NFL Predictions: Superlatives & Inferiorities

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When doing in-depth predictions for each NFL team’s win-loss record just isn’t enough, there’s the tried & true “superlatives column.” It’s the typical article that guesses who will win all the important awards and accolades over the course of the NFL season. Guest blogger Neil & I like to take that concept to the next level with our “Superlatives & Inferiorities” guesses. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Who will lead the league in passing yards?
    • Neil: Andrew Luck (7/2 odds). Hard to imagine him not going over 5000 yards with their easy schedule and the number of receiving weapons. Also, their defense will be bad enough that the offense needs to score in the upper 20s/lower 30s most games.
    • Ross: Eli Manning (16/1 odds). I’m starting these picks off with a bit of a wildcard. But I’m imagining a world where the Giants are terrible defensively, causing them to constantly be throwing to keep up with their opponent; horrible running the football because honestly, what do we know about Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams being competent full-time NFL running backs; and they take advantage of a pretty easy schedule in terms of opponents’ pass defense. It’s not surprising that Eli’s total passing yards spiked in 2014 with it being his first year with Odell Beckham and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
  • Who will lead the league in rushing yards?
    • Neil: This is a tough one. I wanted to say definitely someone in the NFC North, either Lacy (Green Bay maybe runs a bit more without Jordy) or Peterson (comes back angry and with a vengeance), but I’m going to say Jeremy Hill (9/1 odds). They have a “run first” offensive coordinator, and they probably want to keep the ball out of Dalton’s hands as much as possible.
    • Ross: Jeremy Hill. My fantasy football co-owners can back up my claim that I’ve been rock hard over Jeremy Hill for months now. I was considering taking him with the #1 overall pick had I gotten it in any of my leagues. I’m just going out on a limb thinking the Cincy offense will closely resemble the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Great offensive line, receivers who have to be respected by the defense, lack of a threatening #2 running back eating into the carries. The huge difference is the Bengals are going to do everything in their power to hide Andy Dalton, which just adds to the idea of a run-heavy clock-controlled offense all year.
  • Who will lead the league in receiving yards?
    • Neil: Let’s go with Julio Jones (6/1) here. Fairly easy division, good QB, clearly the top receiving option, plays in a dome.
    • Ross: Julio Jones. This is the biggest crapshoot of these first 3 superlatives because there are so many deserving receivers, but I’ll take Jones to finally win this title. You could convince me Randall Cobb is the right choice very easily though.
  • Who will be named regular season MVP?
    • Neil: Barring an injury, this is going to Andrew Luck (3/1). I think the league is just dying to give this to him.
    • Ross: J.J. Watt (20/1). Even though I think the J.J. Watt ballwashing by the media has reached annoying levels, I could easily see him breaking the sacks record this year while being Houston’s leading scorer on offense. And even if his season is just “good” by his standards, he’ll probably win if no QB breaks away from the pack.
  • Who will be named Offensive Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Andrew Luck (9/2).
    • Ross: Eli Manning (50/1). This award definitely goes to a quarterback or running back (Jerry Rice is the only receiver to be named OPOY in the 43 years they’ve been handing this title out). I might as well double down on jinxing the 2015 Giants so they don’t follow in the footsteps of the ’07 and ’11 installments of the G-Men.
  • Who will be named Defensive Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Seems like barring injury this is going to go to J.J. Watt (3/2) the next two or three years.
    • Ross: J.J. Watt. And if anyone says differently, they are wrong.
  • Who will be named Offensive Rookie of the Year?
    • Neil: Historically this is very much a RB’s award. I’m not sure Todd Gurley plays enough to win it though, and I’m not sure how Melvin Gordon is going to be used in San Diego. It would be easy to pick one of the top two draft picks, but I’m going with a dark horse and picking a receiver, Nelson Agholor (14/1).
    • Ross: Melvin Gordon (6/1). I came close to picking Amari Cooper because I’m mesmerized by his talent, but I’m worried about the Oakland stink rubbing off on him immediately. And if Derek Carr is bad, that’s a fatal blow to Cooper’s chances of putting up big numbers. The Chargers have been patching together their running game ever since perennial playoff crybaby LaDainian Tomlinson left town. Gordon finally gives them a legitimate stud runner.
  • Who will be named Defensive Rookie of the Year?
    • Neil: I’m going to go with Leonard Williams (6/1). The Jets defense should be on the field most of the game which will give him plenty of opportunity, and there are enough other players on that line to focus on that it should allow Williams to have some easy matches the first half of the season.
    • Ross: Vic Beasley (9/1). He’s supposedly a stud pass rusher on a team that’s had an anemic pass rush for what seems like the past 10 years. Beasley will collect the majority of sacks for the Falcons this year.
  • Who will be named Comeback Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Sam Bradford (14/1) if he stays healthy. Even if Peterson has a slightly better season, I’d think the NFL would rather give this to Bradford.
    • Ross: Carson Palmer (14/1). Ten of the past 14 winners of this award have been quarterbacks so I only ever considered Palmer and Sam Bradford. The winner will be whoever stays healthy longer. It’s that simple. And it’s a complete coin flip. Bradford has the better offensive line to protect him and an offense that revolves around getting the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly, but Palmer has the track record of actually playing full seasons at least at some point in his career. Tough call. (Is Jason Pierre-Paul a dark horse candidate for this award? Do the voters go for self-inflicted offseason injuries?)
  • Who will be named Coach of the Year?
    • Neil: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia (10/1). If Bradford stays healthy and Philly wins 10-11 games, people are going to be saying his offseason moves were genius.
    • Ross: Dan Quinn, Atlanta (14/1). He might not even end up being very good. It’s just that the juxtaposition of Quinn and last year’s coaching “effort” by Mike Smith might trick voters’ eyes into thinking Quinn is a coaching god.

