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NFL teams most likely to go from worst to first in 2020

We have talked a lot about the draft, biggest remaining needs for every NFL team, some breakout candidates and other stuff, so let’s now get back to more of a big picture and look at some teams from an angle of where could they go next season. In this article, I am analyzing those teams that finished fourth in their division this past year and why they could win it in 2020 or land at the bottom once again, plus an outlook where I actually see them.
Of course much of this is about these eight teams and how much better or worse I feel about them than the general public, but it was heavily dependent on their three division rivals as well. The top half I could certainly see earn a playoff spot and surprise some people if everything goes right. After that a lot of my faith is more built around the lack of great competition and giving some hope to these respective fan bases. As the cliché goes – everybody is 0-0 right now.

1. Arizona Cardinals

Why they can win the division:
Let’s just start with the main point here – this Cardinals squad has all the ingredients to make a big jump in 2020. I expect Kyler Murray to enter the superstar conversation in year two, after impressing with his arm talent and ability to extend plays in a (somewhat controversial) Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign. Steve Keim managed to unload a bad David Johnson contract and basically acquire an elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins for a second-round pick. Kenyan Drake now has a full offseason to learn this offense and make himself a major factor once again, following up an outstanding second half of the season once the Cardinals traded for him with Miami. He perfectly fits into this offense with a lot East-West based rushing from shotgun sets and his involvement in the pass game, including those quick throws as an extension of the rushing attack. Arizona’s defense should be a lot better with run-stoppers being added in the draft that fit their 3-4 base front with Utah’s Leki Fotu and LSU’s Rashard Lawrence, since they can stay in those packages against the other teams in their division running a lot of 12 and 21 personnel probably. Add to that a do-it-all player with ridiculous range and overall athleticism in Isaiah Simmons at eight overall, plus all the other guys being in their second year under DC Vance Joseph. I love Budda Baker as a missile from his safety spot and I think some of the other young guys on that unit will take a step forward, like second-year corner Byron Murphy, who I talked about last week. Now let’s get to rest of the West – every other team in that division has some issues. The 49ers are facing the objects of a potential Super Bowl hangover and some limitations with Jimmy G at the helm. The Seahawks have question marks on the edge on either side of the ball with Cedric Ogbuehi and Brandon Shell fighting for the starting gig at right tackle and Jadeveon Clowney still on the open market, with a bunch of draft picks these last couple of years having to step up. And the Rams had one of the worst O-lines in football last season and they lost some pieces on defense. The Cardinals already gave all these teams issues in 2019 and have now added pieces that were clearly missing when last matching up against each other.

Why they could finish last again:
Most importantly, I am still not completely sold on the Cardinals offensive line, with D.J. Humphries being signed to a rather expensive deal as a below-average left tackle, third-rounder Josh Jones – while earning a late first-round grade from me – still needing an overhaul on his footwork before he can slide in at right tackle and guard Justin Pugh finally having played a full 16 games for the first time since 2015 last season. NFL coaches had a lot of time to study Kliff Kingsbury’s Air-Raid offense, which when you break it down is pretty simplistic in the amount of schemes they run. Yes, he diversified it a little as last season went along, going under center and running some pro-style rushing plays, but at its core, you can learn how to create some issues for all those mesh concepts and spread sets. As far as the Cardinals defense goes, it is more about pieces than proven commodities. Patrick Peterson is seemingly on the decline, they are thin in the secondary and could Chandler Jones follow soon, after he has been one of the most underrated pass-rushers in the league for a while now? You are staring the reigning NFC champs in the eyes, a team that was a few inches away from earning a playoff bye and another squad that went to the Super Bowl just two years ago. This is probably the best division in the entire league.

Bottom line:
I still believe the 49ers have done enough to repeat as division champs, re-tooling for all the losses they have suffered this offseason. However, I’m feeling pretty good about the Cardinals earning a wildcard spot. While I believe in the Seahawks quarterback and the Rams head coach respectively to not allow their teams to not have throwaway seasons, I also see enough issues with those squads to make me believe the Cardinals could have the second-best year of anybody in the West. To me they are pretty clearly the best of these eight teams, because they have a young phenom at quarterback, stars at pretty much every position, a different type of system around them and what I’d like to call “juice” coming into 2020.

2. Detroit Lions

Why they can win the division:
Matt Stafford is back healthy and when he was in the lineup last season, this was a team that defeated the Eagles, Chargers and only didn’t finish the job against the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs because of some crazy stuff going on late. The veteran QB stood at 19 touchdowns compared to five picks and was playing at a near-MVP type level. However, Detroit’s identity will be built on the run game with re-investments in the offensive line as well as adding D’Andre Swift to form a dynamic one-two punch with him and Kerryon Johnson. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones may be the most underrated receiving duo to go with Danny Amendola as a tough guy in the slot and T.J. Hockenson coming into year two as a top-ten pick a year ago, having shown flashes when he was healthy. The defense is finally starting to take shape with third-overall Jeffrey Okudah as an elite corner prospect being added to an underrated secondary, Jamie Collins being a chess piece in the front seven after already having worked well with Matt Patricia and some young guys up front trying to prove themselves to go with the versatile Trey Flowers. Maybe more importantly than the Lions themselves – Nobody else got that much better and none of the other three really stand out to me. Other than the Vikings probably – who had the advantage of making a record-breaking 15 selections – the Lions might have had the best draft within the division. Thanks to that last-place schedule, they get to face the Redskins in the East (instead of Eagles & Cowboys) and Cardinals in the West, who I just talked about taking a step forward, but are still a better draw than the reigning conference champions or possibly having to travel to Seattle. I believe that new regime in Detroit has finally built an identity on both sides of the ball with the heavy investments in the run game and back-seven on defense. Winning ten games might earn you a division title, if everybody plays each other tough.

Why they could finish last again:
Can these guys finally stay healthy? Matt Stafford to my surprise played a full 16 games in eight straight years before last season, but a lot of that had to do with his toughness to fight through pain and he had major issues with that shoulder early on in his career before basically breaking his back after putting the team on it for the last decade. Kerryon Johnson has missed 14 of 32 possible starts and he has never carried the ball more than 118 times a season. Their receiving corp has been banged up quite a bit too. More glaring even – how will all these additions of former Patriots players work out? Can Matt Patricia build a New England 2.0 in Michigan or is he just bringing in players he knows will listen to him and the way he wants things to be done? Detroit could also rely on a lot of rookies to be immediate impact players – possibly two new starting guards on offense, running back D’Andre Swift probably sharing the load with Kerryon, Jeffrey Okudah having to immediately become their CB1 and Julian Okwara being asked to become a much more consistent player if they give him major snaps. And I recently talked about how their uncertainty at punter could be an issue for their ball-control, defense-minded style of play. They also have an early bye (week five), which I’m never a big fan of, after facing the Bears, Packers, Cardinals and Saints, which probably includes three playoff teams. If Chicago can get any competent QB play, all these teams should be highly competitive.

Bottom line:
I don’t think any team in this division wins more than ten games. Unfortunately I don’t see the Lions go over that mark themselves either. The Packers won’t come out victorious in so many close games (8-1 in one-possession affairs), the Vikings have lost a few proven commodities and look for young talent to immediately replace those and the Bears still have a quarterback competition going on. So if Detroit can do any better than just split the season series with those three teams, I see them finishing above .500, but ten wins is the ceiling for me. In terms of the competition inside the division, the Lions may be my number one team in this conversation, but I see a much clearer path to things crashing down for Matt Patricia and them having another disappointing season than I do with the Cardinals. No team in this division may finish below that 8-8 mark.

3. Miami Dolphins

Why they can win the division:
When you ask the general public, the Buffalo Bills right now are the favorites to win the AFC East, but they haven’t done so since 1995 and they still have to prove they really are that team. The Patriots lost several pieces on defense and Tom Brady of course, which probably leads them to starting a quarterback, who over his four career pass attempts has thrown more touchdowns to the opposing team than to his own. The Jets are still building up that roster, with GM Joe Douglas trying to plant seeds on burnt earth, and they face a BRUTAL schedule. So Miami has a lot of things going in their favor for an organization that I believe in what they are trying to build. Depending on what happens at quarterback, you could have a veteran in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was by far the best inside the division in several key categories last season and/or Tua Tagovailoa, who had one of the most prolific careers we have seen from anybody in the SEC. They added at least two new starters on the O-line, they now have one of the premiere cornerback trios in the league with the all-time highest paid player at the position in Byron Jones and first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene to go with Xavien Howard and with some added beef up front, they are finally looking a lot like what Brian Flores had in New England. DeVante Parker really broke out over the second half of 2019 and Miami should have a much better rushing attack because of the additions up front and two quality committee backs in Jordan Howard and Matt Breida being added. They have two other young pass-catchers ready to break out this upcoming season in tight-end Mike Gesicki and a UDFA receiver from a year ago in Preston Williams. Whenever Tua’s name is called upon, he will be a perfect fit for Chan Gailey’s horizontal passing game.

Why they could finish last again:
As much as I like what I see from this entire organization, it is probably just a year too early for Miami. So many young players could be thrown into the fire and a lot of them I look at as needing that experience – 18th overall pick Austin Jackson (USC) is more of a developmental tackle still with his footwork and hand-placement issues, 30th overall pick Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn) has only played cornerback for two years and was bailed out by his athletic tools at times, third-rounder Brandon Jones has to develop more of a feel in deep coverage and at least one more rookie lineman will likely start for them. Even outside of this year’s draft class, they already had several players on their roster that are still moving towards their prime. Whether you look at last year’s first-rounder Christian Wilkins, a lot of second- and third-year pass-catchers or their young linebackers outside of Kyle Van Noy. The Bills are entering year four of that turn-around under Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, the Patriots still have the greatest coach of all time and will be a tough matchup solely based on that and the Jets at least have people playing for their jobs, plus a very talented young quarterback I still believe in. As much as I doubt Adam Gase, as long as Sam Darnold doesn’t get mono again, the offense should at least be competent, and the defense could potentially have a top-five player at every level with All-Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams, an 85-million dollar linebacker in C.J. Mosley and my number one prospect in last year’s draft on the interior D-line with Quinnen Williams.

Bottom line:
As I mentioned before, the Bills are the front-runners in this division for me. As much respect as I have for Bill Belichick, I haven’t seen enough from Jarrett Stidham to make me a believer and he shrunk in some big moments at Auburn. The Jets to me could be a lot better than they were in 2019 and still go 6-10 just because of the type of schedule they are up against. So the Dolphins to me could easily finish anywhere from second to fourth, depending on how some of the players on that roster progress. I wouldn’t bet on them actually making the playoffs, but they could absolutely be a pain in the butt for some of the better teams in the AFC and in 2021 they might be the pick here.

4. Los Angeles Chargers

Why they can win the division:
First and foremost, this Chargers defense is absolutely loaded with no real hole that you can point to. Derwin James is back healthy after a first-team All-Pro rookie campaign, Chris Harris Jr. comes in to make this secondary one the elite units in the NFL to go with two more Pro Bowlers among it and they have some guys I expect to break out like Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquill and Nasir Adderley. In terms of having matchup pieces and a versatile pass rush to challenge Kansas City, nobody in the league may be on the same level as these guys. Offensively, Ihave talked about how the left tackle spot is concern for L.A. with a battle between Sam Tevi and Trey Pipkins for the starting job, but the other four spots are as good as they have been in a while, acquiring Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner via trade, signing a top five right tackle in Bryan Bulaga and getting Mike Pouncey back healthy. Tyrod Taylor can steer the ship and even if Justin Herbert is thrown into the fire – which I wouldn’t recommend – they have the skill-position players and willingness to run the ball to take pressure off those guys. While the Chiefs return 20 of 22 starters from a year ago, this wouldn’t be the first time we saw a Super Bowl champion have some issues the following season and as much as we want to hype up the Broncos and Raiders, both their quarterbacks (and other players of course as well) have a lot to prove still. Outside of KC, the Chargers likely have the smallest changes to what they do other than moving on from Philip Rivers and we saw that formula work the year prior, when they challenged Kansas City until the very end for the division crown and the conference’s top seed potentially. While they probably would have liked to bring in Tom Brady over the offseason, the fact they decided against signing Cam Newton to a roster that is ready to win right now, shows you the confidence they have in that quarterback room.

Why they could finish last again:
I’m not a huge fan of Derek Carr, but the Chargers will probably have the worst quarterback in the division in 2020. And their starting left tackle could be the worst in the entire league. As good as their defense will probably be, you can not consistently win games in which your offense doesn’t put up 20+ points in the league today – especially when all these teams in their division have spent so much on acquiring offensive firepower these last couple of years. I believe all three of their division rivals got better this offseason and the Chargers spent their top draft pick (sixth overall) on a young quarterback, who might not even help them win games this season. As I already mentioned, Kansas City brings back almost their entire starting lineups and they went 12-4 despite Mahomes seemingly having his knee cap facing the sideline while laying on his back. I have uttered my thoughts on Denver several times now, which you can read up on later. As for Las Vegas’ new team, they did start last season 6-4 and just heavily invested into their two major issues – wide receiver and linebacker. And while I don’t like to talk about it – injuries have been a huge issue for this Chargers team in recent years and I don’t really know what it is even, but I can’t assume that they all of a sudden can stay healthy.

Bottom line:
In terms of talent on the roster outside of the quarterback position, you could make a pretty compelling argument that the Chargers are ahead of all the other teams on this list. That’s the reason they have a pretty high floor of finishing around .500 and if everything works out, they could absolutely be a playoff contender. However, for this exercise in particular, I believe their upside is capped by what they have under center. Tyrod Taylor can be a top-20 quarterback in the NFL this season and in terms of upside, Justin Herbert has all the tools to become a difference-maker once he steps on the field, but they don’t have the explosiveness the Chiefs or the Broncos have for that matter. With so much continuity on a team that has the best player in the entire league, I can’t go against the Chiefs and in the end we are evaluating the chances to actually win the division.

5. Washington Redskins

Why they can win the division:
These guys are very reminiscent of the 49ers with their defensive line, in terms of having invested a lot of high draft picks into the unit these last couple of years and now with that second overall pick bringing in a true stud from Ohio State – this time in Chase Young. When you look at all those guys up front – with the Bama boys patrolling the middle, Matt Ioannidis capable of moving around the front, Montez Sweat looking to break out in year two and Ryan Kerrigan still being there as a productive veteran – they will wreak some havoc this season. Ron Rivera could finally bring some structure to this organization and help them turn it around on defense with the addition of an old companion in Thomas Davis, plus some high-upside players like Reuben Foster and Fabian Moreau looking to prove themselves. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins had a very underwhelming rookie campaign, but he clearly wasn’t ready to be out there and found himself in a bad situation in terms of the support system around him. I like a lot of their young skill-position players the front office has surrounded him with, when you look at Terry McLaurin trying to become a young star in this league, who produced despite shaky quarterback play last season, Kelvin Harmon and Antonio Gandy-Golden being two big-bodied targets I liked these last two drafts, Derrius Guice hopefully finally being able to stay healthy to lead this backfield and this year’s third-round pick Antonio Gibson being a chess piece that you can manufacture touches for. Somebody I forgot to mention in this discussion recently is Steven Sims Jr., who is a jitterbug with the ball in his hands. New offensive coordinator Scott Turner will implement a system that should make life easier on his second-year signal-caller as well, while relying heavily on the run game.

