Category Archives: Sports

Posts about Rob’s interests in sports.

NFL All-Time Team (Running Backs)

In honor of the NFL’s 100th season, I’m talking about its best players. For more details and links to all the other positions, click here:  http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1833.

In this episode I’m talking about running backs. The NFL has chosen 24 finalists for 12 all-time running back spots. Here’s their list, including a small biography of each player: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001078454/article/running-back-finalists-announced-for-alltime-team

As mentioned in the main post on the topic, I’m breaking this down into 4 sections. My all-time team, which is organized actually as a team, then the remaining choices I think the NFL should make for their all-time team, then the finalists who don’t make the cut, and finally some interesting players at this position who weren’t finalists.

All-Time Team Roster Choices

Jim Brown is, clearly, the best running back the NFL has ever seen. He averaged more yards per game than anyone else (104.3). He played in an era of 12 or 14 games per season and he quit while he still had years to play. Had he played a few more years and/or played in 16 game seasons, he might still have more yards than anyone else. He led the NFL in rushing in 8 out of 9 years. He  *only* got 996 yards in the other year. In 1963 he *averaged* 133 yards per game, rushing for 6.4 yards per carry. This is ridiculous. He rushed for 5.2 yards per carry for his career. It’s ridiculous. He was also really good at catching passes. He’d be my RB1.

Barry Sanders, ironically, also retired before he had to. As a Cowboys fan it is no shame to say that Emmitt wasn’t as good as Barry. We’ll get to Emmitt soon enough, but Barry averaged more yards per carry and more yards per game. In fact, Barry is second to Brown in yards per game at 99.8. You might note that as good as that number is, it’s 4.5 yards per game less than Brown. Brown is just that far ahead of anyone, but Barry is a worthy next guy down. He’d be the speedy HB type RB2.

Lenny Moore: I’m putting him in the top 12 because of efficiency. He never once led the league in rushing. In fact, he never broke 1000 yards. However, he was the premier pass-catching RB of his time and maybe of all time. He led the league in yards per carry 4 times, 3 times getting 7 yards per carry or more. He led the league in yards per touch 6 times. *Six!* Also, he led the league in yards from scrimmage once. This guy was a huge weapon in the passing game in 50s and 60s, including getting over 70 yards per game in receiving yards for his career. This is my 3rd down back, because I don’t know there’s been a better receiving back ever.

Gale Sayers makes the team because he’s a home run hitter who could attack the other team as a runner, receiver, and returner. He led the NFL in his first 3 years in all-purpose yards. He led the NFL in rushing twice and in yards from scrimmage one of those years. It’s a true shame that he got hurt, because he averaged 5 yards a carry as a runner, 14.5 yards per punt return, and 30 yards per kickoff return, all stellar numbers in his short career. He gets on the team as my hybrid player and return specialist.

He doesn’t qualify as one of the top twelve RBs, but of the remaining players on this list, Bronko Nagurski would be the one I would add if I took a 5th RB on my 53-man roster. He’d be the lead fullback, backup OL, and play on coverage teams. I’ll talk about him more later.

Jim Thorpe would also get consideration here as RB and DB, but he’s tough case as I’ll talk about later. I also kind of think it would be fun to think of him as a gunner on the punt coverage team.

NFL All-Time Team

Eric Dickerson: Some critics thought he wouldn’t succeed because of his upright running style, but I remember how smoothly he glided through defenses. His career faded some at the end, but in his first six years he led the NFL in rushing 4 times, rushing 3 times for more than 1800 yards. I don’t think anyone else has more than that, though OJ Simpson did it twice.

Marshall Faulk: This man dominated as a receiver as well as a RB. Faulk never led the NFL in rushing, but he led the league in Total yards twice. He caught 767 passes, 2nd most among RBs, for 6875 yards, most among RBs. He was also extremely efficient as a RB, leading the league in yards per carry three times and  exceeding 1000 yards 7 times.

Harold “Red” Grange: This is a hard pick to justify because the most we know he rushed for in a year is 277 yards. However, we don’t know what he got in his first 5 years because the stats weren’t kept. However, his impact on the NFL was incredible. It’s not a stretch to say he might be the single most important player to the success of the NFL. It was Grange that turned pro football from a game that only the lower classes played into a game everyone could watch and play without scorn.

Walter Payton: For most of his career, he was the Bears offense. Those teams were bad, but he was consistently good to great, and he is 6th in yards per game at 88 yards per game. He did whatever the team needed. He was skilled at HB option passes at a time when few teams dared anything like that. He even punted once. He was really good catching out of the backfield. I’d take him on my team ahead of Emmitt because he’d have been an amazing special teams player and would adjust to whatever role the team needed. Oddly, though, he only led the league in rushing once, which surprised me when I saw that. Side note: The best offensive player in the NCAA FCS each season receives the Walter Payton Award.

OJ Simpson is a tragic/horrific figure now, but he was an incredibly good RB. In 1973 he rushed for 2003 yards in *14* games. That’s 143 yards per game. From 1972 to 1976 he led the NFL in rushing 4 out of the 5 years. He averaged 110 yards per game during that time. His early years and later years came nowhere close to that peak, but wow he was good during those years.

Emmitt Smith: He did everything well except he was not terribly fast. If he had had breakaway speed he would be up there with Brown, I think. He was, in my mind, the most consistent RB. Sanders got his yards in bigger chunks, with a much higher percentage of negative carries. Smith, on the other hand, relied on consistent positive yardage and 10-20 yard carries. Also, he was a good receiver, and played one of the greatest games I’ve seen a player have. In the final game of 1993, the Cowboys played the Giants where the winner won the division. Emmitt hurt his shoulder, but he kept playing. He owned that game, rushing 32 times for 168 yards with 10 catches for 61 more yards. All this and for most of the game he couldn’t lift his arm above his shoulder. Incredible game.

Thurman Thomas never led the league in rushing yet he’s an easy choice for one of the top 12 because he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage 4 years in a row. He consistently rushed for over 1000 yards (8 years in a row) while also being a major threat as a pass-catcher.

LaDainian Tomlinson was another combination player, leading the league in rushing twice and all-purpose yards in another year. He was an efficient runner and a major threat out of the backfield. He was also efficient as a thrower, running the halfback option 12 times, completing 8 for 7 TDs. That’s really good, actually.

