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29 Aug 2012

Scramble for the Ball: AFC/NFC North Over/Unders

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: And, we conclude our tour around the NFL, cardinal direction by cardinal direction, with a stop in the North.

Mike: One commenter last week asked whether there was anyone I liked this year. I like the North divisions. I like them rather a lot.

Tom: You're a Steelers fan. Of course you like at least one North team. We're still starting with the NFC, though.

Mike: Oh, boo.

Tom: Consider yourself blessed. The Steelers are the raisin in the sausage end, for you to revel in (a) the Inverse Hype Theory or (b) how awesome your team will be this year. We'll start instead with the local team...


Tom: I don't get this line. The Bears were 7-3 before Jay Cutler and then Matt Forte got hurt. They upgraded their skill positions. The offensive line can't get much worse. They have an easy schedule.

Mike: Yes, and the offense with Cutler is a definite upgrade from cover-your-eyes awful to merely atrocious! It is also worth noting that FOA 2012 has our Chicago projection at 10.2.

Tom: Said hallowed tome also has the Bears' slate of opponents at -5.7% DVOA, the easiest schedule in football.

Mike: Which is why they project to 10.2 wins!

Tom: I actually don't have much to say about the Bears, which is why I feel like pointing out that on defense they used either base 4-3 personnel or 4-2 nickel something like 99 percent of the time last year. That's an unusually strong preference against the occasional personnel mix-up on defense.

Mike: There really isn't that much to say about them, honestly. They worked around the edges and added some depth. They have an easier schedule than they did last year, but they hardly faced murderer's row in the 2011 campaign.

Tom: The Brandon Marshall trade drew a lot of the offseason ink, but I doubt it'll be a game-changing acquisition. Cutler's risk-taking mentality combined with a better target may lead to more forced throws, which scares me a bit.

Mike: Yeah, and the weakest part of the team is just as weak as it was last year.

Tom: But no weaker, and possibly a bit stronger if Gabe Carimi stays healthy. I don't think this is a serious Super Bowl contender, but do see a double-digit win team against a soft schedule.

Mike: It's very hard to bet against that schedule, I agree. Over.

Tom: Over for me as well.


Mike: The Saga of Matthew Stafford is maddening.

Tom: He threw a zillion passes and put up numbers, so people think he's better than he is. What's particularly maddening about that?

Mike: I think you're selling him significantly short. He ranked 10th in the league by DVOA last year.

Tom: Yes, because he had Calvin Johnson to draw double or triple coverage and bail him out. Take away the Megatron effect and you have something like the 16th best quarterback in the league. That's about where Stafford is, I think. He's perhaps a slight upgrade on Joe Flacco, who's been in the league a year longer. He's still young and hasn't played that much, thanks to injuries his first two years. He'll likely get better. He also needs to.

Mike: You are really sour about Stafford for some reason. Consider that he was effective throwing to Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew (when adjusting for how awful these players are). Based on what I've seen of him I'm fairly impressed. I think he's in a different league from Flacco, for instance.

Tom: Watching Tennessee with and without Kenny Britt, I've seen the difference a big upgrade at wideout can have on quarterback play. Baltimore hasn't had anybody who can affect defenses the way Johnson can.

Mike: Anyway, it's frustrating because he keeps getting injured. It really has retarded his development.

Tom: Very true. I think Flacco is more inconsistent than Stafford, and it's very easy to remember the lows.

Mike: My bigger concern is with the Lions' running game.

Tom: The Lions have a running game the same way the Bears have an offensive line: every team has to have one, but they try not to think about it very much.

Mike: This is true, and it proved to be a liability down the stretch. Aside from Stafford's health, the other major concern is whether the defense can play in any sort of disciplined fashion.

Tom: The Lions don't have a defense any more than they have a running game.

Mike: I disagree. It's a pretty talented defense that regularly blows plays with boneheaded penalties, bad reads, and overpursuit.

Tom: They have a defensive line and hope that's enough to cover for everything else. They also lost their best cornerback, Eric Wright, in free agency. Wright's not exactly Nnamdi Asomugha, but he wasn't bad.

Mike: In fact, the defensive line is often a huge liability, which is why I mention overpursuit and penalties. And, as Andy aptly pointed out, despite these problems were still basically league-average against the run. I will grant you that the secondary is just bad.

Tom: Fine, they have a pass-rushing defensive line. Despite their loss of Wright, I think what they need more than anything else is a good free safety. Maybe I'm forgetting somebody, but it seems like a very long time since the Lions have had a player like that.

Mike: Well, the Lions have a tradition of bad secondary play.

Tom: MILLEN'd.

Mike: Nothing about the secondary is particularly impressive, really, so they're going to have to rely on their pass rush pretty heavily. Lots of shootouts, but I think they've got a decent shot in most of them considering their easy schedule. Over.

Tom: Then again, this is a team that four years ago was beginning a season that would end without a win. The Lions had a great season last year, but I think they're poised to take a step back this year. Under.


Mike: Thirteen #&@$%^ing wins? Are you kidding me?

Tom: They did go 15-1 last year.

Mike: With 12.2 Pythagorean Wins.

Tom: Never you mind that they were 10-6 the year before with basically the same overall quality team.

Mike: That's not true: the 2010 Packers had a much better defense.

Tom: Overall quality. Worse defense, better (pass) offense. Overall DVOA was a little better in 2011, but not as good as 2009. They've had between 12.0 and 12.2 Pythagorean wins the last three seasons, and are facing the second-easiest schedule this year per FOA 2012. I could easily see them winning 13 or 14 games.

Mike: See, I think that's insane. They are a very good team, but very good teams still lose. I can't imagine easily seeing any team winning 13 or 14 games. I really don't buy the theory that the Packers defense is secretly amazing, either. I don't know why everyone is still expecting all-world performance from Charles Woodson, for instance.

