I will just let you enjoy the greatness of his 2012 season.

The Vikings signed former Packer wide-receiver Greg Jennings in the offseason, filling a glaring hole at the position. Gennings only started in five games for the Packers last season, but prior to that he caught at least 900 yards in each of his four seasons with the team. He may struggle to get near 1,000 yards in the Vikings offense, but in addition to his on the field production, he should be a great asset to a young receiving core.

Probably the most exciting receiver on the team is rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. I admit, Patterson was not my favorite wide receiver coming out of the draft. I thought the NFL readiness and the proven route running ability of Robert Woods (USC),who ended up falling to the Bills, but Patterson probably is the more explosive player of the two. With Percy Harvin gone, Patterson will be asked to play a role in the return game. This is likely where Patterson will show his speed and quickness, at least initially. He should have an increased role in the offense as the season goes on and should have a very bright future.

The Vikings also have Pro Bowl MVP Kyle Rudolphlining up at tight-end. Rudolph was dominant in the red-zone last season, scoring nine touchdowns, and with more options in the passing game he could find himself open over the middle more frequently in all situations.

Defensively, the team has some key pieces. Rookie additions should play a key part on this defense. Sharrif Floyd will be asked to improve upon run defense that was ranked 11th in the league with an average of 105.8 rushing yards against. That number is respectable, but some of the most glaring issues in the 2012 season were against teams with strong running attacks like the Buccaneers and Redskins.

Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes will pair with second year player Harrison Smith in a secondary that ranked 24th in the league in average passing yards against per game at 244. Rhodes has been compared to Browner of the Seahawks and though comparisons can be overrated, it would be great if Rhodes lived up to that expectation.

Concerns:

Everyone knows what is coming here. This team seems built to win now. The secondary is unproven and may struggle and the run defense may not be one of the elite in the league, but it should be respectable. There are finally good receivers to work with on offense and the running game remains the best in the league.

The one thing that remains an issue is quarterback. The elephant in the room is Christian Ponder.

I have sat on the fence with my opinion about Ponder for long enough and it is time to just have an opinion.

My opinion is that he is not not the answer for the Vikings. As long as Peterson is running like he did in 2012, this team has the chance to put together a stretch of wins that may get them in the playoffs, but with Ponder they are never going to be able to do much more than that.

Check out this video of Ponder at the ESPYs. He looks intimidated even standing next to good quarterbacks.

The problem that I have with Ponder is that he just seems far to comfortable off the field and far too uncomfortable on the field. I heard an interview with Ponder over the summer where he said was asked what he had been up to in the offseason. He said he was enjoying his time with his wife, going camping out west and just taking a break. He then was asked if he had ever considered holding a camp in Florida with some of his receivers, like so many other quarterbacks in the league do (even Mark Sanchez). He answered by saying that it is hard to get the guys together to do such a thing.

This is a perfect example to prove my point. He is too comfortable just being a starting quarterback in the league and does not show any initiative to want to improve. Multiple teams in the league have camps for their receivers and quarterbacks, so do not try to tell us that it is hard to get the guys together. You are getting paid millions of dollars to toss a football around….go do it.

Ponder does not have the drive to be a good quarterback in this league. His talent is also lacking, but if he had the drive of a Robert Griffin III to go with the lack of talent he has, at least we would know that he is working his butt off to get better. Maybe the media fails at highlighting his work ethic, but something tells me it is not that simple.

All of that being said Ponder has no excuse for not performing on the field this season. They have receivers and Adrian Peterson is still standing behind him. Only Blaine Gabbert averaged less yards per attempt than Ponder, who averaged 6.08 yards. This leads me to my next concern about the Vikings: offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Adrian Peterson is the only reason that Musgrave is still employed by the Vikings this season. He calls sweep plays over and over again and Peterson eventually breaks one for 80 yards. The passing game was very vanilla last season, maybe because the coach was coddling Ponder or maybe because he just has no faith in him, but the offense is going to have to open up with the improved receivers.

When it comes down to it, the Vikings have a very difficult schedule. Look at the quarterbacks and the teams the Vikings have to ace from week six to 12.

  • Eli Manning
  • Aaron Rodgers (who is probably out for blood after what Greg Jennings said about him.
  • Tony Romo
  • Robert Griffen III
  • Russel Wilson
  • Rodgers again

I have them going 0-6 in that stretch of games. The game against the Browns in week three may be the only game all season that the Vikings are favored in. The schedule is a major concern for this team.

Bold Prediction:

 

All done with the regular season predictions. Football season is finally here!

NFL Season Predictions Part 8: The AFC North

AFC North

The Cincinnati Bengals

Taking full advantage of the Hard Knocks’s spotlight

Record Prediction: 12-4 (3-3)

I like this team a lot. I liked them before watching Hard Knocks, but after watching I like them even more.  Their schedule is probably too difficult for them to get to 12 wins, but I do like them to win the division.

What to like: 

If you watched any of HBO’s Hard Knocks then you probably gained some respect for the Bengal’s head coach Marvin Lewis. Lewis has held the coaching job for ten seasons, more than every head coach in the NFL except Bill Belichick. His career record of 79-80-1 may not be impressive, but he seems to have the team headed in the right direction.

Like any team, the Bengals team has to start with their franchise quarterback Andy Dalton. Entering his third season, Dalton is a solid quarterback for a team in the defensive-minded hard nosed AFC North. He is never going to lead the league in throwing, but has proven to be an accurate passer (completing 62.3 percent of his passes). He was not too far away from a two-to-one touchdown to interception ratio, throwing for 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

It helps when you have an elite wide receiver to throw to like A.J. Green. “When in doubt, toss it towards Green,” a simple motto that Dalton should probably have painted in his locker. Green had 97 receptions for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012. He is Dalton’s favorite red-zone target and that should not change despite the big tight-ends the team has with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.  In addition to his talent, Green is one of the better personalities in the NFL.  He is not going to cause any drama like some of the former Bengals receivers and he is going to improve the guys around him a great deal.

I am all in on the love that rookie Giovani Bernard got during training camp. Benjarvus Green-Ellis was a solid pickup last season. He rushed for 1,094 yards last year, scoring six times.  No one can really knock his production, but he he is just not very exciting. Bernard has some big play ability and has the added ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Green-Ellis only had 22 receptions last season. The Bengals will likely use Bernard as a pass catcher in a similar way to how the Bills used C.J. Spiller when he first came into the league.  Once he develops pass blocking, Bernard could end up being the guy, but until then having the combination of these two backs should only add to this offense.

The Bengals defense was already amongst the league’s best last season ranking sixth in total defense, giving up an average of 319 yards per game. Believe it or not, the defense may have gotten even better stealing James Harrison from the rival Steelers.  Harrison is best known for his history of suspensions for cheap hits, but he should improve a linebacking core that already has Rey Maualuga.  Maybe my favorite player from Hard Knocks was Margus Hunt, a defensive end from Estonia. He may not be a starter, but I will be rooting for him to make an impact this season.

Concerns: 

I don’t have anything smart to say about this team as far as concerns are concerned. I do think there is something to be said about the Hard Knocks Curse. It may or not be a real thing, but it seems like every team in recent memory that was featured on Hard Knocks had some major locker room drama to deal with over the course of the season. My expectations for this Bengals team were capped by the team winning the division, but after watching Hard Knocks, I feel like they could be a sneaky team represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. This is where the curse may come into play. People’s expectations for this team have risen and they are likely to disappoint.

