NFL 2021: The Week 1 thread

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Well, well, well. Here we are again — that time of the NFL season when we all pretend to know something about pro football but really don't understand a damn thing.

A year ago, all the Football Knowers picked the Chiefs to be in the Super Bowl because, well, Mahomes, who's as predictable as a sunrise. But no one predicted the Chiefs would start a couple of human turnstiles at tackle and get blown out of the stadium.

And absolutely no one saw the Bucs coming. This guy had the Chiefs losing to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. These guys collectively had the Chiefs, Ravens and Saints winning the Super Bowl. These folks had Chiefs over Saints. This collection of experts (/s) picked the Ravens, Chiefs, Seahawks, Chiefs (over Bucs; at least someone guessed right), Chiefs, Titans, Colts over Eagles (woof) and Chiefs. Only half of those folks even had the Bucs in the playoffs because a year ago everyone knew for sure the Eagles were gonna be good.

Which is why I went with this header pick of an LA Chargers QB. No, that's not Justin Herbert, who as we now know (but didn't a year ago) is a pretty good QB! The guy in the header is Easton Stick, who none of us know. And for all we know, he might be pretty good too!

Who am I kidding. We all know he's sorry.

Speaking of sorry, here are some preseason predictions from some (air quotes) experts. Bookmark this page and come back in a year to see how little these football knowers actually know.

ESPN power index: Chiefs (19% chance to win the SB), Bucs (14%), Bills (9%), Ravens (6%), Browns (!!!) (5%)

NFL.com power rankings: Bucs, Chiefs, Bills, Packers

Sporting News power rankings: Bucs, Chiefs, Bills, Browns
https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/...

SI power rankings: Bucs, Chiefs, Ravens, Bills

PFT power rankings: Bucs, Chiefs, Bills, Packers

Peter King: Rams over Bills in the Super Bowl

USA Today power rankings: Bucs, Chiefs, Browns, Packers

538: Bucs (13% chance of winning the SB), Chiefs (12%), Bills (9%), Packers (8%), Ravens (7%)

Super Bowl odds (via FanDuel): Chiefs +500, Buccaneers +650, Bills +1200, Packers +1200, Ravens +1400, 49ers +1400, Rams +1500, Browns +1600 (and everyone else is +2000; Texans are last at +25,000)

WEEK 1 SCHEDULE

Thursday (NBC): Cowboys-Bucs

Sunday early: Jags-Texans, Chargers-WFT/WTF, Seahawks-Colts, Jets-Panthers (aka the SAM DARNOLD REVENGE BOWL), Vikings-Bengals, Cards-Titans, Niners-Lions, Steelers-Bills, Eagles-Falcons (aka the BIRD BOWL)

Sunday late: Browns-Chiefs (CBS), Packers-Saints (Fox), Broncos-Giants, Dolphins-Patriots

Sunday night (NBC): Bears-Rams

Monday night (ESPN): Ravens-Raiders

What a great week of football! Bucs and Brady on Thursday night, Mahomes and Rodgers on Sunday afternoon, Stafford and his new team (and maybe Justin Fields if Andy Dalton is hit by a battery in warmups) and Lamar on Monday night.

Note that there's no late Monday night game. Our consolation prize appears to be early AND late games on both CBS and Fox in all markets Sunday. I'll take it.

PS: 506 Sports TV coverage maps will be posted here Wednesday if you're wondering which early games you'll get.

STAT OF THE WEEK

QBs named Steve (DeBerg, Young, McNair, etc) have thrown for more yards than QBs named Jim, Joe, Matt and John. Joe is your rushing leader, and Mike is your receiving leader. (source)

2021 PREVIEW

Here's something y'all all can do; GIFs optional. Use the same format (or not) and make your own bold prediction(s) for the team you follow.

I'll start with my Carolina Panthers.

2020: Started a respectable 3-2, then finished strong (/s) with two wins (over the Lions and Football Team) in their last 11. I blame bad talent, bad coaching, bad defense, Bad Teddy and an injured Christian McCaffrey in that order.

Offense: CMC is back (HOORAY), and the WRs (DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, rookie Terrace Marshall) are in the good-to-great range. But the O-line is a disaster, and maybe you heard that this guy is the QB now?

IMAGE(https://media.giphy.com/media/KYoNHDrCFoIuswxp5C/giphy.gif)

My worst nightmare. Please, someone make it stop.

Defense: DE Brian Burns and S (formerly LB) Jeremy Chinn are two very good pieces of a I'm-not-sure-what-to-expect defense. Jaycee Horn (rookie 1st-round pick) is equal parts shutdown corner/pass interference factory. The D-line and secondary look a little better than a year ago, while the LBs seem about the same. Carolina's D has the potential of being in the OK-to-not-bad range this year.

IMAGE(https://media.giphy.com/media/Tpkg2RJuFJz9AtaKmO/giphy.gif)

(Brian Burns does not agree with my assessment of Carolina's D. He thinks they're going to be good-to-great.)

Everything else: Carolina has a new kicker (who's big enough to play DE or TE), no kick returner on the active roster and a head coach who's a doofus. The Panthers are the second-youngest team in the league, No. 2 in dead-cap money and No. 3 in cap space. In short, the Panthers are a cheap high school team whose best players are still on the payroll but not actually on the field. Sigh.

Best case: Darnold surprisingly doesn't suck, CMC stays healthy, the O-line plays OK, Brian Burns has 15+ sacks and the D can get off the field when it has to. Carolina takes advantage of a soft-ish early schedule, wins 9-10 games and hangs around the playoff race till about Week 16 or so.

Worst case: Darold darnolds, a lot of guys get hurt (which is a problem bc the Panthers have no depth) and the D is just Burns, Chinn and A Bunch of Guys. That's how a third straight 5-win season happens.

Prediction: Vegas has Carolina's over/under win totals at around 7.5 I'm hoping for better but taking the under.

Everything else: Carolina has a new kicker (who's big enough to play DE or TE), no kick returner on the active roster and a head coach who's a doofus. The Panthers are the second-youngest team in the league, No. 2 in dead-cap money and No. 3 in cap space. In short, the Panthers are a cheap high school team whose best players are still on the payroll but not actually on the field. Sigh.

Bishop Sycamore?

Thanks for doing this. It takes a bunch of time and effort that I'm no longer interested in doing.

2021 RAVENS PREVIEW

2020: LAMAR WON A PLAYOFF GAME!

2021 Offense: Depth looks good until preseason injuries decimated us a bit. And Lamar's Covid, again. Honestly no idea about the passing game. Lamar may end up being a one read QB but Sammy Watkins for six to ten games should be a boon. Heck, he might get 600 yards! Seriously, there's enough talent here at WR for them to be able to do different things and not rely on Hollywood's speed and sloppy route running.

2021 Defense: Honestly no idea what to expect. The secondary is filled with talent, the LBs lack much coverage ability and pass rushers are raw. But DL is still solid and Wink can generate pressure with chumps, so I expect them to continue being good but not great at rushing the passer. LB continues to feel like a massive weak spot to me unless the secondary's age starts to slow them down.

Everything else: Special Teams is one of the top units in the game, again.