Why they could finish last again:
Haskins is by far the least proven QB of the bunch, with Daniel Jones even being head and shoulders above him in their respective rookie seasons. No pass-catcher outside of Terry McLaurin had any major production to speak. Counting on a 37-year old Thomas Davis to not only be a leader for them, but also make plays on the field, could create issues, and Washington lost some pieces in the secondary. This offseason is a challenge for any team, that is looking to implement a new system on each side of the ball, but I think especially for a motivator like Rivera, who can give his squad a heartbeat and push them to success, not being there in person with those guys will hurt. Most importantly however, this division to me will be a two-man race between the Eagles and Cowboys – as it has been for a while now. They both will likely have top ten quarterbacks, better receiving corps, better offensive lines and more experienced defenses. The Giants may not blow anybody away coming into 2020, but looking at the two matchups from last year between them and the Redskins, Big Blue beat them 24-3 the first time around, when Daniel Jones threw one touchdown compared to two interceptions and then he diced them up for five TDs and no picks in week 16. The one area Washington would have had the clear upper hand was with their front-four, but New York just invested a lot of draft capital into their O-line to prevent that. Just go through the Redskins’ schedule and show me more than six wins. I dare you.

Bottom line:
These last two sentences really say it all. Even if Philly and Dallas split the season series and Washington can get a game off either one of them, it will be tough to turn around this squad as quickly as this season – with reduced practice time and team activities – to a point where they can finish above both of them. Both of them could easily win double-digit games in 2020 and while I think the Redskins are on the right track if Haskins looks more like the Ohio State version of himself, other than their defensive line, no unit for them is ready to compete for the division quite yet. Just going through their schedule in an objective manner, it is tough to find any lay-ups and say Washington has some baseline of wins they count on. To not have them any lower than this is more due to the respect for Riverboat Ron and how high I was on a lot of the guys they drafted recently.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars

Why they can win the division:
I was going back and forth between my number six and seven teams, because the Jaguars are projected to pick first overall come next April for a reason – they did lose a lot of pieces. However, to me it came down to the fact that the AFC South might be won at 9-7 or 10-6 and this coaching staff actually has to win to keep their jobs. There is a lot noise about the Colts, but when you go back to last season, Philip Rivers was a turnover machine with serious questions about his arm strength. Bill O’Brien made some very questionable decisions for Houston and Tennessee is counting on a formula that is built on a 250-banger running the ball 25+ times and Ryan Tannehill finally repeating a career year, as they are coming off an AFC title game appearance. As far as Jacksonville goes, Gardner Minshew was the highest-graded rookie quarterback according to PFF and altogether I would have put him second only behind Kyler Murray. D.J. Chark broke out as one of the young star receivers and I had a first-round grade on Colorado’s Laviska Shenault if he can be healthy, because his talent is off the charts. I think the O-line would have benefitted from another tackle to kick Cam Robinson inside to guard, but those guys are some road-graders to make the run game work. Defensively the only real contributor from that Sacksonville group a couple of years ago who actually wants to be there is Myles Jack, but I really like their young duo off the edge in first-rounders Josh Allen last year and now K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU). There are some questions about the back-end, but they were built front-to-back with a lot of zone coverage behind it and depending on the development of ninth overall pick C.J. Henderson, they can roll away from him matching up with the opposing team’s number one receiver. Avoiding some of the better AFC squads altogether is pretty sweet as well, to go with facing no playoff team from last year outside their division until the middle of November.

Why they could finish last again:
I’m just not sure if all of these players are ready to fight for that coaching staff and organization. Two of their remaining veterans (Leonard Fournette and Yannick Ngakoue) have openly talked about how they want to be traded, they only have a few actually proven commodities on that entire roster and with the way they have unloaded big cap numbers, they have set themselves up for a true rebuild potentially, as they are expected to be in the Trevor Lawrence-Justin Fields sweepstakes come next April. Even if they can get a few breaks and the division is up for grabs, does this organization even want to win this season? If not for the injury to Jacoby Brissett in the middle of the season, all three other teams in that division would have almost certainly finished above .500 and the Colts are actually the team that improved by far the most among them. That Texans, who have actually won the South four of the last five years, including last season, may be the smallest challenge and still sweep Jacksonville. Vegas rarely misses completely and the Jaguars right now are the odds-on favorite to pick first overall come next April, with an NFL-low OveUnder of 4.5 wins on the season. And as favorable as the early portion of their schedule looks like right, check out this eight-game stretch after their week seven bye – at Chargers, vs. Texans, at Packers, vs. Steelers, vs. Browns, at Vikings, vs. Titans, at Ravens. Ouch. They might go winless over that period.

Bottom line:
The Jaguars to me are a very interesting team, because I believe they have accumulated a bunch of young talent, which gets lost a little when you see all the names that aren’t there anymore. There is a lot to like about this roster, when you look at what these players could develop into, but that doesn’t mean they will have success this year already. The Colts have the best 53 currently in the division (or 55 now), the Texans have the best quarterback and the Titans are coming off an AFC Championship game appearance. Gardner Minshew could make this kind of a tough decision if they end up picking anywhere after first overall and I think some of those other kids will put up pretty good numbers, but they are still pretty clearly fourth in the South as for now.

7. Carolina Panthers

Why they can win the division:
Nobody knows for sure what Matt Rhule and his new coaching staff will throw at them. Joe Brady gets to work with Teddy Bridgewater once again, who he already coached in New Orleans – so there will be familiarity for him in this system and they already “speak the same language”. That young receiving corp with D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, free agency addition Robby Anderson and even an up-and-coming tight-end in Ian Thomas is pretty underrated actually, plus of course they have one of the truly elite weapons out of the backfield in Christian McCaffrey, who is probably set to break his own RB reception record once again. The Panthers defense-only draft has brought them a monster in the middle in Derrick Brown (Auburn), a really talented edge rusher in Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State) on the opposite of last year’s rookie stud Brian Burns, a super-rangy safety with linebacker size in Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois), what I think is a starting corner in Troy Pride Jr. (Notre Dame) and some other pieces in the secondary. The talent is clearly there and now you bring in a scheme that is probably going to be unique for the NFL level as well, when you look at that 3-3-5 Baylor ran under Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. As much as we want to praise our legends of the game, the quarterbacks of the two front-runners in this division will be 41 and 43 years old respectively and let’s not forget that Atlanta started out last season 1-7.

Why they could finish last again:
Especially this offseason, without certainty if there will be anything like training camp or even a real preseason, that completely new staff with new systems they are trying to teach will certainly have some growing pains. Bridgewater has been a top-20 starting QB maybe one year of his career and even when he was applauded for the way he filled in for Drew Brees last season, he finished dead-last in intended air yards among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. How will that mesh with a lot of vertical targets around him? When he has those guys running free on slants and dig routes, the ball will get there, but will he be willing to throw that deep post or give his guys a chance on go-balls? Defensively they are counting on a lot of young players and they have nobody to even come close to replacing Luke Kuechly, as well as making the switch to an unproven scheme possibly, if they actually use some of those 3-3-5 looks coming over from Baylor. When you look at Rhule’s track-record, it always took him until year two to show improvement and then in that third season is when those teams can really make some noise. And that was in the AAC and Big 12 respectively. Now he is in the NFC South with a team that just went 13-3 in the Saints and a Bucs squad that already was 7-9 and lost six of those games by one score, only because despite finishing fifth in takeaways, they ranked in the bottom five in turnover differential due to easily leading the league with 41 giveaways. That should get a lot better with Tom Brady coming in, who has never even quite thrown half of Jameis Winston’s 30 interceptions in any of his 20 years in the league. Even the Falcons – for as poorly as they started last season – went 6-2 after really coming together and making some changes in their bye week last season.

Bottom line:
The Panthers are clearly the most unproven team in this division. While new systems that haven’t been scouted yet certainly have an advantage in terms of game-planning early on, especially in this offseason with heavily limited live reps most likely, that might equal a net minus. You have to root for a guy like Teddy Bridgewater and the way he has worked his way up to a starting spot again, but I just don’t look at him as a surefire franchise signal-caller. The other three teams in the South all have top ten quarterbacks in the league in my opinion and much more continuity around them. Until the Panthers finally get to their bye week at the start of December, I don’t see them winning more than four of those twelve games. At that point they may have their eyes on a different goal already, if Teddy B isn’t the clear answer under center.

8. Cincinnati Bengals

Why they can win the division:
We’re not that far away from 2015, when the Bengals won the AFC North with a 12-4 record as the fifth year in a row making the playoffs. Since then this is the first time I feel like there really is change happening with this team. Marvin Lewis was replaced by a young Zac Taylor, trying to prove himself to the league, they drafted Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow first overall to replace as average a quarterback as we have had over the last decade in Andy Dalton and the front office finally spent some money in free agency. While you would think a quarterback going first overall usually comes into a situation, where he is devoid of talent around him, Cincinnati suddenly has one of the better group of skill-position players in the entire league, assuming A.J. Green is back healthy. Tyler Boyd is a stud in the slot, who will be Burrow’s version of Justin Jefferson, a 50-50 ball specialist in second-round pick Tee Higgins (Clemson) matches perfectly with Burrow’s expertise of winning with ball-placement and if they get anything from former first-rounder John Ross at least as a decoy with his speed, that’s a plus. I expect Joe Mixon to be among the league leader’s in running back receptions and be more effective in space with those receivers around him as well. The signings the Bengals have made on defense gives them a lot more talent and complements very well what they already had. D.J. Reader is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league and frees everybody up along the front, they completely overhauled that linebacker group, which was a major issue these last couple of years, they brought in a starting CB2 and nickel from Minnesota to pair up with William Jackson III, who is ready to announce himself as one of the best corners in football, and Von Bell is a great match with the rangy free safety Jessie Bates.

Why they could finish last again:
As talented as all those guys throwing, catching and running the ball may be, it all starts with what’s happening up front and the Bengals offensive line is still in transition. They could have two of the worst starters in the league at both guard spots and right tackle once again, with the prior ones close to reaching that bust status and Bobby Hart still somehow having a starting job. As great as Joe Burrow was last year at LSU and how clean his evaluation was, how much better than Andy Dalton will he be right away, especially going up against those scary defensive fronts inside his division? Defensively they could easily have six new starters, which obviously can be looked at as a positive sign, considering they allowed 20+ points in all but two games last season, but there is also a lack of continuity and reduced time to fit all those pieces together. Cincinnati’s coaching staff hasn’t really proven anything yet and they will be facing a massacre of a schedule, with three occasions of back-to-back road games and while three of their final four games of the season are at home, they will face the Cowboys, Steelers and Ravens, to go with a trip to Houston in-between. If they don’t beat the Chargers in the season-opener, they probably don’t get that first W until week four against the Jaguars and then they have to hope they can sneak out another one until their bye week. Baltimore is tied with Kansas City for the highest projected win total with reigning MVP coming into just his third season, Pittsburgh is favored to make the playoffs with Big Ben back under center and Cleveland was the offseason favorite in 2019, while fielding an even better roster this year.

Bottom line:
I feel bad for putting this team last, because I thought Joe Burrow was the top quarterback and definitely worthy of that number one pick and the Bengals finally spent big money in free agency to retool the defense. To me this is less about them than the Ravens, who just were the number one overall seed in the playoffs at 14-2 and haven’t done anything other than get better themselves, a Steelers team that made a run at the playoffs with the worst quarterback play in the league now getting Ben back and a Browns roster that is among the top ten league-wide in most people’s opinion. Still, there is a lot to like about this team at the skill-positions, which is probably behind only Cleveland in terms all the weapons they have, some young standouts on defense and hope that all of this brings a fresh breath of air.

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Will the Green Bay Packers win OVER/UNDER 9 games? By University Stats Prof!

1. Introduction

Matt LaFleur’s first season as Green Bay’s head coach has to be considered a success. He led the team to a 13-3 record, which secured the NFC North title.

The Packers held off the Seahawks to a 28-23 home win in the first round of the playoffs, but were ousted by the Niners in a brutal 37-20 thumping (a game in which the Packers dugged themselves into an early 27-0 hole).

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

Aaron Rodgers will be entering his 16th NFL season. He had another excellent year with a 26-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio and over 4,000 passing yards. He finished as the 7th-best QB in the league according to PFF ratings.

At 36 years old, he is likely to have a few good years left. After all, Drew Brees and Tom Brady posted nice statistics in their late thirties.

Rodgers has been very durable throughout his career, but he’s not invincible either. Tim Boyle was the backup plan last year, and the team needed to upgrade the position while starting to think about the post-Rodgers era.

Still, drafting Jordan Love was the most questionable and talked-about pick in this year’s draft. People expected the Packers to go with a veteran backup QB. Rodgers has mentioned several times he wants to play in his forties; he can still offer a good five years of solid play in the frozen tundra.

Love has possesses great size, throws with velocity and he’s very mobile. The main knock on him is the decision-making and inconsistency.

As a sophomore, he threw 32 TD passes versus 6 interceptions. He regressed a lot last year by posting a mediocre 20:17 TD:INT mark. Granted, his surrounding cast was very weak and he had to go through a coaching change.

Love can throw from many different arm angles; he reminds people of Patrick Mahomes in this regard. He can throw a fastball or a soft touch pass.

Quick note: he almost quit football when he was 14 years old after his dad committed suicide. However, he knew his dad would want him to keep playing, so he did just that.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

Aaron Jones is a top running back in this league. Along with Jamaal Williams, they form a lethal duo.

Including the playoffs, Jones ended up scoring 23 touchdowns in 18 games. His 19 regular season scores were the second most in Packers history. His numbers have increased in each of his first three years as a pro. He is also excellent as a pass catcher.

Despite playing in the shadow of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams still finished as the 17th-best RB based on PFF rankings. He does not seem like a lead back, but he’s a perfect change-of-pace guy. Much like Jones, he can do some damage as a receiver as well.

Williams has been a steady performer thus far in his career. He has rushed for 450-550 yards in each of his three seasons, while catching a minimum of 25 balls. He has 15 total TDs over this three-year span.

If you thought GM Brian Gutekunst made a strange move by drafting QB Jordan Love in the first round, he doubled down with another head scratcher in the 2nd round when he took A.J. Dillon.

Message to Mr. Gutekunst: Aaron Rodgers needed pass catchers, not a third running back! I really don’t get this pick either. I’m not saying Dillon won’t be good in the NFL; only time will tell. However, it clearly wasn’t a position of need for the Packers.

