Game Preview: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, October 15, 2017)

Riding high after their huge victory against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers are riding high as they enter brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium this Sunday, as 3.5-point favorites against the Minnesota Vikings according to NFL betting odds for Packers vs Vikings gameAnd that’s exactly why they could be in position for a big upset this weekend…

When we think of the Vikings, we first think of their defense, thanks to the organizational philosophy laid down by head coach Mike Zimmer. Minnesota enters Week 6 of the NFL season with the 11th-ranked defense in the NFL. They have star players at every level of the defense. Defensive end Everson Griffen is third in the NFL in sacks (six). Cornerback Xavier Rhodes has been one of the best in football this season. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr is a freakish athlete that does so many things for them.

But even with the in-and-out from Sam Bradford due to various injuries, this offense has been deceptively good as well. Minnesota actually averages more passing yards per game (357 — 5th most in the NFL) than Green Bay (336.6 — 11th most in the NFL). It’s even more disparate when you look at each team’s rushing attack: Minnesota averages 118.2 yards per game (#11 in the NFL) versus Green Bay’s 91.6 yards per game (22nd in the NFL). In place of promising rookie Dalvin Cook, who was lost to a season-ending injury to his ACL, Jerick McKinnon provided a spark to Minnesota’s offense, evidenced by his 146 total yards against the Chicago Bears on Monday night. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs is in the midst of a breakout season of his own, sitting in 5th place in the NFL with 395 receiving yards. And the Vikings are just as likely to spread the ball around to the rest of their offense, as they are to force-feed their stars. On Monday evening, quarterback Case Keenum — playing in place of the injured Bradford — threw 16 of his 21 passing attempts to his running backs and tight ends.

Of course, the great equalizer in this entire game — or any game Green Bay plays in — is Aaron Rodgers. At some point, it just feels like we’re going to run out of superlatives to describe his level of play. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time right now, but Rodgers is the best in the game as of today. His stats don’t tell the whole story (although his league-leading 13 touchdown passes certainly help), but the way he puts the Packers on his shoulders, week after week, is unlike anything we’re seeing in the league today (this side of New England, anyway).

Minnesota’s defense has held Rodgers to less than 220 passing yards in each of the last three games these two have played in Minnesota. Of course, the Packers are 2-1 in in those games, thanks to the balance provided by the Packers rushing attack.

Minnesota handled two very potent offense at home already: New Orleans in Week 1, and Tampa Bay in Week 3. They should be well aware of this, given that they play them twice a year, but if Green Bay is not careful, they could have their hands full.

But as of right now, Green Bay looks like they’re one of the two best teams in the NFC, alongside the Atlanta Falcons. While this game should be a really good matchup, the Vikings aren’t quite as dangerous as the Packers… or as Rodgers, anyway.

My Pick: Green Bay.

 

ALERT: FF-Winners.Com Warns On the 2017-8 Falcon Team: TAKE THE UNDER!

Some Las Vegas oddsmakers have sent the “over/under” on the win total for the 2017 Atlanta Falcons at 9.5 wins. At least initially, that number seems ridiculously low, given the fact that this team finished with an 11-5 record last season, and beat the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers en route to representing the NFC in Super Bowl LI this past February.

And yet, we’re not only telling you to bet the “under,” wagering that the Falcons will win less than 9.5 games this year, but we’re also saying that the 2017 Atlanta Falcons will not only fail to win the NFC South division this year, but also fail to make the playoffs.

Here’s a fact for you: over the last 20 years, the team that lost the Super Bowl failed to make the playoffs 9 times. Over the last 15 years, the Super Bowl loser failed to make the playoffs the ensuing year. In other words, it’s basically a 50/50 chance that if you lose the Super Bowl, you’re not making the postseason the following year.

But specifically, in terms of the Falcons, there are two big reasons why we’re confident enough to make such a statement:

1. We think everyone overlooked an Atlanta defense that really wasn’t all that great

2. The difference between Kyle Shanahan’s offense and Steve Sarkisian’s offense is going to be jarring, in a really, really bad way if you’re a Falcons fan.

