NFL Picks: Week 1

Last Season: 144-81

After a slow start, I thought I recovered nicely last season to come up with a pretty solid season winning percentage. And now I can use PFF stats. So yeah, since nobody donated to my Patreon (except one, thanks Dad), I couldn’t pay for a PFF account to better analyze these picks, so I just went and got a job with them. Go figure. But anyway, picks are back and I’m off to a slow start, as I picked the Falcons to beat the Eagles on Thursday night, which didn’t happen so let’s hope this goes better.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns

This season of Hard Knocks may have been the best ever. It was funny, interesting, and eye-opening. It really makes me root for this Cleveland Browns team. However it also showed me another thing: Hue Jackson is a shitty head coach (great guy, though, would not mind having a beer with him). That coaches meeting from the first episode was all I needed to see to know why the Browns are 1-31 under Jackson. So despite the fact that the Steelers won’t have Le’Veon Bell, I still think they beat the Browns, though the influx of talent will make this a close game.

Projected Score: Steelers 31 Browns 24

Cincinnati Bengals vs Indianapolis Colts

San Francisco 49ers v Indianapolis Colts

Frank Reich’s debut as an NFL head coach comes at a perfect time as Andrew Luck is back from a shoulder injury that many believed could derail his career. We have yet to see whether that holds true, but Colts quarterbacks (Jacoby Brissett and Scott Tolzien) carried the 6th worst PFF grade in his absence. In 2016, the last time we saw Luck, Colts passers carried the 4th best PFF grade. So Luck makes a huge difference. It’ll be a challenge against the Bengals, who I think will quietly have one of the NFL’s best defenses. It’ll be interesting to see how Andrew Luck is protected against that vaunted defensive line. I think the Bengals come away with this one.

Projected Score: Bengals 24 Colts 17

Tennessee Titans vs Miami Dolphins

Another head coaching debut, Mike Vrabel now has the reins of the Titans and will begin his tenure in South Beach against the Dolphins. A lot has been made of the Titans trying to become the Patriots 2.0 by acquiring all their old players (Logan Ryan, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler, even Vrabel himself played 8 years there), but obviously they’re not going to replicate the same results. Marcus Mariota had a weird season last year, as he appeared to struggle with 13 touchdowns and 15 picks, but PFF actually graded him pretty well at 76.2 (for comparison, Kirk Cousins was a 70.0 and Cam Newton was 66.5). I think they get the win against the Dolphins, who are returning Ryan Tannehill but seemingly nothing else.

Projected Score: Titans 27 Dolphins 21

San Francisco 49ers vs Minnesota Vikings

I probably should abstain from this one like I did Clemson-Texas A&M yesterday because I’m working this one for PFF, but my work doesn’t start until well after the game ends so I think I’m okay to pick this. The Vikings are my pick to win the Super Bowl this year and they go up against Jimmy Garoppolo and his unbeaten record as a starting quarterback. Something has to give. I think I’m going to go with the Vikings, as I think they’re much more well-rounded.

Projected Score: Vikings 31 49ers 17

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs New Orleans Saints

Divisional Round - New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings

Jameis Winston’s 3 game suspension for groping an uber driver begins and it’ll be Ryan Fitzpatrick taking on the Saints. I’m not going to lie, this game is going to get ugly. Yes the Bucs have a revamped defensive line, but the Saints have one of the best offensive lines in football and loads of weapons like Michael Thomas and last year’s rookie of the year Alvin Kamara. They’re going to be fine even without Mark Ingram, who is serving a 4-game suspension for PED’s.  Saints win easily.

Projected Score: Saints 38 Buccaneers 14

Houston Texans vs New England Patriots

The Texans are getting a LOT of key contributors back from a season that was lost due to injury so I think this will be a fun game as they take on the Patriots. But it’s still the Patriots, even with all the players they lost from last season. So I think they still win, but I think the Texans will make them sweat.

Projected Score: Patriots 28 Texans 24

Jacksonville Jaguars vs New York Giants

The Jaguars had a fantastic season on defense last year and basically everyone from that unit is back. The Giants are getting ODell Beckham back and Saquon Barkley will be making his debut but it won’t be enough as Jacksonville’s defense suffocates them and leads them to a victory. It won’t be a bloodbath like their opener against the Texans last year, but it will still be a relatively easy win.

Projected Score: Jaguars 34 Giants 17

Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens

It’s going to be a long season for the Bills, especially if they think Nathan Peterman was the best option at quarterback. I get not starting Josh Allen right away, because based on his up-and-down preseason, he could use some time on the bench, but did you have to trade AJ McCarron? I don’t know, man. The defense should be solid but the offense is going to struggle and I think the Ravens will win easily.

Projected Score: Ravens 28 Bills 10

Kansas City Chiefs vs Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs

The Pat Mahomes era has officially begun and it comes against a very tough Chargers defense. Cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams will have their hands full with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins running under Pat Mahomes’ passes, but he’s only going to be able to get the ball down there if the offensive line holds up, which is going to be tough with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge. I think the Chargers win a fun back-and-forth affair.

Projected Score: Chargers 31 Chiefs 28

Dallas Cowboys vs Carolina Panthers

It’s the end of an era, as the Cowboys will play a game without both Jason Witten (retired) and Dez Bryant (released) for the first time since 2003. They take on the Panthers, who remain mostly unchanged from the team that made the playoffs last season. I think it’s going to be a low-scoring game, as both teams bring strong defenses to the table, but I think Carolina is going to come out on top.

