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22 Aug 2012

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

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: North and South, our two home division directions are the remaining selections. Do you have a preference for this week's column?

Mike: d4 says ... 3, so South.


Mike: How many #%@#^@$^ whole number lines are we going to get this column?

Tom: Just one in this batch.

Mike: Well, that's a relief.

Tom: Wait, no. Of the eight teams in this column, seven of them are whole-number lines.

Mike: That is very not a relief.

Tom: Well, we just had the AFC West, where each line was a whole-number line that matched my expected wins. I'm in less perfect agreement with these lines. Take, for instance, the Falcons. When we last saw their performance in a meaningful game, it was an ugly one. A playoff loss to the Giants where the offense failed to score any points.

Mike: I haven't looked at the others, but I'm with you on the Falcons. This seems a bit high.

Tom: Before we continue, I have to note I was 4-0 in this division last year, while you were 0-4.

Mike: I don't think you had to do anything. I think you wanted to note that.

Tom: I'll also note my AFC South performance when we get to that division. You beat me there.

Mike: Yeah, we'll see that happen.

Tom: I noted that because I was about to disagree with you on these Falcons.

Mike: Really?

Tom: Really. They were a 10-6 team that was not notably lucky to be 10-6 and should be at least as good this season. Asante Samuel, despite his faults, is an upgrade at cornerback, which was a problem position in the games Brent Grimes missed. Julio Jones should be better in his second season. I could even see Matt Ryan improving his pocket presence this year, which would be a big move for a good-but-flawed player. No, I still don't love the pass rush or the safeties, but I think they should be considered the NFC South favorites this year.

Mike: I agree with everything except the Falcons as a solid 10-win team. They have some glaring issues.

Tom: Okay, I don't love the offensive line, either, and the loss of Will Svitek does nothing to make me like the Falcons more.

Mike: An offensive line that is good at protecting Ryan but pretty awful in the run game. No real solution for their anemic pass rush. I don't really believe in Asante Samuel, so I'm not entirely convinced he is an upgrade -- especially because the front seven in front of him is so good that he should be playing a very disciplined game. I know he won't. I just have trouble seeing a line of 9.0 for a team with a hideous running game without a quarterback named Manning or Brady. There's really no other way to slice it: their ground game is bad. And it's not just the line, as they ranked 17th in second-level yards.

Tom: Michael Turner spent some of last year looking like a late-career Eddie George, and Garrett Reynolds was awful at right guard. Turner will get fewer carries and Reynolds won't play unless he's better. I don't think the Falcons going 10-6 is far-fetched at all, and I do think it's a likelier destination for them than 8-8.

Mike: This is why I'm so angry at the whole-number line. I'd say their chances of going 8-8 and 9-7 are roughly even. 10 seems extreme. That said, I think I'm going to have to go out on a limb. Over.

Tom: I don't love this team, but like them enough to go Over ... wait, after all that, you're agreeing with me?

Mike: I said I disagreed with you on the line being too high. The line should be 8.5 or 8.0. 9.0 is too high.

Tom: I'd like it better at 8.5, but I think 9.0 is a reasonable line.


Tom: Your non-whole number line for the evening. I hope you can hug it and love it and squeeze it and call it George.

Mike: Oh, but I will. Especially because I believe this line is perfect.

Tom: Why, because it almost precisely matches last year's Pythagorean Wins total for the Panthers?

Mike: It exquisitely matches the expectations of an average team with the slight promise of a serious regression for Cam Newton. Granted, I'm not sure that regression will happen, but I wouldn't bet against it.

Tom: Well, betting on it depends on the odds, I would think. The table in FOA 2012 on the generally slight regression of offensive performance by most teams who improved a lot on offense like the Panthers did does suggest the possibility.

Mike: Fortunately, the Panthers have a good running game and an elite (albeit aging) No. 1 receiver. So it won't be just the Newton show.

Tom: Despite the (lack of) wisdom of paying that much money to that many running backs, it won't be, but he does seem to be an aide to it. The bigger question for me is the defense, which was average-to-good before last year's debacle.

Mike: I'm actually really interested to see how Brandon LaFell handles his third year. I remember dinging him a few times in Scramble last year, but surprisingly he was 11th by DVOA last year. I think he'll have some room to improve going into the magical third year for wide receivers. I think they'll end up as average. I mean, they'll probably have better health and they picked up some decent pieces, so I think average is a good place to set expectations.

Tom: I'm having trouble reconciling myself to the idea of "really interesting" and "Brandon LaFell." My curiosity is more about Mike Tolbert and what is role will be. 2-TE sets were important to them last year, and now they don't have Jeremy Shockey.

Mike: To me, that says at least 8-8. I think I disagree with you, actually. I like the Panthers in this division. Over.

Tom: The return of Jon Beason should be big, but their secondary was lousy last year and they didn't really do anything to improve at defensive back. This is a tough call, but I'm going Under.


Tom: Do you believe in the defense? Do you believe the offense can be as good without Sean Payton?

Mike: To the first, an emphatic no. To the second, an emphatic yes.