Dillon is a power back who rarely breaks off huge runs. He racked up big numbers in three seasons in Boston College. He’s unlikely to become a three-down starter, especially since he’s not a good pass catcher. He will likely be used sporadically as a rookie.

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

Davante Adams is one of the best at his position. He had a streak of three straight seasons with at least 10 TD receptions snapped last year, but he still caught 83 passes for 997 yards in 12 games (he missed four games because of a toe injury).

Outside of Adams, all pass catchers appeared lost on the field. None of them developed a good chemistry with Rodgers.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was a huge disappointment last year. He showed promise as a rookie with over 500 receiving yards. Here’s a jaw-dropping statistic: after Week #7, MVS did not get more than 19 receiving yards in any meeting. That’s awful.

One of the guys benefiting from Valdes-Scantling’s poor play was Jake Kumerow. He got more playing time than expected, but still only caught 12 passes. He is closing in on 30 years of age and is limited as an athlete, so he’s not a long-term answer for sure.

Allen Lazard was also thrown into action far more than expected. He finished second in terms of receiving yards for Green Bay, but let’s face the reality: the undrafted guy remains more of a #3 or #4 WR for any team.

Geronimo Allison was another bust last year. His top performance over the last 12 games (including the playoffs) was a meager 33 receiving yards. He left for another NFC North team, the Detroit Lions.

In other words, the #2 role is wide open. The team hopes newly acquired Devin Funchess can step into that role. The former second rounder had his best season in 2017 with the Panthers with a 63-840-8 stat line. He signed with the Colts last year, but played just one game before breaking a collarbone. He will be 26 years old this season and provides an interesting prospect for the Packers.

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

We’re not done talking about 2019 busts. Jimmy Graham was one of them. He clearly looks washed. He received the lowest grades of his 10-year career, and deservedly so. The Packers released him and he signed a few days later with the Bears (a horrible mind-boggling two-year, $16 million contract).

Marcedes Lewis received surprisingly good marks from PFF. If you look into the numbers, the good grade occurred mainly because of efficient run and pass blocking. He’s not much of a pass catcher and he will be 36 years old when the season begins.

Robert Tonyan will also be in the mix, but the guy that has the best chance to break out as a receiver in 2020 only caught three passes last year (all in the playoffs): Jace Sternberger. Taken in the third round of the 2019 draft, Sternberger was a threat at Texas A&M in college. He missed most of the regular season because of injuries, but the door is wide open with Graham’s departure.

We might also see third-round rookie Josiah Deguara. He has a great motor and plays extremely hard. He’s undersized as a tight end, though.

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

The Packers had a pretty solid offensive line in 2019. All five starters managed to play at least 84% of the offensive snaps. And they all finished above-average according to PFF ratings!

The bad news, however, is the Bryan Bulaga left for the Chargers. Despite turning over 30 years old, he still played at a high level.

The Packers decided to replace him by signing Rick Wagner, formerly of the Lions. Wagner’s PFF grades from 2016 to 2018 were as follows: 74.0, 75.2 and 71.4. Last year, his play deteriorated a lot and he was tagged with a 59.0 grade. He finished as the #61 tackle among 81 guys.

I like the fact that the team is returning four out of five guys, but replacing Bulaga with Wagner has to be viewed as a downgrade.

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

The Packers offense finished in the middle of the pack in points scored per game. Barring major injuries, I expect about the same production in 2020.

The QB and RB situations remain the same.

Adding Funchess is not a huge move, but it won’t hurt. The team clearly needs someone to step up opposite of Davante Adams. At tight end, losing Jimmy Graham means close to nothing since he was so ineffective. Sternberger might bring a nice contribution, but we can hardly expect him to be a game-breaker.

Finally, the OL will take a dip with the loss of Bulaga. I don’t believe Rick Wagner can do better than him.

All in all, I view the additions/departures as a slight negative for Green Bay, but having so many starters returning to the lineup for a second straight season is always a good thing in the NFL. For these reasons, I expect a similar output as 2019 from this unit.

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

Kenny Clark had a fantastic season! He is one of the best interior rushers in the NFL. He recorded six sacks for the second straight year, and PFF ranked him as the 13th-best interior linemen out of 114 qualifiers.

The same nice comments cannot be made about Dean Lowry. He had the worst season of his four-year career as a pro. He did not post a single sack and wasn’t great against the run either.

Reserve Tyler Lancaster is only there to provide some depth. He isn’t particularly good in any aspect of the game.

The team did not make any move regarding this position during the offseason.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

During the last offseason, the Packers acquired two Smiths: Za’Darius and Preston. They burst onto the scene and got 13.5 and 12 sacks, respectively.

Obviously, both received high marks for their pass rushing abilities, but Preston finished as an average linebacker overall because of mediocre run defense and poor coverage.

Kyler Fackrell was a huge disappointment in 2019. After racking up 10.5 sacks in 2018, he only got one in 2019! He signed a one-year deal with the Giants.

First-round pick Rashan Gary wasn’t necessarily impressive during his rookie season. He played 23% of the snaps, while obtaining two sacks but very pedestrian marks from PFF (an overall 55.8 grade, which is near the bottom among edge defenders).

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

Green Bay lost its leader in tackles from the past three years, Blake Martinez. After starting 61 of the last 64 Packers games, Martinez decided to join the New York Giants. He had the second-most tackles in the league last year, but don’t be misled by that number. Martinez still finished slight below-average (52nd out of 89 LBs) because of poor play against the run.

The Packers also lost some depth at the position when B.J. Goodson left for Cleveland.

Green Bay picked up a linebacker from the Browns roster: Christian Kirksey. He was picked in the 3rd round of the 2014 before being involved in all 16 games from his first four seasons in the NFL. However, he has been plagued with injuries over the most recent two years; he played 7 games in 2018 and only 2 games in 2019.

He is also capable of racking up tackles, as shown by his 2016 and 2017 seasons where he obtained 146 and 138. His PFF grades during his first four seasons varied between 61.9 and 69.3. Just to give you a rough idea, a 65.0 rating would have been good for 29th place out of 89 LBs.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Jaire Alexander has done the job as the #1 corner. He has obtained 72.4 and 71.2 marks from PFF during his first two seasons, which is well-above average. He’s so-so defending the run, but his coverage skills are very good.

The number two corner, Kevin King had five interceptions last year after getting just one over his first two years as a pro. He did show some improvement after two rocky years. He finished 2019 as a middle-of-the-pack corner.

Tramon Williams played 74% of the snaps and had a surprisingly good season despite his age. He will be 37 when the 2020 season begins. He is currently a free agent and it remains to be seen if the Packers bring him back or not.

In summary, Alexander and King are both pretty young and could still be improving, but Tramon Williams provided quality play and it’s uncertain if someone else can pick up the slack.

3.5 Safeties (S)

Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage were the top two guys here.

Along with Za’Darius and Preston Smith, the Adrian Amos was another excellent signing by the Packers during the 2019 offseason. Amos had been a reliable guy in Chicago for four seasons, and he continued to excel in the frozen tundra.

After being selected as the #21 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Darnell Savage did show some flashes as a rookie last year. He finished as the #47 safety among 87 qualifiers, which is very satisfying for a rookie. He earned nice marks in coverage (77.4), but horrible ones against the run (37.7).

Will Redmond will be back as the number three safety. He’s not starter material for sure.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

Most of the starters are returning in 2020. That’s the good news.

The team lost their leader in tackles, Blake Martinez, as well as pass rusher Kyler Fackrell and CB Tramon Williams.

The only acquisition worth of note is Christian Kirksey. Him not having played very much during the last two seasons brings some question marks.

The Packers defense struggled against the run last year, and there’s no reason to believe that will change in 2020. Green Bay still finished 9th in points allowed, which was a very acceptable result.

Unfortunately, a decrease in effectiveness is expected and I predict this unit will end 2020 as a middle-of-pack defense (12th – 19th in points allowed).

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Green Bay Packers are expected to win 9 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

Here are the results (excluding the simulated years where the Pack won exactly 9 games, since in those cases your bet would have tied):

Estimated Probability Sportsbook Odds ROI
OVER 9 WINS 51.4% bwin +115 +10.5%
UNDER 9 WINS 48.6% Heritage Sports +100 -2.8%
Tip: Bet OVER 9 wins
Return On Investment (ROI): +10.5%
Rank: 25th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -106

Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Packers’ 16 regular season games:
HOME: -6 vs ATL, -10 vs CAR, -4.5 vs CHI, -6.5 vs DET, -11.5 vs JAX, -3 vs MIN, -2.5 vs PHI, -3.5 vs TEN.
ROAD: 0 @ CHI, -2 @ DET, 0 @ HOU, +2.5 @ IND, +3 @ MIN, +5.5 @ NO, +6.5 @ SF, +2.5 @ TB.

Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

TOMORROW: I'll talk about the team whose ROI is the 24th-highest in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers!

Did you like this write-up? If so, comment below! I'd like to know YOUR opinion on what to expect from the Packers' 2020 season!

Professor MJ
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Offseason with Cidolfus: Pre-Draft Recap

Pre-Draft Recap

I said I might do another one of these, time permitting. Little did I know that I’d leave my house only four times in the past month to go to the grocery store. I’ve found quite a bit of time hunkered down in my apartment. I think my dog is getting sick of me.
I know my wife is getting sick of me.
The Dolphins were active early in free agency. They made a lot of expected moves (at least in terms of what positional needs we prioritized) and some more surprising ones. This leaves the team in an interesting place headed into the draft .
In various discussions we’ve had over the past few weeks, I’ve tackled a couple cap questions, particularly in regards to the effective cap cost of rookie contracts as well as cap flexibility in 2021. In this offseason entry, I plan to address those topics and others to contextualize the way I see the draft shaking out.
If you missed any of my previous posts, find the links below. A lot of it is out of date at this point, but if you’d like a good laugh you can see how often I was wrong (although, compared to previous years, I think I did pretty well this year), take a look.

Remaining Free Agency Moves

Earlier this year, I projected a much more aggressive roster culling ahead of free agency than we ended up actually receiving. Aside from getting the departure of Reshad Jones right (admittedly, that one was a bit of a gimme), I also thought that by now we would have moved on from Albert Wilson, Taco Charlton, and Jakeem Grant to free up additional cap space. Instead, we dropped Kilgore (a move I considered unlikely), and--so far at least--have kept the others.
There’s still plenty of time for things to change ahead of the 55-man roster cutdown. As currently constructed, our roster has a logjam of players at both the wide receiver and defensive end positions (never thought I’d be saying that second bit already). The Dolphins have 11 wide receivers under contract and eight defensive ends. Several of these players are minimum salary types filling out the offseason roster for camp, but there are plenty of locks at both to make the roster as well relative to the number of expected roster spots available at each position.
Wide Receiver
Player Cap Charge Savings
Albert Wilson $10,833,344 $9,500,000
DeVante Parker $6,100,000 -$6,000,000
Jakeem Grant $4,380,000 -$1,800,000
Allen Hurns $2.883,333 $2,016,666
Mack Hollins $825,000 $825,000
Isaiah Ford $750,000 $750,000
Andy Jones $750,000 $750,000
Ricardo Louis $750,000 $750,000
Preston Williams $675,000 $671,666
Gary Jennings $675,000 $675,000
Terry Wright $610,000 $610,000
It’s a reasonable bet that the Dolphins will carry five wide receivers on the final 53-man roster. That’s how many we’ve kept every year for the past three seasons. That likely means half of the names above will be cut. DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant (now that his base salary for the 2020 season has been guaranteed) are locks for the roste. Their contracts make them more expensive to cut than to keep. Preston Williams should also be expected to return for obvious reasons.
That leaves two spots for the remaining eight guys, and I have to imagine that Allen Hurns--who signed an extension in the middle of last season--has an edge to keep his spot despite the potential cap savings. Isaiah Ford also came along when injuries pushed him to the top of the depth chart at the end of the season last year, convincing the team to pick him up as an exclusive rights free agent.
Obviously Albert Wilson fills a niche on the roster that most of the other guys don’t--unless we expect to see Jakeem Grant take a larger role as the team’s slot receiver. There’s been discussion that the team plans to use Mike Gesicki in a big slot role, but that doesn’t rule out keeping Wilson. It’s not unthinkable that we carry six wide receivers in 2020, especially with Chan Gailey as our offensive coordinator and the extra two roster spots granted by the new CBA. His spread concepts figure to see more multiple-receiver sets, after all. This especially makes sense given that we should expect Grant and Ford (or whoever earns a roster spot over Ford) to see more use on special teams than offense. With the extra roster spots available, maybe this is one of the places we use one.
Even should we keep him, I would prefer to see Wilson’s cap figure altered. There’s almost no way that he can live up to his $10.8 million cap charge in such a crowded field. If we do decide to keep him, I hope it involves a restructure and extension similar to the deal that Parker took in place of his fifth year option last year. He’s performed well in limited snaps, but his injury history and slow return last season may hurt his value moving forward, giving the team leverage to flex his remaining cap figure into a two-year contract. I suspect, though, that if that was going to happen, it already would have given the other extensions we’ve offered the plenty of our other receivers.
I also expected him to be cut by no, though.
Defensive Ends
Player Cap Charge Savings
Shaq Lawson $10,833,333 -$10,066,667
Emmanuel Ogbah $7,500,000 $0
Charles Harris $3,450,356 $291,559
Taco Charlton $1,832,541 $1,374,541
Trent Harris $750,000 $750,000
Avery Moss $750,000 $750,000
Zach Sieler $750,000 $750,000
Jonathan Ledbetter $750,000 $750,000
Lawson and Ogbah are our starting defensive ends in 2020. Headed into free agency, I expected defensive end to be a big target in the draft as well. Now I’m less certain. As a first round selection, Harris’s 2020 salary is mostly guaranteed, so we save almost nothing other than a roster spot by moving on from him. Teams rarely cut players that don’t offer cap savings, so barring someone outperforming him in camp, I expect him to be on the roster. That still leaves a five or six way battle for what remains of only three or four defensive end spots.
Consider also how many linebackers the Dolphins are likely to carry into the 2020 season: Kyle Van Noy, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Vince Biegel, Elandon Roberts, Raekwon McMillan, and Jerome Baker are virtual locks to make the roster--and that’s already six linebackers before we get to guys like Andrew Van Ginkel and Sam Eguavoen who are cheap and look to earn a spot based on their performance last season and their special teams value.
Our 2019 roster structure looked a lot more like that of the Patriots last year: fewer defensive linemen and more linebackers. We used 3-4 looks more often than we have in years past, and that means that we’re getting edge rushers from the linebackers as well. Signing Kyle Van Noy likely signals that we’ll continue to see plenty of this.
Realistically, of the bottom five guys on the list above, the one most likely to make the roster is probably the one who can be moved around the most successfully. If one of those guys can find productivity flexing between 4-3 DE and 3-4 DE or 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB and be productive at both positions, then they’ll have a leg up making the roster.
Remaining Free Agency
Although it’s already April and less than two weeks from the NFL Draft, there are still a handful of free agents remaining at what might be considered positions of need. Two of the biggest names are Jadeveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue, both of whom are finding their markets to be lower than they initially anticipated (although Ngakoue’s situation is complicated by his tag designation). As detailed above, though, I think it unlikely that we bring in another defensive end--much less one that we can barely afford. Clowney’s asking price has reportedly fallen to the $17-18 million per year range, but that’s still out of our price range at this point.
Trading with the Vikings for Anthony Harris would make more sense than trying to acquire either Clowney and Ngakoue, but even that’s unlikely. Trading for Harris would be cheaper than trading for Ngakoue in terms of both draft assets required and the cost of his new contract, but it’s unlikely we would spend top money on safety after paying Byron Jones. While free safety is arguably the position we stand most to benefit from upgrading on defense, I can’t imagine a scenario where we become suitors for Harris with our current cap commitments at the position. Such a move would likely signal an impending trade of Xavien Howard.
As always, the elephant in the room is the quarterback situation. It remains our biggest position of need headed into the draft, and both Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are available. We don’t need to rehash my thoughts on free agent quarterbacks from my first post in this series, but you can guess where I stand on signing either of them. Hint: don’t.
It should be abundantly clear by now that the Dolphins made their moves early in free agency and we’re unlikely to do much more ahead of the draft. We’re in a comfortable place with our cap space and already carry 78 players on our roster. With fourteen draft picks in our back pocket for later this month, we’re already going to have to drop two players to meet the maximum offseason roster size of 90 players, unless of course we draft fewer than fourteen players because we’re losing some picks to move up. There’s also undrafted free agents who will get signed.
We can safely ignore any discussion about the Dolphins bringing any free agents in other than minimum contract players for the rest of the offseason.

