New England Patriots
The bad news: During the offseason, the Patriots inexplicably traded their best defensive lineman and former first round pick Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. That puts a lot of pressure on a lot of young players to make plays. New England still has Jamie Collins at MLB, probably one of the best players at his position and Dont’a Hightower, but you’ve got to wonder how good this defense is going to play this year. Now, with veteran LB Rob Ninkovich suspended for the first four games the Pats are about as depleted as they can afford to get going into week one.
The good news: Tom Brady is suspended only four games. He has two of the best tight ends in the league and now they can run two tight end packages creating nightmare matchups on the field. They can stretch the field at the tight end position alone. Imagine how good Julian Edelman is going to be this year. And the Pats get Dion Lewis back, who was a pivotal part of their offense before getting hurt last year. Tom Brady gives you a chance to be in every game, so even if the Pats go 0-4 when he’s out (which is doubtful) they still have a chance to win a weak division and secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.
New York Jets
The bad news: Ryan Fitzpatrick is back. I know what you’re thinking. That can’t possibly be bad news. Yet, it is. Fitzpatrick is a career journeyman who failed to get the Jets into the playoffs despite the fact they controlled their own destiny going into week 17. An average starting quarterback rarely wins championships. The Jets lost Chris Ivory, their leading rusher, to the Jaguars in free agency. In an attempt to replace some of that production the Jets brought in Matt Forte. Enough people have covered the fact that it’s hard for 30 year old running backs to play at an elite level in this league. The Jets lost starting tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson to retirement in the offseason, which means no one knows how well Fitzpatrick’s blindside holds up. These are not the kind of things you want to be worrying about going into week one of the regular season.
The good news: The Jets have an elite defense. Although they lost DT Damon Harrison in free agency, the Jets have one of the best defensive lines in football. The secondary should hold up with Revis island still out there, but the Jets no longer have Antonio Cromartie on the other side. Some Jets fans are happy about this. If I had Dee Milliner on my team I wouldn’t be happy about that situation at all. Still, the Jets have some depth there and we’ll see how a relatively new linebacking corps holds up this season. This is an 8-8 team until they get an upgrade at the quarterback position.
The bad news: your head coach is Rex Ryan. The worse news: your defensive coordinator is Rob Ryan. I don’t know how you overcome those two major obstacles. Apparently the answer is to draft Glenn Gronkowski under the assumption that because of his last name he’ll be a good player. I don’t think the fullback position is going to be enough to make up for the big holes on this team. The Bills have lost LB Reggie Ragland for the year and cut former starter Manny Lawson. At some point, Buffalo hopes to have first round pick Shaq Lawson available although when that will be remains an unknown.
The good news: you have an exciting young quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. The guy makes plays. If he throws the ball to Sammy Watkins enough and LeSean McCoy gets the ball enough to make a difference then you might be able to put up some points. That’s where the fun stops however. This defense is going to struggle. They simply don’t have enough playmakers to be a good defensive football team. I didn’t even know Kevin Williams was still playing football, but he used to play for the Vikings and has been in the league at least fourteen seasons. That’s your starting defensive end alongside Corbin Bryant and rookie Adolphus Washington. There’s just not much to be excited about with this team.
The bad news: your starting quarterback is Ryan Tannehill, a career under-achiever, who has to produce this season if he hopes to remain a starting quarterback in this league. Your first round draft pick had a picture floating around Twitter on draft night of him smoking marijuana that caused him to drop to the 14th overall pick from possibly a top 5 selection. Maybe he’ll prove everyone wrong or maybe he’s still stoned from draft night. We’re going to find out I guess. The wide receiver position is still frighteningly thin. The only player I’d be afraid of if I were an opposing defense would be tight end Jordan Cameron, who I guess can make plays, we’ve simply yet to see if he can do it when he’s not wearing a Cleveland Browns uniform.
The good news: head coach Adam Gase was able to limit Jay Cutler’s turnovers last year. That’s no easy feat as Cutler is a turnover machine. The Dolphins are hoping that the quarterback whisperer can talk some sense into Ryan Tannehill, but it may be too late for him. Besides, it’s not like Tannehill has anyone around him who can help. When your best pass catching option is a tight end not named Rob Gronkowski you’re in trouble. Although the Dolphins did add veteran running back Arian Foster, Jay Ajayi, the second year man out of Boise State has not impressed during the preseason all but guaranteeing that Foster will start for the Dolphins at the running back position.