Best case: Passing game picks up, injuries slow down and the team wins TWO playoff games.

Worst case: Ravens continue to dominate on the ground, but passing game is pathetic. Mark Andrews out for season after signing his extension. Hollywood sits out due to never getting the ball. Greg Roman fired. Blessings in disguise! Lamar's knee blown out in week 16.

Prediction: 10-6 this year taking the Wild Card and winning one playoff game, again.

Addendum: I truly believe that pre-season predictions are basically copy/paste jobs from the prior season's record.

Also, forgot a gif:

IMAGE(https://c.tenor.com/-eox-11DCloAAAAC/sam-darnold-hair-flip.gif)

ROOKIE QB PRESEASON BREAKDOWN

I watched every preseason passing snap (multiple times) of the five 1st round rookie QBs, and have written down my thoughts.

I think this is the most fascinating QB draft class in a long time. Odds are that at least one or two of them will Josh Rosen on me, but I do think this class has a legitimate chance to be special.

TREVOR LAWRENCE

Week 1 vs. Browns: 6-9, 71 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 sacks

Cleveland came out of the gate throwing blitzes at Lawrence. He was sacked on his first pass play in about only 3 seconds. In the same set of downs, Cleveland sent an overload blitz with a linebacker and nickel corner to one side, and Lawrence rifled a great throw to the sidelines with the nickel corner in his face.

Couple misses, one sack that was more his fault, but a couple high level throws along with a few routine ones.

Week 2 vs. Saints: 14-23, 113 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 sack
1 rush, 9 yards, 0 TDs, 0 fumbles

This game felt like a preview of what Lawrence has to look forward to in the regular season: a fierce defense tearing up a shoddy offensive line and an unimaginative scheme. As the stats show, Lawrence wasn’t horrible in the face of this. This might have been the best pocket presence on display of any of the rookie QBs this preseason. He stepped up against the rush, and did not show any intent to bail from pockets early. A couple of times, he did end up pressing some throws in an attempt to make something happen, and had a couple of turnover-worthy plays. He kept his mistake count low, though, but struggled to overcome the rest of the offense’s deficiencies.

Week 3: 11-12, 139 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 sacks

Championed by some as a bounce-back game after the Saints debacle, but with the Jags first-team offense going up against the Dallas backups, this was mostly Trevor being able to play without the pressure in his face he had in week 2. Dallas did throw some blitzes in there, but couldn’t get home on any of them. Lawrence picked apart the Dallas defense.

Lawrence dropped a beautiful throw onto the outside shoulder on a deep sideline streak route to Philip Dorsett. Dorsett got away with a bit of a push-off, but that doesn’t take away from the placement of the throw.

Overall:

This was probably the most boring breakdown. Lawrence has such a smooth and effortless throw that he makes some high level throws look like routine 7-yard stop routes.

Likewise, when the Jag offense was disintegrating around him, Lawrence mostly played safe, competent football.

We didn't get to see him use his running ability much, just one lone 9-yard scamper for a 1st down. Probably by design, so as to not expose Lawrence to unnecessary hits. Still, it means we're left waiting to see that dimension of his game.

Lawrence looked pretty much like expected: a potential generational QB talent playing on a team that was in the position to draft a potential generational QB talent. He has that NFL-ready presence we saw in Manning and Luck. I expect that his rookie season will look more like Manning’s (3-13) than Luck’s (11-5), but regardless, Lawrence put on tape exactly what you would expect: some high-level throws along with good decision making when the rest of the offense failed to turn up.

ZACH WILSON

Week 1 vs. Giants: 6-9, 63 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 sacks

Of Wilson’s 9 pass attempts, only 3 of them actually traveled any meaningful distance in the air. He completed all 3, and two of them were certainly good throws: the first a well-timed out route from the opposite hash for a first down, and then a 15-yard skinny post that he drilled. The third was an 8-yard out route to a wide-open tight end on 3rd-and-14 which came up short for the first down.

The other 6 pass attempts? Air yards of approximately 2, 3, 1, 5, 6, and 3 yards.

The Giants sent 5-man blitzes on 2 plays, and those were 2 of Wilson’s 3 incompletions. The rest of the time, they played very passively, and Wilson made his attempts unpressured. Showed some good arm on that skinny post, but overall not much to take away from this one.

Week 2 vs. Packers: 9-11, 128 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 sacks

Again, Wilson found Corey Davis on the skinny post, which he hit with a strike. Found Corey Davis again after he was left all alone on the sideline following a switch route. Found Tyler Kroft for a TD on a seam route, dropping the ball over the 2nd level and in front of the safety.

The other 8 pass attempts? Air yards of approximately minus-2, 3, 6, minus-1, minus-3, 2, 4, and 2 yards.

Green Bay didn’t dial up much on defense in this effort.

Week 3: Did not play

Overall:

You should probably detect a theme between the two games. Not unlike the San Francisco offense that the coaching staff is from, the pass attack here has been heavily YAC-focused, with a few intermediate shot plays. Basically, the passes you’ve seen Jimmy Garoppolo attempt, that’s what Zach Wilson was asked to do in preseason.

What he wasn’t asked to do was (a) throw anything actually deep (the closest being a wide open throw to Corey Davis who was standing still on the sideline), and (b) throw anything aggressive towards the boundaries. On top of that, neither defense that he faced really made much effort to pressure him.

Credit to Wilson for largely executing on what he was asked to do, but we only got brief glimpses of what he might be capable of on those seam routes. The coaches holding him out of week 3 obviously didn’t help either, as we only got 20 total pass attempts to judge, a number Justin Fields reached in week 1 alone.

TREY LANCE

Week 1 vs. Chiefs: 5-14, 128 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 4 sacks

This one is hard to write without sounding like an excuse factory for Lance, but this was definitely a unique game among the preseason outings for this QB group.

I don’t know what bug Steve Spagnuolo got up his ass, but in week 1, he deployed the most blitz-heavy, coverage-disguising defense of preseason. Trey Lance saw 6-man blitzes on 2 of his first 4 dropbacks. By my count, there was only 1 6-man blitz in all of the games from the other QBs combined. The Chiefs came into this game looking to practice their defensive playbook for real. Lance was sacked 4 times, but I don’t think a single one made it to the 4 second mark.

Almost as bad as the blitzes, though, were the rash of drops from the 49ers receivers. According to PFF, Lance had 32% of his catchable passes dropped this preseason, well ahead of the rest of the pack. Lance bears some responsibility for this, but we’ll get into that in the later weeks. In this game, though, 4 of Lance’s catchable on-target throws were dropped.

Shanahan also seems like he wanted to throw Trey into the deep end. The Niners dialed up the opposite of the Zach Wilson script, and made Trey throw a lot of intermediate routes and almost nothing short and easy. After this game, some media types suggested this was Shanny throwing some cold water on the “start Lance week 1” hype.

Now that we’re through the excuses, let’s get to what’s on Trey. Though the 4 sacks were all fast, Trey bears some responsibility on 2 of them. One of the 6-man blitzes required him to account for the 6th guy, and he missed that. On another, the left tackle is immediately beat, and Lance fades away to the right rather than stepping straight up in the pocket, which might have given him a better chance at avoiding the rush. (Or he could have decisively taken off running to the right, but he didn’t choose that either.)

