Monday, October 3, 2016

NFL Observations: Week 4

Through 4 weeks in the NFL season and finally we are starting to get a picture of each team. Here are my thoughts per game this week:


Miami 7 Cincinnati 22 - The Bengals are what we thought they were (to quote the great Dennis Green): a very solid team on offense and defense. But as I always say with Cincy, tell who is starting when the playoffs come around and I'll tell you if they finally win a postseason game. Health is the biggest enemy of Who Dey.
As for Miami, their OL is trash (both from injuries and talent) and as we see in Indy even good QBs struggle when they are under duress. That being said, Tannehill is the epitome of an average quarterback. Adam Gase has his work cut out for him. P.S. never wear those awful peach pajama uniforms again!!!!

Early Sunday Games

Indianapolis 27 London Jags 30 - The annual trip to Jolly Ol England for Jax was just what they needed to get their 1st win of 2016. That being said, they have the worst coaching staff in the NFL and damn near gave this thing away. Sadly I still believe the Jags will win the AFC South meaning Jaguar fans are stuck with Gus Bradley for another year.
Guess what, Jim Irsay (the Colts pill-popping owner)? You are about to cut some big checks to fire both HC and GM after you talked them into coming back last year. Indy is a mess due to bad drafting in previous years and bad coaching since Bruce Arians left for the desert. Time to clean house or you'll get Andy Luck broken.

Seattle 27 NYJ 17 - I picture Pete Carroll as Mr Miyagi standing over Russ Wilson’s leg running his hands together for healing. Seattle’s OL is absolute crap and yet Wilson makes it work somehow. Meanwhile Generation D is still the best west of the Mississippi.
9 picks in 2 weeks for Fitz is not why you paid him all that money. Because Geno, Petty or Hack could do that. The age of this team is showing through injury both on offense and defense. In addition, the Jets secondary is garbage. Look for Pryor to leave via free agency and Revis to move to FS. Then all you need is 2 starting CBs. Ugh

Carolina 33 Atlanta 48 - Maybe Car is rethinking letting Josh Norman walk? Their rookie CBs got more than abused by Matty Ice and Jules. Also, the magical armor that Cam wore last year has worn off and that OL in front of him is to blame.
Wow Atlanta! If you get a million yards a week maybe you can cover for that crap defense. Too bad your HC is supposed to be a defensive wiz. The addition of Alex Mack has finally locked in the OL for success. Now they need a true tone setter on defense. And maybe a scheme that works.

Oakland 28 Baltimore 27 - Great comeback for the Raiders for the 2nd time in 4 weeks as they are young team learning how to win. The defense still has big question marks, even under Del Rio’s thumb, but Carr is starting to step forward. Oakland could still be a wildcard team if that continues.
Baltimore relies on an old pass rush, an even older WR and a RB that was cast off from Cleveland. And yet they finally lost their 1st game. Getting Kenneth Dixon back from injury will help but I'm betting the Ravens end up closer to 8-8 than the playoffs.

Detroit 14 Chicago 17 - That's the Lions team I expected coming into 2016. No running game, Stanford under pressure throwing picks and injuries everywhere. Finishing behind the Bears should cost Caldwell his job.
The Bears have found something in Jordan Howard. If 2016 produces only that, it could be worse. Now they just need 2 OTs, WRs that aren't constantly hurt, a defense and to dump Cutler and they'll be good. #sarcasm

Tennessee 20 Houston 27 - In the best interest of all involved, can the league force the Titans to trade Mariota to Chip Kelly? The best thing about Tenn is watching Dick LeBeau work his magic on that defense. Otherwise Titans games are painful.
If you listen real close during a Texans game, you can hear John Elway laughing his ass off every time Houston has the ball! The Great Osweiler, as sold to us by ESPN, is just dreadful. Good thing he has fast WRs that can catch the bomb because that's the only pass he can make. That being said, the Texans still might be the best team in the AFC South. Sad panda.

Buffalo 16 New England 0 - Maybe their OC was the problem in Buffalo. I mean, asking a QB to make routine throws from the pocket is a bridge too far. But the Ryan twins do have the D starting to crank up and Buffalo will be un-fun to play week to week.
Not even Bellicheat could BS through 2 injured QBs 2 weeks in a row. So the Pats go 3-1 without Brady and are everyone’s favorite for SB LI. Unfortunately at this point I must agree with the masses.

Cleveland 20 Washington 31 - This is the exact type of game that got Cousins the franchise tag. Beating up a bad team with 3 TDs and a solid rushing attack. Whoever ends up paying him will rue the day (see Houston above). Also that defense is a sieve vs the run.
Poor poor Brownies. They can't buy a break. Josh Gordon surely has failed another test (no one goes to rehab just because) and the list of starters for Cle continues to grow. Maybe another city can steal them away and they can be an expansion team again.

Late Sunday Games

Denver 27 Tampa Bay 7 - The Kubiak system is designed to de-emphasize the QB by putting him on the move and making his reads easier. Siemian has been solid but gets hurt. In comes Paxton Lynch and he looks ok. With that defense though, they can still get by for now.
Tampa is just so beat up. Winston didn't stand a chance with a patchwork OL and no running game. This team needs another really good draft or 2 before they can be serious contenders.

