Saturday, October 3, 2015

NFL picks - Week Four

October brings a new kind of football.

Teams haven't established their identities in September, as starters and contributors come together to meet, exceed, or fall short of the preseason expectations thrust upon them by so-called experts nationwide.

Once the calendar turns to October, teams are starting to learn what, and who, they are. The news has been as expected in Foxborough, Denver and Green Bay, while fans in Miami, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Kansas City are growing uncomfortable.

There's a long way to go, but for teams looking to overcome poor starts, now is the time for action.

Let's get to the picks.

Baltimore (0-3) over Pittsburgh (2-1)
Line: Baltimore -2.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

A text I sent to one of my good friends prior to kickoff Thursday night summed up all you need to know about the mindset of Ravens fans everywhere: "If the Ravens can't beat 64-year-old Michael Vick, I'm giving up." Well, I almost gave up. Vick, who is actually 35, and the Steelers controlled most of the game, until Josh Scobee became prominently involved in proceedings. The Ravens may have lost their only reliable receiver, Steve Smith, after the 36-year-old veteran broke four bones in his back late Thursday night. Smith is currently listed as "week-to-week" by the team.

New York Jets (2-1) over Miami (1-2)
Line: New York -2.5
Spread pick: New York

Miami was supposed to challenge the Patriots atop the AFC East this season. Instead, the Dolphins have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league, and rumblings of a coaching change have already started. ProFootballTalk is reporting, via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, that Joe Philbin may be fired if the Dolphins suffer a lopsided loss in London. Ryan Tannehill, who was supposed to have a breakout season, has struggled. New York's elite defensive unit is not the elixir for Tannehill's woes.

Atlanta (3-0) over Houston (1-2)
Line: Atlanta -6.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

In case you haven't heard, Julio Jones is pretty good. Jones is currently on pace to break multiple NFL single-season records, and while he likely won't keep up his absurd pace, Jones is the league's best receiver and must be accounted for at all times. Like most teams, Houston doesn't have someone capable of shutting down Jones. J.J. Watt will make life difficult for Matt Ryan, as Watt is wont to do, but even Watt's defensive brilliance cannot make up for the void Houston has at quarterback.

Buffalo (2-1) over New York Giants (1-2)
Line: Buffalo -5.5
Spread pick: New York

Nobody is shocked to see Buffalo's defense succeed under Rex Ryan, but Tyrod Taylor has led one of the league's most surprising offenses to a great early run. LeSean McCoy will miss Sunday's contest, but that may be a blessing in disguise. Rookie Karlos Williams has run with purpose and looks like a future starter for the Bills. Buffalo's no-name offense will continue to do just enough to earn the victory.

Oakland (2-1) over Chicago (0-3)
Line: Oakland -2.5
Spread pick: Oakland

Is it better to have a healthy Jimmy Clausen or a banged-up Jay Cutler? Most would say neither, and in reality, that may be the correct answer. The Bears are a mess, and the Raiders, for a change, are the team trending upward. The combination of Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree give the Raiders their most potent offense in recent memory. That offense will take advantage of a depleted and defeated Bears defense.

Cincinnati (3-0) over Kansas City (1-2)
Line: Cincinnati -3.5
Spread pick: Cincinnati

Championships aren't won in September, but the Bengals sure looked like a contender so far. Cincinnati ranks in the top seven in offensive and defensive DVOA, offensive yards per game, passing yards per game, and rushing yards allowed per game. Kansas City's defense has been vulnerable all year, allowing at least 27 points in each of the Chiefs' three games thus far.

Indianapolis (1-2) over Jacksonville (1-2)
Line: Indianapolis -9.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

This game becomes a lot more interesting if Andrew Luck doesn't start for the Colts. Indianapolis has been wildly underwhelming thus far in 2015, looking downright awful through three games. The Colts are often a completely different team at home, and Jacksonville hasn't proven they can control the opposition away from north Florida.

Philadelphia (1-2) over Washington (1-2)
Line: Philadelphia -3.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

Despite a fluky victory against St. Louis two weeks ago, Washington has looked inept on offense, as Kirk Cousins and Matt Jones have proven to be no better than former starters Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. Philadelphia's offense has been slipping down the proverbial hill since the Eagles left Atlanta Week 1, and need to use Sunday as an opportunity to get the offense back on track.

Carolina (3-0) over Tampa Bay (1-2) 
Line: Carolina -3.5
Spread pick: Carolina

The Panthers may not have looked dominant in their three victories this season, but winning in the NFL isn't often a beauty contest. If the league were, in a fact, a competition in attractiveness, the Buccaneers would be in dire straits. Jameis Winston was supposed to change the narrative in Tampa, but has done nothing of the sort. The Bucs defense has been equally disappointing, allowing 80 points in just three contests.

San Diego (1-2) over Cleveland (1-2) 
Line: San Diego -7.5
Spread pick: San Diego

Since Johnny Manziel ascended into the national spotlight in 2012, I have spent countless words, in various forms of media, deriding the former Heisman Trophy winner. For the first time in three years, however, I'm going to say something positive about Manziel: He's the better option at quarterback for Cleveland. Josh McCown has done nothing to continue as the Browns starter, but Mike Pettine continues to start the journeyman quarterback. Maybe another loss will change Pettine's mind.

Denver (3-0) over Minnesota (2-1)
Line: Denver -6.5
Spread pick: Denver

Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback Minnesota has had in years, but he's facing a tall task Sunday. The Broncos sport the league's best defense in DVOA, total yards and passing yards, and they'll likely stack the line to make Bridgewater beat them. Touchdown Teddy may be up to the task later on in his career, but he isn't there yet.

Green Bay (3-0) over San Francisco (1-2)
Line: Green Bay -9.5
Spread pick: San Francisco

Most expected the 49ers to struggle this season, and the Niners certainly haven't proven those skeptics wrong. San Francisco ranks 23rd in offensive yards per game and 29th in offensive DVOA, while coming in at 25th in defensive yards allowed per game and 30th in defensive DVOA. Those aren't the type of numbers that favor a team tasked with going blow-for-blow with Aaron Rodgers.

Arizona (3-0) over St. Louis (1-2) 
Line: Arizona -6.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Through three weeks, it's hard to argue that any team in the NFL has been more impressive than the Arizona Cardinals. Despite the departure of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Arizona still ranks among the defensive elite in the league. The bigger surprise, however, has been Arizona's offense, which ranks in the top five in overall offense and offensive DVOA. St. Louis may have the defensive talent to hang with Arizona, but the Rams' pedestrian offense will hold them back.

Dallas (2-1) over New Orleans (0-3) 
Line: New Orleans -4.5
Spread pick: Dallas

The Saints are faced with a question similar to the one posed to the Bears: Is it better to have a healthy back-up or a banged-up starter? The Saints have struggled with a healthy Brees, and Dallas' ball-control offense will gash the 31st-ranked DVOA defense en route to another Cowboys victory.

Seattle (1-2) over Detroit (0-3)
Line: Seattle -9.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Seattle's NFC North revenge tour continues Monday night, when the rudderless Lions make the trip out west. Don't expect another shutout by the Seahawks, but Detroit is going to struggle from the opening kick.

Last week: 14-2
Last week v. spread: 11-5
Season record: 29-19
Season record v. spread: 25-23

Sunday, September 27, 2015

NFL picks - Week Three

The wheels went flying off last weekend.

For the first time since Week Two of last season, I posted a sub-.500 record in non-spread picks. It was also the first time Week Three of the 2012 season in which I incorrectly picked 10 or more non-spread games.

Like some high-profile 0-2 teams, the Online Jargon will be looking to turn it around in Week Three. Seattle has the brightest outlook this weekend, as the two-time defending NFC champions return home. Kam Chancellor, who missed Seattle's first two games during a holdout, also returns to the Legion of Boom. A struggling Bears team without multiple offensive starters, including quarterback Jay Cutler, will be in for a long afternoon in the Pacific Northwest.

Indianapolis will have a tricky test against an upstart Titans team, but the Colts are expected to walk away with their first win of 2015.

The Eagles and Ravens, however, will be put to the test once again this weekend. Philadelphia travels to MetLife Stadium, where the Eagles will be 3.5-point underdogs to the 2-0 Jets. Baltimore kicks off the 2015 home slate with a visit from the 2-0 Bengals, a team that has impressed thus far.

Only one team in the modern era has started 0-3 and made the playoffs. It may be early for do-or-die games, but the aforementioned quartet must post victories if they would like to keep realistic postseason hopes alive.

Let's get to the picks.

New York Giants (0-2) over Washington (1-1)
Line: New York -3.5
Spread pick: New York

Washington already has a disadvantage at quarterback, but the team simply cannot afford to have their running game disappear like it did Thursday night. Eli Manning must look to improve New York's passing offense if the Giants want to rise above the mediocrity in the NFC East.

