The NFL’s calendar is nearly limitless. It exists from August to May. From training camp to draft class analysis. All things must sleep. Even the corporate football playing monstrosity has energetic bounds. There it is, all tuckered out and tucked in. Dentures in the glass, windows open, the crickets’ string instruments, air conditioner heaving.
While it slumbers, it’s time for other things. Grass hill sitting. Big book reading. Mustard spilling. Mountain hiking. Those beautiful pleasures should be taken in when the sun is fat, heaving in a white sky, and we are all skinny, golden, and perfect 10s again. Time to exist in the now, for football to exist in future hope and longing nostalgia. Bring on that long summer hot dog eating lull.
The monster will wake soon. Three months is hardly anytime at all. All of that knowledge of what just happened in 2019 needs to reside somewhere, sloshing around in some cybernetic bowl, and this exercise does exactly that by ranking each team from worst to best with dubious analysis attached and, most importantly, summarizing the key additions, departures, and draft classes of each team.
16.) New England Patriots—Record: 12-4. Point Differential: +195 (2). DVOA: 29.9% (3). Previously 6th.
Additions: Marqise Lee (WR), Beau Allen (DT), Brian Hoyer (QB), Cody Davis (S), Adrian Phillips (S), Brandon Copeland (OLB), Damiere Byrd (WR)
Departures: Tom Brady (QB), Stephen Gostkowski (K), James Develin (FB), Ben Watson (TE), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Kyle Van Noy (LB), Ted Karras (C), Elandon Roberts (FB/LB), Nate Ebner (S), Duron Harmon (S), Jamie Collins (LB), Danny Shelton (DT), Phillip Dorsett (WR)
NFL Draft: 2-37: Kyle Dugger, S (Lenoir-Rhyne) 2-60: Josh Uche, LB (Michigan)3-87: Anfernee Jennings, OLB (Alabama): 3-91: Devin Asiasi, TE (UCLA): 3-101: Dalton Keene, TE (Virginia Tech): 5-159: Justin Rohrwasser, K (Marshall): 6-182: Michael Onwenu, G (Michigan) 6-195: Justin Herron, T (Wake Forest): 6-204: Cassh Maluia, LB (Wyoming): 7-230: Dustin Woodard, C (Memphis)
I’m sure that I’m not sure the Patriots won’t win the AFC East. Gun in my mouth, I would give them a 49% chance of still winning the division. Look it’s the Pats. Who cares if they lost starters Brady, Van Noy, Karras, Roberts, Collins, and Shelton. Who cares if the greatest quarterback of all time is going to space camp in Florida. Who cares if they made the biggest draft flex by taking a division II safety with their first pick, the NFL Draft equivalent of ordering a spirulina infused cold drip match latte, sitting down, and then taking the saucer out of their ear lobes, to set their green concoction down on. They still have the key pieces of their defense that was first in defensive DVOA and pass defense DVOA.
It’s still the Pats. Until they don’t win the division, I can’t see them not winning the division. The last time they didn’t Matt Cassel was the quarterback in 2008 after Brady tore his ACL in week one. His career record aside from that season is 26-40. As hilarious as it is to see Jarrett Stidham preseason highlights littered across newsfeeds from Pats bros, and how immediate they talked themselves into him, Stidham should at least be better than that. Bill Belichick has worked wonders never seen in the league before. As long as he’s the coach here it’s impossible and irresponsible to count them all the way out.
15.) Green Bay Packers—Record: 13-3. Point Differential: +63 (9). DVOA: 7.7% (10). Previously 7th.
Additions: Devin Funchess (WR), Christian Kirksey (LB), Ricky Wagner (T)
Departures: Jimmy Graham (TE), B.J. Goodson (LB), Bryan Baluga (T), Kyler Fackrell (EDGE), Blake Martinez (LB), Geronimo Allison (WR), Dan Vitale (FB), Ibraheim Campbell (S)
NFL Draft: 1-26: Jordan Love, QB (Utah State) 2-62: A.J. Dillon, RB (Boston College) 3-94: Josiah Deguara, TE (Cincinnati) 5-175: Kamal Martin, LB (Minnesota) 6-192: Jon Runyan, G (Michigan) 6-208: Jake Hanson, C (Oregon) 6-209: Simon Stepaniak, T (Indiana) 7-236: Vernon Scott, S (TCU) 7-242: Jonathan Garvin, DE (Miami)
The last time the Packers were seen from the world they allowed 285 rushing yards and 37 points in the NFC Championship game. Throughout that game the Packers were spread along the edges and devoured at the second level. Blake Martinez should have retired after this game. Instead, he received $10 million a year from the New York Giants.
Rodgers was listless. Cool and casual. Having nowhere to go when linebackers sat in the hole and picked up their crossing routes and their vertical routes were carried down the sideline. There he was, stuck, while the 49ers’ pass rush shred him apart.
A balanced offensive attack works when the talent is even, the score is close, and a team can play within their usual bounds. Down and far behind, the Packers didn’t have answers. This, plus a sneaky awful run defense that allowed 183 yards per loss, did them in. The NFC Championship Game shutdown was a long time coming. The flowers from the regular season blossomed and were picked in San Francisco.