Tom: I said "could" for a reason.

Mike: Long story short, I think they'll regress in both directions, down on offense, up a bit on defense, but not a tremendous amount. I think last year's defense is the real deal. Will they be Super Bowl contenders? Yeah. They might even win, but betting on 13 wins is insane. Under.

Tom: If you expect the Packers to be basically just as good as they were last year, over is certainly possible. I'm not sure they'll be just as good. I trust the defense to be a little bit better, but not like it was in 2010. As awesome as Aaron Rodgers was, natural regression would expect more interceptions this year. I'm tempted by the push, but will instead go with Under as well.


Tom: Playing an easy schedule matters less if you aren't any better than the not very good teams you'll be playing. That statement is worth a whole column or five in and of itself, but I'll leave that exercise for another day.

Mike: While he's nowhere near as good as Barry Sanders was, I'm starting to get the feeling that Adrian Peterson will end up suffering Sanders' fate.

Tom: Peterson at least made it to a conference championship game where his team outplayed the opponent. Some bad luck and some B**** F**** happened, though, and the Vikings were stuck.

Mike: Yeah, that was an awful twist.

Tom: So unexpected, too.

Mike: Hah!

Tom: Owner Zygi Wilf said during training camp this year he expected the Vikings to be division champs this year.

Mike: Everyone says that given half a reason to do so.

Tom: Exactly. It's like the kid in that old commercial, "I want to rise all the way to middle management." Nobody says that they'd love to go 7-9 or 8-8. Even if, like the Vikings, going 7-9 would be a four win improvement on 2011 results.

Mike: The problem is that the team is on the way down, not up.

Tom: I'm not sure they're going down. I concur with you it's hard to see them trending upwards. The Greg Childs injury dampers the optimism for the receiving corps, as does Jerome Simpson's suspension. John Carlson missing most of training camp has made it hard for Christian Ponder to develop much-needed chemistry with the personnel new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave likely wants. And, remarkable as he is, I'm not expecting Adrian Peterson to be a fully-effective bellcow back for 16 games.

Mike: Well, he could be better than he was last year. In fact, I think he definitely will be. Offensive line, both in personnel and philosophy, is one of the few things I see an improvement in with the Vikes this year.

Tom: I'm on board with you there. I just don't see it as making that big of a difference. The defense, particularly the awful secondary, concerns me even more than the offense, and that's granting the quality of Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.

Mike: They're just not enough, and I don't think Ponder is anything worth talking about, especially with the non-weapons he is surrounded by. That said, I think last year, if not an aberration, was a significant underperformance. It's tough, but I think there's enough talent on this team to eke out six wins for the Over.

Tom: I see no more than one win in the division and still a struggle to find wins outside it. This is still a really bad team. Under.


Tom: We discussed Mr. Flacco earlier in this column, so I won't rehash that. Suffice to say I'll believe he's materially improved when he's able to demonstrate such for an extended period of time. Which means, if the Ravens want to win 12 games again, they'll need something pretty close to the league's top defense again. Hey, what do you know? Their one great pass-rusher is probably out until at least midseason.

Mike: Good thing their main rival is once again featuring the pass-blocking skills of Traffic Cone, thanks to the loss of DeCastro.

Tom: Yes, but the Ravens play 14 other games, none of them against the Bears, so they'll have to beat somebody other than Traffic Cone to win games.

Mike: True, and that is a big problem for a defense that worked so well last year because every aspect of it worked together like clockwork. Without Terrell Suggs' contribution, there is less pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and without that pressure, Ed Reed's prowling style is far less effective. That means fewer turnovers. With such a mediocre offense, the Ravens' defense needs to be stellar for them to be a contender.

Tom: And thus the Joe Flacco question is the one on which the season is likely to turn. Under.

Mike: It doesn't help that the slate of quarterbacks Baltimore faces this year is somewhere between worrisome and terrifying: Andy Dalton, Tom Brady, Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. And maybe Robert Griffin, if he turns out all right. That is a brutal schedule to face without your top pass rusher. Or with your top pass rusher just back from rehab. Absolutely brutal. Under.


Mike: (Those are some really good QBs.)

Tom: I am not in love with Dalton, but yes.

Mike: Speaking of Dalton...

Tom: I thought Jay Gruden really did a great job of scheming in a way that made Dalton successful last year. He came from a schematically simple college offense, and Gruden didn't ramp up the level of complexity.

Mike: No, Gruden has handled the situation rather masterfully, to my estimation.

Tom: From what I saw, Dalton mostly had an initial read, whether one receiver or a defender, and looked to vacate the pocket quickly if that throw wasn't there. Dalton seemed well-grounded in the offense, and did a very good job of throwing with anticipation for a rookie. Of course, having A.J. Green didn't hurt a bit either.

Mike: It will be interesting to see how Green's second season goes.

Tom: It will, especially with not much opposite from him. Simpson was far from a great player, but he was a decent complementary piece. I don't trust anybody the Bengals have to be that good this year.

Mike: True, although the Bengals did upgrade their offensive line significantly this year. Some of the pressure will be taken off Dalton and Green by virtue of a (possibly) improved running game, provided everyone can get on the mend quickly enough.

Tom: I like the offensive line, too, but I don't trust any of the running backs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is going from a change-up and complement in a high-powered passing offense to potentially being The Guy. Bernard Scott is a bit part, as is Brian Leonard.

Mike: True, I was never particularly high on Law Firm.

Tom: The line was also below-average by Adjusted Line Yards last year. We saw the steady decline last year of Michael Bush, a better player than Law Firm, when he needed to be the RB1 and carry the ball 20 times every week. Cedric Benson, whatever his other flaws, could be that player. On the other side of the ball, I really like the defensive line, which is big, deep, and talented.

