Entries by: Roger Pretzel

Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: NFC South

Written by :
Published on : September 11, 2015

 

Ah the NFC South, the only division where you can make the playoffs without a winning record. It was a wacky scene last year, and I don’t see it getting any less wacky with a young Saints crew deep in reconstruction, a Falcons team with a potentially explosive offense (which they’ll need considering their defense), a tantalizingly improved Buccaneers gang, and a Panthers team flirting with a serious drop in production.

 

Listen up you weisenheimer, the ball’s got some crass opinions to share…

 

New Orleans Saints:
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I’ve got a lot of affection for the Saints, but the team has changed so drastically in such a short amount of time that they’re nearly unrecognizable. The Junior Galette debacle was a costly embarrassment, and I’m not fully convinced that C.J. Spiller will be successful even if he seems like a great fit in Nola’s offensive system. It’s not all bad news of course. Having a young team means that some guys are going to inevitably crawl out of the woodwork and become big playmakers. Drew Brees still has some great options to throw to: Marques Colston will remain a solid end-zone threat and will be perfect for those third-and-short surprise pass plays. I also love how Brandin Cooks has emerged as Drew’s go-to receiver. I expect great things from him this season.

 

From the coaching perspective, I think Sean Peyton is one of the best in the league, even if that signature visor makes him look like a white-boy rave DJ from the Wisconsin suburbs of the late 90’s. This is also going to be a terribly important season for Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. All the wild, free flowing, blonde hair isn’t going to help him keep his job if the Saints defense crumbles under injuries and inexperience.

 

The crystal ball says:

Rebuilding. Rebuilding. Rebuilding. Even if a passel of these young players emerge as studs, it’s still going to take a bit of work getting everyone on the same page. Jimmy Graham’s loss is definitely going to hurt, as is the absence of some of the defensive vets (due to injury), like Jairus Byrd. The Saints don’t make the playoffs this year, but Rob Ryan keeps his job and lives to fight another day.

 

Atlanta Falcons:
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Deflategate was an interesting litmus test for a league that sometimes struggles with its successes in the face of scandal. I was a little shocked that more attention wasn’t paid to the story of the Atlanta Falcons pumping extra volume into their arena to mess with the other team. In my mind this is way more egregious than the PSI of a football in terms of actual game outcome, so I’m quite comfortable labeling the Falcons as cheaters right from the get-go.

 

What happened to Atlanta anyway? Seems like just a couple years ago they were poised to make a serious Super Bowl run. Certainly a decaying running game and the retirement of Tony Gonzalez were big factors, but this is also a team that’s had some defensive deficiencies for some time now. Maybe that changes with Vic Beasley starting the season as a rookie DE, but I’m not holding my breath. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are definitely going to create some offensive fireworks together along with Roddy White thrown in for good measure, but like many other middling teams, there’s only so much you can hope for with this current group.

 

The crystal ball says:

Dan Quinn is coming into a tough situation as a first time head coach, and while I respect his WWE wrestler look, I don’t think we can expect a whole lot outta Hotlanta this season. On the plus side, it’s a very weak division with a once dominant Saints team regrouping. So the Falcons have a shot at doing well within the NFC South, but personally, I still like the Panthers for the division, making a wild card slot highly unlikely for the dirty birds. We’re going to see plenty of beautiful highlights from Matt Ryan and company in game recaps next to losing scores.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
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Lovie Smith is not to be trifled with even if he does have a habit of making willfully bad decisions and betting on the wrong horse. I like his reworking of the Bucs and with Jameis Winston we might finally have a team on our hands. Vincent Jackson is a mammoth-sized receiver, and the perfect type of guy for a talented young QB to pitch to. There is this nagging sense however that Mike Glennon wasn’t exactly the worst QB ever, so really how much better can Jameis Winston make this team?

 

As far as Winston is concerned, he could be golden in the NFL as long as he can keep his off-field extracurriculars in check. We’ve seen plenty of dudes who are prone to bad behavior wreck themselves in the NFL. Hell, guys who aren’t prone to bad behavior land in hot water too. The Winston pick was a hopeful gamble and I hope he keeps it together long enough to play. On the other side of the ball, Tampa Bay does have a pretty solid defense despite what last year’s stats might suggest. That D is only going to get better with the addition of George Johnson who had a great last season with the Lions. Like the Falcons, this is another club that has problems with the run game, but I’m not totally ready to give up on Doug Martin. Sure, he’s not going to light up your fantasy scoreboard, but I think the muscle hamster (worst nickname ever) can provide an adequate run game to bolster Winston’s arm.

 

The crystal ball says:

It’s so tempting to imagine the Buccaneers popping off. I do think they make some huge strides. Winston will behave, at least for his rookie year, but watch out for the offseason and the following one. I see steady improvement all around as Lovie Smith gets his hooks deeper in the team and Winston settles in. At first the crystal ball was telling me that the Bucs had a good chance to make the playoffs but then she admitted that she had been drinking too much white zin the night before. The Bucs have a good shot at a .500 season, and at this point, that’s almost as good as making the playoffs.

 

Carolina Panthers:
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No Kelvin Benjamin. Yeah, Aaron Rodgers can survive without Jordy Nelson, no sweat, but Cam Newton is going to have a really hard time without his number one receiver. Greg Olson can only catch so many; and how much can really be expected from Ted Ginn Jr. and Stephen Hill? There’s a lot of talk about the Panthers running the ball more, but if they don’t throw it enough that will prevent Cam from running, which is arguably his greatest asset. Look, Superman ain’t exactly known for his arm accuracy. I think Jonathan Stewart has some promise in the backfield, old as he is, and let’s not forget that Carolina has a strong defense. I can’t pronounce the dude’s name right but I can’t wait to see some of those big tackles Luke Kuechly is bound to make. Say it with me now… “Keek-Ly.”

