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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. https://preview.redd.it/rs90lt6ckf751.png?width=720&format=png&auto=webp&s=3ddfc8945862472b52b5ef8c69076acde904c44c
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. https://preview.redd.it/anrr9erfkf751.png?width=720&format=png&auto=webp&s=5655b4452baff2691a0e060e8d70918d58801a4c
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. https://preview.redd.it/7ivo914ikf751.png?width=720&format=png&auto=webp&s=d029ddd274b78e78f5bc932d00086b8c697a466e
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. https://preview.redd.it/nme3explkf751.png?width=720&format=png&auto=webp&s=3998c6026125c1b9b48438e3fc9afaf9601b116e
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. https://preview.redd.it/rywropjokf751.png?width=720&format=png&auto=webp&s=ed77a7303af810b862abb2100c4f0b86841a2d38
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. https://preview.redd.it/szpawv9rkf751.png?width=720&format=png&auto=webp&s=62ca5fe882d8155d83eb3328e9bf1f1681a17384
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. https://preview.redd.it/5myv276vkf751.png?width=720&format=png&auto=webp&s=7fb25f47d0759e9b5a07876ea01787898c6cc817
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. https://preview.redd.it/y7agj2n2lf751.png?width=720&format=png&auto=webp&s=221af0a1f689d3b19d5e250fac0b58a35877edad
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. If you enjoyed this content, I would really appreciate if you could visit the original piece (with video clips) - https://halilsrealfootballtalk.com/2020/06/16/nfl-teams-most-likely-to-go-from-worst-to-first-in-2020/ You can also listen to my breakdown on Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9kCcuPobNU
Tier 1 1 Joe Burrow, QB, 6'2/221, CIN (1.01) Depending on roster need and team makeup, I would be fine taking one of the other tier 1 players above Burrow but Burrow is absolutely worth the #1 overall pick in any year. While he lacks elite arm talent, Burrow has incredible accuracy, poise, and mobility to manipulate the pocket. As a prospect, I prefer him to Kyler Murray from last year by a decent amount. CIN isn't the greatest situation from an organizational standpoint but they've assembled a decent amount of talent around him in AJG, Boyd, Higgins, Ross, and Mixon. 2 Clyde Edwards Helaire, RB, 5'7/207, KC (1.32) Small, bowling-ball shaped runner with incredible contact balance, lateral agility, and pass catching ability. Has decent burst but lacks prototypical long speed and size. Pre-draft, CEH was my RB5 but he moves up here with the landing spot and draft capital. Even as my RB5, I was still a big fan of CEH and in KC he doesn't need to have bellcow type size in order to produce at a high level. His game vs Alabama my be the best game from any RB prospect this year. 3 Jonathan Taylor, RB, 5'10/226, IND (2.09) My RB2 pre-draft, Taylor is right there with CEH in the top tier. Taylor is a huge RB that excels in a power rushing attack where he can use his combo of size and burst to explode into the second level. That's exactly what he gets in IND, the perfect landing spot for his skillset. Potential issues with pass catching usage may limit his ceiling a little but the floor is incredibly high. Tier 2 4 D'Andre Swift, RB, 5'8/212, DET (2.03) My pre-draft RB1 and the #2 RB drafted, Swift is a huge value right now in all the rookie drafts I've done. Even when on the field with Chubb and Michel as a freshman, Swift stood out as the best RB of the three. Ridiculous lateral agility to make defenders miss, great burst, fantastic receiver, and solid contact balance. The DET landing spot doesn't worry me as much as it seems to worry others. It's clearly below KC and IND (otherwise he'd be in tier 1) but he's tied to a very good, reasonably young QB and I like the offense as a whole with Golladay, Hockenson, MJ, and a solid OL. Kerryon does worry me, however, and there is some risk that Swift never take over as a bellcow. 5 Cam Akers, RB, 5'10/217, LAR (2.20) My Predraft RB3 in the same tier as Swift and Taylor, Akers has all the tools you look for in a stud RB - size, violence, burst, contact balance, lateral agility, and pass catching. Moreover, he landed in a great landing spot in LA and received very good draft capital. This time last year people were describing the Rams as the best system for RBs in the NFL. Huge upside here for Akers' usage as a bellcow and he has the best opportunity of any of the RBs this year except for CEH. https://gph.is/g/apb5eq6 https://gph.is/g/aKAbBy3 https://gph.is/g/4bB5Yen 6 JK Dobbins, RB, 5'9/209, BAL (2.23) I really liked Dobbins coming out but had him a tier below Swift, Taylor, and Akers. Very solid runner in all areas but lacks an elite, defining trait. I really like the landing spot in BAL long term but there is concern about this year with Ingram plus I don't see the potential for much receiving usage with LJax. Really like the player and I'd be ecstatic to have him but I don't see him as the consensus RB3 as recent trends suggest. 7 Tua Tagliovola, QB, 6/217, MIA (1.05) If you really need a QB I'm fine moving Tua to the top of this tier. Like Burrow, Tua lacks ideal arm talent but wins with his mobility and accuracy. While Tua has a longer track record than Burrow, he never put up a season like Burrow did last year. The injuries scare me and there are some question marks about how well Tua can go through his progressions - at Alabama there were a lot of first read throws. The situation in Miami is ok, I like the OL picks that MIA made but this is still a rebuilding team with a ton of holes. Tier 3 8 Jerry Jeudy, WR, 6'1/193, DEN (1.15) The best separator in the class, Jeudy reminds me of Stefon Diggs. Very pro ready WR with advanced releases off the line and route running. Phenomenal YAC ability with the ball in his hands. Knows how to manipulate his speed to set up defenders. Not a very physical WR and you won't see him making many contested catches. Situation isn't great with Sutton next to him but Lamb is in a similar touch squeeze so I'll take my preferred talent. 9 CeeDee Lamb, WR, 6'1/198, DAL (1.17) The best playmaker in the class. Much better ball skills than Jeudy but lacks the quick twitch and ability to separate. Plus he faced easier competition and didn't have to deal with a lot of press coverage. While he's competing with a locked in WR1 in DAL, Lamb landed in an explosive offense with a young QB. Think he can be very productive as Dak's #2 target. 10 Jalen Reagor, WR, 5'11/206, PHI (1.21) Loved Reagor pre-draft and he received premium draft capital in my favorite landing spot. Reagor immediately stands out when watching him. Extremely twitched up and explosive, Reagor separates as well as defenders struggle keeping up. Provides a deep threat but has also flashed the ability to make tough contested catches and good sideline footwork. PHI was my favorite WR landing spot in the class as I'm a big fan of that offense and Wentz and they have a huge hole at WR. https://gph.is/g/4w8d3Lx https://gph.is/g/4L5bpev https://gph.is/g/ZPm5zPX 11 Justin Herbert, QB, 6'6/235, LAC (1.06) I don't like Herbert as a player but this is the value play in superflex. Herbert has great arm talent and mobility but he had lots of easy reads at Oregon and consistently disappointed. Struggles out of rhythm and a little robotic as a player. Still, the Chargers situation is great and the top 10 draft capital should guarantee him a starting role for a while. Great value in drafts if you can get him at the end of the 1st. Tier 4 12 Brandon Aiyuk, 5'11/205, WR, SF (1.25) One of my favorite players pre-draft. Can win all over the field in a variety of ways - explosion out of breaks, YAC ability, deep speed, or physicality. Has the rare ability to come out of his breaks without losing any explosion. Love the draft capital and the landing spot is ok. I trust Shanahan and that should be a productive offense for a long time. Issues arise given the run first nature of the offense and competition with another great young WR in Deebo. Watch the Oregon game if you want to get excited. https://gph.is/g/Zd75D5D https://gph.is/g/4zqY3DK https://gph.is/g/4AjblvO https://gph.is/g/Z2mbxg7 13 Justin Jefferson, WR, 6'1/202 MIN (1.22) The safest WR after Jeudy and Lamb, Jefferson should be able to step into the slot immediately and produce. If you want to lower your risk then pick Jefferson. He's very quick out of his breaks, creates consistent separation from the slot, very good YAC ability, and flashes contested catch ability. I don't see him playing outside and he's not as dynamic as other WRs in this class. Very good landing spot in MIN with Diggs' departure. Watch the Oklahoma game if you want to get excited. 14 Henry Ruggs, WR, 5'11/188, LVR (1.12) The first WR drafted, Ruggs could be a great value where I have him ranked. Still, I love the WRs above him and I wasn't a big Ruggs fan coming out. Incredible speed and flashes some toughness and decent route running as well. Think he struggles with physicality and didn't separate as much as he should because he's a long strider rather than a compact, twitched up player. I think Gruden is going to feed him a ton of targets and thus could be very productive early on. 15 Laviska Shenault, WR, 6'1/227, JAX (2.10) Absolutely love Shenault. Comp is Sammy Watkins. Great combo of size, physicality, explosivenes and YAC. Needs refinement but it'll be hard to keep his playmaking off the field. Biggest concern is injuries. His 2018 games vs Nebraska and game vs USC this year are great. https://gph.is/g/apbqw33 https://gph.is/g/Z7ge57R https://gph.is/g/46vO5Dd https://gph.is/g/ZrdDloG 16 Tee Higgins, WR, 6'4/216, CIN (2.01) Big WR with huge frame to extend himself for difficult balls. Timed speed was disappointing but had the ability to threaten deep at Clemson. Fantastic hands and advanced footwork. Risky as he struggles with physicality (he'll see a LOT more of that in the NFL) and not a great separator. Love the situation with Burrow and the draft capital. 