What To Expect From The Patriots These First Four Games

The sting that the NFL ran against Tom Brady and the Patriots has left us with this:  Brady gone for four games, and the Patriots forced to start Jimmy Garoppolo in his career debut versus Arizona Sunday night.

That game is probably the toughest of the games that Brady will miss, but its no easy schedule for New England until Week 5.

The Patriots have to go to Arizona, but is then home for the Dolphins, Texans, and Bills.  Home field is great, but thats a harder schedule than people think!

I (spoiler alert) have Houston winning the AFC South, think Buffalo is going to be a frisky team for someone like New England to struggle with, and think Miami is going to improve greatly.

So, the Patriots are going 0-4 and Tom Brady’s gonna have to throw like 50 touchdowns in 11 games to get New England to the playoffs.

Nah.

But it’d be fun to think about.

An 0-4 Pats start leaves the AFC East wide open for a team like Buffalo.  My book on them is a poorly coached team with a slowly declining defense.  But, Tyrod Taylor is awesome and LeSean McCoy only needs to hurt his foot OR pull his hamstring this year, not both.

(Since I’ve written the friskiest teams column I’m much less excited about Buffalo.  They’re still frisky, but chances are they’re a fun 6-10 team)

(In fact, this column was going to be titled “What If Buffalo Wins The AFC East?” until I started looking at this team a lot closer)

Anyways, the Patriots should have no trouble with Buffalo.  This isn’t a scary defense by any means.  The only thing holding back New England from a win would be Jimmy G himself.

Houston is a different story.  Houston has a stingy defense with almost no holes.  With the Patriots lacking a consistent running back (Thats not a shot.  I know Bill Belichick will make it work.  But imagine LeGarrette Blount of James White on a different!  Yikes!), running againist this defensive line is gonna be a rough time.  Garoppolo is gonna have to throw for New England to get out of that game with a win.

The case for Miami to win in Week 3 is simple, but unlikely.

Every great team has a team they always have trouble with.  It happens in every sport.  For New England, its always Miami.  Now, these struggles usually occur in Florida, but with a young and raw quarterback in Garappolo, the likelihood of those struggles occurring go up.

While 0-4 probably won’t happen, I’d expect this Patriots team to struggle these first four weeks.  I think if New England goes 3-1 in this stretch its a miracle.  These teams they’re up against aren’t great, but they definitely aren’t bad.  2-2 is probably more likely, with 1-3 or 0-4 being a disappointment.

No matter what the win-loss record is, its certain that when Tom Brady returns, no one is gonna wanna deal with the Patriots.  Assuming the suspension doesn’t put Brady in a funk, New England should be seen not only as the division favorite, but the AFC team with the best odds to go to the Super Bowl.

How Screwed Are The Cowboys And Vikings?

Preseason injuries are part of every season.  Every year, a big time name goes down before Week 1.  Last year it was Jordy Nelson.

But this year we had two.  Not just any two though.  Both were quarterbacks, one with a devastating knee injury, the other with a not-so-shocking back injury.

Both leave huge holes on their team, but one much more than the other.

Lets start with the Vikings, and answer a couple questions regarding their quarterback situation.

Whats the point of trading for Sam Bradford if you have Teddy Bridgewater for next season?

I genuinely felt bad for my Vikings friends when Teddy got hurt.  It was brutal to see the news come through Twitter, and it progressively get worse and worse.

I love Teddy Bridgewater.  I think he’s really good, and have been high on him ever since he was drafted.  In fact, I had Teddy Bridgewater going No.1 overall to Houston until it was not longer reasonable for whatever reason to have him the first round.  It was an insane draft night, and I was stunned he fell so far.  Since, I’ve been on his boat.

There’s a lot of people around the league who don’t like Teddy.  Who don’t think he’s that great.  Who think he’s a game-manager.

He’s definitely not a game-manager, because we’ve seen him do big things.  But he does have Adrian Peterson in his backfield, and we all know the work AP puts in for the Vikings.

But the question with Teddy that I still need answered is…  Can he be the quarterback to get Minnesota to the playoffs without AP doing what he does on a gamely/seasonal basis?  Thats the question we don’t know the answer to.

