Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Varsity Numbers: Honing in

Bill Connelly again looks at which college football teams the F/+ ratings are sure about, and which teams remain a mystery (led by Appalachian State).

24 Aug 2011

Scramble for the Ball: 2011 AFC Over/Unders

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Mike: Put on your crash helmets, queue up "The Final Countdown," and get ready to dive in to another week of rapid-fire, largely baseless speculation!

AFC East

New England Patriots (11.5)

Mike: Chad Ochocinco caught a touchdown in his first preseason action for the Patriots. As you could feel Joe Buck's blood pressure rising from across the country, a funny thing happened: a normal NFL touchdown celebration ensued. No antics, no props, just a quick congratulations and everyone trotted off the field. Some teams, like the Packers, keep everyone on the same page with appeals to their storied history. Some teams, like the Steelers, achieve the same result with the overall consistency and quality of their organization. The Colts keep everyone in line with the hitmen Peyton Manning bought with his Oreo money. Bill Belichick and the Patriots? Orbital mind-control lasers. A brainwashed team is a productive team! One need only look at the fact that Albert Haynesworth put forth enough effort to dress himself to see the results. Over.

Tom: Talking about the AFC East teams, and the Patriots in particular, feels like wading into a thicket without wearing heavy enough clothing. Nothing serious will happen, but you’re still likely to tear your clothes and get scratched up. Picking a team to win at least 12 games is a dicey proposition, especially when FOA 2011 conveniently comes in with a prediction right at the Bodog-supplied over/under. The defensive makeover, and apparent transition to more 4-3 defensive looks, makes some sense given the lack of pass rushers. I can’t trust the secondary. This feels more like the late-era Colts: an offense-dominated team with a couple good parts on defense, but not enough to reliably predict it’ll be good. Still, the one thing those Colts were good for, until the parts on offense started to age and/or fall apart, was 12 wins or more every year, and I’ll go with the same for the Patriots. Over.

New York Jets (10)

Tom: I’m sure we’ll be revisiting the quarterback class of 2009 in a column or two this season, and I’ll reserve more in-depth commentary on Mark Sanchez until then. For now, I’ll note I don’t trust him. I don’t trust the right tackle situation. I don’t trust the non-Santonio Holmes wideouts. I don’t really trust Shonn Greene. I don’t really trust the defensive line, though I’m fairly bullish on Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis going forward. That’s really too many question marks, or not enough strengths I love, for me to feel comfortable going over a double-digit line. I’m tempted to go with a push, as is my wont with utterly reasonable whole-number lines, but will instead go under.

Mike: Longtime Scramble readers will know that I am not very high on Sanchez. Readers of the amazingly-available-for-purchase Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 know that Sanchez was the luckiest quarterback in football when it came to dropped interceptions. New York's offense doesn't have to be great for the Jets to make the playoffs, but it does need to be great to get to the Super Bowl. Despite the offseason upgrades to the receiving corps, I just don't see it. Tom is going to love this one: push.

Miami Dolphins (7.5)

Tom: What kind of answer can Chad Henne be? FOA is optimistic, and I can almost see it myself: good pedigree, some decent moments, and a relatively simple step up the learning curve could result in fewer interceptions. This is a team where the numbers say interesting things; they had 8.9 Estimated Wins and 6.2 Pythagorean Wins. The Patriots contributed to that poor points margin, outscoring the Dolphins by a combined 58 points in the two meetings. The defense was rarely seriously exploited, and despite the normal variability of defenses will likely be of similar quality again this season. This feels like a Parcells-model team: strong defense, good offensive line, but with a weaker running game than you’d think and no guarantee of strong quarterbacking. This seems like the sort of team that ends up at .500, but I don’t actually really like any aspect of the team and they are third in the divisional hierarchy in my eyes. Under.

Mike: The Dolphins seem like a team that has grown impatient with the long, drawn-out process required to create a championship club. Perhaps the success and edification of the wildcat –- ancient history, it feels like, after last year's implosion -– set the wrong stage for new owner Stephen Ross. When championships did not immediately present themselves, things got dicey between management and the coaching staff. This is always a recipe for success! No, wait, the other thing: disaster. It would be very sad to see a team that could be a real force in two or three years become completely derailed because the football guys in the room were crushed under the dreams of avarice. I expect the fur to start flying pretty early in the season, which makes under the easy choice.

Buffalo Bills (5.5)

Mike: On the other hand, to describe the Bills as impatient would erroneously ascribe any emotion to this moribund franchise. That is rather uncharitable … the Bills are very patient, but no actual football player wants to play in Buffalo if there is any real alternative. It's a sorry state of affairs that I don't see changing any time soon. Now I feel bad, so I'll throw them a pity over.