17 Michael Pittman, WR, 6'4/223, IND (2.02) Decent speed and explosion for his size, some YAC ability, fantastic jump ball catcher, huge frame which he uses to shield defenders. Landing spot in IND is good for the next few years with Rivers but some worries once Rivers leaves. Has a clearly defined role as the X WR and complements Hilton and Campbell very well. 18 Jordan Love, QB, 6'3/224, GB (1.26) Probably the best value in SF leagues of all the rookies. I'm a big Jordan Love fan (especially at his price). Has jaw dropping arm talent and extremely mobile. Unlike Herbert, Love was asked to make extremely difficult plays and delivered. His issues aren't with accuracy but moreso decision making. He'll lock onto his first read at times and make incredibly stupid throws. I'm ok with the landing spot as I trust GB as an organization, however, he'll probably sit for a few years. Huge upside here. https://gph.is/g/aKAgJje https://gph.is/g/Z5YbQ36 https://gph.is/g/4L5bqK0 https://gph.is/g/aQO5gDA 19 AJ Dillon, RB, 6/247, GB (2.30) Like Love, he's another amazing value in drafts this year given the depth and quality of the class. In any other year, a 2nd round RB with his size, athleticism, and production would be a top 5 pick but you can get him in the mid/late 2nd consistently. I didn't love the player coming out, but I recognized that he has the ability to be a big time producer if put in the right type of offense and that's exactly what happened in GB. I think his production this year has been undersold and with Aaron Jones' contract expiring next year, he'll likely take over as the RB1 in 2021. Tier 5 20 Antonio Gibson, RB, 6/228, WSH (3.02) Big upside low floor pick. Gibson is one of the most exciting players to watch in this class with his big play ability, size, and explosion. At Memphis he played mostly slot WR but he was a pretty shitty WR and his upside lies at RB. He has a lot of work to do as he doesn't know what he's doing yet as a RB but the traits are really exciting - contact balance + burst. Could be David Johnson if things hit right. Don't love the landing spot as I'm still very high on Guice plus there is still a question mark regarding how Washington plans to use him. If he's used as a Wgadget guy then I don't have much interest in him. https://gph.is/g/ZOk5mNj https://gph.is/g/EGgbr8M https://gph.is/g/aeA5wDX https://gph.is/g/aXJ53nR https://gph.is/g/aKAb9z9 21 Denzel Mims, WR, 6'3/206, NYJ (2.27) I was never as high as others on Mims and didn't get the round 1 hype. However, his combination of athleticism and ball skills are very exciting and worth betting on here. He's a very boom/bust type of prospect. Landed in a very good spot with a young, good QB in Darnold lacking a #1 WR. 22 Bryan Edwards, WR, 6'3/212, LVR (3.17) Absolutely loved Edwards pre-draft and had him in my top 50 overall players. He's big, physical, explosive, versatile, and has fantastic ball skills. Landing spot is ok - the Raiders have a long term need at X WR but the team drafted Ruggs first so I think Gruden is going to prioritize Ruggs. Could be a few years before Edwards pays off. https://gph.is/g/EJYbRne https://gph.is/g/a99bdlP https://gph.is/g/EGgb9Ml https://gph.is/g/aRW5N7w 23 Zack Moss, RB, 5'9/223, BUF (3.22) Very similar player as David Montgomery. Excellent contact balance, toughness, pass catching ability, plus some wiggle but lacks juice. If there is a crease it takes him too long to hit it. Still, pretty good value to get a David Montgomery level player at 2.12. Landing spot is ok and your feeling about it is dependent on how you feel about Singletary. I love Singletary so I'm not high on the landing spot but its very possible that BUF doesnt see Singletary as a lead back. 24 Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB, 5'10/214, TB (3.12) Didn't like Vaughn pre-draft and I was very surprised when he went this early. Vaughn is a solid all around RB that should be able to produce if given volume but I don't see any dynamic traits. Very much a replacement level RB. Still, TB has a potential opening at RB and the team spent good draft capital on him. Tier 6 25 KJ Hamler, WR, 5'9/178, DEN (2.12) Could easily have Hamler at the end of tier 5. Immediately stands out on film with his twitchiness and speed, defenders simply cannot hang with him. Don't see a huge difference between him and Hollywood Brown purely as prospects coming out. Effortless separation with his quickness and speed. Could be more valuable in real football than the NFL. Don't like the landing spot for fantasy as he's stuck behind two great, young WRs. 26 Chase Claypool, WR, 6'4/238, PIT (2.17) Freaky player with his combo of size and athleticism. Great draft capital to a team that has consistently developed WRs. Massive player with explosiveness to put CBs on their heels quick. Biggest asset right now is his YAC - should immediately be a weapon on screens and crossers. Flashes ability to box out defenders but is not natural attacking the ball and lacks overall smoothness to his game. Landing spot is odd with JuJu and Diontae already in place, however, if JuJu leaves a lot of opportunity opens up. Watch the Iowa St game to get excited. 27 Van Jefferson, WR, 6'1/200, LAR (2.25) I had a 3rd round grade on Jefferson pre-draft so I like the player. Projects as an NFL-ready slot WR with quickness and route running nuance. Got the best of LSU star freshman CB Stingley this past year. Odd landing spot as the Rams already have Kupp in the slot and I can't see either moving outside. Tier 7 28 Darrynton Evans, RB, 5'10/203, TEN (3.29) One of the most explosive players in this class, Evans is a threat to break off a big run at any time. With his lack of physicality and size, I don't see him projecting as a starting RB even if Henry leaves next year. Likely a career committee back. 29 Anthony McFarland, RB, 5'8/208, PIT (4.18) Really fun, explosive player that should get on the field immediately. Like Darrynton Evans, I struggle seeing him taking over a feature back but should have a long term role given his explosivness. 30 Cole Kmet, TE, 6'6/262, CHI (2.11) Not a very flashy or exciting player but projects as a solid starting NFL TE. The draft capital really helps and has a decent floor given his ability as a blocker. Think Kyle Rudolph type of career if he hits. 31 Adam Trautman, TE, 6'5/255, NO (3.41) Big, physical TE that dominated small school competition and can win in traffic and over the middle of the field. Isn't especially fluid out of his breaks and doesn't project as a potential top tier TE. Really like that NO traded so much for him and I trust Sean Payton. 32 Devin Asiasi, TE, 6'3/257, NE (3.27) If any TE in this class develops into a top tier fantasy TE, I wouldn't be surprised if it was Asiasi. Former high recruit that transferred to UCLA and didn't produce until his last season. He's smaller than Kmet and Trautman but he's just as good of a blocker and he's way more fluid than both. Really like the landing spot and draft capital as well. 33 Joshua Kelley, RB, 5'11/212, LAC (4.06) This could be too low as the situation is phenomenal and draft capital is decent but I'm not high on the player. He's solid and can produce if given volume in a good situation (both very possible in LAC) but doesn't have any standout trait and looks like a replacement level player to me. 34 Lamical Perine, RB, 5'11/216, NYJ (4.14) A better version of Joshua Kelley to me but in a worse situation. Very solid all round back that is a very good receiver. Lacks juice or standout qualities but solid overall. If Bell declines, leaves, or gets injured I think Perine could step in and surprise. Some worry about the Frank Gore signing. 35 Devin Duvernay, WR, 5/10/200, BAL (3.28) Slot WR with strong hands and great ability with the ball in his hands but struggles to create separation out of his breaks. Should be great on screens and special teams. 36 Gabe Davis, WR, 6'2/216, BUF (4.22) Big body WR with great physicality and decent speed/explosion for his size. Project player with some upside. 37 Joe Reed, WR, 6/224, LAC (5.05) Really love the player, Reed is a twitched up YAC guy with RB type of size and ability with the ball in his hands. 38 JaMycal Hasty, RB, 5'8/208, SF (UDFA) My favorite 3rd down/satellite back in this entire class, Hasty is lighting quick and explosive with great pass catching ability. If any team can turn a UDFA into a star it's Kyle Shannahan and there is a ton of opportunity in SF. 39 Darnell Mooney, WR, 5'10/176, CHI (5.28) Deep ball threat with good production and CHI has a clear need for that type of deep threat. 40 Mike Warren, RB, PHI, 5'9/226, PHI (UDFA) Not sure that I would actually draft him here but I wanted to get his name on the list. Really fun player to watch, he's like a 95% version of Zack Moss. Great size, awesome power, surprising wiggle and pass catching ability but lacks the requisite explosive qualities. I actually really like the landing spot in PHI as they do not have a bigger back to complement Sanders. NOTICE THAT JALEN HURTS IS NOT ON THIS LIST. He'd probably be around #35 but I have him low enough to where I probably won't every draft him so I didn't include him on the list.
