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TGS SPECIAL REPORT...NFL SEASON WINS TO WATCH!

               by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor and Gary Olshan, Chief Analyst


   AFC BEST BET...
We have a long-standing belief at TGS that whenever a team runs for the bus the way the Jacksonville Jaguars (8½) did last season, the well simply becomes poisoned. And while the Jags are also just 20 months beyond reaching the AFC title game and coming about 2 minutes from making Super Bowl LII, we don’t think a 2017 encore is coming anytime soon. While ex-Eagle Nick Foles (now re-united with his former Philly QB coach, John DeFilippo, the new o.c. for the Jags) should be an upgrade from Blake Bortles, Foles also has limitations and is not a transformational player. Relying upon Leonard Fournette to spearhead the ground game is risky stuff, too, considering not only Fournette’s inability to stay healthy the past two years, but that his behavior and commitment have been issues, which all reached a nadir when he was suspended following an in-game fight with Buffalo’s Shaq Lawson last November. No guarantee that the defense, which was hit hard by key defections in the offseason, will continue to play at a playoff-like level, either, and even at full strength wasn’t able to compensate for the lack of offense a year ago. The heat is on HC Doug Marrone, and maybe team prexy Tom Coughlin, to get back to the playoffs. And while a woeful preseason (in which Marrone rarely used first-stringers) doesn’t mean too much, it wasn’t a good sign, either. It’s a definite “under” for us at TIAA Bank Field (why not just restore the old Gator Bowl name anyway?)

  NEXT BEST BETS...Usually the second-place team in the “Patriots Invitational,” otherwise known as the AFC East, gets beyond its projected win total. We’re bestowing that honor for 2019 to the Buffalo Bills (6½), who like the Jags also missed the playoffs last fall after qualifying in 2017, but seem closer to a recovery. Besides, last season was looked upon as a re-load of sorts anyway after QB Tyrod Taylor moved on from the 2017 wild card-entry and the offense would eventually be turned over to Wyoming rookie QB Josh Allen, who by the end of the season was beginning to look like a real NFL signal-caller. With lots of cap space, GM Brandon Beane was shopping for offensive upgrades in the offseason, and while he missed on some top targets like OBJ and Antonio Brown, Allen’s supporting cast has some new faces, with wideouts ex-Card and Raven John Brown and especially ex-Cowboy Cole Beasley looking to be significant upgrades from a year ago, while the OL added some needed pieces as well. Meanwhile, there remains nothing wrong with Sean McDermott’s defense, which ranked second in the league a year ago. Last year was always going to be about a roster rebuild anyway, and the Bills still managed 6 wins. With Allen getting more help, improving just one win form a season ago looks to be well within reach. It’s an “over” for us at Orchard Park.

  We’re not sticking out our necks too far when being bullish on the Kansas City Chiefs (10½). The reason is that the Chiefs have never fallen beneath their season-win projection in the six campaigns that Andy Reid has been head coach. And after securing home field in the AFC playoffs last season, getting to 11 wins (or more) is hardly a far-fetched notion. Already, Reid has scored what might be his biggest win of the season when multi-purpose offensive weapon Tyreek Hill avoided any suspension for some of his off-field transgressions which many thought would get him docked for 4, 8, or even all 16 games of the season. Minus Hill, not sure even QB Patrick Mahomes could overcome such an absence, but that’s not a concern anymore. The offense didn’t really skip a beat after the suspension and release of RB Kareem Hunt last season, with Damien Williams stepping effectively into the breach. And the late add of LeSean McCoy can’t hurt! All of last year’s fireworks aside, the Chiefs realize they need some defensive upgrades to get past the Patriots and into the Super Bowl. While long-serving LBs Dee Ford and Justin Houston moved on, Reid believes he has added more playmakers with the likes of ex-Seahawks DE Frank Clark and ex-Cards and Texans S Tyrann Matthieu. Vet Steve Spagnuolo, whose resumé includes a Super Bowl ring with the Giants, has replaced Bob Sutton as defensive coordinator. In conclusion, however, it’s mostly Reid’s track record that keeps us bullish on the Chiefs. “Over” at Arrowhead.
 
