May 17, 2022
Baltimore Ravens: Does the perennial philosophy wrinkle convince Lamar to stay?
The Ravens ability to consistently change its team philosophy at the drop of a hat to adjust to the NFL landscape that has been provided to them is nothing short of astounding. It cannot be understated how insanely challenging it is to tweak your approach so drastically as often as they do. Marquise Brown apparently wanted out for a long time, so the organization knew it was coming. The Ravens adjusted by adding immediate difference makers on their defense (per usual) in free agency and the draft, traded away Brown to snag Tyler Lindenbaum, then drafted two tight ends? Now, Lindenbaum is someone I am very high on and who I anticipate to be a perennial All-Pro by the end of his rookie contract. But two tight ends when arguably the most impactful player on your team outside of Lamar is Mark Andrews? I understand the argument questioning why would you trade away the individual closest to your franchise signal caller and who is supposed to be your most lethal deep threat. However, history indicates this is another Raven’s attempt to throw a wrinkle in their philosophy to keep other teams guessing. It appears they are prepared to run the ball 40 times a game and run two tight end sets early and often. I am interested to see how the dynamic Coastal Carolina product Isaiah Likely impacts the passing game. Will they be able to prove history right again? Or will the season be an utter failure which could lead to Lamar leaving after the year. My bold prediction: Lamar plays elsewhere next season. Wink Wink, Philadelphia.
Cincinnati Bengals: Can they run it back?
This time last year, every critic around was harping on the Bengals for not taking Penei Sewell. How did that choice work out? Well, it led them to drafting who looks like a perennial All-Pro talent in Ja’Marr Chase (a player who absolutely burned Jalen Ramsey play-after-play in the Super Bowl I might add) and they got to the Super Bowl. This off-season, they finally took care of what needed to be addressed…Joey Buckets is dancing seeing the offensive line additions! La’el Collins is a mammoth, Alex Cappa provides much needed stability on the interior and I loved the late value add in the fourth round on Cordell Volson to add some depth in case of injury. More time for Joey Buckets to throw to his arsenal of receiving options? Just give him his Pro-Bowl bid now. Unfortunately for the Bengals, the AFC is LOADED with talent this year, which is going to make their feel-good story of going back to the Big Dance a difficult one. My bold prediction: The Bengals aren’t playing in Super Bowl LVII, nor do they make it to the AFC Championship.
Cleveland Browns: Does the Deshaun Watson experience work out?
After a year of sitting out, Deshaun lands a whopping 230 million (sheesh). The Browns offense functions off timing, something that Baker Mayfield has struggled with over the last two seasons. Baker was known for his play-making prowess and ability to make something out of nothing during his college years, but yet, he had less than expected success in the NFL, outside of his rookie year. Deshaun’s career with the Texans reminds me of Baker’s success at Oklahoma. Deshaun is an elite talent, but his best plays are often the result of leaving the pocket prior to the play developing. The logical question remains, is this an offense that maximizes his opportunity to succeed? To be clear, Deshaun is too talented to fail, I am not arguing that. But the Browns coaching staff must be prepared to throw a wrinkle in its offensive philosophy, which at times it appears they were unwilling to do for Baker, if they finally want to push for a Super Bowl birth as the media hype train has told us the last three years. The utmost concern, however, is that salary cap figure I referenced earlier. I am not concerned with the figure, I actually thought the Browns front office crafted the contract in an interesting way. Deshaun only counts $10 million against the cap this season, $8.9 million of which is derived from his signing bonus. The media has not discussed this too in depth, but a team is able to recoup a signing bonus if a player is suspending meaning, if he is ultimately suspended, he only counts $1,035,000 against the cap this year. Not a bad price to pay to obtain one of the most versatile quarterbacks in the league for the 2023 season if he does end up getting suspended for the upcoming season because of his off-the-field legal troubles. Nevertheless, it does not appear Baker wants to ever take a snap as a Brown ever again, so if Deshaun does end up getting suspended at some time, you can waive goodbye to another hyped up Browns season. My bold prediction: Deshaun has a Pro-Bowl season, with Baker Mayfield on the bench.