Trading for Sam Bradford puts the question into discussion.  Adrian Peterson is 31.  We all know how running backs historically preform once they hit that age 31 season.

Now, I’m not predicting a down Adrian Peterson year.  I’m not doing that because he’s AP.  Its not smart to doubt him.

However, come next season, its certainly possible AP begins to decline.  Thats not a prediction.  Its just a statement that is based off of the past.

When Teddy comes back next season, and AP is much older than he was this year (Based on miles and how much is body can handle), are the Vikings gonna be the threat we saw them to be before this season?

The Vikings keep talking about Teddy coming back strong for next year.  I hope thats the case.  But why trade for a guy who’s been nothing but a starter (Not necessarily a great one) his entire career?  Especially a starter who throws a fit when he’s not the guy?

If Bradford preforms this year (Again, not a prediction, just going through scenarios here), which would be extremely unlikely, then what do the Vikings do?  They’ve suddenly created a controversy heading into Teddy’s comeback year.  This after pumping up his return a year before.

Its unlikely, but is also a risk thats there.  We know how changes of scenery can help some guys.  Bradford is certainly not the future, or even the guy for this season, but its an interesting test of character and contradictory that the Vikings front office got themselves into.

And what kind of trade was that?  Why is Bradford’s value so high?  How did Philadelphia convince Minnesota to give up so much?

When news of the trade broke, I was hoping I was reading the report wrong.  A first and a 4th rounder for Sam Bradford?  What world is this?  Pitchers at the MLB Trade Deadline?

Its absolutely mind-boggling that Minnesota would give this much up for a replacement.  I get there’s a window (more on that later), but still.  A first rounder for Sam Bradford?  What would Colin Kaepernick get the 49ers in this market?

This is the latest episode in “Wow, the Eagles front office might actually know what its doing!”.  Ok, I won’t go that far.  But they’ve been extremely aggressive in trades ever since Chip Kelly was forced out.  In fact, its kinda similar to when Chip Kelly was running the team.  Kelly was the first GM we’ve seen to make big-time trades.  While the Eagles have wanted to get rid of any memory of Kelly, it seems like they’ve taken some influence from him when it comes to trading.

Why can’t the Vikings accept the fact that this is a lost season?

This is the epitome of this situation.  Teddy went down for the year and the Vikings’ replacement was Shaun Hill.  Sure, Shaun Hill isn’t great, but there’s no reason to try and compete when you have a Super Bowl contender in Green Bay in your division and a lurker in Tampa Bay.  You don’t have the Broncos defense (Minnesota’s D is very good, but not like last year’s Broncos) to carry you to the Super Bowl.  Yes, this was the Vikings year to do really good things.  But injuries happen, and it’s hard to get over.  I understand there’s a window for the Vikings, especially since Adrian Peterson is close to not being the guy anymore.   Vikings fans have been tortured for so long, and unfortunately, for this situation to have a positive outcome, they’re just gonna have to hope.

Moving to the Cowboys, Dallas is faced with a situation that they see far to often, and perhaps this is the last time they face it.

How good is Dak Prescott?

Really good!  Well, okay, I’m exaggerating.  He went in the 4th round of this Spring’s draft, and was on top of my Heisman ballot for half of last year’s college football season.  Prescott has a great arm and strong body, and can avoid tacklers well.  When he runs, he’s a bulldozer.  He isn’t very shifty or fast, but isn’t a guy I’d want to do an Oklahoma drill against.

There’s a chance that Prescott is more accurate than Tony Romo.  Its kinda sad to think about that we might have seen the final four-interception game from Romo.

Prescott has Dez Bryant to throw to, which is really important assuming Dez can stay healthy.  Nothing helps a rookie QB more than having a No.1 target, and the Cowboys have that in Dez.

I think Prescott’s gonna do fine.  But can he play better than the guy he’s replacing?

What are the odds he takes over the job for the rest of the year?

I think they’re really high.  I really believe this job is his to lose.  I mean, he doesn’t have to do it all.

Dallas’ running game has gotten worlds better since DeMarco Murray left in free agency.  I’m not in on Ezekiel Elliot.  He (obviously) went too high, and I just don’t like the pressure put on guys in this situation.  I think its a deadly combination.  But, its not like he’s the only good running back on this roster.  The Cowboys have Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden lined up behind him.  Those are two guys who you can platoon in any other offense.  In a positive light though, the extra boost from Elliot takes pressure off of Prescott.

