In previous years, I spent the football season completely sucked in. Watching every condensed game, and diving in the coach’s film to drop deeper, following my heart wherever it took me. Aaron Donald knife parties, Baltimore simulated pressures, Josh Allen’s meteoric rise from leaping over Anthony Barr to leaping to the top of the MVP race, Jason Kelce scoop blocks, Pittsburgh front seven decimation, Indianapolis cover seven, and Baker Mayfield pulling his buns from the oven too early, were there last season.
Those days are going to be difficult to replicate. Time is no longer expansive and free flowing. It’s been sequestered into more important boxes. This past year I did the things most people accomplish in a decade. Two more people share the same name as me, along with an Obese dog. I have fields to till, and square feet to maintain. I’ve gone from only caring about myself, to people relying on me.
This doesn’t mean that that football has disappeared. Time just has to be more concise. Arizona v. Cincinatti, or New York (J) v. Jacksonville, those games are gone. If I don’t watch them they don’t exist. Instead, it will be all about Houston, Houston, Houston, and the most interesting teams worthy of the limited time I, and we all have.
This year’s Game Pass rankings are not just for you, but they are for me as well, as a map to navigate how to spend one’s time. Time, the only finite resource. Time, the only thing that ends for us all.
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 without coach’s film, for a low price of $99), I ranked every NFL team by their Game Pass entertainment value utilizing a algorithm I created in a joint venture with Stanford University. 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 figure is the total derived from combining each category. Here are teams 32-17. The teams you don’t need to watch, and the teams you kind of sort of need to.
32.) HOUSTON TEXANS (9 Points)
Some teams are bad. Some teams are boring. The Texans are going to be a combination of both—bad and boring. They’ll feature a run heavy offense, not because they are going to be a great running team, but because throwing the ball will be a chore for them. They retained five running backs on the roster so Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram, Rex Burkhead, Scottie Johnson, and David Johnson can each get 8 carries a game for 3.2 yards a carry. With a ‘running’ quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, some think we can see a power-read scheme, similar to what Baltimore runs here. You know you can, just, like, watch football, right? Taylor is 32 years old. Those days are gone. He can’t break tackles anymore.
Get ready for a lot of floppy crossing routes off play action, downfield passes down the sideline that end up out of bounds, and go up and get it throws that Houston doesn’t have the receivers for. The other end is Davis Mills, and that road is even worse. Mills doesn’t have the athleticism to make up for his down to down inaccuracy, and abysmal footwork. Hopefully we still see seven starts from him. You can’t stomach pump seven starts for the 2022 season. Tim Kelly said the biggest thing he learned last season was he needed to run the ball more. He’s going to push that lesson to the brink this season.
The defense is set up for the Bush years. It’s the Jurassic cover two scheme that only works if you have a great front four pass rush, and coverage linebackers who can diagnose routes quickly and carry the seam. The Texans don’t have either one of those things. Numerous players are classified as defensive linemen on the roster, but they lack impact pass rushers. Deep doesn't mean good.
Somehow, the linebacker group is even worse. Zach Cunningham is the best player on the front seven, and is back at his true Will linebacker role, where he can chase and tackle, but he’s terrible in coverage, and he’s the best athlete of the bunch. Over and over again, teams are going to hit the seam, and the deep intermediate middle, as seen in previous preseason games.
The team is old. The uniforms are bland. Deshaun Watson is a hurricane hanging over them. The only thing that really matters is what they get from the Watson trade. That has to springboard the next good Texans team. In the meantime there isn’t much here worth any of it.
Favorite Player: Tytus Howard
31.) NEW YORK JETS (15 Points)
Rub-a-dub-dub. Hop in the tub and scrub off that Adam Gase stink. It’s another new era in New York. They’re doing this the typical way. Find a successful team, pluck the underlings, and transplant them to their city. The Jets have looked from one coast to the other, and are trying to replicate San Francisco, by hiring Robert Saleh as their head coach, and Mike LaFleur as their offensive coordinator.