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  • Who will be the First Coach Fired?
    • Neil: This is a tough one this year. So many candidates. Here in the Bay Area, rumors that Jim Tomsula has already lost the Niners locker room are starting to circulate. I’m not sure San Francisco feels like they have to give him a full year. I could see Jeff Fisher being in trouble if St. Louis gets off to a slow start, but I think their defense will get them wins until their offense can become average. Jay Gruden probably gets a full year to see what he can do with Kirk Cousins; however, the entire Washington scene seems to be getting worse by the day. I think it ends up being Marvin Lewis or Mike Pettine. We know the Cleveland ownership does not like to let coaches do too much building and their QB situation is a mess so they should be fairly bad this season. If Cincinnati starts off bad, do they axe Lewis before the end of the year in an effort to sell A.J. Green on the idea of, “Hey look, we’re changing, you should stay here!”? Cincy’s schedule starts easy enough that I think Mike Pettine is the first gone (+275).
    • Ross: Jay Gruden (3/1). By my count there are 13 coaches who could find themselves on a very hot seat by season’s end, but there are only two options for in-season firing: Gruden and Joe Philbin. The only hesitation I have on Gruden is that he might quit in October and I’d lose this prediction on a technicality.
  • Who will be the First QB Benched Due to Ineffectiveness?
    • Neil: I think Pettine feels more pressure to be good this year than Rex Ryan does, so I think it’s Josh McCown first. How awesome would it be if the right answer turns out to be Peyton Manning?
    • Ross: Kirk Cousins. I would not put it past Jay Gruden to change QBs every week, rotate all three guys regularly, and do everything short of chug whiskey on the sidelines.
  • Will there be an off-the-field controversy at any time during the season that dominates the news? (Just Kidding. It’s the NFL! Of course there will be! The question is, what kind of controversy and how far along into the season?)
    • Neil: The controversy is going to be around moving teams to LA. Although I’d prefer something that results in Jim Irsay getting a lifetime ban.
    • Ross: I’m pretty sure it’ll be concussions and head injuries. The NFL has done a masterful job creating decoy news to distract from the ongoing head injury issues over the past few years (Deflategate, Bountygate, relocation rumors, feigned outrage over marijuana smokers). But unfortunately I think we’re overdue for some incident on or off the field to shove head trauma back into the limelight. Whatever it is, I’m sure Goodell will handle it with great aplomb.
  • Over or Under 7.5 head coaches who totally botch the math throughout the season when deciding whether to go for 1 point or 2 points after a touchdown?
    • Neil: Waaaaaaaay over. I’m already mad about it. It is going to be my pet peeve all season, and I am going to bring it up a lot so be prepared. Let me start here: Every time the first score of a game is a touchdown and the scoring team does not go for two, I’m going to be giving out exaggerated eye-rolls.
    • Ross: I’m taking the over because more than 10 coaches immediately came to mind when thinking about this answer. Half of those ten will screw up because they like to play way too conservatively. The other half will mess up out of sheer ineptitude and terrible decision making.
  • Who will be the last undefeated team?
    • Neil: Indianapolis is the last undefeated team. Their first loss is exactly on 18-October.
    • Ross: Miami. The Dolphins aren’t even a lock to make the playoffs, but their starting schedule makes it impossible not to pick them: @Washington, @Jacksonville, Buffalo, NY Jets, @Tennessee, Houston, @New England. That’s a pretty simple path to 6-0 before that game against the Patriots.
  • Who will be the last winless team?
    • Neil: I’m going to go with the 49ers. If they can’t beat Minnesota opening weekend, I have no idea when they get their first win.
    • Ross: San Francisco. In last week’s NFL column I said, “If ever there was going to be a surprise 0-16 team, [San Francisco] would be the one.” I still believe that. If they can’t handle Minnesota at home to open the season, we could be talking about an 0-8 49ers team heading into a home game against Atlanta in week 9.
  • Which team will have the 1st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft?
    • Neil: Cleveland (9/1). It is hard for me to see the McCown/Manziel/Pettine situation ending in anything other than the first pick.
    • Ross: Tennessee (5/1). You’re in uncharted territory when teams like Jacksonville and Oakland are light years ahead of you in competitiveness. Good job, Titans.
  • If you knew in advance the Patriots weren’t going to win the Super Bowl this season (let’s say, for instance, the NFL had an axe to grind with them and the league made sure the referees created calls to “help” the Patriots lose), which team would you be rooting for?
    • Neil: St. Louis. Two reason: 1) I think their defense is going to be dominant this year…able to win games by themselves. I mean, Nick Fairley is coming off the bench. It is fun to root for teams like that, and 2) If St. Louis wins their second Super Bowl and the NFL tries to move them to LA, there is no way Goodell comes out of the situation as Commissioner.
    • Ross: This is easy. I want the outcome to be whatever would be most embarrassing for Roger Goodell and the NFL. This year it would be either the Saints winning after Goodell railroaded them with Bountygate, or it would be St. Louis winning while the league is stealing the team and moving it to LA. (Editor’s Note: On second thought, New Orleans seems to be one of the few teams that has yet to have a current or former player/coach/executive blame a loss to the Patriots over the last 15 years on some convenient excuse so I’m all-in on them.)

