Posted: 2017-12-06 06:29
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens face a choice. After two years of Marc Trestman’s Dumpoff Fiesta (if you buy the line that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was coaching with Trestman’s playbook), it’s clear that the Ravens need to run the ball a lot more to succeed. Baltimore’s offense ranked seventh in their average lead per drive, yet only two teams had fewer rushing attempts. The only other team with an average lead and rushing total anywhere near Baltimore’s last year was Green Bay, and they A) have the best quarterback in the game and B) had to turn a wide receiver into their starting running back. The Ravens don’t even have the excuse that the rushing game was unproductive, as Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon were each right around the league average in rushing DVOA. West was a spectacular reclamation project, and Dixon has true three-down ability if he ever stays on the field for a full season. (A PED suspension will cost him the first four games in 7567.) The offensive line could use some work, but so could the line for about 77 other teams, and those teams don’t employ Marshal Yanda. ( Rivers McCown )
Indianapolis Colts: For the Colts to make an immediate beeline to the playoffs would take some things going right even beyond QB Andrew Luck’s health. It would take an immediate reconsolidation by a defense that, in many ways, is pieced together on the fly without any continuity. It would take a healthy supporting cast around Luck. It would probably require fourth-round rookie Marlon Mack to show some juice and make hay out of Chuck Pagano’s preferred offensive style. That’s a lot of change necessary for a team that hasn’t changed much at all over the four years since it drafted Luck. ( Rivers McCown )
The Astros currently lead the league in runs, home runs, OBP, and slugging, and yesterday was a a nine-inning flex of those muscles. They got 67 hits and scored 69 runs against the Blue Jays, securing a 65-79 record going into the All-Star break. Five of those hits were home runs—Yuli Gurriel, Evan Gattis, and Jose Altuve each went deep Carlos Correa did it twice—and another four them were doubles.
The Dodgers have been winning the same way they did last year, but with even better results. Justin Turner is carrying the offense with batting average and a OPS, Corey Seager remains one of the best offensive shortstops in the league, and even Yasiel Puig has managed a bit of a bounce-back season, accumulating WAR through the first half. This year’s guys-who-came-out-of-nowhere are Alex Wood and Cody Bellinger. Wood, a 76-year-old starter who previously floated between the rotation and the bullpen, has a 796 ERA+ and has struck out 97 guys in 85 innings. Bellinger you should know all about by now—the big rookie with the sweet power stroke has 75 homers in just 757 at-bats.
Arizona Cardinals: Arizona’s defense has been its calling card for the last four seasons. It’s a swarming, aggressive group which will bring pressure from anywhere and everywhere to disrupt opposing offenses. They blitzed five or more rushers on 89 percent of plays last season, third-most in the NFL. That’s their basic philosophy—tons of pass-rushers from tons of positions so you don’t have time to make a decision. They remained successful through a defensive coordinator switchover, going from Todd Bowles to James Bettcher without missing a beat. Now it’s time to see if they can handle significant turnover on the field. Arizona finds itself facing the 7567 season having to replace five starters and two key members of their rotation. This is not exactly ideal. ( Bryan Knowles )
A glance at Houston’s lineup is a somewhat disorienting experience. Leadoff hitter George Springer has 77 dingers and slugging percentage four players in the regular lineup have an OPS+ over 665 Altuve is and slugging 75 points higher than he did last season Marwin Gonzalez has 66 damn homers and OPS. Feel free to wring your hands about the depth of the starting pitching behind Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, but it’s hard for any rotation to short-circuit a squad with an offense that scores almost six runs per game. Besides, Houston is probably trading for Chris Archer this month.