LA 17 Arizona 13 - After looking like a 0-16 team after week 1, the Rams have peeled off 3 straight wins. However, this is another 3-1 fool’s gold type of teams. Gurley hasn't really gotten on track yet and Keenum is very hit or miss. But that DL is wrecking havoc on teams with poor OL play. I'll be interested to see if that continues going forward.
WTF Cardinals? This was supposed to be your year to win the SB and you are 1-3! The only WR doing anything is old man Larry and the OL got Palmer hurt . . . again. Meanwhile the defense is giving up huge chunk plays and not getting the pressure they should be. Arians has got to right this ship quickly or they will fall too far behind to catch up in the NFC.

New Orleans 35 San Diego 34 - What a fun and yet awful game! Brees gets his revenge over Rivers and the Bolts The Saints solved their run defense. Now they gotta work on that pass defense, which is terrible.
This was a battle of who could turn the ball over more. The Saints won despite only 198 yards of offense due to short fields given by the Chargers. The SD defense has been much better than expected (even without 1st rounder Bosa) but these late losses are gonna get HC McCoy run.

Dallas 24 SF 17 - This game went exactly as I expected except for 1 play. Dallas used their short passing game and rushing attack to grind out a victory versus a lesser Niner team. At 7.7 yards per attempt, Prescott has proven to be a Plus Bus Driver QB. But now the schedule grows difficult (Cin, @GB) and he will be asked to do more. How he responds could dictate this entire season and the course of the franchise as a (glory) whole.
The one play I missed (as did Gabbert) was the bomb to Torrey Smith. If he doesn't wildly underthrow that ball, I do believe SF steals a win. But he did, because he's Gabbert, and the Niners fall to 1-3.


Kansas City 14 Pittsburgh 43 - Look, KC is not a good team. They beat the Chargers in the opener by a furious comeback and beat a Jets team that gave them the ball 8 times. The Chiefs will not make the playoffs. Come at me!
Pittsburgh with Leveon Bell back are scary good. If you can't double AB because you are trying to stuff the run, you will lose. And no one loves exploiting matchups like Todd Haley. The pass rush still worries me a bit (they tripled their sack total with 4 vs KC) but we seemed destined for a NE v Pitt AFC Championship game.


NYG vs Minnesota - I expect a really great game tonight that is a defensive struggle. The Vikings will be forced to put the ball in Bradford’s hands as they cannot run vs the Giants DL. His success or failure will decide the outcome. Meanwhile, Eli will be under duress all game and hoping his dynamic WRs can make plays for him. Prediction NYG 24 Minn 20

Monday, August 8, 2016

Arizona Cardinals 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 13-3

2015 could have very well been the Cardinals year (as predicted by Madden 2016) except for the juggernaut that was the Panthers. A loss in the NFC Championship game and yet another injury to 36 year old Carson Palmer put an end to hopes of another Super Bowl for this veteran squad. But hope springs anew in the desert this season as a 2 year window for Palmer/Fitzgerald and company makes the time to strike now.

Offseason Moves

Key Additions – G Evan Mathis, OLB Chandler Jones, CB/S Tyvon Branch, LB Donald Butler, CB Mike Jenkins
Key Losses – T Bobby Massie, G Jonathan Cooper, C Lyle Sendelein, DE Cory Redding, CB Jerraud Powers, S Rashad Johnson
2016 Draft Class – DE Robert Nkemdiche, CB Brandon Williams, G/C Evan Boehm

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Harold Goodwin
Base Offense – 3WR 1 RB vertical attack

In 2015 a number of “wily” veterans stepped back into their old form for the Cardinals, like RB Chris Johnson, WR Larry Fitzgerald and QB Carson Palmer. Along with some new found talent in the youth of this team, the Cardinals will need another solid year from these veterans and others to finally get over the hump and being playing in Houston on Feb 5th.

Perhaps no one player holds the Cardinals fate like veteran QB Carson Palmer. Each of the past 2 seasons has ended battling injuries as his Cardinals fall in the playoffs. Keeping him upright and productive is vital. Behind Palmer stands 32 year old Drew Stanton, a very capable backup who himself has battled injuries in his brief stints. The 3rd QB spot will be a battle between former USC Trojan Matt Barkley and UDFA Jake Coker from Alabama. I expect Coker to win that spot and show some flashes in the preseason.

Running back was a bit of a question mark coming into 2015 after missing out on draft target Ameer Abdullah in the draft and settling for David Johnson out of Northern Iowa. But Johnson paired with veteran Chris Johnson to form a powerful RB tandem and finish with a top 10 rushing attack. Chris Johnson was lost late in the season to a leg injury and the young rookie stepped in to start. Now the Johnsons are joined by returning veteran Andre Ellington and should provide nice balance to the Cardinals attack.

At wideout, the Cards boast some incredible depth with Michael Floyd and speedster John Brown on the outside and old man Larry Fitzgerald now fully integrated as a slot receiver. Fitzgerald represents a trend that many teams (Jets, Bears, Steelers) are using with bigger WRs manning the slot versus generally shorter nickel backs. Throw in return specialist and also speedy JJ Nelson and the Cards have a good stockpile of weapons for Palmer. The only real need for Arizona here is for Michael Floyd to become more consistent and become a true #1 threat. At TE, Darren Fells and Jermaine Gresham offer a nice balance of run blocking and pass catching ability and are backed up by former Notre Damer Troy Niklas, who is still trying to overcome injuries.

The O-line was much improved in 2015 and hopes to get even better this season. Jared Veldheer at LT has been rock-solid, but RT now belongs to former first round pick DJ Humphries. If Humphries can regain his form out of college recovering from injury, the Cards have very nice bookends. Inside, stalwart Mike Iupati is locked in at LG and newly acquired free agent Even Mathis is at RG. The center position will be a battle after the departure of Lyle Sendelein between journeyman AQ Shipley and 4th rounder Evan Boehm out of Mizzou. Expect Boehm to get the nod eventually as being surrounded by solid veterans will make the rookie’s transition easier.