Ultimately, I find it difficult to see this team being able to outscore a team like the Broncos, the favorite to win the AFC.

Bold Prediction: 

Like I said I am all in on Bernard. I like Bernard to have 50+ receptions this season. He also will score three to four touchdowns of 40 yards or more.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tradition can’t be ignored

Record Prediction: 10-6 (4-2)

If I was picking games now instead of three weeks ago the Steelers would probably have ended up a 8-8 team, but with the history of this team and the strong coaching it comes with, it is hard to not think the Steelers will figure it out. I like them better than the defending Super Bowl Champs, I just can not say exactly why.

What to like: 

Ben Roethlisberger is a gamer. No matter how bad the offensive line is and no matter how many time he gets hit or sacked, Big-Ben seems to stand in the pocket and move the ball down the field. He is not a finesse guy, but that is a good thing because that really is not the Steeler’s way. There were some issues between Big-Ben and offensive coordinator Todd Haley last season, but despite that he was still able to throw for 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

The receivers that Big-Ben will be throwing to may look a bit different, but they are familiar faces none-the-less. Antonio Brown finds himself in the number one wide receiver slot and expectations are high. He is a bit undersized for a number one wide-out, but he has speed that is near comparable to that of his predecessor Mike Wallace. He will be asked to improve upon his 787 yard and 5 touchdowns from 2012 because other than Emmanuel Sanders this team does not have a ton of depth at the position.

The Steelers defense is always intimidating. They quietly were still one of the better defenses in the league last season, ranking second best in the league in total rushing yards against (1,450) and first in the league in total passing yards against (2,936). The defense also gets Troy Polamalu back. In the absence of James Harrison, Polamalu may have to be the leader of this defense. If he is healthy he is a guy that opposing offenses has to be aware of at all times, which is difficult to do even with that head of hair.

Concerns: 

The biggest question mark for the Steelers this season has got to be their running-back situation. The Steelers are best known for their hard-nosed football, but this years team does not have that same look. The backfield concerns were supposed to be solved with Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State), the Steelers’ second round pick. Bell is compared to LeGarrette Blount in his draft profile. If that comparison ended up being true, he would be the perfect fit for the Steelers uniform. The problem is Bell has a foot injury and will not be active to start the season, leaving the team with a major mess of mediocre running backs. Isaac Redman will be the starter be default, with newly signed Felix Jones likely to get some sort of role as he gets acclimated.

If there is no threat to run, this offense may struggle. Big-Ben needs to stay healthy and to do so he needs to have backs behind him that he can rely on. If he does not have that, the offensive line will struggle to protect Big-Ben. He is a tough guy, but he is not indestructible.

Bold Prediction: 

Dare I say Felix Jones ends up being the leading rusher on this team? Ick……

The Baltimore Ravens

To many losses to overcome

Record Prediction: 7-9 (3-3)

A 7-9 finish after a Super Bowl victory is a bit harsh. This team lost a record number of starters from last year’s team, but the coach is great and there are still enough pieces here for this team to be relevant. The Ravens could very well beat out the Steelers for this division title. The Ravens have losses due to trades, the Steelers have losses due to injuries.

What to like: 

The Ravens are the Super Bowl Champions. With that on their resume, they have to get some respect. They obviously had enough talent to get there right?

The Super Bowl MVP returns to the Ravens with a new contract in hand. The Ravens must not be the only ones who see Joe Flacco as an elite guy Ron Jaworski’s quarterback rankings have him listed as the fourth best quarterback in the league. Flacco threw for a career high 3,817 yards last season, on his way to 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He protects the ball pretty well and has a strong enough arm to make some big plays.

Ray Rice is the best player in this offense. Basically you can pencil him in for 1,500 all purpose yards along with 10 touchdowns. He hit that mark last year running the ball for 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns and catching the ball for another 478 yards and one score. Not to mention he single-handedly kept the team’s season alive with this play:

The defense lost their franchise guy in Ray Lewis, but experts say that the defense should be better than they were last season. During the regular season the unit was nothing like any Ravens team in the past decade, but in the playoffs they flipped on a switch and looked like the Ravens we all know. They then went and stole Elvis Dumervil from the Broncos. He had 11 sacks last season and with the help of Terrell Suggs he should be able to repeat that number for this defense.

I like, but do not love this receiving core. Jacoby Jones was the Super Bowl MVP as far as I am concerned. He had a 108-yard return for a touchdown to go with a 56-yard touchdown reception. WIth Boldin gone and Dennis Pitta injured, Jones is going to need to play great all season. He is probably more fit than Torrey Smith to lead this team in receptions, simply because he is the bigger target and is the better route runner.

Concerns: 

The main reason I was down on this team when I was picking games is because of their losses on offense. Losing Pitta and Boldin from the passing game is a big deal that I am not sure they will be able to overcome. They brought in Dallas Clark to help out at the tight-end position, a move I would have loved a few years ago, but now I have a hard time seeing it being enough to make up for Pitta’s production.

Other than that I just do not know how much I trust Joe Flacco. Flacco ranked 24th in the league in total QBR and was wildly inconsistent during the regular season. He has the running game and still has enough receivers around him to make this offense effective. The more I think about it the more I am talking myself into this team beating the Steelers and probably being in the WIld Card Race.

Bold Prediction: 

Jacoby Jones is the leading receiver on this team. I just don’t think Torrey Smith is much more than a track star. He will make some big plays, but Jones is the guy I would rely on.

The Cleveland Browns

Continuning to punish Cleveland sports fans

Record Predictions: 3-13 (2-4)

This was a five win team in 2012 and they did not upgrade significantly. They did improve on paper and they probably will be able to get a few more wins than the three I am giving them. A 6-10 season seems like a better bet, but they will not be much better than that.

What to like: 

This defense is AFC North worthy. Inner-division moves are always intriguing. The Browns stole Paul Kruger from the Super Bowl champion Ravens. Kruger produced nine sacks last season and with the opportunity to start for the Browns he should be able to build upon that success. The Browns also have their sixth overall pick Barkevious Mingo (LSU) a defensive end who easily could be the rookie defensive player of the year.

Trent Richardson should make strides in his second year. He had some injury concerns coming into his rookie season, but was able to play in 15 games, rushing for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns on top of 367 yards receiving.  For some reason I just can not get passed his injury history, but that aside he should be even better in his second year.

One reason for Richardson being able to succeed this season is the help of the Brown’s offensive coordinator Norv Turner. New coaches and new offensive coordinators can be overrated. Many of the new hires in the NFL will not even make it to next season, but it is hard not to like the track record that Turner has had running an offense. Turner sucked every last bit of success out of Philip Rivers when he was in San Diego and he should be able to develop Brandon Weeden further. Turner’s offense with the Chargers was most successful when he had an elite running-back and an elite tight-end and the Browns have at least half of that equation, with Richardson. They have a big tight-end in Jordan Cameron who should be utilized in an Antonio Gates-like fashion even if he is not as talented as Gates was in his prime.

Concerns: 

Brandon Weeden is a 29-year-old second year player. There is not very much time to be patient with a quarterback like this and though he seems to be starting to get it, I just do not know if he will be able to take this team to the next level. The Browns may be good enough to make some noise this season, but they are still a step or two behind every team within this division.

Bold Prediction:

I mentioned it above, but I am going to say that Mingo wins defensive rookie of the year, recording double digit sacks this season.

The season kicks off tonight so I will finish this off today. Last up: the NFC north.

