NFL Report Cards: Evaluating each team through four weeks

FEAT. “THE AIRING OF GRIEVANCES…”

 

A few days ago, I put together a semi-serious laundry list of observations from week 4, along with some others from weeks prior…Today, I figured I’d put my teacher’s hat on and hand out some team report cards — and also address two sources of unmatched frustration with today’s NFL. More on that later…

Overall, it’s been quite a surprising first four weeks, highlighted by some unsung division leaders holding top spots — BILLS, RAMS, EAGLES huh?!?!

Without any more needless delay, below are my grades for all 32 clubs along with a brief synopsis of where I believe their fortunes (or lack thereof) will take them as the season progresses.


REPORT CARD TIME

(in alphabetical order)

 

ARIZONA CARDINALS (2-2)

Going down to the wire against the 49ers doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Losing David Johnson leaves a gaping, and frankly unfillable (let’s just pretend it’s a word) hole in the offence. Through 4 games, the Cardinals are -17 in point differential (74 PF / 91 PA), the offence isn’t as explosive as it’s been in years past despite the ageless wonder of Larry Fitzgerald. Carson Palmer is still slinging in, sitting 2nd in the league in passing yards. Can the defence improve and hold up to offset what is sure to be an unbalanced and highly predictable offence moving forward? I’m not convinced.

GRADE: B-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Arizona will continue to hover around the .500 mark. Palmer remains an elite signal caller. Fitzgerald continues to lead a WR class that desperately needs one of the younger members to step up *PAGING JOHN BROWN*. Even with an offence that’s yet to fully sync up, I don’t see the Cardinals playing past their mandatory 16-game schedule.

End of Season Prediction: 3rd in NFC West


ATLANTA FALCONS (3-1)

CLOSE!!! calls in week 1 against the Bears, and week 3 against the Lions stick out…Injuries to Julio and Sanu are worrisome and they are coming off a loss to a revamped and rejuvenated Bills team at home. Still, with 104 points put up through 4 weeks, and Dan Quinn presiding over that defence, there is little to worry about in FalconLAND. Defensively, creating more turnovers has to be an emphasis, with only 1 INT and 3 FF through 4 weeks. Bye week comes at a good time with injuries mounting up on both sides of the ball.

GRADE: B+

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Barring any long-term health issues with Julio Jones, expect the Falcons to right the ship and sit atop the NFC South when all is said and done. The turnovers should start to come on defence as players get healthy.

End of Season Prediction: 1st in NFC South


BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-2)

Is there a more overrated QB in the NFL than Joe Flacco (excluding Jay Cutler)?

The Ravens pass offence is an abomination. Luckily for Joe, he stands for the anthem otherwise I feel as though he may have already lost his job to a certain free-agent signal-caller. After starting the season with two divisional wins, the Ravens followed it up with two consecutive losses to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh — both convincing losses to boot. Flacco holds a career QB rating of 84.0, his 2017 QBR through four weeks is 65.0. Kaepernick’s career QBR…88.9. Say what you will, but that’s better and if it weren’t for the lights going out all those years ago, the ring may be on a different finger.

GRADE: C

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Flacco screams .500 Quarterback play to me. They benefit from a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way, apart from trips to Minnesota and Green Bay. I’m still not convinced they can fix their passing concerns. Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and very little to show for it. And the defence is years removed from being dominant. Trending towards a rebuild in Baltimore.

End of Season Prediction: Distant 2nd in AFC North


BUFFALO BILLS (3-1)

COULD THIS BE THE YEAR?!?!?! Brady and Belichick continue to spin their tires in New England. The Jets are the Jets, and the Dolphins hitched their wagon to Jay Cutler so we all know they are bound for disappointment. The Bills boast the league’s most stout defence, having yielded an impressive 54 points through 4 games — 13.5 per. T-4th in takeaways and T-2nd in turnover differential, this defensive unit is FOR REAL. If not for a should’ve had that drop by rookie WR Zay Jones, 3-1 could be 4-0. Offence still worries me, despite QB Tyrod Taylor’s stellar play — still not convinced he can do it consistently against elite opposition. That said, with all the uncertainty and obvious problems with New England’s defence, the Bills could find themselves in unchartered territory down the stretch. That home victory against the Broncos (I WAS THERE!!) was, in my mind, the best Bills performance in recent memory. Dominated in all three phases.

