If you missed Part One, check it out here.
Football is good and beautiful, and there is more to football than just what the Houston Texans do. Myopicism is a sin. Take a claw hammer to your skull. Let your brains expand past some preordained physical confines. Saw open your chest and play vivisection. Let your heart pound without any bounds. Watch something other than Deshaun Watson scamper to create something from nothing, and take in the beauty of Josh Jacob’s cutbacks, Philadelphia Eagles run-pass-options, stinky-stinky Minshew-Minshew deep throws downfield, and Kyle Shanahan’s two back offense.
We are consumers, not citizens of this nation, and so to help you and myself get the most out of NFL’s Gamepass Product (now only one low price of $99!), I ranked every NFL team by their Game Pass entertainment value all by myself since Luke Beggs is a professional video game writer now. The categories are scored from a scale of 1-10, and the categories are:
Relevance/Importance: How much of an impact will they have on the Super Bowl.
Transcendence: How many great players do they have that you have to watch individually.
Scheme: How interesting their play designs are and how it meshes with their personnel. Novelty and originality is a bonus.
Aesthetics: How pretty their uniforms, scoreboards, and camera angles are. In other words, the overall appearance of their broadcast.
The final rankings is the total derived from each category. Here are teams 16-1. The teams worth watching every week, and the teams who’ll you be bombarded by throughout the 2020 season.
Here’s part one if you missed it
T-16.) HOUSTON TEXANS (28 Points)
Hypothetically, Houston should be a top ten Gamepass team, but the issue is that this involves a lot of projection, hopes, dreams, and expectations, vicious little things that your brain constructs to break your heart. If Houston runs a more vertical passing offense, if Will Fuller V and Brandin Cooks stay healthy and open up the middle of the field, if they run a typical offense teams with great quarterbacks run that uses play action and throws from every down and distance, and if J.J. Watt is healthy, Houston will be a team that draws everyone’s attention instead of just us who are connected to this silly football organization.
That’s a lot of projection, though. It’s reasonable to expect Houston be a high variance offensive team that will drop 41 one week and then struggle against blitz heavy teams that intelligently use zone coverage and sit on their route combinations. The offense has built in upside, even after the DeAndre Hopkins trade, to improve this season. With Cooks and Fuller on the outside, most teams are going to have to play two safeties deep, which will open up the middle of the field for Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, Keke Coutee, and whoever is playing tight end.
When the Texans play against single high safeties, they can force the safety into making decisions and try to torch the one-on-one match-up with Cooks or Fuller’s speed.
Usually it won’t even come to that. Both Fuller and Cooks have the ability to beat man coverage on go routes consistently. Checking the safety and seeing if the receiver is even covered is often going to be enough for Deshaun Watson to attempt these deep throws.
Even on the games when the offense is stuck and stubborn, Watson is the quaternity, the three that becomes four, when he creates mystical experiences to create something from nothing. For this reason alone, Houston is worth the LIVE broadcast. You don’t want to spend your Sundays with an empty cup.
On defense, the Texans depend entirely on Watt’s health. As long as he’s healthy, Houston should have at least a below average pass defense. The pass defense is going to fall apart if he suffers another season-ending injury. Cherish him while he’s around. At age 31, he’s one of the league’s craftiest pass rushers, beating interior blockers with swims.
Beating exterior rushers with rips, ghost-rips, and the occasional swim inside to counter it.
Romeo Crennel employed a wide variety of coverages last year to craft Houston into having a top three deep pass defense. How did you spend your summer? I learned about Cover Seven and made thuds with my skull going back and watching Crennel’s defense. It will be interesting to see if new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver continues to focus on taking away the deep pass or allows hiccups and quick scores as a trade-off for big plays. We don’t know how much influence Crennel had on him, especially with Crennel still in the building. With brand new coaches on both sides of the ball, it’s going to be fun to play detective to try and figure the 2020 Texans out.
Houston’s All-22 video is crisp. It looks more like a video game than recorded reality. It’s off-putting. Football should be played outdoors, and the closed roof just doesn’t seem right. I find navy to be dull and prefer more colors. Visually, Houston suffers, even if the football should be electric at times.
