Scramble for the Ball

Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball! Your humble Scramble writers are now entering the difficult third album phase of our careers, in which we struggle to compose hackneyed opening sentences that don't sound like every other hackneyed opening sentence we've ever used.

Andrew: With a bit of luck and inspiration, perhaps we can hope for an outcome that is considerably more Parklife than Be Here Now. Which, come to think of it, is a very British hope that may be completely lost on much of our core audience.

Bryan: I would have gone with London Calling, but then again, I'm a billion years old.

Andrew: ... which makes me approximately 1,000,000,000,003 in real money, or 1,000,000,003 in U.S. dollars. Which, appropriately for today's article, is very close to the number of consecutive seasons in which the Patriots have won the AFC East.

Bryan: Yeah, but this season, things are going to be different, right? Right? Right?...

... OK, the two Eastern divisions end up being some of the least competitive in football this season, but that doesn't mean we can't find anything interesting to talk about. After all, we've got both conference champions to talk about, as well as first-round quarterbacks for the Bills, Jets, and Giants.

… Wait, what?

Andrew: Yes, the Giants evidently think they, too, are playing football approximately a billion years ago, as they took a running back at the top of the first round -- and chose that over just maybe giving themselves some kind of hope for the future at the most important position in the sport, in what sure looks like the deepest quarterback draft class I can remember.

Bryan: We'll get plenty of chances to see said non-quarterback, as well as half of the rest of division this week; the Bills, Cowboys, and Jets all have nationally televised preseason games this week. With that in mind, let's preview the East!

All lines courtesy of Bovada and were accurate at time of writing.

AFC East

Bryan: Andrew, what were you doing on December 28th, 2008?

Andrew: It was a Sunday. I was at home, watching football. Watching something very special happen, as it turns out.

Bryan: I believe I was on a 12-hour flight, returning to Japan to finish my year of teaching English in an elementary school. It was a continent, a college degree, and two career paths ago for me. A veritable lifetime.

It also was the last day the AFC East was up for grabs in Week 17 of an NFL season. That's ... I mean, that's insane.

Andrew: It's also the last time the Patriots failed to win the division, and therefore also the last time they failed to make the playoffs. They still finished 11-5, though. They haven't had a season below 10 wins since 2002.

Bryan: They've only been really challenged twice since that 2008 season. The 2009 Jets finished a game back of New England at 9-7, and the 2015 Jets had a 10-6 season. Otherwise, the Patriots have sailed through year after year.

Every other division has had at least one Week 17 showdown since 2013. The AFC East has simply been the least competitive division in football for a decade now. And if you listen to Vegas, that's not likely to change in 2018.

Andrew: It's not only Vegas saying that. Every year, we hear this and that about the AFC East being a terrible division, and usually it's overblown. This year ... this year, not so much.

BUFFALO BILLS (6)

Last Over: 2017 (9-7, McDermott/Taylor)
Last Under: 2010 (4-12, Gailey/Fitzpatrick)

Andrew: I do not think I will be alone in this appraisal: I have absolutely no clue what the current Bills front office and coaching staff is trying to accomplish.

Bryan: Broadly, I presume they're trying to accomplish "putting together a competent football team." The devil, as always, is in the details.

Andrew: Right. There's a pretty significant difference between "goals" and "strategy." I get that the ultimate goal is to win football games, and the Bills share that goal with 31 at least 30 a significant number of other organizations. Strategically, however, I have absolutely no idea what the current Bills front office and coaching staff is trying to accomplish. How do they want to go about trying to win those games? If I had to guess, the answer would be "run the ball and play defense." In practical terms, however, it looks more like "punt a lot and hope for points off turnovers."

Bryan: What, you're not excited for Josh Allen to run an offense solely comprised of 60-yard bombs? You know, the kind of play that has only happened 17 times since 2006? Either Buffalo's going to entirely revamp the way we think about the passing offense in the modern NFL or, uh, maybe they're spending too much time drooling over a cannon of an arm.

Andrew: Ballistae are notoriously inaccurate and find it almost impossible to hit the same target twice. Josh Allen will henceforth be known as The Arbalist.

Bryan: To be fair, we shouldn't expect The Arbalist to throw precision passes to the same points on the field repeatedly. The receiving corps is so bad, they can't be expected to arrive at predictable points. Perhaps two sets of wildly inaccurate play will balance each other out. But at least they have a 30-year-old running back facing a possible suspension to help tide them over!

Seriously, this offense is a mess. It's going to be the worst in football, and by a fairly significant margin. But maybe their defense can see them through, right?

Andrew: Well there's Tre'Davious White, at least, and possibly Vontae Davis. The front seven genuinely looks quite decent, but decent isn't the kind of game-changing unit the Bills will probably need if they're to do more than minimize the team's losing margins.

Bryan: To be entirely fair, six games is low. It's been a long time since the Bills were that bad, and they were a playoff team last season -- perhaps not a deserving playoff team, per se, but it's not like we're talking about a franchise that has been mired in double-digit-losing seasons repeatedly in recent memory. It just feels like part of their success last season was despite themselves, as they did everything in their power to alienate an average-ish quarterback. Imagine the Nathan Peterman experiment, just spread out over a full season.

Andrew: Six wins is a low total, and the division should hand them a game or two as the season progresses, but absent LeSean McCoy there is nothing on that offense that gets me excited. The out-of-division schedule could quite easily be the stuff of nightmares, and that would place the Bills closer to the first overall pick than you would hope for a team that supposedly just drafted its quarterback of the future. I'm comfortable, even on a six-win line, taking the Under.

Bryan: I know that the Bills' projection in FOA 2018 has everyone up in arms. I'll still take the under. But hey, maybe they can draft Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen in the first round next year to get back at us and screw up all of our Excel sheets and databases -- Buffalo fans excel at destroying tables, after all.

MIAMI DOLPHINS (6.5)

Last Over: 2016 (10-6, Gase/Tannehill)
Last Under: 2017 (6-10, Gase/Cutler)

Bryan: Motion to strike the memories of Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins Quarterback from the record from here on out?

Andrew: As perhaps Jake Plummer's biggest fan who doesn't also support the Broncos, I move to strike all record of Jay Cutler in anything but a Bears uniform.

So, about those Ryan Tannehill Dolphins.

Bryan: We should be excited Tannehill is back, right? Or, maybe not excited, per se, but moderately enthused. Or not moderately enthused but ... OK, Tannehill is the human equivalent of a golf clap, but that might well make him the second-best quarterback in the division.

Andrew: In any other year, I'd tentatively agree. This year, the Jets have at least some promise in that department. I'll at least accede to the careful use of "might." Tannehill's not likely to be worse than whatever that was in -- What are the Dolphins' official colors anyway? Surf and turf? -- last year.

Bryan: It's easy to forget at this point, but Tannehill was looking pretty sharp in his last healthy games in Adam Gase's offense. No, I don't think his addition suddenly makes the Dolphins a team to beat, but he was trending in the right direction. And now, maybe the Dolphins won't feel it necessary to throw eight million valueless screen passes a game with Jarvis Landry out of town. Getting rid of Landry and Cutler is addition by subtraction.

Andrew: Careful, or you'll also have Dolphins fans coming at you with table legs. A lot of people out there like Jarvis Landry, presumably because of his catch rate or something.

Bryan: Landry might be good -- he's actually pretty darn good on slant routes and things of that nature. But he consistently finishes at or near the bottom in DYAR on wide receiver screens, because wide receiver screens are terrible. They should be used as an element of surprise, and not as part of a regular strategy on third-and-a-billion. That has artificially inflated Landry's catch total, and his salary along with it.

Andrew: So, to players other than Tannehill who are still on the Dolphins ... unlike Buffalo, this squad ought to have an absolute baseline of competent. They've added some more pieces to an offensive line that was markedly improved by the draft-day fall of Laremy Tunsil, and have a core of solid-to-good receivers in clearly defined roles if they can keep Danny Amendola on the field -- which, of course, is never a guarantee. The defense might still be too reliant on Cameron Wake up front, and the linebackers would struggle to cover a class of third-graders with one of those giant play parachutes, but there's a lot to be excited about in the secondary. Second-best team in the AFC East is not exactly cause for celebration, but the Dolphins roster looks like the second-best team in the AFC East. If 7-9 is enough for the over, then I guess that's the direction I'm leaning. I didn't expect to end up here when we started this, but I've talked myself into a narrow over.

