here we go again… the NFL is getting ready to start another season.
That means it’s time for the preview columns here at In My Backpack.
First… a few general observations…
in case you haven’t heard it enough… I am one of those buying
into the shortened preseason hurting teams without structure.
I may waiver on that a bit on some places… we’ll see what happens
as we visit thirty-two teams… but overall, yeah, Carolina is a
great example. New head coach, new philosophies, a young quarterback
(Clausen) being challenged by a rookie that hasn’t had any time
to work out with the club and comes with questions (Newton).
second, I think we have at least four levels of teams to consider.
Green Bay, New Orleans, New England, and Baltimore fit this description.
good… bordering on elite, but not quite there even though they
could make it to the Super Bowl and will cause headaches all season…
in short, your playoff teams… Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York
(Jets), Pittsburgh and San Diego here.
no real opinion about them… could be good, generate some concerns,
likely .500 or better (or division winners in a weak division)…
Arizona and Texas should benefit from weak divisions, and then
we get to the dreamers like Detroit and Tampa Bay.
have to be honest… the NFC is deeper, or at least more balanced
at the average and slightly above levels, than the AFC. San Diego
and Houston should be embarrassed if they don’t win their divisions…
and there is simply no one else that should be going to the playoffs
other than San Diego, Houston, New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh
and New York in the AFC. That’s it… the six going.
the NFC, a weak NFC West could be wide open for any of them to
make the playoffs. Plus, I do see ways Detroit and Tampa could
sneak in and knock off two of my postseason picks.
until proven otherwise… New England and Green Bay are heading
to a season-ending game. (Surprise… I’m not picking that as the
final contest.) Everyone is chasing the Packers and Saints in
the NFC, and Patriots and Ravens in the AFC.
not much to say about New England that we don’t already know…
that we haven’t already heard.
hold on… because they might be simply turn out to be even more
of the beast some people are thinking of. See…
old saying is that rookies like running backs have an easier time
in the first year because a lot of it is take the ball and run…
run… run. Nothing fancy, just hit the daylight at the right moment
I’m getting at with that observations is this… they brought in
veteran players on defense and in some other areas, while using
the draft at places where they could afford a year or two for
growth, or… see above… where the players might be able to make
an impact even without a lengthy offseason to prepare.
here you have a team with a lot of experienced parts… Tom Brady,
Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and even beyond that players that have
shown the ability to work in the system. And new players in New
England… Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis aren’t exactly being
placed into foreign scenarios with what they’ll be asked to do.
other teams… read: Carolina, rookie coach, at-best-a-project rookie
quarterback… may suffer for lack of preparation, New England may
just be ready to start the year hitting on all cylinders.
dominating offense added Chad Johnson, youth in the running game,
and stands to get a full season out of sparkplug Danny Woodhead.
Brady may toss an interception or five more than he did in 2010…
he also may throw ten more touchdown passes than he did in 2010.
the defense… well, that young, scrambling, fast set of linebackers
and corners now has a formidable defensive line that is going
to be a nightmare to contain on the majority of snaps along with
some safeties that appear ready to hit hard while playing controlled
ball. Don’t look for many mistakes here. And if there are mistakes…
look for those to be fewer and fewer as the season moves on.
scary thing is that this could easily be the best defense New
England has placed on the field in years, and the offense is still
poised to deliver at a historic level.
get yourself a refreshing beverage and relax. This is going to
be a long one.
placing the Jets at 10-6 for three reasons. Number one, they tend
to win some games they should lose every year. (Nothing wrong
with that. I believe good teams actually and honestly do create
their own luck quite often. So I can kick and scream and be mad
that the Jets win games they shouldn’t… fact is they do win them
time and again, and that is for the most part to their credit.)
Number two, they do have a good defense. And number three, I kind
of like Rex Ryan.
said… let’s stop placing the Jets in the NFL elite. Let’s instead
recognize this is a team that could freefall at any moment. I
know… you don’t believe me. Well… ok…
start out with, let’s do some fact checking of the schedule. We
know the Patriots own the AFC East when it comes to game-by-game
records, with exception to the past two or three seasons and the
Jets. Right? Stands to reason the Jets… two-time AFC Championship
Game participant and Patriots-smacker… would own the division
as well. Yes?
look at the Ryan-Franchez era… 2009 and 2010. (Yeah… I’m trying
out Franchez as his new name. What do you think? Too bad… I’m
2010… yeah… the observation on beating the Dolphins and Bills
sort of adds up. New York went 3-1 against those clubs, and dominated
the Bills in both contests.
