After last week’s injuries to Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles and Josh Freeman (a true murderers’ row of quarterbacks), there’s been a ton of emphasis on the state of QBs in the NFL. And rightfully so. A good quarterback can hide a lot of deficiencies for a team, and you pretty much need someone at least at Joe Flacco’s level of competence to win a Super Bowl.
So for this week’s intro to my picks, let’s stick with the quarterback topic. I split all 32 teams into groups based on one piece of data: What degree of screwed is this team when it comes to the quarterback position over the next 3-5 years. Of course things can change quickly in the “please target players’ knees, not their heads” NFL. But assuming reasonable health for all parties involved, this is what the list looks like:
We’re Not Even Remotely Screwed
Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers)
New Orleans (Drew Brees)
Atlanta (Matt Ryan)
Seattle (Russell Wilson)
Carolina (Cam Newton)
San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick)
Washington (Robert Griffin III)
Indianapolis (Andrew Luck)
I dare someone to argue that one of these teams should be concerned about their QB over the next five years. As far as age goes, Drew Brees is the oldest and I think he’ll be just fine for several seasons to come. RGIII feels like the biggest injury risk, but he’s already showing this season that we shouldn’t really be too concerned. What’s scary is that seven of the eight teams in this group are in the NFC. The AFC should be very very nervous about that.
We’re Not Even Remotely Screwed For Now, But In A Couple Years…
Denver (Peyton Manning)
Peyton’s having a better season than anyone in that first group, but the reason he gets his own section is because of his age and his surgery history. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he plays at a high level for three more years after this season, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Bernard Pollard ends his career with a borderline legal hit in week 14. Denver probably doesn’t spend a high draft pick on a quarterback in 2014, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea.
We’re Normally In The “Not Even Remotely Screwed” Group But There’s Suddenly Some Concern
NY Giants (Eli Manning)
New England (Tom Brady)
Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger)
The concern? Eli’s trying to set the single-season interceptions record, Brady’s completion percentage is making New England fans long for the glory days of preseason when Tim Tebow was connecting on about 50% of his pass attempts, and Roethlisberger might be the oldest 31-year-old in the history of mankind. There’s plenty of time for these guys to turn things around. I highly doubt we’ll see any of them lose their jobs over the next two seasons, but I don’t think you can pencil any of them in as their team’s starting QB for the next three years without giving it some major thought first.
We’re Not Screwed, But We’d Prefer To Have A Guy From That First List
Dallas (Tony Romo)
Detroit (Matthew Stafford)
Miami (Ryan Tannehill)
Kansas City (Alex Smith)
Baltimore (Joe Flacco)
In this group you’ve got a couple fantasy all-stars (Romo, Stafford), a young guy who his team feels really good about (Tannehill), the definition of a game manager (Smith) and a Super Bowl winner who’s probably worth closer to 120 bucks than 120 MILLION bucks (Flacco). The common thread is that their teams are at least satisfied with their body of work so far, but more importantly, those teams know there probably aren’t any better QB options out there. So these are the teams that are “stuck” with 2nd tier QBs.
Thought We Were Screwed, But Now We’re Not…How ‘Bout That
San Diego (Philip Rivers)
Tennessee (Jake Locker)
We all wrote Rivers off after last year. At the same time, none of us have ever given Locker much of a chance. Both are proving us wrong in 2013. Locker still has room to be demoted to the “we’re screwed” group, and Rivers may not have 3-5 years left, but this feels like the right spot for now.
We’re Confused By The Question, Can’t Our Defense Just Keep Scoring Touchdowns?
Chicago (Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Jordan Palmer)
There’s no doubt who the starter is when he’s healthy, but what about beyond this season? Cutler is a free agent after 2013, and many people think this year was supposed to be his tryout for the new coaching staff. What if he doesn’t come back this season or doesn’t look the same when he does come back? He was on pace to have one of his best seasons and the Chicago offense looked better than ever. But this is his 2nd major injury in two years. And he’ll be 31 years old next season. Is his time in Chicago up? My money’s on him getting resigned mostly because when the Bears look out at the QB landscape, how can they see themselves upgrading over Cutler in the near term? But because of the injury and contract situation, things are suddenly in doubt.
It’s Way Too Soon To Know If We’re Screwed Or Not
Philadelphia (Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley)
Buffalo (EJ Manuel)
NY Jets (Geno Smith)
Of course the Bills and Jets would land in this group…they’ve got rookie starters who have both showed some promise, but by no means has either Manuel or Smith replicated the amazing rookie QB class from 2012. Comparing the two of them to the guys they replaced (Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo, Mark Sanchez in New York) should have fans feeling optimistic. They’re not sniffing the Pro Bowl yet, but things are looking up. And while you could describe Philly’s situation as a mess, we don’t know enough yet about Foles and Barkley to say the Eagles are totally fucked. Vick is not a long term answer, Foles probably isn’t either, but who knows about the rookie?