Trey also missed the read on a heavily disguised coverage. Brett Kollmann went into it in his Lance video, but it was definitely the opposite of a vanilla preseason coverage.

On the plus side, Lance showed off his arm in one of preseason’s biggest throws, his 80 yard bomb to Trent Sherfield, thrown from the opposite hash after a bootleg to the left. Got his body around, set his feet, and delivered a throw with power that dwarfed everyone else’s preseason best.

He also delivered a couple of good completions on those intermediate routes to round out his day.

I think the most fair reading of this game is a pairing of some significant rust on the part of a QB that had no 2020 season, along with both the Chiefs and Shanahan turning the preseason difficulty up to Hard Mode.

Week 2 vs. Chargers: 9-14, 102 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 2 sacks
1 rush, 8 yards, 0 TDs, 0 fumbles

Switching things up from last week, Lance was called on to throw a lot of slants in this game. The first two were both a bit high, but hit the hands of the WRs and were dropped. The second of the two was batted up in the air and caught by a defender for the INT. Some blame for these falls on Lance as the throws need to be a little lower and more in front of the receiver, but both throws should have been completions.

They finally gave Lance an easy screen pass to throw, and the RB just dropped it.

The offense went back to the slants and had Lance delivering them more successfully this time, followed by a beautiful out-and-up to Sherfield, in which Lance released the ball early with anticipation, allowing the pass to drop into Sherfield before the deep safety could get to the sideline and make a play on the ball. After another completed slant, he threw a laser on kind of a slant/sit-down route for a TD to Sanu.

After avoiding taking off with the ball in the Chiefs game, Lance finally used his legs. First, he avoided a sack on a 2-point attempt and ran it in for the conversion (though a penalty took it back), then a couple drives later to pick up a 1st down after he couldn’t find a target on a pass play. His internal clock was good here, holding the ball for 3 seconds before committing to the run.

He threw a strike on an out route to the sidelines to Benjamin. That’s the kind of boundary throw pass I’m looking for in these games. The coverage wasn’t super tight, so it wasn’t too hard, but the velocity and placement were there to make the throw against tighter coverage.

One of his best throws of the preseason was a bootleg to his left side, where he was able to turn his shoulders and release the ball to hit the crossing receiver in stride. That kind of ball placement for a right handed QB rolling to the left and not setting their feet first is a high level throw.

Although the INT shouldn’t have been a turnover, Lance did get away with a couple turnover-worthy throws.

Week 3 vs. Raiders: 6-13, 46 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 sack
5 rushes, 12 yards, 1 TD, 0 fumbles

Lance missed on an open in-route on his first throw, which looked like it might have been Jalen Hurd slowing up his route before he was supposed to (Hurd being the one player on the roster with more rust than Lance).

Lance ran in an option run for a TD in what is probably a preview of the Niners red zone package this year. Lance had the option of the jet sweep and dive handoffs, and kept it and ran power instead.

He was sacked on a read option play where the blocking completely failed, and Raiders defenders grabbed both Lance and the running back before the handoff/pull could even be completed.

He threw a great pass on a deep crosser that Hurd dropped, but followed it with another one of those bootleg-left throws on the money, this time with Hurd hanging on. On this one, Lance had enough time to turn his body completely before releasing the ball. Continuing the drops, Jauan Jennings dropped a slant at the goalline that should have been a TD. Hurd and Jennings would each drop another pass towards the end of the game.

He didn’t get passing yards for this, but Lance threw a deep post to Benjamin that was only stopped by Benjamin getting yanked by the defender, drawing the pass interference flag. Then later, he threw a deep pass to Benjamin streaking down the sideline into the end zone, with the defender tackling Benjamin and again drawing the pass interference flag. Those plays added about another 50 “passing” yards.

On 3 straight plays, Lance was unable to find an open receiver, and took off running, converting a 1st down on the third run.

Overall:

Hoo boy, how do you break this one down? For sure, Lance is the rustiest and least starter-ready of the 5 quarterbacks. He also put more high-level throws on tape than any two of the other QBs combined. Both his physical talent and overall skill set are evident.

What surprised me isn’t that Lance is less NFL polished than the others, but rather that he doesn’t appear nearly as far behind as I would have expected. For a one-year FCS starter with no 2020 season, the NFL game does not at all seem too big for him. While it’s clear that he’s not week 1 starter ready, the plan to work him onto the field with packages of plays seems exactly the right idea.

Without the rash of drops, the stats would paint a more accurate picture of where he is: needing improvement in his every-down throwing, and needing to become more familiar with the blitz packages he’s going to see at the next level.

JUSTIN FIELDS

Week 1 vs Dolphins: 14-20, 142 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 0 sacks.
5 rushes, 33 yards, 1 TD, 2 fumbles (0 lost)

The stats here are pretty strong, but they definitely don’t tell the full story.

Working from the pocket, Fields was at his least effective. I think 5 or all 6 of his incompletions were throws from the pocket. One of those incompletions was an egregious dropped INT. He completed one intermediate seam route from the pocket, and then the rest of his pocket completions were dump-offs.

Nagy sure likes running bootleg with Fields, because they ran boots all day. The biggest play of the day was a bootleg in which Jesse James basically got to fair-catch the TD pass thanks to a completely blown coverage. Nice play, but not useful in Fields’s evaluation, just stat padding.

Many plays that should have been pocket throws ended up being scrambles after Fields held the ball for a long time without making a throw. His time to throw was 3.8 seconds, which won’t alleviate any concerns about his “processing” time.

However, the upside here is that Fields’ playmaking ability while on the move was on full display. His acceleration made clear how quick he can go from in the pocket to posing a danger to the defense on the edge. He turned numerous extended plays into complete passes, so even if he was missing his reads in the pocket, he was making a successful second-effort play a couple seconds later.

He didn’t show good ball security when running, though, which resulted in a fumble and near-turnover on one of those runs.

Week 2 vs. Bills: 9-19, 80 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 sacks
4 rushes, 46 yards, 0 TDs, 0 fumbles

This one looked a lot like week 1, except without the broken coverage TD padding the stats a bit. To be fair, Fields did hit a decently deep dig route that the WR didn’t hang on to, so his numbers look a little worse than Fields deserved.

Fields again showed the ability to tuck the ball and burn the defense for a first down. When Buffalo maintained containment, though, they did force some errant plays out of Fields.

Pocket awareness was not always there. Fields took a blast to the face from an unblocked pass rusher that was his responsibility. The hit was a penalty, but Fields’ complete unawareness of his presence was bad. Even though the Bears got a 15-yard roughing penalty out of it, that was probably the worst pocket play of any of the QBs. The blitzer just needed to aim for Fields’ chest and would have tallied the easy sack and possibly a fumble.

Fields notched one excellent throw from the pocket worth calling out, though. On a play where the Bills safety showed blitz but then bailed to cover a deep quarter, Fields saw it and hit the nice sideline go route, dropping the ball in before the safety could get turned and attack the ball.