NFL Season Predictions Part 7: The NFC South

NFC South

The Atlanta Falcons

The unfavored favorites

Record Prediction: 12-4 (5-1)

The Atlanta Falcons are the best team in this division and though all the other teams have pieces to make themselves interesting, the Falcons should win this division with relative ease. Twelve wins seems very doable for the Falcons, but a 5-1 record within their division seems a bit high.

What to like: 

This offense is stacked.

Matt Ryan continues to improve in every statistics category from year to year and yet he continues to do so a bit under the radar. Ron Jorwarski’s quarterback rankings did give Ryan some respect, ranking him fifth, but somehow he remained behind Joe Flacco, one of the more mediocre Super Bowl winning quarterbacks out there.

Ryan set career bests in yards (4,719), touchdowns (32) and completion percentage (68.6) in the 2012 season. He has improved in all of these categories in each of his five seasons in the NFL and there does not seem to be any sign that he can’t improve further in 2013.  Ryan is one of the smarter quarterbacks in the league. His ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees from the defense is Peyton Manning-esque. If there is someone who is going to take over the league’s best quarterback throne when Manning and Brady are retired, Matt Ryan is the guy to do it.

People who say that Ryan has reached his ceiling look at the talented wide receivers he has to throw to. It is hard to argue with the talent that Julio JonesRoddy White and Tony Gonzalez bring to the table. Julio Jones, the young man of the group, would be the number one wide receiver on about 15 teams in the league, but with the nine-year veteran Roddy White, he remains in the backseat (at least on the depth chart). White won the reception and yard battle with 1,351 yards and 92 receptions compared to Jones’ 79 receptions for 1,198 yards.  Jones did end up with 10 touchdowns to White’s 7.

They do not seem to bicker when they are not getting the ball, which is good because Ryan also has the benefit Gonzalez, one of the greatest tight-ends in the history of the league. Ryan and the rest of the team begged Gonzalez to come back for one last season and he did so without much hesitation. Gonzalez is entering his 18th season in the league and has already totaled over 14 thousand yards and 100 touchdowns in his career.

All of these weapons helped the Falcons become one of the top passing teams in the league, but where the team improved most in the offseason is in the backfield, adding Steven Jackson. Jackson is about as reliable as they come. He has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons.  Jackson adds a running threat, which they lacked a bit last year with the burnt out Michael Turner.

This offense probably should be the highest scoring in the league.

Concerns: 

There are some concerns about this defense not being able to get pressure on the quarterback. The defensive unit only produce 29 sacks last season, ranking 28th in the league. The secondary plays great at times, which makes this defense a bit underrated, but in a division where you have to go against Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Josh Freeman (with Doug Martin especially), you have to be able to get pressure on the quarterback.

Other than the defensive line, this team does not have any concerns as far as the regular season is concerned. Matt Ryan was finally able to get over his winless playoff record last season, getting the Falcons to the NFL Championship game. They were one play away from the Super Bowl last season.

Bold Prediction: 

Matt Ryan throws for 5,000 yards and 30+ touchdowns this season.

The New Orleans Saints

Out to prove a point

Record Prediction: 9-7 (3-3)

The Saints were irrelevant in 2012, finishing the season 7-9 and missing the playoffs. The old coach is back on the sidelines and this offense is just as scary as ever. This team is going to run up the score on every team they play this season, partially because they have to, but also to stick it to the league for their coach’s full season suspension last year.  A nine win season probably would not be enough to get this team in the playoffs and I see team getting in as a Wild Card. A 10 win season should do it.

What to like: 

image

Sean Peyton has served his suspension for the bounty fiasco that made headlines last summer. Essentially he comes back to the same team that he had before, with the only one exception: they missed the playoffs in his absence.  You think Peyton is a bit peeved from sitting and watching football on his couch all season? I would say so. This is not a team anyone will want to play this season. They were second behind the Packers in scoring last season with 547 and in all likelihood they will score more than that this season. Remember how the Patriots ran up the scoreboard to prove a point after spy-gate?

Drew Brees could probably find a way to outscore teams if the Saints literally played no players on defense, so it is safe to say he will be able to out score teams with the terrible defense they have. He is looking to pass for over 5,000 yards for the third season in a row and there is not much preventing him from doing so.

The offense is back in full force, led by one of the league’s best tight ends in Jimmy Graham, veteran wide receiver Marques Colston and the rookie out of Oklahoma Kenny Stills. Stills stood out in the preseason and will play as the teams third wide-out. His draft profile compares him to Andre Roberts, but the simple fact is he has 4.38-40-yard-dash speed. That along with Brees throwing him the ball will likely make for a productive combo this season.

The Saints Defense is not good. It has one of the worst pass defenses in the league and is near the bottom when it comes to rushing. All that being said it should be an improved defense with the help of Rob Ryan, who comes to the team after being fired from the Cowboys. The Cowboys fired Ryan because Jerry Jones felt the need to fire someone and for whatever reason blamed the defense for all of the team’s failures. In his two years with the Cowboys he improved that defense a great deal and he should be able to do the same with the Saints.

Concerns: 

As mentioned above, the Saints defense is one of the worst in the league and though Ryan should be able to improve the unit, they may need a few years to really get to where they need to be. Because of this major hole, Brees and the offense will have to outscore a lot of the teams they play. The defense will up the level of the opposing offense from week to week, making it hard for the Saints to win against any of the elite quarterbacks. Brees will outscore many teams, but they can not count on him to do it week in and week out.

Defense wins championships and though this team should be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, they will struggle going anywhere in the playoffs unless their defense makes significant strides forward.

Bold Prediction:

Mark Ingram Ingram finally has the breakout season everyone was waiting for when he came out of Alabama. The numbers will still be relatively modest, but very solid in this offense. Stat line: 900 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Embracing the spoiler role

Record Prediction: 8-8 (1-5)

This is a hard team to peg. There is talent on both sides of the ball, but there is not enough consistency for the team to really be in the playoff picture. This team will not go 1-5 in the division and will beat a few teams that no one will give them a chance against. The overall record of 8-8 feels right.

What to like:

I liked what I saw out of Josh Freeman in his 2010 campaign where he threw for 25 touchdown and just six interceptions and maybe I am just stubborn, but I am not ready to give up on him. The 2010 season set a high standard for the young quarterback, one that he has not quite been able to live up to.

All of that being said, he did have a good stretch of games last year before finishing the season with some miserable performances like the week 15 game where the team was shut out 41-0 by the terrible Saint’s defense.  He finished the year with a career high 4,065 yards, throwing for 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He helped the Buccaneers go 3-3 in a very tough division, beating Cam Newton twice, beating Matt Ryan and the Falcons once (and losing to them 24-23) and fighting to keep up with the high scoring Saints in one game, losing 35-28. The Buccaneer’s front office is not sold on Freeman yet, leaving him in a position where he is going to have to prove himself to get a contract extension. You have to like a guy like Freeman using that motivation to his advantage.

One big reason why Freeman should be in a position to succeed is because the offense continues to develop around him. The biggest surprise of last year’s team was the success of the rookie running-back Doug Martin.  Martin ran for 1,454 yards in his rookie year, to go along with 472 yards in the receiving game. At 5-feet-nine-inches, Martin is often compared to Ray Rice. The comparison may be overdone, but he literally feels like a Ray Rice clone.  The offensive line is finally 100 percent so the expectation is that Martin can only build upon the success he had his rookie season.

