by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where we near the end of one of the quietest preseasons I can remember. Absolutely nothing of note has happened since last week's column, and certainly nothing that might affect the prospects of the teams we feature this week.
Bryan: We almost went the whole over/under series without the Curse of Scramble coming into play. Every year, once we've written one of these things, something happens which invalidates our opinions -- usually in the form of an ACL tear to a key player. ACL tears have actually been down this preseason, so we thought we would be drama-free. That kinda fell apart on Saturday night, didn't it?
Andrew: I have no idea what you could possibly mean. It's business as usual in both of these divisions, isn't it?
Oh, you mean that thing. Yeah.
Note: "Last Over" and "Last Under" below list the last time each team went over this year's over/under number.
Andrew: I don't usually like to make absolute statements, but I am perfectly content asserting that no division in the NFL has seen its landscape shift more over the past week than the AFC South. One team suddenly lost its starting running back to that bane of the NFL preseason, the dreaded ACL tear. That would normally be headline news, except the division favorites lost their starting quarterback not only for the season, but quite possibly permanently when Andrew Luck stunned the sport by retiring on Saturday night.
Bryan: Being on Twitter in the moments immediately after was kind of like the milling about in the street you get after an earthquake -- everyone logging on just to try to confirm to people that yes, this just really happened.
Andrew: Being in Europe (at least for the next couple of months) I woke up to the aftermath -- scores of shocked fans in varying stages of mourning. That had almost a Destruction of Alderaan feel to it -- you know the line, millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I genuinely stared at Twitter on my phone for probably 15 minutes, just refreshing the feed and rubbing my freshly woken eyes in disbelief.
So yeah, we usually like to cover the teams in alphabetical order for these articles, but given the sheer impact of this on the rest of the AFC South, we feel it's only right to look at the Colts out of sequence before we move on to the others.
Indianapolis Colts (7)
Last Over: 2018 (Head coach: Frank Reich; Quarterback: Andrew Luck)
Last Under: 2017 (Chuck Pagano, Jacoby Brissett)
Bryan: This will be the first season the Colts haven't had the best quarterback in their division, healthy or not, since they joined the AFC South in 2002. How far back that stretch goes is left as an exercise for the reader, as I know better than to re-spark the Brady/Manning wars of the past.
Andrew: I listened earlier to an episode of the Pushing the Odds podcast that talked about the immediate and far-reaching impact of the Luck news on all manner of sportsbooks, from the obvious -- over/unders, Week 1 money lines -- to the less obvious, such as handicaps, player lines, and playoff odds simulations. For our own purposes, the line is down 2.5 wins from where it was when we expected Luck to be the starting quarterback, and the Colts have gone from prohibitive favorites to win the division to favorites to finish last.
Bryan: In doing so, this has gone from one of the easiest lines for me to pick to one of the hardest, so thanks, Andrew. No, not you Andrew, the other An -- oh, forget it.
Before Luck's retirement, the Colts had some Super Bowl buzz around them -- star quarterback, talented young roster, weak division, so on and so forth. I wasn't quite on board with that, though. Playoffs, sure, but I had them a rung short of the cream of the crop; somewhere in that eight- to 10-win range.
Andrew: Still, I'm pretty sure I'd have taken the over on a 9.5-win line. Now, who even knows? The last time we saw Jacoby Brissett, he was playing on a bad Colts team with a very poor coaching staff barely a week after being traded to them. He wasn't awful, but I don't see how we extrapolate from what we've seen of Brissett to what we're about to see. I mean, this isn't Brissett coming in as a backup this time. With Luck hurt, he has been taking the first-team reps all summer. Now, he is THE quarterback for the first time in his career. What an opportunity!
Bryan: I used to do fact-checking for MMQB's Andy Benoit, and he tweeted out that the Colts should still be the favorites in the division, as Brissett has "all the attributes to become a high-level starting QB." I'm not with him there, but I do think the Colts have a high level of comfort in Brissett, and that he should look better than he did in the past. This is not particularly a good thing for the Colts, honestly, because it means I kind of think of the Colts now as a five- to eight-win team -- not good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to get a top pick to find a young quarterback in the draft. They may have plummeted from playoff contender into no man's land here.