Week 8 is the return date for Romo.  I think Dallas will have three losses by then (Packers, Bengals, and Redskins).  A 3-3 record probably isn’t enough, but wins isn’t the most important thing.  What if Prescott starts to just come around as Romo returns?  I think the only way he’s not being considered to take over the job is if the losses they suffer in Romo’s absence fall on Prescott.

Is this it for Tony Romo?

Even if Romo returns in Week 8, I think the possibility of Prescott taking over the reins for next season will be a huge topic this offseason.  Romo will be 37 heading into next season, and has missed games due to injuries the past four seasons.  Thats the elephant in the room, and if I’m the Cowboys, I’m forcing Romo to retire this offseason (assuming Prescott isn’t a flaming mess for these six games), similar to the Broncos and Peyton Manning this past offseason.

Even though Romo has four years left on his contract (including this one), this is something the Cowboys have to consider.  First of all, there’s no way Romo is playing out that contract.  He may not be done after this year, but there’s no way he’s playing through the 2019 season.  Secondly…   If there’s a scenario where Prescott plays well in Romo’s absence, but not quite good enough to assume the job from him, then how can you not ignore that Prescott almost took the job from Romo?

Thats probably the most likely scenario.  Prescott plays well, but not quite well enough to take the job.  The season ends (barring result) and Romo’s turning 37 heading into next year.  How can you not think about your future?  How can you not at least give Prescott a shot?  Why would you want to deal with another Romo injury thats practically a given to occur?

At the same time, none of this matters.  Jerry Jones isn’t gonna do that.  He’s gonna extract every last bit (of back bone) out of Romo that he can.  Excited to see how that goes, Jerry.

The AFC South Is Up For Grabs

What has consistently been one of the worst divisions in football is now suddenly one of the best, in a way.

Its hard to say there’s a contender in the AFC South, but there’s certainly a lot of good teams, in fact, all of them are good teams.

Since we have this phenomenon, I’m going to examine every team’s chances at winning the division.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts’ season in 2015-2016 was derailed by Andrew Luck’s injury, but a faulty defense didn’t help out the variety of quarterbacks they used last year.

Andrew Luck is thankfully back this year.  I say thankfully because the NFL misses him.  I missed him.  The guy’s a playmaker, and his absence not only took excitement away from Colts games, but allowed an overachieving Texans team to win the division at 9-7.

There’s a good argument that Luck’s return should vault the Colts back into title contention, but this is a defense that hasn’t improved much.  I’ve never heard of anyone on their defensive line.  Robert Mathis is still great, so is Vontae Davis.  But thats only two guys who make an impact defensively.  Not great!

The Colts have a lot to worry about in the division now.  It used to be that, no matter how low the lows were, it didn’t matter because of how weak the division was.  Not anymore.  Its gonna take a special Andrew Luck season for the Colts to win the division.

Houston Texans

The Texans are completely revamped this year.  They stole Brock Osweiler away from Denver, a smart but aggressive move that I loved, not necessarily because of the football side of it, but because of how screwed it left Denver (Take it away, Trevor Siemian!).  They also swapped running backs with Miami; signing Lamar Miller and letting Arian Foster move on.  I’m not totally sure how talented Miller is as a runner.  But he’s been in a bad scheme and has had a crappy offensive line throughout his career.  Plus, in Houston, he won’t have to be relied on as much.

I like Brock Osweiler.  In the games he played in last season, he reminded of Peyton Manning.  Thats not a comp.  I’m not saying Osweiler’s the next Peyton Manning, but certain aspects of the game drew some similarities, like how they see the field, and how accurate they both are.

At the same time, I was blown away by the contract Houston gave Osweiler.  Yes, they were desperate for quarterback.  But Osweiler only has seven career starts, and they’re paying like a franchise guy.

I don’t think the contract is gonna look bad.  I think Osweiler will morph into it.  But its not a deal I would have handed out.

If Osweiler doesn’t reach expectations this season, which would be surprising, he has a great defense to fall back on.