Tom: Chan Gailey can do some interesting things on offense, which is useful when you drafted a less interesting, less versatile version of Reggie Bush in the top ten in 2010. Fortunately Marcell Dareus should be more useful, even if only because Kyle Williams needs a running buddy. Ryan Fitzpatrick is sort of useful. A brutal schedule gets a little easier, as the AFC East plays the AFC West; not the NFC West, granted, but some less challenging contests. 5.6 Estimated Wins in 2010 and the schedule, plus Dareus, make over 5.5 a relatively attractive proposition notwithstanding the lack of excitement surrounding the Bills.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (10.5)

Mike: I was down on the Steelers last year, and it seems to have worked out well! On the other hand, 2010 confirmed something we had all suspected: the Steelers need Troy Polamalu, possibly more than any non-Indianapolis team needs any player. Part of this is Polamalu's playmaking ability, but part of it is Dick LeBeau crafting an entire defense around one player and his unique talent. If you take that talent away, things could get ugly, fast. I think the coaching staff has also come to this realization, but the defense is another year older, and Polamalu can't stay healthy. The offense is blossoming, but it's not quite there yet (especially the offensive line), so I foresee another Polamalu injury followed by a big scrap for the division championship/wild card berth. Under

Tom: OK, the Browns going over 6.5 is one of the easier calls on the board, but they’re not even the easiest call in the division. Unless there’s a Super Bowl loser’s curse, and unless (or maybe even if) Ben Roethlsiberger gets Bernard Pollard’ed Week 1, the Steelers are going over, over, over.

Baltimore Ravens (10.5)

Tom: Games against the AFC South! Games against the NFC West! I didn’t like the big contract to Vonta Leach, who was pretty mediocre in 2009 before rebounding in 2010. I don’t like the idea of Bryant McKinnie as a starting left tackle, though that may work out better. I’m still not a fan of Joe Flacco. FOA is mildly pessimistic, but the big question to me is just how good the defense will be. If it’s up to the usual standards of Ravens defenses, over is a definite possibility. Any slippage, and even with the relatively easy schedule, the offensive questions could all have to be answered positively for Baltimore to turn it all the way up to 11. As incredibly sensible as the Lee Evans acquisition was, I’m still going under.

Mike: I really hate how the Ravens offense is constructed. While Rex Grossman has most effectively drawn my ire for the dragon-based offense, I treat bombing campaigns like I treat Toscanini's recording of The Magic Flute: with inexplicable British contempt. I suppose my problem is that I value consistency above all else when it comes to football, since there are so few games that flashes of brilliance simply might not be distributed evenly enough to result in a great year. After the Year of the Mediocre Veteran Possession Receiver, Baltimore seems to be doubling down on the long ball, which makes me reflexively reach for the comedy lever labeled under.

Cleveland Browns (6.5)

Tom: FOA’s surprise team. It’s easy to make fun of the Browns (we know, we do it often), but they were surprisingly close to average last year against a difficult schedule. Like last year’s Buccaneers (which we both foolishly went under on), even with mediocre quarterback play, it’s very easy to see them as .500 or better against their poor slate of opponents. No, I’m not in love with Peyton Hillis, Colt McCoy, or the wide receivers. But there’s just enough here to like that over seems to be a very easy call.

Mike: It is somewhat disturbing how much a cult of personality the NFL can be. Or perhaps how inflexible those personalities are. All the talk of the Browns last year was about new general manager Mike Holmgren and "his" systems, specifically how they clashed with Eric Mangini's preferences. From all the talk of whose new system and various diktats would win out, the media made all the men involved into hide-bound dinosaurs, unable to adapt to any situation where their preferred scheme is not dominant. It doesn't have to be this way (Mike Tomlin left Minnesota with an overwhelmingly strong 4-3 resume, but threw that out the window to integrate into the 3-4-mad Steelers organization, in some part due to a man who is his assistant), but in Cleveland's case there was no contest: Mangini just didn't have the clout to fight against Holmgren. Really, though, isn't this what Cleveland has been doing every two years since its return to the league? Holmgren is of a better quality than all the scrubs and experiments they've burned through in the past, but it's the same basic direction: two years after taking over a talent-poor team, Mangini and his scheme -– and the roster built around that scheme -– are gone. The whole thing is blown up and rebuilt with whatever the new GM wants. Maybe Holmgren has enough street cred to put in a long-term plan and stick with it, but this neutering of a head coach followed by seppuku for everyone who doesn't fit within the rigid system is not something to be hailed; it's a sign that after two to four years of tilling the field, the Browns will be back out there, fertilizing it with salt and preparing their team for the next grand, monolithic vision. Under.