On top of all of this, the Packers were one of the teams who put a blanket on the ground, and slumbered to Fortuna’s tunes. They improved by seven games, went 8-1 in one score games, had the third highest turnover differential at +12, and won 3.2 more games than their Pythagorean record, the highest total in the game. This wasn’t a team who could simply run it back in 2020.
This offseason they only replaced their losses. Baluga became Wagner. Martinez became Kirksey. Allison became Funchess, who should also replace any other creature who played on the sideline opposite of Davante Adams. And in house Jace Sternberger can replace Graham.
Without much cap space to work with after getting wild and crazy in 2019, it’s hard to fault their free agent decisions in 2020. Then draft happened, proving Neitzche right again, time is a flat circle. What happened to Brett Farve in 2005 happened to Aaron Rodgers in 2020. Green Bay snagged a sliding first round quarterback prospect to train and develop until Rodgers’s time is over. I’m sure I’ll be at a Sportsclip in 2023 when Rodgers is injured on Thursday Night Football and Love finally gets his chance.
It’s a shame Vegas set their over under at 8.5 games. We could have all retired and gone to die in the desert if they set it at 10.
14.) Indianapolis Colts—Record: 7-9. Point Differential: -12 (17). DVOA: -5.0% (16). Previously 18th.
Additions: Philip Rivers (QB), Xavier Rhodes (CB), T.J. Carrie (CB), DeForest Buckner (DT), Roosevelt Nix (FB), Sheldon Day (DT)
Departures: Joe Haeg (G), Pierre Desir (CB), Quincy Wilson (DB), Devin Funchess (WR), Margus Hunt (DL), Eric Ebron (TE)
NFL Draft: 2-34: Michael Pittman, WR (USC) 2-41: Jonathan Taylor, RB (Wisconsin) 3-85: Julian Blackmon, S (Utah) 4-122: Jacob Eason, QB (Washington) 5-149: Danny Pinter, G (Ball State): Signed 6-193: Robert Windsor, DT (Penn State): Signed 6-211: Isaiah Rodgers, CB (UMass): Signed 6-212: Dezmon Patmon, WR (Washington State): Signed 6-213: Jordan Glasgow, S (Michigan)
Last season the Colts sat on their cap space like some insidious mother chicken. Chris Ballard signed Justin Houston and Devin Funchess, whoop-de-doo. It was a hilariously atrocious offseason with Andrew Luck at quarterback, but one that ended up working out after Luck retired, and Jacoby Brissett leading the team to 7 wins. Even in a tornado of ineptitude the horse shoe stays nailed above the door.
This offseason, Indianapolis finally spent some of it. They gave up a first round pick and made Buckner one of the mythical $20 million a year defenders. They added Rhodes, after another despairing season, Carrie, fine, whatever, and gun-shooting, dag-nabbit hooting, Philip Rivers to play quarterback.
Rivers wasn’t without flaws in 2019. He threw 26 adjusted interceptions, 8 passes dropped off defenders, and 2 were Hail Mary flails. This tied him with Kyle Allen for 2nd. Those limp go up and get it heaves to Mike Williams and Keenan Allen in 2019 were shot out of the air in 2020, or found their way helplessly to the ground like unread 3 a.m. text messages. A quarterback with meek arm strength entering his age 38 season isn’t without alarms.
The good news for Rivers is that his offensive tackles are now Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith instead of Trent Scott and Sam Tevi. He’ll no longer have to deal with nonsense like this. Rivers will be a bubble boy in Indy, protected from the evils of the outside world.
The Colts don’t have the receivers that pair well with Rivers, though. He throws balloons and requires his receivers to topple towers to make game-breaker catches for him. T.Y. Hilton is incredible and has a unique skill set, but he isn’t making catches like this. Michael Pittman fits hypothetically, but it’s impossible to pencil in rookies to walk in and make catches like this, let alone immediately produce.
Yet the Colts may never even have to throw the ball. They have one of the league’s best, if not the best, offensive line in the league, and now Marlon Mack will be joining forces with Jonathan Taylor to create a backfield that exceeds past unfair. It’s diabolical. This isn’t lightning and thunder or whatever ‘grown man’ tasteless cliches your brain is constantly battered and numbed with. This is Diablo and Baal.
All in all, the AFC South is a mess. Aside from Jacksonville, you could rank any of the other three teams however you want without imbecilic nouns tossed your way. Each team has flaws. Indy, even with their additions, still has only a slightly above average defense talent wise, and the Rivers signing could slam off the back iron. Despite these risks and concerns, the Colts should compete for a playoff spot in 2019 instead of being a midseason afterthought.
13.) Pittsburgh Steelers—Record: 8-8. Point Differential: -14 (18). DVOA: -5.5% (18). Previously 14th.