Personally, I have a terrible feeling about Zach Wilson in New York. A quarterback’s success is influenced by the environment they’re brought up in. There’s no logic in this. It’s all feelings. He just seems too nice for New York. He looks more like Lola Bunny than a New York quarterback. Talent can overcome any situation though. Additionally, Wilson is great off play action, and on bootleg passes. Each are staples of the LaFluer-Shannahan coaching tree.
Attached to Wilson is an intriguing group of skill players. Corey Davis attempting to be a true a number one wide receiver after figuring his career out with A.J. Brown. Jamison Crowder will catch 7 passes for 29 yards. Denzel Mims is a sideline receiver who wins with body control, size, and mitts. Mims baby. Keelan Cole can stretch the field. And there’s electric rookies Elijah Moore and Michael Carter.
The most interesting part of the offense is the left side of their offensive line. Mekhi Becton is a star, and will be on all of those copied and pasted Pro Football Focus best tackles lists next offseason. Joining him is Alijah Vera-Tucker, a plug in play midzone blocking guard who excels at blocking at the second level. He has the acumen to pass protect at the tackle position too. How well he handles a bull rush interior is the deciding factor for him. The Jets should be able to run the ball in one direction, if the back side can scoop out the defense even a little bit.
We know how this defense works. It’s cover three and cover four. It’s based around the front four pass rush. Without Carl Lawson, those dreams are diminished even though Quinnen Williams can anchor down an entire pass rush on his own.
Linebackers are stressed to cover a wide variety of tasks. C.J. Mosley is no Fred Warner, and hasn’t played football in two seasons. This is the worst cornerback group in the NFL too. At least Marcus Maye is fun, and there’s Ashtyn Davis potential if you are sick enough to care about that sort of thing.
The Jets will be bad, but at least they won’t be poorly coached, and have young talent. Next year they’ll have cap space, and two first round picks. If Wilson is a starting caliber quarterback, next year can be the first fun Jets season since the Sanchize.
Favorite Player: Quinnen Williams
30.) DETROIT LIONS (16 Points)
I love the non-football parts of the Lions. Deep cleaning the wannabe Patriots funk is a great joy. They lopped off that stupid boob Matt Patricia, and found the exact opposite of him in Dan Campbell. Taking on the archetype of the violent stepfather, I want Campbell to come home drunk and kick the hell out of me on a Wednesday night for waiting until tomorrow morning to make Thursday’s trash day. His coaching staff is filled with former players you can sit around with your friends and remember. Everyone has great things to say about new defensive coordinator Aaron Glen. Joining him are Dom Capers, Duce Staley, Mark Brunell, Antwan Randle El, and Anthony Lynn.
The best part of this scenario is Jared Goff going to Detroit; the exact opposite of California. There isn’t a Hollister or a volleyball net in sight. Goff spent his time in Los Angeles playing in an easy offense, face paced, with his head coach reading the defense for him and speaking in his ear the entire time. The Lions are a punishment for his sins. He has wide receivers that exist only to spread the field, despite the fact that Goff is one of the worst deep passers in the league. If you like checkdowns to tight ends and running backs this is the team for you.
The only indicator for Goff having some success in Detroit is his performance without pressure. Goff had a DVOA of 55.4% without it, but a DVOA of -126.8% under pressure. In front of him is one of the league’s best offensive lines composed of Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Penei Sewell. Remember 30 Seconds to Mars? The Lions will be seven seconds to five yards with Goff playing in this offense.
The other side of the ball moved to a 3-4. Watching Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara’s long arms on the edges is the best part of the defense.
Wishing Jeff Okudah a competent sophomore season after being pegged as a future All-Pro in last year’s draft cycle is something else here for us. The rest of the defense will make you want to lounge on the couch on a November day, the same feelings their grey sweat pant jerseys make you feel.
At the end of the day, Campbell’s press conference will be more fun than the team itself.
Favorite Player: Romeo Okwara
29.) CHICAGO BEARS (18 Points)
The Bears with Andy Dalton are the most boring team in the NFL. Dalton is turning 34 this season. He hasn’t been competent in four years, and he requires a great offensive line and skill players to be even pretty good. Him behind this messy offensive line, and alright skill players, in a cute and quirky New Girl style offense is green and gagging.