On defense, the Dolphins don’t have a lot of glaring holes, which might sound like a good thing until you take into account how old their defensive line is. Cameron Wake is 34 and Mario Williams is 31. Ndamukong Suh didn’t look like a great fit in their scheme last year and had a scary moment in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Titans when he limped backed to the locker room. Kiko Alonso hasn’t been much of a fit anywhere in the NFL, but a few years back in Buffalo he was a key part of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme. After being unable to do much of note in Philly, we’ll see if he can rebound in Miami. While boasting one of the best safeties in the game in Reshad Jones, the Dolphins’ secondary underperformed last season, Nowhere was there a larger disappointment than at cornerback where the sixteen million dollar man, Byron Maxwell had an underwhelming season.
Division winner: New England Patriots (12-4)
San Diego Chargers
The bad news: Mike McCoy is still the head coach. After several disappointing seasons, the Chargers decided to take future disappointment Joey Bosa with the third pick in the draft. In case that wasn’t enough, the Chargers front office decided to screw up Bosa’s contract situation. Smart move. The Chargers went 4-12 last season and their big pickup in the offseason was WR Travis Benjamin. Benjamin had a career year for the Browns last season catching 68 passes for 966 yards and five touchdowns. That was up significantly from the year before that where he caught just eighteen balls. Indeed, there weren’t many other options for Browns quarterbacks last season, so gauging Benjamin’s success as a number two wideout should be relatively straightforward. After losing Stevie Johnson for the year, the Chargers are going to have to make up that production somewhere and outside of Benjamin there simply aren’t a lot of people left to throw to.
The good news: Antonio Gates is healthy as is second round pick Hunter Henry. This sets up an intriguing matchup for the Chargers. TE Ladarius Green left via free agency for Pittsburgh and got a monster deal. How quickly Henry can step in as a starting tight end will be a big question for the Chargers as they start the year. This team is going to sink or swim with Philip Rivers however and since McCoy was hired because of his work with Peyton Manning, Rivers should be a standout this season if the Mike McCoy project is working. The problem of course is that for the past couple of season the McCoy experiment has been disappointing to say the least.
Kansas City Chiefs
The bad news: Andy Reid is still the head coach and thus clock management issues will undoubtedly abound. Worse, Jamaal Charles may not be ready to go for week one. This puts more pressure on Alex Smith and company to put together a dynamic passing offense, which is not something Smith has been successful at over his career. Justin Houston, the leader of this Kansas City defense, also begins the year on the PUP list meaning he’ll be out at least six weeks.
The good news: Jamaal Charles will be back eventually , which will give some balance to the Kansas City offense. What’s still worrying about this offense is that Jeremy Maclin is still the only playmaking wide receiver they have. The tight end is a big part of Andy Reid’s offense and Travis Kelce can do as much as any tight end in the league, but at some point you need a number two guy who can step in and benefit from the double coverage Maclin and Kelce receive.
The bad news: I’m just not sure about Oakland’s front seven on defense. Kahlil Mack is a beast there’s no doubt about that, but what about the rest of these guys? Bruce Irvin is interesting, but given how much former Seattle players seem to struggle for teams other than Seahawks how much faith do you want to put in this guy? Middle linebacker looks fuzzy at best. Malcolm Smith isn’t going to save your defense. It really boils down to how much of an impact Mack can make by himself and sadly that’s been the story of his career in Oakland thus far.
The good news: Derek Carr looks awesome. Latavius Murray and Amari Cooper are good skills players. Free agent Kelechi Osemele will boost this offensive line. The rest is relatively unknown. Michael Crabtree is your number one wide receiver. That’s not going to work long term. Cooper is the better option and has a good rapport with QB Derek Carr. Lee Smith at tight end looked good last year, but Carr needs to throw to him more. Even the fullback position is interesting with this football team. Jamize Olawale unseated career starter Marcel Reece at fullback. The big question is whether the Raiders can put it all together and have a winning season. It’s awfully difficult to change the culture in a city that’s used to losing, but this club looks pretty good on paper nonetheless.
