First, some good news: We should returning to zonereads.com shortly; I’ve been a little delayed by this whole “attempting to make a living” thing, but I should be importing the site back over soon.
I’m also planning to get back to more regular content; it’s certainly not like I lack for thoughts about the NFL, but I have lacked motivation to take the time to articulate them at column length. I already have a few ideas for upcoming columns, and I hope to crank those out in the next couple of weeks, although I have other projects that are labors of love or labors of money that could squeeze my time.
I’d like to get a weekly column going for either fantasy or gambling purposes. We’ll see if I succeed.
On to the purposes of this column: A quickly assembled guess at this year’s NFL standings, which of course is both too similar to last year’s to be interesting and too similar to be correct, given the variances and deviations that happen every year.
So I’m going to start with some standings predictions, which are boring, but I’m going to write a little about each team which will hopefully illuminate my reasoning and at least be interesting to read.
New England: 10-6. That might be an underestimation, but I don’t think Jimmy Garoppolo is very good and I think they’ll struggle in those first four games. They are quite comfortably the best team in the AFC East overall, though, and even if their win total is a little artificially suppressed by Roger Goodell, they shouldn’t be in any danger of losing the division.
Buffalo: 9-7. I believe in Tyrod Taylor. I believe in Sammy Watkins. I believe in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. I’m worried about, well, everything else, especially how the dynamite pass rush of the pre-Rex Ryan Bills turned into a big nothing last year, and that was while they still had Mario Williams and Marcel Dareus available.
Miami: 8-8. I believe in Adam Gase. I don’t really believe in Mike Tannenbaum. Still, this is a reasonably talented team, even if they do things like “Put the best left tackle prospect in a decade at guard because we have two tackles already and signed a third this offseason.” (Their idea that tackles can just play guard and be fine reminds me of Mitch Hedberg’s bit: “When you’re a comedian, people want you to act, write scripts. They want you to do things that are like comedy, but they ain’t comedy. Sure, you’re a good cook… But can you farm?“)
NY Jets: 7-9. I don’t understand why anyone considers Ryan Fitzpatrick a crucial part of anything.
Cincinnati: 11-5. A deeply talented team that will suffer from the losses of Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and (especially) Hue Jackson, but it’s hard not to see the overall talent level and like them, especially if Andy Dalton’s 2015 wasn’t a Jackson-produced fluke.
Pittsburgh: 10-6. Some bumps in the road at certain positions– losing Martavis Bryant is big– but there’s still a floor of talent here.
Baltimore: 6-10. There is less of a floor of talent here. Ozzie Newsome has surprisingly bricked a number of picks in recent years. The WR group sounds impressive on paper, but I don’t think it is.
Cleveland: 3-13. Not much talent here. But it’s all part of The Plan. If Josh Gordon gets back his old form and Corey Coleman develops like I expect him to, they could have one of the better WR duos in the league in a year or two.
Houston: 10-6. This was a tough one to call since their crown last year was in part due to Andrew Luck’s injury. But Osweiler has looked better in preseason than I expected, and even if he doesn’t play to that level in the regular season, the offense as a whole should be improved enough, between Lamar Miller and the new receivers, to elevate the team over where they were last year. Duane Brown’s injury is my biggest worry (well, J.J. Watt’s, but let’s face it, if he’s hurt they’re not going much of anywhere). I suspect Jadeveon Clowney will begin to live up to expectations this year.
Indianapolis: 8-8. After watching New Orleans go 7-9 three of the last four seasons, I am convinced that a great QB can only take a team so far if the rest of the roster is garbage.
Jacksonville: 7-9. They’ve added so many parts on defense it’s almost impossible not to expect improvement. And they’ve moved Luke Joeckel to a position where he can do less damage. Now the question is: Can Blake Bortles put up big numbers when the game is actually still on the line?
Tennessee: 6-10. Wouldn’t be surprised if they were worse, given that terrible retread coach Mike Mularkey’s plan is apparently to use his franchise QB as little as possible and run a throwback offense.
Denver: 10-6. Given how awful Peyton Manning was last year, the dropoff is not going to be that bad. The defense can still carry the day, as it did last year.
Oakland: 9-7. I see some serious talent here, though I’m not a fan of the way Reggie McKenzie reaches for DBs in the first round, and I think Derek Carr is shakier than popular opinion seems to suggest.
Kansas City: 8-8. Justin Houston out is a tough blow. I just don’t see any pieces to put this team over the top.
San Diego: 7-9. Love the Travis Benjamin addition this year. Hate the way management screwed around with Bosa, something the Chargers have a seriously long history of doing with their players.
NY Giants: 9-7. They weren’t far off this pace last year, except Tom Coughlin apparently forgot that being ahead in the third quarter doesn’t guarantee a win.
Dallas: 8-8. I thought they would win the division until Tony Romo got hurt again. Dak Prescott’s talent always intrigued me; I think he may struggle once defenses get a serious look at him, but for those first six games, he has a chance to keep them competitive.
Washington: 7-9. Surprised they did as well as they did last year. I still think Kirk Cousins’ season was more of a fluke than a rising up to a new level of play.
Philadelphia: 5-11. The offense is a wreck. The pass rush will be good. But the offense is a wreck. They’re just not carrying a lot of talent here, especially after the Chip Kelly Purge.
Green Bay: 10-6. Hard not to imagine them bouncing back, although I suppose it’s a different animal if Jordy Nelson is seriously hurt.
Minnesota: 9-7. God, the Teddy Bridgewater injury was so brutal. Sam Bradford provides a certain floor of performance, but I don’t think it’s enough to make the team a real contender. Let’s just hope and pray Bridgewater gets back to full strength in 2017. He’s a real treat to watch.
Detroit: 7-9. I don’t believe in Jim Caldwell. Even though I think Marvin Jones is underrated, he can’t fill Calvin Johnson’s shoes. Again, just not seeing anything to be excited about for a leap forward here.
Chicago: 6-10. Rebuilding. If Kevin White develops quickly and the defense comes around, this team could contend. But they probably won’t this year.
Carolina: 11-5. Sure, Cam Newton’s TD rate last year was likely a fluke, I just don’t see another team in this division with the horses to compete against them.
Tampa Bay: 9-7. Betting on a leap from Jameis Winston and the Winston-Evans combo to emerge as one of the best in the league. Love their first-round pick, Vernon Hargreaves.
New Orleans: 8-8. After intense study of the drafting and free agency moves in New Orleans under his tenure, I’m amazed Mickey Loomis still has a job. This record reflects just how remarkable Drew Brees is; he carries a roster that would go 3-13 every year with even an average starter.
Atlanta: 6-10. Another team I think is just overall lacking enough talent to compete. They seem to have fixed their offensive line problems, and I still think Vic Beasley will come around, but this team is just thin and doesn’t have a lot on defense.
Seattle: 11-5. Probably the best overall team in football. If they unleash Russell Wilson (and Tyler Lockett), the offense could absolutely explode at a level to match their defense.
Arizona: 10-6. Not totally sold Carson Palmer isn’t losing it, but I’d never bet too strongly against Bruce Arians. Tons of talent on the roster, too. Love the Robert Nkemdiche pick, and the Chandler Jones trade will also add some legitimacy to their pass rush.
Los Angeles: 7-9. I mean… what reason is there to think they won’t deliver the exact same season they always do under Jeff Fisher?
San Francisco: 4-12. I believe in Chip Kelly. I really do. But holy cow, is that roster bad. Can we stop pretending Trent Baalke is some kind of draft genius? I think he’s more likely to be John York’s cost-controlling useful idiot.