Favorite Player: Benardrick McKinney
T-16.) ARIZONA CARDINALS (28 Points)
Is the future now, or was it yesterday, or is it eight weeks from now, or is next year? The Arizona Cardinals will answer this as they prepare to torch the entire NFL once again with a spread passing attack, that is composed of second year quarterback Kyler Murray, three current/former number one wide receivers: DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, and Larry Fitzgerald, supreme pass catching back Kenyan Drake, and Andy Isabella as the resident deep threat. 10 personnel with Hopkins, Kirk, Fitzgerald, Isabella, and Drake is absolutely sick.
Last year went better than Arizona probably even thought it would go. They finished 13th in offensive DVOA and consistently were able to put up at least 27 points. They ran an offense that used more empty backfields than any other team, played a tight end or a sixth offensive linemen less than any other team, and led the league with four or more wide receiver sets. This will be the same set up this year, but with even more talent, after adding a top three wide receiver to the mix. All it took was a running back who hasn’t had a great season since 2016, and a second round pick.
By adding Hopkins, they have a receiver who can win on every route, in every section of the field, and has the catch radius to turn any type of lunatic throw into a completion. Even if something happens to Murray, and Brett Hundley comes in, he can still carry this offense on his own.
The biggest question on offense is if Murray can take less sacks. His small soldier scurrying makes him look like a toddler escaping with a knife, and he’s great at making plays on the move. But too often last season, he would cradle to save his body at the threat of an upcoming rush. Either his brain needs to get quicker, or he needs to get better at navigating the pocket to not find himself in these situations. Of the 48 sacks he took last season, 40% of them were non-pressure sacks. The Cardinals ranked 6th in pressure rate and 26th in adjusted sack rate. Kyler does take the cutest sacks. Look how gentle this is.
The offensive line was better than you think it was at pass protection, and they added rookie Josh Jones to take over at right tackle, which allows Justin Pugh to stick at guard.
They did have one of the league’s worst defenses last season though. Hopefully they continue their big blitzing ways, because this should always be a staple of Arizona football. Jordan Phillips should provide some must needed defensive line sack production, and Devon Kennard is a perfect fit for this defense. With Budda Baker, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson (who won’t start off suspended), and Isaiah Simmons, top talent is here. And getting something from Hassan Reddick would go a long way.
Like Houston, the jerseys, and team name hold them back. The ‘Cardinals’ is the worst team name in the NFL. Cardinals are reserved for your Grandma’s backyard, not for an apocalyptic wandering wasteland.
Favorite Player: DeAndre Hopkins
T-16.) LOS ANGELES RAMS (28 Points)
The Rams get by on top end talent. They have two of the best players at their respective positions in Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey. Donald is one of the greatest interior defenders in NFL history, and every snap he takes, is the opportunity for the spectacular. There’s nothing mundane about him. The way he bends the interior blows my mind. Ramsey picked up his play later in the year, and is now the highest paid corner in the game. We really need to find a better phrase than ‘resets the market’ for these types of deals. The only solace that can be found in the Hopkins trade is the Ramsey v. Hopkins matchups are back on the menu, with both players set to face each other twice again this season. Jalen skipped the London game to escape him, and then he followed him out West.
The question for the Rams is the same as last year. Can Jared Goff do more than amplify an incredible offensive structure? L.A. is facing the same issues as last season. They have interior run blocking issues, and have an offense that’s been stuck running the same motions for the last three seasons. They’ve needed Goff to lift up the offense, and so far he hasn’t. He had some incredible performances against teams with crappy linebackers, but hasn’t been able to win from the gun, and create on his own.
More two tight end sets is an intriguing option. Tyler Higbee is a play action killer. He averaged 13.9 yards a catch on 30 play action receptions last season. Pairing him with Gerald Everett, whose production has been stuck the last three seasons, is a way to change up the same 11 personnel looks. He’s also a great outside zone blocker (#89) and can mash with defensive ends.
The NFC West has great tight end play, and then there’s the Cardinals, who don’t know what a tight end is.
I’m also looking forward to Leonard Floyd in this defense. He never fully got it in Chicago, and disappeared after having a great week one last season. Clay Matthews had eight sacks last season licking Donald’s plate. Floyd should break ten sacks easily if his motor is running hot.