 

Maybe the biggest off-season signing last summer was when Vincent Jackson came to Tampa Bay after spending seven years with the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers were pretty boring in the 2011 season and despite Jackson’s 1,106 yards and 9 touchdowns he was kind of forgotten about.  Every team can use a guy who is 6-feet-five inches and 230 pounds. He may not be on the level of the big possession receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, but with his size he is still a matchup nightmare. If Freeman is going to get a contract extension, it will be in large part tied to the success of Jackson, who will look to build upon his 72 catches for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns.

Jackson’s presence also benefits Mike Williams on the other side of the field. Williams (Syracuse) had a solid rookie season in 2010 (964 yards and 11 touchdowns), but after his 2011 season where he caught just three touchdowns, many people questioned if he was a one-year-wonder. Last year he shut up the nay-sayers, increasing his touchdowns back to nine and going for 996 receiving yards. If both of these receivers go for 1,000+ yards and 8+ scores, this team could be one of the 2013 surprises.

The defense added Darrelle Revis this offseason. If he has recovered fully from the knee surgery he should help a secondary that has a miserable division schedule every season, having to stop high scoring offenses in the Saints, Falcons and Panthers.

Concerns: 

Josh Freeman needs to be mentioned here. The NFC South is one of the strongest quarterback division in the league and many people would rank Freeman at the bottom of the list. When he is on he can be good enough to beat just about anyone, but when he is off he looks like he should be riding a bench as a backup.

He has all the pieces around him: his receivers are great, his running game is elite, his offensive line is healthy and his defense is good enough to keep them in games. He just needs to show that he can be a consistent starter in this league.

Bold Prediction: 

I am staying on the Josh Freeman bandwagon this season. I just can not ignore the team he has around him.

Josh Freeman will throw for no less than 25 touchdowns and no more than 12 interceptions. The Buccaneers will give him his contract extension.

The Carolina Panthers

 Sore Losers

Record Prediction: 7-9 (3-3)

The Carolina Panthers finished 7-9 last year and a repeat performance in 2013 seems about right to me. Not sure this team is as well-rounded as the other teams in the division and there are some major issues that limit their success.

What to like: 

It is hard not to like a quarterback stat line that consists of 3,869 yards passing with 19 touchdowns combined with 741 yards rushing with eight touchdowns. That is the season that Cam Newton was able to put together last season. Entering his third season, Newton should have no issue putting up similar numbers.

Newton’s favorite target Steve Smith continues to be productive at the age of 34. Last season he had 1,174 yards and four touchdowns.

The defense should be much improved and should be able to keep the Panthers competitive in their tough division.

Concerns:

That was one of the shortest “what to like” sections I have written yet. It may be a because I am getting a bit warn out from writing these, but for me it is more so that there is not a whole lot I like about this team.

What is there not to like about a team with the play-making ability of Cam Newton?

I have one answer to that: the attitude of Cam Newton.  Newton is one of the biggest babies in the league. People make fun of Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers for their whining and screaming, but because of Newton’s talent all of that seems to be ignored. For me Newton’s attitude may be worse than both of these guys.

Newton does not yell and scream at his offensive linemen for missing a block or his wide receivers for running a poor route, instead he goes to his post game press conferences with a big pouty face and he cries about the team’s performance. Then the next game when he scores a touchdown he does his Super Man move and soaks in the attention.

Cam Newton Is Actually Superman, In GIFs

I believe in the talent, I do not believe in the attitude. Look, Newton was not as fortunate as other quarterbacks drafted in recent years, the Panthers just do not have the playmakers for this team to be anything more than a 8-8 kind of team. The defense is supposedly better this season, but Steve Smith is another year older and one has to wonder if he will be able to produce for another season.

I just wonder if the Cam Newton can keep his composure through a stretch of two or three losses or if he starts crying again.

Prove me wrong Cam Newton.

Bold Prediction: 

I do think this is the year that Steve Smith starts to drop off. This team does not have much else at the receiver position so I am going to say Newton has a career low in yards this season.

That is it for the southern divisions. Next up the AFC North.

NFL Season Predictions Part 6: The AFC South

AFC South

The Houston Texans

So close, yet so far

Record Prediction: 12-4 (5-1)

Peyton Manning is no longer in the division and the Texans are taking full advantage of the young quarterbacks in this division. After finishing 12-4 in the 2012 season, it is not difficult to see them repeat that mark in the 2013 campaign.

What to like: 

The Texans are one of the few run-focused teams in a pass-happy league. They lean Arian Foster to lead their rushing attack, a method that seems to be working based on Foster’s league leading 41-rushing touchdowns since he took over the starting job in 2010.  Anyone who plays fantasy football knows the calf and back issues that Foster has fought with over the summer, but he appears to be ready to continue his success at the start of the season. Critics look at the decline Foster has had in his yards-per-carry, dropping from 4.9 in 2010 to 4.1 last season, but the simple fact is Foster remains the best goal-line back in the league and maybe one of the best in NFL history.

Teams can’t count on wearing out Foster in hopes of getting to his backup, because Ben Tate is an above average running-back in his own right. Tate’s numbers were modest last year, getting only 65 carries for 279 yards and two touchdowns, but he missed a chunk of the year due to injury. In his two year career, Tate has averaged 5.1 yards-per-carry, so he is more than capable. The way rosters are constructed these days, many teams are looking to have a two-back system, spreading out the rushes and keeping their guys healthy.  The Texans are writing the book on this strategy.

The Texans are known for their run game, often overshadowing  the ability of Matt Schaub. There really is not anything exciting to say about the way Schaub plays, but in this offense he thrives. The Texans are one of the best play-action teams in the league. This is an obvious result of their threatening running-backs, but in order for it to be successful a team also needs an accurate quarterback that stands tall in the pocket.

Schaub threw for 4,008 yards last year, competing 64.3 percent of his throws and throwing 22 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Nearly 1,600  of those passing yards went to Andre Johnson, the 10 year-vet. Johnson had a bounce back season in 2012, playing in all 16 games and leading the team with 112 receptions. At 32, Johnson is getting a bit up there in age, but his six-foot-three-inch, 223-pound body continues to be a matchup problem for defenders.

Schaub is not the only one who benefits from one of the league’s best receivers. Johnson is tutoring the rookie wide-out DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson). Hopkins is supposed to give the Texans that second threat they have been missing over the past few years and if he lives up to the Roddy White comparison many draft experts are giving him, he should be able to do just that.

Concerns:

From a personell standpoint there really is no issue with the Texans. They have an above average defense, an elite running game an improved passing game. The regular season has been a non-issue for the Texans and as long as they stay healthy they should be able to get into the playoffs again. The question is whether or not they can take advantage of the home-field and first-round bye. If they can get over that hump and get into the AFC title game, they have as good a chance as any to get to the Super Bowl.

Bold Prediction:

J.J. Watt gets his wish, getting a chance to play on offense and he scores a red-zone touchdown.

Hopkins leads all rookie receivers in receiving yards. (OK, I will admit this one is more me hoping that he helps my fantasy football team)

The Indianapolis Colts

The #ChuckStrong hangover

Record Prediction: 9-7 (4-2)

The Colts were one of the best story lines in the NFL last year. The team played inspired all season long as they prayed for Chuck Pagano to fight through his cancer treatment and join them on the field again. They finished the season 11-5 and got into the playoffs. I think this team outperformed itself a bit last year. A 9-7 finish seems about right. They will be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.

tumblr_mfysr5tyxF1qa6w8ko1_500

What to like: 

Andrew Luck, the number one pick in the 2012 draft kind of took a backseat to RGIII and Russell WIlson throughout the season, but still had a very good first season. Luck elevated a roster that finished 2-14 in 2011 to 11 wins in 2012. He threw for 4,374 yards, leading all rookies and trailing his predecessor (Peyton Manning) by 80-yards.

