First, the music:
1.) Expect the trend of young QBs starting early to continue.
In week 1 of the 2012 season, we are going to see five rookie QBs starting their team's game. If you expand it a bit to include Jake Locker who will be making his first career start, there will be six QBs...about 1/5 of the league...making their first career start. (And if Nick Foles played for a team without an established QB, there's a good chance he would have earned a starting job as well.)
So what gives? Well, as those who follow my ranting know, we've seen a sharp increase in the amount of young QBs being thrown to the fire in recent years. Every time I see someone say "team x should draft QB y and sit him for a few years," I want to slap the **** out of that person.
It just does. not. happen. anymore. A while back, I broke down how often rookie QBs end up starting a significant amount of games. I forget the exact numbers, but I recall that about 75% of highly drafted QBs (Rounds 1-3) end up starting at least one game as rookies. A little over 50% end up starting at least 8 games, a majority of their team's season.
And don't expect this trend to stop anytime soon. Back in the day, rookie QBs starting even a few games was practically unheard of. Dan Marino was one of the first prominent examples of a rookie QB who was immediately successful doing so, while guys like Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning found out the hard way that it ain't easy being a rookie starting QB in the NFL. But those guys were definite exceptions to the rule. It wasn't until Ben Roethlisberger that this current trend towards starting rookie QBs seems to have begun. Since then, we've seen guys like Vince Young, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton...all find success as rookies. Teams are willing to bank on their young QB finding success right away more than ever, consequences be damned.
And this year, we have a record shattering 5 rookie QBs starting week 1 of the regular season. That more than doubles the old record of TWO. As teams look for quicker turnarounds and expect to have positive results from their highly drafted young players, these guys are going to be thrown to the fire more often than not.
Sure, there will be the occasional situation where a veteran on the team (like Drew Brees to Phillip Rivers,) steps up his game and keeps the job, but a lot of the veterans on teams who draft rookie QBs simply aren't being given a chance to compete. The "competitions" in places like Cleveland and Miami this preseason were farcical. Was there any serious doubt that Weeden and Tannehill wouldn't get the jobs barring injury or Gabbert-esque levels of incompetence? I think not.
So as we look ahead, expect to see this high rate of starting rookie QBs continue.
2.) Expect this to be Wes Welker's last year as a Patriot.
The Patriots have now locked up both of their stud TEs long term, which should make them a force to be reasoned with for several more seasons. But with that much money paid to two pass catchers already, plus a bit more to Brandon Lloyd this offseason, what will be left for Wes Welker?
Currently, he's on the franchise tender for $9.5 million. Not peanuts, but not the long term deal he would like to have. While he put up impressive numbers again last year, showing that he's still one of the most dangerous underneath threats in the league, he'll be 32 by next season with one serious knee injury in past.
Unless he's willing to take a major hometown discount (which seems unlikely,) I expect that the Pats will let him walk and then attempt to reinvest that money in a younger player at the position.
I do think he could absolutely still help a team for a few more years, but I don't think the traditionally WR-unfriendly Patriots will pony up the kind of money he will be seeking, especially if he has another season with receptions in the triple digits.
And frankly, I don't think the Patriots will end up missing him all that much. As long as they have Tom Brady and those two TEs occupying opposing defenses, they'll be able to get production out of just about anyone they play at WR. (Except for, apparently, Chad Johnson...)
3.) Miami Dolphins - Top contender for the #1 pick?
I realize we got into this a little bit in another thread yesterday, and that is where I got the idea to discuss this from.
I had already said previously that I think the Dolphins will be a big player in contention for the #1 pick, and I stand by that. They'll be starting a raw rookie QB and his most competent receiver may be his running back. Defensively, they have a few pieces like Cameron Wake, but we saw with the Colts and Vikings last year that having a stud pass rusher alone (two stud pass rushers in the Colts case,) won't help you escape a 2-3 win season.
The main argument yesterday seemed to be whether or not having Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis would have translated to any more wins this season. I find it hard to believe that those guys, Marshall in particular with a rookie QB, wouldn't have made a game or two of difference somewhere along the line.