Cap Space

So where does that leave us? Over The Cap calculates the Dolphins as having $23,886,772 in salary cap space remaining. With the roster filled out well past the top 51 contracts that actually count, it’s time to recalculate the effective cap cost of our rookie contracts. OTC lists our total rookie pool cost at $18,096,615. They’re wrong. For whatever reason, they’re missing one of our fourteen picks--number 154--received from Jacksonville via Pittsburgh. Good news? It doesn’t actually change our calculation since it’s value ($690,227) is lower than our cheapest contract in the top 51 on our roster ($750,000), so it costs us effectively nothing for now.
In fact, the bottom eight of our fourteen picks (rounds four and later) are all below the lowest contract on our top 51, so they’re all effectively free in terms of cap commitment. That leaves our top six draft picks displacing six $750,000 contracts at the bottom of our roster, bringing our effective salary cap cost total to $8,946,548. That leaves us with $14,940,224 in salary cap space for 2020. Barring any extensions, expect nearly all of that to roll over into 2021.
Importantly, where does this leave us for 2021? Based on the bump in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Over the Cap projects a base salary cap of $215,000,000 in 2021. With our current cap commitments and anticipated rollover, we’re likely to enter the 2021 season with $48,480,196 in available cap space.
That number is much lower than you might be seeing listed elsewhere, because I’ve included the cost of our this year’s draft class not only against this year’s cap (which reduces our amount for rollover as detailed above) but next year’s as well (which comes out to a whopping $23,458,157). Sites like Spotrac and OTC typically won’t price that in until after the draft and the players actually sign, and not without reason. Any trades in the draft can shift this amount pretty substantially, especially if we package one of our firsts to move up. It’s a good working figure at this point, though.
How about the way-too-early look ahead? Aside from the obvious move to cut Albert Wilson this season and save $9.5 million (yes, I’m going to keep banging this drum) or moving on from Julie’n Davenport after drafting tackles ($2,133,000 in savings), there are several players who can become cap casualties in 2021.
Player Cap Hit Cap Savings
Kyle Van Noy $13,900,000 $9,775,000
Xavien Howard $13,500,000 $9,300,000
Emmanuel Ogbah $7,500,000 $7,500,000
Bobby McCain $7,140,400 $5,659,600
Eric Rowe $5,050,000 $4,000,000
Jordan Howard $5,000,000 $5,000,000
Jakeem Grant $4,750,000 $2,950,000
Jesse Davis $4,585,000 $2,585,000
Allen Hurns $3,608,334 $3,175,000
Clayton Fejedelem $2,525,000 $2,525,000
Unless something has gone terribly wrong, many of these names are safe for 2021 (Van Noy and Ogbah top that list). Others might find themselves on the wrong end of a team looking to shift its roster around. If Howard is injured yet again, his contract becomes easy to move on from, especially as we’d still have Byron Jones. I’d bet that one of either McCain or Rowe isn’t with the Dolphins for the 2021 season. Others might find themselves on the right end of a team looking to lock a player down long term. If Ogbah is healthy and shows out all season, he could be in line for an extension that increases his APY moving forward while decreasing his 2021 APY.
In brief, players like McCain, Rowe, Howard, and Davis could all find themselves as cap casualties because they play positions that we are likely to target in this draft to find long-term replacements. Similarly, the logjam at wide receiver could see departures for Grant or Hurns in 2021, freeing up additional cap space.
That cap flexibility--having nearly $50 million in available cap space already and the ability to free up even more--is impressive considering our spending spree in the past few weeks. It’s also doubly important because 2021’s free agent includes several players likely to play starting or key depth roles in 2020 who will be free agents in 2021 including Kamu Grugier-Hill, Ted Karras, Vince Biegel, Matt Haack, Elandon Roberts, Raekwon McMillan, and Davon Godchaux. Players set to hit free agency in 2022 who might be up for extensions at the same time include Emmanuel Ogbah, Mike Gesicki, and Jerome Baker.
We’re unlikely to be active in 2021 free agency the way we were this year, but we have the cap health to re-sign who we wish from our own players without mortgaging our future. We entered the 2020 free agency season with an enormous amount of cap space and managed to spend aggressively (more money in new contracts than any other NFL team) without putting ourselves into a cap crunch for the future.

Positional Spending

I didn’t expect to sign Byron Jones mostly because I never thought that we would be paying two of the three highest-paid cornerbacks in the league on the same team. It’s obviously a move we can afford (as detailed above), but I’m not used to the secondary being a position in which we’ve aggressively invested resources. I wanted to take a closer look at how we’re spending our cap space by position groups by active cap spending (a total of $173,655,544 at time of writing). Let’s break it down.
Cap Charge $10,919,796 $21,564,640 $7,222,295 $26,521,667 $2,711,310
Percentage 6.29% 12.42% 4.16% 15.27% 1.56%
Defense and Special Teams
Cap Charge $27,358,247 $26,284,817 $47,416,972 $3,655,800
Percentage 15.75% 15.14% 27.31% 2.11%
These numbers will fluctuate significantly by the time we wittle the roster down to the final 55, but even now it’s apparent how this front office plans to build this team. A total of 58.2% of our active cap spending is going to defense. Consider also that the Dolphins are carrying an additional $18,177,506 in dead cap for defensive players while only carrying a tenth of that ($1,862,740) in dead cap for offensive players.
Expect quarterback, running back, offensive line to see the largest increases to this figure after the draft. Barring something unexpected, we’ll be drafting a quarterback at fifth overall (or higher), and with multiple openings on the offensive line, it’s possible (likely?) that we draft two offensive linemen in our first five selections. There’s a gaping hole at running back as well. Those high draft selections will be enough to move the needle in a significant way.
The number that jumps to the most immediate attention, of course, is our spending on defensive backs at nearly $50 million in total cap commitments for a total of $27.31% of active cap spending. This may be our new normal for a while. In the past three seasons, the Patriots have allocated 23.61%, 21.63%, and 23.62% of their total cap spending to the secondary. They’ve also done that while spending much more heavily on quarterback even with Brady on “bargain” deals. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this number go up in the short term either, as I think it’s likely we target a safety in the first or second rounds this year.
We’ve allocated more of our resources to the defensive line and linebacker positions than the Patriots have the past few years, but not by much. Our spending in both groups is boosted dramatically by our new free agents at the positions (Ogbah, Van Noy, and Lawson) and has been fueled by our absolutely dire pass rush situation.
Due to Fizpatrick’s contract, 2020 is likely to be our most expensive year at the quarterback position until 2024 when whatever rookie we draft could be retained on the fifth year option. The defensive secondary cost will likely come down in the near future as I think it’s unlikely Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe play out their current contracts, but in general we’re probably looking at splits roughly along these lines over the next few seasons.

2020 Free Agency Signings

Having looked at the money, let’s examine what that money bought us. Obviously this section is very subjective. As I’m sure many of you have noticed in plenty of other discussions on this subreddit, I’m positive on our signings as a whole. I try to be optimistic about the moves we make because grousing about them isn’t much fun.
Clayton Fejedelem: Three Years, $8,550,000, $3,000,000 Guaranteed
It always makes me uncomfortable when a new coach tries too hard to be the head coach he learned under. This has especially proved a concern for Belichick disciples who often try to jump right into being a hard ass without having earned the respect. Fortunately, that does not appear to be too much of a concern with Flores so far.
I bring up coaches mimicking their mentors here because even though Fejedelem wasn’t a Patriot, this signing reeks of the type of player that Belichick covets. Fejedelem checks so many boxes. He provides much-needed depth at a positional weakness from last season, he’s been a core special teams guy for the Bengals, and he’s a former team captain.
He costs under three million per year to bring depth at a position our front office clearly values, provides good special teams value, and he should fit with the type of team culture Flores is building. All of his guaranteed money is in 2020, and his contract is front-loaded as well. It’s a rock solid deal for someone who figures to be a solid player for us both on the field and in the locker room.
Ereck Flowers: Three Years, $30,000,000, $19,950,000 Guaranteed
I wish I had as much optimism about Flowers as I did about Fejedelem, but I’m less comfortable with this contract. It clearly fills a position of need, as we badly needed to improve our offensive line. In my Building the Offense entry in this series, I referred to Flowers as a competent guy who wouldn’t break the bank. I stand by the assertion he’s an improvement over any of the guards currently on our roster, but the $10 million per year number is a little higher than I expected.
While I understand that offensive line talent is increasingly at a premium, making Ereck Flowers the 14th-highest paid guard in the NFL after only one good season at the position in Washington is not without risk, especially with nearly two thirds of his contract fully guaranteed. What hurts more is that for $14 million per year, the Browns landed Jack Conklin--probably my top offensive line target in free agency--and the Chargers signed Bryan Bulaga--the Conklin consolation prize--for only $6.75 million per year. I would have preferred either of those to Flowers.
That said, it’s only fair to acknowledge that Flowers quickly became one of the top guards in a thinning market when both Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney were tagged. Graham Glasgow, a similar prospect converted from center to guard, went for $11 million APY and Andrus Peat coming off of two poor seasons signed at $11.5 million APY. There’s an argument to be made that the guard market has just really closed the gap on tackles and Flowers got market rate.
This move, and the lack of a tackle signed in free agency, signals that our front office is confident that we can either successfully address both left and right tackle in the draft this year or that Jesse Davis can be a long-term solution at right guard. This shouldn’t be too surprising given Davis’s contract extension, but I’m not 100% on board with it.
If we’ve overpaid for Flowers’s services as I suspect, at least it’s only a three-year deal and we can move on with only $1 million in dead cap ahead of the 2022 season. Optimistically, Flowers continues to play up to his 2019 standard at guard and proves himself worthy of the contract as he comes home to Miami.
Kamu Grugier-Hill: One Year, $3,000,000, $2,000,000 Guaranteed
Although this signing is likely to draw comparisons to Fejedelem for very transparent reasons (they’re both defensive depth who figure as core special teams contributors who were team captains for their previous team), Grugier-Hill carries greater risk. Fortunately, this is reflected in his short-term deal. His 2019 season ended early due to a lower lumbar disc herniation and also missed time for other injuries.
If healthy, though, he brings a lot of the same mojo to the team as Fejedelem, with the added benefit of being one of several new Dolphins to bring championship experience to the team. As with Fejedelem, Grugier-Hill is the kind of guy who checks a lot of boxes: he’s cheap, he provides key depth and special teams value, he’s familiar with our defensive system, and he figures to be an immediate leader in a very young locker room.
Jordan Howard: Two Years, $9,750,000, $4,750,000 Guaranteed
Shocking nobody, I’m not high on signing Jordan Howard. Mostly because I’m not high on spending money on running backs in general, and paying a running back coming off an injury-shortened season makes me more nervous than at most positions. The Dolphins had the worst rushing attack in the NFL in 2019, though, and before his injury this year, Howard was on track again for a solid season in line for previous years. He’s a big bodied back who figures to split the load with the rookie we inevitably draft.
As a personal consolation, I can remind myself that none of his 2021 salary is guaranteed., so it’s essentially a one-year, prove-it deal.
Byron Jones: Five Years, $82,500,000, $46,000,000 Guaranteed
In my offseason entry on Building the Defense I wrote, “Frankly, Jones and Howard likely immediately becomes the best corner tandem in the NFL for the next couple seasons, and we’ve all seen how you can build a defense from the secondary with a rookie quarterback and find a lot of success. That said, I don’t know that our front office could swallow objections to paying what would likely be $30 million APY between two corners.”
I badly misjudged our front office’s priorities. While I said that if we did decide to address cornerback in free agency, it would be Byron Jones or bust, I didn’t take the possibility seriously. Some will have concerns that Jones doesn’t get enough interceptions to be made a top-paid defensive back in the NFL, but I take the same opinion towards interceptions as I do to sacks--they’re the gaudy number that get the attention and they’re obviously impactful, but they’re the rare high points that don’t speak to a player’s actual impact on a per-snap basis.
Byron Jones finished fourth in coverage snaps per reception last year (17.9), tied for second in coverage snaps per target (10.1), and fourth in yards per coverage snap (0.62). Opposite a ball hawk like Xavien Howard, it figures that Jones might see more targets and more opportunities for interceptions himself. As discussed above, building a defense from the back forward is a clear priority of this team. It might not have been the strategy I’d have embraced, but I get it, and it’s hard not to be excited about the potential of our new cornerback tandem.
Most importantly, we’re not committed beyond the 2020 season to huge spending at cornerback. Byron Jones’s contract makes him a lock for the roster through the 2022 season (age 30), but Xavien Howard has an out next year. If Howard proves once again to be unable to remain healthy, we can move on from him and still have one of the top corners in the league in 2021 on the roster.
Ted Karras: One Year, $4,000,000, $4,000,000 Guaranteed
This is not-so-low-key one of my favorite signings. I didn’t give Karras much of a look in my previous entry evaluating offensive free agent targets, and I’m honestly not sure how he slipped through the cracks. Karras acquitted himself well as a back-up at both center and guard and stepped up as New England’s starting center in 2019. He had a rough stretch in the middle of the season, but from week 12 onward through the wildcard round, Karras didn’t allow a single pressure.
Karras’s contract is a one-year, prove-it deal that gives us flexibility to play him at guard or center depending on who we pick up in the draft. A starting offensive lineman at $4,000,000 is good value no matter how you slice it, and Karras has upside to be a long-term solution whereas Kilgore was clearly a stopgap. It’s a lateral move in terms of cap cost, but an upgrade on the offensive line. While it doesn’t solve our biggest problem on the line (tackle), it helps.
Shaq Lawson, Three Years, $30,000,000, $21,000,000 Guaranteed
Lawson’s a decent candidate for the kind of player we might offer a more modest, short-term contract and see if he can improve with a change of scenery. If we strike out on bigger names in free agency, picking up Lawson and maybe another cheaper guy on the list to round out or defensive end depth alongside another edge rusher with one of our first five picks in the draft isn’t the worst strategy.
At least I’m not always wrong. In my assessment of the options to improve our edge rush, I expected that many impending free agents would not actually make it to free agency. Shaquil Barrett, Bud Dupree, and Matt Judon never hit the market. Yannick Ngakoue and Leonard Williams were franchise-tagged. Even the 49ers made moves to keep Arik Armstead.
Instead of paying bigger money to try and sign Jadeveon Clowney or Dante Fowler Jr., we went the cheaper route to bring on both Lawson and Ogbah. The combined cost of both of them is only marginally more than the tag amount for Ngakoue and Williams and less than Clowney was initially seeking.
Lawson’s deal comes in at 18th among 4-3 Defensive Ends. It’s very high on guarantees as a percentage of the contract, but it’s essentially a two-year deal with only $1,333,334 in dead money in 2022 if we decide to move on. Lawson’s deal also includes additional incentives for sacks and team achievements, and I can’t be mad about incentives on a deal. If the player meets them, we obviously can’t say they didn’t earn it.
A staple of Belichick defenses has been to rely on the scheme to generate pressure. Our strategy is looking similar. Our defense is prioritizing lockdown coverage rather than relying on individual pass rushing performance to get to the quarterback. Hopefully Lawson is able to take advantage. If not, it’s a two-year investment at a relatively modest amount for the position that we can move on from without major consequence. If nothing else, he’s almost certainly an upgrade over anything we already had.
Kyle Van Noy, Four Years, $51,000,000, $15,000,000 Guaranteed
Despite the gaudy numbers on the contract, Van Noy’s deal is structured extremely favorably to the Dolphins. His full guarantees include only $5.5 million in signing bonus, $6.5 million in 2020 roster bonus, and $3 million in 2020 base salary. Because his 2021 and 2022 base salaries become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of each league year, that means that if he flames out we can move on with minimal dead money. Any time you can walk away from a four-year deal in year two with only $4,125,000 in dead cap and $9,775,000 in cap savings should be considered a major coup.
With how often I’ve mentioned the Patriots defensive scheme, the fit for Van Noy in Miami is braindead obvious. He brings flexibility that few of our current linebackers and none of our defensive ends have. He’s solid in run defense, as a pass rusher, and even dropping back into coverage. We have guys who can do one or two of those things very well, but none right now who are above average (and consistent) across the board.
Van Noy is expensive for his position and he’s on the older side of the free agents we’ve signed (having just turned 29 shortly after signing), but he should be expected to be a key piece for our defensive scheme with the flexibility he brings to the table. Last year, I thought that Trey Flowers would be a good fit for us given the Patriots. Instead, he rejoined Matt Patricia up north and had a really solid year (seven sacks, fourteen hits, and 41 hurries alongside 33 defensive stops). I’m optimistic that Van Noy can have a similarly smooth transition to working under Flores in Miami.
Emmanuel Ogbah, Two Years, $15,000,000, $7,500,000 Guaranteed
There’s not a lot to be said about Ogbah’s deal that hasn’t already been said about Lawson, except that it’s even less of a financial commitment. Coming off of a career-best, but injury-shortened season, we’re betting on Ogbah to take the next step. The contract is very favorable to the Dolphins: it’s 26th among 4-3 Defensive Ends in terms of APY and has no guaranteed money in year two. As a result, it’s essentially a one year prove-it deal.
If Ogbah plays to his potential and is able to pick up where he left off before injury with the Chiefs, he’s likely to see an extension next year that will keep him with the team long term. If not, we move on no worse for the wear. If he’s a middle-of-the-road kind of guy as he has been for much of his career? Well, $7.5 million isn’t a whole lot for a defensive end who we can still use in rotation.
Signing both Ogbah and Lawson takes immense pressure off of the front office to draft a defensive end high. Considering that we signed Van Noy at linebacker, who figures to have a significant role on passing downs as well, I’d argue that we may not draft a defensive end in the first few rounds at all. Again, more on that later.
Elandon Roberts, One Year, $2,000,000, $1,000,000 Guaranteed
The Patriots were hard up against the cap this year after tagging Thuney, and Roberts was a free agency casualty as a result. This isn’t a big contract, but it’s a good one. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: he’s a defensive depth player who was a team captain who sees most of his impact on special teams and brings championship experience to our young roster.
Roberts saw a decreased workload at linebacker (where he saw a majority of his snaps as a run defender and in coverage) in 2019 because of his increased role on special teams, but he also saw work as a fullback (and even caught a touchdown against us in the final game of the regular season).
It’s pretty clear that Flores has a type.

