Will Von Miller be able to lead the way for the Denver Broncos against the Buffalo Bills?
There was a time when the Nebraska Cornhuskers were the gold standard of success in college football. From 1969-2001, Nebraska never finished lower than 19th in the Associated Press Poll as they claimed five national championships over that stretch to go along with numerous conference championships. But following Nebraska’s loss in the 2002 Rose Bowl to the Miami Hurricanes for the national championship, the fortunes of this once proud program changed. In 2002, the Cornhuskers would record their first non-winning season since 1961 as their vintage “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense appeared to be a dinosaur in college football.
Nebraska attempted to keep up with the Joneses in college football as they hired Bill Callahan in 2004 to be their new head football coach. Callahan was fresh off of helping the Oakland Raiders win the AFC Championship in 2002. Callahan attempted to change Nebraska’s offense by implementing the West Coast offense in Lincoln. Callahan was able to have some success which included him getting the ‘Huskers to the Big 12 Championship Game in 2007. But when Nebraska went 5-7 in 2008 which included their defense surrendering at least 40 points to six opponents, the folks in Lincoln had seen enough and thus he was fired.
Callahan was replaced by Bo Pelini who had previously served as a defensive coordinator at Nebraska and he understood the importance of defense at the school which includes the tradition of “The Blackshirts”.
In seven seasons at Nebraska, Pelini compiled an overall record of 67-27 and his teams never won less than nine games in each year. But the fact that Nebraska was never able to win a conference championship led to his termination in 2014 in spite of the fact that only Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney had higher winning percentages than him at the school.
Pelini would be replaced by former Oregon State Beavers head football coach Mike Riley who like Callahan has built his reputation on offense. However Riley’s time at Oregon State would consistently see him put together one quality season every few years while the Beavers never won the Pac-12 Conference under him.
But after the Cornhuskers went 9-4 last season, they have not gotten off on the right foot this season as they are currently 1-2 which includes losing to the Oregon Ducks, as well as a surprising home loss last Saturday to the Northern Illinois Huskies of the Mid-American Conference. And thus the honeymoon for Riley in Lincoln appears to be over.
This week saw Shawn Eichorst fired as Nebraska’s athletic director following the school’s upset loss to Northern Illinois. And in the process Riley lost his security blanket being that Eichorst was the man who fired Pelini in favor of him. School officials at Nebraska will conduct a nationwide search to find the school’s next athletic director, and you can anticipate the person who is hired will want to bring his/her own head football coach in which makes the 64-year old Riley expendable; especially after a slow start this year.
Under Riley, Nebraska is only 9-8 within the Big Ten Conference, and with games this season versus the Ohio State Buckeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, Penn State Nittany Lions, and Iowa Hawkeyes, the idea of seeing the Cornhuskers being one of the top teams in the Big Ten West is slim to none. And unless a miracle happens for Riley during the next two months with the ‘Huskers, the folks in Lincoln will help him pack his bags.
Once Nebraska is able to find themselves a new athletic director, one name that you can expect to hear thrown around in regards to being the school’s new head football coach will be Chip Kelly. In four years as the head football coach at Oregon, Kelly compiled a record of 46-7 which included a pair of Pac-12 Conference Titles. And after Kelly’s unsuccessful run as a head coach in the National Football League, school administrators will probably present him with a blank check in order to work for them. But Nebraska could have their work cut out for them in order to sign Kelly as there could be some marquee programs within the Southeastern and Pac-12 Conferences that’ll be looking for a new head coach which means that they might have to look elsewhere to find someone to reignite their program.
Since Osborne retired following the end of the 1997 college football season, Nebraska has been unsure of what they want they want to do as a program with everyone not being on the same page. And with the landscape of college football having changed so drastically with more teams having television time while rocking outrageous uniforms, the allure of playing for Nebraska isn’t what it was in the days of Devaney and Osborne. Nebraska has some of the best athletic facilities in college football, but they have always struggled to recruit places such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and California which are states that have been known to produce quality college football players.
When Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, they brought with them a ton of tradition to a conference that was already steeped in it. However the success that the Cornhuskers enjoyed in the Big 8 and Big 12 Conferences has not traveled with them. And whomever will be hired to lead Nebraska going forward will have to find a way to put a spark behind the offense regardless of what system that they choose to operate.
Currently Nebraska is 71st in the nation in total offense as the consistency is not there. Junior quarterback Tanner Lee who began his collegiate career with the Tulane Green Wave is struggling in Lincoln in the same way that he did in Louisiana. And as working with quarterbacks is Riley’s specialty, the struggles of Lee and the offense at Nebraska fall into his lap.
For years Nebraska was at the forefront of what success was in college football. But as the Cornhuskers are struggling and have failed to keep up with the times, it is a shame to see this program struggle which has meant so much to college football for so long.
In 2014, the New York Giants hired Ben McAdoo to be the team’s offensive coordinator. Prior to joining the Giants, McAdoo spent eight years as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers; first as the team’s tight ends coach, and then as their quarterbacks coach. The Giants admired McAdoo’s work with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and they felt that he would be a perfect match to collaborate with quarterback Eli Manning in New York. With McAdoo as the Giants offensive coordinator, Manning enjoyed two of his best seasons in the National Football League as he completed more than 62% of his passes. However with the Giants not putting a talented team around Manning, they would fail to make the playoffs in each of those seasons. And after the Giants went 6-10 in 2015, longtime head coach Tom Coughlin was fired and replaced with McAdoo.