While the offense was busy putting up franchise-best numbers last season, the defense finished 26th in defensive DVOA last season, 25th in total yards allowed per game, and 28th in passing yards allowed per game. They allowed the fifth-most touchdown passes in the NFL to opponents last year, and didn’t have anyone on the entire team (outside of Vic Beasley Jr.) register more than five sacks. Does that sound like a “good defense” to you? In fact, name a player on the Falcons defense, outside of maybe Beasley, who opposing teams really need to worry about. If you polled 100 relatively knowledgeable NFL fans, could they name more than three players on the Falcons defense?

Atlanta plays in a division where they’ll face Drew Brees, Cam Newton, or Jameis Winston in more than a third of their games this year; that’s not even mentioning the fact that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson are all on teams who are on the Falcons’ schedule this year as well.

And before you say: “well, Atlanta can win those games in a shootout,” that brings us to the Shanahan-Sarkisian issue, with that issue specifically being the fact that the Falcons are replacing one of the BEST offensive minds in the NFL with someone who has NEVER called plays or ran an offense in the NFL at any point in his career.

What Shanahan did for the Falcons offense last year was his career’s magnum opus. He found a way to masterfully utilize Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, the incomparable Julio Jones, and a veritable pupu platter of tight ends, taking all of those random ingredients and concocting an offering in a way that would’ve made an Iron Chef proud.

But Shanahan is gone, and being replaced by Steve Sarkisian. Here’s what you need to know about about Sarkisian: 1) the last time he was a head coach, he was fired because of a history of alcohol abuse; and 2) Sarkisian has never been an offensive coordinator in the NFL.

In the three seasons prior to 2016, Atlanta finished 21st, 12th, and 20th in the NFL in points per game. So tell us what sounds more realistic: Sarkisian implementing another league-leading, well-oiled offensive juggernaut? Or Atlanta’s offense reverting back to the mean, thanks to a coordinator who was so toxic that most college programs gave tremendous pause to the idea of hiring him?

So, scoff at our less 9.5 wins projection. Go ahead and overlook the fact that, in the three seasons before last year, Atlanta failed to reach nine wins, or the fact that they’ve ranked in the bottom six in the NFL in points allowed per game in three of the past four seasons.

We stand by our prediction that the Falcons will be suffering the “Super Bowl loser hangover” this upcoming season.

FF-Winners.com’s 2017-8 AFC West Preview

For all the buzz around the other teams in the division, it gets easily overlooked that the Kansas City Chiefs are the reigning division champions, coming off a 12-4 record last year. But the question around the Chiefs is whether this team can take that next step forward and make a deep postseason run, or will they take a step back given all the questions they have on offense. The defense shouldn’t miss a beat, with as many as five Pro Bowl-caliber players on defense — cornerback Marcus Peters, safety Eric Berry, outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, and inside linebacker Derrick Johnson — along with an emerging stud in defensive end Chris Jones, and a very solid free agent acquisition in defensive tackle Bennie Logan. But the offense, which ranked in the bottom half of the league in total yards (20th) and passing yards (19th) per game, has plenty of questions left to be answered this season. How does the Chiefs selection of quarterback Patrick Mahomes with their top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft affect the play of quarterback Alex Smith, whom Mahomes was drafted to replace? How will the Chiefs running game fare with rookie Kareem Hunt (the team’s 3rd round pick) taking over for Spencer Ware, who was lost to a season-ending injury in the preseason? And does the team have any receiver they can reliably trust, outside of Tyreek Hill, after releasing Jeremy Maclin in the offseason? It’s going to take every ounce of guidance that head coach Andy Reid can muster to get this team to the heights that many believe they’re capable of, given the aforementioned challenges.

Nobody will question whether the Oakland Raiders will have the capability to move the football and score a lot of points with their offense. Derek Carr is one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league. Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper are one of the most productive wide receiver duos in the NFL. The offensive line doesn’t get quite as much credit as it should, but it’s easily one of the three or four best units in the league. The unretired Marshawn Lynch should, at least in theory, provide some punch to the running game. No, the thing that everyone will question is whether Oakland can stop anyone from moving the football up and down the field against their defense, which finished last season giving up the seventh-most yards per game in the league last year. While the team used six of their nine draft picks in the 2017 NFL Draft on defensive players, the unit remains largely the same as the group from last year. Will the continuity, coupled with the addition of John Pagano as the Assistant Head Coach — Defense, be enough to get a serviceable performance from that side of the ball?