GRADE: A

THE REST OF THE WAY…

 Now I have so many close friends who are proud members of the Bills Mafia. Having to suffer through more than a decade of Tom Brady and 17 years of post-seasonLESS football, I hope this is the year they put it all together. Having said that, I simply can’t write off the Patriots. So much can happen with 12 games left to be played. Two December dates with Brady & Co. in December, including a Christmas Eve showdown at Foxborough will decide the fate of the Bills’ season.

End of Season Prediction: 2nd in AFC East

*WILD-CARD BIRTH* 


CAROLINA PANTHERS (3-1)

A team I was very high on entering the season, they have underwhelmed for the most part despite their record. Cam Newton isn’t the ground threat he’s been in the past — a development his brain and body are likely thankful for. However, the offence has struggled as a result, putting up 78 points in 4 weeks — 33 of which came this past week against the charitable Patriots defence. Losing Greg Olsen has left the Panthers searching for a go-to option in the passing game — their current REC leader is rookie RB Christian McCaffrey (22). Defensively, they still pack a punch — ranking 4th in total yards against per game and only allowing 15 points-per-game — but they need to sort out the offensive woes if they hope to meet my pre-season prediction of 12-4.

GRADE: B

THE REST OF THE WAY…

A treacherous schedule ahead will test the resolve of this promising roster. When the dust settles, I’d be shocked if the Falcons weren’t division leaders but the Panthers still have the talent to make it close, provided Cam can re-discover his dual-threat form and develop collective chemistry with a group that’s missing his favourite target. I think it may be too much to overcome, especially given the difficult schedule awaiting them.

End of Season Prediction: 2nd in NFC South

*WILD-CARD BIRTH*


CHICAGO BEARS (1-3)

No Jay Cutler, which is a POSITIVE…and after four unspectacular weeks starring Mike “Who?” Glennon, they are handing the keys to rookie Mitchell Trubisky. His first game — a Monday Night home affair with the Minnesota Vikings. Offensively, they lack play-makers, especially at the WR position. Trubisky will need to conjure up some rookie magic if he hopes to transform the 27th ranked passing attack. On the defensive side of the ball, creating turnovers (0 INTs) and pressuring the quarterback (8 sacks through 4 games) have been pain points. Turnovers have put them in some short-field positions but the narrative is still simple: The Bears must improve in ALL areas.

GRADE: D

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Simple. Protect and develop Mitch Trubisky and begin assessing who fits in future plans. It might be a short list. John Fox and GM Ryan Pace’s seats are getting warmer and warmer. The NFC North is arguable the toughest division in the league so the Bears best act swiftly.

End of Season Prediction: 4th in NFC North


CINCINNATI BENGALS (1-3)

Aren’t the Browns the perfect gift for teams on the brink of disaster?

Coming off a hard fought, but eventual disheartening loss in Green Bay, Marvin Lewis was on thin ice, murmours of change the quarterback creeping into the front office. Panic settinG in after an 0-3 start — Travel to Cleveland —  24-point victory, and order temporarily restored *TOUGH TEST against the Bills in week 5* Appears the firing of O-Coordinator Ken Zambese has lit a fire under the offence. That said, I simply have no confidence in Andy Dalton to perform (painful thing for a fellow ginger to admit)

GRADE: C-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

I believe Dalton could lose his job before season’s end — wouldn’t be all that shocked. And perhaps Lewis won’t be far behind. The Bengals inconsistency on offence tends to hurt them at the most inopportune times. Their prized draft pick John Ross is constantly battling to stay healthy and the running game just hasn’t lived up to the hype, especially with the addition of rookie Joe Mixon. I feel 7-9. Still good enough for top honours amongst Ohio based NFL teams…*thumbs up*

End of Season Prediction: 3rd in AFC North


CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-4)

Not the start they wanted heading into a pivotal off-season — LeBron won’t go to a losing organization…UNLESS, it’s Cleveland — #soyouretellingmetheresachance?!?! Unlikely.

Facing too many suitors in LeBron’s native sport, and simply in need of more grit and toughness than LeBron can provide, the Browns will have to look elsewhere for their saviour. Kizer has given some semblance of hope for the future with his play but a lack of play-makers at WR limits his effectiveness. In retrospect, I don’t blame Josh Gordon for getting drunk before going to work every day. Eeeeek, that may have been offside.  

GRADE: F

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Do I have to? — I don’t know, and it’s Cleveland. They gave up on Johnny Football. They’re dead to me.

The Browns actually have some winnable games in front of them — Jets, Jags, Chargers, and Chicago to name a few. — Keeping Kizer healthy is crucial so he can develop and they can properly assess his ceiling. Sad to say, but 4-5 wins would be a HUGE win for Hue Jackson’s squad.