Pittsburgh Steelers: How will the passing game fair this year?
All the talk for this team revolves around Kenny Picket, for good reason too. Bravo to Kevin Colbert on staying calm during his last draft and resisting the urge to move up; it landed him the quarterback they wanted all along. Nevertheless, the Steelers ranked 29th in EPA last year and their offense got worse this off-season. I understand Roethlisberger was far from his best playing days, but you still had a signal caller that is a proven winner and the adjustments he makes pre-snap are underrated. But more importantly, your receiving options are lacking. You allowed Ray-Ray McCloud to walk and scooped up Gunner Olszewski, an improvement on special teams, but a downgrade as a receiving threat. Now I am sure everyone is going to jump on my back screaming George Pickens and I understand his athletic talent. But I am not convinced a player with his on-field antics is going to succeed in a chippy system like the Steelers have up in Pittsburgh. I hope it does, but it’s a polar opposite of the class act that JuJu was. I think Calvin Austin was fairly good value, but again, I think the Steelers could have resisted spending all their money in free agency on the defensive side of the ball and instead chose to help out Big Ben’s replacement. Also, drafting Connor Heyward? Seems like they are preparing to hand the ball off to Najee Harris 30 times a game, look out for teams loading the box with 9 men to put a stop to that. My bold prediction: Both Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris miss the Pro-Bowl this year.
Buffalo Bills: Can they finally establish a run game?
One of the few teams that had the luxury of not even needing to sign any players in free agency or the draft given how talented their roster already is. Bills Mafia had a long off-season thinking about how quickly fortune can turn in 13 seconds. Nevertheless, they have blocked it out and ready to move on! Anyone who watches the Bills play know they have something very special in Josh Allen. The issue last season revolved around when Allen couldn’t use his superhuman power to move the offense, who was going to step up? Insert James Cook! First off, amazing job by Brandon Beane being able to trade back not once, but twice, and still able to get Cook. He not only complements Devin Singletary, but in my view, finally gives the Mafia the much-needed homerun threat in the backfield they have needed for so long. Even more concerning for other teams is being able to cover Cook out of the backfield via a screen, check down or wheel route…Allen in the shotgun just took a whole new level of scary. My not-so bold prediction: The Bills represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVII.
Miami Dolphins: Will they have a consistent running game?
Everyone wants to speak about the plethora of receiving threats that are now available to Tua. This is understandable since the argument can now be made, if Tua does not succeed with these wideouts, is it time to move on? However, I don’t think he can succeed unless they finally find a way back to their Ricky Williams age of running the ball. They tried Matt Brieda, he has not panned out as expected. The same for Miles Gaskin. During the draft, it seemed logical that they would draft someone to give some speed and/or power to that backfield. Instead, they drafted more receivers? I did not understand this. You move draft capital away to get Tyreek, who is understandably a generational talent, but then you double down on that aspect of your game by drafting a YAC receiver in Erik Ezukanma. He has potential, but it’s difficult to say he’ll be a starter. Why not take a shot on a runningback prospect to actually allow Tua to have a threat via the play action where he succeeded at Alabama? My bold prediction: The Dolphins remain at the bottom of the NFL in rushing, but find a way to sneak into the AFC Wildcard game. Unfortunately, the running game bites them in the Wildcard and they are one-and-done.
New England Patriots: Did they do enough this off-season to close the gap on the Bills?
Throughout my career I have learned the hard way to never bet against Belichick. BUT, at least at first glance, it does appear he overestimated the market for Cole Strange. I think some people are overreacting a tad because one, it’s Belichick, if anyone knows what they are doing it’s him, and two, after the draft, reports came out as to how many teams liked Strange. Regardless, he is a rather raw product and while I think the DeVante Parker acquisition is getting less recognition than it deserves, did they do enough to be a contender in the AFC east? You drafted Mac Jones because he will follow Belichick’s direction, be a game manager and give your team a consistent approach. He isn’t going to blaze a trail through the playoffs unless you give him the talent he had at Alabama. Belichick will in all likelihood prove me wrong as always, but I am not convinced they did enough this off-season. My bold prediction: The Patriots miss out on the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, which only occurred one other time under Billy B’s tenure in New England (hint, TB12 wasn’t the fulltime starter then over that span)
New York Jets: Can they finally break the curse?