Favorite Player: Jalen Ramsey
T-13.) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (29 Points)
I’m no different than the rest of America. I want Cam Newton to be great again. He was having a career year in Norv Turner’s offense in 2018, where he was used more as a quick passer, less as a runner, and participated in some truly zany plays. Hopefully Matt Rhule brings back McCaffrey Cat. Injuries ruined his 2018 season and they carried into 2019. Newton was awful last year. He failed to convert a 4th and 1. He couldn’t throw the ball to the sideline. He lasted two starts before giving up on 2019 and subjecting the world to Kyle Allen.
Hopefully the year off did wonders for him, and he can get every one of his possible $8 million dollars tied to incentives. The Patriots experienced a power running quarterback once before, when Jacoby Brissett took over for Jimmy Garoppolo, and ran all over Houston and [NAME REDACTED] on a short week in 2016. Maybe they’ll be able to use this as a change up, and combine it with the quick passing prowess Cam showed off in 2018. If Cam is up for carrying the ball, the Patriots have the power blocking offensive line to give him room to run.
New England, despite the defensive turnover, is still going to have a top ten defense. They always will. The question is if the receiving talent can beat man coverage often enough to allow Cam to have success. The talent at this position stagnated their offense, and made it impossible for Tom Brady to have success against the best teams in the AFC. If so, they should have another shot at the AFC East, something they haven’t lost since 2003.
Underlying this season is the Tom v. Bill question that’s been tearing apart America. Personally, I’m a Bill guy. If New England wins the division once again, after everything that just happened, it will go a long way to winning these arguments I have with myself.
Favorite Player: Marcus Cannon
T-13.) PITTSBURGH STEELERS (29 Points)
As long as Ben Roethlisberger’s big stupid hamburger head is healthy, the Steelers are going to be a great team, and the most likely team to slip into that Kansas City-Baltimore tier. It’s unfathomable they did nothing to address the backup quarterback position, and are going to ride Mason Rudolph again. Because of this, they have one of the highest range of outcomes this season. They’ll contend if Roethlisberger drinks his milk and eats his liver, and they’ll miss the playoffs if he’s hobbling like an 11 a.m. liquor store vagrant.
The Steelers’ ability to scout receivers is something out of a crappy Malcolm Gladwell book. If Roethlisberger is healthy, he’ll have receiver group that’s five deep with fantasy sleeper Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron, James Washington, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. For Smith-Schuster’s sake I hope Ben is healthy. Antonio Brown calling him Boo Boo Shoester even hurt my feelings. He still hasn’t fully crawled out from his shadow after a disappointing year out on his own.
Pittsburgh has a top five run and pass defense. The middle of the field is a blanket covered by Devin Bush and Minkah Fitzpatrick. They’ll miss Javon Hargrave, but they have more than enough defensive line talent to make up for it. Bud Dupree is my personal hero on this front seven. Finally, after four years of weight lifting, he turned his draft pedigree into a great season, and was awarded with the franchise tag. His edge setting is something from a primeval battlefield.
In the end this team is nothing without Roethlisberger, an age 38, horror movie monster that continues to march even after being lit on fire, shot, amputated, electrocuted, eviscerated and buried, and gouged. If he’s playing, watch them. If he isn’t, put on your yellow flannel and go for a walk.
Favorite Player: David DeCastro
T-13.) DALLAS COWBOYS (29 Points)
After years of mediocre torture, like spending a decade stuck in a Macy’s shopping for Dockers, the Cowboys finally escaped from Jason Garrett’s clapping. At first, I laughed, and laughed, when they hired Mike McCarthy, because of his own previous shortcomings. But it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, he isn’t Garrett, and that’s the only thing that matters.
The Cowboys had one of the best passing attacks last season. Dak Prescott was a Michael Gallup drop away from being a MVP candidate. He finished third in net yards an attempt, sixth in DVOA, and first in DYAR. Playing on the last year of his rookie contract he delivered, and ended up with the franchise tag, left to prove himself all over again, after a summer contract dispute.
Last season Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup combined for 557 DYAR, were targeted on 232 plays, made 145 catches, picked up 2,296 yards, and caught 14 touchdowns. In 11 personnel they averaged 7.2 yards an attempt, and had a DVOA of 39%. They’ve only gotten better in these formations by replacing Randall Cobb with the carousel that’s CeeDee Lamb. He’ll be a spinning ostrich sprinting through the middle of the field this year.