End of Season Prediction: 4th in AFC North


DALLAS COWBOYS (2-2)

Make no mistakes, the uncertainty surrounding Zeke Elliot continues to take its toll on this team. Favoured by many to run away with the division, the Cowboys find themselves at .500, tied with Washington for 2nd in the division — and who I think has looked like the better team — Monte Kiffin’s defence continues to underwhelm: 26th in points per game, 18th in yards per game and are the only team to allow 35+ points multiple times this season. Prescott has been solid, but far from spectacular (941 yds – 8 TD – 3 INT). The struggles of Dez Bryant are reflected in Dak’s 31st ranking in yards per completion (6.6). A home loss to the Rams, as good as they’ve looked, should sound some alarms.

GRADE: B-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

While so much of their season’s future depends on Zeke’s situation, I expect the Cowboys to figure things out. I like the pedigree of Prescott, Bryant, and Witten to show up in big games — essentially the opposite of how I feel about the Bengals — and I think they can contend for the division title. Philadelphia may be 3-1, but squeaked out W’s against the Giants and Chargers don’t have me convinced are ready to separate from the pack.

End of Season Prediction: 3rd in NFC East


DENVER BRONCOS (3-1)

Following a close victory in week 1 over the Chargers, they absolutely abused the Cowboys — yet another cause-for-concern in Dallas — followed up with a loss to the *WILD-CARD* Bills. They got back on the saddle…sort of…with a 16-10 victory over an Oakland Team who’s Carr broke down — sorry for that one —. Blessed with a defence that can win a game on its own merits, the offence simply needs to maintain an appropriate level of respectability, and a division title will remain within reach.

GRADE: B+

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Kansas City seems to be a notch above the rest of the division. The Bronco’s playoff hopes will likely rest on a wild-card birth. Carr’s injury has opened up the division, especially the #2 spot. Call me batsh*t crazy, but I’ve been wanting a Raiders resurgence for years — and their impending move to Vegas has done nothing but increase my resolve to WILL A WINNER TO OAKLAND — so I say the Raiders weather the storm of Carr’s injury and wind up snagging the second spot behind the division winning Chiefs. Broncos finish 3rd above the pitiful Chargers — who seem like the child in a custody battle where neither parent shows up to court.

Imagine the Chargers wound up in Mexico City?! — (sorry for hijacking Denver’s future outlook)

End of Season Prediction: 3rd in AFC West


DETROIT LIONS (3-1)

I heavily criticized the Lions for their off-season decision to make Matthew Stafford the highest paid player in NFL history…well it appears to have paid BIG dividends for the perennial underachievers of the North. Through 4 games, including a loss by inches to the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions have looked like one of the more complete teams in the league. They take care of the ball on offence, and steal it on defence (+9 turnover ratio). While Stafford has played some of the best football of his career thus far, the running game will eventually need to improve if they hope to legitimately threaten the Packers hold on the division — The last 100 yard rushing performance from a Detroit Lions RB came back in 2014. Yikes!

GRADE: A-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

That road victory win Minnesota was big, given the likelihood of  both winding up with similar records. Now they are a home win away from a series sweep which would go a long way in securing the second place spot in the NFC North. Division matchups not withstanding — although both Bears games should be W’s —, the Lions schedule includes games against the Browns, Bengals, Ravens, and Buccaneers. None of those teams are playoff bound in my head. Look for the Lions to factor into the wild-card discussion until the bitter end.

End of Season Prediction: 2nd in NFC North

*WILD-CARD BIRTH*


GREEN BAY PACKERS (3-1)

Humbled by the Falcons in a week 2 defeat and followed that up with an OT victory over the Bengals, winless at the time…A-Aaron has yet to plead for the Lambeau Legion to R-E-L-A-X. Ty Montgomery — drafted as a WR — has given Rodgers an explosive run game and another pass option out of the backfield. Rodgers spreads the ball around, exploiting mismatches, better than anybody I’ve seen in recent memory (yes, even Tom Brady, who throws it to Gronkowski 97% of the time). Defensively, they have always been that bend, but don’t break type, which is usually more than enough for Rodgers. I do have some concerns about the O-Line (15 sacks against through 4 weeks) — Rodgers health is vital for team success.

GRADE: A-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Those last two games of the season…

12/23 vs. MIN, followed by 12/31 @DET. The Battle of the North is likely to come down to the final two weeks. Barring any serious injuries, I see the Packers winning this division. Rodgers just puts their offence on another level and if the defence stays healthy and holds up, they should come out on top — defence could benefit from creating more turnovers, with only 4 thus far. 