We’ll be back in the next 24 hours with our final predictions for the season: Playoff Teams & Super Bowl Matchup. We are now within 55 hours of actual, meaningful football. Get excited.

NFL Predictions Continued: Superlatives & Unperlatives

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So far we’ve focused on team results in our NFL Preview Series, including last week’s articles on the AFC win-loss predictions and the NFC win-loss predictions.

Today we turn our attention to individual accolades. In a way, the following categories should be easier to nail than team predictions because individual performance is pretty predictable from year to year. But as soon as I think that way, I remember that both of the coaches that Neil and I selected last year to win “Coach of the Year” were fired by season’s end. So there you go. Either football is unpredictable or we’re idiots or both things are true.

Let’s dive in.

League Leader – Passing Yards

  • Ross: If you think hard enough about this, you can talk yourself into 10 or more quarterbacks. But I’m only considering two: Drew Brees (11/4 odds), who finished 2nd in passing last year, and Andrew Luck (18/1), who’d have to throw for about 1,000 more yards than he did in 2013 to have a chance. Brees plays 11 dome games, Luck plays 10 dome games. The Colts are more likely to have NO running game whatsoever. But Brees has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in four of the past six years. Tough call, but I’m going with the longer shot. Andrew Luck wins the passing title.
  • Neil: Brees and Peyton Manning are the co-favorites according to Vegas (+275). I think I go Brees here. Easier schedule, plays inside a dome. If you want a longer shot pick, I like Matt Ryan at (16/1) or Jay Cutler at (20/1).
League Leader – Rushing Yards
  • Ross: Only ignorance can lead you to any conclusion other than LeSean McCoy (4/1) for this award. Skill + offensive system/head coach + age + sheer volume of plays + defenses respecting a legitimate passing threat from his QB = McCoy for his 2nd straight rushing title.
  • Neil: Alfred “Old Fred” Morris. Word on the street is that RGIII is not doing great in the new offense. I can see the new coaching staff wanting to run the ball. Morris was only 300 yards off the pace last year in a bad situation. Seems like a super deal at (16/1).
League Leader – Receiving Yards
  • Ross: Initially I was leaning towards Dez Bryant (15/2) but I quickly remembered that Brandon Weeden could play a prominent role in the 2014 Dallas Cowboys season. So I’m going with a guy who’s never won it, never even come close, but certainly has the talent to do it. He also happens to play in a dome and his team could have the worst rushing attack in the NFL. My pick is Julio Jones (10/1).
  • Neil: Dez Bryant (15/2). Dallas’ defense is going to be horrible. They are going to have to throw a lot on offense. I also think Detroit throws a bit less this year. If you want a real long shot here, Cordarrelle Patterson at (50/1) is a nice option, but I’d feel better about that if Cassel was benched after week 1.