Additions: Eric Ebron (TE), Stefen Wisniewski (G), Chris Wormley (DL), Derek Watt (FB), Breon Borders (CB)
Departures: Artie Burns (CB), Tyler Matakevich (LB), Nick Vannett (TE), Roosevelt Nix (FB), Javon Hargrave (DT), Sean Davis (S), B.J. Finney (C)
NFL Draft: 2-49: Chase Claypool, WR (Notre Dame) 3-102: Alex Highsmith, OLB (Charlotte) 4-124: Anthony McFarland Jr., RB (Maryland) 4-135: Kevin Dotson, G (Louisiana) 6-198: Antoine Brooks Jr., S (Maryland) 7-232: Carlos Davis, DT (Nebraska)
Ben Roethlisberger can take more tranquilizer shots than an elephant. His head can take more collisions than a mountain ram. This big dumb oaf will dance forever to the tunes of Keystone Lights. He will never die. Well, unless something happens to his elbow, his personal Achilles heel.
Last season, Big Ben lasted a little more than a game. The Patriots started the season off by womping to metallic beats in the second half against Pittsburgh after taking an early lead in a 33-3 win. Ben failed to finish the following week against Seattle. And so Pittsburgh was forced to bring in Mason Rudolph—his dad knows people; watch out!—and Devlin Hodges, who’s just happy to be hear man and is enjoying the ride. Both were disasters. Mason was a coward and tossed the ball underhand. Hodges took too many sacks and threw too many interceptions. Together they combined for -347 DYAR.
They weren’t able to be carried by their run game either. James Conner, Benny Snell, and Jaylen Samuels combined for 1,065 yards and 290 carries, and the Steelers finished 30th in run offense DVOA.
The defense was debilitating and dominating. As questionable as it was to trade a first round pick when a playoff appearance was dubious, the defense really took off when they acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick to play the middle of the field for them. The most points they allowed was 24 until they gave up 28 in a near meaningless Week 17 loss to Baltimore. The defense is identical after wisely retaining Bud Dupree, and they added underrated corner Artie Burns.
The offense is going to be better even with Roethlisberger’s belly returning, no matter how he looks once he returns. The Steelers had the worst redzone offense in 2019. They scored only 14 touchdowns on their 40 trips, and had a red zone touchdown rate of 35%. This was the worst mark since the Chiefs pulled off 27% in 2012, which bounced up to 57.9% (8th) the following season. With a defense that can win games on their own, the Steelers will be in any game, and the offense is going to be better by default.
12.) Tennessee Titans—Record: 9-7. Point Differential: +71 (8). DVOA: 8.6% (9). Previously 9th.
Additions: Nick Dzubnar (LB), Ty Sambrailo (T), Vic Beasley (EDGE), Jack Crawford (DT), Ibraheim Campbell (S), Jonathan Joseph (CB)
Departures: Logan Ryan (CB), Delanie Walker (TE), Tramaine Brock (CB), LeShaun Sims (CB), Kevin Pamphile (G), Cameron Wake (EDGE), Jurrell Casey (DT), Jack Conklin (T), Dion Lewis (RB), Austin Johnson (DL), Marcus Mariota (QB), Tajae Sharpe (WR)
NFL Draft: 1-29: Isaiah Wilson, T (Georgia) 2-61: Kristian Fulton, CB (LSU) 3-93: Darrynton Evans, RB (Appalachian State) 5-174: Larrell Murchison, DT (N.C. State): Signed 7-224: Cole McDonald, QB (Hawaii) 7-243: Chris Jackson, S (Marshall)
TITAN UP, I scream from the rafters. TITAN UP, I sing in the shower when the chorus kicks on. TITAN UP are the words I say when my hands are clasped and I’m kneeling in my pew. TITAN UP is not only a beautiful utterance when everything is resounding and true, when the sun is at high noon and the water is shiny and blue; it’s also a sacred vow that frees the soul from the finite bounds of consciousness. After an AFC Championship Game appearance, this holy phrase has never been more plermoatic.
The Titans spent the offseason bringing back the key pieces of their offense—Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry—cut the veterans who didn’t make an impact last season, like Walker, Wake, Sims, and Lewis, and surprisingly moved on from stalwarts like Casey, in what seems like a move before they bring Jadeveon Clowney in for a physical.
Their draft made sense. I don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone, but Cole McDonald getting a start in Tennessee would be the best thing to happen in the league this season. Adding only Beasley in free agency was a fine buy low move, even though his pass rushes send him flying off a flat Earth. General Manager Jon Robinson claimed, to paraphrase, the 2019 Titans are going to look a lot different than the 2020 Titans, but they’re looking nearly the same.
Tennessee has one enormous question for 2020. Can Arthur Smith continue to fabricate an all-time great red zone offense? Derrick Henry jump passes. Dennis Kelly touchdown catches. Were all used to create touchdowns during their glass slipper postseason. Even though Henry is the final form of the final boss fight running behind a beautiful outside zone blocking offensive line, redzone touchdown rate is one of those mercurial things that changes from year to year. Last season the Titans had a touchdown rate of 75.6% overall. And it was 86.7% with Tannehill.
If there’s a dramatic red zone touchdown drop-off—spoiler, there probably will be—and the overall performance drops even slightly, the Titans will be in line for a down season. I’m betting on the play by play performance sticking with an entire season of Tannehill to keep them as a playoff hopeful, but last season looks like a mask cut out of the back end of a pair of Wranglers. At least we’ll always have 2019.
11.) Houston Texans—Record: 10-6. Point Differential: -7 (15). DVOA: -5.8% (19). Previously 10th.