The bad news: departures of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan will make a difference for this Super Bowl champion defense. That being said, Jackson projects better as a DL in a 4-3 system, but Denver hasn’t made much of an upgrade at the defensive end position in the offseason.
The good news: Peyton Manning finally retired last season. Despite what Jim Nance and Phil Simms have told you, Manning was awful last season. Trevor Siemian doesn’t seem like an upgrade, but he’s merely a placeholder until Paxton Lynch can step up and be the starting quarterback of the future for this team. Going out and drafting Paxton Lynch was the smartest move the Denver front office made last year.
Not overpaying for it’s own free agents was the other smart move. After a team wins a championship players want to get paid. It’s understandable. You work hard to get to that championship game, but ultimately you’re part of a team. The really good news for the Broncos is that Von Miller is back and much of their championship defense is in tact. That means that they have a shot at making the playoffs even if their offense has a lot of question marks with their young quarterbacks.
Division Winner: Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
The bad news: the defense took a step back last season. Granted, the offense did too, but it was not a good year for a Ravens team that is clearly rebuilding right now. Part of that rebuilding is going to come at the wide receiver position. The Ravens looked like they gave up after Steve Smith went down last year. Now, they’ve got Breshad Perriman finally healthy. A first round pick from a year ago, we’ll see if Perriman can put something together with quarterback Joe Flacco, who has yet to live up to the large contract extension he signed after the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
The good news: Joe Flacco should be healthy as should Steve Smith. The Ravens had to draft a replacement for Kelechi Osemele, who left for the Raiders in free agency and elected to avoid the Laremy Tunsil catastrophe and opted for Ronnie Stanley. The Ravens desperately needed offensive playmakers and instead of filling that need they had to make up ground on something that was fine at the end of the season. I guess you’ve still got John Harbaugh as your head coach?
The bad news: the Browns organization has been in shambles for over a decade. How could this year possibly be any different? Okay, I see your point hypothetical situation. Good job. On the defensive side of the ball there’s not much there. Demario Davis is an improvement at MLB, but who on Earth is going to rush the passer? They cut their best pass rusher Paul Kruger because he had a bloated contract. Maybe second round pick Emmanuel Ogbah can make some noise. That must have been the thinking when they cut Kruger because there isn’t much else about this defense that inspires confidence.
The good news: The offense has skills players. No one really knows which version of RGIII is going to show up for the Browns this season. The one thing that is certain is that they finally have some wideouts. The Browns drafted five wide receivers in the 2016 NFL draft. Someone’s going to make an impact. Even if Josh McCown has to get in there and mix it up you’ve got to imagine that something will happen on offense especially once Josh Gordon returns to the mix. Also, Isiah Crowell is going to do some things at running back. Gary Barnridge should be able to do some things at tight end. I don’t know. Stranger things have happened right?
The bad news: wide receiver Marvin Jones left in the offseason for Detroit. The Bengals also parted ways with Brandon Tate, which leaves some questions at wide receiver for the Bengals. LB Vontaze Burfict has been suspended three games also.
The good news: the Bengals get Andy Dalton back. They weren’t terrible without him, but the team is undoubtedly better when he’s starting. Even though they appear weak on paper at wide receiver, the Bengals always seem to find people who can contribute in the passing game. A.J. Green is one of the best there is as a gamechanging player and Jeremy Hill looks poised to make a big contribution at running back.
The bad news: no one seems to have any idea what is going on with new starting tight end Ladarius Green. Should this guy even still be playing? No one seems to know. Green was a big part of what San Diego was able to do with their two tight end set and the option for Philip Rivers to throw it to either Green or Gates posed a nightmare for opposing defenses. The Steelers were hoping that some combination of Green and rookie Jesse James might do something similar, but as I said no one seems to know what’s going on with Green.
The good news: Ben Roethlisberger didn’t rape anybody over the offseason, so there’s that. Martavis Bryant getting suspended apparently only makes your team better. Apparently he’s tossing the bong around the locker room and impacting other players. Sammie Coates might be able to do something. Le’veon Bell is back.
Antonio Brown got a new contract and is apparently the number one pick in some fantasy leagues. You’ve got to believe that this Steelers defense is only going to get better with the addition of Artie Burns. There are a lot of things to like on offense for the Steelers, but there’s also a lot of consistency for them on defense making them a solid pick for a wild card team this season.