Andrew: If we assume that Brissett isn't going to either sink the team single-handedly or elevate them in his first year as a permanent starter in a tailor-fit offense, what do we make of the rest of the roster? They've received a huge amount of plaudits for the progress they've made around the quarterback, particularly in last year's draft. They still have that mauling line from last year; they still have T.Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack, and the tight ends; they should have upgraded the pass rush with Justin Houston; and they may well have the best pair of inside linebackers in the division with Telvin Smith taking a year off. The secondary has a lot of potential. This was more than just the Andrew Luck show last year, and there's still plenty to like, especially compared to the last time Brissett was starting. Competent quarterbacking could take them a fair distance in a division with no great teams.
Bryan: I like the general direction the rest of the team was going in, but I think the defense was a little bit overrated last year, considering they had the easiest slate of offenses in the league in 2018. Add the likes of the Chiefs, Chargers, and Saints to the schedule, like they get this year, and the difficulty notch gets cranked up just a wee tiny bit. To their credit, they didn't just sit tight, adding Justin Houston and going defense early and often in the draft, but I think there's a decent chance of a slight backslide this year on that side of the ball.
Andrew: That's true, but they also get the Raiders, Dolphins, and Broncos, all at home, which should help offset some of the pain they will undoubtedly experience on the road. I definitely think they'll lose more than half of their games outside Indiana, but I also think they'll win at least six on their own turf. Again, this isn't a division with any great teams -- in fact, sans Luck, this is the division in which I would be least surprised to find an 8-8 winner. Holding serve at home could be all it takes.
Bryan: What I worry about is that somewhere, someone (perhaps in Atlanta or Los Angeles) has grabbed a Monkey's Paw and gone "please, don't let the Patriots make the Super Bowl. I can't stand another two weeks of hearing how great Tom Brady is." And now we're going to get a Colts-49ers Super Bowl, with Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo going head to head, so we'll get two weeks of hearing how great Tom Brady is to prepare his former backups for this opportunity.
I'm going to take the under, though this is the hardest team to pick in the division now. I'm just not confident in the quarterback, and I think the shock of the sudden retirement will have a hangover effect on the rest of the squad.
Andrew: Unless Brissett is the type of disaster that I just don't think he has shown himself likely to be, I have no trouble finding six wins on this schedule and another six winnable. No, that doesn't mean I think they'll be 12-4, but 8-8 is perfectly plausible. This season is Brissett's to grasp. I think he grasps it. Over, even if only by a neckbeard.
Houston Texans (8.5)
Last Over: 2018 (Bill O'Brien, DeShaun Watson)
Last Under: 2017 (Bill O'Brien, DeShaun Watson)
Bryan: Lamar Miller tears his ACL and MCL and it isn't even big enough news to keep the Texans as the first team we cover in the division. We normally go in alphabetical order, for goodness' sake.
Andrew: You appear to have made the classic mistake of thinking that running backs matter, mon ami. Plus, the Texans just traded for Duke Johnson. Surely no AFC South team would trade for a running back from the Browns if they didn't think he could be an effective stand-in for their star man.
Bryan: I actually like Duke Johnson a lot better than Carlos Hyde, even if Johnson has never been asked to carry a full load on the NFL level. He was supposed to replace the (injured and released) D'Onta Foreman, not carry the entire load himself. Houston is left with Buddy Howell, Sam McManus, and Josh Ferguson behind him now, and to show you just how anonymous that group is, I made one of those names up and you didn't notice.
Andrew: To be fair, there is somebody out there called Sam McManus, and he might even be one of the Texans' approximately 346 general managers (rough estimate based on previous accounting trends). A running back, however, he is not. Nor is he an offensive tackle, which remains the absolute No. 1 priority on offense. We've just witnessed a team in the same division set a new standard for negative consequences from failure to protect its most important playing asset.
The Texans also still have major question marks concerning the future of star edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney. That defense hasn't been quite as great as it ought to be, given the edge rushing talent, since a certain elder statesman headed west to Los Angeles, but the prospective loss/absence of Clowney makes a big difference to their perception and, I have to expect, their performance.