And, while we as a board full of drafniks, may not see a huge difference between 3 and 4 wins this year, fans and ownership may feel differently. Already, there are rumors of serious discontent in the Dolphins locker room as several of their team leaders have spoken out about about these moves, questioning whether the team is concerned with winning this season.
It's easy to argue that the team should be focused on the long term, and that these moves are likely going to help them in the future, but when you're a player, any year you aren't competing for a Superbowl is a wasted year out of the precious few you might get in your career.
I think the Dolphins are going to have problems with dysfunction, which, on top of the severe lack of talent they have in a lot of areas, will lead to them "earning" the #1 pick this coming offseason.
Oh, and if you wish to argue otherwise, please provide me with a list of teams you feel have less overall talent than the Dolphins. I will be incredulous if your list exceeds 3 teams.
4.) Teams you would bet WON'T win the Superbowl
I was watching Mike and Mike this morning before work and they gave me a good idea for an interesting topic.
Let's say you are betting everything you own, every possession, every cent you have to your name, on a list of teams that you guarantee WILL NOT win the Superbowl this year. The more teams you list, the greater the payout will be if you are right. However, if one of those teams does win the Superbowl, you lose EVERYTHING. Understand?
Thinking long and hard about it, I've come up with my list of teams that I would be willing to bet everything on to not win the Superbowl this year:
Seven teams. I wanted to put all of the teams starting rookie QBs on there, but seeing how close some have come in the past as long as they have a decent supporting cast (Mark Sanchez, Ben Roethlisberger) I just couldn't put the Seahawks or Redskins on there.
The Cardinals are probably the "best team" on that list, but they just have such a completely godawful QB situation that I don't see them getting past 2-3 of the NFC's best in the playoffs, even if they do make it that far.
There were also a few teams, like the Jets and Raiders, I debated putting on there but could see scenarios where they could do it if a lot of things went right. Not worth the risk. The Bucs too were another I debated, but we've seen Josh Freeman play well before and it's possible that Schiano lights a fire under that team in the same way Harbaugh did for the 49ers last year, so, again, too risky.
So what would your "absolutely no way this team wins the Superbowl" picks be?
5.) 2012 Season Predictions
I took a few things I took into consideration here:
- There is generally a 5-7 team turnover from teams who made the playoffs the year before.
- Typically, at least one team goes from "worst to first" in their division.
Additionally, the "low end" is a realistically predictable "low end" record. If Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers were to blow out their knee in week 1, the Pats or Packers would very likely finish much worse than the "low end" record given there.
Finally, the number in parenthesis is my hard prediction based on what I think WILL happen out of the scenarios I talk about in the write ups.
So, without further ado, here are my 2012 season predictions:
Green Bay Packers - 10-6 to 14-2 (13-3)
- I think the Packers, barring major injury like I mentioned, are a lock to make the playoffs. However, if their defense doesn't improve and they fail to find a running back capable of establishing at least a minimal run game, I could see them dropping to the level of a wildcard team. If they get those things and Rodgers continues to dominate, #1 seed in the NFC is quite likely.
Chicago Bears - 8-8 to 12-4 (10-6)
- In the past two years, the Bears have gone 11-5 and7-3 with a healthy Jay Cutler. His health will be absolutely crucial to what they do this year. Even if he is healthy, continued struggles by the o-line or a dip in defensive production could limit this team to a .500 record. However, if those units step up and Brandon Marshall produces like a #1 receiver, the Bears could absolutely be in serious contention.
Detroit Lions - 8-8 to 12-4 (9-7)
- The Lions are a team of extremes. As long as Stafford and Calvin Johnson are on the field, the passing game will dominate. Their d-line also has the potential to be absolutely deadly. On the flip side, they are likely to be fielding a couple of running backs pulled straight from the dumpster and their secondary may be the worst in the league overall. Last year, we saw the quality parts of this team carry the lousy parts to the playoffs, which could very easily happen again. But, I have the Lions as one of the teams who made the playoffs last year missing out this year, if by just a little bit. Those areas of weakness are just too severe for me to feel confident putting them in again.