Week 3 vs. Titans: 7-10, 70 yards, 1 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 sack
2 rushes, 13 yards, 0 TDs, 0 fumbles

Tennessee continued what Buffalo started in week 2, and contained Fields with some aggressive blitzing. Fields completed a series of checkdowns, and managed one decent first down run after slipping the blitz and scrambling straight forward, but that was looking to be about it.

Just when I was ready to give up on hoping to see Fields make any high level throws, he escaped forward in the pocket after both Bears offensive tackles got beat, flushed out to the right side, and then fired a laser on the move into the end zone, putting the ball right on the sideline where only the Bears tight end could reach for it and make a play. Easily the best throw of Fields’ preseason, and FINALLY showing off his arm talent for real. That was the last throw for Fields in preseason.

Overall:

In preseason, Fields was the worst pocket passer of the 5 QBs. He was clearly the smoothest and most comfortable of the group with extending plays and making second-effort plays, though. Where Trey Lance was often trying too hard to stay within the offensive framework and execute the play, Fields lacked any hesitation in leaving the pocket and was almost too eager to abandon structure and go for the playground play. The good news is that, once he left the pocket, Fields seemed to know when to continue looking downfield, and when to tuck and run.

This all continues to bring Deshaun Watson's rookie season to mind, which is how I've been envisioning Fields' early career. He'll lean on his out-of-structure playmaking ability while developing his pocket work.

MAC JONES

Week 1 vs. Football Team: 13-19, 87 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 sack
2 rushes, 0 yards

87 yards on 19 pass attempts (4.58 per attempt) should probably clue you in a bit on what there was to find here. Jones threw an absolute ton of dumpoffs and short routes against unchallenging coverages.

Jones did have one great play that didn’t make his stat sheet though, a 34-yard sideline streak vs man coverage. Jones dropped it right into the receivers’ hands, and the receiver dropped it. Ball was thrown with nice anticipation. Should have been a “plus” play for Jones.

He also had a near miss on a deep corner route, his final throw of the game on a 3rd-and-24. Close to being a great play, but just overthrown.

A number of throws died on Mac, intermediate passes that ended up into the ground, flat route to the running back that the back had to really reach low to bail Jones out.

Most of his pass plays were on time, though he did hold a couple of plays too long. One resulted in a sack, and the other him getting hit while throwing, putting the ball into the ground on a 3rd down.

Week 2 vs. Eagles: 13-19, 146 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
1 rush, 3 yards

Of all the defenses these 5 quarterbacks faced, none were more preseason-y than the Eagles in this game. Philly is not letting anyone see a damn thing defensively. No blitzes, no disguised coverages. It looked like practice mode in a Madden game, when the player picks Cover 2 base defense and the CPU runs that same look every snap. Outside of goalline, they ran that Cover 2 look basically every play. It honestly was almost comical.

Predictably, Jones was much more effective here, completing the same 13-of-19 as week 1 but for 146 yards (7.68 per attempt) this time.

His first pass was a throw from his end zone, over the middle, dropped by the linebacker. He also locked in on a receiver at the goal line that was supposed to get cleared by a rub route, but never got open. Jones forced it to him and it had a chance of being intercepted after the deflection. Those were Jones’s only two real bad reps, but again, Philly’s defense had no intention of offering any challenge.

Again, though, Jones’s best throw didn’t make the stat sheet. Jones climbed the pocket, threw deep to Harry streaking down the sideline, and Harry dropped it and injured himself. Should have been a catch and a TD.

This game was pretty worthless for evaluation purposes. My only takeaway is that Mac’s arm was a bit more lively than I expected. Not sure how much of that was just from him being more confident in his throws than normal due to the practice mode style defense. But there was some juice on some of those tosses.

Week 3 vs. Giants: 10-14, 156 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 4 sacks

Mercifully, this was a bit more “real” of a game than the Philly game, and I think we saw where Mac is at here.

On one of his early throws, Mac hits his receiver on a deep crosser, but the receiver drops the ball. Again, one of his best throws hits the ground due to the WR.

Jones’s lack of athleticism showed up in this game. He took 4 sacks, all of which were from him holding the ball beyond the 4 second mark. Whereas Fields turned a lot of these plays into positive plays with his second effort, Jones’s inability to do that created that sack total. Jones found it a lot harder when the defense wasn’t an obvious Cover 2 every time.

Still, when he did get the ball out, it was mostly productive throws. He had a great seam route TD throw to Zuber. Really drilled the throw, and he didn’t really step into it, so it was much more of an arm throw. More throwing power than I expected from Mac.

Overall:

Jones took a lot of sacks and they were basically all his fault, holding the ball for 4 or more seconds. His lack of escape ability makes it worse, as all 4 of the other QBs would have avoided at least half of those sacks.

His arm is a bit better than advertised. He threw with velocity, especially once he got into weeks 2 and 3. He’s still clearly 5th out of the 5 in terms of arm power, but it was nice to see a little more juice on some of those throws than I expected.

Probably the most important thing, though, is a general lack of really bad or ugly plays. There were a couple turnover worthy plays, but he clearly generated those at a lesser rate than pretty much all the other top rookie QBs. I never got the sense that Jones would be over his head in a real NFL game.

Jones will live and die based on his pocket mastery, and it's not there yet. But there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of reason to keep him on the bench, unless Cam Newton is playing like 2015 (or at least 2017) Cam. (Update: and now that Cam is gone, this point is moot. It’s Mac Jones time in Boston.)

Jones didn’t put any of the truly high level throws on tape that would make me second guess my draft evaluation of him, and he didn’t make the sort of bad plays that would make me drop him down either.

garion333 wrote:

Thanks for doing this. It takes a bunch of time and effort that I'm no longer interested in doing.

2021 RAVENS PREVIEW

2020: LAMAR WON A PLAYOFF GAME!

2021 Offense: Depth looks good until preseason injuries decimated us a bit. And Lamar's Covid, again. Honestly no idea about the passing game. Lamar may end up being a one read QB but Sammy Watkins for six to ten games should be a boon. Heck, he might get 600 yards! Seriously, there's enough talent here at WR for them to be able to do different things and not rely on Hollywood's speed and sloppy route running.

2021 Defense: Honestly no idea what to expect. The secondary is filled with talent, the LBs lack much coverage ability and pass rushers are raw. But DL is still solid and Wink can generate pressure with chumps, so I expect them to continue being good but not great at rushing the passer. LB continues to feel like a massive weak spot to me unless the secondary's age starts to slow them down.

Everything else: Special Teams is one of the top units in the game, again.

Best case: Passing game picks up, injuries slow down and the team wins TWO playoff games.

Worst case: Ravens continue to dominate on the ground, but passing game is pathetic. Mark Andrews out for season after signing his extension. Hollywood sits out due to never getting the ball. Greg Roman fired. Blessings in disguise! Lamar's knee blown out in week 16.

Prediction: 10-6 this year taking the Wild Card and winning one playoff game, again.

I think Proche is going to be the surprise breakout receiver this year for the Ravens as he runs pretty crisp routes, doesn't allow himself to get bullied to the sideline by corners half his size like Boykin does, and throws clinics in how to outhustle folks for the contested catch. I also see him getting fined a lot this year for staring smoking holes in the skulls of DBs who blatantly facemask him in the endzone and still give up the TD.