Departures: Carlos Hyde (RB), Lamar Miller (RB), Mike Adams (S), Tashaun Gipson (S), Barkevious Mingo (LB), D.J. Reader (DT), DeAndre Hopkins (WR), Jonathan Joseph (CB), Taiwan Jones (RB)
NFL Draft: 2-40: Ross Blacklock, DT (TCU) 3-90: Jonathan Greenard, LB (Florida): Signed 4-126: Charlie Heck, OL (North Carolina) 4-141: John Reid, CB (Penn State) 5-171: Isaiah Coulter, WR (Rhode Island)
There’s no way around it. The Texans had an awful 2020 offseason. The Hopkins trade was about a disgruntled relationship, not because of money or about improving the T.E.A.M. They’re worse off for making the trade. Houston should have received an asset for taking on Johnson’s contract; Johnson had one great season way back in 2016 and played a completely different sport than Kenyan Drake did in the same Cardinals offense last year. The only thing Johnson does well is beat crappy linebackers like Nick Vigil in coverage, and the Texans already have a player on the roster in Duke Johnson who can do this. I can’t wait to see David Johnson get 250 carries in 2020. Cooks had a lost season in 2019. His concussion against Cleveland killed his season. If healthy, he’s a deep threat game changer, but all the cute jet sweeps and screen passes should be a thing of the past. In any event, a little guy who’s one hit away is a scary and risky proposition. Ross Blacklock is going to have to learn how to win one-on-one pass rush match-ups quickly.
Houston’s offensive talent is worse without Hopkins and the additions of Cooks and Johnson, but the offense could be better if this mystical vertical offense Houston has never consistently had under Bill O’Brien shows up in 2020. If the offense improves this season, it will be because of playcalling, not because of talent. You know who’s a great vertical receiver? DeAndre Hopkins. You know who has coached for Bill O’Brien for almost the entirety of his career? Tim Kelly.
The most stupefying thing about what the Texans did or didn’t do these past few months is that the Texans had one of the worst pass defenses last season, and somehow, they invested more into their passing offense anyways: Johnson, Cooks, and Randall Cobb. The Texans decided to take the hopes and prayers route for their defense in 2020.
Perhaps J.J. Watt plays 16 games. Maybe Lonnie Johnson Jr. is no longer one of the worst corners in the league. Hopefully Gareon Conley can continue to to chase back and play the ball after failing to stay on top of the route. Maybe Blacklock and Charles Omenihu deliver enough of a rush to make Whitney Mercilus meaningful, Anthony Weaver could put stitch leopard print onto this defense, Jacob Martin should produce with more snaps. It’s possible no one throws to the deep middle part of the field. The path to Houston’s pass defense improving involves things that are either a rare occurrence or have never happened before.
To an extent, none of this matters. Houston has Deshaun Watson. Through him, all things are possible. Last season he carried the Texans to a 9-3 one score record by teleporting out of death-defying collisions, throwing touchdowns with his eyeball squashed between toes, routinely turning the impossible into possible, and putting the entire team on his back.
It’s a quarterback league. It’s a passing league. The Texans have a fringe top five QB and the best quarterback in the division. I can’t wait to see what wild [kitten] he comes up with in 2020.
10.) Minnesota Vikings—Record: 10-6. Point Differential: +104 (7). DVOA: 15.4% (7). Previously 8th.
Additions: Anthony Zettel (DE), Tajae Sharpe (WR)
Departures: Everson Griffen (EDGE), Josh Kline (G), Trae Waynes (CB), Mackensie Alexander (CB), Stefon Diggs (WR), Andrew Sendejo (S), Linval Joseph (DT), Laquon Treadwell (WR), Jayron Kearse (S), Stephen Weatherly (DL)
NFL Draft: 1-22: Justin Jefferson, WR (LSU) 1-31: Jeff Gladney, CB (TCU) 2-58: Ezra Cleveland, OT (Boise State) 3-89: Cameron Dantzler, CB (Mississippi State) 4-117: D.J. Wonnum, DE (South Carolina) 4-130: James Lynch, DT (Baylor) 4-132: Troy Dye, OLB (Oregon) 5-169: Harrison Hand, CB (Temple) 5-176: K.J. Osborn, WR (Miami) 6-201: Blake Brandel, T (Oregon State) 6-203: Josh Metellus, S (Michigan) 7-225: Kenny Willekes, DE (Michigan State) 7-244: Nate Stanley, QB (Iowa) 7-249: Brian Cole II, S (Mississippi State) 7-253: Kyle Hinton, OL (Washburn)
Kirk, I’m just tired. In 2018, you were below average, hiding behind the short passing game lies that created easy completions, and enough touchdowns to skate by, but most of it was empty. With Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak, you bounced back enough, going from below average to around top ten statistically. I don’t buy it. No one buys it. Fading down the stretch, the narrative was set. Then you made one throw, and that throw carried you up and into the sun.
The following week, you completed 21 of 29 passes (pretty good!) for 172 yards (not good), got sacked six times (really bad), and led an offense that scored 10 points (a disaster). Kirk, there’s just something missing. There’s a completely fine quarterback here, but there’s a general apprehension to aggression, pocket sloth problems, and an inclination to mediocre play.
