It’s the dawn of a new era, as Sixthstringqb returns from hibernation with new hosts Ben and Marc. The boys are here to give you 100% accurate analysis from the latest NFL games.
Schedule: @ATL, NE, DAL, @MIA, MIN, BYE, @ARI, SF, @BUF, @LAR, ARI, @PHI, NYG, NYJ, @WAS, LAR, @SF
Additions: S Jamal Adams (Trade), CB Quinton Dunbar (Trade), OL Brandon Shell (FA), TE Greg Olsen (FA), EDGE Bruce Irvin (FA), EDGE Benson Mayowa (FA), RB Carlos Hyde (FA), LB Jordyn Brooks (Draft),
EDGE Darrell Taylor (Draft), OL Damien Lewis (Draft)
Losses: EDGE Jadeveon Clowney (FA), DL Quinton Jefferson (FA), OL George Fant (FA), DL Al Woods (FA), OL D.J. Fluker (FA), OL Germain Ifedi (FA), S Tedric Thompson (FA), EDGE Darrell Taylor (Injury), RB Rashaad Penny (Injury)
If anything’s certain in the NFL, it’s the Seahawks are going to win at least nine games. That’s happened every year of the Russell Wilson-Pete Carroll era, and shouldn’t end any time soon. Honestly, the real minimum might be the 11 Seattle posted last year. Considering that total was amid a myriad of injuries, they should have no problem surpassing it.
Patrick Mahomes may be the face of the NFL, but Wilson is the next best thing. Number 3 keeps this team competitive in every game, and more often that not, he’s able to lead them to victory behind some late-game heroics. For most quarterbacks, you’d worry about how they’d fare behind such a spotty offensive line. Not for Wilson, though. He’s had terrible lines for years, yet that’s never stopped him. Even with Seattle once again rolling out an awful group, it shouldn’t hurt them too much during the regular season. Once January hits, it could be their kryptonite, though.
Like Wilson, Chris Carson hasn’t let the poor o-line play hold him back. If not for minor fumbling and injury issues, he’d be recognized as one of the top backs in the league. With Carlos Hyde backing him up, the Seahawks are safe in the event their starter misses a couple games again. Once 2018 first-rounder Rashaad Penny returns, this will be one of the best rotations in the league.
Led by Tyler Lockett, the receiving corps is up there as well. By year’s end, D.K. Metcalf might overtake Lockett as Wilson’s top target. That says more about how great Metcalf could be than anything negative about the veteran. Regardless of the pecking order, that’s a great wideout duo to have. Plus, Josh Gordon is poised to join them at some point this season. He’s still solid, albeit unrecognizable from his Cleveland peak. With the addition of Greg Olsen, Seattle has no shortage of dependable options at tight end, too.
Even more than the offensive line, the defense has been the Seahawks’ downfall in recent years. But after a productive offseason, this could be the best group since the Legion of Boom days. Or, at least the best secondary, with Jamal Adams and Quinton Dunbar coming aboard. Dunbar’s legal situation leaves his availability a little questionable, though. Without him, Seattle will run back the same duo of Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers that gets carved up every year. At least Adams and Quandre Diggs will help cover for them on the back end. Even if the former Jet gets a little bored on his new team, he’s poised to experience the postseason for the first time in his career.
Jadeveon Clowney may be gone, but this year’s pass rush should improve significantly. After posting only 28 sacks last year, they almost have to. Bruce Irvin’s return will help. As will the addition of Benson Mayowa (7 sacks last year with the Raiders). Jarran Reed and Poona Ford are a solid interior duo as well. Paired with the elite linebackers, this is a stout front seven.
So long as they have Wilson and Carroll, Seattle is always going to be dangerous. Those two are good enough to get the team to the playoffs, but the rest of the roster usually lets them down once they get there. This year, it could be different. After making some major defensive upgrades, the Seahawks are as scary as anyone in the wide open NFC. Realistically, they’ll have to win their division to go all the way. Having to win every game on the road would be almost impossible. Luckily, San Francisco has the tougher schedule, so the NFC West champions could once again reside in the Pacific Northwest.
Another thing in their favor, San Francisco’s schedule is tougher, so that could hand them the NFC West
Easier schedule than SF could give them the division
AFC NFC East + Falcons and Vikings
What’s your record prediction for the Seahawks? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Schedule: ARI, @NYJ, @NYG, PHI, MIA, LAR, @NE, @SEA, GB, @NO, BYE, @LAR, BUF, WAS, @DAL, @ARI, SEA
Additions: OL Trent Williams (Trade), OL Tom Compton (FA), EDGE Kerry Hyder (FA), TE Jordan Reed (FA), DL Javon Kinlaw (Draft), WR Brandon Aiyuk (Draft)
Losses: DL DeForest Buckner (Trade), WR Marquise Goodwin (Trade), RB Matt Breida (Trade), OL Joe Staley (Retired), OL Mike Person (Retired), WR Emmanuel Sanders (FA), TE Levine Toilolo (FA), DL Sheldon Day (FA)
Super Bowl Hangover is real. Returning to the big game the year after losing is incredibly difficult. Just ask San Francisco’s divisionmates. Following their Super Bowl appearance, the Rams seemed to have one of the brightest futures in the league before missing the playoffs in 2019. Now, L.A. is closer to an average team than a contender.