Luck is primed to take a huge leap forward this season, with the help of his favorite receiver; Reggie Wayne. Wayne had 106 receptions for 1,355 yards last season, after only 75 catches the previous year. Other than Wayne, Luck had to work with a group of young receivers like T.Y. Hilton (50 receptions for 861 yards and 7 touchdowns), Coby Fleener (26 receptions for 281-yards and two touchdowns), and fifth-year man Donnie Avery (60 receptions for 781-yards and three touchdowns).

Avery is gone, but the Wayne, Hilton, Fleener combination returns with more chemistry with their young quarterback.

The Colt’s offense threw the ball a ton last season. Only Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Tony Romo and Tom Brady threw the ball more than Andrew Luck, who threw it 670 times. In Chuck Pagano’s offense, that is not ideal. The team went out and got Ahmad Bradshaw in the offseason to help take some pressure off of Luck. If Bradshaw can stay healthy, he should give the offense a solid 900 to 1,000 yards rushing, opening up the passing game.

Concerns:

The Colts are not strong in the trenches. Both their defensive and offensive lines have major holes. The defense was ranked 29th in the league against the run, giving up an average of 137.5 yards a game. The offensive line struggled, causing Luck to get sacked 41 times (4th worse in the NFL). Both of these are glaring issues.

The defense also lost Dwight Freeney to the San Diego Chargers. This is a defense that just looked outmatched against the Ravens in the playoffs last season. Not sure this team is well-rounded enough to make any sort of noise in the playoffs.

Bold Prediction: 

T.Y. Hilton leads the Colts in reception yards this season. Reggie Wayne has to start slowing down at some point and with this exciting young receiver on the team it very well could be this season.

Tennessee Titans

Easily overlooked

Record Prediction: 5-10 (2-4)

The Titans finished 6-10 last season and they have made some improvements on both sides of the ball. This has been a hard team to get excited about for a few years, but it also has been a team that has avoided hitting rock bottom. This team is probably good enough to win a few games most people will not see coming. Five wins may be a bit low, 7-9 sounds a bit safer.

What to like:

Matt Hasselbeck is gone and Jake Locker is entering his second year as a starter. There is not much about Locker’s stat-line that jumps out at you and screams that he is going to make it in this league, but the eye test see something there. In his 11 starts of 2012, Locker completed 56.4 percent of his passes. He threw for a mediocre 2,176 yards on his way to 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The reason this stat-line is deceiving is because the offense in Tennessee was pretty boring overall. The front office identified some of the issues on the offensive line and Locker should enjoy the comfort of what appears to be a rejuvenated Chris Johnson. If the offensive line can open up the holes, Johnson can look much more like his 2009-self where he averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry. Johnson has always been a speed guy, he is not going to plow people over in a Adrian Peterson-like fashion, but if he gets to the second level, there are not too many players in the league who are going to catch him.

Johnson is not going to be asked to run for 2,000 yards this season (though I’m sure he would love to do so). The offense should open up a little bit, with the young receivers Kendall Wright and Kenny Britt.  Britt has big play ability and if there is a 1,000 yard receiver on this team it’s going to be him. He finished last season with 45 receptions for 589 yards and just four touchdowns, but fantasy owners will likely remember the monster year he began in 2011, where he had 17 receptions for 289 yards and three touchdowns in just three games. The reports from Titans’ camp were all encouraging and he seems poised to get back to that level of production.

Wright is entering his second year in the league, having had a respectable first year with 64 catches for 626 yards and four touchdowns. His success is tied in with Locker’s but he has the ability to be the leading reception leader on this team, lining up in the slot and on the outside.

Concerns: 

This team is so dependent on inconsistent players. Jake Locker seems to be stepping in the right direction, but there really is no evidence to prove that he couldn’t fall off in the other direction. Chris Johnson has been the league’s best running-back before, but has been really inconsistent over the past few years. The defense just does not have any exciting or intimidating players. More than any other NFL team, the Titans are just boring. There is not anything to say about them and if you asked me to name all of the NFL teams on the spot, they would probably be the one name I struggle to find.

Bold Prediction: 

Chris Johnson loses his gold teeth and proceeds to up his up his yards-per-carry average by half a yard.  (Hey we can hope right? He looks ridiculous).

Jacksonville+Jaguars+v+Tennessee+Titans+Z-9wlytA7j5l

Jacksonville Jaguars 

Bringing Moneyball to the NFL

Record Prediction: 2-15 (1-5)

Did I mention how boring the Titans are? Well the Jaguars are pretty much as boring, only with the added bonus that they have been all-around terrible for a few years in a row. I have almost convinced myself that I like the Jaguars better than the Titans this season and a 2-14 season seems a bit on the harsh side. On of these two teams is going to get to 7-9 or so. There is one major reason why I chose the Titans over the Jaguars.

What to like:

The Jaguars are trying to get ahead of the game by using Analytics and Statistics to find the right guys for their roster. Owner Chad Kahn’s son Tony has taken a role, analyzing situations, specifically situations that allow players to do a wide variety of things that can help you win. Jaguar fans and Moneyball experts hate when this is compared to what the Oakland Athletics did in the MLB, but on the surface it seems like a similar thing. Basically the owner is trying to use statistics to get ahead of other teams, so he must be doing it in a way that has not been done before. I get the difference between baseball and football, but I am going to continue to compare it to what was done in baseball.

Anyways, the only player I feel like mentioning in this section is Maurice Jones-Drew, who is finally healthy and is in a contract year. If I was MJD I would run my heart out so that I put myself in a good position to find a contending team after this season. MJD only played in 6 games last season, but he appears to be healthy and should be 70 percent of this team’s offense.

Concerns:

Somehow Blaine Gabbert has won the starting job yet again and any team that has Gabbert as their best option at quarterback is in deep trouble. I have not read about this system of analytics and statistics, but the one thing I heard about it was the “revelation” that quarterbacks are better when they have time to throw the ball. Is this supposed to be some shocking news?

Apparently Gabbert is a better passer when his offensive line is able to block well enough for him to throw the ball. Who knew? Pretty sure any quarterback will throw better when he has time to do so, the problem is even when Gabbert does have time, he is just not that good. I would expect to see Chad Henne at some point this season, just like we saw last year. If we are still talking about Gabbert winning the starting job at the beginning of the 2014 I will be shocked.

Bold Prediction: 

MJD does not sign with the Jaguars next season.

I took a while to get this one done, but I will get these done before the kickoff on Thursday. Next up: the NFC South.

NFL Season Predictions Part 5: The NFC West

NFC West

The Seattle Seahawks

Weapons all around

Record Prediction: 13-3 (4-2)

This division has four of the best defenses in the league and has surpassed the AFC North as the best defensive division in football. Why not just pick the best defense to win the division? Thirteen wins may be high because this division may end up beating up on each other in a NFC East-like fashion, but I wouldn’t go that much lower.

What to like:

Let’s do this backwards and start with the Seahawks defense.