Atlanta (2-0) over Dallas (2-0)
Line: Atlanta -0.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

The loss of Dez Bryant was a bad enough loss for the Cowboys, but losing Tony Romo for half the season is going to be the albatross that drags Dallas out of contention. Atlanta still need to find a running game to go along with Julio Jones' searing early start. Doing so would elevate the Falcons into the top tier of the NFC.

Cincinnati (2-0) over Baltimore (0-2)
Line: Baltimore -2.5
Spread pick: Cincinnati

Terrell Suggs was the last of the old guard of Baltimore's defense, and, if last week was any indication, the Ravens are in trouble without their emotional leader. Cincinnati ranks in the top nine in both offensive and defensive DVOA, a challenge Baltimore's new-look defense will not be properly equipped to overcome.

Oakland (1-1) over Cleveland (1-1)
Line: Cleveland -3.5
Spread pick: Oakland

The offseason changes made by Johnny Manziel seemed to pay off, as the former Heisman Trophy winner led the Browns to a 28-14 victory in his first start of 2015. Manziel's efforts were for naught, however, as Josh McCown returns to the starting lineup for Cleveland. McCown is not the man to lead the Browns to victory, against the up-and-coming Raiders, or any of the other 30 NFL teams.

Indianapolis (0-2) over Tennessee (1-1)
Line: Indianapolis -3.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

Sooner or later, the Colts will straighten out their issues. An early-season favorite to contend for the Super Bowl, Indianapolis has struggled mightily with turnovers thus far in 2015. Tennessee's defense surprisingly ranks fourth in DVOA this season, but the Colts will have too much firepower, and too much desperation, to start this season 0-3.

Pittsburgh (1-1) over St. Louis (1-1)
Line: Pittsburgh -1.5
Spread pick: Pittsburgh

It's a mystery why the Rams aren't a better team. St. Louis has, arguably, the best defensive line in football, led by Aaron Donald, arguably the league's best defensive lineman not named J.J. Watt. Yet, the Rams will struggle stopping Pittsburgh's high-powered offense, which will be boosted by the return of Le'Veon Bell.

Minnesota (1-1) over San Diego (1-1) 
Line: Minnesota -2.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

In comments made after last week's victory over the Lions, Adrian Peterson said he still didn't feel like the player he was prior to his suspension. Peterson should be a focal point again this week, as few teams have the type of back who can dominate like Peterson. Pundits are quick to point out that Peterson nearly broke the single-game rushing record in his last match-up with San Diego, and while that type of output is unlikely, Peterson will help spearhead a Minnesota gameplan to control the clock and keep Philip Rivers on the sideline.

New England (2-0) over Jacksonville (1-1)
Line: New England -13.5
Spread pick: New England

Jacksonville isn't the doormat we're used to them being. The Jags rank 10th in defensive DVOA and 23rd in offensive DVOA, outpacing the Eagles and Colts in the latter category. However, they simply don't have an answer for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Jaguars fans shouldn't feel bad about that, however - few teams in the league can stop that pairing.

Carolina (2-0) over New Orleans (0-2) 
Line: Carolina -6.5
Spread pick: Carolina

Things are getting ugly in the Big Easy. Even with Drew Brees, the Saints' offense was impotent, ranking 28th in the league in offensive DVOA. Things only get worse Sunday, as Brees will miss his first game in a Saints uniform with a shoulder injury. The Panthers may have the league's worst receiving corps, but it's better to have no receivers than no quarterback.

New York Jets (2-0) over Philadelphia (0-2) 
Line: New York -2.5
Spread pick: New York

Philadelphia's offense was supposed to blow the doors off of opponents this season. Thus far, the Eagles haven't impressed anyone. The Eagles have one of the league's worst offenses through two games, and now they'll travel to New York to take on the league's second-rated defense. Chip Kelly may start peering back to the college ranks for potential job openings.

Houston (0-2) over Tampa Bay (1-1)
Line: Houston -6.5
Spread pick: Houston

If you like offense, it might be best to avoid this one, as Tampa Bay and Houston sport two of the four worst statistical offenses in the NFL. The quarterback battle will be equally unappealing, but Jameis Winston may be in the more perilous position. J.J. Watt is lurking, and Tampa's porous offensive line is sure to leave the rookie quarterback in the dirt Sunday afternoon.

Arizona (2-0) over San Francisco (1-1)
Line: Arizona -6.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Bruce Arians has a special sort of magic on display in the desert. Despite starting a 35-year-old journeyman quarterback, an injury-plagued running back, and an aging superstar receiver, Arizona's offense has tallied 79 points in back-to-back double-digit victories. Ball control may help the 49ers slow down the Cardinals, but it won't be enough to hand Arizona its first loss of the season.

Miami (1-1) over Buffalo (1-1) 
Line: Miami -2.5
Spread pick: Miami

Both teams have solid defenses and running backs hampered by injury. In games like this, it's best to look at the quarterbacks each team will rely upon, and that advantage lies solidly in the hands of the Dolphins. Tyrod Taylor has been better than expected, but he isn't to the level Ryan Tannehill has already reached in his career. Neither will set the record books on fire Sunday. but Tannehill's superior talent will lead Miami to a hard-fought victory.

Seattle (0-2) over Chicago (0-2)
Line: Seattle -14.5
Spread pick: Seattle

The Seahawks are mad. The hangover of Super Bowl XLIX has spilled into 2015, as Seattle stumbled to an 0-2 start without their defense's leader, safety Kam Chancellor. This Sunday, the Seahawks return home, joined by the returning Chancellor. Chicago will be without Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery, evaporating any chance the Bears had at an upset. This one could get ugly.

Denver (2-0) over Detroit (0-2)
Line: Denver -4.5
Spread pick: Denver

Early talk surrounding the Broncos has been the downfall of Peyton Manning. This is a disservice to Denver's defense, which tops the league in DVOA and has been nothing short of impressive so far this season. Detroit's Matthew Stafford was pummeled last week by Minnesota's defense, and the beating Stafford takes will continue Sunday when Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware come to Ford Field.

Green Bay (2-0) over Kansas City (1-1)
Line: Green Bay -7.5
Spread pick: Kansas City

The best way to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers is to make the All-Pro quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket. Few teams in the league have the defense to do so, but Kansas City is one of them. The Chiefs will pressure Rodgers into some tight situations, but it won't be enough to lead a Kansas City upset.

Last week: 6-10
Last week v. spread: 6-10
Season record: 15-17
Season record v. spread: 14-18

Saturday, September 19, 2015

NFL picks - Week Two

Don't get cute.

This is the lesson learned from the first week of the 2015 NFL season. After picking two ridiculous upsets last week, I've come back down to earth, and will begin picking with logic instead of trying to outsmart myself.

It certainly wasn't intelligent to pick Jacksonville and Oakland in their respective games last week. While the Jags and Raiders were facing opponents who could be beaten, Jacksonville and Oakland still have a hill to climb before knocking off playoff contenders.

The season's second week already provides important games for teams that fell during opening weekend. Some teams, like Baltimore, should have an easy path this weekend. Others, like Seattle, will have a difficult time avoiding an 0-2 start.

Let's get to the picks.

Kansas City (1-0) over Denver (1-0)
Line: Kansas City -2.5
Spread pick: Kansas City

The Chiefs were poised to take Denver to overtime prior to a freak fumble by Jamaal Charles that was returned for a touchdown. It was a positive loss for Kansas City, if such a thing exists, but the Chiefs need to prove they can close a game if they hope to contend for a playoff spot in 2015.

Atlanta (1-0) over New York Giants (0-1)
Line: New York -2.5
Spread pick: Atlanta

Tony Romo and the Cowboys gifted New York a number of turnovers, and the Giants still couldn't pull off the victory. Julio Jones had a monster game last week, and New York simply doesn't have anyone capable of slowing down the former Alabama playmaker.

New England (1-0) over Buffalo (1-0)
Line: New England -0.5
Spread pick: New England

Rex Ryan has fallen back to old habits, blowing hot air about how his team is going to take down the Patriots. The problem? Ryan is 4-9 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Buffalo's defense is as good as any Ryan has had as head coach, but it's just not realistic to expect Tyrod Taylor to out-duel Tom Brady.

Arizona (1-0) at Chicago (0-1)
Line: Arizona -2.5
Spread pick: Arizona

New Orleans had plenty of success throwing the ball on Arizona's defense last week, which leaves the door open for Jay Cutler and the Bears. The Cardinals can hold their own on offense, though, which poses a significant problem for Chicago's defense. Carson Palmer may not be Aaron Rodgers, but he's more than capable of punishing the Bears.

