Last time we left you, the pickem crew and I were riding high on the victory of our unanimous pick to win the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks. I don’t think any of us expected the utter domination that ensued, but it’s clear that the tired cliche of “Defense Wins Championships” proved true here. Anyways, as a warm-up to another season of SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN football picks and unfunny jokes, we decided to warm up by prognosticating a few season win totals for ya’ll, two days before the season starts (we’re very busy/lazy).
BUFFALO BILLS OVER 6.5 -130
Alright, let’s get this tire fire ablaze. The Bills went 6-10 last year and a lot of their losses weren’t close games. They’re in a division with the Pats, which basically means that they’re not going to do better than a Wild Card berth until Brady retires. EJ Manuel looked decent at times but at others he looked like a rookie – he threw for around 2000 yards and had an 11-9 (turn that around and you get..yup. Makes you think – Coach Pete Carroll) TD-INT ratio, but he also missed 4 games. They went 1-3 in those games, so if you look at the games that Manuel started, he went 5-7 as a rookie starter, which isn’t great, but whatever. How you think the Bills will do basically hinges on what you think of Manuel. I like him – he’s big, mobile, has a strong arm and a good supporting cast. A lot of people think he’s garbage, and I can see that, but I’m banking on him at least developing into a serviceable QB this season. That supporting cast to me is what is going to put the Bills over the hump this year. Robert Woods is poised to blow up, and although Sammy Watkins was dealing with various injuries throughout the preseason but should be ready for opening day and will likely make an impact immediately. Additionally, Marquise Goodwin is blazing fast and could build on his modest stats from last season – if he pans out, it could provide the Bills one of the better 3-deeps at WR in the league. Same deal with their running backs – CJ Spiller was a bit disappointing last year (the Bills still had the second most productive running game in the league) but was dealing with injuries and should be back with a vengeance, Fred Jackson still has some gas in the tank, and Bryce Brown will probably be the best 3rd-string running back in the NFL (until he overtakes Jackson). If you think Manuel can take advantage of all of these weapons (I do), the Bills offense could score points in bunches this year. The defense is another story. They lost Jairus Byrd to free agency and Kiko Alonso to injury, and that is gonna hurt, but their top 5 sackers are back, barring a suspension for Marcell Dareus who got caught smoking the fake weed they sell at the gas station that they spray with amazing Chinese chemicals. Regardless, they should still be able to lay the wood. As far as their schedule, they play the NFC North, and AFC West, and while they still can’t knock off the Broncos and Green Bays of the league, at least they get the latter at home. I just gotta think that they will manage to pick up a few wins out of those 8 games, maybe steal one game in their Pats series, and just creep over the total. Even if they don’t turn it around and make the playoffs, I think that their offense will improve enough that they at least make it to 8-8. I’m calling OVER.
CAROLINA PANTHERS UNDER 8.5 -170
The Panthers were a great team to watch last year. If you’re a non-dipshit sports fan, you loved seeing Cam Newton do well and prove the sports talk radio caller who wonders why pro athletes need all that jewelry crowd wrong, but don’t look for a repeat of last year’s 12-4 record. Cam did improve quite a bit as a passer, but it remains to be seen who he’s going to throw the ball to. Sure, Steve Smith is getting old, Ted Ginn sucks and Brandon LaFell is a 3rd option at best, but the guys they signed to be their replacements – Jason Avant and Jerico Cotchery – are both third options. Cotchery is a solid receiver and a great leader but the lack of free agent weapons has to be frustrating for Newton. They drafted Kelvin Benjamin who showed ability to be a great redzone weapon but also dropped the ball a ton in college (but has looked great in preseason). I have no faith whatsoever in the DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart running back duo, and neither should anyone who has ever drafted them in fantasy football. I’m too lazy to check but I will wager that one or both of them is injured right now. Also, Newton’s left tackle AND left guard just retired. That’s some ominous shit and that could lead to him running a lot this year. The defense, at least the front seven, should still be good. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are back and Luke Kuechly is still a multifaceted linebacking terminator. The secondary could be a LOT worse this year though – they lost two starting safeties and a starting corner, and didn’t really upgrade them in any way. I guess if the line is able to get to the QB quickly it won’t matter as much, but I just have a feeling it will be trouble. As far as their schedule, they go against the AFC North, which equals tough games against the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals, and the NFC North, where they have to deal with the Packers and Lions. Not to mention, Atlanta should bounce back after their flukey k-hole of a season and New Orleans will still be New Orleans. I just think that the holes on offense and secondary combined with the schedule will be too much to overcome and they take a step back this year. I’m thinking the Panthers go under.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS OVER 8.5 -150