I don’t think the Niners will experience quite the same drop, but there are causes for concern. For starters, Kyle Shanahan is in pretty much the same spot Sean McVay was a year ago, as the young offensive guru who just outsmarted defensive coordinators all year long. Only, McVay got figured out a little last year. Will Shanahan adjust, or suffer the same fate?
Then there’s the matter of the offseason losses. Like the Rams or any other great team, San Francisco had to sit back and watch as many of its key players departed. To their credit, they did a great job of recognizing this and getting assets back for some guys. But still, replacing two o-line starters, arguably their best receiver, and arguably their best defender won’t be easy.
Even without DeForest Buckner, the front seven is terrifying. Edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford could both improve in their second seasons in the league and with the team, respectively. Bosa could be a DPOY candidate while Ford is due for a larger role after being utilized shockingly little last year. With Javon Kinlaw incoming, the interior will be stout as well, though it’s unrealistic to expect the rookie to match the All-Pro level of his predecessor.
Behind the ferocious line, the Niners have possibly the most underrated linebackers in the league. Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander, and Dre Greenlaw deserve more credit for the defense’s success. Same goes for safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt. You don’t become the best defense in football solely because of an insane front four. Both the safeties and linebackers were integral pieces of the dominant unit.
Any drop off from the pass rush will put more pressure on the corners—the one slight weakness of this defense. While Richard Sherman is still great, he can’t be trusted to lock up top receivers anymore. Across from him, the exploitable duo of Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley will battle for snaps. Moseley seemed to win the job during the playoff run, but the pair were co-starters on the first depth chart. No matter who wins the job—including Jason Verrett, who people still love for some reason—the cornerbacks are the clear weak link of this defense.
Offensively, the choice isn’t so easy. If you can shut down the run game, the rest of the unit doesn’t look so great. Jimmy Garoppolo has an unbelievable record as a starter, but he’s not a “put the team on my back,” kind of quarterback. The offensive line is down two starters from last year’s up-and-down showing. Trent Williams was a high-potential, yet risky acquisition after the Washington exile held out for all of 2019. The receivers are nothing special, especially with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk already banged-up. While George Kittle helps make up for that, he can’t do everything. I don’t have much faith in Jordan Reed at this point, either.
Even the rushing attack isn’t perfect. Much of its success stems from Shanahan’s genius, not the personnel. So, if defenses catch on to San Francisco’s tricks as they did L.A.’s, the backs will be exposed for the mediocre players they are. Starter Raheem Mostert was cut by six teams for a reason. There’s also a reason his own team was hesitant to give him a raise. Outside of blazing speed, the Purdue product doesn’t offer much. Behind him, Tevin Coleman and the oft-injured Jerick McKinnon are unspectacular support pieces.
Between the departures, full offseason for coaches to study Shanahan’s tendencies, and stockpile of injury-prone players, there’s a lot of bust potential with the reigning NFC Champions. Don’t be surprised if they tumble down the standings, just as so many past Super Bowl losers have. With that being said, I expect their talent and coaching to prevail. Given the manageable schedule, a chance at redemption in February is possible.
What’s your record prediction for the 49ers? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Schedule: DAL, @PHI, @BUF, NYG, @WAS, @SF, CHI, @MIA, BYE, SEA, @TB, SF, @ARI, NE, NYJ, @SEA, ARI
DL A’Shawn Robinson (FA), EDGE Leonard Floyd (FA), RB Cam Akers (Draft), WR Van Jefferson (Draft), EDGE Terrell Lewis (Draft)
Losses: WR Brandin Cooks (Trade), S Eric Weddle (Retired), RB Todd Gurley (Cut), EDGE Dante Fowler Jr. (FA), LB Cory Littleton (FA), K Greg Zuerlein (FA), CB Nickell Robey-Coleman (FA), PR/KR Jojo Natson (FA), S Marqui Christian (FA), EDGE Terrell Lewis (Injury), DL A’Shawn Robinson (Injury), LB Travin Howard (Injury)
Was last year’s four-win drop just Super Bowl Hangover or indicative of who this team really is? I’d say more the latter than the former. Los Angeles made a series of all-in trades that left them with alarming cap and draft pick situations. Had they won in 2018, it might’ve all been worth it. Of course, they didn’t, so hindsight has the moves looking much more questionable.