Justin Fields is the most divisive quarterback prospect in this class. The analytics says one thing, the charting says another, and the film says another. It’s a medieval torture device. He at least brings life to a listless offense. His ability to stand in the pocket in the face of the pass rush, and deliver deep throws to the middle of the field are his best skills. It’s something that doesn’t mesh with Nagy’s orbit motions, shovel passes, and horizontal attack. We’ll just have to play wait and see here.
Chicago has traded its picks for players. As a result, they have an older roster. The defense is wrinkled with Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, and Robet Quinn all in their 30s now. The timetable for Fields doesn’t really match up with the rest of their team. If it takes him three seasons to develop, the Bears will have an entirely new defense. The time is now, even though the offense is far from that.
The defense still has transcendent talent and is always a top ten unit. Pairing that trio, they have Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson, and one of the best linebackers in the league, Roquan Smith. You can’t even enjoy the secondary when the play at home because of their mentally ill sideline camera.
Favorite Player: Akiem Hicks
28.) ATLANTA FALCONS (19 Points)
There are plenty of signs pointing for Atlanta to be competent. Their plexiglass record was -3, they went 2-8 in one score games, they won 3.5 less games than expected, they played the toughest schedule, and they still finished 17th in DVOA. Their defense actually finished better than their offense in DVOA last year.
This season they have Arthur Smith—my favorite play caller—putting Matt Ryan back in a midzone/outside zone based play action attack. The last time Ryan was in this offense, he only won a Super Bowl and blew a 28 point lead. Elite quarterbacks can play forever. Ryan, has a former member of the elite, wearing a pig mask at the orgy, should bounce back playing for the black magic, redzone warlock Smith. The offensive line hasn’t been good yet, but there’s plenty of young talent here. The Chris Lindstrom-Kaleb McGary combination is something I’ll be ignoring my family to watch this year.
They found their Julio Jones replacement in the draft by selecting Kyle Pitts. He isn’t just a tight end. He’s a slot and outside receiver. We saw a glimpse of what Smith can do with insane athletes at this position in Jonnu Smith. Screen passes, toss plays, screeching down the seam. That was a prelude for what he can do with Pitts. Combining him with Calvin Ridley, the NFL’s best pure route runner, and the pretty good Russell Gage, Olamide Zacchaeus, and two tight end sets with Hayden Hurst, is worth the occasional 45 minutes of condensed action.
They found a defensive burst with Raheem Morris taking over at head coach for Dan Quinn. The Falcons become a blitz heavy team that utilized simulated pressures to turn from a yellow colored day dream into a red hellish nightmare. They ravaged the Saints, and made life complicated for Patrick Mahomes. Drop Grady Jarrett into coverage? Sure.
Atlanta will play a similar defensive scheme with Dean Pees taking over as their defensive coordinator. The problem is the talent on this side of the ball is weak, and filled with disappointments like Isaiah Oliver, and Dante Fowler. Grady Jarrett is a perennial Pro Bowler. Deion Jones is a chase and tackle Cheetah. All Foyesade Oluokun does is make plays. A.J. Terrell picked it up as the year went on. Give me some Marlon Davidson edge rushers. Dammit, I’m talking myself into Atlanta again.
They’d be higher on the list but their turf is depressing. It’s in black and white. A disgusting shade of gray. I saw Pleasantville on UPN once. The Falcons need to hop on the bed and inject some life into their turf.
Favorite Player: Grady Jarrett
T-27.) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (21 Points)
If you love offensive and defensive line play, the Eagles are always worth your time. Last year the offensive line was ravaged by injuries. Nate Herbig’s giant belly is gone. Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson are back to fill the right side. The left is going to be Jordan Mailata after he beat out Andre Dillard in a camp battle at left tackle, with Isaac Seumalo adjacent to him. Jason Kelce is still one of the best centers around.
The defensive line is still the same guys. Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, with the youthful Derek Barnet and Josh Sweat. They added Ryan Kerrigan’s gluttonous and bulging biceps as well. The concern is the defensive line is getting older, opening the door for injuries to bring upon them what was brought upon the offensive line last year.