It’s shocking to say, but I don’t think I love an off-season more than what Joe Douglas did for the New York Jets. They invested in resources to help their franchise quarterback and they peppered their defense with athletes. Reportedly, their three picks in the first round were all rated within the top 8 of their draft big board…talk about cruising. Unfortunately, adding talent is not the only thing that wins games, you have to go execute. Sauce Gardner is a hell of a player, but arguably they could have gone a different route there since their defensive scheme does not entirely necessitate elite play at the position, but nevertheless, you are getting an exceptional player at the position and after seeing the final draft product, Douglas knew what he was doing. They added receiving threats, running threats, a package-based weapons threat by signing Zonovan Knight as an UDFA. Now the question remains, can the J-E-T-S finally break the curse? My bold prediction: While the Jets found a future All-Pro in Garrett Wilson, there are still a plethora of concerns as to whether Zach Wilson is the future for the organization.
Houston Texans: Davis Mills is THE guy?
The Texans have a LOT of holes, so nine picks in the draft certainly helped to plug some holes. But out of all of those picks, not one was taken on a quarterback? Surely we thought they would draft someone, whether it be a developmental guy or someone who could come in immediately and put some more competition in the room. But the Texans in a sense went all in on Mills, choosing to draft a variety of skills players who I think make an immediate impact, most notably John Metchie III and Dameon Pierce. When you speak about culture change, they want to return to the days where they had physical players. You don’t have to go much further than Dameon Pierce, this guy mauls people. I understand Metchie’s recovery is unknown, but the guy is an undisputable talent on the field. He might not be there Week 1, but think about the remainder of the three and a half years on his contract? Phenomenal value snagging him in the second and Pierce in the fourth. Their roster still has many holes, but it seems they’re dedicated to the idea of seeing what all they have in Mills. My bold prediction: Davis Mills plays the entire season as the Houston Texans’ signal caller.
Indianapolis Colts: Will Matty Ice finally solve the quarterback play hamstring of this team?
Last year, the Colts saw their playoff dreams crumble before their eyes as the Jaguars steamrolled them in the last game of the season. If you are Frank Reich, you have one of the best defenses in the league, and a runningback who had over 1800 yards…and you don’t make the playoffs? The Colts knew what they were getting in Carson Wentz: they wanted a game manager who wouldn’t lose games for them. Unfortunately, they realized that ask was not great enough to get them into the post-season. Insert Matt Ryan who is 8th on the all-time passing list. Some people think he is washed up, but I am not convinced. And he is most certainly the most talented thrower they have had on their roster since Andrew Luck. Matty Ice now has the weapons he had when he made it to his infamous Super Bowl. But can he win the big game when it counts? My bold prediction: The Colts win the AFC South, then lose in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Does the choice to address the front seven finally work out?
The Jaguars spent a great deal of money in free agency and one could argue they obtained a small ROI on the offensive side of the ball for Trevor Lawrence. In an off-season where Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, AJ Brown and Amari Cooper were moved, they landed on Christian Kirk. Even more so, they gave Kirk a contract that in all likelihood permanently changed the value of receivers in the current market for years to come. In my opinion, the obvious and logical choice in this draft would have been to take a stalwart for the left side of your offensive line at #1 to protect your franchise signal caller for the next decade. But alas, they chose to pour more assets into a front-seven player at that spot. I understand the rationale they are taking: pad your front seven with athletes (after all, they do play DHenry and JTaylor twice a year each) in hopes it will generate turnovers. The jaguars had an abysmal nine turnovers last year, so they need a serious amount of help. But they signed Arden Key, Folorunso Fatukasi and Foyesade Oluokun in the off-season, was drafting defensive end and off-ball linebacker both in the first round the wisest allocation of resources? Don’t get me wrong, both picks are athletic freaks, but the choice to value generating turnovers vice scoring points on the offensive side of the ball is a never ending Jaguars cycle. It hasn’t worked for a long time, can they finally break the trend this year and moving in a positive direction? My prediction: The Defense takes a drastic leap while the offense remains stagnant.