And, if you forgot, Ezekiel Elliot is a constant source of production, and Dallas, even after all these years, has one of the five best offensive lines in the league. Everything is set for a break out 2020 season, where all those summer talking points, no matter what the team looks like, even if Quincy Carter is at quarterback, could become a Superbowl competing reality. Dallas was the unluckiest team in the league last season, going 1-6 in one score games, and finishing last in actual compared to Pythagorean win difference. They were an 11 win team that lost enough coin flips to make them 8-8.
Usually this division depends on whoever wins some bizarre late season match up. That shouldn’t happen this season.
Favorite Player: CeeDee Lamb
T-10.) MINNESOTA VIKINGS (30 Points)
How do you revisit the past? Let’s say, for example, you wanted to relive the year 2012? What would you do to make this happen? Would you put on Looper, would you go soak some suds at your favorite river spot, would you walk through purgatory listening to that album that bookmarks your past?
Personally, I’ll watch the 2020 Minnesota Vikings play 2012 Houston Texans football. Kirk Cousins is a Matt Schaub figure, winning from the shotgun as needed, whose immobility is a curse, but carries the offense off play action fakes and rolling out into a ghost town to deliver easy throws to Adam Thielen, a do it all receiver. This is all set up from outside zone run after outside zone run with Dalvin Cook, who is as spatially aware as Arian Foster was, but is a better athlete. Two tight end sets that cannibalize each other’s production, but leads to real football results. And at the top of it all, is that old fox, Gary Kubiak, who can’t stay away, climbing down from a special assistant role, to call the offense once again. I can see that torn purple carpet, mouse turds under split pea couch cushions, and a stinky dog with a rotten smile all over again.
They did lose six consistent defensive starters, after years of grazing their head against the salary cap, and replaced them by tossing out a wide draft net. Despite this, and after the Yannick Ngakoue trade, I’m expecting this to remain an above average defense, no matter what the computers say.
With the easy offense, defensive talent and coaching, and a up for grabs NFC North, Minnesota is the best bet to win the division.
Favorite Player: Danielle Hunter
T-10.) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (30 Points)
Going into the 2020 season, it just feels like Philadelphia is in for one of those years. They lost Brandon Brooks, the great dancing bear at the end of The Blood Meridian, Andre Dillard’s bicep fell off the bone, Jalen Reagor is dealing with a shoulder injury, a player with a skillset they depend on, as seen in DeSean Jackson’s comet, and Alshon Jeffery’s foot will keep him out for the first two months and no one wants to trade for him.
Even with the deep drumming of purple clouds pounding the tunnel at the start of the season, the Eagles are still talented. Fletcher Cox (#91) devoured the entirety of the Seahawks’ offensive line last Wildcard Round.
With a cannon belly, hawk fearing rabbit quickness, and legs for arms, performances like this aren’t splotches, but instead are a constant performance stream along Philadelphia’s defensive line. Joining him in his death dance are the same suspects: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and the new addition is the incredible Hargrave, who is playing the role Malik Jackson never fulfilled because of injuries.
Even if the offensive injuries continue, head coach Doug Pederson will find a way. He’s a constant tinkerer, the old man in the garage with belly swaying over a crunchy belt under amber light. Somehow he turned Greg Ward, Boston Scott, and two tight ends into a division winning team. This is as close to Naked and Afraid the NFL has seen. In a sick way, I kind of want to see the injuries pile up, and how Pederson reacts. A two quarterback backfield with Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts? Sure. Jason Peters reliving his college days at tight end? Let’s do it.
The coaching, top talent, and uniforms, they’re the rare team who actually pulls off the black alternate, make up for the expected .500ish record.
Favorite Player: Fletcher Cox
T-8.) BUFFALO BILLS (34 Points)
As fans, writers, talkers, watchers, hate mail senders, repliers, we care more about if a player or team is good, when really, we should care more about the pleasure and enjoyment they bring. Football, and sports in general, first and foremost, are an enrichment of one’s life, and everything else is an indirect effect.