Division Winner: Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
The bad news: head coach Mike Mularkey has never been a successful NFL head coach and it’s not for a lack of trying. The idea that he’s going to change the culture in Nashville and turn this Titans team around seems, on the face of it, simply absurd. The Titans cut once promising wide receiver Justin Houston in the preseason. With Andre Johnson and Kendall Wright, the Titans aren’t exactly deep at wideout, but there are teams like the Bengals who will have to do more with less.
The good news: It’s the second season for Marcus Mariota. Hopefully, he’s improved his deep ball in the offseason and feels more comfortable in a pro offense. As Mariota develops so does this Titans football team. The Titans made some significant moves in the offseason acquiring Demarco Murray from the Eagles and adding Derrick Henry in the draft. Henry is going to be a star. He projects really well in this offense and once he’s learned the playbook he’s going to be a big part of this offense moving forward.
The bad news: the Colts had to draft four offensive linemen in the draft this year. Their defense is still paltry at best. The Colts are in the same defensive position as the Miami Dolphins. They don’t seem to have any glaring holes on defense, but you know that at the end of the day they’re going to be really bad. The Colts had difficulty keeping Andrew Luck healthy last season and for reasons passing understanding decided that Chuckstrong deserved an extension given their stellar 8-8 season.
The good news: Andrew Luck has a pretty solid offensive line in front of him this season. He’s got playmakers in T.Y. Hilton and Donte Montcrief as well as Dwayne Allen at the tight end position. There’s also the possibility that Philip Dorsett comes on at some point and is able to do something. It all comes down to Luck however. How he plays and whether he’s able to make up for his team’s defensive deficiencies will define how well the Colts do this year. If they struggle early on, Chuckstrong could be among the early coaching casualties of the season.
The bad news: head coach Gus Bradley has never really made much of his chances with this team and it’s hard to believe he’s going to work some miracle now. The team is undersized along the offensive line and lacks depth at the quarterback position. The Cowboys are in the habit of showing us exactly how necessary a competent backup quarterback is (imagine starting a fourth round pick week one) and as the Jaguars have seen far too many times, Chad Henne is not the answer.
The good news: free agents signings galore have the Jaguars excited that they can do something. Blake Bortles seems like he’s fitting in nicely at quarterback. It looks like there are finally some playmakers on both offense and defense for this team. Jalen Ramsey is a step up from where the Jags were at cornerback and now that may be their deepest position. The defense is bolstered by the free agent signings of Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson. Maybe there offense really can win some games for them, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The bad news: J.J. Watt’s status for the week one opener is unknown. Head Coach Bill O’Brien said it “looks decent” and that “the arrow is pointing toward” Watt returning, but those aren’t exactly ringing endorsements. Still, the defense looks good. You know what doesn’t look good for the Texans? Their offensive line. Lucky for the Texans they went out and signed a 6’7″ quarterback in Brock Osweiler in the offseason. The only question is whether they paid too much to get a mediocre quarterback. Also, first round pick Will Fuller is projected as their number five wideout. Not exactly what you’re looking for out of a number one pick.
The good news: the Texans have finally taken some chances with their young roster. The additions of Lamar Miller and Brock Osweiler will make a difference for this Texans team. On defense, the Texans have as strong a front seven as any team in football. The question mark for me is in the secondary. I’m not sure they have anyone with any juice left to play football. Kareem Jackson and Johnathon Joseph have been around for a while as has Quinten Demps. Can the Texans finally put it all together and make a playoff run? A lot of that will depend on how well Brock Osweiler does in his first year in Houston.
Division Winner: Houston Texans (10-6)
The bad news: Matt Ryan looks worse and worse as time goes on. Ryan has not only been the victim of at least three different offensive schemes while in Atlanta, but he’s seen the departures of TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Roddy White. Now, Atlanta’s offense will likely lean more on the shoulders of one of last year’s breakout players: Devonta Freeman. This should help Ryan balance the offense and give more one-on-one opportunities to Julio Jones, who needs to stay healthy for this offense to work.