Tom: Well, I'm in full accord with you on the first point. I think last year we saw more of the downside of Gregg Williams' devotion to the blitz and pressure regardless of soundness. Bringing in Steve Spagnuolo was, I think, a sound move, and I still like Spags as a defensive coordinator notwithstanding his lack of success in a bad situation in St. Louis. I wouldn't expect him to work miracles this year, though, and the Saints' defense has been bad three of the past five years. Curtis Lofton won't fix that by himself.

Mike: I think Spagnuolo was the best option for the situation they found themselves in. You really think that this offense, with all the weapons it has and an all-world quarterback that finally has his massive contract, will really fall apart without Payton's presence?

Tom: Fall apart? No. Be less awesome than it was last year? Absolutely.

Mike: I don't think they'd be awesome as they were last year even with Payton. Especially because they have a far more difficult schedule this year.

Tom: I think his absence makes it even more unlikely they'll be as awesome as they'll need to be again to cover up for the defense.

Mike: Well, those are very different things. The defense being really bad (which it will) only has a marginal effect on the offense being super-awesome (which it will).

Tom: I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. I just think the offense will be very good instead of super-awesome again. I don't mean to downplay just how much success the Saints had last year. Their season ended short of the conference championship, but they were still really really good. I just think they won't be quite as good this year.

Mike: I think you overestimate Payton's effect on the offense. On the other hand, this defense is really, really bad, they're making a quick transition to a new coordinator, and the secondary is still putrid. I think some regression from the offense and another abysmal showing from the defense puts them into 9- to 10-win territory. Since I'm buying the Panthers, I guess I'm selling the Saints. Under.

Tom: We're agreeing far too much. Under for me as well.


Tom: Just for the record, the Bucs started 4-2 last year.

Mike: And finished 0-10.

Tom: Yes, they lost their final ten games and had a DVOA of -30% or worse in seven of those, including the final five, but remember that.

Mike: I'm not sure why we are remembering this. Please enlighten me.

Tom: I'm not trying to argue the Bucs shouldn't be considered the fourth-best team in the NFC South. I'm trying to make the argument they probably weren't really that bad last year. They were a mediocre team that gave up under a bad head coach. Really, this is all a long preamble to my bringing up my suggestion from a couple years ago they should have hired Marty Schottenheimer, or somebody like him, and let Raheem Morris get more experience for a couple years.

Mike: I think that's a far too trite way of explaining their complete and total futility.

Tom: Obviously, there's more to it than that. Awful linebackers and wide receivers, plus safeties who couldn't tackle, were a big part of it.

Mike: To be fair, basically everyone except the Patriots, Steelers and Packers should be trying to hire Marty Schottenheimer, one of the greatest coaches of all time. Sadly, he's not interested.

Tom: Maybe he would have been three years ago.

Mike: Pretty sure he wasn't. I'm positive someone tried.

Tom: Anyway, the Bucs decided to actually spend money this year, and between that and the draft added Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin, and Mark Barron. I don't love all of those players, but they were all great additions. Had they hired a head coach with NFL experience, somebody used to building a very professional team, I'd be high on them. Instead they hired Greg Schiano away from Rutgers. I like Schiano, more or less, but I'm far from convinced he'll be a good NFL head coach. There haven't been many collegiate coaches lately that have succeeded in the NFL without an NFL background. Yes, Pete Carroll, but he was an NFL head coach before going to USC.

Mike: Everyone seems to forget that. I agree, the realities of handling a stable of professionals and the very different mechanisms and atmosphere to team-building put collegiate coaches at a distinct disadvantage. That said, the bar for Schiano is really, really low.

Tom: The bar in Tampa has been low the past couple seasons. I think the financial commitment the Glazers made this offseason indicates it'll be going up soon.

Mike: Honestly, while I definitely agree they've gone on a spending spree, does it amount to much on top of what they already had?

Tom: True. They're better, but still not that good, thus the line of 6.0. In fact, I like them to go 6-10 this year. Push.

Mike: Better, but basically the same team. They'll improve a bit, but not that much. 6 wins sounds about right, but screw that, and 5 wins is too few. Over.


Tom: Well, I went .500 in the South divisions last year. With a 4-0 record in the NFC South, yes, that means I went 0-4 in the division I know best, the AFC South. I note in my partial defense at the time we didn't know Peyton Manning would be out for the year. Had I known that, I would've predicted the Colts to go under and the Texans over rather than vice versa and matched your 2-2. But we didn't, so I didn't, and therefore failed utterly.

Mike: Seppuku for you!

Tom: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The only difference between my errors in the AFC South and my errors elsewhere is that I can even better justify my wrongness.

Mike: To me, the Texans were last year's feel-good story.

Tom: Yes, in a very Texans style, even the best year in franchise history was more disappointing that it could have been, thanks to the Matt Schaub injury.

Mike: It is a real shame, especially because their defense is not very good and their schedule is significantly more difficult this year. Which means they could backslide considerably.

Tom: I think a lot of their defensive upgrade was due to major personnel upgrades, notably at safety in Danieal Manning and particularly cornerback with Johnathan Joseph. I don't expect the defense to be quite as good as it was in 2011, but still expect average or a bit above.

Mike: Manning may be an upgrade, but he's not a franchise-changing acquisition and he definitely wasn't the difference last year.

Tom: This franchise used to start C.C. Brown because he was the best option. Joseph was the biggest deal. J.J. Watt was also a big deal. Wade Phillips also helped, though how much I'm not quite sure.