Projected Score: Panthers 20 Cowboys 17

Washington Redskins vs Arizona Cardinals

Alex Smith debuts for the Redskins after a career year in Kansas City against the Cardinals, who get David Johnson back from a wrist injury. The Cardinals are a tough team to place this season. Sam Bradford is the new quarterback after Carson Palmer retired and while he is an accurate passer and has played well when on the field, his problem is he can’t stay on the field. There’s also a lot of talent on the Arizona defense but they did lose a BIG piece in Tyrann Mathieu this offseason. I think I’m going to go with Washington this week.

Projected Score: Redskins 24 Cardinals 20

Seattle Seahawks vs Denver Broncos

This is a Super Bowl XLVIII rematch but both teams could not look more different. The Legion of Boom has pretty much completely dissolved while Denver is starting Case Keenum at quarterback. Seattle still doesn’t have an offensive line so I think I’m going to pick a Von Miller-led defense to take apart this Seahawks offense and lead the Broncos to victory.

Projected Score: Broncos 23 Seahawks 17

Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers

Pittsburgh Steelers v Green Bay Packers

The oldest rivalry in the NFL is renewed with some new faces in Chicago. Matt Nagy is at the helm and he has a brand new toy after the team sent to first rounders to Oakland for Khalil Mack. All of a sudden this Bears defense looks formidable for the first time since 2012. But the Packers are also getting Aaron Rodgers back and their young secondary looks like it could have a similar effect on this year’s team as it did for the Saints last year and I think I’m going to take Green Bay.

Projected Score: Packers 28 Bears 20

New York Jets vs Detroit Lions

The first Monday Night game of the year features a couple debuts. Sam Darnold is the new rookie quarterback getting the start for the Jets while Matt Patricia is making his head coaching debut for the Lions. Darnold looked really sharp in the preseason and was doing things you don’t see 30 year-olds do. The Lions are in a similar position to the Cardinals in that they have some talent with a rookie head coach but I have no idea what to make of them. So I think I’m going to pick the Jets to come away with the win.

Projected Score: Jets 23 Lions 14

Los Angeles Rams vs Oakland Raiders

The other Monday Night game, this is going to be a blowout. I’m picking Oakland to pick first in the 2019 NFL draft as they have absolutely no defense, especially now that they’ve traded Mack. Meanwhile the Rams stocked up on talent in the offseason. This won’t be close, Rams win.

Projected Score: Rams 42 Raiders 14

So that’s it for my picks this week. Like I’ve said many times, I’m going to keep trying to do this every week, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to. Let me know what you think of my picks in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Draft Rumors A Week Ahead of Round 1

I’m baaaaaack. The longest of my papers coming up just got finished a week ahead of its due date so I’m pretty comfortable with returning to the blog on a regular basis. I appreciate all the patience. My family also got the puppy I mentioned a few blogs back, we went with the name Maizie Blue. Izzy and Fred were caught off guard by her presence. Fred seems to like her and Izzy seems to be confused by her. More updates to come. But anyhow, we’re about a week away from the Draft and there are rumors GALORE, most of which concern the Browns, who hold the first and fourth picks in the Draft. So I’m going to go down the list of some of the more interesting rumors I’ve heard and talk about whether I think they’re bullshit or not because this is the time of year when teams try and push fake stories, or smokescreens, to try and trick other teams as to what their plans are. It’s like the NFL’s Game of Thrones. So let’s get to the rumors. I’m going to try and limit them to just rumors that pertain to the first round, otherwise we’ll be here all day.

888466202

Browns GM John Dorsey knows who he wants at #1, isn’t telling anybody (not even Browns owner Jimmy Haslam) until the night before the draft

I’m actually a little surprised we, the public, don’t already know who the pick is going to be. Typically by this time in the process there is a clear favorite for the draft’s top pick. Last year it was Myles Garrett, the year before it was Jared Goff, before that Jameis Winston, before that JaDeveon Clowney. By the time the Draft typically rolls around, there’s very little mystery about who is going first. This year is completely different. There are three guys who are all still being linked to the top pick: USC QB Sam Darnold, Wyoming QB Josh Allen, and Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. I like the move by Dorsey not to tell anyone in the organization who he’s taking. Not only does it make the Draft more intriguing because the risk of that choice getting leaked is minimized significantly, but the Browns have been run so incompetently for so long that you have to imagine if somebody got wind of who their pick was going to be, they’d muck it up. I think Dorsey’s known who he wants for a while now. He’s likely been thinking about this pick since the fall and he’ll have certainly done his due diligence at this point.

Verdict: Probably True

Browns are considering drafting two QB’s at high spots

This isn’t something that’s unheard of. The Redskins did it back in 2012 by taking Baylor QB Robert Griffin III second overall then taking Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. While Griffin’s career flamed out after a spectacular rookie season, Cousins has gotten better every year and just got a big fat paycheck from the Vikings. Cousins was kind of an insurance policy to RG3 and he ended up paying dividends for the Redskins, even if they refused to recognize it by giving him a long-term deal. However the Redskins’ quarterback situation was a little more dire than Cleveland’s currently is. At the time, the Redskins were fielding Rex Grossman and John Beck as their quarterbacks. The Browns at least have a competent quarterback in Tyrod Taylor to hold things down for a year so their rookie quarterback can have time to develop. Plus, the only quarterback in this class who compares to RG3 is Lamar Jackson and Jackson doesn’t have the injury history RG3 did coming out of college, so I doubt the need for an insurance policy like what the 2012 Redskins went with.