Howdy y’all, this was an email that I sent to all my friends that are studying right now/beginning to prepare, so please excuse the language and how personal it is. Some of my friends thought it would be helpful to post on here, and I'm all about sharing the love, so I thought why not. I'm swamped with secondaries right now (I waited until I got my score yesterday to submit them), but I will try to reply to anyones comments ASAP as possible. Greetings friends. After a tumultuous summer I finally got my MCAT score back, and I did well enough that I feel comfortable sharing my MCAT journey and all the resources I used. I got a 525, so I like to think I might have an idea of what I’m talking about and am not full of shit. If you have any questions just let me know, we’re all in this together. I’m gonna try to break this email up by sections, but there’s a chance I might ramble so just deal with it. A couple things to start off with: No one really talks about this but I thought the most important thing is to have a GROWTH MINDSET 😤. No but really, if you wanna do well you need to have confidence in yourself. If you don’t believe that you can get a good score then you probably won’t. Obviously you should set realistic goals and don’t become depressed when you don’t get a 528, but I’ve always thought it was best to aim high. Another thing is that the MCAT isn’t really a test of intelligence, it’s just a test of your work ethic. Before I did any studying I thought I’d be fine since I’ve done well in all my undergraduate classes. NOPE. Even if you have a 4.0, there will be so, so many things you haven’t seen before that you need to learn. I’ve seen a lot of people consign themselves to lower score because they think they’re not as smart as other people. Even if it doesn’t come as easily to you, if you work at it you can do better than you think. On that note, you need to cut the bullshit out of your life and make the MCAT a priority. One thing that really helped free up my time was when I stopped going out 3 days a week. We all love the Wednesday night harp show but know what I love more? Having a stable future. It is sucky, and you won’t have as much time for your friends or relationships. This means you can’t be hanging out with the broskis every other day, you can’t be fucking your ex at 1am, and as mentioned you won’t going to the bars or parties. Yeah it is AIDS, and I’m still salty that I barely hit the bars last semester especially when they are closed for the foreseeable future. However, if you want to do the best you can then need to eliminate distractions. I was lucky enough that I have a great support system, friends, and family to help me through this process. They understood when I couldn’t hang or didn’t text back for a week, and they didn’t get pissed because they knew I had to grind. I have stories of people with friends or significant others that can’t take the lack of contact and it causes problems - I can’t tell you what to do but if that happens to you I would suggest reevaluating who you hang out with and if they have your best goals in mind. Things that are helpful before you even start studying Depending on who you are, there is a chance you are getting this email ahead of time before you even need to worry about the MCAT. In that case congrats on being responsible, but please enjoy your life before this consumes it. Anyway, there are a couple things that I think would be helpful that nobody ever talks about. First and foremost, being able to read quickly is a huge blessing. I have always been a nerd and used to get in trouble for reading during class, so I am lucky in that this wasn’t a huge issue for me. The MCAT is timed and presents a lot of information to process, and if you can read fast that means you can get through the material much quicker, allowing you more time to check on questions that you have flagged. Since you will be making hella flashcards (read below), it will be really helpful if you can type fast. I type all my notes for school so I am fairly proficient (lucky for y’all or there would be no way in hell I would type this novel), however if you are not the best then there are several online typing websites you can use to improve your speed. Since the MCAT is all multiple choice there will be no things that you need to type, but it will save you a tone of time during your review. Finally, this makes sense but try to do your best in your undergrad classes and learn to retain information, not just get the day. If you barely passed orgo the first time you took it then it will take even longer to relearn it for the MCAT. Likewise, even though I got a 4.0 in biochem I didn’t memorize all the pathways, and it was annoying to have to relearn it. If you are in the position, keep these tips in mind and it will save you some time. How I studied (chronologically in general): Tbh I kinda bullshitted my way into MCAT studying for a while, as I didn’t really know anyone else who was studying at the same time. This is one of the things I highly regret, as I feel like I wasted too much time by not having a solid plan. There are services online that will build you a study plan for like $150. I never used them because I can usually self motivate, but if you are one of those people that cannot focus then you might wanna look into it. The first couple months I spent doing content review, which basically means I went through every page of the Kaplan books and took detailed notes. In the end, this was a COLOSSAL waste of time and I highly regret it. Hundreds of hours were put into making notes that I never used again, and those hours would be much better spent doing practice questions or something else. I would still recommend looking over the books because they provide a good basis. However, if I could go back I would probably just skim through them and maybe take light notes. Another thing I will discuss more - you need to be studying using active recall, which for most people means doing practice questions or flashcards. Don’t fall into the trap of reading over notes, thinking “that makes sense,” and then moving on with your life. Studies have shown repeatedly that is simply not the move, it does not work, and it is fake news. No, you’re not better than everyone else and learn better from reading your notes. If you still wanna disagree on this, just delete the email right now and continue to delude yourself. After I did a content review, I couldn’t really tell you what I got done. I have about a 2 to 3 month gap in my memory on how I studied, which is why I suggest using a schedule. I assume I spent most of this time doing practice questions, and I also know that I got through all of UEarth Right around this time is when COVID hit, which really threw a wrench in my plans. I was originally supposed to test on 4/25, but miss rona pushed my test back 2 months to 6/27. I knew that I needed to really get my ass in gear in the last 2 months to get up to my goal (at that time my goal was a 520), so this is when I really started to put the work in. Since my semester had ended, I basically studied everyday, full time. I struggle with waking up in the morning, and although on average I wanted to wake up at 7 everyday I usually got up at 9. I would workout (except when I got lazy which was more often than I’d like to admit), and then make a smoothie and study. My routine usually consisted of doing my Anki review cards in the morning, doing some practice questions, then doing new Anki cards in the afternoon. Something that I struggled with was working at home, and honestly if at all possible do not study in your own house if you can avoid it. I would usually go to the student union or find a nice spot outside, and I was lucky because my roommate moved out and I was able to use his room as an office with my phone in a different room. I would usually try to do a practice test every Wednesday and Sunday, spend the following Thursday and Monday reviewing it, and then spend the other days doing any practice I had left. As I got closer and closer to the test date I was eventually running out of practice questions and had more and more Anki cards, so I would end up just doing hella Anki cards a day. Per Section Tips First off for every section I was kinda surprised with how well I did, a whole lotta luck and everyone’s prayers went into it so excuseeee me if I can’t back up my score. Chemistry/Physics (C/P): This section was a pain in my ass. I had done well in chemistry and physics in class, but at least at MSU you get a cheat sheet for PHY 231/2. The MCAT has no such luxuries, and you will be forced to memorize everything. Everyone stresses on orgo, but if you look at the content breakdown orgo is only 5% of the total content, and if you didn’t feel the need to do that good you could ignore orgo and probably do fine. I noticed that after doing a lot of practices, a lot of the stuff is very repetitive and testing the same things. You need to know your distillations and kinematic equations and how to find the resistance in parallel vs series, but honestly the stuff the section covers isn’t as hard as it seems once you get used to it Critical Analysis of Bullshit aka Reading aka CARS: If C/P is a pain in the ass CARS has been the bane of my existence. “But Paul, how hard can reading be you illiterate fuck? The answer is just there you gotta read it!” Alas, this is not the case. I’ve read all my life, I got perfect scores in ACT and SAT reading, but CARS doesn’t really test your reading ability, it just tests if you can figure out the AAMC’s bullshit logic they use when writing questions. I ended up doing well in this section on the real thing, but honestly it has been one of the hardest things to improve and I can’t really give any huge game changers I used to boost my score. One thing that did help was after each paragraph, I would take a couple seconds to mentally summarize what I just read. Some of the material is insanely boring, and unless you stay engaged it will be hard to retain it and then answer the questions. In addition, you can’t spend time trying to find every answer in the text, as sometimes it will be vaguely implied and you have to ~feel~ it. The official AAMC section banks (discussed below) offer some good practice for this, and I would also recommend signing up for Jack Westin reading passages and doing those. I honestly think CARS is just something you have to practice over time and cross your fingers, do a rain dance, and pray that it will come to you. There is no quick fix and it’s impossible to cram for, so try to just start ASAP Biology/Biochem (B/B): So tbh I have been an intro biology TA for 4 semesters now, meaning I have technically taken the class 5 times and a lot of the basic material is child's play (why you gotta fight with me at cheesecake). First off for the love of god memorize all the amino acids, glycolysis, and the Krebs cycle. You can’t get around it, they will ask questions about it, and it is easy points. Something else that’s important (really applies for the whole exam but) is that learning how everything is interconnected and applying concepts. You can’t really use sheer memorization for this, and a lot of questions I would get right because I was like oh shit this is just like a different concept I learned that I can apply to this. There are many many topics covered in this, so like everything else I would suggest just trying to absorb as much material as you can. Psych/Soc (P/S): Honestly it is a beauty that this section is last because it is the “easiest.” I think that if you are struggling to get your score up, this is