- Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
- Houston Texans (6-10)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)
- Tennessee Titans (4-12)
Analysis: The Colts should moonwalk to the division title. Take a look at the rest of the division – it’s God-awful.
The Colts have a stud QB in Andrew Luck. They are talented at WR, led by the ageless Reggie Wayne. Their defense ain’t half-bad either.
But the rest of the division? Ewwwwww. While the Jaguars are steadily improving, and the Texans have Javedeon Clowney, those teams will still suck.
As for the Titans, not even an exorcist could bless their season.
- New Orleans Saints (12-4)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
- Carolina Panthers (7-9)
- Atlanta Falcons (5-11)
Analysis: Much like the AFC South, this is a one-team division. The Saints are still loaded offensively, still employ Drew Brees, still have Sean Payton as head coach, and still play in the Superdome – one of the best home-field advantages in all of football. And much like the Colts, New Orleans is improving defensively. In fact, they are pretty damn good thanks to coordinator Rob Ryan (who inexplicably does not have a head coaching job).
The Buccaneers will be one of the big surprises this season. They have acquired more talent over the off-season. Rookie WR Mike Evans will be a huge addition offensively. They are decent defensively. And they have under-stated Lovie Smith coaching the team. That to me spells improvement.
Meanwhile in Charlotte, the Panthers are devoid of offensive talent – especially at wide receiver. Aside from TE Greg Olsen (who will be triple-teamed), who will poor Cam Newton throw the ball to? And the front office, namely general manager Dave Gettleman, did not re-sign many of its starters in the secondary, though the Panthers’ front seven will still be good.
The Falcons are just too soft to comment on. A one-dimensioned offense + a leaky defense = a helluva lot of losses.
- Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
- Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
- Cleveland Browns (7-9)
Analysis: This is one of the toughest divisions in football (the other being the NFC West). This is easily a three-team division. What separates the Ravens, my Steelers, and the reigning division champ Bengals are their schedules. All three teams contend with the patsy NFC South and horrific AFC South this season, and all three should win at least six games apiece from those two divisions alone. The Ravens have the easiest conference games with Miami and San Diego, while my Steelers have the Jets and Kansas City, and the Bengals contend with New England and Denver (ouch!).
The Bengals are better than they were last year, but those tough two games will be the death of them in terms of repeating as division champs. Coach Marvin Lewis also has to prove that he could win without his top two lieutenants Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden, both of which are now first-time head coaches.
The Ravens and Steelers are going to bounce back in a big way. Baltimore now employs the fiery Steve Smith at wide receiver, who should help QB Joe Flacco tremendously. As long as Ray Rice focuses on regaining his form at RB instead of beating the hell out of women, Baltimore’s offense should rise again.
As for my Steelers, as long as Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrett Blount stays off the weed, Pittsburgh will be in good shape. They finally got younger on defense, and if they learn how to stop the run and get to the opposing QB like old times, all the better.
Poor Cleveland. Their top-10 defense’s efforts will be wasted by a moribund offense. At least the Browns made the right decision in benching Johnny Manziel. No use sending him out there to get himself killed without any offensive weapons to speak of.
- Green Bay Packers (10-6)
- Chicago Bears (10-6)
- Detroit Lions (7-9)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
Analysis: Here is all you need to know about the NFC North – the Packers, Bears and Lions will score points at will on everyone, but their alleged defenses will give those points all back to the opposition. Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler will play at higher levels this season. It’s just that both of their teams (Green Bay and Chicago, respectively) will not be able to stop many teams.
Green Bay gets the nod here because its defense is slightly less horrific than Chicago’s.
The Lions are very talented, but get in their own way. Detroit is a highly penalized team, which means they have no discipline (see Ndamukong Suh). QB Matthew Stafford is very talented, but turns over the ball WAY too much for the Lions to succeed. That’s too bad because WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson is perhaps the most unstoppable force in the NFL.
The Vikings got the right man in Mike Zimmer leading the team. He will bring some much-needed discipline and accountability to Minnesota. I like the way QBs Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater look in the preseason. The Vikes will be a work in progress and need to be more talented on both sides of the ball before they make any noise in this division.
