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Week 3 Insights

Steelers @ Browns

The Steelers are feeling TJ Watt’s absence, especially considering the extended minutes they’re playing thanks to the ineptitude of their offense.

Mitchell Trubisky is not the solution. Things are only going to get worse if Pittsburgh’s brain trust keeps insisting on trotting him out there as the leader of their offense.

Amari Cooper’s day is up and down. Some critical drops, but also some highlight plays. I would say under Brissett, the key receivers are more Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku.

Myles Garrett still a dominant force. It remains to be see whether the same can be said of Jadaveon Clowney, if he ever comes back healthy.

Denzel Ward isn’t a good cornerback. Lost occasionally, relies on physicality bordering on penalty to try and break up passes…

George Pickens could be a real gamer for Pittsburgh’s offense.


Eagles @ Commanders

Quez Watkins is the Eagles deep passing threat, certified. Thinking he may be a significant weapon on this offense.

Carson and his tendency to play hero ball is backfiring tremendously here. Get rid of the fucking ball, Carson.

Not good, Wentz. I think the maxim here is that Carson can perform well against bad teams. Against good teams, never side with Carson. His passes have been pathetic and lacking any mustard.

It’s also noteworthy that Washington’s offensive coach is still insisting on seven-stop drops after seeing his quarterback get brutalized in the first quarter. Against teams that can ably rush the passer, it’s clear Washington’s more than happy to gamble.


Chiefs @ Colts

I suspect the Colts pass rush is lacking. I also suspect Matt Ryan is a surprising liability for the offense. What is it about Frank Reich turning washed-up quarterbacks into albatrosses?


Texans @ Bears

Khalil Herbert is a beast. I need to assess whether he’s consistently successful rushing the ball, but his explosiveness can’t be denied.


Bills @ Dolphins

Tua with the deep pass on 3rd and 22 to set up a touchdown. Impressive. I’m seeing evolution here. Last year, I couldn’t see Tua making these passes consistently. But carrying over from last game, it seems Tagavailoa’s not afraid to chance these passes when the opportunity presents itself.


Ravens @ Patriots

Mac Jones, on top of back issues, took a hard hit to his leg. Pretty clear the man’s going to be suffering through much of the season going at his current pace.

Seems to me that the Patriot defense is playing quite a bit of dime personnel against Lamar and the offense, trading size for speed.

Deatrich Wise actually showing up in the pass rush. Could this finally be the year he breaks out as a complimentary piece opposite Matthew Judon?

This Baltimore offense hasn’t changed colors much. Still very much focused on Lamar’s ability to run setting up everything else, be it the read-option or the play-action. Lamar still prefers to throw his balls in between the numbers.

Rhamondre Stevenson is a real gamer. A tough runner for these Patriots. New England also takes considerable pride in its ability to rush with power.

DaVante Parker is finally breaking out as New England’s top receiver.

Finally, I see some good throws outside the numbers from Lamar!


Packers @ Buccaneers

Tampa Bay’s scripted plays opening up the game have been fantastic. Not bad. I do want to see a bit more running.

Likewise, the same can be said of Green Bay’s scripted plays. Romeo Doubs especially doing some good work in the opening drive.

I’m a little concerned here by the Buccaneers defense here. They’re not doing a great job limiting rushing yardage or pressuring Rodgers. It’s very unusual, especially considering the humidity should be favoring them today. Have these Buccaneers lost a step? Why?

Matt LaFleur seems to have went out of his way to prepare his team for the intense heat over the past three weeks. I wonder if that’s the key difference here. Either that or the fact that the offensive line is playing at full health now that David Bakhtieri is back. It’ll be instructive to look at the pressure numbers once this game is over.

These Buccaneer depth receivers are just trash. Two fumbles to end two promising drives.

This Green Bay team has a championship defense. Great defensive backs combined with a defensive line headlined by two studs in Preston Smith and Rashan Gary.

One of the keys here to winning was Tampa Bay managing steady production on offense through scheme. That’s clearly not the case here. It’s just…bad strategy. I wonder if Brady is pushing this emphasis on passing now that Bruce Arians is no longer there to check him.

I can’t stress this enough, but the key metric here is that before their final drive, Tampa Bay rushed 11 times and tried to pass 29 times. Nearly a 75-25 split with depth receivers. I don’t understand this. I thought Brady and Byron Leftwich would recognize the passing game would have to be more muted in favor of the ground game, but that wasn’t the case.


49ers @ Broncos

Russell still looks very uncomfortable in this offense. Odd. We know he’s overrated, but to drop off this much from last year is alarming.

I’m thinking Garoppalo preselects his shots. Really not able to adjust after the snap.

Broncos have a great rushing game, so long as Hackett can stick with it.

The threat of Wilson running is opening up shovel pass opportunities that have been absolute money for Denver.

Randy Gregory could be a difference maker for the defense.

Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero had a fantastic game plan here to limit the 49ers. Five and six-man fronts were used to limit the 49ers from running their outside zone game. The edge rushers would rush in such a way to ensure Jimmy G can never release a quick screen pass cleanly. Well done. The guy’s going to be a superstar if he continues game planning like this.

Jimmy G needs time to ingratiate himself into the Shanahan system now that he’s the starter going forward. Keep in mind the man had very little practice in training camp.


Jaguars @ Chargers

The game’s just started and I already see that the Chargers struggling mightily against opposing rushers.

The Jaguars red zone packages are a little uninspiring, to say the least. I expected better than just simple routes to create space.

Jaguars defense seems to mix things up with man coverage and zone coverage. Nickel personnel is likely its base grouping on defense.

The Charger defense incorporates more Fangio-style principles, especially in coverage. Lots of man coverage with two deep safeties to prevent big plays.

Staley does like throwing blitzes every now and then, but Jacksonville’s style of offense seems to play well against the blitz, given how quickly Laurence seems to prefer to get rid of the ball.

Despite Herbert’s rib injury, Los Angeles isn’t really running the ball much. Odd. That being said, there’s no doubt Herbert is just as elite this year as he was last year.

Both the Chargers and Jaguars run a similar offshoot of the west-coast style offense. Lots of quick passes, peppered with the occasional big play. Neither team seems overly concerned about establishing the ground game, although Jacksonville had early success rushing the ball.


Cowboys @ Giants

Cowboys are killing themselves with penalties. It’s hilarious.

Cooper Rush impressing here with his willingness to pass deep.

Giants playing here with many short routes and slashes inside to the middle of the field against the press coverage.

Cooper Rush taking these hits from the Giants. I really do think this guy is better than Dak.

Now Rush is demonstrating he can read the blitz and throw hot routes when the situation is favorable. I think the Cowboys are in good hands here. Kudos to Kellen Moore for developing the quarterback too.

Kellen Moore needs to be given some serious credit here for the concepts he’s incorporating here. He’s outwitting Wink.

None of the Giants pass rushers have quite stepped up. WHere’s Azeez, Ximenes, and Kayvon?

Also, their receiver situation has me baffled. Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard haven’t done much despite their outsized contracts. Richie James has easily been our best receiver. Nobody else has come close. Evan Engram may have actually thrived in this offense, but we shipped him off to Jacksonville.

Dallas using plenty of tight ends to strengthen their rushing attack. And it’s working.


Bengals @ Jets

Jets didn’t play enough deep coverage against the Bengals. Perhaps more than their lack of a pass rush, this is what doomed them. Keeping only a single safety in the defensive backfield played right into the Bengals hands - Joe Burrow was able to nail the deep passes that are the heartbeat of Cincinnati’s offense.

Sauce Gardner might be the real thing, given the way he limited Ja’Marr Chase.


Falcons @ Seahawks

Falcons are just getting gashed by the Seahawks tailbacks in the first drive.

Dean Pees seems to prefer dime packages on third down.

This Falcons offense has some fun potential. Having Mariota run a read-option, using hard play-action fakes to open up space for receivers, Mariota willing to throw the ball deep…

Likewise, Seattle is starting to break out too. Not only is DK Metcalf involved more, but Geno Smith is more comfortably throwing from the pocket. Smith even made some passes to the middle of the field through some tight throwing windows.

Fantastic call on 3rd-and-1 from the Seahawks, running a play action to set up a deep shot to a tight end left uncovered.

Seahawks playing quite a bit of cover-three. It is their base defense though as well as their bread and butter, but without the talent, it can be a little too easy to pick apart, as Mariota and his men are clearly proving.

Geno doing well distributing the ball all over, though he clearly favors DK Metcalf, as he should.

Maybe it’s a damning statement on both the Atlanta and Seattle defenses, but their offenses have been outstanding in the first half. 37 points scored in the first half by offensive units that didn’t enter the season with high expectations. Geno Smith and Marcus Mariota are also excelling at their quarterbacking.

Honestly, I haven’t seen much from either side’s pass rush.


2022 Circa Millions - Week 3 Predictions

All right, this may by far by the most idiotic thing I’ve said on this blog….but despite going 0-4 last Sunday…my picks weren’t all that awful. Honest.

Two picks were screwed by luck. Nobody knew Jameis Winston was dealing with 4 fractures until Sunday morning. I have no idea what Pete Carmichael or Dennis Allen are doing, putting Famous Jameis out there with a broken back. The Saints defense performed exactly how I expected, but the offense was so flaccid that not even Cialis could get it going. Great defensive performances rarely carry a team to a win in today’s NFL. The other pick that lady luck robbed from me was the 49er game. I was truly counting on Trey Lance to sabotage his own offense, sapping the morale of his defensive teammates in the process. A low-scoring game would have all but assured that Seattle would cover against such a wide number. Instead, Lance’s ankle cracked and Garoppalo was called back into action to lead the offense. Under somebody that can actually pass the ball and run a professional offense, Seattle was doomed.

The Cincinnati pick was a bad one. Dan Quinn adjusted his style of defense, keeping two safeties deep. This kept Cincinnati from connecting on the types of passes that give their offense rhythm. On top of that, Burrow never settled into the pocket as the Cowboy defensive front constantly wrought havoc in the offensive backfield. Their best drive was a fourth quarter one that spanned 19 plays and 9 minutes of the game clock. It’s not the style of offense they want to be playing.

Las Vegas losing outright though…that I have to revisit. Even the sharps were seemingly betting big on the Raiders, so for them to lose is a freaky result. I suspect Vance Joseph got the better of Josh McDaniels in the second half. If that’s the case, I need to reevaluate their rankings. That being said, the Cardinals still needed considerable luck to ultimately tip the game in their favor.