Also, 11-6. 17 game season.

IMAGE(https://u.cubeupload.com/MilkmanDanimal/criticalrolecritrole.gif)

2021 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS PREVIEW

2020: THEY WON THE TREVOR SWEEPSTAKES!

2021 Offense: Trevor Lawrence has so far looked as advertised. DJ Chark is a good deep threat. Marvin Jones is an excellent veteran possession receiver. But most importantly, the team needs to take Brett Kollmann's advice:

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/HchRt38.png)

Sadly, the injury to Etienne means the loss of a WR/RB hybrid weapon, the one schematic thing that the Jags were doing that I was actually excited to see.

The offensive line is... still trash. The team passing on Jedrick Wills continues to piss me off. I do have some hope for Stanford tackle Walker Little, but that means I am once again falling into the trap of putting my hopes and dreams in the Trent Baalke All-ACL draft selections.

Scheme-wise, nothing the team has done so far has made me think Seattle Coach Voltron is going to do anything different from what I expect. I expect this group collectively to underperform.

2021 Defense: Who knows? The team spent a lot of money on middling free agents, more money than they merit, but they were the 31st ranked defense last year, so even overpaid talent is an improvement if it inches the group anywhere in the direction of competence. The team is transitioning to a 3-4 base, which means both Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson will return to being stand-up outside linebackers, where both played in college. Joe Cullen is looking to implement some of the Ravens defensive approach with this group, and given that the last guy was Todd Wash, it seems like there is no direction to go but up.

Still, there's so much turnover in both scheme and personnel that it's impossible to guess what we're going to find. My guess is that the edge rushers see an increase in production, the secondary is mediocre, and the middle of the front 7 is still a bit too soft.

Best Case: Urban Meyer is the coach the team thinks he is. The offensive line is good enough to let Lawrence elevate the rest of the team. The defense is decent.

Worst Case: Meyer, Baalke, and Seattle Coach Voltron are who I thought they were when ownership crowned their asses. The offensive line is as bad as last year. We don't even really find out how good or bad Lawrence is because he's tackled at the snap, and the new defensive scheme doesn't turn enough of the young talent into playmakers.

Prediction: 6-11. The offensive line and poor coaching stifle the offense's development, and the defense is still another personnel reload away from league average. But Lawrence and some offensive playmakers allow the Jags to rise above the Texans-level league bottom feeders.

2021 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS PREVIEW

2020: EVERYONE DIED!

2021 Offense: Obviously, the big question here is quarterback. My expectation - and it has been this all offseason - is that Garoppolo is going to play decently well and also stay healthy, because staying healthy is exactly what injury-prone players do as soon as you spend a whole bunch of capital to replace them. I expect Lance's packages in the offense will start small, and eventually grow into a more steady rotation between the two quarterbacks.

Spending two draft picks on RBs was Shanahan making damn sure that injuries don't leave his RB cupboard bare ever again. Trey Sermon and Raheem Mostert looks like a fantastic rotation for Shanahan's scheme. Both Sermon and 6th rounder Elijah Mitchell ran well enough to get Wayne Gallman cut.

Deebo, Aiyuk, and Kittle are all healthy, and even Jalen Hurd is (almost) healthy! The real surprise, though, has been Trent Sherfield, who was a special teams ace for the Cardinals, but has caught absolutely everything that came his way in 49ers camp and preseason. What looked like a WR6 has thundered up the depth chart and looks like he has taken a stranglehold on the team's WR3 spot. Sherfield and Mohamed Sanu make the team's 3rd and 4th WRs feel more capable than in recent years. As long as Deebo and Aiyuk remain healthy, it's a good group, and if Hurd can add to it, even better.

The offensive line should be one of the league's better groups, though the inability to improve at RG (2nd round pick Aaron Banks is sidelined with injury, and he wasn't doing a good job of winning the job before that) poses a bit of a problem. Signing Alex Mack was nice though, because even if he's old, he's yet to struggle with health, whereas the Niners couldn't keep a center in the lineup before.

2021 Defense: Bosa is back! Dee Ford, perhaps even more amazingly than Hurd, is back. The team also invested in their edge rusher depth, again having felt the burn from the injuries last year. The real strength, though, is a defensive interior with some of the best depth in the league. The question there is if Javon Kinlaw can become a true DeForest Buckner replacement or not.

Fred Warner got paid, rightly so. The linebacker group is the same as before, with Warner and Dre Greenlaw locking down the two main jobs.

Secondary is the defense's biggest question mark. Jason Verrett was a high level corner last year, but 2020 was the first time since 2015 (yes, 2015) that Verrett was healthy enough to actually play like himself. They're betting on him staying healthy. Emmanuel Moseley has the CB2 spot for now, but the team spent a couple draft picks on some man coverage focused corners. Safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt return, again with their question marks being health. The team invested in some decent depth here this time though, with Tavon Wilson in free agency.

Best Case: Most of the important players stay healthy, and Jimmy plays like a slightly less INT-heavy version of 2019 Jimmy. Lance provides a strong offensive wrinkle during his packaged plays, and shows his starter potential by the season's stretch run. The pass rush stays healthy enough to repeat 2019, which again makes things easy on the secondary.

Worst Case: 2020 happens again, and Lance does not get starter ready nearly fast enough.

Prediction: 11-6 and either winning or losing the tiebreaker for the NFC West title. Even with the extra game, if the Niners, Seahawks, and Rams all are as good as they should be, I think whomever wins the West is going to have a hard time getting to 12 wins. Especially if the Cardinals make any forward progress at all.

Apropos of almost nothing, former NFLer Nate Burleson is now a CBS morning show anchor.

48 hours before the first game? Crazy.

2 starting QBs from Louisville. And considering what the current Louisville team did Monday, I'll be better off cheering for Baltimore and Denver and ignoring college this season.

Also curious to see what happens with the Niners and a rookie QB.

I had to hover on Enix expert links to make sure he wasn't just linking to posts from here last season.

Fact checker has no chill:

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/oTHxPsR.jpg)

*Legion* wrote:

Niners sign Josh Norman as a depth cornerback.

Norman rebounded from a disastrous 2019 to rank 17th in PFF cornerback trading in 2020, but still didn't get much free agent interest.

It's because I only remember josh norman for this

Edit: Somehow I thought the vance mcdonald stiff arm was josh norman. It's actually Chris Conte, who was stiff armed twice. What's up with bucs DBs anyway?

https://youtu.be/ef1_KlnA4Nc
https://twitter.com/EWood70/status/1...

*Legoin* wrote:

This all continues to bring Deshaun Watson's rookie season to mind, which is how I've been envisioning Fields' early career.

Call every masseuse in the Chicagoland area and warn them!

Enix wrote:

Here's something y'all all can do; GIFs optional. Use the same format (or not) and make your own bold prediction(s) for the team you follow.

Oh, nice idea. Hoping we get a lot of coverage.