probably the easiest section to do it in because it is just memorizing a bunch of terms. Sure you need to rote memorize a lot of stuff, but many questions are just definitions and don’t really test your problem solving that much. I also found that I always finished psych with ample time left, so it gave me time to check on your answers. One thing I’ll warn you about is on the actual test, psych was hard as hell and I felt like it was my worst section by far, while it ended up being my best one. Keep in mind that even though this section is more straightforward than other ones, there will still be some curveballs. Also, process of elimination is essential in this section, as you will often get questions that require you to know 4 different theories - even if one is something you have no clue about, you may be able to eliminate the other options. Actual Test Day and Trusting the Process: Alright first when you take the test (applies to full lengths and every test in general) there are a couple strategies I used that I think helped get my score. First off, when actually taking the test I would usually try to make a quick first pass on it. The MCAT setup lets you flag questions, and if there was a question I had no clue on or one that I guessed on and went back, I would flag it by clicking the flag in the upper right hand corner. This not only allowed me to get through the whole test, but meant that I wouldn’t waste time on hard questions when there were easy questions further in the test. After making my first pass I would then review all the incomplete questions and flagged ones, and if I still had time I would go through the whole test again. More than once I caught a question I hadn’t flagged that I got wrong, so this was helpful. Something else that was helpful was meditating. I don’t think I ever truly meditated, but between sections I would close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing. I know it sounds like some hippie bullshit but it actually works, I think it kinda helps calm you down and stay focused. It is easy to feel like you bombed one section and then let it affect your other sections, but I would try to push this out of my head and think along the lines of “okay even if chemistry sucked you can still do perfect on every other section and kill it.” Something else I wanna discuss is scoring and low yield vs high yield concepts. Low yield and high yield is something that you will hear a lot, and basically refers to content that should be expected to be seen a lot (high yield) and content you may not ever see (low yield). An example of something high yield would be the structure of amnio acids, while something low yield is something like Kuber-Ross end of life stages. Some people only focus on the high yield stuff and ignore the low yield stuff, but personally I think that is a mistake. My philosophy is that you should go into the MCAT feeling like you know everything and are prepared for anything they might throw at you. Obviously you won’t and you will still be confused on some topics, but at least you are more likely to do better. Now if you have limited time that is a different story, but if you are able I would suggest treating everything as high yield. In regards to scoring, something to keep in mind is that it is much much easier to improve at a lower level than at a higher one. The difference between the 515 I scored in March and the 525 I got in June was only a difference of ~15 questions right, and represented hundreds of hours of studying. Tbh, I theoretically could’ve gotten a 528 if I had gotten only 3 more questions right. For that reason (at least in my opinion), it is kind of hard to study for a score past 525, and that entire range (98-100th percentile) is based on your content knowledge and luck. If you are already scoring high you will probably notice the lack of advice and guides online to scoring in that range, as most things are focused on getting you to a 515 (generally most people’s target). Similarly, if you start out at a 490 it is going to be much easier to get to a 500 then from a 500->510, and a 510->520. Just something to keep in mind as you format your plan of attack. As you approach your test day, most advice says to just relax and not do any material, but since I’m the kid that will still be looking at his notes while the test is being passed out in the front of class, I found this hard to do. At the end of the day however, the studying you do the last day and honestly in the last week won’t make that much of a difference. If you have been scoring in the 510 range on all your official FL’s, do not expect that you will suddenly get a 520 on test day. When you take the test, you will go to the Pearson Vue testing center (leave your phone in the car), sign in, get your palm scanned and photo taken, and then be led to the testing room. You will be asked to flip out your pockets, and the proctor (in my case a student) will lead you to the room. Keep in mind that if you want, you can ask the proctor for some disposable earplugs, in addition to the over the ear headphones that are next to your computer. Miraculously, I found that my room was actually pretty quiet, and I had no trouble concentrating. I took the test in the middle of COVID, which means they shortened the test to allow for 3 tests a day in order to fit everybody in. Because of this, the test was a little under 6 hours long instead of the 7+ hours it normally is. I had a smoothie for breakfast and went to the bathroom before, and I chose not to take any of the breaks. If you feel like you need a drink of water or to take a piss, keep in mind that it takes some time to get checked in and out, so really your 10 min break turns into 5. Now after you took the test, do your best not to freak out. Personally I got jimmy johns, then sat in my car and called my dad. I felt confident on FL4 but felt like I bombed the actual test, and all I could focus on were the questions I had likely gotten wrong. This is normal, everyone feels that way, and odds are you didn’t fail. I then spent the next 2 weeks tweaking and reading horror stories of people who did good in practice and then bombed their actual test - for the love of god don’t do this, try not to do something school related, and just relax. It is out of your hands and there is nothing you can do, so don’t worry about it because I bet you did great. How to take a full length (FL): If you do any research online, you will likely see people refer to something called FL’s. These stand for full length tests, and they are released by AMCAS, the company that makes the MCAT. These tests are the best gauge of how well you will do on the MCAT, as I’m pretty sure they are just old MCATS. You should pretend that each FL is the real thing - that means taking it in a quiet environment, no notes, phone away, etc. There are currently 4 AAMC FL’s, which means 4 practice test (representing more than 1000 practice questions) Now, here’s where I go against the thread. The conventional wisdom is to take your full lengths within a month of your actual test, and your test will be ±2 points of the average of your FL’s. However, I was originally supposed to test April 25th, and when it got pushed back to June 27th I had already taken FL1-3. This means I couldn’t take the average, since there were 300+ hours of studying done between FL3 and FL4. Personally, I find I learn a lot from reviewing practice questions, and as such it’s going to be natural to improve on subsequent ones. A lot of people only focus on actually taking the test, but actually reviewing the test is essential, and probably one of the most important things to do when studying for the MCAT. Every question is multiple choice, and therefore has 1 right answer and 3 wrong answers (except the questions like I, I & II, II & III but fuck those questions). This means that when doing any sort of practice, you should not only know why the right answer is right but why the other 3 are wrong. If you can do this for every question, you know your stuff. To test if you’re doing it right, if you were to look through old practices you should be getting almost every question right. If not, you probably need to focus on how you review information. My scores on the full lengths were 514, 515, 513 (rip CARS) and 524. A note on third party practice tests - do NOT trust scores from third party tests, at least not at face value. First of all, the companies have a financial incentive to make them harder. You might notice that companies like Kaplan have a money back guarantee if you don’t do better on the actual test than their practices. To make sure you never claim it, they make their tests way harder than the real thing. For reference, I got 510 on a Kaplan FL and scored 524 on FL4 the next week. Furthermore, the AAMC has a very specific format that you need to get used to, a format not used by other test making companies. This holds especially true in CARS - basically disregard any 3rd party cars test, as it is fake news. Anki I was going to throw this in the section below but I realized that Anki was so instrumental in my success it deserves it’s own separate header. Anki is basically a flashcard app, but it has some features that make it amazing. When you use online flashcards like quizlet, it will basically have your cards in a pile and there is no way of ranking them. With Anki, whenever you look at a card you can rank it by difficulty, and then cards that are easy will go to the back of your pile while difficult ones will stay at the top. That way you can maximize your time. What you should be doing is basically making an Anki card on anything and everything. This includes right and wrong questions, things that you kinda know but not quite, things you see online that you aren’t 100% confident of. If there is a topic that you don’t know well enough to teach to another person, you should make a card for it. This is mentioned below, but in addition to making your own cards I would use a master deck. That is basically a compendium of all the knowledge that will be on the test. They are usually not super in depth, but offer a great way to get a general understanding of stuff. The important thing after making the cards is actually using them, and this is where I dropped the ball. I didn’t really start going through my Anki decks until a little over a month before the MCAT, and since I had accumulated over 6000 cards including the master deck it meant I was doing more than a thousand reviews a day. Anki is made for long term learning not cramming, and I would recommend working on cards simultaneously as you make them. I am not an expert on Anki, but there are a lot of YouTube videos and resources out there that can explain it better than I. I would also recommend downloading the Heatmap add-on to track your progress and to motivate you to keep up with it, as well as the image resizer add on to make it easier to add screenshots. Also something that made studying easier for me was that I would often do my Anki cards while hammocking. Obviously it would be difficult depending on your location/the season, but I love outdoors and it was much better for me to work on a deck outside rather than cramped inside an office. Some of you have requested I send my Anki decks, which I did because once again, we are all in this together. However, I would generally warn against using other peoples flashcards or Anki decks. If we both took the same test there would be questions I thought were easy that you thought were hard, and vice versa. It is gonna be a waste of time, since your study plan should be custom to