Mike: It is! Too bad the once-promising secondary behind it has all but evaporated.

Tom: It certainly has, even if the Reggie Nelson redemption project has been somewhat of a success.

Mike: Do we know what Leon Hall's status is?

Tom: He's apparently playing. Dre Kirkpatrick has missed all of training camp.

Mike: Yeah. What a mess.

Tom: As noted in the FOA 2012 Cowboys chapter, rookie cornerbacks aren't normally great anyway, but my expectations for him are even lower.

Mike: Fair.

Tom: On the whole, though, this was a pretty average team that I expect to be pretty average again. Push.

Mike: That said, the Ravens are missing Suggs and Troy Polamalu is getting old. Dalton should improve and while Green may regress a bit and be blanketed, a better running game should keep teams a bit more honest. I see the Bengals as a winning team this year. Over.


Tom: Moving up to draft a running back when you don't have a quarterback, then seeing that running back miss the entire preseason, is a very Browns thing to have happen. Yes, they then did use a later pick on a quarterback, but he's older than Aaron Rodgers.

Mike: And he hasn't played competitive football in a decade.

Tom: Yes, but wasn't he the night manager of former Raider OC Tom Walsh's Bed & Breakfast?

Mike: Those sound like first-round qualifications to me!

Tom: Joe Haden's a nice player, so of course he got kicked out of practice and suspended.

Mike: You know, I have no idea what Holmgren's plan is. Does he even still have one?

Tom: Yes. The team is getting sold, and Joe Banner is going to fire him. That counts as a plan, right?

Mike: Well, it's definitely a plan.

Tom: Even for the Browns, that's sort of tragi-comic. They draft a franchise running back and a franchise quarterback, and a new management team is probably going to look in another direction. Trent Richardson will definitely be useful, but I never understood the whole Brandon Weeden thing. Especially because it was reported the Browns were prepared to take Kendall Wright at 22. If you think Weeden is the franchise quarterback you need, you take him at 22 and don't try to get by with Colt McCoy and an upgraded but still mediocre receiving corps.

Mike: I don't know why anyone think Weeden is the franchise quarterback, period.

Tom: He was drafted in the first round and will start as a rookie.

Mike: It's mind-boggling. Maybe it was Holmgren trying to save his job, but if so I can't imagine what he was thinking.

Tom: I feel bad for Joe Thomas. As hard as it was to find reasons for hope for the Vikings, I think the Browns are in even worse shape.

Mike: I just can't find anything to like about this team. We discussed a few weeks back about how hard it is for a team to only win four games in the modern NFL. In this division, with the fifth-most difficult schedule in the league, I have no problem predicting such a performance from the Browns. Under.

Tom: Under for me as well.


Mike: I think David DeCastro's injury turned this whole analysis on its head. Ben Roethlisberger is finally at a point where he can stop ramblin' and become an elite pocket passer, albeit with good elusiveness. This won't happen if he is once again being protected by Traffic Cone.

Tom: A left guard? Was Eric Steinbach's injury the difference between what the Browns might have done and did last year?

Mike: A left guard next to a suspect left tackle. You can prop one or the other up. You can't do both.

Tom: I'm not trying to deny it's a blow to their chances, but I think the improved version of Ben Roethlisberger we saw last season is even better equipped to solve that problem.

Mike: How so? The improved version of Ben Roethlisberger we saw last season got absolutely destroyed as the season wore on. He was brilliant when he was healthy, but by the end of the year that was basically never.

Tom: We saw him be very effective at times in the quick passing game. He'll still get broken down, but he's playing smarter. His injuries happened later than they would have had he tried playing the way he did five years ago.

Mike: It's true, but he's getting progressively more fragile with every new injury he takes. It is heartening that Mike Wallace is ending his holdout, at least.

Tom: I'm more concerned about a defense that suddenly gets old. There are too many guys with a 3 as the first digit in their age for me to be fully comfortable.

Mike: I'm less concerned with age on defense (Troy Polamalu and his slowdown's effect on the scheme aside) and more with injury. The linebacking corps is not in a happy place to start the season.

Tom: Well, the two often go hand in hand.

Mike: Jason Worilds is 24!

Tom: I said often.

Mike: It is true, though. Rather than restocking the defense with youth, the Steelers made a big play for offensive line help, and it should pay huge dividends down the road. They'll have to suffer through another middling season on defense to get there, however. Well, a middling season for the Steelers' defense is usually well above average, but you get my point.

Tom: Bah, middling.

Mike: It's easy to be sanguine about an off-year from this defense. They've been in the top 10 by DVOA in 10 of the last 11 seasons. That spread includes a number of transition years where the sky was supposed to fall and didn't.

Tom: I think the Steelers will need some good injury luck late in the season to be serious Super Bowl contenders. Given the rest of the division, though, I see them as the favorites notwithstanding those concerns. Over.

Mike: Injuries are a real problem for this team, but it's still packed with talent. While the biggest weakness hasn't been addressed in the manner the Steelers faithful were hoping for, the offensive line is bound to improve this year. I'm hesitant to actually say it, but Over.

Tom: And we're done. Scramble for the Ball takes next week off, as we run our regular staff predictions article. Mike and I will be back the next week for the first regular edition of our normal randomness, with your favorite weekly features (plus maybe some new ones). For those of you in search of Week 1 fantasy football advice, I will be hanging out early next week on the FO fantasy football message board.