Overall, the Cardinals should have no problem moving the ball down the field in 2016. However, they must learn to be more consistent in the red zone and must keep their veteran QB healthy for 16 games and beyond. If they can do that, there is no reason this offense isn’t playing for a Super Bowl.

2016 Defensive Outlook:

Defensive Coordinator – James Bettcher
Base Defense – Hybrid 3-4 with heavy blitzing tendencies

2015 saw the Cardinals pair their #1 ranked offense with the #5 ranked defense. Despite not having a dominate pass rusher (leading sack man was 36 year old Dwight Freeney with 8.0) the Cardinals schemed their way using exotic blitzes and their amazing secondary. In 2016, they now have added an edge rusher they hope can finally be a force in the pass rush and continue to upgrade other parts through the draft. The question remains if their playmakers can stay healthy and if this can finally be a championship squad.

On the defensive line, long-time veteran DE Cory Redding has been replaced by rookie Robert Nkemdiche. Assuming they can keep him away from suspension (and open windows) this should be a positive upgrade for the pass rush. Returning starters DE Calais Campbell and NT Corey Peters (recovering from Achilles surgery) are solid versus the run and the depth is also solid. The D-line is ready to hold up its end of the bargain in 2016.

The Cards made a bold move this offseason, trading disappointing 1st round pick G Jonathan Cooper and a 2nd round pick to New England for pass rusher Chandler Jones. This could finally be the dominating presence this defense has lacked over the past few years as Jones is in a contract year. Opposite him is former Mizzou Tiger Markus Golden who came on at the end of 2015 with 3 of his 4 sacks in the final 6 games. Alex Okafor and Shaq Riddick should also see some time in rotation. Inside, the Cardinals have gone with speed over size, pairing LB Kevin Minter with converted safety Deone Bucannon as starters. If the D-line can keep these two clean to roam both versus the run and the pass it is perhaps the quickest 3-4 ILB group in the league. Veteran Donald Butler was signed for depth and toughness.

The secondary is loaded with star power, headlined by star CB Patrick Peterson. Opposite Peterson is a battle between incumbent Justin Bethel, FA Mike Jenkins, rookie 3rd round pick Brandon Williams out of Texas A&M and the recovering Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu. The real key to the Cardinals success in 2015 was Mathieu, who lines up all over the defense from safety to nickel. His return to health is vital. In addition to Mathieu at safety, the Cardinals signed Chiefs FA Tyvon Branch to add to run stuffer DJ Swearinger and incumbent starterTony Jefferson. This mix-and-match element to the secondary drives opposing QBs crazy and is the real key to the Cardinals stop unit.

Overall, the Cardinals need rookies Nkemdiche and Williams to contribute immediately and need star DB Tyrann Mathieu to come back healthy from his 2nd ACL tear. If those 2 things happen, this unit is ready to make a run at the championship.

2016 Prediction:

Record – 14-2 (1st in the NFC West)
If the injury bug will stay out of the desert, the Cardinals should be the #1 seed in the NFC and the favorite to go to Super Bowl LI. Perhaps the trainers should be the first to hoist the Lombardi trophy if they win it this year, with the recoveries of Palmer, Mathieu, CJ2K, Peters and many others needed for a Super Bowl run. If that happens or they can find the depth to fill in, Arizona should be playing well into 2017.

Fantasy Oulook:

Stud – Arizona D, David Johnson
Sleeper – WR John Brown, TE Darren Fells
Bust – WR Michael Floyd

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Seattle Seahawks 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 10-6

2015 turned out to be a transitional year for the Seahawks, turning from a run-first offense to a team keyed by Russell Wilson’s play-making ability. Losing Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham, a shuffling O-line and attrition on defense did not allow the team to repeat as Super Bowl participants for the 3rd time. But a return trip to the playoffs at 10-6 and a 1st round miracle victory versus the Vikings was still a solid year and has the Seahawks hoping to return to the Big Game again in 2016.

Offseason Moves

Key Additions – OT Bradley Sowell, OT J’Marcus Webb, DT Sealver Siliga, G Jahri Evans
Key Losses – RB Marshawn Lynch, OT Russell Okung, G JR Sweezy, DT Brandon Mebane, LB Bruce Irvin
2016 Draft Class – G/T Germain Ifidi, DT Jarran Reed, RB CJ Prosise, TE Nick Vannett, RB Alex Collins, G Rees Odhiambo

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Darrell Bevell
Base Offense – Spread Option

After a rough start in 2015 due to injuries, hold outs and chemistry issues, the Seahawks bounced back from 2-4 to finish 10-6 and gain a wildcard spot in the NFC. Under the steady hand of Pete Carroll and the newly married Russell Wilson, the Seahawks will look for more answers this season for an offense with even more question marks.

One place not is question is the starting QB spot. Russell Wilson showed that he was more than just a bus driver in 2015, leading the league with a 110.1 QB Rating. Becoming the focal point of the offense, Wilson will need to stay just as excellent and as healthy for the Hawks to be contenders in 2016. Behind Wilson is undrafted rookie Trevone Boykin out of TCU and untested 2nd year player Jake Heaps. Hardly an insurance policy against injury.

