Sportsball, 2019 Week 1 Preview: Part I (Are You Ready??)

 

Sportsball, 2019 Week 1 Preview Edition: Part I (Are You Ready??)

 

First, a quick warning to regular Valley of Steel readers: today we are introducing, in the words of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “something completely different.” While our purpose for existing remains sharing the good word about what’s happening in the world of music, this new feature (which is intended to be a semi-regularly recurring segment) revolves around a very different sort of heavy metal; specifically, the gridiron.

In case that still isn’t clear enough, we will be taking some time today (and tomorrow) to analyse the sport known around the world as amerikanischer Fußball, and domestically (here in the home of the National Football League) called simply football. As someone who has been voraciously devouring football news and stats for years, and as someone who already uses the written word as a way of exploring other lifelong passions, it just feels natural for me to experiment with writing about the sport. Sporadically, at least — if you aren’t a sports fan, don’t worry, maybe just skip this article and your regularly scheduled music news and reviews will continue coming your way very soon.

But for everyone else: tonight (Thursday, the 5th of September) will kick off the NFL’s 100th season, and we’ll be presenting you with a brief preview of all thirty-two teams. The previews are divided up into the sixteen match-ups that will be featured between now and Monday night, in case you want to quickly scroll through to find your favorite team. Half of them are included in this article, and the other half will be coming out tomorrow.

The main point here is to look at some of the major stories and trends that could shape each team’s season, rather than predicting the results of each specific game. However, you may also notice that each team has been listed with their current win-loss record (which, of course, is 0-0 for every team as of right now) next to their predicted record over the full season. These predictions are the result of an extensive series of proprietary calculations and data modelling based on the information currently available — but as the season progresses, the overall predictions will be updated based on new data and information, as new Sportsball articles are published. So just for fun, feel free to check back to see how right or wrong the outcomes in today’s preview (including the current expected playoff picture and Super Bowl teams, which will be included in tomorrow’s Part II) turns out to be!

Oh, and one last thing — as a fundamentally music-related website, I couldn’t help sneaking in a few references, albeit oblique ones, into the blurb about tonight’s participating teams. So anyway, please enjoy this preview, and then enjoy this weekend’s games. Feel free to voice your own opinions in the comments below, or argue over on Twitter like the cool kids do.

 

Thursday, 05 September (8:20 pm)

Packers (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 9-7)
Bears (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 11-5)

 



 

This hundredth NFL season opens with two of its oldest teams. One of them was instrumental in founding the league, and as the other had joined just a year later, this match-up clearly represents the longest-standing rivalry between two professional (American) football teams.

Just one year ago, these two teams faced off in another prime time game — one where Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers exited during the first half due to a knee injury that (at the time) looked potentially season-ending, and then shocked the nation by returning to bring his team back from 20-0 to squeak out a one-point victory. But maybe “shocked” isn’t quite accurate, because Rodgers‘ career has been full of surprising comebacks and fantastic finishes — and incredible hail mary game-winning passes, especially in prime time games.

For that reason, the whole concept of having “something to prove” seems ludicrous. The major narrative surrounding this team has been that Rodgers will be feeling extra motivated now, to show that the team’s slump these past couple years was solely due to former head coach Mike McCarthy — and that now somehow the team will rise above their recent mediocrity with the quarterback freed from his shackles (and, apparently, with new first-time head coach Matt LaFleur merely as a figurehead?) Time will tell how this chemistry will work out, but for now our predictive models see a strong showing from Packers, but just barely missing the playoffs once again.

On the other side of the ball, the Chicago Bears have been looking more dominant than they have in nearly thirty years. In that 2018 week one game, linebacker Khalil Mack certainly made his presence felt, recording a fumble recovery as well as an interception returned for a touchdown. But that was mere days after Mack came to town from Oakland (which, as a side note, is now the home of backup quarterback DeShone Kiser who threw the interception for Green Bay in that game).
While the Bears now have a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Pagano after losing Vic Fangio to the Broncos, it seems as though this team has had a steadily rising trajectory for the past few years (as has the career of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, now entering his third year). They had made a big leap last year, looking poised for greatness until they got double-doinked out of the playoffs. All signs point toward another division championship this year.