As with every season, there are a lot of new storylines heading into the regular season. Lots of coaching changes. Lots of first-time NFL coaches (Jay Gruden, Mike Zimmer, Mike Pettine). Hideous new uniforms (thank you very little, Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
This season I will do bi-divisional previews from both conferences, starting with the AFC and NFC East. Now, without further ado…
- New England Patriots (12-4)
- New York Jets (8-8)
- Miami Dolphins (8-8)
- Buffalo Bills (7-9)
Analysis: The Patriots are clearly the class out of what has to be one of the three most putrid divisions in football. The Pats have the best offense, the best defense, and easily the best QB in Tom Brady in the division. Hell the Patriots could moonwalk their way into a division title.
The Jets continue to be hilarious to me offensively. Do they REALLY think Geno Smith gives them a better chance to win the Michael Vick? If Smith is the answer at QB for New York, then what the hell is the question. It’s too bad the above-average Jets defense will be asking themselves that same question all season.
Both the Dolphins and the Bills figure to bring up the rear in the division. Miami is a complete cluster-fuck right now. They already have offensive line issues, no running game to speak of, and a wide receiver who is clearly not earning his contract in Mike Wallace. Miami also has chemistry issues in the locker room, as illustrated by the “Bully-gate” scandal last season.
Well, the Bills are trying to get better, though they suck too at the moment. At least they have a stud to build on for the future in Sammy Watkins.
- Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
- Washington Redskins (9-7)
- Dallas Cowboys (7-9)
- New York Giants (5-11)
Analysis: This division should easily come down between the Eagles and Redskins. Philly’s offense had everyone buzzing last season, and should only be “scary better” in its second season under head coach Chip Kelly. Though teams have had a full offseason to game-plan for QB Nick Foles, he is proving to be the real deal and excels in Kelly’s system.
The Redskins should compete in this division, even though QB Robert Griffin III has struggled so far this preseason. I believe in new head coach Jay Gruden. If he got Andy Dalton to play well in Cincinnati (playoff games notwithstanding), then Gruden should work wonders with RG3. And, there is that fellow named DeSean Jackson who is now part of the fold. Plus the defense is a lot healthier and should make amends for last season.
The Cowboys and Giants are atrocious. Eli Manning should be put on notice after last season’s debacle (and poor showing this preseason), and Tony Romo should go on strike for having to carry the load for a bad team. Speaking of Dallas, I’m just waiting for fans to run Jerry Jones’ ass out of town.
I didn’t like the fact that it is a six-year extension that will max out to $115 million (I don’t care if Dalton will “only” make $18 million guaranteed this season and $22 million by next February). I didn’t like that they gave it to a quarterback that has yet to win a game in the playoffs. I also didn’t like that Dalton’s last game in the playoffs was a “turrible” one against the San Diego Chargers – at HOME.
So forgive me for not liking the contract extension the Bengals handed to Dalton. Not one bit.
Look, I’m not hating on Dalton himself for scoring that $115 million extension. He obviously has a damn good agent, so good for him.
However, Dalton has not adequately lived up to that contract extension – at least not yet.
Sure Dalton has led the Bengals to nine, 10 and 11 wins his first three seasons and became the first quarterback to take the franchise to three consecutive playoff appearances. For a franchise that hasn’t had much luck since the 1980s, that’s saying something.
On the other hand, if the Bengals want to make it to the promised land, they need better quarterback play from Dalton. In those three playoff games (first two were at the Houston Texans) he threw for only one score. He committed seven turnovers — six of them interceptions. He led the offense to a total of two touchdowns, one more than Cincinnati’s defense scored. For a team that employs offensive stars such as wide receivers A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and running back Giovanni Bernard, there is no excuse for Dalton’s poor play in the playoffs.
Simply put, the Bengals had no damn business giving $115 million extension to a QB with playoff stats that horrible.
Having said that, there may be some good things ahead for Dalton. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is known for getting the best out of his offensive talent. Jackson should be to Dalton as Norv Turner was to Troy Aikman. I expect Dalton to use Jackson’s tutelage and succeed.
Hell he better succeed, or heads (head coach Marvin Lewis and friends) will roll in Cincinnati.