Finalists Who Didn’t Make The Top Team

Marcus Allen: Really good receiving RB, but only exceeding 1000 yards rushing 3 times and only had one great year.

Jerome Bettis: Consistent production, getting over 1000 yards 8 times. However, he only had 1 great year and was not efficient, finishing with a career 3.9 yards per carry.

Earl Campbell: This one surprises me. If you had asked me of the most dominant RBs, he would be right at the top. He led the league in rushing his first three years in the league. However, he’s also a symbol how RBs can get overused. He had over 1400 carries in his first 4 years. His career was never the same. His early years make him a deserving finalist, but I actually picked Thurman Thomas over him.

Earl “Dutch” Clark: It’s really hard to compare players from the early part of the NFL, but I don’t think he gets there. He led the NFL in TDs 3 times, but never led the league in rushing. Used as a passer quite often, but not particularly good at it, even for the era. He was also a tremendous defensive back, leading the NFL in interceptions twice. Hard to figure his place here.

Tony Dorsett: I really thought about him on the all-time roster above even though he never led the league in rushing. However, he was one of the greatest home run hitters in NFL history. I don’t know that he’s the only person to have both a run of over 90 yards and a catch of over 90 yards in his career. I also don’t know that he’s not. Tom Landry controlled his carries so he never got huge raw numbers, but that might have extended his career. Certainly, he remained efficient to later in his career.

Franco Harris: Like Bettis, he was really consistent, but rarely excellent. Led the league in TDs in 1976. That’s his only time leading the league. A deserved Hall of Famer, but because he was very good for a long time, not because he was dominant.

Hugh McElhenny: Here was an underrated player. Breakaway speed meant he was a threat as a receiver and returner as well as a rusher. His receiving stats in the 1950s were astounding, and he finished with 264 catches for 12.3 yards per catch. That’s really really good. However, he never led the NFL is rushing, though he did lead it in average in his rookie year.

Marion Motley: He’s a hard one to judge. He only led the league in rushing twice, never exceeding 1000 yards. However, he was a star for a Cleveland Browns team that won the title six times in a row. I think he’s a hell of a player, but I don’t think he makes the cut.

Bronko Nagurski: A great player and a versatile one. He’d actually be on my list of top players in NFL history, but not top RBs. He actually was a top-flight tackle for a while and a tough linebacker. I’d want him on my team, no doubt, but it’s hard to put him as one of the best RBs because the highest total he achieved in a year that we know of is 586. He might have gotten more, but we don’t have yardage totals for his first two years. Side note: The best defender in the NCAA each season receives the Bronko Nagurski Award.

Adrian Peterson: A great RB, and one who led the league in rushing three times. Yet I don’t think he quite matches up with the rest. He had some great years but injuries and inconsistency put him in this tier as opposed to the top tier. I suspect recency bias will make him one of the top 12 chosen, but I’d rather have those listed above over him.

Jim Taylor: A great player who was a part of some amazing Packer teams, winning the title 5 times. He led the league in rushing once, and had 5 years of over 1000 yards. He just doesn’t quite make the cut. However, he might very well be the 2nd best fullback of all-time behind Brown.

Steve Van Buren: I originally put him in the top section. He didn’t have a long career, but man was he good, especially for his era. He led the league in rushing 4 times in his first 6 years. He eclipsed 1000 yards twice at a time when the season was only 10 or 12 games. He led the league in yards per game 5 years in a row. A dominant player during his time. However, I bumped him in favor of Gale Sayers because of all-purpose yards.

Interesting Players to Remember

These include some players who aren’t necessarily the greatest, but have some intriguing qualities.

Larry Centers: A fantastic fullback who got more receptions as a RB than anyone else.

Jamaal Charles: Incredibly efficient as a rusher, getting 5.4 yards per carry for his career. Amazing.

Paddy Driscoll: We have almost no stats for the guy, but he was selected as 1st Team All-Pro 6 times in the 20s. Also the first All-Pro QB (yes, QB, it was a different time) in NFL history.

Frank Gifford: Not really close to being one of the finalists, but it’s fun to remember how good he was as an all-purpose back before becoming a great announcer.

Priest Holmes: Had a ridiculous 3 year stretch with over 2000 yards from scrimmage each year and 2 years of over 20 rushing TDs.

Bo Jackson: If he had stayed healthy and played only football, he might have been Jim Brown. Maybe even better. Averaged 5.4 yards per carry for his career.

Curtis Martin: one of the most consistent RBs ever. Never a big game-breaker, his only averaged 4.0 yards per carry. Only led the NFL in rushing once. However, he was over 1000 yards 10 straight years. In those 10 years he had at least 1456 total yards each year. What a player.

Ernie Nevers: We have no idea how many yards he got as records weren’t kept. Also, he only played 5 years. However, he was a scoring machine, in one case scoring all 40 points for the Chicago Cardinals.

Joe Perry: A dominant RB in the late 40s and 50s. Led the league in yards twice.

Darren Sproles: Whaaa? I can hear you all asking about this. However, this guy got a ton of all-purpose yards, including the most ever in a single year and 4 of the top 60 years all-time. A fantastic receiver, a slippery runner (4.9 yards per carry for his career), and a terrifying punt returner.

Jim Thorpe: What to do with him? He was clearly one of the greatest football players of all time and in the discussion for best athlete ever. However, none of his rushing stats were recorded and he was 33 the first year of the NFL. That meant his best years were long gone by the time we actually have an NFL. We have no good way to judge his career using statistics, meaning we have to used anecdotal evidence. He may not have been a great NFL player, given his age when the league starting, but it’s hard not to think he doesn’t have a place in the all-time team somewhere. We might see him appear in the DB list, but I doubt it. Side note: he was actually the NFL’s first president while actually playing. Side note two: The best DB in the NCAA each season receives the Jim Thorpe Award.

Doak Walker: Was a better college player than NFL RB, but he was a prolific kicker as well as a solid RB. Averaged 4.9 yards per carry and 16.7 yards per reception. He was also a very good returner and a solid defensive back. Side note: The best RB in the NCAA each season receives the Doak Walker Award.

NFL All-Time Team Main Post

This is the NFL’s 100th season and, rightfully, they’re doing a bunch of things to celebrate the past century. As part of this, they’re selecting an all-time team. I’m going to join in and, generally speaking, follow their format.