2009 though… they went 1-3, were swept by the Dolphins, and while
I may be off by one or two with my quick count, I have The Franchez
turning the ball over 137 times in the 8 games over those two
that brings me to point number two. Because you’re going to look
at 1-3 becoming 3-1 and tell me there’s growth and progress and…
whatever. But hold on.
October 17, 2010 through November 25, 2010 the Jets went 5-1.
They should have gone much closer to 0-6. (Again, preface this
review of that stretch with the note above. Luck can still be
viewed as luck, but eventually you have to give a team credit
for coming through in those situations.)
beat Denver 24-20… and you might recall that Denver led the game
17-10 at the end of three quarters. It took them overtime to beat
Detroit and Cleveland, and frankly they could have lost either
of those games.
that’s three of the six. But I want to look at the Houston game
as my true example here.
lost to New York by a score of 30-27. The Texans were beaten already,
down 23-10, but managed to storm back to 27-23 ahead. Now, there’s
three things you need to know about the Jets at this point… down
27-23… falling a bit emotionally and ready to drop… and late in
the game. Those things are: (1) Their wide receivers don’t like
to cross the middle. They’re better along the sidelines or in
something as close to open field as possible. (2) The Franchez
is better aiming for the sidelines, since he’s incredibly inaccurate
as a passer. So if his guys can get some space to adjust to his
poor throws… if something out of bounds can’t be picked off… if…
if… if… The Franchez is more comfortable throwing to the sidelines.
(3) Stop the clock? No… in that situation with a lead late in
the game you make it run… give the Jets whatever they want for
5-yards over the middle. Guard the sidelines and set up the world
to defend 15-plus-yards deep.
to know why Houston changed their defensive coordinator for 2011?
I’ll tell you why. Because of this game. Because for some incompetent
as all hell reason the Texans decided to throw all their coverage
in the middle. They gave Braylon I’ll-drop-anything-for-a-dollar-except-a-highlight-catch
Edwards 42-yards with 24-seconds left. They gave Santonio Holmes
a touchdown reception that my not-quite-8 Australian nephew could
have completed underhand while wearing a blindfold. They defended
a victory straight into defeat. I swear that by not calling any
defense at all… just letting their 11 guys scramble cluelessly
into a formation as New York prepared to snap the ball… they would
have provided better coverage.
at this point, you’re adding up what I said in what we can call
section number one (there will be no easy divisional games, and
the Jets could lose at any point, so 10-wins is about right because
they simply aren’t as good as New England)… and section number
two (things that went right in 2010, while… fair enough, the record
is what it is… tend to balance out). And you’re saying I’m an
let’s head to the Cincinnati game.
game was 7-3 Cincy at halftime.
Smith goes nuts with a solid return (18-yards) and then a 52-yard
a fumble, the Jets drive a staggering and exhausting14-yards for
score gets closed to 17-10… and the Jets are still arguably on
the ropes… until Smith takes the kickoff 89-yards for a touchdown.
Jets offense delivered scoring drives of 69-yards for a field
goal, 69-yards for a touchdown with a long run, and 14-yards for
not really going to tell you the Bengals deserved to win that
game. But… let’s add up some facts to see if we can gather a few
thoughts or clues for 2011…
number one – The Jets do seem to kick a ton of field goals on
drives that stall.
number two – The Franchez isn’t a terribly accurate quarterback,
nor a terribly effective one. He takes advantage of one or two
good plays to receivers along the sidelines every game, a decent
running attack, and a defense that keeps games within reach. And
if you want to debate me on that, we’ll start by looking at how
The Franchez’s stats change when the New York offense is within
20-yards of the end zone (they go from average/poor to bad) and
then within 10-yards (they go from bad to ugly).
