The Glass Eye: NFL Preview, Part 1 – The Longshots
It’s hard to believe that the NFL season is almost upon us again! No sport is tougher to forecast than NFL football – with so few games and the constant roster turnover, teams can go from worst-to-first in the NFL quicker and more often than in any other major sport. Still, let’s look at each team’s chances starting with the 11 teams I predict will be the worst in the NFL this season. Note that I’m taking schedule strength into account – some of these teams may be ‘better than their record’ but play in a very tough division. Let’s also be aware of how devalued the NFL regular-season has become – the Giants were 9-7 and OUTSCORED on the season in 2011, yet won the Super Bowl (and the 2008 Cardinals were a play away from a title that would have been even more surprising).
32.) Minnesota Vikings: Yes, I believe the Minnesota Vikings will have the worst record in the NFL. Here are my reasons, in no particular order – Extremely tough division; their best player (Peterson) blew out his knee and won’t be 100%; Porous defense allowed 449 points a year ago – second-worst in the league; and they do not have any QB who looks to be any better than average.
In order for the Vikings to win even eight games, most of the following have to happen: Ponder (or Webb) has to make ‘the leap’ at QB; Peterson has to be back at 100% by Week 4; the Lions and Packers need to play significantly worse in 2012; and their defensive picks in the draft at safety and corner need to be immediate impact players. Some of this may come to fruition – I liked the draft picks – but overall this is a bad team in perhaps the most top-heavy division in the league. 2-14 for Minnesota.
31.) Cleveland Browns: No QB, no chance, especially in the always-tough AFC North. Cleveland has run through a myriad of quarterbacks in recent years with no success – now they appear poised to hand the reins to 28-year-old rookie Brandon Weeden, in what appears to this writer to be yet another shortsighted move. Did you know Weeden is two months older than Aaron Rodgers?
Also, the Browns took a RB with a top-5 draft pick – and in recent years it’s been shown that top running backs are available later in the draft, or even after the draft . NONE of the top-5 rushers in 2011 were first-round picks…and frankly, a team as bad as the Browns had better potential uses for that top-5 pick.
Weeden’s peak is no more than the next 3-4 seasons so the success of this draft largely relies on his ability to blossom more quickly than the average rookie QB, and also on Richardson’s ability to shine. I just don’t see Cleveland making huge strides offensively in 2012 – and make no mistake, after scoring only 218 points in 2011 (30th in the league), they MUST improve offensively to have a chance. In a division with three possible contenders, the Browns look to be also-rans once again…3-13 for Cleveland.
30.) Indianapolis Colts: The Colts hit rock bottom a year ago and while I think they are on the way back up, I think it will be a slower climb than the last rebuild in 1998. Andrew Luck is a fine prospect and I think he will become a very good QB, but it’s unlikely he will be the next Peyton Manning, who is certainly an inner-circle Hall-of-Famer. The Colts released most of their veteran players and have an extremely young core to develop – but this process will take some time.
The Colts mainly focused on offense, trading for veteran tackle Winston Justice and spending their top four (and six of their first seven) draft picks on offensive players. For that reason, plus the return of Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie, I expect the Colts to be a mediocre-to-decent scoring team. However, the Colts allowed 430 points in 2011, third-most in the AFC, and I foresee very minimal improvement on that side of the ball. The Colts do not play in an extremely tough division, and I do expect a few more wins this time around, but anything beyond five wins would shock me. Call it 4-12 for the Colts and last in the AFC South.
29.) Buffalo Bills: Let’s face it, the Bills have become the NFL’s most boring team. After a tantalizing first month in 2011, the Bill ended up 6-10 – their seventh losing season in a row, which is astounding in the parity-filled NFL. They were improved somewhat on offense, but the defense was the worst in the AFC.
The Bills signed Mario Williams to shore up the pass rush and drafted corner Stephon Gilmore #10 overall – both solid moves. However, I wasn’t crazy about the rest of their draft, and they still are woefully short on impact talent. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled mightily after signing a huge contract extension; he has to rebound in a big way for this team to hope for a .500 season.
The AFC East is actually not as good in 2012 in my opinion, so the Bills have some upside if Fitzpatrick rebounds and the defensive moves pay off – but I am not sold on their QB or their plan. 5-11 for the Bills.
28.) Oakland Raiders: I’ll admit up front that the AFC West is the hardest division to figure out this season – after all, in 2011 three teams tied for first at 8-8 and K.C. was only a game back at 7-9! However, I think Oakland is the ‘odd man out’ this season. They (once again) didn’t have a draft pick until the third round, and they made no major additions while losing five solid players in free agency. The offense at least has some explosive talent in RB Darren McFadden (when healthy) and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, but at this point QB Carson Palmer is below average and there’s no depth at all on offense.
