After proving to myself that I could pick with the big boys in 2011, and continuing my success in 2012. Something was off last year. Sure, I correctly forecast five out of the six AFC playoff teams, but managed only a paltry three-of-six in the NFC. My picks felt off. It was a difficult season to gauge, what with the key injuries, suspensions, Ron Rivera removing his head from his arse, and so on, I found it difficult to keep up. Time constraints due to outside distractions even caused me to miss a couple of weeks.
I had to ask myself, after three seasons, am I washed-up?
So, I took some time away from it. Thought about other things. Gave myself time to miss it.
Eventually, I did start to miss it.
I started to think about a comeback.
I began slowly. I started reintroducing football back into my diet. As time passed, I increased my consumption, reading articles, checking out offseason activities, player acquisitions, and the like.
Eventually, I started to look ahead, imagining what the teams would be like in the upcoming season, how they would play and match up against other teams.
Before I knew it, I was in full forecast mode. I was excited for the new season.
One more hurdle; finding a place to ply my talents. I had a meeting with the owner, founder, and CEO of Happy Does It to see if there was a place for me on the team this year. I was relieved to find out that the site saw last season as an aberration, that the prevailing opinion was that I still had a lot left in the tank. I leaped at the opportunity, signing on for the new season immediately.
So, here I am, starting fresh with a brand new page. It’s the same old me, though. Back to basics. It’s all about the football. I’m a fan. I love the game. I write what I want. I like what I like, and I’m not shy about the things that piss me off.
A few quick hits, just to acquaint/reacquaint you with my tone:
- The NFL may have a concussion problem, but it’s not the one you think. If it’s proven that the league kept important information regarding concussions or compromised player safety in any way in the past, they should pay up. As for now, there is no concussion problem in the NFL. Football is a contact sport played at high speed by extremely large men who have the potential to earn vast sums of money. They know what they’re getting into. I remember an interview years ago with Bills’ great Bruce Smith (which, BTW, I’ve been trying to find for ages online; this is why I’m smarter than Google, because I know things it doesn’t know), where it was pointed out to him that a lot of players who played positions like his tended to die younger. Smith responded to the effect that he understood, and that he was willing to pay that price in order to set his family up for life. My dad spent three decades in coal mines, tunneling miles out under the ocean. He earned a living and a pension, along with chronic back and lung problems and partial hearing loss. Risk; that’s the game.
- The NFL has a marijuana problem. It needs to get with the times. It’s a shame when a phenomenal talent like Josh Gordon gets suspended for a year for using something that’s now legal in Washington and Colorado (both states have NFL teams). Meanwhile…
- Ray Rice gets two games for knocking out his fiancé (now wife… Aye carumba!) Screw this allegedly bullshit; everyone knows what he did. This was such a PR disaster for the league that Old Uncle Roger moved swiftly to enact a new (and improved!) strict policy against domestic abusers.
- Enough with the drinking and driving! Josh Brent—fresh off serving a too-short sentence for killing his friend and teammate while driving drunk—just got reinstated, and will be eligible to play after serving a 10-game suspension. That is, unless his appeal is successful. “Appeal?” you ask. “What’s to appeal?” Well, it seems old Josh feels like he’s being treated too harshly because if he’s suspended, that will mean that he will have missed something like 30 games. Screw that! Being in jail isn’t being suspended. He killed someone! What the hell is he complaining about? Sheesh! Some people.
- More consistency with suspensions, please. Safety/Multiple repeat offender/Unrepentant asshole Brandon Meriwether gets suspended for an arguably clean hit in the preseason, yet DT/ Multiple repeat offender/Unrepentant sociopath Ndamukong Suh skates after a definitely late hit on Chad Henne. Also, re-read previous items regarding pot, punching women, and potent potables.
That’s enough for now. Onward, to the picks!
Eagles: This is a case of a good team in a bad division. Coach Chip Kelly proved to be just the thing that the Philly offence needed to kick into high gear. QB Nick Foles blossomed in Kelly’s offence last year, and he should be fine this year. RB Shady McCoy is one of the best in the league, and the addition of Darren Sproles will give the Eagles another potent and versatile weapon. Philly released DeSean Jackson, a case of addition-by-subtraction; the selfish, pain-in-the-ass can be Washington’s distraction now. Even if Foles goes down, backup Mark Sanchez <grits teeth> should be able to function well in this offence with so much talent around him. And even if he were to struggle, the patient, understanding, and not at all ugly or stupid Philadelphia fans would support him.
Washington: Expect much better things on offence due to the departure of those gawdawful Shanahans. A healthy RGIII, free from tyranny, and working in new coach Jay Gruden’s scheme, will be a huge boost. Even if Griffin gets hurt again, Washington has capable (some say better) Kirk Cousins waiting in the wings. If Philadelphia struggles with injuries, a resurgent Washington could walk away with the division.
