The NFL completed a full slate of preseason games over the weekend so let’s dig in with some thoughts on what’s going on around the league.
1 – If you can’t be good, at least be entertaining.
The Lions look like they’re fielding an XFL team on some parts of the roster and the only thing they’ll compete for in 2021 is the number 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. However, in contrast to the tire fire down in Houston, the Lions might prove entertaining this season because of walking soundbite and new Head Coach Dan Campbell.
The Giants took Campbell in the 3rd round of the 1999 NFL draft and he stuck in the league for ten seasons, finishing his career with 91 catches for 934 yards and 11 scores. He will far exceed that production at press conferences this season.
Already, Campbell has promoted biting kneecaps, informed the press that there are no turds on the roster, and revealed his morning caffeine regimen. His two venti cups of Starbucks coffee with two shots of espresso in each might be enough to kill a small horse, but Campbell used the caffeine high to put together a quality coaching staff. It will take a few years to flush out the Patricia and bring in enough talent to compete, but the Lions are not boring. Bears fans need to get used to Detroit earning more media coverage than their play would otherwise warrant because of Campbell.
2 – Home, Sweet Home
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl last season (remember that?) and managed to do so in their own home stadium, a first in NFL history. One of their biggest threats to repeat as champs play their home games at SoFi stadium, the host of Super Bowl LVI. The Los Angeles Rams pulled off a monster trade this off-season, pulling Matthew Stafford out of
the depths of hell Detroit, positioning them to make a strong run at a championship.
Stafford may not occupy the same tier as Patrick Mahomes but you’d be foolish to discount what Sean McVay can do with a significant upgrade at the QB position. The Rams will likely take a step back on defense this season with Brandon Staley moving on to the Chargers, but the increase in offensive production make this Rams team the best bet to knock off Brady. It would be fascinating if the host stadium produces back-to-back champions after it never happening in the first half century of Super Bowls.
3 – California Love
Speaking of the Chargers, Brandon Staley’s arrival has lifted expectations for the perennially interesting but ultimately disappointing powder blue gang. With Justin Herbert’s unexpected ascension last year and a modern defensive scheme to unlock superstars Joey Bosa and a (hopefully) healthy Derwin James, the Chargers look like a playoff team. Unfortunately for them, they play in the same division as the Chiefs. It would surprise me if they can’t at least push the Chiefs and claim a wildcard spot.
If the Chargers play well, don’t be surprised if Herbert emerges as a potential MVP candidate. The league loves to reward players and teams that exceed expectations and plenty of NFL talent evaluators whiffed on their eval for Herbert.
4 – Wanna bet?
Although I can see the narrative for Herbert to get some MVP buzz, my bet to take down the award this year lives in Buffalo. Josh Allen won’t give you long odds (he’s currently the 3rd lowest betting odds behind Mahomes and the insurance salesman in Wisconsin) but the narrative basically writes itself. The Bills should control the AFC East from wire to wire this season and compete with the Chiefs for the #1 seed in the AFC. If they lock up home field advantage with him leading the way, I think I cash the bet.
5 – Hate it or love it, the underdog’s on top
The Chiefs and the Bills returned their coaching staffs and teams largely intact with the Chiefs revamping their entire offensive line. It hardly seems fair that the Bills got to keep Brian Daboll and the Chiefs likewise with Eric Bieniemy. It’s tough to make a case for any other AFC team making a serious run at unseating those two this season.
However, the one team I just can’t get out of my head is the Cleveland Browns. With years of employing a “moneyball” approach, the Browns now boast blue-chip talent in key positions combined with enviable depth in many areas of the team. If they can stay healthy, I don’t see any reason why they can’t win the AFC North and make the frontrunners sweat.
Baker Mayfield may have a fatal flaw in his game, but the Browns finally found a real coach to get the most out of him and he will get to lean on a top 5 running game. All of you fantasy footballers out there, I’m hearing a lot of love for Donovan Peoples-Jones. Grab him a round before his ADP.