Cincinnati Bengals (5.5)

Mike: FOA 2011 would have us believe that the Bengals have a plan. I think the Bengals have a plan in the same way that Jack Bauer had a plan: the plan is to use gut reactions to appraise players, to be suspicious of everyone, and to have 1.5 fights every week. While this strategy worked tolerably well for the most gar-inspiring character in fiction, I can't shake the feeling that this organization is so toxic that no good will ever come of it. Then again, Cincy has too much young talent on its roster for this season to be a complete waste, and six wins isn't that high a bar. Over.

Tom: Playmaker Score star A.J. Green! Lewin Career Forecast star Andy Dalton! SackSEER star Dontay Moch! As I commented during the draft, Football Outsiders seems to have replaced Mike Giddings as Cincinnati’s favorite outside source. I’m kidding, or at least I think I am, but when a Harvard Law grad like Mike Brown gets involved, you never know. I was a fan of the Green selection, but we saw last year that a team with a tremendous gaping void at the quarterback position dragged down the entire squad, including an otherwise-solid running game and defense. FOA projection notwithstanding, it’s easier for me to see the Bengals as the league’s worst team than exceeding even this mediocre projection. Under.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers (10)

Mike: The Chargers are still keeping it Norvalicious. I wonder if yet another playoff loss will actually make A.J. Smith think back to his reasons for firing Marty. Nah. Over.

Tom: Unless the Chargers are actually trying to make them that bad, it’d be difficult for San Diego to play any worse on special teams than they did in 2010. If the Chargers had merely bad special teams instead of atrocious ones, they’d have looked like the Packers -- well, maybe not quite that good, but that’s the right ballpark to expect. Yes, Ron Rivera left, but from what I’ve seen I’m a big fan of new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky from his work with the 49ers. Even though Ryan Mathews is down with Kevin Kolb on the “your performance turned my affection for you stone stone cold” list, I think the Chargers will again be very good on offense and defense, and Philip Rivers is still very good. With the weakness in the rest of the division, that’s a very good chance of an over and an even better chance of another AFC West title. Go NOOOOOOOOOOOOORV!

Mike: NORV'd.

Kansas City Chiefs (7.5)

Mike: The Chiefs are the apple of every fantasy football player's eye. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this line was set in part due to that endearment, never mind the fact that their coach is basically a crazy person. Upside: Nobody has said anything horribly homophobic in a while. Tolerance really doesn't win football games, however, so I'm going with under.

Tom: The Chiefs were an average team that took advantage of a very soft schedule in 2010. Now they have what our numbers indicate will be a hard schedule, as the NFC North replaces the NFC West and division winners replace fourth-place teams. Steve Breaston is an upgrade at No. 2 wideout behind Dwayne Bowe, but I don’t think Bowe is a great No. 1 wideout, strong stretch of games last year notwithstanding (my lack of affection for Matt Cassel may be playing a role here). One thing I’ve criticized the Chiefs for in the recent past is failing to address their poor run defense; it didn’t cost them much in the regular season, even though they only ranked 26th in the league last year, but it did cost them against the Ravens and I expect it to be more of a problem this year. No, letting Shaun Smith go and adding Kelly Gregg does not count as a fix. Add those together, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to me to see the Chiefs’ reverse last year’s 10-6 season. Under.

Oakland Raiders (6.5)

Tom: I wrote last season that there wasn’t any chance I would pick the Raiders to win more than 6 games until they actually did win more than 6 games. So, congratulations to the 2010 Raiders for going out and winning 8 games. Losing Nnamdi Asomugha is a downgrade. Parting with Zach Miller and adding Kevin Boss is a downgrade, though not a huge one. I still don’t see Jason Campbell as a fit for what they’re trying to do offensively, not that I’m entirely sure I know what that is. Simply put, 2010 felt like a fluke, and the Raiders are going to return to their normal joke-like state of affairs. Under.

Mike: Never change, Al Davis. Never change. The big news this week is, of course, Oakland taking Terrelle Pryor for a third-rounder in the supplemental draft. This, like most stories about the Raiders, is crazy, amusing, and will have zero impact on the 2011 season. Even without the suspension, Pryor would hang out with a clipboard the whole season. What will have an actual impact is the loss of the best cornerback in the league. I will say that Hue Jackson seems like a cool (I'm not willing to say "good") coach, especially the part where he commissioned a franchise history reel –- including current players -– to drive home some respect for the once-great franchise. Step one on the road to not being a terrible football team is having a coaching staff and players who believe you are no longer a terrible football team. Jackson is definitely a step in the right direction. It will take a while, but I think the Raiders will be back. Someday. Not now. Under.