Mike: I think these are all good additions, but absolutely not enough to account for a shift from second-worst in the league on defense to sixth-best. That was a massive, unsustainable improvement.

Tom: True, thus the "average or a little above" estimate. Maybe two-thirds between 2010 and 2011, which is only a slight upgrade from 2009's performance.

Mike: I can get behind that. I think 11 wins is a bridge too far, so Under.

Tom: The bigger issue is the receiving corps, which beyond Andre Johnson is between inexperienced and bad, and I don't trust the running game as much without Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel. Under for me as well.


Mike: It takes a very, very bad team to only win four games.

Tom: It does. The Colts were pretty much at least that bad last year. Of course, they now have Andrew Luck instead of Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky playing quarterback. Colts fans, I hate you. Nothing personal, but I do hate you.

Mike: Wait, what?

Tom: They had one year of quarterback torture. After Peyton and before Luck. They needed at least 20, of pre-Bradshaw Steelers quarterback play.

Mike: I'm pretty sure nobody deserves that.

Tom: I'm still an Andrew Luck believer. The defense played better in the second half of last year. I don't think it'll be great, but it'll be bad rather than awful. The running game was sort of effective at times last year despite the awful quarterbacking.

Mike: I am neither a Luck believer or a doubter. I'm waiting a few years to see what he develops into, because I have zero confidence in any quarterback fresh out of college ball. No matter what his measurables and intangibles are or how extremely, painfully pro-style his offense was. That said, even a rocky rookie season will be better than Curtis "I Once Was a Teenage Burger King" Painter and Dan "Cannoli!" Orlovsky.

Tom: I don't think the Colts will be that good this year, but I don't expect the 2009 Lions, a team nearly as bad as the (almost)-winless version the preceding season. Over.

Mike: You know, I'm going to take a flyer here. The offensive line has been reshuffled, but not with superior talent, and the defense still has no bite. I said earlier that it takes a very bad team to only win four games. This team will be that bad. Not as bad as last year, but bad enough. Under.


Tom: Another team that was a mess last year.

Mike: Which is strange, because the Titans and the Texans had surprisingly good years. So it isn't just a South thing.

Tom: Jack Del Rio tried to save his job by playing Blaine Gabbert early, I think, and ended up getting fired more quickly than I think he otherwise would have.

Mike: And possibly wrecking Gabbert in the process.

Tom: He shouldn't have played at all last year, but started looking better late in the season. Almost no quarterback this side of Aaron Rodgers would have looked good in that passing offense last year.

Mike: I'm still not fond of throwing rookie quarterbacks to the lions. Even aside from its efficacy (of which I am still unconvinced), it really encourages churn like what we've seen in Cleveland.

Tom: Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson are clearly the top two receivers this year.

Mike: I'm also not sure what signs of improvement you saw from Yo Gabba Blaine Gabbert.

Tom: He looked less frenetic. The game looked like it was starting to slow down for him. True, nobody was open, so he didn't have anywhere to throw the ball, but he understood he couldn't throw the ball. Now, with a passing game that might actually be functional, we can get on with the process of evaluating him as an actual player instead of a joke. The more interesting question is how much of their defensive improvement is sustainable. I'm much less optimistic about the Jaguars' defense than I am about the Texans.

Mike: I think you're being too easy on Gabbert. Maybe he'll prove himself this year, but more likely he'll either turn out to be nothing or show that he's been shell-shocked, like David Carr was. I believe in Jacksonville's defense slightly more than Houston's, actually.

Tom: I have no clue if Gabbert will be really good, thus the process of evaluating him starting this year.

Mike: They had some bad luck last year and they've added some decent role players to help cushion the fall. That said, there will still be some serious regression. I figure a bit above-average for their defense, and maybe a slight improvement on the offense, just because it's hard to get much worse. I think six wins is attainable, so Over.

Tom: I think they'll get enough offensive improvement to offset the defensive regression. Over.


Tom: Well, I learned the Inverse Hype Theorem of Success. After picking the Titans to go over the first two years and seeing them finish under, I picked them to go under last year and they responded by going over.

Mike: You have learned your lessons well, my padawan.

Tom: They went 9-7 last year and had 8.2 Pythagorean wins. Picking them to go under 7.0 seems more or less like trolling, though. The Inverse Hype Theorem of Success seems like it could be petty and cruel towards such blatant attempts to invoke its power.

Mike: Trust the Inverse Hype Theorem of Success, Tom. Let the Inverse Hype The -- OK, that just doesn't sing, does it.

Tom: I'd like this line a lot better at 7.5. But the early schedule is brutal. They'll be underdogs in five or six of their first seven games. Despite the success last year, I don't trust the defense without a much-improved pass rush, and I don't trust the pass rush despite the addition of Kamerion Wimbley.

Mike: Who, exactly, is starting at quarterback this year?

Tom: Jake Locker.

Mike: Oh right, we found that out Monday.

Tom: He completed 52 percent of his passes last year.

Mike: This is really exciting news.

Tom: That's better than Gabbert's 51 percent.

Mike: That statistic is technically correct.

Tom: Like Gabbert, we'll see how Locker develops as a passer. I'm skeptical of his prospects, but I'll be writing a zillion words on it over the course of this season.

