Three Reasons Why Your Team Will or Won’t Suck: NFC Preview 2019

I’m a fairly pessimistic person. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. And no where am I more pessimistic then when it comes to the realm of sports. I generally believe that most teams will never be nearly as good as they think they can be, and that hardly anything truly “miraculous” happens over the entire course of a season.

Hence, the title of this piece. It’s physically impossible for me to think that every team will have a down year, but I would definitely dampen the expectations of several fan bases if I could. I read through a large majority of the Football Outsiders Almanac 2019 to fully prepare myself for the season, and the general feel I got is that teams either over achieved and will regress, or they’re stuck in an immutable rut of incompetence and have shown almost no promise of improvement. But there has to be 12 playoff teams each year, and I have to pick certain teams to at least cross the borderline of acceptance.

One thing to note–I will reference DVOA rankings and stats quite a bit. There is a lot that goes into DVOA and it’s a fascinating metric, but I figure that most of you didn’t come here to listen to me ramble about how to properly calculate football stats. All you need to know is that DVOA is probably the most accurate football analytics stat out there, and it properly ranks teams based on the context of their situations and the efficiency they produce. Also, the teams are listed by division in the order in which I think they’ll finish. Hopefully, I didn’t crap on your favorite teams too much. Also, I know you probably don’t care, but I did make sure to write my North division predictions and reasons before the Packers-Bears game last night as to maintain integrity and honesty. Try and stick around till the end of this giant article to get my pick for the Conference Champion, followed by my pick for the Super Bowl Champion!!! Thanks!

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles – Won’t Suck. I’m never usually so optimistic about my own team (which worries me, but whatever). 

1. A 9-7 record last season was actually impressive given the context. Of the last 13 non-Patriot Super Bowl winners, only six of those teams went on to make the playoffs the next season, meaning that it’s actually more surprising that the Eagles didn’t fall off the cliff entirely last year. In addition, the Eagles had the least healthy defense in the NFL, with 118.5 adjusted games lost and nearly whole seasons lost to five of their starters. Somehow, Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz still got the team to finish 15th in defense. It’s amazing they weren’t a train wreck.

2. The offensive line is flat out awesome (and no, I’m not talking about those photos from ESPN magazine). It’s not just that the starting five of Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Jason Peters is probably the league’s best unit, but the depth is insane as well. Halapoulivatti Vaitai not only has the best name ever, but he has started in many a professional game. Andre Dillard was this year’s first round pick, and in the preseason displayed mastery over the “half second uncalled false start” that Jason Peters has mastered. Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata would be starters on several teams as well. NFL writer Robert Mays summed it up best, “The Eagles’ four backup offensive lineman plus another from their practice squad would be measurably better than the o-lines in Cincinnati, Washington, and Arizona.”

3. Carson Wentz actually was better by some metrics in 2018 then he was in 2017. He was more patient in the pocket and did a better job finding quick openings in the coverage. The main problem was that his average yards per target dropped from 10.4 in 2017 to 8.2 in 2018, but that was largely due to the Eagles lacking a deep threat, and in turn relying heavily on slot receivers and two tight end sets (which they led the league in). The addition of blazer DeSean Jackson should fix that.

Dallas Cowboys – Not sure if they will or won’t suck. Feels like 9-7 or 10-6.

1. They really overachieved last year, finishing 21st in total DVOA, meaning that they were a lot worse than the typical 10-6 division winner. They were also whistled for the fewest penalties in the NFL last year, and given the randomness of penalties, they will not be as fortunate this year.

2. Zeke shaking off the rust from missing training camp probably won’t matter. The Cowboys have the easiest three game start in the NFL: Giants, at Redskins, and Dolphins. They could go 3-0 against those teams playing Jerry Jones at running back.

3. The defense finished 9th last year and is less likely to regress given that a lot of their key players (DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Byron Jones) are young guys. In addition, remember the name Kris Richard. He’s the defensive backs coach and turned a meh guy like Byron Jones into a corner that finished 5th in pass defense success rate last year.

New York Giants – Should suck considering the amount of talent they gave away, however, they could be weirdly dangerous.