San Diego (1-0) over Cincinnati (1-0)
Line: Cincinnati -3.5
Spread pick: San Diego

The last time San Diego made the trip east to Cincy, the Bolts thumped the Bengals in the 2013-14 wildcard playoffs. This weekend's match-up should be a closer contest, but San Diego is the team with the advantage once again. Cincinnati may have the best offensive player on the field in A.J. Green, but the Chargers have the advantage under center.

Tennessee (1-0) over Cleveland (0-1)
Line: Tennessee -1.5
Spread pick: Tennessee 

After impressing in his first career start, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will take on Johnny Manziel and Cleveland's thin front seven. The Browns have one of the league's better secondaries, but the porous rush defense will provide Mariota and the Titans enough wiggle room to jump to 2-0..

Minnesota (0-1) over Detroit (0-1)
Line: Minnesota -2.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

Sunday's game will be a big test for the new-look Detroit defense. Adrian Peterson will be especially motivated after a dud in his first game of the season, and the Lions will be looking to prove their defense is still tough after the departures of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Minnesota will look to prove themselves better than last week's showing in San Francisco, and will take an all-important divisional victory in the Vikings' home opener.

St. Louis (1-0) over Washington (0-1)
Line: St. Louis -3.5
Spread pick: St. Louis

As expected, Washington looked like a dumpster fire last week. The Rams exceeded expectations last Sunday, dominating the defending NFC champions up front on their way to an overtime victory over the Seahawks. St. Louis' front four will terrorize Washington's piecemeal offensive line Sunday afternoon, and the Rams will continue to take control over the NFC West.

New Orleans (0-1) over Tampa Bay (0-1)
Line: New Orleans -9.5
Spread pick: Tampa Bay

Last week was supposed to be the debut of the new-look Buccaneers, but the Bucs looked just as bad as they had throughout 2014. It looks like Jameis Winston is going to have some growing pains during his rookie campaign. Rob Ryan's defense isn't as talented as his twin brother's D, but Rob Ryan will put plenty of pressure on Tampa Bay's rookie quarterback.

Pittsburgh (0-1) over San Francisco (1-0) 
Line: Pittsburgh -6.5
Spread pick: Pittsburgh

San Francisco's offense was one-dimensional in last week's victory over Minnesota. While the Niners certainly could control the game on the ground and keep the Steelers offense on the sideline, Pittsburgh's coaching staff is smart enough to make Colin Kaepernick beat them. Kaepernick isn't capable of doing that.

Houston (0-1) over Carolina (1-0) 
Line: Houston -3.5
Spread pick: Houston

Losing Luke Kuechly will hurt a defense that hasn't yet been tested this season. Carolina's subpar offensive line will have to figure out how to stop J.J. Watt. The Panthers may have an advantage at quarterback, but the rest of the cards fall in favor of the Texans.

Baltimore (0-1) over Oakland (0-1)
Line: Baltimore -6.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

Joe Flacco contributed next to nothing last weekend, and the Ravens still almost beat the Broncos in Denver. Baltimore's defense was dominant, however, and kept the Broncos in check most of the day. Nobody is going to confuse the Raiders' offense with Denver's, and the Ravens defense should control the game from the start to give Baltimore its first win of the season.

Miami (1-0) over Jacksonville (0-1)
Line: Miami -6.5
Spread pick: Miami

Blake Bortles and the Jaguars looked awful last week. The Dolphins certainly didn't crush Washington, but the 'Fins looked better as the game progressed and should cruise to victory against an overmatched Jacksonville defense.

Philadelphia (0-1) over Dallas (1-0) 
Line: Philadelphia -4.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

Philly dominated the Falcons in the second half last week, but Atlanta managed to hold off the hard-charging Eagles. Chip Kelly's team will be ready to go from the opening kick, and running back DeMarco Murray should have even more motivation to prove last season, which he spent in Dallas, wasn't a fluke.

Green Bay (1-0) over Seattle (0-1)
Line: Green Bay -3.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Aaron Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception at Lambeau Field since 2012. That's nearly incomprehensible. Though Mike McCarthy and the Packers won't say publicly that they're looking for revenge for last season's NFC title game, the fans in attendance Sunday night will be. Seattle's defense gives Rodgers fits each time they play, but it'll be the Packers who come out on top Sunday night.

Indianapolis (0-1) over New York Jets (1-0) 
Line: Indianapolis -6.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

The Colts struggled mightily against Buffalo's elite defense, and face a similarly difficult defensive test when the Jets come to Indianapolis Monday night. Andrew Luck was uncharacteristically inaccurate last Sunday, and the Luck-led Colts often perform much better at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Last week: 9-7
Last week v. spread: 8-8
Season record: 9-7
Season record v. spread: 8-8

Sunday, September 13, 2015

NFL picks - Week One

The wait is over.

The 2015 NFL season officially kicked off Thursday night in Foxborough, but the season truly begins this afternoon. Rivalries are renewed, rookies begin their NFL careers, and fantasy players across the nation root for players wearing jerseys of friends and foes alike.

Football is a wonderful thing, and for the first time this year, it's back in full force.

If you're new to the Online Jargon's weekly picks, there are a couple things to look out for when stopping by every weekend. There are a lot of references to various types of DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This is a brilliant statistical measurement created by the folks at In a nutshell, DVOA compares teams' stats and overall efficiency with the inclusion of things like game situation and opponent. There is a full explanation of DVOA at, if you're into that sort of thing.

Put on your jerseys, new and old. Fire up the grills, crank up the volume, and get ready for football.

Let's get to the picks.

New England over Pittsburgh
Line: New England -3.5
Spread pick: New England

Pittsburgh's defense is thin and inexperienced, but they didn't bother to make life difficult for Rob Gronkowski at any point Thursday night. A garbage-time touchdown made the season opener look closer than it was. The Steelers will need to make significant improvements if they plan to be competitive in the AFC North this year.

Indianapolis over Buffalo
Line: Indianapolis -2.5
Spread pick: Indianapolis

Buffalo's defense is really good, and adding Rex Ryan to the mix puts the Bills in the discussion for the best defense in the league. Ryan's Bills may be able to limit the damage Andrew Luck will do, but it won't be enough to make up for an offense that will likely struggle to move the ball throughout the 2015 season.

Green Bay over Chicago
Line: Green Bay -5.5
Spread pick: Green Bay

Chicago's new-look defense is going to start Alan Ball and Adrian Amos in the secondary against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. On purpose. The Bears defense is going to be solid thanks to Vic Fangio, who turned a group of no-names into one of the best defensive units while with the 49ers. It's going to take time for the Bears to adapt to Fangio's system, something that won't help them beat their arch rivals Sunday.

New York Jets over Cleveland
Line: New York -3.5
Spread pick: New York

Few teams loaded up on defense like the Jets did. The combination of new arrivals, including head coach Todd Bowles, gives New York one of the most interesting defenses in the NFL. Their first test is against arguably the worst offense in football. Browns fans, if there are indeed any left, may want to avert their eyes.

Kansas City over Houston 
Line: Houston -1.5
Spread pick: Kansas City

The Chiefs struggled mightily against the run last season, finishing 26th in defensive DVOA. While the Texans would be smart to attack Kansas City on the ground, especially with Dontari Poe less than 100 percent, Houston just won't have the personnel to do so. Alfred Blue averaged 3.1 yards per carry last season and didn't look much better in the preseason.

Seattle over St. Louis
Line: Seattle -3.5
Spread pick: Seattle

Nick Foles, Tre Mason, an offensive line starting two rookies, and an apathetic home crowd doesn't combine for a formula to succeed against the two-time defending NFC champions. Life will be a little different for the Legion of Boom without Kam Chancellor, but the Seahawks can use this trip to St. Louis to clean things up before a trip to Green Bay next week.

Miami over Washington 
Line: Miami -2.5
Spread pick: Miami

Washington's franchise is a tire fire in all aspects, from ownership on down to special teams. Their patchwork defense, which features a few guys you've heard of any plenty you haven't, is going to struggle all season long. Ryan Tannehill and company start their postseason push with a win over a hapless Washington squad.

Jacksonville over Carolina 
Line: Carolina -4.5
Spread pick: Jacksonville

Jacksonville's defense was better last season than most would think. The Jags ranked second in adjusted sack rate, ahead of everyone but the Bills. Gus Bradley has added Jared Odrick and Dan Skuta to that front seven, which will attack one of the league's most porous offensive lines. Cam Newton's quest for survival begins early, with an upset loss in north Florida.