The defense is in far worse shape – the loss of Nnamdi Asomougha prior to last season really hurt the secondary, and losing CB Stanford Routt this year has further weakened an already shaky secondary. The bigger problems are up front, though – the Raiders allowed almost 2200 rushing yards and an average of over five yards per carry, and I don’t see any major changes to the front seven.
Oakland has new leadership and I expect their new GM to overhaul the franchise – meaning things might get worse before they get better. I’m expecting a tough season, 5-11 for the Raiders.
27.) Arizona Cardinals: Amazing stat of the day – since the Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1988, they have had exactly THREE winning seasons! This is another team that appears to have no solid plan at QB, and as such is doomed to mediocrity. Kevin Kolb has once again proven that for all his other faults, Andy Reid is a QB expert – if he’s willing to part with a young QB, there must be some problems – and Kolb was not good in 2011.
There’s a lot of young talent on defense, especially in the front seven – and with the addition of WR Malcolm Floyd there should be plenty of targets in the passing game – but Arizona has the worst QB situation in the division and as such I think they will have the worst record. 6-10 for the Cards.
26.) Washington Redskins: Washington finally addressed their QB problem with a bold move, trading a ton of picks to get Robert Griffin III (RG3) – and now all their eggs are in the RG3 basket. If he fails, the franchise will be set back for five years or more. I know a lot of people look at Cam Newton last year and think Griffin can do as well, but what Newton did as a rookie was UNPRECEDENTED in NFL history and I believe Griffin will struggle this season.
The defense is average at best but not good enough to compensate for a weak offense – and while I think Washington will score more than 288 points (last year’s paltry total), I don’t think they will improve enough to flirt with a .500 record. Call it 6-10 for the ‘Skins, but at least now there’s legitimate hope for the fan base.
25.) St. Louis Rams: Yes, I’m picking the Rams to improve the most among last year’s bad teams…because I think everything that could go wrong did go wrong in 2011, and I think there’s a solid core of talent here. QB Sam Bradford dealt with injuries all season, but he should be able to take a leap forward this year. They also got a huge return from Washington in the RG3 trade, giving them six of the top 65 draft picks this year and more next year.
They still have a lot of holes, but in this division and with the core talent they’ve amassed there’s no way this team wins less than four games. I’m saying 6-10 for the Rams, with a bigger leap in 2013.
24.) Carolina Panthers: Yes, Cam Newton had perhaps the greatest all-around rookie season of any QB in history – so why am I not predicting improvement? Because I think the HUGE leap the team made on offense will regress a little this year – primarily because Steve smith will age soon, and the team doesn’t have enough weapons in the passing game – and also because Newton won’t surprise ANYONE this year as teams game-plan to stop him.
On the other side of the ball, Carolina gave up more points in 2011 than in 2010, and they lost LB Dan Connor to free agency. They did draft quite a bit of defensive help, but I still see the Panthers as a below-average defense in 2012. In short, while I think Carolina is a team on the rise, I think they will take one step back before two steps forward. 6-10 again for Carolina.
23.) Jacksonville Jaguars: I never can figure the Jaguars out – they make a lot of confounding decisions. With only six draft picks this year, they took a PUNTER in the third round?? On the other hand, selecting WR Justin Blackmon made a lot of sense, and second-year QB Blaine Gabbert should have plenty of weapons this season.
The defense was actually above-average in 2011 and figures to be a decent unit again, especially in an offensively-challenged division. If Gabbert takes the next step and Blackmon is the real deal, the Jaguars actually have some upside – but I’m anticipating some more stuggles from young Gabbert and another year of mediocrity in Jacksonville. 7-9 for the Jags.
22.) New York Jets: I’ve heard many times that if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none – and the Jets have set themselves up for major problems under center. I’ve never been a Mark Sanchez fan, and I don’t think he’s the long-term solution – but I’m SURE that Tim Tebow isn’t the solution, and adding him to the mix has only further divided the locker room. Coach Rex Ryan has, in my opinion, lost control of the team as evidenced by all the discord and fighting both last season and this summer.
The Jets unquestionably have some talent, especially on defense – they will almost certainly remain a top-10 defensive unit – but how will they score points? The QB position is unsettled, they have no depth at WR or RB with the retirement of Tomlinson, and the line is average at best. They had a poor draft, and frankly I think this team is headed in the wrong direction. The only hope for the Jets is a relatively weak schedule. Call it 7-9 for the Jets, but if they get off to a slow start they could REALLY collapse.
Next week we’ll look at the borderline playoff contenders in the NFL.
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.