1. The quarterback situation–it’s bad. I doubt I have to explain why Eli Manning is a negative at this point in his career, and he’s starting at least the first six weeks this year and probably more. Let’s talk about Daniel Jones, whose reputation has swung back and forth like a pendulum. The Giants were mocked endlessly on social media for drafting a guy who most saw as a 3rd rounder at the 6th overall pick. However, Jones looked fantastic in the pre-season games, setting a near record for QB Rating. But here’s why we should still be skeptical of him: That pre-season QB rating was the highest produced since Blake Bortles in 2014. Not exactly a great indicator. Additionally, Football Outsiders’ projection did not like Jones either. I’m not going to sit here and try and explain something that I don’t know enough about, but all you need to know is that the people who make these models do a great job, and the player they say Daniel Jones most resembles is Christian Ponder. If that doesn’t scare you then please just take one minute of your time to watch this video.

2. How’s the rest of the roster doing, you may ask? Well, I assume you remember that the Giants signed Odell Beckham Jr., arguably the most talented wide receiver of his generation, only to trade him for two picks and my least favorite player in the NFL, Jabril Peppers. Not only did it make the G-Men worse, but they also still have to eat a large sum of his gargantuan contract. Halfway through last season, Dave Gettleman decided that he did not like defensive tackle Damon Harrison, a pro bowler in the prime of his career, and dealt him for scraps. He decided to double down and sent fellow pass rushing pro bowler Olivier Vernon to the Brown for an O-Lineman. It’s not like pass rushing is the most important part of a modern NFL defense, right? Right???

3. Despite all of this … there’s a chance that the Giants were a lot better than we thought last year. DVOA graded them as the 15th best team in the league, ahead of their division rival Eagles. How then did they go 5-11 last year, you might ask? Simple, by going a brutal 4-8 in games decided by less than seven points. Now, the “we lost a bunch of close games” thing is typically overblown. Just about every NFL team loses by one score because these are professionals and they usually don’t roll over for dead (the 2016 and 2017 Browns not withstanding). But the fact that the analytics says they were actually an above average team last year tells me that they were more decent but unlucky rather than just outright bad. I wouldn’t pick them to finish with a winning record, but 7-9 is more than probable.

Washington Redskins – Will suck and I’m mad at them for drafting two Ohio State players. Not cool guys.

1. What makes it worse is that neither Buckeye is starting/getting the hype he deserves. Dwayne Haskins is the most gifted thrower of a football to ever attend The Ohio State University, yet he has to sit behind Case Keenum to start this year? It’s like Jay Gruden wants to see how quickly he’ll get fired. As for Terry McLaurin, the Ohio State wide receiver who they drafted in the 3rd round, I doubt that he won’t be at least their second starting wideout for the majority of the year. However, I would I like to hear more buzz about him considering the Redskins next three receivers are Paul Richardson (not the worst), Kelvin Harmon (who?), and Trey Quinn (um, what???). And overall, I just hate that the Eagles’ rivals always take Ohio State players. Shame upon you Dan Snyder.

2. Although, the more I think about it, I actually don’t want to see Haskins taking snaps this year for fear of his own safety behind this sieve of an offensive line. Star tackle Trent Williams, their only credible starter of the group, held out for months and is only now returning, which can’t be a good thing. Worst of all, the infamous Ereck Flowers, who NFL nerds dubbed the worst O-Lineman in NFL history two years ago, is starting for this team. Here’s a quote from reporter Michael Phillips after he watched the entirety of the Redskins’ full pads scrimmage, “{Ereck Flowers} was picked up and moved around like a piece of unwanted furniture.” Does Case Keenum have health insurance?

3. Despite all of this, the Skins’ defense will keep them from being as dreadful as teams like Miami and Cincinnati. They finished as the 20th ranked defense (not great, but manageable), but pretty much all of their best players several such as Ryan Kerrigan, Josh Norman, Ryan Anderson, and Jonathan Allen. For some reason, the Giants let Landon Collins walk in free agency, and the Redskins were able to land the recent Pro Bowl safety, albeit at a slight overpay. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that a lot of people love their first round draft pick Montez Sweat–a 6’6″ defensive end who ran a 4.42 second 40 yard dash, the fastest ever recorded for a defensive lineman. The Skins will lose a lot this year, but simply have too much athleticism on this side of the ball to go full tank mode.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings – Won’t suck. Trust me, they won’t.