Bryan: With the losses of Landry and Ndamukong Suh, I'm scouring over the roster to find anyone I would describe as a star, and it's just not there, unless you really, really like Reshad Jones. The thing the Dolphins have going for them is that they're filled to the brim with solid, competent players. Great complementary pieces around those missing superstars. That implies, to me, that they're a great draft pick or two away from really contending ... for a wild-card slot, at least, as the AFC East is on lockdown for the immediate future. But I agree -- the Dolphins look to be competent. And competent will get you wins against the likes of the Bills and the Jets. I think I'm going to take the over here; it may well be Miami's turn to be the token competition to the Patriots before New England pulls away in November.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11)

Last Over: 2017 (13-3, Belichick/Brady)
Last Under: 2009 (10-6, Belichick/Brady)

Bryan: Let's get the argument for the under out of the way. Here is the list of 41-year-old quarterbacks who played competently in the NFL: 1997 Warren Moon for the Seahawks (13.1% DVOA) and 2004 Vinny Testaverde for the Cowboys (2.0% DVOA). That's it. That's the list.

Andrew: 11 wins is also a lot. Even the Patriots have only exceeded that figure ... eight times in the past eight seasons. Interestingly, that's a point and a half lower than last season's line, which they exceeded by half a game despite losing two of their first four. Is the alarm of a 41-year-old quarterback this great? Is the schedule really that rough? Do we not think that Bill Belichick could bring back the aforementioned Vinny Testaverde and still drag the Patriots to 11-5?

Bryan: If you're trying to get me on record as doubting Bill Belichick, your dastardly plan will fail.

I do think there are more cracks beginning to show in the Patriots' domineering facade than we've seen in some time, although we're talking in a very relative sense here. Their defense really struggled over the first half of 2017, and I'm not fully convinced Jason McCourty is the answer, per se. They still don't have a top-tier edge rusher, though they've managed just fine in recent years without one. I was also surprised to see them get rid of Brandin Cooks, though his new massive contract in Los Angeles might go a long way to explaining why.

Andrew: Since they traded Cooks, I've seen the Patriots described as "thin" at wide receiver, which I strongly disagree with as an assessment. With Edelman suspended, there's not much that's particularly special about the group, but they have plenty of talent if they can get everybody involved. This isn't the 2007 Patriots receiving corps, sure, but it's not the 2006 group either.

Bryan: And let's be honest. Two dozen teams in the league would love to have the same "problems" the Patriots are dealing with. So the Patriots don't have the same deep-ball threat they had last year. I guess they'll just have to rely on precision shorter passing, like they did in the three years leading up to that. Oh well.

Andrew: The defense can't play much worse than it did last year, and they still won 13 games. They've added talent there from last term, both through new players and injury returnees. The offense goes as Brady goes, but even if his arm falls off Brian Hoyer is not exactly the worst backup in the league.

Bryan: I mean, presumably Hoyer would do better with the Patriots skill position players than he did in San Francisco last season. At least, you'd hope that would be the case.

To hit the under, we'd have to find six losses for the Patriots. On the softest schedule in the league. Maybe you start with Week 15 at Pittsburgh.

Andrew: Based on last year, and assuming full health for all of them, you're probably looking at the Texans, Jaguars, Vikings, Steelers, and maybe Packers, plus the usual annual divisional defeat, most likely in Miami.

Bryan: And even then, the Texans, Packers, and Vikings games are at home! Maybe road trips to Tennessee and Detroit could be nasty, and a Week 17 rest against the Jets might be something to count, but ... I don't know. I might be able to buy 11-5, but that just pushes. I'm going to be on the Patriots wagon until it breaks apart, I think -- better to look foolish for waiting one year too long than to predict doom for the most consistent franchise in American sports. Over.

Andrew: Tom Brady declining massively and the Patriots finishing under 11 wins both go firmly in the "believe it when I see it" bucket. Absent the former, I don't see how the latter happens. Maybe next year. Over.

NEW YORK JETS (6)

Last Over: 2015 (10-6, Bowles/Fitzpatrick)
Last Under: 2017 (5-11, Bowles/McCown)

Andrew: Is it too simplistic to look at this year's Jets roster, especially its quarterback situation, check it against last year's roster and record, and simply take the over by default?

Bryan:

I think we're going to have some disagreement here. I'll grant you that the quarterback situation may well be improved, though I'm not as high on Darnold as some of the others in this class. But I think there are still a lot of problems to be dealt with here. The offensive line, for one, scares me; there's not really a solid player on it. I don't see a true top receiver. The front seven is littered with holes. They paid roughly a hojillion dollars for Avery Williamson and Spencer Long, both of whom are just sort of "some guys." Maybe they have their guy for the future behind center -- though count me on the list of people who think that Teddy Bridgewater is their best choice at quarterback for 2018. Even if that's true, there's a lot of muck to be cleaned up around him before this team is even within sniffing distance of decent.

Andrew: They're in the AFC, however, in which "sniffing distance of decent" makes you a playoff contender. I'm not declaring that the Jets will actually be good, and I certainly don't think they'll be anywhere near the playoffs, but there are definitely some things to like about the roster. I'm not sure of your criteria for a true top receiver, but to my untrained eye Robby Anderson sure looks the part. The front seven has some question marks, but I expect them to get competent play at even the questionable positions. The secondary should be markedly upgraded by Trumaine Johnson, which as a secondary benefit moves Morris Claiborne away from being the team's top corner. Jamal Adams looks like a future stud at safety. The coaching was better than I expected last year, albeit still very conservative a lot of the time. Sub-six wins is top-five draft pick territory. I don't think the Jets are quite that bad.

Bryan: I'll spot you the secondary, certainly; Johnson is a significant upgrade and I like Adams quite a bit as well. I'll have to disagree with you on coaching, especially with John Morton out the door and Jeremy Bates calling plays now on offense. Morton's offense showed a little bit of creativity, and he helped Anderson take a big step forward between 2016 and 2017. But he's gone now, replaced by a guy who was out of football for three years before being asked to shepherd Christian Hackenberg's professional development. I am not enthused, especially because one of the reasons given for getting rid of Morton was an unwillingness to establish the run, which should start flashing red lights. And behind-the-scenes coaching drama very rarely leads to solid seasons the year afterwards.

Andrew: I'd wager that another reason for our general disagreement is the line. There's a big difference between what we think of as a 5-11 team versus a 7-9 team. If the line was 5.5, I'd be happier with a cautious over. If it was 6.5, I'd be a lot happier to take the under. The Jets look like a 6-10 team that could lean a game either way. The schedule also isn't kind: their toughest opponents appear to be at home, and their easier ones on the road. For a good team, that's a good thing. For a bad one, it's the opposite.

Bryan: Oh, I'm not saying it's impossible they'd go over or anything like that, and you're right -- 7-9 isn't a huge hurdle. I just look at that schedule, and I'm wondering how they win a game after their bye week. They could be a respectable 4-6 heading into their bye week, and maybe win one more down the stretch. I'm taking the under.

Andrew: As the text implies, I'm reasonably optimistic about the Jets roster. They need to improve, but there's a plan in place to do so and they may be set at the most important position in the sport. That doesn't necessarily help them against this season's schedule though. To return to my opening question: is it too simplistic to look at this year's Jets roster, especially its quarterback situation, check it against last year's roster and record, and simply take the over by default?

Yes. Yes, it is. Under.

NFC East

Bryan: Vegas doesn't have high hopes for a lot of competition in the NFC East, either. Unlike the AFC East, however, I think we, generally speaking, disagree? I don't want to put words in your mouth, Andrew, but there appear at least to be two live cards in the division, which is more than the AFC East (or North, for that matter) can claim.

Andrew: Let's see whether we even agree on the identity of the two live cards. The Eagles are obviously the first. The second ... I have Washington. Vegas, however, does not. Do you side with the house?

Bryan: Oh, no. No I do not. This should be interesting. Let's just dive right in.

DALLAS COWBOYS (8.5)

Last Over: 2017 (9-7, Garrett/Prescott)
Last Under: 2015 (4-12, Garrett/Cassel)

Bryan: FOA 2018 has the Cowboys as Team 1B in the division, with a nearly identical projection to the Eagles. Vegas takes a look at last year and shakes it's collective head, and there's no denying that a 9-7 year was disappointing. If Tyron Smith doesn't miss time, however, the Cowboys are quite possibly a playoff team. Had they beaten the Falcons in the game Smith missed (and in which Dak Prescott was subsequently beaten, bloodied, and bruised), they slip into the playoffs over Atlanta. If you assume a little more health, they're playoff favorites in 2018, right?