Thomas Rawls emerged last season as the heir apparent to the now retired Marshawn Lynch until a broken leg ended his season in 2015. Rawls starts camp on the PUP list but looks to be back by opening day. Behind him the Seahawks had some success with former castoff Christine Michael, who has seemed to finally matured into his potential. In addition, the Seahawks drafted 3 RBs, CJ Prosise out of Notre Dame, Alex Collins of Arkanasa and Zac Brooks of Clemson. Prosise, a converted WR, will likely nail down the 3rd down back roll and Collins will be the change of pace back if he can stay healthy.

Golden Tate left prior to the 2015 season making Doug Baldwin the #1 option at WR. In addition, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson and the speedy Tyler Lockett formed a very solid foursome. Lockett will likely be a breakout star in 2016 building on his rookie season. At tight end, Jimmy Graham was lost in Week 12 last year to a torn patellar tendon and may start 2016 on the PUP list. That injury is very tough to recover from and may make Graham, who already struggled to fit into Bevell’s system previously, mostly a non-factor this season. In his stead, the Seahawks drafted Ohio St TE Nick Vannett to pair with Luke Wilson. Vannett is a solid blocker with the athletic potential to be a better weapon than he showed in college.

Perhaps no bigger question faces the 2016 Seahawks than the offensive line. Gone was stalwart LT Russell Okung via free agency. In his place, the versatile Garry Gilliam has switched from right to left tackle. On the other side is a competition between free agents J’Marcus Webb, Bradley Sowell and rookies Germain Ifedi and George Fant. This is hardly a group that inspires confidence though that could be said of last year’s 3rd best run unit too. At guard, Mark Glowinski should start on the left side, with the right side likely being one of the losers for the RT spot (Ifedi or Webb) or rookie 3rd round pick Rees Odhiambo (UPDATE: The Hawks signed Jahri Evans on Aug 6th at RG). The center will be former guard Justin Britt, one of the bright spots on the line last year. How this group gels in training camp and in the early part of the year is key to their success this season.

Overall, Darrell Bevell’s system has proven it can overcome a lot of challenges and still be a Top 5 offense, thanks to the playmaking of Russell Wilson. If Rawls can come back healthy and the OL can be decent, the Seahawks should have a playoff quality offense again in 2016.

2016 Defensive Outlook:
Defensive Coordinator – Kris Richard
Base Defense – 4-3 hybrid Tampa 2

The Seahawks finished with the 2nd ranked defense in 2015 and 1st in points allowed. With the return of Kam Chancellor after a holdout early in 2015, the Seahawks continued their dominate ways with the Legion of Boom secondary and a dynamic pass rush. The 2016 team has a few holes to fill but should still be a very dominate unit.

On the D-line, the Seahawks lost run stuffer Brandon Mebane to San Diego but replaced him with 2nd round pick Jarran Reed out of Alabama and FA Sealver SIliga from New England. With incumbent DTs Jordan Hill and Ahtyba Rubin the Seattle run defense is stout. On the edge, the controversial Michael Bennett mans the left side. On the right side is Cliff Avril with Frank Clark also pushing for time. The D-line should remain as solid as ever given health in 2016.

The Linebacking spot took a hit with the loss of pass-rushing specialist Bruce Irvin to Oakland. KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner still make 2/3 of a very solid core but the third spot is in flux. Kevin Pierre-Louis and Michael Morgan will compete for the spot on run downs, but look for DE Frank Clark and CB/S Brandon Browner to both get time there on passing/nickel packages. If DC Kris Richard can be creative, this could be another added wrinkle for opposing OCs to worry about.

The secondary is the strength of the Seahawk D. Richard Sherman, Tharold Simon and Jeremy Lane make up a very solid tandem at CB if they can all stay healthy. At safety, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are still the best safety group in the league. The depth behind them, however, is suspect so they too will need to stay healthy.

Overall, the Seahawks should expect to be a top 5 defense in the league provided their veterans can stay healthy and they can consistently generate enough pressure on the QB. But to go from excellent to elite, they will also need to generate more turnovers than in 2015 (T-18th).

2016 Prediction:
Record – 10-6 (2nd in NFC West)

With a lot of injury questions and a pretty brutal division, the Seahawks should still duplicate last year’s win total and make the playoffs as a wildcard. This team could be one in which it is better to face them earlier in the season than later as they gel and find answers at various positions. And, of course, don’t forget that home field advantage.

Fantasy Oulook:
Stud – QB Russell Wilson (only if you get rushing and passing yards/TDs), Seattle D
Sleeper – WR Tyler Lockett, TE Nick Vannett
Bust – RB Thomas Rawls (split carries), TE Jimmy Graham

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Los Angeles Rams 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 7-9

The final season for the Rams in St Louis ended with a whimper but did find a future superstar in RB Todd Gurley. With him to build around, the Rams reversed the RGIII trade and traded up to the #1 pick to land Jared Goff. 2016 will be all about his maturation with the hope to actually start contending in 2017.

Offseason Moves

Key Additions – CB Coty Sensabaugh, DT Dominique Easley, DE Quinton Coples
Key Losses – CB Janoris Jenkins, TE Jared Cook, DE Chris Long, DT Nick Fairley, LB James Laurinitis, S Rodney McCleod
2016 Draft Class – QB Jared Goff, TE Tyler Higbee, WR Pharoah Cooper

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Rod Boras and Mike Groh
Base Offense – 2WR 2TE run heavy offense

The Rams changed OCs midway through last season, resulting in a much heavy run emphasis (56-44 run to pass ratio) and a 3-1 end to 2015. Look for this trend to continue with a rookie QB to groom and not a lot of great weapons in the passing game.
All the buzz will be around 1st overall pick Jared Goff and rightly so. Goff has solid pocket awareness and above average accuracy and arm strength. The big key for the Rams will be to keep his somewhat slight frame upright and not make him win games for them early. In fact, Goff could start the season on the bench behind incumbent Case Keenum. Keenum is a solid bus driver type that could ease the transition to Goff with a tough first 4 games (@SF, Sea, @TB, @Ariz). However, Goff rolling out opening night would not be a surprise (and hopefully not a mistake).