Mike: I'm skeptical of a lot with this team. In fact, the only things I like are Chris Johnson and the linebackers.

Tom: Johnson ran great the second preseason game. It was simultaneously both awesome and really, really weird. I think the linebackers are actually overrated, at least by Titans fans, and more promising than particularly good yet.

Mike: Yes, well, "like" isn't the highest of praise. I can see this team having an absolute disastrous start to the season and not being able to recover. Under.

Tom: As I said, I'd feel more comfortable if this line was 7.5. I reserve the right to change my mind, but I'm very worried about the possibility of a snowball after a slow start created by the tough schedule. The push is tempting, but I'll instead go Under.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 22 Aug 2012

49 comments, Last at 01 Sep 2012, 3:59pm by Chase Perlen


by theslothook :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 2:31pm

Just out of curiosity and both questions are really for Mike Kurtz: I don't deny that the texans D is going to regress (I'm a colts fan btw), but why exactly do you feel like the jags D is more "real" than the texans D? At least one could make the case the reason the texans D the year before was abysmal was because of a talentless secondary- which, whatever you think of manning and joseph, were huge upgrades. Not too mention, jj watt. All this to say, who on the jags defense feels like a known quantity and more trustworthy than the texans defenders?

Also, just nitpicking, but are there any teams mike kurtz actually feels good about? Like really optimistic for? Every team he seems feel underwhelmed by.

by nath :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:48pm

Yeah, I'm struggling to understand how they have a "not very good" defense with the parts they added and the level of performance they put up in 2011. That seems to be taking the idea of regression to absurd extremes; you might as well be using the 2010 defense as your point of comparison.

by t.d. :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 2:43pm

the worst rookie quarterback i've ever seen firsthand in terms of being 'shellshocked' was troy aikman on an awful dallas team in 1989. i didn't think gabbert got any better as the season went on, but i also think the jags surrounded him with the worst support cast in the nfl (gabbert had happy feet because he frequently had immediate pressure, often from unblocked defenders, and they wished they had as good an offensive line and receivers as the bears did). i'm ridiculously optimistic from how he's looked in six drives this preseason (three tds and a field goal), but i'd certainly rather have gabbert than locker, long term. not saying the Jags will be a playoff team, but i wouldn't be surprised if they are

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 2:51pm

Is a defensive improvement more sustainable if there was a coaching/scheme change accompanying it? I guess this would be like the New Coach effect for the plexiglass principle. I would be shocked if the Texans defense is anything worse than above average, and won't be at all surprised if it sustains much of the improvement from 2010-2011. It wasn't like the same players in the same scheme suddenly became good, but the additions of Watt and Reed through the draft, and Joseph in free agency. Sure, Mario Williams is gone, but he was gone for much of last year as well. Last year, the Texans also lost Schaub after 10 games (at a point where they were the #1 team in DVOA - a case could easily be made that if Schaub doesn't get hurt, the Texans are the best, most complete team in the AFC in 2011), and had Andre Johnson out for an extended stretch. To me, way too much is being made of losing two guys on the o-line and the fact that their massive defensive improvement will not be sustained. That team is easily the best in the AFC South, and the other three are all works in progress. I will be shocked if the Texans, assuming Schaub doesn't get hurt, go under the 10.0. Over seems like a good bet.

by t.d. :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 3:05pm

They've done research on this, after the Saints' meteoric rise on 2009 under Gregg Williams, although I'm not sure if that was only in terms of turnovers. Have to pull out PFP 2010 and check
ed: most of the 'unsustainability' in that article related to defensive touchdowns, so it doesn't apply here. they do say hiring a new coordinator rarely makes a difference, but clearly it did in New Orleans in 2009 and for the Texans last year

by nath :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:51pm

They added a new coordinator and completely new scheme, a legitimate #1 CB, and front seven help, and finished sixth in defense last year. But they're "not very good" because they were bad in 2010. LOL.

by t.d. :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 3:14pm

Isn't Jim Harbaugh the go-to example of a successful college coach thriving in the NFL?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:21pm

There was that Jimmy Johnson guy. He did pretty well.

by t.d. :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:59pm

yeah, i just meant the 'modern' example of a successful college-to-NFL transition

by Paddy Pat :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:54pm

There are counter examples, but Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis, Bobby Petrino, Mike Riley, Lane Kiffin, and perhaps to a lesser extent Nick Saban have set a strong precedent. I think Spurrier is probably the poster child here because of his imperious approach, organizational ineptitude, and quitter-attitude. College coaches often seem to think that they can hop right into the pros and coach the same way that they did in college.

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 5:19pm

I wouldn't call Jim Harbaugh a success until he shows he can lead his team to more than one winning season.

by chemical burn :: Sat, 08/25/2012 - 8:59pm

Haven't you heard, he's as good a coach as there is in the game! No coach has ever had a couple of winning seasons and then flamed out. It just doesn't happen. We know, at this very moment, that he is a genius. And that Cam Newton is a future Hall of Famer. Those are things we can say for sure.

by JohnD (not verified) :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 3:16pm

I need a handy copy of the DVOA rant template. Colts with fewer than 5 wins?