Andrew: Absolutely not. What is this pass offense going to look like? Who's catching passes? As it stands, they have two slot receivers and Terrance Williams. Sure, they're a run-focused team, but a run-focused team with no receivers is going to be a run-focused team with a lot of three-and-outs.

Bryan: Assuming the offensive line is healthy, we might be talking more eight-and-field-goals rather than three-and-outs, because good lord, is that a good offensive line. Your point about the receivers is well taken, though. You're not convinced that...

Andrew: Please don't ask me about Tavon Austin.

Bryan: ... Tavon Austin is the future of offensive play calling? That Jeff Fisher's ideal might be finally brought into reality by Scott Linehan? I mean, sure, Sean McVay found no use for him, but how good of an offensive mind is McVay, really?

Andrew: What was it they called Austin after they traded for him? A ... web back, was it? Austin should, in theory, be the kind of sweep-and-YAC receiver that McVay could use to give opposing defenses fits. If McVay didn't make much of him, I can't possibly see how Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett will do any better.

Bryan: Alright, I will spot you the receiving corps being ... let's say remedial at the moment. And I know that was one of my reasons for ragging on the Jets a little earlier. The big question, though -- is the receiving corps actually worse than last season? Jason Witten hasn't been Jason Witten for some time, and Dez Bryant never clicked with Dak Prescott. I get that it's a lot of unknowns, but I like those unknowns with Prescott and a great running game.

Andrew: See, what you're saying about Witten not being Witten recently also applies to Dak Prescott. Yes, he has a much smaller body of work. Certainly we expect some growing pains for young quarterbacks, especially mid-round quarterbacks. Doubtless, if he had his rookie season and his sophomore season reversed the optimism and hype would be huge. He didn't. He declined in the second half of last season, and it wasn't all the loss of Ezekiel Elliott. Reports in the offseason -- which, remember, is the time of glowing "best shape of his career" reports for guys who've never lived up to their potential -- have Prescott being scattered, inconsistent, and uncomfortable. There's even talk that this could be a make-or-break season, which was unthinkable 12 months ago.

Bryan: So, Prescott had a season and a half of good-to-great football, and half a season of bad football in a situation where he missed his all-world running back and all-world left tackle. You know what, I'm going to side with the season and a half. I think the "make-or-break season" nonsense is typical media hype; he was a second-year player, and second-year players sometimes go through bad spells. Prescott will be fine going forward. Probably.

Andrew: He should be, but I'd be a lot more comfortable with his situation if I thought he was throwing to genuine starter-quality receivers, with a creative offensive coordinator running the show. I don't think he has either of those things on his side.

Bryan: He does, however, have a solid defense backing him up. I'm really high on the linebacker trio of Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch; that has a heck of a lot of potential to match up with any other set of linebackers in the league. I'm not saying it's there yet; I'm saying there's potential. The pass rush of Demarcus Lawrence and Taco Charlton feels like a strong one as well, and adding Kris Richard to coach up the defensive backs ... well, it can't hurt, right?

The receiving corps is, admittedly, a hole that keeps the Cowboys from being one of the elite teams in the league. I'm not arguing against that. But they just need to go 9-7 to hit the over here. If any of those unknown receivers take off, they could do a lot better than that. Over.

Andrew: I'm far from convinced. It's a passing league, and they don't have much in the way of receiving options. They'll definitely be competitive, but this division is almost always competitive. They'll win some, they'll lose some, and I think 8-8 is a realistic outcome. Under.

NEW YORK GIANTS (7)

Last Over: 2016 (11-5, McAdoo/Manning)
Last Under: 2017 (3-13, McAdoo/Manning)

Bryan: Hold up, seven wins for the Giants? That has to be a typo or an imaginary tale or an Elseworlds or something. I was thinking this line would be somewhere between 5.5 or 6.5.

Andrew: The Giants were 11-5 two seasons ago, then fell apart last year when their entire receiving corps was ruthlessly exterminated by the opening series of fixtures. Split the difference, and you get seven wins. I can see how the line landed there, even as I agree that it's a point or two higher than I would place it. This is a team with a lot of issues, from the starting quarterback all the way to the bottom of the roster.

Bryan: It wasn't just the M*A*S*H unit that passed for a receivers room last season that doomed the Giants, though. The defense, which performed so well in 2016, just cratered last season. The secondary seemed to actively rebel against Ben McAdoo, and didn't look so great when they actually did take the field. Eli Apple, who looked promising as a rookie, failed to capitalize on any of that promise; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looked old and slow; Janoris Jenkins was hobbled. Really, the whole McAdoo era needed to be flushed out and rebuilt from the ground up.

Andrew: Naturally, what they did instead was try to restock the cupboard for one last run. Alas, that run has more chance of bringing home a top draft choice than the Lombardi Trophy. Which, this being the Giants, means I've just guaranteed they win the Super Bowl.

But seriously. This team is toast. They have barely half a dozen established players I'd consider starting-caliber, never mind elite. That offensive line ... Nate Solder aside, what even is that?

Bryan: We did it with the Jets last season -- is it time to play "Name Those Actually Good Players" with the other New York team? Because I think we can go well beyond a half-dozen. They have two freaking superstars, for goodness sake, in OBJ and Snacks Harrison!

Andrew: OBJ, Sterling Shepard, Nate Solder, Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins. Then I guess there's Saquon Barkley, but he's a rookie and I still have Reggie Bush "game-changing talent" PTSD. I'm absolutely wary of highly touted college running backs.

Bryan: Barkley isn't just highly touted, though. He blows away every metric we've got, setting records in the Speed Score and in BackCAST and all those sorts of things. In a world where every position was equally valuable and equally scarce, Barkley would have been an easy first overall pick.

Andrew: A world in which running backs don't need blockers would help Barkley immensely, too.

Bryan: I think we could extend your list a little, too. Evan Engram was a promising rookie; Olivier Vernon is a decent player, Jonathan Stewart may well have a little more gas in the tank ... possibly. We're reaching a little there, though. And we haven't mentioned the man under center.

Andrew: My exact number may have been off, but hopefully you see my point. We're not even at ten players, and we're already hoping a 31-year-old running back with almost 1,700 career carries still has gas in the tank.

Bryan: Your point is well taken. And in addition, if we're both in agreement that the Giants need to enter a rebuilding phase, surely that involves having a quarterback you expect to play, and play well, in 2020 on the roster, right? That's the problem with the Barkley pick -- not how good or bad he'll be, because I expect him to do well, but with what it means for the future of the franchise.

Andrew: Absolutely. I'm not a believer in rebuilding phases, as such, in professional sports. I can see what the Browns, for example, are trying to do, but you still need to be actively trying to win games for a multitude of reasons. Given, though, that the Giants have an old, bad quarterback -- a quarterback who was benched last season for Geno Smith, for pity's sake -- when they fell into the No. 2 draft pick in a quarterback-heavy draft, any running back was a bad choice. This isn't the Titans with the No. 1 pick the year after they drafted Marcus Mariota; Eli Manning is not a young player with future potential. It's an opportunity the Giants don't plan to have very often, and they did not take it.

Bryan: Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe Davis Webb or Kyle Lauletta is the future. I think we can cross out Webb, because the Giants didn't feel comfortable enough with him to even see what he could do during the Manning benching last season. And even if either of those players will be the one to step under center when Manning finally goes, that doesn't help the Giants this year. This is an easy under.

Andrew: The Giants could surprise me and put out a better-than-adequate defense, or the receivers could cause opposing defenses fits and give Eli Manning a late-career resurgence. I am not willing to bet on either of those things. Under.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (10.5)

Last Over: 2017 (13-3, Pederson/Wentz)
Last Under: 2016 (7-9, Pederson/Wentz)

Bryan: Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl Champions. It still feels weird to say that.

Andrew: The Eagles' run last year was very, very special. I am truly delighted for them. From the coach who took an unorthodox approach and willingly ran with it; to the general manager who was almost forced out of town by the previous head coach; to the quarterback who was discarded by telephone from a previous employer, almost retired, signed on as a backup and ended up Super Bowl MVP; it was one of the greatest success stories in the history of this sport.

Now, however, everybody's back to 0-0 and it's time to go again. The Eagles aren't the underdogs anymore. They are, however, still loaded with talented players. In fact, with their quarterback hopefully about to return, their left tackle hopefully healthy again, and a very highly touted cornerback now ready to play after an Achilles injury cost him most of his rookie season, their roster might even be stronger than it was during that improbable triumph.

