The first game of the new season starts tomorrow night and my weekly schedule is in tatters again (I could bore you with IT project discussions, but I doubt you want me to) so I’m going take you through a quick stroll through the NFC divisions ahead of the Green Bay Packers taking on the Chicago Bears Thursday night.
What I Saw
The week four pre-seasons games are always a slightly strange spectacle as for the players it is their last chance to get play on tape, not only to try to make the team they have been training for but to catch on somewhere else.
The Bengals lost a 13-6 game against the Indianapolis Colts but undrafted rookie quarterback Jake Dolegala played well enough across the last two games to catch on as the third quarterback. Things were more heart breaking for rookie running back Rodney Anderson who tore his ACL having only just got back on the field from tearing his ACL back in college. The Bengals’ cuts were interesting in of themselves as they kept a lot of defensive line players and went light on line-backers, which seemed to be something of a weakness in the pre-season but playing nickel and dime packages will have to work for this move to pay off.
The Oakland Raiders are playing things close enough to their chest on Hard Knocks that we had an extended sequence of Jon Gruden asking for knocks on wood, but it’s hard to know exactly how they’ll play. They could well be better than last season but I’m not expecting them to be challenging for the playoffs. In their final game they lost narrowly to the Seattle Seahawks who seem to have their number for most of the game, but a late surge nearly got the scores tied but the Raiders couldn’t complete the two-point conversion. It looked like Nathan Peterman had played well enough to earn the backup gig (pretty much the only story line they seem to be focussing on in Hard Knocks is his contest with Mike Glennon ) and was on the roster over the weekend as the Raiders signed a fourth quarterback. This move was somewhat strange until the Raiders sent Perterman to IR with an elbow injury.
I have been fairly impressed with the Green Bay Packers defence through pre-season, but we didn’t get to see Aaron Rodgers running the new system in pre-season so all eyes will be on them in the season opener.
What I Heard
I am so far behind in my prep for the season, I’m pretty worried about my picks as I haven’t even setup my spreadsheet yet, but I have at least got an idea of what I think for each team. I’m still catching up weekend moves, but hey Ezekiel Elliott just signed and I’m just going to try to go with the flow so lets take a swing through the NFC.
What I Think
This is going to be slightly quicker than I had originally planned so here’s a lighting run through the NFC, and I will try to somehow get the AFC covered in the coming days as they don’t play until the rest of the league starts on Sunday!
The class of the NFC East looks to be the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys and I would give the edge to the Eagles. They look to have the depth built by a front office that seems to really know what they’re doing. The Cowboys continue to add talent to their defence and are no long beholden to Sean Lee’s health on that side of the ball, but a lot rests on how the new offence functions and how Ezekiel Elliot performs having not been there. I suspect it might take him a couple of weeks to get up to speed.
The New York Giants have a mismatched timeline with aging quarterack Eli Manning fading and Daniel Jones looking good in pre-season, but plenty of rookie quarterbacks have looked good in pre-season and failed to turn that into regular season results. I don’t understand what their approach is and so I think it could be another long season for the Giants. I actually think that Jay Gruden could be a good head coach, and he did well with the Bengals offence but the front office in Washington in such a mess that it’s hard to have faith in them fighting for the playoffs. Their offence will miss Jordan Reed, but after seven concussions I hope he steps away from the game.
Across to the AFC North and It’s harder to separate the top three teams. I have a soft spot for the Minnesota Vikings as Mike Zimmer will have that defence competitive, another new offensive coordinator will be hoping to improve Kirk Cousins play. They will battling a Green Bay Packers team with a new coach and a GM into the second year of his rebuild. I refer you to my previous comments about the Packers, but Rodgers is a dragon so if he’s healthy they have a chance. I think there has to be some regression for the Chicago Bears just because defences can’t maintain that level of turnover production, but they will be there or there abouts in the playoff hunt at the end of the year.
The Detroit Patriots aren’t building their roster like the Pats, they’re paying players like the Lions and so I don’t know if Matt Patricia is going to get the turnaround he’ll be hoping for after a tough first year.
In the NFC South I think it’s another three team division. The Carolina Panthers will have been alarmed by Cam Newton’s foot sprain, but he should be okay but a lot depends on the new normal for his shoulder. The New Orleans Saints could be the class of the division and it’s hard to bet against them, the one worry is that Drew Brees did not have the deep ball at the end of the season and a lot like Tom Brady, we’re waiting for time to catch up with him. The Atlanta Falcons cannot be as injured on defence as they were last season and head coach Dan Quinn is taking responsibility for it. They have invested a lot in the offensive line over the off-season, but we will have to see how things turn around.
I can’t see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quite getting into the playoffs mix, but I am prepared to be surprised because long time readers know I have a huge amount of respect for Bruce Arians and reunited with Todd Bowles as his defensive coordinator they could be a lot better than in recent years.
Finally, the NFC South has a stand out team in the LA Rams who are reconfigured, but I have faith that Sean McVay and Wade Philips will once again have the Rams rolling.
I have a feeling the Seattle Seahawks will be difficult to play all season and have themselves in the mix for a wildcard spot at the end of the season For all the focus on the run game, Pete Carroll knows how to get his teams into the postseason.
I’m not sure what the San Franciscos 49ers are going to do this season as in year three the combination Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch will be hoping that they finally compete. If things work out I think this is possible, but there are too many questions for me to predict it.
Finally, the Arizona Cardinals look like they could really struggle to me. It’s not that I’m down on the talent of their rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, but Kliff Kingsbury wasn’t winning in college and with wide splitting offensive lines and an up-tempo offence not protecting the defence, I’m worried that things could go bad quickly. I would love to be proved wrong as we should want more change makers in the often traditional NFL, but I’m not holding my breath.
What I Know
This is probably my most disorganised start to a season since year one of the blog. I know what I intend to get done, but only time will tell if it is possible. There will be coaching tape next week though!
What I Hope
I hope we continue to see concussions going down across the league, that more young quarterbacks make their teams competitive.
Also, can we beat last season’s number of safeties?