I guess even Peyton Freaking Manning only won 3 games his first year.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 3:31pm

I'm glad I'm not the only one who hasn't already crowned Luck the next Manning. For all we know, he may be the next Brian Griese. Or Charlie Whitehurst. Pedigree isn't everything.

by Johnny Socko (not verified) :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:34pm

So you haven't crowned Luck's ass yet? Fair enough. But this is the time of year to make predictions. So you need to give us your Luck career path prediction? I am extremely impressed so far (funny to say given the small sample size, but that's what makes this fun), so I'd had to say his career will very close match Peyton's. I expect nothing less than an MVP caliber career with a sprinkle of Super Bowl victories on top. The guy just seems like a can't miss.

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:14pm

Im a colts fan and while i think expectations for the majority of ppl and mine included peg luck as hitting the elite qb mark(definitively)- have a career close to manning's is really really tough. I suppose if measured by playoff success, manning's career is very doable and in fact surpassable(you could argue rodgers has already equaled favre's playoff accomplishments at this point). However, if we are just talking strictly qb talents- expecting luck to be peyton is ridiculous. I happen to think peyton is the best qb i've ever seen(dating back to 1997 anyways).

by Paddy Pat :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 6:45pm

So, Luck could be Tim Couch, Robert Griffin might be Mark Sanchez or Matt Leinart, Tannehill could resemble J P Losman, and watch Russell Wilson turn into Drew Brees! Drafting quarterbacks is such fun.

by dk240t :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 3:34pm

Mike, you think the Texans Defense is bad, and you trust Chris Johnson. Did you watch football at all last year or are you making your predictions based on 2010?

by Eddo :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:40pm

Did you read the full explanation regarding the Texans' defense? He thinks they were bad (very bad) in 2010, and good in 2011, but that the improvement was too extreme to be sustained. So he sees them reverting to a level that is roughly average, perhaps a bit above average. I think that's completely reasonable.

by nath :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:06pm

But that improvement is also completely explainable by the changes they made. It's not like they jumped from 32nd to 6th and the only thing they did was add a defensive lineman.

1)They added a #1 CB in free agency, which is huge because they were hopelessly outmanned their last year, and a new #1 guy bumps everyone else down the depth chart a little, where they won't be outmatched.
2)They also added a new starting safety.
3)They brought in a coordinator who changed the entire defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and that change has allowed the team to get much more pressure on the passer, which in turn also helps the secondary out.
4)They added a guy who seems to be an elite 3-4 DE in the draft, as well as a pretty good OLB who filled in quite capably after Mario Williams was hurt.

Those are a number of significant changes. It's not just variance. I mean, one of the writers said the defense was "not very good" and that's just not true. If he wants to ignore actual personnel changes and just look at regression, that's his prerogative, I suppose, but it's also inaccurate.

by Eddo :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 8:49pm

That's all true, and I would indeed be surprised if they turned out to be "not very good" (under the standard connotation of that term, which is "below average").

I think the point is that defensive quality generally swings much more year-to-year than offense, even when there are valid reasons to expect it to be consistent.

If I had to guess, I'd say the Texans wind up with around the #12 defense next year.

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 5:27pm

That's OK. If I were the Texans I think I'd be satisfied with the #12 defense and Matt Schaub back at QB, compared to having Tom Brady and the #32 defense. That sounds like a team that could get to the championship game.

by Comonman (not verified) :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 3:25pm

Have to agree here. I generally like FO because there is more thinking behind most of the stuff than other sources (looking at you ESPN). But I have to say you have to put down the calculator and take off tin-foil hat on occasion and watch the game.

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 3:36pm

I feel like I'm going to be sorry for asking, but I do not in the slightest bit understand either the nickname for Curtis Painter or the one for Dan Orlovsky.

by Paddy Pat :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 6:54pm

Orlovsky hangs his hat on the "free cannoli" play in Detroit where he ran out of the back of the end zone for the dumbest safety you'll ever see. The Painter reference is harder to figure out, unless it's simply suggesting that he was a plug'n play, street-worthy bench warmer.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 3:05am

I don't understand what that play has to do with cannoli and this is the first time I have ever heard it called "the 'free cannoli' play."

Incidentally, Jim Marshall's safety is still dumber than Orlovsky's.

by Eddo :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 10:25am

I think it comes from a Walkthrough column, which riffed on a line from The Godfather: "leave the gun, take the cannoli."

Orlovsky left the gun (shotgun formation), so he must have been looking for a cannoli.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:18pm

I hadn't thought about just searching FO for it.

It is from Tanier and based on The Godfather, though in Audibles rather than Walkthrough (Which is likely why I don't remember it. I skip Audibles fairly often.): http://www.footballoutsiders.com/audibles/2008/audibles-line-week-6

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 5:44pm

This shows the danger of being too self-referential, especially if you're not a very large part of the pop, or even football, culture.

by dbirtchnell (not verified) :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 3:42pm

So the Saints defense has been bad 3 of the last 5 years. That means they've been at least average the other 2 years, right? So why is it just taken as read that they'll have another bad year?

I mean, they only added the best DC available in Spags, 2 new starters at LB who are both a decent upgrade in Lofton and Hawthorne and they also added probably the best FA DT in Bunkley.

Add those guys to the new much more sound zone-based scheme that Spags in installing and you're probably looking at at least a small improvement.

I'd be willing to bet that the Saints won't be in the bottom 10 in defensive DVOA at the end of the season.

