Week 1- part two


San Diego vs. Detroit: Living with San Diego sports fans is one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had. If you were to listen to Chargers fans talk about their team, you would think they had gone through a stretch of losing seasons that could rival the Oakland Raiders. When you look at the numbers, you see that they have the 4th highest win total in the league since 2005. There is such a little brother syndrome when it comes to San Diego and Los Angeles that the fans can’t even appreciate the good things they have here. Every year there are calls for Philip Rivers’ benching, and every year he churns out Hall of Fame numbers. Last season, the Chargers went through the roughest offensive line season in recent memory, cycled through running backs like a high school team and still finished 10th in the league in weighted DVOA despite having the 30th ranked rushing attack. That credit has to go almost entirely to Phillip Rivers and his magical bolo tie. With a revamped line and some new weapons around him, he should have a little more support, and that’s going to make for a dangerous offense.
A common mistake fans make is to look at the improvements made by a team in one area and ignore the areas where a step back may have been taken. For Detroit, they have improved health at the linebacker position and added depth at running back and offensive line, but unfortunately for Lions fans, the secondary and defensive lines have nowhere to go but down after last seasons’ top overall ranking. The loss of Suh was well documented, but they also lost Nick Fairley and CJ Mosley. They made a smart move to bring in Ravens’ stalwart Haloti Ngata, but there’s no way to adequately replace monsters like Fairley and Suh. The only way the Lions succeed is if the offense drags them along.
What to watch: Phillip Rivers plays a brand of sandlot football like only a few others in league history. If I’m running a scramble play, I want him, Rodgers or Wilson, and that’s it. With the temperatures expected to be 100 degrees or more in San Diego this weekend, Detroit’s lack of defensive depth could come into play.
Prediction: Chargers 27 Lions 17

Tampa Bay vs. Tennessee: It’s impossible to discuss this game without mentioning the two quarterbacks involved. I’m hard pressed to remember a time when the top 2 draft picks were both quarterbacks and it’s even harder to find a time when they played each other in week 1. If we know anything about fans, it’s that we love to overreact to early results and make broad conclusions based on small sample sizes. So as asinine as it will be, there will be hundreds of hot takes regarding Winston vs. Mariota after week 1. I covered Tampa in pretty good detail, and I still feel as though the offense will be among the strongest in the league.
Tennessee may not have the best skill position players, but they have a decent offensive line, good, if not spectacular wide receivers and like Tampa, they’re making a jump from a terrible quarterback situation (Mettenburg, Whitehurst, Locker) to one that should at least be competent. I know Mariota’s a rookie with a lot of development in front of him, but he’s also got a good skill set and a good feel for the game. It will be another bumpy season for Tennessee, but the foundation is put in place to at least be competitive offensively.
What to watch: It seems simple, but watch the two quarterbacks. Compare the way they progress through their reads and make adjustments throughout the game. I’m pretty high on Tampa Bay, and Winston’s mental abilities are a big part of that.
Prediction: Bucs 27 Titans 19

Oakland vs. Cincinnati: Raiders fans are crazy. Not in the “wow look how crazy their fans are!” way, but in a clinically insane “how could you root for that team, in that stadium with that weather?” way. It’s bad enough that they play in baseball stadium in Oakland, but since 2010, only the Browns and Jaguars have fewer wins than the Raiders. Since their 8-8 season in 2011, Oakland has gone 11- 37 over the last 3 seasons, which has earned them some high end draft picks in Khalil Mack, Derrick Carr and Amari Cooper. Mack is a complete monster, and while I’m skeptical of Carr’s abilities, they’re giving him a more than fair shot by adding Cooper and Michael Crabtree to his available options. Similar to how the Jaguars feel about Bortles, if Carr doesn’t take a step forward with the additional talent around him, they’ll begin to look elsewhere for their franchise savior. On defense, there are just too many holes to expect anything beyond mediocrity.
Remember the days when the Bengals were bad every year and their fans clamored for a competitive team? Those days are long gone, and the expectations in Cincy have changed. We’re in year 5 of the Andy Dalton era, and while the team has been successful, making the playoffs in all 4 years, the postseason success has eluded them thus far. In 4 playoff games, Dalton is 0-4 with a 55.7% completion percentage and just 1 touchdown to go with 4 interceptions. Granted, much of the team success isn’t based on his elite play, but when you pay a player like an elite quarterback, you have to get that level of play from him to justify the money. The cost in dead money goes down dramatically for the Bengals to cut Dalton beginning next year, so he’s in the same group with Kaepernick, Cutler and Tannehill  as guys who have to prove they’re deserving of the big money deals. Unlike those other 3, he doesn’t have any excuses. The Bengals have a solid offensive line, good weapons around him and a more than capable defense. This is a huge prove it year for Andy.
What to watch: Khalil Mack is an absolute terror and Cincinnati has a more than capable offensive line. It’ll be intriguing to see how Oakland moves him around the field to get the best match-up. When Cincy has the ball, I can’t take my eyes off A.J. Green, Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill. It seems obvious to watch the stars, but just because it’s obvious, doesn’t mean it’s not right.
Prediction: Bengals 38 Raiders 21

