Let's get ready for some FOOTBAWWWWLLLLLLL (I'm sure he said this at least once).
Anyway, the NFL is back this week, and with it are a million picks. Should be a fun first week with everyone trying to gauge where their team is going to be this year. Of course it's a crapshoot, because last year the 49ers beat the Vikings in the opening week (and we saw how those seasons turned out). Anyway, on to the picks:
Raiders at Saints: Here's a fun matchup that has the potential for lots of points. I think between the two teams, the Raiders are the better, however the Saints have been pretty formidable at home for awhile now. It'll be exciting to watch the Raiders retooled defense tee-off in their quest to lead the NFL in sacks. Anyway, this game could go either way, but it will definitely be a high scoring affair with two solid QBs. Saints 34 Raiders 28
Browns at Eagles: The battle of the two teams everyone projects to be the worst this year, which is fair since they both are in clear rebuilding mode. I'm curious to see how different of a strategy Philly uses post-Chip Kelly, and I really want to see how good RG III is. In terms of the teams, Philly has the better pieces, though Cleveland isn't a dearth of talent everyone believes they are. This is another one of those games where I won't be surprised by either outcome, though I'll give the advantage to Philadelphia. Birds 24 Browns 17
Vikings at Titans: Prior to the Bridgewater injury, I would have gone with the Vikes without a second guess. Not because I think Bridgewater is that good, but because there was a certain kind of efficiency in which he ran the offense. But now? Who knows. Tennessee, I suspect, is going to surprise some people this year, and I'm excited to see how Mariota does in Year 2. This game will be the "whoever screws up least, wins" game and will come down to whoever can contain the other's running game the most. The Vikes are the better team, but they've had a rough month while Tennessee has been quietly getting better. Titans 27 Vikings 17
Chargers at Chiefs: A lot of people recently have gotten high on the Chargers, which I don't understand entirely. Sure, Phillip Rivers is this generation's Dan Marino, but their offensive line is so atrocious that it's tough imagining them getting to 8-8. The Chiefs last year were the beneficiary of a weak second-half of a schedule, which I think has skewed people's opinion on them. Regardless, when you look at the rosters, KC is better overall. Chiefs 31 Chargers 21
Bengals at Jets: I've swayed on this one a few times. Is Fitz back? Was last year an aberration? Will the Bengals lack of experience at WR haunt them? What about the loss of Hue Jackson? Lots of questions from both teams. This should be a pretty smashmouth game as both teams boast nasty defenses, but I think the real X-Factor is Matt Forte. Call it a hunch, but I think he is bound for a massive year. Jets 21 Bengals 20
Buccaneers at Falcons: A lot of people have Tampa as their dark horse in the NFC this year, and I can see it. They did fairly well last year and have some promising young talent on their team. Meanwhile Atlanta started off hot, and then disappeared down the stretch. The talent is there, but I wonder if the coaching is. Bucs 34 Falcons 30
Bills at Ravens: The Bills have been a mess during the off-season with all their injuries and whatnot. Meanwhile the Ravens got all their guys back from last year's snakebitten year, and I guarantee they are chomping at the bit to get back out there and prove last year was a fluke. Especially at home. Ravens 38 Bills 28
Bears at Texans: If you've been reading my blog, you know by now that I'm not fond of the Texans. Rather, I'm not buying into the hype. I think Osweiler will be a bust, and Miller will never quite reach expectations. Meanwhile in Chicago, the Bears offense lost a couple big pieces this off-season (Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Adam Gase) while the defense quietly improved. I think this will be a low scoring game, the winner being the team with the least turnovers (and that won't be the team with Cutler). Texans 22 Bears 14
Packers at Jaguars: Green Bay comes into the season with Super Bowl expectations now that Jordy Nelson is back while Jacksonville looks to make a statement in the first game of the year. I like what the Jags have done, built an offense and then focused on a defense. I think it will take a little longer for that group to gel though, whereas Green Bay remains largely unchanged from year to year. As much as I want to go with the Jags, I have to go with the proven in this game, though an upset might be brewing. Packers 27 Jaguars 20
Dolphins at Seahawks: This may be the easiest game to predict this week. Miami has a whole new coaching staff after a bizarre season last year whereas the Seahawks came close to beating the Panthers in the playoffs last season. On top of that, Seattle is at home, and CenturyLink Field is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. For over a decade Miami has had trouble with scrambling QBs, and I don't think their streak will end on Sunday either. Seahawks 37 Dolphins 17
