Touring the NFL: NFC North & (L)east

At this point I must be the biggest NFC groupie of all.

The NFC’s #1 ball washer, if you will.

I have an unhealthy obsession, but with good reason. The NFC is ubercompetitive and has some of the NFL’s most exciting teams. Any game that features two of the following teams is a fantastic watch: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia. And depending on health & luck, we might even be including Washington, Dallas and Arizona in the mix by midseason.

I won’t even bother reviewing the embarrassingly small number of teams over in the AFC that provide any kind of excitement.

While it’s silly for anyone to predict a different outcome in the AFC than “Denver, New England or Indy advance to the Super Bowl,” the NFC is very murky. There’s every chance that Seattle will just continue on its recent path of destruction and leave the rest of the conference behind, but it’s a lot more fun to think six or seven teams have a legit chance in 2014.

In just the first three weeks, we get the following match-ups: Green Bay/Seattle, San Francisco/Dallas, Chicago/San Francisco, Green Bay/Detroit, New Orleans/Atlanta.

Can’t wait. Two weeks from today.

Let’s dive into the NFC:

NFC North

NFC-North

Best known for…

  • Being the most titillating division in football every single year

Most likely to…

  • Stop teasing us and become the offensive juggernaut it was meant to be

Quick Hits

  • These guys are ready to turn the NFC North into the offensive equivalent of the NFC West.
  • Would it surprise you if the Packers and Bears ended the year ranked first and second on offense in some order? With Detroit just a small step behind?
  • It shouldn’t surprise you because Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago were third, sixth and eighth in yards per game last year respectively. Detroit’s the only one of those three that didn’t convert those yards into the expected amount of points.
  • Those solid results came with Aaron Rodgers missing seven games, Jay Cutler missing five, and Detroit’s second best receiver being their backup running back.  Rodgers and Cutler should make it through full seasons in 2014, and the Lions’ offense got better simply because Golden Tate joining Calvin immediately gives them the best 1-2  receiver combo they’ve had in the Matt Stafford era.
  • By the way, the worst offensive team in this division, Minnesota, was still 13th overall in yards per game and 14th in points (by comparison, the AFC East, AFC South, AFC North, NFC South and NFC West each had three teams finish WORSE than the Vikings on offense last year).
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve got a bunch of Super Bowl contenders in the North. All four teams finished 2013 in the bottom half of the league’s defensive rankings.

Fun with gambling

  • I expected Green Bay (-125) and Chicago (+275) to be a little more similar in terms of division odds, but then again, I’m probably a little too high on the Bears. Detroit comes in at +400 while the Vikings lag behind at +1000. On initial glance, I’ve got the Packers and Bears each winning 10 or 11 games. Might be worth it to put a little wager on Chicago.
  • Wow, five players in the top 14 of MVP Odds come from the NFC North. Of course Rodgers is at the top with 6/1 odds. I like small wagers on Cutler (20/1) and Megatron (33/1) for regular season MVP.
  • Hmm…usually my guess on each team’s record is within one win or so of Bovada’s over/under win total. But in the case of Chicago, I have them at 2.5 more wins than Bovada set their o/u at. Guess I’ve got my favorite bet of this division: Chicago over 8.5 wins (-150).

NFC East

NFC-East-Image1

Best known for…

  • Being voted “best impersonation of an AFC division” three years running

Most likely to…

  • End the season with the worst combined record of all divisions

Quick Hits

  • Of all the teams most likely to hit rock bottom this year, I’ve got two of them in this division: Dallas and New York. Rock bottom would mean less than five wins. Here’s what’s crazy: If When RGIII gets hurt, this division could have three teams that finish at the very bottom of the league. Now you see why I bet on Philly to win the Super Bowl? Might be able to win their division even more easily than New England or Indianapolis.
  • Just a couple days ago I watched RGIII take hit after punishing hit in a preseason game against Cleveland. What the fuck is wrong with this guy? He also looked about ready to tear some ligaments with his first slide of the game. Does he not have someone to teach him the proper way to do this? Is he so stubborn he won’t change his ways to give himself a shot at a decent career? I might be really down on Washington because I’m starting to lean heavily towards the theory that RGIII will never stay healthy for a full season.
  • If you had to wager your life on which NFC East quarterback’s career as a starter will still be intact five years from now, who would you pick? You should be absolutely stumped once you think through all four options. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, RGIII and Nick Foles. Who in that group inspires confidence to the point where you’d bet your life he’s still playing in 2018?
  • Especially troubling for the Giants and Cowboys are some devastating areas of their schedules. I’ve got Eli and the boys losing seven straight from weeks four through 11 (Giants fans must be looking forward to the Indianapolis/@Seattle/San Francisco consecutive games in November).
  • Meanwhile, Dallas finishes the year with six straight losses, including a four-game run of Philly/@Chicago/@Philly/Indy.
  • The Cowboys haven’t yet tanked in the final month of a season during the Jason Garrett reign. Maybe with this 0-6 ending, Old Man Jones finally puts Garrett out to pasture.
  • You know how this division seems to get an inordinate amount of national TV time every year? I never thought about it before, but this division is sporting the #1, #4, #5 and #9 television markets.
  • You know what’s funny about this division’s putridity potential? That’s A LOT of miserable football fans.