YOU, nobody else. Seriously though, download Anki and use it. Without Anki I would not have done well. Plz. Other Resources I Used: AAMC Official Material - This includes the full lengths I previously discussed, as well as other section banks with official practice questions. These are very helpful, as they are written by AMCAS and the MCAT is written in a specific way. You will notice as you study more that while questions test certain knowledge, but official questions are written differently than 3rd party ones. Among the AAMC resources are something called Section Banks. These are basically the hardest questions that are likely to show up on the test. Don’t fret when you get half of them wrong, because they’re designed to be hella hard. They are another great resource to study from, because if you can nail the hardest content then everything else will seem easy. UEarth - UEarth can straight up have my children, it is probably one of if not the best resource you can use. Basically UEarth is a paid service that has 1900 practice questions, styled exactly like the MCAT. Questions are broken up by sections (Chem, Physics, Bio, Biochem, Psych, Soc, Reading), and furthermore by subsections (for example Chem could have circuits, magnets, thermo, mirrors, etc). UEarth allows you to make custom practice tests, and you can choose the type of questions you want. The real beauty of UEarth is that they give detailed explanations for every question, including why the wrong answer is wrong. This allows you to figure out why you chose the wrong answer (which as mentioned, is important). I went through UEarth on my first pass over spring break (and made Anki cards for them), and then went back over a month or so later and redid all of the questions I had gotten wrong previously. This was important, because if I still got them wrong it meant that I didn’t learn the subject. Kaplan - Most people purchase a set of books, and the 2 most common are the Princeton Review and Kaplan. They’re basically the same, so flip a coin or whatever. One thing that is nice with Kaplan is you have access to their online services. At the end of each chapter in the book there is a 15 question quiz, and they have all these online when you make an account. They also provide you with 3 free practice tests, which are nice. NextStep Full Lengths - As I’ve mentioned, I learn best when doing practice questions. NextStep is a third party company that sells practice tests and section banks. Even though they are very deflated, they still are great for testing your content knowledge. I got the bundle of 6 tests, and was able to do so when they had a sale. Depending on how long you are studying for, I would definitely use NS tests if you can. JackWestin CARS practice - JackWestin is apparently just a dude that is good at reading. CARS is one of the hardest sections on the MCAT, and he has a free email service where you sign up and they send you one passage a day. I would recommend doing that literally after you’re done reading the novel I’m writing right now, and then actually do it. I had like a 3 month period where I would just delete the emails every day, and that is stupid. If you do one passage a day you’ll spend only ~10 minutes, but you’ll be doing the equivalent of an entire CARS practice every week. MileDown Anki Deck - Legend has it that Mr. Miledown was an extremely gracious person sho spent his gap year making a comprehensive review of all the MCAT material. The Miledown deck is an Anki deck of a few thousand flashcards that encompass all of the knowledge that should be on the MCAT. Theoretically, if you go through the entire deck and learn everything then you will know everything that will be on the MCAT. It can be downloaded from reddit if you google it. There are several other master decks (the other one I know of is Jack Sparrow), I only used the MileDown one and I was fine but do some digging. Reddit - this was also instrumental for my MCAT success. I was never big into reddit, but I made an account specifically when preparing. There is an MCAT subreddit with an absolute wealth of knowledge. If you have a question, I can almost guarantee that someone has asked it before. There are tons of people that are apparently altruistic af, and will take time out of their day to give detailed answers. Reddit is also huge when reviewing your FL’s. If you have a tricky question google “reddit MCAT FL# C/P #” and there will probably be multiple threads with different explanations. Reddit also has some funny memes and people will post very helpful tips or study sheets. There’s also lots of posts like what I’m writing now, where people will outline their study strategy and give tips. I think one of the reasons people do so bad on the MCAT (after all 50% of people score below a 500) is simply because they are not aware of what is out there. Stuff attached to this email - I attached some of my favorite resources that I used when preparing. Highlights include the Khan Academy document and The Miledown Overall Review pdf. Some of the website links are to very specific topics, but ones that I struggled with and found helpful. It’s helpful, and ctrl f is your friend. I also attached my Anki decks. What I Wish I Did Differently: I obviously got a great score, however there were several things that I would have changed. As mentioned, I wasted a lot of time on my content review. Unless you are actively recalling the content, there is very little you will learn from reading and taking notes. I could have easily shaved a couple hundred hours off my study time if I kept this in mind. If I had an actual schedule to follow, I would definitely have been more efficient - some people find that it helps to have a study buddy to keep each other accountable. In addition, I should have been more diligent at following a routine and waking up early. Especially in summer with my test 2 months away, it was really easy to sleep in until 10. I would try to remind myself that if I woke up 3 hours earlier, that means I can finish 3 hours earlier. In the same vein, it is important to set boundaries while you study and try to enjoy your life. I would often try to “study” until 10 at night, which usually consisted of me going on my phone while my laptop was open with flashcards. This is just stupid, either you are studying or not; you can’t halfass it. Miscellaneous You might have noticed that I didn’t do any sort of standardized program. It may work for some, but personally I find that when you’re being taught with everyone else, it is very easy to either get ahead and be wasting your time or fall behind and struggle. I am also poor. Many people like private tutoring, however that is also extremely expensive and many times it is easier to find the answer yourself. In a similar thread, you need to keep in mind that MCAT companies are for profit companies. This is where my cynicism will show through - the primary goal of these companies is to maximize profit, not get you the best score. Of course they want you to do well so they will look good, and I’m sure individual teachers do care, however as a whole they are trying to sell you something. As part of my Kaplan book set I was able to have a 30min call to help plan for studying. When I asked her about other resources like UEarth and Nextstep, it was evident that she was basically told by her boss not to endorse anyone but Kaplan, so she steered me back towards their own products. They are not praying on your downfall, but just keep that in mind when you get advice from someone. Also if you can’t tell already, the MCAT is hella expensive. Including the fee for taking the test, I spent around $1100 throughout the whole process. I was lucky to be in a position where I was able to work over the semester to save up, but it is something to think about. Something that also really helped me was an app called Forest. It is an app that will grow mini virtual trees when you don’t use your phone for a given amount of time. Growing trees gets you coins, which you can use to unlock more trees and even use to get the company to plant real trees. It sounds cheesy, but it was really helpful for me and helped me stay off my phone. A note on mental health: The MCAT is a real bitch, and I knew of lots of people that I either knew personally or saw online that had their mental health really affected. I am lucky enough to not suffer from high anxiety or other disorders, but given how stressful it was for me I can’t imagine dealing with it on top of other shit. At the end of the day, the MCAT is just another standardized test and the score doesn’t define who you are. At worst you would have to retake it, and even if you have to take a gap year it is not the end of the world. Ik you might think it is easy for me to say since I got a good score, but even after I got the score in the back of my mind I was like hmm well if I had gotten XYZ right maybe I would’ve done even better. Unless you’re a genius you probably won’t get a 528, and that is okay. Do the best you can, remind yourself that med school admissions are holistic, and at the end of the day remember to take time for self care. Alright folks that’s a wrap. I think I included most of my thoughts, but I’m sure I forgot a few things. Let me know if you have any other questions, you can reply to this email or just text me. Feel free to send this to your friends, I really don’t care and I want everyone to do as best they can on the MCAT. We are all smart and capable and we will all get into medical school and be doctors someday. I believe in you. Everything you need to know in science: https://jackwestin.com/resources/mcat-content/aamc-mcat-science-outline Electrostatic Equations: https://www.reddit.com/Mcat/comments/ha9rff/tips_for_understanding_electrostatics_instead_of/ Understanding linear to chair conformations of sugars: https://www.organicchemistrytutor.com/converting-between-fischer-haworth-and-chair-forms-of-carbohydrates/ Converting 3rd party FL scores to actual ones: http://joel.vg/converting-3rd-party-mcat-scores-to-actual-scores/ Memorizing Erikson stages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BcwntGAB34 Link to MileDown MCAT Overall Review (too large to attach): https://www.reddit.com/MCAT2/comments/96hwed/umiledown_s_god_tier_review_sheets/