Bryan: A bold claim! Not a bad claim, but a bold one notwithstanding. They lost a lot of bodies this offseason -- Mychal Kendricks, Patrick Robinson, Trey Burton, Vinny Curry, etc. -- but they also got a bit of that Super Bowl advantage of "aging veterans coming on cheap deals to look for a ring" with players such as Haloti Ngata and Mike Wallace. And the talent drain could have been worse; they absolutely had to re-sign Nigel Bradham, and they did.

Andrew: Once again, the only question then appears to be "how good are they?" 10.5 wins is very high for a team that had only scaled those heights once in the 12 years prior to last season. Now of course, teams quarterbacked by Michael Vick and Jeff Garcia and *ahem* Nick Foles have little bearing on this year's squad, but this isn't the Patriots and their decade-long track record of 12-win seasons.

Bryan: There are also signs that the Eagles were ... "lucky" is the wrong word, because any champion in a single-knockout tourney is going to have had luck on their side from sheer survivor bias. "Unsustainable success" might be a better way to put it. The Eagles were really, really good on third downs and in the red zone last year. Teams are usually just about as good in those situations as they are overall, so if you see a team do unusually well (or poorly) there, then you can expect some regression the next year. There's not enough potential regression there for the Eagles to be bad, mind you, but it could chop a win or two off the top.

Andrew: There's also the question of Carson Wentz's return. Will he be ready to start the season, and how will he come back from his knee injury? In the past, we've seen quarterbacks typically need to be a full season removed from ACL surgery to get back to full confidence and peak performance. Foles has obviously proven better than fine as a backup, but that's not a lot of use if Wentz is ostensibly healthy and in the lineup but not playing as well as he did last year.

Bryan: And Foles wasn't "fine" the entire way -- remember, people were convinced that the Eagles were in real trouble after some terrible December performances as Foles worked his way back into regular starting form.

Andrew: So those are the question marks surrounding the champions. Injury returns. Some probable regression toward the mean. "Super Bowl hangover," whatever that means. Not, however, the ability of their players, coaches, or front office. The last team to repeat as NFC East champions was the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles under Andy Reid. Will Reid's protege lead the same franchise to that achievement this year? I, for one, think so. Over.

Bryan: I don't think the Eagles are going to replicate 13-3. The road will be bumpier, and teams will be more ready for the RPO and the other offensive strategies Doug Pederson and company implemented last year. Even with all that, though, they're up there with the tops of the conference, and I don't think double-digit wins is crazy. Over.

WASHINGTON (7)

Last Over: 2016 (8-7-1, Gruden/Cousins)
Last Under: 2014 (4-12, Gruden/Cousins)

Bryan: Have I mentioned how much I hate whole-number lines? Because I hate, hate, hate this line.

Andrew: Color me shocked that, Alex Smith fanboy that you are, you don't have this as an automatic "over."

Bryan: Most of my Alex Smith backing is tongue-in-cheek, and more about lightly mocking Philip Rivers than anything else!

some of my Alex Smith backing is tongue-in-cheek, anyway.

Andrew: At last! The truth!

Bryan: At least Smith keeps his title as best quarterback in his division! That's a statement that's not going to get me any flack from Wentz and Prescott backers, right?

Andrew: He is the best quarterback in the division to have started a game for any franchise other than the one which drafted him. That leaves you contending only with the Nick Foles and Eli Manning backers, at least.

Bryan: It just feels like, if you were to look in the dictionary to define a 7-9 team, you'd find a big ol' picture of Washington, right there. This is a one-step forward, one-step back franchise that has downgraded at quarterback after messing around with Kirk Cousins for years. I'm not sure why we're supposed to think they're better in 2018 than they were in 2017, other than "maybe the offensive line will be healthier."

Andrew: Washington was the most injured team in the sport last year. That's an obvious indicator of likely positive regression. Some of that, as always, was Jordan Reed being Danny Amentightend, but they also lost the third-most games at running back and offensive line, and the fifth-most at linebacker.

Bryan: Well, I'm sure they won't have to deal with injured running backs this year … oh, wait. Poor Derrius Guice.

They've also lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland, the Porthos and Aramis to Josh Norman's Athos. Those are games lost without injury before the season even starts!

Andrew: That's true, and I have already raved about the Chiefs' addition of Fuller in last week's article. He will be a big loss. The thing, for me, is that though Washington is by no means stacked, they have a lot of genuinely solid-to-good players. The offensive and defensive lines are stout, at least when healthy. Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, and the underrated Paul Richardson is, in theory, a good receiving trio. Jordan Reed is never healthy, but Vernon Davis has been better than adequate as his backup. The front seven has its weaknesses, but it's a good unit. I admit, I'm not keen on the secondary now that Orlando Scandrick has been released, but some of that is because I don't know enough about the young players who supposedly made Scandrick redundant.

Bryan: The schedule is brutal, especially for a team with question marks in the secondary. Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, a pair of games against the receivers in New York and Philadelphia. I would not wish that on a group of good cornerbacks, much less the likes of Quinton Dunbar (eight starts in three years) and Fabian Moreau (an untested second-year player).

Andrew: That, again, is true. I try to avoid relying too heavily on schedule to project a team, but the NFC South was arguably the toughest division in the sport last season and the AFC South looks much stronger now than it did a year ago (more on that in two weeks' time). That is probably enough to temper my relative enthusiasm.

Bryan: Meanwhile, I've been saying all these negative things ... but not because I think Washington is going to be horrible. I just think they're 7-9, making this line super-frustrating!

Andrew: Does coaching sway anything for you?

Bryan: It might, but at least Washington has the better of the two Grudens, at least now that we're out of the Stone Age. I don't know. I think I'm going to lean towards the under with the thought that the secondary is the deciding factor, but I don't like it. I just don't like it slightly less than I don't like taking the over.

Andrew: I hate to agree with you here ... or rather, I hate to let you persuade me here, but I think the schedule is enough to tip the scales. With a normal schedule, I think Washington is closer to 8-8, but this is not a normal schedule. I'll join you with a hesitant, disapproving under.

Bryan: Now you want to make me go with the over, just so we can be different! Bah. I'll stick to my guns, as weak as they are.

Next week, we brave the frozen tundra as our trek takes us to the far north.

Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, ways to dethrone the Patriots, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Comments

62 comments, Last at 28 Aug 2018, 3:20am

1 Patriots: take the "Under"

by nat // Aug 15, 2018 - 12:38pm

Taking the over for the Patriots seems optimistic to me. Sure, last year Brady was MVP. But that was his highest DYAR year since 2012. Even if you ignore his age, he's more likely to regress than not. If you factor in his age, regression is almost a lock.

The rest of the team is weaker this year than last year, on both sides of the ball. Years of poor draft position eventually takes its toll.

As for their 13-3 regular season record last year, they had 2 close losses vs. 4 close wins. That also points the arrow toward a regression, since more wins "coulda" been losses than the other way around.

11 wins seems about right. But I think they're more likely to stop at 10 wins than get to 12.

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6 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by Will Allen // Aug 15, 2018 - 4:24pm

When you start with 5-1 your division, getting 6-4 in the rest of the schedule doesn't seem unlikely at all. Force me to pick between 5-5 or 7-3, I guess I will go with the latter, given how well they play at home, but 5-5 wouldn't shock me.

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14 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by nat // Aug 16, 2018 - 9:46am

5-1 in the division is no sure thing. They managed it just half of the last decade despite their historic run of good seasons. And they're a weaker team (unless Brady is MVP again) this year than any time this decade.

Their only real hope is that the rest of the division is the worst it's been in a decade, too. Is that really the case? Maybe, if only because it's been a pretty consistent division. But probably not.

If you go with a realistic 4-2 within the division, then your choice is between 6-4 and 8-2 outside. At that point, 6-4 is a better bet.

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31 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by Will Allen // Aug 16, 2018 - 8:49pm

Yeah, I like 6-4 a lot more than 8-2.

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15 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by Bright Blue Shorts // Aug 16, 2018 - 9:54am

The longer this streak of success for the Patriots goes on the more likely it feels it has to come to an end. But realistically what evidence have we got that the team can't continue to perform as it has?

Brady's last game was 505 yds in a Super Bowl so age doesn't seem against him. Against most other teams, the defense would have done enough. The cap situation is good. There's no notable rule changes that will gameplanning. McDaniels and Scarnechia are still coaching the important part of the team. Perhaps the loss of Patricia as DC? The rise of the Jags, Houston or someone else?