2021 Pittsburgh Steelers PREVIEW

2020: Started 11-0, then lost two starting ILBs, a starting OLB, 2 starting OL, ben's knee, and finished strong (/s) with 1 in their last 5. We made it into the playoffs anyway, where our first snap from Aaron Hernandez's best bud sailed straight into the end zone for a browns TD. I blame our annual inability to stay healthy even though Vontaze Burfict isn't taking out players with dirty hits any more, but seriously Ben was a statue after he got hit midseason.

Offense: Najee Harris(R) is here (HOORAY), and the pass catchers (Juju Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth) are in the good-to-great range. Opposing teams will start using TikTok to determine the health of our wideouts going into the game.

But the O-line is a giant question mark. One player retired, another retired a year ago, one was waived injured for the year, and two left in free agency. Our entire line has about 1 year of experience between them playing OL for the Steelers, and that's counting Zach Banner(IR) showing up for just enough of the preseason to take away snaps. We're probably going to start a round 3 and round 4 rookie, a day 3 rookie injury replacement from last year, a former pro bowler the same years Le'Veon Bell was a pro bowler, and Chuks Okorafor. Chuks was mostly inactive his first 2 years, and was swing tackle last year until Zach Banner got hurt. He hasn't looked good at LT in the preseason, and then moved back to RT last week so a day 3 rookie could play his spot and he could take over for Zach Banner again. We still believe in our O-Line. It's okay though, we drafted an RB and a TE in the first two rounds, I guess to block?

Ben is still alive and kicking for his 17th season, because history shows that all QBs have the longevity of Tom Brady, and Ben is renowned for his diet and exercise regimen over the years. He surprisingly came back in time from major surgery to play last season, so there's reason to believe that he'll be better. We still believe in Ben, but just in case we picked up Paxton Lynch and now Dwayne Haskins off of the scrap heap, because we love that first round pedigree even though neither one can beat out Mason Rudolph. If you want to watch a QB with no mobility in the pocket that hangs onto the ball too long, that's Mason Rudolph.

Sadly, Mason Rudolph is known mostly for an egregious helmet-to-helmet from Earl Thomas that knocked him into duck dynasty, and an egregious helmet-to-no-helmet from Myles Garrett, who got off with a slap on the wrist and is still one of the craziest things I've seen in an nfl broadcast.

IMAGE(https://media.giphy.com/media/w82VxZlJmndLy2GKxy/giphy.gif)

Defense: Our edge rushers are great, and TJ Watt was robbed last year for DPOY, according to an unbiased defender from the cardinals. We had TJ Watt and Bud Dupree starting last year, but Alex Highsmith stepped up to replace Dupree, who went off to get paid by the Titans after tearing his ACL. The main problem would be that Watt and Highsmith would play every snap, and start to get tired in the second half. To fix this, we gave Melvin Ingram a contract. Also, Jamir Jones showed out in the preseason, so we're extremely deep at OLB with Watt, Highsmith, Ingram, and Jones. We believe in our OLBs. Wait, what's that about TJ Watt not practicing yet with a game in 4 days? I can't hear you.

Our interior continues to be a strength, and we believe in them. No, I don't believe I heard anything about Stephon Tuitt going on the IR to start the year, why? It's okay, we'll just put Tyson Alualu in again. Love that (34 year old) first round pedigree.

Our CBs are amazing and we believe in them, even if we don't know how to draft one. For 2020, we stole Joe Haden from the Browns, and had free agent Steven Nelson on the outside, and UDFA Mike Hilton in the slot. We could only afford to keep one, so we chose 32 year old Joe Haden. Replacing Steven Nelson is our most decorated drafted DB in the past decade, Cam Sutton. He's our most successful draftee in probably a decade, because he's played on and off for the past 3 years without completely embarrassing himself, and has outperformed standouts like 1st rounder Artie Burns and 2nd rounder Sean Davis. He's constantly touted for his intelligence and slot versatility (but is better on the outside), allowing us to be less predictable in our formations. Naturally, it looks like we're actually going to play him exclusively in the slot as Mike Hilton's replacement, because we have some players approximating an outside CB on the roster, but no slot CBs. I have zero idea what we're going to do if he gets hurt, as he was supposed to be the backup plan. We identified one possible slot CB, Antoine Brooks, and let the rams have him. We've also told Joe Haden that we're not extending his contract, so he's understandably thrilled to be with us this year.

Everything else: Pittsburgh has a new punter (who's big enough to play DE or TE) and long snapper (who played LB in the FCS). We've traded away three picks in 2022, traded away the 2023 5th, and gave up a 2022 compensatory 5th as well as that 2023 5th to acquire ahkello witherspoon, and have a half dozen players on void year contracts. Who needs to worry about 2022?

Best case: The O-Line gels. Everyone stays healthy. The Browns remember to celebrate their annual implosion. Lamar Jackson has "cramps" but doesn't make it back to the field in time. The Bengals don't injure any of our players. Though historically, it's probably better for us if we sneak in as wildcard, instead of taking the division champ seed. It definitely feels like the toughest division in football, though the nfc west might give it a run for its money.

Worst case: The O-Line gets hurt. We lose half of the starting D again. The Bengals Ravens injure a key player in a pointless week 17 18 game, causing us to once again limp into the playoffs just so we can draft in the early 20s. At least if the Ravens do it, it'll be on a clean hit.

Prediction: Vegas has Pittsburgh's over/under win totals at around 9, preserving Tomlin's pointless record of never having the losing season you need to draft a QB. The 7th playoff seed may as well be called the Steelers seed. The giant question mark that is the Steelers O-Line means no one knows what to make of the Steelers, so I've seen them anywhere from 10 to 25 on power rankings.

Terrible Towel Trivia

IMAGE(https://media.giphy.com/media/C1vu1cxXD47FkiKMqG/giphy.gif)

Look how excited our rookie TE is to wave the terrible towel! He's just dripping with enthusiasm.

Larry Garrett, said that they needed the assistance of Myron Cope, the Steelers radio broadcaster, in inventing a "gimmick" which would attract sponsors to his daily commentaries and talk show. Initially, Cope did not want to participate, saying "I am not a gimmick guy, never have been a gimmick guy." However, after Garrett's suggestion that a successful gimmick would be good leverage for a raise in Cope's upcoming contract renewal, Cope replied, "I'm a gimmick guy."

More heartwarmingly, all terrible towel proceeds go to a school for the disabled in Allegheny County. I remember reading that the towel was chosen over other gimmicks, because fans don't need to be coordinated to wave it around, but I'm having trouble finding a citation.

I saw the signing of LeVeon Bell and thought "okay, looks like the Ravens are doubling down on the possession game".

Bell gets run down from behind by linebackers. He is slower than a three legged turtle. That said, he downblocks well, blocks well in the pass pro, picks his holes well, and has better hands than most WR3's. He is no homerun threat, but he will move the chains and be a matchup nightmare on third down. And if you are facing a pressure happy defense, his sure hands in the screen game will mess you up. It looks like the Ravens didn't get the quick strike scoring menace they wanted, but settled for someone to roll the clock and move the chains.

Emmes wrote:

Everything else: Pittsburgh has a ... long snapper (who played LB in the FCS).