All right, after watching through the game tape for the Vegas/Arizona game…the Raiders are much worse than I thought on both sides of the ball. I gave this team too much credit. I figured with all the success Josh McDaniels and Patrick Graham have experienced in their prior roles combined with the considerable talent across the roster, these Raiders would start fast. That’s not the case. Schematically, the team is pretty boring. It feels like this club is far less than the sum of its parts, which doesn’t speak well about the coaching. Arizona was clearly the better team.

We will need to wait on the results of the Titans/Bills game tomorrow to see if this week will truly end winless for me.


All right, so my Bills pick panned out. That was an example of a game where my instinct was wrong. I Initially assumed Mike Vrabel would do everything in his power to right the ship after a humiliating defeat against a major underdog. But as I noted in my insights, this Tennessee team isn’t the same as the one the Bills faced last year. It wasn’t feeding off home field advantage or the emotions of primetime. Furthermore, it was missing some critical weapons that played a major role in last year’s win. A great coach can only do so much with the cards he’s given. So I switched over to Buffalo, especially after I realized things would be damn near raucous as it was their home opener.

So all in all…not great, but not catastrophic. Listen, I’m not going to win the contest. These two weeks killed me - luck wasn’t on my side especially.


Lions @ Vikings (-6)


Streaks

Lions - 1W
Vikings - 1L

Injuries

Detroit and Minnesota should be entering this game with their key players mostly healthy.

Weather

Dome game

History

The Lions performed well against Minnesota in both of their outings last year, even winning a game on their home turf late in the season.


Lions +6


It’s hard not to overreact to what happened recently, but it looks to me that these Lions have truly evolved, at least on offense. Not only is the rushing game so much more proficient, Jared Goff is actually throwing the ball further down the field than expected. Ben Johnson has renovated this unit into one of the more capable outfits in the league today.

Minnesota is undergoing its own renovation too, especially on defense. Under Ed Donatell, it seems pretty clear these Vikings are committed much more to defensing the pass. Unfortunately, that may backfire against them against this renewed Detroit ground game. On top of that, Minnesota has issues in coverage, particularly spacing - that plays well for Goff should he need to connect with Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Keep in mind that Minnesota will likely have an explosive day on offense as well. Even though the Lions have taken us by surprise on offense, their defense still remains as disappointing as ever, even in spite of the recent emergence of Aidan Hutchinson as a premiere pass rusher. So it’s possible Minnesota could drive the score up early, forcing Detroit to rely more on Goff to keep them competitive. If that ends up being the case, things may not end well for Lion backers.


Eagles @ Commanders (+6.5)


Streaks

Eagles - 1W
Commanders - 1L

Injuries

Philadelphia will be missing the services of Derek Barnett for some time now that he’s on injured reserve. It didn’t seem to matter much last Monday, but it’s an injury worth noting going forward.

No major injuries of note on Washington’s side.

Weather

Nice temperate weather with a bit of humidity expected.

History

Late last year, the Commanders performed well enough on their home turf against a Philadelphia club that’s fully embraced a run-first philosophy on offense. Can they pull that same feat off again with Carson Wentz under center instead of Taylor Heinecke?


Commanders +6.5


It’s clear Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio have a beat on Sirianni’s version of this Philadelphia offense, even if they have yet to win against him. Philadelphia needed a fourth quarter comeback to post the win over Washington late last year.

But it’s hard siding with the Commanders knowing they have the worse coaches here as well as the worse quarterback. What does Washington have going for them here from a non-historical perspective, home field advantage and six points handicapped in their favor?

Well…they may have the emotional edge here. Philadelphia is celebrating after a rowdy win against Minnesota in primetime. Meanwhile, Washington has been reeling a bit from a loss to the resurgent Detroit Lions. The fact that Philadelphia’s nearly a touchdown favorite on the road against this Washington club should be enough evidence that the public and media clearly think little of the Commanders. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles feel the same way given their youth on coaching and quarterback. If so, don’t be surprised if these Philly boys are seen dragging their feet out on the field this Sunday against a perceivably lesser opponent. Now contrast that with a Commanders team looking to bounce back and Carson Wentz looking to draw blood from an organization which abandoned him - it should be evident why Washington has the emotional advantage here.

On top of that, Carson Wentz has demonstrated that he can stage comebacks. Of all the bad things that can be said about the man, nobody can accuse him of quitting. Washington already has one successful comeback under its belt this year. Now this doesn’t mean Wentz can successfully come back should the Communists find themselves trying to erase a fourth-quarter deficit, but Carson can pull a backdoor cover here as he tries to wager a comeback.


Raiders @ Titans (+2)


Streaks

Raiders - 2L
Titans - 2L

Injuries

Hunter Renfrow is dealing with a concussion, so his game-time status is hazy.

Tennessee will likely miss a few key players themselves. Taylor Lewan and Bud Dupree haven’t been practicing. Dontrell Hilliard has been practicing in limited capacity after missing the last game, so his status is anything but certain.

Weather

Sunny weather with some humidity expected

History

These two haven’t faced one another recently, although Josh McDaniels and Mike Vrabel have squared off last year when the former was still the offensive coordinator of the Patriots. New England whupped Vrabel’s Titans that day, although Tennessee was considerably short-handed and still looking to develop new weapons to replace A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. That being said, McDaniels was fully comfortable back then in his capacity as an assistant coach on the Patriots. He’s yet to find that same comfort so far with the Raiders.


Titans +2


After watching the Raiders blow a game last week against the Cardinals, I came away just unimpressed. Mike McDaniel’s having little trouble incorporating his best weapons in the offense, so why is Josh McDaniels having a rough time pulling off that same feat in Las Vegas, especially when Derek Carr and Davante Adams have a rapport with one another dating back to their college days? In fact, how is a journeyman like Mack Hollins a more critical part of the offense than Adams or Darren Waller? Maybe his outsized role on this offense is just the result of a freaky couple weeks, but it worries me that Derek Carr still doesn’t feel all too comfortable in whatever system Josh McDaniels is instituting in place.

On top of that, the linebackers looked pathetically slow last week against Arizona’s ground game. To be fair, it’s not easy catching Kyler’s little munchkin ass when he’s pitter-pattering all over the place, but Arizona’s tailbacks were balling out as well in the second half. Tennessee has a respectable ground game that’s been looking to re-establish itself after an ugly start to the season. This week is the week for Vrabel and the Titans - if they can’t rediscover their groove at home against an uninspiring Vegas outfit, then the season is truly lost.

One more thing worth discussing here is the Titan passing game. Despite being absolutely obliterated by the Bills last week, the Titans showed some promise, particular on offense - I think Todd Downing and Ryan Tannehill finally found some ways to utilize Treylon Burks and Robert Woods in the passing game. If Burks, Woods, and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine can combine their talents and contribute with multiple receptions, Tennessee might have a serviceable air attack to accompany Derrick Henry and the power rushing game. It’ll be enough against this lazy Raider defense.


Saints @ Panthers (+2.5)


Streaks

Saints - 1L
Panthers - 2L

Injuries

New Orleans baffles me. Jameis Winston can’t be fully functional so long as he’s dealing with fractures in his back. I don’t understand how the Saints can claim he’s just fine. Alvin Kamara is limited as well, and it’s worth keeping an eye on him given his absence last week against the Bucs.

Christian McCaffrey is always a few steps away from major injury, but he seems on track to play this Sunday.

Weather

Sunny weather with some humidity expected

History

Rivals in the NFC South, these two organizations know each other well. Back when the Panthers were playing hot, Carolina rolled over the Saints at home. They lost the rematch later in the year though.


Panthers +2.5


As long as Jameis is dealing with a lingering back injury, I cannot think New Orleans stands a chance of winning. As we saw last week, Winston seems to have reverted back to old form now that the fractures in his back are compromising him. If Christian McCaffrey can play through the game without incident and Carolina’s defense can get their act together after a two-game losing skid, it’s likely the Panthers may be able to salvage their season as it teeters on the brink.


Jaguars @ Chargers (-7)


Streaks

Jaguars - 1W
Chargers - 1L

Injuries

The injury here that’ll have the biggest impact here is Justin Herbert’s rib injury. Last week, Herbert mustered everything in his power to bring the Chargers back to contention late in the fourth quarter. It’s questionable whether Herbert can play this week.

Weather

Sunny weather with some humidity expected

History

No recent history between the Jaguars or their coaches


Uncertain


Herbert’s status is iffy, sending some serious shockwaves through the betting market. Normally, I’d be all over the Jaguars here, but I’ve witnessed far too many games where teams walking into incredibly favorable situations blow up thanks to hubris and immaturity. Doug Pederson is still just starting out his tenure as the steward of this Jaguars franchise, so I can’t say whether he’ll be successful keeping them focused against an opponent missing its signature player.


Packers @ Buccaneers (-1)


Streaks

Packers - 1W
Buccaneers - 2W

Injuries

Buccaneers are dealing with a wave of injuries, most notably on offense. Julio Jones and Chris Godwin are likely sidelined. Lineman Josh Wells has been shipped over to injured reserve. Worst of all, Brady is dealing with an issue to his finger, though he’s been particularly forceful in denying the injury being a factor in his performance.

Packers are likely to be down at least two of their three major receivers. Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and Sammy Watkins are all dealing with ailments. On top of that, Mason Crosby is fighting off an illness as well.

Weather

Hot and pretty humid, which seems to be the exact weather Aaron Rodgers hates.

History

Tampa Bay faced these Packers twice and managed to beat them twice. The first match was an absolute shellacking by the Buccaneers, thanks to some fantastic defense and the brutal Florida weather bothering Rodgers.


Buccaneers -1


Yes, Brady’s without any of his key receivers and his finger is sore. I don’t foresee this being an issue so long as the Buccaneers can control the pace of the game through Leonard Fournette and schemed short passes. Brady doesn’t have enough trusted weaponry to try and wing things. The game will have to managed by Tampa Bay. Devin White and Shaquil Barrett will need to continue leading this Buccaneer pass rush against Aaron Rodgers, who’ll likely be a tick or two slow thanks to the stuffy heat.

Green Bay can win if their defense can prevent Leonard Fournette from breaking loose. It’s easier said than done though, judging by their rushing defense the past two weeks. They’ve coughed up way too many important yards to Minnesota and Chicago, something I find particularly disappointing considering Chicago has serious issues passing the ball. If Green Bay wants a road victory here, turnovers need to be the theme on defense. In that light, I do worry quite a bit about Brady’s finger here. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating again - Tampa Bay will need to manage the offense very carefully if it wants to walk away with a comfortable win.