Todd Gurley rebounded from a blown out knee his senior year in college to finish 3rd in the league in rushing yards. The only real concern with Gurley is not wearing him out with a full season of carries. Unfortunately the depth behind offers little relief, with Benny Cunningham, Malcolm Brown and rookie Aaron Green from TCU battling for time. Gurley should be a 3 down back and be an absolute fantast stud.

This is the year for Tavon Austin to finally be the factor he was expected to be when the Rams traded up into the Top 10 of the draft for him. Likely used at both WR and some RB, Austin must become a consistent target for his QB and have more than 66 yards rec (his high in 2015) to get paid. With him at the WR spot is mercurial Kenny Britt, highly disappointing Brian Quick and rookies Pharoah Cooper and Mike Thomas. Cooper is interesting as his game is very similar to Austin’s, undersized and quick with need for more polish as an actual WR. Add to this TEs Lance Kendricks (better as a blocker than receiver) and rookie Tyler Higbee (terrible blocker but dynamic as stand-up TE if he stays out of trouble and healthy) and the Rams skill positions are questionable at best.

On the offensive line the Rams boast a lot of beef but few difference makers. Greg Robinson, the jewel of the RGIII trade, finally started to show some of the promise that made him the 2nd pick overall. However, he is still much better as a run blocker than pass blocker and will need to continue to show improvement. Rob Havenstein on the right side is solid, not allowing a sack in 2015. Inside, Rodger Saffold hopes to stay healthy at LG, Jamon Brown showed himself capable at RG and Tim Barnes was just resigned at C. Overall this group is much like the rest of the Rams team: dependent on a quality run game to make up deficiencies  in the passing game.

Overall, the Rams will be a tough team to play each week with a powerful running game led by Gurley. If Goff develops quickly during the season, this team will get tougher each and every week. If not, they may wear out their superstar and damage the psyche of the future star.

2016 Defensive Outlook:

Defensive Coordinator – Gregg Williams
Base Defense – Blitz heavy 4-3

The Rams have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball that only shows up in flashes during the season. Bountygate villain Gregg Williams calls an aggressive gameplan and regularly takes risks on blitzes. With some attrition via free agency this past year, the Rams are asking for answers from some new members in new places. How that works out could make or break the Rams in 2016.

Last year the Rams front four boasted four 1st round picks. But gone is Chris Long, replaced by William Hayes (and that might be an upgrade). Opposite him is the quick Robert Quinn who battled injuries in 2015. Behind them is Jets first round bust Quinton Coples and Eugene Sims who should both see time in rotation. The beast of this group is DT Aaron Donald with 11 sacks last year. Alongside him is run stuffer Michael Brockers and Patriot castoff Dominique Easley. If Easley can regain his health and speed, the Rams might have the toughest DT duo in football.

The LB group is perhaps the most fascinating on the team. Gone is longtime stalwart James Laurinitis, replaced in the middle by the athletic Alec Ogletree. How Ogletree adjusts to making the play calls and leading the defense will be something to watch. With him is strongside backer and blitz specialist Akeem Ayers and converted safety Mark Barron. Barron finished 2015 at weakside LB and will get the chance to continue there is 2016. If he can hold up physically, this will be a very fast group of linebackers. If not, look for rookie (and also hybrid safety) Josh Forrest of Kentucky to get a shot.

If problems arise in 2016 for the Rams, it might be in the secondary. Gone is #1 CB Janoris Jenkins to NYG, leaving franchise-tagged Trumaine Johnson as the man. Opposite him will be a battle including EJ Gaines, Lamarcus Joyner and FA Coty Sensabaugh. Safety might be in even worse shape with the departure of Rodney McCleod to the Eagles. TJ McDonald is at 1 safety and the other is either Cody Davis or Maurice Alexander (for now).

Overall on defense, the Rams have a solid front 7 and a weakened secondary. In order for their run first approach on offense to work, they will need to limit teams with their pass rush and hope to not fall behind on big plays. That will be difficult.

2016 Prediction:
Record – 6-10 (3rd in the NFC West)

Despite perhaps finally finding a quality starter at the QB spot, 2016 is going to be another building year for the Rams. Perhaps the new weather in LA will help, but more likely the holes on this roster will cause a slight regression. However they will be a tough team to play and a fun team to watch each and every week for their new California fan base.

Fantasy Oulook:

Stud – RB Todd Gurley
Sleeper – WR Pharoah Cooper, TE Tyler Higbee
Bust – WR Tavon Austin, Rams Defense

San Francisco 49ers 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 5-11

The 2015 season for the 49ers ended before it began with a rash of retirements and the departure of Jim Harbaugh. Into that breach stepped sacrificial lamb HC Jim Tomsula. A change in QB from Kaepernick to Gabbert, a 31st ranked offense and 29th ranked defense all added up to a organizational change. And that change is known as Chip Kelly.