Homer alert. Yeah, you can probably guess where I’m going to go with this one. I love the Steelers this year. They had another mediocre season in 2013, mainly due to their once-vaunted defense being unable to stop big plays. The Steelers D looked old and tired, was unable to generate any kind of pressure or get a turnover, and allowed more points than BRAZIL in the WORLD CUP (if you don’t get this insanely good, topical reference, don’t worry about it, it’s not relevant). To their credit, they took steps to fix that in the offseason, signing free safety Mike Mitchell from Carolina, who is fast, a big hitter, and a great blitzer for a safety. They drafted Ryan Shazier in the first round who racked up a bunch of tackles in his preseason debut and a pick where his break on the ball made him look like he was the receiver. Shazier has been slotted to start right away and should provide the speed at inside linebacker that they were lacking last year. Stephon Tuitt, their 2nd round pick, will be eased into the rotation at d-line but again, provides an upgrade in terms of speed and athleticism and should find his way onto the field quickly. Second year safety Shamarko Thomas won’t be starting ahead of Troy Polamalu (who played through a whole season without injury for the first time in a while) but they’ll have to figure out a way to get him playing because of how much he’s shown in training camp and preseason. Cortez Allen has played well and is in a contract year so expect that to continue, and Ike Taylor….well, he’s a great dude but he got burnt a lot last year. He’s on his last legs, so that side of the field will be a weakness. Overall though, the defense should be noticeably better, at least in the area of preventing big plays. As far as the offense, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t miss any games with injury for once and turned a slow start into a pretty good season. The offensive line finally gelled and kept him from getting blasted on every play, and that should only help with the same cast as last season returning and getting Maurkice Pouncey back from injury. They did lose Emmanuel Sanders who was a great possession receiver but Antonio Brown will still be a catch machine and by all accounts Markus Wheaton is looking great after doing nothing in his rookie season. They also signed Lance Moore who is a reliable slot guy and should make up some for the absence of Sanders. The running game is where I think the offense could break out though. Le’Veon “Insert lazy weed joke here” Bell and LaGarrette “No. Fruit too low hanging to make this pun. No” Blount have the potential to be a formidable 1-2 punch. After missing the first 4 games, Bell showed that he was worthy of his draft position (I was hesitant about the pick because Big 10 backs get run into the ground due to there being a conference requirement for boring, unflashy offenses that appeal to staid Midwesterners) and a force in both the passing and running games. He could have a big year. LaGarrette Blount, who we all know from punching that guy who needed punched in the Oregon – Boise State game, showing promise in Tampa Bay, washing out until finally becoming a battering ram who could also return kicks in NE, is an AWESOME complement to Bell. They signed him for cheap too, I’m really surprised he ended up here. Blount will fill the role of wearing down defenses late in games that Steeler fans all but forgot in the haze of Todd Haley, cackling in his filthy clothes while clutching a meth pipe. Another offseason addition via the draft, Dri Archer, doesn’t really have a set position but does have game-breaking speed and took a couple screen passes for 40+ in the preseason. They’ll use him at RB, receiver, and returner because his speed means he’s a threat to score any time he touches the ball. The offense was solid last season at least, and even if it doesn’t improve drastically (which I think it will, especially in the running game), it won’t be worse. Regarding the schedule, it’s a classic pitfall to look at a schedule and say it looks easy, we all know that, but they don’t have many teams that made the playoffs last season (4) on the slate. I think the NFC south aside from NO (who they face at home) will be just OK, and the AFC South is full of question marks, except for Indy (who they also face at home). Within their division, Cincy should be good, so should Baltimore, but Bal-Pitt games are always a crapshoot and they will likely split that series. Long story short, I like the Steelers to surpass the total and get at least a Wild Card berth. Take it with a grain of salt as I’m an acknowledged Steeler homer, but gamblor favors objectivity and I’m trying to only take the facts into account. Steelers over.
MINNESOTA OVER 6 -155
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS OVER 9.5 -200
PATRIOTS OVER 10.5 -170
ST. LOUIS RAMS UNDER 7.5
I go to sleep at night with fantasies of Vince Ferragamo leading a comeback win against the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV because there is something seriously wrong with me. I don’t care what anyone says, the Rams should have won that game. That’s why this is the most dangerous of the bunch for me. They are my childhood team, I am delusional, I desperately want them back in Los Angeles because fuck the city of St. Louis, and any fan’s natural inclination is to be a raging fuck-faced homer and fly in the face of facts and reality because we’re irrational football fans, Yahweh damn it. What’s more, the Rams are everyone’s sexy, shiny, popular pick for a breakout season. Oh, that defense stacked with seven studs on the defensive line rotation. I can see a big bear porn percolating now. It doesn’t hurt that everyone’s been ranting and raving about their draft picks for the last three years, Tavon Austin’s minor breakout over the last few games of last season, and the never ending prospect that Sam Bradford might finally be able to survive a season without a major injury and be the guy who throws for 4,200 yards and 35 touchdowns. Oh wait, his knee got blown out in the pre-season? WHAT A SHOCKER! Hello, Shaun Hill and 13 years of not being a starter. We’re not talking Kurt Warner unknown quantity, but a guy who has never been a full-time starter. Ever. In other words it’s not much of a dropoff considering Bradford’s measurable results. We won’t mention that Zac Stacy is incredibly overrated and averaged less than four yards per carry or that Tavon Austin is only one inch taller and 13 pounds heavier than me. Shut up. I was one HELL of a strong safety/split end on the JV team in 1987. We are totally comparable! All of these things frighten me.