Lions at Colts: Two teams with a lot to prove this season, especially for their coaching staffs. Many people were surprised that both Jim Caldwell (Lions) and Chuck Pagano (Colts) were retained after last season, although the Lions did finish strong. Andrew Luck is back for what seems like the first time in years, which bodes will for Indy. Detroit will look a little strange without Megatron, but they hope to have filled the hole with a handful of guys and spread the ball around. When it's all said and done, I like the Lions more overall than the Colts. I think as a team they are more functional, and have a better defense than Indy. Lions 23 Colts 20
Giants at Cowboys: For the first time in many years we won't see Tom Coughlin roaming Big Blue's sidelines, face red before the coinflip. I'm not sure how the Giants are going to look this season, like Jacksonville they tried to address their defensive woes by buying a new defense. And like the Jags, I figure it will take half a season for them to really come together. Meanwhile on the other side of the field are the Cowboys, who have been whipped into a fervor over Dak Prescott's preseason performances. Of course now he gets to play in a real game, so we will see how he and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott fare in their debuts. I'm going to guess they're going to do well, so well that we won't hear the end of it from Skip Bayless and other ardent Cowboy fans. Cowboys 37 Giants 33
Patriots at Cardinals: So the Pats are without Tom Brady, and that's really all I need to say. New England will play a small ball, keep control and limit turnovers kind of game like they did with Matt Cassel back in 2008. The problem, of course, is that Arizona is ready to make a run at the Super Bowl and they're going to want to make a statement on Sunday Night. Cardinals 35 Patriots 14
Steelers at Redskins: The Steelers must be ready for the season to start, because it seems like the longer the off-season is the more injuries and suspensions they rack up. Meanwhile the question in DC is whether or not Kirk Cousins can continue the onslaught he started last year. I don't think he will, but I don't think he'll just disappear either. However, I do think Pittsburgh will start sluggish, much like last year. Redskins 28 Steelers 26
Rams at 49ers: I have no idea what to expect from San Francisco this year. Are they going to be as bad as Philly was? Is Chip humbled now and realizes he can't just be a "my way or the highway" type of guy? The Rams at least have Todd Gurley and a solid defense, so we can pretty much assume what they are going to do. Rams 19 49ers 17
Panthers at Broncos: The Super Bowl non-Rematch. I get what Cam Newton means by it not being a rematch, because it isn't. The rosters are different, and even if the Panthers win by 10000, that doesn't change the fact that they lost Super Bowl 50. I think this game plays out a lot like the Super Bowl, though, as both teams are defensively minded overall. I'll give the edge to Carolina though, because they probably will want this game a little more. Panthers 20 Broncos 14
The Vikings sent a 2017 first-round and 2018 4th round pick to the Eagles in exchange for Sam Bradford, who has been trying to get out of Philadelphia ever since the Eagles traded up to snag Carson Wentz before the draft. Lucky for Bradford his wish came true, because not only does he never have to play a down for the Eagles again, he also finds himself as the starting QB for last year's NFC North Champions. Not only that, but if the Vikings were desperate to pay so much for a mediocre-QB, then Teddy Bridgewater may not be coming back at 100% next year either, and a little insurance is never a bad thing.
I see this as a win for the Eagles organization as well. They weren't going to have a first-round pick this year because of their deal to get Wentz, and with this trade now they do. Assuming the Vikings do roughly the same as last year, the pick will most likely be in the low 20s, which if you have your QB of the future, that isn't such a bad place to pick. The biggest question, to me, is whether or not this was a good deal on the Vikings part? Is Sam Bradford, and the 2016 Minnesota season, really worth a first round pick in 2017 and a fourth-rounder in 2018?
Let's break this down. Adrian Peterson isn't getting younger, and Minnesota is built to be a ball-control, low-risk/high-reward team. Since this isn't a team that relies heavily on the passing game (or at least, not as heavily as most teams) and essentially only wanted Teddy to not lose games, not win them, trading so much for a QB seems a little extreme. And this doesn't even consider the fact that Sam Bradford is Captain Mediocre and lost some serious street cred when he whined about the Eagles making a run for Wentz. Not only that, but Bradford is also Captain IR, having been injured so many times in his fairly short career. From this perspective, I think the Vikings panicked and gave up entirely way too much.