1. They’re a lot like the Jaguars (my pick to win the AFC South this year). They’ve proven to be a reliable defense with three straight top 10 finished in defensive DVOA, the only team in the league to do so. I also don’t see regression coming because last year’s Vikings were better than their overall 8-7-1 record indicated. The big difference of all things was actually field goal kicking. Never mind his full season of incompetence, Daniel Carlson missed a 34 yarder at the buzzer in week two that would have given the Vikings a win over the Packers rather than a tie, which ultimately kept them out of the playoffs as they held the head to head tiebreaker over the Philadelphia Eagles. Needless to say, the Vikings probably won’t be screwed over by Mr. Carlson this year seeing that he is no longer on the roster.

2. I know this sounds stupid, but I love the whole every other year superstitions in sport. In baseball, the San Francisco Giants held an even year dynasty, winning the title in 2010, 2012, and 2014. The University of Auburn under Gus Malzhan always overachieves in odd years (most notably 2013). And the Minnesota Vikings themselves love the odd years. Zimmer’s team broke out with a division championship in 2015, then stumbled to 8-8 in 2016. They rebounded in 2017 with a 13-3 record and a conference championship appearance, then missed the playoffs entirely in 2018. Call this nonsense if you choose, I’m just warning you of the odd-year Vikings ahead of time.

3. My one big concern is the offensive play calling. Supposedly, the team is embracing play action (the analytics community’s favorite son) as Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and quarterback Kirk Cousins have both spoken this offseason about how excited they are to use it. However, head coach Mike Zimmer fired DeFillipo last year because the team passed too much, talking about how the way to win is run, run, and run some more. Sounds like typical old school coach shunning efficiency and analytics just for the sake of it. Not encouraging.

Green Bay Packers – Won’t suck, but won’t be some amazing team either.

1. Everyone and their mothers are high on the Packers this year after Mike McCarthy was hired and Sean McVay disciple Matt LaFleur was brought in. In my opinion, I’m not as down on him as I am on Zac Taylor, but I’m not quite sold either. His offense relies on spreading the defense out with a lot of receivers, and using that space to run the ball as the primary option. Thus, play action is the main passing method used in the offense. The good news with this scheme is that Rodgers has been a better passer under center than from shotgun for his entire career. This sounds good in theory, but keep in mind, LaFleur was drawing these plays up for the Tennessee Titans last year. Not exactly what comes to mind when you think “innovative offense”.

2. The defense finished 29th last year, but should trend up in 2019. Similar to the Eagles, the Green Bay defense was maligned with injuries and will most certainly not suffer the same devastation two years in a row. They also signed a ton of talent in pass rushers Za’Darius and Preston Smith, as well as lockdown safety Adrian Amos to pair with the incumbent Jaire Alexander, an emerging star at the position. The weak spot is linebackers, as Blake Martinez is the only credible starter, but the Packers employed the Chargers’ strategy of using six d-backs and one linebacker last year, and will be even better equipped to handle that this year. One last thing: keep an eye on sneaky good defensive tackle Kenny Clark, he’s in line for a breakout year.

3. I have a ton of respect for Aaron Rodgers, and any Eagles fan will tell you that we literally have never even come close to beating him. I just worry about the weapons around him aside from Davante Adams. For all the hype, Geronimo Allison has never caught more than 23 passes in any season and his greatest accomplishment is his name. Everyone seems to love running back Aaron Jones even though he’s never makes standout or wow plays that seem to indicate the hidden talent everyone says he has. Last of all, Jimmy Graham just has nothing left. His reputation for being a terrible blocker at tight end was exposed after he left pass happy New Orleans, and I just don’t think he ever recovered. The Packers will definitely improve, but I think exponential improvement just isn’t in the cards.

Chicago Bears – Will kind of, maybe, sort of, actually suck. Maybe.

1. The first reason is pretty much just normal regression. The Bears had a top 10 defense in the history of the league last year. As I’ve been trying to hammer home in my articles, NFL defenses are less consistent year to year than offenses. And if you hate analytics, here’s another reason why the defense can’t carry an inept offense in 2019. The Bears lost strong safety Adrian Amos, one of the league’s best pass defending safeties, and slot corner Bryce Callahan, the league’s best slot corner last year, in free agency. Their replacements: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (who everyone says is good but he’s on his third team in three years) and Buster Skrine (who graded as arguably the worst slot corner in the NFL last year). Not a good sign for what was far and away the best defense since the Legion of Boom.