Perhaps the one thing is that no team has ever posted three consecutive 13+ win seasons - not even the Pats of 2003-04 or 2010-11. But is precedent or records enough?

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18 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by Pat // Aug 16, 2018 - 1:18pm

So let me be clear when I say that when I think the Patriots take a step back, I mean take a step back to 11-5 or 10-6 at the outside, not like, 8-8 or 9-7 or anything nuts.

But the biggest question in 2018 has to be the receivers. Yeah, Brady had 505 yards... 6 months ago. But the leading receiver in that game isn't on the team anymore, and their "best" receiver is out for 4 weeks. That's a big question mark. And if they lean too heavily on Gronk that might risk him for the full season.

*Beyond* 2018, they have plenty of concerns (especially on offense and cap-related) that would make you question whether or not they can sustain 12+ win seasons.

But again I'm not talking about a big step back, and of course I could've said the same thing in 2009 before the Rise of Rob Gronkowski. But saying "maybe the Patriots will find a new first-ballot Hall of Fame player" is far from a guarantee.

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26 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by Bright Blue Shorts // Aug 16, 2018 - 5:13pm

Generally I'm in agreement with you. It's probably not 13-3 but more like 11-5 or 12-4.

I will point out that back before 2013 season, the Patriots got rid of 4/5ths of their best receivers plus their #7

1) Welker (118/1354/6)
2) Brandon Lloyd (74/911/4)
4) Hernandez (51/483/5)
5) Woodhead (40/446/3)
7) Branch (16-145-0)

Leaving
#3 Gronkowski (55/790/11)
#6 Edelman (21/235/3)
No-one else with double-digit receptions.

In 2013 they went 12-4 and lose the Conf Championship - same as they did in 2012

So I'm guessing Belichick thinks he can sort it out in 2018.

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30 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by Pat // Aug 16, 2018 - 8:35pm

Do you remember the beginning of the 2013 season? The New England offense was a train wreck. They barely won two of their first four games, against crap competition (not a single team in the first 4 ended up with a winning record). Brady was frustrated, yelling at receivers. It was... not good. And it was *really* obvious.

Yes, they figured it out by the end of the season, which is why I'm not saying 9-7 or 8-8 or anything nuts. But the inexperience of their receiving corps nearly cost them 2 games then, and this time it's against what likely is significantly better competition. They got lucky in 2013.

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32 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by Bright Blue Shorts // Aug 17, 2018 - 3:56am

Think I remember it, if it was the year they scraped past the Raiders in week 2 or 3. I didn't watch a lot of games that year but from everything we've seen, I don't think Belichick expects to go 4-0 in the first four weeks - he'd obviously like to but I think deep down he recognises that it's an extension of preseason..

As I say, I think we're generally arguing for the same point that the team won't be going 13-14 wins, but also won't be going to single-digits wins.

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33 Re: Patriots: take the "Under"

by dmstorm22 // Aug 17, 2018 - 9:10am

Scraping by the Raiders was the next year.

IN 2013, they beat Bufalo 23-21 with a comeback. Sloppily beat the Jets 13-10 on TNF.

Then beat Tampa easily before holding on for dearl life against Atlanta.
They actually started 4-0, before losing to the Bengals 13-6.

That team had a few miracle wins as well, including the Saints at home ("That's my quarterback") and Cleveland, where they recovered an onside kick.

They also had some unfortunate losses (Carolina, NYJ).

Overall, they were 12-4, but out of the 8 teams that went 12-4 or netter from 2010 to 2017, I would easily call them the weakest Pats team.

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2 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 15, 2018 - 1:06pm

Can you find 4 losses on their schedule?

Their hardest game, is what, @Bortles in week 2? @Steelers in December isn't easy, but NE has Pittsburgh's number.

Green Bay and Minnesota at home aren't easy, but are at home. KC might be tricky if Mahomes isn't a pumpkin.

Worst case, they drop all five. I don't see another loss in there.

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3 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by dmstorm22 // Aug 15, 2018 - 1:52pm

They often drop ~1 AFC East game.

Plus, I don't think @TEN or @DET is too easy - wouldn't be surprised if they drop one of the two.

But overall I agree, if they go under the 11 it means most likely Brady started finally showing his age.

Can happen - Favre was more or less as good in 2009 at 40 as Brady was last year, and then practically died overnight at 41.

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4 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 15, 2018 - 3:10pm

They went 11-5 when Brady didn't play at all, and their QB hadn't started a game since high school.

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5 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Will Allen // Aug 15, 2018 - 4:19pm

Which was a team that went 18-1 the previous year.

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7 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 15, 2018 - 4:37pm

16-0 for over/under purposes.

The 2008 Pats were projected for 12 wins.
http://www.sportsoddshistory.com/nfl-win/?y=2008&sa=nfl&a=dv&t=win&o=t

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8 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by dmstorm22 // Aug 15, 2018 - 5:34pm

The players outside of the QB were quite a good deal better, in my opinion, on the 2008 Patriots than the 2018 Patriots.

Plus, that was against the league's easiest schedule. Granted they may have an easy schedule this year as well.

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10 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Aug 15, 2018 - 6:46pm

Yea, most Pats fans will tell you that the 2017 team was their worst roster since 2009.

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17 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Pat // Aug 16, 2018 - 12:58pm

Are you forgetting they're without Edelman for the first four weeks? Those games are Houston, at Jacksonville, at Detroit, and Miami. Good chance they start the season 2-2, and I think they certainly could start 1-3. For the first 4 weeks, their offense is going to be *very* constrained in what they can do - I mean, their Week 1 starting WRs (assuming *3*!) had 1300 yards *combined* last year - and none of them were rookies. I don't even know of any other team that was that bad last year.

And facing Houston and Detroit in those games with that receiving corps isn't going to be fun, considering Vrabel and Patricia's familiarity with the team.

Heck, if it were any other team besides a Belichick-coached team I'd say there'd be a chance they could start out 0-4. But that's just nuts.

And then, of course, the underlying assumption is that when Edelman comes back he's back at a pre-injury level, which considering his age, is a big assumption. This really could end up looking like the early 2013 Patriots offense, and that team was lucky to not start 2-2, and could've started out 1-3.

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35 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Hoodie_Sleeves // Aug 17, 2018 - 10:57am

The Patriots offense is not going to be 'very constrained' in any sort of way. Edelman being suspended sucks - but dude missed all of last year - and they'll do the same thing they do every time their outlet guy is hurt - use another one. The other one won't be as good, but the Patriots offense doesn't run through its wide receivers. I expect to see James White catch an awful lot of passes. I expect Gronk to get a lot. I expect some washed up or never heard of slot receiver to catch 30 balls in the first 4 games. They can scheme guys open better than anyone else, and while they'll be worse than they could be - they'll have the better offense on the field in all 4 of those games.

I mean, this is (basically) the same quarterback and coaching staff that managed to go 12-4 and barely missed getting to the superbowl with Brady throwing to Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, and the corpse of Troy Brown. They managed to have the 4th best offense in the league with those WRs. (And I'd argue that even at 40+, Brady is a better QB than he was at that point- and Gronk is way better than Ben Watson ever was)

Miami and Houston are terrible bottom dwellers, and the Patriots are at home in both those games. Barring something ridiculous happening, they're not losing either one of those games. They should probably be small favorite in Detroit, and a small dog in Jax. (and yeah, they'll probably lose a game later in the season in Miami)

When you start looking at the matchups though - things look different. Jacksonville's defense was fantastic last year - against WRs. They were below average against TE, and average against RBs. Unless they significantly change up what they normally do - they're not going to be able to leverage the Patriots WR issues - and Gronk and White are going to put up a lot of yards. And they still haven't fixed their "your quarterback is blake bortles" problem. So Jax should be the favorite, but there's a very possible scenario where they can't stop the Patriots offense at all.

Patricia's familiarity with the team isn't really something he's capable of taking advantage of - the defense was terrible the entire time he was DC (or acting DC). He's a bad coach. Pasqualoni is clearly a very good defensive line coach, but his previous stint as a DC saw miami fall from the 5th (DVOA) best defense in the league to terrible (31st). He seems like a peter principle guy. I think the lions defense is going to be very bad.

If the Patriots come out of his 1-3, its not because of Edelman's suspension, or the WR issues, its because Brady has significantly declined - in which case they're not coming anywhere near that OU ( because they've got nothing behind him ).

