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.

NFL Rookies Best (and Worst) Set up for Early Success

So every year guys get drafted by teams that just put them in the perfect situation, whether that be the scheme fit or having the right supporting cast around them. A lot of times success and failure in the NFL is based on just being in the best situation. So with that, let’s take a look at some rookies that are in the best and worst position to succeed.

Best: Sony Michel-RB-New England Patriots

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This one’s not quite so obvious, but hear me out. Yes, Michel is in a VERY crowded backfield in New England and he’s going to be in an offense that prefers to throw the ball (who could blame them with the GOAT slinging it). However it’s a very similar situation to what he had at Georgia and look how that turned out. Michel shared a backfield first with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, then with Chubb and D’Andre Swift. Nowadays he’s going to be sharing with James White (pass catcher), Rex Burkhead (wildcard), and either Jeremy Hill or Mike Gillislee (power back) and replacing Dion Lewis as the de facto all-around guy. One of Michel’s main issues coming out of college was stamina and when you’re splitting carries, it allows you to remain fresh throughout the game. Michel will basically be doing the exact same thing in New England that he was at Georgia only this time the roles are more defined and there will likely be a specific gameplan geared towards his skills. I think that bodes well for his future NFL success. He may never reach 1000 rushing yards in a season, but his yards per carry is probably going to be nuts.

Worst: Sam Darnold-QB-New York Jets

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Darnold is probably the safest quarterback in this year’s class. There’s very little that he does poorly, or at least there are far fewer red flags than what you get from the other quarterbacks. However there was one major flaw at USC that had me a little concerned about team fits and that was the fact that his play dropped significantly when the talent around him wasn’t as good. He was awesome his redshirt freshman season when he was throwing to guys like Juju Smith-Schuster, however when Juju was drafted by the Steelers and Darnold’s entire offensive line went pro as well, he struggled mightily. While from a talent standpoint, the Jets are obviously better than USC, they are one of the least talented offenses on paper. Robbie Anderson is the #1 receiver and while he had a pretty solid season last year, that was more out of necessity than anything. The offensive line of the Jets isn’t great either and unless the front office somehow manages to swing a deal for some talent before Darnold gets the starting job (whether that be this year or next), he could be in for a world of hurt, no matter how good he is.

Best: Saquon Barkley-RB-New York Giants

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Barkley doesn’t really need help to be great but he’s going to get it anyway. Not only is he the most talented runningback to come out of college maybe ever, but he’s going into a situation that will be really beneficial for him. Now yes, the Giants sucked last season, but injuries and offensive line woes played a big part of that. Well ODell Beckham Jr is coming back healthy and the Giants signed Nate Solder at left tackle and drafted Will Hernandez out of UTEP to play guard. Plus, if they should decide to move Ereck Flowers to guard, that could wind up being beneficial for his career. So having Beckham back to take pressure off of him and an improved offensive line should set up Barkley nicely for early career success.

Worst: Denzel Ward-CB-Cleveland Browns

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Ward is a really good corner but given the Browns’ lack of options at the position, he may draw #1 receiver duties from Day 1. Now granted, it worked for Marshon Lattimore with the Saints last year, but I felt like Lattimore was a more complete player than Ward was. Ward struggled with the bigger receivers and there are plenty of them in the AFC North like AJ Green, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Michael Crabtree. Plus there’s also the smaller but even more dangerous Antonio Brown to contend with. Lattimore didn’t have an ideal group of guys to cover either like Julio Jones and Mike Evans, but again, he was more polished than Ward is and Lattimore also didn’t have to draw #1 receiver duties out of the gate. And even if he did, he had better safeties available to bail him out should he need them. I’m not saying Ward isn’t up to the challenge because if any cornerback in this year’s rookie class is it’s him, but his situation isn’t ideal by any stretch.

Best: Rashaan Evans-LB-Tennessee Titans

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Evans was a leader on Alabama’s National Championship-winning defense and it looks like he’s going to be thrust into the limelight in Tennessee as well, as he immediately becomes the best member of the Titans’ needle-thin linebacking corp. The offensive lines he’ll be going up against in the AFC South are mediocre and the only really potentially deadly runningback he’ll have to face at this point is Leonard Fournette. He’s also got an excellent coach of linebackers in Mike Vrabel as his head coach so he’s going to get even further mentoring. He’s in prime position for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Worst: Rashaad Penny-RB-Seattle Seahawks

<> on December 23, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Penny was a reach by Seattle, however given that he was likely going to be gone the next time they picked (late 3rd round), I can understand why they went that route if they were so high on him. Penny’s a good back, don’t get me wrong, and he fits the bruising style of running back the Seahawks like to employ. However the Seahawks have once again hardly touched that god-awful offensive line this offseason so they’re just setting Penny up for failure. Duane Brown at left tackle is the only competent guy on that offensive line and he’s going to be 33 when the season starts. He’s basically going to be running for his life out there. Plus aside from Doug Baldwin, there aren’t any receivers of note to take the pressure off the running game. Again, Penny does have the power to bulldoze over guys, but he’s going to get stuffed behind the line more often than not and I’ve got a feeling his yards per carry numbers are going to be pretty ugly.