Bryan: Unlike last year, where we had to write about the Raiders before knowing whether or not Khalil Mack would be in silver and black, I do think the Texans will enjoy Clowney's services this season. There's a lot of smoke about potential trades, but I think in the end, the Texans will hang on to him and let him walk at the end of 2019, getting nothing in return for him. This may be one of the downsides to having no general manager, mind you. My "favorite" rumor -- in the "never going to happen" category -- is a one-for-one swap of Clowney for Melvin Gordon, in an exchange of disgruntled contract-seekers.
Andrew: Surely, not even Bill O'Brien...
Now if he could get a Patriots player in exchange, say James White, then we're having a different conversation.
Bryan: All that being said, that defense should still be pretty darn good, with or without Clowney. And the offense still has DeShaun Watson, assuming he can stay upright considering Houston's laissez faire approach to protection. I had them squeaking out a division title before this weekend, and I think I still give it to them after the fact. I'll take the over.
Andrew: I don't really see where the Texans have improved from last season, and if Clowney leaves I can certainly see where they'd have declined, but the Luck news completely changes the landscape of the division. Houston appears best-placed to take advantage simply because they now have the best quarterback of the four teams. I don't see a realistic path to last season's 11-5 record, but I can buy 9-7 without too much trouble. Over.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7.5)
Last Over: 2017 (Doug Marrone, Blake Bortles)
Last Under: 2018 (Doug Marrone, Blake Bortles)
Bryan: According to these over/unders, we're talking about the Kings of Florida here; the only team projected to get out of double-digit losses. Poor Florida football fans.
Andrew: The scheduling is absolutely critical here; just look at the first six weeks. The Chiefs will hope to be contending for the No. 1 seed. The Texans are the favorites for the division. The Broncos and Panthers are both very tough road trips, and the Saints are the favorites for the NFC. It's very, very easy to see the Jaguars sitting at 1-5 heading into Cincinnati. If that happens, the wheels could come off very quickly. Even 3-3 from that schedule is a positive outcome.
Bryan: Frankly, it doesn't get that much easier after the bye, with four road trips and a home game against the Chargers. Easier, sure, but not by a ton. Maybe they go 3-4 after the bye, and maybe they can pull a 4-5 record out of the first half of the season. Unless Nick Foles is 2013 Nick Foles or Super Bowl Nick Foles and not, you know, All Other Datapoints Nick Foles.
Andrew: They don't necessarily need him to be Super Bowl Foles; just Not Blake Bortles will be an upgrade.
Bryan: Blake Bortles will make anything feel refreshing and new. Failed completions from the failed completions king are better than Bortles running around, throwing incomplete passes and interceptions and generally not looking competent.
Andrew: Foles is, however, the only place they look better now than they did a year ago. Geoff Swaim is probably not the answer at tight end; Cedric Ogbuehi is even less the answer at right tackle; and Chris Conley is probably a better third receiver than they had last year but that's a rich team kinda problem to fix and the Jaguars are not nearly rich enough to expend resources on rich team problems. The defense is going to be good again, but they're going to need to be able to score points to beat the schedule in front of them and I'm just not confident in them having enough against the caliber of teams in front of them.
Bryan: Fun fact: Jacksonville has the lowest offensive projection for any team which doesn't have an early-round rookie or second-year quarterback on their roster (no, Gardner Minshew does not count).
Andrew: That fact is not nearly as fun for me as it is for you.
So yes, 3-6 is a realistic number going into the bye; that leaves them scrambling to go 4-3 afterward. This looks like a 7-9 team dressed up in 9-7 expectations. A rough opening will lower those expectations rapidly. Under.
Bryan: Even calling them a 7-9 team might be giving them too much credit. That defense is stellar, possibly the best in football. It is going to be wasted again by troubles on offense. Under.
Tennessee Titans (7.5)
Last Over: 2018 (Mike Vrabel, Marcus Mariota)
Last Under: 2015 (Mike Mularkey, Marcus Mariota)
Bryan: I am at a crossroads here. Our staff predictions article will be out this time next week, and (spoilers!) I have the Titans listed as the team most likely to underperform our DVOA projections. In the aftermath of last weekend, Tennessee becomes our favorite to win the AFC South, 0.2 games ahead of Houston. I don't think they're going to win the division. At the same time, 7.5 wins isn't too difficult a task to hit, considering the chaos in the division and their general overarching competence. Can I really call them underperformers and still take the over? Or does one of those gotta budge? Tough call.