End of Season Prediction: 1st in NFC North

*Home Field Advantage throughout the Playoffs* 


HOUSTON TEXANS (2-2)

Deshaun Watson has vaulted the Texans to the top of the AFC South totem pole. With 90 points in the last two weeks, the Texans offence appears more than able to provide worthy support to a defence littered with first-round talent. A #toedragswag catch by Brandin Cooks robbed them of a Foxborough victory, otherwise we could be looking at a 3-1 Texans team primed to run away with the league’s most pitiful division title.

GRADE: B

THE REST OF THE WAY…

The Chiefs come to town for a week 5 showdown, which will serve as a indicative litmus test of where the Texans stand amongst the AFC’s elite — it gets much easier following that. As promising as the offence as looked, this team will need its defence to dominate if playoff aspirations are to come true. Keeping Watson healthy and upright is crucial — a second Tom Savage cameo is not what a city still recovering from the wrath of Harvey needs.

End of Season Prediction: 1st in AFC South


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (1-3)

136 points against through 4 games?!?! I don’t even think a healthy Andrew Luck can offset that level of defensive incompetence. Whether it’s running or passing, this defence allows it all. Offensively, they aren’t much better — 25th in points, 31st in yards, you get the picture. Their only win in 4 weeks coming against the Browns, there’s not much to be stoked about in Indy thus far — At least Luck is practicing this week?! #littlevictories

GRADE: D-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Luck returning will no doubt help jumpstart an anemic offence. But a shaky O-line might put him back on the shelf before long. Defensively, all signs point to them continuing to leak oil all over Lucas Oil and Colts fans are in for another long year. Just keep Luck healthy at all costs.

End of Season Prediction: 4th in AFC South


JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-2)

Blake Bortles continues to scare me under centre. A completion percentage under 55% is worrisome — although some, including myself, say a high completion percentage typically indicates a BORING offence built around dink-and-dunk passes of the 4-5 yard variety. BORINGGG! Rookie RB Leonard Fournette has 3 rushing TDs through 4 games, encouraging given the difficulties this team has had replacing MJD. Passing game has been crippled by the injury to Allen Robinson in week 1 (torn ACL). The Jags defence, capable of looking dominant, is far too inconsistent to mask the glaring inefficiencies on  offence (23 PA @ Jets, 7 PA vs Ravens, 37 PA vs. Titans, 7 PA vs. *SAVAGE* Texans. Much work to be done despite a moderately encouraging  .500 record.

GRADE: C

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Currently sitting atop the AFC South, I can’t seem them finishing the season in top spot. I had the Titans as the #2 team but a hamstring injury to Marcus Mariota has be skeptical about their ability to compete if he misses multiple weeks. With Luck coming back and Mariota potentially on the shelf for an extended period of time, this division could turn into a mess as the season rolls on. Amongst all of that, the Jags have two tough games upcoming, — @ PIT & vs. LAR — after that, it gets substantially easier. 2nd, 3rd, or last in the division, only the winner is getting in, and the Jags aren’t there yet.

End of Season Prediction: 3rd in AFC South


KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-0)

The Hunt of Jamaal Charles’ replacement is over. Kareem Hunt has taken the league by storm, Alex Smith is having the perfect contract-year, and a healthy Justin Houston has the defence playing at a high level — that Eric Berry injury still sucks! Averaging over 30 points-per-game, Alex Smith is as elite as they come presently — 124 QBR, 8 TD, 0 INT, and 1 rushing TD. Sure, we’ve seen this act before from Smith but something feels different this year.

GRADE: A+

THE REST OF THE WAY…

No, they will not go undefeated…especially when you consider their next 5 matchups before a week 10 bye. Next five opponents: @HOU/vs.PIT/@OAK/vs.DEN/@DAL. They also host the Bills in week 12 so multiple tests await the unblemished Chiefs. Before the season, I predicted that Mahomes would take over at some point this season — Mulligan?

End of Season Prediction: 1st in AFC West

*Home Field Advantage throughout the Playoffs* 


LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (0-4)

It appears as though the Chargers will be forced to play 16 road games — did you see the StubHub Centre full of Eagles fans?!? — On and off the field, the Chargers are a total mess. Trying to be the second team in a market that, before last year, had zero teams to support has not gone well, putting it mildly. Too many turnovers on offence paired with a defence that struggles to create them is not a good combination. Too much talent on offence to be this inept — Melvin Gordon should be so much better than his 3.1 YPC suggests. River’s throwing motion irks me fwiw. Can you tell I really don’t care to discuss the Chargers?