Less than two years removed from winning the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos now find themselves amidst a major transition in the team’s direction. Gone are surefire Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, head coach Gary Kubiak, and venerated defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. New head coach Vance Joseph seemingly has his hands full, with a team that has a bevy of talented players, but a roster that’s been slowly depleted because of free agent defections and ineffective draft classes. The team’s calling card will remain its defense, considering the team still has the best pure edge rusher in the NFL (Von Miller) and the best pair of cornerbacks in the league (Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.), but it may not be safe to assume they’ll be just as dominant has they have been in years past, considering how many key veterans they’ve lost from that group in recent years — most recently safety TJ Ward, whom the team released just days before the 2017 roster cut down date. On offense, the team still has yet to find it’s answer at quarterback, as they’ll continue to start Trevor Siemian under center, behind an offensive line that still has plenty of questions of its own.

The Chargers, who officially moved to Los Angeles this past offseason, will also have a new head coach along with a new home town. After parting ways with Mike McCoy, they brought in Anthony Lynn — the former interim head coach of the Buffalo Bills — as the new lead man, along with Gus Bradley as the new defensive coordinator. Lynn helped guide the Bills to the top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL in 2016, which only bodes well for running back Melvin Gordon, who enjoyed a breakout season of his own last year. On defense, Bradley will oversee a defense featuring breakout edge rusher Joey Bosa — the Defensive Rookie of the Year last year (voted by his peers) — and Melvin Ingram, along with cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward (the latter of whom led the NFL in interceptions last year). With Philip Rivers under center, the return of Keenan Allen at wide receiver, and second year tight end Hunter Henry emerging as yet another red zone weapon, the Chargers could be the biggest wildcard of this division, and a darkhorse playoff contender.

FF-Winners.com’s 2017-8 AFC South Preview

There’s a reason why many people believe that the AFC South is essentially the Junior Varsity division of the NFL. All four teams have plenty of interesting young players and essential pieces needed to build a successful team, but they have even bigger questions that are hindering them from truly being among the contenders in their conference.

Perhaps no team in the NFL fits the “this team could be really good if they just had an answer at quarterback” description more than the Houston Texans. Needless to say, the $64 million gamble they took on quarterback Brock Osweiler last season turned out to be an utter catastrophe, to the point where they actually gave Cleveland a 2nd round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, in exchange for the Browns taking Osweiler off the Texans’ hands. If they can even get replacement-level play from under center, courtesy of either Tom Savage or first round pick Deshaun Watson, this team has a lot of interesting pieces assembled. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the most lethal wide receivers in the NFL. Lamar Miller is a very capable running back. There might not be a defense in the AFC with a better front seven than that of the Texans, and no team in the NFL has three fear-inspiring pass rushers like Houston has with Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and the return of JJ Watt. If Houston’s offense doesn’t do its job this season, the seat that head coach Bill O’Brien is currently sitting on may begin to get uncomfortably warm.

The Tennessee Titans have become one of the “trendy” picks to win the AFC South and/or make the playoffs in 2017 by the media and fans, especially given the fact that they finished the season with a 5-2 record over their last seven games, en route to a 9-7 record overall. But for all the intrigue around the development of quarterback Marcus Mariota, the “exotic smash mouth” running game featuring Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry, the bevy of pass catchers this team has assembled, and a workmanlike group of defenders on the other side of the football, this team still has a lot to prove before they’re anointed as the next up-and-comer in the NFL. Mariota has sustained season-ending injuries over each of the past two seasons. Head coach Mike Mularkey has a career head coaching record of 27-46, and has never taken a team to the postseason. Murray is a few months away from his 30th birthday, the age when running backs start to fall off the proverbial cliff. The secondary was one of the worst in the NFL last season, and while they invested in the cornerback spot via free agency (signing Logan Ryan) and the draft (taking Adoree’ Jackson from USC), it’s far from solved. So, while t wouldn’t be that big of a surprise to see the Titans usurp the AFC South crown from the Texans, it wouldn’t be any surprise if they fell surprise if Mularkey’s crew fell short of expectations either.