Now, let’s take a look at the schedule: Minnesota, me likey. Sort of. Tampa? Cha-ching, bitches. I’m gonna make some cash on that bag of dicks. Dallas? Hoo boy, it’s Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and possibly the worst defense in football. I’m feeling a 3-0 start because I’ve been drinking since noon and I believe in a fast start. Now, let’s see what else we have here for the not so quietly hyped dark horse: Philly in week four. Okay, I can handle that. Their offense is nuts and we’ll probably lose, but I can deal with that. Oh, is that San Francisco on Monday night? We always play those guys tough. Except last year when they crushed us. Is that Seattle the following week? Oh come the fuck on. Really? Then Kansas City? Okay, deep breaths. I think we can handle Kansas City if Jesus comes down to throw the ball. Let’s see, San Francisco again?! Then Denver comes to town to teach us how to score 45 points in the blink of an eye? Alright, time for tequila. NFL schedule maker, I want to dismember and feed you to hungry, rabid dogs for not putting the Raiders in there earlier for a confidence builder. I am a naïve child who is full of hope and wonder who bets on football games instead of planning for retirement.
I had them at seven wins, but let’s face it: The Rams are not very good. The Rams have drafted extremely well over the last three years and are on the cusp of making the jump to the next level when San Francisco has to deal with the egomaniacal crazy person mom pants wearing Jim Harbaugh’s contract demands and Seattle sees the salary cap spread some of their best players to the four winds. In this division a .500 record is more than respectable and if they get eight it’s a miracle for this club. Oh, and they need a quarterback. Good luck, guys. I say tank the season and go for Brett Hundley.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS UNDER 10.5 -160
Three straight conference title games, one loss in a Super Bowl, and one bad pass away from beating Seattle at home. That’s the difference between being awesome and being an also-ran and now Niner fans get to experience what Rams fans went through in the 70s and it’s delicious. This is an elite-level team on both sides of the line and they’re hungry. That last part really doesn’t count for much because Colin Kaepernick has still shit the bed on two different chances to win big games on the last play of the game because he is a fucking amateur. He’s supremely talented, but he’s unpolished and any guy who gets his job because the head coach is fucking moron who takes talent over smarts. Also, he isn;t capable of looking off his first read before delivering the ball to exactly where the corner expects it on the biggest play of the game. Yes, I would have let Alex Smith finish the season instead of letting this big baby take over. As good as he is and as much as I hate him and the Niners I can take pleasure in knowing that they lost to the mediocre Ravens in the Super Bowl and got psyched the fuck out by Richard Sherman and the rest of the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.
The thing is that their defense is full of guys who are either hurt or facing criminal charges. The running game is still stacked to the tits though and I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlos Hyde is taking meaningful touches before week three. Frank Gore is a fucking beast, but he’s got serious mileage on them surgically repaired wheels and nothing says decline like hitting the age of 30 unless you’re Walter Payton and his magical powers to run behind retreads his entire career or Emmitt Smith getting to run behind the best offensive line football has ever seen. As good as the Niners are, they aren’t that good and if the running game falters in the slightest can you see Kaepernick carrying them?
We’re talking elite-level chokers here. Sure, you can manhandle the dregs of the NFL and do a nice comeback against the fucking Falcons, but every time this team has to really go balls to the wall when it counts they come up short because they have no brains. Now they have to deal with actual expectations and the pressure of needing to come through now that Jim Harbaugh is making noise about wanting a huge contract without a Lombardi Trophy while feuding with his GM. Smart move, shit pants. If Detroit can get their shit together they will outperform this bunch of crazies.