 

Sunday, 08 September (1:00 pm)

Rams (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 12-4)
Panthers (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 10-6)

The lawsuits are over, but the fallout from last year’s conference championship game continues with rule changes specifically meant to prevent another such debacle. While this can be debated back and forth forever, ultimately any improvement in the accuracy of how plays or penalties are called should be seen as improving the sport in general.

Having said that, the Rams made their way to that game, and put themselves in position to reach the Super Bowl — their entire season wasn’t based on a single blow of the whistle (or non-blow?) or a single snap of the ball. This team has enough superstars on offense (one of the highest-paid running backs out there and a young quarterback who just signed a record-setting contract extension of his own), not to mention a perennial DPOY candidate — and most of the other teams who have replaced a head coach recently seem to be rolling the dice on finding the next Sean McVay. So all the pieces are still in place for Los Angeles to go far again this year — just perhaps not all the way, without having the same luck with pass interference this time around?

Carolina was also looking like a team that was going places last year — until one fateful night in November when they went to Pittsburgh, and after giving up 52 points there, the only place they went was downhill. Fortunately, quarterback Cam Newton‘s preseason foot injury doesn’t look like a big deal, and although kicker Graham Gano‘s own injury clearly is, backup Joey Slye has impressed with his preseason performance, so it looks like the Panthers have nothing to worry about as they make their way back to the postseason after missing it twice in the past three years.

 

Sunday, 08 September (1:00 pm)

Redskins (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 3-13)
Eagles (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 8-8)

The biggest story in Washington football recently — overshadowing their revolving door at quarterback and well-publicized controversy surrounding the team’s offensive name — has been the lengthy holdout of left tackle Trent Williams. This has been a fascinating story, because unlike most players unhappy with their contract situation or their compensation, Williams is apparently refusing to play for this team under any conditions, demanding to be traded anywhere else, based on issues with the team’s medical staff. We’ll all have to keep an eye on this situation to see how it unfolds, because honestly, there isn’t likely to be much else noteworthy happening in the basement of the NFC East.

We make fun of the city of Philadelphia and its residents whenever we get the chance on this website (no links here, but feel free to search around). But the fact is, the Eagles finally managed to win the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, and have been looking pretty promising for each of the past several years. Having traded away backup quarterback Nick Foles who had successfully led the team in place of the injured Carson Wentz at the end of the past two seasons (one of which saw Foles named Super Bowl MVP), and signing quadragenarian Josh McCown instead, the team’s ceiling now relies on Wentz remaining healthy for the first time. We aren’t holding our breath.

 

Sunday, 08 September (1:00 pm)

Bills (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 9-7)
Jets (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 9-7)

With New England‘s unprecedented reign over the AFC East in recent years, their divisional rivals have become a bit of a punchline. For one of them, that may not change any time soon (more on them below). But these two have quarterbacks (Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, respectively) who were top-ten draft picks and who both showed glimmers of promise during their rookie seasons last year. These cross-state rivals have been quietly revamping their rosters and coaching staffs, knowing that the Patriots‘ dominance can’t last forever, and that whoever is hungry enough will be there to take over when that time comes. Our analysis sees both teams emerging from 2019 with winning records, but based on tie-breaker rules, the one who plays in East Rutherford, NJ may just narrowly edge out the one from Orchard Park, NY for a wildcard spot.

 

Sunday, 08 September (1:00 pm)

Falcons (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 8-8)
Vikings (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 8-8)

Just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, in which the team played one of the better first halves of a football game in recent memory, the Falcons have been shuffling the staff beneath head coach Dan Quinn quite a bit — following a disappointing 7-9 finish last year. Matt Ryan, entering his twelfth year as quarterback, has been very good at the position for most of that time, but in such a competitive division, this is not looking like the year he earns a championship ring.

Minnesota is another team that has looked promising lately, loaded at the receiver position and with a workable (if generally unexciting) starting quarterback, but they have been seriously struggling to find a reliable kicker. Like their division rivals in Chicago, the Vikings have tried out a considerable number of options to fill that role — most notably trading for one with the most viking-esque name ever, Kaare Vedvik, only to see him follow an impressive performance in Baltimore with falling totally flat upon reaching Minnesota (looking so much worse than any of their existing choices, thatn Vedvik was swiftly shipped elsewhere). Like Atlanta, this is a team we expect to see improve over last year, but only very slightly.