 

He obviously doesn’t see it this way but I think this will be a great chance for Ron Rivera to show off his chops as head coach. “Riverboat Ron” is working in a division that will be up for grabs all season, and will likely be emboldened to make some risky player decisions based on that. He’s shown in the past that he has the balls to go for it on fourth and short, and he’s going to need all that chutzpah with a diminished offense and a quarterback just starting to show signs of decline.

 

The crystal ball says:

This is Carolina’s division to lose. The Falcons will do well statistically but aren’t a major contender. The Saints are sidelined in rebuilding, and the Bucs might just be nipping at their heels. My sweetly murky crystal ball still sees Carolina as the strongest group in the bunch mostly thanks to a stout defensive backbone and an offense that’s not afraid to be unorthodox. I think they make the playoffs and are once again promptly eliminated in the first round.

 

 


Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: AFC West

Written by :
Published on : September 5, 2015

 

This season’s AFC West promises a grueling divisional battle between a Broncos team that may be on the decline and a solidly improved Chiefs defense. Meanwhile, Oakland is looking for a new start with a potentially impressive QB/WR connection, and though you shouldn’t sleep on the San Diego Chargers, you know you will anyway.

 

Let yourself go as we gaze into this hazy quartz sphere…

 

Oakland Raiders:

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Who do you like better as a second year quarterback in a hurting franchise, Blake Bortles or Derek Carr? It’s a trick question. They’re both promising, and they’ve both got a long way to go. I think Carr has the edge at the moment due to having Amari Cooper as a target. I try not to get too excited about any draft prospect before I see them in the regular season (which has been nearly impossible with Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston on hand in the preseason), but with Cooper it’s hard not to think that the Raiders made a wise decision.

As far as the coaching switch-up goes, it’s tough to get too excited about Jack Del Rio. That said, it can’t get any worse than Dennis Allen’s attempt to bring Oakland back from the brink. The dude tried, and it just didn’t work. It does help to have a guy like Justin Tuck in the locker room though. Sure his production has declined pretty significantly from his glory days in New York, but you’ve got to imagine he’s worth the contract for his ability to mentor the younger guys.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

As with so many other teams on the lower rungs of the NFL’s ladder, this one has some new talent that it needs to mold properly in order to start winning. This is the definition of a building season, and the Raiders are once again destined to remain at the bottom of the AFC West, even if Del Rio’s strategies take hold. At least we get some new Khalil Mack highlights.

 

Denver Broncos:

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The NFL’s eternal bridesmaids return this season with some elephant-in-the-room-questions regarding Peyton’s continued high level of production, his health, and his age. These are questions worth asking but I don’t see Manning losing much steam this season. He’ll remain a class-A quarterback, but what about next season? What about the season after that? There’s gonna come a day (sometime soon) when Manning’s going to have to hang up the cleats, giving up the game he loves in favor of pursuing his other passion: endorsements.

I’m also a little concerned about the departure of John Fox. I know Kubiak has a history with the franchise but it’s not like the Broncos exactly suffered under Fox’s reign. Sure, there was an embarrassing Super Bowl drubbing at the hands of the Seahawks, but I find it hard to give up on a top tier coach for one loss, even if it is in THE game. Hey, remember when Danny Trevathan dropped the ball before the end zone on a guaranteed pick-six against Baltimore in the 2013 season, resulting in an automatic touchback? I started paying attention to him after that mostly because of schadenfreude, but was soon impressed by how good a player he actually is. I love that defense in Denver. They’re as fun and dynamic as the offense is methodical and boring.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

A strong season will be marred by a few hiccups in adjusting to Kubiak’s return. It’s a strong possibility Denver doesn’t make the playoffs, which will cause that overly earnest fan-base to go apoplectic. This is a team currently in decline, even if that decline is almost imperceptibly gradual.

 

San Diego Chargers:

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The Chargers are a weird team because they’re sort of a non-factor when you look at the league as a whole. It’s strange because they aren’t a “bad” team, and they usually finish the season with an over .500 record, or something close to it. The Chargers are also a team for which that hoary old “any given Sunday” adage was invented for: it doesn’t matter how good you are, you can’t take the Chargers for granted. It’s not entirely surprising when they make the playoffs, and it’s even less so when they don’t, but something is missing here. For all of Phil Rivers’ manic facial expressions and gnashing of teeth, this is a team that seems to suffer strongest from a lack of heart. They’re the vanilla pudding of the NFL: good, but unremarkable.

Rivers is the rock here and his contract extension was much deserved, but it seems like he’s got an ever shrinking coterie of talented receivers to throw to, and all the while the running game has remained stagnant. Gates does a great job bucking body image norms (even in the position of tight end), but his age is going to lead to a drop in production that I think we’ve already seen a preview of. There’s a bad stereotypical comparison to make with the SoCal locale they play out of, with a relaxed and lackadaisical attitude. Obviously the players and coaching staff don’t feel that way, but looking in from the outside, it’s hard to believe that this is a club with a strong work ethic or culture.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Rivers will be reliable as ever, but he can only do so much. The run game continues to struggle and the Chargers win just enough games to satisfy fans with another .500 or over season. Keep an eye on that defense though, they’re good and they may start to develop the kind of identity this team sorely needs.