Below is how they’re constructing their team. If the position is a hyperlink, it will take you to my discussion on the position.

Offense

  • Quarterbacks: 10
  • Running Backs: 12
  • Wide Receivers: 10
  • Tight Ends: 5
  • Tackles: 7
  • Guards: 7
  • Centers: 4

Defense

  • Defensive Ends: 7
  • Defensive Tackles: 7
  • Linebackers: 12 (6 MLB/ILB; 6 OLB)
  • Cornerbacks: 7
  • Safeties: 6
  • Kickers: 2
  • Punters: 2
  • Kick Returners: 2

They have announced the 24 finalists for running back, so I’m guessing they’ll have twice the number serve as finalists for each position. I’m going to go through each position and make my choices out of their finalists.

I’ll organize each position in four sections. First, I’ll list the players who are I think should be on the all-time NFL who make my all-time team. Unlike the NFL, I’m actually going to build a roster, so I might choose lesser players at times who can do more for a team. Second, I’ll list the remaining players who I  think should make the NFL’s all-time team in alphabetical order. Then I’ll list the finalists who don’t make the cut. Finally, I’ll list a few players that might have been finalists or who are interesting for some reason.

Quick Thoughts on Pro Football

The NFL has proven itself time and time again that it’s blind to the wishes of the fans. It’s really frustrating how badly Goodell has mis-managed this league. In an ideal world I would replace him with Amy Trask, who has the experience, toughness, and common sense to vastly bring the league back in touch with its fans.

Side note: Follow Amy on Twitter, even if you’re not a football fan. She’s chock full of awesome.

Last night’s game between the Packers and the Lions was simply another example of the NFL’s short-sighted lack of care. There *is* a step they can make that would dramatically improve the quality of officiating, and that’s the creation of a sky judge.

It is no shame for NFL referees to admit that the speed of the modern NFL is too much for human beings to officiate. Unfortunately, it seems clear that NFL officials take it personally when a call is overturned. I get that feeling, but getting it right is more important than their ego.

I would also create full-time officials. Generally speaking, NFL referees are part-time employees. That’s ridiculous to me. The NFL said there’s no improvement from full-time officials, but as far as I know, they only tried it on a limited basis for *one* year. Not exactly a good sample size.

One point that I think might be valid is that frame-by-frame looks at plays might not be valid for many plays. They’re absolutely valid for things like whether a player gets his feet down on a catch and objective calls like that. I can see why on pass interference and such it might be less relevant. Contact 1/32nd of a second before the ball arrives isn’t worth a penalty, for example. However, you could easily stipulate that on such plays the slow motion goes at a particular speed, a balance between the challenge of officiating live at full speed and the ability to slow things down. Once that’s agreed on, the networks would be able to match it, providing us all with a standard level.

In any case, something has to be done when play after play are misjudged by officials. I understand why the two hands to the face penalties were called last night at real speed. A sky judge, with the ability to see a replay quickly, could have just as easily seen why they weren’t penalties. Taken maybe 5 seconds.

This idea of a sky judge is much closer to college football, and it is part of the XFL.

Ah, the XFL. Their draft started today, and I’m getting really excited about it. I think more than anyone else recently they’ve looked at what fans want. The rule changes look promising, including their method of handling officiating. Another promising thing is the way they’re looking at making special teams important again while still finding ways to keep players reasonably safe.

I like the XFL ideas so much, I’m actually getting two season tickets for the St. Louis Battlehawks. Ticket prices are very reasonable, actually, which is another factor of course.

Whether the XFL succeeds where the WFL, USFL, AAF, previous XFL, and all the other attempts failed remains to be seen, however, I’m pleased at the thought going into the league. I’m really hoping it’ll survive, in part, because I love football and want a successful spring league.

Rob’s Update: The Y-Option

Week 17 of 2018

Greetings all.

Well, the NFL draft came and went and it was all I expect. I’m really pleased with Dallas’s draft haul, and I’m impressed with the way they planned and went with their plan. The draft is an inexact science, but there’s very little I disagreed with at the time. They picked players that had value at the spot, that filled needs, and I think most will serve well.

Bigger than that, of course, is the retirement of Jason Witten. He’s what all of us should aspire to be. Tough, hard-working, and reliable. He’ll go into the Hall of Fame, and it should be on the first ballot. He was one of the faces of the Cowboys for 15 years. We’ll miss him on the field, but we’ll all get to see him as he’s going straight into the Monday Night Football booth.

Last year, Tony Romo announced his first Cowboys game on 5 November. This year? Jason Witten will announce his first Cowboy game on 5 November. Cowboy fans will always remember, remember the fifth of November.

One last Dallas Cowboys note. Amazon Prime has a show called All or Nothing, and it’s a behind the scenes look at a football team over a year. This season’s show is about the Cowboys. If you have the slightest interest in football or any of the controversies, or if you just want amazing reality TV, you should watch it. I’m only four episodes in, but it’s incredible.

Turning to this weekend, I’m leaving in a bit to go to Des Moines for DemiCon. I’ve not been before, but I’m excited because I have a lot of friends that are going.

Tomorrow, I’m scheduled for three panels, and they’re my usual ones on the Martin Koszta Affair, noir in SF/F, and blending genres. Should be a fun weekend.

Current Playlist Song

I’m actually getting the opportunity to write at Brewbaker’s today, which is such a great thing for me. Unfortunately, that puts me at the mercy of their overhead music. Sometimes it’s stuff I like, but today it’s something that is fortunately too low for me to hear. Instead, think of your favorite song and have a great day.

Quote of the Week

NFL play calls can be arcane, but in this case the Y-option is fairly simple. It’s a pass play describing a particular pass pattern The “Y” receiver is the tight end. He goes out about 8-12 yards and then has the option of turning any direction he wants. Jason Garrett, the coach of the Cowboys had this to say about Witten’s skill with this one route.

“It’s one of the great givens in all of sports,” Garrett said. “They say Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook was the greatest given – I’ll put Witten’s Y-Option against it any day of the week. We were down by three, we were on the plus 42-yard, and we said ‘We’re going for it,’” Garrett said. “This was the play of the game. We called Y-option.” – Jason Garrett

News and Works in Progress

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Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

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Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on fellow Four Horseman author Eric S. Brown, who has written a bunch of other stuff, especially horror. You can find his stuff at: https://www.amazon.com/Eric%20S.%20Brown/e/B004G6XP7E/

Today’s Weight: 391.8

Updated Word Count: Don’t have the count this week

Shijuren Wiki: 756 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 331entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
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Which One?