Denver Broncos (5.5)

Mike: Remember when Tim Tebow was the future? He's now behind Brady Quinn on the depth chart. Awesome first-round pick great job, Josh McDaniels! The vast weight of the football chattering classes now seems to be behind trading him, or, as Merril Hoge suggested, simply cutting him and moving on. What a wasted opportunity (the pick, not the most exciting quarterback-to-tight-end project in the league). Anyway, Kyle Orton is about the definition of "average quarterback," which is better (by definition!) than what half the teams in the league are dealing with, so aside from the lost pick, Tebow drama won't really hurt the Broncos. What will hurt the Broncos is their hideous, hideous defense, with few playmakers and basically no useful depth. That said, this is a western division, and therefore awful. I'm going to say the offense continues to improve and they hit the over.

Tom: It’s really going to be too bad we don’t have McDaniels in charge of a team to kick around, so read the Broncos chapter in FOA 2011 for what’s likely to be your last sizable sample of that for a while. Keeping Orton is the right move from a short-term perspective; he’s not great, but he’s a lot better than I thought he’d be coming out of college and a lot better than he was early in his career. After years of Jake Delhomme, John Fox will probably be happy to play him until or even beyond his proper sell-by date. Elvis Dumervil’s return can only be a positive. The defense should be better. The running game can’t be worse. The division is mediocre. With a little bit of luck, I can see the Broncos winning 7 games. Over.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (9.5)

Mike: I've predicted doom and gloom for teams in the past who have lost their starting quarterbacks, but none have been half as important to their team as Peyton Manning (and to forestall the flamewar; the Patriots can win without Brady). Remember what I said about Polamalu? Manning is that kind of all-important engine writ large, and losing him for any significant time will be a disaster. Further, it's not just the few weeks he'll likely be sitting out, but also the few weeks it will take for him to get back up to speed when he returns. We are already down on the Colts, but I think this is the final nail in the coffin. Under.

Tom: The day of reckoning is coming, as the engines around Manning that have fueled the Colts’ record of excellence this millennium are showing their age. It nearly showed up in 2010, but was staved off. This year’s Colts remind me of the 2004 Titans -- the parallels aren’t exactly the same, but those Titans were another team that kept the band together for another year. Since the Titans were dependent on a cadre of key personnel that couldn’t make it through the season, the result was an overall team collapse. Manning is better and more durable than Steve McNair, and he’s the engine that makes the team go. With another cast of down divisional foes, I see the Colts eking out another double-digit win season and yet another AFC South title. Over.

Houston Texans (8.5)

Mike: So, the Texans finally hired someone who actually knows something about defense. Good for them, although it is sad to see the koan “what happens when you field half a football team” left unanswered. This offense is so good, I have trouble seeing just a .500 or losing season from them. Over.

Tom: One of my FOA chapters, the basic question for the Texans is a simple one: can the offense stay good enough and the defense improve enough so that the balance between the two is enough to put wins on the board? Seeing how that plays out is a question whose answer I’m not fully confident in. The projection machine could’ve spat out any number between 7 and 9 or 10 and I’d have been happy with it. 8.5 is in the intermediate part of that range. Speaking purely subjectively, I’m skeptical of the defensive talent, skeptical of the magnitude of the defensive improvement, skeptical of the rushing game (specifically the offensive line will be as productive as it was last year), and skeptical the Texans make 2011 the first year of what could be a mini-run atop the AFC South. Under, though not by much.

Tennessee Titans (6.5)

Mike: While the Titans had a profoundly disappointing season last year, they return this year with the two things that should aid a return to respectability: strong offensive and defensive lines. Regardless of the question marks surrounding Jake Locker (who won't even play) and the inexperience of their new head coach, the team is well-situated to spend a few years retooling and then jump back into the fray. “A few years” is the operative phrase here. Under.

Tom: Compare these Titans to the squad that ended 2010 by losing eight of their final nine contests. Kenny Britt is currently injured and may well be suspended. Chris Johnson’s contract situation has yet to be resolved, costing him all of training camp (and his lack of experience running pass routes and poor pass protection skills indicate that, yes, he could benefit from being in camp) in a holdout that may linger even longer. The secondary is pretty much the same as it was, and it was none too good the second half of last season. There’s a reasonable chance Matt Hasselbeck really is as close to as bad as he looked in Seattle, especially playing for a new coach with new terminology in a new scheme. That new scheme thing goes on defense as well, as the Titans try to solve a problem (run defense) that generally wasn’t (3rd in DVOA in 2010, and didn’t fall off in the second half close to as bad as the pass defense). This comes at the apparent cost of paying less attention to aggressively attacking opposing passers, which was what the defense did right when the pass defense results were better. There’s a good chance rookie head coach Mike Munchak has a very long season. Maybe not as long as the one Marvin Lewis has, but still plenty long enough. Under.