Any conversation about the Seahawks defense has to start with their secondary and any conversation that starts with their secondary has to start with Richard Sherman. Sherman is the best cornerback in the league and I don’t think there really is an argument to prove otherwise. He finished last season with eight interceptions, tied for second in the NFL. Along with the interceptions he had 64 tackles and led the league with 24 passes defended.

At six-foot-1 inch and 195 pounds, Sherman is not even the biggest member of the Seahawks’ secondary. When a quarterback looks at one side of the field and sees Sherman covering his best wide receiver he will quickly turn his head and see six-foot-four-inch Brandon Browner, another intimidating cornerback.  Browner was left for dead, playing in the Canadian Football League for four seasons after being waived from the Denver Broncos in 2006 due to an injury.  This is one of the many reasons why Pete Carroll is quickly becoming the best coach in the league. He is the biggest cornerback in the NFL, standing tall with the biggest wide receivers in the league.

This defense could be written about endlessly, but the numbers speak for themselves. The Seahawks as a team gave up 245 points on the season, the fewest in the NFL and there is no doubt they could lead in this category again in 2013.

Offensively  the Seahawks are lead by another Pete Carroll gem, Russell Wilson. The 2012 season was the year of the rookie quarterback and though the numbers may not back him up entirely, Wilson was the best of the bunch. Carroll and the Seahawks’ front office found a franchise quarterback with the 12th pick in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. There are many teams in the league who can’t even get their first round picks right. Man am I jealous of a sports organization that can continuously find guys like Browner and Wilson.

Wilson threw for 26 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in the 2012 season. Oh and he also rushed for 489 yards on top of that. With Marshawn Lynch behind him, this team should come pretty close to their 2012 rushing total of 2,579 yards (2nd in NFL) and 16 touchdowns (9th in NFL). Rookie backup Christine Michael (Texas A&M) has had an impressive preseason and should only add to this backfield.

Concerns:

This is not so much a concern as it is a confirmed disappointment but the biggest move for this team during the offseason was adding Percy Harvin, who never stepped foot on the field this preseason due to a hip injury that will have him sidelined for a bulk of the season. It is not a huge loss for the Seahawks, who bring back the core of their receiving core, but Harvin was only going to add to the dynamics of their passing attack.

Where Harvin will be missed the most is in the return game, where he was likely going to fill the role of Pro-Bowl return man Leon Washington, who was second in the league in average kick off return yards with a 29-yard average. This is a bit nit-picky, because return men can be replaced. Michael would appear to be the guy now.

The defensive line is the biggest flaw of this team right now and that is mainly because of injury issues.

Bold Prediction

This may be tough to judge, but if there is a sophomore quarterback in the league that doesn’t have any sign of a sophomore slump it will be Wilson.

I will quantify it. Wilson will improve in every meaningful category this season, surpassing his 26 touchdowns, 489 rushing yards, 3,010 passing yards all while eliminating a few interceptions.

If you didn’t catch on. I love Pete Carroll.

Pete Carrol GIF

The San Francisco 49ers

A bit too cocky

Record Prediction: 13-3 (3-3)

If the Seahawks and 49ers both finished 2013 with the best record in the NFL at 13-3 that would be incredible. Personally I like the Seahawks a bit more than the 49ers.  Ironically the only thing that made the Seahawks the NFC West champs was one more division win than the 49ers.

What to like:

The defending AFC Champions should be primed to make another run this season.

Colin Kaepernick is an exciting player, who may already have one of the stronger arms in the league. He ran Alex Smith out of town and now this is his team. In his 13 games (he started 7) in 2012 he completed 62 percent of his passes, throwing 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran for 415 yards on just 63 attempts. Alex Smith did not bring any threat of running to this offense, so this added skill-set could easily make the 49ers the top rushing offense in the league over the course of a whole season.

The 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl and then a few months later decided to trade for Anquan Boldin, the Ravens’ leading receiver in 2012. Statistically Boldin was never very impressive in Baltimore, not reaching the 1,000-yard receiving mark once in his three years with the team. The 49ers would love Boldin to play like the 2008-09 receiver who combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns, but with this team’s makeup he doesn’t need to.

Boldin gives Kaepernick another target in the red-zone to go along with Vernon Davis, who Kaepernick has developed a strong relationship with.  The backfield does not have any question marks as long as Frank Gore is around.

After mentioning how dominant the Seahawks’ secondary is, I have to mention how dominant the 49ers’ linebacker core is. It all starts with Aldon Smith. It feels like Smith has been the leader of this defense for years, but the scary thing is he is only in his third season. He led the team with 19.5 sacks in 2012, building off an impressive rookie season where he had 14. He joined fellow linebackers Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis being invited to the Pro Bowl, but obviously did not make the trip because of the Super Bowl.  The 49ers allowed an average of 94.2 rushing yards per game (4th in the league) and this linebacking core will make sure that they have a similar season in 2013.

Remember when Nnamdi Asomugha was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles and was supposed to be the best cornerback in the league? Well the 49ers got him for pennies on the dollar, giving him a shot to make the team this summer and it looks like he is going to do so. They signed him for $1 million with a bonus of $225,000 for making the 53-man roster and an additional $6,250 for each week he is active.

Something tells me defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will find a way to get the best out of Asomugha.

Concerns: 

My opinion on Kaepernick is that he is a hot head who is going to struggle at times this season. The bicep-kissing-touchdown-celebration is almost as bad as the Aaron Rodgers discount double-check celebration.  I would like to see him be a little more humbled, but that’s just me.  This really is not a concern. He is a ridiculous talent, but if he got a bit flustered after a couple losses I would not be surprised.

Kaepernick is going to have to wait on a few of his weapons to heal before this offense can be 100 percent.

Michael Crabtree enters the season on the physically unable to perform list after having surgery to repair his torn Achilles tendon. Kaepernick fell in love with Crabtree when he took the starting job last year, helping the wide out have a career high in yards (1,105) and touchdowns (9). The hope is to have Crabtree back by week 12, but until then Boldin and the other wide receivers are going to have to make up for his productivity. Mario Manningham was not around for the team’s playoff run after tearing his ACL in week 16 of last season and will not be active until at least week six.

There are plenty of weapons in this offense with or without these guys, but these are losses that the team will have to overcome.

Bold Prediction: 

Kaepernick’s combined passing and rushing touchdowns is less than 25 and he has more than 10 interceptions.

The Arizona Cardinals

We did it with an old guy once, who says we can’t do it again?

Record Prediction: (8-8) (3-3)

This win total seems high for a team that finished 5-11 last season, but the Cardinals are one of those teams that a lot of teams are not going to want play this season. They have some guys that will give teams fits and they probably will two to three games that they have no business winning.

What to like: 

Do I dare say that my favorite part about the Arizona Cardinal’s offseason is the signing of Carson Palmer? I get a pit in my stomach just typing that. But when you have the best set of hands in the NFL on your team, anyone who can throw the ball 50 yards downfield is a godsend. Palmer will feed Larry Fitzgerald constantly, and Fitzgerald will make him look like a viable quarterback option on many occasions.

Palmer is easy to make fun of, having played for a 4-12 Oakland Raiders team last year, but the numbers suggest he can still play. He threw for 4,018 yards. His favorite target in Oakland was Denarius Moore, who may be a respectable receiver, but he is not even in the same room as Fitzgerald.

Remember when Fitzgerald had 96 catches for 1,431 yards and 12 touchdowns? That was his stat-line in 2008, the year the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl with 37-year-old Kurt Warner under center. Comparing Warner to Palmer is not even fair. It is pretty clear that Warner is the better quarterback, but Palmer does have above average arm strength and he will put up numbers in this offense.