A friend of mine who is a Vikings fan is concerned about rumors that the Vikings might replace their current QBs with Kirk Cousins, now that he seems available. His position is that while Cousins is a fine quarterback, the cost to obtain him will be greater than any difference between him and the QBs currently on the roster.

The discussion requires more than what I can do with Twitter, even with 280 characters, so I’m going to do a blog post.

The QBs in question are:
Kirk Cousins (29 years old, 57 games started)
Teddy Bridgewater (25 yo, 28 gs)
Sam Bradford (30 yo, 80 gs)
Case Keenum (30 yo, 38 gs)

Teddy Bridgewater is the youngest, and the rest are all essentially the same age. Bridgewater is also the one with the least number of games started, but we still have about two full years of data to work with.

The single most important stat when looking at QB passing is ANY/A. This is Average Net Yards per Attempt. Here is the formula: (pass yards + 20*(pass TD) – 45*(interceptions thrown) – sack yards)/(passing attempts + sacks). Since it is per attempt, we can get an idea of efficiency per play, which will reward skill as opposed to opportunity.  I’m not going to use this raw stat, but instead use the indexed version called ANY/A+ where 100 is average for a given year, so an ANY/A+ of over 100 is better than average, and less than 100 is worse than average.

I’ll also use the indexed version of some other stats. If you see a “+” in a stat, then again 100 is average for a year. Indexing makes it much more clear how a player is doing in a given year.

I’m also going to refer to AV, which is a stat the Pro Football Reference came up with to get a general approximation of player value. You can find more about its use and limitation here: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/index37a8.html. It’s not a perfect stat, but it helps with general things like games played, durability, all-pro years, and that sort of thing. I’ll divide AV by games started to get an idea of what the game average is.

The above focus on passing only, so when I break things down later, I’m also going to refer to QBR, ESPN’s proprietary stat that includes running ability, and the raw rushing and fumble stats. Quarterback rating and ANY/A do not include their ability to rush, and for some quarterbacks, that’s a big part of their contribution.

So let’s see how they stack up on three  main stats. One note, all of these are their career stats, in order to get the largest possible sample size. I’ll discuss individual years as needed.

Anyway, here are the QBs:
Cousins (ANY/A+ 109, Rating+ 107,  AV/gs 0.75)
Bridgewater (ANY/A+ 91, Rating+ 97,  AV/gs 0.79)
Bradford (ANY/A+ 93, Rating+ 97,  AV/gs 0.60)
Keenum (ANY/A+ 99, Rating+ 97,  AV/gs 0.63)

One note, I’m fudging a bit on Bridgewater and Keenum’s ANY/A+ and Rating+, since they haven’t played enough games for Pro Football Reference to have totaled their career results. I calculated the scores as best I could, but I might be off by a bit. Keenum, in particular, I might be shortchanging. Still, these are close enough to work with.

As you can see, the only place where Cousins doesn’t dominate the others is Bridgewater’s AV/gs. In all the rest of the categories, each of the others is below average, while Cousins is well above average.

Let’s glance at the subsidiary stats to see if we can find why Bridgewater’s AV/gs is so high and see if there’s a way that the other QBs can match Cousins. Here we’ll see yards per carry, yards per game, and fumbles per game. Since there are much fewer of these than pass attempts, I’ll toss out a few years where the QB didn’t play much and these numbers obscure, rather than show, the actual talent in question.

Cousins (3.0 ypc, 6.7 ypg, 0.65 f/g)
Bridgewater (4.4 ypc, 14.3 ypg, 0.39 f/g)
Bradford (2.4 ypc, 4.3 ypg, 0.59 f/g)
Keenum (3.4 ypc, 7.9 ypg, 0.42 f/g)

Here we can see that if we take rushing into account Bridgewater is clearly the best of them all. He rushes for more yards per carry and per game and has fewer fumbles than them all. Bradford is awful at running, while Cousins and Keenum are mediocre. Cousins main problem, though, is his fumbles per game, worst of the four.

However, let’s look at QBR, which attempts to quantify all of the above to see if that problem puts one of the other QBs over the top. We can’t see a true average here, so I’m going to list the QBR for each QB the years where they played more than 10 games.

Cousins (71.7, 66.1, 50.5)
Bridgewater (54.4, 57.5)
Bradford (47.0, 30.5, 51.6, 42.1, 57.3)
Keenum (37.1, 71.3)

As you can see, Cousins comes off well here again. Keenum had one very good year this past year, but that might be his career year. Certainly, it represents a major step up from previous years, where he has had some decent opportunities. Bradford has these mediocre years, but was off to a great start in 2017, having a 72.4 QBR in those first 2 games. However, that’s a really small sample size and I would not lend it much credence.

It’s also clear that last year was the worst one as a starter for Cousins. His completion percentage was down, interceptions up, fumbles up, and his ANY/A was the worst of his starter years by quite a bit. Also, in 2017 his sack percentage almost doubled from 2016, leading me to think he was running for his life, thereby hurting his production. Thus, 2017 seems like it’s an aberration, but even with that he was about where the others were, except for Keenum, in QBR, and his career rating and ANY/A is much better than the rest.

But then, what about Keenum? Is that 71.3 reflective of him finally getting a full shot or just a career year. I would guess it’s a career year, as everything screams fluke year. His completion percentage hovered around 60% in all of his previous years, but he had a 67.6% completion percentage in 2017. His TD rate was around 2.9 previous, but was 4.5 in 2017. He threw far fewer INTs per pass. In short, in every category he was markedly better than his previous level of play.

Given their similar age (Cousins being younger by about half a year), and their prior track record, I will bet good money that Cousins would significantly outperform Keenum, given the same OLine and receiver set.

Interestingly, all of these QBs are unrestricted free agents. The Vikings might have a case that Bridgewater is under contract for another year, but it’s iffy and they don’t plan to contest it, thus Bridgewater will be free.

That means all of these will command big salaries if they are signed to be the starter. To discuss them, I will assume five year contracts to be consistent with Jimmy Garappolo’s recent contract that sets the bar.