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37 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Aug 17, 2018 - 1:59pm

"the defense was terrible the entire time he was DC (or acting DC). "

While I agree with you that Patricia's "familiarity" with the Patriots will have little effect on the actual outcome of the game, your statement that the Patriots defense was "terrible" the entire time he was DC might reflect some recency bias. 2017 was bad (31st in DVOA), but from 2012-16, they were 15th, 20th, 12th,12th, 16th. That record is far from sterling, but also far from being awful. It would also be fair to point out that they have been consistently top 10 in points allowed (take that with as many grains of salt as you want).

As far as whether or not he'll actually be a good head coach...I'm hopefull, but I'll believe it when I see it.

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39 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Hoodie_Sleeves // Aug 17, 2018 - 2:10pm

Terrible is overstating it - but I wouldn't hire him as a DC after his period as the Patriots DC - let alone as a HC. I hope he succeeds (because I'd like there to be at least some evidence of BB hiring quality coordinators for when he finally decides to retire) - but I'd be surprised.

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52 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Pat // Aug 20, 2018 - 1:23pm

"I mean, this is (basically) the same quarterback and coaching staff that managed to go 12-4 and barely missed getting to the superbowl with Brady throwing to Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, and the corpse of Troy Brown."

Yeah, that was back when the Patriots had an elite defense. By DVOA that's the last year they had a top-10 defense. By yardage that's the second best defense they've had under Belichick (you're perfectly allowed to think points allowed is a measure of defense, but we'll have to respectfully disagree).

I mean, you're practically making my point here: that year was 2006, and they went out and totally revamped their WR corps after that year because it was so bad. It's pretty darn obvious that New England doesn't believe that Brady can just get away with random players at wide receiver.

"Miami and Houston are terrible bottom dwellers, and the Patriots are at home in both those games."

Houston lost Watt in week 5 last year, and only started Watson for half of them, in which they went 3-3. I have no idea why you think they're going to be "terrible bottom dwellers." Vegas has them at an over/under of 8.5, *higher* than Detroit and only a half-game behind Jacksonville.

Of course they'll be favorites over Houston and Detroit, but they shouldn't be huge favorites, and upsets happen. I mean, if you asked me for the Patriots mean number of wins after the first 4 games if they played it 1000 times, I'd probably say 2.5 or so.

If they end up going 1-3 and the offense is struggling, *I* certainly wouldn't be the one blaming Brady. I'd be blaming Belichick for hurting their chances in one of Brady's few remaining years.

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57 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by RobotBoy // Aug 27, 2018 - 5:29am

Vast multitudes yearn for Patriots failure - I just wish the hatred led to better arguments. Perhaps the worst of these is: '40+ year old QBs fall off a cliff.' An argument based, as far as I can gather, on a sample size of two (over forty QBs who followed a great year with a terrible one). A more useful metric would be to examine some cohort with more data, such as 'professional athletes entering their forties.' There, we see very little in the way of cliff falling but rather a gentle but steady decline from year to year. Also, developments in training, nutrition, medicine, etc., ( 'better living through chemistry') have extended careers in ways unimaginable two decades ago. At some point, Brady won't be able to compete at a high level - it's unlikely that will come immediately after one of the best seasons of his career. Somewhere in this thread, I read 'Yeah he threw for 500+ yards in the Superbowl but that was six months ago.' Right.
Even if Brady declines noticeably, I'd say it's a good bet that the defense improves to at least middle of the pack (especially against the run, with last year an anomaly for Belichick-coached teams), which should cover much of the difference. There's young talent on the DL, the secondary is good and if Hightower stays healthy (granted, a big if), the defense could even be decent.
It's hard to imagine them losing more than four games, even if they start 2-2. I could be wrong but the arguments against aren't all that convincing.

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60 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by The Ninjalectual // Aug 27, 2018 - 4:59pm

A more useful metric would be to examine some cohort with more data, such as 'professional athletes entering their forties.'

Excellent thought!

There, we see very little in the way of cliff falling but rather a gentle but steady decline from year to year

Can you explain where you're getting this from? This is a bold claim and I'd like to know what's behind it.

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62 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Bright Blue Shorts // Aug 28, 2018 - 3:20am

It's pretty clear from all sports that you don't see many 40+ year old athletes at the elite level. Willie Gault could still run an 10.88sec for 100m at 50 years old and while that's faster than I'll ever run - it's not good enough to be an elite sprinter.

I read an article last year about James Harrison (who just turned 40 in May) and how he would have been something like the 20th non-kicker/punter to play into their 40s. It's a small cohort. Football is not just about physical speed/strength there is the ability to read the game and execute techniques which will allow a player to have a longer career than a track athlete.

Morten Andersen played until 47 and kicked 25 of 28FGs in his final season. Trouble is all three misses were in the 40yd range and he never even attempted a 50+ yd kick. He didn't have the leg strength by then. Punters like Sean Landeta and Jeff Feagles were still going at 42-43 but again their leg strength had gone.

This is going to be the eventual problem for Brady - deep ball goes and doesn't have the armstrength to put the ball into tight windows. I don't doubt that he's already lost a bit of that which creative coaching and playcalling have managed to cover up. The question is when it happens to him but just saying "He's 40" doesn't really answer the question. He might be the physical outlier who can make it to 45.

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9 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by dmstorm22 // Aug 15, 2018 - 5:35pm

Feel like this is pessimistic on Washington. Or maybe I'm just higher on Alex Smith than most.

I think they can go 8-8 or 9-7. Giants seem a good lock to go worse than their line. late-30's Eli is terrifying to me, already well into his decline phase.

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19 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by BJR // Aug 16, 2018 - 1:21pm

The Giants upgraded their O-line, and got Barkley who could be a generational talent (not that I agree with drafting him #2 when they so obviously needed a QB, but he's still an immediate difference-maker). Perhaps most significantly they have surely significantly upgraded their coaching. I'm excited to see what Pat Shurmer can do with Barkley, Beckham Jr., and Evan Engram at his disposal.

The defense still has most of the talent that made them 11-5 two seasons ago. But, of course, it ultimately all depends on whether Eli has anything left in the tank. I'm not sure. But they definitely are not in the doldrums of the league in terms of overall talent on their roster. I can see 8-8 if Eli does not stink the joint out.

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44 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by The Ninjalectual // Aug 17, 2018 - 4:50pm

They signed Soldier but lost Richburg. Not much of an "upgrade" imo

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55 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Dales // Aug 23, 2018 - 2:27pm

But... they lost Richburg last year, for 3/4 of the season. Going position-by-position:

LT: Solder may not be great, but he's better than Flowers was. Decent upgrade.
LG: Will Hernandez is a significant upgrade over Jerry (half of the season) and a push over Pugh (half of the season). Upgrade.
C: Halapio/Jones will be a step back from Richburg for 4 games, and a push over Jones for 12 games. So, a small step back.
RG: Omameh should be close in level to the Jerry/Fluker show. Push
RT: Flowers may stink, but he's still better than Bobby Hart. Upgrade.

Don't get me wrong- the line is still a major problem. But it is significantly improved over what was on the field last year. At least, until the inevitable injuries hit.

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51 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by ChrisS // Aug 20, 2018 - 1:13pm

"The defense still has most of the talent that made them 11-5 two seasons ago." Isn't it also the same talent that got them to 3 wins last year? So its hard to say which will show up.

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11 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Aug 15, 2018 - 6:48pm

Apparently Jalen Ramsey is a big believer in the Lewis Career Forecast, especially when it comes to Josh Allen.

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12 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by mehllageman56 // Aug 15, 2018 - 6:55pm

While I think the Patriots most likely win 11 games and it is a push, with the over being more likely than the under, I do not understand why the Jets' schedule is referred to as tough while the Patriots' schedule is easy. The only difference would be that the Jets play the Pats twice, and that the Jets face two last place teams (Cleveland and Denver), while the Patriots play Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Personally, I think this is the year the Patriots dynasty starts falling apart, while they still win the division but not with a dominating record. Pittsburgh really should have beat them last year on the road without Antonio Brown for half the game. Kansas City gets Berry back and still has all those weapons, and Jacksonville's defense will still be nasty. The entire AFC South looks tough for a change, and every one in the AFC East has to play them.

Honestly the point in the article I most object to is calling the Dolphins competent. They may end up with a better record than the Bills or Jets this year, but their long term prognosis for the division is terrible. Tannehill is mediocre, the front office/coach decided trading their best running back for peanuts was a good idea, and Tannebaum has managed to cap them out for a total commitment to mediocrity. The Jets and Bills have younger rosters, possible answers at quarterback (I'm including Peterman, who is looking good this preseason), and 80 and 70 million in 2019 cap space.