Day One Here Day Two Here JULY 3RD A FEW HOURS AFTER MIDNIGHT The night fighting on Culp’s Hill was slow and torturous. The Confederate assault from Johnson’s division had to cross rough terrain and a river before it even started going uphill, which at night was an incredibly miserable task even without Union troops firing at them. Union skirmishers played hell with their progress, and after brushing them aside, Johnson bumped into a defensive line that his Union counterpart Geary had spent all day perfecting. As mentioned yesterday, their only success was to grab tiny footholds on the Union side of Rock Creek, which ran between the two hills. As the fighting died away and the bone weary soldiers on both sides crashed asleep hard, Lee plotted. He smelled blood; on July 1st, they’d carved up the Union men good and drove them from the field. Yesterday, on the Union left, they’d wrecked a Union corps under Sickles, smashed into the Union center and almost broke it (damn those blue belly reinforcements showing up in the knick of time), and even gained a toehold on the Union right. The men’s morale was high. Lee decided to repeat yesterday’s plan, but better executed. Simultaneous attacks on both flanks should overwhelm them, and J.E.B. Stuart could make it up to all of them by chasing down the shattered Army of the Potomac to scoop up all the heavy guns and supplies and wounded that could not retreat rapidly. To which end, Lee sent Stuart on a super wide flanking attack around the Union right so as to be in position to strike at the right moment. Lee generated the orders in written form and sent them off by messenger to his corps commanders. Meanwhile, Meade had another war council face to face with his generals. They decided to stand pat, to neither attack the Confederate positions nor retreat back towards Washington. The terrain massively favored them and Lee would (more likely than not) walk into their gunsights again. A defensive stance, however, doesn’t mean pure passivity. A few hours after the Confederate assault petered out and Lee’s decision was made, the Union started a counterattack on a small scale. ———————————————————————— DAWN At dawn, the Union right flared up. Fresh troops had marched in overnight and Meade wanted his damn hill back. The extreme end of the Confederate left flank (which is of course opposite the Union right) found itself getting hammered in front of Culp’s Hill by artillery from the Baltimore Pike. Clearly, such a bombardment was meant to be followed up with an assault to retake the bridgehead. Johnson, having received his orders from Lee and being under the impression that Longstreet was attacking in tandem a mile and a half away on the other side of the hills, attacked Culp’s Hill again before the Union could attack him first. The plan was what the plan was; pressure here, successful or not, was needed for someone to break through somewhere. But Longstreet wasn’t attacking. Later on, Longstreet would claim to have never received the order to advance, but the sources I have assert this is untrue- he received the order, he just didn’t do anything about it. Instead of spending the night getting his troops on line to attack Little Round Top and the southern chunk of Cemetery Ridge, he just sat tight and did nothing. Oceans of ink have been spilled over the years speculating as to why. The Lost Cause narrative asserts that Longstreet was a Yankee-loving turncoat who deliberately sabotaged Lee’s plan and lost the battle on purpose. Others think that Longstreet's conviction that attacking here was insane and that they should fall back and look for battle somewhere else on more favorable terms had been strengthened by the results of July 2nd, and as such was dragging his heels trying to not attack again. Or maybe it was just the general haze of Civil War era incompetence taking its toll again. ———————————————————————— MORNING As Johnson’s men gamely attacked the untakeable Culp’s Hill and were cut down by accurate rifle fire and close range cannon fire, Lee hunted down Longstreet to demand an explanation for his borderline insubordinate refusal to attack. Longstreet pitched his idea again. He’d spent all night scouting the Union line. The enemy line was unbreakable. They shouldn’t try to attack them here. They should slip around the Union left, south of Big Round Top, to threaten the Union supply lines. Do that, they would make the Union respond to them, fight them on more equal terms. That’s the plan Longstreet had been preparing for all night, not a suicidal- Lee cut him off with a raised fist. There would be no tricky maneuver around the flank. They would assault the Union line under the present conditions. To the north, Johnson was still getting his teeth kicked in. Lee sent orders to call off the assault, but it would take a while for the messenger to get there and for Johnson to get word to his brigades to stand down and fall back. Meanwhile, across the way on Cemetery Ridge, Meade stalked his line, double checking all the positions for any confusions or errors to correct, emitting confidence and good cheer. Lee scoped out the Union center personally, being in the area anyway. His complex double flanking maneuver wasn't working. A new plan was needed. Lee figured that Meade had reinforced Little Round Top and the surrounding area yesterday, and that those troops hadn’t gone anywhere since. The Union defense at Culp’s Hill has been similarly fierce that morning, fierce enough to threaten Johnson with an offensive. If both flanks were strong... the center must be weak. Yesterday, a small Confederate brigade had crossed the Emmitsburg road under fire and smashed into the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, just south of Cemetery Hill. They had straight up routed the enemy- had there been more men available to back them up and follow through, that small brigade might have won the battle outright instead of being pushed back as they’d been. Lee was satisfied. The Union center was brittle, undermanned, and the best point to hit it was at that same place. Meanwhile, J.E.B. Stuart was stepping off on his flanking ride. ———————————————————————— LATE MORNING Johnson’s last big push up Culp’s Hill was heroic. By that time, all of them knew how strong the Union position was. They surely walked into this with their eyes open. A three brigade front set up for a shock attack, backed up by four more to exploit the hoped-for opening. Among them was the famous Stonewall Brigade, Jackson's old unit that he’d raised up and trained personally before being tapped for higher command. The Stonewall Brigade was, arguably, the elite of the Confederate army. The year before, they’d outmaneuvered and outfought a Union stab at Richmond coming through the Shenandoah valley. The charge was cut down and butchered like all the others, and Johnson fell back. Williams, whose batteries on the Baltimore Pike had kicked things off that morning, got a little overexcited and counterattacked without orders. His orders to attack the Confederate flank left his subordinates sickened with dread, but were obeyed nonetheless. Once the Union counterattack was butchered in retaliation by the entrenched Confederates, combat on the Union right ceased after six straight hours of gory, hopeless combat. Meanwhile, Confederate artillery under the command of Colonel Alexander set itself up on a mile wide front, all carefully sited and positioned both for protection and for good lines of sight on the Union center. A brief but fierce artillery duel kicked off as each side tried to knock out the other’s firing points before the big moment, but was soon cut off to preserve ammo. Lee mustered his available forces, bringing in troops that were only now straggling in and combining them with some units that had fought the day before. It was a haphazard and frankly half-assed piece of staff work- veteran units who hadn’t fought at all in the last two days were left in reserve, while exhausted troops who’d already suffered 50% casualties were included. Many of the brigades who were to charge Cemetery Ridge had green colonels in charge because their generals had been killed or wounded the day before. The gap between the northern half of the assaulting force and the southern half was four football fields long, and nobody seemed to notice or care. The division commander to lead the north side of the assault, General Pettigrew, was selected not for any rational consideration or advantage, but because he happened to be standing nearby when the decision was being made. Longstreet, who by this point wanted nothing to do with any of it, was placed in overall command. It took a few hours to organize this clusterfuck into something resembling a coherent unit- three divisions spread over a mile wide front, with Pickett on the left, Pettigrew on the right, and Trimble behind them to provide some depth to the big push. There is no particularly good reason why the upcoming Pickett’s Charge is known as “Pickett’s Charge”. Pickett was not actually in charge of it, or even in charge of most of it. He was a division commander who had never seen proper combat before- in every battle since 1861, his unit had been held in reserve or absent. This was to be his first chance to get in this war. I suspect it’s known as Pickett’s Charge because he and his men were Virginians, and it was fellow Virginians who would pour over the battle to find out why the wrong side won. Accordingly, they conceived of it as being a Virginian affair, overshadowing the Tennesseans, Alabamans, North Carolinians, and Mississippians who formed the other two-thirds of the attack. I was surprised to learn that we have a hard time figuring out how many men were actually involved in Pickett’s Charge (this being a basic narrative history, I am sticking with the common name for it despite the inaccuracy); I attribute this to the confusion involved in organizing it. I’ve heard as low as 12,500 men and as high as 15,000. I’m going with 14,000 men because it’s a nice even number that is approximately midway between the upper and lower limit, so don’t mistake my choice as being accurate or even evidence-based per se. Regardless, the agreed upon number of Union defenders is 6,500. The Confederates would outnumber the Union by about 2-1 or greater at the point of contact. These days, a lot of people show up at the battlefield and stare out from Cemetery Ridge at Spangler Woods where Pettigrew would have emerged from (or stand in Spangler’s Woods and stare out at Cemetery Ridge, same difference) and wonder what the hell was going through Lee’s head. The ground there is now flat and devoid of cover, the exact kind of terrain that time and time again had proven to be a death sentence for infantry assaults. The answer is that the ground changed between 1863 and today. Just before World War One ended in 1918, the field over which Pickett charged was artificially flattened for tank training. Before that, it was the kind of rolling terrain that Buford’s skirmishers had exploited on day one- an observer from a distance would see the troops disappear and reappear as they went over and down each gentle slope. The 14,000 attackers would have some cover as they advanced- not perfect terrain to keep immune from artillery and bullets, but not explicit suicide either. ———————————————————————— EARLY AFTERNOON By 1 PM, Alexander had his guns set up the way he liked them. What followed at his command was the single largest coordinated artillery mission that the Western Hemisphere had ever seen. In the south, cannons at the Peach Orchard suppressed the Union firing point on Little Round Top. All along Seminary Ridge from whence the charge would spring, cannons lined up practically wheel to wheel for a mile, aimed at wrecking Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet was in what you might call a high stress kind of mood. He was having second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts about attacking, but orders were orders and he was in charge of this damned charge. As the guns began their bombardment, Longstreet did something that frankly goes beyond the pale of any command decision I’ve ever heard of. The film Gettysburg and the novel it’s based on cast Longstreet in a very sympathetic light, as a kind of deliberate pushback against the reductive myth that Longstreet was personally responsible for losing the battle and by extension the war, leaving Lee off the hook to stay firmly in the saintly canon of the Lost Cause. But here, Longstreet indisputably abdicates any pretense of the responsibility of command. He fired an order off to Colonel Alexander, telling him:
If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy, or greatly demoralize him, so as to make our effort pretty certain, I would prefer that you should not advise General Pickett to make the charge. I shall . . . expect you to let General Pickett know when the moment offers.