Keenum will probably be the least expensive, but if signed to be a starter, I would expect a contract in the upper teens. Same for Bridgewater. Bradford is unlikely to sign with anyone for less than $20 million per year, if signed to be a starter, and he will expect that.

Cousins will be the most effective, and I bet he’ll be something like five years, $145 million, with something like $80 million guaranteed. That’s more money than Garappolo, but less guaranteed, which I think is likely given the age difference. I could be wrong, though, and Cousins might get over $100 million guaranteed.

Now, given this research here: http://socalledfantasyexperts.com/aging-curve-nfl-offensive-players-every-single-position, we can guess how the QBs will play out a five year contract.

Assuming Keenum’s only good year is valid, he would looking something like this, based on a normal AV aging curve: 13 AV, 12, 12, 10, and 9, or 56 AV total over the life of a 5 year contract. That’s his ceiling.

Bradford, based on 2016’s AV (last full season), would look something like 10, 9, 9, 7, 6, which is clearly much worse than Keenum. How Bradford keeps getting paid is beyond me. He’s a bad QB and will continue to be so.

Bridgewater is the only one of the QBs on the upslope of his aging curve. If he is healthy, a big if, and if he returns to his 2016 form at age 23, then his AV curve could look like:  15, 16, 16, 15, 15, or a total of 77. That’s probably an ideal scenario for him, though, given the severity of his injury. We don’t actually know if he’s recovered.

I’m going to also choose Cousins’ 2016 year, which matches the curve better and reflects more of his QBR base than last year where his OLine let him down. His AV curve would then go something like 15, 14, 14, 13, 12, giving a total of 68. This seems a likely scenario for me, and those are very good AVs.

In the end, I would still choose Cousins over Bridgewater because Bridgewater’s primary argument is based upon him returning fully healthy and then immediately going back to where he was at 23, thereby fulfilling his aging curve. Cousins, on the other hand, bases his argument on being a much better passer over a larger sample size.

Basically, I don’t think Bridgewater fulfills that aging curve projection. One, I took the best possible scenario. Two, I don’t think he’s healthy. He certainly didn’t look it last year. Also, the Vikings have to know his medical situation better than anyone and they are not trying to keep him for one more year of his rookie contract.

This, to me, is huge. Rookie contracts in the NFL are great for teams. Like I said, a starting QB in the NFL starts at around $15 million per year, whereas the final year of a rookie contract is under $1 million. If Bridgewater was healthy, the Vikings would work real hard to keep that huge hit off their salary cap.

Now, if you know, absolutely know, that Bridgewater can come back and still improve based on a normal aging curve, then you’ll want to give Bridgewater the 5 year contract. The Vikings, however, have chosen to go away from him, meaning of the rest, Cousins is the clear winner to me.

So, there you go. The answer was closer than I expected, and I didn’t actually expect Bridgewater to be the primary competition for Cousins, but age is huge in the NFL. Still, I feel confident that Cousins would be the best of these four options for the Vikings.

Which means as a Cowboys fan, I’m rooting for Cousins to go to the Broncos.

2017 AFC East

AFC East

2016 Finish: New England, Miami, Buffalo, New York Jets

Overall Notes: New England is perhaps the best run team ever, with perhaps the best quarterback ever. They are also extremely lucky to be in the AFC East. The Dolphins, Bills, and Jets have had, in general, mediocre teams. The Patriots have been great, no doubt, but they’ve also benefited from a weak division.

New England Patriots
2016 Record: 14-2 (Pythagorean Wins: 12.8)
2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 8th
2017 Age Rank: 26th
2016 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 1st (2nd / 16th / 8th)

The defending NFL champs return and seem to be even more loaded than before. The are an extremely smart organization, and they know more than anyone else that their window with Tom Brady is closing because he getting old. So, instead of using the draft, which they’re actually not particularly good at, they used their draft picks as trade capital to bring back Brandon Cooks and signed Stephon Gilmore in free agency.

This is excellent game theory. They will suffer a bit as the lack of a draft class bites them a little in three years or so, but if it means another Super Bowl in 2017, that’s a good trade.

Nothing about last year suggests their record was a fluke. They outperformed their Pythagorean record by a little, but they were still the best Overall DVOA team in the NFL. They were a little lucky with injuries, but not extremely so. This was a great team that was a worthy NFL winner and they might be better this year.

People are predicting them back to the Super Bowl. In fact, some are suggesting 16-0 is possible. That’s overly optimistic but I can understand it.

The only real concern I have for this team is injuries. They are older than most, meaning they’re more likely to have injuries. We’ve already seen that with Julian Edelman out for the season.

However, this team will dominate this division. If they aren’t at least 5-1 in division, I’ll be shocked. In fact, they’d win this division handily if Brady gets injured tonight and Jimmy Garoppolo is their quarterback all year long.

I predict 14-2 and the 1st seed in the playoffs with Brady. Without? 11-5 or 10-6, winning the division and being the 3rd or 4th seed.

This team is really good. Yes, my name is Captain Obvious

Miami Dolphins
2016 Record: 10-6 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.5)
2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 26th
2017 Age Rank: 29th
2016 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 18th (14th / 19th / 12th)

I suppose I’ll pick the Dolphins to come in 2nd place in the AFC East. Someone has to and the Bills and Jets will be competing for the first pick in the draft.

This was a playoff team last year, but got there by getting lucky. They outperformed their Pythagorean record quite a bit. They were mediocre last year. Yes, they added a few players, but none of them were world-beaters. They also lost a few players, again none of them great.

They’ve already been hit by the injury bug by losing their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. However, I think Jay Cutler is about as good, perhaps even a tick better. It’s hard to say. Neither is particularly good.

And that’s the problem. There’s nothing on this team that’s good. Last year they were middle of the pack in DVOA across the board. They had a lot of injuries, but are unlikely to see that change this year as they’re old.

I can see them going 8-8 if *everything* breaks well, but honestly that’s because they could sweep both the Bills and Jets. More realistically, they eke out a victory or two and end up 6-10 or so.

Buffalo Bills
2016 Record: 7-9 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.5)
2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 25th
2017 Age Rank: 30th
2016 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 17th (10th / 27th / 22nd)

This was actually a better team than the Dolphins last year, though their record didn’t reflect it.