Mike: Happy drafting!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 29 Aug 2012

78 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2012, 6:01am by Apartments in Belgrade


by Will Allen :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 4:26pm

You'd be crazy to bet the over on the Vikings. Sure, Ponder could make remarkable improvement, given he was starting games about two months after opening a NFL playbook for the first time, due to the lockout. Yes, odds are the secondary will improve, just due to regression to the mean. However, the receivers still stink, and nobody knows yet how much of the old Adrian Peterson will return. Throw in that Ponder might show improvement by climbing from the 32nd spot mong starters in the league to the 28th, there isn't much reason to think they are much more than a 5 win team.

Finally, looking at the schedule, I'd say that if they don't start 3-5, getting to four wins is going to be a real struggle. Their two most talented ball handlers on offense aren't going to be giving full value untl October, due to injury or suspension. This is a team, if it has any more bad luck, could easily end up going 1-15 or 2-14.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:43pm

Ponder was much, much better than Gabbert last year. Quite possibly than Skolbton too. So 30th to 28th . . .

by falcochicquera :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 4:45pm

It seems strong for Tom to believe that the 16th best QB in the league, with what he freely admits was no help from the running game or defense, and a shaky offensive line, could win 10 games last year against a far from cupcake schedule.
I realise that Calvin is a fine player, but perhaps given Stafford a tad more credit wouldn't be entirely out of line...
Unless this is a Skip Bayless-esque attempt to draw comments/attention to something you don't believe. If so, congratulations both for ensnaring me and for having an IQ similar to Skip Bayless.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 5:29pm

"[Lions running game] This is true, and it proved to be a liability down the stretch."

They put up 34, 28, 38, 41, and 28 in their last 5 -- games where their high for rushing yards was 87. Running wasn't a liability for their offense. Giving up 45 to both NO and GB was the liability.

by Guest789 :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 8:50pm

But an effective running game could have slowed the game down, resting the defence and preventing them from giving up that many points.


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 9:03am

You didn't actually watch that game, did you?

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 11:40am

What really would have prevented them from giving up so many points was playing non-injured cornerbacks not named Alphonso Smith...as well as non-injured safeties who can take reasonably good angles in pursuit.

Even if they had a huge advantage in time of possession, it wouldn't have made a difference if the corners bite on double-moves and the safeties end up way out of position 75% of the time, letting the opposing offense score in 3 or 4 plays.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 5:37pm

While i actually somewhat agree with Tom in that removing Calvin Johnson probably brings stafford's stats to a closer definition of where he is as a player, you're right in that i think tom is being too harsh on stafford. The big thing that amazed me was stafford had done pretty much nothing his first two years and so really, this was his first real season and he was spectacular. Of course hes a flawed player, but given what he accomplished in his first full season, i think it augers very well for his future. I also think its good that stafford was forced to pass to win as I think those instill the kind of successful traits that engender highly effective passing offenses. I actually don't think run games matter a whole lot for a passing game(generally), but once the lions round out the rest of their offense with a better 2nd and 3rd receivers and a better oline, this offense has the makings of being one of the best in the league(so long as stafford doesn't get hurt).

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 5:45pm

I don't quite get the meme that Stafford was 'teh awful' for his first two seasons. He had poor numbers in his rookie season, but then, he was taking over an 0-16 team. I suspect God would have struggled QBing that team.

He had good numbers in his very short second season.

His third season demonstrated that his abbreviated second season was not the fluke.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:45pm

Of course, it's possible that the abbreviation wasn't a fluke either . . .

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 7:49pm

I'm now imagining the difficulties the '09 Lions would have had with no quarterback. Raiola snaps and it rolls back to the two yard line, then his next snap goes through the end zone. They were probably better off with Stafford.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 9:05am

I simmed that team in Madden once, by putting the punter in as the QB. (4 TDs, 28 INTs) They went 1-15.

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 5:21pm

I really do feel bad for the browns. Are there even any browns fans on FO that comment? I felt like, prior to the draft, the browns had a chance to really set themselves up for the future. Now they've really gummed it up and i see an almost vikings style 2012 season headed their way.

I disagree with mike. How are the vikings trending down? YEs, their stars are getting older, but so much of this team was young last year and no matter how bad your secondary is, it simply couldn't get much worse than last year. I feel bad for them in this regard, they are by far the weakest team in whats setting up to be a very strong division for years to come.

by tuluse :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 5:34pm

Yeah they won three games they're not heading down, they've bottomed out. They might not be heading up, but they're not getting worse.

by chemical burn :: Fri, 08/31/2012 - 9:38pm

One of my good buddies is a Browns fan and there's a zen-like bliss to all of them as near as I can tell. He buys little shirts for hi 2 year-old son and watches all the games and is knowledgeable but he's just reached this point where both winning and losing don't effect him. He's still passionate and engaged, but just in some mysterious state beyond victory and loss.

Except for the Steelers game. Those fucking things get him riled up.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 5:34pm

"Never you mind that [GB} were 10-6 the year before with basically the same overall quality team."

I've seen hospitals with fewer injured people than the 2010 Packers. That probably was a 12-4, 13-3 team in a sane season. So if you think the Packers will be ludicrously injured again, then go for 10-6.

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 5:40pm

That 2010 team didn't lose any of their elite players outside of finley and in some ways, actually gained because bishop was an upgrade over barnett, while jenkins and matthews were healthy all year. The reason they went 10-6 was some obscure losses in close games- the atlanta game, the miami game, that game against the bears where the o line couldn't stop holding peppers.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 5:53pm

The 2010 Packers lost 6 starters and 9 replacements. Four of the 6 lost starting positions also had that replacement player get injured. And this is just guys who went on IR. The Packers ended up with literally replacement-level players starting at three positions. And they had the closest 6 losses in NFL history. I don't think it's a stretch to say that with a couple of those starters healthy that was a 12-13 win team.