The Giants promoted McAdoo due to his familiarity with Manning, while he was also seen as someone who could kick start a stagnant offense.
In McAdoo’s first year as the Giants head coach, New York went 11-5 to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011 which was the last time that they won the Super Bowl. However the strength of the Giants in 2016 was their defense as New York was 25th in the National Football League last season in total offense in spite of the presence of Manning and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Things have not gotten better for the Giants this year as following Monday night’s home loss to the Detroit Lions, they have begun this season with a record of 0-2 for the fourth time in the last five campaigns. And in each of those seasons the Giants failed to post a winning record.
The stagnation that has hurt the Giants offense in recent years is still in place as New York has only mustered 13 points in two games this season, while they have only produced 27 first downs which is 28th in the National Football League. And for a guy in McAdoo that was supposed to be an offensive guru, he must have done a tremendous sell job on his interview because he is stealing money.
Manning has taken his fair share of criticism during his time with the Giants, but he still has one of the best arms and sharpest minds in the National Football League, while he has a talented duo of Beckham and wide receiver Brandon Marshall to get the football to. However it doesn’t mean a thing if Manning is running for his life in the pocket.
In 2016, the Giants offensive line was suspect at best and they’ve gotten worse in 2017. McAdoo and Giants general manager Jerry Reese never took the time to upgrade the team’s offensive line during the off-season. Already Manning has been sacked eight times compared to 21 for all of last season. In 2015, Reese used a first-round pick on offensive tackle Ereck Flowers who was expected to protect the blindside of Manning which has not been the case. Flowers has consistently shown vulnerability due to his lack of footwork. And instead of Reese and McAdoo shifting Flowers to right tackle, they continue to hold him responsible for protecting Manning’s blindside.
The Giants have lacked a running game for several years which continues here in 2017 as they are last in the National Football League in rushing with just 97 yards after two games. The Giants attempted to sign running backs LeGarrette Blount and Adrian Peterson during the off-season. But Blount opted to join the Philadelphia Eagles, while Peterson is now with the New Orleans Saints, and the Giants running game is still stuck in the mud.
In the Giants last seven regular season games they have failed to produce at least 20 points which falls into the lap of the “wonder boy” in McAdoo. At first it appeared that McAdoo was “sandbagging” his play calling as the Giants offensive coordinator in order to get Coughlin fired, but now it is clear that he simply cannot get it done. And following the Giants loss to the Lions, McAdoo couldn’t even own it, but he was more than happy to thrown Manning under the bus after New York was hit with a delay of game penalty in the third quarter during a key fourth-and-goal situation.
Manning will never be seen as the perfect quarterback, but he has earned respect in the Big Apple due to the fact that he has produced a pair of Super Bowl Titles, while McAdoo doesn’t have that much on his resume with Big Blue.
Now McAdoo must attempt to rally the troops as the Giants must get prepared on a short week to face their NFC East rivals in the Philadelphia Eagles on the road this Sunday. And if the Giants were to fall to the Eagles, they would be 0-3 overall, 0-3 in the NFC, and 0-2 in the NFC East as no team has ever won the Super Bowl after beginning the season with a record of 0-3.
But all of the blame for the Giants struggles don’t fall into the lap of McAdoo as Reese deserves his fair share of criticism as well. After the Giants last Super Bowl Title, the team got old, and as Reese saw key veterans retire, he has been unable to consistently draft well and replace that talent which has shown up in New York’s inability to run the football or protect Manning. Giants co-owner John Mara put Reese on notice publicly last year which led to New York making the playoffs, but will he be able last if Big Blue has another subpar year?
It is only September, but the Giants already find themselves at the crossroads. And if the Giants are unable to figure things out soon, there might be some house cleaning going on in East Rutherford.
American Football Conference
1. New England Patriots
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Houston Texans
5. Oakland Raiders
6. Miami Dolphins
AFC Wild Card Round
Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans
These two teams met in last year’s AFC Wild Card Game, but if Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is healthy this time, the results will be much different.
Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Dolphins have what it takes to make a good run in the playoffs, but they’ll draw a Chiefs team in the first round that won’t be denied.
AFC Divisional Playoffs
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Until the Chiefs find a way to get past the Steelers and Patriots, the second round of the playoffs will be as far as they can go.
Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots
The Raiders could be the heir apparent to the Patriots in the AFC, but they still have to wait their turn.
AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
It might be a new season and a more motivated Steelers team, but the result will be the same as last January.
National Football Conference
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. Carolina Panthers
5. New York Giants
6. Dallas Cowboys
NFC Wild Card Game
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
There is no love lost between the Cowboys and Eagles which will make this an intense battle.
New York Giants vs. Carolina Panthers
After coming up short in playoffs last season, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. needs to redeem himself.
NFC Divisional Playoffs
New York Giants vs. Seattle Seahawks
Which Super Bowl winning quarterback will be able to do enough to help his team advance?
Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers
The networks will be salivating over covering this game as it’ll be the Cowboys and Packers meeting in January for the second consecutive year.
