Friday, August 30, 2013

The Grood, The Bland, and The Fugly - An NFL Preview (AFC edition)

The 2013 NFL season is a scant two weeks away, and I have yet to dispense my likely inaccurate opinions of the teams that reside within. Thus, it is time for me to dispense said opinions, whether the internet needs (or wants) them. I considered a power rankings of sorts (which I might do during the season), while also considering doing an in-depth preview. But those things are boring and lame-o. Or more accurately, everyone else does them and does them better. So I've come up with something new, a three-tiered system of ranking teams I like to call The Grood, The Bland, and the Fugly.

Your humble author
While the name of this article may look (to some) like the incoherent results of Rocky Dennis slamming his face on a keyboard, I think it makes perfect sense. I've organized the 32 NFL teams in three separate categories; Grood (a combination of great and good), Bland (mediocre, uninteresting, or not quite good enough), and Fugly (unwatchable tire fire). The categorization of the teams is based solely on my opinion, and I will have no shame in running away from that opinion when a team I think is good starts 0-7 and fires everyone. I'm also grading these teams in a vacuum; I think the Cowboys are good, but I could easily see them finishing fourth in the NFC East because all the teams in that division might be good. 

Also I have a weakness for red-headed quarterbacks, because I am a ginger as well. So that might come up later. Anyway, let's take a look at the AFC.

The Fugly

Jacksonville Jaguars
In 2012 the Jags had the distinction of finishing tied with the Chiefs for the worst record in football at 2-14. Sadly, unlike the Chiefs, they lost out on the first overall pick in the draft, still suck, and even worse, no one knows who plays on their team. I'm serious. I could walk up to any random NFL fan and ask them what team Paul Posluszny or Justin Blackmon play for and the response would be "I don't know, one of Florida?" I actually had to look up who their first-round pick was (Luke Joeckel), because I was under the impression that players drafted by them just cease to exist. 

As for their 2014 fortunes, I expect them to be bad again. Surprisingly, I don't hate Blaine Gabbert, and I think he might turn out to not be the worst quarterback in football. I like Maurice-Jones Drew and Cecil Shorts. Tyson Alualu is a good player. They could easily double their win total, but my calculator app says that they would still only win four games. Also, their owner has a mustache. 

Oakland Raiders
I want so many things for the Raiders. I want Sebastian Janikowski to attempt and make an 80-yard game-winning field goal. I want to see Matt Flynn succeed. I want Darren McFadden to recapture his 2010 glory while simultaneously avoiding crutches. I want to see the corpse of Al Davis propped up on the sidelines again. I want to see a crazy Raiders fan run onto the field and attempt to stab Phillip Rivers (I said ATTEMPT). I want to see those great uniforms in a Super Bowl again. 

But I won't get what I want, because the Raiders are bad and God doesn't like them. 

San Diego Chargers
Speaking of Phillip Rivers and stabbing, we get to watch him throw to no one in particular with that weird javelin-style toss for yet another season. Rivers has been bad for two seasons now, but I suspect that has less to do with Rivers and more to do with the Chargers' front office trying to assemble the worst team possible. I think people assume the Chargers will be good every year because they have the best uniforms ever and seem to play a lot of night games. But this team is awful. I'm convinced that Rivers will hit free agency someday perceived as damaged goods and then have a late career renaissance with another team solely because of the titanic difference in talent. I dare you to look at San Diego's roster and try to find a good skill-position player. Their roster is chock full of scrubs that I wouldn't have taken late in my Madden franchise drafts five years ago.

Tennessee Titans
I came so very close to putting the Titans into the Bland category, because I have this weird feeling they'll be kinda okay. I have no real reason as to why I feel that way. In fact, they were completely awful in every facet of the game.
They were blown out a lot last year, didn't do much in the way of addressing their defense, and Jake Locker is their quarterback. On the plus side, they play in a fairly mediocre division and have some nice pieces on offense. So they could easily steal a couple extra wins and somehow finish with a 7-9 or 8-8 record, all while fooling people into thinking they aren't that bad. But they're bad. Just not Jets bad. 

New York Jets

The Bland

Buffalo Bills
I find this team incredibly interesting, which belies the category they're in. I don't think they'll be good, at least not yet. But I think they're spunky, and they should have some really exciting moments. They're probably a team whose games I'll keep switching to on Sunday Ticket. They have great backfield depth (CJ SPILLER), an athletic young quarterback (EJ MANUEL), a great defensive line (NAMES OF DUDES), good special teams (TOUCHDOWNZ), and an excellent safety in Jarius Byrd (PAID). They also don't have much overall depth, play in the same division as the New England Patriots, and also happen to be the Bills (despite their best intentions). As such, their 2013 ceiling is probably limited. But the future is bright, I think.

Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are a quality organization with a storied history and a sexual predator at quarterback. They are one of those teams that seem to be good every year, but it turns out that last year they weren't very good. I don't think they'll be good this year either. The defense is thin and aging, the offensive line is an issue (again), the running game is nondescript, and Ben Roethlisberger has few weapons to throw to. Throw in the fact that they're in a tough division and it adds up to an unappealing season. Big Ben is still good enough to steer them towards vague playoff contention, but even if he can stay healthy all year I don't buy the Steelers as much more that a .500 team. Yawn.