Cowboys: Provided Tony Romo is recovered from his back woes, the Cowboys should have few troubles on offence. The defence is another matter. Who’s playing? Their best player, LB Sean Lee, is out for the season yet again and may never realize his vast potential. Dallas made some moves to shore up the defensive line and linebacker corps, but the team’s Achilles heel, its secondary, is still a pinball machine waiting to be lit up. If the defence comes together, Dallas could challenge for top spot in the East, but I’m sceptical.
Giants: Added a lot of new pieces, including a couple of notable defensive starters in LB Jameel McClain and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The question here is the offence. Eli Manning was really bad last season. Really bad. Wily old coot Tom Coughlin is counting on a Manning resurgence in a new offensive scheme, courtesy of new Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo. I’m not feeling it. Eli has two rings, and nothing to prove. A slow start will doom this team, and that’s what I’m envisioning. (Note: My buddy Chad in New York is going to hate this pick, but then he’ll feel better when he remembers that the Giants always win to spite me; it’s the Coughlin Way.)
Bears: Yep, I’m going with Chicago in an upset. Their potent offence will be even better this year. Jay Cutler still has do-it-all RB Matt Forte, plus depth at WR that would be the envy of most teams. They’ll be tough to stop. Last season, the Bears’ defence was just awful. A solid season from LB Lance Briggs, a return to form by CB Charles Tillman, and the addition of tireless QB harasser Jared Allen should improve things just enough for Chicago to narrowly take the division from Green Bay.
Packers: Aaron Rodgers is still the best QB in the league. When he got hurt last season, RB Eddie Lacy proved a revelation as he carried the offence. Rodgers has a couple of proven playmakers at WR. After that, I see a lot of holes on both sides of the ball. There’s no depth at any of the skill positions on offence. The offensive line is a huge question mark. The defensive secondary is iffy. The Pack added Julius Peppers to shore up its pass rush, but lost DT BJ Raji for the season. Still, when you have Rodgers, you have a chance. In an NFC flush with talented teams, second place might just mean missing the playoffs altogether.
Lions: The leader of this band of idiots, Jim Schwartz (along with Neanderthal defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham), is gone. Jim Caldwell takes over as head coach, fresh from a disastrous stint as Baltimore offensive coordinator, and not too far removed from stinking it up as Colts’ head coach. He’s supposed to bring discipline to a team sorely lacking in this important quality. Star DT/dangerous sociopath Ndamukong Suh chose to work out on his own rather than join the team early to spend time getting to know his new coach. DT Nick Fairly ate and lazed his way out of the starting lineup, then hired a chef and dieted his way back to a starting spot. Mediocre LBs, subpar secondary. Same Lions defence. Offence is the same too; it’s all about Calvin Johnson. Not a contender.
Vikings: Adrian Peterson should have an AdrianPeterson-esque season. There’s really no other back with quite the same AdrianPeterson-osity. I for one would never question his AdrianPeterson-ness. Too much? Who do you expect me to talk about, Matt Cassel? Seriously though, Cassel’s got some talent there to work with, particularly WR Cordarrelle Patterson and TE Kyle Rudolph. Also, it will be interesting to see what new head coach (former Bengals defensive coordinator) Mike Zimmer can do with the Vikings’ defence. Could the Vikes challenge the Lions for third place? Stay tuned.
Saints: The offence is still loaded, and Drew Brees shows no signs of becoming anything less than what he has been since he landed in New Orleans, one of the truly elite QBs in the league. Last season’s Saints defence vastly improved on its atrocious 2012 performance, and the addition of S Jarius Byrd is an upgrade over the departed Roman Harper. They should win this division in a walk, because…
Panthers: Expect these guys to slip a bit from their 2013 form. Defensively, they still have all-world tackling machine Luke Kuechly at LB, but their monster pass rush is facing some serious problems. DE Charles Johnson has been hobbled by a nagging hamstring injury, and DE Greg Hardy is facing a 6-game suspension as a part of the league’s new (and improved!) domestic abuse policy, while key backup DE Frank Alexander has to serve his own 4-game suspension for a PED violation. As for the offence, that’s Cam Newton’s show, more so than ever now that WR Steve Smith is gone. Newton has a few challenges of his own to deal with as the season begins; he had offseason ankle surgery, he is nursing sore ribs from a hard hit in a preseason game, and he is working with an entirely new cast of wideouts this year. Put it all together, and it’s the recipe for a slow start.
Falcons: Return to form by WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White should go a long way towards improving this team’s offensive fortunes. Doubtful that they challenge for a playoff spot, and they could even slip to last in their division if Tampa Bay improves.