I just can’t see the Rams running it back with a seemingly worse roster and returning to contender status. Their biggest weakness in 2019, the offensive line, returns the same underwhelming rotation. Don’t let the sack numbers fool you: they were bad last year. Sean McVay’s play-action and quick passing calls were responsible for the low sacks, not a strong line. One thing in this group’s favor is youth. With a ton of young guys on the line, betting on internal development wasn’t the worst idea.
On the other hand, expecting improvement from Jared Goff might be unrealistic. We pretty much know who he is at this point—you can rely on him to keep the gears turning in a great offense, but not to carry a bad one. He’s still a franchise quarterback; he’s just not in the league’s upper-echelon.
Unfortunately for Goff, this year’s offense looks closer to the 2019 disappointment than 2018 juggernaut. At receiver, losing Brandin Cooks will hurt a little. Only a little, though. Rookie Van Jefferson seems poised to make an early impact and Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are more than capable of picking up the slack. The tight ends should remain stout as well. Both Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett flashed last season, so this could end up being one of the best groups in the league.
In the backfield, the running back-by-committee won’t come close to matching Todd Gurley’s brilliant 2018 season. Meeting last year’s standard is far more realistic. Actually, a broken-down Gurley might still be better than the Malcolm Brown-Darrell Henderson-Cam Akers trio. The 2020 rookie seems like the only one capable of matching the new Falcon’s ceiling, though he has to get a chance first.
Even McVay deserves a little blame for last year’s fall from grace. Defenses seem to have figured out the constant jet sweep trickery, so Kid Genius needs to come up with something new. To be fair, if anyone is capable of completely reinventing his offense in one offseason, it’s the Rams coach.
After L.A.’s offense cratered last year, it could be the defenses turn in 2020. They did a remarkable job of withstanding last season’s departures, but this year’s wave is much larger and scarier. Outside of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, two of the best players at their respective positions, standouts are in short supply in this unit. For a team whose strategy has been to acquire as many stars as possible, that’s worrisome.
Ramsey’s secondary-mates are promising, but calling them elite is a reach. Maybe after the year it won’t be, though. Troy Hill, Taylor Rapp, and John Johnson have each looked great in stretches, so if they can maintain that over a whole season, the Rams may not be dead yet.
The defensive line is a similar story. We know Donald is a one-man wrecking crew, so anything the other guys can add is gravy. Michael Brockers had one foot out the door, but he’s back in the supporting role he’s held for years. Sebastian Joseph-Day is a nice complementary piece as well. If A’Shawn Robinson ever gets on the field, this group could be really good.
Sandwiched between two promising groups are the awful linebackers. Throw in the edge rushers, too. Neither position inspires much hope. L.A.’s plan to replace studs Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler is prayer, apparently. For a team so cap-strapped, how did they possibly think spending $10 million on Leonard Floyd was a good idea? If playing across from Khalil Mack doesn’t make you break out, odds are you’re never going to. Between Samson Ebukam, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and record-fast bust Jachai Polite, the other options aren’t any better. Rookie Terrell Lewis isn’t going to transform this group upon his return, either.
Somehow, the inside linebackers might actually be worse. Before Travin Howard’s season-ending injury, this group looked bad. Now, they’re possibly the worst in the league. Troy Reeder played limited snaps next year while Micah Kiser has zero career starts and is coming off a season-ending injury. Opposing backs and tight ends might eat these guys alive.
While I only have the Rams going 7-9, a playoff berth is definitely possible. The schedule is very manageable, so if L.A. can play to their strengths while hiding their weaknesses, they could pile up wins in what should be an insane division. That’s another reason I don’t have them in the playoffs. Between San Francisco and Seattle, winning the West is pretty much off the table. Pulling out a wildcard spot in the deep NFC will tough, too.
What’s your record prediction for the Rams? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Schedule: @SF, WAS, DET, @CAR, @NYJ, @DAL, SEA, BYE, MIA, BUF, @SEA, @NE, LAR, @NYG, PHI, SF, @LAR
Additions: WR DeAndre Hopkins (Trade), DL Jordan Phillips (FA), EDGE Devon Kennard (FA), LB De’Vondre Campbell (FA), OL Kelvin Beachum (FA), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (FA), LB Isaiah Simmons (Draft), DL Leki Fotu (Draft)
Losses: RB David Johnson (Trade), DL Rodney Gunter (FA), DL Zach Kerr (FA), WR Damiere Byrd (FA), PR/KR Pharoh Cooper (FA), OL A.Q. Shipley (FA), EDGE Cassius Marsh (FA), LB Joe Walker (FA), OL Marcus Gilbert (Opt-out)
I’m surprised the Cardinals haven’t been getting more hype this offseason. After the Hopkins trade, it felt like they would be the annual media darlings, but the Bucs and Broncos have passed them since. Honestly, I’m disappointed. Now, I only get to piss of the 12 Cardinals fans with this prediction.