49ers @ Broncos (+1.5)


Streaks

49ers - 1W
Broncos - 1W

Injuries

George Kittle is the only player of concern for the 49ers, though signs point to him playing after surprising everybody by playing last week.

For the Broncos, KJ Hamler and Jerry Jeudy may be sidelined. It’s likely one of them will play.

Weather

Beautiful, crisp, fall weather.

History

Neither of these teams faced one another recently. It’s worth noting that Kyle Shanahan and DeMeco Ryans had faced off against Nathaniel Hackett twice last year when the latter was working as Matt LaFleur’s right-hand man in Green Bay. And in all fairness, only the second game is worth analyzing here, as DeMeco Ryans was finally able to settle into a groove as defensive coordinator by then. The Packers lost embarrassingly against the 49ers in that second game, after Ryans was able to structure the defense to effectively neuter Green Bay’s offense after the first quarter. Unable to sustain any sort of production, the Packers could only do so much to hold on to the lead before the 49ers finally stole the lead away thanks to a special teams turnover.

On top of that, Russell Wilson had San Francisco’s numbers over the past few years. I’m not sure if that dominance can be attributed majorly to him - it’s far from unfathomable that somebody like Pete Carroll would know how to exploit the 49er defense.


49ers -1.5


With history being a wash, I need to side with the better overall team here - the 49ers. Russell Wilson is still given way too much respect by the sportsbooks considering Denver was billed as a double-digit favorite last week against a decent Houston outfit.

It’s not as if Denver’s some pushover though. They’ve had one of the league’s best defensive rosters dating back the past couple years under Vic Fangio. On top of that, they also boast a respectable ground game headlined by Javonte Williams. But the problem is that the coaching staff has yet to marry all these elements together into a product far greater than some of its components. Too many cracks are running through this team as Nathaniel Hackett continues going through some serious growth pains. The defense will likely shape up sooner rather than later, but unless the offense reaches a point where it can be deemed serviceable, defenses alone will not be able to win games in today’s NFL.

I also expect some considerable improvement from the 49ers now that Kyle Shanahan has an actual quarterback handling the reins of his offense. Expect more of what we saw late last year - a myriad of different passing and short yardage passing plays being run out of simple formations, keeping opposing defenses guessing as to what Garappolo and his men will do on a given snap. Is first-time defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero ready for this? We’ll see.

2022 Circa Millions - Week 2 Predictions

All right, I suck. 1-4 last week. What a depressing start to the season. To be fair, I was competitive in two of those games as well, but Philadelphia and Jacksonville ultimately lost control of their respective contests late in the fourth quarter. Bastards.

Anyway…a great second week would pretty much quiet the lingering pain from last week. So let’s focus harder this time.


Jets @ Browns (-6)


Streaks

Jets - 1L
Browns - 1W

Injuries

Obviously, Zack Wilson remains out as he recovers from a knee issue. The bigger loss here is C.J. Uzomah - without Uzomah, Flacco doesn’t have a reliable tight end option in the passing game.

The Browns are mostly healthy, although their two starting tackles are dealing with some afflictions. One has already been ruled out while the other is trending towards playing.

Weather

Great weather

History

Neither of these two teams have met recently. Robert Saleh and Kevin Stefansky have met one another on the field as coaching opponents before, back in 2019. Saleh was the defensive coordinator of a 49ers defense loaded with talent while Stefanski was coaching Minnesota’s offense with Kirk Cousins as his quarterback. The 49ers dominated that game.


Jets +6


Hard to side with the Jets here, but six points is a little much for a team led by the likes of Jacoby Brissett. I don’t think Cleveland’s defensive coaching is going to spend much time strategizing against these Jets either, considering the divisional bout against the Steelers looming next Thursday. Now if Mike LaFleur can pull his head from his ass long enough to put forward a competent game plan, New York may end up surprising some folks here with an outright upset.


Buccaneers @ Saints (+2.5)


Streaks

Buccaneers - 1W
Saints - 1W

Injuries

Brady will be without tackle Donovan Smith and his favorite receiver in Chris Godwin. Not good. All the other players are expected to show though.

Saints are dealing with some injury concerns of their own, the biggest one being Alvin Kamara, who didn’t practice for much of the week. Jameis Winston is dealing with some back issues as well, though it doesn’t seem as serious as what Mac Jones is going through.

Weather

Dome game

History

These two clubs have met five times over the past two seasons. And if there’s one thing that’s been made increasingly evident with each passing game, it’s that Dennis Allen and his coaches are damn near masterful at rending Brady and the Tampa offense gutless.


Saints +2.5


Even without Sean Payton, the Saints don’t need much motivation to bring their A-game against their divisional arch-rivals. So long as the collective will to win against their hated rivals is there and Dennis Allen can still draft a masterful game plan for the defense in his new capacity as head coach, New Orleans should be able to rein in Tampa’s offense, especially now that the latter’s missing some critical playmakers from last year. if Jameis Winston doesn’t cough up the ball more than once, the Saints should win fairly comfortably.


Patriots @ Steelers (+2)


Streaks

Patriots - 1L
Steelers - 1W

Injuries

The Steelers will be without their best player on defense for the next several weeks. But the Patriots have some concerns with Mac Jones - even though Jones wasn’t tagged with any sort of injury designation this Friday, back injuries don’t really go away so quickly. So it remains to be seen whether his back is still an issue heading into this match-up.

Weather

Solid weather for football

History

Despite the fact that Tomlin and Belichick have an established rivalry, neither of these two teams have met recently. In fact, things have changed considerably for both organizations since they last met - each club now features an offense led by new faces on the field and on the sidelines.

That being said, defensive philosophies haven’t shifted much, so these two teams have some familiarity there.


Uncertain


My first impression is that New England should win this match comfortably, if only because unlike their opponents, the Patriots are functional on both sides of the ball. The same can’t be said about the Steelers given the sorry state of their offense. I need to assess the tape, but I heard Pittsburgh’s offense was downright awful last week against the Bengals - it was the defense working an overtime shift that carried the team to an unexpected win. I don’t foresee things being much better offensively this Sunday either, considering Trubisky’s is well-established as a failed passing prospect.

But Pittsburgh also has some things in its favor. It’s been reported that Mac Jones sustained some back pain from his outing against Miami last week. Even though he’s expected to play, the Patriot offense might be forced to operate at only a fraction of its potential, especially considering Pittsburgh boasts a top-flight defense. I’ll need to assess the injury report better before figuring out whether a pick can be made here.


Bengals @ Cowboys (+7)


Streaks

Bengals - 1L
Cowboys - 1L

Injuries

Bengals will likely see Tee Higgins return to the field after he practiced in full on Friday.

Dallas is in a bit of shit shape now that Dak is expected to be sidelined for a month or two. Cooper Rush will be stepping up in replacement duty.

Weather

Some sun is expected. For some reason, Cowboys stadium can be a difficult place to throw when the sunlight is allowed to stream freely through the opening in the roof.

History

These two teams last danced with one another a couple years ago, when their current head coaches were just starting out in their respective roles. It’s also worth noting that neither of the quarterbacks that started in that game will be starting here, as are a good number of the key players. That being said, Dallas did thoroughly dominate that match.


Bengals -7


It’s always a little risky siding with a road favorite so heavily favored by the book, but Joe Burrow can make some serious hay against Dallas defense so long as Dan Quinn insists on keeping only a single safety in the backfield. These are the types of defenses that Burrow and his weapons exploit best.

I still haven’t forgotten how Cooper Rush was able to lead the offense to a surprise win over in Minnesota last year, but the 2021 Vikings had one of the worst defenses in the league, statistically speaking. The Bengals, on the other hand, have one of the best defenses in the league, led by blue-chip coach Lou Anarumo. So don’t expect Cooper to experience that same level of success against this stingy Bengals defense. Kellen Moore will likely try to incorporate some exotic concepts in his playbook to try and manufacture production, but these plays can only strike oil a few times before they lose value, as I expect Anarumo will quickly adjust to these new tricks Moore will try to leverage.


Texans @ Broncos (-10)


Streaks

Texans - 1W
Broncos - 1L

Yes, I know Houston ended last week’s game in a tie. That’s a win for them, considering they were serious underdogs.

Injuries

Neither team has truly significant injuries, though the Broncos will be down a receiver in KJ Hamler.

Weather

A gorgeous day for some professional football

History

Neither of these two organizations have faced one another recently. Nathanniel Hackett and Lovie Smith aren’t too familiar with one another either. That being said, Lovie Smith did match up against Russell Wilson last year when the latter was still in Seattle. Let’s just say Russ looked like a Michelin chef playing against Lovie’s defense.


Uncertain


Last week’s limp showing against Seattle demonstrated that Denver is far from a finished product. They’re bound to improve over the course of the season, especially once Hackett settles into his role as a first-time head coach. One week won’t be enough to address all their woes, especially on offense.

The reality is that Houston isn’t as bad as the market may have pegged them. Davis Mills is actually one of the more serviceable quarterbacks in the league. On top of that, the defense has some feistiness in them, especially now that Jerry Hughes has fully embraced his role as the team’s primary pass rusher.

That being said, Houston has serious issues defending the running game dating back to last year, when Lovie Smith was the defensive coordinator. Seattle came down to Houston and ripped these Texans a new one on the ground, racking up nearly 200 yards rushing. While I don’t expect Denver to fix all the structural issues dogging their offense, it can certainly pound the ball over ground against Houston. So it’s possible the Texans could let the cover slip here depending on whether Denver opts to play a simpler brand of football after embarrassing itself last Monday.


Seahawks @ 49ers (-8.5)


Streaks

Seahawks - 1W
49ers - 1L

Injuries

George Kittle remains iffy to play for the 49ers. Other than that, no real injury worthy of note for either team.

Weather

Cloudy, temperate weather.

History

The Seahawks seem to have the 49ers number. In both of their games last year, the 49ers were marked as slim favorites. Both times, Seattle came out as the decisive victor. It looks to me that Pete Carroll has a beat on some of Kyle Shanahan’s tendencies on offense.