Aside from that, there is only intrigue here. They have first time head coach ayyyyyyitsfuggin Nick Sirianni, with first time coordinators Shane Steichen on offense, and Jonathan Gannon on defense. The Eagles missed Frank Reich so much that they hired the next available thing. We don’t know what their offense or defense is going to be yet. Get ready for Jalen Hurts to hold the ball for seven seconds and take off five yards regardless.
Favorite Player: Brandon Brooks
T-27.) CINCINNATI BENGALS (21 Points)
I really want to love the Bengals. I really do. The kitty-kat stripes, the number one overall pick learning to walk again, an incredible wide receiver trio, nice pass rush, and an offseason that dramatically improved their talent. I’m chained by my brain.
The idea here is simple. Zach Taylor loves 11 personnel. So they added Ja’Marr Chase, someone who Joey Buckets won a title with, to pair with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The Bengals weren’t good in these formations last year, as much as they loved using them. They utilized 11 personnel 76% of the time, averaged 5.1 yards per play, and a DVOA of -13.8%. They went three plus wide receivers 83% of the time, opening the door for some hot Auden Tate action.
The offensive line is horrendous though. The interior is a wreck, Riley Reiff hasn’t been good for a few years, and Jonah Williams never has been. I do think Williams will finally break out this season, after being the first left tackle selected in 2018, and being one of the rare college tackles who could actually run and pass block.
Burrow is a little too much Alex Smithish for my liking. His arm was light, and he had problems completing deep passes. Deep pass accuracy at the NFL level usually takes a few years to develop, but the arm strength usually maxes out. Unless Burrow has a quarterback’s coach who can tap more out of it, this just maybe who he is.
Coming off of a horrendous injury, behind this offensive line, the Bengals are probably going to run a lot screen passes this season to help him out, and they probably won’t get much out of it. Until the offensive line shows something, which it probably won’t, or Burrow gets back where he was in 2020 in the pocket, which he may not, the offense is stuck. Plus, it’s year three for Zach Taylor, and he hasn’t shown anything proving that he’s a good head coach.
Funny helmets. Texas heat. Dodge Charger driving Braylons and Kadens. This is a great 7 v. 7 football team. There’s too much holding them back for them to expect for them to get to where everyone wants them to be at.
Favorite Player: Mike Hilton
25.) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (22 Points)
The Jaguars executed the tank to perfection. The Jags didn’t have the talent level of a 1-15 team, but after a Myles Jack injury, and Gardner Minshew playing through a busted thumb, they played their role perfectly. Jake Luton and Mike Glennon starts. They went 1-6 in one score games, won 2.7 less games than expected. It was the right move. It allowed them to move past a Ryan Fitzpatrick level quarterback in Minshew, end the ridiculous Doug Marrone era, and most importantly, snatch and secure the newest generational quarterback prospect, Trevor Lawrence.
The Urban Myer era has started off with plenty of ridiculous off the field issues. Say what you will, the optics are ridiculous, but he does know how to scheme an offense. Most are expecting disaster, but the pieces are here on offense for this to no longer be a big sad country.
They have the deep threats in DJ Chark and Marvin Jones, and this year’s newest break out slot receiver in Lavisk Shenault, who can also run the ball, catch jet sweeps and tosses and screens, and is ridiculous after the catch. James Robinson is an all around back who can catch passes too, and Carlos Hyde is here for a breather.
If the young tackles improve their play to play consistency, this should be the second best offense in this division. Last year Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson gave up 15 sacks, were credited with 69 blown pass blocks, and 15 blown run blocks. They’ve shown the talent to match strength and meet some of the best pass rushers head on with a square kick slide. Offensive linemen are known for their mistakes, not the blocks they make. Both have to remove the hand issues, and missed blocks to get to where they need to be.