Verdict: Doubtful, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a guy like Toledo’s Logan Woodside in the 5th or 6th round

The Jets are preparing to make Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield the 3rd overall pick

According to an article I read on Bleacher Report, Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com is claiming that Mayfield to the Jets is a “done deal.” I’ve also read that the Jets are also seriously considering Sam Darnold perhaps suggesting they think Darnold will go to the Browns first or the Giants second. I have no doubt in my mind the Jets swapped picks with the Colts in order to take one of the quarterbacks in this class. But I’m not so sure it’s going to be Mayfield. I’ve blogged this several times, but the Jets’ division rival Dolphins are reportedly “enamored” by Mayfield, the Bills are trying to trade into the top 5 for a quarterback, and even the Patriots have been linked to the Heisman Trophy winner. I think the Jets may be throwing this name out there to try and entice their division rivals, all of whom hold picks outside of the top 10, to make a blockbuster trade with the Jets to try and stockpile picks, or get another desperate team to move up with them, perhaps Denver at 5. I would be a little surprised if the pick was Mayfield, as he’s a guy who needs more development than others and the Jets have shown they develop quarterbacks about as well as I develop proper eating habits. Not great. Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold are the more finished products that will require less seasoning and it’s very likely that Rosen is the one that will still be there at #3. But if the Jets aren’t totally sold on him, then I think it would be wise of them to stockpile draft picks.

Verdict: Smokescreen

931574266

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is expected to slide in the draft and may fall to the Patriots

A lot of people have been starting to mock Josh Rosen out of the top-10 in the Draft, let alone out of the top-5. Apparently the concerns about his love for the game are very real in NFL circles. This also, according to reports, has the Patriots’ ears perking up. It’s being reported that the Patriots may try and trade up to take Rosen to be Tom Brady’s successor should he slide in the Draft and considering New England has 2 first rounders and 2 second rounders this year, they seem to have the ammunition to do so. However they will likely have to trade with the Raiders at 10 at the very latest, considering the Dolphins and Bills hold the 11th and 12th picks, respectively, and both teams are going to be salivating watching Rosen fall. However it’s also being reported by NESN’s Mike Kyed that the 49ers may make a deal with the Patriots at 9th overall, saying so much as the 49ers “owe it” to the Patriots for the Jimmy Garoppolo trade despite the Browns making a better offer. As a Patriots fan, I’d rather see them get a left tackle and get a developmental quarterback later on rather than spend all their assets for the latter, even though Rosen is my top-ranked quarterback. But if the Patriots do pull the trigger on Rosen, I won’t complain. Just make sure he and Brady will be able to stay upright.

Verdict: Rosen’s slide seems likely, but he won’t fall within New England’s reach

Broncos looking to trade the 5th overall pick

John Elway has stated that the Broncos are very open to trading the 5th overall pick and given the teams that sound like they’re desperate to move up, it seems like a good chance that they’ll get an offer they like. Buffalo seems to be most desperate and they’ve also got a lot of ammunition (2 first rounders, 2 second rounders) to make a big splash. Denver needs a developmental quarterback, though with the newly-signed Case Keenum, the desperation isn’t as great as it was prior to the signing when the quarterbacks were Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. The Cardinals have also been rumored to be looking to trade up for a quarterback even after signing Sam Bradford to a 3-year deal. The Broncos will have a number of suitors should they make the 5th overall pick available.

Verdict: Very Likely

The Colts are trying to trade down again from 6th overall

The Colts originally held the third overall pick but they made a trade with the Jets to move down to #6 and acquired 3 second rounders in the process. Again, Miami and Buffalo are two teams to keep an eye out for as teams that may try and make a move with the Colts, especially if one or more of the top 4 quarterbacks falls out of the top 5. The Colts have needs pretty much everywhere and they aren’t going to fix all their problems with one pick so it’s very likely that they try and acquire as many picks as they can. However there’s a game-wrecking edge rusher in this class in Bradley Chubb from North Carolina State that I think could really be useful to the Colts and it’s very possible he falls to them at #6 given the quarterback craze that’s expected. The Giants have been linked to him at #2 overall, though and I think they’re the Colts’ biggest threat to getting him. Plus if the Giants do take Chubb, that’s one less QB-needy team that spent their high pick on a quarterback, meaning teams that are trying to trade up will have one more quarterback option to consider, meaning more suitors for the Colts.

Verdict: If Bradley Chubb is gone, I guarantee this happens

Packers are either going to take Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick or Iowa corner Josh Jackson

The secondary in Green Bay is LOADED with holes and you really can’t go wrong with either of these two guys at this spot. However there’s little to no chance that Fitzpatrick falls this far. Fitzpatrick is my #3 overall prospect and top safety and teams like the Browns at #4, the Buccaneers at #7, the 49ers at #9, and the Raiders at #10 are all very possible landing spots for him. However, Jackson isn’t as highly-touted by all teams as Fitzpatrick is and I think it’s very likely that he’ll be around for Green Bay at #14. Jackson’s ball-hawking skills led him to being #1 in the nation in interceptions and he played a similar role with the Hawkeyes as former teammate Desmond King, who had a very successful rookie season with the Chargers. However if Florida State safety Derwin James is still available when the Packers pick at 14, I think they should seriously consider him.

Verdict: Fitzpatrick won’t be there, but Jackson is very likely. Also don’t rule out James

927341446

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch may go higher than people expect

I’ve been consistently mocking the Boise State linebacker to the Steelers at 28, however something interesting occurred a couple weeks ago. The Titans reportedly cancelled their visit with Vander Esch because they felt he “wouldn’t be there when they picked.” Tennessee holds the 25th overall pick. Vander Esch is an excellent physical specimen who seems like he’s still really learning how to play linebacker even though he’s played it for most, if not all of his career. As mentioned above, I have him as a late first round prospect but the fact the Titans cancelled their workout with him because they didn’t expect him to be there is telling. Among teams that pick ahead of them that need a linebacker include the Raiders, Dolphins, Chargers, Lions, Bills, and Patriots.