NFC Championship Game
Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers
The Packers have been close, but will this be the year in they are finally able to get back to the Super Bowl?
Super Bowl 52-US Bank Stadium-Minneapolis, Minnesota: Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots
It will be must-see TV to have Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers playing each other in the Super Bowl, but Brady finds a way to win his unprecedented sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
X-Kansas City Chiefs 10-6
Andy Reid’s run as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs has a familiar feel to his time with the Philadelphia Eagles as well as that of former Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer. In four seasons in Kansas City, Reid has led the Chiefs to the playoffs three times which included ending the franchise’s postseason victory drought during the 2015 National Football League season. Last year the Chiefs won the AFC West for the first time since 2010, but they would lose at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round in controversial fashion. The last two years have seen the Chiefs eliminated from the postseason by the New England Patriots and Steelers respectively as they have been the premier teams in the AFC for more than 20 years. And for the Chiefs to reach their first Super Bowl as members of the National Football League, these are the team’s that Reid’s squad must go through in order to get to Minneapolis in February.
For Reid, Alex Smith has been his guy in regards to being his starting quarterback with the Chiefs. In 2013, one of Reid’s first moves in Kansas City after finding out about the city’s great barbecue was to acquire Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. In Kansas City, Smith has enjoyed immense success which has included three playoff appearances, and two Pro Bowl selections. Smith has developed a reputation of being a “game manager” and he is known to not force the football, while relying on his athleticism and smarts. But being that Smith has never been known for having a strong arm, is he the guy at quarterback to help the Chiefs take the next step?
Last year the Chiefs were 15th in the National Football League while they also failed to produce a 1,000-yard ball carrier. But a staple of Reid’s offense is also to get his running backs involved in the passing game. Losing running back Spencer Ware to an injury changes what the Chiefs are able to do, but it gives running back Charcandrick West and rookie Kareem Hunt more opportunities to show what they can do. And I guarantee that Reid will find creative ways to get West and Hunt the football this season.
In limited action last year wide receiver Tyreek Hill showed his potential to be an impact player on offense for Kansas City as well as special teams. Hill is one of those players who excels in space, while I see Reid getting him the football on various plays such as reverses and screens.
When the Chiefs used a third-round draft pick on tight end Travis Kelce in 2013, he was an afterthought. However Kelce has continued to improve in each season with the Chiefs as some folks in the National Football League see him as the poor man’s Rob Gronkowski. Last season Kelce became the first Chiefs tight end to gain at least 1,100 yards receiving in a season and his ability to split the seams, while also constantly demanding a double team will open things up for other players at the skill positions.
The Chiefs have one of the more underrated offensive lines in the National Football League which includes the likes of left tackle Eric Fisher. Kansas City was able to add to that depth when they acquired Cam Erving from the Cleveland Browns this summer. Erving has the versatility to play multiple positions on the line which means that quality line play should never skip a beat for the Chiefs.
There is no underscoring the fact that the loss of defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency will hurt the Chiefs, as he was the perfect fit at nose tackle due to his ability to consistently command a double team. But now the Chiefs will also have to do it without the services of free safety Eric Berry who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury as he and Poe were solid anchors for the defense. Kansas City still maintains one of the strongest linebacking units in the National Football League which is led by inside linebacker Derrick Johnson who has quietly become one of the best defensive players in the franchise’s history. And the smarts of Johnson on the football field, along with his leadership ability will be needed more than ever to somewhat offset the loss of Poe and Berry.
It’s hard to believe, but the Chiefs have never won the AFC West in consecutive years which means that Reid and his team will have their work cut out for them in order to make it happen this season.
Y-Oakland Raiders 10-6
2016 saw the long awaited re-emergence of the silver and black as the Oakland Raiders appeared in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Jack Del Rio delivered on his promise of reversing the fortunes of the Raiders as he was able to return the team to the postseason in just his second season with the franchise. The Raiders revival once again sparked a fan base that has suffered through losing seasons and bad draft picks as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was once again a raucous place for opponents to visits.
However all of this goodwill was thrown out of the window in late March when it was announced that the Raiders would soon be leaving Oakland in favor of Las Vegas, Nevada. This has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Raiders fans as this now marks the second time that the City of Oakland has been burned by the silver and black. The Raiders intend to play in Oakland for the next two years, but will they be able to succeed on the field in spite of the ill will between the fans, the city, and team owner Mark Davis?
Regardless of the Raiders preparing to leave Oakland, they have one of the best young quarterbacks in the National Football in Derek Carr. In 2014, Carr had all of the tools necessary to be selected in the first round of the National Football League Draft. However Carr was forced to wait with a team such as the quarterback needy Houston Texans passing up on him twice. Carr would find a home with the Raiders and he has a chance to be the franchise’s best quarterback since Ken Stabler.
Carr was in the running to be the National Football League’s MVP last year until he suffered a broken fibula in Week 16. Subsequently Carr would be unavailable for the Raiders during their foray into the postseason as a team that was once viewed as a Super Bowl contender was now one-and-done in January.
But now as the new season is set to begin, Carr is once again someone who should be in consideration to be the MVP of the National Football League. The Raiders also believe in Carr and his ability as this summer saw them give him a five-year deal for $125 million.