San Diego over Detroit
Line: San Diego -2.5
Spread pick: San Diego

Losing three-quarters of your starting defensive tackle rotation isn't a great way to start an offseason, but in true Lions fashion, that's exactly what Detroit did. Haloti Ngata is a very good player, but he isn't as god as Ndamukong Suh. That will affect Detroit's defense from top to bottom. The Lions D should be good again this season, but not as the unit that finished third in defensive DVOA last year. Meanwhile, Philip Rivers will continue on as one of the league's most underappreciated passers, leading the Chargers to a season-opening win in what may be the team's final season in San Diego.

Arizona over New Orleans 
Line: Arizona -2.5
Spread pick: Arizona

Both teams enter Week One having undergone significant changes on one side of the ball, as Arizona's defense and New Orleans' offense will likely look much different than last season. Arizona lost defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to the Jets, and the Saints lost pretty much everyone with a recognizable name on offense. The Cardinals still have a very talented defense, as well as one of the league's top secondaries, and will use that to shut down New Orleans' new-look offense.

Oakland over Cincinnati
Line: Cincinnati -3.5
Spread pick: Oakland

Traveling west to enter the once-vaunted Black Hole hasn't been a very scary proposition as of late. Oakland has been a doormat for years, but an infusion of youth may have the Raiders trending in the right direction. Look for Derek Carr and Amari Cooper to have big games as the Raiders steal this one with a late field goal.

Denver over Baltimore
Line: Denver -4.5
Spread pick: Baltimore

For the first time since the beginning of the 2014 season, the Ravens are healthy at cornerback. Combined with their elite front seven, Baltimore's defense has all the firepower needed to take down Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The defense was never the issue, however. With rookie Breshad Perriman ruled out for Sunday's game, Joe Flacco will have Steve Smith and a cast of unknowns to combat Denver's defense, which ranked fourth in overall DVOA last season. Denver also replaced former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio with Wade Phillips, which could be considered an upgrade at the position.

Tampa Bay over Tennessee 
Line: Tampa Bay -3.5
Spread pick: Tennessee

This battle of the top two picks in the 2015 NFL draft will go to the man who has more weapons at his disposal. Tennessee's Marcus Mariota takes care of the football better than most at his position, but his counterpart, Jameis Winston, has Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins at his disposal. If all goes well during pre-game warm-ups, Winston will also have standout receiver Mike Evans. That is too much for Mariota and Tennessee's barren offense to overcome.

Dallas over New York Giants
Line: Dallas -5.5
Spread pick: Dallas

The Giants were average-or-worse across the board last season, save Odell Beckham, Jr., and did almost nothing to correct their issues. Somehow, the team entered the NFL draft with one safety on the roster, and although they drafted Landon Collins in the second round, the Giants are painfully thin in the secondary. In a division with the Cowboys and Eagles, that's a big problem.

Philadelphia over Atlanta
Line: Philadelphia -0.5
Spread pick: Philadelphia

Atlanta's defense was abysmal in 2014, ranking dead last in overall team defense and defensive DVOA. The addition of former defensive coordinator, and new Falcons head coach, Dan Quinn will certainly help, as will the addition of Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield. However, the Falcons need to prove their worth on defense, and if the preseason was any indication, they're going to have their hands full with Philadelphia's fast-paced offense.

Minnesota over San Francisco
Line: San Francisco -2.5
Spread pick: Minnesota

Most people outside of San Francisco's fan base could probably name more 49ers that retired this offseason than players who will start on defense Monday night. Looking at San Francisco's depth chart isn't much more reassuring. The departure of a glut of important players, as well as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, quickly turned the Niners from one of the league's best defenses to one of the most unstable. Monday night's spotlight will be on the return of Adrian Peterson, but look for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to have another good game as Minnesota starts of the 2015 campaign with a big victory.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

2015 NFL season preview

The jinx is dead.

A preseason Super Bowl berth handed down in this space was as damning as the Madden Curse for three years running. The Curse of the Online Jargon died in spectacular fashion last year, as I was a Marshawn Lynch touchdown plunge away from correctly predicting the Super Bowl nearly five months before the game kicked off.

An interesting offseason has finally come to a close. Some contenders loaded up, while others overhauled an entire roster. A number of former Pro Bowlers were traded, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback was suspended (and then reinstated), the Patriots were accused of cheating (again), one of the best safeties in football is holding out, and the commissioner further proved his ineptitude.

If this summer was any indication, 2015 is going to be a wild ride. For the first time this season, let's get to the picks.

AFC Division Champs

North Baltimore: Ozzie Newsome and company didn't make any flashy moves when Pernell McPhee left for Chicago and Haloti Ngata was traded. That steady hand allows Baltimore to compete for a division title every year. 2015 will be no different, as the Ravens will outlast the top-heavy Steelers and the overachieving Bengals for their first AFC North crown since 2012.

South Indianapolis: Ladies and gentlemen, I present the annual "Who Else is Going to Win?" award winner! The Colts loaded up for a Super Bowl run in the immediate future, and their division rivals will provide almost no resistance. Tennessee and Jacksonville have young, developing quarterbacks, while the Texans don't have one at all.

East New England: The road became easier for the Patriots when Tom Brady's suspension was overturned. It certainly won't be easy for New England, though. Buffalo and New York have two of the best defenses in the NFL, and the Dolphins are poised for a big year. Miami's lack of depth will prevent the 'Fins from taking down the defending champs.

West Denver: Peyton Manning gets the attention, but it was the defense that drove the Broncos last season. Defensive performance historically dips when John Fox leaves a team, but Denver's defense is too talented to fall off significantly. Kansas City and San Diego will test the Broncos, but in the end, it's Denver's division to lose.

NFC Division Champs

North Green Bay: Even if the Packers didn't have the league's most talented offense, Green Bay would still likely be the division favorite. Chicago and Detroit are heading in the wrong direction, and while Minnesota is trending upward, the Vikings have to prove they can compete with one of the youngest rosters in the league.

South Atlanta: Ugly divisions need champs, too. The NFC South is set to be one of the worst divisions in football yet again this season, but the Falcons made the strides to prevent another sub-.500 division winner. Atlanta was the not-so-proud owner of the worst defense in the NFL last year, and the combination of free-agent acquisitions and new head coach Dan Quinn should improve that moribund group immensely.

East Philadelphia: Chip Kelly may be crazy, but his insanity seems to work. Philly's offense was on fire in the preseason, and a healthy Eagles offense should outrun the rest of the competition. Rebuilds in Washington and New York should ease the pressure on the Eagles, who need only fend off defending division champion Dallas to return to the postseason.

West Seattle: Consistency is key for the Seahawks, the only team left in the NFC West without major questions to answer. St. Louis has question marks on offense despite their elite defense, Arizona has a new defensive coordinator, and San Francisco has new faces across the board.

Wildcard Teams

AFC: Miami and Kansas City
NFC: Dallas and Minnesota

Sleeper Teams

AFC: New York - The key to New York's success will be keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Fitzpatrick isn't going to put up Aaron Rodgers-type numbers, but he's a much better option than Geno Smith. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker give Fitzpatrick a pair of quality targets, and a free-agent spending spree has given the Jets one of the league's best defenses. Those pieces could lead first-year coach Todd Bowles to an AFC wildcard berth.

NFC: St. Louis - Any and all success the Rams encounter in 2015 is contingent on the cohesion of St. Louis' new-look offense. A new quarterback, running back, and offensive line all must jell in short order for the Rams to meet their potential. An elite defense, with arguably the best defensive line in football, can carry even an average offense to wildcard contention this season.

Wildcard Playoffs
Baltimore over Kansas City
Miami over Denver
Philadelphia over Minnesota
Dallas over Atlanta

Divisional Playoffs
Indianapolis over Miami
Baltimore over New England
Seattle over Dallas
Green Bay over Philadelphia

AFC Championship
Indianapolis over Baltimore

NFC Championship
Seattle over Green Bay

Super Bowl 50
Seattle over Indianapolis

Postseason Awards
NFL MVP: Andrew Luck (QB, Indianapolis)
Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers (QB, Green Bay)
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt (DE, Houston)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Amari Cooper (WR, Oakland)
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Danny Shelton (DT, Cleveland)
Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer (Minnesota)
Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson (RB, Minnesota)

Getcha' Resume Ready
Every year, it seems like half of the league's 32 teams hire a new head coach. While there likely won't be 16 new head coaches in 2016, here are a few who should probably make sure their resume is current.

Jeff Fisher, St. Louis - Jeff Fisher's list of excuses for mediocrity is running thin. Fisher has one of the league's best defenses and a rookie running back with the ability to change a game when healthy. If the Rams fizzle out and finish with double-digit losses, Fisher may not make the trip to Los Angeles next spring.