GRADE: F

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Did you not read the last line above? Ok…fine.

They’re the Chargers — the perennial chokers and their new city doesn’t care about them with attendance resembling that of a beer league hockey game. Seemingly destined for another 4-5 win season, Anthony Lynn would be wise to call Jeff Fisher in search of the secret behind 8-8.

End of Season Prediction: 4th in AFC West


LOS ANGELES RAMS (3-1)

Well well well, there’s the Todd Gurley everyone thought they knew and loved. Jared Goff looks confident behind a revamped offensive line — Next-Gen Stats had Jared Goff sporting a 143.8 passer rating when throwing into “tight spaces…Impressive to say the least. Sean McVay has this team inspired on both sides of the football, and they have the best kicker and punter to boot (pun intended). Andrew Whitworth, replacing Greg Robinson at LT, has given up 0 sacks and 1 QB hurry in 4 games — 1 HURRY in 4 games! That victory in Dallas was eye opening…Goff is comfortable, Cooper “Fill Up My” KUPP looks like Wes Welker circa 2011, and that has the Rams looking poised to dethrone a fragile Seahawks team as division bullies.

GRADE: A

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Pay Aaron Donald…He’s an absolute terror on the D-line and I don’t believe there to be a more dominant defensive player in the league.

As flawless as they’ve looked through 4 games — 35.5 PPG / 383.8 YPG, 1st and 5th in the league respectively, expect the Rams offence to regress slightly as teams continue to get a book on The McVay Way. A front seven as scary as any in football and Jared Goff boasting a 112.2 passer rating — higher than the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Russell Wilson to name a few — the writing seems to be on the wall…Rams will take division honours away from Seattle. BIG WEEK 5 GAME vs. SEA!

End of Season Prediction: 1st in NFC West


MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-2)

Not even Mother Nature could stand by and let Miami go unpunished for employing Jay Cutler following the season-ending injury to Ryan Tannehill…that was an Irma joke. Don’t hate me, hate Jay Cutler.

Shockingly, the addition of Jay Cutler has resulted in an offensive disaster, and NO, I’m not still going on about the hurricane. Averaging just over 8.0 points-per-game, and 289 yards-per-game (both 32nd in the league), Adam Gase’s offence can’t get much worse. Defensively, they can’t generate turnovers and have given up 1,050 yards against through 3 games (no game week one). If only they could justify signing the Castro-Sympathizing Quarterback… We live in a time where t-shirts are more damaging to football teams than turnovers. Enjoy Cutler fools!

GRADE: D-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Much like the Chargers, I don’t want to take up any more time than I have to predicting the inevitable bottom of the barrel finish for the Dolphins. Oozing with potential prior to Tannehill going down, this organization failed to look passed a bogus and preconceived notion surrounding a player who would’ve helped them far more than the option they ultimately decided to go with. Shame. Shame. Shame.

End of Season Prediction: 4th in AFC East


MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2-2)

If only you all saw my face as I wrote this…a lifelong Vikings fan — apart from a little spell where I abandoned them back in ’06, citing differing views on the QB position. — I wanted them to play Tarvaris Jackson instead of Brad Johnson! — nobody’s perfect.

Anyways, a mystery injury to Sam Bradford’s knee is all that more concerning after losing prized rookie Dalvin Cook for the season (torn ACL). A dominant defence keeps them in the thick of things — more turnovers would be nice, with only 3 INTs through 4 games (all vs. Tampa Bay) — but a lot of questions surrounding the offence has them teetering on the edge. Diggs and Thielen have been the best WR duo in the league (don’t believe me? Look at the numbers). Tough division loss to the Lions has them in need of a bounce back victory against the Bears on Monday night.

GRADE: B-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Signed in the off-season before Dalvin Cook arrived in town, Latavius Murray will be counted on as the workhorse in the backfield — Jerrick McKinnon just can’t seize an opportunity. With two games remaining against the Packers, and dates with the Panthers, Rams, Falcons, Lions, and Redskins awaiting them, the Vikings will be in tough to overtake the Lions and Packers. Kai Forbath will miss a crucial kick (or two) at some point…Silver lining in an otherwise disappointing season will be Diggs & Thielen both surpassing 1,000 yards receiving.