Out of the three teams I mentioned, Arizona feels the farthest away from contention. Most of that is because of the defense, which was awful in virtually every metric last season. Chandler Jones can’t do it all himself, though the sack master gives an honest attempt.
Arizona beefed up the defense a little this offseason, but nothing earth-shattering. Jordan Phillips has precisely one year of meaningful production. Devon Kennard and De’Vondre Campbell are good, not great additions. Dre Kirkpatrick isn’t someone you want starting at corner in 2020. Isaiah Simmons has unbelievable potential, but DC Vance Joseph could struggle to properly deploy the rookie. There’s always the chance he ends up as an awkward tweener. The Cardinals have other big-name players like Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker, and Jordan Hicks, but I have still have my doubts about this unit.
Offensively, Arizona could be ready for takeoff. Kyler Murray is so talented that he was drafted first overall at 5′ 10″. While that might not sound significant, remember this is the NFL we’re talking about. Guys like Paxton Lynch are first-rounders for no other reason than they’re tall. Murray proved just how great he is as a rookie, and year two could bring a big statistical jump.
The biggest reason, of course, is DeAndre Hopkins. I still haven’t fully gotten over how stupid that trade was, but Nuk is a Cardinal now, no matter how wrong it feels. If Murray throws the ball anywhere near him, his new star receiver is coming down with it.
Another big addition for the offense is Kenyan Drake. Traded midway through 2019, this will be his first full season in Arizona. Considering his incredible play down the stretch last year, he could be in for a huge year. Or, that could’ve been an outlier. Back in Miami, Drake was never able to earn the coaches’ trust, so his flashes there were brief and infrequent. This is his first chance to prove he can be a legit workhorse stud.
The other flashy, yet unproven guy to watch is coach Kliff Kingsbury. Like many, I hated the hire at the time. But, the failed Texas Tech head coach impressed in year one. Maybe he’s just a better fit for the NFL than college. However, the expectations were nonexistent last year, so let’s see how he does with the public eye on him.
Besides Kingsbury’s inexperience, the offensive success will come down to the play of the line. Expect a similar group to the below-average one last year. Given the uninspiring defense, any disappointment from the line will virtually guarantee they miss the playoffs again.
Outside of the brutal NFC West, the schedule is cake. Arizona draws the NFC East and AFC East as well as the Panthers and Lions. If they get some unexpected contributions, that’s a good path to the postseason. I think they’re too young, though. 2021 is when we’ll have to start looking out for the Cardinals.
What’s your record prediction for the Cardinals? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Schedule: @NO, CAR, @DEN, LAC, @CHI, GB, @LVR, @NYG, NO, @CAR, LAR, KC, BYE, MIN, @ATL, @DET, ATL
Additions: QB Tom Brady (FA), RB Leonard Fournette (FA), K Ryan Succop (FA), RB LeSean McCoy (FA), OL Joe Haeg (FA), TE Rob Gronkowski (Trade), OL Tristan Wirfs (Draft), S Antoine Winfield Jr. (Draft)
Losses: QB Jameis Winston (FA), EDGE Carl Nassib (FA), DL Beau Allen (FA), OL Demar Dotson (FA), WR Breshad Perriman (FA), RB Peyton Barber (FA)
There’s no way I can get burned twice, right? Since everybody seems to think the Bucs are a repeat of last year’s Browns, I’ll admit I fell for the hype—only to have my dreams crushed alongside every longsuffering fan of the team. But, there’s no chance that happens again. At least, I hope.
The Browns’ biggest issue was coaching, and that shouldn’t be a problem with Bruce Arians in charge. Plus, Tom Brady is a de facto offensive coordinator at this point in his career. It is worth watching how their styles clash, though. Arians wants his quarterbacks to hang in the pocket and chuck it deep while Brady is used to a quicker passing scheme. This could go one of two ways: either the duo combines their knowledge to create a superoffense, or they’ll argue their way to a disappointing finish.
Disregarding any possible player-coach squabbles, Brady has to be the happiest man on the planet. The difference between his weapons this year compared to last is insane. Tampa’s receivers and tight ends are each in contention for the best in the league while New England had nothing. Chris Godwin looks like a perfect fit for the Julian Edelman role while TB12 hasn’t enjoyed a receiver like Mike Evans since the Randy Moss days.
His old friend Rob Gronkowski is back, too. O.J Howard and Cameron Brate are there to pick up the slack if Gronk needs a couple weeks to reacclimate to football. However much you think Brady has regressed—personally, I still think he’s good—any quarterback could produce with this supporting cast.