Those are just a few of the rumors I’ve been hearing that pertain to the first round of the Draft. Amongst later round rumors are the Chargers wanting to draft Philip Rivers’ successor in the 2nd round, Arizona State linebacker Christian Sam garnering significant interest in the middle rounds, and Ronald Jones II being very high on the Colts’ board. Let me know what you think of these rumors in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

General Sports: April 3

Before I get into General Sports, I would like to apologize for my April Fool’s joke about Kraft firing Belichick. That day I had nothing to write about and then the realization that April Fool’s Day was the next day crept up and I knew what I had to do. I went to the topic that terrifies New Englanders the most and played with their fears. I apologize. But it was funny so I feel like I was justified in doing so. I also want to apologize for there not being a blog yesterday. I have 3 10-page papers due at the end of the semester and the first draft of one was due Monday night so I spent all of Sunday working on it and by the time I was done, I was so burnt out from writing that a blog was out of the question. Admittedly it was an enjoyable paper to write. I was talking about the adaptation from book to film for the Lord of the Rings trilogy for a Writing Media Criticisms paper. Even so, writing almost 3000 words when your grade is on the line takes a lot out of you. So with that being said, let’s get to General Sports.

941200892

-I admittedly didn’t watch nearly as much of the National Championship game for college basketball as I would’ve liked. I was in a games class and we were playing Dungeons and Dragons in it. My character is a gnome paladin named Gnome Sain (say it out loud). But enough nerd shit, congratulations to Villanova for winning their third title and second in 3 years. Nova is the fourth team this millennium to win all of their tournament games by double digits and they covered the spread in every single game. Michigan looked really good for the first 10 minutes, but suddenly they couldn’t find the bottom of the net and Villanova got hot and never looked back. As for my bracket, this is the third time I picked the champion, first time since 2012 when Anthony Davis’ Kentucky squad was the easiest pick on the planet. I also picked Kemba Walker’s UConn team the year before, not to brag. My bracket this year finished in the 97.3 percentile, that’s the real victory of this college basketball season.

-It is being reported that the Browns’ plan for the Draft is to take Josh Allen #1 and take Saquon Barkley with their 4th pick. The odds of this happening intensify by the news that leaked that the Giants intend on taking Sam Darnold if the Browns do pick Allen. I hate the decision by the Browns to take Allen, but again, with Tyrod Taylor there for a year he doesn’t need to start immediately. Allen is extremely talented but raw as Hell and he will need time to sit and learn. Hoping that Barkley is still there may be wishful thinking, however given that the Giants seemingly are all in on Darnold, that really only leaves the Jets as their competition for Barkley, who traded up with the Colts seemingly for the purpose of taking a quarterback, which would be either Josh Rosen or Baker Mayfield. If the Browns can leave with a haul of Allen and Barkley, they’ll be in really good shape.

-More Draft news, it is being reported that the Bills are trying “desperately” to trade into the top 5 to select a quarterback. Right now AJ McCarron is the starter and he’s unproven despite a decent three game stretch with the Bengals a couple years ago. The top 4 teams, as outlined in the previous bullet point, seem to be set with what they want to do so it’s really Denver that they’re likely going to be trying to deal with. The problem is the Broncos also need a quarterback despite signing Case Keenum. Despite the fact that the Bills have two first round picks in 2018 (#12 and #22), I think they’re going to have a tough time pulling this off. The Bills would also need to be totally set on all 4 quarterbacks because odds are they’re going to end up with whichever guy gets picked last because there’s a pretty solid chance the Browns, Giants, and Jets all take one. Based on my rankings, Josh Allen would be the fourth quarterback, however the Browns may see him as #1, which would shift Baker Mayfield to that spot. But again, we also don’t know how the Jets see things, so that pick could be Josh Rosen. Based on the rumors we do have, though, it seems clear that Sam Darnold won’t be a Bill. If your head hurts, then you know it’s Draft season.

490200758

-Former UCLA head football coach Jim Mora had some less than encouraging words about his former quarterback Rosen, who is trying to get drafted. He said that Rosen “needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored” and this comes a week after saying the Browns should take Darnold over Rosen. This alone is a huge red flag for Rosen as his own head coach isn’t giving him a roaring endorsement. I’m ignoring the part where Mora blames this on Rosen being a millennial because that really doesn’t matter when it comes to one’s focus. Plus it just sounds like “old man screams at cloud.” Rosen is my top-rated quarterback but perhaps his dedication to football may be in question. But if I’m Rosen, I’m feeling completely betrayed here. The most intimate relationship between a coach and a player in any sport is typically that of the head coach and quarterback in football and for Mora to say things like this for the public and hurt your draft stock during the most important time of your life has to feel like a knife in the back. I did hear one take that said that Mora could’ve been doing this to ensure that Rosen doesn’t get taken by the Browns, which is something that has been public knowledge for some time, but if so, why would you ever go to the general public about that? You realize every team has access to that, not just the Browns, right? I’d believe that a little more if it was a private conversation that got leaked. Mora did backtrack and say the comments were supposed to be positive, but the damage had been done, especially considering the Darnold comments.

-Aaron Donald is terrifying.

Those are knives in his blocking “dummy’s” hands. What the Hell, dude. That’s your Defensive Player of the Year, though. That guy is going to be lining up alongside Ndamukong Suh next season. Offensive lines beware.

-And lastly, my family is getting a new puppy. It’s a girl and she’s supposed to be ready for pickup on April 16. Here’s a picture.