Tennessee Titans: Why get worse when you are on the doorstep?
The Titans are coming off a devastating and quite frankly, embarassing loss in the AFC Championship. It seems rational to expect anything less than an AFC Championship visit would be a wasted season, correct? Think again, they just traded away their youngest, most impactful player. At 24 years of age, you have to ask yourself that after a year on the doorstep to the Super Bowl, does this help your team to get back to that point? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. I understand the sentiment that they do not want to invest a mid $20 million dollar figure on a wideout given how invested they are in Tannehill and Henry. However, you can cut Tannehill after this year with a low-impact hit, so why trade away a wideout as talented as Brown is in his prime? I find it promising they traded up in the first round to take Treylon Burks, a player who seems to be an AJ Brown doppelganger. But considering how often wideouts fail to play out as expected at the next level, what do you gain by making this switch? It’s no secret that Tannehill was the Achilles heel to the Titans playing in Super Bowl LVI and now you just made it more challenging on him. Say hello to teams crowding the box on Henry this year. My prediction: The Titans fail to make the post-season and move on from Ryan Tannehill.
Denver Broncos: Does Russ betting on himself work out?
Over the last couple years, Russell Wilson’s relationship with Pete Carroll seemed to deteriorate. Russ had the opinion that the offensive scheme did not maximize his ability, outwardly pointing out that if he were in pass-first system, he would be just as successful as the other quarterbacks in the league. The Seahawks had the opposite opinion, stating that they did everything they could to maximize his skillset. Insert Denver, one of the youngest and wide ranging offensive threats in the entire league. To me, I don’t think his talent is that much better given he’s going from DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson to Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Javonte Williams…but, they are certainly younger and most certainly push the ball down the field more frequently schematically. Russell has waited his entire career for this opportunity. The defense is stacked and the offense has been the cog in the wheel these last few years. Can Russ make it happen? My bold prediction: Russell has a Pro-Bowl season, they make the Wild Card, but are one-and-done.
Kansas City Chiefs: Will they be able to stop the pass?
Mahomes’ speedster has left for the Dolphins…I’ll miss watching that duo. But outside of the Chiefs electric offense, I think they have a glaring issue–their pass defense. Last year, they ranked 27th in passing yards allowed per game and now they are moving into 2022 without Charvarius Ward AND Tyrann Mathieu? People have said for years that Mathieu is the heart-and-soul of that defense. He is a natural play-maker on all sides of the ball. He was second on the team in tackles even. I know the Chiefs are aware they can put up 30+ points a game even without Tyreek, but get ready for a shootout every game with the Chiefs secondary. In a division where you are now playing against Justin Herbert, Derek Carr AND Russell Wilson, I do not like the Chief’s secondary’s chances. My bold prediction: The Chiefs do not win the AFC West for the first time in 6 years.
Las Vegas Raiders: Can Derek Carr win a playoff game?
WHAT an off-season for the Las Vegas Raiders. Sniping the best wideout in the league, that’ll elevate your offense. Derek has received an ample amount of criticism since he lost to the Bengals, and quite frankly, I don’t get it. In a year where the head coach had to resign because of past inappropriate and insensitive actions, his star wideout arrested for a DUI resulting in death, COVID ravaging the team during a critical part of the season…any one of those could have ruined the Raiders season. But they just kept fighting, and fighting. Is Derek a top 7 quarterback in the league? No, but I think he is top ten. And now that he has Davante Adams, which prohibits teams from using bracket coverage on Darren Waller every play, coupled with Hunter Renfrow AND Josh Jacobs…it’s going to be a difficult task containing this offense. Buckle up AFC West. My bold prediction: The Raiders route the Chiefs on both occasions this season and make the Wildcard.