 

Kansas City Chiefs:

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I love Andy Reid and I don’t care who knows it. I love his comeback with the Chiefs after leaving Philadelphia, bruised, broken, and disgraced. Along with Reid, we’ve got another guy with something to prove in QB Alex Smith. He was let go by the ‘Niners, despite playing quite well, in favor of a shinier new model (though I’m guessing plenty of 49ers fans would be happy to have Smith back over Kap at this point). Justin Houston turns an already great d-line into arguably the league’s most terrifying and amped up pass rush. While it’s certainly not the best look to call yourself “the LeBron James of the NFL,” Jamaal Charles’ point is well taken in that he is one of the NFL’s premier running backs. C’mon Jamaal, let’s not forget that LeBron’s favorite athlete is Calvin Johnson!

There are some potential concerns here with a lack of big play receivers, and Charles was hung up with some injuries last season. For a team that doesn’t throw many touchdowns, I’m curious to see if Maclin will be used as a deep threat option, modifying the Chiefs’ game-plan somewhat.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

I think the division goes to the Chiefs this year. It’s going to be a tooth and nail street fight with Denver, and it’s going to get nasty. Even if the Broncos do edge them out of divisional champ status, they definitely still make the playoffs in the wildcard spot. The defensive front continues to dominate and the offense grounds, pounds, and stays consistently productive.

 


Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: NFC East

Written by :
Published on : August 27, 2015

 

There is no other division in the NFL in which the specter of injury looms so heavily over every team. Dallas has its brilliant but weary O-line protecting a fragile veteran QB, Philadelphia has built a winning crew that can sustain injury up to a point, the Giants are looking to rebound after two seasons of a seriously depleted squad, and Washington has brought a curse upon itself for not changing its unfortunate and offensive image.

 

Sweet crystal ball: murky and jumbled though your whispers may be, illuminate our way!

 

Dallas Cowboys:

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There was a brief period of time where I didn’t totally hate the Cowboys. I moved away from general knee-jerk disdain and grew to recognize their brilliant offensive line. I also realized that Tony Romo is a solid, likable, and hardworking quarterback, and even thought that Jerry Jones’s desperate ramblings became amusing, endearing even. Then along came Dez Bryant. The dude is by far my least favorite NFL superstar. He’s the epitome of a diva and I hate his whininess towards referees, as well as his frequent fights with coaches and teammates. I will never deny that he is a fantastic talent, but as a human personality, I’m just kind of grossed out by his ego and sense of entitlement. He is Calvin Johnson’s evil twin, no doubt about it.

So here we are in 2015 and I think that Jerry Jones knows in his wizened coal-black heart that last year was the ‘boys best chance at making a run for the title in a long time, and the best chance they’ll get for quite a while. Romo is good for another couple of seasons as long as he stays healthy, but that surgically repaired back is one hell of a sword of Damocles hanging over the entire organization. That previously mentioned O-line is the key to keeping things regular, but even they’re starting to show signs of wear and tear. Should they falter, this will prove very problematic for Darren McFadden.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The crystal ball likes Dez much more than I do, predicting a stellar season for a big time receiver in his prime. Romo will hold down the fort, thanks to that crucial offensive line that will suffer only minor injuries, and remain more or less intact through the season. Darren McFadden will show promise at first and then eventually disappoint. Dallas has a shot at the wildcard spot but she’s still a leaky boat holding herself above the surface in a division that is returning to its highly competitive ways.

 

New York Giants:

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I think it’s pretty easy to get hyperbolic over New York’s potential this season, but I’m afraid that’s more from what’s expected of them than actual evidence. Sure, Eli’s too good to keep playing so poorly, and it’s easy to write off the last two seasons because of the mass of injuries sustained by Big Blue, but that’s also the lazy approach. Like many, when it comes to analyzing the Giants, I want to have my cake and eat it too. Yes, I think a healthier team will win more games, but I’m still dubious that this is a club that’s going to sweep back into the division.

I’m not particularly concerned about the stories surrounding Eli Manning’s contract, but regardless of what he purportedly wants, the fans and coaching staff need to see his ratio of INT’s to TD’s drop precipitously. He’s certainly proved it can go either way. I also didn’t like how Jason Pierre-Paul dealt with his team following that unfortunate sparkler accident. It looks like he’ll be returning to the Giants, and will play before the first half of the season is out, but his cagey statements from the hospital and seeming lack of interest to meet with the team’s officials had me seriously doubting his return to New York, or anywhere. At least JPP can rest assured that he won’t go down in history as the NY Giant guilty of the stupidest unnecessary injury of all time…

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Eli will bring his pick numbers down to below Andy Dalton levels, which will be considered a victory. There will be lots and lots of speculation as to whether or not Tom Coughlin keeps his job. He will, while chomping angrily on his gum the whole time. Jason Pierre-Paul will come back. He’ll do fine. Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz will be frustrated with the heavy coverage they receive from defenses that aren’t particularly scared of the run game. The Giants improve, making them a viable threat, but not as much as expected. THEN things will get crazy with Eli’s contract!

 

Washington Redskins:

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It’s pretty obvious to me that the central cause of the Washington’s woes over the last few years have been due to a longstanding Native American curse brought on by owner Dan Snyder’s absolute refusal to change the franchise’s name and image in the face of good taste or common decency. RGIII is constantly nursing a bum knee or sitting concussed on the bench; relegated to selling sandwiches alongside a once obese pedophile. Now, Niles Paul and Junior Galette are out for the whole damn season. It doesn’t seem fair, and it shouldn’t be… Unless you remember that this team is named after a derogatory term coined during the genocide of an entire population. Feel free to write Dan Snyder a letter telling him how you feel.