FullSizeRender-1

We’re still deciding on names. Right now the favorites are “Molly” and “Maizie Blue” (my mom is a Michigan alum). Any other name suggestions would be very welcome. If you want a point of reference, the other two dogs we have are named Fred and Izzy, if that helps your naming decision at all.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports. Let me know what you think of the topics discussed and how cute my new puppy is in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10. Also be sure to share your suggestions for the puppy’s name.

Top 10 NFL Free Agents

A quick breather from 30 Clubs in 30 Days, I think we’ve all earned that. Let’s talk football. It’s going to be an interesting offseason as this is one of the more stacked free agent classes in recent memory. As I mentioned in the intro of this morning’s Milwaukee Brewers preview, the deadline for the Franchise Tag has passed and the potential free agents who will not be hitting the open market are Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry (who may get traded), Lions pass rusher Ziggy Ansah, Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, Rams safety LaMarcus Joyner, and Steelers runningback Le’Veon Bell (Bell has stated his displeasure with getting tagged). So now that the guys getting tagged are off the market, let’s take a look at who the 10 best players available are. I’m not going to include Drew Brees on this list because let’s face it, he’s not going anywhere.

10. QB Teddy Bridgewater

591924480

Just a tough go for Teddy Bridgewater. After being the 32nd overall pick in 2014, Bridgewater was looking pretty good and appeared to be the Vikings’ quarterback of the future. However, shortly before the 2016 season, he suffered a gruesome non-contact injury that resulted in a torn ACL, a dislocated knee, and other structural damage that was so bad people feared he may lose the leg. He seems to have made a full recovery, thankfully, though he hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2015 NFC Wild Card Round (that game where Blair Walsh missed the chip shot field goal that would’ve sent the Vikings to the Divisional Round and eliminated the Seahawks). He says he wants to start and he’s more than capable of it, but the severity of his injury may scare some teams.

Projected Landing Spot: Miami Dolphins

9. DT Muhammad Wilkerson

868747418

Muhammad Wilkerson’s departure from the Jets has seemingly been a foregone conclusion for years now, as the team has been on the fence between trading him, slapping the franchise tag on him, or giving him an extension. They ultimately released him this offseason and he’ll be hitting the open market. Wilkerson still has plenty left in the tank at 28 years of age though I doubt he’ll be getting much more than a 3-year deal.

Projected Landing Spot: Buffalo Bills

8. QB Sam Bradford

863454470

Sam Bradford’s had kind of a weird career. He was a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, was the first overall pick by the Rams in 2010, won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year that same season, then injuries happened. It got so bad that Bradford’s fragility is a running joke amongst NFL fans. Though once he joined the Vikings after a year with the Eagles, he seemed to flip a switch. Bradford was excellent in 2016 as he completed 71.6% of his passes, threw for 3877 yards, and tossed 20 TDs vs only 5 picks. He got off to a good start in 2017 as well as he torched the Saints defense in Week 1 before hurting himself once again in practice. Only this time his replacement, Case Keenum, was terrific and Bradford never really got the job back. There’s certainly going to be a market for Bradford because he’s better than a lot of the guys other teams have been trotting out there as starters.

Projected Landing Spot: New York Jets

7. CB Trumaine Johnson

869538920

Trumaine Johnson is one of the more underappreciated corners in the league. He doesn’t make the flashy plays but he always ends up covering the opposing team’s #1 receiver and he does a pretty good job at it, too. However the Rams are a bit strapped for cash and they knew they wouldn’t be able to bring Johnson back so they traded for Marcus Peters and slapped the franchise tag on LaMarcus Joyner. Whomever ends up signing Johnson will be getting a steal.

Projected Landing Spot: New England Patriots

6. QB Case Keenum

908519334

The third former Vikings quarterback on this list, I was very surprised that the Vikings didn’t slap the franchise tag on Keenum after his performance in 2017, leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game for the first time since the 2009 season, but there’s a reason for that which I’ll get into later because it involves another guy on this list. Keenum had a rough night against the Eagles in that conference title game but he was otherwise excellent for the Vikings and performed well beyond anybody’s expectations for him. There will be concern that it was a fluke and that the Eagles exposed his flaws, however I’m sure somebody will be willing to take a risk on him.

Projected Landing Spot: Arizona Cardinals

5. CB Malcolm Butler

474971690

As a Patriots fan, it’s going to suck to see Malcolm Butler go. It was kind of a messy ending, given the inexplicable benching in Super Bowl LII, but it was such a wonderful beginning, as pictured above, that no matter what happens I’m going to remember him fondly. After recording arguably the greatest interception of all time, Butler became a really good corner, finishing in the top 10 of Pro Football Focus’ cornerback ratings for 2015 and 2016. 2017 wasn’t as great for Butler and he got picked apart in the playoffs. There’s no chance he returns to the Patriots after the way he was handled, though and that’s going to leave a big hole at corner opposite Stephon Gilmore in New England (which I hope gets filled by Trumaine Johnson, but that’s wishful thinking).

Projected Landing Spot: New Orleans Saints

4. WR Allen Robinson

623032236

There’s never a good time to get injured but Allen Robinson may have picked the worst time to tear his ACL. He was an absolute stud in 2015, catching 80 passes for 1400 yards and a whopping 14 TD’s. He was a disappointment in 2016, though, as his yardage total was nearly cut in half and he struggled with drops. Entering a contract year in 2017, Robinson was out to prove that 2015 wasn’t a fluke. Then he tore his ACL in Week 1 against the Texans. So now not only has he not had a great season in 2 years, but he also hasn’t really played since 2016 thanks to his injury. I’m a little surprised the Jaguars didn’t elect to tag him and give him one more shot at a contract year, however they made the AFC Championship game without him and they probably feel comfortable with the guys they have. If Robinson can put forth a healthy 2018, though, he’s one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.