said, in the fourth quarter needing one score I would still take
The Franchez over at least 15 to 20 starting quarterbacks in the
league right now. That’s without thinking about names and really
digging. It’s the x-factor… I don’t know what “it” is, but The
Franchez has a knack of showing “it” late in games. Brady above
him? Absolutely. Brees… Rodgers… sure. But get beyond that first
group and we do need to think.)
number three (and this is the one to pay attention to) – The new
kickoff rules are likely to mean lots and lots of starts from
the 20-yard line.
happens if some of those field goals are being attempted from
5-yards further out? What happens against Cincinnati if the Brad
Smith heroics are instead two touchbacks? What happens if some
of the short-field responses to opposing scores now involve the
Jets offense taking the field with a full 80-yards to go?
after you consider all of that, then you can tell me about how
great The Franchez is going to be within the 20-yard line when
it comes to finishing off those drives.
think we’re going to see a drop off this year from New York. I
think we’re going to see them losing a few games by 3 or 4 points.
The defense is good… very good… but when you consider a few of
their wins last season, check out The Franchez’s production, and
understand what the rule changes might mean, I can see several
places where the little things are tipped to go the other way
I want to like Miami. I want to like them enough to question The
Franchez and his completion percentage and place the Dolphins
in the second spot of the division.
there it is.
a single name.
comes with excitement and… pizazz isn’t the right word… expectations
is all wrong too… and, there’s the biggest problem. What does
thought the Houston Texans were wrong. I figured Bush was a difference-maker
and a player you simply don’t pass on. The Texans passed… and
they were right. They haven’t won a Super Bowl… or even made the
playoffs… so right could be perception as much as reality… but
Reggie Bush has not taken over the NFL and dominated the way things
were supposedly set up for him.
now here he is… in Miami.
before you think I’m completely writing Bush off and saying he
won’t work in Miami… stop. That’s not my point. Instead… consider
New Orleans worked primarily because of Drew Brees. Bush was a
threat. You always kind of figured he would break out… he just
never did that as often as you would have hoped. Miami still has
quarterback questions. So… instead of Bush being a threat you
need to be mindful off while actually having your hands full with
Brees… we have a team that has yet to figure out their quarterback
situation while expecting Bush to keep defenses honest.
important is that? After all… Miami has succeeded recently without
a quarterback. Sort of. And that brings us to…
those running backs that simply made up for so much are both gone.
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams… gone. And hey… look… I’m not
criticizing letting them go. Brown could be injury prone and Williams
isn’t a player I would rely on as a full-season, no worries, carry
the team running back. But when you take a tandem that has worked
so well and give up both pieces, there’s a certain stability you
look to see for continuity. Miami is not being run by Peyton Manning,
Tom Brady or Drew Brees. There are questions.
now babbled a bit without telling you much more than you likely
already know. Bush in… Brown and Williams out. How many hits can
Bush take in one game and be ready to play the next? But I think
these roster changes tell the whole story. See…
2010, only Cleveland scored fewer points than Miami in the AFC.
Every NFC team except Carolina scored more. So who’s competing
for a job on the Miami roster as a quarterback? You’ll never guess…
but of course, it’s someone cast off by Carolina.
am not encouraged.
did you know Nick Barnett was playing in Buffalo now? Neither
did I. (Well… if I take a few moments to think about it, it does
seem like I did hear something about it, but I don’t really remember.)
If he can stay healthy, I like that.
hearing good things about Shawne Merriman too.
course… first game hasn’t been played… every team is thinking
good things right now. (Well… except Carolina. The Panthers are
the only club already eliminated from the postseason… the only
team guaranteed a losing record… and the only team with a crew
filming the team’s season video from the start as a blooper package.
But that’s Carolina. Back to Buffalo.)
every team is thinking good things. (Honestly, I don’t see a lot
of good things here.)
going to know very quickly if the Ravens are for real.
before we investigate that comment, consider that few teams did
as much to raise the eyebrows as Baltimore this offseason.
draft saw them go young at wide receiver and bring in fresh corners.