Jacksonville Jaguars (6)

Mike: The beneficiary of likely passing offense implosions by the Titans and Colts? The Jaguars, of course! Jacksonville finally has the division it has been wishing it was in for the past decade, where rushing offense and defense are more important due to the weakness of the non-Houston passing attacks. Will this make Jacksonville a juggernaut? Heck no! Will it hide their weaknesses a bit and let them play the smashmouth football the team seems to think is still viable? Heck yeah! Over.

Tom: Blaine Gabbert was a move for the future, and a good one, but it’s a real conundrum. The question that resolves that problem should be what’s best for Gabbert, but with Jack Del Rio’s status, that may or may not actually be the question he answers. Then again, starting Gabbert may buy him another year. As in 2009, so it was in 2010: the Jaguars didn’t have much business challenging the Colts for a playoff berth, but they did it anyway with smoke and mirrors, Maurice Jones-Drew, and just enough plays. Another whiff of playoff fever probably won’t be in the air, but the Jaguars are again a mediocre team more than a bad one, and that’s over in my book.

And we're done! Tune in next week for the always-exciting FO Staff Fantasy League recap, in which your Scramble writer Tom jumps into the fray. Mike will, as always, glide above the fracas, coat impeccable, and shower the combatants with sarcasm and mockery. A good time will be had by all!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 24 Aug 2011

48 comments, Last at 29 Aug 2011, 5:29pm by Blotzphoto

Comments

1
by I go for the easy joke (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 4:37pm

"The Colts keep everyone in line with the hitmen Peyton Manning bought"

I believe you mean Marvin Harrison.

43
by Alternator :: Fri, 08/26/2011 - 12:59am

Manning bought competent hitmen. The ones that Marvin hired went out and whacked a few Bengals or something.

2
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 4:37pm

Care to explain why you can't trust NE's secondary, Tom?

McCourty was a deserving pro bowler as a rookie in 2010 and Bodden was nearly as good in 2009 before spending 2010 on IR. Most of the issues NE faced in the secondary last year were due to guys being a step too high. Arrington isn't a good #2CB, but he is a solid nickle or dime defender. Pat Chung was forced into the slot on 3rd down and he isn't really designed for that. As a traditional SS, he is perfectly adequate in coverage. Butler had a rough year last year, but NE goes into 2011 relying less on him. Add in a promising rookie as the #4 and you have the makings of a very solid secondary, with the potential to be a top tier unit.

All that said, you made a solid choice with the O/U bet. Barring Brady getting hurt, the Patriots will win at least 13 games this year.

5
by Intropy :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 5:22pm

There's talent, and then there's trust. McCourty certainly was good last season, so there's reason to believe he's a good player. But he only did it for one season, so you don't really trust that he's going to be excellent again even if it's better than 50-50 he will be. Bodden is an up and down guy. Sometimes he plays very well, and sometimes not so much. Coming off a major injury, he's again a player with some talent who I still wouldn't trust to play well. Considering the Patriots' overall secondary play last season when McCourty did play extremely well, I think they it's righ to have reservations going into 2011. Now that's not a declaration that they will be bad, mind you, but it's reason enough not to trust them to play well.

6
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 5:45pm

Fair enough, though I must admit I don't agree on Bodden. Leigh isn't an "up and down" guy, he has been consistently very good with one really bad year for a really bad team. I also wouldn't label a torn rotator cuff that was healed by January a "major injury".

FWIW, after a pretty disastrous 2005 season when Rodney Harrison went down and Geno Wilson proved incapable of picking up the slack, FO ran some very pessimistic defensive projections for the 2006 season. I posted some arguments as to why the 2005 should be disregarded and was largely shot down.

I have the same feelings about this team, though I can see the point that this unit doesn't have a 2004 sitting their. They will be much better on defense than most fans expect. I'm sure of it.

7
by minja :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 5:53pm

Meh. Bodden, up or down or not, was their best CB by far going into last season. He is back and fully healthy. Dowling may or may not contribute this year in a meaningful way. McCourty should be solid, as should Chung.

Regardless, the biggest difference, and the reason their secondary will look great this year, will be the ability of the Pats to actually generate a pass rush without resorting to blitzing the house. To anyone who actually watched the games last year, it was painfully obvious that the secondary's biggest weakness was that they couldn't cover their receivers for the 10-30 seconds it took for the d-line to pressure the QB. Bringing that down to a more reasonable 3-4 seconds will make these guys look brilliant by comparison.

So this again comes down to trust, but I'm pinning it on the d-line. Trust in Fat Albert. Hey hey hey!