End of Season Prediction: 3rd in NFC North


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-2)

That Brandin Cooks catch in week 3 might have saved the Greater Boston Area from a line of questioning they wanted no part of. The Patriots struggles have them sitting 3rd in a division they have owned for almost a decade — ’08 Dolphins were the last team to win not from New England. Scoring 129 points in 4 weeks should provide a better fate than 2-2, but a defence with more holes than an AVN Award Show has provided the counter-balance to a prolific offence. The Patriots have yielded 30+ points in 3 of 4 weeks, and have given up almost 2,000 yards (1,827). King’s Landing is under siege.

GRADE: C+

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Before you question the C+ rating, relative to the other 2-2 teams, think about what we all expected the Patriots to do this season?! They could realistically be 0-3 at home had it not been for the Brady-Cooks connection late in the 4th against Houston. The fate of the Patriots rests in their collective ability to fix a defence that undisputedly has been the worst in the NFL. A questionable pass rush, an inability to sustain coverage, and already suffering from a numerous injuries, finding the answer may prove more difficult than in previous years.

But are you really going to doubt Belichick?

End of Season Prediction: 1st in AFC East


NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2-2)

Starting the season 0-2, many were worried about where this Saints team was heading. However, they followed up back-to-back losses with consecutive convincing wins over the Panthers and Dolphins. An offence that has long been lethal in the passing game continues to thrive under Drew Brees and Sean Payton. The running game continues to be suspect — Adrian Peterson is not the answer. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram anchor the backfield, with the former featuring more prominently in the passing game (20 receptions vs 15 rushing attempts). Still without an interception, Brees and a defence that has forced 5 fumbles and 4 INTs appear to be trending upwards. The bye week comes at a somewhat inopportune time given the recent momentum created, but perhaps the added rest will help as they return from London.

GRADE: B

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Following the bye, the Saints schedule is nasty with three straight games against the NFC North. Throw in a trip to Buffalo, two games against both division rivals Atlanta and Tampa Bay, and clashes with the Redskins and Rams, and you can see why I’m not overly confident in the Saints’ ability to finish in the top half of their division. AP doesn’t make it through the season as a Saint. According to Fantasy Index Magazine, the Saints face the toughest schedule in weeks 5-17

End of Season Prediction: 4th in NFC South


NEW YORK GIANTS (0-4)

An offence in disarray has been the main driver behind the shocking 0-4 start. No O-line and by extension no running game, and no time for Eli to get through a single progression, the Giants are a mess offensively with only 7 touchdowns in 4 games, and not a single score in the first quarter of any game. Sure, the defence is flush with first-round talent but nothing will offset the lack of competence on offence. Close calls against Philly and Tampa Bay don’t do much to silence critics calling for change.

GRADE: F

THE REST OF THE WAY…

I’ll start by saying “Would it not be intriguing to see Kaepernick in New York?” — a market more than capable of absorbing the media circus it would create — at least it would take the attention off of OBJ. Eli continues to aggressively feed the mediocre quarterback narrative that has followed him around his entire career, Super Bowl performances notwithstanding. Until they shore up the offensive line, there isn’t much hope for this Giants team. Seats are getting really hot in New York.

End of Season Prediction: 4th in NFC East


NEW YORK JETS (2-2)

Far from the worst New York has to offer, the Jets somehow sit 2nd in the division at the 1/4 mark — despite a -17 point differential. Riding a two-game winning streak (Dolphins & Jags so take a ****ing chill pill Jets fans), Todd Bowles’ men seem at the very least energized as a result of their recent play. An effective ground game — 130.7 per game, good for 7th in the league — helps mask the difficulties in the passing game (26th in yards). Enjoy it while you can Jets fans!

GRADE: B

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Week 5 brings with it a trip to Cleveland — could the Jets go above .500?! The Patriots come to town in week 6, and if by some miracle New England continues *STRUGGLING* like they have to this point, a Jets victory seems like a legitimate possibility. Hosted by the Dolphins in week 7, the Jets have to get at least two of those games if they hope to stay in the race. It gets nasty after that…

End of Season Prediction: 3rd in AFC East


OAKLAND RAIDERS (2-2)

Conference title aspirations heading into the season, losing Derek Carr for an extended period of time — projected to be 2-6 weeks — could doom Oakland’s farewell season. Amari Cooper has forgotten how to catch the ball and Beast-Mode seems more suited for Dancing with the Stars than he is as a workhorse ball carrier — 3.4 YPC and 1 TD through 4 games. After busting out of the gates with 71 points combined in the first two games, the Raiders offence has gone AWOL (20 points combined in weeks 3 & 4). E.J. Manual takes the reigns of an offence that looks lost — a reality that offers little reason for optimism.