Denver vs. Baltimore: The last time these teams squared off, God himself knew it wasn’t a good idea for Baltimore and delayed the game for 33 minutes due to lightning. When He finally relented, the football god, Peyton Manning put on the most ridiculous passing display I’ve ever seen. 462 yards and 7 touchdowns later, the Broncos had served notice to the rest of the league: their offense was nothing to be trifled with. Fast forward 2 years, and Manning may still be head of the Broncos, but the body has changed dramatically. They replaced 60% of the offensive line, the tight end and the running back since 2013 and most importantly, they’re running a brand new offensive system. New Head Coach Gary Kubiak was a popular choice to replace John Fox, but his system may not be quite as popular with Peyton Manning. Last season the Broncos ran 551 passing plays from a shotgun and Manning has spent the majority of his career operating that way. Last season, Joe Flacco ran 221 dropbacks from shotgun, the lowest in the league. Denver’s ability to meld these two systems into one while also replacing key offensive pieces will be the key to their success or failure beyond Manning’s individual abilities. The defense remains a strength with elite pass rushing from Demarcus Ware and Von Miller. There’s a severe lack of depth, so as is often the case with older teams, health will be the key.
If Joe Flacco doesn’t wake up every day and say a prayer of thanks for his 2012 playoff run, he sure should be. Prior to that season, he rebuffed all contract extension talks in order to bet on himself and a solid season. After a decent, if unremarkable campaign, he went on one of the more legendary playoff runs in league history, throwing for 1140 yards, 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions while leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl title. After the season, he signed what was then the richest contract in the league, setting himself up for life, but also hamstringing the Ravens cap space. Luckily for them, their front office is one of the best in the league at finding and developing young talent, and they’ve managed to turnover the roster with a ‘studs and scrubs’ technique that’s kept them competitive while the talent develops. It’s nothing short of remarkable, and there’s no reason it won’t continue this season.
What to watch: Again, just because it’s obvious, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I may not be a big fan of Peyton Manning, but he’s a generational talent and he won’t be around for long. He runs an offense like no one else before him, and with the advent of up-tempo offenses, we won’t see another like him. Another NFL abnormality is finishing up his career on the other sideline. Steve Smith Sr. has terrorized defenses for 14 seasons, despite the fact that he’s 5′ 9″ and 165 pounds. There’s no one tougher or crazier, and we also won’t see anyone quite like him.
Prediction: Broncos 34 Ravens 20

Dallas vs. New York Giants: For years, Jerry Jones was known as a freewheeling, money spending, unpredictable son of a gun; so coming into this offseason, the common thinking was that the Cowboys would either overpay Demarco Murray or throw a Godfather offer at Minnesota for Adrian Peterson. When neither happened, we had to re-think how we feel about the Cowboys. This marked the second straight offseason that they made the smart moves to actually improve the team. Last year it was drafting offensive line depth instead of Johnny Manziel and this year they re-signed Dez Bryant to a market level deal and added an elite talent pass rusher in Randy Gregory and a potential offensive line starter in La’el Collins. With the depth at offensive line and weapons around Tony Romo, this ‘Boys offense could realistically lead the league. If the defense can even be competent; which is a good bet with Rod Marinelli around, they have the inside track to winning the division.
In New York, things are a mess. Eli Manning is better than his critics think, but worse than his Super Bowl rings suggest, and after years of building through the offensive and defensive lines, both of those units are a mess. This franchise is an example of what happens when you neglect what got you to the top. Obviously Odell Beckham makes them a must watch team and with how bad the defense should be, he’ll have plenty of opportunities in catch up situations.
What to watch: Beckham is the obvious thing, but we also need to stop and appreciate Jason Witten for Dallas. Every year he catches 80 passes, plays every game and is one of the best run blocking tight ends in the league. He’s not flashy, but he makes the right plays and keeps the offense flowing and the pressure off Dez.
Prediction: Cowboys 42 Giants 28