Dallas is probably going under their thumb, but Chicago, Arizona, and Philly will cause massive problems. Fuck KC and the Rams, but have fun trying to trump Manning in Denver when the only thing he will have on his mind is proving that the Super Bowl didn’t really happen. I could see them being 3-4 before they even get the Rams at home. New Orleans? Maybe they can keep certain aspects of Brees in check, but not enough to actually take the game. Washington? No problem. Oakland? Yes. San Diego? Maybe. Arizona? On a good day. I have this sack of fuck slated for nine wins and the under because without that defense full of injuries and wife-beaters there to make life easy on Kaepernick and give Mom Pants the chance to roll out an offense that can stretch and contract they are fucked. Good luck going for a Wild Card spot, and Jim, enjoy contract negotiations in March.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS OVER 10.5 -175
Guess who has the strongest, most physical roster in football? Peyton Manning knows. The most striking image for me was two weeks before the Super Bowl. When the confetti was coming down in Denver Peyton Manning looked like a man headed to the gallows. It felt surreal and kind of ghoulish to watch him grimace through the interviews and press junkets after the Broncos beat the Pats. I swear I didn’t see one interview or public appearance where he genuinely laughed or smiled. It was if he knew what was waiting for him in New York. Seattle has the best top-to-bottom roster in football. This is the sort of team Jimmy Johnson, Bill Walsh, Tom Landry, Bill Parcells, or Chuck Noll would have put together so we have to give a lot of credit to Pete Carroll in spite of his 9/11 Truther bullshit. A generation ago people would be talking about this being a 10-year dynasty, but because the NFL is run by degenerate swine there will be salary cap casualties over the next few years (they had to let go three guys from their defensive line rotation this past off-season), Russell Wilson’s gonna’ sorta’ get paid, and injuries will inevitably pile up (speaking of, Richard Sherman’s coming off knee surgery), but right now they are the best team in football. Sure, Green Bay, San Francisco, and Philly, and maybe the Cards will cause some problems for them, but it’s going to be ugly for teams like Oakland, Denver, Washington, and Dallas.
Everyone loves to talk about Super Bowl champs dropping off the following year, but this seems like a rare case where that trend is going to be bucked. True, Seattle didn’t really hit their stride until mid-season, but it would take a ton of injuries to knock them below 11 wins. The one serious handicap they have to deal with is San Francisco and they have tons of problems on defense. They match up at every position (when they don’t have injuries and wife-beating detracting) and watching these two go at it is like seeing Ali and Frazier beat each other to a pulp for 15 rounds. These will be my favorite games to watch all season because the animosity between the two teams is so comical and rich. Richard Sherman is smarter than any 10 players on the Niners put together and he is just so fucking good at getting under people’s skin. Every time I hear him talk I think of the Hanson brothers in Slap Shot after Reggie Dunlap gets the opposing team’s goaltender ejected from the game for fighting by insulting his wife: “Get in their fucking mind!” At root, that’s what the Seahawks do. They needle and prod and hit and talk shit and when you talk shit you get hit or thrown off your game and they just laugh in your face. I love it.
Also, they have the best defense football has seen in maybe 25 years. The league has gone to extreme measures to protect quarterbacks and let wide receivers run free, but the Seahawks shut down Denver by doing what defensive guru Bill Arnsparger preached: fill the gaps. For Seattle it’s more about spacing and taking away options for the quarterback than it is playing zones or playing a man straight up eliminating the chance for short, quick passes to turn into big gains. The Seahawks identify the quarterback’s primary and secondary targets, focus on shutting them down, and leave only a safety valve receiver open for a minimal gain. They don’t worry about shutting down all of a quarterback’s options, they just force him to use his least desirable one.
What gives them trouble is the sort of vertical game that Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Arizona can deploy. Those styles require big, rangy receivers who can streak downfield and out jump or out position even Richard Sherman. Teams with big-armed quarterbacks are the ones that can crack open Seattle’s defense. It doesn’t hurt to have a group of big receivers. It’s why Chicago would be a prime candidate for an upset in the playoffs if Cutler can be kept upright and allowed to utilize a cadre of receivers and tight ends that are all over 6’3”. Not to mention Matt Forte who is shifty, elusive, and surprisingly strong between the tackles. It’s those sort of physical match ups that are needed to beat Seattle. I’m not saying these are guarantees to success, but they are one way of looking at how to beat them.
Their offense seems pedestrian, relies on a power running game, and a lot of folks seem to wonder if Russell Wilson is good enough to be a top flight quarterback once it’s time to shift away from Marshawn Lynch and open up the playbook. There is a tried and true method that has been followed by most of the great dynasties: Build a stout defense, build a good running game, nurture a quarterback and bring him along slowly before giving him the reins, play to your strengths, and don’t rush anything. Beast Mode has maybe another one or two years as a really effective power back, but after that it’s going to be up to Wilson to prove that can carry the offense and he’s gonna’ be fine.
At the end of the day Seattle is too well-equipped. Their biggest challenges will be in their own division where defenses rule the day, Green Bay, and Philadelphia. Denver may be able to make some adjustments and give the Seahawks a game, but it’s hard to imagine anything short of a rash of injuries keeping Seattle from winning at least 11 games. Think closer to 13 or 14, another trip to the Super Bowl, and another title.