Buccaneers: Josh McCown starts the season as the number one QB. He’ll be playing behind an OL featuring new acquisitions Evan Dietrich-Smith and Logan Mankins. Some have mentioned the Bucs as a potential playoff team; I think that at their absolute best, they scoot up to second place if Carolina slips precipitously.
Seahawks: Defending champs, Seattle is back with essentially the same defence as last season. The only concern is that the pass rush will slip with the loss of DE Chris Clemons, but with a unit this solid, it’s a minor concern. On offence, the questions concern depth at WR and whether the OL can provide sufficient pass protection for QB Russell Wilson. Wilson’s mobile, and throws well on the run, and with Marshawn Lynch back, things look bright.
49ers: There are a lot of question marks around this team as it sets to begin the 2014 campaign. QB Colin Kaepernick got paid in the offseason, signing a huge contract extension. I think they overpaid. (In fact, I think that if they’d stuck with Alex Smith they’d have won a Super Bowl by now.) They’ve got a bevy of talented receivers, and RB Frank Gore, so the points will come. However, their defence might be in serious trouble. Perennial off-field screw-up Aldon Smith has been suspended again, this time for 9 games, while DE Ray McDonald is facing a 6-game ban (and perhaps banishment from the team, depending on whatever Jim Harbaugh says on any given day) for violating the league’s new (and improved!) domestic abuse policy. Failure to get pressure up front will expose San Fran’s secondary, the unit’s weakness, making any challenge to Seattle’s division dominance a pipe dream. In fact, I had expected either Arizona or St. Louis to take a run at second place in the West, but those teams have problems of their own.
Cardinals: Let’s start with this: Carson Palmer threw 24 TDs and for over 4000 yards last season. Impressive. Unfortunately, he also threw 22 picks, had six fumbles, and was sacked over 40 times. Still, he’s better than anyone else the Cards have had behind Center since Saint Kurt had them on the brink of Super Bowl glory. It’s the defence, however, the team’s strength last season, which has me worried. DT Darnell Dockett tore his ACL, and is gone for the season, LB Daryl Washington is suspended for the entire season (substance abuse, repeat offender), and LB Karlos Dansby plays for Cleveland now. That’s a lot of loss to deal with. Sure, the secondary is in good shape (the team added CB Antonio Cromartie), but S Tyrann Mathieu is recovering from a serious knee injury. If the defence comes together, and Palmer can cut down on the turnovers, these guys could push the 49ers to third place. Just don’t count on it.
Rams: The defence, led by its formidable pass rush, is the key to this team’s success, and it returns relatively intact (minus CB Cortland Finnegan, which is a huge plus). Where are the points coming from? Captain Checkdown (aka QB Sam Bradford) is gone for the season with yet another injury, meaning that Shaun Hill is the likely opening day starter. Besides TE Jared Cook, there’s not much else to see.
Wild Cards: Packers, 49ers
Patriots: The offence really struggled last year, as they only managed to be the third-highest scoring team in the league (surpassed only by the Denver and Chicago). Tom Brady really showed signs of decline as well, with a mere 4300 yards passing and 25 TD passes (while turning Julian Edelman into a 100-catch receiver). OK, OK, you get the point. Why even bother talking about the offence? Once again, the defensive unit has a chance to be elite. Wilfork’s back. Mayo’s back. They’re deep on the line and loaded at LB. They lost top CB Aqib Talib, but added Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (the latter, minus the first 4 games due to PED suspension). If they stay healthy, I expect they’ll be around again come AFC championship time. They’ll certainly have no trouble winning this division again.
Jets: I picked these guys for dead last in 2013, but old Rex Ryan was having none of that. Say what you want about the guy, but he’s one heck of a motivator. I expect the defence to be solid again this year. If QB Geno Smith ups his game a bit (Vick’s waiting in the wings if he falters), and the running game (featuring newly- acquired Chris Johnson) gets going, the Jets could potentially grab a wild card spot.
Bills: Despite their depth at RB, it’s difficult to be too optimistic about the offence with EJ Manuel behind Center. Who knows? Maybe he proves me wrong. The defence should be steady, with a solid pass rush and with the addition of run-stuffing LB Brandon Spikes. Losing S Jarius Byrd will hurt, though. Bills’ fans will continue to keep the faith for an end to the team’s playoff drought, but they’re livin’ on a prayer.
Dolphins: I like Ryan Tannehill, and I think he has a shot at being a good starting QB in the NFL. The Dolphins could win with him. Unfortunately, he’s going to get pummelled playing behind that offensive line. As for the defence, when you’re starting Detroit Lions’ castoffs and Cortland Finnegan in your secondary, some people might wonder if you’re even trying to win. I’m out.