Los Angeles Chargers: Can Justin Herbert finally do it?
Justin Herbert is the future of this league, along with Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen. Even when his teams falters, he still puts up wow numbers on a consistent basis. I cannot imagine the off-season for Chargers fans after their coach ruined their chances at a tie and a playoff berth. I understand the coach’s position that he is not complicit in a tie, but wouldn’t you rather be in the playoffs? A cop out in my opinion. I truly like Brandon Staley, I think he will be a successful coach for years to come, but sometimes he is too bold. If he can dial it back slightly, Herbert will take over. They resigned Williams to keep the offense in place and on the defensive side of the ball…sheesh. They add JC Jackson (one of my favorite young players in the league), Kyle Van Noy and that guy Khalil Mack. That is a SCARY defense and when they presumably keep giving the ball back to Herbert and his offense…good luck holding them under 30 points. My bold prediction: Herbert proves once again he is the future in this league making it all the way to the AFC Championship. Unfortunately, Bills Mafia knocks them out there.
Chicago Bears: Can Justin Fields make it through the season without getting hurt?
I understand how many holes the Bears have to fill. Couple that with the state of their salary cap, their not in a position to succeed. However, Fields was running for his life last season and from my view, they essentially did nothing to help that. Of course, he is still on his rookie contract so you are able to utilize that, but at least give the man a chance. They let playmakers like Khalil Mack, Danny Trevathan and Tarik Cohen walk, then signed Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown? They got worse in the off-season and they were already bad to begin with. If a team in the NFL could sit out a season and try again next year, it’s this one. My bold prediction: Justin Fields does not make it through the season, whether it be due to injury or the smarter decision by the franchise to sit him once the season is lost and out of reach opting to protect his long-term health. They have the number 3 pick next season behind the Falcons and Texans.
Detroit Lions: Can Goff prove he has a future in this league?
Another team with many holes to fill that crushed the off-season. It seems the Lions are tweaking their philosophy opting to sign 1-year prove-it deals with multiple veterans. DJ Chark did not get enough credit while on the Jaguars, he is going to make an immediate impact in that offense. They got the top rated prospect on the whole at 2nd overall in Aidan Hutchinson and continued their draft successes by snagging Jameson Williams and Kerby Joseph. This team got better on multiple levels this off-season. In my opinion, Jared Goff has too many receiving threats now to make excuses. In a year where the Lions opt to not select quarterback competition in the draft for Goff, it is time for him to prove his worth. Despite their record last year, the Lions showed heart. I expect it to continue. My bold prediction: Vegas oddsmakers having their O/U at 6.5…I am taking the over.
Green Bay Packers: Can Rodgers fully take the reigns?
Less than a week after A-Rod became the highest paid quarterback, Davante Adams left the Packers. What’s crazy is the Packers reported they offered more money to Davante than the Raiders! This begs the question, is A-Rod really the only one who has a problem with the Packers organization? It certainly appears not. Now, he loses the best wideout in the league, along with Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. His two top pass catchers are gone, and they choose to add Christian Watson? No shade to Watson, I think he will be a playmaker in the league, but it should take him at least two seasons to develop into a player A-Rod can trust. On the flip of the coin, the Packers have stalled in the playoffs the last few seasons because in big time games, you see A-Rod constantly locked on Davante. Teams know this, so they double, sometimes triple him. Now that he’s gone, it will force him to see the whole field and direct it to the best option. The question is, will it work? My bold prediction: The Packers fail to win the NFC North for the first time since 2016.
Minnesota Vikings: Is it finally the year?