There’s change on the other side too. Jacksonville is moving to a 3-4. A switch that puts Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chisson in a more natural position. It gives Myles Jack more freedom to guess and make big plays, with Damien Wilson pivoting behind him. They have the fat guys on the defensive line in front of them now too: Malcolm Brown, Davon Hamilton, and Roy Robertson-Harris. The Jaguars used to be a Jack injury from falling apart, this defense takes pressure off his role.
The secondary is pretty blah. C.J. Henderson fell off after an incredible week one game against Indy. He’ll start on the outside since Sidney Jones was traded to Seattle immediately before the season. It’s him, Shaq Griffen, missing a competent nickle corner, and new safety Rayshawn Jenkins joining Jarrod Wilson. The pass defense will go as far as Chaisson and Allen takes them.
Teal is cool. This is one of the most intriguing teams in the league. They could finish second in the AFC South, but they are probably a year away from the postseason.
T-24.) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (24 Points)
New England spent $320 million, and $170 million guaranteed to add starters across the roster. Matthew Judon, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Jalen Mills, Nelson Agholor, Davon Godchaux, Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Van Noy, Henry Anderson, and they traded for their former right tackle Trent Brown. The churned the roster and talent lost over the years didn’t crush them because Tom Brady was their quarterback. They could rely on veterans taking cheap deals here and there to fill the holes and make their runs. Without him, the Patriots finally needed to spend.
The Patriots worst unit was their run defense. They finished last in run defense DVOA. Now they have Godchaux, Anderson, Juon, and Dont’a Hightower coming back. That shouldn’t be an issue any longer. The secondary is deep with Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson on the outside, and a safety group that runs four deep with Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, and Mills. The pass rush has picked up plenty of hurries over the years, but hasn’t fully put it together. With Bill Belichick coaching this unit, this should be a top ten unit easy.
On the other side, it’s going to be a top ten run offense. They are all set to crush teams and grind their bones into 3 a.m. counter top powder. Damien Harris is the sure number one back with a great group in front of him.
That leaves one question. The passing offense. Mac Jones crushed Cam Newton in their training camp battle—Newton hasn’t been good for three years now—and is set to start. They’re going to give him an easy short middle passing offense with guys who can create after the catch. Agholor is the occasional deep threat to top it off. Jones is merely a Lone Star Lite tuber taken along the current. He’s Alex Smith, and the Patriots have shown they can create easy throws for their offense.
The Pats should compete for a wild card spot. They were held back in the rankings by their obnoxious UNLEASH THE GUN POWDAH signs, the terrible color rush jerseys turned primary, and the fact that they lack elite talent now that Gilmore’s status is uncertain. It’s a great team as a whole. But there isn’t an individual player you are turning in for. Ten wins sells tickets, Matthew Judon doesn’t.
Favorite Player: Dont’a Hightower
T-24.) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (24 Points)
Carson Wentz was the NFL’s worst quarterback and least valuable player last year, a complete abomination. Inhouse fighting. Offensive line injuries. Fumbles. Interceptions. Ridiculous pass attempts. Sitting out the rest of the season with his feelings hurt and no remorse.
Last year he took 50 sacks, completed 57.4% of his passes, threw 15 interceptions, lost 10 fumbles, had a DVOA of -35.9%, and a DYAR of -780. With a foot injury that took him out of the preseason, a case of the COVID, and the Colts already dealing with offensive line injuries this season anyways, there’s bad juju surrounding this team already. Frank Reich crossing routes can’t save this.
I do love the idea of the Colts being forced to wade through quarterback purgatory like this. After going from Peyton Manning, to Andrew Luck, to completely destroying Luck’s love of football, subsequently booing him after wanting to love his family instead of die for the mayonnaise people, the Colts have managed a Jacoby Brissett season (with some Brian Hoyer sprinkled in!), a Philip Rivers season, and now a Carson Wentz season. I’m hoping next season brings upon another new quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo? Nick Foles? The possibilities are endless.
Chris Ballard backed himself into a corner on this one. After not going all out and investing around Luck, they found themselves stuck with cap space and a quarterback carousel. He isn’t one of the best general managers in the NFL. He just smashed his 2018 draft class and has hung onto the acclaim that came with it since then.