Minnesota Vikings - 2-14 to 5-11 (4-12)
- I don't expect much from the Vikings, obviously. Having a new blindside protector in a division that sports some deadly pass rushers should help them to improve upon last year, but no one can be sure how Adrian Peterson will look once back on the field and the offense doesn't have a whole hell of a lot else going for it. Defensively, their secondary still doesn't look good and may even be starting multiple rookies. When six of your games come against Rodgers, Stafford and Cutler, that is a big problem.
Philadelphia Eagles 8-8 to 14-2 (11-5)
- This is the widest range I'm giving to any team. If the talent the Eagles have offensively comes together and they improve at all on defense, look out. They could absolutely mutilate any other team in the league on a good day. Unfortunately for them, I don't think that Vick can regularly put up the performances needed to pull that off, and I also think he's likely to miss a few games with the nagging injuries he always seems to get. Additionally, while their pass rush should still be excellent, I don't know if they've done enough to sure up their other deficiencies on that side of the ball to jump into the elite category of the league.
New York Giants 7-9 to 11-5 (10-6)
- Why so conservative with the defending champs? A couple of reasons...as it is widely known, I'm not a fan of their coordinators. Yes, they pulled everything together when their backs were against the wall last year, but we've also seen how lax they can be early in the season. Additionally, the Giants have come off of great seasons in the past only to coast a little bit the following season. Their o-line isn't great, their run game probably won't be particularly good again, they have zero defensive tackle depth, and their secondary depth has already taken hits with injuries and a suspension.
Washington Redskins 5-11 to 9-7 (6-10)
- I'm erring on the low end of the spectrum for the Redskins, but I if they a good performance out of Griffin, they could potentially do much better. They're relatively solid in a few places across the board and have a couple of quality pass rushers which is always nice. Like I said already though, their season will come down to how well Griffin plays. If he struggles, they're looking at another top 10 pick. If he hits the ground running in Newton-esque fashion, look for them to be in playoff contention in the final weeks of the season.
Dallas Cowboys 5-11 to 9-7 (5-11)
- I think this season is going to go badly for the Cowboys. Already they are faced with injury and productivity concerns on offense. Austin and Witten are already out for a little while it would seem, and I don't trust Dez Bryant at all. Throw in the oft-injured running backs and there is a recipe for offensive disaster. Defensively, they still have DeMarcus Ware, but will there be a considerable enough improvement over last year's squad to make a difference? I think not.
Atlanta Falcons 9-7 to 11-5 (10-6)
- I was really torn whether to put my more conservative pick here in Atlanta, or go with the Panthers, my more "out there" pick. After much contemplation, I went with Atlanta to win this division. They're a solid team across the board, but as we've seen the last few years in the playoffs, a quite unspectacular team as well. Julio Jones is the definite wild card in all of this. If he explodes this season, the Falcons may finally get the missing piece they need to put them over as a major contender in the NFC. If not, I sense another one-and-done in the playoffs coming up.
Carolina Panthers 6-10 to 10-6 (9-7)
- I really wanted to put the Panthers at the top of this division, but I still have a lot of questions about their defense and there is always the threat of a Cam Newton sophomore slump to worry about. For those reasons, I had to pull back a little from my "Panthers win the division" prediction, but I still think they show marked improvement over last year and are in contention all season long.
New Orleans Saints 7-9 to 11-5 (8-8)
- Coaching is important. We all know that "players play," but it's up to the coaches to make sure they are prepared each and every week. Not only are the Saints going to be without Sean Payton, but they're also going to be switching coaches mid-season this year once Joe Vitt returns from his suspension. While this team should absolutely still be competent, I think they'll be hard pressed to repeat the success from last season. Remember a few years back when the offense was tearing **** up but they still struggled to get past .500? I expect a season similar to that again this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-12 to 8-8 (6-10)
- I know that I said above in my "No Superbowl Win" segment that I felt the Bucs were too risky to put on there in case Josh Freeman turns it around and Greg Schiano has a Jim Harbaugh-like effect on the team. That COULD happen, but I find it unlikely. While their record remains unchanged from the previous year in my prediction, I think they do field an overall "better" team.