Completely fine is fine when it’s for $15 million a year, not when it’s $30 million a year. Cousins doesn’t make up for roster deficiencies. That’s a requirement for all quarterbacks who are in the $30 million club. His play is good enough to get Minnesota to the postseason, but his contract prevents them from doing much more than that.
In Minnesota’s case, the enormous deficiency is the offensive line. Cousins struggles under pressure, and he doesn’t have the footwork to navigate around it, or the speed to escape from it. They can outside zone block, but they can’t pass block. Clean and comfortable is a requirement for Kirk. When he doesn’t have it, games like the 2019 Divisionl Round happen.
All that being said, the Vikings were the best team in the division by a performance basis. They lost some key veterans, but made most of it back in the draft. Jefferson has to be great immediately. No team relies on two wide receiver sets like Minnesota does. They also need the offensive linemen they drafted to contribute right away. Again, Cousins is rigid and can’t hang with pressure even when considering the fluke season he had in 2018.
9.) Philadelphia Eagles—Record: 9-7. Point Differential: +31 (11). DVOA: 6.5% (11). Previously 11th.
Additions: Darius Slay (WR), Marqise Goodwin (WR), Nickell Robey-Coleman (CB), Javon Hargrave (DT), Jatavis Brown (OLB), Will Parks (S)
Departures: Jason Peters (T), Nigel Bradham (LB), Josh McCown (QB), Darren Sproles (RB), Jordan Howard (RB), Kamu Grugier-Hill (OLB), Halapoulivaati Vaitai (T), Nelson Agholor (WR), Ronald Darby (CB), Malcom Jenkins (S), Timmy Jernigan (DT)
NFL Draft: 1-21: Jalen Reagor, WR (TCU) 2-53: Jalen Hurts, QB (Oklahoma) 3-103: Davion Taylor, LB (Colorado) 4-127: K’Von Wallace, S (Clemson) 4-145: Jack Driscoll, G (Auburn) 5-168: John Hightower, WR (Boise State) 6-196: Shaun Bradley, LB (Temple) 6-200: Quez Watkins, WR (Southern Miss) 6-210: Prince Tega Wanogho, T (Auburn) 7-233: Casey Toohill, DE (Stanford)
If you think small sample sizes are for losers, which they are, because there’s no such thing as large sample sizes in life, you’d believe that Jalen Raegor’s addition will take the top off the Eagles’ offense, because you remember how great they were in Week One 2019 when DeSean Jackson dropped 154 yards and 2 touchdowns against one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Raegor can fill that void, and Week One 2019 can become a season long continuation instead of a one game aberration.
Speed kills. It creates space for everyone to thrive. It opens up space after the second level in the run game. It has a cascading and crushing effect on defenses. It’s hard to refute the logic surrounding the Raegor selection.
The key for the Eagles isn’t getting anything out of Reagor though. The key is getting anything out of their wide receiver group at all. The most targets they had at the position were the 73 that went to Alshon Jeffery in 10 games. Carson Wentz had a casting couch at the receiver position. The only consistent targets he had were his tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Wentz needs to have a better 2020 after zany decisions and dropped interceptions. Hopefully he has some semblance of normal at the position in 2020.
The talent is here now that the Alka Seltzer has metabolized and cured the Super Bowl hangover. They have the best combined offensive and defensive line talent in the league. Slay can take away an offense’s best receiver. Most of their secondary issues will be solved if they ever figure out how to run quarters coverage. And the offensive potential is there for a top ten offense.
Philadelphia has never fully put it together with Wentz at quarterback for an extended period of time. The heavenly bodies have never fully align. Whether it’s a torn knee, or injured receivers, something always prevent Syzygy.
WE SHOULD BE CONTENDERS:
8.) Buffalo Bills—Record: 10-6. Point Differential: +55 (10). DVOA: 2.7% (13). Previously 12th.
Additions: Josh Norman (CB), Stefon Diggs (WR), Mario Addison (EDGE), Daryl Williams (OL), A.J. Klein (LB), Vernon Butler (DL), Quinton Jefferson (DL), Taiwan Jones (RB)
Departures: Lorenzo Alexander (LB), Kevin Johnson (CB), Jordan Phillips (DT), Shaq Lawson (EDGE), Frank Gore (RB)
NFL Draft: 2-54: AJ Epenesa, DE (Iowa): 3-86: Zack Moss, RB (Utah) 4-128: Gabriel Davis, WR (UCF): 5-167: Jake Fromm, QB (Georgia): 6-188: Tyler Bass, K (Georgia Southern): 6-207: Isaiah Hodgins, WR (Oregon State): 7-239: Dane Jackson, CB (Pittsburgh)
The biggest question entering the 2020 NFL season isn’t how will Tom look in Tompa, or how Andy Dalton will perform filling in for Dak Prescott, or if the Titans’ red zone touchdown rate will regress, or if the Kansas City Chiefs will repeat. Heavens, no. It’s none of that. It’s whether or not Josh Allen can complete the deep ball.
Last season Allen attempted 102 deep passes, the 10th most in the league, but he completed only 36 of them for 963 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of only 66.7, averaged only 9.4 yards an attempt, and was especially atrocious throwing to the deep middle part of the field. Most were some of the dumbest damn throws you’ll ever see.