10
by Nathan :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 8:01pm

Haha, I know it's probably exaggerated for effect, but do can you imagine what 30 seconds of pass protection would actually look like? What's the longest duration play in the history of the league? Some Fran Tarkenton scramble? That's probably 15 seconds max?

14
by Kurt :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 9:31pm

The Steve Bono 80 yard bootleg probably took about a minute and a half.

18
by Intropy :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 10:13pm

14 seconds

22
by Theo :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 10:59pm

The Saints miracle play? 25 seconds.

34
by SandyRiver :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 12:08pm

No idea of the time, but I think you have the right guy - nobody extended a play like Tarkenton. (When asked how often he called in the huddle for a scramble, he replied, "None. You scramble off the broken play.") SI did a feature on him when he was traded to the Giants, and it included his (probably augmented for entertainment value) description of some scrambles. One I recall - filtered thru 40+ years of fading memory: Playing against Detroit and at the Lion's 45, he went back to pass only to find two tackles in his face - can't remember the one not named Karras. Fran kept ducking back and forth but they held contain all the way back to the Minn 10 yard line, at which point he escaped. Dodging tacklers all over the field ("players darting about like waterbugs") he recovered 32 yards before going down. Then the crowd gave him a standing O. For a 13-yard loss!

12
by Tom Gower :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 8:41pm

What Intropy said, mostly.

Just for the record, cornerbacks in their rookie or second years, first year starters (14+ starts that year), 6+ interceptions, 2000-present: Deltha O'Neal, Chris Gamble, Dunta Robinson, Devin McCourty. Yeah, small sample size, but after writing about the 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year's deeply disappointing sophomore campaign I'm deeply skeptical about rookie performance unless I've watched the player particularly closely.

13
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 8:55pm

If you get the time, please check out McCourty. He wasn't a kid who collected a few picks and was otherwise mediocre, Devin was genuinely very, very good. I won't be surprised if he is slightly worse, but I'll be shocked if he becomes ordinary.

3
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 4:47pm

"Despite the offseason upgrades to the (Jets) receiving corps"

I'm still unsure if they did upgrade the receiving corps. I'm optimistic that Burress will eventually be better than 2010 Edwards, but will he be this year? Using recently incarcerated players as precendent (Jamaal Lewis, Vick), the answer is no. Cotchery was a fine WR, IMO and I don't think a 37 year old Mason is much of an improvement, if one at all.

4
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 4:58pm

"from what I’ve seen I’m a big fan of new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky from his work with the 49ers"

I was too for a while but then his ultra-vanilla scheme began to really annoy me. A particular irritant was his adherence to regarding his defense as a mirror, where players on the left and the right are seen as interchangeable. It might not be the worst idea in the world if you geniunely have the right players but the niners didn't. Lawson was good in coverage but couldn't rush the passer, while Haralson and Laboy could rush a bit but are hideous in coverage. Nevertheless, these players with different skills were used identically. This makes even less sense when your weakside inside linebacker is a unique talent and you only have one end that brings any heat on the quarterback. What this means for San Diego is that you can look forwards to seeing Shaun Phillips dropping into coverage as often as he attacks the pocket, and if he does, his numbers will drop and we'll all know why. (there is a perfectly good chance that this was all Singletary's idea and he was screwing the defense as much as the offense, in which case ignore what I've said)

42
by Moderate Mouse (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 10:32pm

I don't think so. Manusky was the Chargers linebackers coach for a few years under Wade Phillips. I'd guess Singletary wanted him to drop his best pass rushers into coverage, whereas Phillips ran a 5-2 defense and always rushed the front 5. The new defense will probably be a mix between the two.

8
by Theo :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 6:38pm

I agree the Steelers need Polamalu. He's a linebacker disguised as safety, or a safety with linebacking skills - he's Polamalu. What I don't understand is that the steelers don't try to find someone with the same skill set. Sure, you won't find Polamalu 2, but a Polamalu-minus must be out there somewhere. I can't find him on the Steelers roster though.

9
by Intropy :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 7:58pm

That's Lawrence Timmons, but he's busy already starting for them. Charles Woodson fits the bill, but he's spoken for and older than Polamalu anyway. Quinton Mikell is good at everything, but he just signed in St. Louis.

17
by Theo :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 9:54pm

Woodson, yes.
Have Cortez Allen, who is considered big (6'1 - 197lb)
Got Da'mon Cromartie Smith who is 6'2 210.
So at least they are trying.

11
by Nathan :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 8:05pm

What's so awesome about Polamalu was there was a year and a half or so there where the thought was starting to creep into my mind "maybe this guy's overrated"... cut to 3 years later, hell no. People throw out the term "game changer"... Troy Polamalu makes game changing plays time and time again. Not a huge Steelers fan, but the guy is an absolute joy to watch.