I'm also willing to bet that if the Eagles or another east coast big media market team made these changes they'd be predicted to improve.

by Joseph :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:47pm

As a long-time Saints fan, I'm willing to bet that they would be higher on the Saints if we had just ONE D-lineman that scared OC's. Or a LB. IMO, our 3 best defenders are in the secondary, depending on where you rank Curtis Lofton. And with the injuries to our THREE starting LB's (only one of which is season-ending), it's kind of obvious why most people would expect our defense to be bad.
However, if the Saints D is between #15-#20 in POINTS ALLOWED, the Saints can win the division. Sadly, I'm not sure that they will be.

by Jetspete :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:34pm

I agree with your Jags prediction. Remember with last year's lockout, the rookie qbs barely had a month to understand the playbook. We marveled at how quickly Newton and Dalton adjusted, but isnt it possible that Gabbert (and Ponder) is just a regular qb that will go through a natural progression of steady improvement?

by hrudey (not verified) :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 10:05am

Let's also not forget that Dalton and Newton came into camp as the #1 and received the first team snaps and coaching. Gabbert came into camp as the #3, exited camp as the #3 and then Garrard got cut going into week 1. As a Jets fan, although you didn't likely see the first Jaguars game of last season, I am certain you can remember just how much McCown vehemently inhaled against the Jets in week 2 and so Gabbert got thrust in. He didn't get the work or coaching in training camp (gosh, his "QB coach" was a WR coach for crying out loud), and he had perhaps the worst collection of WRs to ever litter a post-1970s NFL roster. As bad as last year was, given that he's younger than all but 2 QBs drafted in *this* class, I'm looking at this as a more realistic rookie season, and hopefully the progress shown through two preseason games continues tonight and into the season.

by tuluse :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 4:51pm

I expect the Saints offense to be fine for one year. Not even Barry Switzer could screw up a good thing that quickly.

by MatMan :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:22pm

Hey, I used this same example with a friend just a few days ago. That was Aikman's offense, not Switzer's. This will be Brees' offense.

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:23pm

This is for sure going to get flame replies, but i expect very bad things from the saints next year. Part of it is the bounty stuff, but honestly, how much talent does the defense have anyways. Outside of lofton and greer, i don't think there is a single talented defensive player at all on any level. Roman harper led the team in sacks and he's an abysmal cover safety. I just feel like this is one of the least talented defenses in the league. On top of that, this year they were without a first or second round pick to help them.

In addition, call me crazy, but I have never been a fan of the saints receivers. I feel like the saints offense is highly successful in large part to a good interior o line that enables them to kill teams with screens, end arounds, and a brutal run game, which then feeds into the rest of their passing offense. People often forget, but the 2010 saints passing offense went from 1st to 10th mainly because their run game fell off a cliff(1st to somewhere around the 20s). I know they tried to stem the loss of nicks with grubbs, but nicks was unquestionably their best offensive linemen if not the best guard in the league. His loss coupled with natural regression could easily explain a fall from otherworldly to very good. Couple that with the defense they have and the bountygate stuff and i think the saints are in real trouble.

by Paddy Pat :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 6:57pm

On a much more obvious note, I recall vividly how disorganized the Saints looked in the game where Payton got injured. A lot of the NO offense is timing and trickery, and I can well imagine them losing 4 games they would have had but for Payton's absence. Imagine some regression thrown in, and we could easily see a 9 win season or worse.

by RichardD (not verified) :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 7:00pm

No flame from me, but I beg to differ on many of your points. First, the talent on defense is not that bad. The scheme last year made the secondary look worse than it was. Roman Harper is a hard hitter and good tackler, and can be very effective if used properly (i.e. not man coverage). Malcolm Jenkins is a playmaker at FS who was not put in position to make plays last year. Both of them should look a lot better in the new scheme. My main concern is at the #2 and lower CB's. Patrick Robinson at #2 is still green, and we don't know much about the depth behind him including the nickel CB position. On the D line, you have Cameron Jordan, who played well last year for a rookie and should continue to improve as an every-down DE, along with Will Smith who has always been above average on the other end. Also Broderick Bunkley should be a solid addition in the middle. And there are a couple of young guys (M. Wilson and Galette) who have shown a lot of promise as situational pass rushers. The linebacker corps is probably average, but Spagnuolo has proven able to get the most out of a front 7 (which also helps make the secondary look better). In short, I expect the defense to be significantly better than last year, probably in the top 18-20.

The offense is of course likely to regress from last year's otherworldly numbers. Does it matter if the receivers are average? Not with the other weapons available to Brees. And you can't ding the offense for being better when balanced--that's true of any team. The run game fell off in 2010 because the top 4 running backs were all injured. Not too many teams would be able to absorb that loss without some dropoff in success.

Overall I expect the offense to be not all-time great but still great (top 3-4). With a mid-pack defense and good overall depth (to absorb injuries), that should give the Saints a chance to go deep into the playoffs.

The biggest concern I have is the loss of Payton. As the season progresses, who will make those tactical adjustments to keep ahead of the competition? I can see the offense sputtering mid-season if they aren't able to innovate as well as they have in recent years. On the other hand, it's really more about execution, isn't it? Execution shouldn't be a problem. So again, I expect a good year from the Saints.

by theslothook :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 8:49pm

Isn't it great that we can be constructive with our disagreement? I wish this was the way most internet discussions happened.