We’re Probably Screwed But We’re Not Willing To Admit It
Cincinnati (Andy Dalton, Josh Johnson)
Oakland (Terrelle Pryor, Matthew McGloin)
With their current rosters, both teams are stuck with their starting QBs no matter what. There’s no viable option on Cincinnati or Oakland to take over if the starter should slip up or get injured. But these are two teams who could look for a QB in the 2014 draft (which is rumored to be a QB-rich draft by the way). The Raiders are the more obvious team when it comes to looking for their next QB. Pryor has been good this season, but I doubt the team’s ready to give him a franchise contract just yet. If you need an example of the Bengals’ monk-like patience, look no further than Marvin Lewis. He’s in his 11th year as head coach even though they’ve only made the playoffs four times, losing in the first round each of those years. So they may have that same level of patience when it comes to Dalton. But I wouldn’t. You’ve got an all-world receiver in A.J. Green, a solid running back duo (including a rookie in Giovani Bernard who could be a star), and a top-5 defense. If Dalton continues to be Dalton, your ceiling will always be Dalton. At some point they might have to admit that they’re screwed with him.
St. Louis (Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens…Brett Favre?)
Tampa Bay (Mike Glennon, TBD #1 overall draft pick in 2014?)
Arizona (Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, TBD draft pick)
Minnesota (Josh Free…no, wait, Christian Pon..no, that’s not right, Matt Cass…nope, that can’t be right either)
Houston (Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates)
Jacksonville (Chad Henne, Blaine Gabbert, TBD draft pick)
Cleveland (Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer on 1 good knee)
Anyone surprised that these seven teams are in this particular group? Just look over those names and options next to each team. They really are all fucked in so many ways. The Rams seemed like they were in the best shape just one week ago, but Bradford’s injury messes all of that up. I can’t get over the fact that they actually inquired about Brett Favre’s availability. That doesn’t seem like real life. Maybe the Texans will come out of this group looking the best if Keenum can be decent? I dunno. This group is just depressing and they should each be doing everything in their power to position themselves for the best possible QB in the 2014 draft. But I’m sure at least one of these teams will fuck it up and take a wide receiver in the 1st round instead.
Let’s move on to the week 8 picks:
Carolina (-7) @ Tampa Bay
Cleveland @ Kansas City (-9)
I’m grouping these two games together for several reasons. The Panthers and Chiefs are very, very similar teams. I know the Chiefs are 7-0 and have been talked about as one of the best teams in the NFL for the past few weeks. And at 3-3, no one’s talking about Carolina in that same context. But I’ve got news for you. They’re almost identical. Both teams have excellent defenses (the Chiefs are 1st in the NFL in points allowed per game, the Panthers are 2nd) to go along with their iffy offenses. Football Outsiders has Kansas City as the 4th best team in the league. Carolina comes in at #6. And I want so badly to pick each of them this week. But can those sketchy offenses score enough to win by more than a touchdown? That’s the key question here.
I told someone on Monday that if the Chiefs were favored by less than 13 against Cleveland, I’d put my life savings on them. But I also decided two weeks ago that the Chiefs were not nearly as good as their record, and until Vegas gives them spreads that reflect their talent instead of that record, I was going to pick against them. And as a bonus the more competent Jason Campbell is starting for the Browns this week. You know what? I’m taking the Browns to win outright with a 24-17 shocker (which will lead to the entire world wondering why it took Cleveland so long to replace Brandon Weeden).
Meanwhile I’m a little uneasy about Carolina on the road, but I did say in my week 7 recap column that the final straw in Greg Schiano’s head coaching career would be an embarrassing home loss on national TV to a division rival. So let’s stick with that. Carolina wins easily, 23-6.
San Francisco (-17) @ Jacksonville (but really @London)
Since losing back-to-back games to Seattle and Indianapolis, all the 49ers have done is win four straight games by an average margin of 20 points. And none of those games were against the consensus worst team in football, who they just so happen to be facing this weekend. But there’s no predicting how smoothly a team will operate after dealing with the travel to London. And 17 points is just so much. I think I’ve gotten my pick wrong on every Jacksonville game this year. My instinct says to take the points so let’s roll the dice and go the opposite way. I’ll take a 49er win, 31-10.
Dallas @ Detroit (-3)
Per the agreement that all four NFC East teams apparently made before the start of the season, none of them are allowed to be two games above .500 at any time. So the Cowboys are losing. And what’s it been, like three weeks since Tony Romo had a game-losing drive? This is probably a coin flip of a game, but I’ll take the Lions to win 27-21.
NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-6)
After picking three favorites in the first four games, I’m almost obligated to take an underdog. That’s fine. I’ll take the bait. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if these two teams have very similar records by the end of the year. Give me the Giants to upset the Eagles, 26-21, causing a very small tremor across the NFL as a few misguided media types hypothesize that the Giants are about to go on a run and make a playoff push.
Buffalo @ New Orleans (-11.5)
Sean Payton against Buffalo with two weeks’ preparation. Rob Ryan’s defense against Thad Lewis. Drew Brees at home against anyone. Normally those three sentences are enough to talk me into taking such a heavy favorite, but hearing that Jimmy Graham might not play? That changes everything. The Bills are tough to get a read on, but if nothing more, I think they’ll be able to give us the backdoor cover in garbage time. In Thad Lewis I trust. The Saints win but don’t cover, 31-23.
