I Do Declare!!! (5 Bold Declarations Through 3 Weeks in the NFL)

Yes, the NFL season is a measly three weeks old. And yes, there is still plenty of football to be played. But why should that stop anyone from grabbing ahold of a position, not letting go, and shouting it from the rooftops — or in this case a blog?

So far, there are various storylines that are juicy and warrant some consideration for headlining this topic — “Dak will win MVP” or “Phillip Rivers is done” or my favorite “The Bears can win the Super Bowl despite Mitchell Trubisky”. All are fun and I’d listen to each with varying degrees of rationality. But I went with five other items that actually do feel pretty strongly about — almost to the point where I don’t, necessarily, view each of them as being outlandish.

1. New head coach Zach Taylor is the answer in Cincinnati.

What a difference from the Marvin Lewis regime to what the offense looks like now. Andy Dalton has been given the freedom to sling it around in Taylor’s offense — the Bengals throw at the third highest clip through three weeks. As a result, Dalton ranks second in yards passing, averaging 326 per game, behind only Patrick Mahomes. What maybe most impressive is that Dalton’s success is happening without any semblance of a living, breathing offensive line. He’s been sacked 11 times — a pace that would put him at nearly 60 for the season if this keeps up. That’s like David Carr, Deshaun Watson air. In addition, Cincy has not gotten the early season production from Joe Mixon out of the backfield, and A.J. Green hasn’t been on the field yet for a single snap due to a foot injury that may sideline him for up to another 4 weeks. And if you still aren’t sold that Taylor is the answer for this franchise, look no further than the resurrection of John Ross’s career in this offense. The “thought-to-be-bust” first round pick from a few years back has turned into the team’s most dependable and playmaking WR with 13 catches on 26 targets, 292 yards, and 3 touchdowns against defenses like Seattle and Buffalo in two of their first three games.

2. Indianapolis will unequivocally win the AFC South.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you about this. I can proudly say I was not one of those people who violently jumped off the Colts’ bandwagon when we were all blindsided by the news of Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement. I still thought they’d be a playoff team then, and now, I think they’re good enough to win that division. Why? Four simple reasons: One, Jacoby Brissett doesn’t stink. Through three weeks as the new starter, he’s top seven in completion percentage and passer rating and his touchdown to interception ratio is a solid 7 to 1. And doesn’t hurt he’s getting help from Marlon Mack out of the backfield. Second reason is that Frank Reich is a really smart head coach. In a league where coaching blunders happen by the minute on any given Sunday (ask Freddie Kitchens or Bruce Arians after week 3), Reich has moved close to the top of HCs that I’d want on my sideline. The third reason is this roster has been built the right way by GM Chris Ballard. After former general manager Ryan Grigson tried everything in his power to burn this franchise to the ground despite having a franchise QB, Ballard has put his stamp on this team by adding very good role players to the defense and re-building what was an atrocious offensive line. And lastly, look no further than the other teams in the AFC South: Tennessee’s QB options are Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill — enough said; as long as Bill O’Brien is running the Texans, I’m not a believer; and while I love Gardner Minshew and all that comes with him, I’m not sold on the Jaguars.

3. Kyle Allen can save Carolina and keep them alive in the playoff picture.

Ok, so truth be told — I picked Carolina to make the playoffs, and I even thought they had a somewhat realistic shot at making a Super Bowl run. So forgive me if I feel like I’ve been handed a new lease on life after what Kyle Allen was able to do in week 3 in his debut start of the season with Cam Newton sidelined because of a foot injury. (Message to Cam — take your time coming back, get healthy, shop for some new outfits.) The Texas A&M product was an efficient 19-26 throwing the ball with 261 yards and spread the looks around to seven different pass catchers. He tossed four TDs and gave hope to fans that in a year where Atlanta seems out of sync, Tampa Bay  can’t hold a lead at home against a rookie quarterback, and Drew Brees is hurt, the Carolina Panthers still have a shot at winning the division.

4. I know this is blasphemy, but…..Saquon will NOT be missed by the Giants.

Listen, I’m not going to make any apologies for this. I understand Saquon Barkley is seen by many as the second coming of Barry Sanders. But I can’t help that I view the running back as a very expendable position in the league. What example would you prefer I provide? How the Ravens rolled out Alex Collins a year ago to only switch over to Kenneth Dixon then to Buck Allen and then finally to Gus Edwards? All were productive while they had their respective shots. How about the 2018 Chiefs cutting Kareem Hunt and just plopping Damien Williams into the lineup, where he looked like he was an all-pro? And to continue with that example, Williams gets nicked up this year and Darrel Williams and LeSean McCoy are carrying the load. Or maybe you like 2018 second tier MVP candidate Todd Gurley basically sitting out the final few weeks in December and then disappearing in the playoffs only to have C.J. Anderson roll off the couch and rush for multiple 100-yard games in December and January. Pick one — and there are plenty more. However, I will say that the better the team, the less you miss a running back. And the G-men are not a good team so Saquon’s production, yes, will be sorely missed — the dude accounted for 2,028 yard from scrimmage in his rookie campaign a year ago, scored 15 times, and got 91 passes on 121 targets. I’m not blind — Saquon is awesome and that’s why he’s already been elevated to first name status. So to frame this more succinctly, the Giants are not making up Saquon’s production while he’s out because no running back on their roster can do what he does with that offensive line and the roster surrounding him. But long-term, as the Giants get better and turn into a respectable team again (assuming this happens), their roster will  that of a team that does not require someone of Saquon’s ability at that position. My point is the Giants aren’t dead because they are without their appointed savior — they ALREADY WERE dead!