Seahawks +8.5


Why? How is a team led by Trey Lance considered huge favorites here? I understand the 49ers are a stacked team outside the quarterback position, but they were just as stacked last year and Seattle still managed to sweep them. I suppose one could make the argument that the Seahawk offense has taken a step backward with Geno Smith at the helm instead of DangeRuss…but I’d argue the gap between Geno and Russ isn’t as wide as mainstream thinking would suggest. In fact, I’d argue the gap between those two pales in comparison to the chasm between Trey Lance and Jimmy G. So give me the team that has always fared well against San Francisco as of recently. 8.5 points is way too many points to give out.


Cardinals @ Raiders (-5.5)


Streaks

Cardinals - 1L
Raiders - 1L

Injuries

The Cardinals’ wide receiver issues were compounded enough with DeAndre Hopkins suspended and Zach Ertz dealing with lingering injury. Now Rondale Moore and Andy Isabella have been ruled out.

Raiders are mostly healthy, though a couple starters may be missing in action.

Weather

It’s a dome affair.

History

Patrick Graham and Kliff Kingsbury did dance once together a couple years ago, when Graham was a first-year defensive coordinator with the Giants. It was an uphill battle for Graham’s unit, considering Arizona’s defense netted three turnovers and eight sacks against the Giants.


Raiders -5.5


I’m still not certain about this one. The Raiders showed some promise last week against the Chargers, but Derek Carr’s poor play worries me. It is pretty obvious Kyler Murray is limited, especially when he’s without some key weapons. But Carr’s ceiling has always been uncertain - working under Jon Gruden did little to shed light there. I was counting on Josh McDaniels showing me whether Carr is fit to lead a team to the promised land, so his performance last week has me worried. If he struggles to play in whatever system McDaniels is installing, covering tall spreads like 5.5 becomes significantly difficult.

That being said, it does help tremendously that the Cardinals are down so many of their weapons that they’re resorting to relatively unknown players to carry the day in the air game. It also helps that Vance Joseph and his coaching staff has decided blitzing is the best way now to try and manufacture pressure on the quarterback. Blitzing recklessly is a silly exercise when contending against the better quarterbacks in the league. Carr should have enough experience to read blitzes and punish the defense accordingly, but he needs to show me he can do so while operating in this new Josh McDaniels offense.


Titans @ Bills (-9.5)


Streaks

Titans - 1L
Bills - 1W

Injuries

Dontrell Hilliard is at risk of not playing next Monday given his practice attendance. A big blow to a Titans offense desperately looking for personnel to facilitate a passing game.

Buffalo might be missing the services of Ed Oliver, their chief run stopper.

Weather

Typical autumn weather

History

Tennessee hosted Buffalo last October in a primetime game. Oddly enough, the handicap last year wasn’t that far off from the number here - the Bills were favored by 6 points on the road. Tennessee won that game thanks to a sensational performance by Henry as well as some clutch passes to A.J. Brown.


Bills -9.5


It’s a heavy number, but Tennessee’s offense is missing some horses from last year, namely A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. I’m not sure if Tannehill can sustain a passing game on the road by relying exclusively on rookie and sophomore receivers. Dontrel Hilliard will really need to break out here. Because if Tennessee is forced to rely exclusively on Derrick Henry and the ground game to generate production, things are likely to end ugly for them. Despite his gaudy numbers against the Bills last year, Henry was only really successful on a third of his runs. One would think Henry would have found more success running against Buffalo’s smaller front seven, but McDermott’s unit was able to control him for much of the game. I expect only better things from the Bills given this is going to be their home opener.

Week 2 Insights

Chargers @ Chiefs

Now that Keenan Allen is on the mend, it’s pretty clear Herbert is relying on Josh Palmer to take on the role as the short-yardage option.

Chiefs are still insisting on playing press man coverage, even against Mike Williams. Very risky.

Chargers pass coverage is not as conservative now that Tyreek Hill is no longer dressed in a Chiefs uniform. Surprised to see Los Angeles gamble with jailbreak blitzes. There was a time not so long ago teams would be afraid to throw any more than four pass rushers against Mahomes. Maybe that’s not the case now that the Chiefs lost some of their explosiveness by trading away Hill to Miami.

Mike Williams is something special, isn’t he? A great one-handed catch with Les Sneed draped all over him in tight coverage. More importantly, it seems the Chiefs are still insisting on trusting their defensive backs in lone coverage against Williams, even though Williams has been the one Charger weapon killing them on scoring drives.

Impressively enough, the Chargers were able to pull off a goal-line stand against the Chiefs offense, preventing the Chiefs from punching the ball into the end zone on three consecutive downs. The last attempt was a shovel pass to Kelce that was blown up right away.

Lack of conditioning is really starting to show for these Chargers. Gerald Everett getting winded led to Herbert throwing an inadvertent pick-six to the Kansas defense.

The pressure has rattled Herbert. Chris Jones and the Chiefs with their blitz packages have managed to shake him up.

Herbert throwing an absolute dime despite the internal bleeding. The man has heart.


Panthers @ Giants

Daniel Jones isn’t looking too comfortable in this Daboll offense. Hopefully, things change as they did for Josh Allen, but such shifts usually take months.

Daniel Jones stat line the first quarter and a half have been pathetic. No deep passes.

How is Richie James the best receiver on offense? James is a cast-off from the 49ers too. Just…odd. Where’s Sterling Shepard? Kenny Golladay? Darius Slayton?

Both offenses came out with touchdowns on their opening drives in the second half. Seems to me that some of their plays may have been scripted (like the hard play action from Baker or the beautifully orchestrated half bootleg from Daniel Jones).

It’s confirmed. Now both teams have resorted back to rushing plays and their usual staples to move the ball.

Giants loves running the ball between the tackles in zone fashion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well against teams with stout fronts. I wish New York would opt to run outside the tackles.

Keep in mind the Giants defensive personnel are playing out there without Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibadeaux. Leonard Williams has also been absent for the second half due to a knee injury.


Jets @ Browns

Chubb still a tour de force for Cleveland.

Cleveland’s prevent defense is among the worst in the league. Flacco is having a ball just making hay against their prevent defense.


Commanders @ Lions

D’Andre Swift and the Lions ground game may be one of the surprise stories of the season.

Ben Johnson seems to have incorporated quite a few crossing routes in the playbook, to Jared Goff’s benefit. Goff loves throwing those crossers.

Hard for me to say this….but Detroit may actually be a good team.

Why are the Commanders assigning a tight end on Aidan Hutchinson?

Communication is a major problem for the Washington secondary - blame Jack Del Rio for this.

Amon-Ra St Brown is massively important to this passing offense. He’s been the only playmaker making a significant contribution here.

Detroit may have two stud pass rushers in Charles Harris and Aidan Hutchinson.

Detroit has been ravaging Washington’s defense with trap runs.


Dolphins @ Ravens

Greg Roman incorporating wishbone formations and pre-snap motion into his running packages. Impressive.

Rashod Bateman finally stepping up as a deep threat for the Ravens. Very much needed too, considering their lack of weaponry.

Justin Houston might be a resurgent force here for the Ravens pass rush.

Baltimore let up 21 points in the last quarter, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Just….wow.


Buccaneers @ Saints

I suspect Jameis may be predetermining some of his throws.

Jameis playing with fractures in his back. I wish I knew this before taking the Saints in the contest. I would have gone with the Jets or Texans then. He was present on the injury report with back issues, but who the hell suspected it’d be something as serious as fractures?!

Brady has been absolutely stymied save for one solid drive in the second half. Disappointing to see the Saints losing despite such a sensational performance from their defense.

I think Devin White is cementing himself again as an elite pass rusher. Should Shaq Barrett also return to elite form or Vita Vea finally break out as a pass rusher, Tampa Bay will be complete in defense.


Bengals @ Cowboys

Are the Cowboys playing more cover two against Cincinnati now that Pittsburgh experienced so much success playing that style of football against them? If so, kudos to Dan Quinn for adjusting.

Yes, I think Cowboys are playing quite a bit of two-safety coverage against Joe Burrow and company. This is not going to be an easy game to win for Burrow. Quinn has proven himself capable of adapting his plan according to opponent.

Cincinnati’s blocking and protection schemes may be the worst in the league. Kudos to Dan Quinn for recognizing that and attacking the Bengals front accordingly.

Ezekiel Elliott is very effective running outside the line.

Good use of the hurry-up offense to change up pace.

1st and 5 begging for play-action and Zac Taylor opts to run the ball instead. Asswipe.


Seahawks @ 49ers

Well, Trey Lance getting his ankle broken doesn’t help Seattle much, does it? You’d rather have Trey Lance in there than Jimmy Garoppalo. Now Kyle Shanahan is free to run the style of offense he prefers.

A trick play out of the wishbone was just so poorly executed by Seattle. Ended in the easiest interception I’ve seen in a long time.

Poor tackling by the Seahawks.


Cardinals @ Raiders

Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray are trying to stage a comeback here and are yards away from tying up the game at the end. It’s clear as day Murray’s looking to throw the ball short to a receiver just as one breaks the plane. Somehow, the Raiders are not doing that. The Raiders are content playing a preventative style of defense and dropping men deep in the end zone.

No signs of aggression too. Patrick Graham is all too happy just sending four men after Murray, even though it’s clearly not working.

Kliff incorporating option runs now. Interesting. I don’t remember seeing this before.

Once again, the difference maker here has been Kyler Murray’s speed. It’s bailed them out on two critical 4th downs. It’s something that can’t be sustained, as we’ve seen time and time again.

Watching this Raiders offense…Arizona is the more physical team, full stop.

Why is Mack Hollins more a focal point of this offense rather than Davante Adams or Hunter Renfrow? Something’s not right here.

Maxx Crosby is the sole reason why Arizona’s first couple drives stalled.

The Raiders and their linebackers are just terrible overall. I mean…truly terrible. In fact, this whole Raiders defense behind the line seems a little slow.

Cardinals playing quite a bit of nickel cover-two on defense, occasionally mixing things up with a five man front and man coverage.

Greg Dortsch is the top receiver for the Cardinals now that Rondale Moore and DeAndre Hopkins are not active. It was only by having him participate that the Cardinals were able to score on offense.

I think Kliff just straight outwitted Patrick Graham by incorporating concepts centered around running the quarterback. Even though it’s a concept that ultimately compromises Kyler later down the season, it pays massive dividends in early games like this.

Judging by this game alone, I’m wagering that the Raiders will have one of the NFL’s worst run defenses when everything is said and done this season. Not good.

Chandler Jones has yet to make any serious impact on defense, at least in this game. On the other hand, Zack Allen for the Cardinals has really stepped up at rushing the passer, at least in the second half.