Remaining Needs

Our most dire needs are obvious. We don’t have a long-term answer at quarterback. Aside from a gaping hole at left tackle, we could also stand to upgrade at right guard, right tackle, or even center depending on where we play Karras and Davis. After signing Jordan Howard, running back remains a priority as our depth at the position among the worst in the league. We only have two tight ends in the top 51 contracts on this team, and fans and the team alike really only have expectations for Gesicki.
It stands to reason based on positional spending alone that our biggest holes are on offense, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stand to improve on defense as well. If I had to rank needs?
Quarterback Offensive Tackle Guard or Center Free Safety Running Back Nose Tackle Tight End Linebacker
I expect that the most controversial part of this list will be the lack of defensive end. As I’ve suggested above, I don’t think we should be targeting the position as a priority following the signing of Ogbah and Lawson unless someone falls.
Both Ogbah and Lawson have excelled primarily as ends in 4-3 fronts, so expect that’s how we’ll use them most of the time. Ogbah has (at least to my knowledge) not seen much use as an outside linebacker in 4-3 looks and Lawson struggled with it early in his career in Buffalo. So while a pure 4-3 defensive end isn’t high on our list of needs, that doesn’t mean we won’t ignore pass rush entirely.
Van Noy figures to take snaps at one of our outside linebacker spots, exactly where he saw almost all of his snaps with the Patriots. Baker saw time both at the weak side and middle linebacker positions in 2019, and depending on our defensive front will likely continue that trend. These two are the only guys I see on our roster right now who figure as three-down backers unless McMillan makes a big step forward in coverage.
We also have a lot of depth at linebacker: Biegel saw a lot of snaps at outside linebacker last year and he’s returning; in the last two games Van Ginkel saw the majority of the games’ snaps at outside linebacker as well; McMillan and Eguavoen made up the majority of the rest of our snaps at middle linebacker. Except maybe Eguavoen, whose roster spot is the most tenuous of the group, these players all should expect to see continued rotational use.
There’s definitely a scenario where we look to improve our linebackers, and if there’s a guy who can be a three-down type of guy at middle linebacker or someone who flexes really outside in 4-3 and 3-4 looks, I could see us pulling the trigger in the right circumstances. Ultimately, though, I have both nose tackle and free safety listed higher on our list of needs because those are the positions where a major upgrade will bring us the biggest improvement.
For example, John Jenkins played the majority of our snaps at nose tackle in 2019 with Godchaux contributing some snaps there as well. We haven’t brought Jenkins back, and Godchaux’s probably better used at DE in 3-4 looks. Someone who can play rotationally at nose tackle would be a big boon for this defense, and fills a position where we really have no go-to guy. More importantly, that type of rotational player can be had outside of the first round entirely.
I don’t think many people would disagree about listed free safety as one of our top defensive needs. Bobby McCain is coming off of an injury shortened season. Before he was injured, he was having a rough transition to free safety. He got abused in coverage in five of his nine games played in 2019, allowing passer ratings of 139.6, 144.6, 104.2, 118.8, and 158.3.
At the time he signed his current contract, McCain was made the highest-paid slot corner in the NFL and he’s barely played the position since then. Not only would drafting a free safety likely improve upon McCain’s mediocre performance at the position last year, it would allow McCain to return to the position that earned him his contract. Given that the nickel defense is essentially the base defense these days, improving both free safety and nickel corner with one draft pick could improve our defense significantly.
The other needs listed above barely require commenting. Quarterback and offensive line lead our needs by a country mile, and both will almost certainly be addressed early. We need better running back talent to improve on our league-worst rushing in 2019. It’s not a question of if we will draft a running back, but rather when.
Many pundits and fans expect we’ll address the position in the first or second round. Much like my position on drafting a quarterback, I’ve talked to death (even by my standards) about how I feel about drafting running backs in the first round. Some will note the value of using the 26th pick to secure a fifth year option, but I’m not convinced. That fifth year option is just as valuable or more valuable at another position.
Moreover, when was the last time the Dolphins re-signed a running back? Not just a rookie--any running back? Frank Gore, Kenyan Drake, Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams, Lamar Miller, and Reggie Bush were all productive backs in the past decade who we let walk or actively traded away. You have to go all the way back to Ronnie Brown and Ricky Wiliams to find backs who received offers after their initial contracts with the Dolphins, and in both their cases we only gave them another year. Sure, this is a different front office, but that’s a trend that’s been true of this team through multiple front offices, and I’ve seen no indication that it’s likely to change.
Like with linebacker, I see tight end as a position where our depth could improve and wouldn’t be surprised to see us take a flyer late or jump on somebody we like in the middle rounds, but I don’t expect it to be a priority.
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[Spoiler Extended] Euron Greyjoy is Bloodraven's pawn