Enter Josh Allen. For the last two seasons the hollering has been if he’s good or not. Who cares! Nobody in the league has the gall to jump over Anthony Barr, run quarterback power like a buck that had just been clipped by a grill guard on a serpentine hill country road, overthrow a receiver 50 yards downfield, stiff arm 325 pounds of defensive linemen; or attempt a hail mary to a fullback, break a 40+ yard run, and catch a touchdown pass in the same playoff game like him. He’s truly special. He’s one of the NFL’s white rhinoceroses.
If you want to get wrapped up in being ‘good’, and if Allen can make a leap to consistent competent performance, than the deep ball is where he needs to improve. Last season he was 36 for 106 for 963 yards, averaged 9.9 yards an attempt, threw 5 touchdowns to 5 interceptions, and had a rating of 66.7.
This offseason Buffalo traded for Stefon Diggs. With him in the mix, Allen has a receiver who can win every segment of the field, and no longer has to rely on John Brown, as great as he was last season, as often. There’s no excuses, or something, if you only care about Buffalo finally overtaking the Patriots’ AFC East dynasty. I’m betting he improves to at least average. The tools are there. The ergonomics just need some tweaking.
Defensively everything is here. It’s all set up for a top five season. There isn’t a hole in it. They’re stuffed with ex-Panthers. And their pass rush is like nine deep now. Trent Murphy, Ed Oliver, Vernon Butler, Jerry Hughes, Harrison Phillips, Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson, and A.J. Epenesa can all get after it. Minnesota is to 2012 Houston as Buffalo is to 2015 Carolina.
If Allen is competent they’ll win the division. If Allen is good they’ll be right below Kansas City and Baltimore. But who cares, I just want to see Allen continue to pull off the unfathomable. Leave it to the defense to handle the ‘being good’ part.
Favorite Player: Josh Allen
T-8.) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (34 Points)
There isn’t a team like the Seattle Seahawks. Despite having a MVP quarterback they continue to pound and grind the ball on the ground. They were third in rushing attempts with 481 last season, and rely on tackle breaking running backs to make up for the missed block attempts. Chris Carson led all running backs with 78 broken tackles last season. They refuse to invest in their offensive line because of backs like Carson, and Russell Wilson’s ability to turn into a puddle and slide underneath sack attempts. Every offseason they pick among the bones of former first round picks to scour for someone else to give another try. This season it’s Cedric Ogbuhei playing the role of swing tackle, and their own former first round pick, Ethan Pocic, getting another run at center. Their receivers can run in a straight line better than everyone else: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Josh Gordon, and Philip Dorsett, all with open mouths waiting for another surreal Russell Wilson deep throw to drop. None of it is conventional. Somehow it continues to work.
Sure, there are arguments it’s absurd, and there would be better ways to run this offense, and manage their resources, but that’s for spreadsheets. Because year after year the Seahawks compete, and having an extreme outlier like this team is necessary in a league rampant with sameness.
After years of missing on first round draft picks, and adding only 89 approximate value to their defense in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since their Super Bowl heartbreak, general manager Jon Robinson had enough. He gave up on first round picks entirely. And traded two of them, along with a third round pick and Bradley McDougald for Jamal Adams.
There’s a case to be made that an All-Pro safety who can play both strong and free in a cover three defense warrants a haul like this. Adams can play deep middle, robber, defend the flat in cover three sky, leap from the alley to the ‘B’ gap to defend the run, rush the quarterback, and cover tight ends in man coverage. He can do it all at a position that is usually saved for last resorts, instead of continuously affecting play after play.
Seattle will need him too, because they have a bottom ten pass rush. There’s no more Jadeveon Clowney to pressure the quarterback and slip and fall to miss adding sack numbers to his tally. Do you like the return of Bruce Irvin? What about the addition of Benson Mayowa? Is this Jarran Reed’s bounce back year. What’s a L.J. Collier?
This season Seattle is facing circumstances as extreme as their play calling philosophies and team building decisions. They went 10-2 in one score games, and won the most one score games in the league. They also won 2.8 more games (2nd) more than their Pythagorean total. And had a point differential of +12 (T-3rd).
If any team can beat this upcoming drop off after a conflicting offseason it’s Seattle.