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:29pm

I think i just wanted to say that it didn't really impede their title run. Obviously i feel like the 2010 packers were a much better team than their 10 wins indicate. They were the best team in football imo that year.

by Perfundle :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:06pm

"That 2010 team didn't lose any of their elite players outside of finley and in some ways, actually gained because bishop was an upgrade over barnett, while jenkins and matthews were healthy all year."

Ummm... Jenkins missed five games (two of which were losses) and Matthews missed one-and-a-half (both losses). And I'd say Grant would have been pretty useful to them, considering how bad their run game was in the regular season.

What are obscure losses, anyway?

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:24pm

So six whole games lost by decent starters, that really isn't very many.

If Grant is so wonderful why can't he find a job two years later?

by Perfundle :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:46pm

I don't know what your definition of "decent starter" is. I didn't set out to list all the major contributors that missed time that year, only to refute the factually wrong statement that Jenkins and Matthews were healthy all year. All the players that have missed time for GB has been pretty thoroughly discussed previously, I think.

As for Grant, I never said he was even above average. But when you go from Grant to Jackson, who's not even below average, then you have a problem. And, maybe his injury might have played into his undesirability, perhaps?

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 7:18pm

Basically my point is that while that Packer team did lose a lot of players the losses were mostly among their marginal players. I think this has been debated on this site before, my fervour for going through it again is diminshed and so I shalll head into the west...

Personally I never rated Grant that highly, an average player in a good system.

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 7:22pm

That was my point overall. the main point i think karl and I were saying was people have a tendency to point to their sb win and say, "and we did this with MAJOR MAJOR injuries." The fact is, I know they lost people in the middle of the year for a few games here and there and it helped contribute to their 10-6 finish, but by the time the playoffs rolled around, they had the bulk of their best players all healthy(with the exception of finley) and thats why its a bit misleading to say the above statement.

by Perfundle :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:20am

I think it's fair to say that they were mostly healthy during their playoff run (of course Driver, Shields and Woodson getting hurt in the Super Bowl certainly were big losses), but the fact that injured players definitely affected their regular season record means that you can't really point to their 10-6 record that year as some sort of indicator of their actual ability, especially if their Pythogorean Wins was two games higher due to all of their close losses.

by Paddy Pat :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 9:05pm

Seems to me that the Pats game that Rodgers sat out would probably have been a win for GB right there, I mean unless you really think there's no drop-off between Rodgers and Flynn. The Pats had no business winning that game. I think getting that team to 12 wins by erasing a few injuries would be like sleep walking.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:20pm

With regards to the Steelers there are a couple of things that would worry me; I don't like Roethlisberger's chances of playing 16 games and there have been some substantial changes to a defensive unit that normally sets the standard for stability across the league. It also doesn't look great that they fired a pretty decent special teams coach, Al Everest, just before the start of the year.

As for the Bears, their biggest issue on offense is the left tackle. However, they have said they'd like to have two 1000 yard runners, which is promising as while Webb struggles as a pass protector, he does rather throw people around in the run game. A game plan made of heavy doses of Forte and Bush followed by play action passes to Hester and Marshall sounds a heck of lot better than seven step drops every other down. Their defense will be solid as long as their big three are healthy.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:46pm

I'm also not too keen on what, admittedly little, I've seen from Roethlisberger in the preseason. He's had scattered brilliant throws, one great drive, and also a bunch of "who was that to?" and big misses.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:58pm

Hester? I was under the impression that Jeffery was almost certain to be the WR2, and looking pretty good.

As to the Steelers, I think this could be their worst year in a long time (which might well still mean 9-7 and a playoff berth in what looks a very weak AFC). Ageing defense + wear-and-tear on Roethlisberger = trouble.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 7:13pm

If he's healthy then I would expect Bennett to see plenty of snaps as a starte with Jeffery taking over if he progresses well. However, if you are going to go deep off a play action, which Bears receiver would you send deep? Hester has the speed to run through the deep coverage and Cutler has the arm to get it there.

by tuluse :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 7:42pm

Hester is almost sure to start, but the coaches want to limit his snaps so as to not reduce his return effectiveness. Bennett plays entirely out of the slot, so it's hard to classify him.

by Duke :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 4:36am

My guess is that Jeffery is starting sometime by Week 6, with Bennett playing slot in a lot of 11 formations. Hester will be brought in every so often to give defenses a different look.

For all the talk about Hester as a burner, dude doesn't catch a ton of bombs (if memory serves, which it admittedly might not). I think he actually does best on square ins and hooks when the defense is playing off him to stop the deep ball.

by akn :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 1:35pm

Hester ran plenty of bomb routes, but without a significant threat underneath, he wasn't targeted that often because of safety help over the top. Admittedly, Hester hasn't shown the softest hands when his number is called.

I agree that Jeffrey will eventually start, but knowing how conservative Lovie and Tice are, I think they'll elevate him around week 8-10, unless Hester shows early signs of suffering in the return game.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 9:09am

I'd send Marshall.

by Vicious Chicken of Bristol (not verified) :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 7:44pm

"As to the Steelers, I think this could be their worst year in a long time (which might well still mean 9-7 and a playoff berth in what looks a very weak AFC). Ageing defense + wear-and-tear on Roethlisberger = trouble."

I would wager that if I had the time and inclination I could find this exact quote, or something substantially similar, from preseason discussions every year for the last 5 years.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 10:11pm

Well, I don't know about the weak AFC bit - until recently the AFC was very strong. But yes, I'm sure people have said it before. Sooner or later it's going to be true, because while Smith and Farrior and Hampton and even Harrison may be replaceable, Polamalu isn't. I think it's quite likely that sooner or later is either 2012 or 2013.