Joe Philbin, Miami - It's time for Joe Philbin to fish or cut bait, as they say. Miami's front office went gaga in free agency, giving Ndamukong Suh $114 million while also trading for wide receiver Kenny Stills and drafting wideout DeVante Parker. If Philbin can't get it done with this Dolphins team, he'll be looking for work on Jan. 4, the day often referred to as "Black Monday" around the NFL.

Jay Gruden, Washington - Alleged quarterback whisperer Jay Gruden has managed to completely break down 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III in only one season as head coach. Washington is the biggest mess in the league, thanks in no small part to the carousel Gruden is running at quarterback. Griffin will likely be gone after the season, and Gruden may be right behind him.

Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis - This might be the most ludicrous one of all, but it doesn't make it any less true. Reports across the league suggest Pagano is under immense pressure to succeed this season, and after rejecting a contract extension, Pagano may see the writing on the wall. If the Colts fail to reach the heights I predict they will, Pagano would become the hottest coaching free agent in recent memory. If Philbin and Pagano both lose their jobs this winter, the latter would be an ideal replacement for the former.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

2015 NFL quarterback power rankings

There are two types of teams: Teams with a franchise quarterback, and teams looking for one.

How many teams truly have a signal-caller that is capable winning a championship? Where does your team's quarterback rank among his 31 professional counterparts?

Summer quarterback competitions have been settled, with coaches setting the direction of their franchise on the shoulders of 32 select men.

The list below ranks every NFL starting quarterback, from worst to first. Age has been taken out of the equation in an effort to level an admittedly uneven playing field. If you're starting a franchise today, you'd probably take Andrew Luck first because he's only 25. Aaron Rodgers is completely unfamiliar with terms like interception and overthrown receiver. Peyton Manning has made a joke of the NFL record book. Tom Brady has more Super Bowl titles than any active quarterback.

There are many pieces that make up this complex puzzle. Stats, wins, moxie, and confidence are some. As with all power rankings, though, not everyone is created equal.

So, who is the best quarterback in the NFL? Let's get to the picks.

32. Josh McCown (Cleveland) - Josh McCown has played for six teams in the last 10 seasons, and posted a quarterback rating over 75 once. During that outlier season, McCown had Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall catching passes and keeping defenses honest. McCown somehow finds himself in a worse situation than last year's debacle in Tampa, as his primary targets are Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline. It's going get ugly quickly in Cleveland.

31. Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo) - No veteran quarterback presents as much mystery as Tyrod Taylor. The former Virginia Tech quarterback spent the last four seasons behind Joe Flacco, who hasn't missed a start in his NFL career. Taylor has never started an NFL regular-season game, nor has he thrown a regular-season touchdown pass. Taylor will have to prove he's worthy of the long-term job before the Bills look to use their 2016 first-round pick on the likes of Michigan State's Connor Cook or Penn State's Christian Hackenberg.

30. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville) - The 2,908 passing yards Blake Bortles posted last season were the second-most by a Jaguars quarterback since 2009. That mark was also better than any single-season performance by Blaine Gabbert, the last quarterback Jacksonville drafted in the top 10. Gabbert represents a very low bar to clear, and Bortles faces a long road to becoming a solid NFL quarterback. After one season, though, Bortles' stock is trending in a more positive direction than Gabbert's ever did.

29. Kirk Cousins (Washington) - Erase his 2013 season, and Kirk Cousins has been a serviceable NFL quarterback. Extrapolating the stats in those nine contests over 16 games gives Cousins a line similar to Russell Wilson: 63 percent completion percentage, 3,868 yards and 25 touchdowns. The problem, however, is turnovers. Cousins' numbers also project 21 interceptions and five fumbles. In contrast, no quarterback in the NFL threw more than 18 interceptions last year. Even at his best, Cousins projects as one of the most careless passers in the league.

28. Ryan Fitzpatrick (New York Jets) - In two of their three seasons together in Buffalo, Ryan Fitzpatrick put up solid numbers under Chan Gailey's guidance. Gailey and Fitzpatrick are reunited in New York this season, but this time, Gailey is Fitzpatrick's offensive coordinator. Fitzpatrick steps in for an injured Geno Smith, which may very well be a blessing in disguise for the Jets. Smith may be younger, but Fitzpatrick's floor is notably higher. Fitzpatrick won't set the AFC East ablaze, but he won't submarine an entire season like Smith.

27. Brian Hoyer (Houston) - Last season was Brian Hoyer's first real shot at being a starter, and he had to contend with the circus rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel brought with him to Cleveland. The categorical absence of an offensive weapon didn't much help, either. Arian Foster and DeAndre Hopkins stand to make Hoyer's life much easier than it was last season. This year will be the true test of Hoyer's worth as an NFL starting quarterback.

26. Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) - If nothing else, Marcus Mariota should bring some consistency to the Titans. Tennessee hasn't had the same man lead the team in passing in consecutive seasons since 2006-2007. One of Mariota's greatest strengths is his football intelligence, which will likely be put to the test early and often as the Titans looked to rebuild. Mariota is a proven winner, and if his development continues on its upward trajectory, Mariota may be in line for Rookie of the Year award consideration.

25. Nick Foles (St. Louis) - Remove his incredible 2013 season, and Nick Foles' numbers are pedestrian: 3,862 yards, 19 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 8 lost fumbles, 80.4 rating. Foles posted a rating of 81.4 last season, nearly identical to his abbreviated career numbers. Foles won't have the benefit of Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense, nor will he have a top-10 running back behind him. Time seems destined to prove Foles' 2013 season was simply an aberration.

24. Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay) - Rookies don't generally enter the NFL with the physical tools Jameis Winston brings with him to Tampa. Winston helped lead Florida State to the 2013 national championship thanks in part to his big-bodied no. 1 target, current Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Winston has doubled down, as he now has two big-bodied receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Winston is an early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and can become a top-10 NFL quarterback, provided he shows the maturity and positive decision-making skills he exhibited during FSU's title-winning season two years ago.

23. Sam Bradford (Philadelphia) - In his two full seasons, Sam Bradford has been average, throwing for 7,214 yards and 39 touchdowns. Bradford projects as a effective quarterback in Chip Kelly's system, an offense similar to the one Bradford ran in college. Projections don't win games, though. The preseason was a step in the right direction, but Bradford need prove he can stay healthy and effective. Most importantly for the Eagles, Bradford needs to avoid his third consecutive season-ending injury.

22. Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco) - Colin Kaepernick's quarterback rating has dropped in each of his three seasons as a starter, while his turnovers have also increased annually. San Francisco's offense is aging and disintegrating rapidly around Kaepernick, while the once-vaunted defense has been left in shambles after a glut of retirements. Changes have swept through the Bay Area since Jim Harbaugh's departure, and a poor showing in 2015 may end Kaepernick's time in San Francisco.

21. Derek Carr (Oakland) - The Raiders have been a mess for more than a decade, but Derek Carr may be part of the solution Oakland fans have been waiting for. Carr was predictably rocky early in 2014, but managed to compile a 3-3 record to finish his rookie campaign. The former Fresno State product finally has a competent receiver in rookie Amari Cooper, and the two have already shown flashes of chemistry this preseason. Carr stands only to rise up this ranking as the 2015 season progresses.

20. Andy Dalton (Cincinnati) - Andy Dalton's career regular-season win percentage is a respectable .625, while his regular-season quarterback rating is 13th among active NFL starters. Those are solid numbers, but Dalton's problem has never been the regular season. Dalton is 0-4 in the postseason, with only one touchdown to go along with six interceptions. The Bengals failed to score more than 13 points in all four of Dalton's postseason starts, losing three of those games by at least 16 points. Franchise quarterbacks are made in January, and Dalton has proven he's not up to the task.

19. Jay Cutler (Chicago) - All the physical tools in the world can't make you a winner. Jay Cutler is living proof of that. Cutler has started 15 or more games in six of his nine years in the NFL, and has more sub-.500 seasons (three) to his name than trips to the playoffs (one). Immaturity and bad decision-making have plagued Cutler, a quarterback with all the physical tools to be among the league's elite.

18. Carson Palmer (Arizona) - Nearly a decade in NFL purgatory left Carson Palmer's stock at an all-time low, but the veteran quarterback has found success under Bruce Arians in Arizona. Palmer is 16-6 as a starter in Arians' quarterback-friendly system, and was undefeated before suffering a torn ACL last season. Palmer has bounced back strong from the injury, and will take back the reigns of Arizona's offense from the dumpster fire left in the wake of last season's injury. The Cardinals should once again contend for a playoff spot under Palmer's guidance.