Carr has a talented combination of wide receivers to throw the football to in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Last season both Cooper and Crabtree gained more than 1,000 yards receiving and in the process they became the Raiders first duo of wide receivers since Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in 2001 to pull off the accomplishment. And with Carr entrenched as the Raiders starting quarterback, don’t expect the level of productivity for Cooper and Crabtree to fall off.
The Raiders were sixth in the National Football League in rushing last year and they’ll get a boost this season with the addition of running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch developed a reputation for being one of the best power backs that the game has ever seen and in the process he helped the Seattle Seahawks win their first and only Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. However in 2016, Lynch decided to retire from the NFL at the age of 29, it took some people by surprise. But Lynch has always been an unpredictable person, and this year he once again developed the inch to play football. Lynch decided to give the NFL another try, but since he was still under contract with the Seahawks, the Raiders had to compensate their former AFC West rivals which saw Seattle receive a fifth-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. The year away from the game should provide Lynch with some fresh legs, while he will look to get it done in his hometown of Oakland.
Since Reggie McKenzie has taken over as the general manager of the Raiders, he has taken great pride in building Oakland’s offensive line as he himself played on the O-line in the National Football League. The Raiders offensive line produced three Pro Bowlers last season in left tackle Donald Penn, center Rodney Hudson, and guard Kelechi Osemele. The offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys gets a ton of attention and rightfully so, but the unit of the Raiders isn’t exactly chopped liver.
The Raiders were 26th in the National Football League in total defense last season and they got exposed once Carr went down with the injury. The Raiders do have defensive end Khalil Mack who is a premier edge rusher, while outside linebacker Bruce Irvin is solid as well. However the Raiders were 24th in pass defense last year and their secondary must improve if they want to be a Super Bowl contender.
It’s good to see the Raiders once again relevant in the National Football League, but you have to wonder if the upcoming move to Las Vegas as well as a suspect secondary will hurt their chances here in 2017.
Denver Broncos 7-9
From 2006-2010, the Denver Broncos failed to make the playoffs which was their longest stretch without being able to play football in January since 1976. In 2011, former Broncos quarterback John Elway would return to the organization as the team’s executive vice president of football operations. Elway would rapidly begin to revitalize the Broncos roster and in his first season, the Broncos would win the AFC West. With Elway leading the charge, the Broncos were once again a title contender and in just five years he led them to their first Super Bowl Championship since he played for them.
Last year would see the Broncos go 9-7 as they would lose four of their final six games which included being swept by the Kansas City Chiefs for the first time since 2000. And in the process Denver would be watching the postseason at home for the first time under Elway’s watch.
But the 2017 Broncos will look very different and have a new feel to them as opposed to the team that played last season. Health issues have forced Gary Kubiak to step down as Broncos head after two years. However Kubiak will always be remembered for helping the Broncos get another Super Bowl Championship. Kubiak has been replaced by Vance Joseph who joins the Broncos after spending last season with the Miami Dolphins as their defensive coordinator.
Joseph is seeking to put his stamp on the Broncos and his first order of business was to switch Denver’s base defense from a 3-4 to that of a 4-3 which made defensive coordinator Wade Phillips expendable.
Over the last 35 years, Phillips has built a reputation for having one of the sharpest minds in the National Football League in regards to coaching defensive football. Phillips believes in putting consistent pressure on an opposing team’s quarterback, while his players would run through a wall for him. And when Phillips decided to leave the Broncos organization following Joseph’s arrival, it marked the end of an era, while Joseph will have a tough selling job ahead of him in regards to making the defensive players in Denver believe in his system.
But with Joseph set to begin his run with the Broncos, one thing that he has going for him is outside linebacker Von Miller. Since Miller entered the National Football League in 2011, he has played like a man possessed. Miller plays with a high motor and although that he only weighs in at 250 lbs., he has been known to make some of the best left tackles in the NFL look bad. Miller flourished in the 3-4 scheme of Philips, however his versatility allows him to be successful in any system that he is in. And if Miller buys into what Joseph is selling, the Broncos defense should continue to be one of the top units in football.
Miller will have to carry the load for the beginning of the season as his tag-team partner in outside linebacker Shane Ray will miss roughly two months as he is recovering from a torn ligament in his wrist, while Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. continue to operate one of the best cornerback tandems in the National Football League.
The Broncos defense should once again be solid, but for this team to be a postseason contender, their offense must improve. Last year Denver was 27th in the National Football League in total offense which included them failing to score at least 20 points in three of their last four games. Two years ago Elway used a first-round pick on quarterback Paxton Lynch, but he has yet to show that he can be the guy. In 2015, Elway drafted quarterback Trevor Siemian who was an afterthought when he was taken in the seventh round. But Siemian who does have a reputation as being game manager has become the more viable option for the Broncos at quarterback in spite of the fact that he doesn’t possess a big arm like Lynch. And whereas Siemian might not be able to win the game for Denver, he won’t lose it either.
Siemian will be the Broncos starting quarterback this season and he’ll have a pair of talented wide receivers to throw the football to in Emanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Both Sanders and Thomas gained more than 1,000 yards last year receiving, however it will be difficult for them to match those numbers due to the struggles of Denver’s rushing attack.
Last year the Broncos were 27th in the National Football League in rushing, and it marked the third consecutive year in which they failed to produce a 1,000-yard running back. The Broncos will once again rely on a “running back by committee” which C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles more than likely getting the bulk of the carries. But if the Broncos are unable to effectively run the football, it will put their offense in a bind.
