Each week during the NFL season, our own Brett Vega gives us his views of happenings around the league. Sometimes sarcastic, and always tongue-in-cheek, Vega tours the divisions, giving you the latest.
Welcome back NFL! Training camp time, huh? Lots of excitement?
Yeah, not really.
It’s still way too early. Everything I’ve read so far has been about how good rookies look catching passes without pads on or pretending to tackle imaginary players. Really great stuff! So, I’m not gonna do that.
The Patriots are still the team to beat until further notice. At some point, Brady will regress and we’ll all say “I knew it.” Until that happens, they are the presumptive AFC favorite. The Bills look like they are trying to force a rebuild on a team that just made the playoffs. What could go wrong? The Dolphins are actually intriguing with Ryan Tannehill back. They could be really good or tank in epic fashion. The Jets will be in most games this year as long as the USC guy is on the bench. As soon as the next USC QB suits up in the NFL feel free to bet against that team until they sit him down. I figured the Jets would’ve learned their lesson after Sanchez, but bad franchises consistently make bad decisions.
The Ravens could be scary good this year. We’ve never seen them with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco on the hot seat, however. So, it could go downhill quickly if they have a slow start. The Browns have arguably made the most sound decisions for their franchise in two decades this offseason. I’m not going to let them get me again, though, this year. I’m saying six wins max and most likely two and a top-five draft pick again. The Bengals kept Marvin Lewis and Dalton — again — sorry Cincy. The Steelers haven’t heard any Big Ben retirement talk this offseason. I guess lighting a fire under a guy like that really does work. I’m anxious to see how scary this offense is in what is most likely its last year together. The loss of Todd Haley could hurt, but when you’ve got the same video-game characters playing for you, the guy calling the plays can’t bring them too far down, right?
This is going to be fun to watch. The Colts could be really good. The Jags could be really good. The Texans could be really good. The Titans should regress. Two teams are a QB injury from irrelevance and one is Bortles reverting back to being Bortles away from serious trouble. The Titans have nothing flashy or special about them, really. Just a solid defense and a good (not great) run game with a solid O-line.
Nobody is talking about the Chiefs. I don’t know why. Andy Reid has a great track record with QB’s, and making them into regular-season winners. They have outstanding skill-position offensive players. The defensive side is in serious trouble, but if they can score 30 points a game, it might not matter until the playoffs. The Chargers, on the other hand, are the team everyone is talking about. I don’t know why. Yes, they are solid at every level with a Hall of Fame QB. They are also a team that started 0-4 by losing games the same way they have for the last six years. Denver has a Super Bowl-caliber defense and a Division II college football offensive line. But, hey, they got Keenum! And our soon-to-be Vegas Raiders should have some growing pains with a full-on regime change. I fully expect them to round into form midseason, but the early portion of the year could get weird. They still have a ton of defensive problems.
Alex Smith could actually take the Redskins to the playoffs — no further than that, but he’s used to that. Jerry Jones is still a great businessman and a terrible PR guy. The Cowboys are most likely 9-7 or 8-8 again. The Giants are in the “I wouldn’t be shocked if they won 13 games” and “I wouldn’t be shocked if they lost 13 games” category. The Eagles are the best team in football on paper. Let’s see how they handle everyone gunning for them. It’s a different situation when you come out of nowhere to win a Super Bowl and rally behind your backup QB than it is to be the defending champs with a giant target on your back.
Minnesota is in for a rough go, I think. I’ll set Cousins interception over/under at 22. They have the kind of defense to overcome that type of turnover rate, though. I still think an angry Aaron Rodgers makes the Packers the division favorite. The Lions will win some games they shouldn’t and lose some games they should win. 9-7? 7-9? The Bears aren’t going to make the playoffs, but they should overachieve this year.
Three playoff teams. The Saints are the trendy darkhorse Super Bowl pick. I don’t like it. The way they lost to the Vikings sticks with young teams. Carolina will be in the mix all year with their boring play-style and good defense. One Cam injury, though, and that team is done. Tampa can’t be worse than they were last year. They might spoil a few playoff dreams for this division. Atlanta is due for a huge season. No more Super Bowl hangover and a young hungry defense. Matt Ryan and company might be back to 26-plus points a game form now that they are in year two with the offensive coordinator.
The Rams had a very Yankees’ like offseason. Historically buying a championship doesn’t work in the NFL. At least not the first year. Teams need time to jell. The 49ers are another trendy pick. I’ll put their ceiling at nine wins. They still have a ton of holes to fill. Arizona still has a ton of talented guys on its roster at every level. None of that matters because its offensive line is a turnstile, they grabbed Sam Bradford, who is injured every time I blink, and the backup is a UCLA rookie QB. Name me the last consistent playoff winning QB from a Southern California school? I’ll wait. And, of course, the sky is falling in Seattle. The Legion of Boom is done. They didn’t address the poor offensive line other than signing Brown to an extension. They still have no receivers and they lost Graham. Oh yeah, Russell Wilson is still the starting QB. Don’t be shocked if they win this division.