  OTHERS...We cringe a bit when we look “under” with teams having such low “totals” to clear. So it goes with the Miami Dolphins (5½), with one of the lowest win numbers in the league. We’re still not buying, however, as we suspect new HC Brian Flores (most-recently the d.c. for the Patriots) could become the latest Bill Belichick disciple to fail as a head coach, following in the footsteps of sorts such as Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis (all fired on multiple occasions as HC), Josh McDaniels, and, we’re projecting, Matt Patricia (with the Lions). What looked like a potential Mark Cuban-like NBA tank job to position for a high spot in next April’s draft to take a QB like Bama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert was not sitting well with the disgruntled fan base, spawning the post-draft trade for 2nd-year Josh Rosen, who was out-of-favor with the new Cardinals regime, but Rosen wasn’t even able to beat out journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, as the “Beard” (the NFL’s vagabond and version of current Tigers pitcher Edwin Jackson) has been named the temporary starter. The post-cutdown trades that included shipping out All-Pro LT Laremy Tunsil reportedly won’t sit well with the roster, especially with any possible payoff of a draft-pick haul well down the road. Meanwhile, Flores has already been involved in controversies in the summer, along with owner Stpehen Ross. Just one , big, happy mess in Miami. “Under” at Hard Rock Stadium....Sticking in the East, why not take a look at the New England Patriots (11) to clear their win total? For them, it’s modest, as they haven’t won fewer than 11 games since 2009. The East remains as forgiving as it has been for most of the last 18 years, with no serious challenges on the horizon. Tom Brady is still firing away at age 42, and the master himself, HC Bill Belichick, shows no sign of slowing down. Why not? “Over” at Gillette Stadium.
 
  NFC BEST BET...We have stuck out our necks before with the New York Giants (6½) and been punished for our optimism (such as last season). But we think the G-Men are closer to a recovery than many believe, even after the trade of OBJ to the Browns which on the surface looks like a lose-lose at Met Life. Not so fast, however, as the offense figured to begin to pivot around 2nd-year RB Saquon Barkley anyway, which 2nd-year HC Pat Shurmur realizes he probably should have done a year ago. Yes, Eli Manning might be beyond his sell-by date, and his good efforts have been getting spaced further apart the past few years, but there’s a chance the presence of Duke rookie and first-round pick Daniel Jones might light just enough of a fire under Eli to keep him serviceable for one more autumn. It hurts a bit that FA wideout Golden Tate is suspended for the first four games, but he figures to be back by October, with Barkley carrying the offense in the interim, and GM Dave Gettleman might have plugged some holes on the defense during the draft. Keep in mind, too, that the G-Men were snakebit last season, losing a whopping eight times by seven points or fewer. And they still won six games a year ago. Turn around just a couple of those close losses, and it’s an “over” at Met Life.

  NEXT BEST BET...We’re sticking in the East with the Washington Redskins (5½), who have had to deal with their own version of a hostile political press. In the case of the Skins, it’s not just the local D.C. media which has all but written them off. But keep in mind that Jay Gruden had Washington in the playoff hunt until a rash of injuries last fall, including a siege on QBs that at one time saw Gruden start four different pilots in a 4-week span, effectively scotched the postseason hopes. Nonetheless, Gruden kept Washington mostly competitive, even when pulling journeyman Josh Johnson off the scrap heap. There are still QB issues; Alex Smith’s return to the game remains up in the air as he’s on the PUP list, out for the season, and Colt McCoy’s lingering leg injury has thrust Case Keenum, playing for his fourth team in as many years, into the starting lineup, with Ohio State rookie Dwayne Haskins idling for the moment, perhaps to get a call later in the season. But Keenum is serviceable, ex-LSU RB Derrius Guice is back from injury to take some of the load off of Adrian Peterson, and the scrappy D added a couple of playmakers, including S Landon Collins from the Giants. Playoffs? Maybe not. And can Gruden save his job? It might be tough. But getting to at least six wins looks very do-able if the Skins stay just a little healthy. “Over” at FedEx Field.

  OTHERS...We’ve seen this before from the Bill Belichick’s aforementioned disciples who try to go out on their own and emulate the master; it doesn’t work. Heck, even Nick Saban didn’t win in his adventure with the Dolphins. Next up is Matt Patricia, whose first season a year ago with the Detroit Lions (6½) was a mess at 6-10 and made Ford Field onlookers wonder why franchise matriarch Martha Ford had bothered to get rid of predecessor Jim Caldwell. Depth issues were underlined in the preseason, and Patricia would rather not ask Matthew Stafford to carry too much of a load for the offense. But unless ex-Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson can stay healthy, the burden falls back upon Stafford, who has only six wins over playoff-bound teams to his credit in his career. “Under” in Motown...In his seven previous seasons in the NFL, Russell Wilson has never led his Seattle Seahawks (8½) to fewer than nine wins. After Pete Carroll reconfigured the Hawks on the fly last season, re-introducing a running game that had sagged since Marshawn Lynch left town, and now adding an impact performer like Jadeveon Clowney to the defense, we hardly expect Seattle to regress. “Over” in King County... Scary stuff in Charlotte, where fans of the Carolina Panthers (7½) are beginning to wonder if they’ll ever see Cam Newton back at 100% again. Though he should recover from the preseason foot injury, how his surgically-repaired shoulder holds up is a major question. And without a viable backup to Newton emerging in August, Panthers fans shudder to think what might happen if he goes down again. With new ownership on board a year ago, HC Ron Rivera can’t afford another slip beneath .500, so there’s a lot riding on Cam’s balky shoulder. As we can’t be sure Newton stays in one piece for 16 weeks, it’s an “under” for us at Bank of America Stadium.


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