Offseason Moves

Key Additions - G Zane Beadles
Key Losses – RB Reggie Bush, WR Anquan Boldin, G Alex Boone
2016 Draft Class – DE DeForest Buckner, G Josh Garnett, CB Will Redmond, CB Rashard Robinson, DE Ronald Blair, T John Theus

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Curtis Modkins
Base Offense – No Huddle 2 WR 2 TE 1 back Spread

Unlike the last time Chip Kelly rolled into an organization, the Niners refrained from spending wildly in free agency. As a result, the 49ers have the most cap space still available in the league. It seems as though this season will be a discovery process for the roster and next season will likely be the big free agency bonanza.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the addition of Chip Kelly is to find an answer at the QB spot. That answer could come in a couple of ways. First on that list is the resurrection of Colin Kaepernick. After a promising start to his career and then a big payday, Kaepernick regressed mightily over the past 2 years with off-field questions, trade rumors and a benching. However, Kaepernick should be an ideal fit in the Chip Kelly system with his athleticism and arm strength. But his career is at a crossroads that is entirely up to him. The 2nd answer to the QB question might come is the former 1st rounder Blaine Gabbert. Cast off from Jacksonville, Gabbert looked ok in his time in SF and earned the starting nod by the end of the year. Gabbert also could be a solid fit in Kelly’s scheme as he played a very similar system in college at Mizzou and will likely get the first chance to start in 2016. Young players Thad Lewis and rookie Jeff Driskel will compete for the 3rd spot and also fit the Kelly mold. No matter what the final record in 2016, if they can find a solid QB for the future the season should be deemed a success.

The run game perhaps suffered the most in 2015, dropping from 4th overall to 21st. After a fast start, Carlos Hyde went down in October with a foot injury but should be back healthy in 2016. Behind him is 2nd year RB Mike Davis and rookie Kelvin Taylor out of Florida. Given that Hyde came from that spread system in college at Ohio State, Hyde could be a quality fantasy player by putting up consistent numbers.

The skill positions are not as set or as deep as the backs. Torrey Smith is the #1 WR for SF but the other spots are an open competition. Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington will likely win the 2nd and 3rd WR spots respectively, with Ellington having a real chance to be a break out player with his speed. Also expect to see a lot of 2 TE sets in the Chip Kelly spread with Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek both getting time and maybe even former OU QB Blake Bell developing.

Up front the Niners once vaunted OL has been slowly degraded. Joe Staley still mans the LT spot and Anthony Davis, just reinstated by the league, will compete for the RT spot with underwhelming incumbent Erik Pears. Inside Alex Boone got big money to leave for Minnesota and is replaced by journeyman Zane Beadles. First round pick Josh Garnett should start at the other guard spot and Daniel Kilgore returns at C. Though not a top tier OL, it is still the best line Chip Kelly has fielded in the NFL and might do well in his run heavy system.

Overall, the offense of the 49ers should be much better in 2016 because Chip Kelly has had success on that side of the ball consistently. With mobility at QB, a bellcow back that fits the scheme, speed for days at WR and a solid OL, the Niners might be better than many expect.

2016 Defensive Outlook:

Defensive Coordinator – Jim O’Neill
Base Defense – Blitz heavy 3-4

The Niners will keep their 3-4 scheme under Chip Kelly and new HC Jim O’Neill. O’Neill is from the Rex Ryan coaching tree and brings that attacking style defense with him to the West Coast.

The Niners have spent their last 2 first round picks on the DE position in a couple of Oregon Ducks Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Unfortunately, NT Ian Williams is out for the season so the strength of the line could be tested.

Losing both captain Patrick Willis and youngster Chris Borland rally hurt in 2015 and still hurts in 2016. Navarro Bowman continues to lead this unit, though he hasn’t really been the same since his awful knee injury 2 years ago. Alongside him inside is a collection of average guys including Gerald Hodges and Shayne Skov. Outside dynamic pass rusher (and dynamic knucklehead) Aaron Lynch is suspended the first 4 games, leaving Eli Harold or maybe Tank Carradine to fill in. The other side features elder statesman Ahmad Brooks meaning the Niners are going to need to be very creative in their blitz packages to get consistent pressure on the QB.

The secondary is also pretty underwhelming. Tramaine Brock and Jimmie Ward start at the CB spot with Dontae Johnson or Chris Davis manning the nickel. Given the need for blitzing these corners might be hung out to dry a lot and that probably isn’t a good idea. At safety the just ok Eric Reid is flanked by veteran Antoine Bethea but both could get pushed by 2nd year Jaquiski Tartt.

Overall on defense, the Niners could really struggle. Short of Jim O’Neill pulling some schematic miracles, the 49ers defense will likely be in the bottom 3rd of the league again in 2016.

2016 Prediction:
Record – 3-13 (4th in the NFC West)

It seems as though Chip Kelly is easing into his 2nd stint in the NFL rather than the mass changes he brought with him into Philly. As a result, year 1 could be a tough ride and will likely result in a top 5 pick in next year’s draft. However, the offense should be fun to watch and they will be a tough team to face most weeks.

Fantasy Oulook:
Stud – RB Carlos Hyde, Vance McDonald
Sleeper – WR Bruce Ellington
Bust – WR Torrey Smith, Either QB

Friday, July 29, 2016

Denver Broncos 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 12-4

The Super Bowl Champs had a magical run in 2015. Fueled by a relentless defense led by newly paid Von Miller and an offense tailored to an aging and physically limited Peyton Manning. But as with almost champions, the following offseason is full of attrition and change. Gone is Manning and his backup Brock Osweiler along with several other key free agents. In their place, HC Gary Kubiak is finally getting to implement the offense he wants and hopes that it plus a dominant defense can take him back to the mountaintop.