Running back was originally the weakness of this team before Leonard Fournette patched that up. Apparently, the Jaguars’ castoff still has to work his way up the ranks, but that shouldn’t take long. When that day comes, this group’s transition from arguably the league’s worst to above average will be complete. Behind Fournette, Ronald Jones and Shady McCoy are nice change-of-pace options.
Even more than the Brady/Arians relationship, the Bucs’ success will come down to the play of the offensive line. Outside of right tackle Demar Dotson, every starter returns from last year’s decent group. Dotson may be a PFF favorite, but the fact that he was only able to land a cheap one-year deal in mid-August—and is set to be a backup for the Broncos—speaks more to his value. His replacement, rookie Tristan Wirfs, was a pro-ready prospect, so the position is in good hands. While there’s certainly risk, the line looks more like a minor issue than a pressing one.
On the other side of the ball, the line is stacked. Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, and William Gholston are stout up front while Jason Pierre-Paul and 2019 sack king Shaq Barrett are lethal off the edge. With Barrett virtually guaranteed to regress a little, I have Devin White taking the DPOY honors behind a second-year breakout. At the other inside linebacker spot, Lavonte David continues to be an under-the-radar stud. Even after losing Beau Allen and financial expert Carl Nassib, this is a fantastic front seven.
The worry defensively is the secondary. Young defensive backs often struggle, as the Bucs experienced firsthand in 2019. After baptisms by fire last year, Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, and Jordan Whitehead could all come back stronger. Tampa better hope they do because, with rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. also set to play a big role, youth prevails in this group. Maybe all those guys become stars, but this wouldn’t be the first time an overreliance on youngsters sunk a team’s playoff hopes.
While Tampa definitely gives off 2019 Browns vibes with their offseason hype train, I think they’re poised for better results. Cleveland largely unraveled because of its inexperience at key positions like head coach and quarterback—a problem the Bucs won’t have. Also, we can’t ignore that this team went 7-9 last year with Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions. Even if Brady makes a few less splashy plays than his predecessor, the cut down in turnovers will be huge. A playoff berth is definitely possible, especially given the new 14-team field. Overtaking the Saints will be tough, though, so a wildcard spot feels right.
What’s your record prediction for the Bucs? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Schedule: TB, @LVR, GB, @DET, LAC, BYE, CAR, @CHI, @TB, SF, ATL, @DEN, @ATL, @PHI, KC, MIN, @CAR
Additions: S Malcolm Jenkins (FA), WR Emmanuel Sanders (FA), QB Jameis Winston (FA), OL Cesar Ruiz (Draft)
Losses: OL Larry Warford (Cut), QB Teddy Bridgewater (FA), S Vonn Bell (FA), LB A.J. Klein (FA), CB Eli Apple (FA), FB Zach Line (Retired)
I know putting “cursed” as the weakness is a cop out, but you try finding a hole in this roster. For a team coming off back-to-back 13-3 seasons, the Saints have done a remarkable job of keeping their in-house talent. Next year’s going to be the end of that given the cap situation, so it could be now or never to win a Super Bowl.
This also could be Drew Brees’ last chance at a second championship, too, as the future Hall of Famer is pretty much a lock to retire in 2021. When that point comes, New Orleans seems committed to rolling out Taysom Hill as the starter, which is guaranteed to be fun even if unsuccessful. For the time being, Hill will continue his jack-of-all trades role while Jameis Winston serves as the primary backup. Depth-wise, this is the best quarterback situation in football.
Talent-wise, the Saints might have the best offensive line, too. Every starter other than Larry Warford returns from last year’s elite line. Rookie Cesar Ruiz should slide in seamlessly at right guard, so there’s no reason to expect any drop off.
For a few days there, it looked like there might be a huge shake up in the backfield. First, it looked like Alvin Kamara was holding out for a new contract. Then, we thought New Orleans was looking to trade its star back. Neither of those came to fruition, though, as everything looks to be fixed now. After reportedly playing with a torn MCL last season, Kamara should return to his dangerous self. Latavius Murray is an excellent insurance policy as well.
At receiver, Michael Thomas is on a record-setting pace for his position. However one-dimensional you may think he is, he’s borderline unstoppable in that one dimension. Social media aside, this is one of the best receivers in the league. New Orleans will also enjoy the benefit of a legitimate WR2 for the first time in years with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders. All in all, this is a great offense, especially with Sean Payton at the helm. The only issue has been in the playoffs, where Brees’ inability to make off-script plays has come back to bite them.