Firstly, the young guy argument might be valid, but we simply don't know and truthfully, every team can make the case that their are so and so young guys that look promising. Its a fair point, but not necessarily something that you should count on. As for the rest, Im going to bring up the dreaded Pff numbers since they are the best we have when it comes to individual grades. It seems the entire saints secondary was pretty bad last year, including jabari greer. As for jenkings, he finished with a slightly below average pass coverage rating, but ok i guess. Will smith finished with slightly above average rating in pass rush as well- not bad but nothing hugely special. Cameron hayward was good in run defense but quite poor in pass rush and overall, the rest of the defense finished in some range of below average and terrible. I did forget about bunkley so thats a good addition, but overall, this defense seems to have a few good to average players and an awful lot of below avg types, which leaves the defense in totality as a pretty poor unit. Barring pristine health, spagnuolo wizardry, and unexpected excellence from unknown players, I really can't see this defense any better than the low 20s. To me, it has all the makings of a bad defense.

For their offense, the only big contention I have is that its not true that a pathetic run game necessitates a bad passing offense. The colts in the manning years fielded some pretty lousy running games-2008,09, and 10 all come to mind, but their passing offenses were still very good. The same was true for the chargers in 09 when they led the league in passing dvoa but were abysmal at rushing and the same was true true for the packers in 2010 as well. The reason i think the saints were hit hard was by the fall in their run game is because their entire style of offense is dependent on their run and screen game. Its why i suspect any drop off from their running game has ripple effects on their whole team. They lost their best offensive linemen so i predict a drop in their run production and thus the rest of the team. Again, do i expect the offense to be very good? absolutely, but my biggest pt was, a dropoff in offense and a suspect defense along with all the other offseason shenanigans might push the saints out of the playoff picture this year.

by Joseph :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 10:23am

theslotlook, first I'm going to reply somewhat to your comment above. The Saints receivers are perfect for their system because they don't have a "diva." Colston is a true #1 (1,000+ rec.yds. 5 out of his 6 yrs, and in the other one he missed 6 games iirc). Jimmy Graham is a top-5 TE, and still getting better as he enters his 3rd yr. Sproles is a great receiving back, and isn't bad running the ball, either. Lance Moore is a poor man's Wes Welker, but as the 4th option, that's okay. He would be the #2 WR on lots of teams, and would prob. have better #s on other teams because they would use him more. Henderson is a speedster that blocks well. Some teams (cough-Carolina-cough-Miami-cough-Cleveland-cough-Rams-cough-Jags-cough) would love to have a dependable #2 WR. [Boy, do I need some Robitussin!] In other words, their receiving corps is not based upon outstanding talent, it's based upon fit--each player has their part in making the whole group great.
Re: the run game, having all those RB's out had a MAJOR effect on the pass offense two yrs. ago. Not to mention that Brees had an undisclosed leg (knee?) injury after week 6 (iirc). The Saints pass to set up the run, similar to NE & GB. The reason that the Saints run game will not be adversely affected from the "falloff" from Nicks to Grubbs is that the Saints RARELY rely on sheer power in the run game--it's based more on misdirection, run when the D expects pass, and getting esp. Sproles out in space.
Also re: the O-line, Brian de la Puente at C should be better in this his 2nd yr (iirc--may be his 3rd), since he was thrown to the wolves when Kreutz unexpectedly retired in the middle of the year. IMO, his improvement should offset any loss at LG.
Is the defense suspect? Yes, no doubt. If you read my post above, I make the point that it does not matter much as long as they LIMIT POINTS. Yes, I know every defense plans to do that. However, we saw last year that one of the worst defenses in the NFL by many measures was good enough to get to the SB, and the other one was expected to get there. At the same time, the Saints haven't ignored their defense, as one DT, DE, prob. 2 LB's, and the #2 & #3 CB are fairly recent imports, and several were draft picks. They also have young situational players at DE & DT. Can Spags coach them up, and can they avoid injuries? We shall see. But of course, that's why we spend hours on Sunday in front of the TV, isn't it?

by theslothook :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 1:56pm

I think we agree on many things, more than we probably realize, but i think i should be clear about what i meant. When we think of great passing offenses, we usually imagine very strong receivers, great qb, and some variation of a solid or good pass blocking o line. When i said that I didn't like the saints receivers, it didn't mean i thought they were a hindrance. The saints offense is clearly dominant, but it does things in a way thats different from other standard dominant offenses. Yes, they use the run to set up the pass and you're right its not a standard power run game, its more of a run out of shotgun, spread and multiple formation style of run game. I think we can all agree, if the saints can't run the ball ball/screen/end around/flair outs- then that has a larger effect on them than say a traditional offense. the reason is because i think those traditional offenses generally have better top receivers than the saints do. Of course, this is my impression, but i think losing nicks does more than affect the power run game. He was so versatile and did so many different things and i think he and evans were a big reason why the saints were able to do so many formation diverse plays. Will they still be able to be as effective doing those things with grubbs instead? i don't know but i doubt it.