2. The Bears transition from the underdog no one saw coming to the team that the entire NFC North (which I would say is probably the best division in football) is gunning for. They benefitted from the 2nd easiest schedule in the league last year, and now face the 5th toughest schedule in 2019. After perusing their matchups, I found an absolutely brutal stretch in which they play the Saints, Chargers, Eagles, and Rams in five weeks, with a divisional rivalry against the Lions sprinkled in there.

3. I said it about the Chargers and I’ll say it about the Bears: I just don’t like teams who feel like they missed their chance. Even in a season in which they went 12-4, take a look on all that didn’t bounce their way: They were an opening night, one-legged, Aaron Rodgers-led 20 point comeback and inexplicable letdown against the Giants away from a 14-2 record and the top seed in the NFC. Pythagorean win projections (which basically shows how many games a team should have won) had the Bears at the top in the NFL. And of course, you all knew it was coming … the double doink. Just like that, with two bounces off a goal post, the Bears suffered one of the most excruciating defeats ever. I just doubt a team’s chances at coming back from that, especially one that’s led by the wildly inaccurate Mitch Trubisky.

Detroit Lions – Can only avoid sucking if a couple of things break their way. 

1. Matt Patricia just does not seem like a very good head coach. He came to Detroit hailed as a defensive genius, yet, the Lions finished 28th in defense by DVOA last year. That wasn’t entirely his fault, seeing as the Lions have literally zero starting caliber linebackers, and their defensive secondary save for Darius Slay and maybe Nevin Lawson is putrid. But I don’t like when coaches classify themselves as “anti-analytics” and insist that the only way to win is by running the ball down the middle and trusting your defense, aka exactly what Patricia said his plan was for this season. At least I have Kerryon Johnson on my fantasy team. Volume baby!!!

2. On the other hand, I am really high on some of the Lions defensive pass rush, which is the most important part of a modern defense if you ask NFL experts. Everyone will point to how they signed star Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers, but they forget just how potent this front already is. Former Alabama teammates A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand are other worldly athletes and have produced early, and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison is arguably the most underrated player in the NFL. The Lions were 29th in run defense for the first nine weeks of the season last year, and promptly traded for Harrison. From weeks 10-17, the Lions run defense ranked 1st in the NFL as Harrison snuffed out a holes in the O-Line like a monster.

3. Those first two points balance out to me, meaning that the Lions’ 2019 success will be defined by their offense. On the surface, a lot of things point to a good year. Kenny Golladay had over 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie, Kerryon Johnson graded out as a very efficient running back, and I’ve just always kind of believed in Matt Stafford. The new Offensive Coordinator is Darrell Bevell, who loves to use play action, something that Stafford is very good at. However, Bevell was also the coordinator responsible for calling the Malcolm Butler interception play in Super Bowl 49. In the end, I just have never seen enough from this offense in previous years to make me think they can significantly improve this year. 4th place.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints – Won’t suck, I just believe in them too much.

1. I’ve been scouring the internet for just about every NFL season prediction I can find, and it’s become the trendy thing to pick the Saints to miss the playoffs. Their justifications include: the Saints spent all offseason complaining about the missed pass interference, Drew Brees was terrible during the last five weeks of last season, and they are bound to regress after being dominant two straight years. I usually love these kinds of takes, but I have to counter. The Saints should have won the NFC each of the last two years (just ask a die hard Eagles fan how scared they were of the Saints in 2017 before the Minnesota Miracle took place). If you’re that dominant two years in a row, then I start to think of it as less than a fluke. I don’t have any great statistic to give you about why I feel good about them, but I just think that I want to zig when everyone else is zagging.

2. I think the defense will bounce back from last year’s struggles. The run defense was actually very good last year, but it was deep passing that torched them in 2018. They were 29th in overall pass defense for the first half of last season, but improved to 6th in pass defense over the second half after they traded for Giants’ castoff cornerback Eli Apple. I have a feeling that the surge Apple brought, as well as a return to 2017 form by Marshon Lattimore are in order. We also shouldn’t forget defensive end Cam Jordan, whose 49 pressures were only second to Aaron Donald last year.