The good news: The Falcons signed C Alex Mack in the offseason. While Matt Ryan has never enjoyed very good protection the offensive line needs someone with whom Ryan can communicate up front and the signing of Mack is a good sign that they’ve solidified that front. What’s unknown is how much improved this defensive unit is going to be this season. Vic Beasley struggled last season. Although it’s unknown how much Dwight Freeney will affect this defense you’ve got to assume it will be limited given his age, but don’t discount the wisdom that a wily veteran like Freeney can impart on a young player like Beasley. This Atlanta defense should be stronger along the line and at linebacker this season.
Tamp Bay Buccaneers
The bad news: the Brent Grimes show visits Tampa! Look forward to all sorts of awesome Sunday Tweets from the outspoken wife of CB Brent Grimes this year. Just how much of a distraction Mrs. Grimes will provide this year is unknown, but Grimes has been relatively consistent on the field and provides much needed stability to this Tampa secondary. The one area of concern I’d have in addition to the Tweetstorm that will surely ensue with the Brent Grimes signing is at the safety position. In a 4-3 scheme you run a lot of Cover-2. That’s not good news if you don’t have good safeties who can split the field.
The good news: Jameis looked great in the preseason. It certainly seems like he’s taken that next step as a pocket passer. RB Doug Martin will free up the playaction for Winston and he’s got two great wideouts who can take advantage of that. What’s unknown is what’s behind starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. One position the Buccaneers could utilize is tight end where Cameron Brate is an under-utilized option as is Austin Sefarian-Jenkins.
If there’s one thing that new head coach Dirk Koetter seems good at it’s adjusting to new scenes. He’ll bring an offensive-minded identity with him and look for Jameis to continue to settle in and get comfortable in this offense as the season progresses.
New Orleans Saints
The bad news: the defense for this Saints team continues to be in re-building mode. First round pick Sheldon Rankins should help anchor the defense and a 4-3 is more suited to where the Saints have talent than Rob Ryan’s 3-4 catastrophe last season. Whether they have the bodies up front to play in the trenches will be the big question mark going into this season. With Cam Jordan, Rankins, and Nick Fairley the Saints have a start on a defensive line rotation. We’ll see how well that holds up over the course of the season.
The good news: the Saints picked up Colby Fleener in free agency and it wasn’t cheap, but this offense cannot function without production from the tight end position. Trading Jimmy Graham changed how the Saints offense worked. While Benjamin Watson was able to have a couple big games last season he wasn’t Jimmy Graham. Fleener had flashes in Indy, but ultimately fell to number two on the depth chart behind the faster, more versatile Dwayne Allen. Here in New Orleans, Fleener has the opportunity to show that he’s worth the nine million a year the Saints are paying him. Brandin Cooks is back for the Saints. Cooks has the quickness to be a number one receiver in this league and given how Willie Snead played in the preseason, the Saints should have a good one-two combo with Snead and Cooks at wideout.
The bad news: almost inexplicably, the Panthers decided to part ways with 24 year old cornerback Josh Norman. Norman wanted a big paycheck and he got it from the Washington Redskins when the Panthers waived him this offseason. No matter what anyone tells you the Panthers are weak at the cornerback position this season. The one bright spot for Carolina is nickel back Bene Benwikere, who’s consistently shown he can be a star defender in the slot.
The good news: with Kelvin Benjamin returning from IR, Carolina basically has a number one receiver for Cam Newton. That’s great news for a receiving corps that had to rely on Jerricho Cotchery and Ted Ginn last season. The Panthers also boast a strong offensive line that helped Jonathan Stewart reach 1,000 rush yards last season. There’s a lot of continuity in this offense and the big question will be how quarterback Cam Newton rebounds from his lackluster Super Bowl performance.
Division Winner: Carolina Panthers (10-6)
The bad news: in free agency the Eagles targeted a quarterback who knew head coach Doug Pederson’s system in Chase Daniel then traded for the number two pick in the draft and picked quarterback Carson Wentz. This would make sense if Daniel was the starter, but he’s not. Instead, the Eagles are electing to go with Wentz, who is recovering from a rib injury in the preseason. Your franchise quarterback is generally not something you roll the dice with when you lose one of your starting tackles for ten games, but hey, Howie Roseman is unconventional and I guess that gets you something…
The good news: Chip Kelly has moved to San Francisco and hopefully for Eagles fans he’s taken his quarterback carousel with him. The Eagles went out and picked up a big bodied wideout in Dorial Green-Beckham from the Titans this offseason. He should provide a nice option alongside Jordan Matthews in this offense. What’s less clear is Pederson is going to manage the run game with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Sproles is 33 years old and has always been a better pass catcher than pure runner, which means they’re counting on Mathews to be a 1,000 yard rusher, something he’s failed at every single year of his career. The defense is solid though.