Fans in the Rocky Mountains are not accustomed to seeing the Broncos partake in losing seasons. However this could be the case in 2017 as Denver appears to be a team that is in limbo.
Los Angeles Chargers 6-10
It will definitely take some time to get adjusted to referencing the Chargers as being from Los Angeles. For more than 50 years the Chargers called San Diego home as it was hard to think of one without the other. But the finances and politics in the National Football League reign supreme as the City of San Diego and the Chargers would prepare for a very messy divorce. For years Chargers owner Dean Spanos has attempted to get a new stadium for his team, but he was unable to secure the funding from the City of San Diego in order to make it happen. And with the NFL hell bent on putting two franchises in Los Angeles, Spanos decided to pack up his team for a three-hour trip north on Interstate-5 to join the Rams in Hollywood. Now the Chargers are in Los Angeles which is the city that they came into existence in 1960 as members of the American Football League. However times have changed in Los Angeles as this is a city that only supports winners which means that the Chargers who lost a combined 23 games over the last two years must find a way to get things turned around in a hurry.
Upon making the journey to Los Angeles, the Chargers decided to hire a new head coach in Anthony Lynn. Lynn played in the National Football League for six years which included winning a pair of Super Bowl Championships with the Denver Broncos. Lynn has spent the last 17 years as an assistant coach in the NFL for six different teams, but now he has his opportunity to be the man in charge (no pun intended).
Lynn can sleep a little bit easier at night knowing that he has a quality veteran quarterback that he can rely on. Philip Rivers has been the Chargers starting quarterback for the last 12 years and in the process he has become the most prolific quarterback in franchise history. Rivers found a way to do the impossible as he has broken the major passing records that were set by Dan Fouts with the franchise as he has thrown 314 career touchdowns passes, while also throwing for 45,833 yards heading into this season. Eight of the last nine years have seen Rivers pass for at least 4,000 yards, and now he is closing in on being the only player in franchise history to pass for 50,000 yards. And even at the age of 35, Rivers can still sling the football around with the best of them.
Rivers’ go-to-guy throughout his career with the Chargers has been tight end Antonio Gates. Gates is set to begin his 15th season with the Chargers and although that he no longer has the physical tools that he had a decade ago, he is still a leader for this club. Gates is 37-years of age, and all signs point to this being his last year in the National Football League. Gates has clearly lost a step, but if Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is able to use him properly which means getting him consistent action in the red zone, he can still be effective.
Injuries have forced wide receiver Keenan Allen to miss a combined 38 games over the last three years which includes him dealing with a kidney issue over the past two seasons. Allen still possesses explosiveness while giving Rivers a big target to throw to, but it doesn’t help if he is consistently not available.
Allen’s absence has given wide receivers Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman the opportunity to become impact players in the Chargers passing game. Like Allen, Inman and Williams are big wide receivers who generally have a size advantage versus most defensive backs that they face which gives Rivers an advantage when throwing the football up for jump ball situations.
But whereas Rivers has shown the ability to put the Chargers offense on his back, he cannot do it all by himself as Los Angeles needs to improve the running game. Last year the Chargers were 26th in the National Football League in rushing which includes them not having a running back gain at least 1,000 yards in a season since 2013. In 2015, the Chargers used a first-round pick on running back Melvin Gordon who has failed to live up to the hype due to the fact that he has been unable to remain healthy. When healthy Gordon is supposed to be an explosive player that can provide the Chargers with speed as a ball carrier along with being a pass receiver coming out of the backfield. And hopefully 2017 is the year where Gordon is able to put it all together.
The Chargers offensive line has been a burdensome group for this organization for the past few years which can illustrated by seeing Rivers run for his life at times. The Chargers attempted to remedy that during the off-season by signing offensive tackle Russell Okung. Okung is a former Pro Bowler who is a solid left tackle which will be relief for Rivers as he needs someone to protect his blindside.
Things didn’t work out for Gus Bradley during his tenure as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars as he was 14-48, however things could be different for him as the defensive coordinator of the Chargers. The Chargers have a stout defensive line which is led by defensive end Joe Bosa. Last year Bosa was named as the National Football League in spite of the fact that he only appeared in 12 games. Bosa tallied 10.5 sacks and he has the makings of being a poor man’s J.J. Watt. Aside from Bosa, the Chargers have defensive end Melvin Ingram, along with defensive tackle Corey Liuget as Los Angeles will be a much tougher team in the trenches this season.
The transition from San Diego to Los Angeles will not be an easy one for the Chargers as this season will be full of growing pains for them.
X-Philadelphia Eagles 11-5
2016 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Philadelphia Eagles as they were beginning life with a new head coach in Doug Pederson as well as a new starting quarterback in Carson Wentz. But whereas that the expectations were not that high for Philadelphia, they came out of the gate like gangbusters by winning their first three games. But with Wentz taking his lumps as a rookie quarterback, the losses began to show up for the Eagles. However the Eagles would remain a tough out in spite of the fact that they finished in last place in the NFC East. But Philadelphia’s last place finish was deceiving as they went 7-9 which included picking up victories over both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys who survived the riggers of the division en route to earning a playoff berth. And as Wentz is only going to get better, while the Eagles did a solid job in regards to putting a quality team around him heading into a new season, there is plenty to like about this team.