Thanks to the curse, we’re left with an extremely weak offensive line supporting a glass-jawed QB. However, the defensive line is really interesting, and I think it’s the best thing the ‘skins have got going for them. There’s a good pass rush to be had there, and a good defense overall if the secondary can hold up. I don’t care if it’s Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy, but either of these dudes will fare better than Griffin.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

More deserved suffering for a team with a shamefully behind-the-times character. RGIII will continue to fail and the Redskins will focus more on a mediocre ground game because of it. Fans can expect some joy through the defense, and some excitement when either of the backup QBs start airing it out to DeSean Jackson, the most electric offensive weapon this team has.

 

Philadelphia Eagles:

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Chip Kelly is the closest thing the NFL has to a mad scientist. He’s a singular coach in that his megalomaniacal vision for his club’s success is less predicated upon individual player performance and more so on the crazy scheme in his head. I mean that as a compliment. The Foles/Bradford trade wasn’t about Foles’ merits or deficiencies on the field; it was about Sam Bradford working better in Kelly’s vision.

So Bradford and Murray are going to be the experiment and the gamble. Both are players that fit with Chip Kelly’s Eagles (trademark registered), but both are also injury prone. Unlike other teams in the NFC East, Philadelphia has a deeper bench. Mark Sanchez works well in this offense and Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles can certainly help take some of the pressure off of Murray. All the meticulously planned and thought out offense in the world can’t cover a weak defense that ranked near the bottom of the league last season. If things looked as exciting for the Eagles on the other side of the ball then they would be a true Super Bowl contender.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The ball likes the Eagles this year, and thinks they’re the frontrunner to win the division, thanks in part to a cushy schedule. The mad scientist has the offense that he wants and I think it’ll come through for him. The defense will improve incrementally but there’s going to be plenty of shootouts to keep Bradford’s throwing arm in shape. Finally, I’m proud of myself for having made it this far without making a single Tim Tebow joke.

 


Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: AFC South

Written by :
Published on : August 21, 2015

 

This season’s AFC South promises a strong showing from the Colts despite Pagano being under extra post-season scrutiny, a Texans team itching to break into the big time, and a group of Jaguars and Titans still searching for an identity.

Simmer down. I’m trying to listen to the danged old ball…

 

Houston Texans:

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The Texans certainly have the potential to pop-off this season. A healthy Jadeveon Clowney alongside the indomitable monster that is J.J. Watt is going to provide for one of the best pass rushes in the league. And let’s not forget the addition of big man Vince Wilfork. Veteran Andre Johnson’s departure doesn’t hurt so much with the ascendency of DeAndre Hopkins, and Cecil Shorts could blossom under a new system. But the big offensive questions remain: can anything get accomplished at the QB position, and can Arian Foster stay healthy? Unfortunately it looks like the latter has already been answered with a pre-season groin injury, but there’s still hope in the backfield with Alfred Blue.

The QB question is much tougher. I like how Bill O’Brien is working with Hoyer and Mallett equally, but unless Mallett makes some amazing moves in the pre-season, I think it’s a no brainer to give the job to Hoyer. The guy’s got more starting experience, and while not being a top-tier quarterback in any capacity, I think he’s a lot better than he gets credit for.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Another solid year for the Texans with more scratches in the W’s column than L’s. The offense will just squeeze by, propped up by a defense that will surely put the fear of God into every quarterback they come across. The good times don’t roll on forever though as a costly divisional loss or two at the hands of the Titans or Jaguars leads to a repeat of last year’s near miss of the wildcard slot.

 

Tennessee Titans:

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Ken Whisenhunt was my top man for the job in Detroit when Jim Schwartz was given his walking papers, but with a frightful 2-14 record last year for his coming-out-party, I’m thinking Jim Caldwell is looking pretty good right about now. Obviously it’s not all Whisenhunt’s fault, as he came into a team that’s seemed to struggle in every department, hell, every facet of the game.

Second overall pick Marcus Mariota has a lot of expectations weighing on him coming into his rookie season. I love the draft call and think he’ll be a great fit with this team… eventually. It would be foolish to think that Mariota is gonna turn this Titanic around, especially with the limited weapons at his disposal. I could see Mariota and Kendall Wright achieving some chemistry together, and am super curious to see if veteran Hakeem Nicks boosts the offense or simply phones it in.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Mariota makes a difference, especially with the fire under Whisenhunt’s ass. The Titans improve gradually around their new QB and the whole thing begins to jell. David Cobb and Bishop Sankey will share most of the touches, creating an unspectacular, but reasonably effective run game. The Titan’s aren’t contenders yet, and they won’t be by the end of the season, but with a little luck they will manage to escape a repeat of having the worst record in the NFL.

 

Indianapolis Colts:

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Indy’s at the top of the heap in the AFC South and it looks like it’s going to remain that way for at least another year. Andrew Luck is killing it, and T.Y. Hilton, perhaps the best deep threat receiver in the league, got resigned this offseason. The Colts finally have a bit of stability in the backfield with Frank Gore. Sure, Gore’s lost a bit of his speed and he’s not going to get as many touches as he used to, but his instincts are still good, and he still has that battering-ram toughness that makes him so fun to watch and so frustrating for defenses. He also has the coolest nickname in the league (The Inconvenient Truth). In any case, one would be hard pressed to say that he’s not a huge step up from Trent Richardson, who I mistakenly thought was really going to make a go of it with the Colts.