The bad news: where to start? Well, Tony Romo is basically done for the year after taking a hit from Cliff Avril in the preseason. That means your starting quarterback is either rookie Dak Prescott or the dangerously mediocre Mark Sanchez. If were up to me and I had a choice between a rookie who has yet to play an NFL game and Mark Sanchez I’d pick the rookie every time.
Bad things happen when Sanchez is on the field. You can debate how much of it is Sanchez’s fault (ask Jets fans how they feel, but don’t wait too long as we all know how reserved they generally are), but the guy cannot play the quarterback position for a professional football team without making the fan base wonder when (fill in the blank) will return to start for them again.
The good news: Ezekiel Elliott plowed through Kam Chancellor in the preseason proving that behind this offensive line his potential could be unlimited. The offensive line of this football team gives them a chance to stay in games this season if only they can find a quarterback who can play the position. I also like the long-term prospects of this draft class. Jaylon Smith showed at Notre Dame that he could be something special and I like the Maliek Collins and Charles Tapper selections as well.
New York Giants
The bad news: the running back position continues to be an area of concern for the Giants. Exactly how they are expecting to get through the season with Rashad Jennings, the pass catching only Shane Vareen and rookie Paul Perkins is beyond me. The offensive line continues to pose more questions than answers as does wideout Victor Cruz and tight end Larry Donnell.
The good news: big offseason signings should have fans excited to see what this defense can do. If only they had allocated some funds to helping Eli Manning with a running back or wide receiver imagine where they’d be. Head Coach Ben McAdoo knows how to put together a good offense. He did it for years in Green Bay, but the question remains whether he can get the last few seasons of Eli Manning’s career to be something special.
The bad news: they’re still calling themselves the Redskins and I guess Dan Snyder is going to keep playing games with that until the league sanctions them, which seems to be inevitable given the tyranny of Roger Goodell.
The good news: Josh Doctson is an NFL-ready wide receiver who is going to flourish with Kirk Cousins at quarterback. Washington now has three legitimate receivers in the pass game not to mention tight end Jordan Reed, who just can’t seem to stay healthy, but if he does would simply be a bonus. Washington also picked up Josh Norman making their defense automatically better than it was last season and Su’a Cravens should help in the secondary as well to let Beshaud Breeland stay at his natural position of cornerback.
Division Winner: Washington Redskins (11-5)
The bad news: Carson Palmer doesn’t win a lot of playoff games and it’s not for a lack of trying. In last years divisional round, the Cardinals had the game locked up until Aaron Rodgers threw an unbelievable hail mary pass to Jeff Janis to tie the game and send it into overtime. That’s the thing though. The Packers were never in that game. The fact that they got the opening kickoff in overtime was the only thing that saved them. Had Fitzgerald not scored the Packers probably would have marched down the field and won. That’s how the playoffs work when you’re Carson Palmer, so when people talk about the Cardinals and a Super Bowl I always think: okay, but you’ve got to win two playoff games to get there.
The good news: the roster couldn’t have been more loaded had the Cardinals gone into free agency with the same mindset as the New York Giants. The Cardinals somehow landed one of the best linemen in the draft: Robert Nkemdiche. He’ll be a force this year on the other side of Calais Campbell. The Honey Badger is back helping to solidify a secondary that looked a little shaky without him. The Cardinals also added Chandler Jones, who’s been converted into a 3-4 linebacker. Jones was one of New England’s best defensive linemen last season and he’ll be a force in this loaded defense for Arizona. The question marks are on offense, which is strange for a Bruce Arians coached team. But, Palmer has to stay healthy in order for the Cardinals to have a shot. Expect the offense to center around second year man David Johnson, who was electric down the stretch for them and Michael Floyd, who’s in a contract year should have a big season also. They also retained the services of Jermaine Gresham, a versatile pass catching tight end who can stretch the field along with Arizona’s wide receiving corps.