But, sometimes, ever so often, absolute magic would occur.
Allen has shown every trait consistently enough except for this one, which is pubic hair pulling maddening because of the Subway sandwich line bazooka he has attached to his shoulder. People underestimate his ability as a short thrower. There are some rocks in his skull, but he reads defenses fairly well, recognizes blitzes, and can hold the safety with his eyes. And the pure athleticism is frontal lobeless and unlike anything else in the league. He can stiff arm anything. He’s going to turn a quarterback sneak from the 25 yard line into a touchdown one of these days. The Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs became a game of NFL Street because of him.
Last offseason Buffalo added Cole Beasley and John Brown. Dawson Knox made electric plays at the tight end position. The running game took off after Frank Gore’s age 36 3.6 yards a carry was replaced by Devin Singletary. Now they have Stefon Diggs, who can win in every section of the field. The entire offense has been taken care of. Allen just needs to make that Year Three jump to go from the most fun you can have on a Sunday to providing completely fine quarterback play. Hitting the deep ball is the easiest way for him to accomplish this task.
If this occurs, the Bills will walk away with the AFC East and would be in the tier below Kansas City and Baltimore. Buffalo added Quinton Jefferson, Mario Addison, and Vernon Butler to a top pass defense. Their pass rush is seven deep. The Earth is 70% water, and the Bills are 70% the 2015 Carolina Panthers, but with better cornerbacks and slightly worse linebacker play.
7.) Seattle Seahawks—Record: 11-5. Point Differential: +7 (14). DVOA: 13.8% (8). Previously 4th.
Additions: Greg Olsen (TE), Bruce Irvin (EDGE), Quinton Dunbar (CB), B.J. Finney (C), Mike Iupati (G), Phillip Dorsett (WR), Cedric Ogbuehi (T), Brandon Shell (T)
Departures: Justin Britt (C), Ziggy Ansah (DL), Mychal Kendricks (LB), Marshawn Lynch (RB), Josh Gordon (WR), C.J. Procise (RB), Germain Ifedi (T), Al Woods (DT), George Fant (T), D.J. Fluker (G)
NFL Draft: 1-27: Jordyn Brooks, LB (Texas Tech) 2-48: Darrell Taylor, OLB (Tennessee) 3-69: Damien Lewis, G (LSU) 4-133: Colby Parkinson, TE (Stanford) 4-144: DeeJay Dallas, RB (Miami) 5-148: Alton Robinson, DE (Syracuse) 6-214: Freddie Swain, WR (Florida)
The Seahawks didn’t divulge into madness this offseason. There was no change in character. First scene. First shot. Their head was titled down, scowling at the camera. Madness incarnate.
In free agency, they managed to only get crazier. They now have seven tight ends, rotated in more barbaric offensive linemen who can’t pass block, and they have a nearly identical defensive line despite having one of the worst pass rushes in the league—one that probably won’t have Jadeveon Clowney, who was the only consistent source of disruption for them in 2019.
Their draft made sense. Seattle’s defense relies upon linebackers who can carry out a wide variety of coverage tasks: running with crossing routes, roboting to the seam, sitting in shallow hooks, and occasionally playing man. Their linebacker group is entering their 30s. Brooks is an injection of youth into one of their vital positions. Taylor provides the edge rushing juice they are parched for. Lewis paved my driveway last week. Parkinson is another tight end. You can never have enough of them.
They needed to get better this offseason. They kind of, sort of, did and didn’t. Seattle won 11 games last year. They went 10-2 in one score games. Russell Wilson is the second best quarterback in the league; he should have won the MVP last season, and he made the ten best throws of the 2019 season.
Russell Wilson was sublime in 2019— Matt Weston (@Matt__Weston) May 7, 2020
These were the 11 best throws made in the entire league last season pic.twitter.com/OhzONE9ipq
6.) Dallas Cowboys—Record: 8-8. Point Differential: +113 (6). DVOA: 17.1% (6). Previously 13th.
Additions: Andy Dalton (QB), Dontari Poe (DT), Gerald McCoy (DT), Cameron Erving (T), Daryl Worley (CB), HaHa Clinton-Dix (S), Greg Zuerlein (K), Blake Bell (TE), Maurice Canaday (CB),
Departures: Tavon Austin (WR), Kerry Hyder (DL), Robert Quinn (EDGE), Xavier Su’a-Filo (G), Byron Jones (CB), Cameron Fleming (T), Jason Witten (TE), Jeff Heath (S), Maliek Collins (DL), Randall Cobb (WR), Christian Covington (DL)
NFL Draft: 1-17: CeeDee Lamb, WR (Oklahoma) 2-51: Trevon Diggs, CB (Alabama) 3-82: Neville Gallimore, DT (Oklahoma) 4-123: Reggie Robinson III, CB (Tulsa) 4-146: Tyler Biadasz, C (Wisconsin) 5-179: Bradlee Anae, DE (Utah) 7-231: Ben DiNucci, QB (James Madison)
If you play the 2019 season 100 times, the Dallas Cowboys make the postseason 99 times; in one of those simulations, they lose to the Eagles in Week 17. On a play-by-play basis, they were one of the best teams in the league. They were mired with one score losses and failing to come back from behind when down at the half. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore didn’t help matters with his staunch beliefs in first down rushing attempts and failing to scheme for the opponent, even if he came up with some delectable plays.