15
by Theo :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 9:31pm

True.
Because he gambles he will miss some plays, so a while back I thought he was overrated. He missed some plays 2 seasons back. Man was I wrong.
Last year, every time the Steelers were having a hard time, Polamalu makes a big play and we're right back in the game.

31
by Independent George :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 11:56am

I actually had the opposite feeling. Not long ago, I thought he was the greatest safety I've ever seen, as he was generally successful more often than not on his gambles. I thought he deserved the defensive MVP award during the year that Harrison got it.

This past season, though I noticed while he tended to be successful against bad teams, he also got exploited badly by the smart QBs. The New England game was obvious - the entire offensive gameplan seemed to be to bait Polamalu out of position and then hit the space he vacated. To a lesser extent, Rodgers did the same thing in the Super Bowl.

I realize that getting burned by Brady & Rodgers is hardly something to be ashamed at, but what struck me in both instances is that Polamalu seemed to be the target in both cases. It still takes a great QB to sell it well enough for him to bite, but even that didn't seem to work just a few years ago.

33
by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 12:05pm

He was getting burned late in the season because he as playing at 3/4 speed. So he'd overcommit to try to make up for his missing gear, and more frequently get caught jumping early on a play.

35
by Temo :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 12:13pm

He's also 30 now. You've definitely already seen the best of him. But there's a chance he plays 3/4ths speed the rest of his career. He could beat the clock ala Ed Reed (and even he has started missing games, though still elite when he actually plays), but probability dictates that he probably won't.

On the upside, I think safety is a relatively wear-and-tear free position.

25
by Jerry :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 2:40am

He's a linebacker disguised as safety, or a safety with linebacking skills

That sounds like Carnell Lake (who's now the Steelers' DB coach). Polamalu is a unique player, who, as Nathan says, is fun to watch flying around. Trying to find someone who can play like him isn't worth the trouble; they're better off backing him up with a more conventional safety who's a decent player than with someone who's trying to imitate what Troy does.

28
by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 10:54am

In theory that's Taylor Mays, but he's not Polamalu-minus, he's the short-bus version.

Other historical examples -- Bob Sanders -- who was the non-resilient version. Louis Delmas is sort of a Polamalu-minus, but the Lions would sooner trade their eye-teeth.

16
by Megamanic :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 9:46pm

although it is sad to see the koan “what happens when you field half a football team” left unanswered.

That got answered 30 years ago - you lose to Cincinnati in the AFC Championship game...

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198201100cin.htm

19
by John (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 10:16pm

Holy cow, -32º wind chill?

It's hard to imagine: it's been so long since the Bengals made the AFC championship game, that they were preceded just a few years before that by the Seattle Seahawks (losing to the LA Raiders).

C'mon, Cincinnati, get it in gear. Just, y'know, not at the expense of my Colts.

26
by trickydonut :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 2:55am

Yeah, I was there, and believe it or not, it felt colder. There were drunken idiots running around with their shirts off. What was awesome was when the Bengals offensive line came out with bare arms.

37
by Drunkmonkey :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 12:53pm

So, the last time the Bengals made an AFC title game, it was during an ice age? That is a long time...

46
by JimZipCode :: Fri, 08/26/2011 - 3:02pm

Uh, no. The Bengals were in the Super Bowl after the 1988 seasons, with Boomer Esiason and Sam Wyche. Tim Krumrie had the gruesome leg injury in the first quarter. Jerry Rice was the MVP.

48
by Blotzphoto :: Mon, 08/29/2011 - 5:29pm

People forget how close that game was. Lewis Billups holds on to a ball that hit him in the numbers... so close... ;(

27
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 6:29am

I feel last year's Texans (and to a lesser extent the Broncos, Jaguars and Panthers) had a pretty respectable attempt at updating the experiment. It seems things may have changed since 1981, to the tune of 5 regular season wins (on average).

20
by sundown (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 10:17pm

"The team is trying to unload him, apparently, but nobody is interested."

Any source for that info? I haven't seen that anywhere else. And a quick Google search showed several sources specifically saying they've heard Denver ISN'T trying to move him right now. I suspect there would be few takers, but just curious as to what source provided that story.

23
by Mike Kurtz :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 11:04pm

I apologize, I misread a Freeman piece on the subject, saying in essence that they're not denying the possibility. The paragraph has been changed.