Euron Greyjoy, at first glance, seems to be a terrifying dark lord figure who is primed to bring doom and destruction to Westeros. So far, the guy has at least partly lived up to his fearsome reputation - he assassinated his brother Balon Greyjoy, became the king of the Ironborn over Victarion and Asha, possesses a horn that has the power to control dragons, and a badass suit of black armor that seems perfectly fitted to his body. He also has designs for Daenerys Targaryen, no doubt a big fish herself (or should I say, a dragon). He also seems planned to unleash...something on Oldtown.
Yet before we assume Euron is ASOIAF's equivalent to Voldemort or Sauron, we need to stop and think - what exactly does GRRM think of dark lords as a concept? Not a whole lot if you ask me.
"Much as I admire Tolkien, and I do admire Tolkien — he’s been a huge influence on me, and his Lord of the Rings is the mountain that leans over every other fantasy written since and shaped all of modern fantasy — there are things about it, the whole concept of the Dark Lord, and good guys battling bad guys, Good versus Evil, while brilliantly handled in Tolkien, in the hands of many Tolkien successors, it has become kind of a cartoon. We don’t need any more Dark Lords, we don’t need any more, ‘Here are the good guys, they’re in white, there are the bad guys, they’re in black. And also, they’re really ugly, the bad guys. It is certainly a genuine, legitimate topic as the core of fantasy, but I think the battle between Good and Evil is waged within the individual human hearts. We all have good in us and we all have evil in us, and we may do a wonderful good act on Tuesday and a horrible, selfish, bad act on Wednesday, and to me, that’s the great human drama of fiction. I believe in gray characters, as I’ve said before. We all have good and evil in us and there are very few pure paragons and there are very few orcs. A villain is a hero of the other side, as someone said once, and I think there’s a great deal of truth to that, and that’s the interesting thing. In the case of war, that kind of situation, so I think some of that is definitely what I’m aiming at." - GRRM
I strongly believe Euron Greyjoy is not meant to be a dark lord, or at least a subversion of the original concept. He is a threat and a villain, no doubt, but he's not going to be the unstoppable pure evil villain we see in other fantasy stories. He didn't even make his appearance until ASOS and wasn't formally mentioned until ACOK, which is strange for a character who at first seems poised to be such a big fish (kraken)? While he might be the final villain, he'd likely be more Saruman than Sauron - after all, in LOTR, Saruman was the true ''final'' villain after Sauron but was weaker and defeated by the Hobbits.
GRRM also has made it clear what the biggest issue really is - and it's not Euron Greyjoy. It's the Others who lie in the North beyond the Wall. While this does not preclude Euron being connected to the Others or even causing their invasion by destroying the Wall, it does insinuate he won't be anything more than the spark that lights the actual fire (or ice? I'm bad at this stuff lol).
And it is important that the individual books refer to the civil wars, but the series title reminds us constantly that the real issue lies in the North beyond the Wall*. - GRRM*
The question is, what exactly is the subversion here? Is it that Euron Greyjoy is just some dude who's all hype and no feats? There is some evidence in that direction, given how Euron reacts to Rodrik Harlaw doubting whether he actually went to Valyria. However, Euron's dragon horn and black armor indicate that even if some of his hype is unfounded, not all of it is. I think he can be paralleled with Aegon VI in that while Aegon may not necessarily be the son of Rhaegar or the ''perfect prince'', even the theories that doubt the kid's parentage indicate he has the blood of a dragonrider and if nothing else, the boy absolutely has powerful allies in the Golden Company, Varys, JonCon, Illyrio, etc...
Likewise, Euron might be a dangerous and genuinely magical figure even if some of it is him blowing smoke out of his ass - keep in mind Melisandre has genuine magic too and she also uses tricks to make her magic look more cool than it is as well as tries to look more confident than she actually is. No, I think the real subversion is that being played. He's not his own man or agent - he's doing someone else's bidding, whether consciously or not. And I have an idea who that someone is. But before we get there, let's try to understand what it is that the man actually wants.
One thing I've noticed about the kraken is that he wants to fulfill the Azor Ahai prophecy or something very much like it. Look at the content of these comments and tell me what they remind you of:
"The bleeding star bespoke the end," he said to Aeron. "These are the last days*, when the* world shall be broken and remade*. A* new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits." - TWOW I swore to give you Westeros,’’ the Crows Eye said when the tumult died away, “and here is your first taste. A morsel, nothing more…but we shall feast before the fall of night!” - AFFC
Here is the Azor Ahai prophecy for comparison.
In ancient books of Asshai it is written that there will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him. - Davos, ACOK How long the darkness endured no man can say, but all agree that it was only when a great warrior—known variously as Hyrkoon the Hero, Azor Ahai, Yin Tar, Neferion, and Eldric Shadowchaser—arose to give courage to the race of men and lead the virtuous into battle with his blazing sword Lightbringer that the darkness was put to rout, and light and love returned once more to the world. Yet the Great Empire of the Dawn was not reborn, for the restored world was a broken place where every tribe of men went its own way, fearful of all the others, and war and lust and murder endured, even to our present day. Or so the men and women of the Further East believe. - TWOIAF
This also answers why Euron wants Daenerys Targaryen, in part. Euron obviously doesn't want Dany because she's a pretty girl - oh no. He wants Dany to be the Nissa Nissa to his Azor Ahai, so he can sacrifice her in a ritual to bring about the Long Night and rule the world. Dany dreams like Daenys the Dreamer, can hatch three dragon eggs with one sacrifice without dying unlike Aegon V, and is learning to bond with Drogon (basically Balerion 2.0) with only a word and whip and without a dragon horn or any lore to help her like her Valyrian and Targaryen ancestors had. She likely has very powerful blood.
None is fit to sit the Seastone Chair, much less the Iron Throne. No, to make an heir that's worthy of him*, I need a different woman.* When the kraken weds the dragon, brother, let all the world beware*." - AFFC*
Of course, Euron's ambitions are mighty...but it's worth asking two things. Who is this ''him'', and what made Euron have these ambitions to begin with? I suspect this ''him'' is Azor Ahai, based on Euron's other comments about the bleeding star, a broken world, the fall of night, and what not. As for why he wants to do these things, that's a more intriguing question IMHO, and the subject of this thread. It is also connected to whoever is planning to control him. But first, take a look at certain things.
Euron stood by the window, drinking from a silver cup. He wore the sable cloak he took from Blacktyde, his red leather eye patch, and nothing else. "When I was a boy\,**** I dreamt that I \**could fly," he announced. "**When I woke, I couldn't . . . or so the maester said. But what if he lied?" Victarion could smell the sea through the open window, though the room stank of wine and blood and sex. The cold salt air helped to clear his head. "What do you mean?" Euron turned to face him, his bruised blue lips curled in a half smile. "Perhaps we can fly\. All of us. How will we ever know unless we leap from some tall tower?***" The wind came gusting through the window and stirred his sable cloak. There was something obscene and disturbing about his nakedness. "No man ever truly knows what he can do unless he dares to leap."*
Why does that sound awfully familiar? Euron's dream seems surprisingly similar to Bran's.
Bran also has dreams of flying...and he also couldn't fly when he woke up and was told by his maester these were dreams and nothing more. He was also thrown off a tower (which is different from leaping, but in both cases he is departing a stone tower in Winterfell from the top).
Wings unseen drank the wind and filled and pulled him upward. The terrible needles of ice receded below him. The sky opened up above. Bran soared. It was better than climbing. It was better than anything. The world grew small beneath him. "I'm flying*!" he cried out in delight. - Bran, AGOT* "—too young, and—ooh, seven hells, that burns, no, don't stop, more. Too young, as I say, but you, Bran, you're old enough to know that dreams are only dreams*." - Bran, AGOT*
Similarity one. Here's similarity two. Both Bran and Euron are somehow connected to crows.
Bran used to feed the crows at the broken tower - the one he was thrown from - and meets the three-eyed crow, which teaches him to fly in his dreams while being kind of a jerk. Euron is called the Crow's Eye and, for his sigil, has a red eye with a black iris and two crows floating above the eye.
And then there's the red eye - why a red eye in particular? While there are theories floating around about Euron trying to emulate the Bloodstone Emperor (the possible alter-ego of Azor Ahai), the fact that a powerful greenseer called Bloodraven also exists - a man with a single blood red eye - is something we cannot ignore. A man who has taken Bran under his ahem, wing, so he can teach Bran to fly. Or so he says. This man is also close friends with the Children of the Forest, among who greenseers have eyes that are either mottled green or blood red as signs of their potential.
"Are you the three-eyed crow?" Bran heard himself say. A three-eyed crow should have three eyes. He has only one, and that one red. Bran could feel the eye staring at him, shining like a pool of blood in the torchlight*. Where his other eye should have been, a thin white root grew from an empty socket, down his cheek, and into his neck. - Bran II, ADWD* "In a sense. Those you call the children of the forest have eyes as golden as the sun, but once in a great while one is born amongst them with eyes as red as blood, or green as the moss on a tree in the heart of the forest*. By these signs do the gods mark those they have chosen to receive the gift. The chosen ones are not robust, and their quick years upon the earth are few, for every song must have its balance. But once inside the wood they linger long indeed. A thousand* eyes*, a hundred skins, wisdom deep as the roots of ancient trees. Greenseers." - Bran III, ADWD*
Now here's the other interesting detail. Bloodraven, or Brynden Rivers as he was once known, apparently made use of crows as his spies and messengers. He is also known as the last greenseer.
How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have*? the riddle ran. A thousand* eyes*, and one. Some claimed the King's Hand was a student of the dark arts who could change his face, put on the likeness of a one-eyed dog, even turn into a mist.* Packs of gaunt gray wolves hunted down his foes, men said, and carrion crows spied for him and whispered secrets in his ear*. Most of the tales were only tales, Dunk did not doubt, but no one could doubt that* Bloodraven had informers everywhere. - The Sworn Sword
Now here comes the ''leap'' I am going to make - Euron is but a pawn of Bloodraven's (or rather the Children of the Forest, for whom Bloodraven is working). I suspect BR contacted Euron in his dreams when the latter was younger. I think one thing to note here is that Euron is specifically called Crow's Eye, a name which perfectly fits the purpose Brynden's crow minions had in Dunk & Egg - to act as his eyes. Brynden, interestingly, was also a crow of the Night's Watch once. He even says this to Bran.
"A … crow?" The pale lord's voice was dry. His lips moved slowly, as if they had forgotten how to form words. "Once, aye. Black of garb and black of blood***."*** The clothes he wore were rotten and faded, spotted with moss and eaten through with worms, but once they had been black*. "I have been many things, Bran. Now I am as you see me, and now you will understand why I could not come to you … except in dreams. I have watched you for a long time, watched you with a thousand eyes and one. I saw your birth, and that of your lord father before you. I saw your first step, heard your first word, was part of your first dream. I was watching when you fell. And now you are come to me at last, Brandon Stark, though the hour is late." - Bran, ADWD*
If I'm right, the next question would be - what happened after that? Is Bloodraven still working with (or through) Euron? The answer is going to be complicated, but I'd say - yes, and no both. I think Euron would be a pawn of the Children's without being remotely aware of it. I believe both Euron and Bran are pawns of the COTF (at least the ones beyond The Wall), albeit in different ways. There is strong foreshadowing that Bran's life is in danger and once he completes his training, the COTF would use his healthy young body to replace Brynden's as a hyper-powerful greenseer they can use.
Euron, on the other hand, likely has a slightly different purpose - though one still beneficial to the goals of the Children. Euron's goal might be to cause horrific mayhem in the world of man and even possibly bring about the Long Night (even tearing down The Wall). Why, you may ask, would the Children want this to happen? This quote may provide a clue.
"Gone down into the earth," she answered. "Into the stones, into the trees. Before the First Men came all this land that you call Westeros was home to us, yet even in those days we were few. The gods gave us long lives but not great numbers, lest we overrun the world as deer will overrun a wood where there are no wolves to hunt them*. That was in the dawn of days, when our sun was rising. Now it sinks, and* this is our long dwindling. The giants are almost gone as well, they who were our bane and our brothers. The great lions of the western hills have been slain, the unicorns are all but gone, the mammoths down to a few hundred. The direwolves will outlast us all, but their time will come as well. In the world that men have made, there is no room for them, or us*." - Bran, ADWD*
According to Leaf, humanity is driving species after species into extinction, and eventually the COTF, giants, direwolves, etc. will all die out. Leaf also takes care to note that ''the gods'' purposefully gave them ''long lives but not great numbers, lest we overrun the world as deer will overrun a wood when there are no wolves to hunt them''. What she is saying can essentially be boiled down to this: humans, unlike Children, are great in number and since they have no apex predator pursuing them, are overrunning the world. Because they are overrunning the world, they threaten everything else there.
It's also worth pointing out that this is after not only the initial First Men invasion and war with the Others but also the Andal invasion, which left the COTF even more screwed up than before, and the extinction or looming extinction of multiple species that were larger in number then. While the COTF may have genuinely wished for peace with humanity and coexistence before, it is possible they now (not wrongly) see this as an unsatisfactory conclusion. Is it possible that the COTF might be thinking that humanity, on account of its large numbers and threat to the world, must be checked somehow?
I think so. I think the COTF are up to something for sure, and their plans are not necessarily good for humanity. One disturbing thing to note is how closely Bran in the cave parallels Daenerys in a certain house in ACOK - a house where a bunch of evil sorcerers tried to capture and kill Dany.
For one, both enter a place that it's clear many have entered but few have left (the House of the Undying in Dany's case according to the Warlocks, Bloodraven's cave in Bran's which is filled with the bones of animals, giants, and Children. Both see events that happen in the past, and at least in Dany's case, also the future. Both Bran and Dany are told how some specified amount of time passes no more than the flickeflutter of a moth's wings, both are treated to beautiful singing, and both consume some weird substance (shade of the evening in Dany's case, weirwood paste in Bran's case).
I don't think these parallels are accidental. I think that the COTF do not have wholly benevolent intentions for Bran and, in fact, might want him to replace Bloodraven or possibly offer his relatively healthy body to the former crow so the latter can resume supporting them. Whether Bloodraven himself is a willing conspirator or at the mercy of the COTF I'm not sure, though both theories make some sense. Either way, Bran is in a dangerous area right now and might be forced to escape soon with the rest of his party. Whether all of his party survive the escape, of course, is unclear.
As for the Children's endgame? That's where the forces of ice and fire come in - to do battle.
The Children's endgame is to use Bran's greenseer powers to somehow incite and enable the great war of ice and fire, which will severely thin humanity enough so their large numbers are no longer a threat to the planet. To that end, they will turn both the Others (ice) and the dragons as well as fire priests loose on each other with the rest of humanity in the middle, ensuring that humanity gets caught in the crossfire and wrecked hard (if not exterminated). Keep in mind this kind of plotting not only appears in GRRM's other works (Preston Jacobs talks a lot about this) but even IN ASOIAF.
This plot of the Children's would be little different from say, Tyrion wanting to pit Aegon and Dany against each other so Cersei gets killed in the crossfire. Randyll Tarly also brings up a similar idea when Stannis might be able to beat his brother Renly (who has superior forces at the time) if Renly ends up weakening his forces fighting the Lannisters first. The Children might be able to empower both the Others and dragons + fire warriors so they can do even more damage to humanity. Think equipping two factions that are fully willing to use WMDs...with WMDs. That would be bad.
Let's say the Children want to achieve all these would they go about it? Their best bet would be to find someone of greenseer potential they could corrupt to achieve their goals. Euron, a child of the Iron Islands (where rape, murder, and pillage are glorified) with greenseer capabilities (which is also likely how they managed to contact him in the first place), would be the ideal figure to wage some sort of immense war that could weaken the realms of man for the culling to begin.
It's even possible Bloodraven used his dreams not to bring Euron beyond The Wall but to seduce him with power, with lies so Euron would crave this kind of power and combined with his brutal training, would be pushed to do all sorts of messed up shit that would make it easier for the Children to pick off humanity during a second Long Night. It's even possible they plan on using him to sound the horn of Joramun (which is conveniently in Oldtown and the hands of a certain Samwell Tarly) to help ensure this happens. Of course, the Children likely plan on getting Euron himself killed once he achieves this.
TLDR: Euron Greyjoy is an agent unwittingly acting for the COTF and Bloodraven in their plans to cull (if not destroy) humanity by provoking all sorts of destruction and mayhem, which will likely include a second Long Night. He is not a true dark lord, he is a puppet who thinks himself a dark lord, a useful idiot for the Children of the Forest, and a pawn who thinks himself a king.
Euron's goal may be to become Azor Ahai or the Bloodstone Emperor or whatever have you, but the COTF misled (and corrupted) him in this direction so he will help achieve their goals and wreck humanity. Once he achieves these goals, the COTF will dispose of him.
submitted by saminstark to pureasoiaf [link] [comments]

NFL Offseason Review Series - Day 19: Buffalo Bills (late entry)

Buffalo Bills

AFC East
Huge shout out to the shmuck who offered to write this and then decided to fall off the face of the earth! Fuck you, pal!
2017 Season Review
Hello again, friends! jiggs_ here again to write about my favorite football team. I was planning on sitting this one out but that clearly didn’t go as planned since the guy who signed up never did it. So, lucky for you all, I still have no life outside of waiting for football to start so here we go again with another write-up! I want to say the 2017 season was magical. I want to talk about how the roster dominated on defense and ran the ball down the throats of opposing teams, but the truth is that neither of those things really happened. Many fans would say we “finally had luck on our side” this year or that “the referees forgot to screw us over” but neither of those things are true either. The truth of the matter is that, despite boasting the 29th ranked offense, a mid-season QB controversy that led to literally the worst half of football ever played by a quarterback in NFL history, and a defensive line holier than The Mask after a shootout, the Buffalo Bills were really, really good at winning on turnover differential. Hell, the only games we won all year had a differential of at least 1. This style of play that Sean McDermott called “mistake-free football” was not a new concept, and it is utilized by plenty of successful coaches (including the Grinch himself). That being said, it was the 2017 motto for the bills, and it ultimately led to the conclusion of a 17-year playoff drought! In spectacular fashion, the Bills secured a playoff berth on the back of a 4th and long touchdown pass by Andy Dalton in a seemingly meaningless game. If you want footage here is the show that aired on Buffalo news about a month later showing the city almost implode at the shock of it all.

Coaching Changes

This offseason began with plenty of questions as to coaching decisions, and most of those questions revolved around the fate of Bills OC Rick Dennison. Throughout the season, many were quick to point out the Bills blatant lack of rushing production in the first few games in which Dennison’s Zone-Blocking Scheme was adopted. He later adopted a different approach based more around power-running, as that played better toward the Bills strengths on offensive line and in the backfield, but that crucial change was made much too late, costing the Bills some close games. Even after the change was implemented, the offense still continued to struggle scoring.
While various reporters would point out Tyrod’s clear statistical regression as the reason behind the lack of scoring, others felt as though Dennison never gave the 8-year vet a chance. Dennison’s West Coast passing offense utilized quick crossing routes and timing throws meant to move the ball short to medium yardage quickly. While Tyrod had been above-average in the short field, he constantly struggled to read defenses quickly (or even correctly) throughout the season. Due to the lack of football IQ under center, Dennison should have flushed Tyrod out of the pocket and utilized play action passing. This would effectively give him a smaller field to read, more time to throw, and the ability to use his legs to his advantage. Rather than playing to his quarterback’s strengths, he instead forced Tyrod to try to adapt. Due to Tyrod’s clear difficulty in running the offense, the Bills coaching staff (and, by extension, Rick Dennison) eventually benched Taylor, opting instead for the raw and inexperienced backup QB Nathan Peterman. This move was most likely made due to the lack of production from Taylor, and due to Dennison’s eagerness to get his offense the strong-armed pocket passer it needed. Regardless of who is at fault for Tyrod’s regression, Peterman’s disastrous debut, and/or the struggles of the offensive line, the Bills opted to fire OC Rick Dennison on Jan 12.
Dennison was replaced by Brian Daboll, who was formerly working as the OC for 2017 NCAA National Champions Alabama. He never talked to the media, answered no questions regarding scheme, refused to discuss his favorite QB in the draft, and was ultimately a ghost for the first 4 months after signing on as OC. I personally LOVE this about the guy. He wants to keep his cards close to the vest as much as possible and I think that is exactly the type of OC you should be looking for at this time.
That being said, he has spoken recently in regards to the general theme of his offense, but he did not give much away. In fact, he basically said nothing besides the fact that the offense needs to be “ever-changing”. He wants the offense to evolve as the players do and to change based on the opponents they are facing. To me, this sounds extremely similar to New England, and this theory is supported by various players who claim that the playbook is very extensive and outlines different matchups that can change how plays are run. It makes sense that he would mirror the Pats considering he coached there during each and every one of their super bowl wins. (in fact, they only ever seem to win it while he is coaching. Coincidence? I think not!). All in all, Daboll is quiet and calculated in the media, but don’t let that fool you about his actual mannerisms. In practice he is a nutcase who demands high football IQ and mental fortitude in each and every one of his players.