Andrew: Three straight years of 9-7 suggest a team that is generally competent, but just not especially good at anything. That's what I wrote about the Titans in last year's Almanac, and though they took a slightly different strategic direction last season, that's still how I would describe them this year. Marcus Mariota is not a star, but he's good enough, if they can ever figure out how to keep him healthy. The defense isn't loaded with edge rushers like, say, Houston, but it's good enough. The offensive line isn't a gang of maulers like Indy's, but it's good enough. The Titans are nobody's favorites for anything, whether for the AFC playoffs or the No. 1 pick. They're just good enough.
Bryan: And that screams 8-8, which is right in that sweet spot between their 7.5-win line and not winning the division. Hence my dilemma.
A quarterback competition between Mariota and Ryan Tannehill has to be one of the least-inspiring competitions in recent memory, yeah? Not the worst duo fighting for a job, but … Mariota? Tannehill? Who's getting super-excited over either of them in 2019? We are on Year 8 of "maybe Tannehill can still develop!" and Year 5 for Mariota. If Tannehill is the human golf clap, what we have here is a polite round of applause after saving par.
Andrew: I do like the addition of Adam Humphries here, but again getting excited over signing a slot receiver from the Buccaneers is ... it's hardly the stuff of a marketing department's dreams. Jeremy McNichols carried a ton of hype two years ago, also in Tampa Bay, but pass-block-faceplanted his way from Florida all the way to San Francisco and back. A new pair of guards should help, but that's like hanging new drapes on the stadium windows. Sure, it's nice, but it doesn't really make the place look different. It's a 9-7 team. It'll be a 9-7 team with Kevin Pamphile and Rodger Saffold at guard, just as it was with Josh Kline and Quinton Spain. I don't have any real worries with the Titans, other than maybe Mariota's health, but I also don't see a lot to get excited about. Over and out.
Bryan: Our editors say that we agree an awful lot, so in the interest of sparking debate, I will have to vehemently disagree with you. It's not a 9-7 team, it's an 8-8 team! Hah! Take that scathing comeback!
Andrew: I've already broken my usual rule of not speaking in absolutes, so I may as well do so again: This is overall the strongest division in the sport, and I'm not being a total homer when I say that. Two of the teams have made the Super Bowl in the past handful of seasons, and the third should have done so last year but for an epic and unforgettable refereeing failure in the playoffs. (Well, that and a horrible overtime interception, but hush.)
Bryan: I can't quite agree that it's the strongest from top to bottom, as a team from Florida plays in the division. That pretty much rules them out there. Nor can I say the division has the best top two, because the AFC West is a thing. But if you're looking for a division with three solid teams in it, you won't find one better than the NFC South, in my book.
Andrew: There's a lot of intrigue here too. The Saints are trying to overcome a second straight devastating playoff loss. The Panthers revamped their defense, but their quarterback's health is still in question. The Buccaneers hired the unique character that is Bruce Arians as their head coach. We start with the Falcons, who just turned over their entire coaching staff, placing their head coach firmly on the hot seat.
Atlanta Falcons (8.5)
Last Over: 2017 (Dan Quinn, Matt Ryan)
Last Under: 2018 (Dan Quinn, Matt Ryan)
Bryan: There's something in the water in the NFC South. In the DVOA Era (going back to 1986), there have been nine teams that have replaced all their coordinators while keeping their head coach in place. Most recently, those have been the 2018 Panthers and now the 2019 Falcons. Fire the underlings and keep the CEO from blame!
Andrew: It doesn't really work like that though, does it? Now, if 2019 is as much of a failure as 2018, there's only one coach common to both years. Not that 2018 was that much of a failure, given the circumstances. Firing all three coordinators seems ever so slightly like an overreaction, considering the team's awful injury luck.
Bryan: Dan Quinn has lit the fire under his own hot seat, hasn't he? It feels like playoffs or bust for him now; there are no more cards for him to play to respond to another poor season, barring perhaps a season-ending injury to Matt Ryan. And it's a good offense, don't get me wrong -- with Ryan-to-Julio Jones, there's only so bad an offense can be. It's that defense that worries me, and that's supposed to be Quinn's area of expertise.