But they weren’t that much better. This year, they’ve lost a number of their best players to trades and free agency. Their best offensive player, LeSean McCoy, is 29, and that’s old for a running back. I’d bet he doesn’t make it through the season healthy. Their offensive line is pretty good, actually, but they simply don’t have enough weapons. They were 10th in DVOA last year, which isn’t bad, but I don’t see them improving and they’d have to improve to make this team competitive.

On defense, they lost one of their best players, Stephon Gilmore, to the Patriots. They have some good defensive linemen, but this defense won’t improve much from that 27th ranking.

I see this team in the 5-11 range.

New York Jets
2016 Record: 5-11 (Pythagorean Wins: 4.4)
2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 29th
2017 Age Rank: 6th
2016 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 32nd (31st / 21st / 32nd)

This may be the worst team in the NFL. They were last in DVOA last year, significantly worse than the 1-15 Cleveland Browns. Awful on offense, mediocre on defense, and the worst on special teams.

They lost a number of good players to free agency like Brandon Marshall. They cut some like Nick Mangold. These weren’t bad decisions, actually, as they were all old and on the downward slope like Darrelle Revis. It’s clear that the Jets are looking at getting younger. This is a smart thing.

But they’ve got nothing on offense. Most of their starters aren’t as good as the Patriots’ backups. They have a number of good players on defense, like Muhammed Wilkerson, but not enough. Morris Claiborne was signed away from the Cowboys, and he’s a good player when healthy. The problem is that he’s never made it through a season healthy.

It’s possible this team wins 3 games. I suppose. I’d bet they win less, though. They were awful last year and got worse. They are the mirror image of the Patriots.

2017 AFC West

2016 Finish: Kansas City, Oakland, Denver, San Diego

Overall Notes: This is a really balanced division. You can make a good argument for any of the four teams winning it. Each of the teams is playoff worthy, but none of them might be wild-card teams. The division will beat each other up, plus they play the NFC East, though they do have the advantage of playing the AFC East as well.

Kansas City Chiefs
2016 Record:  12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 10.1)
2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 27th
2017 Age Rank: 16th
2016 DVOA Overall 6th (O/D/ST):  (13th / 14th / 1st)

There’s a lot to like about this team. Travis Kelce is one of the best TEs in the game. Tyreek Hill can score from anywhere. Yes, even from Novosibirsk. Alex Smith knows his strengths and plays to them. Kareem Hunt will do very well at RB. They don’t have enough on the outside, though, and that’ll hurt them. I think the Chiefs will take a small step up on offense, but not a huge one. Say 9th or 10th in Offensive DVOA next year.

I think they’ll also see a slight step up on defense, simply because Justin Houston is healthy. In all honesty, this team could, if all breaks well, take a large step up, say to 5th in DVOA. There’s a lot to work with here.

But I don’t think they’ll duplicate that 1st in Special Teams. It’s the most volatile of rankings, and if they are indeed only using Hill on offense, then they’re losing him in the return game and that’s a mistake. I understand the idea of protecting him from injury, but he’s just too good not to use him.

Overall, I think they’ll come in around 11-5. They didn’t add much, in my opinion, having spent so much draft capital on Patrick Mahomes, but they were really unlucky on injuries last year. Given their age, middle of the pack, I’d expect their injuries to return to middle of the pack, even though they’ve already lost Spencer Ware for the season. I think they’ll win the division, but as I said, it could really be any team.

Los Angeles Chargers
2016 Record: 5-11 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.7)

2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 31st
2017 Age Rank: 8th
2016 DVOA Overall 19th (O/D/ST):  (18th / 7th / 29th)

Speaking of volatile, let’s talk about the Chargers. They were hammered by injuries last year, but were much better than their 5-11 record. Essentially, this was an average team *after* all of the injuries. They were fairly stable in terms of free agency, though I do like what they did in the draft.

If Keenan Allen can stay healthy, they’re very good on the outside. Melvin Gordon is a good RB. They have a great QB in Philip Rivers. At TE, while Antonio Gates may be at the end of his career, I think Hunter Henry will be outstanding. If that offensive line can be average, this offense will dramatically improve. And it wasn’t awful last year.

On defense, they were very good last year. I see a small dropoff here, but not much. Joey Bosa will be better this year, and while they don’t have a tone of stars on defense, they have lots of quality players.

Their weakness was Special Teams. I don’t honestly know how well they’ve addressed this, but there’s room for significant improvement if they can just reach mediocre.

Man, I have no idea what to do with this team. I can see them dominating the division if the offense clicks and their injury luck turns back in their favor. They’re also the youngest team in the division, and I think they’ll do better in the latter part of the season. So, ummm, yeah. I’ll say 10-6 and contending for a wild card.

Oakland Raiders
2016 Record:  12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.8)

2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 13th
2017 Age Rank: 19th
2016 DVOA Overall 10th (O/D/ST):  (8th / 22nd / 14th)

The Oakland Raiders were not as good as their record indicated last year. That 3.2 differential in record to Pythagorean wins is huge. They got really lucky in a bunch of games, even though the loss of Derek Carr in game 15 was awful luck that ruined their season. In general though, their injuries and their age are not extraordinary.

The team was pretty stable in terms of additions and losses. The big addition is Marshawn Lynch, but no one really knows what he’ll do after spending a year out of the league. Plus, he’s old. I will say that this never gets old: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIjQuxaK4Mw.

I actually think the Raiders will be very good on offense. They’ve got a great offensive line, very good to great receivers, and Lynch. I think Carr is a little overrated, but there’s no denying he’s damn good. This offense could be even better and they were really good last year.

Defense is a huge question mark, though. They were 22nd on defensive DVOA last year despite having Khalil Mack, who is fantastic. They drafted well, and both Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu will help.

But I can’t get over that 8.8 Pythagorean from last year. They were extremely lucky to get to 12 wins, and I don’t see it happening again. They’re the oldest team in the division, and that won’t help. I think they’re a better team this year but I think they end up 9-7.

Denver Broncos
2016 Record:  9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.1)

2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 10th
2017 Age Rank: 14th
2016 DVOA Overall 14th (O/D/ST):  (28th / 1st / 24th)

I really like what this team did on the offensive line, especially adding Ron Leary. The offensive line was a weakness last year, and I think it’ll be at least average. This is huge for them, because they do not have the quarterback to overcome that weakness. Tom Brady could. Trevor Simien? Not so much. However, with that improved line I see this offense getting significantly better.