Offseason Moves:

Key Additions – QB Mark Sanchez, OT Russell Okung, OT Donald Stephenson, TE Garrett Graham, DE Jared Crick

Key Losses – QB Peyton Manning, QB Brock Osweiler, DE Malik Jackson, LB Danny Trevathan, OT Ryan Clady, TE Owen Daniels, S David Bruton, G Louis Vasquez

2016 Draft Class – QB Paxton Lynch, DE Adam Gostis, S Justin Simmons, RB Devontae Booker, G Connor McGovern

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Rick Dennison
Base Offense – 1 back 2 TE 2 WR zone blocking scheme

The offense the Broncos ran in 2015 will look much different in 2016. With the limitations on Payton’s mobility and arm strength, Kubiak and OC Rick Dennison scrapped a lot of the stretch runs and QB waggles normally seen in the Kubiak zone blocking scheme. With the Super Bowl capital to spend, the Broncos coaching staff will get back to their fundamentals this year.

The Broncos made the bold and almost unprecedented decision to let their “franchise QB” walk in Brock Osweiler, mostly because he is a bad fit for the scheme they want to run. In his place, the Broncos will have an open competition between veteran FA Mark Sanchez, developmental prospect Trevor Siemian and 1st round pick Paxton Lynch. Sanchez will likely get the chance to to start at first given his experience, though Siemian could surprise and win the battle in camp with his experience in this system. Lynch should probably red shirt this year as he is so raw, but might see action as the season goes on. This position will likely be the most crucial to the Broncos success in 2016 and is perhaps the shakiest on the roster.

With questions at QB, the running game will need to be better in 2016 to help compensate on offense. CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman return as the 1-2 punch in the backfield and are supplemented by rookie Devontae Booker out of Utah. Anderson will need to stay healthy and Hillman will need to stop fumbling. Booker is very talented but is still trying to recover from a knee injury in college and his own fumbling questions.

If they can get the ball consistently, the receivers group on the Broncos can be a big play force on offense. Starters Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders form the best duo in the division. The 3rd WR spot is up for grabs between Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer and many others. At tight end, Owen Daniels will be replaced by Texans FA Garrett Graham and 2015 draft choice Jeff Heuerman. Both should see quite a bit of time this year.

The offensive line saw quite a bit of change in the offseason. G Louis Vasquez and OT Ryan Clady are gone, replaced by FA Russell Okung and a camp battle including draftee Connor McGovern. At RT, Donald Stephenson was signed from KC. Fully adapting to the zone blocking scheme should really help this unit if they can stay healthy.

Overall the Broncos have a very talented roster on offense but will need to find the right signal caller to make it all work. If they do, they should expect to be playing in the postseason. If not it could be a disappointing title defense.

2016 Defensive Outlook:

Defensive Coordinator – Wade Phillips
Base Defense – 3-4 man coverage attacking defense

Even if you aren't a Broncos fan, it was pretty cool to Wade Phillips, the son of Bum Phillips, finally get to hoist the Super Bowl trophy. And his defense was the primary reason. But a few key pieces are gone so he will have to answer a few questions to get his crew back to the same level.

Malik Jackson got a truckload of money to take his talents to Jacksonville. His replacements are Jared Crick from Houston and rookie Adam Gostis. While this group is likely to be a bit lesser than last year, it still should be plenty good. Of interest is to see if Browns castoff and former 1st rounder Phil Taylor can make the Broncos final roster.

SB MVP Von Miller got paid and is now the highest paid defensive player in football. And that money is well deserved and will hopefully continue to be. On the other side, DeMarcus Ware is starting to show signs of age with a bad back coming into the season but is backed up by Shane Ray so the pass rush should be great. Inside is a different story. Danny Trevathan left via free agency, leaving only Brandon Marshall and a question mark behind. If the run defense for the Broncos suffers in 2016, it will probably have a lot to do with this position.

The Broncos secondary should be the real strength of the defense in 2016, losing only 1 starter in free agency. Chris Harris Jr, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby make up one of the best CB depth charts in the league. Staying healthy and hungry is the only real question there. At safety, TJ Ward is locked at one spot and the other is between the serviceable Darian Stewart from Baltimore and rookie Justin Simmons.

Overall, the Broncos defense is likely the best in the division. But how much they have to compensate for a struggling offense and the attrition that might cause is the big question.

2016 Prediction:

Record – 8-8 (3rd in AFC West)

Super Bowl hangover and free agent losses will add up to around a .500 record. All 3 QBs on the roster will likely get starts in an effort to solve that issue and that could make the losses add up against a 1st place schedule and a tough division.

Fantasy Oulook:

Stud – Broncos Def, CJ Anderson
Sleeper – TE Jeff Heuerman, TE Garrett Graham
Bust – WR Demaryius Thomas

Monday, July 25, 2016

Kansas City Chiefs 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 11-5

What an amazing run the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs went on. After starting 1-5 and losing their identity on offense in Jamal Charles, the Chiefs won 11 straight games until finally falling to New England on the road in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Few people predicted a run like that from that team. But now expectations are running high in 2016.