I have to admit - this Raiders offense is uninspiring. Power runs, bland routes…the pre-snap motion from Davante Adams is nice though.


Bears @ Packers

Creative series of scripted plays to give the Bears the early lead. Well done, Luke Getsy.

LaFleur needs to be given credit, if only for his ability to script an effective ground game and his willingness to experiment with two tailbacks in the backfield.


Dolphins @ Ravens

Tua can throw deep. Never underestimate Tua’s arm, as the Ravens so cavalierly did. Man coverage against Tyreek Hill is incredibly ill-advised.

Lamar still has issues, but he can still make magic with his legs.

Poor planning from Mike Macdonald, not keeping Tyreek Hill bracketed at all times. Now was the opportunity to do so as well, given all the injuries in the secondary. Yet Macdonald still chanced things with man coverage against a speed demon like Tyreek.

Miami likes its cover-zero blitzes, as does Baltimore. Interesting.

Kudos to Tua for staging this comeback though. It wasn’t as easy as Michael Lombardi may have initially suggested in his Monday morning commentary.

Last year, the Dolphins were able to frustrate Lamar and the Ravens through all sorts of blitz packages. Lamar had better answers this time around, throwing the ball quicker whenever Miami sent five or more men. Good job on Greg Roman’s part.


Titans @ Bills

Short-yardage plays haven’t been kind to the Bills tonight. Just sad really. A little expected when your running game has been awful.

Josh Allen throwing his receivers open. Impressive.

Buffalo players are amped on their home opener, as they should be.

Traylon Burks may be a gamer for the passing game.

As expected, Buffalo is dominating this match-up largely by shutting down Derrick Henry. Tennessee may have won the match last year, but that was with home field advantage, an emotional edge, and more weaponry on hand. If this doesn’t speak volumes about the the way the Titans have lost so much of their potency, nothing else will.

The funny thing is Tennessee is arguably better on defense too, thanks largely to Jeffrey Simmons breaking out and Denico Autry and Harold Landry continuing to contribute. Their backfield could use some tightening up.


Vikings @ Eagles

Irv Smith is worthless. Two missed opportunities for third-down conversions and dropping what could have been a huge pass at a critical moment in the game.

Jalen Hurts has been sensational in this game. Reading Minnesota’s defense, taking hits while throwing, running the ball…

Kirk with another interception in a primetime moment.

Ed Donatell seems famously strict about playing his style of defense, regardless of opponent. I know it’s only a sample size of one, but his style of defense is very much the Fangio defense with the defensive backs playing way off their receivers. Defensive backs are then tasked with rushing up to make the tackle. It’s a style of defense primarily obsessed with limiting deep passes.

Adam Thielan didn’t make his first catch until the fourth quarter. Makes me wonder if he’s a central part of this offense any more under Kevin O’Connell.

Darius Slay is a major player for this Philly defense. Probably its most important cornerback.

When Justin Jefferson or Dalvin Cook aren’t doing well, this Vikings offense plays like a corpse.

It’s clear Cousins is leaning on Irv Smith to be the team’s complimentary option to Justin Jefferson. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen.

Jonathan Gannon now invoking the blitz here, to considerable success.

Kirk Cousins adding one more interception and a fumble to his stat line. He’s truly awful in primetime, isn’t he?

Are there any short yardage options for this Minnesota offense? Any screens? Any motion? Not even any hot reads?

2022 Circa Millions - Week 1 Predictions

Ahhh…football. So sweet to see the game return in all its glory.

That being said, the first few weeks can be very unpredictable at times. Certainly not impossible. The one thing in our favor is that it’ll take a while for the sportsbooks to catch on to teams that end up missing expectations wildly. If we can forecast the teams that will outperform or underwhelm relative to preseason expectations, we can notch some easy points just picking the games in which those teams are involved. Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done. But let’s see what I can do…


Packers vs Vikings (+1.5)


Streaks

Not applicable

Injuries

Allen Lazard is doubtful to play, an absence that really hurts given Green Bay already lacks skill players that have rapport with Rodgers.

Weather

Dome game

History

Both are division rivals who met each other twice last year. Each won a match on their own home field, though it’s worth noting Green Bay was the major beneficiary of an untimely injury to Kirk Cousins right forcing Sean Mannion into action as the starting quarterback against them on an 11 degree night. That being said, Minnesota let up more than 30 points in both contests.


Uncertain


It’s a difficult match to assess in light of Allen Lazard being likely sidelined. If Lazard was healthy, I’d be more than happy to pick Green Bay here. But Rodgers being without his top receiving threat (allegedly) worries me - if Sammy Watkins and old man Randall Cobb are the two main receivers lining up in the wings, the Packers may have a rough time sustaining production in the passing game.

On the other side, Minnesota is coming into the game with a rookie head coach making his debut in that position. History suggests rookie head coaches don’t fare well in their first outing. And I’m not entirely certain Kevin O’Connell is cut out to marshal an NFL team into battle yet.



49ers @ Bears (+7)


Streaks

Not applicable

Injuries

George Kittle is questionable to play, a little concerning given sophomore quarterback Trey Lance will be starting in his first-ever game as the team’s official franchise quarterback.

Weather

Some rain is expected

History

Both these teams met last October. It took four full quarters, but San Francisco was finally able to run away with the lead and cover as 4-point favorites.


49ers -7


Once again, the guiding principle here in siding with the 49ers is that rookie head coaches tend to struggle in their first game. It’s hard siding with somebody like Trey Lance as a seven point road favorite, but it’s not like Justin Fields is much better. On top of that, Fields has a habit of wilting against pressure, something the 49ers defensive linemen should have no issue exploiting against Chicago’s mediocre offensive front.



Eagles @ Lions (+4)


Streaks

Not applicable

Injuries

The Lions have some issues along the trenches, but nothing serious.

Weather

Dome game

History

Both these teams met in the middle of the season last year. The Eagles absolutely obliterated Detroit. It was a complete joke - Jalen Hurts only threw for 103 yards. What may have happened is that Philadelphia’s offense may have experimented with prioritizing the running game over the passing attack - Detroit’s defensive coaching staff may have then been caught completely off guard, ultimately resulting in their defense being humiliated.


Eagles -4


It’s noteworthy that Vegas hasn’t shifted the odds much from last year despite the way Philadelphia smashed these Lions. Perhaps the oddsmakers are thinking that Detroit was also caught completely off-guard by the Eagles’ sudden shift in identity on offense.

Whatever the reason, Philadelphia in once again handicapped as a 4-point favorite on the road. I think Philadelphia will again win this game in dominant fashion - it’s a club that’s clearly gotten much better over the offseason. The same really can’t be said about Detroit, despite all the love people have been throwing their way thanks to Hard Knocks. The team didn’t do much in the offseason to really bolster their roster, outside of a premium pick spent on a top pass rushing prospect and a few moves that were made in agency. The most significant change this year came on the coaching staff, with Ben Johnson replacing Anthony Lynn as the offensive coordinator. Sure, Johnson can make an immediate impact, but history suggests system changes usually take time. So give me the Philly team with high hopes here over the team led by a charismatic bro.



Jaguars @ Commanders (-2.5)


Streaks

Not applicable

Injuries

The Jaguars are mostly healthy, while the Commanders are a little thin at safety. Overall, nothing too concerning for either team.

Weather

Expect a rainy affair.

History

No recent history between these two organizations


Jaguars +2.5


A little risky going for the Jaguars here considering a new coaching regime is in place, but Doug Pederson is not a rookie head coach. On top of that, I think Trevor Laurence has far more upside than Carson Wentz, especially now that he’s paired with a competent head coach.

Keep in mind I have personally ranked Washington’s coaching staff as among the worst in the league. Given that the Commander’s coaches have practically no idea what Pederson’s Jaguars will look like on offense, it’ll be a good test of their ability to adjust game plans on the fly.



Chiefs @ Cardinals (+6)


Streaks

Not applicable

Injuries

The Cardinals are banged up across the roster. The injuries eliciting the most concern come on offense, with multiple offensive linemen, wide receiver Rondale Moore, and starting tight end Zack Ertz all dealing with various afflictions.

Weather

Dome game.

History

No recent history between these two teams


Cardinals +6


A little risky given the injury epidemic sweeping through Arizona’s locker room currently, but Kliff Kingsbury’s been spectacular at readying his team in time or the season opener. I remember being hesitant about picking the Cardinals last year in week one as they were going up against a solid Tennessee team, but Arizona dominated that game from start to finish. While I doubt the Cardinals can achieve that same level of dominance here against Patrick Mahomes and company, the fact that they’re being given so many points at home gives them quite a bit of cushion here.



Broncos @ Seahawks (+6.5)


Streaks

Not applicable

Injuries

Both teams are coming into this contest quite healthy

Weather

A beautiful September night

History

No recent history between these two teams


Seahawks +6.5


Seattle has some upset potential here. It’s going to be an emotional game now that the man who’s been the face of the Seahawks for the past decade or so is playing on the field in a different uniform. But nobody should understand Russell Wilson and his tendencies better than Pete Carroll. Even though Denver’s loaded with so much more talent across the board, the fact that they have a rookie head coach making his debut in a hostile road environment reassures me that Seattle may outright cover and even win with a bit of luck.

Week 1 Insights

Bills @ Rams

Good to be watching real football again.

Josh Allen’s arm is an absolute cannon. Unfortunately, it can be too strong at times - Isaiah McKenzie couldn’t reel in a bullet, leading to an interception.

As expected, Sean McVay’s limited playbook makes it too easy for top defensive minds to decode them. The Rams haven’t made much hay in their first three drives.

The Bills defensive line is actually impressing me. Ed Oliver, Von Miller, and Jordan Phillips have stood out with some impactful plays.

Buffalo loves keeping their defense on the smaller side. It’s clear McDermott prioritizes the passing defense over the rushing one. And it’s not a bad decision either considering the the front seven has performed mostly well enough against the Rams ground game.

Bills come out in the second half with a touchdown in their opening drive. Where are the adjustments from Raheem Morris?

The offense of the Rams has mostly consisted of shots to Cooper Kupp in bracket coverage. Los Angeles has also tried to incorporate a hurried pace on some of their drives, to mixed results.

Von Miller on fire.

Josh Allen getting rid of the ball quickly, especially when Aaron Donald is only being blocked by one lineman. Smart move.