6 – Slicing and Dicing: The Story of Nick Foles and the 2021 3rd Stringers
Part of me wants to admire Nick Foles for shooting his shot at the Bears camp presser and making a not-so-subtle plea to Chris Ballard and the Indianapolis Colts to trade for him. But I just can’t shake the combination of Foles’s 2020 performance, his bizarre decision to call out Matt Nagy to Chris Simms on a primetime football game, and the asinine compensation package Ryan Pace paid for the privilege of adding this malcontent to the locker room.
Foles went on an epic, legendary heater for Philly the likes of which we’ve never seen. It’s a great story and maybe one day I’ll watch the low-budget movie, but he’s not a viable starting QB in this league right now and pouting on the 3rd string changes nothing. Save us all the trouble and retire.
7 – Hang ‘em up
I can’t help but laugh at the string of retirements coming out of Joe Judge’s Giants camp. I’ll admit to a certain fascination with Bill Belichick over the years and I kept waiting for an assistant to learn the right lessons and do well as a Head Coach for another squad (I think it might just be Brian Flores). Judge spent eight seasons under Belichick as a special teams coach before taking over in the Big Apple and so far, I’m willing to bet he’s more in the Matt Patricia mold than Belichick.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence or maybe some of those players were going to get cut already and knew the time was near, but if I cheered for the Giants, I’d wonder if this is a poor reflection of the coaching staff and how long it can last on a professional football team. For that matter, I’ve got my eye on the Urban Meyer Jags to see if he can adapt to the pro game as well.
8 – Top 10 Corners
You won’t find many people who value corners more than I do, but even I thought the Panthers and Broncos were crazy to take DBs with an unsettled quarterback position and Justin Fields on the board. The Panthers, a team that claims it takes an analytical approach to team building, felt comfortable enough with investing in the Sam Darnold reclamation project. Sam Darnold, seer of ghosts, put up one of the worst quarterback seasons in the league last year but he’s still young and looking for that post-Adam Gase bump. The Broncos, meanwhile, think they can get something out of Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater and maybe that can happen, but this team almost certainly thought they were going to get Aaron Rodgers or were willing to gamble on the possibility.
Either way, if Fields turns into the player Bears fans think he can be, it will be these two teams that will bear the brunt of the criticism for not taking him.
9 – Head of the Class
Every year, the QBs drafted in the same class get compared against each other before, during, and long after Roger Goodell reads their names. Trey Lance landed in the best situation of the five with an excellent Head Coach and play caller to unlock his potential. Mac Jones basically replaces Tom Brady (no pressure there, McCorkle…) while Trevor Lawrence takes over a small market Jags team (literally no pressure). Justin Fields, of course, already has the City of Chicago behind him and looks poised to take over a football-crazed city.
The one I can’t really figure out is Zach Wilson for the Jets. He’ll take over a team clearly rebuilding with a coach that everyone seems to really like. Can he consistently deliver results or will he be a guy that only puts together an impressive highlight reel with off-platform throws and “wow” plays? If I had to pick a most likely to fall short of expectations, Wilson gets my vote.
10 – Justin Freaking Fields
Judging by the attendance at the first preseason game at Soldier Field and the reaction on Twitter, Bears fans want Justin Fields and they want him now. Yes, he looked good against the Miami 2s. Yes, it was only preseason and the backups, but it was a flash of hope Bears fans haven’t had since… Johnny Lujack in the 1940s? There are no guarantees in this game and he obviously has a long way to go before anyone can declare him a success in the NFL, but he looks like the real deal to me. He’s got the tools, the right attitude, and I’m all-in. Every last chip I own, I’ve pushed to the navy and orange #1 square. So let’s see where this thing goes together and have some fun along the way.
Bear down, my friends.
Keep the conversation going on Twitter. Find me @gridironborn.