Projected Landing Spot: Chicago Bears

3. WR Sammy Watkins

898082088

Sammy Watkins is one of the most talented receivers in the game but injuries and having to learn a new system on the fly have kept him from reaching his full potential. The fourth overall pick by the Bills in 2014 and the first receiver taken in that already legendary class, Watkins was traded during the 2017 preseason to the Rams and was forced to learn Sean McVay’s playbook at an accelerated pace and as a result, his play faltered. Despite playing 15 out of 16 games, Watkins only had 39 catches for 593 yards (though he did have 8 TD’s to go with that) in offensive guru McVay’s system. However if he can stay healthy and be given a full offseason to learn a new system, Watkins could become the dangerous threat the Bills thought he’d be when they took him in 2014.

Projected Landing Spot: Dallas Cowboys

2. DT Sheldon Richardson

867927732

Sheldon Richardson is one of the best defensive tackles in the game however the only thing keeping him from being a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber player is himself. He’s had his issues off the field, the most appalling for me being that time he got in a high-speed chase with police with his 10-year old nephew in the passenger’s seat. Not good. However when he’s on the field he’s terrific and he was a big boost to the Seahawks’ defense as they were able to get creative with him and move him all over the line. If he gets into the right culture, he could be a huge impact on a team.

Projected Landing Spot: Returns to Seahawks

1. QB Kirk Cousins

902727120

You had to know Kirk Cousins was going to be #1. I’m not going to get too deep into this one because I already did that when the Redskins traded for Alex Smith. However there are reports that the Vikings are ready to offer him a king’s ransom, somewhere along the lines of 3 years and $91M GUARANTEED. It was a weird saga for Cousins with the Redskins and I’m happy for him that he’s been able to leave that toxic situation and, from the looks of things, get seriously paid.

Projected Landing Spot: Minnesota Vikings

That’s going to do it for the top 10 free agents in the NFL. Let me know what you think of this free agent class in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Conference Championship Picks

So it’s come down to this. The final 4 teams left with a shot at Super Bowl LII on the line. The New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, and Minnesota Vikings are the only teams left standing after a grueling NFL season. It’s also possibly the most interesting group of quarterbacks remaining as well, as it’s down to Tom Brady, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum. One is the greatest of all time, one is basically a meme at this point in his career, and the other two were backup quarterbacks when the season started. So let’s see who I think will go to the Super Bowl. One quick thing to note if you’re a gambling man. I’m 2-6 in the postseason so far. I’ve gone 1-3 in each round, including being winless in all of my NFC picks (the only ones I’ve hit were Jags-Bills and Pats-Titans). So take what I say with a grain of salt.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) vs New England Patriots (13-3)

The Jaguars showed up to play in the AFC Divisional Round against the Steelers while Pittsburgh was thinking about New England. In fact, there has been so much dysfunction in that organization that one has to wonder if Mike Tomlin’s job is safe or not. But that’s for another blog entirely. But the Jaguars have had an incredible turnaround after having gone 3-13 last season. Doug Marrone has done a terrific job in his first year at the helm in Jacksonville and the biggest part of that resurgence has been the defense. Despite the fact that they gave up 42 points last week, I still thought the Jaguars defense played well. On all four of Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown throws, he had to squeeze the ball into the tightest of windows or drop a perfect deep ball right into his receiver’s lap. The one rushing touchdown was a weird lateral play to Le’Veon Bell that I think would’ve caught most defenses off guard anyway. Plus, Yannick Ngakoue’s strip sack of Roethlisberger resulting in a Telvin Smith scoop-and-score was the point of no return in my opinion, especially considering Pittsburgh had been gaining some momentum. Meanwhile the Patriots started off slowly against the Titans, trailing 7-0 after the first quarter and their offense looked pretty stagnant. Then Tom Brady remembered that it was the Titans and the offense got their act together and dropped 35 unanswered en route to a 35-14 win. The defense played great, particularly the pass rush, which hasn’t been a strong suit for New England. They registered 8 sacks, bullying Jack Conklin’s injury replacement seemingly the moment he stepped into the game. The Patriots open this game as double-digit favorites, however things aren’t going as smoothly as one might expect. Tom Brady is dealing with a bum right hand after a teammate (which we just found out was Rex Burkhead) ran into it and created a lot of pain for the 5-time champ. The fact that it was Burkhead that caused the injury tells me that perhaps it occurred on a botched handoff in practice rather than some defender not respecting the red jersey. Jacksonville’s defense is a scary one to face when you aren’t 100% but if anybody can do it, it’s Tom Brady. However it does level the playing field a bit, as before it was unthinkable to ask Blake Bortles to defeat Tom Brady, but now that Brady isn’t at his best, it seems to be a more realistic belief for the Jaguars to reach the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl. I’m anticipating a lot of dinks and dunks from New England, particularly to runningbacks such as Burkhead and James White, whom I think will be the X factors in this game. I’ve got New England winning it just simply because I don’t think that Jacksonville will be able to score enough points to top the Patriots, who will be headed to the Super Bowl for the third time in 4 years and 8th time overall under the Brady-Belichick regime.