I’m still not sure what Ken Dorsey is doing anything different on the Bills offense. Many of the different tactics I see the unit leveraging is not really different from what they were doing last year. I do see them using 20 and 21 formation every now and then, perhaps as a way to add another dimension to their ground game - with a fullback in the backfield, three players can now carry the ball for them on running plays.

Kudos to Josh Allen for his willingness to run with the ball.

Nobody else on this Rams defensive line has made much an impact outside of Aaron Donald. They’re missing Von Miller. Maybe somebody else can be imported via trade?


Eagles @ Lions

The Eagles rushing defense is worrying me. It’s only been one drive, but they’ve been absolutely helpless against D’Andre Swift and the Detroit ground game.

Ben Johnson smartly calling a running play on 2nd and long, knowing the Eagles are struggling to contain opposing rushers.

Jalen Hurts hasn’t been doing much through the air so far…

Things don’t change much, do they? Jalen Hurts still has issues passing the ball and Jared Goff is as worthless as ever, despite Ben Johnson’s efforts to try and craft a playbook better suited to his strengths. Both organizations are falling back on old habits to generate production - the ground game for Detroit and the read-option for Philadelphia.

Finally! A big throw to A.J. Brown in contested coverage. It’s only been one half, but Brown’s already passed the century mark in receiving yardage. Impressive.

Kudo to the Lions offensive line for keeping Philadelphia’s defensive front at bay for much of the game. Then again, Philadelphia may have some real problems rushing the passer.

The Eagles defensive line seems way too eager to attack upfield, leaving them quite vulnerable to quarterback draws and screens. And their defensive line can’t be afford to be anything less than elite, especially with the predictability of the coverage in the back.


49ers @ Bears

I’ve barely watched any tape on this game, but Trey Lance’s passing stat line in the first half is absolutely ugly. Kyle Shanahan is going to have a long season, the poor thing.

Trey Lance with a backbreaking interception in the fourth quarter. Literally just stared the receiver down. Lovely.

Jennings seems to be a favored target for Lance.

Interesting change of tactics by the Bears late in the game. After Justin Fields connected with a receiver on a heavily-improvised play, Luke Getsy opened the next drive with two straight passes, taking the 49ers completely by surprise. Well done.

The 49er defense’s physicality is very evident on tape.


Steelers @ Bengals

From watching Red Zone, it seems like Ja’Marr Chase has been the only reliable weapon in the passing game for Cincy…

Good to see Burrow still as tough as ever, still willing to scramble with the ball even after taking way too many sacks.


Jaguars @ Washington

Imagine running two straight jailhouse blitzes and failing spectacularly on both of them. Mike Caldwell and the Jaguars defense may be contenders for the worst defense in the league.

Credit to Wentz for those sideline throws leading to touchdowns. Then again, Wentz threw some ugly picks and near-picks. Washington was lucky here.

Washington’s defensive tackles have some serious pass rushing ability. Not much of a surprise too, considering that position group is led by Jonathan Allen.

On the other side, I really don’t like Jacksonville’s defensive front. It doesn’t really get much pressure, even on blitz packages. Carson is way too comfortable sitting in the pocket.

Washington’s ground game found its groove running straight through the trenches in the fourth quarter. Jacksonville’s overall conditioning is a point of concern.

Washington seems to run a good amount of standard nickel defense with four down linemen and two linebackers, similar to what Ron Rivera operated in Carolina. The secondary switches between zone or man coverage.


Chiefs @ Cardinals

Credit to Patrick Mahomes for finally demonstrating a consistent willingness to throw the ball short. He’s set a new personal record for completion streak - pretty telling.

The Cardinals are committed to man coverage, perhaps too much to their own detriment against a team known for its motioning and pick routes.

Kyler picking up right where he left off, starting the game limp. He needs to do better.


Giants @ Titans

Jeffery Simmons once again dominating the line of scrimmage. Little doubt that Simmons is the best pass rusher on the Titans.

Saquon Barkley is resurging into the tour de force he was in his rookie year. Amazing. On top of that, the myriad of new concepts loaded into the playbook is really refreshing - read-option plays, shovel passes, hard play-action,

GIANTS WON?! Tennessee missed a last-second field goal to retake the lead from the Giants. Amazing.

Daboll going for two points instead of one sends a message to the team. A strong message.


Buccaneers @ Cowboys

Cowboys love their single-high safeties look. Dan Campbell didn’t completely abandon the cover-three scheme that he was raised under.

Brady is not as crisp as expected. Maybe age is slowly catching up?

Leonard Fournette has been having a sensational night. It helps that this five-man Dallas defensive front has issues containing runs straight up the middle.

Pretty clear that Brady is fostering a connection with Julio Jones. It’s possible that Jones will be that replacement for Gronkowski that old man Brady will need.

Despite losing last year’s wild-card game in part due to penalties, it seems Dallas hasn’t really done much to clean up its penalty problem. Then again, it’s only the first game. It’ll be worth checking up again in four weeks.

Dallas offensive line may be a bigger problem than initially thought. The Cowboys are keeping quite a few extra men in protection to keep the Buccaneers from breaking the pocket. On top of that, some of the linemen are just committed to racking up as many drive-killing penalties as they can. It’s telling that the organization actually signed 40-year old veteran Jason Peters as late as they did. While Peters was fantastic in his prime, he’s no longer that immovable object, as evidenced by his latest stint in Chicago.

CeeDee Lamb hasn’t had much impact on this game. Tampa has done some good work keeping him bottled up.


Packers @ Vikings

The Vikings have a nascar package where Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith line up as defensive tackles on third downs. Interesting concept being employed by Ed Donatell here. I don’t think Zimmer had anything like this in his defensive playbook.

Minnesota has been fairly stout against Green Bay’s runners early on. Let’s see if they can sustain this level of defense into the fourth quarter.

Never mind….strong-side runs seem to be effective against Minnesota’s defense.

As expected, Aaron Rodgers is having some serious trouble producing anything in the passing game without Davonte Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Allen Lazard. Too many passes are being thrown to his tailbacks, something I don’t really remember seeing much from Rodgers before.


Steelers @ Bengals

Watching Moscow Mitch so far…not bad. Threw a couple quick curl routes to Deonte Johnson. Nothing beyond that. Timing routes alone won’t get anything done in the passing game.

Pittsburgh’s defense wisely employing a good bit of cover-two to keep the Bengals from hitting on their signature deep passes.

Just horrendous coaching from Zac Taylor. I feel no qualms about labelling him as a white-chip offensive mind.


Colts @ Texans

Credit to Houston’s defense - their excitement shows on tape.

Jerry Hughes seems to have found new life as the premiere pass rusher on Houston. His play so far has impressed me.

Indianapolis fielding 8 men in the box much more now that Gus Bradley is the defensive coordinator. Bradley has been one of the most faithful devotees to Pete Carroll’s cover-three scheme and that faith hasn’t wavered much despite having lost his job with the Raiders last year. Expect that predictability to bite them in the ass hard at least a few times this year.

Texans flaring out four receivers more often than not pre-snap. Maybe Pep Hamilton’s now embraced air raid principles in his offense…

Davis Mills has been up and down.

2022 Coaching Analysis - Part 8

Chicago Bears

Leadership: Matt Eberflus (HC/DC), Luke Getsy (OC), Justin Fields (QB)

Not much is expected of these Bears. For good reason too, considering the new management has quite a bit of clean-up work on their hands. The Matt Nagy/Ryan Pace regime left this team ridden with holes all across their roster. I also suspect their salary cap situation is horrendous, given their minimal free agency spending. This year will be a learning year, both for the organization as well as for fans - we’ll learn exactly what new ideas Eberflus and his assistants will bring to the franchise after the uninspiring Nagy era.

Let’s start with the offense. I have little clue what to expect. All I can say is that Luke Getsy is a Matt LaFleur disciple, which is unfortunate - LaFleur isn’t the type of coach who should be spawning a new coaching tree, yet we enter this season with his former offensive coordinator as the new head coach of the Broncos and his passing game coordinator as the new offensive coordinator here in Chicago. Just lovely. Anyway…Getsy’s hiring is a bit problematic to me, as so much of Green Bay’s recent success in the air game came courtesy of the sheer talent of Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams alone. It’s hard for me to point to any appreciable impact Getsy may have had on this offense, especially considering no other receiver was developed as a complimentary option to Adams. Tight end Robert Tonyan showed some initial promise, but injuries really hampered him, so it’s not fair to designate him as a Getsy success story. But now that Getsy is in charge of an entire offensive unit, we’ll see what he can do. Chicago has some talent at the skill positions too, as well as a young quarterback who could run. So even without Allen Robinson, we should aim to expect more production from the offense this year compared to last.

Defensively, I’m not certain what to conclude here. Eberflus has been seen as one of the better defensive minds in the NFL as the Colts seemed to always sport a good defense under his stewardship. But was that a result more of talent or scheme? It’s hard to say, especially given that the philosophy powering their playbook seems to prize simplicity above everything else. When the defense is purposefully kept simple, it’s hard to separate the influence of a coach from the influence of the players. But luckily enough, the situation in Chicago with the defensive roster isn’t that wildly different from the situation in Indianapolis - a dominant pass rusher headlining a unit also featuring one of the league’s best tackling linebackers. The secondary needs work, but the bones are there, so Eberflus has enough pieces here to make a statement.

All that being said, the biggest issue on this team still remains Justin Fields, in my humble opinion. Sure, one can reasonably argue that his offensive line did him no favors last year by failing to provide even a modicum of protection…but it’s dawned on me that the kid may not have the mental fortitude to compete in the NFL. His pathological obsession with his first read concerns me. Some suggest that the constant abuse he took from opposing defenses last year may have traumatized the boy, effectively scarring his play style. And if that’s the case, it won’t be long before Chicago’s fanbase goes through the five stages of grief again. After all…a quarterback unable to weather the physicality of a professional defense in his first year will not last long. Above all, players need a certain amount of toughness to survive long in this league. Fields may not have that innate strength, especially given the way Ohio State spoiled him by surrounding him with phenomenal talent.

Dreaded uncertainty is the name of the game here, dread about the starting quarterback’s frame of mind and uncertainty about the new management. The picture will become much clearer after about two months, but until then, the best I can say is that the team will eke out wins here and there in an otherwise forgettable season.


New York Jets

Leadership: Robert Saleh (HC/DC), Mike LaFleur (OC), Zach Wilson / Joe Flacco (QB)

It’s so difficult to assess these Jets, in part because their success hinges on just how much Zach Wilson improves entering his sophomore year. Wilson may have shown signs of progress during his rookie campaign last year, but those signs are hard to discern given all the injuries throwing them in disarray.