GRADE: C+

THE REST OF THE WAY…

First things first, get on the horn with Kaepernick — sorry I’m not sorry for continuously bringing his name up — how many more opportunities do teams need? (Tennessee just signed Brandon Weeden!!!!! BRANDON WEEDEN?!?! I guess it was this act that sold them on him? *loves the flag so much*

Sorry, back to Oakland…

Farewell season aside, the Raiders need to protect Carr and relying on EJ Manual to deliver quality quarterback play deserving of a post-season birth seems like a risky proposition. Sign Kaepernick and exercise patience with the health of Derek Carr.

Khalil Mack will wind up leading the league in sacks when all is said and done.

End of Season Prediction: 2nd in AFC West

*WILD-CARD BIRTH* (call it a wish for the Oakland faithful)


PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-1)

The somewhat surprising leaders of the NFC East through 4 weeks, the Eagles have done it primarily with an explosive balanced offence and opportunistic defence. With only a +11 point differential, they’ve had to sustain their offensive proficiency thus far as their defence continues to play good, but not great. Wentz has looked impressive, having developed a rapport with both TE Zach Ertz (26 REC) and Alshon Jeffery (17 REC)  in his sophomore year. LaGarrette Blount has provided stability in the backfield and YES, Carson Wentz has more rushing yards than Adrian Peterson.

GRADE: A

THE REST OF THE WAY…

With a palatable schedule ahead, and questions surrounding the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles could begin to separate themselves from the pack as the season progresses. Already owning a victory over the Redskins could factor into tie-break scenarios down the road. I like the Eagles to remain steady moving forward and shock the football world with a division title.

End of Season Prediction: 1st in NFC East


PITTSBURGH STEELERS (3-1)

Head and shoulders the class of the AFC North, the Steelers have looked like a legitimate conference title contender through 4 weeks — forget about that loss in Chicago. Offensively, Antonio Brown is in a league of his own (sideline tantrums notwithstanding), Le’veon Bell appears to rounding into form (284 yards from scrimmage and 3 TDs combined in weeks 3 & 4). And give me Big Ben in any high stakes game down the stretch.

GRADE: A

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Cruise control to the AFC North title…

End of Season Prediction: 1st in AFC North


SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (0-4)

As promising a head-coaching career Kyle Shanahan has in front of him, this team is far from a finished product, and it starts at the quarterback position. Bryan Hoyer has a 67.9 passer rating through 4 weeks. Carlos Hyde, when healthy, can be a difference maker in the backfield but he continues to face 8-man boxes most of the time. I’ve always been a fan of Pierre Garcon, but he needs somebody else delivering him the ball. Don’t read too much into the close call results in weeks 3 & 4, the 49ers rebuild is in full swing.

GRADE: D-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

C.J. Beathard…and more pain. In a tough division, the 49ers will need to expedite their rebuilding effort. Perhaps a basement finish will net them one of Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Josh Allen (Wyoming), Lamar Jackson (Louisville), or Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma).

End of Season Prediction: 4th in NFC West


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2-2)

Let me go on record as saying the Seahawks will not make the playoffs this season. I can’t even remember what I wrote about them before the season, but this team has too many question marks on offence to remain competitive over the long haul, mainly on the offensive line. Eddie Lacy has officially eaten himself out of the league and with Jimmy Graham a shadow of his former self, Russell Wilson has been forced to do it almost entirely on his own — admittedly still with reliable Doug Baldwin in the fold. An unconvincing win over the 49ers in week 2, and a dismantling of the lowly Colts mark the team’s only two triumphs. Perennial contenders, I simply haven’t seen the same Seahawks up to this point.

GRADE: C+

THE REST OF THE WAY…

All the above said, a week 5 road matchup against the division leading Rams will go a long way in deciding where the balance of power resides in the NFC West. Their schedule isn’t especially daunting, but the Rams have a marginally easier one by the numbers (.477 compared to .482 combined winning percentages). Nothing would give me more joy than watching the Seahawks and Pete Carroll fade from post-season relevancy — apart from perhaps Pete blowing a knee on the sideline while it happens. Not bitter at all…

End of Season Prediction: 2nd in NFC West


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-1)

Apart from a 3 INT performance against an elite defence in Minnesota, Jameis has looked in control in his 3rd season. With only 9 receptions through 3 games, involving DeSean Jackson more has to be made a priority — think of the impact it would have on an offence already ranked 3rd in passing yards, and sporting 8.0 yds/att. Defensively, they must solve the pass rushing woes that continue to plague them (1 sack in 3 games). Fresh off his suspension, Doug Martin should help inject some life in the running game.