Funny you should mention that: One of the best W&M players in recent history, LB Luke Rhodes, is the long snapper for the Colts. (W&M, as you probably know, is the FCS school where the Steelers' HC played college football.) Rhodes is big enough not to get run over and fast enough to get downfield on punt coverage. I have no idea if FCS-linebackers-as-NFL-long-snappers is a thing or just a coincidence.

Nice write-up on the Steelers, btw.

Kinda related: Do you realize that Mike Tomlin has never had a losing record as Steelers HC? It's true. He has three 8-8 seasons but nothing worse.

Emmes wrote:

Our CBs are amazing and we believe in them, even if we don't know how to draft one. For 2020, we stole Joe Haden from the Browns, and had free agent Steven Nelson on the outside, and UDFA Mike Hilton in the slot. We could only afford to keep one, so we chose 32 year old Joe Haden. Replacing Steven Nelson is our most decorated drafted DB in the past decade, Cam Sutton. He's our most successful draftee in probably a decade, because he's played on and off for the past 3 years without completely embarrassing himself, and has outperformed standouts like 1st rounder Artie Burns and 2nd rounder Sean Davis. He's constantly touted for his intelligence and slot versatility (but is better on the outside), allowing us to be less predictable in our formations. Naturally, it looks like we're actually going to play him exclusively in the slot as Mike Hilton's replacement, because we have some players approximating an outside CB on the roster, but no slot CBs. I have zero idea what we're going to do if he gets hurt, as he was supposed to be the backup plan. We identified one possible slot CB, Antoine Brooks, and let the rams have him. We've also told Joe Haden that we're not extending his contract, so he's understandably thrilled to be with us this year.

Joe Haden is the only name I recognized in this entire section. I completely forgot about ALL the rest. Yeesh

*Legion* wrote:

Best Case: Most of the important players stay healthy, and Jimmy plays like a slightly less INT-heavy version of 2019 Jimmy. Lance provides a strong offensive wrinkle during his packaged plays, and shows his starter potential by the season's stretch run. The pass rush stays healthy enough to repeat 2019, which again makes things easy on the secondary.

He doesn't know how to do that.

garion333 wrote:
*Legion* wrote:

Best Case: Most of the important players stay healthy, and Jimmy plays like a slightly less INT-heavy version of 2019 Jimmy. Lance provides a strong offensive wrinkle during his packaged plays, and shows his starter potential by the season's stretch run. The pass rush stays healthy enough to repeat 2019, which again makes things easy on the secondary.

He doesn't know how to do that.

Yes he does! He knows what linebackers look like now! He's been studying

*Legion* wrote:
garion333 wrote:
*Legion* wrote:

Best Case: Most of the important players stay healthy, and Jimmy plays like a slightly less INT-heavy version of 2019 Jimmy. Lance provides a strong offensive wrinkle during his packaged plays, and shows his starter potential by the season's stretch run. The pass rush stays healthy enough to repeat 2019, which again makes things easy on the secondary.

He doesn't know how to do that.

Yes he does! He knows what linebackers look like now! He's been studying

Maybe Mac Jones has been helping Jimmy G with his playbook?

Apparently McCorkle is teaching all of the Super Bowl-losing QBs these days.

Great write-up on the rookie QBs, btw. I'm particularly interested in Wilson (bc the Panthers play the Jets in Week 1), Fields (bc Carolina coulda had him) and McCorkle (who I hope the Patriots regret keeping bc I'm petty that way), but I wasn't about to watch a minute of preseason football.

*Legion* wrote:

ROOKIE QB PRESEASON BREAKDOWN

I watched every preseason passing snap (multiple times) of the five 1st round rookie QBs, and have written down my thoughts.

I think this is the most fascinating QB draft class in a long time. Odds are that at least one or two of them will Josh Rosen on me, but I do think this class has a legitimate chance to be special.

My take:

1. Lawrence. Urban Meyer might kill him a la David Carr, but considering Baker survived Hue to be a mediocre QB instead of a dead one means Lawrence too can become mediocre. (Also, Phillip Dorsett sighting? What year is it? The fact he's getting tries is solely based on his 1st round pedigree.)

2. Wilson. Denzel Mims' career is over because he runs routes past the line of scrimmage. Seriously, please trade him to a team who passes downfield, preferably one quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes.

3. Lance. Homerisms abound in your take. I can't unsee the homerisms and faith in 28-3.

4. Fields. I'm still scared about his pocket processing speed, even if it's something a bunch of racists put in my head about him. The downside to his game is something I hope can be worked on, but I'm scared it can't be. See: Rosen, Winston. But he's got legs, which is something they don't have.

5. Jones. I wanted one of the QBs who use their legs, but wasn't willing to spend a 1st round pick in Dynasty on them except for Trey Lance. My late 2nd pick on him now seems genius, but only because all the other QBs were taken before him. Admittedly, I thought I'd be able to get Rhamondre Stevenson with my 3rd round pick but wbillej just had to fill his roster with more NE players and castoffs. Point is, Mac Jones might look like someone who bankrolls January 6th rioters, but he is pretty decent at playing the QB position AND he put the effort in. I didn't expect the latter part.

garion333 wrote:

(Also, Phillip Dorsett sighting? What year is it? The fact he's getting tries is solely based on his 1st round pedigree.)

The Jags had Dorsett, Laquon Treadwell, and Tavon Austin in training camp.

Dorsett and Treadwell are on the practice squad, and Austin is on IR per usual.

3. Lance. Homerisms abound in your take. I can't unsee the homerisms and faith in 28-3.

That's right, gotta make it about me because you can't make it about Lance! Because...

wasn't willing to spend a 1st round pick in Dynasty on them except for Trey Lance

... you know. You know. You can feel it.

*Legion* wrote:
garion333 wrote:

(Also, Phillip Dorsett sighting? What year is it? The fact he's getting tries is solely based on his 1st round pedigree.)

The Jags had Dorsett, Laquon Treadwell, and Tavon Austin in training camp.

Dorsett and Treadwell are on the practice squad, and Austin is on IR per usual.

3. Lance. Homerisms abound in your take. I can't unsee the homerisms and faith in 28-3.

That's right, gotta make it about me because you can't make it about Lance! Because...

wasn't willing to spend a 1st round pick in Dynasty on them except for Trey Lance

... you know. You know. You can feel it.

I expect Trey Lance's career to mimic RG3's, unfortunately.

garion333 wrote:

I expect Trey Lance's career to mimic RG3's, unfortunately.

Nah, look at them big sturdy knees. Ain't got no RG3 chicken legs. Man's knees are gonna stay intact!

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/k0puGqh.png)

I'm already looking forward to when someone digs up this post after a Lance injury and punishes me with it.

The Buccaneers, obviously.

2020: WHAT THE F#@#[email protected]$! WAS THAT?!!?!?!!

I’ve said for years I spite-rooted for the Patriots and Tom Brady; I spent years rooting for a bland, boring, and just bad Buccaneers team (we’re starting our year with plenty of alliteration), so I figured, if I couldn’t be happy as a fan, I’d root for the team that made everybody else as unhappy as me.

So, you know, last year was a bit confusing in that way.

Obviously, any Super Bowl season is great, but the fact it happened after 18 years of mediocre badness was even weirder. There’s a symbolic aspect to the fact everyone who scored in the Super Bowl wasn’t on the team last year; Brady, Gronk, Fournette, Antonio Brown (who is human garbage), and Succop were all new. Post-bye week, the Bucs put it all together.