San Francisco 49ers 9-7 to 12-4 (10-6)
- They really caught lightning in a bottle last year and that was impressive to see. Now, can they keep it up? Their schedule isn't exactly easy this year as they will face the top 4 quarterbacks from last season as well as the defending champs. That defense is going to be tested thoroughly and, while I think they come through well enough to make the playoffs again, they are going to struggle match last year's win total.
Seattle Seahawks 6-10 to 10-6 (8-8)
- Out of all the teams who will be starting rookie QBs, Seattle may be the most likely to find success. They have a very solid defense, a quality running back and a handful of pass catchers who aren't bad. Unfortunately for Seattle, they will play in four games with early kickoffs. From 2003 to 2010, the Seahawks are 12-27 in games with an early kickoff. Between that and the fact that, while he has impressed in the preseason, Russell Wilson is still a rookie QB, I have to cap their potentially success this year at .500.
Arizona Cardinals 4-12 to 8-8 (6-10)
- I feel for their defense and receivers, but their QB situation is just awful. I used to think that maybe Skelton had something to offer, but the only reason he appears to be the starter headed into the season is because Kolb has been even worse this preseason. While they can probably slug out a few wins thanks to their defense (and perhaps a few Patrick Peterson returns,) I think they're too badly hamstrung by their QB situation to succeed this year.
St. Louis Rams 2-14 to 5-11 (3-13)
- Defensively, their front should be improved. And they still have Stephen Jackson. That is all the more good I can say about the Rams. I've made my dislike of Sam Bradford known, and I feel that he'll start to hear the dreaded "b" word in association with his name after this season. His o-line will likely be terrible once again and unless Brian Quick has a Boldin-esque rookie year (extremely unlikely,) this team is going to be bad. Again.
Baltimore Ravens 9-7 to 12-4 (11-5)
- We all know that I don't much care for Cam Cameron, and that I've guaranteed that this team will never win a Superbowl with him on the coaching staff. His gross misuse of the team's offensive talent is offensive. (Pun totally intended.) Combine that with the fact that I don't think Flacco is ever going to take that "next step" and the fact that Suggs is likely to miss the year, along with their other defensive stalwarts getting another year older, and I don't expect much of the Ravens in the playoffs. I still think that, by hook or by crook, they'll get there though.
Cincinnati Bengals 7-9 to 10-6 (8-8)
- The Bengals went 0-7 against playoff teams last year, and there is a lot of luck involved when you go 9-0 against everyone else. I highly doubt they'll repeat that feat. Instead, I look for them to play roughly the same with the possibility of a sophomore slump for Andy Dalton.
Pittsburgh Steelers 8-8 to 10-6 (8-8)
- I've been waiting for the day to come where the Steelers finally start to slip, and think that time may be upon us. Their running back situation is pathetically bad, and they are already dealing with major injuries to the o-line, which likely means injuries to Big Ben won't be far behind. Tack on another year of age to the defense and I think the Steelers miss the playoffs this year.
Cleveland Browns 2-14 to 5-11 (4-12)
- On offense, their skill positions appear to be almost entirely filled out by rookies with the occasional second year player thrown in. Defensively, they'll be without Joe Haden for four games and really don't have much else that impresses me. Another lousy year and top 5 pick is coming up for the Browns.
New England Patriots 10-6 to 14-2 (13-3)
- This team just drug a godawful defense to the Superbowl and very nearly won it last year. If there is any improvement on that side of the ball at all to go along with their high powered offense, they should easily be the top team in the AFC once again.