EPA indicates some improvement was made over the season, starting with the game against Cincinnati. Maybe Wilson learned from Mike White that not every pass should end as a home run attempt or a big gain. Once again though, it’s difficult assessing any sort of change in his game given the limited weaponry at his disposal. This season will be a different story - not only should Corey Davis return fully healthy, the Jets spent considerable coin and draft capital adding two free agent tight ends and a top rookie receiver prospect. So not only can Wilson be fairly assessed, so can his offensive coordinator in Mike LaFleur. To be fair though, I am a bit impressed that his offense was more industrious towards the end of the year despite the rash of injuries dragging this roster down the gutter. But his impact on the team was muted considerably as Zach Wilson was struggling to find his bearings as a rookie. So I’ll be keen to keep an eye on both LaFleur and Wilson in their first couple games together.

Defensively, things are pointing up. Last year, the unit was among the worst statistically. While the secondary was unfairly rendered impotent by the injury bug, their pass rush lacked any real teeth despite being mostly healthy. Quinnen Williams was arguably the only true threat in the trenches. This year may be a different story though, as Carl Lawson will return to the field again after sustaining a major injury in training camp last year - Lawson was supposed to be the team’s signature pass rushing threat to compliment Quinnen, so the Jets may finally see that hope realized. On top of that, another premium draft pick was spent on a defensive end with serious potential. So barring yet another emergence of the injury plague, New York has the requisite talent to truly impress at all levels of the defense - at that point, the question then becomes whether Robert Saleh can manufacture a cohesive whole from the defensive personnel. His history with San Francisco suggests it’s very possible, despite the simplistic nature of his playbook. Then again, it’s worth noting his defense back then was loaded to the brim with quality pass rushers. Unless a whole bunch of dice rolls go in his favor, it’s unlikely Saleh will enjoy that luxury again this year, making his strategizing all the more important. We’ll see if Saleh can evolve from his stingy commitment to his cover-three base defense into a style of defense that better suits the talent on hand.

It seems almost loony to even suggest that the Jets have an outside shot at a playoff nod this year. But the reality is so many elements on the team remains a bit of a black box. Should certain personnel on the coaching staff and roster contribute significantly to the growth of this team, the idea isn’t that far-fetched.


Philadelphia Eagles

Leadership: Nick Sirianni (HC/OC), Jonathan Gannon (DC), Jalen Hurts / Gardner Minshew (QB)

It’s hard for me to say this as a Giants fan, but the Eagles have the makings of a championship team - Solid players at almost every position group across their roster, coaches who’ve demonstrated an ability to adapt, a certain moxie infecting the team, a media market keeping the organization honest should they be caught slacking, etc. Still, their biggest weakness may be their undoing - the quarterback position.

Let’s start there. Jalen Hurts was absolutely horrendous in his postseason debut against the Buccaneers. The only positive thing that could be said was that it was a learning experience for the kid about what it takes to win a Lombardi trophy. Unfortunately, many quarterbacks go through these teachable moments without learning a damn thing, and Jalen Hurts may be yet another one of them. Though early reports speak highly of his rapport with teammates and his improving numbers against his own men and other defenses in practice, nothing can be made certain until we see him exhibit better quarterbacking in live action.

To the front office’s credit though, the Eagles are doing everything possible to facilitate the development of their young quarterback. Not only are they protecting him with a stout offensive line, but they’ve surrounded him with considerably talented skill position players, the biggest name among them being A.J. Brown. A.J. Brown is the type of player who can make the circus catches necessary to catch those errant balls thrown from not-so-sharp passers like Jalen Hurts. Not to mention the presence of Brown combined with that of DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert sends a message to Jalen that there is absolutely no excuse not to be productive passing the ball.

Nick Sirianni needs to step up as well and help his offense mask any of Jalen’s drawbacks through schemed plays. Running read-option plays out of the single wing formation are isn’t enough to scare opponents in the playoffs, as the Buccaneers so aptly showed them on wild card weekend. Much credit to the man for transforming the offense from a passing-oriented one to a running-oriented one while in the middle of a grueling season, but the next step now becomes fostering a passing game where receivers can easily manufacture yards after the catch. Sirianni has the horses to pull that off.

On the other side, we now have a defense loaded to the gills with some respectable pass rushing talent. If Brandon Graham remains healthy and Haason Reddick remains a dominant pass rusher despite being on a different team for the third year straight, this club has more than enough weaponry at hand to sustain a fearsome pass rush, something they weren’t quite able to achieve last year in Jonathan Gannon’s first year as coordinator. Speaking of which, Gannon’s first year produced mixed results, to put it simply.

His insistence on running a style of defense predicated on preventing big plays made things a bit too predictable. A look at the chart above would have one thinking the defense showed tremendous improvement in the second half of the season, but the better performances came against weak competition (note that the Dallas game in week 18 is a complete outlier considering the Eagles weren’t interested in competing in that game after having sewn up a wild card nod). As Brady proved in his second go-around against Gannon’s unit, the defense was a little too simplistic for its own good. Then again, this wouldn’t have been such a questionable approach if the pass rushers used their increased snap count to impose their will on Brady and other opposing quarterbacks, but pressure was never really something that was consistent. Perhaps that will change this year now that the club has a bigger stable of pass rushers at its beck and call as well as two solid cornerbacks to account for the sidelines.

Philadelphia is the dark horse contender for the Super Bowl this year. Make no mistake, a postseason appearance is all but guaranteed. The real question becomes whether leadership can shepherd this team through a playoff gauntlet.


Detroit Lions

Leadership: Dan Campbell (HC), Ben Johnson (OC), Aaron Glenn (DC), Jared Goff (QB)

And we’ve made it to the last team - the Detroit Lions. Not the easiest team to evaluate though. Ben Johnson is a relatively new commodity in the coaching world, having been hired to the coordinator role thanks to his close connection to Dan Campbell. While his version of the offense likely won’t be so driven by the ground game as Anthony Lynn’s own version from last year, it’ll still need to feature a heavy dose of D’Andre Swift - Jared Goff can’t be entirely trusted to assume the mantle of production here. That being said, it is reassuring knowing that Johnson spent several days reviewing tape with Jared Goff trying to pinpoint the type of plays where he excels. It’s also reassuring that the receivers on the team speak highly of Ben Johnson, something that suggests to me that the man is committed to fixing the passing game instead of muzzling it behind the running game. If Ben Johnson’s vision pans out, expect the Lions to gradually become more proficient throwing the ball as the season progresses.

On defense, Aaron Glenn is more of a known quantity. His defense last year played better towards the end of the season, although it was worryingly inconsistent.

The pass rush remains a pointed area of concern, though things should be a bit better if newly drafted defensive end Aidan Hutchinson can make an immediate impact. The secondary will likely benefit too if top prospect Jeff Okudah finally manages to remain healthy enough to contribute and assume a leadership role in the defensive backfield. Still, the Lions do lack talent - no one position group can really be considered loaded with top talent. It’ll be up to Aaron Glenn to gel the personnel into a sum far greater than the individual components. Whether he’s capable of pulling that off remains to be seen. I’ll be watching the Lions pass rush numbers to see if they improve - if not, my suspicions about his ineptitude will be virtually confirmed.

Honestly, there’s not much to be excited about regarding this team. It’s a club with spirit, no doubt. Dan Campbell and his enthusiasm is so very infectious. That gusto will be critical if the team is to mount comebacks and hold on to leads. Their late-season games against the Vikings, Packers, and Cardinals finally demonstrated to me that that positive energy is working in their favor. The hope here is that that energy continues propelling them towards more wins this season. If Dan Campbell and his men manage to win at least seven games, consider this season to be a rousing success.

2022 Coaching Analysis - Part 7

Tennessee Titans

Leadership: Mike Vrabel (HC/DC), Todd Downing (OC), Ryan Tannehill (QB)

I had these Titans down as the Super Bowl favorites in my annual postseason analysis last year. Tennessee had just enough requisite elements in their favor to make a deep playoff run. But I didn’t count on Ryan Tannehill and Todd Downing failing the franchise on offense in spectacular fashion.

Two data points from their division round loss against the Bengals stand out - Tannehill throwing three interceptions and D’Onta Foreman rushing for 4 more yards than Derrick Henry despite recording 16 fewer carries. The former has confirmed a sentiment that’s been nagging at me now the past two years - Ryan Tannehill is rocketing way past his prime. His mistakes are all the more unforgivable now that he’s unable to carry the burden of production on offense. So unfortunately, that burden must now be fully borne on the shoulders of the playmakers around him. Thankfully, Tennessee understood that, so they wasted no time in trading away A.J. Brown and allowing Anthony Firkser and Julio Jones to walk for pennies….wait….what? What’s this franchise thinking, kneecapping their own offense coming off an astoundingly successful season in which they were considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders? To be fair, the team signed Robert Woods and Austin Hooper as replacements, but it’s underwhelming to see this club opt not to devote more resources to a needy offense when the championship is just in reach.

I suppose the thinking here is that the offense was conceptually sound, but just rendered unproductive by the injury bug. That’s problematic though, because their loss against the Bengals in the playoffs showed me their offensive game-planning isn’t there, something that isn’t immediately evident when you look at their EPA chart.

But look at the raw passing numbers and you’ll notice the team was languishing in the passing game. To their credit, injuries robbed them of their two biggest weapons. Luckily, a rookie receiver was able to step up to provide some production, but it was still a pointed area of concern towards the tail end of the season. As far as I could tell, it seems Tennessee’s brain trust did little to find a solution.

But you want to know what I truly find damn near inexcusable? Coordinator Todd Downing called upon Derrick Henry to assume the role of primary ball carrier, even when it was laughably obvious the man wasn’t physically ready yet to merit a starring role on the offense. His understudy in D’Onta Foreman managed to generate as much production as him with a quarter of the carries. Downing should have realized that in the postseason and called on Foreman to assume the mantle of production on the ground. Instead, a declining Tannehill was forced to move the ball down the field all by himself, resulting in some of the worst quarterback play I’ve seen so far in January.

Yet, the club was so close to winning that game against Cincinnati, thanks entirely to Mike Vrabel and the defense. The defensive front was sensational attacking Cincinnati’s tattered offensive line and racking up 13 hits on Joe Burrow. The secondary performed adequately enough, keeping. Bengals receivers away from the end zone. But even before that game, Vrabel needs to be laude for the way he kept this defense humming through the regular season despite injuries ravaging the unit. EPA analysis actually suggests the unit managed to improve as the season progressed.