On the other side, though, the Vikes needed to do something. You can't just lose your starting QB for the season in a preseason practice and do nothing. This current regime must feel its window closing soon with Adrian Peterson in his early thirties, although the rest of the talent on the roster is fairly young. And, honestly, in terms of passing I feel like Bradford is a slight upgrade over Bridgewater, so there is some cause for hope. The downside is that Sam Bradford has now played for 3 different teams in the past 4 years, and he has been forced to learn so many playbooks and schemes over that time.
My biggest problem with this deal is the price-tag. Sam Bradford is not worth that much, but clearly the Vikings are desperate to be competitive again this year and hold on to the divisional crown. It makes me wonder if Teddy's injury is far worse than they are letting on, and they aren't expecting him to be 100% by the start of 2018. I know that seems a little insane, but why else would they invest so much into winning right now? Regardless, I hope this works out for Minnesota; God knows they have been through more than their fair share of heartbreak lately.
Two sentences sum up New England's off-season. First, "Oh my God, just let it die, Goodell" and "We're on the Jimmy G." In case you've been living sans-society, Tom Brady has officially given up and will accept a 4 game suspension for his alleged role in DeflateGate. Whether or not you agree with this is irrelevant, because it's happening, and it's time to move on (finally).
But while the Pats were waiting for the saga to play out, they reloaded their roster in what appears to be the last major push to win Brady/Belichick their fifth ring together. They signed Martellus Bennett to be the opposite big man TE to Gronk, they traded away talented-but-controversial DE Chandler Jones for O-linemen Jonathan Cooper in hopes of protecting Brady more, they also signed another small, shifty receiver in Chris Hogan as well as picked up DE Chris Long. So in typical New England fashion, the Patriots have made a bunch of little tweaks in hopes of becoming even more potent offensively.
Of course, there is the Brady suspension to deal with. He will be out the first four games, which is a nice little segue into the schedule breakdown.
New England Patriots 2016 Schedule
Week 1: @ Arizona (Sunday Night)
Week 2: Miami
Week 3: Houston (Thursday Night)
Week 4: Buffalo
Week 5: @ Cleveland
Week 6: Cincinnati
Week 7: @ Pittsburgh
Week 8: @ Buffalo
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Seattle (Sunday Night)
Week 11: @ San Francisco
Week 12: @ New York Jets (Sunday Night)
Week 13: Los Angeles
Week 14: Baltimore (Monday Night)
Week 15: @ Denver
Week 16: New York Jets
Week 17: @ Miami
Random Thought: This may be the toughest schedule the Patriots' have had in years.
Home Schedule: First off, three of the first four games of the season are at home (and without Brady). The Dolphins, Texans, and Bills all will feature defensive lines that will be centered around getting to the quarterback. The good news, though, is that since those games are at home Jimmy Garoppolo won't have to worry about crowd noise while conducting his offense. I don't expect those three games to be easy; of the group I would say the Texans will be the easiest out. Why? Because it's a Thursday Night game and the away team has a huuuuuge disadvantage, plus I think their offense will be as mediocre as it was last year, maybe even worse now that everyone knows to clamp down DeAndre Hopkins. The next few home games are Cincinnati, Seattle, and Los Angeles; all three boast strong defenses with two of the three being serious Super Bowl contenders. I have a feeling the Seahawks game will be one of the most intense games of the year, and since it's Sunday Night, it will be like playing at 5pm for the visiting team. Lastly the Pats have Baltimore and the New York Jets, both of which consider themselves rivals, both of which have been thorns in the side of fans in the past decade or so. Not an easy home schedule at all.
Away Schedule: Arizona to open the season would have been a "Super Bowl Preview" as news channels and broadcasters like to say...if Brady was playing. Cleveland should be a gimme considering that's the Brady Return Game (although, Cleveland has put up a heckuva fight against the Pats the last two outings, winning one). Pittsburgh will be a tough game, because by that point LeVeon Bell should be back from his suspension (if there is one) and will be fresh. The Super Ryan Brothers will have Buffalo pumped up when the Pats visit in Week 8. San Francisco should be a gimme game, the Jets always play the Pats tough, Denver has not been Brady's happy place, and ditto Miami.
Conclusion: There are very few "gimme games" on the Patriots' schedule this year. Even if the entire first string hits IR by Week 5, I don't imagine the Pats losing to the Browns or the 49ers. This season, like last season, will come down to the overall healthy of the team. If Gronk, Edelman, and Brady stay healthy throughout the season then the Patriots have a legitimate chance to secure the #1 seed. But this is a very top heavy team, and as we saw last year, after the starters go down there isn't much depth behind them.