17. Matthew Stafford (Detroit) - Physical tools, immaturity, and questionable decision-making are popular in the NFC North. Stafford is Cutler Lite, a cannon-armed gunslinger who hasn't met a risk he isn't afraid of taking. Stafford's numbers are slightly better, though, as Stafford has led the Lions to the postseason in two of the four years he has started at least 15 games. Stafford has a better reputation among the media and talking heads, but he mirrors Cutler much more closely than any Lions fan is willing to admit.

16. Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota) - A season-ending injury to Matt Cassel forced Teddy Bridgewater into action much earlier than expected, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Bridgewater was 6-6 as a starter, and was easily the most effective Vikings quarterback since Brett Favre's brief stint in the Twin Cities. Armed with an All-Pro running back and an upgraded receiving corps, Bridgewater is poised to take the next step and lead Minnesota back to the playoffs.

15. Alex Smith (Kansas City) - Alex Smith may always be the guy San Francisco took instead of Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL draft, while simultaneously being one of the more under-appreciated quarterbacks in the league. Smith is 38-16-1 since the beginning of the 2011 season, throwing just 23 interceptions in that time. Smith may not be a flashy starter, but he takes care of the ball and continues to prove he is a winner.

14. Eli Manning (New York Giants) - Manning the Younger hasn't missed a start since he took over the starting job in New York, and the results have been mixed. Manning has helped lead the Giants to two Super Bowl victories, but hasn't been able to engineer a postseason victory outside of those title-winning seasons. The Giants haven't made the postseason since 2011, despite breakout performances by wide receivers Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham, Jr. Manning is a more successful, and less enigmatic, version of Jay Cutler - he's capable of brilliant and baffling play, sometimes in the same game.

13. Ryan Tannehill (Miami) - Talking heads and NFL experts talk about The Leap, the season in which a player goes from good to great. Throughout his NFL career, Ryan Tannehill's passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, yards per attempt and quarterback rating have all increased year over year. The Dolphins added Jordan Cameron, Kenny Stills and rookie DeVante Parker, giving Tannehill his most potent arsenal of offensive weapons yet. Tannehill may very well be ready to take The Leap this fall.

12. Cam Newton (Carolina) - Poor Cam Newton. In 62 career starts, Newton has almost single-handedly dragged the Panthers to a 30-31-1 mark. Newton has more than 14,000 passing yards and 82 touchdown passes in his career, while also tallying 2,571 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns on the ground. Newton will once again be on his own this season. Carolina's offensive line is in shambles, starting running back Jonathan Stewart is a good bet to miss time after missing 20 games over the past three years due to injury, and second-year standout receiver Kelvin Benjamin is out for the season with a torn ACL. 

11. Matt Ryan (Atlanta) - Tell Atlanta fans they have a younger version of Tony Romo and they might pass out. Truth be told, the Falcons could do a lot worse. Matt Ryan has career numbers eerily similar to Romo's, without the horrible league-wide reputation. Like Romo, Ryan is a winner, but must prove the last two seasons, in which the Falcons have been 10-22, were an extended aberration. Ryan has an improved offensive line and one of the league's best receivers in Julio Jones. Ryan must return Atlanta to the postseason to justify his standing just outside the league's best quarterbacks.

10. Tony Romo (Dallas) - Tony Romo has started 10 or more games in eight of his nine seasons under center in Dallas, and not once has Romo led the Cowboys to a losing record. Romo has never finished a season with a quarterback rating under 90. In four of the eight aforementioned seasons, Romo threw at least 26 touchdown passes while also throwing 10 or fewer interceptions. Always the butt of jokes across the league, Romo is one of the league's most disrespected and underappreciated quarterbacks. At least half the league would sell the farm to have that kind of performance under center.

9. Philip Rivers (San Diego) - In 2006, the Chargers had a choice: Re-sign Drew Brees and trade young Philip Rivers, or hand the franchise over to the inexperienced signal-caller and let Brees walk. What a problem to have. Rivers has a spotty history in the playoffs, but he's proven time and again how valuable he is to an organization that has often failed to surround their franchise quarterback with the appropriate talent. Rivers may go down as this generation's Dan Marino, the best quarterback never to win a championship. San Diego's front office has nobody to blame but themselves.

8. Joe Flacco (Baltimore) - The famous question has been asked in seemingly every forum, most recently on national television during the first Republican debate: Is Joe Flacco elite? The answer doesn't much matter, because Flacco is busy winning games. Flacco has engineered 23 game-winning drives in his seven seasons, and he's never been one-and-done in the playoffs. In 2012, Flacco put together one of the best postseason runs in NFL history in leading the Ravens to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco is also one of only four active quarterbacks with 10 or more playoff victories, and Flacco is at least three years younger than the three other men on that list.

7. Drew Brees (New Orleans) - The record books have never been the same since Drew Brees arrived in the Big Easy. Brees has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in four of his nine seasons in New Orleans and hasn't thrown fewer than 30 touchdowns since 2007. Brees was also at the helm of the historic 2009 season, which brought New Orleans its first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Brees changed the face of the Saints franchise, and at 36 years old, he's still one of the league's most prolific passers. The Saints were a moribund franchise before Brees' arrival, and thanks to the former Purdue star, New Orleans is one of the most respected teams in the NFL.

6. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) - Injuries have hit Ben Roethlisberger hard, limiting Big Ben in eight of his 11 NFL seasons. However, a team couldn't ask for much more than what Roethlisberger has provided when on the field. Roethlisberger has won more than 67 percent of his games, including 10 postseason victories and two Super Bowl titles. Roethlisberger has quietly been one of the more effective passers in the NFL recently, and will look to spearhead one of the league's best offenses in 2015.

5. Peyton Manning (Denver) - When Peyton Manning hangs up his cleats for good, he'll likely be the owner of every major passing record in NFL history. Manning is, essentially, a coach on the field, and gives his team an advantage few other quarterbacks can provide. However, the postseason has been unkind to the future Hall of Famer. Manning is 11-13 in the playoffs, including nine losses in his team's first playoff match-up. That track record prevents Manning from entering the discussion for Greatest of All-Time.

4. Russell Wilson (Seattle) - Mobile quarterbacks rarely have the professional success Russell Wilson has found, but few quarterbacks, mobile or otherwise, are as intelligent as Wilson. Seattle's newly minted franchise quarterback has led the Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowl appearances, and is poised to lead his team on another run atop the NFC. The 26-year-old Wilson should keep the Seahawks among the NFC's best for years to come.

3. Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) - Few players have been elite at every level, but Andrew Luck is one of them. Luck was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, a two-time All-American at Stanford, and is already a three-time Pro Bowler in the NFL. Luck has stepped up his game in each of his three seasons, peaking in 2014 with 40 touchdowns, more than 4,700 passing yards, and a pair of playoff victories. Barring a rash of injuries, Luck will be among the NFL elite for the next decade.

2. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) - Green Bay's on-field leader is an anomaly. Aaron Rodgers has thrown fewer than 10 interceptions in five of his seven NFL seasons. Rodgers hasn't tallied a quarterback rating below 100 since his first season as a starter. The only crack in Rodgers' facade is his postseason play. Rodgers' otherworldly numbers fall back to earth in the playoffs, where Rodgers is 6-5 and hasn't posted the numbers he's so famously tallied during the regular season. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the last 25 years, but he's not no. 1.

1. Tom Brady (New England) - Controversy or not, no quarterback in the league has done more with less than Tom Brady. Brady has carried the Patriots, season after season, despite the absence of top talent at running back or wide receiver. In his only season with an above-average wide receiver, Brady and the New England offense looked like a video game cheat code. Absent his lost 2008 season, Brady hasn't missed a start since 2001, and has led his team to 10 or more wins in 12 of 13 seasons. Brady has five more postseason victories than any other quarterback in NFL history. Love him or hate him, Brady is the best quarterback the NFL has to offer.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 NFL mock draft, Vol. 2

The time has finally come.

After myriad mock drafts, plenty of rumors, and endless speculation, the 2015 NFL Draft is upon us. The nature of mock drafts lends to their general lack of accuracy, which is one of the reasons the Online Jargon doesn't try to project what teams will do.

(That, and I don't have any sources within the league.)

Instead, this year's second mock draft is an updated version of what teams should do when they hit the clock Thursday night.

Let's get to the picks.

1. Tampa Bay - Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
Vol. 1 pick - Jameis Winston
There is little doubt Tampa Bay will make Jameis Winston the no. 1 overall pick Thursday night, but there has been plenty of speculation as to whether or not Winston is the right pick.

Well, he is ... by a nose.

The Bucs are a decent team with a substantial quarterback problem. An investment will need to be made in the offensive line to ensure Winston can stay upright this fall. Winston will immediately have three good receiving options in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to help ease his transition to the professional game. Winston comes with question marks - his decision-making skills on and off the field leave a bit to be desired - but his advanced on-field skill set gives Winston a slightly higher ceiling than Marcus Mariota.