Andrew: I've been waiting on progress from that young defense for what seems like an eternity now. It could still happen, too -- Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, Takk McKinley, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Devondre Campbell, and Isaiah Oliver are all 27 or younger.
Bryan: But most of those guys were here last year. And many of them were here the year before! It's a defense full of potential energy, but it has never gelled together. I'm not sure why this year would be different, other than it just being yet another chance for the right elements to connect.
Andrew: That's exactly why I'm losing patience with it. The defensive front has never been an especially stout unit, but they're lacking pass-rush quality now more than they did even last season. The secondary has some good players, but they haven't been able to elevate any of those players to make a great unit. They're also very, very shallow.
Meanwhile, I'm less than encouraged by the direction of travel on offense. I'm a huge Matt Ryan fan -- I've said repeatedly that in a bigger market he'd be a certain Hall of Fame candidate -- and the receivers are great, but the line isn't improving and the scheme has slid backwards from where it was under Kyle Shanahan. Dirk Koetter is a safe but uninspiring appointment as a coordinator, and it just doesn't look like it will be enough without the strides forward on defense that I'm finally admitting to myself might not materialize.
Bryan: 8.5 wins seems very optimistic, considering what we saw last year. The line has already ticked down (it opened at 9), but I don't think it has ticked down enough. In what we're thinking is going to be a very good division, the Falcons are running a half-step behind their top competitors. Under.
Andrew: The Falcons have a strong track record, even accounting for last season, but I think they've peaked under Quinn and I don't see them reaching those heights again without a big infusion of talent on defense. I'm not persuaded that this offseason's moves do enough to shift the needle past 8-8. They aren't going to be awful, but I won't be surprised by under in a tough conference.
Carolina Panthers (8)
Last Under: 2018 (Ron Rivera, Cam Newton)
Last Over: 2017 (Ron Rivera, Cam Newton)
Bryan: Man, we were all going crazy for Norv Turner's new offense during the first half of 2018. What happened?
Oh yeah, injuries. Injuries happened. And lots of them. Well, at least the Panthers don't have to worry about Cam Newton being banged up going into the start of 201... dang it.
Andrew: There's a world of difference, though, between "banged up with an ankle sprain" and "totally unable to throw the ball 25 yards." Newton should be fine in the former circumstance. It's the latter that caused last season's second-half collapse. The Panthers, in theory, drafted Will Grier as insurance in case Newton's injury flares up again, which ... well, it suggests that they don't exactly have 100 percent confidence that it won't, and that's troubling. I'm not sure there's any greater concern for a quarterback than persistent shoulder injuries.
If Newton is healthy, though, this team has a chance to be amazing. Last year was a great disappointment because of both Newton's injury and a defensive fade. This year's defense looks much, much better.
Bryan: I'm still not fully sold on their young cornerbacks, but otherwise, the Panthers don't have a lot of obvious, gaping flaws to worry about, which is always nice. Free-agent acquisitions Gerald McCoy and Bruce Irvin aren't the players they once were, but they're still very solid, and Matt Paradis over Ryan Kalil is quietly a huge upgrade.
Andrew: Plus, the secondary is always the worry with the Panthers. Ron Rivera has made a career in Carolina out of weaving the kind of patchwork coverage that goes down a storm at a baby shower. Not having to start the last vestiges of Mike Adams at free safety can only help. If the young guys struggle, there are also some talented and experienced depth options. I really like the look of the Panthers defense if they can mesh it all together like they usually do.
Also, did you notice? The Panthers have actual, professional offensive tackles. It's not Mike Remmers and/or Matt Kalil anymore!
Bryan: You don't have to sell me on Daryl Williams, I was there since he was drafted. Just ignore the part where I said he "doesn't have the footwork to play left tackle" please, OK, thanks.
Andrew: Done. So that just leaves the question of (gulp) the kicker, with Graham Gano apparently struggling due to some injury or other. We just need to ask the Buccaneers how that could go.