Defensively, the Saints aren’t nearly as flashy, but they get results. Led by Cameron Jordan, the defensive line is outstanding and deep. Demario Davis fills a similar role at linebacker. The front seven isn’t full of household names. It’s just full of good football players
The secondary is sort of the opposite. Marshon Lattimore and Co. get attention for their often elite play, but consistency can be an issue. It’ll be interesting to watch how the new guys fare, too. While Janoris Jenkins was there in 2019, this will be his first full season with the team. New Orleans needs him to step up across from Lattimore. Also worth monitoring is the Vonn Bell-Malcolm Jenkins swap at safety and how big a role Ceedy Duce has in year two.
For as talented as this team is, they were arguably better in each of the last two years—only to lose before the Super Bowl each time. Every year that passes means further deterioration of Brees’ arm strength, so it’s starting to seem like they may just never make it. I expect this season to go very similar to the last three, with New Orleans being a great regular season team that can’t get it done in the playoffs.
What’s your record prediction for the Saints? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Schedule: LVR, @TB, @LAC, ARI, @ATL, CHI, @NO, ATL, @KC, TB, DET, @MIN, BYE, DEN, @GB, @WAS, NO
Additions: OL Russell Okung (Trade), QB Teddy Bridgewater (FA), WR Robby Anderson (FA), EDGE Stephen Weatherly (FA), S Juston Burris (FA), OL John Miller (FA), WR Seth Roberts (FA), DL Zach Kerr (FA), LB Tahir Whitehead (FA), KR/PR Pharoh Cooper (FA),
CB Eli Apple (FA), WR Keith Kirkwood (FA), DL Derrick Brown (Draft), EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos (Draft), S Jeremy Chinn (Draft), CB Troy Pride (Draft), DL Bravvion Roy (Draft)
Losses: LB Luke Kuechly (Retired), DL Wes Horton (Retired), QB Cam Newton (FA), CB James Bradberry (FA), EDGE Mario Addison (FA), DL Gerald McCoy (FA), DL Vernon Butler (FA), OL Greg Van Roten (FA), TE Greg Olsen (FA), EDGE Bruce Irvin (FA), OL Daryl Williams (FA), DL Kyle Love (FA), K Graham Gano (FA), OL Trai Turner (Trade), QB Kyle Allen (Trade), LB Andre Smith (Trade), EDGE Christian Miller (Opt-out), CB Eli Apple (Injury), WR Keith Kirkwood (Injury)
Sometimes, youth isn’t a good thing. Carolina may have promising young players on defense, but they’re going to get killed this year. Seriously, this could end up being the worst defense in football. That’s what happens when an already porous defense loses virtually all its veteran talent in one offseason.
Among a long list of names, none stands out more than Luke Kuechly. I don’t think we’ll truly appreciate the future Hall of Famer’s value until we see the Panthers defense without him. Famous for his defensive IQ and rigorous film study, Kuechly routinely called out plays and literally pushed his teammates to get set in the right spots. The drop off from him to Tahir Whitehead is almost unfathomable. It’s also worth monitoring whether Shaq Thompson is ready to be the top linebacker after years as a sidekick.
James Bradberry’s play wasn’t up to Kuechly’s level, but his departure could be similarly devastating. Without him, this secondary looks awful. Donte Jackson is way too inconsistent to be a CB1. Not to mention, he’s simply too small for certain matchups. That will leave the other projected starter, Troy Pride Jr., with more responsibility than the typical number two corner. Needless to say, having a fourth-round rookie guard Michael Thomas or Julio Jones is not ideal. Even when Eli Apple returns from IR, cornerback will remain a weakness. While the safeties are better, they’re still not great. Tre Boston’s tackling issues offset his coverage value and Juston Burris is unproven as a full-time starter.
From a cast of uninspiring options, the front four shines as the defensive group with the most promise. Not just by default, either; they could actually be pretty good. Derrick Brown is too big and fast to endure rookie struggles. He’ll also benefit from the return of Kawann Short. After missing almost all of last season, the two-time Pro Bowler will provide a big boost to the line.
On the edge, Brian Burns gets a lot of hype after posting 7.5 sacks in limited reps. His pass rushing was never in doubt, though. The question coming out was always whether he could develop into a three-down player. Rookie Yetur Gross-Matos and free agent signing Stephen Weatherly will rotate at the other end spot. Considering the supporting cast, this line will have to dominate for the defense to be anything other than awful. Unfortunately, I think they’re more good than great.
Unlike the defense, the offense is in good shape despite heavy turnover. Cam Newton leaving was only a formality at this point. We haven’t seen the real Super Cam is almost two years because of injuries. I’m not a big Teddy Bridgewater guy, but he’s undoubtedly a step up from last year’s quarterbacks. He also gets the benefit of some spectacular weapons around him.