Regular Season MVP

  • Ross: The usual suspects have to be considered: Manning, Rodgers, Peterson, etc. But what if there really is a budding dynasty in the Pacific Northwest? What if, with a harder schedule and the potential of a Super Bowl hangover looming, the Seahawks still roll through the league? What if they bust out a 15-1 season? Even if the defense is great again, Marshawn Lynch carries a big load on offense, and they get contributions up and down the roster, Russell Wilson would easily be an MVP front-runner. Considering the odds for him to win it is 16/1 (a better payoff than the guys I mentioned above plus Brees, Brady and Luck), I’m going with Wilson as the 2014 MVP.
  • Neil: Tom Brady at (9/1) is very enticing here. Increased familiarity with the receiving group and a much better defense are going to make the Patriots seem better, which is going to make people think Brady is having a much better year than last year, which actually was not bad at all. Colin Kaepernick at (25/1) is an intriguing long shot, mainly because the Niners defense is going to be fairly bad so if they do well it will almost all be because of Kaepernick. Plus it seems like the media has always been all over his nuts ever since he became the starter even though he can’t throw a simple 10 yard out.
Offensive Player of the Year
  • Ross: This is one of the least fun awards to predict because it’s essentially picking the MVP runner-up. We like to pick winners, not spend our time on giving out the “hey, but good job by you too, [fill in the blank].” Maybe this is the year that the young quarterbacks firmly grab onto that torch that Manning & Brady have been refusing to pass for the last few years. I’m going with Andrew Luck for Offensive Player of the Year.
  • Neil: Drew Brees. Easy-ish schedule, tons of weapons, plays indoors, etc…
Defensive Player of the Year
  • Ross: I was surprised to learn that in 10 of the past 12 years the winner of this award was on a playoff team. That rules out guys like Robert Quinn, Luke Kuechly and J.J. Watt. Last time I picked the guy I’m about to pick, he tore his ACL in week 3. But I think if you’re singlehandedly responsible for the Patriots’ passing defense ranking above 14th in the league for the first time in eight years, you might just walk away with this award. I’m going with Darrelle Revis (20/1) for this crapshoot of an award.
  • Neil: I wanted to go with either Watt or Jadeveon Clowney here, but I can’t decide which one gets the triple teams allowing the other to have 48 sacks. So let’s just go with Robert Quinn (15/1).
Comeback Player of the Year
  • Ross: I gotta double down on Julio Jones (8/1) here. It would be strange if Jones leads the league in receiving (as I predicted above) but doesn’t get this award. I guess Gronk (7/1) could haul in 34 touchdowns and then they’d probably have to give it to him, but otherwise I’m all in on the fantastic Julio Jones season.
  • Neil: From wikipedia: “The National Football League Comeback Player of the Year Award refers to a number of awards that are given to an NFL player who has shown perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, a severe injury, or simply poor performance.” So, Ray Rice? Too soon? OK, my real answer is Doug Martin (25/1).
Coach of the Year
  • Ross: This is a tough one to predict. It seems like some years the coach of a powerhouse team wins it, and other years the coach of just an above average team that bounced back from an awful season wins it. I flirted with Lovie Smith (Tampa Bay) and Bill O’Brien (Houston) for this pick before ultimately settling on Marc Trestman. Maybe Jay Cutler finally stays healthy, the offense fulfills its potential and the defense does enough to help them earn the #2 seed in the NFC.
  • Neil: I really want to go with Lovie Smith here. Maybe his teams are never great, but they are always solid. He is going to be a huge upgrade from Greg Schiano, who I believe I picked for this category last year. I’m a little worried that the Tampa Bay QB situation makes the team look worse than they really are, so my head says to go with Sean Peyton. You know what, screw it, let’s pick the Bucs here again this year, lightning can’t possible strike twice. Lovie Smith gets it.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • Ross: I’ve repeatedly suggested that watching NFL preseason games is a good idea. With so much football and such little time, I often formulate opinions based on very small samples (sometimes they work out for me…Jordan Cameron. Other times they don’t…Christian Ponder, Zach Sudfeld.) This is one of those cases. I love what I saw out of Mike Evans in Tampa Bay’s preseason games this summer. I’m not going with one of the rookie quarterbacks, nor am I intrigued by overhyped guys like Sammy Watkins. I’m going with Evans (12/1) for the best offensive rookie.
  • Neil: Brandin Cooks (11/2) is my pick; however, if Teddy Bridgewater (12/1) starts 12 games, I think he wins it.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • Ross: I cheated and peeked at Neil’s pick before making my own, and sure enough, he sums this category up as succinctly as possible. As intrigued as I was to pick Ha Ha Clinton Dix (25/1) just for the name, there’s no category more locked up right now than this one. Jadeveon Clowney (9/4) wins this easily.
  • Neil: This entire 3:40 clip is entertaining, but you get the idea after the first 10 seconds:
 First Coach Fired
  • Ross: If I was picking the Steelers to have yet another mediocre season, I’d be fully on board with the long shot of Mike Tomlin getting fired first (33/1). But I think they’re going to have a good season, and I’m also not sure the Pittsburgh organization would ever fire someone midseason. So instead I’ve set my sights on The Dirty South. Over the past three years of football blogging, the only thing I’ve written more frequently than “New England will win the Super Bowl this year” is “Mike Smith blows.” I legitimately think his team quits on him this year and he gets fired after their 1-5 start (or maybe they wait until their week 9 bye to send him on his way). Mike Smith at 12/1 odds is my pick.
  • Neil: I’m going with Jason Garrett (3/1), but if you’ve watched “Hard Knocks” at all this year, you can easily see a situation where Atlanta starts 1-4 and gets rid of Mike Smith.
First QB Benched (due to ineffectiveness)
  • Ross: Now we’ve gotten to the categories with no legitimate Vegas odds. That doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun still. I guess we could have just handed this award to Matt Schaub and called it a day, but let’s predict from this point forward. Last year there were two rookie quarterbacks in the AFC East, and both of them were pretty terrible. One of them was head and shoulders better than the other. The worse one is getting benched by week 7. That man is EJ Manuel.
  • Neil: It has to be Matt Schaub, right? However if the Raiders decide Carr is actually the opening day starter then I go with Alex Smith.
First Devastating Injury (from a fantasy standpoint)
  • Ross: Eddie Lacy because Green Bay seems to have pissed off the football gods three years ago and has caught bad break after bad break.
  • Neil: Calvin Johnson. He was banged up last year, getting a little bit older, has the defenders around him at all times, Stafford throws the ball side arm…