The darkhorse team in this division is undoubtedly the Indianapolis Colts, but the entire outlook of their season rests on the surgically-repaired shoulder of Andrew Luck. Only days away from the start of the 2017 regular season, head coach Chuck Pagano claims that he hasn’t seen Luck throw the football normally this year. Indianapolis is planning to start backup quarterback Scott Tolzien in their season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, but how long will Tolzien have to continue to play in place of Luck? That’s a question that virtually nobody in and around the team has been able to answer, and that dark cloud of uncertainty has cast a big shadow over what was otherwise a promising offseason. The Colts finally rid themselves with the general ineptitude of former General Manager Ryan Grigson, and replaced him with well-respected personnel czar Chris Ballard. In Ballard’s first draft, he took three guys who can help the perpetually beleaguered Colts defense immediately: safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Quincy Wilson, and edge rusher Tarell Basham. Running back Marlon Mack, whom the team also took in this year’s draft, presents an interesting change-of-pace option for the ageless Frank Gore as well. But as long as the cornerstone of this franchise is standing on the sidelines and not wearing a uniform, this team is still running in place.

Ironically, who continually rounds out the bottom of the AFC South — the Jacksonville Jaguars — find themselves in the same boat as the team that won this division last year. Blake Bortles was supposed to be the franchise quarterback for this team, and yet he’s turned into a quarterback version of Benjamin Button: he only gets worse with more experience. There have been plenty of headlines this offseason about Bortles’ teammates making their displeasure towards his poor caliber of play publicly known, to the point where the team seriously considered replacing him with backup quarterback Chad Henne; Henne didn’t get the job because he played equally as terrible in the preseason, during what was presumably his audition to be the starting quarterback. The mess under center overshadows what is otherwise a deceptively loaded roster. The depth this team has at both the running back (Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, and TJ Yeldon) — and wide receiver (Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, DeDe Westbrook) positions would be the envy of many teams around the league. The defensive front four has the potential to be one of the very best groups in the league. They have two Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks (Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye) and a pair of the rangiest linebackers in the NFL (Telvin Smith and Myles Jack). But the sheer incompetence this team has received from the quarterback position is the main reason they have never been able to finally emerge from the basement of this division.

FF-Winners.com’s Opening Week 2017-8 Quarterback Power Rankings

Quarterbacks are the powerhouses of each NFL team and play a large part in how the team does in the upcoming season. With the 2017/2018 NFL season looming on the horizon, knowing how the rankings stand will go a long way to helping you to place your bets for the upcoming season.

A great example is how the Dallas Cowboys fared at the bookmakers in the 2015 season. Their star quarterback Tony Romo ended up being out for most of the season due to injury. Before his accident, the Cowboys were 3 – 1, but without him, they quickly fell to 1 – 11, seriously disappointing some punters who had placed futures bets. NFL betting is popular across the globe and even betting NZ sites offer a selection of markets. Thus, the more information available about the players, their performance and the teams, the better,

A Season Predictor

Choosing the 2017 power quarterbacks is just an idea of what may happen throughout the season. Of course, there is the potential for injury, surprises and more to upset the apple cart. That being said, most experts tend to agree on the ranked order which does give us some idea of how the season may play out.

Interestingly, some of the quarterbacks for 2017 are brand new to the NFL. Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, for example, is only a tender 22, which may either place him at an advantage over his older opponents, or a disadvantage due to his youth. For this reason, he is last on our list at number 32. Speed and agility may be his, but experience and sheer strength are usually some of the bonuses of age and practice. These newbies on the block are relatively untried, and although we can look back on their play records, how they fare against the big boys is a giant question mark until the season actually begins.

Ranking Considerations

The quarterback rankings have been chosen with care, taking into account both their current career stats, win-loss records, general performances, winning percentages and playoff victories.

