Sportsball, 2019 Week 1 Preview Edition: Part II (Are You Ready??)
Hey there, readers. Yesterday we started a brand-new feature here at Valley of Steel, with a preview of this year’s football season. At least, a preview of the first half of the teams playing this weekend.
Today’s article will cover the second half of the slate of games (plus, as promised, the predictions for this year’s playoff teams and Super Bowl teams — based on all the current data out there, and our super top-secret set of algorithms).
Anyway, again, enjoy — and then feel free to yell at me in the comments below, or tell me I’m an idiot over on Twitter. Hooray, sportsball!
Sunday, 08 September (4:05 pm)
Colts (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 6-10)
Chargers (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 5-11)
Without question the biggest NFL news of the year was when Andrew Luck announced his retirement as Indianapolis‘ quarterback. And yes, this was a huge deal, for someone still relatively young and who has shown signs of greatness when he has been able to stay on the field and upright during his seven years with the team. But this is also someone who took longer than expected to recover from a previous injury, turning the entire 2017 season into watching each week for status updates — and he never did end up playing a single snap that year. This offseason has strongly resembled the one from two years ago, where the team’s management couldn’t even keep their story straight about what exactly his injury was, or when he would be ready to play again. So it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that the Colts were already preparing to start the season once more with backup Jacoby Brissett, for as long as necessary. He has worked with the team all summer and all training camp, and surely will be much more prepared to fill that starting role this year. The only difference is, with Luck‘s announcement, we won’t be wondering about his status every week.
And the team has added another former Patriot to their quarterback room, while extending Brissett‘s contract. So they obviously feel comfortable moving forward with this roster. We feel comfortable saying this team was unlikely to win their division this year no matter who was playing quarterback, and we see them taking a small stumble backwards overall.
San DiLos Angeles Chargers are considered a dark horse contender by so many analysts every single year. And for good reason: Philip Rivers is generally dependable and they always have decent weapons in offensive skill positions (when they report to the team), and there’s certainly plenty of talent on defense. But somehow this team always ends up … well, to borrow a phrase from Yahoo! Sports writer Frank Schwab, “doing Chargers things.” Among the myriad of injuries and holdouts plaguing this team, though, probably the most significant issue (speaking of defensive talent) will be the loss of safety Derwin James. However, when most preseason news reports and TV commentators mention your team in the context of “Which of these [usually referring to the James injury and the Gordon holdout] is a bigger disaster for the Chargers?”, that’s never a good sign.
Sunday, 08 September (4:05 pm)
Bengals (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 3-13)
Seahawks (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 11-5)
In what’s shaping up to be a competitive division, the Bengals are likely to find themselves left floundering in the dust, just like last year. With quite possibly their best player (receiver AJ Green) starting off the season on the sidelines due to another injury, this team and their rookie head coach Zac Taylor appear to have quite the steep hill to climb.
Seattle, on the strength of versatile quarterback Russell Wilson (and often, over the past few years, little else), always seems to maintain a competitive edge. The team has been to two Super Bowls this decade, winning one, and managed a double-digit win total (and wildcard berth) last year despite practically all of the legendary “Legion of Boom” players being gone by this point. And now Earl Thomas has traded in his lime green for Ravens purple. But still this has been looking like a team that expected to at least repeat last year’s success. And then this happened. Suddenly it’s starting to look like the Rams might have some competition for the division. Our predictions still have the Seahawks grabbing a wildcard spot, but we’ll be keeping an eye on this as the season begins to unfold.
Sunday, 08 September (4:25 pm)
49ers (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 5-11)
Buccaneers (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 9-7)
This San Francisco team has struck me for several years as too quick to jump to conclusions or a knee-jerk reaction. Jim Harbaugh took the team to the conference championship in each of his first three seasons as their head coach, then he got kicked to the curb after only winning eight games the following year. During that time — and in the years since then — they’ve made several questionable moves, mostly with coaches and quarterbacks, seeming to either give up on people too soon or being too quick to hand over the reins to a new person. Well, when they snatched away Jimmy Garoppolo from New England during the 2017 season, his pristine play during the last few games that year made it look like they’d finally found a solution at the position. Unfortunately, a huge contract signing was followed by somewhat uneven play through the first three games last year — until a knee injury ended his season. So, we have yet to see Jimmy G play a full season, or even half of a season. Maybe this time around he will, or maybe not, but the crystal ball shows the 49ers struggling to keep up with the upper tier of the NFC West.
While Bruce Arians once said he’d only come out of retirement to take the head coaching job in Cleveland, the opportunity to work with quarterback Jameis Winston — who has shown plenty of promise, though has not necessarily been handled in the best way during his first four years, especially last year when the team kept flip-flopping starting quarterbacks all season long — apparently was too tempting to pass up. As was the ability to assemble the best available people for his ideal coaching staff. This team (who hasn’t won their division or made the playoffs in over a decade) has been a popular pick among analysts to take a big leap forward for each of the past several years. And while we still don’t see them in the playoffs yet this season, at least somewhat of a step upward seems reasonable, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if under Arians‘ tutelage, they eventually end up on top.
Sunday, 08 September (4:25 pm)
Giants (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 9-7)
Cowboys (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 9-7)
Why is it that the New York Football Giants can never seem to do the right thing when it comes to their quarterback? In 2017 when two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning got benched, snapping a streak of 210 consecutive games started, it was widely panned, and head coach Ben McAdoo ended up with a pink slip during the fallout. But despite sticking with the aging Manning and drafting running back Saquon Barkley who would go on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Giants found themselves in last place within the division for the second straight year. And their decision to take a new quarterback in the first round of this year’s draft raised quite a few eyebrows once again. Our predictive model expects this team to have a slow start as they try to find their identity, but ultimately turning things around, coming within a hair’s breadth of reaching the playoffs by the end of the year.