Los Angeles Rams
The bad news: the number one overall pick in the draft, Jared Goff, is the number three quarterback on the depth chart. Neither of the top two quarterbacks in the draft were all that NFL-ready, but everyone thought Goff was well ahead of Wentz. Now, Wentz will start in week one and Goff will be the third string quarterback for the Rams. Ouch.
The really bad news: at the end of last season the Rams terminated the contracts of DE Chris Long, MLB James Laurinaitis and TE Jared Cook. Long signed a 2.5 million dollar deal with the Patriots, Laurinaitis got a similar deal with New Orleans and Cook signed a one year prove it deal with the Packers. The lesson here? All likely could have been retained on the Rams roster for peanuts yet they elected to go into rebuilding mode. It’s tough to get excited for a team that gives up on it’s fan base.
The good news: few men get after the passer as much as RE Robert Quinn. The combination of Quinn and DT’s Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers could be lethal if they left their other defensive pieces in place. Instead, the Rams will take a mediocre linebacking corps and a depleted secondary into the season with little offense outside of Todd Gurley to make up for it. Yeah, that should end well.
San Francisco 49ers
The bad news: Chip Kelly is the new head coach. Colin Kaepernick is the number two quarterback. Outside of Torrey Smith, who is anyone going to throw the ball to? Kelly is known as an offensive guru, but this team has so little offensive talent that one wonders what anyone was thinking when they put this marriage together.
The good news: the defense looks…interesting. The 49ers have a talented young DE in Arik Armstead and they drafted another talented DE in DeForest Buckner. They’ve got some interesting linebackers in Bowman and second year man Eli Harold. I’m not sure how Brooks and Lynch fit into this group.
The secondary is a total unknown. Bethea was stellar with the Colts, but his career has since regressed. Eric Reid hasn’t lived up to expectations after a solid rookie season. It’s hard to say how this is going to turn out, but with Blaine Gabbert as your starting quarterback I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the wins to pile up.
The bad news: Marshawn Lynch is officially retired. Beast mode has seen the last of the football field and if you watched him last year it was pretty evident that this was coming. So, it’s up to the heir apparent: Thomas Rawls to make the running game work. LB Bruce Irvin signed with Oakland in free agency.
Jimmy Graham is still struggling to find his niche with the team and the offensive line is in shambles. If the Seahawks were smart, they’d have gone all in on Josh Sitton regardless of his health because they simply don’t have the depth on the interior of the line, but instead the Bears snatched him up and signed him to a three year deal.
The good news: Russell Wilson may be the most underrated quarterback in football. He can do it all. Doug Baldwin was a revelation late last season as he seemed to be catching touchdown passes every time he walked on to the field. The combination of a healthy Baldwin and Graham could make for a scary vertical offense.
Seattle says they’re eager to show what Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael can do, but I wouldn’t be so sure. They’ll be running behind a line that’s not that good and neither runner has shown the kind of burst that Lynch had. That being said, the defense stayed largely in tact and should be a top 10 defense yet again this season, which makes Seattle the favorite to win the division.
Division Winner: Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
The bad news: we all know what happened with Calvin Johnson. It’s sad and unfortunate, but Lions fans need to get over it. The Lions also had a curious draft. Taking Miles Killebrew in the fourth round. The guy is from Southern Utah university, which I didn’t even know was a school until the Lions picked this guy up in the draft. In the secondary, the Lions are relying on Rashean Mathis as a starting corner alongside Darius Slay meanwhile Quandre Diggs appears to have moved off the depth chart altogether.
The good news: Marvin Jones was the best available wide receiver in free agency last season. The addition of Jones together with Golden Tate makes this receiving corps more diverse this season. Also, without Calvin Johnson, Matt Stafford will have to read the defense and work through his progressions not simply look for Johnson and decide whether he can fit the ball in there. When Brett Favre lost Sterling Sharpe it made him a better quarterback. Now, I know Stafford is not Favre, but if he wants to be a franchise quarterback he needs to prove that the loss of Calvin Johnson makes him a better quarterback not the other way around.