With the Indy chumping it the past few years of playoffs, questions about Chuck Pagano’s competency are being raised. I think it’s a issue worth talking about, and the buck stops here, but I think it’s difficult to peg those losses, no matter how spectacular, on a guy who regularly racks up winning seasons for his team. Plenty of teams would be so lucky as to have Chuck Pagano as their head coach.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The offense is there, but the defense will continue to have trouble keeping up with the other side of the ball. The divisional situation gives the Colts another free ticket to the playoffs where they once again lose a heartbreaker. Questions will continue about Pagano’s coaching. He’s out of Indy in the next three years.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars:

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I like Blake Bortles, and not just because of his funny name. I like his arm when he’s on the run and I like his release. There’s plenty of room for improvement, and I think we’re going to see some of it this year. Julius Thomas was a nice off-season present for a guy in need of quality receivers, but let’s be honest, I think plenty of teams will be comfortable double teaming Thomas in the red zone while leaving Marqise Lee open. I like the multiple options at running back, and I think Bernard Pierce makes the roster and has an impact.

Something I’ve noticed: I never see a dude in just a Jaguars hat or jersey. It’s always an entire outfit with hat, jersey, shorts, and even team color sneakers. Just on the street. Just walking around. Crazy people like that deserve to see Julius Thomas succeed with his new team.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The most exciting games for the Jags this year will be divisional matchups, particularly against the Titans and Texans. Jacksonville has a solid shot at spoiling Houston’s playoff dream, and leaving Tennessee in the dust. The crystal ball says both these things happen. The non-divisional games on the other hand will be mostly losses with a tough schedule for a team in transition.

 

 


Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: NFC West Predictions

Written by :
Published on : August 12, 2015

 

In the NFC West we’ve got a dominant flock of seagulls, a 49ers fan base that may not have as much to worry about as they’ve been told, a lost herd of Rams looking for a shepherd, and a pumped-up Arizona staring down a tough road to repeating last season’s success.

Shut up! Shut up! The ball… She speaks to me…

San Francisco 49ers:

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It’s completely impossible to avoid the fact that San Francisco has been dealt many painful blows this offseason. They lost one of the league’s most interesting and visible coaches (regardless of whether or not his departure was inevitable). With the loss of so many players, either preventable or through unforeseen circumstances, the collective blood pressure of the ‘Niners’ faithful is rising. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine in the wake of this roster depleting shit-storm that San-Fran used to contend for the Super Bowl. To me, that team looked invincible.

Despite all that, I think there’s a chance for this organization to bounce back pretty quickly. Ex-Ravens Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin provide two great complimentary threats with a short and long pass combo. The lion’s share of the pressure is going to rest on the poorly-tattooed shoulders of Colin Kaepernick. Personally, I’m not wild about Kap, but he’s shown fits of brilliance in the past. If Kaepernick can screw his head on right, show some leadership and play at his best, you’re looking at a team destined to play above .500. Finally, I’d take Frank Gore over Reggie Bush any day, but when the former Heisman winner was healthy two seasons ago with the Lions, he provided a nice threat that specialized in bouncing to the outside.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

It’s still going to be a tough year for the 49ers, but it won’t be the complete disaster or lost year that many people are expecting. They’re going to win some big games, turn heads, and get people talking, but ultimately Kaepernick will remain streaky, making any sort of playoff run a serious long shot.

 

St. Louis Rams:

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The winds of change are blowing ominously in St. Louis and I think they’re blowing towards Los Angeles. By the end of the decade I won’t be surprised if this team has moved on to another part of the country. Regardless of the rumors, this is a real do or die for Jeff Fisher. He started as strong as you can while still turning in a sub .500 season, but with each successive year it’s gotten a little worse, and 2014 was close to disastrous.

There’ve been a lot of empty promises in the run game and QB department, and like Fisher, WR Tavon Austin is also experiencing a slump. James Laurinaitis deserves better than this. He’s a great captain and is the staunch backbone of a solid defense that is constantly betrayed by a legendarily bad offense. Chip Kelly’s no dummy, so at least the Foles/Bradford trade was beneficial to both parties, though I err on the side of thinking the Rams got the better deal, at least in the short term. That’s fine. Time is something they don’t have.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

For better or worse Fisher’s reign ends this season with another sub .500 campaign. Nick Foles will be a boost to the team and give Tavon Austin a bump in his stats, but it’s too little too late for a club that’s been chronically struggling. Nothing is going to go right for the Rams this year, with hints of improvement overshadowed by the oppressive weight of the same old, same old. Fisher gets to leave at the end of the season for a more rewarding gig with a smaller paycheck.

 

Arizona Cardinals:

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We get it Bruce Arians, you’re a really good coach who turned around a fairly obscure team and made them a scrappy contender. And yet… I just don’t believe. I kind of want to believe, but I just don’t. For me Arians is the only real example of heart and drive this team has, and he’s pretty laconic on game day to be sure. Yeah, I’ve got a soft spot for Carson Palmer, and what’s not to like about Larry Fitzgerald? But while Larry’s showing no signs of slowing down, I think this is the season we finally start to see a more pronounced decline in his production as Michael Floyd is more heavily relied upon.

While the offense has been clicking nicely, the defense is a legitimate concern. In the 2014 season they luckily ended up with stats that didn’t reflect their win/loss numbers one bit, ending up in the lower-middle half of the pecking order. All due respect to Arians, but I won’t be one bit surprised if the Cardinals don’t repeat last season’s success, even with all those much talked about injured players returning.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Appearing in a commercial is the kiss of death for any non-quarterback, so naturally Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers will decline this year. Michael Floyd will bounce back from that nasty hand injury he sustained in training camp, and Andre Ellington will continue to provide satisfactory ground work. The Cardinals will have a great season, but they’re simply not going to win as many games as they did last year. With the Seahawks all but a lock as the division champions, they’re going to have to work their asses off for another wild card spot, which I don’t think they actually get.