Christian McCaffrey is the best running back in football. That’s right. No one else can match his dual-threat ability or production. Receivers D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson are up there for the best in football, too. I am worried about Bridgewater maximizing their skills, though. Each of those guys can fly, and the former Vikings and Saints quarterback has a bad history of conservative decision-making. Hopefully, he’ll recognize the team’s strengths and take more chances this year. In year one without Greg Olsen, the tight ends will be unspectacular, yet solid. Chris Manhertz is a supreme blocker at the position and Ian Thomas has flashed as a receiver.
Like most teams, this unit’s success will come down to the play of the offensive line. After an awful 2019, they have nowhere to go but up, right? Probably. That doesn’t mean they’ll be good, though. Guards Greg Van Roten and Trai Turner weren’t the problem last year, but they’re both gone. In return for the latter, Carolina received a solid left tackle in Russell Okung. With Taylor Moton on the right side, tackle play won’t be the issue. That would be the interior, where none of the options are inspiring. Center Matt Paradis was a tremendous disappointment in year one of a big contract. John Miller comes over from a terrible Cincinnati line to start at one guard spot while 2019 sixth-rounder Dennis Daley will take the other after a tumultuous rookie year.
Besides the lack of talent, another worry with this team is the coaching staff. Matt Rhule could end up being a great hire, but the longtime college coach will likely need time to transition to the pro game. The same could be said of the coordinators, who are just as inexperienced. I really wish Rhule would’ve hired an experienced DC instead of bringing along Phil Snow. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady is more promising. After spending years with Sean Payton and overseeing Joe Burrow’s record-breaking season at LSU, the 30-year-old could be the latest genius fast-tracked to a head coaching position. Still, there’s going to be a learning curve for him, too.
Honestly, five wins might have been a little generous. Everytime I see people call Carolina a sleeper team, I cringe. If everything goes right, maybe they can compete for a wildcard spot. I just don’t see how the defense and coaching inexperience allow that to happen, though. Throw in a tough schedule, and we have one of the favorites in the Tank for Trevor race.
What’s your record prediction for the Panthers? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Schedule: SEA, @DAL, CHI, @GB, CAR, @MIN, DET, @CAR, DEN, BYE, @NO, LVR, NO, @LAC, TB, @KC, @TB
Additions: EDGE Dante Fowler (FA), RB Todd Gurley (FA), CB Darqueze Dennard (FA), TE Hayden Hurst (Trade), CB A.J. Terrell (Draft), OL Matt Hennessy (Draft)
Losses: TE Austin Hooper (FA), CB Desmond Trufant (FA), LB De’Vondre Campbell (FA), OL Wes Schweitzer (FA), EDGE Vic Beasley (FA), EDGE Adrian Clayborn (FA), DL Jack Crawford (FA)
After starting 1-7, the Falcons ended 2019 on a 6-2 tear. This team is a great case study for whether momentum carries over from season to season. As you can tell from the 7-9 prediction, I don’t think it does. A main reason is the coaching situation. Dan Quinn’s seat is scalding, so another slow start could be it for him. Implementing an interim coach is far more likely to lead to the team bottoming out than making a playoff push.
Last year was supposed to see the rebirth of Atlanta’s offensive line. That didn’t exactly happen, as Matt Ryan was once again left to run for his life. Jake Matthews and Alex Mack have left tackle and center, respectively, locked up. The problem lies at every other position, where the Falcons will start a rookie and two second-year players. Those young guys will have to learn fast for this line to make a drastic jump.
Heading into year 12, Ryan is still a great quarterback. He doesn’t win games single-handedly, but you could do far worse at the position. Julio Jones does win games by himself, at least as much as a receiver realistically can. He’s my top wideout in the league, and his teammate isn’t that far behind. A third-year pro, Calvin Ridley has been one of the top second options in the league from the day he entered it.
If defenses manage the unenviable task of shutting those two down, there’s no other receiver that will scare them in the slightest. Now, with Austin Hooper gone, that problem becomes even bigger. Hayden Hurst is intriguing, but he’s yet to prove he’s a TE1 in the NFL.
At running back, Todd Gurley has the opposite issue. He was a top running back in the league as recently as two years ago. A lot can change in two years, though. Crippling arthritis in his knee left Gurley virtually unrecognizable in 2019. His explosion has been completely zapped, and he’s little more than a solid back now. Unless the Falcons discover the cure to arthritis, that isn’t likely to change
Even with all those concerns, there’s no question Atlanta is a top-10 offense. The question is whether they’re good enough to make up for the defense. While the unit has stars in Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and new signing Dante Fowler, they’re subpar as a whole.
Defending the pass was particularly challenging for the Falcons—mainly because opposing quarterbacks had all day to throw. Even with Fowler, the second-lowest sack total in 2019 isn’t likely to skyrocket. Not with Vic Beasley and his eight sacks out the door. Posting average numbers would be a win for the pass rush.