Our top five ranked quarterbacks will probably come as no surprise to anyone. They are the pinnacle of the sport currently, with great career stats and a handful of Super Bowl wins between them. Anything can happen on the field, but the fact remains that these super athletes are most likely to take their teams to victory over their younger, less experienced counterparts.

And so, without further ado, we bring you a list of the 32 ranked power quarterbacks for the start of the 2017 season.

32. Jared Goff — Los Angeles Rams

31. Cody Kessler — Cleveland Browns (Projected Starter)

30. Josh McCown — New York Jets (Projected Starter)

29. Blake Bortles — Jacksonville Jaguars

28. Trevor Siemian — Denver Broncos

27. Sam Bradford — Minnesota Vikings

26. Mike Glennon — Chicago Bears

25. Deshaun Watson — Houston Texans (Projected Starter)

24. Brian Hoyer — San Francisco 49ers

23. Tyrod Taylor — Buffalo Bills

22. Alex Smith — Kansas City Chiefs

21. Eli Manning — New York Giants

20. Andy Dalton — Cincinnati Bengals

19. Carson Wentz — Philadelphia Eagles

18. Joe Flacco — Baltimore Ravens

17. Philip Rivers — Los Angeles Chargers

16. Carson Palmer — Arizona Cardinals

15. Jay Cutler — Miami Dolphins

14. Marcus Mariota — Tennessee Titans

13. Matthew Stafford — Detroit Lions

12. Cam Newton — Carolina Panthers

11. Kirk Cousins — Washington Redskins

10. Jameis Winston — Tampa Bay Buccaneers

9. Andrew Luck — Indianapolis Colts

8. Russell Wilson — Seattle Seahawks

7. Dak Prescott — Dallas Cowboys

6. Ben Roethlisberger — Pittsburgh Steelers

5. Drew Brees — New Orleans Saints

4. Derek Carr — Oakland Raiders

3. Aaron Rodgers — Green Bay Packers

2. Matt Ryan — Atlanta Falcons

1. Tom Brady — New England Patriots

FF-Winners.com’s 2017-8 AFC East Preview

The story of the AFC East in 2017 remains the same as it has for 14 of the past 16 NFL seasons: this division belongs to the New England Patriots, and everyone else is just competing for second place.

To use a line made famous by legendary professional wrestler Ric Flair: “to be the man, you gotta beat the man.” And right now, there’s simply no two ways about it: there doesn’t appear to be a single team in the NFL that can go toe-to-toe with the New England Patriots, and beat them on a neutral field. Let’s start off with the fact that the Patriots are returning 17 of their 22 starters from the team that won the Super Bowl. Now, add in the fact that they might have actually gotten better at four of those five positions that will feature new players, like wide receiver Brandin Cooks, running back Mike Gillislee, cornerback Stephon Gillmore, and defensive end Kony Ealy. This was already a team that lost a grand total of one game after Tom Brady returned from suspension last year. What team, across the entire NFL, is capable of beating these guys?

You can make an argument that no team has been ravaged by injury before the preseason even started than the Miami Dolphins. Pretty much every single NFL fan is well aware of the season-ending knee injury to Ryan Tannehill, which led head coach to call up old friend Jay Cutler and convince him to take over as the starting quarterback of the Dolphins (after Cutler had decided to retire this past offseason).  But that was far from the only blow the team was dealt by the injury bug. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan, the team’s second round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, looked like he was set to take over the starting middle linebacker spot for the Dolphins, but then suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Cornerback Tony Lippett, who started in 13 games for Miami last season, was lost for the year after tearing his Achilles tendon. Offensive guard Ted Larsen, who was both an opening-day starter and their insurance policy at center in case Mike Pouncey got hurt, tore his biceps muscle in training camp, and will miss a significant portion of this season. It’s going to take a borderline miraculous coaching job for Gase to help Miami move out from underneath the dark cloud they’re currently under.