Still, I really like this roster. Norv Turner appears to be a good fit for Cam Newton. Christian McCaffrey is magnificent. The receiving group is, top to bottom, one of the strongest in the league, even if there isn't an established top talent like those enjoyed by their three division rivals. The line should be the best it's been in half a decade. The front seven is diverse and talented, and even the secondary has more potential than usual. If it all comes together, this is a dark horse contender for not just the playoffs but the NFC title. Even if it doesn't, though, there's more than enough here to hit a comfortable over.
Bryan: You're higher on this group than I am, but there's plenty of room between your sunshine-and-rose-colored-glasses outlook and a bleh 8-8 season for me to hit the over as well.
New Orleans Saints (10)
Last Over: 2018 (Sean Payton, Drew Brees)
Last Under: 2016 (Sean Payton, Drew Brees)
Andrew: This is all setting up beautifully for the Saints to lose in the playoffs this year when a marginal pass interference call is overturned on replay, isn't it?
Bryan: I'm pretty sure the likely ending is for them to fight through the adversity, come back to the NFC Championship Game and win in overtime despite a PI call that shockingly isn't overturned, but I suppose that depends if you prefer your endings Hollywood-style or Shakespearean tragedy.
Andrew: Prefer is an emotionally charged word. I prefer my team to win its division handily, best all comers in the conference, make a surprise onside kick in the Super Bowl, and lift the roof off the stadium with a pick-six of Peyton Manning. That seems unlikely this year. Well, parts of it anyway.
So, he asks hubristically, do we think the Saints are the best team in the conference, or merely the division?
Bryan: Well, let's see here. They have a 40-year-old quarterback who could, theoretically, fall off a cliff at any moment (Tom Brady counterexample aside). They've lost two key linemen to retirement and injury. Their cornerback situation outside of Marshon Lattimore is worrisome, and even Lattimore wasn't as good last year as he was as a rookie. They clearly lack confidence in their receiving corps, as they tried to cycle through Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall last year to disappointing results. They won five games by four points or fewer last season, an unsustainable rate of success.
Of course I have them as the Super Bowl champions. Silly question.
Andrew: You annoyingly reasonable spoilsport, you. While rumors of Drew Brees' demise are probably greatly exaggerated, the receiving situation other than Michael Thomas last year was, charitably, suboptimal. Fortunately, one part of that was addressed convincingly. I'm not a Jared Cook believer, but he is the best receiving tight end the team has had since Jimmy Graham. I expect the offense to be perfectly fine.
The defense still scares me. Not just in a Brandon Browner PTSD sort of way, more in a "zero confidence in any of the coaches" sort of way. I theorized during Lattimore's (and Marcus' Williams') spectacular debut season that the secondary coaches just hadn't had time to "coach" him (them) yet. The second-year results didn't entirely dispel that concern. What gives me hope is that it still isn't nearly as bad as it has been in the past; I think the talent is finally too much for that. It would still be nice to see coaching that elevates the unit overall, like we just discussed with Ron Rivera.
Bryan: Even if the defense underwhelms -- and I agree that there's enough talent there for it to be a top-10 unit, if not much more than that -- I still think the Saints make the playoffs easily. They're one of four teams (along with the Patriots, Chargers, and Eagles) who I have making the playoffs barring massive injuries to star players; even if everything else goes wrong, there's too much talent for them to be held back.
Andrew: I agree, and the schedule helps with that. I would not be even slightly surprised with an 8-0 record at home (although the team is notoriously awful on opening day), and finding three wins from their final six road games should not be too much to ask.
Bryan: That being said, I think there's going to be a cottage industry in "what's wrong with the Saints!" articles early on in the season. It's quite possible -- I even expect! -- the Saints to start out 1-2, with road trips to the Rams and Seahawks early on. Road trips to Chicago and Jacksonville could be nasty if the Saints' defense isn't as good as we expect and the regression for the Bears and Jaguars aren't as bad as we fear. It's not entirely unreasonable to imagine the Saints, in the worst-case scenario, sitting at 4-4 at the bye. But man, that second half of the schedule opens up for them; they could easily run the table.