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13 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Noah Arkadia // Aug 15, 2018 - 8:55pm

Hard to be optimistic long-term about the Dolphins while Tannenbaum is there. They're already over the cap in 2019, and I can't even begin to understand who they're spending it on. Still, mediocrity is not a terrible prognosis. It's just... mediocre.

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16 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by johonny // Aug 16, 2018 - 11:22am

It's hard to argue the AFC east isn't the worst division year in and year out the when the Pats have won it 15 out of 17 times or is it 16 out of 18. It's been so long I can't freaking remember when it was actually interesting. I'm mildly optimistic about Miami being in the wild card race come December. I think their line backers might be better than expected, and their D-line could be a surprise. Then again a little bad injury luck and Miami could be reduced to slamming Gore into the opponents line 25+ times a game and bubble screens. Still Miami camp has been way less a injury march than last year, the hopefully won't lose the first game of the year to a hurricane, lose their bi-week, lose a home game to a European vacation...etc. Last season was dreadful and they still were pretty close to the over/under list here. So I'd go over too with 7-9.

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20 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by nat // Aug 16, 2018 - 2:21pm

It's hard to argue the AFC east isn't the worst division year in and year out...

It's trivial to argue. The AFC East's teams have ALL gone at least 3-7 outside the division since 2008. No other division can say that. Since 2008, there has NEVER been a truly bad team in the division. That's an impressive run of competent football for a division. Usually, at least one team in a division will truly suck sometime each decade.

You seem to be a Miami fan. Miami has gone 49-51 outside the division in the past decade, with seasons ranging from 7-3 to 3-7. That's a pretty average result, with pretty typical variability over a decade, or perhaps a little more consistency than most teams. They even won the division in their best year.

The Jets have a similar mix of non-divisional records. The Bills have been only slightly worse, with a 47-53 record over that time, but a similar mix of non-divisional records.

So don't worry. The Patriots might regress this year - it sure looks likely. And there's always the Wildcard spot to shoot for.

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21 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by dmstorm22 // Aug 16, 2018 - 2:40pm

We'll never stop debating this AFC East myth (meaning I'm on your side, debating the AFC-east truthers).

The idea the AFC East is weak comes down to tow things to me:

1.) The Patriots have been truly special for 17 years - maybe they don't go 12-4 eight straight years in another division, but the AFC East isn't the cause of their success

2.) No non-Patriots team has won 12+ games in the modern AFC East; they are the only division where only one team has accomplished 12-4 or better

For #2, conversely, only once has a team gone worse than 4-12, which was the 2007 Dolphins, one of the better 1-15 teams, while every other division has had at least two teams go worse than 4-12.

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38 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Hoodie_Sleeves // Aug 17, 2018 - 2:00pm

" No non-Patriots team has won 12+ games in the modern AFC East; they are the only division where only one team has accomplished 12-4 or better"

Its really tough to go 12-4 or better when you basically have to pencil in at least 1 and probably 2 division losses before the year even starts, and at least one of the other teams in the division isn't terrible.

I went back to 2005, and it seems like you get two teams in a division reach 12-4 every 3 or 4 years - but there's always a bottom dweller in the division - most of the occurrences are like Baltimore and Pittsburgh (with the hapless Browns - and the Bungles oscillating from mostly terrible to ok). Some of the AFC east teams have been bad, but they've never been the Browns. You don't just need two very good teams - you need two really bad teams in the division.

Look at the 2008 AFC East - the Patriots were probably the worst they've been since BB took over the team -the best teams in the division were NE and Miami - who both finished 11-5. But here's the thing - the reason neither won 12 games wasn't because they were weak - it was because NYJ went 9-7 with +49 point differential and Buffalo went 7-9 with a -6 point differential. Those 9-7 Jets had the 6th best point differential in the AFC. IE, you can't have two 12 win teams without having two teams that just roll over.

On the other side of the league, Philly put up the 2nd highest point differential in the NFC, and 4th in the NFL, and went 9-7 behind the 12-4 giants. Why? In part because they dropped 2 games to the Redskins (8-8, -30 point diff), and split with the fantastic Giants and good cowboys (9-7, positive point diff), and its pretty much impossible to go 12-4 when you drop 4 in the division.

IE, measuring division strenght by number of 12-4 teams is a terrible way to do it.

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40 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 17, 2018 - 2:57pm

Look at the 2008 AFC East - the Patriots were probably the worst they've been since BB took over the team -the best teams in the division were NE and Miami - who both finished 11-5. But here's the thing - the reason neither won 12 games wasn't because they were weak - it was because NYJ went 9-7 with +49 point differential and Buffalo went 7-9 with a -6 point differential. Those 9-7 Jets had the 6th best point differential in the AFC. IE, you can't have two 12 win teams without having two teams that just roll over.

2013 NFC West.

SEA 13-3 +186
SF 12-4 +134
AZ 10-6 +55
StL 7-9 -16

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42 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by dmstorm22 // Aug 17, 2018 - 3:54pm

2008 AFC South also had 13-3 TEN, 12-4 IND, with 8-8 HOU and 5-11 JAX.

Anyway, I don't think that is a good way to measure the strength of the division.

My bigger point was people automatically consider the AFC East bad because outside of the Pats they have neve rhad a single dominant team. Conversely, other than the 2007 Dolphins, they've never had a terrible team either.

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53 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Pat // Aug 20, 2018 - 1:31pm

The problem here is that there's no way to boil down a distribution of teams to a single number. You can't just call the division "good" or "bad".

But, in context, you could say "is this division easier for the *Patriots* than any other division would be?" and the answer to that is very likely "yes". An elite (say, 12-4) team doesn't see much difference between a 6-10 team and an 0-16 team. They both stink relative to the elite team, and really you're talking about probably a 90% win chance versus a 100% win chance, or something like that. Not a huge difference.

But there's a huge difference between 3 6-10 teams and a division with 12-4/6-10/0-16 teams. Equal average wins, but In the first case, the 12-4 team has a greater-than-50% chance to win all 6 games, and the second case the 12-4 team has about a 20% chance to win all 6 games.

For an elite team like the Patriots, if you could choose a division that never has a terrible team, but never has another elite team either, you'd *totally* take it.

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54 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Bright Blue Shorts // Aug 20, 2018 - 3:58pm

Think it's partly unrecognised that with the Pats continued success, they force the other teams in the East to keep changing GMs and HCs. Of course that's not solely down to them but it's a factor.

You gotta wonder how the Pats would do if they were in the AFC North with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. What is Lewis 15 years, Tomlin 13 years, Harbaugh 11? (Obviously cherry picking by not mentioning the Browns).

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56 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by nat // Aug 24, 2018 - 4:51pm

You gotta wonder how the Pats would do if they were in the AFC North with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

2001-2017, the Patriots have a better record against AFC North (without Cleveland) than they do against the league as a whole. The AFC East has also been more successful against the Patriots than the AFC North (without Cleveland) has been.

Given that the Patriots generally play the top seeded AFC North team each year while playing the others every third year, that pretty much answers your question.

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43 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by SandyRiver // Aug 17, 2018 - 4:04pm

So revise "impossible" to very difficult. Those teams went 30-10 in games outside of their division, which is remarkable, though obviously not "impossible."

As for the AFC East being "terrible", that depends on how one defines that term. It's certainly been the least competitive division over the past 9 years - past 17 actually - and no other division is particularly close. If one defines terrible as stinking it up outside the division (as having Goliath in your own makes double-digit wins very difficult), I think AFC east has been middle of the road. I seem to recall some numbers a few years back, probably on this site, that would support that thinking.

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22 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 16, 2018 - 3:17pm

The AFC East gets shit because it only has one team that's ever any good.

One two other divisions haven't had at least 3 12-game winners since 2008 (North: Cincinnati and Cleveland in the AFC, Detroit and Chicago in the NFC). Every team in the AFC West has done it.

So while the AFC has never been especially bad, it's also never been good. GB at least has Minnesota. Pittsburgh has Baltimore. NE has no rivals.

Also, the best non-Brady QB within the division has been Garoppolo, followed by Pennington.