No head coach will ever admit that they’re willing to lose more games in the short run if it means the team will improve in the long run. That’s why you’ll never hear head coach Sean McDermott of the Buffalo Bills say anything other than the fact that he’s positioning his team to compete in the AFC East immediately. But after spending much of the offseason waffling on whether to bring back quarterback Tyrod Taylor (whom they brought back on a deal that allows them to easily part ways after just one year), and then opening training camp by trading players like wide receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerback Ronald Darby, and quarterback Cardale Jones, the message is clear:  they’re willing to take one step back with the roster, if it means they can take two steps forward in their rebuild. McDermott is going to try and win games the same way the Carolina Panthers — his former employer — have in recent years: run the ball down the throats of the opponents, and use their stout defensive line to keep opponents from scoring.

As far as the New York Jets, you may have heard many NFL analysts around the league say the same thing over-and-over again, because it’s the truth: there isn’t a NFL roster with less talent across the entire league than the one the Jets have currently constructed. Frankly, it’s a miracle that head coach Todd Bowles and General Manager Mike Maccagnan weren’t fired by the notoriously fickle owner of the Jets, Woody Johnson. Bowles and Maccagnan are gambling on Christian Hackenberg as the starting quarterback of the Jets this season, and so far, the early word out of New York is that Hackenberg still looks as broken and as hopeless as many people believed he was after his star-crossed career at Penn State.  But even aside from Hackenberg, the Jets starting offensive line, wide receivers, and cornerbacks are all easily among the three worst units in the entire league, and two of the team’s former building blocks — defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson — have been malcontents that have spent time on the team’s trade block. Things are looking very, very bleak in Gotham, with Bowles and Maccagnan likely to be the first ones without jobs by Black Monday of 2018.

PODCAST: Statistical Insight into the 2017-8 NFL Season

On this episode of The Football Analytics Show, Ed Feng talks with Aaron Schatz, founder of Football Outsiders, on the following topics:

  • How Aaron got on the Late Show with Seth Myers
  • The surprising truth about passing and rushing in the NFL, and how it’s been that way for 30 years
  • The coach that defies the odds and makes his team better
  • Why the Rams won’t be as bad as you think in 2017
  • The NFL team due for a steep decline in 2017 due to their defense

FF-Winners.Com’s 2017-8 AFC North Preview

The AFC North is another one of those divisions which, theoretically, could be up for grabs for (almost) anyone… except the poor Cleveland Browns, of course. After all, the division hasn’t had a back-to-back champion since 2011 and 2012, when the Ravens won the title both years and ended up winning the Super Bowl after the second division crown), and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have spent the past four seasons handing the division crown back and forth each year since.

This year, the Steelers head into the season as the favorites to win the division, and make their fourth straight appearance in the postseason. After briefly (but legitimately) contemplating retirement during the offseason, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be back to orchestrate an offense that finished seventh in the NFL in yards per game last year, and fifth in passing yards per game. Plus, with Le’Veon Bell primed to be available right from the regular season get-go (for the first time in his career), and with the return of wide receiver Martavis Bryant from a season-long suspension (after violating the league’s substance abuse policy), there’s a very good chance that Pittsburgh’s offense could be even more prolific this year. True to the franchise’s long-time modus operandi, they spent their top pick in the draft on a defensive player — outside linebacker T.J. Watt from the University of Wisconsin — for the fifth straight year, as they continually rebuild a defense that was very “un-Pittsburgh-like” in it’s 2016 performance, ranking in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing yards (20th), passing yards (17th), and points allowed (23rd) per game. For a team with a history of totally stifling opposing offenses, time is running out for defensive coordinator Keith Butler — and head coach Mike Tomlin, who installed Butler in place of the venerated Dick LeBeau — to stop this group from being the hindrance from being a real contender in the AFC.