If the Cardinals are going to get to eight wins this season their defense will be a big reason for that. This defensive unit often gets overlooked because of the dominance of the Seahawks and 49ers, but this is a very good defense.

Patrick Peterson may be one of the most exciting defensive backs in the league to watch. His seven interceptions and 16 pass defends led his team, and he continues to be a threat to score on punt returns. The Cardinals may have hit the lottery with Tyrann Mathieu, taking him with the 7th pick in the third round of this year’s draft.  The reasons for the Honey Badger dropping this far are well documented, but before he was released by LSU he was a Heisman Finalist. In his 26 games at LSU he had 133 total tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 4 interceptions. His 11 forced fumbles was the most in LSU history and seventh in NCAA history.

Mathieu, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and the nation’s top defensive player a year ago, played in 26 games for the Tigers during his two years, racking up 133 total tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss and four interceptions. He also forced 11 fumbles, which ranks first in school history and seventh in NCAA history, to go with eight fumble recoveries. Making the jump to the NFL after not being on the field in a year may be difficult, but Mathieu played in the SEC, which as close to the NFL as a you can get and will learn a lot from Patrick Peterson.

Concerns:

The Arizona Cardinals had the worst defensive line  last season and after spending one of their first three round picks on a lineman, they have little to no depth at the position.

I mentioned above that Palmer could be the biggest reason this team has a bounce back season, but that theory goes out the window if he is going to be sacked 58 times and hit 97 times like the Cardinal quarterbacks in 2012. At 33, Palmer is especially not mobile and if doesn’t have time to chuck the ball down the field, then the offensive production will be limited.

The offensive line issues translate to the running game as well. Part of the issue last season was none of the team’s running backs could stay healthy. The team produced only 1,204 yards in 2011, making them the worse rushing team in the league. They brought in Rashard Mendenhall from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mendenhall comes in with a decent resume, but he is not an elusive back. If the offensive line can’t create holes for him, he is not going to be able to do a whole lot.

Bold Prediction:

Larry Fitzgerald has a bounce back year, leading the league in targets and finishing top five in receptions.

The Saint Louis Rams

The greatest show on turf 2.0?

Record Prediction: 3-13 (1-5)

I am completely wrong on the St. Louis. In my season prediction chart, this is the one team that I know I shorted in the win column. This team has played the 49ers tough in the last few years and will not finish 1-5 in the division. I don’t think the Rams are much more than a .500 team, but they are much better than a 3-13 team.

What to like: 

Jeff Fisher continues to turn around the St. Louis Rams and as long as he is the coach you have to bet that the team will continue making strides. The team finished 7-8-1 last season, with the tie coming against the NFC Champion and division rival San Francisco 49ers. Their defense kept them in a lot of games last year as the offense only scored 299 points last season finishing 24th in the NFL.

Sam Bradford is in his fourth year, but it is the first time he will be in the same offensive system for two consecutive years. Brian Schottenheimer‘s system helped Bradford pass for a career high 3,702 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The team lost Danny Amendola to the Patriots, but they replaced him with one of college football’s most exciting receivers Tavon Austin. The Rams took Austin 9th overall in this Spring’s draft and they will use him in every way imaginable.

Austin padded Geno Smith’s stats with some electric plays out of the slot that turned short passes into long touchdowns. His draft profile compares him to Randall Cobb, but he also has some C.J. Spiller, Darren Sproles and Percy Harvin in him. Austin has an insanely high ceiling and should become Bradford’s favorite option very quickly.

The Rams’ receiving core has a lot of intriguing young talent to go along with Austin. Chris Givens led the team with 698 receiving yards last season. He had 10 plays of 20 yards or more, showing that he has some big play ability himself.  The Rams have not had this potential at wide receiver since The Greatest Show on Turf when Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt were on the team.

Concerns:

There are a few issues with the idea that the 2013 Rams can resemble the 1999 Rams’ team. Maybe the most obvious issue is there is no Marshall Faulk on this year’s team. The Rams lost their workhorse running-back Steven Jackson, who has gone to Atlanta. Jackson is a tough guy to replace. He has rushed for a minimum of 1,000-yards each of the last eight seasons, including 1,045-yards last year.

The receiving options are great, but Bradford is going to miss Jackson’s productivity out of the backfield. Daryl Richardson (Abiliene Christian) and Isaiah Pead (Cincinnati) are both going to be a part of the Rams rushing attack, but neither one is proven and both are pretty small guys.

The other question is about Sam Bradford. There still is some question of whether or not he is the future of this franchise. Coach Fisher has faith in him and it seems like he is headed in the right direction, but there is some question as to what his max potential is.

Bold Prediction: 

Despite what my season prediction says, I think this team will cause some fuss within the NFC West. The Rams will get a win against both the 49ers and the Seahawks this season.

Ofta! That was a long one. Next up: the AFC South.

NFL Season Predictions Part 4: The AFC West

AFC West

The Denver Broncos

Peyton and friends

Record Prediction: 12-4 (5-1)

The Broncos are one of the best teams in the NFL entering the 2013 season. Last season the Broncos were the only team that finished above .500 in the AFC West. This prediction is dependent on Peyton Manning staying healthy, but if he does they should finish the year with one of the best regular season records. Twelve wins is as safe a bet as any for the Broncos.

What to like

Peyton Manning enters his second year as the Bronco’s quarterback. Any questions about about his neck or shoulder were answered pretty quickly in 2012 and any remaining concern seems to be an afterthought. Manning threw for 4,659 yards last year (6th in NFL), on his way to 37 touchdowns (3rd in NFL) and only 11 interceptions. At 37, Manning is at that point in his career where the age has to be mentioned, but if he continues his success from 2012 he will be just fine.

peyton-manning-230x300

The Broncos receivers may be the most exciting part about this team, which is very good all around. Don’t let his 5-foot-9-inch frame fool you, Wes Welker was one of the biggest signings in the offseason. Welker signed a 2-year $12 million contract, apparently slapping Robert Kraft and the Patriots in the face. Welker has been the league’s best slot receiver for several years with Tom Brady throwing him the ball and now he gets the chance to play with another future Hall of Famer.

There is no doubt that Welker makes this team better. He will replace Brandon Stokley who produced 45 receptions for 544 yards and 5 touchdowns in that third wide receiver slot. Welker joins a very established 1-2 punch with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who combined for 2,498 yards and 23 touchdowns last year.

Manning threw the ball 583 times last season and with these receivers he may want to throw even more. In the history of the NFL there have been 5 teams that have had three wide-outs go over 1,000 yards receiving. The last team to do it was the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, led by Kurt Warner. That team had. Larry Fitzgerald (1,434 yards), Anquan Boldin (1038 yards) and Steve Breaston (1,003 yards).

That Cardinals team won the NFC championship before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Superbowl on this historic catch.

Fun fact: Kurt Warner was 37-years-old that season, the same age as Peyton Manning this season.

Concerns:

While the Bronco’s receiving core is one of the strongest in the league, the Broncos backfield enters the season with a lot of questions. Depth is not the issue with the backfield, the backfield is loaded with Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and the rookie out of Wisconsin Montee Ball.

Ball seems to be the fan favorite and rightfully so. At Wisconsin he ran for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. The issue with Ball is not his running ability, it’s his pass blocking. He failed to make a block against the Seahawks in the preseason, resulting in Manning taking a pretty hard hit. Hillman seems to be the guy they trust in passing situations, but he has had fumbling issue throughout the preseason. Not sure what the solution will be, but in a team that is going to pass 70 percent of the time, protecting Manning is going to be the priority.