Next Team Owner To Die

  • Ross: Morbid as it may be, they’re dropping like flies these days (Al Davis, Bud Adams, Ralph Wilson). Virginia Halas McCaskey (91) became the oldest owner when Wilson died…you know what? I got half way through researching the ages and looking for any possible known sicknesses/diseases for each owner and it got really creepy and depressing. Just know I’m picking San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos for this category.
  • Neil: Do I have to pick this? This is a bit morbid for such a happy time of the year. I hate to win this one on a technicality, but I’m going to go with one of the 364,122 Packers stockholders. Seems like a mathematically sound pick.
Last Winless Team
  • Ross: Two obvious candidates who are both terrible and have tough starting schedules: Buffalo and St. Louis. Between the two of them, I’d select Buffalo to go the longest without winning (finally getting their first W in week 7). But there’s a long shot here too: Kansas City. If they lose at home to Tennessee in week 1, it could realistically be week 8 when they host St. Louis before it happens. Keep an eye on that.
  • Neil: I’m going with Jacksonville.  They have a tough opening stretch so the Raiders may get a win before them.
Last Undefeated Team
  • Ross: This one was a lot harder than the winless category for some reason. Seems like so many teams could stay undefeated if things break right. Seattle has Green Bay, San Diego and Denver before six pretty easy games. But those first three are tough. If you think Indy wins at Denver, then you might take them because they could get to week 10 undefeated after that. But I’m going with another unexpected pick: The Pittsburgh Steelers. As long as they take care of Baltimore in week 2, it could easily be week 8 before they’re challenged again.
  • Neil: New England. This is actually not a homer pick. They have a very manageable early season schedule.

As I’m posting this, we’re roughly 34 hours away from the regular season kickoff. As a buddy said to me this morning in an email, Wednesday night is like Christmas Eve. There’s no chance I’m getting good sleep. In fact, I’d like to think the NFL Network is showing some awesome games from years past for crazy people like me who might consider staying up late tonight consuming even more football.

We’ll be back with our playoff and Super Bowl picks before Thursday’s kickoff.