So those are just a few guys that have some interesting situations brought about with them. I stuck with just first rounders given that the expectations for them are so much higher than the others. Let me know what you think of these conundrums in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

A Look at the NFL Head Coaching Hires

With Arizona’s hiring of Steve Wilks and Indy’s and Detroit’s inevitable hirings of Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, it appears that all head coaching vacancies have been filled. Let’s take a look at how each team did with their new head man.

Arizona Cardinals Hire Former Carolina Panthers’ DC Steve Wilks

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Wilks is probably the least experienced coach in the group as far as major responsibilities go. 2017 was his first year as a defensive coordinator in the NFL and only the second time he’s ever held such a title, when he was DC at East Tennessee State in 2002. Wilks spent one year as a head coach at the college level at Savannah State in 1999 before moving to Illinois State as defensive backs coach. He’s been an NFL coach since 2005, primarily as a defensive backs coach. He had spent the last 5-6 years in the Panthers organization, where he helped create guys such as Josh Norman into what they are today. His best work has easily come as a member of the Panthers, particularly in the last couple of seasons. Carolina’s secondary had been about as weak a defensive unit as there is in football but always got masked by a great front seven. Last year, Carolina boasted the 7th best defense in the NFL in total yards and helped lead the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. He joins an Arizona team that has talent but has to reload after the retirements of both former head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer. I don’t think it’d be fair to expect a ton out of Wilks and the Cardinals in his first year, as that offense is going to need to undergo a lot of changes, however I do think Arizona will continue to field a strong defense.

Indianapolis Colts Are Going to Hire New England Patriots’ OC Josh McDaniels

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Josh McDaniels is arguably the best offensive coordinator in the NFL, as the Patriots are consistently at the top of the NFL in terms of points and yardage year-in and year-out. He does have head coaching experience with the Denver Broncos, however after starting his career 6-0, he crashed and burned horribly. What I think went wrong was McDaniels tried to be Belichick with his new team before he had earned that right in his players’ eyes. He traded their quarterback and top wide receiver (Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall) before even coaching a game, which probably should’ve been the first sign of things to come. I think McDaniels will have learned a lot from his failures in Denver, however, and I expect his tenure with the Colts to go much better. He has still yet to be announced as their head coach but all signs point to McDaniels becoming the head man after the Super Bowl. The Colts offensively won’t become the Patriots overnight, but I think if they can boast just an average offensive line, then I think they could be deadly if McDaniels is able to transition his system over from New England to Indy.

Detroit Lions Are Going to Hire New England Patriots’ DC Matt Patricia

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Same situation with Patricia as McDaniels, as he hasn’t been announced as the head coach yet since he’ll be coaching in the Super Bowl, however it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that he’s getting the Lions job. There’s a lot of talent on the Lions that went unrealized under previous head coach Jim Caldwell however they could never get over the hump. It is unknown how Patricia will do as a head coach because he’s never been a head coach at any level before. He’s been the Patriots’ DC since 2012 and before that served as an offensive assistant, O-line, linebackers, and safeties coach. Patricia’s defenses in New England have been the personification of bend-but-don’t-break, as they’re routinely near the bottom in yards allowed but near the top in points allowed. Patricia is notoriously well-liked by his players and it will be interesting to see how he gels with the Lions. I really don’t know what to expect out of the Lions under Patricia just because there’s nothing to go off of since he’s never been a head coach before. I think the Lions will fall somewhere between the 6-9 wins range next season.