Yes, yes, I know you hate Brady. Don’t care. Lavonte David has a ring, and Mike Evans has a ring. Those guys slogged on horrible teams for years, and seeing them finally get the hardware makes a lot worth it. One of the things that’s been so surprising is how much fun everybody genuinely seemed to be having, and Tom Brady has turned off the soulless robot a bit, and looks like he’s having fun. Nothing humanizes a guy like his daughter screaming “NO, DADDY, NO” right before doing this:

IMAGE(https://u.cubeupload.com/MilkmanDanimal/BradyToss.gif)

Seriously, where the hell was this Tom Brady for all these years? Whoever he’s hired to run his social media deserves a raise; he’s been doing some seriously hilarious crap. He's far more amiable, he's smiling more, he's more relaxed, and you cannot tell me drunk-ass Tom Brady having to be propped up by eternal Bucs' practice squad QB Ryan Griffin didn't humanize him. I mean, he's . . . almost likeable now. What the hell?

Offense: Uh, hey, it’s pretty good. Official offense gif:

IMAGE(https://u.cubeupload.com/MilkmanDanimal/BradyPoint.gif)

Yes, just to annoy Brady haters.

Tom Brady having lost a proverbial step means he’s still Tom Brady, and at age 43 he put up 65.7%/40/10, and the last eight games it was 22 TDs and four picks, and three of those all came in the NFCCG. The WR corps is probably the best in the league, between Mike Evans (who is too big to be that fast and that good), Chris Godwin (who might have the best hands in the league, and Antonio Brown (who is human garbage). Throw in Scotty Miller for the occasional deep ball dagger (OH HAI KEVIN KING) and a few other young guys, and it’s ridiculous. TEs are the same, between Gronk, Cameron Brate, and, well, hopefully OJ Howard can not suck. In terms of the offensive line, Tristan Wirfs was never going to beat Justin Herbert for OROY, but he had a legitimate argument, and he gave up one sack all year, and got 10 All-Pro votes. As a rookie. Ali Marpet continues to be one of the best guards in the league, and Donovan Smith turned into a real LT. Depth is a concern, but it’s a very solid line, helped in no small part by no longer having to protect a moron who was going to run around for 15 seconds and then fling the ball directly to a defensive back.

Have fun with that, New Orleans.

Defense: Uh, hey, it’s pretty good. Suh is still very good and has chilled out and is no longer human garbage, but Vita Vea has by and large proved I’m a moron for whining about the Bucs passing on Derwin James, because Vea destroys in the interior like nobody else. He eats up enough linemen to where Shaq Barrett and JPP get much easier matchups, and rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has looked very, very impressive in the preseason as a pass rusher. Lavonte David has been one of the best all-around LBs in the league, and is no longer unknown thanks to last year. Devin White is ridiculously athletic, and, if he learns a bit of discipline and stops running away from coverage to try to make flashy plays, he’s a legitimate DPOY candidate. The secondary is the weak point, relatively speaking, but, if there’s one unit that turned it around last year, it’s that. The Bucs spent a lot of draft capital on the secondary in recent years, having spent four second-, two third-, and on fourth-round pick in the prior three drafts. Suffice to say, Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jordan Whitehead, Jamel Dean, and Antoine Winfield Jr. paid off.

Wait . . . did somebody say Antoine Winfield Jr.?

IMAGE(https://u.cubeupload.com/MilkmanDanimal/WinfieldPeace.gif)

The defense is likely to be very good, and has both a lot of talent and depth. We saw one of the all-time great defensive performances in a Super Bowl last year, and if Todd Bowles can continue to tweak this defense to keep playing like that, he’s going to be a very well-paid head coach last year. He deserves it; I mean, it’s not like he’s ever been the coach of a real NFL team so far.

Everything else: The Bucs for years were stingy on the cap. Not at this point. All 22 starters back, what looks like a steal rookie DE at #32, and they’re having fun. The big thing is . . . last year’s Bucs team was ridiculously lucky on injuries; OJ Howard went down for the season, but the combo of Gronk and Cameron Brate made that not that big of a deal. Losing Vita Vea was much bigger (in multiple ways), and him coming back for the NFCCG I think pretty clearly tipped the scales in that game (again, in multiple ways). FO ranked the Bucs as having the best injury luck in the league last year, and, being they’re one of the oldest teams, that’s unlikely to continue. There’s good depth outside of offensive line and, well, QB, because Brady’s kind of irreplaceable, and I’d really prefer Legion not be able to laugh about the Gabbertneers. Rookie Kyle Trask looked very much like a second-round rookie in the preseason, and I don’t think he should be playing for quite a while.

Best case: I hate undefeated talk. It’s dumb, and even dumber with an additional game. Throw in the additional pressure of trying to repeat and having everybody play their best game against you, and it’s not going to happen. That being said . . . if the Bucs skip the injury bug again this year, they’re the best team in the league (JFC how are those words possible). The best-case scenario is 20-0, even though the odds of that are very small. If the starters stay healthy and you see the kind of combined offensive efficiency and defensive fury we saw in the latter part of the season and playoffs, then, sure, 20-0 is theoretically the best-case scenario.

Worst case: The worst case is clearly Tom Brady’s body remembering he’s 44 years old, and something finally breaks. Like it should have for years. Gabbert or Trask have to step in and there just aren’t enough balls to go around, and, while Evans and Godwin are used to that, Antonio Brown (who is human garbage) gets pissy and pulls the team down, Fournette gets whiny again, and the secondary stops playing well. Honestly, even with all that, this is likely a double-digit win team, just because there’s so much talent and about every position, and, uh, the NFC South is not good. FO ranks the Bucs’ schedule as the 30th most-difficult, because NFC South + NFC East + AFC East . . . uh, there aren’t a lot of real tough games on that list, and the only way I see the Bucs not winning the division is Jameis Winston having a phenomenal year where he controls the offense, plays efficiently, eliminates mistakes, and . . .

IMAGE(https://u.cubeupload.com/MilkmanDanimal/laughing.gif)

Sorry. Couldn’t even finish that one. SERIOUSLY, IT”S JAMEIS WINSTON, WE ALL KNOW WHO HE IS BY NOW.

Prediction: The Bucs have never won more than 12 games; with the bonus game, they’re going 13-4, and, what the hell, repeating as Champions, beating the Chiefs again.

Unless Brady gets hurt, the Bucs are a lock to the postseason. There's simply too much talent despite the garbage.

Their weakest spot is RB and that's the easiest to replace.

Well, obviously, if Brady goes down and Gabbert has to do more than look pretty, well, uh, I CAN'T WAIT FOR THIS TO HAPPEN!

I hate when Dan's happy.

Anyone think the Texans or the Lions (but probably the Texans) will be the first team in NFL history to go 0-and-17?

Texans more likely if QB1 doesn't play.

garion333 wrote:

Texans more likely if QB1 doesn't play.

Was going to say that also but... Why do I think he might still make an appearance this year?

Totally unfounded but ya some how him playing seems like a possibility.

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