Fun with gambling

  • No surprises here. There’s no runaway favorite to win the division. Philadelphia leads the way (+110) while the Giants (+350), Redskins (+375) and Cowboys (+400) are all clustered together.
  • The best bet to win the MVP out of this division? A tie between a 3rd year quarterback with 16 career starts (Foles) and a 3rd year quarterback who may never fully bounce back from two ACL tears he sustained by the age of 23 (Griffin).
  • I don’t have a favorite bet when it comes to each team’s win total. My favorite bet in this division would have to be Philly +110 to win the East. This could be a landslide of a win, and you’re still getting better than even odds.

Friday marks the end of the NFL tour, with the NFC South & West on the docket. Stay tuned for that, and for next week when we start putting firm numbers on each team’s record for the 2014 season.

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Hey, NFL, Welcome Back! …A Preseason Primer

nfl training cmap

We typically use the word addiction only in the context of a harmful substance like alcohol, drugs, nicotine and porn. But when I arranged my entire weekend around being in front of a TV for the NFL’s Hall of Fame game this past Sunday, I started to wonder if football addiction could be a real thing.

Meriam-Webster defines addiction as the “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

I would certainly say my love of all things NFL is an ongoing and irresistible urge, but do I know it’s harmful? Is it harmful?

Let’s see. With the way I watch football, there is usually a healthy decrease in my work productivity and the quality of my social life. Gambling losses are almost always part of football season for me (not to mention losing money on fantasy leagues, pick ’em leagues, suicide pools and more). Anger, sometimes taken out on a remote control, laptop or a wall, is consistent with my NFL viewing. There’s no situation where my fiancee rolls her eyes and storms into the other room more often than when I refuse to give up the good TV because football’s on. Sure, let’s go with harmful.

To put it another way, if instead of watching and reading about football these past 15 years, I had spent all that time studying medicine, I’m 100% sure I would have cured…[checks the internet for the latest “in” disease]…Ebola!

But, hey, if you’re going to have an addiction, probably better that it’s an addiction to watching football than doing heroin, crack or child pornography, right?

And why does this football obsession have to be so harmful anyway? I’ll have you know not only did I watch every snap of that riveting preseason game between the Bills and Giants, but I also placed a bet on it, and came away with my first gambling win of the 2014 season.

If nothing more, that Hall of Fame game at least launches us into the part of the NFL calendar where we might finally start reading on-field news. Even though the league does a great job dominating the headlines during the offseason, I get pretty sick of days like these (captured from espn.com’s headlines in early July):

nfl headlines

Concussions, stolen championship ring, accused murderer transferring jails, interventions through the media, contract dispute, same person on the receiving end of that intervention charged with DWI, 3rd overall pick from 2013 Draft suspended, lesser-known wide receiver banned at least one year, random offensive lineman suspended four games…and some story about a Redskins blogger hired to defend the Redskin name quitting (sorry, didn’t know how to be more concise on that one).

That’s a fuckload of bad news. Free agency and the Draft is always a fun time, but the June/July lull is killer.

And that’s why late July was so exciting…training camps officially arrived.  Suddenly we got the real football headlines. Let’s see there were…ACL tears, Achilles ruptures, Lisfranc injuries, guys getting suspended a full year for being stupid with pot while other guys get suspended two games for committing an actual crime…there was the daily report on how many squares of toilet paper Johnny Manziel used to wipe his ass, and of course we had those ground-breaking sound bytes about how every single player in the league came into camp this year in the best shape of his life.

But finally, FINALLY, the calendar turned to August and actual football has taken over. August marks the time where I transition from just dipping my toe in the water of football preparation to going in hard with a cannonball from a 20-foot diving board. It’s go time!

Let’s celebrate the official “LESS THAN ONE MONTH TIL OPENING NIGHT” milestone by running through some random thoughts about the upcoming season, shall we?