Disgust and shame.
I was (and still am) disgusted that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed Rice what I felt was a light punishment – a slap on the wrist no less. I was (and still am) disgusted that violence against women is not taken as as seriously as violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
And I do not care if Josh Gordon was a repeat offender in the substance abuse department – he didn’t knock out any women along the way.
And by the way, I am also disgusted that this young sister decided to become Rice’s wife. What message will that send to their child? That it’s ok for a man to strike a woman when engaged in a quarrel? That it’s ok for a woman to accept abuse from a man acting strictly on cowardice?
I felt shame for being an rabid fan of a league that is run by a commissioner who obviously could give two damns about violence against women. I felt shame for being a fan of a team (the Steelers) whose starting quarterback has a history of sexual assault against women, though he has never been charged.
And while the uproar over that “punishment” is growing louder, there are people out there – mainly men – who have come to Rice’s defense.
I’ve heard the tired chorus: “we didn’t know what happened on the elevator.” Another gem I’ve heard was “maybe she provoked him by hitting him first”.
Those folks needed to be drug-tested, plain and simple.
What if that young lady was a sister or daughter of theirs’? Would those same morons still cling to those same stupid-ass arguments? I’m guessing that would not be the case.
There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that justifies a man putting his hands on a woman. Even if Rice’s fiancée at the time was throwing haymakers at him, that still does not give him – or any man – the right to strike a woman.
There were many ways that Rice could have prevented the situation from escalating (and yes, the responsibility lies on the man to be the bigger person). Talk it out. Listen to her. Once she starts swinging grab her arms and wrap her up. Last I checked, dude is an NFL player who takes punishment from defenders for a living. There was no way in hell a girl that slight in frame could get out of his arms if he wrapped her up.
I am concerned that there are some powerful men in this league who did not send the proper message to Rice for his actions. Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh, while saying mostly the right things in his press conference concerning Rice, clumsily said that Rice is “one heck of a guy.” Really coach?
And why haven’t Ravens ownership stepped in where Goodell failed by adding more games to the suspension followed by a hefty fine to be donated to women’s shelters in the Baltimore area? The team is allowed to suspend a player up to four games per the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Maybe they will, though I am not holding my breath.
And speaking of Goodell, he had a chance to make a strong statement to the players and society at large: that the NFL does – and will always – take violence against women seriously. If he is as serious as he lead on concerning growing a female fan base, he may have embarked on pissing away that opportunity.
And that in and of itself is a damn shame.
To those anti-soccer folks, sure the Americans lost to Belgium in the first stage of the Knockout Round. Sure the Americans finished with a 1-2-1 record. I get that all of that.
HOWEVER (channeling my inner Stephen A. Smith), those folks have to realize that the Americans were not expected to do but so well at the World Cup. Hell, they weren’t even supposed to advance past the Group Stage.
I mean, the U.S. was stuck in Group G with Germany (a finalist who just curb-stomped host Brazil), Portugal (with Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players in the world) and nemesis Ghana (who eliminated the Americans from the last two World Cups). Fans and the media dubbed that group “The Group of Death” for a reason.
But thanks to gritty play and excellent leadership from coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the Americans not only played well – they advanced and nearly won their group in the process.
Now that the U.S. has been eliminated from the World Cup, what now? Will people in the U.S. still watch the World Cup in record numbers? Will Americans give two damns about soccer?
Before I continue, let me first say that I had long been an anti-soccer dude. I have gone out of my way in the past to discredit soccer, dismissing it by saying “it’s not a sport, but an excuse to riot”. I even bagged on soccer fans for being so damn deranged and crazy (in the RHOA sense). And while I still think some soccer fans are WAY too passionate for my comfort, I have to give soccer its due.
I think that not only soccer has caught on with the American public, but I think the sport has staying power.
Let me first acknowledge that soccer is still a niche sport in this country. I get that. It will never be football (NFL nor college), basketball, baseball nor even golf.
However, I do think that it’s almost as big as NASCAR and has done laps around hockey in this country.