Despite finishing the 2016 with only six total wins, the Cincinnati Bengals still lurk as a team with the potential to steal back the division crown from Pittsburgh. He doesn’t quite have the same supporting cast as Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, but the Bengals have quietly assembled a very talented group of pass catchers around quarterback Andy Dalton, including superstar wide receiver AJ Green, second year receiver Tyler Boyd (Cincinnati’s second round pick in 2016), veteran Brandon LaFell, newcomer John Ross (the ninth overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft), and tight end Tyler Eifert (who has the most touchdown receptions of any tight end in the NFL over the last two seasons). Cincinnati’s rushing offense was already in the top half of the league last year (13th in rushing yards per game and tied for 6th in rushing touchdowns), and with the addition of second round pick Joe Mixon, it should be even better.  On defense, Cincinnati will rely on (young) quantity versus quality, largely built on their recent years of good drafting. Edge rushers Jordan Willis (their 3rd round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft) and Carl Lawson (their 4th round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft) will come in on passing downs opposite of ace edge rusher Carlos Dunlap. In the secondary, cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick, William Jackson III, and Darqueze  Dennard — all first round selections in the five drafts prior to 2017 — gives the Bengals as deep a group of cornerbacks as any in the NFL.

Five years removed from a Super Bowl victory, the Baltimore Ravens find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. Despite year after year of savvy drafting by General Manager Ozzie Newsome, this team perpetually seems to running in place, never able to take that next step towards being in the mix among contenders in the AFC.  Things have not fared well for the Ravens heading into the 2017 season. Quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t been able to practice at all during training camp, thanks to back soreness that has been lingering since July. Starting inside linebacker Zachary Orr retired right after the 2016 season due to a spinal condition. John Urschel, who was slated to be the team’s starting Center this year, abruptly retired in the offseason amidst concerns around CTE. Running back Kenneth Dixon, who was supposed to work in tandem with Terrance West in the backfield this year, was first suspended for four games to start the year, and then declared out for the year after undergoing knee surgery. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman, the team’s top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, continues to struggle to stay healthy. Baltimore’s defense has some interesting pieces, including stud middle linebacker CJ Mosley, pass-rushing stalwart Terrell Suggs, the immovable Brandon Williams (one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL that nobody talks about), and free agent signees Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. But that might not be enough for the perennially heralded Baltimore defense, if the offense continues to struggle to put points on the board.

And then, as always on the bottom of the AFC North, there’s Cleveland. In fairness, this is only year two of the total renovations this team undertook starting last offseason. Unfortunately, the product on the field last year reflected that, culminating in their 1-15 record (and questions as to whether head coach Hue Jackson should be fired after just one year on the job). Their league-low win total did secure them the right to draft defensive end Myles Garrett from Texas A&M University with the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and make him one of the central cornerstones of their rebuild. There are interesting players on this roster. Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio might be the best left guard and tackle combination in the NFL. Running back Isaiah Crowell finished just shy of 1,000 yards rushing last year, and Duke Johnson Jr. finished 7th in the NFL in most catches by a running back. Linebacker Jamie Collins, acquired from the New England Patriots during the 2016 season in exchange for one of the bevy of draft picks the Browns have, is one of the most talented linebackers in the NFL. Edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah, the team’s second round pick in 2016, led the team in sacks last year and will rush the quarterback opposite of Garrett. Wide receiver Kenny Britt and guard Kevin Zeitler, acquired in free agency, will come in and contribute right away. But this team still has so many holes to fill, with none more glaring than their long-term solution at quarterback (although they might have found an answer in second round pick DeShone Kizer).

Video Lecture: Computer Power Rankings and Football Analytics

This video covers the basics and some of the nuances of developing and using computer
models to forecast football games.

FF-Winners.Com’s 2017-8 NFC South Preview


Among all the divisions in the National Football Conference, the NFC East might be the one with the most parity, the NFC West might be the one with the best team overall, and the NFC North might host the best quarterback in the conference (if not the entire league). But it could very well be the case that the NFC South might feature the most entertaining race to the division crown this year.