The bad news: Jay Cutler is still your starting quarterback. This was manageable when Chicago had a championship caliber defense, but now it’s become a joke. Quick: if you had to pick between Sam Bradford and Jay Cutler as your starting quarterback who would it be? I know, it’s like the Sophie’s Choice of the NFC North. Also, can Kevin White play football? The Bears better hope so because they traded the catching machine Brandon Marshall last season with the expectation that White would be able to come in and catch balls and so far he hasn’t caught any passes. The offensive line is suddenly okay with the help of…the Green Bay Packers? Yes, former Packers guard Josh Sitton signed a three-year deal with Chicago giving an instant boost to their run game where Jeremy Langford takes over for Matt Forte.
The good news: the defense certainly got better with the addition of Danny Trevathan and Jerell Freeman. The combination of Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd could be disastrous for opposing offenses if they ever get on the field at the same time. McPhee enters the year on the PUP list as does Floyd. Until then, the Bears will be relying on serially overpaid linebacker Lamarr Houston who counts for nearly seven million against the cap this year. The Bears also get to see what last year’s tight end sensation Zack Miller is all about after trading Martellus Bennett to the Patriots in the offseason. The addition of Josh Sitton also helps the Bears focus on their weakest points on the offensive line which remain tackle. It’s also hard to understate the leadership that the combination of Sitton and Long bring to this team.
The bad news: Teddy Bridgewater. That is all.
The good news: the Sam Bradford era begins? Bradford was picked up for a king’s ransom last week and apparently at the urging of tight ends coach Pat Shurmur. As Bill Barnwell pointed out on Twitter on Saturday, if the Vikings pulled the trigger based on what their tight ends coach thought then they might as well have shipped him to the Eagles instead and saved everyone the hassle of sorting this mess out. The Vikings did pick up Laquon Treadwell in the draft, which gives them a legitimate number one receiver to pair up with deep threat Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson. Kyle Rudolph is still there at tight end if anyone is interested.
Green Bay Packers
The bad news: Julius Peppers looked slow and sluggish in the preseason. The Packers will have to be careful how they use him this season. With the departure of Casey Hayward in free agency the Packers need a nickel corner and it can’t keep being Micah Hyde because he’s supposed to be a safety in this defense especially when FS Morgan Burnett is playing in the box as a hybrid S/LB. The Packers are dangerously thin at MLB. They decided to keep just two players with any NFL experience at the ILB position: Joe Thomas and Jake Ryan, who was laughable in coverage last season. The defense also has to hope for steady production from rookie DT Kenny Clark who is just 20 years old. Add to that starting defensive end Mike Pennel’s suspension and you’ve got what looks to be another year of Clay Matthews moving back inside to make up for Ted Thompson’s inability to pick up a middle linebacker. Who’s going to rush the passer when Mike Daniels isn’t available?
Now, on to the offense. The Packers parted ways with starting guard Josh Sitton on Saturday. The timing of the move has been widely questioned given that they selected Jason Spriggs in the draft and knew Corey Linsley would be out before training camp. This creates a problem with the interior of the offensive line. TJ Lang is now the most experienced player in the group and this looks like a group that will have a kitchen sink strategy applied to it through much of the year. At wide receiver, Green Bay has to figure out how they’re wide receivers can beat man coverage. Press-man coverage was the staple of the Packers defense for years and now it’s receivers are falling to pieces against something they used to practice against on a weekly basis. This does not make sense. Bring Ed Donatell if you need to, but figure out a way to get open because Aaron Rodgers can’t help receivers beat coverage.
The good news: Aaron Rodgers is healthy. Jordy Nelson is healthy. Eddie Lacy looks good. New tight end Jared Cook looks awesome. Even new punter Jake Schum looked impressive in his preseason debut Thursday. The Packers always take a conservative approach to the preseason, so it’s tough to figure out how they’re going to play until the regular season. The Packers do have a stellar secondary – one of the best in the league I’d argue. That means nothing however if the Packers can’t rush the passer. The Claymaker has to stay on the outside to rush the quarterback. He cannot be brought back inside to make up for Thompson’s inability to bring in middle linebackers and if Peppers is at the end of his run with the team they better hope to get third round pick Kyler Fackrell ready and fast.
Division Winner: Green Bay Packers (12-4)