Allow me to reiterate in case you were reading this on autopilot. Longstreet, the man in charge of the whole offensive, was telling a lowly artillery colonel that the decision when and if to attack was on him and no one else. Alexander was a subject matter expert on artillery and not infantry for a reason. This order hit him from out of left field. He wrote back for clarification, and the professional in him mentioned that since the plan is to use every single artillery shell they can spare, if there is any alternative plan to charging Cemetery Hill at the end of the bombardment then they’d better tell him before he runs out of ammo. And Longstreet reiterated his first order. He told Alexander to advise General Pickett whether or not to attack. And with that on his shoulders, Alexander gave the order to open fire. All told, somewhere between 150 and 170 guns opened up at the same moment. The 75 Union cannons they had on hand briefly engaged in counter-battery fire, before being ordered to go quiet and save ammunition for the infantry assault to come. For about an hour, the Union troops just had to sit still and take what the Rebel had to give them. What Lee was doing was classic Napoleonic tactics. Massing artillery against the weakest point on the enemy line was literally by the book soldiering. The problem, as was noted here before, was that technology had changed. Napoleonic could bring his cannon close to the frontline with the reasonable expectation that they wouldn’t be shot, since smoothbore muskets are basically harmless from 200 yards away. But that was no longer the case. The long stand off distance that the enemy rifles dictated meant that the cannonfire was proportionally less accurate and devastating. The smoke covering the field concealed the truth from the Confederates- their artillery fire was off. Most of the shells flew high overhead and exploded behind Cemetery Ridge. Some shells hit the target area- Union men did die screaming by the score. But the positions on Cemetery Hill were only lightly damaged, and the units manning them were intact and cohesive. Most of the damage done was to the rear echelon types- surgeons, supply wagoneers, staff officers, that kind of thing. Such men were massacred as the shells aimed at men a quarter mile away arced over and found marks elsewhere. Meade, of course, was on hand, showing a brave face and cracking some jokes about a similar moment in the Mexican-American War 15 years back. Throughout the hour, as his line endured the steel hailstorm, Meade’s engineer mind was working. He’d already suspected that Lee was about to hit his center- he’d predicted as much the night before- and now the shot placements confirmed it. He was already ordering troops into position, getting ready to reinforce the line on Cemetery Ridge if needed. He hedged his bets, putting them in a position to relieve Cemetery Hill as well, just in case. Little Round Top became somewhat less defended as men marched out, using the high ground to mask their redeployment. Irresponsible and insubordinate though Longstreet was at that moment, he was right. Lee’s improvised plan had already failed, though it hadn’t happened yet. Pickett’s Charge wasn’t going to slam into a fragmented and demoralized Union line. It was heading into a mile long, mile wide kill zone backed up by a defence in depth. ———————————————————————— Pickett’s Charge Confederates were getting mangled before the charge even started. Union artillery fire reached out and touched out them in Spangler’s Woods, rolling solid iron shot and explosive shells into their huddled ranks. Longstreet rode the line, exposing himself to the artillery fire to set an example of courage. The men didn’t need such an example- or rather, they’ve seen such examples in a dozen battles over the last two years and have already learned valor as a second language- but there’s something to be said for showing the groundpounders that their boss is in the wrong end of the shooting gallery the same way that they are. Just before 2 p.m., Alexander decided if it’s gonna happen, it’d have to be now. He needed at least a small reserve of shells to function after the battle and he’s running out fast. He dashed off a note to Pickett telling him to step off. In keeping with the standard of Confederate comms thus far, Pickett then took Alexander’s note to Longstreet in person for confirmation, because nobody had told him that Longstreet was trying to dodge the responsibility of command. Longstreet was desperate for an out, and in one crazed leap of illogic he thought he found one. Alexander was low on shells, with only a tiny reserve of ammunition left over for self-defense! Longstreet issued orders to halt in place and delay some more, so that they could replenish their ammo chests from their strategic reserves. I really feel for Alexander, man. I've had bosses like that too. Alexander had to break the news to Longstreet that there was no strategic reserve, he already told him, they were shooting every round they got. Longstreet was shocked- apparently nobody on Lee's staff had been paying attention to how fast they'd been burning through their artillery rounds. (Meade's staff paid attention to such banal details- that's why they now had tons of ammunition standing by their guns on Cemetery Ridge, patiently waiting for something valuable to shoot at). Even then, Longstreet couldn’t bring himself to actually say the words to order the attack. He just nodded, mute and numb. At 2 p.m., the attack started. 14,000 men rose up and walked forward, a giant line of infantry one mile across. In lieu of specific instructions about where they were going and how to get there, the order was to aim for a copse of trees on the objective- an easy visual marker that was easy to remember. As long as you kept the trees in sight and kept moving forward, you were right. (Miles and miles away, J.E.B. Stuart’s flanking maneuver was being countered by an equal force of Union cavalry. Their clash had one of the few cavalry-on-cavalry battles of the Civil War; fun fact, this was one of the fights that put Custer’s career on the map, until getting killed off by the Cheyenne at Little Big Horn 13 years later. The battle was intense, but a draw; Stuart couldn’t break through. Even if Pickett’s Charge worked, there’d have been no way to follow up and finish Meade off for good. Lee’s plan was well and truly fucked.) Things immediately stopped being clean and neat, as per the usual. The center of Pickett’s Charge sprang up and walked before the flanks did, but the brigades on the south and the north of them set off late, leading to a kind of droopy effect where the center bulged out unsupported. When the Union soldiers manning Cemetery Ridge saw the Confederate advance begin, they began to chant “Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!” Just a little “fuck you” from one set of veterans to another; at Fredericksburg eight months before, Union General Burnside had ordered several such suicidal attacks on prepared defenses which the Confederates had gleefully blasted into chunky salsa. 70 odd guns opened up on them all. To give a sense of the skill involved, the artilleryman in charge of the Union guns, Colonel Hunt, had written the book on artillery- literally, because his work Instructions for Field Artillery was the go-to manual for the US Army- and at West Point had personally taught most of the Confederate artillery officers across the way everything they knew about the big guns. One must not mistake this as just plopping down the cannons and pointing them in the right direction. Hunt was an artist with his weapon systems, and the pattern of explosions that snaked into the advancing infantry had been painstakingly designed by a master craftsman. At the distance of a mile, it was iron shot and shell that carved bloody little holes into the line. The Confederates took the beating, closed ranks, and pushed on. On the south, the cannons on Little Round Top delivered particularly hideous effects from the flank, driving their line into disorder; some brigades cut in front of other brigades, and what should have been a line became a muddled column. On the north, a brigade under General Brockenbrough bumped into a small detachment of 160 Union men who were jutting out north of the road. The Union men fired a small but devastating volley that raked them from the side and broke their nerves. Brockenbrough’s men ran- the first to break, but not the last. Similar small detachments of skirmishers dotted No Man’s Land between the armies. Between their vicious little ambushes and the massive shock of massed artillery, Pickett’s Charge slowed down. Slowing down just left them in the kill zone for that much longer. When Pickett’s Charge reached the Emmitsburg Road, they were further delayed by the stiff fencing that lined it. As they clambered over it, Union infantry opened fire at long range. The casualties skyrocketed as the Confederate line absorbed the fire. If you want to know what it was like under fire, picture the start of a rainstorm. The water droplets go taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap... that's how the survivors described the musketry that pelted the fence they were trying to climb over. One small contingent of Davis’ brigade (you recall how roughly they were manhandled on July the 1st) accidentally got ahead of everybody else and found itself standing right in front of the Union line all alone. The guys closest to the Union defenses surrendered as one; the rest got shot up bad and ran for their lives. Pickett’s Charge was pure chaos by then- their mile wide front that had surged forth from Spangler’s Wood had shrunk down to about a half mile, partly from taking casualties, partly from brigades running away after the shock of massed fire, and partly from bridges shifting north away from flanking fire from their right side. From the fence line on the Emmitsburg to the stone wall that protected the Union defense was about two hundred yards. This is a long shot for a rifle, especially under pressure- that’s the whole point to volley fire, so that everybody shooting at once will create a sort of probability cloud of danger even at long range. Some Confederates, desperate to hit back after enduring hell, shot anyway. Their fire was ineffective. It is a very, very short shot for an artillery piece, even under pressure. A battery of cannons placed just behind the Union line switched to canister and blasted massive bloody holes in the bunched up Confederates. A lot of Confederates huddled up behind the fencing and stayed put. It is marginally safer than moving two feet forward past the wooden railings, and the spirit had been knocked out of them by the mile long charge and the mile long shooting gallery they’d been subjected to. The left side of the attack had been stopped dead and turned back; the right side pushed on, disregarding any thought but closing distance. 