An interesting off-season for the Vikings. They fired the entire regime citing philosophical concerns over the depth chart and issues with the draft. Insert the new regime, which keeps the roster the exact same and extends Kirk Cousins, then follows tradition by trading back multiple times in the draft. Personally, I am a fan of Kirk and think the Vikings can win with him. But the draft approach was certainly interesting after their new GM took a shot at Rick Spielman for trading back on draft day, then did the EXACT same thing in his first draft. In my opinion, they had a relatively quiet off-season, outside of signing Za-Darius Smith who is going to be a beast in that scheme. It seems the Vikings believe they can win now. Given the Packers’ off-season losses on the offensive side of the ball, is there a new a new contender in the NFC North? My bold prediction: Adding onto the above, the Vikings finally win the NFC North for the first time in eight years.
Dallas Cowboys: Can their defense keep it up?
Two years ago, the Cowboys had their worst defensive season in the history of the franchise. Last year, they lead the league in turnovers and crushed it. One of the most drastic turn arounds on that side of the ball in recent history. But now, their offense is worse. In an off-season where Cowboys fans were devastated by seeing the time run off the clock on a highly debatable play call against the 49ers, its offense took a tremendous step backwards by losing Amari Cooper. I understand the overwhelming majority of trades in this league are due to salary cap, which almost all fans fail to realize, but a 5th round pick for Amari? Surely, they could have gotten at least a third to draft his replacement and still have cap room to finagle. They lost a solid starter on the line in Connor Williams, and somehow let Cedrick Wilson walk. This offense is substantially worse in my opinion, so the defense better come to play. Randy Gregory’s fake-out to resign with the Cowboys is not a good sign for Dallas. There seems to be some discontent in Dallas, which leads to the question, is Coach Mike McCarthy on the hot seat again? My bold prediction: The Cowboys finish second in the NFC East, granting them a wildcard game in which they lose again. Mike McCarthy is fired after the season.
New York Giants: Are they still looking for THE guy?
My second favorite draft of the off-season. This scheme loves physical players on the interior on both sides of the ball and they got that in Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal. In my opinion, I thought Neal was the best player in the draft and will turn into the next Jonathan Ogden. To get him at 7th overall, wow. Nevertheless, a quarterback controversy has already begun given the Giants opted to not pick up Daniel Jones’ 5th year option. People give the Giants a hard time, but their roster is not as bad as people make it out to be. Jones now has a healthy Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard. You draft some mean guys on the defensive and offensive side of the ball, this team can put up some serious points if they are coached right. The question is, will they be? My not-so bold prediction: The Giants fail to make the post-season and Daniel Jones becomes a free agent.
Philadelphia Eagles: Is the hype real?
My god did the Eagles crush it the last two months. Adding playmakers in Jordan Davis (that is a scary interior with him coupled with Fletcher Cox) and Nakobe Dean, just adding more talent to that stacked defense. Then what else happened? Ohh yeah, they traded for one of the most elite young pass catchers in the game in AJ Brown. Given that teams now have to worry about AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith on every play, is this the season Jalen Reagor finally breaks out for them? We haven’t even addressed Miles Sanders, a player who I think is continually underrated. This is going to be a scary Eagles team, I think they are better talent wise than their Super Bowl run. My bold prediction: The Eagles win the NFC East, but still have concerns over whether Jalen Hurts is the future.
Washington Commanders: Will the Carson Wentz experience Part II work?
Everyone has been on Wentz’s case the last few years, and for good reason to. He has not shown the ability to win, or even push for contentious wins. When you see him on the field, admittedly he exhibits heart. It seems that every play he is getting crushed and knocked down by some defensive player on the field. However, off the field, reports seem to indicate the opposite. One report said the Colts believed he lacked leadership, was resistant to coaching and had a reckless approach to the offense…yikes. That is not something you want to hear, especially when it comes from Frank Reich’s staff, someone who has worked with Wentz for years. This was one of the most interesting moves in the off-season in my opinion. After a season where your owner is consistently ridiculed for things he has done over the years, you opt for this particular quarterback when others such as Jimmy G, Baker Mayfield, Marcus Mariota and any of the developmental prospects in the draft are available? I understand the roster has a lot of holes to fill, but this seems like a tremendous step backwards during a time that Chase Young is still on his rookie deal. My bold prediction: Washington does not extend Wentz’s contract past this year, allowing them to pursue one of next year’s draft prospects.