5. The Seahawks are not good.

Let me walk through the first three games of the season for the Seahawks: hosted Cincinnati in the season opener and let Andy Dalton throw for a career-high 426 yards, defense got torched, and yet they escape 21-20; traveled to Heinz Field and sneaked out a 28-26 win over a Steelers team that looks bad and played the second half without Big Ben; and finally they hosted a Drew Brees-less Saints team outdoors and looked lifeless before making the score closer in the end than the actual game was. I’m concerned about this defense — Andy Dalton and Teddy Bridgewater, basically, had their way against that unit. And now the run game, which was expected to be their calling card, is in question because Chris Carson can’t hold onto the football and Rashaad Penny has some mysterious hamstring injury.


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Previewing the 2016 NFL Season: AFC South

All four of the teams in the AFC South could make the case as the team to beat in the division. Yes — who would have thought that Jacksonville or Tennessee would be a part of this conversation? The door to the division crown has been left open. The AFC South has turned into one of the more fascinating divisions in football.

 

Houston Texans

Don’t expect new quarterback Brock Osweiler to make Houston noticeably better than Brian Hoyer’s 2015 Texans.

Osweiler put together a very nice 2015 season in place of the injured, and struggling, Peyton Manning. But let’s 920x920hold off proclaiming him the next hall-of-fame quarterback. The sample size is very small — started 8 games last year while throwing for 10 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and averaging 245 yards in those games.

The former Sun Devil steps into a Houston Texan team that for years has been carried by it’s stingy defense, led by All-Pro DE J.J. Watt. Osweiler will have Lamar Miller in the backfield with him and one of the league’s premier wide receivers out on the edge in DeAndre Hopkins. All signs point to immediate success for Osweiler. However before we get carried away, let’s remember that we know just as much about Osweiler as we knew about Brian Hoyer when he signed on to quarterback the Texan offense a couple years ago.

Houston has to play fellow 2015 division champions — Broncos, Patriots, and Bengals. Not to mention I already mentioned how the AFC South has righted itself — the Titans and Jags are no longer walkovers. And with Andrew Luck healthy, the Colts will be expected to compete for the top spot in the division — maybe the conference.

Bill O’Brien’s club should be a stronger team at the end of the season than the 2015 version. But it won’t be quick and it won’t be obvious for most of the season. Osweiler has a lot to prove; if he can, this team has a very high ceiling. But their potential may not be reached for another year or two down the road.

 

Indianapolis Colts

With Andrew Luck healthy, the Colts will win the AFC South and compete for the conference title in January.

The NFL is like that — one player can change an entire franchise’s fortunes. In 2015, Andrew Luck’s injury changed 76098972-image-optimized_54b0635a2aba5the Colts fortunes in a negative way — this year his return has many thinking the Colts will resume their spot among the conference’s best teams.

With Matthew Hasselback leading the offense for most of 2015, the Colts still managed 7 wins and were in the hunt for the division right down to the wire. Luck’s return has the potential of making a 7-9 team, an 11-win team.

Expect Luck to throw for over 4,500 yards and somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 TDs. If the Indy defense can get off the field when they need to and give their stud QB extra opportunities with the ball in his hands, the Colts should be a very formidable team in 2016.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles will not need to throw for 35 TDs, as Jacksonville’s defense will lead this team into wildcard contention.

Blake Bortles had one of the best 2015 seasons that no one really remembers. His 35 touchdowns was only one behind NFL leader Tom Brady’s 36; he threw for over 4,400 yards; and ranked in the top-10 in almost every major usa-today-9340120.0passing category. HIs 18 interceptions were the worst in the league, but I expect that number to come down considerably this season. The main reason? Head Coach Gus Bradley has assembled a mean, fast, ball-hawking defense that should take a lot of pressure off of Bortles and the offense.

Don’t forget that Bradley came from Seattle when he took the job as head coach of the Jaguars. He helped put together the Legion of Doom and had a major hand in Seattle’s vicious pass rush. Jacksonville is not anywhere near that Seattle team — let’s not misunderstand each other. However, the Jags are chalk full of high defensive draft picks — linebacker Myles Jack and DB Jalen Ramsey, fast edge rushers, and talented young defenders who are buying into Bradley’s system. Offseason additions like Prince Amukamara at cornerback and Tashaun Gipson at free safety have this secondary looking much more capable of defending against the pass in 2016.

 

Tennessee Titans

DeMarco Murray will lead the AFC in rushing.

If Marcus Mariota had a couple more weapons at wide receiver — like a reliable slot guy and another big deep Titans Footballthreat, I’d feel like predicting a playoff berth for this team wouldn’t be all that crazy. As it stands though, I think the Titans are going to be much improved in 2016, but they will not threaten for the playoffs. But Mariota should have another very good year — made even better by the addition of running back DeMarco Murray.

Tennessee improved their offensive line in the offseason which will provide Mariota more time in the pocket and will give Murray a solid blocking front that I expect will spring him to the top of the conference in rushing. Head Coach Mike Mularkey knows the importance of being able to run the football — look for him to feature Mariota, himself, many times a game running the ball in addition to Murray. Establishing a solid, respected rush attack will make Mariota better and will make the offense more efficient. Murray is just the guy to tote the rock in Mularkey’s offense.

Dallas nearly ran Murray’s legs off in 2014. But thankfully for Tennessee, Chip Kelly really never figured out how to properly use Murray last season in Philadelphia. So the workhorse back should be coming into 2016 feeling pretty rested.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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