All that being said, the Colts to have players impossible not to love, even though the franchise itself is disgusting. Juli’en Davenport seizing the swing tackle role after the haters and losers told him he couldn’t. Darius Leonard quarterback spies turned into blitzes. Kenny Moore slot corner blitzes. DeForest Buckner opening lanes on stunts. Grover Stewart run stopping and squatting. Julian Blackmon deep middle ranging. And yeah, despite the early injuries, the offensive line is a top five unit.
If you like crossing routes and makeovers, the colors white and blue, then this is the team for you. If you don’t, there’s enough individual talent to make up for it, and what the hell Carson is always in play. Indy will always be held back thanks to my own disdain.
Favorite Player: Juli’en Davenport
T-22.) DALLAS COWBOYS (25 Points)
Aside from Washington, I hate hate every team in this division. Turd smearing schizophrenic. It’s always nonsensical. No matter what the preseason looks like, the depth charts, the projections, it always is grotesque. Week 17 is always a play in game. Sickening.
Last season Dallas was the preseaosn favorite, and a dark horse Super Bowl contender. A close loss to Los Angeles, a fluky win over Atlanta, a meaningless comeback attempt against Cleveland, Dak Prescott’s entire leg flopped over. Their season was over.
This year, they have the same offensive expectations as last season. It’s a killer wide receiver trio, with Amari Cooper, the advanced Ceedee Lamb, and deep threat popcorn eating Michael Gallup. The offensive line is old, but is healthy once again, and everyone is expecting for Ezekiel Elliot to bounce back, even though he was worse than Tony Pollard last season. There is the potential here to score 35 a game.
Coaching is what is limiting what the depth chart says. Mike McCarthy lied to get the job. Pro Football Focus rehabbed his image and got him invited to the Jerry Jones slumber party, and Jones, who is the entire franchise, always signs coaches who he has the gravitas over. Kellen Moore is one of the rare coordinators to survive a regime change, and he’s still here, despite never really showing anything as a playcaller.
They’ll have to get past this because the defense is going to be a wreck. It’s Dan Quinn’s cover three defense, but without the front four rush, or safety play to actually run it. Malik Hooker is at deep middle, even though his brain prevents him from getting to the ball. And a four man rush of Demarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore, Carlos Watkins, and Randy Gregory, is a lot of bounce back and production discovering hoping.
They have plenty of linebackers though. After taking Micah Parsons in the first round, they’ll have two first round picks and a second round pick along the unit. They’ll need them to carry the defense, because the rest isn’t going to cut it. Their ability to carry the seam, and defend the flat, is a perquisite for this defense to work at all.
Favorite Player: CeeDee Lamb
T-22.) PITTSBURGH STEELERS (25 Points)
The Steelers are going to drop off this season. They won 1.3 more games than expected, they went 7-2 in one score games, they had a turnover differential of +9, they lost starters Mike Hilton, Matt Feilier, Bud Dupree, Mike Pouncey, Steven Nelson, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, and James Conner, and they play the second toughest projected schedule this season. They added Najee Harris with their first round selection, thinking it was their backs, not their offensive line that led to their horrific run offense, when the line really is the issue here. Ben Roethlisberger playing point guard and throwing 40 passes with an average depth of target of 5.2 yards won’t save them.
The front seven is barbaric though. We all know this. T.J. Watt, Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Melvin Ingram (who is an interior rusher), Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Cameron Heyward, and Alex Highsmith is a disgusting bunch. Aside from Highsmith, we know who these guys are. There isn’t much intrigue here. We know how bloody their knives are, and what devilment they can accomplish. Defensive highlight clips are the best way to watch this team.
Favorite Player: Chase Claypool
T-22.) LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (25 Points)
The Raiders have been held back by their defense the last two seasons now. In an effort to fix it, they took a loan out on their offensive line equity, and devoted it to their defense. Rodney Hudson, Trent Brown, and Gabe Jackson are gone. In their place are Yannick Ngakoue, Quinton Jefferson, and Casey Heyward.