 

Seattle Seahawks:

 

 photo seattleseahawks copy_zpstnt4fc4i.jpg

 

Pete Carroll’s got a hell of a thing going on up there in Seattle. I was gobsmacked at the Jimmy Graham trade and half expected Roger Goodell to pick up the red phone in his concrete bunker and put the kibosh on the whole thing in the name of monopoly busting. With Russell Wilson’s contract ironed out and Marshawn Lynch’s decision to stick it out a few more years, the gulls dodged a couple scary bullets. And even if they can’t work out a deal with Kam Chancellor’s inflamed ego, the defense is still going to remain the gold standard.

The difficulty with this much talent is keeping it all together. We’ve seen some lulls in productivity, even during last year’s Super Bowl run, where Carroll couldn’t quite make the individual offensive pieces sing in harmony. Speaking of the Super Bowl, let’s not forget that much analyzed and questioned pass play that resulted in a last minute loss to the Patriots. It was a bitter pill to swallow then, but now the Seahawks have a hard earned chip on their shoulder, giving them purpose.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

These guys are going to be a blast to watch with an explosive and unpredictable offense paired with that defense you’re always hearing about. The crystal ball is unusually clear for a change, predicting a return to the Super Bowl for Seattle with an excellent chance of a rematch against another worthy New England team. This time however, it’s personal.

 

 


Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: AFC East Predictions

Written by :
Published on : August 6, 2015

 

The AFC East promises another season of domination from the whiney, albeit victorious Super Bowl champs in New England, along with a rejuvenated Buffalo, a front office in Miami that’s literally gambling on it’s future, and a sad sack Jets crew in need of some meaningful leadership.

The visions… They are upon me!

 

New England Patriots:

 photo patrionts_prediction_zpsmocwfry4.jpg

 

Let’s not pretend for one second that Tom Brady’s four-game suspension (should it hold up in court) affects New England’s season one iota. Jimmy Garoppolo is one of the better backup QB’s in the league and he’s got an arsenal of lethal weapons at his disposal. The Patriots fate doesn’t lie in the hands of Tom “The Unicorn” Brady, beautiful and mythical though he may be, but instead lies tightly clenched in the fists of its head coach. That’s right, the super-villain intellect and flinty heart of Bill Belichick is what keeps this team winning more than its fair share of games, and until he hangs up the hoodie for good it will continue that way like clockwork.

I’m curious to see if Brandon LaFell continues to improve and eventually wins the contest to become Brady’s “go to” receiver over Julian Edelman. Also, one of my favorite stories of last year’s playoffs was the miraculous resurrection of LeGarrette Blount from a shamed pariah to a clutch grinder, running with a chip on his shoulder.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The Pats breeze into the playoffs, probably making it all the way to the Super Bowl. They lose the big one in another heartbreaker, as they’ve done about the same amount of times as they’ve won. Blount will disappoint without the fire to his feet, possibly leading the way for Jonas Gray (Michigan boy, just saying). Overall the run game will be a mixed bag, while the pass game will be frighteningly effective. Gronk’s gonna rack up a bazillion touchdowns, so get him for your fantasy team. My magic crystal ball, no matter how cloudy, feels utterly unnecessary in this case.

 

 

Buffalo Bills:

 photo bills_zpszgucf5um.jpg

 

This is one of the teams I’m most excited to watch this season. The introduction of a new, flashy, and often obnoxious, coach is just what a morose fan-base needs to shake out the cobwebs. The real story here though is the math equation of Rex plus Jim Schwartz, equaling the greatest meeting of NFL antiheroes in recent memory. It’s like if Bill Cowher and Jim Harbaugh got together, or Bill Belichick and the Devil ran a team.

You kind of know what you’re getting with a Bills ticket: solid defense and a committed and formidable running game. That’s only going to get amplified with Rex onboard, and I think it may ultimately be a detriment to making the team more well rounded. Sammy Watkins isn’t going to single-handedly turn around EJ Manuel’s career, and why would Manuel risk making himself look bad when he can hand the ball off to Shady?

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Ryan and Schwartz are characters for sure, but they’re characters worth paying attention to. If anyone can breathe life back into this franchise (without, you know, lots of wins) it’s Rex. The Bills will win more games this season, despite some serious weaknesses that will hurt them in the long run. The good news is that in the short term, talk of an impending move out of Buffalo will stop, and a proud team can continue playing in a town that deserves football.

 

 

Miami Dolphins:

 photo dolphins_zps52bccib8.jpg

 

There’s a spending spree going on down in Miami, and head coach Joe Philbin has been talking like he’s got something to prove. Yet, all the big words, and wheeling and dealing smacks of desperation. Miami’s not in the running for Super Bowl and these moves may create a “laugh now, cry later” effect. For the fans, the addition of Ndamukong Suh should be thrilling, and he’ll be worth the money, but let’s face it: no game has ever been won or lost on the shoulders of one player, especially not a defensive tackle.