The success of the Bronco’s defensive success may have been most impacted by the fax machine issue that lead to the release of Elvis Dumervil. That kerfuffle was only the start of a long offseason for the Broncos defense. The 35-year-old defensive leader Champ Bailey is out with a foot injury, which downgrades a defensive backfield that is not great to begin with.

Von Miller is the biggest loss for this team. He will miss the first six games of the year for violating the league’s drug policy. The team will not be able to replace the pressure that Miller puts on opposing quarterbacks. Miller had 18.5 sacks last season, good enough for third in the league. Miller is to this defense, what Manning is to the offense. This defense is beatable.

Bold Prediction

Peyton Manning spreads the ball around enough for Decker, Thomas and Welker to all individually exceed 1,000 yards. This is not new territory for Manning, having done so in Indianapolis in 2004 with Reggie Wayne (1,210), Marvin Harrison (1,113) and Brandon Stokley (1,077).

The Kansas City Chiefs

Fresh starts all around

Record Prediction: 10-6 (4-2)

The Chiefs seem like the easy pick for a bounce back team in 2013, so I don’t feel like a 10-6 prediction is too far out on a limb. Based on my season prediction chart, this would be good enough for the Chiefs to make the playoffs. I am not real confident that they will get there, but they should be close.

What to like:

To say the Chiefs have lacked talent over the last few years would be wrong. This is a team that has had some talented skill position players on both sides of the ball, but they have lacked the coaching and the quarterback to make them relevant.

Now they have both. Andy Reid was kicked out of Philadelphia after several sub-par seasons and the Chiefs won the coaching lottery, picking up one of the leagues best. After 14-seasons in maybe the toughest city in sports, Reid had a 130-93-1 record. Kansas City offers him the fresh start that he needed as well as a team that has some pieces.

In addition to the great Kansas City BBQ, coach Reid is also enjoying the Chief’s biggest offseason addition: Alex Smith. The unfortunate exit from San Francisco is well documented, but Smith comes into Kansas City with a chip on his shoulder. Before getting injured and replaced, Smith had found his identity as a solid game manager. I know “game manager” is kind of a backhanded compliment when used to describe NFL quarterbacks, but when a guy throws 30 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions of the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons helping his team go 19-5-1 in that span he is starter worthy.

Smith’s favorite target will likely be seven-year veteran Dwayne Bowe. Bowe, like many of the Chief’s offensive players, had a down year in 2012, with only 801 receiving yards and three touchdowns, but that was with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn throwing him the ball. Smith should be better than both of these guys combined and Bowe’s ability to make catches over defenders should easily make him the leading receiver.

Jamaal Charles was the one bright spot for the Chiefs last season. After suffering a terrible knee injury in 2011, Charles rushed for 1,509 yards in 2012, adding another 236 yards receiving. Adrian Peterson stole the show for running-backs coming back from major knee surgery, but Charles has a pretty incredible year himself. With Smith’s ability to pass, the defense should open up a bit more for Charles, who should set a career high in receptions in Andy Reid’s offense.

The most overlooked guy in this offense is Dexter McCluster, a dynamic little player who will play as a slot receiver and as a passing catching running-back. McCluster is one of those ridiculous athletes that does not need to touch the ball much to make an impact. He is not C.J. Spiller or Randall Cobb, but he is dynamic and should play a important role in this offense.

Concerns:

There just is not a player on defense that scares you. From top to bottom the division has pass friendly defenses, so maybe it is not a huge concern, but if the team is going to be able to beat the Broncos this season they are going to need to slow down the Peyton Manning.

Arrowhead Stadium used to be one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, but in 2012 the home field advantage was a non-factor. The Chiefs are going to need to flip their 1-7 home record this season to a 7-1 record for them to put any pressure on the Broncos in the division.

Bold Prediction:

A 10-6 finish for this team is as bold as I really want to get, but that is boring.

Dwayne Bowe ties his career high in touchdowns, duplicating the 15 he scored in 2010.

The San Diego Chargers

Not rebuilding yet, still in the middle of deconstructing

Record Prediction: 4-12 (3-3)

There is a distinct separation between the top and bottom half of this division. There is not much in San Diego that can help this team get more than a handful of wins this season.

What to like:

The Chargers defense was quietly one of the better defenses in the NFL last year, ranking 9th in the league in average yards against per game with an average of 326.6. The defense also had 14 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. The 28 takeaways ranked 5th in the AFC.

Offensively the Chargers are led by Philip Rivers, who has had success in this league. He has been in a steady decline over the past few years, but maybe Mike McCoy is able to muster one last run out of him. McCoy is familiar with the AFC West. He served as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos last season. Peyton Manning may have been the reason for McCoy’s success, but he gets to take some credit for the 37 touchdowns that Manning threw.

The Chargers have some interesting offensive players. When Rivers was serviceable, he had great running-backs behind him and big body receivers. It is probably safe to say that Ryan Mathews is no Ladainian Tomlinson and there is not a Darren Sproles in him, but he still has the potential to be a good running back.

Mathews is a guy I just can not give up on. If he could avoid the injuries and stay on the field he should be good enough for 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns. If he is able to do that, then all of a sudden Rivers can use play action to find Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd. Gates is one of the best tight ends in the history of the NFL. He finally made it through an entire season last year and was River’s favorite target in the red-zone, finishing with 7 touchdowns. At six-foot-five-inches Floyd has the build to be an elite wide-receiver, but he has not been able to produce at that rate.

When the Chargers are good, the NFL is just a better league because we get to see more of the best uniforms in the league. Don’t you miss this look? (Not to mention the explosiveness of LT in his prime)gal-unis-chargers

Concerns

When a defense is able to get 28 takeaways it is assumed that the team’s turnover differential should look pretty solid, but not when you have Rivers as your quarterback. Thanks in large part to his 15 interceptions, the team was only able to muster a +2 differential, something that needs to improve if the Chargers are going to even get to 8-8.

The Charger’s offensive line does not help Rivers or Mathews. Rivers is often seen on the sidelines barking at his receivers and offensive linemen. He is kind of a giant baby, but the frustration is understandable.

RIVERS WORST DAY EVER

The NFL gets more pass happy every year, so McCoy should be able to do good things with this team in the future, but I think Rivers is going to have to go before this offense can reach its full potential.

Bold Prediction:

The Chargers will be Mark Sanchez’s new home in 2014.

The Oakland Raiders

Al Davis rolls in his grave….again

Record Prediction: 1-15 (0-6)

This is my lock for the worst team in the NFL this season so 1-15 is just fine.

Things to like:

Literally the only thing I like about the Raiders is that they will get this man with the first pick in the 2014 draft:

Concerns:

Do I even have to write anything here?

There are question marks at every position, but the only one I will mention is at quarterback. Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn are going to flop back and forth at the starting quarterback position. Flynn keeps getting tossed around the league as the savior and he keeps losing the job before the season even starts. Pryor, who was great at Ohio State, is another untraditional quarterback who brings a threat to run. At six-foot-four-inches he is an interesting option and maybe if he had some help he could be an interesting guy, but with this team it is hard to see him succeeding.

Bold Prediction:

The Oakland Raiders average less than 14 points per game this season.

That got a bit tough to write towards the end. Next up: the NFC West.