Miami @ New England (-7)
Every time we think the Patriots are going to zig, they zag. No consistency from week to week. This would be frustrating enough if they were a random team I was trying to pin down for betting purposes, but it’s even worse when they’re YOUR team. The consensus this week is that the Pats are in trouble following that ugly loss to the Jets in week 7. But I’m going the opposite way. It sounds like Danny Amendola is practicing this week. What if the Pats have Amendola, Edelman, Gronk and the Ridley/Blount/Bolden trio at RB on Sunday? We could see their best offensive output of the season. And if Aqib Talib comes back to shut down Mike Wallace…the Dolphins aren’t that scary on offense. There’s probably a chance Tom Brady comes out and plays another atrocious game on Sunday, but I’m going against the grain on this one. Patriots win and cover, 34-23.
NY Jets @ Cincinnati (-7)
Part of me thinks the Jets spent the entire week circle jerking in their locker room because of their Super Bowl win over the Patriots last weekend. Usually a team that spends its practice time giving each other reacharounds and having spontaneous orgasms over a regular season win isn’t very prepared to play the following week. But I’m going to base this pick on the fact that New York’s pass rush might actually be legit, and if there’s a QB for a contending team that looks worse than Brady does under pressure, it’s the Ginger Prince Andy Dalton. And the Bengals lost their best cornerback for the year in Leon Hall last week so their defense takes a major hit. I’ve got the Jets covering, but the Bengals winning 23-18.
Pittsburgh (-3) @ Oakland
Vegas set this line knowing plenty of idiots would see that the Steelers have won two in a row and simultaneously associate the Raiders with being one of the worst teams in football. But the Raiders are frisky, at home, coming off a bye and have a QB who can make things happen. That’s enough for me to take the points. I like the Raiders to win an ugly game, 15-12.
Washington @ Denver (-14)
I should hit up my friends who are Washington fans for some cash in exchange for picking against the Redskins this week. Because believe it or not, every single prediction I’ve made about Washington this year—the preseason projections, the weekly picks, you name it—the exact opposite has happened. I feel that if I’m a true friend, I’ll keep picking against them until the Redskins find themselves in the Super Bowl. So, fine, I’ll use that as my reasoning. I’m taking the Broncos to bounce back from their Sunday night loss in a big way. They torch the Redskins 48-27.
Atlanta @ Arizona (-2.5)
This is a game tailor-made for the Cardinals. They got some extra rest after their Thursday night loss to Seattle, their defense is healthy and legitimately good, and their main weakness on offense (blocking/protecting the QB) is an area the Falcons probably won’t be able to expose. Atlanta has no pass rush, evidenced by the fact that Brady and the Patriots’ offensive line had their one fantastic showing of the year in Atlanta a few weeks back. If you need any more convincing on this game, just remember that Atlanta had to sweat out a win at home against the Bucs last week. The Cardinals have a good shot to go on a three-game win streak starting with this one. They get a week 9 bye then they’re home against Houston and @ Jacksonville. Arizona could somehow be 6-4 going into week 12. I say they at least start that stretch off on the right foot with a 27-17 win over Atlanta.
Green Bay (-10) @ Minnesota
I found a line on this game on Monday afternoon and the Packers were only favored by 6.5. Obviously the current line is a pretty big jump. A couple things have happened since that opening line: The Vikings looked like the worst football team to ever play football on Monday night against the Giants, not exactly a juggernaut in their own right; The Vikings announced that Josh Freeman was concussed so Christian Ponder would be starting at QB this weekend; Adrian Peterson continued to not practice this week because of a hamstring injury. Needless to say they’re heading towards a Jacksonville or Tampa Bay level of pathetic at this point.
But Green Bay has been downright bad on the road this year. They’ve lost to San Francisco and Cincinnati while barely beating Baltimore. And all three of those games happened when they were mostly healthy (they’re no longer mostly healthy).
Peterson is the swing vote for me. If he was 100% healthy, I’d be taking the points because he’s had some big games at home against the Packers. But if he’s hobbled, and that might be the reason the Vikings decided to throw the ball an absurd 53 times with Freeman on Monday night, the Packers are going to win big. Remember that there’s some bad blood here…the Vikings employed Brett Favre for a while and Greg Jennings has been doing some trash-talking ever since he left Green Bay for Minnesota in the offseason. I can see an extra score or two by Green Bay if they are controlling the game in the 4th quarter. Let’s go with a Packers win, 33-14.
Seattle (-11) @ St. Louis
Poor Kellen Clemens. His first start in almost two years and it’s against Seattle. We’re talking about a guy who has thrown exactly 100 passes in the last four years. And if you think the Rams’ running game might take some of the pressure off Clemens, well I just checked and it turns out they have the 2nd worst running game in all of football. Seattle on the road doesn’t bother me when their opponent probably won’t put up a single point. Give me the Seahawks winning a lousy game, 23-0.
For those of you keeping score at home, in week 8 I’m taking:
- 8 Favorites & 5 Underdogs
- Of those Underdogs, 1 is a Home Dog and 4 are Road Dogs
Enjoy week 8.