New York Giants Hire Former Minnesota Vikings’ OC Pat Shurmur

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Pat Shurmur has been in coaching since 1988 when he was a grad assistant at his alma mater at Michigan State. He’s been in the NFL since 1999 with the Eagles’ staff and has had one stint as a head coach and another as interim head coach. He led the Browns in 2011 and 2012 and posted a 9-23 record. He was also the Eagles’ interim head coach after they fired Chip Kelly in 2015 and won his only game at that position before the Eagles hired current head coach Doug Pederson. Shurmur has spent the last two seasons with the Vikings. In 2016 he was the tight ends coach before becoming interim offensive coordinator, then keeping the job on a full-time basis for 2017. In 2017, the Vikings were able to find a lot of success on offense despite the injuries to key offensive players. Stud rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4 and Sam Bradford suffered a leg injury that effectively ended his season. But I think the biggest thing that got Shurmur the Giants’ gig is the rise of Case Keenum under his watch. When a journeyman quarterback leads his team to an NFC Championship game while posting the numbers that Keenum did, the OC is going to get some looks. I think this could wind up being a sneaky good hire. There’s lots of talent on the Giants, who simply underperformed in 2017 and if Shurmur can get the most out of a guy like Keenum, doing the same for Giants players will be a breeze. I think there will be a hefty win improvement in 2018. The intriguing thing for me is going to be what he decides to do with the #2 pick in the Draft. Do the Giants take Eli’s heir or do they take a playmaker like Saquon Barkley? We’ll have to wait and see.

Tennessee Titans Hire Former Houston Texans’ DC Mike Vrabel

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Like Matt Patricia, Mike Vrabel is also getting his very first head coaching gig at any level. Vrabel was a stud linebacker with the Patriots during their initial dynasty in the early 2000’s, as he was a major part of the team that won 3 super Bowls in a 4-year stretch from 2001-2004. He has since served as linebackers and defensive line coach at his alma mater Ohio State from 2011-2013 before joining Bill O’Brien on the Houston Texans’ staff in 2014 as linebackers’ coach. When Hard Knocks focused on the Texans in 2015, we got a chance to see Vrabel’s coaching style firsthand and man, is he tough. He’ll get in your face and yell and call your mother a bitch but you also get the sense that he really cares about his guys. In 2017, he was promoted to defensive coordinator and the Texans ranked 20th in yards allowed and last in points, however a large part of that was all the injuries to key players the team had to deal with. But Vrabel’s personality is the type of thing I think the Titans need. At times they seemed a little relaxed and I think a good kick in the pants could be what takes them from an inconsistent and mediocre team to one that contends for division titles every year. I’m not so sure the Titans will make the playoffs next year like they did this year, though, especially with the rise of the Jaguars and a healthy Texans team. But again, we don’t know what to expect with a true rookie head coach in Vrabel and how his players might respond to his coaching style.

Oakland Raiders Hire Monday Night Football Broadcaster Jon Gruden

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This is easily the highest-profile coaching hire of the offseason. Jon Gruden was a pretty well-decorated coach with the Raiders from 1998-2001, then with the Buccaneers from 2002-2008, including a Super Bowl XXXVII victory with Tampa over the same Raiders team that had fired him the year before. He also holds the distinction of being the winningest coach in Buccaneers’ history and was inducted into their Ring of Honor this past season. Since being fired from the Buccaneers in 2008, however, Gruden has been the color commentator for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, where his antics had become endearing to many fans. He now rejoins a Raiders team that really regressed last season but there are a lot of talented pieces in place. The AFC West appears to be wide open next season as both the Chiefs and Chargers, who finished ahead of Oakland, were wildly inconsistent while the Broncos struggled mightily. I think Gruden gets the Raiders back in the thick of things, though we may see some early-season rust.

Chicago Bears Hire Former Kansas City Chiefs’ OC Matt Nagy

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Matt Nagy was the first coach hired this offseason, as he was introduced as Bears’ head coach one week to the day that John Fox was fired. He may have the smoothest transition out of any of these coaches as he has a quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky that has a very similar skillset to his previous quarterback, Alex Smith, and an excellent runningback in Jordan Howard. Nagy is only 39 years old and had been playing football professionally as recently as 2008 with the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League. Nagy has been a coach since 2010 as a coach’s assistant with the Eagles and was an offensive quality control coach there until 2012. He had been with the Chiefs since 2013, where he served as quarterbacks coach until 2015 when he was promoted to offensive coordinator, a position he had held up until his hiring with the Bears. Under Nagy, the Chiefs experienced a lot of success on offense through ball control and ball security, as they were #1 in turnover differential in 2016 and #2 in 2017. We’ll have to see if the transition is as seamless as I think it has the potential to be, considering the similarities I find between Trubisky and Smith, because if it is, then I think the Bears could be dark horses in 2018, perhaps becoming next year’s version of the Rams. Young head coach, young quarterback, complete overhaul in offensive philosophy. It worked in LA, can it work in Chicago?

That’s going to do it for my thoughts on the NFL head coaching hires. Let me know what you think of these hires in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.