 

Sunday, 08 September (1:00 pm)

Ravens (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 9-7)
Dolphins (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 3-13)

By the middle of last year, the whole football world was wondering whether Cincinnati‘s Marvin Lewis or Baltimore‘s John Harbaugh would be the next AFC North head coach to follow Cleveland‘s Hue Jackson out the door. But the Ravens started employing rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson more, and in more creative ways, despite Harbaugh‘s seeming hesitation to take former starter Joe Flacco off the field earlier in the season. All of a sudden, the team ended up winning the division, the coach received a contract extension, and Flacco was sent packing. How quickly things can change in today’s NFL.

Just as quickly, though, the team is looking like a shell of its former self on defense, with the losses including linebackers Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley, and Za’Darius Smith. They also lost safety Eric Weddle but the addition of Earl Thomas should make up for that. Overall, the Ravens defense — which has always been the team’s more dominant side — will be considerably different going forward. How well they are able to recover from all the losses and changes will determine how much success they will have.
Our model shows Baltimore as likely to return to the playoffs, but as a wildcard this time around.

Meanwhile, there has been a fire sale going on in south Florida, with high-caliber players leaving town left and right. New head coach Brian Flores says the Dolphins are not intentionally trying to tank this season, but it’s hard to envision any scenario where this team even comes close to a .500 record.

 

Sunday, 08 September (1:00 pm)

Chiefs (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 12-4)
Jaguars (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 10-6)

Kansas City may not have made as many splashy acquisitions or trades as some other teams, but after taking the eventual Super Bowl winners to overtime in last year’s conference championship, and with last year’s MVP Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, did they really need to? They did bring in a new defensive coordinator, and for a team who never scored fewer than 26 points in a regular season game (or 31 points in a playoff game) last year, the defense may have been the one area that could benefit from a change. After twenty years as a head coach (in Philadelphia and Kansas City), it seems this might be Andy Reid‘s turn to finally reach the big game.

Speaking of which, it’s hard to believe Jacksonville was the team narrowly defeated in the AFC championship game by New England just one year before Kansas City, based on how lousy their 2018 season turned out. But all the major pieces on defense and in the running game are still in place — and the team finally admitted they made a huge mistake with that Blake Bortles contract, making a major upgrade at quarterback with former Eagle and 2017 Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. With a division suddenly in utter turmoil, this year seems like the perfect opportunity to seize the AFC South crown for the second time in team history.

 

Sunday, 08 September (1:00 pm)

Titans (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 5-11)
Browns (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 8-8)

Speaking of AFC South turmoil… Tennessee is another team who didn’t make major headlines with roster moves (at least, until this week when they unexpectedly placed longtime kicker Ryan Succop on injured reserve, filling that position with Cairo Santos, who at this point has bounced around as many different teams as Ryan Fitzpatrick. While there may have been a minuscule amount of drama in Nashville, (and as a personal aside, I had hoped AJ Brown would have ended up drafted by Pittsburgh, and given #84 to wear for the Steelers so that all the fans could keep wearing their existing jerseys), the biggest question mark for this team is the quarterback. Mariotta has dealt with various health issues but says he’s fine now — and hopefully for his sake, and the team’s, that ends up being true.

In Cleveland, there has been so much hype lately that supposedly they think people now want to see them fail, before they’ve even achieved any real amount of success? First of all, this team has been buried in the league’s dumpster for nearly all of the past two decades — they have been a punching bag and a laughing stock for so long, that honestly everyone has just felt sorry for them at this point. They’ve had so much turnover at head coach and quarterback and even at general manager, with nothing to show for any of it so far, that it’s hard to feel excited about any news that comes out of northeastern Ohio. While second-year quarterback Mayfield does look promising, and they have certainly added some intriguing components on both offense and defense, this is also a team that won zero and one game in two of the past three seasons. Last year did show some visible improvement, but under a brand new head coach who previously only held the status of offensive coordinator for part of last season, we’re still in “wait and see” mode for the Browns.

 

Stay tuned for the remaining 16 teams’ previews (and our current predictions for both conferences’ playoff pictures AND the Super Bowl teams) TOMORROW!

2 responses to “Sportsball, 2019 Week 1 Preview: Part I (Are You Ready??)

  1. Pingback: Sportsball, 2019 Week 1 Preview: Part II (Are You Ready??) | Valley of Steel

  2. Pingback: Sportsball, 2019 Week 2 Preview: Special TNF Edition | Valley of Steel

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