Sunday, 08 September (4:25 pm)
Lions (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 6-10)
Cardinals (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 4-12)
Head coach Matt Patricia has been trying to buck the trend of former New England assistants failing to achieve success elsewhere, doing whatever he can to instill “The Patriots Way” up in the Motor City — though sometimes going about it with questionable methods. Given time, it’s conceivable that the former defensive coordinator could have enough of an impact on the team culture and build a winning organization. But the real question is whether ownership will be patient enough to let that happen. We aren’t predicting any improvement over last year’s outcome.
Remember when rookies had to put in time and pay their dues and learn from those ahead of them in the depth chart? Arizona picked up quarterback Josh Rosen at #10 overall in the 2018 draft, threw him to the wolves with little help, and then were surprised to find they ended up the worst team in the league. So this time around, they grabbed another quarterback, Kyler Murray, with the #1 pick. And dumped last year’s rookie almost immediately — to Miami where they are wisely giving him time to learn the system before throwing him back out there again. Honestly, the one I feel bad for in this whole situation is Larry Fitzgerald. We are anticipating the Cardinals to wind up tied for the third-worst record in the NFL. Curious to see what they do with this draft pick.
Sunday, 08 September (8:20 pm)
Steelers (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 12-4)
Patriots (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 13-3)
Last year in Pittsburgh, we saw that with dominant offensive line play and a bit of a surprising second-year leap by a third-round running back, this team could plow forward just fine with the subtraction of an elite player. I don’t think anyone has ever questioned that the team had something special, but they didn’t make a stronger effort to replace that loss (at first) because no one imagined that Bell‘s holdout would last such an unprecedentedly long time — and really, it seems they were lucky to have things work out as well as they did. Now the big question on everyone’s mind is how the team will survive the loss of another star player, although the counter-point to that is whether that particular star player would have been anything other than detrimental had he remained. I think the answer there is fairly clear at this point.
The bigger issue is the sub-par performance by defense and special teams last season, especially for a city that has always prided itself on being a defensive powerhouse. Between the draft and free agency (and the continued maturation of younger players), that side of the ball looks to be entirely unrecognizable when compared with its 2018 self. And no significant changes were made to specialists, seeing the misery some other teams have been enduring trying to find a new kicker (combined with a more confident preseason performance from incumbent Chris Boswell) tends to somewhat put our minds at ease? With all that in mind, frankly, it was still a surprise that our data points towards the team rebounding to the point of a second-place regular season record within the whole conference. Ran the numbers on this one a few times to make sure there wasn’t a mistake in the calculations, though.
Speaking of losing star players, the retirement of Rob Gronkowski takes away one of the top performers of New England‘s offense over the past several years.
But they still managed to snag a sixth Lombardi trophy last year even though the tight end was clearly not at his peak all season. There may have been a number of other roster moves, of varying significance, and they may have a senior citizen as their starting quarterback (and zero backups on their roster who have any NFL experience at all), but this is a team that always seems to MacGyver together a bunch of no-name castoffs from other teams and still come out ahead. No, the thing that concerns me the most here is center David Adams — and not because of any potential football impact his absence may have. The city of Pittsburgh was saddened at the retirement of hockey fan-favorite Pascal Dupuis due to a similar issue with blood clots a few years back, so we all know how serious this is. Just want to wish Adams the best of luck with that.
As a side note, this Sunday Night Football installment will feature the two teams with the most Super Bowl victories in league history, the most regular season victories in the past decade, and (according to our stats and computations) expected to occupy the top two spots in the conference this year. But interestingly, (again, per our data models) neither looks likely to wind up with a seventh trophy in Super Bowl LIV.
Monday, 09 September (7:10 pm)
Texans (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 8-8)
Saints (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 12-4)
After eliminating their GM and then basically eliminating the position altogether, then being broadly criticized for trading away players for too little return while spending too much to bring new ones in, does anyone know what the hell is happening in Houston? We sure don’t. After winning the AFC South last year (and three out of the past four), we expect to see the Texans end up right in the middle of the pack this season.
Although Drew Brees is the seventh-oldest active NFL player (and second-oldest quarterback), the offense that he and head coach Sean Payton run has continually impressed. And these past few years, that defense has certainly rebounded from the mess they used to be in. Our statistics say that this year the Saints will go marching into the Super Bowl as the representatives for the NFC.
Monday, 09 September (10:20 pm)
Broncos (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 6-10)
Raiders (current record: 0-0 / current prediction: 4-12)
While it was clear that recent signee Joe Flacco was intended to start the season at quarterback, now that 2019 draft pick Drew Lock is on injured reserve, it looks like the one-time Super Bowl winner may be filling that role longer than anyone had originally anticipated in the Mile High City. With the first round pick the team acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh, they added a promising new tight end, which may actually benefit Flacco based on his playing style during his Ravens career. But when it’s all said and done, this team has had horrible luck with QBs ever since Peyton Manning‘s final season, and they still don’t know for sure if they’ve found the one to lead the team in the future…
As for their divisional rival and late-night Monday Night Football opponents, the soon-to-be-exiting-Oakland Raiders: it just bears pointing out that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been criticized for years, with people calling for him to be fired because of his supposed inability to keep the locker room under control. But things in the Steel City have never looked this crazy. SO WE CLEAR.
2019-20 Playoff Picture (Pre-Week 1 Edition):
- #6 Ravens at #3 Chiefs
- #5 Jets at #4 Jaguars
- Bye Week: Patriots, Steelers
- #6 Panthers at #3 Bears
- #5 Seahawks at #4 Cowboys
- Bye Week: Saints, Rams
Super Bowl LIV:
- W: New Orleans Saints
- L: Kansas City Chiefs