Favorite Player: Russell Wilson
T-6.) NEW ORLEANS (36 Points)
New Orleans has the most complete roster. There isn’t anything negative you can say about it. They jammed pebbles to fill the scant cracks in the roster. They improved their interior pass protection, something imperative when your blocking for a 41 year old 6 foot tall tippy toe standing quarterback, and was the reason why they lost to Minnesota in the Wildcard Round last season, by replacing Larry Warford with Caesar Ruiz. Michael Thomas finally has a second receiver in Emmanuel Saunders. Teddy Bridgewater has left the halfway house for troubled quarterbacks and was replaced by Jameis Winston, who’s looking to follow the same career path. The defensive line is healthy again, after injuries to Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins. Second round pick Zach Baun can play outside linebacker and defensive end. Strong safety Malcolm Jenkins can get the secondary in the right positions, and mash the run game. Everything here is perfect.
The only concern is Drew Brees himself. His playoff performances have been disappointing. The Michael Thomas force feeding hasn’t worked as well when it matters, and the deep ball has diminished. Sean Payton had to bring in Taysom Hill to complete a deep sideline pass against Minnesota. If he can make it through the season with enough deep throwing mana, they may finally be able to get past where they’ve been stuck, and tell themselves the playoff heartbreak after playoff heartbreak only made it all sweeter.
Favorite Player: Ryan Ramczyk
T-6.) TENNESSEE TITANS (36 Points)
After previewing the entirety of the AFC South, I had the Titans as the #7 seed. Then they signed Jadeveon Clowney and everything has changed. With Clowney, the Titans are going to have one of the best run defenses in the game, and a pass defense that can break past average. He’s a luxury for a front that was already well off with Harold Landry and Vic Beasley on the edge, Jeffrey Simmons and DaQuan Jones on the interior, and Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans at linebacker. Now the Titans have a true interior and exterior force who can line up anywhere, and give the Titans the ability to play any front imaginable. I now have them winning the division, and Houston flipped to the #7 seed.
Clowney signing with Tennessee is the best thing to happen to the AFC South as well. Since 2002 the Texans-Titans rivalry has been nothing more than a bad roadkill wearing man moving his bad team to a different city that broke four million hearts. During this time neither team has been great at the same moment. Their paths never crossed. With Clowney in Tennessee there’s real football vitriol, and both teams should play meaningful games against one another.
And personally, Clowney can shove it back at Bill O’Brien for not giving him the long-term deal he wanted and keeping him hanging around all summer. He can take on Houston’s squishy interior blocking. And by wearing #99 he can take advantage of the easier pass rushing matchups J.J. Watt would get to pad his sack totals with flair, while Clowney was left watching his salute celebrations. These things go both ways of course.
The highlight of this ‘rivalry’ is Andre Johnson giving Courtland Finnegan his fists. Then it’s Justin Reid popping the ball out of Anthony Firkser’s hands and into Whitney Mercilus’s. And then I guess it’s Lamar Miller’s 97 yard Monday Night Football touchdown run. After that it’s mostly two crappy teams playing crappy football. The Clowney signing changes all of this.
Oh, and Arthur Smith is a play action calling God. Ryan Tannehill is never afraid to sling it deep, and delivers truly wondrous downfield throws. The entire offense is impossible to tackle. The outside zone tweaks they use are creative and effective. Derrick Henry is the final boss in a side scrolling fighter. And A.J. Brown is the closet thing to Andre Johnson in the NFL.
Long live the Tennessee Titans. Long live the AFC South. TITAN UP I scream the sacred phrase.
Favorite Player: Jadeveon Clowney
T-4.) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (37 Points)
Andy Reid knows better than anyone, that sometimes you aren’t stuck traveling the same path, in the same orbit, but what you’re doing is traveling along a spiral, getting deeper and deeper, closer and closer to the center. After years of failing to win the big one, he turned everything he learned over the course of all those failures, by combining this knowledge with a deep and specific skill position group and, of course, a transcendent quarterback.
The Chiefs’ offense incorporates college concepts better than any team in the league. They run the best screen passes. And even when the play design is stopped, they have the talent to override it. They understand throwing the ball and stopping the pass is all what matters more than anything else.
Favorite Player: Andy Reid
T-4.) TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (37 Points)
I’m the only person on this planet who’s bummed Tom Brady signed with Tampa. He should have taken his plastic skin, his frozen smile, his cryogenic body—a strange snow-cone—and his hatred for tomatoes and strawberries somewhere else. You go to Tampa to sit next to dark green water, chomp cigars, and eat strip club steak until you get colon cancer, not knock out Saturday morning Pilates with blonde haired replicates. His signing signifies entropy has gone too far, and the league should completely reset to restore some sense of order.