That was last season. Now the Cowboys are even better. They added defensive line depth in Gallimore, McCoy, and Poe. DeMarcus Lawrence should put up sacks again next season after putting up lonely pressures last year. They finally have a safety now that Heath has been replaced by Clinton-Dix. Adding the carousel that is Lamb is absolutely unfair. Plus Ezekiel Elliott won’t be losing his remote control in Mexico during training camp and should be in shape once football finally starts.
It’s a simple algorithm.
Great performance + bad luck + offseason improvement = following season win total increase.
5.) San Francisco 49ers—Record: 13-3. Point Differential: +169 (3). DVOA: 27.9% (5). Previously 2nd.
Additions: Travis Benjaim (WR), Kerry Hyder (DL), Tom Compton (OL)
Departures: DeForest Buckner (DT), Joe Staley (T), Mike Person (OL), Sheldon Day (DT), Matt Brieda (RB), Marquise Goodwin (WR), Levine Toilolo (TE), Emmanuel Sanders (WR)
NFL Draft: 1-14: Javon Kinlaw, DT (South Carolina) 1-25: Brandon Aiyuk, WR (Arizona State) 5-153: Colton McKivitz, T (West Virginia) 6-190: Charlie Woerner, TE (Georgia) 7-217: Jauan Jennings, WR (Tennessee)
Teams that lose the Super Bowl rarely reach the same heights the following season. The 2019 Rams missed the playoffs. 2016 Carolina fell from 15-1 to 6-10. Most teams flailed in the Divisional Round. Only 2012 New England and 2013 San Francisco were able to make it back to the Conference Championship Game. The only team to follow through and find successive success last decade was the 2018 Patriots.
The 49ers were the best team in the NFC by far last year and had to take some salary cap lumps this offseason. They turned Buckner into a first round pick, went with Armstead, and drafted Kinlaw. Yards after the catch demon Aiyuk was added to turn a screen pass into an Olympic event. More than anything, the Niners lost a lot of depth.
The deciding factor of their 2020 season is if Jimmy Garoppolo can complete vertical passes when teams play one safety deep and put eight in the box. The Chiefs, despite having one of the worst run defenses, were able to defend the run admirably in the Super Bowl because they were able to turn the box into a charnel house. Garoppolo didn’t attack their defense vertically, and the one time he did, he missed. Sometimes you only get one shot at something, and that might have been it for Jimmy G’s 49ers.
4.) New Orleans Saints—Record: 13-3. Point Differential: +117 (5). DVOA: 29.3% (4). Previously 5th.
Additions: Emmanuel Sanders (WR), Malcolm Jenkins (S), Jameis Winston (QB), Margus Hunt (DL), Michael Burton (FB)
Departures: Larry Warford (G), Eli Apple (CB), Ted Ginn (WR), Vonn Bell (S), Teddy Bridgewater (QB), Keith Kirkwood (WR)
Interior blocking has been the thorn in the Saints’ heel the previous two postseasons. In 2018, it was Aaron Donald controlling the entire interior of the Saints’ offensive line; it climaxed with a Dante Fowler stunt that spun him back outside and into Drew Brees.
In 2019, it was Minnesota moving Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen over New Orleans’ guards to rush the passer. Both devoured the interior. And when they didn’t, they used inside moves to beat offensive tackles, suffocating Brees under the ruins and making every pass attempt a heart attack.
Brees is a little guy. He has to stand on his tippy toes to see over the line of scrimmage already. Interior pressure digs out his retinas with spoons, preventing him from throwing to the center of the field, and his old lurching veins can’t escape the pocket and outrun defensive linemen laterally.
New Orleans addressed this in the draft by selecting Ruiz. Larry Warford was their worst offensive lineman last year and he struggled in pass protection often enough to warrant the Saints’ first round selection. Ruiz can take over Warford’s position and play center if anything ever happens to Erik McCoy. They’re doing anything they can to make sure Nick Easton doesn’t see the field again. With this addressed, they are ready to try and run it back all over again.
3.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Record: 7-9. Point Differential: +9 (13). DVOA: 1.5% (14). Previously 15th.
Additions: Tom Brady (QB), Joe Haeg (G), Rob Gronkowski (TE)
Departures: Jameis Winston (QB), Breshad Perriman (WR), Carl Nassib (DL), Beau Allen (DT), Peyton Barber (RB)
NFL Draft: 1-13: Tristan Wirfs, T (Iowa) 2-45: Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Minnesota) 3-76: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB (Vanderbilt) 5-161: Tyler Johnson, WR (Minnesota) 6-194: Khalil Davis, DT (Nebraska) 7-241: Chapelle Russell, OLB (Temple) 7-245: Raymond Calais, RB (LSU)
The other day, I was looking at photos of a dog that is now whiter than a polar bear, back legs tormented by arthritis, atrophied, devoid of former definition, his forearms now Lofstrand Crutches. No longer does he pull stones out of rivers and bench press more than I do. He’s now Charon, shuttling souls like some demented Long John Silver. He should be cast in stone and placed on the exterior of a cathedral instead of laying on a fleece bed. Way back in there is a screenshot of an article from the MMQB back in 2016 when Bruce Arians discussed the quarterback position at the NFL Combine.