3. This seems like a dumb reason, but the Saints own the Eagles. The 2006-07 playoffs were the first I ever watched, and I witnessed first hand a young Drew Brees hand the Eagles a 27-24 loss. During Brees’s career, the Saints are 7-2 against the Eagles even though it feels like 15-0. I think this matters because in my eyes the Eagles and Saints are undoubtedly the two best teams in the NFC. If you “own” your biggest competition, then there’s a good chance you’re going to the Super Bowl. And speaking as a passionate Eagles fan, I can just tell you that the Saints are a team the Eagles can never, ever beat.

Carolina Panthers – Won’t suck, and a wildcard spot is definitely possible.

1. The Panther had a top five offense for the first nine weeks of last season and were 6-2 before Cam Newton hurt his shoulder and the Panthers went on a seven game losing streak. I just don’t think it can be understated how great they were prior to the Cam’s injury, and how bad the offense cratered after it. I know the “if he stays healthy” argument is dangerous considering that most guys don’t actually stay healthy if you have to say that, but man, I just can’t resist the idea of how great the Panthers can be. I’m betting on their upside rather than their floor.

2. Their defense will return to its dominant form thanks to a loaded group of pass rushers. They signed several time pro-bowler Gerald McCoy to bolster their strength in the interior line, which already had above average talent in Kawaan Short and the league’s heaviest player, Dontari Poe. Some might see some concerns on the outside with Julius Peppers and Wes Horton no longer being on the team, but the Panthers addressed this with their first round pick Brian Burns. Burns was loved by draft experts everywhere, and Football Outsiders SackSEER projection sees Brian Burns as the number one pass rusher of the entire class.

3. I hope you read the Vikings section, because the Panthers are an ODD YEAR TEAM!!!! 2015: The Panthers go 15-1, trounce everyone, and make a Super Bowl they should have won except that Cam had the worst game of his life. 2016: The Panthers go 6-10 in the rebound year, mainly due to having the league’s 25th ranked offense. 2017: No matter, they finish 11-5 this season with the infusion of rookie Christian McCaffery, and make the playoffs. 2018: 7-9 and their franchise quarterback’s shoulder almost detached from his body. This is 2019. I love weird sports trends like this, and I think I might love the Panthers this year. (Grumpy Old Editor, “Or you just want to convince yourself the Panthers are good because you have Christian McCaffery on both of your fantasy teams.”)

Atlanta Falcons – Maybe they won’t suck, but they won’t be much better.

1. The first half of their schedule is an absolute gauntlet: Vikings, Eagles, Colts, Titans, Texans, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks. None of those are “gimmes” with the exception of the Cardinals, and even that game is in Arizona. 2-6 is a possible start, and I much prefer easier starts than easier finishes.

2. Dan Quinn kept talking about how the offense needs to do better and how they’re going to be more balanced and run the ball more. This is really bad. The Falcons offense was actually fine, and what made them good was how often and effectively they passed. Trying to run the ball almost never worked, but they didn’t need it to work. so they avoided it. Never a good sign to hear your coach say he wants the team to do more of what it’s not good at.

3. The defense was the main problem last year (31st in DVOA), but it almost certainly will improve. The injuries to Deion Jones and Keanu Neal last year were practically the equivalent of mowing down the defense with a machine gun. In particular, Jones’s replacement, Duke Riley, was a disaster. The Falcons ranked as one of best pass defenses in the league in Jones’s six games, but were dead last in the ten games with Riley. Injury luck usually turns back in a team’s favor the next year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Will suck. They just don’t have enough talent.

1. Somehow, despite receiving another fourth-place schedule, the Bucs’ schedule projects as the 3rd hardest in the NFL. Never good for a team hoping to over achieve out of nowhere.

2. The Buccaneers earned the infamous honor of finishing dead last in total defensive DVOA for the 2nd year in a row, joining the rare company of the ’98 Bengals, ’03 Cardinals, and ’08 Lions. How bad is it? Quickly check if you’ve ever heard of any of their corners before: Carlton Davis, Ryan Smith, M.J. Stewart, Sean Murphy-Bunting

3. Jameis Winston is erratic. His career stats ironically bare a close resemblance to Ryan Fitzpatrick. He usually either throws four touchdowns or four interceptions, no in between. Some positives he has going for him though: his receiving core (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, OJ Howard) is arguably the league’s best, and after his terrible start, he ranked as the 5th best quarterback in the league from weeks 10 through 17.

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams – Won’t suck, mainly because the rest of this division sucks.