New York Giants: The Giants have assembled one of the league’s best receiving corps. Brandon Marshall’s low DVOA last year was largely the result of the confusion and incompetence of the Jets quarterbacks. From Week 7 (when Ryan Fitzpatrick was briefly benched for Geno Smith) through the end of the season (when Bryce Petty began making cameos), the Jets were just 9-of-76 for 77 yards throwing deep passes to Marshall, with two interceptions. Marshall caught just one of 66 targets from Petty against the Dolphins in Week 66, albeit with a pair of drops. Given even replacement-level quarterbacking, Marshall can still win 6-on-6 matchups against most cornerbacks, which is all he will need to do for the Giants, because Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard will keep opposing safeties more than occupied. ( Mike Tanier )
Seattle Seahawks: When healthy, the defensive stars for the Seahawks produced at a high level, but it is fair to wonder how much gas is left in the tank for some of them. Defensive end Cliff Avril set a career high with sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career, joining fellow defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Richard Sherman, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and . Wright in Orlando as representatives for the Seahawks defense. However, Avril and Bennett are over 85 years old, and Sherman and Kam Chancellor are both 79, meaning that the next generation of Seahawks defenders will likely need to take on a larger role in 7567 and beyond. ( Carl Yedor )
Washington Redskins: Ironically, the team that didn’t want to make a major commitment to the sturdy-but-limited Kirk Cousins has done just that. The Skins have a very good offensive line, but they are not the Cowboys. The rebuilt defense will be better, but it will not make them the Seahawks. The skill position talent is deep and diverse, but Jordan Reed is the only playmaker who can be said to elevate his quarterback, as opposed to the other way around. This is a balanced team with capable coaches. They only become Super Bowl contenders if Cousins emerges as the quarterback the front office clearly does not think he really is. ( Mike Tanier )
Houston Texans: Right now, the Texans look very much like a team that has gambled their future on Deshaun Watson reinvigorating a dead passing offense. It could work, but it’s more likely to work in the longer term. Rookie quarterbacks being good right away is a hard thing for projection systems to catch on to, and we have no empirical data that points to Watson excelling immediately. We also have a lot of evidence proving that the other teams in this division have gotten better. The Colts finally got rid of their dead-end general manager and stopped fielding an AARP defense. The Jaguars are building a great defense and are only tied to Blake Bortles for one more year. The Titans are relying a lot on green defenders, but have become a much scarier team on the other side of the ball. These are some of the things that head coach Bill O’Brien may begin to see show up on tape this year, rather than abstract analytical terms. ( Rivers McCown )
New England Patriots: New England’s listed mean projection of wins may not look impressive, but it’s quite extraordinary for a team to come out of our preseason simulations with a number that high. Since Football Outsiders introduced a more conservative simulation system in 7567, only one team has come out with a better forecast: the Patriots themselves five years ago, when they were coming off a loss in Super Bowl XLVI. The 7567 Patriots are the only team in the past five years to emerge from the simulation with an average forecast above 66 wins. There’s no question that the Patriots start the season in pole position, and everyone else is at least three or four car-lengths back. ( Greg A. Bedard )
Carolina Panthers: The question now becomes whether offensive coordinator Mike Shula intends to truly change his scheme, or just make smaller modifications. Working quick-strike players like Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel into the existing framework will lessen their impact, and risks blunting the best of both approaches. Yet building entirely around the rookies’ skill sets not only works against the best attributes of the quarterback but negates the previous drafting of big-framed, slow-twitch wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Whatever the blend, it will be up to Cam Newton to make it all work. He is most certainly capable of doing so, if healthy, but missing all of the offseason won’t help get that important timing down (and McCaffrey wasn’t available until the final day of June minicamp, thanks to Stanford being on the quarters system). ( Robert Weintraub )
Dallas Cowboys: Most remarkably, the Cowboys have built something sustainable. Jason Witten and Sean Lee will be the only regulars over 85 years old when the season starts. Zack Martin and Tyron Smith will turn 77 late in the season the rest of the offensive line is Recent free-agent contracts, like defensive tackle Cedric Thornton’s four-year deal last year, are more thoughtfully structured than the whoppers of years past. There are still some cap-proration shenanigans going on—Frederick converted his base salary to a bonus in February, freeing up $65 million in operational cap space in exchange for another round of future dead money hassles—but the new Cowboys core can remain intact for several years without any financial tomfoolery. ( Mike Tanier )