Tannehill is a solid quarterback who has that increasingly rare attribute of consistency at the position, but the flip side is that he’s consistently above average, and almost never brilliant. I did look over the Tannehill contract and it’s not as crazy as some have suggested, but again, it’s another example of the money piling up for a team that’s going to have some financially lean years to deal with sooner than later. With Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller in the backfield you’ve got another argument for consistency, and that’s a good thing.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

I think Philbin’s going to partially get his wish with a roller coaster season that defies the workman-like nature of many of its players. When they win, they’ll crush it, and when they lose the team will collapse utterly, with Suh as the lone man trying to hold down the fort. At the end of the day they’re going to end up with an above .500 season, but it’ll be a frustration for Philbin and fans alike when the playoffs remain definitively out of reach.

 

 

New York Jets:

 photo jetssbs_zps1xoo7tjb.jpg

 

I am not envious of Todd Bowles. The guy is coming into a broken organization, with a presumed starting QB that is a poor decision making machine (who also yells back at frustrated fans), and a veritable hornets’ nest of injuries, arrests, and contract disputes. What I question most is the decision of the head office to hire a defense expert when the Jets ain’t exactly dying in that department. It’s the offense that needs the most work.

I don’t think it would be a terrible idea to start Ryan Fitzpatrick over Geno Smith and work a more ground-based, short passing game. Brandon Marshall is going to be a huge addition to this team, but like Eric Decker learned, you gotta have someone that can throw you the ball. There’s a chance that the one/two punch of Marshall and Decker can make some fun things happen no matter who slings, but… but… Exactly. Let’s also not forget that hell hath no fury like Rex spurned: those two divisional games between the Jets and the Bills are going to be absolute bloodbaths.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

More hurt for Gang Green with another losing season. Bowles is the silver lining as he works out a new identity for the team. The best to hope for is a year of productive adjustments, learning, and system jiggering, and then come back next year as a contender with a serious purpose.

 


Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: NFC North Predictions

Written by :
Published on : July 29, 2015

 

With the rise of the Lions from laughingstock to “that team no one believes in,” combined with a schizophrenic Vikings squad and a Bears crew struggling to hang on to mediocrity, the NFC North has gotten a little goofy. Besides the Packers no other team is currently considered a viable Super Bowl threat.

But I’m a Lions fan, and the NFC North is my home sweet home, so I’ll be following it much closer than the guys who actually get paid to write about it. Granted, the people who get paid to write about it are professionals as opposed to a disgruntled old crank who talks to his cat.

Enough pretense! The visions are taking substance…

Minnesota Vikings:

 photo vikings_sbs02 copy_zps1tbp8x9j.jpg

The good folks in Minnesota love Teddy Bridgewater, and I can’t blame a fan base hungry for a franchise quarterback, but I found it a little irksome that the media fawned over this kid from the get go. It happens all the time in a hype-fueled profession, but I wish some of these guys could be held accountable for their big mouths. At least put them in a dunk tank or something with Brett Favre throwing footballs over his shoulder at the target. I saw a lot of potential in Bridgewater, but I also saw a lot of kinks that needed ironing out. He can scramble and hit some good passes on the run, but for all those nifty highlights, there were costly interceptions as well.

The return of Adrian Peterson in purple and gold surprised me. I thought the reconciliation to this uncomfortably troubled marriage was possible, but I wasn’t counting on it. Hey, the crystal ball is cloudy after all. Now that AP is back in the game, I’m fascinated to see what happens. I don’t care how good he is: age and expectations are going to be a factor.

The crystal ball says:

Teddy’s gonna have a decent season, but he’s more of a long term threat than a breakout stud. Talking Heads will continue to praise him to high heaven until the last fourth of the season when they turn on him and ask whether or not he’s any good. He’ll stay the same, continuing to grow and improve unless he proves injury prone. Adrian Peterson will have a solid season, keeping his hyperbolic god-like status, but he’s going to be eclipsed on the stats sheet by some of the hungrier young guys.

Chicago Bears:

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Da Bears are hurting right now, and I think there’s an inevitable degree of soul searching going on in the organization regardless of the coaching change. John Fox is certainly going to liven things up as much as he can. Fresh blood will flow, the slate will be cleaned, but there’s no getting around the elephant in the room: Jay Cutler’s competency, commitment, and the club’s decision to stick it out with him. Personally, I’m not as down on Cutler as many people are, but I do feel that his remaining presence in Chicago has metastasized into an untenably toxic relationship. Even if they win a few more games this season with Cutler, the team’s long-term success is going to be in the hands of their next quarterback. And let’s not act like a break with the Bears would be bad for Cutler: he could gracefully transition to a lower-tier team and play with a squad that would actually appreciate him. Not the worst way to play out the rest of your career.

The crystal ball says:

Another abysmal year for Soldier Field’s finest. There’s little hope in restructuring and re-growing without faith in your lynchpin. Chi-town will spend a year taking its losses while John Fox settles in and shows off what he has to offer.

Green Bay Packers:

 photo greenbay2_zpsyo76ecnz.jpg

Green Bay is easily the least fun team to pontificate on in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers is currently in top form with a rock solid team behind him. I won’t be surprised if this group keeps on clicking and humming along together, giving opposing NFC North fans fits. The crew is well-oiled, well-managed, and has that “cool factor” of playing in an open stadium during the rudest of Midwest winters. You can certainly criticize The Pack when it comes to the league as a whole, particularly that they don’t deal well with unexpected loss, but in the NFC North, this is the team that everybody wants to dethrone.

The only real worry is keeping Rodgers healthy. We’ve seen in the past how this team has collapsed without its sometimes-mustachioed heart on the field. If I were Mike McCarthy, I would be spending an inordinate amount of time working with that O-line on QB protection.