24
by Theo :: Wed, 08/24/2011 - 11:25pm

Mike, you're right.
Tom Heckert JR is the GM of the Browns. Holmgren is the 'President' whatever that may be.
So when the Browns go 5-11 this season and 6-10 next, they fire the Head Coach and probably Heckert too. There is no one to have a plan top down, like the Cowboys, Raiders, Steelers, Redskins, Packers, Ravens, Patriots have. They have an owner who says: "I want this. Make it happen."
Instead Mike Holmgren will say to the next GM "I want you to go out and find a head coach and install a winning franchise, and you have 2 years to do it!"
So New GM goes out to new Head Coach and says "I want you to install a scheme and find the players to do it, and I want you to be winning in 2 years!!"
So New Head Coach goes out, realizes that he needs receivers and has to go through 2 levels to ask for a change in mentality.
2 years later: lather rinse repeat.

29
by Temo :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 11:10am

Bill Belichick and the Patriots? Orbital mind-control lasers.

Or, you know, the fact that it was a preseason game.

30
by Temo :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 11:21am

Sanchez so far in his career has done just barely enough for me to not call him a bust. He's been straddling that line with great balance so far, without tipping into the "decent player" and "bust" piles yet.

32
by Deemo15 :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 11:56am

Mike, you give no actual reason why the Chiefs will not go over. This team is better than the one that won the division last year (yes NFC West helped). They will go 3-1 against the NFC North and 3-1 against the AFC East. They will beat Indy and I think they can get just one in the division. KC is one of my overwhelmingly obvious overs, though I do agree with Buff and Jax being solid candidates too.

36
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 12:18pm

You really like the Chiefs to go 3-1 against the NFC North and AFC East? I'd say the Jets were a clearly superior team, the Bears a probably superior team and the Lions and Dolphins at least not clearly inferior.

39
by Jonadan :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 1:41pm

The Dolphins aren't clearly anything, which in my mind makes them inferior to the Chiefs who are at least clearly last year's division winners with a bit of experience now and what I think are upgrades on the balance of things.

I see 2-2 vs AFC East, 2-2 vs NFC North (L vs GB, W vs MIN, split CHI & DET but I can't tell which way (because I'm a Lions fan)). So tally a loss to PIT and even a loss to IND (since we can still assume Manning will be playing by October no matter what, right?) and you get 4-6 to work on the division from.

That's where I'm skeptical: last year KC went 2-4 there, and got absolutely pounded once by each opponent without returning the favor. They lost twice to the Raiders (run defense issues I guess?). So I have a hard time putting them any higher than 3-3 here. I assume the pecking order is SD, KC, and then OAK and DEN are completely unpredictable but Oakland's got the same offense and Denver can't possibly be a 4-12 team again, can they?

Short version: Chiefs have to win their divisional games this year to maintain a respectable record.

---
"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

45
by Noah of Arkadia :: Fri, 08/26/2011 - 9:25am

I see what you mean about the Dolphins. They have a good young defense and WRs, but who knows what they have in Henne? They aren't clearly bad or clearly good, but could go either way. The thing is, I don't think the Chiefs are clearly good, either, just cause they won a weak division last year.

So yeah, they're going to have to work hard for that win.

38
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 1:21pm

No way they go 3-1 against the AFC east. 1-3 is more likely. Beat Indy? I wouldn't bet on it, either. Not on week 5. It also wouldn't surprise me if they went 2-2 vs the NFC North.

They're just not that good.

40
by tuluse :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 3:31pm

I would be surprised if they went better than 2-2 against the NFC North. I could see 0-4 depending how how the Vikings shake out (FO is quite high on them).

44
by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Fri, 08/26/2011 - 8:13am

I'd be fine with the Chiefs beating the Pats, Jets and Bills... That IS what you meant, right?

41
by Yuri (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2011 - 5:29pm

It's fun to see you guys stick your necks out with SB prop bets, and with these over-unders. I hope that we will also have the weekly game picking contest between Scramble writers, like in the FO of old (or, you can index your picks to Bill Simmons' and see if the advanced metrics beat the BS ones).

On the other hand, don't care at all about any updates from the FO the staff fantasy league!

47
by cjfarls :: Mon, 08/29/2011 - 12:50pm

What will hurt the Broncos is their hideous, hideous defense, with few playmakers and basically no useful depth.

With Champ & DJ Williams, plus Dumervil coming back and the additons of some serious upgarades in speed at LB/DE (Miller) and Saefty (Moore), I'm not so worried about DEN's lack of "playmakers" on DEF. Miller so far looks unblockable coming off the edge, and Doom appears to be back to 2009 15+ sack form.

Depth is absolutely the biggest concern (particularly in the middle of the D-line), as well as rookie mistakes (I expect us to be susceptible to screens and misdirection plays as MLB (Mays/Irving) and Miller learn the game). A few injuries in key places could sink this team.

But mid-pack DEF is probably not a poor prediction for DEN's DEF, and if the rookies can learn quickly and the DTs stay healthy I think the new "Orange Rush" DEF will seriously surprise folks this year.