904641198

Projected Score: Patriots 23 Jaguars 17

Minnesota Vikings (13-3) vs Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

The ending of the NFC Divisional Round between the Vikings and Saints was probably the craziest ending I’ve ever seen in a football game. While I was watching it and saw Case Keenum heave the ball toward the sideline, I immediately figured Stefon Diggs would go for a toe-tapper to stop the clock with about 3 seconds left. He turned upfield and I thought to myself “what the Hell are you doing?!” until I realized there was only green grass ahead of him after Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams whiffed on the hit. Diggs scored the walkoff touchdown as time expired and perhaps the greatest moment in Vikings history (so far) had been cemented. One thing to say before I get to this matchup: lay off of Marcus Williams. That could’ve been anybody. It looked to me like he was trying to balance a lot of things with that tackle attempt. First of all, no, he was not going for the knockout hit like an idiot. Anybody watching could see that. He also had to make sure he didn’t get there too early or else it would be pass interference, the ball would be placed at the spot of the foul, which was well within Vikings kicker Kai Forbath’s range, and the clock would’ve stopped and he’d still be the pariah. Plus, he wanted to make sure that he tackled Diggs in bounds so that the clock would tick down to zero since the Vikings had no timeouts left to stop it. However, all those things racing through his mind appeared to throw him off his game because it amounted to nothing as he missed the tackle and Diggs trotted into the endzone, ending New Orleans’ season. Now onto the matchup itself, the Vikings will look to host the Super Bowl with a victory over the Eagles after a pretty unlikely season. After Sam Bradford torched the Saints in Week 1, it looked like it would be him that would lead the Vikings charge. However he got injured in practice, forcing Case Keenum into the starting lineup. Keenum has pretty much entered journeyman status at this point in the league, getting opportunities in both Houston with the Texans and St. Louis/Los Angeles with the Rams before being forced out of both. He was seemingly on his last legs in Minnesota and likely would’ve been the third string quarterback there had Teddy Bridgewater not still been recovering from a gruesome ACL injury a year prior. But there he was in the starting lineup and he played great, throwing for 3547 yards, 22 TD’s and only 7 INT’s with a quarterback rating of 98.3. There was a brief moment where the Vikings tried to reinsert Bradford into the starting lineup, but Bradford clearly wasn’t ready and Keenum was able to save the game by beating the Bears. They face an Eagles team who is also on their backup quarterback in Nick Foles. Carson Wentz had been fantastic all year for the Eagles heading into their Week 14 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. He was arguably the frontrunner for NFL MVP and had the Eagles at 10-2. Then he tore his ACL diving for the goalline and Nick Foles had to be inserted into the lineup. It had been a mixed bag for Foles as Eagles starter. He played well in the Eagles’ comeback victory over the Giants in his first start, was unimpressive in their Week 16 win over the Raiders, and downright sucked in Week 17 against the Cowboys before being sat for Nate Sudfeld. Eagles fans were a little tense about how Foles would play in the Divisional Round against the defending NFC champion Falcons and their fears were not consoled very well when he threw a duck on his first pass that got knocked down by the wind. Foles recovered nicely, though, and finished the game with a solid line of 23-30 for 246 yards with no TD’s and no turnovers. The Eagles were able to come away with a 15-10 victory over the Falcons after some poor playcalling by Atlanta doomed them on the final drive. Both the Eagles and Vikings feature very impressive defenses that helped carry the team through their occasional offensive struggles and I expect a low-scoring affair in this one. However I do believe that the Vikings will prevail in this and will take on the Patriots in Super Bowl LII in their home stadium.

905750918

Projected Score: Vikings 20 Eagles 14

That’s going to do it for my Conference Championship picks. I’m predicting it will be Patriots-Vikings for the Lombardi Trophy. Let me know what you think of my picks in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

Is There Legitimate Concern Over Tom Brady’s Right Hand?

906216966

It was recently reported that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s hand was run into by a teammate during Patriots practice and he had to undergo an MRI. As of now, the player responsible for hitting Brady’s hand is unknown, likely for his own safety. According to reports, Brady should be fine and ready to go for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars but that hasn’t stopped the media from firing in articles suggesting the Patriots should panic. Now to be clear. The hand in question is his throwing hand and could be catastrophic for the Patriots if he is indeed unable to go because he is unable to throw a football. But his teammates seem to not be all that worried. In interviews carried out by NESN, when asked about how Brady looks, safety Devin McCourty stated that “Tom looks excellent every day. One of the best-looking people I’ve ever met. When you look at Tom, the facial region, it’s hard to look at anything else. So I really only saw his face.”

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy added “Tom always looks good. He’s handsome and he’s good at football.”

So with McCourty and Van Noy both echoing the sentiments of every single New Englander, it appears that Brady will be fine. But what if he’s not?

Well knowing Brady, I’m willing to bet that you’d have to carry him out in a coffin for him to miss this game. But Jacksonville is the worst defense to face when you’re not at 100%. They’re fast, they’re physical, and they can wreck any gameplan you set up against them. Sure, the Steelers did drop 42 points on them in the Divisional Round and Jimmy Garoppolo’s 49ers managed to drop 44. But watch where each quarterback is placing his passes in both games. Those were VERY small holes that they were fitting their passes into. Watching those games, it seemed to me that it was more Roethlisberger and Garoppolo throwing the ball extremely well rather than poor defense by the Jaguars. And how will this hand injury affect Brady’s ability to put the ball where he wants it? I’m really not sure if he’ll be able to. Unless he tells his brain to not feel the pain in his right hand like the TB12 Method would suggest. If anyone can do it, Brady can, though.

But if he does struggle and the Jaguars start bashing him around, I wouldn’t put it past Bill Belichick to sit Brady in favor of a totally healthy Brian Hoyer. Belichick’s known to be the type of guy who doesn’t care what your name is, he wants the best 11 for each situation on the field at all times. If Brady isn’t at his best and Belichick feels Hoyer might be better, he typically doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Kinda like what Nick Saban did with Jalen Hurts and Tua in the National Championship.