Offseason Moves

Key Additions – WR Rod Streater, RT Mitchell Schwartz, S Stevie Brown, S Jimmy Wilson
Key Losses – QB Chase Daniel, RT Donald Stephenson, G Jeff Allen, G Ben Grubbs, DE Mike Devito, CB Sean Smith, S Husain Abdullah, S Tyvon Branch
2016 Draft Class – DE Chris Jones, CB KeiVarae Russell, G Parker Ehringer, CB Eric Murray, WR DeMarcus Robinson

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Brad Childress and Matt Nagy
Base Offense – 2 Back, 1 TE, 2 WR west coast offense

The departure of OC Doug Pederson to Philly leaves the offense back in the hands of HC Andy Reid. In 2015, the Chiefs were 48-52 run to pass ratio and it will be interesting to see if that continues without Pederson. The Chiefs will look to grind teams down with their running attack and then hit big plays over the top with Maclin or Kelce. It’s a good formula to work from.

Leading the way will be QB Alex Smith. While far from dynamic, Smith gets it done with efficiency and accuracy. As long as he is not asked to win too many games by himself, the Chiefs have a very competent signal caller. Behind Smith is an interesting battle of young talent including Aaron Murray, Tyler Bray and 5th rounder Kevin Hogan of Stanford. None of these guys are anything more than bus drivers and would be highly unlikely to lead the Chiefs to the promise land.

While the QB spot is a bit barren, the RB position is an embarrassment of riches. Jamal Charles returns to his rightful place as starter but backups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware will see plenty of action as well. Don’t be surprised to see Charles lineup quite a bit in the slot as well in an effort to get all of these weapons on the field.

The other reason you could see Charles in the slot is the poor depth at the WR position. Jeremy Maclin is cemented as the #1 target and well worth his paper (though maybe not the 3rd round pick lost as a fine for tampering). Opposite him is an open competition between Albert Wilson, newly signed Rod Streater and speedster Chris Conley. While each adds interesting elements, none are a complete player and probably better served as a 3rd option. Also De’Anthony Thomas could be utilized more on offense but will probably be mostly used in the return game. An interesting darkhorse to this mix is 4th rounder DeMarcus Robinson of Florida. Robinson is like a Maclin clone, with speed and slipperiness in routes. However, his off-the-field concerns may make his potential just that: unrealized talent. The real star in the passing game will be 4th year TE Travis Kelce. With his ability to stretch the field on seam routes, the Chiefs have a Gronk-style weapon for Alex Smith. Look for the spotlight to really be on Kelce this year which may lead to some lesser numbers in fantasy.

The O-line really gelled more than expected in 2015. Eric Fisher finally proved adequate at LT spot. With Donald Stephenson departed for division rival Denver, the Chiefs filled that void with the talented Mitchell Schwartz from Cleveland. Inside is a bit more in question. Mitch Morse manned the center position quite well in 2015 but gone are his 2 teammates Ben Grubbs and Jeff Allen. They are replaced by some combination of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Jah Reid, Jarrod Pughsley or rookie Parker Ehringer. How this position group comes together might be the key for the entire Chiefs offense in 2016.

Overall the Chiefs are a run-first team with a pass-first playcaller in Andy Reid. If Charles can return to form, a 3rd receiving option can emerge to help Maclin and Kelce and the OL sorts itself into a fine unit, the Chiefs could easily equal or even improve on their 2015 numbers. However it will really need its defense to assist in that endeavor.

2016 Defensive Outlook:

Defensive Coordinator – Bob Sutton
Base Defense – 3-4 man coverage attacking defense

The real hero of last season for the Chiefs was their defense. DC Bob Sutton got this team to absolutely dominate games with an overwhelming pass rush and sticky coverage in the secondary. But 2016 saw the loss of some very key pieces and several others have injury or age questions. The Chiefs will need to find answers to reach that same level of success this season.
Up front, the DL was solid with Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey. To that mix they add the dynamic yet raw rookie Chris Jones from Mississippi St to add more push in the pass defense. If Jones can add that element the Chiefs could have one of the best lines in football.

Twin edge rushers with incredible speed and power seem to be the “in” thing in today’s NFL and the Chiefs boasted 2 of the best in 2015 in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. However, Hali is beginning to show his age and Houston is still trying to recover from playing on an injured leg in the playoffs last year. His return to health isn’t likely to come until sometime during the season and could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Behind these 2 is former 1st rounder Dee Ford who needs to finally live up to his potential. Inside the Chiefs have the ageless wonder of Derrick Johnson alongside Josh Mauga or Ramik Wilson. Though Johnson may be losing a step his role as leader of this defense is vital.

The secondary is full of youth and promise but also uncertainty. Marcus Peters was all the Chiefs could want and more as a rookie CB, but now will be asked to be the #1 guy with the loss of Sean Smith to the rival Raiders. Opposite him is an open competition between Phillip Gaines, Steven Nelson and rookies KelVarae Russell and Eric Murray. Safety also has seen some change with franchise-tagged Eric Berry still there opposite either Jamell Fleming or FA Stevie Brown. If Peters can live up to the hype and one of the younger kids can fill the #2 and #3 CB spots, the Chiefs should be just as good as 2015. If not, this weakness could be their undoing.

Overall, the Chiefs are not quite as good as their 2015 team but still show great promise. A real dependence on rookies to step in immediately falls on the shoulders of DC Bob Sutton to get them ready. That will ultimately decide how far the Chiefs go in 2016.

2016 Prediction:

Record – 9-7 (2nd in AFC West)

The Chiefs look like a really good team, but not a great one. Given that, they still may be good enough to compete and win in a down AFC West division. However, the 2016 Chiefs looks like a team in the hunt until week 17 but ultimately not a playoff team.

Fantasy Oulook:

Stud – WR Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs Defense
Sleeper – WR Chris Conley, WR DeMarcus Robinson
Bust – TE Travis Kelce