“To me, the quarterback position is just about one thing: that’s processing information really fast. If you can process it, I don’t care how weak your arm is or how strong your arm is, you’ll get the ball to the receiver at the right spot, the right time. If you can’t process the information and you’re going to wait to see him open, you’re going to throw a lot of interceptions.”
Tom Brady is plastic and soulless. He is the perfect Florida denizen. Although he doesn’t have the deep ball ability he used to, he can still pick and choose his spots and toss it into the bucket. He won’t attempt 152 deep passes like Jameis did. He can attempt 99, pick up 11.4 yards an attempt, and have a quarterback rating of 101 on those attempts.
The Bucs won’t be as fun with Tom replacing Jameis Winston. Every Mike Evans quick slant is going to be revolting. Every underthrown pass to Chris Godwin will be an unatoneable sin. But they’ll be better, mainly because Tom can process a lot of information, get the ball to the receiver at the right spot and atthe right time. And, you know, not throw 30 interceptions.
The defense is young, hot, and fun. They’ll continue to blitz a lot. The secondary has exciting talent that could provide competent performance this season. The tackle position was also solidified. The only glimmer I have, since Tom turned what I loved into a grotesque, snake oil launching pad, is for Rob Gronkowski to spike a touchdown, and then go up in the pirate ship to fire the cannon himself. Even then, he’ll merely use this as an opportunity to peddle his own spiked rum.
2.) Baltimore Ravens—Record: 14-2. Point Differential: +249 (1). DVOA: 41.5% (1). Previously 3rd.
Additions: Calais Campbell (DL), Derek Wolfe (DE), D.J. Fluker (G)
Departures: Domata Petko (DT), Brandon Carr (CB), Toby Jefferson (S), Josh Bynes (LB), Hayden Hurst (TE), Patrick Onwuasor (LB), Seth Roberts (WR), Chris Wormley (DL)
NFL Draft: 1-28: Patrick Queen, LB (LSU) 2-55: J.K. Dobbins, RB (Ohio State) 3-71: DT Justin Madubuike, DT (Texas A&M): 3-92: Devin Duvernay, WR (Texas) 3-98: Malik Harrison, LB (Ohio State) 3-106: Tyre Phillips, OL (Mississippi State) 4-143: Ben Bredeson, G (Michigan): 5-170: Broderick Washington Jr., DT (Texas Tech): 6-201: James Proche, WR (SMU): 7-219: Geno Stone, S (Iowa)
The Ravens had an all-time great offensive scheme. Greg Roman knows how to play the chessboard with a mobile quarterback who can move any direction across the entirety of the board. Last season Roman came up with a gap-read run scheme that changed the whole game.
Defenses coaches are intellectuals with a monomaniacal focus. What was once impossible to stop becomes an afterthought. After a summer with nothing but their thoughts and Ravens’ game tape, those coaches will have answers for what Baltimore put out there last season.
Baltimore will have to continue to evolve. Send me to September already. I can’t wait to see what visions this prophet hath seen. The strange bit of their offseason is they didn’t add any veteran pass catchers. They stayed put. It seems impossible to love Willie Snead that much.
Despite this, the Ravens got better. They added Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and D.J. Fluker to the most talented roster in the league. There should be zero question that they can develop their early rookie defensive selections into murderous purple monsters. Patrick Queen and Justin Madubuike should contribute this season. They’re loaded.
There’s just one problem.
1.) Kansas City Chiefs—Record: 12-4. Point Differential: +143 (4). DVOA: 30.2% (2). Previously 1st.
Additions: Taco Charlton (EDGE), Mike Remmers (OL), DeAndre Washington (RB), Ricky Seals-Jones (TE)
Departures: Terrell Suggs (EDGE), Lesean McCoy (RB), Darron Lee (LB), Morris Claiborne (CB), Matt Moore (QB), Spencer Ware (RB), Cameron Erving (T), Blake Bell (TE), Emmanuel Ogbah (EDGE), Reggie Ragland (LB), Kendall Fuller (CB), Stefen Wisniewski (G)
NFL Draft: 1-32: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB (LSU) 2-63: Willie Gay Jr., LB (Mississippi State) 3-96: Lucas Niang, OT (TCU) 4-138: L’Jarius Sneed, S (Louisiana Tech) 5-177: Mike Danna, DE (Michigan) 7-237: Thakarius Keyes, CB (Tulane)
Throwing the ball is the only thing that really matters in the NFL right now, and the Chiefs are the best at it. They have a future all-time great quarterback, obscene talent at the pass catcher position, an offensive line that is good enough, and a top ten pass defense. Sure, teams can catch them on a bad day, keep their offense off the field, win the turnover battle, control the clock, and upset the Chiefs. This is the occasional. An unusual result. Even when teams pull this off, Kansas City has the horses to turn a 24 point deficit into a lead in a quarter.
The Chiefs are obscene. They’re pornographic. No matter how bad their run defense is, or how many front seven players and offensive linemen they continue to lose, they’re going to remain one of the best teams in the league. It’s straight and simple. Sometimes, things are very easy.