If there’s any fault to be found here, it’s that Vrabel paid Harold Landry in the offseason, despite the man’s ghost act in the second half of the season - it’s a rather trivial complaint compared to everything Vrabel’s done to whip these Titan defenders into shape. It’s virtually certain the unit will once again be among the cream of the crop in the upcoming season.

So where does Tennessee stand? Well, it’s hard to categorize them confidently as championship contenders. Even if they’re sound defensively, the offense remains troubling, if only because the organization has done criminally little to improve things. In fact, it’s quite possible the Titans have embraced a rebuild on that side of the ball. So unless Derrick Henry returns back to elite form and wards off the injury bug for the whole season (a stretch given his age and the wear and tear on his body), it’s hard to see this unit being anything more than an albatross on this team. Unless the defense performs at a historically great level, the Titans can expect nothing more than another postseason invite ending in another depressing loss.


Baltimore Ravens

Leadership: Jon Harbaugh (HC), Greg Roman (OC), Mike Macdonald (DC), Lamar Jackson (QB)

Let’s talk of another team that was stricken by an injury plague last year. Football Outsiders have these Ravens ranked as the [franchise worst effected by injury last season](https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2022/agl-injury-numbers-point-ravens-rebound-2022https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2022/agl-injury-numbers-point-ravens-rebound-2022")), which alone says it all. This year, the statistical law of regression to the average should help them return to normal in terms of injury health. That alone should garner better results, presumably. But…some issues present themselves on both sides of the ball.

On offense, the Lamar Jackson show is showing its age. It’s been three years since Greg Roman has changed the face of this offense to revolve more about Lamar’s legs. But Jackson’s yards per game has gone down significantly since his MVP year. His passing hasn’t visibly improved much, though the top receivers on the team have been notably more productive. That being said, losing Hollywood Brown may hurt, as Mark Andrews is now the only worthwhile receiver on the team is Mark Andrews at this point. Unless Devin Duvernay or another depth emerges as a reliable second option, the passing game loses some of its teeth. Perhaps Jackson’s legs would be given new life if Roman incorporates new concepts into his playbook, but history tells us it’s unlikely Roman changes much schematically. In fact, it’s worth noting that the system that he incorporated in San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback is the same one in place in Baltimore, just jazzed up though with some more exotic rushing formations. So expect more of the same from the Ravens offense as they’re forced to rely on its ground game to sustain production.

On defense, Wink Martindale’s firing was truly a surprise, especially when it was speculated that Greg Roman was the one on the hot seat. To me, this signifies that Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens brain trust were fed up with Wink stubbornly sticking to his blitz-heavy style of defense even when the team had to resort to inflatable tube men to staff their secondary. It was a risky strategy that didn’t yield much again against the harder teams on their schedule. Perhaps looking for somebody who was willing to adapt a playbook more multiple in identity, Harbaugh turned to his brother’s defensive coordinator up in Michigan, Mike Macdonald. From early indications, it seems Macdonald’s goals are to make this defensive work more on a reactive basis. Whereas Wink insisted his men commit wholeheartedly to his calls, Macdonald will allow his players to audible on the fly should they feel the need. This style of defense works well so long as the players have the intelligence to read offenses and judiciousness to know when to deviate from script. A lapse in judgement could cost this unit dearly against better offenses.

Chances are though that this new defense should jive well with the defensive roster, especially the secondary. After having invested significant money and draft capital at the safety position, the secondary is now bursting at the seams with talent, so it shouldn’t be difficult for them to take a more active role patrolling the backfield. I do wonder if things will change much for the front though. Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh have the potential to break out as dominant pass rushers, but both need some help - whether this coach can guide them to the next level remains to be seen.

In the end, high expectations are there for this organization now that they’ve endured a plague-ridden season. In reality, fans may be setting themselves up for disappointment once again. The offense remains alarmingly weak and Lamar Jackson has shown very little development as a passer. Whereas somebody like Aaron Rodgers elevates his supporting cast, it’s the exact opposite in Baltimore - Lamar needs his skill players to overcompensate in order to mask his deficiencies. Just a conspiratorial thought, but it’s possible Baltimore sees no future with Lamar. If so, another disappointing season from the former MVP would make it easier for the club (and the fanbase) to part ways with him. Either way, don’t expect much from Baltimore as they institute a new system of defense while their quarterback has one more year to develop as a proper passer without much help.


Los Angeles Chargers

Leadership: Brandon Staley (HC/DC), Joe Lombardi (OC), Justin Herbert (QB)

Ahh….the Chargers. I’d love to able to support this team as promising championship contenders. This franchise has been ridiculed and mocked as one of the league’s least popular clubs for a long time now - it’d be good to see this organization get the love it craves with a Super Bowl win.

The problem is the coaches are inept, especially when it comes to scouting their own needs. Staley was touted as a brilliant defensive mind after his work with the Rams, so it was assumed that brilliance would shine ever brighter as head coach of the Chargers. Instead, it’s quite possible Los Angeles put forth the league’s worst defense last year. It was absolutely shameful. Just look at their rushing defense alone. I could present you with a litany of numbers here to illustrate their ugly inability to stop opposing rushers, but nothing exemplifies their ineptitude better than the corpse of Rex Burkhead chewing off 150 yards against them late in the season. Burkhead belongs in a retirement home, not the football field. To give somebody like him a tape full of highlights is embarrassing. But despite that public humiliation, these same Chargers would later surrender another 150 yards against the Raiders in the game that would ultimately determine whether they qualified for the post season.

How did Staley not have this same issue with the Rams? Well, Aaron Donald and Sebastian Joseph-Day are big reasons why. In Staley’s defense, fewer resources are stationed in the box, meaning the defensive tackles must consequently shoulder a greater share of the responsibility in terms of run defense. If those tackles fail to hold in the trenches, then the defense is pretty much rendered gutless at that point. And that’s exactly what happened - Jerry Tillery, Linval Joseph, and Justin Jones couldn’t be trusted as anchors in the run defense

One would think the Chargers would address this shortcoming immediately in free agency, but instead, the big money went towards fortifying the pass defense. Convoys of Brinks trucks were unloaded to acquire the services of Khalil Mack, JC Jackson, and Derwin James. To be fair, a decent chunk of change was spent signing Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson as the team’s new starting defensive tackles, but neither player can be considered A-grade talent, at least not yet. D.J Reader, Akiem Hicks, and Larry Ogunjobi were on the market too, but Los Angeles passed on all of them. Unfortunately, that’s not the only area where they passed on proven talent.

Los Angeles also refused to give their top-shelf quarterback any help in terms of skill players. Mike Williams was resigned, but no other receiver was brought into the organization to supplement him. It was pretty clear last year that Keenan Allen was winding down. Austin Ekeler did well enough as a pass-catching tailback, but it’s not enough - the team needs a quality slot receiver or tight end able to run all sorts of routes in between the numbers so that Herbert has a reliable short yardage option not named Keenan Allen. Given that management “wisely” neglected to draft a single receiver in a draft class rich in receiver talent…Herbert will be depending on an aging Keenan Allen and two journeymen in Gerald Everett and Jalen Guyton to carry the day along the middle of the field. A little worrying, especially when offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi seems to have no idea in hell what he’s doing. Lombardi’s unit lacks an identity - as a result, Herbert has had to bail this unit out time and time again, converting 3rd and longs at a near historic rate. It’s not a sustainable strategy, especially for a team lacking weaponry in the first place.

Such a shame too, considering the Chargers are one of the few teams to feature an elite quarterback on such a cheap contract. If money was spent more wisely on the right types of luxuries, a championship appearance would be all but certain. But that’s not the case. Maybe a playoff appearance is in the cards here, but unless a good number of players on both sides of the ball have career years, don’t expect anything much from them.


Miami Dolphins

Leadership: Mike McDaniel (HC/OC), Josh Boyer (DC), Tua Tagovailoa (QB)

What a strange turn of events for the Dolphins. To force Brian Flores out the door while keeping his defensive coordinator intact in the same role seems bizarre at first….until you read the reports of the way he tyrannized others in the organization, including that same defensive coordinator. The man made the fatal mistake of alienating so many people in his quest to size more control over the club’s operations. Just like so many other Belichick disciples, Flores failed in a vain attempt to emulate Belichick’s style of dictatorship, becoming yet another name in a long list of failures descended from Belichick’s coaching tree. The truly sad part is that he might have ended up back in New England too had he not enraged his former mentor by using Bill’s words to initiate a lawsuit against the league.

Any way, let’s talk about the coaching regime, starting with the new offense helmed by Kyle Shanahan’s former right-hand man, Mike McDaniel. I don’t expect McDaniel to deviate much at all from the type of offense Shanahan instituted out west in San Francisco. And you know what? It just might work. Miami has the requisite talent to succeed with such a offense - Tyreek Hill can play the Swiss knife role Deebo Samuel so successfully pioneered while Mike Gesecki and Jaylon Waddle can be the short-yardage versatile outlets that are needed to truly make this offense work. If these three skill players adjust well to the new system, not much needs to be asked of Tua, thankfully. Let’s be honest and declare Tua mediocre at best, so to operate in a system that’s not so reliant on the quarterback plays beautifully for the Dolphins here. The offensive line has issues, but the club did spend some good money bringing in new blood, so it’s possible it won’t be as glaring a point of weakness as it was last year.

Defensively, I have cause for concern. Say what you want about Flores and his leadership, but he was able to get results. When he took over the defense last year after it spent the first several weeks of the season wallowing in its own excrement, the unit not only improved, but transformed into one of the best defensive outfits in the league, especially up front with the pass rush - no other team landed more hits on the quarterback than Miami last season.

Now that Josh Boyer is back in charge of the unit, will it regress to its pathetic form from early last season? Quite possible. It’s also plausible that Flores constantly undermined Boyer, effectively neutering his coordinator’s influence over the defensive roster. It’s nearly impossible for a coach to properly lead if he’s constantly losing face in front of his men. Either way, it is a significant cause of concern and something that we’ll only be able to determine several weeks into the season. Unless proven wrong otherwise, I have reason to suspect Boyer is not competent as a coordinator.

All in all, Dolphins fans have reason to hope for a breakout season this year from their first year head coach. Don’t be surprised if this team leapfrogs the Patriots in the division.