Buffalo Bills 6-10 to 10-6 (9-7)
- I don't completely hate Buffalo. I don't think Fitzpatrick will ever be a franchise QB, but he could play at a high enough level for that offense to be successful. They have some decent balance there to go along with a defense that should be improved. Even if Mario Williams isn't out setting sack records, I think he could have an impact similar to Peppers first year with the Bears in that his presence alone boosts the play of the entire squad. I think they'll be in contention for their first trip to the playoffs in a long, long time.
New York Jets 4-12 to 8-8 (6-10)
- I think this team is a train wreck waiting to happen. My prediction of Tim Tebow starting by week 6 still stands, but I feel a little less confident about it after seeing the Jets fans boo him in that last preseason game. Maybe they won't be clamoring for him afterall... The rest of their offense fails to impress me at all. Their one saving grace is that their defense should still be solid, but I doubt it will be enough to overcome the weakness offensively.
Miami Dolphins 2-14 to 5-11 (3-13)
- I'm not going to rehash my entire argument from up above, but needless to say, I don't expect much from this team this season.
Houston Texans 9-7 to 13-3 (12-4)
- The Texans are pretty clearly the best out of this relatively weak division. Assuming they can stay healthy and the defense continues to play at the level it did last year, I think they'll have no trouble winning the division and competing for the top spot in the AFC.
Tennessee Titans 7-9 to 10-6 (9-7)
- I enjoy that they're going to start Jake Locker. I feel like he gives them a higher ceiling this year if he can play well, and it will be better for the future of the franchise as well to get him his first starting experience. They have a (somewhat) no-name defense that is solid but not spectacular, and I think they can beat up the weaker teams in the division for an easy 4 wins. They do have to face the Patriots and the NFC North, but they also get games against the Dolphins, Jets and Vikings to even that out a bit.
Indianapolis Colts 3-13 to 6-10 (5-11)
- I absolutely think that Andrew Luck is the next great franchise QB, and the Colts are an extremely lucky franchise to move onto him from Peyton. Still, this team "earned" the right to draft Luck for a reason last year, and they're going to struggle. Even the Panthers last year, with a more talented team overall than the Colts AND with an all time great rookie season from Cam Newton, managed to go only 6-10. Still, the future appears to be bright for the Colts.
Jacksonville Jaguars 3-13 to 5-11 (4-12)
- We all know how I feel about Blaine Gabbert, and while Blackmon has looked good in the preseason, truly great seasons by rookie WRs are few and far between. Throw in a less than stellar o-line and no MJD for the foreseeable future, and this season has the potential to go very badly very quickly. Also, Mike Mularkey and Bob Bratkowski running the offense? Yuck.
Kansas City Chiefs 7-9 to 11-5 (10-6)
- The Chiefs are my "worst to first" pick for this season. When healthy, they have a very talented roster that could easily put them at the top of a division with a lot of question marks. I think that Matt Cassell will continue to hold them back and they won't do much when they get to the playoffs, but they have a very good shot of getting there.
Denver Broncos 8-8 to 12-4 (10-6)
- This team managed to haul Tim Tebow to a playoff win last season, and Peyton Manning should only make them better. I actually like their odds to be the best team out of this division, but I'm going to be a little conservative with them for now.
San Diego Chargers 7-9 to 9-7 (8-8)
- How is this for a stat: Norv Turner is the only coach in NFL history to have a losing record while having coached at least 10 seasons. The guy is a phenomenal offensive coordinator and develops QBs really well, but as the head coach, he sours everything he touches. Hopefully for Chargers fans, another .500 year will finally get him kicked out of there.
Oakland Raiders 5-11 to 9-7 (6-10)
- I can absolutely see what some people are saying in that the Raiders COULD be a good team. I just don't think it's going to happen. I have no faith in Carson Palmer, I don't think McFadden will stay healthy, and defensively, the team leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully for them, they'll finish with a high enough draft pick to take one of the stud QBs who should be available in the next draft to build around for the future.
Phew...that was exhausting... I'm sure you won't hesitate to let me know how wrong I am about your team. Or in critiquing the likely-numerous typos.