The crystal ball says:

A clear division victory for The Cheeseheads, with Detroit and possibly Minnesota nipping at their heels. However, the entire house of cards collapses if Rodgers misses four or more games.

Detroit Lions:

 photo lions_zpsmbfs5wgb.jpg

Like last season, Detroit has a great chance of giving the Packers a run for their money, but it’s not going to be easy. Detroit is currently a team full of potential and unanswered questions. I’d love to see the defense as dominant as it was last season, a tall order considering the loss of Ndamukong Suh. Yet the return of Stephen Tulloch and acquisition of Haloti Ngata are hard to dismiss. Of course I’ll be watching that offensive line closest. It’s the single factor in Stafford having as productive a season he did in his INT-happy, record-breaking slinger days, though he’s likely to have a more disciplined system that actually wins games this time around.

The run game is going to be the x-factor. I love Joique Bell, but he can’t carry the team like a Marshawn Lynch or a Jamaal Charles. He gets you three yards on a 3rd & 2, and punches his way into the end zone in short yardage situations, but he’s not going to break off 15 yard chunks with any regularity. And sure, there’s Theo Riddick and a very “maybe” George Winn. I’m hopeful for Ameer Abdullah, but I also think there’s a lot of bluster and hype for the second round pick.

Crystal ball says:

Detroit has so much talent on the roster, but also has trouble putting it together. I see the defense not being as strong as last year, but staying damn close to that caliber thanks to the prior season’s proof of concept. The offense is going to pop more this year in the passing game, but the running game will remain blue-collar. Green Bay has a good chance of winning both games vs. the Lions, but the really exciting divisional games are going to go down with the Vikings. The division title will most likely go to Green Bay, but the Lions will make the wild card slot and head to the playoffs for the second year in a row.

 

 


Remember When Ndamukong Suh Kicked Matt Schaub in the Testicles?

Written by :
Published on : July 10, 2015

I’m not gonna lie: I was pretty bummed when Ndamukong Suh decided to leave the Detroit Lions for sunny cocaine-fueled Miami. The man certainly made the right business decision accepting the astronomical purse offered him by a ‘fins team that seems comfortable making financial decisions that make me nervous even as a casual observer. Still, I can’t help but look over at my Jimmy Sexton voodoo doll every once in a while with a little sadness, recognizing that money is still a far more powerful force than my competency in the dark arts.

What I like most about Suh is his stellar conditioning. This is a dude who can be trusted to take care of himself and always be in perfect shape for gameday. He seems impervious to injury and only misses those Sundays that he’s not allowed to play.

That’s right. The other side to Suh’s stardom and work ethic is that “dirty player” brand. It’s one he’s tried to quell in the last season or two, but is still unable to shake completely. As I Lions fan I would vociferously defend the big fella, tilting at windmills with the rose-colored glasses of team pride. But now that Suh’s joined the fish, let’s take another look at some of those contentious plays with a clearer head.

The Stomp Heard ‘Round the League:

This is the one that’s going to hang over Ndamukong’s career for all eternity. No matter what he’s done since or does from here on out the word “dirty” will always be associated with him for this Thanksgiving day booting administered to Evan Dietrich-Smith. It’s a pretty stupid move: if you’re going to do something so blatantly wrong at least make sure you hurt the other guy. I do like how he smashes Dietrich-Smith’s helmet into the turf several times before the stomp though. That’s some Jim Schwartz era football for you!

$25.5 million signing with $985,00 base salary guaranteed for 2015/16

Suh Rips Cutler’s Helmet Off:

Meh, nothing to see here folks.  Say what you will about his perceived attitude and a few mounting seasons’ worth of INT’s, but Cutler is one tough hombre and I’m definitely in the camp that believes the league treats QB’s like dainty glass ballerinas. That said, if Suh ever hits Stafford like that I’m going to demand a 78 game suspension straight from the shaky red-taped fist of Roger Goodell himself.

$23.485 million base salary guaranteed for 2016/17

Suh Kicks Matt Schaub in the Nuts:

It certainly looks to me like Suh went the extra distance in putting foot to crotch. This one’s pretty nasty, and not fairly nasty as in Nick Fairly murdering twenty-five Coney dogs. Poor guy, as if Matt Schaub needed any other grief in his life.

$16.985 million base salary, of which $8 and a half million becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of the year for 2018/19

Suh Pushes Cutler:

Vicious sure, but not very dirty. I mean, how hard can you really push a guy, even if it is in the back of his head? Like I said, Cutler’s strength is in his toughness so I don’t feel too bad for the guy. If this happened to RGIII the ensuing injury would get Suh suspended for three games and keep Griffin laid up for the rest of the season and half of the following one.

$18.985 million base salary, of which $9 and a half million becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of the year for 2019/18

Suh Rips Jake Delhomme’s Head Off:

This one’s intense. This one actually kind of scares me. I’ll take this over the stomp any day as Suh’s dirtiest play. He goes from egregious facemask to pulling Delhomme’s melon back and forth as if he were a ragdoll. They should have called the cops.

And, yes, It keeps going with this crazy contract until 2020.

Suh Misses a Field Goal:

Not a penalty or dirty play. I just added this one because I wanted to, and because of the fact that I don’t have a Jason Hanson jersey, but I’ve always thought about getting one.

Anyway,

It’s a bananas amount for a defensive tackle, but Suh may very well be worth it. Yet, from now on I’m going to take a closer look at all the contentious plays involving number 90, and I’m sure my opinion will be quite different than it was when he was in a Honolulu blue jersey. It certainly makes things a lot easier for me.


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