1. Ask anyone who basically follows at least the tiniest bit of NFL action, and they could tell you how the Rams did not deserve to be NFC champions, but were bailed out by the most egregious no-call of the 21st century. They also lost their luster as the season wore on, with the offense sliding from transcendent to just above average. But there’s one big reason as to why I think the Rams offense will be great again, and it may or may not be a six foot two, White wide receiver. That’s right, it’s Cooper Kupp. Here’s what you need to know: The Rams offensive DVOA was right up there with the Chiefs before Kupp got injured mid season, where it then dropped by 30% for the remainder of the year without Kupp. All hail the Kupp man.

2. However, their defense does have some sketchy signs going into this season. They managed to recover 11 of 13 fumbles, which is beyond lucky and bound to regress. Additionally, they lost LaMarcus Joyner in free agency and are attempting to replace him with an aging Eric Weddle,  a big drop off in athleticism. Their corners were supposed to be elite, and Aquib Talib was, but the past his prime star constantly struggles to stay healthy. Marcus Peters is talented, but took way too many all-or-nothing gambles, and got burned several times.

3. Aaron Donald. Just like Antonio Brown was a sole reason as to why the Raiders will suck, Aaron Donald is a load-bearing force that will prevent the Rams from sucking barring any circumstance. You already know that he was voted the #1 player of 2018 by his peers. You know that he led the league with 20.5 sacks last year, an all time record for a defensive tackle. What you may not know is that he also was the best run defending lineman in the NFL, finishing with an unimaginable 92% stop rate on run plays. I know I’ve been banging the football analytics drum for most of my preview, but I do concede that we overthink some things. Namely, the best player usually corresponds to having one of the best teams.

Seattle Seahawks – Are pretty much the middle ground between sucking and not sucking.

1. I really like the Clowney trade. I don’t value mid round picks as much as others, and I really don’t mind giving up a 3rd rounder considering Seattle’s situation. They had already acquired a 1st and a 2nd round pick from Kansas City after they dealt star defensive end Frank Clark, which left outside pass rushing as their biggest hole. Clowney is more than qualified to fill that.

2. If Tyler Lockett gets injured, Russell Wilson might as well throw to himself. His favorite receiver for his entire career, Doug Baldwin, retired months ago, and David Moore, a player many were high on, is out for several weeks with an injury. Even if those two had returned, I still would have been iffy on the Seahawks’ weapons. Now? The run-heaviest team in the league will have to pound the ball with Chris Carson even more. Not ideal.

3. I feel like there’s just a very defined limit to what this team can be. While they run the ball at a very efficient clip, it can’t overcome the lack of volume in passing. Think of it like the NBA. No matter how good a team is at finishing in the rim, a team that just shoots a lot of threes and doesn’t do it terribly is more likely to succeed in modern basketball. Additionally, they were quite fortunate with potential turnovers last year, recovering 13 of 17 offensive fumbles. If the simple goal of their season is to “not suck”, then they’re in good position. But if they’re actually trying to win the Super Bowl, then there are serious philosophical problems within the coaching staff.

San Francisco 49ers – Will suck. I don’t buy the sleeper hype.

1. Let’s talk about Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers handed him a record contract before the start of the 2018 season, and what has ensued is two uninspiring losses, a torn ACL, a reported five straight picks in a scrimmage, flat out dreadful play in the preseason, and some quiet rumblings about just how good backup Nick Mullens is. If you want an actual statistic as to why I think Garoppolo is a problem, take this: There’s a metric that measures a quarterback’s aggressiveness i.e. how often he tries to hit throws in tight, well covered windows. Josh Rosen led all qualified passers last year with a 21% rating. In Garoppolo’s three games last year he had a 27% rating. Yikes. Jimmy G’s propensity for unnecessary risks seems like a trend not a blip.

2. The one good thing I can say is that the pass defense simply has to be more fortunate than last year. The team only had two whole interceptions all of last year, a historically low mark. The corners not name Richard Sherman couldn’t replicate that this year if they tried. I mention that because a narrative emerged that Sherman was a big disappointment in 2018. While he wasn’t peak Sherman, he graded as a top 20 corner, and opponents were aware. Opposing quarterbacks threw to the side of the field Sherman wasn’t covering on 44% of all passes, by far the most in the league.