2. Tennessee - Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
Vol. 1 pick - Marcus Mariota
No team in the NFL has a more dire quarterback situation than the Titans, but Marcus Mariota is not a good fit in Tennessee. Ken Whisenhunt covets immobile quarterbacks with a cannon arm, and Mariota is not that player. As the draft draws near, however, it looks increasingly unlikely that Tennessee will remain at no. 2.

If they do, Amari Cooper is their man. Cooper isn't as flashy as Julio Jones, another former Crimson Tide receiver who was drafted in the top 10, but that doesn't mean Cooper isn't as good. Cooper was a force from the day he stepped onto campus in Tuscaloosa, becoming Alabama's offensive superstar despite the parade of five-star running backs to come through Nick Saban's program. Cooper manages to create space for himself more often than not despite his lack of top-end speed. If Zach Mettenberger is to succeed in the NFL, he'll need a reliable no. 1 receiver. Cooper is the best this class has to offer.

3. Jacksonville - Dante Fowler, Jr. (DE/OLB, Florida)
Vol. 1 pick - Leonard Williams
At first glance, the Jaguars appear to be set at defensive end. The team paid a premium to bring Jared Odrick up from Miami, which leaves them set on the left side. However, Chris Clemons will be 34 by mid-season, and his play was largely erratic through the 2014 campaign. Few players in this draft class are as versatile as Fowler, who played all over Florida's front seven during his college career. Fowler's stock rose after the combine, which is a red flag to the Online Jargon brain trust, but Fowler fits one of Jacksonville's biggest needs. A player of Fowler's caliber will not be around in round two.

4. Oakland - Leonard Williams (DL, USC)
Vol. 1 pick - Amari Cooper
Drafting Kevin White would be the most Raiders thing Reggie McKenzie and company could do, especially when the draft's top prospect has fallen into Oakland's lap. Leonard Williams is a versatile defender, capable of playing anywhere on Oakland's defensive line. Williams is garnering comparisons to players like Gerald McCoy and J.J. Watt, and if he can become half the player McCoy or Watt is, Williams will be Oakland's best defensive player. Wide receiver is an area of need, but it is the deepest position in this draft. A quality player should be around when the Raiders are back on the clock at pick no. 35.

5. Washington - Vic Beasley (OLB, Clemson)
Vol. 1 pick - Randy Gregory
Washington has a solid edge rusher in Ryan Kerrigan, but after the departure of Brian Orakpo, Kerrigan is left without a suitable counterpart. This year's crop of pass rushers is top-heavy, and Clemson's Vic Beasley may be the best pure pass rusher of them all. Beasley lacks some of the polish required of successful NFL outside linebackers, but polish can be taught. Beasley's knack for making plays in the opposition's backfield cannot.

6. New York Jets - Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Vol. 1 pick - Brandon Scherff
Geno Smith is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. It was a mistake to use a second-round pick on him two years ago, and it would be a mistake to let him start the first regular-season game of the Todd Bowles era. Marcus Mariota is the anti-Smith - a consistent, mature leader who isn't fazed by the bright lights. Mariota would team with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to give New York its best passing attack in recent memory, and would provide leadership the team hasn't had at quarterback since Brett Favre made a cameo appearance for the team in 2008.

7. Chicago - Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
Vol. 1 pick - Shane Ray
Simply saying Chicago's defense was bad last year doesn't adequately describe the unit's shortcomings. From front to back, the Bears' defense was terrible. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will make Chicago's defense better just by being in the building, but the defense could really use a foundation to build upon. Danny Shelton is a mountain in the middle, but the 340-pounder also possesses exceptional agility and an above-average ability to rush the passer. Chicago has a long way to go before the Monsters of the Midway days return to Soldier Field, but drafting Shelton is a good place to start.

8. Atlanta - Shane Ray (DE/OLB, Missouri)
Vol. 1 pick - Dante Fowler, Jr.
By signing O'Brien Schofield and Adrian Clayborn, Atlanta's pass rush went from moribund to average. The Falcons could still use a true threat off the edge, and at no. 8, the team is still in position to add one of the draft's elite rushers. Concerns regarding the health of Shane Ray's foot had caused some to project a fall for the former Missouri standout. Ray was then arrested Monday morning and cited for possession of marijuana, which has further accelerated Ray's tumble down mock drafts far and wide. Ray's skill set is undeniable, and his motor makes him an even bigger problem for opposing offensive linemen. Critics will point to Ray's short arms or small stature, but the critics have to nitpick to find holes in Ray's on-field play.

9. NY Giants - Brandon Scherff (OL, Iowa)
Vol. 1 pick - Landon Collins
The whole world is projecting Brandon Scherff to come off the board at no. 9, and for good reason. New York's offensive line is abysmal. Scherff played left tackle at Iowa, but projects to right tackle or guard at the pro level. This flexibility will help the Giants, who need help at all three positions. Scherff's mean streak will add an edge to New York's rushing attack, which will surely make free-agent acquisition Shane Vereen's transition to the Big Apple a little easier.

10. St, Louis - Andrus Peat (OT, Stanford)
Vol. 1 pick - Andrus Peat 
Like the Giants, the Rams have such a desperate need in the trenches that this pick becomes pretty obvious. Stanford's Andrus Peat is an elite run blocker with developing skills in pass protection. Those skills will have to be refined at the pro level, but Peat has the finish to start for the Rams from day one. Taking an offensive lineman with a top-10 pick in consecutive seasons isn't sexy, but neither is the state of St. Louis' offensive line.

11. Minnesota - Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
Vol. 1 pick - DeVante Parker
Last year's free-agent acquisition of Captain Munnerlyn was supposed to fill the hole at cornerback opposite Xavier Rhodes, but that was not the case. Munnerlyn and Terence Newman provide depth in the secondary, but neither should be starting. Trae Waynes is a tall, fast, physical corner, much like Rhodes. Pairing Waynes with Rhodes would give Minnesota a formidable young duo on the corner, which will help the Vikings compete against the high-powered passing attacks of division rivals Green Bay and Detroit.

12. Cleveland - Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
Vol. 1 pick- Kevin White
Few teams have needs as bad at Cleveland's need for a wide receiver. Jordan Cameron skipped town and Josh Gordon is suspended again, leaving the Browns with free-agent signings Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe. Kevin White is a potential game-breaker capable of taking the top off a defense, something neither Bowe nor Hartline will be doing any time soon. Whomever plays quarterback for the Browns will benefit greatly from having more than a couple of retreads to throw to this season.

13. New Orleans - Alvin Dupree (DE/OLB, Kentucky)
Vol. 1 pick - Trae Waynes
The Saints loaded up on draft picks to help the massive roster overhaul the team is about to begin, and New Orleans needs to focus those picks on their awful defense. Alvin Dupree was incredibly productive on a sub-par team, leaving Lexington as the SEC's active leader in sacks. Dupree will have to work on his separation skills, as he struggled getting away from the country's better offensive tackles. Rob Ryan will have some coaching to do with Dupree, but the former Kentucky Wildcat standout has a nose for the quarterback and should help a Saints defense that ranked 25th in sacks last season.

14. Miami - DeVante Parker (WR, Louisville)
Vol. 1 pick - La'el Collins
Adding Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron, while replacing Mike Wallace with Greg Jennings, is a step in the right direction, but Ryan Tannehill still needs help. Jennings has little left in the tank, and Cameron has been injury prone throughout his career. Pairing Louisville's 6'3" DeVante Parker with the speedy Stills provides the 26-year-old Tannehill with two young receivers with significant upside and complementary skills.

15. San Francisco - Arik Armstead (DL, Oregon)
Vol. 1 pick - Danny Shelton
A bizarre offseason in San Francisco hit the Niners' front seven especially hard. Once one of the most effective units in football, San Francisco is left with a collection of replacement talent and two former superstars who may never return to their previous form. Even if Justin Smith doesn't retire, San Francisco's starting defensive ends will be 33 and 35 years old on opening day. Arik Armstead is a freak athlete, standing 6'7" and possessing all the tools to become a dominant end. Armstead's immense, but raw, skill set will require significant coaching, but Jim Tomsula is one of the best candidates to do so.

16. Houston - Breshad Perriman (WR, UCF)
Vol. 1 pick - T.J. Clemmings
For the first time since their inaugural season in 2002, the Houston Texans will begin the year without Andre Johnson on the roster. DeAndre Hopkins effectively ascended to the role of no. 1 wideout last year, and officially takes the mantle this season. Houston added Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts in free agency, but neither provides a true complement to Hopkins. UCF's Breshad Perriman is nearly identical in size to Hopkins, and provides the downfield speed and burst to blow the truly stretch the field. The quarterback situation isn't pretty in Houston, but whomever starts the season under center would be happy to have Hopkins and Perriman at his disposal.