Andrew: I wrote in the Almanac (still available!) -- in which I was, I hope, much more reasoned than my fandom-tinted Scramblings -- that the opening three weeks could be the difference between home-field advantage and a tough road playoff game. The Saints haven't won their opening game since 2013. Sure, it's only the Texans this time, but it was only the BUCCANEERS at home last year and they still lost. Another slow start would be a worry, because those are all potentially tough games. Even starting 0-3 though, it would be a very surprising result for the Saints not to hit 10 wins.
Bryan: Yeah, we're talking about the difference between a Super Bowl-winner and a divisional round-loser, not dancing around the 10-win barrier. Over all day long.
Andrew: I have the Saints as my Super Bowl winner, giving Drew Brees the perfect career send-off. They better not blow it. Over.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6.5)
Last Over: 2016 (Dirk Koetter, Jameis Winston)
Last Under: 2018 (Dirk Koetter, Jameis Winston)
Andrew: This Buccaneers season may be many things, but it should not be boring. Bruce Arians will see to that.
Bryan: I really like Bruce Arians, both as a coach and as a person (but not, and I cannot stress this enough, as an announcer). I'm glad he's back in our Sunday lives. That won't stop the Buccaneers from being terrible, but I love the hire.
Andrew: The extension given to general manager Jason Licht was one of the most perplexing in recent memory. Sure, it's great that he got Arians on board. The reason he had to go get Arians is that he utterly failed to give the previous regime 90 percent of what it needed to be successful. The offensive line is bad, yet it has one of the highest cap hits in the game (fourth-highest, according to Spotrac). Three separate Bucs linemen are on $10-million contracts. The running game has been an abomination, and Doug Martin was on a $7-million contract two years ago. The defensive secondary has been the worst unit in the league longer than Corey Taylor has been staring at his TV screen.
Bryan: So, you're not particularly optimistic, I'm gathering.
It's not all terrible, of course. The receiving corps is the best in the state, with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard leading the way. And then, uh … well, there's…
... I mentioned I liked Bruce Arians, right? Arians did have success with big-armed passers in the past, so if there's anyone who can re-spark Jameis Winston's career, it would be him. It just feels like this is more of a testing season for Arians to see who comes with him to 2020.
Andrew: The coaching staff is a definite strength. Todd Bowles was out of his depth as a head coach, but made his name as a very good defensive coordinator. Arians' record speaks for itself, even if it lost some sheen in his last couple of Cardinals seasons.
The receiving corps is the only thing stopping the roster from being considered the worst in the league. Their best front-seven defender from the past decade is now in Carolina. Their best edge rusher in forever is set to miss the season with a broken neck. They don't have many obvious answers on the roster -- there's plenty of potential in the defensive secondary, but just ask the Falcons what potential gets you. The schedule isn't too unkind, considering the division they're in -- the Giants and Cardinals at home should be a nice boon -- but man, 0-6 or 1-5 in the division is a real possibility, and I don't fancy their chances in Los Angeles and Seattle, or even Detroit and Tennessee. They won't win all of their winnable games, and they'll lose a large majority of their losable ones. This team has 5-11 written all over it. Under.
Bryan: I will say that, just like the Saints could get off slow and start out 1-2, the Buccaneers could begin the year on a hot streak of sorts, winning home games against the Giants and 49ers to start 2-1 and inspiring a bunch of "the Bucs are back, baby!" articles.
The Bucs will not be back, baby. Under.
Bryan: Five. We disagree on five teams, Andrew. And just one in the entire AFC. Has ...has writing this article for so many years created a hive mind situation? Is that why we cycle through Scramble writers so often? Are the drained corpses of Al Bodgan and Ian Dembsky lurking in Football Outsiders' basement, chanting "one of us, one of us" in our dreams?
|New York Giants||6||Over||Under|
|Green Bay Packers||9||Under||Over|
Andrew: Clearly, as a whole we are more than the sum of our individual parts, and together we have gained a level of zen-like clarity that permits access to absolute truth.
Plus, the AFC is rubbish. Like, really.
Bryan: Still, this cannot stand. We'll have to try to find some differences next week, as we go through the preseason awards to find our MVPs, rookies of the year, and first coaches to hit the road. Surely, surely we can find some differences of opinion there. Unless it's too late and the hive mind has us.
Tune in next week (one day early due to programming reasons) to see if we survive our last preseason prediction piece.