Wentz’s transition to the National Football League was made easier in part due to the fact that he played in a pro-style offense collegiately for the North Dakota State Bison, while now playing for a head coach in Pederson who himself played in the NFL adds to his transition. Wentz had his fair share of ups and downs as a rookie which was evident by him throwing 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but he was able to hang in there and take his lumps. Through it all Wentz displayed solid pocket awareness and in the process the youngster was able to earn the respect of his teammates.
Now as Wentz’s sophomore campaign is beginning, credit to the Eagles front office in regards to putting talent around him on the offensive side of the football. This off-season saw Philadelphia and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery agree on a one-year deal for $14 million. At 6’3″, 218 lbs., Jeffery gives the Eagles a play maker at the wide receiver position which is something that they’ve lacked over the past few seasons. When healthy Jeffery can be one of the most productive receivers in football, however the operative term is when he is healthy. Over the last two years Jeffery has missed 11 games to either injury or suspension, but the fact that he only signed a one-year deal should put him in line to be extra motivated this season.
The past three years have seen running back LeGarrette Blount be a big contributor to a pair of Super Bowl Championships for the New England Patriots. But as much as Blount enjoyed his time winning with the Patriots, he decided that is was time for him to have a change of scenery. Blount is coming off of his best season in the National Football League as he gained 1,161 yards on the ground last year, while also leading the league in rushing touchdowns with 18. And Blount’s presence in Philadelphia should help to boost an Eagles rushing attack which was already 11th in the NFL last into possibility being a top-five unit.
The Eagles already had a solid offensive line and they received a boost during the off-season by signing guard Chance Warmack. Warmack may have never lived up to his full potential with the Tennessee Titans who made him a first-round pick in 2013, but now he has the opportunity to be on an Eagles offensive line which includes right tackle Lane Johnson as well as left tackle Jason Peters who is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection.
Philadelphia was only able to generate 34 sacks on defense last season, however their defensive line has been upgraded during the off-season. The Eagles used their first-round pick on defensive end Derek Barnett who has the potential to be an anchor on the defensive line for years to come, while they also signed veteran defensive end Chris Long. Like Blount, Long was a member of the Patriots Super Bowl Championship team last season, and his postseason experience as well as knowledge of what it takes to rush the passer will be a vital for an Eagles team that is looking to become a contender in 2017.
Strong safety Malcolm Jenkins continues to be a leader on the defensive side of the football, but Phiiladelphia will need young players such as cornerback Jalen Mills who is in his second year in the National Football League to be able to step up and take his game to the next level.
Two of Philadelphia’s first three games are within the NFC East, and a strong a strong start could put them in line for their first division title since 2013.
Y-New York Giants 10-6
The 2016 National Football League saw the beginning of the Ben McAdoo era as the head coach of the New York Giants. Under McAdoo, the Giants went 11-5 for their first playoff berth since their last Super Bowl Title in 2011. There were many positives for the Giants which included having a stingy defense as well as going 7-1 at MetLife Stadium. But New York would be one-and-done in the playoffs as a slew of dropped passes along with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would prove to be too much for them as they were eliminated in the NFC Wild Card Game. But as a new NFL season is set to begin, will the Giants be able to do something that they’ve been unable to do since 2008 which is to make the postseason in consecutive years?
One of McAdoo’s luxuries is that he has Eli Manning as his starting quarterback. Throughout Manning’s National Football League career he has had his detractors as he has led the league in interceptions three separate times. However Manning is 108-91 as starting quarterback and he’s also the most prolific quarterback in Giants franchise history. Manning is closing in on becoming just the seventh player in NFL history to pass for 50,000 career yards, while he still has the pocket awareness as well as the arm strength to get it done at the age of 36.
But even though that Manning is coming off of the sixth 4,000-yard passing season of his National Football League career, the Giants were still 17th in the league in passing. The Giants offense was inconsistent at times last year; especially in the red zone.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese has attempted to remedy this by upgrading Manning’s passing options. In free agency, the Giants signed wide receiver Brandon Marhsall who gives them size at the position. At 6’5″, 232 lbs., Marhsall is a matchup nightmare for most defensive backs in the National Football League due to his size and sheer athleticism. And this size should pay dividends for New York and Manning as the quarterback will definitely lean on him in the red zone in jump ball situations. The Giants will be the fifth NFL team that Marshall has suited up for, and when this season comes to an end, he will more than likely find himself in the NFL’s all-time top-20 list for receiving yards.
The Giants would also use a first-round pick in this past spring’s National Football League Draft on tight end Evan Engram. Since the Giants traded tight end Jeremy Shockey to the New Orleans Saints in 2008, they have used a “tight end by committee” approach which has not worked that often. And by not having a quality option at the tight end position, it has taken away from the Giants ability to have a more effective offense.
The Giants didn’t draft Engram for his blocking ability as he was used as more of an H-back in college for the Mississippi Rebels, but what he gives New York is a fluid receiver at the tight end position. And aside from the fact that Engram attended the same college that Manning did, he could become one of the quarterback’s favorite options in the passing game this year.