Atlanta Falcons: How are they going to get out of salary cap jail?
Talk about a season that is over before it even gets started, we might as well gift the Falcons the first overall pick next season. I do not understand why the Falcons failed to trade back from #8 in the Draft to acquire more draft capital for next year (when they should be drafting for a signal caller), but perhaps no one tried. I think Drake London is a phenomenal player and when you couple his size with Kyle Pitts, they are an interesting duo. However, there is not a viable option to throw to them currently. The Falcons kicked the can down the road on Julio Jones and Matt Ryan landing them in an atrocious salary cap position. The typical fan screamed for them to move on from Ryan, but doing so landed them with a $40.525 million dead cap hit for the upcoming season, the largest single dead-money hit in NFL history (ouch). To put things in perspective, 1/5 of the Falcons salary cap they essentially are going to light on fire and get absolutely nothing for it. That’s not a recipe for success in any league, professional or otherwise. My bold prediction: They trade more veterans for more future draft capital.
Carolina Panthers: When do they pull the plug on Sam Darnold?
Bravo to the Panthers staff for waiting it out until they drafted perhaps their future in Matt Corral? It was certainly an interesting draft since everyone thought they were in the running to draft a signal caller at 6th overall, instead opting to take a vicious Ikem Ekwonu. The Panthers have struggled with offensive line play and they scooped up perhaps the most violent run blocker I have seen in the last two decades. The question is, will this be enough? Sam Darnold started the season last year HOT, but then turned into the Sam we all know by the second quarter of the season. Darnold believes that he has proved to the league he is a good quarterback, but has he really? Some of the plays he makes screams a long career in this league, but he has got to minimize the waterfall of mistakes in games. The unfortunate thing for him, is the second he has a bad game, the crowd is going to be screaming for a change. My bold prediction: Matt Corral is the Panthers starter by Week 6.
New Orleans Saints: Who will be the leader of this offense?
It seems likely that Alvin Kamara will have some suspension handed down, potentially a rather severe one given the evidence that’s been released. Michael Thomas is still nowhere to be found, relatively. And they just awarded Jameis Winston with a bridge-quarterback type of contract after his season was cut short due to injury this past season. People critique Winston, but I am actually high on him this upcoming season…if he has his weapons. I LOVE Chris Olave, but he will not be nearly as effective if Kamara and Thomas are not on the field. Last year, the second receiving leader for the Saints was Kamara with 81 and Jared Cook for 43 catches. It has been awhile since the Saints had two dynamic receivers and once they finally get that back with Olave and presumably Thomas, Kamara could be gone. It is time to shine for Jameis to hold down the fort until Kamara gets back from suspension. My bold prediction: Jameis Winston makes the Pro-Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Do they begin to rely on the run more?
TB12 might have made $332 million during his playing career, but reportedly $375 million is waiting for him on the other side for his broadcasting career. That screams to me it’s the GOAT’s last season wearing a uniform. Regardless, the majority of their offense is coming back, with the exception of losing Ali Marpet to retirement and Antonio Brown to CTE (too soon?). I guess they lost TB12 to retirement for what, a month? Nevertheless, Mike Evans is one of the best at his craft, but Chris Godwin’s injury is concerning. I LOVE their UDFA pickup in Jerreth Sterns. The dude made 370 catches in college and no that is not a typo. Allowing him to learn from the GOAT…wow. They drafted two tight ends a week ago, which indicates to me maybe they think Gronk is in fact not coming back for the season? Their depth at the runningback position behind Fournette is rather slim in my opinion, but I think this is the season Lenny takes off. He is a rare athletic talent and during a year that Brady will have to ask more from his players than anytime in recent history, due to Arians departure and a few key players not returning, I’ll take Brady’s side in that he gets Lenny to lock in. My bold prediction: Leonard Fournette makes the Pro-Bowl.