Again, I'm not predicting "Steelers suck" or "Steelers are starting a descent into sustained, Browns-like futility". The front office and coaching staff are far too good for that. I'm just saying that in a situation where other Steelers teams of the last decade would have waltzed to a first round bye, I think this team will be scrapping for a playoff spot and doesn't have much chance of winning the Super Bowl even if it gets one.

by CraigoMc (not verified) :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 10:20pm

When people say "aging defense," at this point they're really talking about the safeties - they're the only unit where the starters average 30+ years. It's as if no one noticed that Hoke, Farrior, and Smith retired (or that Casey Hampton and Larry Foote are being phased out).

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 11:40pm

Well its not just that. The stars of the team are the ones that are in their 30s. Harrison, keisel, ike taylor, and polomalu are all over 30 and the dropoff from age could happen at any time. That group makes up a huge chunk of the steeler defense and represents most of their big stars, outside of timmons and woodely. Now again, the steelers have gone decades with good defensive transitions so its not like they can't just evolve and find new players. But thats the reason for concern anyway.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 9:22am

I'd agree that only Polamalu is irreplaceable. He is a once in a generation, lock for the HOF kind of player. That type cant be replaced.

However, the Steelers were a top 10 defense long before he arrived. As a matter of fact, the Steelers D has only been outside of the top 10 in overall defense twice in the last 19 years and even then they were 11th and 12th. That spans the rise and fall of many great players.

The Steelers have been successful for so long because they can handle losing players. They draft well, they coach well, they scheme well, and they find diamonds in the rough (see Farrior, James).

The sky was falling when the Steelers let Burress go. They won the superbowl the next year.

The sky was falling when the Steelers let Faneca go. They won the superbowl the next year.

The sky was falling when the Steelers let Joey Porter go. His replacement won DPOY shortly after and is widely considered one of if not the best 3-4 OLB's in the league.

The sky was falling when the Steelers dumped Santonio Holmes. His replacement(s) are Wallace and Brown, both of which pretty much anyone would take before Holmes now.

When it comes to the Steelers there is always someone waiting to step up. This year, keep an eye on McLendon and Hood.

by Mr Shush :: Fri, 08/31/2012 - 6:14am

Again, no-one's saying the sky is falling. I'm just saying I expect a down year for the Steelers defense by Steelers defense standards. That still probably means top ten DVOA, and almost certainly above average. And I don't have enough faith in the Steelers offense for me to buy that that will lead to more than 10 wins.

by CraigoMc (not verified) :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 10:09am

Of those, Keisel is not a star. And of those remaining, only Polamalu is not replaceable (in fact, he is the only one who does not have a replacement waiting in the wings at this moment). (And you conveniently left out Woodley and Timmons.)

Replacing one of the two best safeties of his generation is not an easy problem, but believe it or not, the Steelers were pretty good at defense before Polamalu, and for a long time. This is not a random team that lucked into a once in a generation defender, that will have no idea what to do once he's gone. I have no reason to think they're in trouble on defense.

Offense may be a different story.

by tuluse :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 7:34pm

"Their defense will be solid as long as their big three are healthy."

This is actually scary to me, as 2 of the 3 are not healthy. Peppers has plantar fasciitis and Urlacher hasn't practiced in 2 weeks.

by Marko :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 9:06pm

Actually, Urlacher hasn't practiced in nearly a month. I think his last practice was on July 31.

by Perfundle :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:49pm

There's certainly a lot of stats being cherry-picked in the Green Bay writeup. Their 15-1 record was downplayed because their Pythagorean Wins was only 12.2, and that's fair enough. But then their 10-6 record in 2010 is used to indicate that perhaps that's closer to their actual level? But their Pythagorean Wins in 2010 was 12.1 (and 12.0 in 2009; 12.3 in 2012-2013!). So if that's their actual level, then 12 hits it right on.

Second, their SOS in 2010 is significantly higher than last year and this year. It looks like the easy SOS for the NFC North is factored into the predictions for Chicago and Detroit, whereas GB's second-easiest SOS is mentioned, but then seemingly forgotten about. All the teams who finished 12-4 or better last year had bottom-10 SOS's. It seems strange to pick at least 10 wins for Chicago but at most 11 wins for Green Bay when they have almost the same schedule.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:51pm

Green Bay have been the best team in football two straight years, probably will be again, and look to have a soft schedule. I have no problem taking the over on them, or the Patriots.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 6:50pm

David DeCastro plays right not left guard. Also, Traffic Cone was a left tackle, but he's gone. The former LG was Pile Jumper. Hopefully DeCastro meets this season's quota of offensive linemen who miss the whole season, and Colon actually gets to play.

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 10:55am

Eric Steinbach was a left guard.

by Duke :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 4:41am

Tom: The Brandon Marshall trade drew a lot of the offseason ink, but I doubt it'll be a game-changing acquisition.

Tom: Watching Tennessee with and without Kenny Britt, I've seen the difference a big upgrade at wideout can have on quarterback play.

From this we can draw 1 of 3 conclusions:
1.) Tom does not think Brandon Marshall is a top-tier WR.
2.) Tom has a very high opinion of the WRs the Bears had last year, such that he does not consider Brandon Marshall a particularly big upgrade.
3.) Tom, as a non-native living in Chicago, is just so damn sick about hearing about the Bears that he copes by taking a negative outlook on the team's chances.

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 10:55am

For the record, 1.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 6:26am

As much as I respect Tom's opinion, I think he's way off base about Stafford, and I think he's suffering from the availability heuristic. Stafford was awesome to start the season, then fairly bad in the middle (Blame the broken finger or blame his inexperience if you want). The problem is, the Lions starting getting more attention when he was playing poorly, including the Thanksgiving day game, and his awful performance on the road in Chicago. That's what unfortunately sticks out in people's minds.