The problem with this thinking is they have a quarterback who relies upon great pass protection. Some quarterbacks can get by without it—see Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen. Carr can’t. They’re expecting Nick Martin to be fixed by some of that famous Tom Cable coaching, Richie Icognito at age 38 to come off injury and play at a high level, Denzelle Good to actually be good, and for Alex Leatherwood to start right away at right tackle. It’s not impossible for this unit to be above average, but there’s a great chance Carr won’t have the time he requires.
Like Dallas, they are turning to a former Seattle defensive coordinator turned head coach turned back to defensive coordinator to fix this unit. Come on down Gus Bradley. He had one great defense in Los Angeles, before being decapitated by their own coaching change. He’s inheriting one of the worst coverage groups in the NFL. They finished 29th at covering #1 wide receivers, 25th at covering #2 wide receivers, 29th at covering other wide receivers, 31st at covering players lined up wide, and 29th at covering players in the slot. There’s nothing good to say here. Hayward Jr., and the addition of second round rookie free safety Trevon Moehring are the talent injections.
Like Dallas, they have holes to carry out this defense. Their front four pass rush of Clelin Ferrell, who is a run stopper and more of a volley ball player than a pass rusher, Quinton Jefferson, Maxx Crosby, and Yannick Ngakoue, should see a bump from bad to average. They don’t have the linebacker play though. Cory Littleton was a disappointment in Vegas, Nick Kwiatkoski is fine, and they don’t know who will play the other still, after recently signing K.J. Wright. It beats playing man coverage with Damon Arnette I guess.
The offensive drop off should match the slight defensive improvement. The Raiders finishing other 8-9, or 9-8, and barely missing the postseason in a tough division, is what’s on the docket.
Favorite Player: Maxx Crosby
T-22.) NEW YORK GIANTS (25 Points)
You can see what the Giants are trying to accomplish. They want to be a power run team, led by Saquon Barkley, and Devontae Booker if Barkley is still broken, that soaks in defenders and throws play action over the top of it. Daniel Jones is one of the better deep throwers. He completed 46.2% of his 26 attempts over 25 yards last year, and 57.7% of his 71 attempts over 15 yards last year. Joining him is another go up and get it monster in Kenny Golladay, and unlike Darius Slayton, he can snag them.
Unlike most, I do like their offensive line. Andrew Thomas was given a bad wrap. He was expected to start at right tackle, but Nate Solder opted out due to their freaking pandemic, forcing him to abruptly switch positions. You can’t eat with your non-dominant hand. Why should you expect a NFL offensive lineman to completely contort his body in a different direction seamlessly. Nick Gates is great, and get on the bandwagon before Pro Football Focus ruins it. The guard play is young talent that hasn’t performed in Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez. And Solder is going to be an improvement at right tackle. This should be like the 15 best offensive line in the NFL.
All of this looks good. It makes sense. The problem is Jason Garrett, I mean COACH Garrett, doesn’t make sense. Last year he tried to use a quick passing offense that failed, and it took him twelve weeks to finally get Evan Engram going up the seam. If there was a different coordinator, I’d buy in on Daniel Jones becoming Joe Flacco.
The defense was surprising. Who needs edge rushers when you have Leonard Williams finally breaking out. Him and Dexter Lawrence combined for 14.5 sacks, 24 hits, and 45 hurries. They have more youth and potential in Oshane Ximinez and Azeez Olujari from really breaking this thing open. And the secondary is versatile, can play a wide variety of coverages, they are getting Xavier McKinney back from injury, and added Adoree Jackson to pair with last year’s successful reclamation project James Bradberry, who took the same path Jackson is trying to take.
Something is just missing here. Whether it’s Joe Judge being a cop, or COACH Garrett, or the fact that Jones took a step backwards instead of a step forward, it’s hard to really get behind them being something more than frustrating this season.
T-18.) ARIZONA CARDINALS (26 Points)
The Cardinals spent last summer topless at the pool, or with their wail tail hanging out of their low rise jeans at the night club. Look at that tummy. Look at DeAndre Hopkins, Kyler Murray, Kenyan Drake, Christian Kirk. Look at the Air Raid. Look at the NFL’s newest offensive take over.