Free Agency

For most players they will just get a line in the table below, but let’s get the blockbuster trade out of the way first.
Tyrod Taylor, QB:
Traded to the Browns for the first pick in the third round. Regardless of your thoughts on if Tyrod deserved to be traded, the Bills were absolutely certain that they did not want him on the roster for the 2018 season. No matter what circumstances occurred in the offseason, the Bills were always going to get rid of Tyrod Taylor. Because of this, I was absolutely ecstatic at the deal made by Brandon Beane.
Here is the situation: it is March 10th, and Tyrod is due to get a bonus of $6mil on March 16th. Brandon Beane has a dilemma. Should he just cut Tyrod now to avoid paying this bonus? The money could be used to sign role players, so it makes sense to try to avoid paying it. Maybe he should ask for less than he is worth so that other teams will take him off his hands and pay him the bonus instead? No option seems perfect at the moment, plenty of downside for all of them. Suddenly, the phone rings. The Browns are calling and offering the first pick in the third round for a quarterback that Beane was considering cutting in a few days…. Do you now see why I am so ecstatic? The Bills had no leverage and were on the brink of cutting a player with plenty of value, but instead were able to somehow swing a third rounder into the deal (by the way, that third rounder was part of the deal made to secure Tremaine Edmunds, so thanks again Browns!). This was an objectively great deal, regardless of how Tyrod performs in Cleveland. He didn’t have a place here, so the Bills got good value out of him while simultaneously making sure his career could continue with a team that wanted him.
Other Players lost/cut
Player Position New Team Notes
Eric Wood C Retired It is very sad that he wasn’t able to retire on his own terms. That being said, the Bills were prepared for this contingency, having capable backup in the form of Ryan Groy.
Richie Incognito G Retired?? Hard to replace, even harder to understand why he left in the first place.
Mike Tolbert RB Free Agent Badly utilized, hated by many fans. Has some value in the right situation, most likely will retire.
Jordan Matthews WR Free Agent Couldn’t stay healthy. The “Dalton Line” for wide receivers, just about average in every category. If he can stay healthy he will find a team.
Deonte Thompson WR Dallas Cowboys He’s always been a journeyman. Fans overblow his contribution, but he was technically one of our top targets last season.
Cordy Glenn T Cincinnati Bengals If he stays healthy he is a pro bowler. The Bills already have a replacement in sophomore Dion Dawkins, so no need to keep him around.
Preston Brown MLB Cincinnati Bengals Led the NFL in tackles last year. Has trouble in coverage. Not a good scheme fit.

Biggest losses: Taylor, Wood, Incognito, Matthews.

Major Additions
Player Position Former Team Notes
Star Lotulelei DT Carolina Panthers Arguably the top DT on the market. Will immediately start as one-technique DT. Will not make headlines but will provide better matchups for other players.
AJ McCarron QB Cincinnati Bengals Bridge, stop-gap, game manager, take your pick. AJ will not wow anyone with athleticism, but will probably be serviceable until Allen can play.
Trent Murphy DE Washington Redskins Pass rush specialist two years ago, coming off ACL injury. Will be used as three-down end this year, major upgrade to the pass rush that was lacking last year.
Vontae Davis CB Indianapolis Colts Good value. Low price, high ceiling. Fits the scheme well. I said the same thing about Jordan Poyer last year, and he turned out great.
Chris Ivory RB Jacksonville Jaguars Some think he was utilized poorly in Jacksonville, and let’s hope that is the case; otherwise, Beane may get some flak for the big money spent on this guy.
Jeremy Kerley WR New York J-E-T-E Speedy slot receiver, fits the offense. Special teams contributor.
Marshall Newhouse G Oakland Raiders Depth and competition.
Russell Bodine C Cincinnati Bengals Depth and competition.
Phillip Gaines CB Kansas City Chiefs May not even beat out rookie Taron Johnson for the slot corner position. Since slot corner is vital in the NFL, putting a rookie there is a death sentence. Let’s hope Gaines can beat him out, otherwise we will see plenty of PI calls this season on Johnson.
Rafael Bush S New Orleans Saints Depth and competition.
Corey Coleman WR Cleveland Browns Brandon Beane is a wizard. Traded a 2020 7th rounder for a first-round talent! I get that he has shown inconsistency, but there is no way he was worth that little. Fantastic move from the Bills FO to finally secure some speed on this WR corps.

Biggest Additions: Lotulelei, McCarron, Murphy, Davis

I was going to make a table, but I have too much to say about the early picks. Here comes another big-ass segment that we will call jiggs_ gets his hopes up!
Round 1, pick 7: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
“Stats are for nerds” – Mel Kiper
Believe that motto or not, it was exactly what was running through the heads of the Bills front office when they picked Josh Allen, and that is a fact. You may say that I have no way of knowing this for sure, but I KNOW the Bills don’t give a damn about stats simply because if they DID care about them, they would have taken a gander at that stat paper and put a 5th round rank on Josh Allen like many other GMs. They didn’t do that. Neither did the Cardinals. Neither did plenty of analysts. What does that tell you about Josh Allen? Let’s discuss the two schools of thought below.
  1. I am Rob Lowe and I trust the Bills front office: Since I trust Brandon Beane’s judgement, I understand that regardless of the opinions of draft pundits, there is something special about Josh Allen. I notice that in press conferences, Beane harps on intangibles. He mentions that Josh Allen has mental fortitude and that he knows how to rally a team. I take Beane’s word for it and decide “Fuck me, I made a mistake in thinking that [insert QB here] was the better option, Josh Allen must really be a special kid with the tools needed to succeed.”
  2. And I am draft super-draft-expert Rob Lowe and I think the Bills are morons: Josh Allen can’t make routine passes, struggles to read the field properly, and has poor mechanics under pressure. I look at his stats and wonder how someone so bad could be considered such a high-level prospect. Rocket arm QBs are almost always busts and Mel Kiper’s opinion means nothing to me because I know 4 other experts who say the exact opposite. Brandon Beane is busy talking about Josh Allen’s mindset while I’m sitting here watching him regularly miss easy throws. Mental fortitude be damned, the guy can’t play!
I think I am pretty fair in discussing both sides of the issue, and I think both sides have a point. All I am trying to help you understand here is that, as a supporter of Brandon Beane’s previous roster moves, I find it hard to believe that he did not go through the opinions of the draft pundits just as much (if not more) than we did. I do not think they were mesmerized by how good he looks in shorts (as others seem to think) and I genuinely think that this kid must be something truly special. Hell, his own teammates say so in plenty of interviews. There is just something different about Josh Allen that stats don’t seem to capture.
Round 1, Pick 16 Tremaine Edmunds, MLB, Virigina Tech
“In two years Tremaine Edmunds will be one of NFL's best players“ – LeSean McCoy
Oh baby was I jumping up and down when this pick came through. To see us make moves up the board (for the second time!) to secure a guy that made everyone at the ESPN table go “what a great move by Buffalo” made me so happy. I’m not saying that validation from those shmucks was the main reason for the excitement, but I will concede that it helped. The true excitement came from how big an impact I know this kid will make not only in Buffalo but in the NFL.
I know the gravity of the sentence I am about to type: Tremaine Edmunds has the tools to change how the game of football is played. My choice of words is deliberate here in that I am not saying Tremaine will be the GOAT. Hell, the kid could tear an ACL and be out of the league in five years. But, I can say with absolute certainty that he is an absolute Freak. Of. Nature. He is the biggest man on the field at 6’5” with an 83” wingspan. And guess what? He ran a 4.5 at the combine. He ran faster than some defensive backs! He is so fast that Tech often didn’t even bother masking his coverage. They would match him up man to man against top receivers without a care in the world because they knew he could keep up. This man is a nightmare for offenses, and in order to stop him from running all over the field teams are going to be forced to scheme specifically around his skill set.
Tremaine is very talented, but he fell to 16 because he is raw. At 20 years old he is much younger than most others coming out of the draft. He also has mechanical and mental issues in processing where the ball is, sometimes getting tricked by even simple play action. Because of this, the Bills will need to coach him to keep his eye more closely on the ball. I think Sean McDermott, the coach behind the development of Luke Kuechly, will have no issues in getting Tremaine up to speed. He will be the centerpiece of this defense and I look for him to make waves in the NFL for years to come.
The rest of the picks:
Draft Pick Player Position School Notes
96 Harrison Phillips DT Stanford Already called Kyle Williams 2.0, Horrible Harry will beat you with hand placement and footwork instead of size and athleticism. McDermott loves former wrestlers (and literally wrestled with Phillips at their first meeting), so not many surprised by the pick.
121 Taron Johnson CB Weber State Most know him as the guy who got hit in the face with a football at the combine, but Taron is talented. He is undersized but he might win the slot corner job anyways. Tough to play slot without size, but we’ll see how he does…
154 Siran Neal CB Jacksonville State Pretty much a non-factor in TC right now. He will probably just be a special teamer that can step in for injured guys.
166 Wyatt Teller G Virginia Tech Another guy who fell much lower than anticipated. We need talent at Guard, and Teller is pro-ready, but has a lower ceiling than lots of guys picked before him. He may beat out Vlad for a starting slot simply because Vlad is just not that talented.
187 Ray-Ray McCloud WR Clemson Most wanted us to pick a WR earlier. Ray-Ray will help on special teams, but he isn’t really much in terms of talent at WR.
255 Austin Proehl WR North Carolina He was my sleeper to make the top 4 WRs before the season began because I really liked his route running in college. In mini-camp it looked like I was right, but he has cooled down considerably in TC. Issues getting separation due to his small frame.


Bills get Buccaneers Get
7, 255 12, 53, 56
Bills Get Ravens Get
16, 154 22, 65


A Draft Grade from me means nothing, because I just don’t know enough about the rest of the players that the Bills passed on. Overall, I think the Bills did everything they wanted to do. They got the QB of their dreams, picked up an LB that they thought would get selected in the top 10, drafted polished, pro-ready replacements for Marcell Dareus and Richie Incognito, and got some raw talent at CB and WR. I would have liked a higher WR pick, but the truth is that I think the Bills just picked their BPA throughout just about all of this draft. You can see that based on the talented options that were still available at WR at the time they pick Phillips, Johnson, and Neal. If they were truly drafting for need, that is the time to grab a wideout. But, they weren’t. They liked the other guys more and jumped on them instead of trying to add subpar talent to positions of need. That gets an A in my book (but truth be told this section was always going to be an A).
Projected Starting Lineups
QB: AJ McCarron
HB: LeSean McCoy
FB: Pat DiMarco
WR: Kelvin Benjamin
WR: Jeremy Kerley
TE: Charles Clay
LT: Dion Dawkins
LG: Vlad Ducasse
C: Ryan Groy
RG: John Miller
RT: Jordan Mills
DE: Jerry Hughes
DT: Kyle Williams
DT: Star Lotulelei
DE: Trent Murphy
WLB: Matt Milano
MLB: Tremaine Edmunds
SLB: Lorenzo Alexander
CB: Tre’Davious White
CB: Vontae Davis
FS: Micah Hyde
SS: Jordan Poyer
Position Groups Strengths and Weaknesses


This is a competition, plain and simple. McDermott has said countless time that the best guy will play no matter what. Anyone saying “Allen needs to sit” or “Allen should start” needs to sit the fuck down and let it play out. The coach is fielding the best possible team regardless of draft position, so if Allen wins he’ll start. Otherwise he won’t. AJ McCarron is winning as of August 2nd and I don’t see him being dethroned unless Peterman somehow shows more life or Allen’s erratic throws magically become more accurate. McCarron is the safe bet, and I will place my unstable, fragile heart in his hands until he inevitably stabs it with a fork in the final minutes of a regular season game.
Brian Daboll’s scheme seems to be extensive in that the play calls change based on the opponent we are facing. Let’s hope this strategy can also change based on the quarterback that is in the game on our team because we have three guys who are all vastly different in terms of style. I do not envy Daboll’s position at the moment because he will essentially be a turd polisher until Allen gets on the field.
Experience. AJ McCarron is the “veteran” QB on the roster and he has never played more than a few games in a season. At this point the Bills just need to give these kids a chance to get in the game and take some hits. Until then, our QB depth chart may as well list 3 rookies.
Offensive Line
Arguably the worst unit in the NFL. On paper we have guys who are either inexperienced or just downright bad. If everyone on this line performs exactly the same as they did last year, we are at best somewhere between the 27th and 32nd offensive lines in the league. Since I can’t bear to be negative for this long I will just try to envision some sort of best case scenario for this unit where we aren’t awful (it is possible that only a few of these, if any, actually happen this season).
  1. John Miller was a wrecking ball in 2016 but fell off the next year, barely making the team due to issues in the new blocking scheme. Well, the scheme is back to using power run concepts, so the first hope is that 2016 Miller can return.
  2. Dion Dawkins does not take the backstep that many second-year Tackles tend to take. [insert “sophomore slump” pun here]
  3. Wyatt Teller beats out Vlad Ducasse for the LG spot. As of now this dream looks almost dead, but I still have hope because Vlad Ducasse is just a terrible Guard.
  4. Ryan Groy is the next Eric Wood. Groy came in when Wood was injured for a season and played admirably so he may actually be the 2nd best player on this line (which is saying something considering he hasn’t started since 2016)
  5. Jordan Mills gets cybernetic enhancements. This is the only thing that could possibly make this player anything more than a revolving door this year. I am genuinely concerned for the safety of our QB every time this Jordan Mills steps on the field. Maybe we can get Miller to play RG and RT this year and just use the RT slot as another WR or something.
Uhh…. Dion Dawkins was like the 3rd best rookie last year so does he count?
Tough to find anything that isn’t a weakness to be honest. Maybe Jordan Mills? To be fair it is very, very hard to replace one pro bowl level OL, and the Bills lost TWO of them.
Pass Catchers
Again, this is a weak point in its current status, but there are bright lights in certain areas. Kelvin Benjamin was the 28th overall pick in 2014 and for good reason. The guy has the talent to be a #1 receiver but hasn’t really shown it over the last couple years. Our other receiver options are either inexperienced or less-than-ideal. Jeremy Kerley was OK on the Jests in a limited role, but we’ll see if he can do well for the Bills when given more responsibility. Zay Jones had lots of drops but I doubt that trend continues. He was my pick to be the most improved Bills player this year until he decided to go fight for Jesus. He then tweaked his knee a few weeks later, requiring minor surgery that is still keeping him off the field at TC.
Charles Clay is a solid TE, and I still consider him top 10 in the league when healthy. Kelvin Benjamin was apparently dealing with a torn meniscus last season which led to his limited contribution, so we will see if the surgery can make him show some more signs of life.
Quantity over Quality. We have about 9 or 10 WRs listed on the roster at the moment but none of them are spectacular. Considering we have to release at least 3 or 4 of them, I wouldn’t consider this a strength.