What they don't remember is how he rebounded from week 13 onward and played lights-out awesome. His footwork, mechanics, and decision-making took a quantum leap forward. He finished with like 1500 yards, 14 TD's and 2 INT's in his last 4 regular season games.

Yes, Calvin Johnson helps, and the incredible jump-ball catches make memorable ESPN highlights, but more often Stafford's completions were stick throws into tight windows, that probably only 5-6 QB's in the league can make consistently.

So I'll agree Stafford from weeks 6-12 was the 16th best QB in the league. But go back and watch him in the other games with a mediocre pass-blocking line and no running game to take the heat off, and try to argue he isn't at least top-8.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 9:14am

The other thing is, even throwing to Johnson, he's usually putting the ball into a small window where Calvin can catch it on the fly and the DB can't get to it, usually off a sight adjust. It's not like he's mooning the thing up and just hoping Calvin can rebound it.

by tuluse :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:16pm

I've never thought Stafford was that great. He's good for sure, but I don't know if I see greatness in him. He's accuracy is still spotty. The Lions have built a nearly perfect receiving corps for him as they're all tall guys who can go up and get his high passes. So it works, but isn't putting passes right on the numbers or hitting guys in stride on crossing routes with consistency.

He does have a cannon arm and a quick release, so maybe his ceiling is higher than where he is now, but I don't see the accuracy.

by theslothook :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:11pm

you know, except for the arm talent bit, you could essentially be describing eli manning for all we know. I don't know if he will ever cure the spotty accuracy part(really even eli hasn't), but he can be like eli in that as time goes on, he understands the more subtle nuances of pocket presence and reading defenses better. But, the cannon arm and quick release means hes got tools right now most qbs(if not all) simply don't have and that gives him a leg up over any other young qb imo currently.

by tuluse :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:34pm

He is almost always high, Eli was kind of a scattershot when he was younger. Sometimes too high, sometimes too low.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:29pm

His accuracy was inconsistent in 2011 because his footwork and mechanics were inconsistent. Part of that was a function of an offensive line that tended to give up a lot of pressure (he has a very quick release and gets rid of the ball quickly, which limits the number of sacks given up, making his line look better than it really is), and part of it is a function of youth/inexperience.

If you watch him, when he has solid footwork and mechanics, he is laser-accurate, which was the case towards the end of 2011. It's when he starts sidearming or backfooting his throws, that his accuracy suffers (as for most QBs). He could get away with that at Georgia, but it always takes young QB's time to learn what you can't get away with in the NFL.

So yes, I think with some more experience, he has a very high ceiling. I tend to think that people who argue otherwise either haven't watched his best games (which made up the majority last year), or are trying at Skip Bayless-type contrarianism.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:13pm

"The Lions have built a nearly perfect receiving corps for him as they're all tall guys who can go up and get his high passes."


That doesn't at all describe the Lions receiving corps outside of Megatron. Burleson and Young are both sub 6 footers. Even if you meant to include the tight ends, Scheffler and Pettigrew are certainly not known for "going up and getting high passes". I realize that only seeing the highlights would make you think all of Staffords 41 TD passes were high jump balls, but that's simply not the case.

Taking it a step further, Pettigrew, Young and Burleson had negative DVOA's, making them below-average pass-catchers. Scheffler has good hands and had +14% DVOA, but he only had 43 targets the whole year. And the Lions receivers were around 8th in the league in number of dropped passes.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by tuluse :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:33pm

I didn't mean to imply that every completion Stafford had was a high jump ball. He did have way more of those competed than any other QB I watched last year, however.

I also didn't mean to imply that outside of Johnson, the Lions receivers were good. Just that they were all good at one aspect, which is going up for high passes. Which happens a lot with Stafford (but not all the time!).

by theslothook :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:49pm

I actually disagree a tad with both of both of you on accuracy. Yes, stafford had to deal with a mediocre line, but I watched about 4 of his games last year and his accuracy definitely wanes even without pressure. I also don't think scattershotims is truly correctable as I watched even more eli games and while hes gotten alot better, he's still prone to wobblers(he had a few in the superbowl). With that said, its not something thats impossible to work around and really, staffords other abilities are so good that he projects well into the future. Again, is he a top 5 qb right now? no. Is he top 10? maybe, give or take how much credit goes to megatron. But, i think hes easily the best young qb there is and the one i would take to build around(aside from the real and scary injury prone issue that might derail him).

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 4:18pm

I'm with you that his accuracy in a lot of games was inconsistent, but the point I was trying to make is that it was much more consistent in games 12-16 + playoffs. Believe me, I tore my hair out and cursed at the TV when he missed an open receiver wide-right on 3rd and 5, as happened often early on in the season, but this happened far less often late in the season, and I'm hoping that's an indication of how the future will go (of course a certain QB-who shall not be named-#4 never managed to develop consistent footwork and disciplined mechanics, but he still managed to do some good things).

If through the early part of 2012 his scattershot accuracy from early on in his career returns and hes completing 57% of his passes, then I'll be the first to admit I was wrong.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 4:26pm

I understand, and I also don't mean to imply that Stafford=Brady/Brees/Rodgers. Far from it right now. It's just that as a Bears fan, you probably have that week 10 curb-stomping burned into your brain (when Stafford, was quite frankly Rex Grossman-like). My overall point is similar to what Tom admitted in the article, is that people tend to remember the lows more. And maybe being a homer, I'm remembering the highs more. The truth is probably somewhere in-between. And in-between is a pretty good place to be for a young QB who's shown steady improvement over the 29 games he's played in his career.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by Steve in WI :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 11:20am

Regarding the Bears, I can't believe that the acquisition of Brandon Marshall isn't the biggest thing they have going for them. I don't know where I'd rank him among all wide receivers, but he's clearly the best one the Bears have had in my lifetime. Add the chemistry with Cutler and I think he'll be huge for them.