Instead reality was airheaded and vapid. Their offense was Hopkins curl and out routes and Murray scrambles. If Hopkins was covered, Murray would take off and pick up easy yards on obnoxious scrambles. Then they played New England, who showed the rest of the league how to wrangle him in. Don’t chase him. Corner him. Bottle him up until others can arrive. From then out the Cardinals offense struggled. Arizona finished the year 19th in offensive DVOA.
Kliff Kingsbury is getting close though. They utilized 10 personnel on 20% of their plays, averaged 6.4 yards a play, and had a DVOA of 18.7%. Empty formations were used 22% of the time, and on these plays they averaged 7.5 yards a play, and had a DVOA of 49.5%. The Cardinals haven’t gone full spread yet. They run the ball too often, to make defenses forced to defend it or something, stalling drives, and putting them in the hole as a result. Unlike another word, the Cardinals should go full spread.
No matter who their defensive coordinator is, the Cardinals love to use a high blitz defense. Even with Vance Joseph they ranked fourth in five men blitz packages, and second in rushing more than six. Like the offense, the defense is filled with star power. It’s Budda Baker, Chandler Jones back from injury, J.J. Watt flocking to the dry climate like a western, tantalizing athletes at linebacker in Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons, with Markus Golden and Devon Kennard as blitz options.
The problem is their cornerback play. It was an issue even before Malcolm Butler abruptly retired. We are about to learn a lot about Robert Alford, Tay Gown, and Marco Wilson. Like most second cornerbacks, Byron Murphy was all over the place last season. The third year is usually when it comes together.
The offense and defense both have the potential to break out. Whether it’s the offensive scheme, or the cornerback group, each one is being held back. For now, they are stuck in the middle.
T-18.) MIAMI DOLPHINS (26 Points)
The Dolphins are similar to Arizona. Young and interesting. Barely missed the postseason. High blitz defense. Highly touted mobile young quarterback. Both are built around opposite ends of the spectrum. The Cardinals are built around their offense, and the Dolphins are built around their defense.
Their defense works because of their outside cornerback play. They’re able to blitz and blitz and blitz because Xavien Howard and Byron Jones can man up on the outside. They also have depth at the position with Noah Igbinoghene and Nik Needham. With them locking down the edges, and now rookie safety Jevon Holland traversing the middle, they can bring five, six, and seven without worrying about consequences. Players breathing on the ball drop back. Two point stances rush the quarterback. Defenders seep from every orifice. Playing the Dolphins is a complete and total pain in the ass.
The defense is going to be better this year too. Adam Butler is a good zone stopping defensive lineman who can add interior juice. Jaelen Phillips is my choice for rookie of the year. He’s better than Shaq Lawson. He’s a plus run defender, and should run his way into enough sacks in this scheme. Holland’s college video immediately translates to the deep middle.
There are two concerns. Regression should come. They forced 29 turnovers last year, and scored points because of their defense and special teams. All Marco Van Grinkel does is make plays and scoop and score. The run defense was soft last season. Benardrick McKinney didn’t work out, and they don’t have the linebacker play to expect much better. Luckily, run defense is the least important core aspect of the game.
The question is the offense. What do they have in Tu’a Tagovailoa? Right now, all we know is that Tu’a is mobile, can throw the flat, the slant, the drag, and the seam. Despite their skill players, they struggled getting much after the catch. Tu’a has work to do on his ball placement to open up lanes for his receivers. Jalen Waddle in theory should help this. The biggest question is the sideline. Tua was only 3/10 for 60 yards on go routes. Will Fuller is a go route freak show, and Devante Parker excels at making possession catches.
They’re going to need it. This offensive line is a wreck, especially when it comes to run blocking. They need Tu’a to make the leap to get the offense going. There isn’t a run game to rely on here. Miami will have to do this without reliable tackle play as well. Ryan Fitzpatrick excelled under pressure last season, Tu’a will have to do the same.
Miami is enjoyable thanks to their defense alone. For them to be must see, it’s up to Tu’a to take the next step.
Favorite Player: Mike Gesicki