And, of course, him playing for a pure vertical offense is depressing. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin turning into seven yard efficient slant route running receivers is lugubrious. This is what Evans is for. Save that for Scotty Miller.
Regardless the tug and pull between Brady’s skillset and Bruce Arian’s offense is a riveting dynamic. The offensive line is a group of long haired bearded trolls, who are actual Buccaneers, I’m sure they could each train a parrot to stick on their shoulder while competing combo blocks, and this will be the first time Leonard Fournette will have have an offensive line in front of him that can provide the lanes for his skill set. Add this to Rob Grownkoski, O.J. Howard, who’s always on the cusp of a break out season, and old steady Cameron Brate, and you have, as Carlos Flores put it, a heist movie with a gang of misfits getting together, for one last job.
The individual defensive talent and scheme combination doesn’t get better. Todd Bowles calls the type of aggressive defense most coaches only talk about. His defense ranked third in both five and six plus man rush rates. He has the entire Caribbean to send at the quarterback. Vita Vea, a Diablo Barbarian with 40 skill points in whirlwind, Ndamukong Suh, Devin White, LaVonte David, Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, who has an actual hook for a hand, and a young athletic secondary who can be shot like bullets at quarterbacks. They had the league’s best run defense, and a mediocre pass defense. There’s intrigue, scheme, and talent here. The defense has it all.
Sure, I guess Tom v. Drew with 84 years of combined age, and fighting for a one seed is fun too. I still wish Jameis got one more chance to throw 35 touchdowns and only 20 interceptions to compete for a Wildcard spot. At least Brady’s arrival led to a jersey change. The alarm clock is screaming in the ocean.
Favorite Player: Mike Evans
T-4.) SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (37 Points)
It really is unbelievable, that a team quarterbacked by Jimmy Garoppolo, is ranked this high, but this is the result when everything surrounding him is pristine and perfect. The highlight of San Francisco football is their two back offense. In 21 personnel they averaged 6.9 yards a play, had a DVOA of 24.3%, despite running the ball 55% of the time. In 22 personnel they averaged 7.1 yards a play, had a DVOA of 44.7%, and ran the ball 74% of the time. This, of course, includes plays with Kyle Juszcyzk.
Juszcyzk is used in every way imaginable. He can play slot receiver and sneak past linebackers down the sideline. He’ll seal the backside on split zone. He’ll smash the second level on lead. He’ll pull to the alley on sweep plays. With Juszcyzk, Patrick Ricard, C.J. Ham, Alec Ingold, Jamize Olawale, and Derek Watt, the fullback position is back, but Juszcyzk is the most versatile one in the league, and, was worth the contract he was awarded.
The core component of their run game is the outside zone, which is murderous because of George Kittle (#85). He’s the best blocking tight end in the game. Every snap with him on the field is a six offensive linemen set. He can make every outside zone block, against defensive ends, linebackers, and safeties. Kittle has the strength to overwhelm linemen, and understands angles so he’s in the correct spot to make his blocks.
They’re also a great reverse team. The multiple tight end looks are killer to expand the line of scrimmage and provide multiple bodies to block their toss plays, which uses pin-pull action to get offensive linemen around the edge and lead the way. They’ll play off this by running filthy reverses, to take advantage of defensive ends thinking they are on the backside of the run play.
Out on the edges, their wide receivers love to get in on the action as well. They’ll devour cornerbacks to accentuate open field yards.
Kyle Shanahan is an absolute mad man. This is counter with the wide receiver pulling into the alley. There’s no limit to the creativity of man.
The play action and run game feeds one another. They’ll turn these same actions into little squirt passes where Kittle and Deebo Samuel can take off and break tackles. Kittle led all tight ends with 28 broken tackles, and Samuel led all receivers with 28. Jusczcyk exemplified this well in the Super Bowl by breaking a tackle thanks to low leverage.
As an ESTABLISH THE RUN atheist, It’s not that I don’t like the run game, I love the run game when it’s used well, is creative, and warrants the usage, instead of it being relied on because of ‘safety’ or some archaic idea like ‘getting ahead on downs’ after picking up two yards to set up second and eight. The 49ers and Ravens and run games are wrinkly, and two of the best things the game has to offer.