But I see a regression on defense. I really couldn’t tell you why, though. Maybe it’s because their best defensive players are 28 and older. Maybe it’s because I love DeMarcus Ware so much that his retirement is influencing me.

My suspicion is this team will be about the same, in the 9-7 range, though I’ll actually predict 8-8, but that will be driven by the offense approaching average.

 

2017 AFC South

2016 Finish: Houston, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Jacksonville

Overall Notes: Tennessee is head and shoulders above the others. The Texans will do well because of that defense, but that offense is iffy. Jacksonville will improve, but they also don’t have a quarterback. And Indianapolis? I’d rank them pretty low *if* Andrew Luck were healthy.

Tennessee Titans
2016 Record:  9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.1)
2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 2nd
2017 Age Rank: 27th
2016 DVOA Overall 15th (O/D/ST):  (9th / 24th / 19th)

The Titans are the best team in this division and it’s not close. However, there are two worrisome factors. One, they were extraordinarily lucky in terms of injuries last year. That probably won’t happen again especially since they’re one of the oldest teams in the NFL.

However, Marcus Mariota is a rising star for a reason. DeMarco Murray is ancient for an RB, but Derrick Henry is about as good, if not better. I don’t like their receiver corps overall, but by the end of the year Corey Davis might have figured a bunch of things out. He’s going to be really good, though probably not this year.

Their defense is a problem, though. I *think* it’ll be better, but not much. Still, I think it’ll be good enough with that offense.

They are old, and will get injuries, but the oldest players on the roster are not their most important ones. Matt Cassel’s age, for example, is irrelevant, because no team survives the loss of their first-string QB.

This team might finish last in the AFC West, but in the AFC South? I think they win it with a 10-6 record.

Houston Texans
2016 Record:  9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 6.5)

2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 22nd
2017 Age Rank: 4th
2016 DVOA Overall 29th (O/D/ST):  (30th / 9th /  31st)

This team was not as good as its record last year. They were unlucky in terms of injuries, especially to J.J. Watt, but even so this offense was horrible. Their Special Teams were even worse.

Things could get better on offense, but that will mean Tom Savage will dramatically improve (unlikely), or Deshaun Watson will be good (more likely, but only if he gets a chance). They’ll have weapons on the offense, but the line isn’t great. I could see an improvement here, maybe even to mediocrity.

On defense, their fans have to be salivating over a defense with a healthy Watt, Jadaveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and some solid DBs. They could be fantastic.

The problem with this team is that they could be significantly better and their record stay the same or even get worse. Now, being a young team, I think they’ll improve at the end of the year, but I still see an 8-8 team.

Jacksonville Jaguars
2016 Record:  3-13 (Pythagorean Wins: 5.8)

2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 17th
2017 Age Rank: 7th
2016 DVOA Overall 26th (O/D/ST):  (27th / 12th / 23rd)

Man, this team is frustrating. They have a ton of talent. But they have Blake Bortles and Chad Henne at QB.

They do have a good RB in Leonard Fournette, and a number of talented WRs. The offensive is mediocre, though, and without a good QB, they can’t overcome it.

The defense has a chance to be fantastic, though, perhaps even better than the Texans. They are going to be really stout up the middle, and if they can get some pass rush off the end, they will do some damage, though that’s not necessarily likely.

They were unlucky last year, and they’re youngish so I expect them to dramatically improve on that 3-13 record, but I can’t see them more than 7-9 because of wretched QB play.

Indianapolis Colts
2016 Record:  8-8 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.5)

2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 20th
2017 Age Rank: 5th
2016 DVOA Overall 23rd (O/D/ST):  (12th / 29th / 5th)

I see a huge regression on this team, and it’s not simply because Andrew Luck is hurt. They don’t have great RBs. Outside of T.Y. Hilton, who is really good, they don’t have any other weapons. The offensive line is horrible. The only reason they were 12th in Offensive DVOA was Luck. They’d be worse this year with him, but without? Whew, doggy.

The defense isn’t getting significantly better, either, even with their top 3 draft picks coming on this side of the ball. I think Malik Hooker will be fantastic, and was higher on Quincy Wilson than most, but the rest of their DBs aren’t much. Nor do they have a front seven to scare anyone. They were 29th last year for a reason, and while they improve a touch, it won’t be higher than 20th.

I think they might steal a win or two at the end of the season as some of their young players catch up to the NFL’s speed and Luck returns, but I see this as a 5-11 type team. Maybe 3-13.

2017 AFC North

2016 Finish: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland

Overall Notes: Pittsburgh is clearly the best team in the AFC North. I see regression in Baltimore. Cincinnati is a bit of a cipher. And while I see Cleveland improving, it’s a long way from 1-15 to the Steelers’ level.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2016 Record:  11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.9)

2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 12th
2017 Age Rank: 18th
2016 DVOA Overall 4th (O/D/ST):  (7th / 11th / 17th)

I’m not as high on the Steelers as many people are. I think Ben Roethlisberger will continue to be excellent, and Antonio Brown might be the best WR in the NFL. The offensive line is very good to great. And LeVeon Bell is fantastic. However, I worry about Bell because he held out during training camp. I think he’s ripe for a pulled muscle injury that will hamper him all year.

Their defense will be pretty good again. James Harrison takes a step back but is replaced by T.J. Watt. Ryan Shazier might have a breakout year and they have a number of other solid players.

Still, they weren’t quite as good as their record last year. Given the quality of the division, I expect another 11-5 record, but I don’t think they’re as good as they have been.

Cincinnati Bengals
2016 Record:  6-9-1 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.3)
2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 3rd
2017 Age Rank: 3rd
2016 DVOA Overall 13th (O/D/ST):  (11th / 17th / 28th)

This is a hard team to predict. On the one hand, they were better than their record last year. On the other, I just don’t care for the team. They’ve lots of good players, but not many great ones other than A.J. Green.

That’s exemplified by that 11th in Offensive DVOA. Andy Dalton is good, but not great. Joe Mixon might be great, but I don’t expect it this year. A.J. Green is great, but their best receivers besides him are rookies and WR is one of the hardest positions for a rookie. The offensive line is serviceable, but nothing better than average. That 11th is probably the top of their range.