How does a team recover from blowing a 25-point lead in the third quarter of the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance? That’s the question that’s going to hound the Atlanta Falcons all year long. It’s already been talked about ad nauseum, and if the team has any stumbles along the way this year, it’s certainly going to be brought up repeatedly. History is not on the Falcons side, either; nine of the last 20 teams to lose the Super Bowl failed to make the playoffs last season. Atlanta’s defense will be better this year, thanks to the addition of defensive tackle Dontari Poe, the selection of edge rusher Takkarist McKinley in the 2017 NFL Draft, and the return of cornerback Desmond Trufant from injury. But what type of drop off will Atlanta’s ultra-prolific offense see from last year’s performance, with the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan? New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has enormous shoes to fill, considering Shanahan guided the Falcons offense to the eighth-highest point total in NFL history, and helped quarterback Matt Ryan to an MVP award along the way; to make matters even more challenging, Sarkisian has never been an offensive coordinator in the NFL. In a division in which the Falcons top competitors certainly look to take a big step forward this year, the idea that Atlanta is a lock to repeat as the champions of the NFC South is far from a given.

The Carolina Panthers can provide first-hand attestation to the “hangover” that comes after losing the Super Bowl. After finishing the 2015 season with an NFL-best 15-1 record, the Panthers endured a season filled with all sorts of bumps and bruises, headlined by injuries to arguably the team’s two best players: quarterback Cam Newton, and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Newton played in 15 of 16 games las tyear, but as a result of the merciless beating he endured all season long, he put up the lowest completion percentage and yards per attempt of his career, his second lowest passing touchdown total, and his second highest interception total. Newton is unquestionably the team’s franchise player, so Carolina went out and signed tackle Matt Kalil from the Vikings to protect Newton’s blindside as the left tackle, and drafted tackle Taylor Moton from the University of Wisconsin with the intention of him coming over and manning the right tackle spot. And to add to Newton’s oft-maligned group of pass catchers, the Panthers used draft pick on “hybrid” run-pass options like Christian McCaffrey (their first round pick) and Curtis Samuel (the first of their two second round picks). With nine of 11 starters returning from last year’s defense, the Panthers are banking on the continuity of their group to keep opponents out of the endzone, and the young secondary to make a big leap forward from last year’s campaign that saw the team finish with the fourth-worst passing defense in the NFL.

There might not be a more intriguing team in the NFL heading into this season than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The league made a brilliant decision featuring them on HBO’s Hard Knocks television show, because they have the star power to absolutely compel audiences. After finishing among the top 10 quarterbacks in touchdown passes last year, Jameis Winston looks primed to make a big leap forward in year three of his young career. To facilitate that, his front office has given him a repertoire of weapons that would make any quarterback envious: wide receiver DeSean Jackson (brought in via free agency), tight end O.J. Howard (the team’s first round pick in the draft), and wide receiver Chris Godwin (the team’s third round selection), to join incumbent tight end Cameron Brate (who led the league in touchdown catches among tight ends last year) and superstud receiver Mike Evans. If the defense can improve on its performance from last year (they were ranked 22nd in most yards allowed last season), this team could make serious noise in the NFC.

The question for the New Orleans Saints (and its fans) for this year is pretty simple: can the team break free from the treadmill of 7-9 finishes they’ve had in each of the past three seasons? In each of those three years, the storyline seemed to be the same: a top three offense in the NFL (in yards per game), and a bottom five defense (in points allowed per game). There was a point in time where the idea of a quarterback throwing for 5,000 yards in a season was a mind-boggling feat, and yet the incomparable Drew Brees is coming off a year in which he exceeded the 5,000 yard mark for the fourth time in six years. That’s a big reason why the Saints were the only team in the NFL with two receivers to finish among the top 10 in yards receiving. One of those two receivers was rookie Michael Thomas, whose 92 catches last year was the second highest total in NFL history for a rookie. With Brandin Cooks (the other thousand-yard receiver) now gone, Thomas becomes the focal point of the passing offense, and seems more than capable of handling those responsibilities. Of course, with such a prolific passing maestro like Brees orchestrating the offense, it certainly won’t all be on him to make things go. Meanwhile, New Orleans’ annually porous defense went through yet another overhaul, resulting in as many as six new starters for the group this year. The headline addition would likely be cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the team’s top draft selection this year, who could turn out to be a steal of a pick. Still, the question is the same in the Big Easy: can the Saints’ defense stop anyone from moving the ball up and down the field at will, in order to let the offense do its magic?