Could pay off huge for them.
we have Ricky Williams very comfortably in to support Ray Rice…
and Lee Evans on board to pair with Anquan Boldin.
mean… that’s impressive. Much like I said about New England using
moves in all areas to improve their club, we have the Ravens adding
from the draft, free agency and trades as well. And frankly, it
all looks pretty good.
let’s get back to the start of the season.
at Tennessee, at St. Louis, New York (Jets). That’s their top
divisional foe in there as well as what is expected to be two
AFC playoff teams. And while the Titans and Rams may not be as
strong, those are back-to-back road games. They could get away
with a 2-2 or better start and be absolutely fine. But if they
stub their toe, lose to the Steelers and Jets along with a road
game, and find themselves at 1-3… yikes. Because there are all
sorts of tie-breaker implications to be found very early on for
let’s be fair… this is a solid club that could be very good. I
don’t love their depth (Tyrod Taylor is the second quarterback,
and Ricky Williams simply isn’t built now to handle 20-25 carries
every week if he has to take over for any length of time as the
lead back). That could haunt them. And chances on players like
Bryant McKinnie could work… or could bomb.
you know… Todd Heap. Yeah… Todd Heap. He’s in Arizona now. And
I understand the move. In fact, I understand it so well that you
may notice in reading about Arizona that I don’t consider Heap
a huge acquisition. But he is a steady, reliable presence that
these days gets more credit for past glories than current production
deserves… and yet considering the concept of steady and reliable
for Baltimore, we are looking at an offense that hasn’t always
been best described by those words.
changed nothing. Honestly… this is the same club that went to
the Super Bowl last year. And, of course, that does mean something.
they are older on defense. They are the same on offense. And I
think the Patriots are better in 2011… the Ravens are better in
2011… and the Jets… well… the Jets might be better, more likely
are hungrier, and definitely are younger and just as talented
when comparing rosters.
don’t want to predict bad things for them. I think the Steelers
are still in the best of the AFC conversation. But, I honestly
expect them to get torched by the Ravens in week one. And, if
they do, I think the beating could linger.
a ton of stuff to like here. Colt McCoy and Payton Hillis should
be pretty good for a young offense moving in the right direction.
2010 defense wasn’t half bad… but with Pittsburgh and Baltimore
in the division, you have to compare them to the full AFC or against
all NFL teams to really see that the Browns performed closer to
the top third of defenses than the middle or lower for the season.
again… lots to like as we get started.
head coach. Pat Shurmur. No NFL head coaching experience, and
to my knowledge no head coaching experience in college either,
though he has risen through the NFL ranks over more than ten years,
and he brings some nice offensive credentials to his new position.
(Not too unusual to jump around… and he went from tight ends and
offensive line in college to quarterbacks and offensive coordinator
in the pros.)
means we are bringing a brand-spanking-new coach into a situation
where he had virtually no offseason workouts at all with the club.
And when you look at someone like John Fox in Denver… we’re saying
that he’s installing his plans without ever really having seen
how plans develop from the head coach’s seat.
that matter as much as we make it out to? I mean, this is a club
where they beat New England and showed some life last year… right?
Well… I did a conservative transaction count and quickly came
up with 35-40 true roster moves. Not extra guys that floated around
as part of the 90-men in camp or practice squad depth. 35-40 real
new faces. Heck… two quarterbacks, two running backs, and four
wide receivers are back from last year… their roster is currently
carrying thirteen people in those slots. That’s skill positions.
So… turnover is a key to the NFL, happens all the time… here in
Cleveland we have a new head coach, and it’s safe to say when
all is set up and ready for the league to be told 35-50% of his
roster didn’t wear the Cleveland uniform last year, so everything
is new to them including the drive to the stadium.
for what it’s worth… for several months, they were told to stay
away from the stadium.
babbling, but you see the direction I’m heading. Expect the Browns
to win some games you don’t expect them to win… expect them to
cause headaches… expect them to have some great moments just like
upsetting New England last season… but expect mistakes and ugly
moments as well.
me up when it’s over.
was tired of the Bungals months ago, when Palmer was saying he
hated them and Chad Johnson was setting up an exit strategy. I
haven’t seen anything to indicate that this team will be much
of anything worth noting in 2011.