Miami Dolphins 
I want the Dolphins to be good, but I don't think they're quite there. Most of this is tied to the fact that Mike Wallace is on the team, and I hate Mike Wallace. Not personally, I just hate him as a player and as an effigy of my failures as a fantasy football player. I do like Ryan Tannehill quite a bit and I like what they got going defensively, but unless Lamar Miller and Brian Hartline start voraciously ripping apart opposing defenses, I can't imagine them overtaking the Patriots in the AFC East. Like the Steelers, I can see them hanging around on the periphery of the playoff race, but I think the hype is a year too early. Also, NEW UNIFORMS.
Indianapolis Colts
The 2012 edition of the Bad Team That Won A Lot of Games, the Colts decided to follow up their surprising playoff run by signing a bunch of awful players to stupid contracts. Mediocre offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus hits the market? SIGN HIM UP. Can't sign your punter? FRANCHISE TAG. Erik Walden puts up one of the single most embarrassing playoff performances for a defensive player ever? FOUR YEAR DEAL. Need stability at running back? AHMAD BRADSHAW. Despite GM Ryan Grigson's best efforts, the Colts will still be decent because Andrew Luck is awesome. In fact, they might still finish with an excellent record because that offense should be really good and the schedule looks easy. But that defense is going to be awful, and I don't think they'll be so lucky (pun unavoidable) in close games again. 

Cleveland Browns
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden
I think the Browns will be kinda good this season, and I have nothing to base this opinion on. The defense should be solid, and the offense consists of some nice parts, but they're in a tough-ish division and they're still a football team that plays in Cleveland. I like Brandon Weeden, mostly because he's a redhead but also because he has a rocket arm and was the NFL's first 43-year old rookie (citation needed). He had a bad rookie season but now has a competent offensive coordinator in Norv Turner. Trent Richardson is good, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron have plenty of potential, Joe Haden and Phil Taylor are Pro-Bowl-level defenders that you've probably never heard of. Their overall depth and lack of experience will keep them from competing for the division, but I could see a sneaky 8-8 finish.

Baltimore Ravens
They won the Super Bowl and everything, and that's cool, but the truth is the Ravens aren't all that great of a football team. Don't take that the wrong way; they are a quality organization with an excellent coaching staff that played exceptionally well in the playoffs. They earned their Super Bowl victory. But over the larger sample of the regular season they were middle-of-the-pack offensively and defensively and didn't improve much in the offseason (if at all). For an annual playoff contender, they don't really have a whole lot of elite players (Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata, Marshal Yanda), but on the other hand they don't really have that many bad players. Cillian Murphy Joe Flacco is a decent (and now overpaid) quarterback who vacillates between good and bad games with no real rhyme or reason, but is probably good enough to keep the offense from completely tanking in the wake of the Anquan Boldin (trade) and Dennis Pitta (injury) losses. The defense will probably be ordinary again. They could finish 7-9 or 12-4 and it wouldn't surprise me.

The Grood

Kansas City Chiefs
As much as I like their improvements, I don't want to buy into all the hype that's surrounding the Chiefs. I get the feeling that they are the team everyone expects to improve and yet doesn't improve. But someone in the AFC has to be good, and Kansas City certainly has the talent. The problem is a lot of the talent was their last year and the team sucked. Of course they get enormous improvement at quarterback (Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn to Alex Smith) and an even bigger improvement at head coach (Romeo Crennel to Andy Reid), and their division is awful outside of the Broncos. If the defense plays to their talent level, they could accidentally get a #4 seed. Good work, rest of AFC.

New England Patriots

Few teams have had as bad an offseason as the Pats, and yet they could still easily go 12-4 and lock up their division around Thanksgiving. You can thank the decreased power level of the AFC for that, but the Pats themselves deserve a lot of credit for how they build their team. Not many teams could lose two elite pass-catchers and see a third get injured and still be competitive, but the Patriots have been through this kind of thing before. Even with a bunch of rookies and short white guys running around and trying to catch passes, the offense should still be excellent with a deep backfield, solid offensive line, and Tom Brady throwing the ball. The defense and special teams aren't great but generally make enough plays to keep them from embarrassing themselves.

Houston Texans
The Texans remind me of a couple recent (sort of) Super Bowl winners, the 2000 Ravens and the 2002 Buccaneers. Passable offense, smothering defense. Matt Schaub is probably a better quarterback than either Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer, Andre Johnson is certainly better than any receiver that played on either the Ravens or Bucs, and the Texans' special teams aren't as good as the Ravens' was, but there seems to be a similar formula at play here. It hasn't translated all that well in the playoffs for the Texans, but if the AFC scuffles as I expect it to, this is as good a chance as any for Houston. Other than that lazy analysis, I have nothing else to add about this team. All that I ask is that they play someone other than the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs.

Denver Broncos
Blah blah blah, Peyton Manning, a zillion receivers and running backs, Von Miller's suspension, rabble rabble rabble. The defense might be a little ugly but whatever. They're winning double-digit games.

Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton
I've been to Cincinnati once. I was a kid and my dad took us there on a business trip. I remember almost nothing about the trip itself (we drove all the way from Minnesota to Ohio) or what we did in Cincinnati (a zoo?), save one thing; the chili. Cincinnati is famous for their absolutely awful chili. It's sweet (but not in a good way) and a little watery, and they dump it on top of spaghetti noodles or innocent, unsuspecting hot dogs. They put cheese on it, which is an unfortunate waste of cheese. Sometimes there were crackers. We ate it multiple times at multiple restaurants, and every time it was disgusting. It has a bizarre secondary flavor that I cannot describe and I haven't experienced it in anything else. For some reason my mom tried making it a few times and it's probably why I was a rebellious teenager.

I don't eat much chili since it gives me heartburn, but I don't mind it if it's homemade or really good. Cincinnati Chili is not good. Cincinnati Chili is awful. Don't ever eat it.

Tune in next week for the NFC preview.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jerry Eldred (@jheldred) 

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