GRADE: B-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

With already stacked odds in an unforgiving division, the Bucs remaining schedule ranks as the third toughest, behind only New Orleans and Miami. Winston has the pedigree to be a playoff winning quarterback, but with their current make-up, I don’t see his playoff debut coming this time around.

End of Season Prediction: 3rd in NFC South


TENNESSEE TITANS (2-2)

A roller-coaster season thus far, with consecutive wins in weeks 2 & 3, flanked by losses on either side has now been further complicated with an injury to starting quarterback Marcus Mariota (hamstring). Even healthy, Mariota’s play has been up and down. Nobody denies his ability to scramble and make plays with his legs, but so long as he does that, he leaves himself open to criticism and also injury. Add the ineffectiveness of the defence and it’s anybody’s guess how the bottom 3 spots shake out in AFC South. The combination of Murray and Henry have given reason for optimism (6th in team rush yards).

GRADE: B-

THE REST OF THE WAY…

Blessed with the easiest remaining schedule (.409 combined winning percentage), the Titans have every reason to believe they can rise to division title territory. The next five weeks are comical: @MIA/vs.IND/@CLE/vs.BAL/vs.CIN. While there are no certainties in professional sports, that sequence of opponents is as close to a gimme as it gets. I think they take advantage of it on the way to a 2nd place division finish. Still no playoffs.

End of Season Prediction: 2nd in AFC South


WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2-2)

A revitalized defence that ranks in the top 10 in yards/game, Jay Gruden has his team playing inspired football — the amount of injuries that defence has had to play through is borderline criminal. Tough losses in weeks 1 & 4 are offset by impressive victories against the Rams and Oakland. With the Giants rapidly descending into irrelevancy, and the Cowboys in the midst of an identity crisis, the Redskins look like a division title threat in the NFC East. Kirk Cousins can play on my team any day, but he needs to show he can perform when the chips are down.

GRADE: B

THE REST OF THE WAY…

A week 5 bye gives the Redskins time to get healthy on defence.

Cousins needs to stay healthy, as do his main weapons on offence, most notably TE Jordan Reed. Reed, an ooberly athletic tight-end who has always had issues staying healthy is a matchup nightmare when he plays. Playing on his 2nd one-year deal, Cousins passer rating sits at 107 and he continues to produce at a high level. You have to wonder when he will finally receive the contract he’s worth. The Redskins can’t afford to lose him, so long as he continues to play at a borderline elite level.

End of Season Prediction: 2nd in NFC East


AND FINALLY…A QUICK “AIRING OF GRIEVANCES”

 

Very quickly, before I wrap up this already lengthy piece of work — thank you for staying with me up to this point…TWO AREAS OF ENDLESS FRUSTRATION with today’s NFL…

Drops

Way too often am I seeing routine catches, some of which would result in first downs, being dropped. Peaking up field, worrying about DBs torpedoing themselves at you head first — the new-aged tackling technique preferred by today’s players, despite the continued research suggesting brains don’t like it — whatever it may be, the drops are inexcusable. If you don’t believe me, go to a sporting goods store and try on a pair of receiver gloves. It’s like they were dipped in maple syrup!!!

Hold onto the ball! We are living through an era in football all about completion percentage, and the subsequent conservative offences that yield high Comp% numbers. The drops aren’t so much 30 and 40 yards downfield, but rather 5-7 yards from the line of scrimmage. Too many opportunities being missed. But nobody gets on SportsCentre making a fundamental two-hand catch at the sticks and dropping down to safety *ODE TO TORRY HOLT*.

Tackling

When did the art of tackling change from wrapping up arms or legs to what I can only describe as TURN YOURSELF INTO A HUMAN TORPEDO?

Guys are bigger, faster, stronger, and more elusive but as we seek to collectively find ways to make the game safer and less detrimental to its participants health, both in the short and long-term, re-discovering the lost art of tackling would serve as a starting point. The unshakable urge to make SportsCentre’s hardest hits or “YOU GOT JACK’D UP” countdowns has turned defensive players into human wrecking balls, which has no doubt resulted in an increase in injuries, most notably head trauma.

I don’t profess to have the all-in-one solution, but I firmly believe it lies in a combination of helmet innovation and top-to-bottom reform of how tackling is taught at all levels.

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It’s never too early to get into the FESTIVUS spirit…

Class dismissed.

 

Statistics courtesy of NFL.com, Next-Gen Stats, and Fantasy Index.com

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