Arizona Cardinals: What does their passing game look like?
It was nothing but cheers for the Cards when they traded for Marquise Brown during the draft. A few days later, cheers no more when the best player on their team gets handed a suspension keeping him out the first third of the season. I understand people want to relive the idea of the college duo Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown, dreaming that they’ll each produce another Heisman-like season. In actuality, this is not going to be the case. Defenses fear D-Hop, they spend an entire game plan revolving around him. No shade towards Marquise, but while he is an athletic talent, he does not have the ability to draw bracket coverage every play. If Marquise is like anyone, he is like Christian Kirk who just ventured off to the Jaguars. James Conner is coming back after a promising second half of the season, so perhaps they intend on relying on him a fair amount. But, with reports that Kyler Murray is not happy with the Cards organization currently, they have a good amount of work to do in order to get that offense firing at a level that doesn’t frustrate the former first overall pick. My bold prediction: They add a veteran wideout by the start of the season (looking at you, OBJ or Juice Landry)
Los Angeles Rams: Can their offense maintain pace?
Last year, the Rams offense ranked 7th in points scored and 9th in overall yards. Here comes the off-season: Andrew Whitworth retired who not only is a Hall of Fame talent, but the impact he has in the locker room cannot be understated; they trade Robert Woods who I understand was injured during their Super Bowl run, but he has been such a critical part of their offense the last four years, even Cooper Kupp acknowledges that (remember how long it took the Rams to get back to their room once Woods was out even with OBJ in the lineup); and OBJ remains a free agent! I am high on Allen Robinson, I do not feel he is given enough credit for just how talented he is. Robinson has three seasons over 1100 yards and his quarterbacks during that time: Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. Two of the three are not even a consideration to start and I’ll argue now that Trubisky will not be starting for the Steelers by Week 4. Now you throw in Stafford and his no-look play making ability…AR15 is a very happy man nowadays. Nevertheless, it is going to be a challenging mission to replace the three individuals I mentioned and it is yet to be seen whether AR15, coupled with the free agent defensive additions (I see you Bobby Wagner) they made can handle it. My bold prediction: The Rams fail to make it back to the Big Dance.
San Francisco 49ers: Literally what is going on in the Bay?
A year removed from making a historic playoff run, the team appears to be at a standstill. One year ago today, reporters spoke about this off-season being the one where the 49ers offense takes a giant leap forward under Trey Lance. Now, their most elusive offensive threat wants out, for reasons that are still not clear and not only is Jimmy Garoppolo still on the roster, it appears he is still the starting quarterback for the moment. I understand the front office cannot say Lance will be the starter, otherwise they would immediately lose all trade value on Jimmy G. But Jimmy’s last press conference all but solidified to the media that even he believes he’ll never play as a 49er again. Could Deebo’s request to get out be tied to the fact of how uncertain the situation is as to who will be throwing (or handing) the ball off to him on a contract year, or is he simply following the trend to fully maximize contract negotiations by threatening to leave? George Kittle can only do so much and if you watched the same Trey Lance football as I did last season, it will take a miracle to trot him out as the starter feeling confident about playing in February. My bold prediction: Jimmy G is the week 1 starter for this ball club.
Seattle Seahawks: How do you keep your current players excited?
Trading away the best player to ever don the Seahawks uniform without having a viable option at quarterback is never a good look. Now, it appears they intend on starting Drew Lock, an individual who did not even start for the team that drafted him (yikes). Reportedly, the Seahawks like what they see in Lock, but this much more so seems to me like the front office wants to avoid screaming to the world this is a two-year rebuild. They did get a great deal of capital from trading away Russ, but what happens for the individuals who are supposed to be your franchise players, specifically your receiving corps. DK seems lost on this team and Tyler Lockett is living a double-life as a real-estate agent. It is hard to believe that neither Russ or Bobby Wagner will be a part of this team…where will the leadership come from? My bold prediction: DK Metcalf is moved prior to the trade deadline.