In their defense, the secondary is just as big of a problem. After a rough year, Isaiah Oliver returns at one outside corner spot while newcomer A.J. Terrell takes the other. Considering how much rookie corners usually struggle, it’s hard to see strong play from the position.
Behind them, Keanu Neal returns after playing just four games over the last two seasons. Expecting elite play from the oft-injured safety feels unrealistic. He won’t get much help from Ricardo Allen or Damontae Kazee, either, as each is coming off a forgettable season. The only bright spot in the secondary might be slot corner, where Darqueze Dennard will roam after many strong years with the Bengals. Still, between the lackluster pass rush and secondary, opponents could have a field day through the air.
After this largely negative preview, I feel the need to say Atlanta could definitely make the playoffs. Double-digit victories is doable if things go their way. However, sitting in the 6-9 range and competing for a wildcard spot feels far more likely for the Falcons.
What’s your record prediction for the Falcons? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Schedule: GB, @IND, TEN, @HOU, @SEA, ATL, BYE, @GB, DET, @CHI, DAL, CAR, JAX, @TB, CHI, @NO, @DET
Additions: EDGE Yannick Ngakoue (Trade),
DL Michael Pierce (FA), WR Justin Jefferson (Draft), CB Jeff Gladney (Draft), CB Cam Dantzler (Draft)
Losses: WR Stefon Diggs (Trade), DL Linval Joseph (FA), CB Trae Waynes (FA), EDGE Everson Griffen (FA), EDGE Stephen Weatherly (FA), CB Mackensie Alexander (FA), S Andrew Sendejo (FA), S Jayron Kearse (FA), CB Xavier Rhodes (Cut), DL Michael Pierce (Opt-out)
As you can see, Minnesota lost a lot more talent than it gained this offseason. Their big addition, nose tackle Michael Pierce, opting out didn’t help matters. Trading for Yannick Ngakoue did, though.
Finally freed from Jacksonville, Ngakoue will have to fight fellow edge rusher Danielle Hunter for sacks. With the former Jaguar replacing Everson Griffen, Minnesota will sacrifice a little run defense for a higher pass rush ceiling.
That drop off against the run could come back to bite them. Linval Joseph left in free agency and his replacement opted out, so nose tackle is a big worry for the team. Veteran Shamar Stephen is expected to take over that role despite primarily serving as a 3-tech in his career. Not only is their new 1-tech playing out of position, but they just pushed the problem down the line. Now, the issue is finding a replacement defensive tackle. Outside of Stephens, this is a really uninspiring group. And considering they were a middling unit against the run last year, opposing backs could feast against the Vikings in 2020.
Minnesota’s stacked linebackers will do their best to keep that from happening. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are a top-of-the-line duo. So are safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith. The Vikings have so much star power on defense, but the drop off from the studs to the others is huge.
Just like the run defense, cornerback play could be a major issue. After losing their top three corners this offseason, Minnesota is banking entirely on potential. The projected starters, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes, have a combined nine career starts. To make matters worse, the primary backups are rookies. Obviously, Mike Zimmer believes in these young guys or they wouldn’t be here, but there’s a strong crash-and-burn chance with this experiment.
Contrary to the gutted defense, the offense only lost one key contributor. He was pretty damn important, though. Stefon Diggs may have passively-aggressively begged to be traded, but the talented wideout will be sorely missed. Minnesota will need a return to form from Adam Thielen, who was hurt for most of 2019. Even if he does, no one on this team will come close to replicating the Diggs-Thielen duo or even the new-Bill’s connection with Kirk Cousins. The best options are 2019 seventh-rounder Bisi Johnson and rookie Justin Jefferson.
Actually, the best candidate may lie at tight end. Second-year man Irv Smith Jr. is the prototypical new-age tight end who’s almost more of a receiver. Minnesota could continue to use Kyle Rudolph as the standard in-line blocker and red-zone target while moving Smith all over the field.
Hopefully Kirk Cousins proved himself to everyone last year. He’s not elite, but, in the right offense, he can be great. Dalvin Cook, on the other hand, is elite. Few, if any, backs can hit a hole as fast and hard as he does. With a solid run-blocking unit in front of him, he’s poised for another go at the rushing crown. While the offensive line is good in space, they were downright awful at times in pass protection. If any defense bottles up Cook, the Vikings aren’t likely to walk away with a win.
Minnesota is one of the most interesting teams in the league. They have a proven coach and stars scattered all over the depth chart, but winning even nine games could prove difficult. That’s what happens when you have so many large contracts—the rest of the roster suffers. The Vikings will dominate some weeks and get dominated others. It’s a matchup league, and this team is as matchup-prone as any. I think they win just enough of those matchups to return to the playoffs.
What’s your record prediction for the Vikings? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.