  1. I just want to begin by thanking DirecTV for giving its subscribers a special sort of “kickoff” to the NFL season in the form of the June 10th email reminder that they will begin taking an additional $40 from us for the next six months. I believe what DirecTV does to me every year with this NFL Package is the exact definition of “holding someone hostage.” But it’s still the best $240 I spend each year.
  2. I looked back on the past 20 years of the Hall of Fame game. Turns out neither team that plays in that opening preseason game has gone on to win the Super Bowl in that same year. Sorry Giants and Bills, you’re out.
  3. I’ve never been to any of the sports Hall of Fames, but the NFL totally has me by the balls. I am in on the whole Hall of Fame induction weekend whichever year Tom Brady gets in. Cost won’t be a consideration.
  4. If the NFL permanently moves the extra point attempt from a 19-yard try to a 32-yarder, what are we expecting to happen? The success rate drops from 99.5% to 98.5%? Sure, let’s spend more time thinking about that rule change though.
  5. Michele Tafoya told us during Sunday night’s broadcast that the refs are now equipped with wireless mics in order to better communicate with one another during the game and get the calls right. Sorry, not buying it. The quality of NFL refereeing has tanked big time over the past few years. In fact, I’m willing to bet all my winnings from Sunday’s game on there being a Twitter-exploding referee debacle at some point this season. In 2012 we got the fake hail mary in Seattle that royally screwed Green Bay out of a #2 seed in the playoffs. Last year it was the amazingly inept Clete Blakeman crew that singlehandedly boned the Patriots out of the #1 seed with the picked up flag on an obvious penalty in the final seconds of New England’s loss at Carolina. What will it be this year? My fingers are always crossed that the Super Bowl is decided on a blown call so that the NFL will finally review the state of officiating and do something about this obvious problem.
  6. The truth is the refs might not even be the ones to blame. They’re just trying to figure out the NFL’s mind-boggling rules like we are. Breathing heavily on the quarterback’s helmet is a big penalty. A defender who attempts to hit the ball carrier in the shoulder but then has the unfortunate luck of that ball carrier lowering his head—resulting in a helmet-to-helmet hit—gets slapped with a penalty & fine. It seems offensive pass interference no longer exists. Securing a catch may involve making a “football move” but don’t forget to keep the ball secure while you fall to the ground, but if the ball touches the ground and doesn’t move, it’s OK, but if the ball moves even slightly when it hits the ground, no catch. Nothing confusing going on here.
  7. Let’s go a little broader for a minute here…I tend to constantly write about the NFC vs AFC discrepancy (no doubt you’ll be seeing lots of this from me throughout the year), and it’s a very real thing. According to Bovada’s Super Bowl odds, eight of the nine worst teams in the NFL are from the AFC. To put it another way: The NFC’s second worst team would have a good chance of making the AFC playoffs.
  8. Peter King from theMMQB.com has the top four teams in the NFL all coming from the NFC. He also has two teams you don’t associate with being a contender, Arizona and St. Louis, ranked higher than the 4th best AFC team (San Diego, by the way).
  9. If the NFL had the same level of yawn-inducing predictability as the NBA, we’d be in for a pretty disappointing season in the AFC. It seems like it would take a borderline miracle for the Broncos, Patriots and Colts not to take the top three seeds in some order.
  10. The next tier down from those three just doesn’t stack up…San Diego and the entire AFC North, I guess is what makes up that second tier.
  11. Thankfully the NFL is chaotic and unstable. I’m guessing we’ll see some surprises in the boring AFC.
  12. Over in the NFC, there’s some real intrigue among the perceived elite: Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Green Bay and (possibly) Chicago. I can see any of those teams getting the #1 seed or the #5 seed, or possibly missing the playoffs all together.
  13. I’m going to wait until we’ve gotten through the first three preseason games to get deep into my predictions for division winners, playoff seedings and Super Bowl matchup, but right now I’m leaning towards the Saints earning the NFC’s top seed. They’ve got a top QB and coach combination. Their defense improved greatly last year and added some key pieces in the offseason. They can’t possibly be as bad on the road as they were in 2013. And they don’t have to play in the NFC West, which is a HUGE advantage over expected juggernaut and defending Super Bowl Champ Seattle.
  14. As for my totally random, not at all statistically-driven, call it a hunch prediction for who will win the Super Bowl this year: The Philadelphia Eagles. Seriously, I have no idea why I think this, but I always put my money where my mouth is. I have a betting slip in my wallet from the Aria in Vegas where I’m getting 12-to-1 odds on Philly winning it all.
  15. Problem is…I made that bet in March, when Desean Jackson was still on the team. Their current odds according to Bovada? 25-to-1. I apparently got robbed.
  16. Back to the AFC side of things…I’m trying my hardest not to predict the Patriots to go 16-0. If they had as easy of a schedule this year as they have the past few years, I’d probably go for it. The defense could be incredible (possibly seven or eight first rounders starting by midseason) while the offense will somehow reach their usual “top 5” status (amazingly, last year they ranked 3rd in points per game, but you probably just remember how awful the receivers were, how bad Stevan Ridley was holding onto the ball, and how Tom Brady set career worsts in several categories, including “amount of times staring daggers through his overmatched receivers). As a New England fan, I’m back to being my overly optimistic and giddy self.
  17. Gun to my head without doing all my research, if I have to pick five teams that didn’t make last year’s playoffs to make this year’s playoffs (there are always five), I’d go with Chicago, Washington,  Houston, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. That will likely change by the time I release my full 2014 predictions in a couple weeks.

That’ll do it for my broad preseason primer. Stay tuned later this week for an article breaking down Preseason “speak” and mythology. Then starting next week we’ll go division by division and look at the most important questions heading into the season. And finally, a couple weeks out, it’ll be time to lock in each team’s win total for the year along with the usual predictions for Super Bowl winner and individual awards.

Football’s Back!