But you can’t talk too much about the Giants offense without mentioning the exploits of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In just three years with the Giants, Beckham is making a strong case to be recognized as the most prolific wide receiver in Giants franchise history. Beckham has already racked up 4,122 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns while getting the Pro Bowl nod in each of his three seasons. Beckham has become the most polarizing and exciting player that the Giants have employed since Hall of Fame outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and his rare combination of speed as well as elusiveness have made him one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League. Beckham falls into that category of being a “coverage buster” as it doesn’t matter if teams want to give him extra attention because he still finds a way to make the catch. But if opposing defenses want to pay too much attention to Beckham this year, the Giants have options in their passing game such as Marshall, Engram, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard who can make them pay.
There was a time when the Giants were primarily known for their ability to run the football, however they’ve now built a reputation the National Football League for the inability of their ground game. You have to go back to 2012 to find the last time that the Giants had a ball carrier gain at least 1,000 in a season, while they were 29th in the NFL last season in regards to rushing.
The Giants will once again use a running back by committee. But between Paul Perkins, Orleans Darkwa, and Shane Vereen, if one of these running backs gets hot for the ground attack, it would not surprise me to see McAdoo stick with the guy who is getting it done.
McAdoo’s offensive system is all about Manning getting the football out quickly which doesn’t put as much stress on the offensive line. Manning was sacked 21 times last year which was his lowest total since 2012. However for the Giants offense to be as productive as their potential adds up to, the offensive line must find to step up in big situations.
In 2015, the Giants used a first-round pick on left tackle Ereck Flowers. The Giants immediately plugged Flowers in at left tackle, but throughout his brief stint in the National Football League, he has lacked the footwork necessary to be a successful left tackle. And in order for Manning to find Beckham and Marshall for those big pass plays, it all starts with Flowers being able to protect Manning’s blindside.
Defensively the Giants were tenth in the National Football League as Steve Spagnuolo began his second stint as the team’s defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo’s first stint with New York was predicated by his ability to consistently create pressure with his defense. As a team the Giants had 35 sacks last year, but they knew how to consistently create pressure; sometimes with just their front four.
The Giants lost defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins in free agency as he signed with the Indianapolis Colts, but they still have a formidable defensive line which features defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison along with defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon.
New York has not had a strong linebacking unit in years, but they possess arguably the best secondary in the National Football League. The Giants were 23rd in the NFL in passing yards allowed, however they were second in the league in points allowed per game at 17.8. The Giants had a “bend, but don’t break” mentality as they stiffened in the red zone. And as cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie led the team in interceptions with 6, while strong safety Landon Collins has 5, along with the coverage ability of cornerback Janoris Jenkins, the Giants secondary dubbed themselves the NYPD (New York Pass Defense). This unit could get better, while Collins who barely missed out on being the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 is making his case to be recognized as the best safety in the game.
McAdoo was somewhat able to fly under the radar in 2016, but it will be important for him to bring all of the talent that the Giants have together in 2017 for a potential Super Bowl run.
Y-Dallas Cowboys 10-6
It’s been a topsy-turvy ride for the Dallas Cowboys as in 2014 they would go 12-4 to win the NFC East which was followed by them going 4-12 in 2015. Dallas would then respond by going 13-3 last year to not only win the NFC East again, but they also finished with the best record in the NFC. However the Cowboys would be one-and-done in the postseason as they fell at home to the Green Bay Packers, and you have to go back to the 1995 National Football League season to find the last time that they made it past the divisional round of the playoffs. The Cowboys enter this season with a very exciting team, but will they have enough in their arsenal to live up to the Super Bowl expectations that have been thrust upon them?
The Cowboys expected running back Ezekiel Elliot to have a strong impact in 2016 after they used the fourth overall pick in the National Football League Draft on him. Elliot was able to burst onto the scene as he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 rushing yards, while he drew comparisons to Hall of Fame running backs in Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith who also played for the Cowboys. Elliot provided Dallas with a “home-run hitter” at the running back position as he was always a step away from breaking a big play. And in the process Elliot was able to make Cowboys owner/president Jerry Jones look like a genius after investing several first-round picks into his offensive line and coming to his senses by putting an explosive ball carrier behind the line after he let running back DeMarco Murray leave as a free agent in 2014.
Elliot was the engine for the Cowboys offense as he carried the football 322 times. And in the process his ability helps the passing game in Dallas due to the fact that opposing defenses must consistently focus on him.
Like Elliot, quarterback Dak Prescott was a part of the Cowboys draft class in 2016. But unlike Elliot, Prescott didn’t enter the National Football League with as much fanfare. Dallas used a fourth-round selection on Prescott who was simply expected to simply be a backup to starting quarterback Tony Romo. However when Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back during the preseason, the starting quarterback job became Prescott’s to lose.
After the Cowboys lost their first game with Prescott as their starting quarterback, Dallas would reel off 11 consecutive wins as they became the team to beat in the NFC. Prescott was not going to overtake Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers or New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in order to be the top signal caller in the National Football League, but he was still effective due to his smarts. Prescott learned very quickly to allow the game to come to him which means not trying to win by himself. Prescott is not a “game manager” but he is someone who knows how to put the football into the hands of the play makers around which has seen him draw comparisons to another former Cowboys quarterback in Troy Aikman.