If the ratings from the World Cup has taught us anything (Google it), it’s that soccer has caught on in this country from an interest standpoint. There were HUGE watch parties around the nation tuning into the USMNT’s matches. Even casual fans were watching World Cup matches not involving the U.S.
Now that soccer has officially caught on in the U.S., here is how it could have any more staying power. It first has to develop big name talent.
Sports fans tune in to see the big names. Check out the ratings the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga pull in this country. Casual soccer fans such as myself want to watch stars such as Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, serial biter Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi do their thing on the soccer pitch. If this country produces big name talent to go along with the likes of stud goalkeeper Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, more Americans will care.
Another thing that needs to happen is that Major League Soccer has to improve – a lot.
Let’s be honest here, the MLS is at best AAA minor league baseball compared to the European Leagues. Washed-up European stars play in the MLS. You couldn’t pay soccer purists in this country to watch it.
Now I know there are some MLS teams that draw well (the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and LA Galaxy lead the MLS in attendance), and that’s good for the league. It’s just that the American public does not tune into minor-league shit.
The last thing I think needs to happen is that the MLS needs to somehow convince UEFA (governing body of the Premier League, La Liga, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1 and Dutch Eredivisie) to allow regular season matches (and more friendlies) between its teams and UEFA’s. It’s a long shot to be sure, but with the right power brokers in this country (tycoons including some NFL, NBA, and MLB owners could have a stake in this) things could happen. After all, they say “money talks” for a reason.
Even if my second idea does not come to fruition, soccer still has further ingratiated itself with the American sports fan. More kids are playing it, and the older generations of naysayers are slowly dying out.
Move over Europe and South America! North America has entered the soccer club.
The first round of the NFL Draft came and went (FINALLY). From what I saw, I have more than a few observations.
Shall we go? …
The Houston Texans made the right pick in Clowney. Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. I have one thing to say to that: bravo Houston! Let’s examine this closely. The Texans are getting an uber-talented pass rusher in Clowney to go with another stud pass rusher in J.J. Watt. On a team with several needs (Houston did finish 2-14, you know?), getting a stud pass rusher was not a bad start.
If the Texans want to make some noise in the AFC South again, they have to beat Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Now Luck will have his head on a swivel with both Watt AND Clowney coming after him on the pass rush. And anyone who understands Football 101 will tell you the key to a good turnover machine playmaking defense is having a good-to-great pass rush.
Now Houston can focus on getting their quarterback of the future – Derek Carr, come on down!
That St. Louis defense is going to be VERY nasty. In what had to be one of the biggest surprises in last night’s draft, the St. Louis Rams drafted Aaron Donald from Pitt. The Rams’ defensive line depth chart will now look like this: Chris Long, Donald, Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn. Dayum! As I said with the Texans, the key to a having a good playmaking defense is a good pass rush. With those five defensive linemen, there should be no need for the Rams to blitz – EVER.
How about that NFC West? All four teams – Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and Rams – have hellafied defenses.
The Jacksonville Jaguars obviously do not know what the hell they are doing. Blake Bortles with the #3 overall pick – when they could have had Johnny Manziel? Really? See, this is the reason why the Jaguars are the Jaguars. For some reason Jacksonville felt as though Blaine Gabbert wasn’t bad enough, so why not draft Bortles?
Look, I know that Bortles has the measurables. He has been compared with Big Ben Roethlisberger because of his size (6’4″ 230-plus lbs). And more importantly, he has a smoking hot side piece. But Bortles does not pass the smell test with me, certainly not enough to be drafted #3 overall.
It’s as if those cats were listening to Ron Jawkorski and company on ESPN hyping Bortles and downgrading Manziel. Speaking of which, the Jags will rue the day they passed up Johnny Football for Blaine Gabbert Part II.
I’m going to pray for Johnny Manziel. I’m happy that Johnny Football got drafted. I’m one of the few who thinks he will make an impact in the NFL. I’m just sad that he got drafted by the Cleveland Browns. While the Browns have a capable offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan who knows a thing or two about working with mobile QBs (see Robert Griffin III), there is no need to believe that Manziel will succeed where others such as Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden failed. Simply put, Cleveland is where QBs go to die.
You are in my prayers Johnny…