The only thing holding this team back is Garoppolo. He’s like Cousins, and Goff, in the sense that he goes as far as the offense goes, and doesn’t raise up those around him. With a team as deep as the 49ers are, this works, but as players get expensive, and veterans have to be shed, it’s going to be up to him to improve, or for the team to continue to draft well. The last time we saw him he overthrew Emmanuel Saunders by five yards, and San Francisco lost the Super Bowl because of it.
The defensive line is vicious, and will stay vicious this season. They made the right decision keeping Arik Armstead over DeForest Buckner, and rookie Javon Kinlaw is in a perfect situation to commander one gap. Armstead and Bosa combined for 19 sacks, 23 hits, and 90 pressures, and Bosa is on his way to becoming a J.J. Watt sort of defensive end, who can end entire drives by himself. Oh, and if you forgot, after a quiet and injured 2019, this team has Dee Ford as well.
Fred Warner is my favorite part of this defense though. He’ll chase down Tyrek Hill on jet sweeps, he’ll robot the seam, he’s a great rat defender, and he excels chasing and tackling. When targeted in pass coverage he allowed only 4.7 yards per pass, and had 9 passes defensed. With him, Dre Greenlaw, and Kwon Alexander, running backs and tight ends are suffocated, which prevents easy throws teams rely upon in this day and age. Last year they finished second and first in DVOA at covering these two positions.
Aesthetically, the crimson and gold is beautiful. It matches the fading pacific sunlight. And it complements just about every uniform in the league. Even if you don’t like football, the television is a phantasmagoria of color whenever San Francisco plays.
Favorite Player: Arik Armstead
1.) BALTIMORE RAVENS (38 Points)
The Ravens chapter of the 2020 Football Outsiders Almanac is filled with insane statistics. The Ravens used a single back formation 65% of the time (1st), and 11 personnel 48% of the time and had a DVOA of 20% in these packages. When they had an empty backfield their DVOA was 82.9% and averaged 8.2 yards a play. Baltimore broke 168 tackles (1st), were better without play action (lol), Lamar Jackson broke 55 tackles on his end (1st for all quarterbacks by 30 broken tackles), and 54 of them came after the line of scrimmage. They converted 17 of their 24 fourth down attempts until going 0 for 4 against the Tennessee Titans in their Divisional Round loss.
Greg Roman designed and executed the perfect offense for Lamar Jackson, and instead of worrying about what he isn’t, he’s magnified his strengths, by using a gap-read run scheme, and a quick passing attack that isolates defenders. The only concern this season, is the same concern offenses like this have faced. After monomaniacal summers defensive coordinators figure out how to affect bizarre offenses like this, and it’s up to the team to expand upon what’s worked, and for the young quarterback to develop his game to allow for the evolution to take place.
The only bad part about this team is stopping the run. Baltimore was 20th in run defense DVOA and allowed 5.5 yards an attempt. Derrick Henry stampeded through them in their outside zone rushing attack last year. Stopping the run is the least important core foundation of the game, but when Baltimore fell behind, they were unable to catch back and gain control of the game again in their loss to Tennessee. They drafted Patrick Queen, signed Derek Wolfe, traded for Calais Campbell, and moved Brandon Williams to nose tackle—something I’m way too excited for—to fix the interior.
The pass defense, even after having enough of Eart Thomas’s dickheadednish, is going to be great once again. They have the league’s best secondary, and blitz schemes. They come from every direction. Plus, by adding Campbell, they’ll have a great pass rushing option on their defensive line, something they lacked last year. And you know Justin Madubuike is down in their laboratory, in some purple goop, growing into some incredible force, like every other front seven defender who has been drafted and developed by Baltimore.
The only thing left for them to do is have success in the postseason. After two incredible regular seasons, Jackson is 0-2 in the postseason. Los Angeles used six defensive backs to corral his rushing ability, and Tennessee took away the middle of the field, squeezed his throws to the sideline, and had some turnover luck of course.
Currently, it feels like Baltimore and Kansas City are rampaging to an AFC title game against each other, but we felt the same way last year, and we know how that worked out.
Favorite Player: Lamar Jackson