Bengals: If you’re a Bengals’ fan, you’re probably looking at your team and thinking things like “I hope Geno Atkins recovers his pre-injury form,” or “We need a monster year from AJ Green,” or even, “The offence should be dangerous in two TE formations this year.” There’s a lot about this team to look at and like. However, I know, you know, and they know, that all Bengals’ fans’ eyes are on one guy. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: it’s all there for the taking. Your move, Andy Dalton.
Ravens: Baltimore’s defence is always solid, and there’s no reason that I can see that things should be any different this season. The offence has the potential to be much better this year, with Gary Kubiak replacing Jim Caldwell as OC, and Steve Smith and Owen Daniels coming aboard to provide more weapons for Joe Flacco. If I’m being honest though, when I’m watching the Ravens play this season, and Ray Rice touches the ball, a dark part of me will just be hoping to see him get knocked out. Sorry (Not sorry).
Steelers: Defence looks solid again. I hear nothing but superlatives about this year’s LB corps. Ben Roethlisberger just keeps getting it done, year after year, and he’ll have to be at the top of his game as questions abound concerning WR depth. Running game should be good; LaGarrette Blount could be something really special in this offence if properly motivated.
Browns: Defence was good last season. Should be good again, although Donte Whitner replacing TJ Ward at S is a downgrade. The loss of Josh Gordon for the season because he smoked pot (absurd) will hurt the offence. TE Jordan Cameron and newly-acquired RB Ben Tate will have to help QB Brian Hoyer pick up the slack. If the team starts slow, fans might start clamouring for a change at QB. Do the Browns have a decent backup? I’ll have to look into it.
Colts: Andrew Luck. The guy is just special. He does it all. Never gives up. No lead is ever safe when he’s on the other team. His presence ensures that the Colts will have one of the top offences in the league for years to come, and that Indy will always be in the mix come playoff time. Defence was steady last season, and that’s all the Colts need to win this division handily.
Texans: With a defence this talented, I expect Houston to rebound somewhat from its puzzlingly and colossally disappointing 2013 campaign. In fact, I’d be perfectly comfortable pencilling them in for a wild card berth, except that I have a sneaking suspicion that, next to the word “mediocre” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Of course, even mediocre is an improvement over Matt Schaub’s pick-six-fest from last season.
Titans: Jake Locker is another guy I like. If he’s healthy this year, the addition of Ken Whisenhunt as OC gives Locker a great chance to take a big step forward and show what he can really do. Defence turned in a solid effort last year, and a similar or improved effort this season could very well have the Titans playing some very meaningful games late in the season.
Jaguars: You know, I’ve actually read a couple of predictions that have the Jags as a playoff team this season. That’s cute. Also, #FreeBlakeBortles
Broncos: Questions abound in the offence. How good will the offensive line be? After three concussions in fairly quick succession, how much longer will (now suspended) Wes Welker be able to play in the NFL? Will RB Montee Ball be too much of a downgrade from Knowshon Moreno? How will new WR Emmanuel Sanders fit in? Somehow, we just expect Peyton Manning to make it all work. Defensively, the team made some much-needed upgrades. DeMarcus Ware gives them another pass rushing threat to go along with Von Miller. Aqib Talib, when healthy, is a top 5 corner. S TJ Ward is one of the best in the league. Look for Denver to be competing for top spot in the conference again.
Chargers: I should have known. When doing my season picks last year, I failed to account for how much getting rid of Norv Turner (finally!) would rejuvenate Philip Rivers. I don’t foresee any signs of regress from the offence this year; Rivers is healthy, the OL is solid, there’s loads of talent in the receiving corps, and Ryan Mathews is the real deal at RB. The defence, solid last season, added CB Brandon Flowers, who should fit in nicely. San Diego should win the battle for second (and perhaps a wild card berth) with Kansas City.
Chiefs: Got off to a hot start last season, but faded towards the end due to some injuries on defence. Speaking of which, the defence looks to be solid again this year, especially the pass rush. I’m curious about the offence, particularly changes in personnel on the OL and WR. If the line can protect Alex Smith and open some holes for Jamaal Charles, and the wideouts make some plays, KC has a good shot to be in the mix for a wild card spot.
Raiders: They brought in Matt Schaub ostensibly to be their starting QB, but he lost out to rookie Derek Carr. I don’t know much about Carr, other than he apparently is strong-armed and mobile. I hope he turns out to be the real deal; Raiders fans deserve a break. Maurice Jones-Drew joins Darren McFadden in the backfield. Team made a lot of moves in free agency to shore up offensive and defensive fronts.
Wild Cards: Chargers, Chiefs
That’s it. Watch out for my weekly picks, starting with Week One later today. Enjoy the season. I know I’m going to.