On defense, they’re going to benefit from a couple of really nice draft picks. However, their best players are on the downward curve of their career, like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Adam Jones. I doubt they’ll get better on this side of the ball.

I can see them improving on Special Teams, and being as young as they are, they’ll do better later in the year. Still, this is an 8-8 team, just like they were last year.

Baltimore Ravens
2016 Record:  8-8 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.6)
2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 11th
2017 Age Rank: 25th
2016 DVOA Overall 12th (O/D/ST):  (24th / 6th / 4th)

This offense was bad last year, and it’ll be just as bad this year, if not worse. I don’t like how much they lost on the line. I’ve never been a fan of Joe Flacco, and there’s not a dynamic weapon. They’ll struggle to score points. Without Justin Tucker, the best kicker in the NFL, they’d be one of the worst scoring offenses in the league.

Now, their defense was very good last year, and I expect it to be as good or better this year. Lots of good players at every level, and they drafted two nice prospects.

I think 8 wins is their ceiling, but I don’t see them reaching it. I’d say more like 7-9.

Cleveland Browns
2016 Record:  1-15 (Pythagorean Wins: 3.3)

2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 23rd
2017 Age Rank: 1st
2016 DVOA Overall 31st (O/D/ST):  (29th / 30th /  26th)

It’s a long climb from 1-15 but they’re on their way. I really like what this team is doing. If the ownership gives their coach and GM several years to develop things, they’ll turn this around. Unfortunately, the Browns are not known for their patience.

Still, there are positive signs. If Deshone Kizer becomes a decent QB, they have some weapons. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson make a nice RB tandem. Corey Coleman could be something special, as could David Njoku. Plus, I really like this offensive line. I don’t think this offense will be great, but I could see it becoming league average.

Likewise, I see promise on this defense. Myles Garrett will miss some time because of a high ankle sprain, an injury that often lingers. That’s unfortunate. However, there’s lots of young talent on this side of the ball.

I don’t see this team making the playoffs, but I would not be surprised if they won 8 games. More likely they go 7-9 and tie the Ravens for last in the division.

 

2017 NFC South

2016 Finish: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Carolina

Overall Notes: This is the hardest division to call, even more so than the AFC West. All 4 teams have very good to great QBs. All have some great weapons. It is, however, also the oldest division and therefore the most susceptible to injuries. I really wanted to love this division, but it’s just not as good as it might appear once I started looking at the numbers.

Atlanta Falcons
2016 Record: 11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 10.9)

2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 6th
2017 Age Rank: 24th
2016 DVOA Overall 3rd (O/D/ST):  (1st / 26th / 7th)

This was the best offense in the NFL last year. Even with some regression to the mean and perhaps some age-related dropoff, this offense will be fantastic. Matt Ryan is underrated because he’s not a “Super-Bowl-Winning-QB,” which is crap. He was fantastic last year.

The defense was problematic, though. However, I think between the addition of Dontari Poe and Takk McKinley this line will be significantly better. I don’t think the defense will be great, but they will pile up sacks. Say end up in the 20th in the NFL range.

I don’t think the Falcons will repeat, though. They’re older. They got lucky on injuries last year. I think they’ll be a tough team, but only 10-6, meaning the win this division.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2016 Record:  9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.6)

2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 18th
2017 Age Rank: 21st
2016 DVOA Overall 22nd (O/D/ST):  (19th / 13th / 20th)

When I started writing this column I anticipated thinking the Bucs would take a huge step forward. After all, I really liked the Bucs draft this year. O.J. Howard will be fantastic, though maybe not this year as it’s hard for a TE to come in right away.

The rest of their offense has a chance to be powerful. Jameis Winston is getting better, but he has to make better choices. He has one of the best WRs in Mike Evans, and another really good one in DeSean Jackson. I think their offensive line is good enough. This offense should be better, though probably average.

I think their defense will be better too, though that’s more because of the development of Noah Spence and Vernon Hargreaves.

But as I look at the numbers, I have come away unconvinced. Their team will be better, I think, but it wasn’t as good as their record showed last year. I can see them getting back to 9-7, although they’ll have earned it this time.

New Orleans Saints
2016 Record: 7-9 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.3)

2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 21st
2017 Age Rank: 28th
2016 DVOA Overall 21st (O/D/ST):  (6th / 31st / 27th)

This is one of the oldest teams in the NFL, but that may not be a good guideline. They are pretty top heavy, with Drew Brees at 38, John Kuhn at 34, Zach Strief at 33, and finally Adrian Peterson and Ted Ginn at 32.

If Brees isn’t Brees, then this team won’t go anywhere, but that’s true of every team with a great starting QB. The rest are replaceable, including Peterson. Frankly, I think Alvin Kamara is the best RB on the roster at this point in time. Peterson will have a couple of good games, especially this week against the Vikings, but he’s mostly done. Fortunately, Kamara is better than most realize.

The receivers are pretty good, especially Michael Thomas. And I think Coby Fleener will do much better this year. They’re supported by a very good line. The offense may step back a little bit, but will still be one of the top 10 in the NFL.

The defense will be problematic. They could dramatically improve and still be bad. Marcus Lattimore will probably be a major improvement at CB, but that position often takes time to adapt.

I can see them going 9-7, though. That’s only a win more than their Pythagorean from last year. I think 8-8 is more likely.

Carolina Panthers
2016 Record: 6-10 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.1)

2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 9th
2017 Age Rank: 31st
2016 DVOA Overall 24th (O/D/ST):  (25th / 10th / 25th)

I really like what this offense could be. The offensive line is pretty good. Greg Olsen is a great TE. There are several productive WRs and RBs, including Christian McCaffrey.

But Cam Newton is a big question mark. He was bad last year, having his worst year as both a thrower and runner. *If* he’s fully healthy, he can do amazing things. He’s been dinged up this training camp, and while he says he’s healthy, what else would he say?

If he can make the offense good, then this team has the defense to close down teams. Luke Kuechly will be in the Hall of Fame.

However, overall, I do not see this team doing terribly well. Clearly, I have my doubts about Newton. The team is one of the oldest in the NFL, and I expect them to lose a lot of games to injury. They weren’t great last year. If Newton is healthy, this team might be 10-6 or luck into 11-5, but I don’t expect it. I think more like 7-9.