3. Everything about this offense except for tight end George Kittle is straight garbage. Jerrik McKinnon is injured again, Kyle Juszczyk is paid twice as much as any fullback in the league for meh production, and Tevin Coleman is a situational back that they want to use as a three downer. The fact that the receivers are highlighted by Dante Pettis speaks for itself. Most importantly, I maybe one of the few members on the “Kyle Shanahan isn’t a great coach” island. Everyone raves about his genius and cite the 2016 Falcons’ offense, yet no one points out that Atlanta was loaded with talented personnel and that their offense has continued to be elite since his departure. Specifically, while his scheme does a great job utilizing play action, quarterbacks in his offense have been near the top of the league in sacks taken every year. If it happens once, it’s just because of a bad offensive line. If it happens multiple times, it’s the coach’s fault. I just don’t trust an offense in the hands of a man with a career record of 10-22.

Arizona Cardinals – Will suck, BUT IN STYLE THEY WILL SUCK!!!!!

1. I’ll try to start on an optimistic note–the offense can’t be worse than it was last year. The Cardinals finished dead last in Offense last year, with a -41.7% DVOA, making them the the 3rd worst offense in NFL history! Major factors for that disaster were the now disgraced Josh Rosen, whose Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement of -1,145, ranked him as having the worst quarterback season in NFL history, even behind the worst seasons of JaMarcus Russell, Blake Bortles, and Kelly Stouffer. Not to be outdone, Arizona’s starting tight end Ricky Seals-Jones had the 2nd worst season ever for a player at the position with a -158 DYAR. Last, and maybe the least, the offensive line was terrible as well. They became the first team to start 13 different lineman in a season in the 21st century. So yeah, I would say they are team that will at least rebound from incapable to just bad on offense this year.

2. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that they did much to improve those deficiencies. Yes, Kyler Murray is in all likelihood better than Josh Rosen, but he is still a 5’8″ rookie who only started one season in college, so great improvement is doubtful. The Cardinals’ starting tight end this year is now … Charles Clay? The same Charles Clay who was almost as terrible as Seals-Jones last year with his -38.3% DVOA? And while they signed four new  offensive lineman in the offense (the most notable of which was J.R. Sweezy), all four of those lineman have had bad injury histories. That shouldn’t backfire at all.

3. While I’m not a Kliff Kingsbury stan, I’m also not one to decry him for being a college coach with a losing record. If his job is simply to manage the offense, then he should have no problem seeing as his Texas Tech teams averaged over 40 points per game consistently. What does worry me is the Cardinals having the 7th toughest schedule in the NFL. The last thing I’d want for someone with his first ever NFL job is to throw him a slate of juggernauts who may overwhelm him in his adaptation period.

Playoff Picks: 

  1. Eagles
  2. Saints
  3. Rams
  4. Vikings
  5. Panthers
  6. Cowboys

In the miraculous situation where my predictions actually become true, I’d then take the Rams over the Cowboys and the Vikings over the Panthers in the wildcard round, and follow that up with wins in the divisional round by the Eagles and the Saints. I really want to pick the Eagles. I really, really do. I just can’t convince myself that I’ll be so fortunate again. We shouldn’t have won the Super Bowl in 2017, we weren’t really the best team. Even though highly touted sportswriters like Robert Mays and Kevin Clark have showered love on the Birds and crowned them as 2019 Super Bowl champs, I just am too skeptical after watching this team my whole life. I’ll take the Saints to finally make it back to the big game this year (keep in mind, this also serves as a reverse jinx, as me picking the Eagles would have guaranteed a terrible season in Philadelphia, you’re welcome).

Super Bowl LIV: New England Patriots vs New Orleans Saints

This would be a Hollywood-esque ending, wouldn’t it? The two quarterbacks who have defied the typical limitations of aging in the NFL finally meet up on the game’s biggest stage. The Saints have a lot of things going for them, and I even picked them to win the Super Bowl both before the start of last year’s season and prior to the playoffs. But … I just can’t pick against the Patriots.

Do I feel good about it? No. Do I want it to happen? No. Am I going to slam my head into the wall when Trevor brags to me about how this was always inevitable? Absolutely. But I always stick to the philosophy of picking what always happens until it’s proven differently. That’s why the New England Patriots are winning the Super Bowl in 2019.

I know that would suck. Some of your teams probably will too.