No argument about the fact that the O-line hasn't really changed one way or the other, but I think having Tice replace Martz as offensive coordinator is going to be a big benefit. The overall talent and ability of the line may not be any better, but the offense is finally going to work with what they've got rather than acting like they've got good protection.

The defense scares me, especially if Peppers misses games or isn't effective. Urlacher is also a question mark and the defense as a whole is getting old. I don't know if the Bears can contend for the Super Bowl this year (though as we've seen, basically any playoff team can win one if they get hot at the right time), but I think their window is 1-2 years unless they can find some good young guys on defense.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 1:04pm

Just something I would like to point out about the Bears: I think it's interesting that many people think they know what Mike Tice will do as an offensive coordinator. It's obviously based on his previous OC stints at . . . um . . .

by akn :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 1:30pm

Because head coaching experience on a team with a pretty prolific offense where he was significantly involved with the offensive side of the ball is completely meaningless.

Every brand new coordinator has to start somewhere, and I'll take a former HC over someone like an offensive line coach taking over the DC position.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:19pm

"Because head coaching experience on a team with a pretty prolific offense where he was significantly involved with the offensive side of the ball is completely meaningless."

Straw man.

"Every brand new coordinator has to start somewhere, and I'll take a former HC over someone like an offensive line coach taking over the DC position."

Good for you. I didn't say anything about whether it was a good idea, though, let alone compare him to Juan Castillo.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:29pm

Perhaps you could explain what this statement......

"I think it's interesting that many people think they know what Mike Tice will do as an offensive coordinator. It's obviously based on his previous OC stints at . . . um . . ."

........is supposed to mean, if it is not meant to imply that, absent a previous OC job, we cannot have useful insight as to what a coach will do as an OC.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:39pm

It's supposed to mean what it says at the beginning. "I think it's interesting" how sure people are in spite of his lack of offensive coordinator experience.

If we were talking about the same situation with a head coach, people would not be certain. However, because it's an offensive coordinator, they are. That's interesting.

Calling something interesting, contrary to what most FO commenters think, is not an attack.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:52pm

You did not merely call it interesting. You used the rhetorical device of "obviously based on....um....", which implies that it is problematic to gain useful insight absent a previous OC gig. It isn't problematic in this instance, due to a wealth of other evidence.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:59pm

It wasn't supposed to be a rhetorical advice. It was (apparently failed) attempted humor. I can see why a reader would take it that way, though.

I do not intend to call it problematic. I really intend to call it interesting. That's all, really.

I'm sure I'm going to be told this is a personal attack on Jay Cutler soon, so I'm calling it quits here.

by tuluse :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:06pm

You seemed to be impling that we can't know what tice will do because we lack information. Akn and I just pointed out there is information out there that gives an idea of what Tice will do. I didnt take any offense or feel attacked by your initial post, and I thought akn's and my own responses were reawonable. I thought we were discussing what information about Tice was available.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:09pm

I can't help it; I'm going to be jerk here and note that I am giving you rhetorical ADvice, to not use such a rhetorical DEvice, unless you mean to convey that what you note is missing from the evidence is critical to the conclusion being made.

Now, I'm leaving Pedant Island.

by tuluse :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:12pm

Like AKN said, we have evidence of his philosophy from when he was a head coach.

We also have what he said he would do, no 7 seven step drops with 5 man protection, moving pockets, more use of the TEs.

We also have what's happened in the 3 preseason games he's been the OC, guess what it's a lot of 2 TE sets, no 7 step drops with 5 man protection, and moving pockets off of play action.

Also, any time you have a first time coordinator, you have some idea of what they'll do based on their time coaching at other levels. So we have at least as much information as any position coach promoted to OC.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:20pm

Anybody who has watched Tice through the years, as I have, knows that Tice is fundamentally Gibbsian in his belief in keeping the qb clean. I always though that it was interesting that a guy who also was off the Gillman/Coryell tree like Gibbs, Mike Martz, had a diametrically opposite philosophy with regards to the importance not not exposing his qb to contact.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:27pm

Do you really get information of a guy's offensive philosophy from his coaching of tight ends and the offensive line?

Also, I hope you and akn got a volume discount on the straw men.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:36pm

Yes, depending on what he and the offensive coordinator say about how they work together. More importantly, you can gain insight from what he, as a head coach with an offensive line background, and the OC of his choice previously did, with a qb with considerable ability to go vertical.

I hope you learn what a straw man fallacy means.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 2:40pm

I said it was interesting that people are sure about it. You, tuluse, and akn said that I said that we have no information about what his philosophy would be. That is a straw man.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 3:03pm

No, you used a rhetorical device of ironically using the word "obviously" joined to "...um..." which implies that, lacking a previous OC gig, predicting with confidence what Tice will do is problematic. It isn't.

Now, perhaps you did merely wish to note that it was interesting to be able to predict such a thing without a previous OC stint. Obviously, however, there is more than one reader who inteprets the rhetorical choices you made as having added meaning.

In any case, if you only meant to say it was interesting, fine.

by akn :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 4:58pm

That you claimed "people are sure about it" and (originally) "many people think they know what Mike Tice will do" is the most flimsy straw man of this whole straw-debate. Where are all these straw-people you are so interested in?

I'm sure there are a lot of Bears fans who are confident in Tice's ability as an OC (given his significant experience on the offensive side of the ball) without specifically knowing what exactly he'll do. That said, with the little evidence we have so far this preseason, he's certainly backed up his public statements (reduction of 7 step drops, extra pass protection leading to zero Cutler sacks, balanced running/passing attempts, etc.). That's as much as we can know for now.

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