Prescott has the luxury of not only handing off to Elliot, but he also can pass the football to a talented trio of wide receivers in Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams, while you cannot overlook the ageless one at tight end in Jason Witten who even at the age of 35 can still split the seams in a defense with the best of them. Witten continues to be “Steady Eddie” in the Cowboys offense, and by the end of the season he’ll be in the top five of the National Football League’s all-time list for receptions.
The current Cowboys offensive line might not be as good as the unit from the 1990’s which changed the game, but these guys are still very effective. The Dallas offensive line is littered with first-round selections which includes left tackle Tyron Smith. And as long as this unit can continue to effectively open holes for Elliot, pass protection for Prescott will be easier due to opponents being so conscience of the Cowboys running game.
For Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, he must find a way for his unit to wreak more havoc in order to offset the team’s explosive offense. Strong safety Barry Church led Dallas in interceptions last season with only 2, and he is no longer with the club, while no Cowboys defender was able to record at least 10 sacks last year.
Dallas should get a boost in their front seven with middle linebacker Jaylon Smith returning from injury. Smith would have been a first-round pick last year had it not been for him tearing ligaments in both his ACL and LCL during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. The Cowboys would draft Smith in the second round last year due to his potential when healthy. And after Smith sat out the entire 2016 National Football League season while recovering, he is ready to be an impact player this year.
Dallas’ pass rush has the potential to be solid if everyone is able to get on the same page. There is potential in defensive end Taco Charlton who Dallas selected in the first round this year, but this team needs more depth in regards to pass rushers, and thus it is important for the Cowboys to get both defensive end Randy Gregory as well as defensive end Damontre Moore back as they are both currently suspended by the National Football League.
It will also be important for the Cowboys to create pressure with their front seven as the team’s secondary still has question marks after they were 26th in the National Football League last year in pass defense. And as this unit lacks play makers, the Cowboys could be susceptible to the deep ball.
The Cowboys will continue have one of the better special teams units in the National Football League due to the strong right leg of kicker Dan Bailey. In six years with the Cowboys, Bailey has become one of the most accurate kickers in league history which has also seen him make 24-of-35 attempts from beyond 50 yards. And that powerful and accurate leg of Bailey should help to win a few games for the Cowboys here in 2016.
After the Cowboys had the best record in the NFC last year, they have to be ready to take every opponent’s best punch. However all of the Cowboys losses last year came within the NFC East as it will be very tough for them to repeat as division champs.
Washington Redskins 6-10
Ever since the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 1991 National Football League season, things have gotten away from this once proud franchise. The Redskins only have six playoff appearances to their credit since then with just three postseason victories. Washington would come out of nowhere to win the NFC East in 2015, but when the expectations rose for them last year, they hung in there until the final week of the regular season when a loss to the New York Giants eliminated them from postseason contention. Now as Redskins head coach Jay Gruden and his team look to bounce back this year, they’ll have their work cut out for them with a team that will be much different from the squad that took the field last season.
Kirk Cousins has been the Redskins starting quarterback for the last two years, but his relationship with the organization has been contentious at best. After Cousins set a Redskins record by passing for 4,166 yards in 2015, the organization used the franchise tag on him for 2016. And after Cousins and Washington could not come to an agreement on a long-term deal, he went out last season and passed for 4,917 yards.
Cousins and the Redskins would continue to have problems as the team allowed his top two wide receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to leave in free agency. Cousins was reluctant to sign his franchise tender as he was seeking to be traded to the San Francisco 49ers, but his request would not be obliged. Cousins is still on the Redskins roster, but generally nothing good comes when there is an unhappy camper on the team.
Cousins’ new go-to-guy in passing will be wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Pryor initially entered the National Football League as a quarterback, but he was converted to wide receiver. Last year Pryor led the Cleveland Browns in receptions (77), and receiving yards (1,007). At 6’6″, 240 lbs., Pryor is an imposing figure, but it will be important for him to get onto the same page with Cousins early.
Tight end Jordan Reed will also be important to Washington’s passing game. Reed is listed as a tight end, but Gruden tends to use him in the H-back mode as he can do a little bit of everything. However Reed must find a way to stay on the field as he has never appeared in all 16 games during his five-year career in the National Football League.
But as sharp as Cousins can be in the passing game, he can’t do it by himself and the Redskins need their running game to improve in order to provide some balance. Last year Washington was 21st in the National Football League which is not going to cut if they intend to win the NFC East. Running back Robert Kelley should receive the bulk of the carries for the ‘Skins, but keep an eye on rookie running back Semaje Perine who at 5’11, 236 lbs., was a load to bring down during his collegiate career with the Oklahoma Sooners.
It’s been some time since Washington was solid on defense which included them being 28th in total defense last season. The Redskins defense suffered a huge blow when outside linebacker Trent Murphy was lost in the preseason to a torn ACL. As a rookie in 2016, strong safety Su’a Cravens showed the promise of being a difference maker, but now the Redskins are without his services as he is flirting with retiring. Washington still has outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan who has tallied a combined 34 sacks over the last three years, as well as cornerback Josh Norman who is solid in coverage. However not having having more play makers on this side of the football will makes things tougher for Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
In 2015, Gruden had the Redskins headed in the right direction, but things have gotten away from him rather quickly as another losing campaign appears to be on the horizon.