17. San Diego - Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
Vol. 1 pick- Melvin Gordon
It's fun to think about a trade involving one of the league's best quarterbacks, but it's just as fun to think about that quarterback having a reliable running back behind him. Philip Rivers hasn't had a reliable option in the backfield since LaDainian Tomlinson left town after the 2009 season, something Gordon would change upon his arrival in San Diego. Opposing defenses knew Gordon would get the ball, and he still finished 2014 with the second-highest single-season rushing total in NCAA history.

18. Kansas City - La'el Collins (OT, LSU)
Vol. 1 pick - Ereck Flowers
Using another first-round pick on a tackle seems strange after selecting one with the top pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but the Chiefs are in dire straits. Eric Fisher may not be the long-term solution at left tackle, and Jeff Allen isn't the long-term solution anywhere on the offensive line. La'el Collins is one of the best run blockers in this class, a mauler who can control the line of scrimmage from day one. Collins will need to work on his pass blocking, but he is at a point that will allow Collins to start for Kansas City right away.

*Note - Mulitple media outlets reported Thursday that Collins will likely go undrafted due to legal trouble. Collins' reported ex-girlfriend was murdered, and although Collins is not currently considered a suspect, NFL teams are reportedly weary. In the NFL, you're guilty until proven innoncent.

19. Cleveland (via Buffalo) - Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
Vol. 1 pick - Arik Armstead
Cleveland's run defense was terrible last year, but somehow, it still doesn't rank as the team's top need. With Kevin White on board thanks to the no. 12 pick, Cleveland can focus on fixing their porous front seven. Malcom Brown has a rare combination of size, speed and agility, possessing the ability to anchor an NFL defense for years to come. Nothing is certain in the NFL draft, but Brown's skills and upside will project well into a Cleveland defense sorely lacking talent in the trenches.

20. Philadelphia - Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
Vol. 1 pick - Vic Beasley
The Eagles spent money on the corners of their defense, but the safety position still needs significant and immediate attention. Malcolm Jenkins is a sufficient stop-gap, but Earl Wolff doesn't have any business starting in the NFL. Landon Collins is a true thumper, a player who can make a difference in the run and pass game. Collins' aggression can work against him in pass defense, but he can be the type of player to help a secondary in need of difference-makers.

21. Cincinnati - Ereck Flowers (OT, Miami)
Vol. 1 pick- Alvin Dupree
As is often the case with offensive lineman taken outside of the top 10, Ereck Flowers comes with his share of quirks. Flowers often falls victim to poor footwork in pass protection, which would make him a liability, especially on Andy Dalton's blind side. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has publicly stated that Cincinnati's first-round pick doesn't necessarily need to start right away. compares Flowers favorably to current Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth, behind whom Flowers can learn the nuances of the pro game before taking over for Whitworth when the 34-year-old veteran leaves Cincinnati.

22. Pittsburgh - Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
Vol. 1 pick - Marcus Peters
In Vol. 1 of the Online Jargon's mock draft, Marcus Peters was projected to Pittsburgh to fill a desperate need in the secondary. Peters still presents behavioral question marks, but when it comes to talent, Peters is in the same breath as Trae Waynes. Peters would likely come off the board earlier, if not for his dismissal from the Washington football team. Those character red flags will scare most teams off, but Pittsburgh's locker room is more than capable of handling a player like Peters.

23. Detroit - Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
Vol. 1 pick - Malcom Brown
One of the league's best defenses was gutted this winter, as both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley left the Motor City for greener pa$ture$, if you know what I mean. Detroit traded for Haloti Ngata, but the former Ravens standout is a free agent after the season and may not return to the team. Eddie Goldman, a force in the middle of one of college football's best defenses, is the type of physical player that can spend his rookie year learning from Ngata, while taking over the defense whenever Ngata's time in Detroit comes to an end.

24. Arizona - Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
Vol. 1 pick - Shaq Thompson
Just as a defensive tackle is an obvious pick for the Lions, running back is a glaring need for the Cardinals. Todd Gurley is considered the draft's top running back prospect by most experts, garnering high enough praise to consider Gurley the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. Gurley's torn ACL checked out well this winter, helping quell concerns about his recovery. Even if Gurley isn't back to speed by September, he can share the backfield with incumbent Andre Ellington before become Arizona's feature back by mid-season.

25. Carolina - T.J. Clemmings (OT, Pittsburgh)
Vol. 1 pick - D.J. Humphries
Carolina is in dire need of help up front, and if not for their unlikely trip to the playoffs, the Panthers would be in play for Iowa's Brandon Scherff. Instead, they'll take T.J. Clemmings, a raw, but athletically gifted, prospect with a very high ceiling. Clemmings is a former basketball player who has only played tackle for a couple of years, a la Houston's Duane Brown. Scouts like his natural ability and potential, and if Clemmings can become the player Brown has been for the Texans, Carolina will be rewarded for their patience in developing the former Pittsburgh standout.

26. Baltimore - Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Missouri)
Vol. 1 pick - Jaelen Strong
This pick comes with a very big asterisk. Dorial Green-Beckham is a supremely talented wide receiver who has been compared to Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but he comes with significant off-the-field issues. Green-Beckham was dismissed from the Missouri football program after incidents involving burglary and marijuana possession, and sat out the 2014 season due to NCAA transfer rules. No team in the league will do as much research into a prospect's background than the Ravens, and if Green-Beckham passes all of Baltimore's requirements, he could become the no. 1 receiver Joe Flacco has been missing throughout his pro career. If Green-Beckham doesn't check out - and he absolutely must for Baltimore to select him - Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson is the pick.

27. Dallas - Kevin Johnson (CB, Wake Forest)
Vol. 1 pick - Todd Gurley
Though a bit smaller than the platonic ideal of an NFL cornerback, Kevin Johnson possesses all of the skills required to succeed at the pro level. Scouts laud Johnson's coverage skills and overall athleticism, which made him a three-year starter at Wake Forest. Johnson only weighs 188 pounds, which may scare off some teams, but weight is something Johnson could easily add upon his NFL arrival. Dallas' defense overachieved in 2014, and if the Cowboys would like to repeat that success this year, adding a player like Johnson is the right move.

28. Denver - Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
Vol. 1 pick - Cameron Erving
Despite playing at a league-average level, Will Montgomery is not Denver's long-term answer at center. Florida State's Cameron Erving, however, could be. Erving came to Florida State as a defensive lineman, switching to offense just two years ago. Erving was impressive at center, helping lead a Seminoles offensive line bursting with blue-chip recruits. A year behind Montgomery would only allow Erving to get better, though he could start right away for the Broncos.

29. Indianapolis - D.J. Humphries (OT, Florida)
Vol. 1 pick - Eddie Goldman
Despite having one of the league's best quarterbacks, Indianapolis' front office hasn't done a great job protecting Andrew Luck. In need of some help on both sides of the line, D.J. Humphries comes to Indianapolis with a nasty mean streak and the ability to play on the left or right side. Humphries could kick right tackle Gosder Cherilus to guard, shoring up the unit responsible for protecting Indianapolis' meal ticket at quarterback.

30. Green Bay - Eric Kendricks (ILB, UCLA)
Vol. 1 pick - Eric Kendricks
Even if A.J. Hawk stayed in town, the Packers needed to make improvements to their group of inside linebackers. Green Bay doesn't currently have a player listed on their depth chart next to Sam Barrington, further highlighting the team's need at the position. Eric Kendricks is smaller than the average inside linebacker, but he has a non-stop motor and a knack for making plays. Eric's older brother, Mychal, has been starting for the Eagles since he entered the league in 2012, and Eric will show that NFL success runs in the Kendricks family.

31. New Orleans (via Seattle) - Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
Vol. 1 pick (Seattle) - Dorial Green-Beckham
Adding Brandon Browner to one of the league's worst pass defenses will provide some help, but it isn't enough. Jalen Collins is an incredibly talented defensive back who could become a top-flight corner in the NFL. Collins is raw - he only started 10 games in college - and will need some time to learn the finer points of playing the corner. New Orleans needs defensive talent, and like Alvin Dupree, Collins will be a talent-rich project for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to develop.

32. New England - Byron Jones (CB, Connecticut)
Vol. 1 pick - Jordan Phillips
Bill Belichick is widely praised for his ability to piece together lesser-known talent to produce a consistent contender. Losing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner is going to leave any secondary thin, however, no matter who is coaching the team. Byron Jones shot up draft boards due to his coverage skills, and although his athleticism is closer to average than elite, Jones can become a productive player for the defending champs.