Defensive Line
“When rebuilding a defense, you start up front” – Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane on multiple occasions. This is the most improved group of the list and I think it’s a fearsome squad.
Kyle Williams is back, baby! Our fearless leader continues to lead the troops into battle, now accompanied by Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy, two very talented FA signings that will provide new talent that was not present last year. I will mention Jerry Hughes as a strength, but I am hesitant. He certainly isn’t a weakness but he has not been producing recently. Now that Star is going to demand more double teams, we should see more of Hughes, but who knows.
Pass rush. On paper we are improved, but I won’t believe it until I see it because they say that every year. Affecting the quarterback is the basis of any defense in the NFL today, and over the past few years we just haven’t done that regardless of who we sign/draft.
This group played above their paygrade last season, and the Bills will have to look for more of that as they let Preston Brown walk in free agency.
Coverage. While Lorenzo Alexander is not a very good coverage linebacker, I do not see him being on the field as much this year (the Bills love playing in nickel sets), and I think the rest of the linebacking corps is rangy. Tremaine is fast as hell, and Matt Milano already flashed his coverage ability in a few games last year.
Depth. Last year McDermott only had downhill linebackers in a scheme that needed range. This year, he has dumped most of those guys in favor of a leaner roster with tons of range. He gutted the linebacking corps and has thus sacrificed his depth for players with the correct archetype. Without injuries, this group is a force. But, when was the last time you saw a team without injuries?
No one can tell me that our unit is not top-5 in the NFL right now. Tre White, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and a healthy Vontae Davis is an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses and I can’t wait to see them perform.
Turnovers. This unit creates good field position opportunities for a poor offense on many occasions. On a team with an offense as bad as ours, the field position battle is everything. Teams have to plan specifically for the game sense that Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer seem to possess, and their skill makes up for lots of the holes that seemed to appear in zone coverages.
Nickel/Slot Corner. Phillip Gaines, Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, and co. will be competing to be in this place, but for now I think it will be Phillip Gaines. He is not a great corner, and to be honest I wish we just resigned the guy we had (Leonard Johnson). Regardless, this is by far the weakest spot in the secondary and that is where the QBs will continue to throw the ball.
Schedule Predictions
I have no final record in mind, I will be taking this game-by-game.
Week 1 @ Baltimore Ravens: WIN
The better team will not win this one. On offense, the RPO scheme will create opportunities for McCarron to release the ball quickly and make some long drives that will inevitably turn to field goals. In fact, I don’t think the Bills score more than one touchdown. But, they’ll kick 4 field goals for the grand total of 19 points. That should be enough to beat the Ravens, right? The D-line of Baltimore just isn’t very formidable except for him, so if we can stop Suggs from affecting the QB, then I think we can win this game. It actually reminds me of last year’s game against the Raiders and Khalil Mack. In that game, the Bills help Mack to one QB pressure all game. We will do that again and secure a win, outscoring the Ravens 19-17.
Week 2 vs. Los Angeles Chargers: WIN
That Chargers are a better team than the Bills, plain and simple. That being said, they will lose. Our quarterback is going to get absolutely slaughtered, but we are going to win. I don’t see us stopping Bosa and Ingram from affecting the quarterback on just about every play, to be honest. BUT, we are going to absolutely run all over these guys. They were ranked 31st last year in run defense, and did nothing to stop the bleeding. I can see Shady breaking 100 this game for sure, and if the defense can force a turnover or two, it is the perfect situation for the Bills, who can run out the clock with Shady and win a low scoring contest 14-10.
Week 3 @ Minnesota Vikings: LOSS
I would look for a monster game from the backfield of Minnesota in this one. Cook/Murray are great players and not sure if the Bills will be able to stop them. Not to mention they were the top defense last year and will probably still somehow be better this year. This may not be a pretty one, but I’ll be there rooting for the Bills all the same. 34-6, Vikings win.
Week 4 @ Green Bay Packers: LOSS
Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau? You know I’ll be there in person. Will I be celebrating a win? No way, Jose. Can’t wait to see Rodgers in person for the first time, but I’d be lying if I said I was expecting a win here. Their defense is lackluster, but our offense is as well. 27-13
Week 5 vs. Tennessee Titans: LOSS
The Titans were much, much more talented than they seemed on paper. Up in Buffalo, we knew what it meant to be coached by Mike Mularkey, and it ain’t pretty. Now that he is gone, they are my dark horse to win the division this year. I don’t see them losing in Buffalo, but it may be close considering they’ll have trouble stopping Shady. 24-21, Titans.
Week 6 @ Houston Texans: WIN
This game relies on the status of Deshaun Watson and his overall performance. LOTS of people say he is going to be a terror in the NFL but I can see the Bills using their experienced secondary to trick him into throwing lots of picks. Call me crazy, but I think this one is a win, and I don’t think it will be close. 24-10 Bills.
Week 7 @ Indianapolis Colts: LOSS
I think the Colts are a bad team. If they didn’t have Luck they would be the worst in the NFL in my eyes. Even with Luck, it will be tough to see them getting more than 4 wins this year. We will be one of those wins. I think Luck will be healthy, and he will throw the ball down our throats. 27-17 Colts.
Week 8 vs. New England Patriots: LOSS
We have a bad habit of losing terrible games in primetime. This Monday Night Football showcase is an absolute joke. We aren’t even remotely close to the talent level here but we still have to trot our guys out on national TV to get smacked. Again. Why can’t they give us a more interesting contest here? The Ravens as a “revenge of the playoff spot” showcase could have been fun. A rematch against the Jaguars could be interesting. Hell, put us against the Jets late in the season for a Darnold vs. Allen showdown! I get that anything can happen in sports but good lord am I tired of seeing us get slaughtered while the whole world watches. The only way we come close to winning is if Tom Brady is injured, and I’m not going to sit here and hope for an injury. Bring the dildos for this one, boys. It’s gonna be an ugly one. 45-20 Pats.
Week 9 vs. Chicago Bears: WIN
I look at this as a surprise win here, regardless of how they performed last season. I think they will improve and I actually like Trubisky a lot. That being said, he does not protect the ball well, and we will win the turnover battle to bring us the win. 13-7 Bills.
Week 10 @ New York Jete: WIN
We split with the Jets last year, and I can see that happening again. They may still have McCown in at this point, so I can see them being reasonably efficient. The Jets are not going to be a good team, and neither are the Bills. Talent matches up reasonably well, so I look for a well-balanced, mistake-free game on both ends. At the end the Bills edge the victory. 23-14 Buffalo.
Week 12 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: LOSS
The REVENGE game! This one should be primetime because I think it’ll be a slugfest. It will be a DIRTY one with lots of running and plenty of scuffles because I don’t think the two teams got along very well last year. In a low-scoring, ground-and-pound battle, the Jags will win 10-3 (same score as last time).
Week 13 @ Miami Dolphins: LOSS
This SHOULD be the Josh Allen debut but I think McDermott gets stubborn, instead opting to continue trotting AJ McCarron until we are mathematically out of it (no one wants the Nate Peterman situation to happen again). We will all hate him on the outside but deep down understand that Josh Allen simply isn’t ready yet. AJ will perform no better than usual and lead us to another disappointing loss.
Week 14 vs. New York Jete: WIN
The moment we all had been waiting for, Josh Allen trots out on the field to start the game. He will come in, throw the ball deep downfield, and it’ll get picked off. First pass in the NFL will be an interception. After that pick is out of the way, the offense looks completely different, with plenty of deep throws and more 5-wide sets. Josh Allen’s stats will reflect his college ones, but I think it will be clear to all that it was worth the wait to see him in his element. In his NFL debut Josh Allen leads the Bills to a 27-17 victory against his friend Sam Darnold and the Jets.
Week 15 vs. Detroit Lions: LOSS
Do not sleep on the Detroit Lions. They will edge out the Vikings to grab the Wild Card, forever sealing the fanbase in Minnesota to wonder if getting rid of Keenum was actually the correct thing to do. But that is a hot take for a different thread. In this game, there isn’t much to discuss. There are too many variables to know exactly how this game swings, but considering we are now in the Josh Allen timeline, and long passes won’t work against the Lions defense, we lose this one. 21-6 Lions.
Week 16 @ New England Patriots: WIN
Hear me out here. We have no business winning this game. We are in enemy territory, we have a QB with a cannon but not much talent around him to make it worthwhile. Our line is in shambles, our defense isn’t clicking. Hell, we are 6-8 coming into this game. It means nothing. But for some reason, the Patriots are going to lose. Call me a homer, tell me I’m insane, but the Pats sometimes lose late season bouts to divisional bad teams (Dolphins last year, Jets in 2015). Let’s make it happen this year. Kyle Williams’ pregame speech will be echoed in Buffalo bars for the rest of the year, Josh Allen rips off his football pants halfway through the game, showing a pair of bright blue shorts. He proceeds to laser passes through the hands of defenders, lodging them into the cages of the receivers’ helmets, who are then pushed back 40 yards from the force of it, falling into the endzone. The entire city of Buffalo breaks records for tables broken and hard liquor consumed, and downtown Buffalo is flooded with dildos as far as the eye can see. The season ends here as the city of Buffalo spontaneously combusts at the sheer excitement of it all.
Week 17 vs. Miami Dolphins: WIN
Obviously, Buffalo will still be standing, and I think we will finish strong. This game will be meaningless for both teams, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dolphins are gunning for the first pick in the draft to get a new QB. Bills will win 17-14.
Training Camp Battles to watch
Quarterback depth chart
Obviously, this is still something to watch, but it seems AJ McCarron has edged out as the leader so most say he will be the final starter. Not surprised at all about this, but definitely a bit disappointed because I love Josh Allen. I think Nate Peterman is pretty much a non-factor at this point and actually wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills end up cutting him to be honest. I’m not saying they should but I just don’t see a reason for 3 QBs on the depth chart and I’m sure a different team would love to grab him as a backup.
Wide Receiver
This will be interesting. Kelvin Benjamin will definitely be the #1 receiver but who will be #2 now that we acquired Coleman from the Browns? Many said it could be Kerley or Zay Jones but ultimately I think it will go to Corey Coleman. The team wants Zay and Kerley in the slot where they belong, and Coleman is a talented, speedy player who can stretch the field for us better than the other two options. Other than these 4, there is still controversy on who will actually make the roster here. Andre Holmes, Malachi Dupre, Rod Streater, Kaelin Clay, and Brandon Reilly are all in the mix along with rookies Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl. Personally, I think the Bills keep Holmes, Reilly and McCloud on the roster for a grand total of 7 receivers. Proehl is not performing well, Dupre and Streater have been ok but inconsistent, but truthfully it is tough to keep Streater off the roster. Andre Holmes is a safe bet to be the #4 receiving option as he has been on the first team when healthy. Reilly has also been solid, but has not spent as much time with the ones unless there are injuries. Ray-Ray has not been spectacular, but since he is a rookie and also a great special teamer, I think the Bills keep him around. If the Bills want 6 receivers instead of 7 I think Ray-Ray will edge out Reilly simply because of his special teams impact, but I don't think they will send Reilly back to the practice squad this year barring a major slump in training camp performance.
The Offensive Line
The only player who has a clear spot on this line is Dion Dawkins. The rest are up for grabs. In fact, the Bills just put undrafted free agent Ike Boettger into their first team offense yesterday and he played surprisingly well. It is a contest that will continue for the next couple preseason games, and I can see careers being made in the wake of the competition. I think the line will be Dawkins, Ducasse, Groy, Miller, Mills, but that could change, especially if guys like Boettger keep getting called up.
Offensive and Defensive Schemes
Daboll runs the Erhardt-Perkins so lots of his offense is based on matchups and option routes that change depending on coverage. Expect to see a man in motion on just about every single play in order for the offense to judge the type of coverage on the defensive side of the ball. They can then use this coverage to decide the types of routes being run. I also expect Daboll to run a different portion of the playbook depending on each team that he plays against. It is a highly variable playcalling system that is often changed week-to-week and the players have praised him for that. The Patriots have been doing this for years so it will be nice to finally upgrade our offense to be more like the ones seen this century. The key word for the offence this season is Variance.
McDermott has always run a 4-3 scheme with zone blitz concepts that relies heavily on rangy linebackers who can crowd the A-gap but still snap back into coverage without losing a step on the receivers. While this recipe has worked, it looks like there may be some more emphasis on man coverage this year as well. I think McDermott is tired of having experienced QBs pick apart his zone, and he finally has the talent to make use of man-to-man. This defense is going to be dominant this year if it can stay healthy, but that is only if Tremaine Edmunds can be the leader he needs to be. The keyword I would use for the defense this year is Maturity. I understand this is a bit ironic due to the age of our players, but age is only a number. The mental age of these young guys has been off the charts, let's hope it stays that way. We will need this unit to stay healthy and productive if we want to win games this year because the offense simply won't be enough.
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Yesterday Championship club Preston North End officially appointed Alex Neil as their new manager. Preston North End officially confirmed the appointment of manager Alex Neil on Tuesday afternoon. The former Norwich City replaces Simon Grayson, who left Deepdale for the managerial role at Sunderland. Preston defender Patrick Bauer (illness) is a doubt after going off at half-time in Wednesday's Championship defeat by Middlesbrough.Boss Alex Neil could make further changes after four games wit. Sign in. Sports news. Preston North End v Norwich City. A managerial profile of Preston North End. Past managers and latest form, results and news on the position of manager Simon Grayson in the Championship sack race. Bet £5 Get £30 New Customers only. First Team News Alex Neil Agrees New Three-Year-Deal With Preston North End 14 April 2019. Preston North End are delighted to announce that manager Alex Neil has today signed a new deal with the club. The longest reigning Preston North End manager is David Moyes. Moyes managed the club for 234 matches between 1998 and 2002, winning 113 of those matches resulting in a win percentage of 48.4%. That David Moyes win percentage is the largest of any other man in Preston North End manager history. Honours

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