Monday Night:
Atlanta vs. Phiadelphia: No team had a more interesting offseason than the Philadelphia Eagles. On offense alone, they replaced both guards, running back, quarterback and their leading wide receiver. On defense there is a complete shakeup on the back 7 including the trade of a cornerback in Brandon Boykin which lead to Chip Kelly being accused of racism. Other than that, it was pretty routine in Philly. This will be the ultimate test for the Chip Kelly system. He believes that his system is more important than the players that run it, and with his complete roster control, he’ll get the chance to prove it one way or the other. The offense should still be in upper tier of the league, and if the defense stays healthy, they’ll be okay. I don’t trust the receivers they have, and Murray and Matthews have put together 1 and a half healthy seasons between the two of them in the last 4 years.
Atlanta was the team I fell in love with thanks to last years’ ‘Hard Knocks’. Watching Devontae Freeman getting his first pedicure and giggling like a teenage girl and Matt Ryan telling corny jokes just made me love them more. It doesn’t hurt that I still bust out the “Dirty Bird” when I score touchdowns in backyard football, but seeing them up close and personal put me over the top. From a personnel standpoint, they’re still incredibly top heavy, but they added good roster depth on defense, the offensive line can’t help but improve and new Head Coach, Dan Quinn is as deserving as anyone in the league. If he can do half of what he did in Seattle, they’ll be able to push Tampa in a weak division.
What to watch: The Eagles offense is still amazing to witness, and if they get Demarco Murray clicking, it could be devastating for opposing defenses. No one does better at manufacturing running lanes with schemes than Chip Kelly, and Murray is the type of explosive back to take advantage. On the other side, just watch Julio Jones.
Prediction: Falcons 27 Eagles 24

San Francisco vs. Minnesota: For anyone who dislikes arrogant and rude people, Jim Harbaugh’s non-firing-firing was the best thing that ever happened. For those of us who enjoy entertainment and good coaching, it’s a shame to see him go. The Harbaugh dismissal was just one of many bad things to happen to San Fran this offseason. They lost 4 of the top players on their defense to retirements (Willis, Borland, Smiths) and their starting running back (Frank Gore). With a diminished defense and thin offensive line, even more of the pressure goes on Colin Kaepernick. This has been a recurring them this week, but this year will decide whether they back him for the rest of his contract or cut bait now before the big money kicks in. To put it simply, if he’s not a superstar, this team will be lucky to win 5 games in a hyper competitive division.
It’s unfortunate that my favorite young quarterback plays for a team I hate more than any other. Teddy Bridgewater was the undisputed number 1 quarterback process going into the 2013 college season and had a solid season for Louisville. Somehow, scouts overlooked 3 years of film and solid play and payed attention to his combine numbers and pro day performance. Unsurprisingly, he fell all the way to the end of the first round, where Minnesota happily snatched him up. Even less surprisingly, he turned out to be a solid NFL quarterback in his first season. With Adrian Peterson back, Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace running around downfield, this offense has a chance to be special. On defense, they’ve build a solid young core with studs like Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith. Mike Zimmer is an absolute genius motivator, and I”m not too happy about how good this team can be moving forward.
What to watch: Adrian Peterson is not a human being, and falls in the category of “Generational Talent”. I’ve never seen a player run as smoothly, yet still as violently as he does. He’s one of a small handful of guys who make the offensive line good, not the other way around. He may be a completely oblivious moron, but he’s also a great player.
Prediction: Vikings 31 49ers 17

It’s hard sometimes to watch football. The damage done to these players is tough to think about, but like anything else, compartmentalization is the key. These are some of the best athletes in the world, and the things they do are just incredible. More importantly, these games give us an excuse to meet up with our friends and family and just enjoy the time together. So this year, draft a fantasy team, talk trash to your friends, eat too much on Sundays and remember, always watch the fat guys. Are you ready for some football?


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