I think the only pt i want to add about the saints defense is- yes, if their additions and young guys improve then they have the makings of an average defense. But what if they don't? And its not clear to me that the probability of them making it is higher than them not. At best its 50 50 but likely worse than that. Thats why im down on their defense in general. Btw, i also think the real difference in the saints defense wasn't the blitzing but the loss of sharper who really was a difference maker.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 6:54am

The big question for the Texans defense is whether Joseph can stay healthy. They can live with an injury to anyone else, but Joseph missing significant time would be a huge, huge problem. It wouldn't drop them to 2010 levels overnight, but it might make them below average.

The thing about the Phillips hire is that it's not just a question of adding a good defensive co-ordinator (although he is one). It's about replacing a staggeringly inept one. The case for Texans' defensive regression is overstated in a similar way to the case for overall 49ers regression, for the same reason.

The Texans offense, on the other hand, should rebound significantly. Schaub, Johnson and Foster were on the field together for a grand total of about 2 quarters last season. That's unlikely to happen again. I was very worried about the receiving depth, but given how Jean and Martin have looked so far in pre-season, I am now much less so. The offensive line will be significantly worse than it was last year, but it will still be well above average, and the Texans will still run all over weak run defenses.

10 is the right line, but I can see 11 more easily than 9.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 6:56am

I also see Falcons over 9 as one of the easiest bets in the NFL this year, right up there with the under on the Cardinals. I think they win at least 11 games, and they'd be my pick for the #2 seed in the NFC.

by T Colt (not verified) :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 4:09pm

I agree with Mr Shush on the Falcons. Falcons are number 5 on DVOA playoff report, Matt Ryan has been in top 5 or 6 in DYAR/DVOA since he came into the league, and the Smith/Ryan Falcons have NEVER won less than 9 games, and have averaged 11.5 wins over the past 4 years. Do Mike and Tom not believe in Football Outsiders stats? Atlanta over 9 wins seems like an easy bet to me.

by Paddy Pat :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 9:48pm

It seems to me like the Falcons get under-hyped everywhere, here included because they're so ho-hum week in and week out. They play well but always without flash. They win, but don't dominate. They are fundamentally sound, but not especially exciting. I think they're favorites to win the NFC South with at least 9+ wins, but you look at their schedule, and it's easy to imagine 8 losses. I'm not sure I think they'll win in Kansas City in week 1, but pencil them in for no more than 1 home loss and you have a good season.

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 08/24/2012 - 6:35pm

The Falcons have been to the playoffs 3 times in the last 4 years and lost all three times, and worse, were blown out the last two times despite having a bye in 2010. They can get all the 10-win seasons they want but if they Falcons can't get past the divisional round in the playoffs no one will have any respect for them, just like the Lions will get no respect until they actually win a playoff game.

by chemical burn :: Sat, 08/25/2012 - 9:02pm

This is also true. Although, I thinks the Lions are getting a bundle more respect than them despite only one NFL-caliber looking season at 10-6.

(And a lot of their "under-hype" probably has to do specifically with last year's pathetic playoff exit. I don't care if it was to the future champs, it was one of the saddest things I have ever seen in the NFL playoffs.)

by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/23/2012 - 9:54pm

Yeah - and their most prominent competitor in the Saints looks the weakest they've looked in half a decade. Sure, Carolina might be ascendant, but their division in prime for the picking in a way it hasn't been in a couple years. I'm still not a believer in them as a real Superbowl competitor (that Giants game in the playoffs last year just doesn't happen to a truly great team) but they'll get to 10 wins.

by Chase Perlen (not verified) :: Sat, 09/01/2012 - 3:59pm

with regards to the saints, the loss of nicks, while huge, i do not think will have any impact on the screen game. The saints mainly run screens to the right side (behind evans and strief), which remains intact. Nicks, for all his dominance in one on one blocking, is not nearly as agile as grubbs is which could lead to some improvement in the screen department. Thus far in the preseason (which i know should be taken with a grain of salt), grubbs has looked very impressive and the saints first teamers have been gashing teams on the ground and with the screen game. Also, I think you are not accounting for the evolution of the saints offense. While the 2010 group relied on marques colston and a bevy of inconsistent deep threats in the passing game, the current group transitioned to featuring a dominant tight end in graham who has just scratched the surface and the premier scat back in football in sproles, along with the dominant intermediate routes from colston. Even should the running game not be truly dominant, although i would argue the improvement of ingram will offset the loss of nicks, this passing offense can still carry a team even against the toughest of defenses (see the divisional playoff game vs the 49ers).

Also, concerning the defense, what i think is a major misconception is that the secondary is suspect. The saints were not effective against the pass last year, but no team showed a greater disparity in yardage allowed by linebackers vs yardage allowed by dbs. The move from man to zone should aid the corners in what they do worst, tackling in one on one situations, which seemed to occur frequently with williams playing loose coverage while sending the blitz. The improvements made to the linebacker core (lofton and hawthorne are at the very least above average against the pass, a significantly upgrade over the terrible performance throughout the unit last year) should couple with the change in scheme to give the saints a better defense than last year.

All in all, this saints team will not match last years 13-3 performance by virtue of regression in performance in close games, a tougher schedule, and the loss of payton. But to say the football outsiders #1 team in DVOA last year is on the outside looking in at the playoffs and behind atlanta and possibly carolina seems farfetched.