The Texans have JJ Watt, which is kind of a big deal.  I think Jadeveon Clowney is going to get better, though I’m not sure he’ll ever live up to the expectations he had as the No.1 overall pick.  Houston’s secondary is in great shape, and has some depth with rookie Kevin Johnson.

This team is really good, and should be the favorites to win the division.  However, it won’t come easy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are a team who didn’t turn it around in one offseason.  We’ve seen this coming for awhile now.  Blake Bortles has had his obvious struggles, but now he actually has some solid weapons.  Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson are two great wide receivers (and awesome fantasy picks) for Bortles to target.  Julius Thomas’ value for Jacksonville will fully show this season, as injuries bugged him last year.  Jacksonville also added Chris Ivory to the backfield.  You figure Ivory will be the lead back, but TJ Yeldon will certainly get his fair share of carries.

These weapons release a ton of weight off of Bortles’ shoulders.  He still struggles with limiting interceptions; forcing balls is something Bortles commonly does.  Perhaps a shaky offensive is behind that.  Bottles was sacked 51 times last year, most in the NFL.  A bad offensive line can lead to quarterbacks forcing the ball, as Bortles does.

I think that issue will get better this year, but in case it doesn’t, the Jaguars have a secretly good defense ready to back him up.  This defense has the perfect combination of youth, talent, and leadership.  Dante Fowler Jr., Jalen Ramsey, and Myles Jack will make their career-debuts in Week 1.  I was high on Fowler in last year’s draft, and had Myles Jack going No.5 overall in this past year’s draft before his plummet to the second round due to knee concerns.  Those are two guys who’re gonna make immediate impacts.  There’s plenty more like that on this Jags D’.

Jacksonville gave Malik Jackson a ton of money this offseason.  I’m not totally convinced he’s worth it, but he’s gonna make an impact.  Plus, the Jags have ridiculous depth on the defensive line.  The linebacker corps features Dan Skuta and Paul Posluszny, two quality veterans.  Tashaun Gipson (A breakout player from last season with the Browns) and rookie Jalen Ramsey are the highlights in the secondary.  Its still so mindblowing that Jacksonville managed to get Jack and Rasmey in the draft.  Those two were both supposed to be top five picks.

Its a pretty complete team.  They’re just a little young and raw.  One could argue Houston is to, but Jacksonville has youth on both sides of the ball. Houston’s defense is good and has experience.  While Ramsey and Jack are great young guys, they’re still rookies!  That matters in a league where typically, experience wins.

If Brock Osweiler sucks and the Colts aren’t great like I expect, Jacksonville is sitting right there.  I do think though, that they’re still another year away.  I know, I know, we’ve said this every year for the past three seasons now.  But this time, the Jaguars have something real to look forward to.  Not just another 5-11 season.

Tennesse Titans

They’re probably the least likely to win the division.  But this is a Titans team thats becoming relevant for once.  Marcus Mariota is in his 2nd year, and like Jamies Winston, should improve.  Again, both were good last year, but there’s always room for improvement, and they’re both young.

The Titans are also starting to help Mariota out.  Rishard Matthews was a nice pickup, and is being added to an underrated receiving core.  He’s added to a group with Kendall Wright, Andre Johnson, and Harry Douglas, with Delanie Walker at tight end.  All of these guys are quality pass-catchers, exactly what a young quarterback needs.

In case Mariota struggles, the Titans can run the ball, and they can do it well now.  Derrick Henry is a beast, and was taken way to low in the Draft this past Spring.  He’ll split carries with DeMarco Murray, who’s in my mind worth it, because they gave up so little in the trade for him.  But Murray is running behind a pretty sketchy offensive line, and from what we know on him, thats not great.  Murray’s only produced with a good offensive line in front of him.  We don’t know what Derrick Henry will be like yet, but chances are he can run over the people that Murray can’t escape.

Whats gonna hold the Titans back is the defense.  Its getting better, like this team as a whole, but the secondary is really the only positive.  This is a pretty weak front seven, with the defensive line being in bad shape.  Like, the only guy I’ve heard of is Jurell Casey.

The Titans can win the division if the Colts don’t recover, Brock Osweilier sucks, and if the Jaguars don’t improve.  A lot has to happen.  But as I said at the top, anything is possible here.