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23 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by justanothersteve // Aug 16, 2018 - 4:19pm

I think your last point is a big part of the perception. The QB play outside of NE in the AFC East outside Brady has been abysmal. The other divisions have usually had at least two competent QBs most years. The other division with consistently mostly mediocre QBing is the AFC South except the Colts with Manning and Luck. Even Minnesota with its revolving door at QB usually has decent QBs. Like it or not, the average fan's perception of good teams is almost entirely based on the QB position. Sometimes it's justified (recent Packers and many of Manning's Colts teams). Sometimes not (early Ravens were good despite the QB).

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24 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by dmstorm22 // Aug 16, 2018 - 4:23pm

What's interesting with the AFC South is that every team has gone 12-4 at least once, and each team has gone 2-14 at least once.

There's three other divisions that have had all teams go at least 12-4 (AFC West, NFC South, NFC West), but the AFC South is the ONLY division to have every team go at worse than 4-12 at least one time - and they all went 2-14 at that.

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25 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by dmstorm22 // Aug 16, 2018 - 4:26pm

Cincinnati went 12-4 in 2015.

Four divisions have had all four go at least 12-4: AFC South, AFC West, NFC South, NFC West
Three divisions have had three of the four go 12-4: AFC North (no CLE), NFC East (no WAS), NFC North (no DET)
Then there's the AFC East, with only one team in New England (who've done it 12 times in the 16 seasons post-2002 realignment).

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27 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 16, 2018 - 5:15pm

CHI hasn't gone 12-4, either.

Can't believe I bungled the Bengals. I even double-checked that one.

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28 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by dmstorm22 // Aug 16, 2018 - 5:28pm

They went 13-3 in 2006 when they made the Super Bowl

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29 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 16, 2018 - 5:58pm

The criterion was since 2008.

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46 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by The Ninjalectual // Aug 17, 2018 - 4:56pm

The arbitrary criterion?

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47 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 17, 2018 - 5:15pm

It's the one presented by the authors.

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34 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by johonny // Aug 17, 2018 - 10:37am

Yeah, I think that its a terrible division is easy to prove. I think it's laughable for people to argue about it. It's like a baseball fan explaining the near total domination of late 40s and 50s American league by the Yankees was GREAT for baseball. That fan is likely a Yankee fan telling you that. Sports turns out to be about competition. There is no excitement in the AFC east because there's no competition at the moment. Pretty much the last 7-9 years have been a real death march for the division. But the dullness really stretches back almost 2 decades with who is winning this division. A couple of fluky tie breakers and some great Jets wild card runs helped break the illusion of total domination at the top. People like to focus on how bad teams are. "It can't be the worst because no one is ever truly horrible." Does it matter if Miami goes 7-9 pretty much every season instead of 1-15 a bunch? No it doesn't matter because it still sucks to watch after 2 decades and it's pretty much just as dull. I know as a Miami fan this season in all probability won't matter at all. We all knew before the kick off of the first game last year, their season wouldn't matter. It does feel like they won't ever matter. Who watches a BIG AFC east show down these days? Not me, because there hasn't been one since circa 2009. Total dominance makes the division DULL. It's great for Pat fans. It's been a great ride for them. For Jets, Bills, and Dolphins fans. It's been such a grind that has gotten worse over the years, not better,I Honestly don't watch that much football anymore. Just Miami games and typically only if its the early game on Sunday and they're not playing the Pats. Why? Because the division has been so non-competitive between the four teams for so long now, I just don't see the point of really following the division which means following the NFL. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only AFC easter that has noticed the total suck that is this current NFL product and has been this product for nearly 2 decades now. It's hard to argue with the scramble folks, until I see the Pats lose this division, I'm just gonna keep penciling them in as champs.

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36 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Bryan Knowles // Aug 17, 2018 - 1:36pm

We're more saying the division is not competitive, as opposed to terrible. You could have a great, non-competitive division (imagine a 16-0 team where everyone else finishes 10-6). That isn't the AFC East, of course, but it's not the absolute worst. There certainly have been moments when the AFC East has approached goodness over the past decade.

It just always feels like a foregone conclusion, year after year.

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48 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by nat // Aug 17, 2018 - 7:17pm

It's closer than you think.

Winning 69% of your games (11-5) almost always gets you to the playoffs. If you look at records outside the division, no division had more teams hit the magic 70% threshold (7-3) than the AFC East. Sure, that's mostly the Patriots doing it every year. But if you eliminate the team doing it the most from each division, the AFC East also rans still have the most.

The problem for the rest of AFC East is not that they can't get to 11 wins and the playoffs in general. It's that they can't get to 11 wins if they have to play each other AND the Patriots twice each season. That's rough going.

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45 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Jetspete // Aug 17, 2018 - 4:50pm

yeah I'm pretty sure the last "big" afc east showdown was the Jets/Pats MNF game in 2010 and a Sunday Nighter in 2011. Both were over by halftime.

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50 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by GwillyGecko // Aug 19, 2018 - 11:23pm

what about the 2010 divisional playoff between the jets and the pats

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41 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by The Ninjalectual // Aug 17, 2018 - 3:09pm

Jay Cutler's shittiness as a QB has kept me from getting laid!

I was at a Broncos game in 2009 and my buddy and I were talking to two girls sitting in front of us. Until one of the girls told us Jay Cutler was going to be the next Elway. I magnanimously granted that "yeah, um, maybe," but she doubled down: "no, he *IS* going to be the next Elway." Okay, psycho.

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49 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by Bright Blue Shorts // Aug 18, 2018 - 1:25pm

Psycho because she mistook Kyle Orton for Jay Cutler-Elway?

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59 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by The Ninjalectual // Aug 27, 2018 - 4:57pm

Good catch, I must have been thinking about 2007 or 08.

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58 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by PatsFan // Aug 27, 2018 - 4:22pm

I'm taking the under on NE, figuring on 10-6:
* Two divisional losses (they always lose at least one)
* Losses to GB and JAX
* Two losses out of the four games against PIT, KC, MIN, HOU

And having lost their 12-wins streak they will go on to lose their AFCCG streak by losing in the divisional round.

(Also, while I do not think it is likely, I will not be surprised if Belichick walks away after this season, fed up with QB and owner interference.)

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61 Re: Scramble: 2018 East Over/Unders

by RickD // Aug 28, 2018 - 2:27am

Your last paragraph shows a lack of perception. The "Brady hates Belichick" nonsense was tripe generated by one Boston reporter and immediately debunked by another Boston reporter who, unfortunately, didn't get wide play. It's really frightening how a story not supported by any evidence at all is treated as if it were well sourced.

There was no "3 hour meeting" between Belichick and Kraft about trading Brady or Garoppolo.

Brady wanted to start, but he didn't make any demands. He was clearly better than Garoppolo, who was intending to leave town unless he was the starter very soon. Before the season started, nobody knew if Brady could maintain his level of play. He did. And he was clearly better than Jimmy by the metrics. So Brady continued to hold the starter job while Jimmy got traded.

Kraft has never interfered in Belichick's management of the team. He's sat back and let Belichick trade or release one beloved Patriot after another. He didn't interfere in the Brady situation because he never needed to. There was never any eventuality other than Brady continuing to start.

Belichick of course wanted to keep Jimmy but that was simply not going to happen, because Jimmy wants to start, now.

The media hate Belichick and he hates them right back. So they constantly run stories with anonymous sources to try to undermine him. Remember the story a couple years ago about how visiting teams were paranoid about their playbooks? It was similar nonsense. There's no downside when a reporter invents a "source" to bad-mouth Belichick. A reporter may even have an actual person willing to tell stories, like the cameraman who claimed the Pats had taped the Rams walkthrough. Very often these sources have no idea what they're talking about, but since they are granted anonymity and there's no downside to being wrong, the stories keep coming.

How well the Pats do will depend a good deal on their defense. Also the OL and LB corps have depth issues. It's very weird that so many people are obsessing about the WR corps. Brady will have Edelman, Hogan, Gronk, White, and Burkhead to throw to. That's plenty. The Pats have great receivers in the backfield and at TE, but somehow that fact just gets glossed over by people who want to find something to point at.

More generally, the offense isn't going to be a problem unless they have more injuries on the line. And that could be a problem.

The defense has to prove that it's not a bottom tier unit after that dreadful Super Bowl. But it's not like the AFC has any elite teams ready to topple them. Tomlin is consistently outcoached by BB and the Jags have Bortles at QB. If the Texans could stay healthy for a season, they'd look like the biggest challenge.

As for divisional losses...they Pats might lose one, but I'm not really seeing any major threats there. All three teams are in down phases. The Dolphins are weaker on defense, the Bills are clueless, and the Jets still have many roster holes.

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