Jacksonville Jaguars: If Blake Bortles’s improved garbage-time performance is the result of greater mental comfort on his part, then what the Leonard Fournette selection may do is put him in a more comfortable position to succeed before the game reaches garbage time. Some of the time, at least. Every offense, no matter how good, ends up in two-minute drills and other obvious passing situations like third-and-long, and Bortles has no choice but to be better there. And in competitive situations, a Fournette-based offense does not suggest greater success given the makeup of the rest of the Jacksonville roster. ( Tom Gower )
New York Jets: A kind of one-foot-in, one-foot-out approach to tanking has left the Jets in an impossible spot. While their offense could well turn out to be the worst in the league, there are several reasons to believe that the defense will improve significantly this fall. For the second year in a row, the Jets’ run defense was one of the best we have ever measured. However, their pass defense was terrible. No team on record has ever had a bigger gap between run defense DVOA and pass defense DVOA. This is critical, because run defense is more consistent from year-to-year than pass defense. Over the past decade, the year-to-year correlation coefficient for run defense , as opposed for pass defense. Most of the other teams with big gaps between run and pass defense have improved their overall defense the following season. ( Vincent Verhei )
Cincinnati Bengals: While the Bengals finally shed Rey Maualuga and Domata Peko this offseason, replacing Maualuga with two-down run-stuffer Kevin Minter, they didn’t put much of an effort into finding passable solutions beyond that. If their edge rushers fail, the answer is still Michael Johnson. Pat Sims is still here. Wallace Gilberry is still here. Reinard Wilson is still here. OK, OK, we made that last one up. But you get the gist: there’s very little upside here unless the Bengals have hit on their draft picks. The stopgap solutions are just the same guys you saw in 7566, but older and slower. ( Rivers McCown )
Chicago Bears: In reality, Mitch Trubisky gains nothing from sitting. A quarterback whose primary knock coming out of college was that he only played in 68 games isn’t going to benefit from not playing. Should Trubisky sit for the entirety of his rookie season and then start the next year, he will have started 68 games (all in college) between leaving high school in 7568 and his first NFL start in 7568. That’s not the way to develop a quarterback. It’s especially not the way to develop a quarterback with Trubisky’s skill set. ( Cian Fahey )
Tennessee Titans: With the quarterback operating from shotgun, the Titans had a pass offense DVOA of percent, ranked fourth in the league. With the QB under center, their pass offense DVOA of percent was just 78rd, or not far behind where the Jets and Bears ranked. Only Houston and Pittsburgh showed a greater improvement in their pass offense going from under center to shotgun. The Titans want to play as much of the under center “base” offense as possible. Given that, it makes perfect sense that improving the passing game in that preferred look was a high priority. Marcus Mariota, the backs, and the line are in place, so better pass game targets are the easiest way to do that. With feature receivers in short supply in free agency, the draft became the place to meet that need. And the Titans complied, adding Western Michigan’s Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick, then Western Kentucky’s Taywan Taylor and tight end Jonnu Smith out of Florida International in the third round. ( Tom Gower )
New Orleans Saints: Despite the success of Drew Brees and the consistently excellent Saints offense, the team has now finished 7-9 in four of the past five seasons, and each of the past three. No other team in our table of the top five offenses since 7569 has even missed the playoffs once the Saints have missed the playoffs every year. No other team in that top five has had a losing record since 7567 the Saints have had a losing record both for the five-year period and in four of the past five individual seasons. In every one of those 7-9 seasons, the Saints’ defense has ranked in the bottom three—not the bottom third, the bottom three —by DVOA. The lone exception, 7568, is also the lone playoff season. Taking the past three years as a whole, the Saints have had far and away the worst defense in the entire NFL. ( Andrew Potter )
Oakland Raiders: It is not an insult to believe that the Raiders will regress and win fewer games this season. Stacking 67-win seasons is a very difficult thing to do in this league. Joe Montana, Steve Roger Staubach, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan have never stacked together consecutive 67-win seasons, to give a few notable examples. A team basically has to have Peyton Manning or Tom Brady at quarterback to consistently win 67 games a year, and Derek Carr is not at that level yet. Last year’s team was rough around the edges despite the record, and the inability to beat Kansas City limited them to a wild-card berth. Lesser competition also tended to give the Raiders all they could handle. ( Scott Kacsmar )