There’s no doubt in my mind Brady plays this game with the hand injury. It’s just a matter of if he finishes it. Though if he doesn’t play, the final four quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs will be Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, and Brian Hoyer. My God, one of those men has to win a Super Bowl.

That’s going to do it for this blog. Yes, I know it was a short one, but I’m really digging for topics at this point and I already took a day off a couple days ago and I’d like to avoid multiple days off in a week if I can help it. You can voice your fears about Brady’s hand in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

Divisional Round Picks: Day 2

How about Nick Foles getting the job done against the Falcons? He had a solid game throwing the ball, as he went 23-30 for 246 yards and didn’t turn the ball over once and the NFC Championship will be played in Philadelphia. The Patriots took care of business against the Titans and will be advancing to their 7th straight AFC Championship game. The Titans held their own early but once New England got going, there was nothing Tennessee could do to stop them. There were admittedly a few questionable calls that went against the Titans but overall it was a pretty resounding beatdown by New England. Let’s get to Sunday’s slate of games.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

The Jaguars are coming off an ugly win over the Buffalo Bills, but a win is a win, especially this time of year. The defense played exceptionally well while the offense barely did enough to win. Interesting thing I noticed from that game, Jacksonville’s best three healthy receivers are Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Kelan Cole. Not one of them caught a pass in that game and were only targeted once apiece. But again, it was enough to get the job done. The Steelers had an odd year. There were times where they looked downright abysmal and others where they looked like the cream of the crop in the NFL and are a poor fake spike decision away from having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But the game everybody is certainly going to circle on their schedule from this year is their home loss to this same Jaguars team. Back in week 5, the Jaguars annihilated the Steelers 30-9 at Heinz Field, which included intercepting Ben Roethlisberger 5 times. In fact, the defense was playing so well in that game that quarterback Blake Bortles threw his last pass of the game with about 8 minutes left in the third quarter. 23 minutes of game time without attempting a single pass and they were still able to win by 21. It also helped that Leonard Fournette was the definition of a bell cow in that game, as he ran for 181 yards on a whopping 28 carries, both career highs for the rookie out of LSU. He also put the nail in the coffin with a 90-yard touchdown run in which he basically went untouched the whole way. But I think things are going to go differently for the Steelers. After that loss, they seemed to figure their shit out and won 10 of their last 11 games, the one loss being to the Patriots on the aforementioned failed fake spike. Antonio Brown was in the MVP discussion for much of the year before injuring his leg in that loss. He missed each of the final two games of the season but he is expected to suit up for this one. But keep an eye on how well he’s able to make his cuts. Jacksonville boasts arguably the two best corners in the NFL right now in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye and if Brown isn’t his usual elusive self, he’s going to have a hard time getting open. But if he’s fine and can do what he does best, then we’re going to have some really fun receiver/corner matchups to watch. I think the key to this game is going to be the Steelers’ offensive line. They don’t have to give Roethlisberger a load of time to throw the ball, just enough so that he’s unimpeded in his 3-step drops because you can bet pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler are going to be coming for him with Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson bumrushing the middle. They’re also going to need to create the lanes Le’Veon Bell needs to rush through while also throwing linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack off his scent because those two fly through gaps like missiles. I think if the Steelers offensive line has a good day, the Steelers will exact revenge on the Jaguars. If not, I think it’s going to be a loooooong day for the Steelers offense and we may get a repeat of Week 5. But I think the Steelers will pull it off and return to the AFC championship game for the second straight year.

896576374

Projected Score: Steelers 27 Jaguars 24

New Orleans Saints (11-5) vs Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

The Saints are coming off a thrilling victory over the Panthers that came down to the final play and will look to ride that momentum into Minnesota and the same building where Super Bowl LII will be held. The Saints were able to beat the Panthers despite Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara not having great games statistically. That’s why Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, though. Even when defenses force the Saints to become one-dimensional, they’re breathing a little easier than most other teams because they have #9 under center. These two teams squared off all the way back in Week 1, which seems like an eternity ago. In that game, Sam Bradford absolutely picked apart the Saints secondary, which has since done a 180 and gone from a weakness to a strength. Bradford’s season also did the same, as an injury suffered in practice forced Case Keenum into the starting role and he played so well that no matter how this season ends, head coach Mike Zimmer is going to have a real decision to make at quarterback in deciding between Keenum, Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater. Offensively, Minnesota was hovering just outside of the top 10 in pretty much every category. They had to deal with some injuries, as promising rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL back in Week 4 after getting off to a really impressive start to his career. LaTavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon were able to pick up the slack in the backfield but the biggest thing that propelled this offense was the emergence of receiver Adam Thielen. Thielen was fantastic in 2017, as he caught 91 passes for 1276 yards and 4 TD’s. He emerged as the biggest threat in a suddenly solid receiving group that features the likes of Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Minnesota’s defense was sensational this year, as they finished the season as the NFL’s #1 defense in both points and yards allowed. Everson Griffen is finally starting to get the respect he deserves as a pass rusher while Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith each continue their astronomical growth as players in the secondary. This is a difficult matchup to pick because I think both teams match up so well with one another. But I think the key thing here is going to be quarterback play and it’s really hard to bet against Drew Brees, no matter how well Case Keenum might be playing. I think the Saints are going to win this one and they’re going to hope it’s not the last time they win a game in Minnesota this season.

902315550

Projected Score: Saints 28 Vikings 23

That’s it for my picks in the divisional round. Let me know what you think of them in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.