By Brian Sullivan
Kickoff will start within a few hours. By the time you read this, the game might be over. Every year, the media overrates a few free agent moves, as well as underrates the importance of offensive lines and overall defenses. “This team has a good QB, RB, and WRs… THEY’RE A CONTENDER!!!”. I’ll hit you with some reality here. But first, I’ll speak positively of some teams.
Just Missed the Cut
These are my two teams that COULD vastly improve, but I’m not ready to commit to them just yet.
The Jacksonville Jaguars
Raise your Bortles. It’s normal for a rookie to struggle. Blake Bortles looked vastly improved in the Preseason. The offensive line was also able to protect him. The defense actually has some nice talent with guys like Jared Odrick, Davon House, Demetrius McCray, and Sergio Brown. I really like Allen Robinson to break out this year. And I’m a huge fan of Gus Bradley. But, I just can’t actually see it. My heart says Jaguars, but not logic. Still, it wouldn’t SHOCK me to see them win somewhere around 7-9 wins.
The Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons on the other hand could be a playoff team. Matt Ryan isn’t Aaron Rodgers, but he’s right up there with guys like Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger… and that’s perfectly fine company. Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Justin Hardy form a solid WR corps, and Tevin Coleman is an intriguing RB if he can stay healthy.. If the offensive line can step up and be AVERAGE (They were awful last year), this offense could be deadly. The defense is what I’m worried about. Desmond Trufant is a stud, and I loved the additions of Vic Beasley, Jalen Collins and Grady Jarrett in the draft. But it’s tough to imagine these guys making a HUGE difference right away. Still, Dan Quinn could light a fire under this unit. If EVERYTHING goes right, this team could win 11 games. The Falcons are headed in the right direction, even if it isn’t this year.
The Legit Contenders Nobody is Talking About
Patriots, Broncos, Steelers, Colts. Seahawks, Packers, Cowboys, Eagles. These are really the only 8 names you hear when the media talks about the “Real” contenders. Occasionally the Ravens will get some love (Their my personal AFC champion pick). But there’s two teams that are getting NO love, as well as two teams in this group that are WAY overhyped. I’ll start with the contenders.
The New Orleans Saints
What? The Saints? “DERRRR, they sucked last year AND lost Jimmy Graham. Idiot”. No. That’s just ignorant. They VASTLY improved their offensive line from last year; adding Max Unger at the center position will make a HUGE difference. If they can find a way to utilize Andrus Peat’s strengths, this line can be good. Not great, but good. That’s enough to have a top 5 offense when you have Drew Brees. Do people forget that this is one of the best QBs in the league? He threw for 5,000 yards four times guys. Four. Times. The defense as a whole should be a lot better too; this secondary has a ton of potential. Adding Brandon Browner and Jairus Byrd returning from injury are huge. Also, Kenny Vaccaro is bound to return to his rookie form after his sophomore slump last season. Kendrick Lewis is a fine CB as well. Drew Brees, a better offensive line, a better defense, and a much easier schedule (They play the AFC South this year…). Yea, the Saints could easily win 11-12 games. And when Drew is in the Playoffs, there’s a chance to win any game.
The San Diego Chargers
The AFC West gets a ton of love. People LOVE Peyton Manning. They LOVE that the Chiefs added Jeremy Maclin. They LOVE that the Raiders drafted Amari Cooper. San Diego gets no love? Really? None? No love for adding Orlando Franklin and Joe Barksdale to what was a hideous offensive line last year? Which means that DJ Fluker can move to guard, and Johnnie Troutmen (If I spelt that wrong, good, he doesn’t deserve a google search), the human turnstile doesn’t need to touch the field? Oh yea, and they added Melvin Gordon in the draft, Stevie Johnson in free agency (a guy who had 2 1,000 yard seasons with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his QB) AND Danny Woodhead returns. Did I mention they have all of this WITH a top 5 QB in the league? And that’s just the offense. The defense bolsters one of the best secondaries in the league. Jason Verett is a shut down corner- watch him this year and you’ll find that out. Brandon Flowers is a top 15 CB as well, and Eric Weddle is one of the best safeties in the game. Mike Nolan is bound to help improve the Chargers linebacking corps that has a ton of talent that just needs proper molding, and the defensive line added solid players, which means that Kendall Reyes won’t need to play as much. A dynamite offense and a solid defense? This team went 9-7 last year, and that was with them going through FIVE centers. They lost no key pieces (Ryan Mathews barely played, Stevie is an upgrade from Royal, and Dwight Freeney and Jarrett Johnson were WAY past their primes). And this team is consistently being projected to win LESS games this year? How? That’s absurd. This team has less holes than teams like the Patriots and Colts… I’m not saying they’re better, but they have less glaring holes. So yes, watch as they shock just about everybody this year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
On the flip side, you have the Steelers. The Steelers are the favorites to win the AFC North. I’m baffled. Quite frankly, the defense isn’t great. The secondary is pure swiss cheese. And this is a defense that looked pretty mediocre last year, playing against the AFC and NFC Souths… Now they play the Wests. They go from playing the Bucs, Titans, and Jaguars to playing the Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, Chiefs, Chargers, Broncos… Yea, enjoy that. They did NOTHING to improve this offseason. Nothing. Their first round pick, Bud Dupree, (Who I’m very high on) is still very raw, and 2nd round pick Senquez Golson is already out for the year. And can we stop calling this the “Deepest receiving corps in the league”. Really? If it was so deep, why did they feel the need to draft a WR in the THIRD ROUND, when they have a ton of defensive holes to fill. They have Antonio Brown… The other guys are certainly fine players, but nothing special. Heath Miller is solid… solid… nothing more. Markus Wheaton is a body that Ben can throw to. When it comes to depth, they are not on the level of teams like the Broncos, Lions, Packers, Colts… Heck, even teams like the Falcons and Cardinals have DEEPER corps. And this is coming from a guy who thinks that Antonio Brown is one of the best WRs in the game. And can we stop acting like Big Ben is on the same level as Brady and Rodgers? Yes, he’s talented. He’s also wildly inconsistent. He threw for 32 TDs last season. Nice number. 12 of those game in 2 games. That means he threw for 20 TDs in 14 games. Not bad by any stretch, but certainly not “BEST OFFENSE EVER”. A tougher schedule, a loss of some key guys and the departure of Dick Lebeau are bound to lead to a letdown this season.
I love Andrew Luck. Let me make that clear. I think he’s the 3rd best QB in the league. What he does with an overall mediocre roster is phenomenal. But that’s the issue… this roster is still fairly mediocre. Yes, they added Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, and Philip Dorsett… How do any of those guys help them stop the run? Or the pass? This defense is still very soft overall. Robert Mathis returning could help. Trent Cole could help. And Henry Anderson could help. But I just don’t see enough talent in the trenches on either side of the ball. They’ll win 12 games probably; they’ll own the weaker teams. But when they have to play the Ravens… Or the Patriots… or the Seahawks… They just don’t have what it takes to win the battle up front.
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