1,500 men blitzed those last 200 yards to the stone wall Scores of them died from rifle fire as the cannons reloaded. The surviving Confederates, running on pure adrenaline, reached the stone wall at a place called the Bloody Angle. The Union line was disjointed, with the Northern section slightly back from the southern section. The Angle was the little joint that connected the two walls; it was also right by the copse of trees that everybody was racing towards. A fierce firefight broke out once the Confederates reached the wall. Most of them stayed behind the wall; like their buddies to the west still behind the fence on the Emmitsburg pike, they’d finally found a few square feet that was sorta kinda safe, and every instinct they had in their brains screamed at them to stay there. The Union troops were outnumbered at the point of impact, and backed off in good order. Reserve regiments were already marching up to plug the gap that didn’t exist yet. Units north and south of the Bloody Angle shifted in place to fire at the beachhead. Behind the Confederates on the Angle, there was a small ocean of blood on the ground and a mile long procession of silent, mangled dead and writhing, screaming wounded... but no follow on reinforcements to help exploit the breakthrough. General Armistead, the only Confederate General there still on his feet, still believed in all that chivalrous Walter Scott romantic nonsense, still thought that raw valor and heart could somehow beat a superior enemy. He stuck his hat on his sword as a makeshift battle flag and rallied his men to leave the safety of the Bloody Angle and close distance. Just as the pitifully few Confederates got on the east side of the wall, the cannons shot canister again and puked metal death all over them. After shooting, the artillerymen ran back to safety before the rebels could stagger up to them. Hundreds of men surged forward by inertia; hundreds out of the 14,000 that they’d started with. They drove off the understrength Union regiments with the bayonet and capture those hated big guns, turning them around to use against the inevitable counterattack. This failed; there was no more ammo left for the guns. Colonel Hunt had measured out the number of rounds needed for the job at hand with the utmost precision. The counterattack was messy and bloody for everybody involved, for the brawl saw everything available used as a weapon- bullets, bayonets, rifle butts, pistols, knives, rocks, boot heels, bare hands. But the Confederates all just dissolved after a short while. Nobody ordered a retreat; nobody was alive and of sufficient rank to order a retreat. Thousands just plopped down where they stood and waited for Union men to come out and collect them. They were too numb and exhausted to walk anymore. Others streamed back to safety in ones and twos. For every Confederate who died, four more were maimed and crippled. For every wounded man, another was taken prisoner. It was an unmitigated disaster for the Confederate cause, and correspondingly it was a triumph of humanity as the stalwart defenders of the slave plantations died in droves. Remember, like I said, we’re rooting for the Union. The battle wasn’t over, not really. Not was the campaign. But it certainly was decided. ———————————————————————— RIGHT SO Interestingly, at first it was kind of ambiguous who won. Meade got fired from the job after Lee got the Army of Northern Virginia home intact. Lincoln was seething that Meade hadn’t shown some aggression and had failed to destroy Lee’s army as he had been ordered. Meade, however, didn’t have much of an army at that point, just a diverse collection of units that had suffered 50% casualties and were in no condition to do anything. Moreover, there had been no way to bring the retreating Lee to battle without taking a lot of risks that might see all the good done at Gettysburg undone. Still though. Meade was out, and Grant, riding high after his conquest of Vicksburg, was in. Lee initially claimed victory in the Richmond papers, and it was hard to gainsay him at first. He had indisputably invaded north and thrashed the living shit out of the Army of the Potomac so bad that they could not invade again in 1863, which was indeed partly the point of the strategy. But soon the facts of life made themselves clear. Lee had holes in his ranks that simply could not be filled anymore. Southerners didn’t want to die in a losing war, and coercing in them into the ranks through State violence only gave him shitty recruits who would desert the second they were put on guard duty. In contrast, tens of thousands of men poured into training depots across the nation, all armed and clothed and fed by the grandest industrial base in the world. Thousands of experienced veterans re-upped their contracts in Gettysberg’s wake to become these new recruits’ NCOs and commanding officers. Lee has gone north to break the will of the Union to continue the fight. Gettysburg had, if anything, demoralized the Confederacy and reinvigorated the Union instead. I do not believe that Gettysburg started this trend, but I do think it sped it up significantly. Patterns that might have taken a year to come to fruition instead took months. Gettysburg, in my opinion, is significant not because of any great gains or losses on the material level, but because of its effects on the minds of voters and soldiers and politicians in the North and the South. To crib C. S. Lewis really quick, what matters was not whether a given action would take a specific hill, or seize a certain road; what matters is whether a given action pushes people to either dig their heels in and seek victory at any personal cost, or whether it pushes them to back down and seek a safer compromise. Gettysburg pushed all of the American people in the directions they were already heading down, that’s all. Any conclusion beyond that is on shaky ground, I feel. Having said that, I shall now irrationally contradict myself; Gettysburg can also act as a Rorschach test with symbols and images and stories in lieu of the ink blots. Like I said, it’s a place of religious significance to me to an extent far beyond appreciation for its historic value. I just don’t think it’s possible for that many people to die in such a short period of time, in so compact an area, and with such blunt contempt for the foreseen probability of violent death, and not leave an indelible and ineffable mark on the land itself. Like, if humanity went extinct and Earth got colonized by Betelgeusians a hundred years after, I am certain that the aliens would somehow feel a chill in their exoskeletons when they walk over the soft leaves and through the bare trees of Herbst Wood, or tromp around the south side of Little Round Top, or poke about on the steep slope of Culp's Hill, or splash across the Plum River in the Valley of Death. I’m not saying I’m right, of course. But I am saying how I feel.
[Tales From the Terran Republic] More Fallout—Caw and Karashel Attack the Locus!
Our two favorite councilors do a stupid, get in a fight, and generally be... well... themselves... The rest of this series can be found here *** “Oh my little wiggly jellybean!” a distressed looking baleel exclaimed. “I’ve been so worried! I’ve tried and tried to get through but...” “Calm down, mom,” Karashel said into the microphone of her incredible new desktop (courtesy of the Xx), “I’m fine.” “The whole capital is on fire!” her mom cried. “The news isn’t saying much but on those sites you told me about... Fighting in the streets? Orbital strikes? Did we… did we actually...” “Yeah, we did,” Karashel said grimly. “I’m not supposed to talk about it yet but there are over fifty thousand humans dead in the city alone… Nothing justifies what they did in response but still...” The pupils of her mother’s eyes fully dilated. “What did they do?” she asked in horror. “I don’t have all the details, but the humans have some sort of new ‘terror weapon’, something horrible that they used on the vulxeen homeworld. It’s killed… oh mom you don’t even want to know how many are dead or how they died. It’s awful.” “They could use it on the capital!” her mom squealed. “Come home! Come home right now!” “I can’t,” Karashel replied. “Just quit that silly job,” her mom said imploringly. “You can get a job anywhere!” “You don’t understand,” Karashel replied, “I can’t. There’s a blockade right now. Nothing is going in or out of the capital. They don’t want the humans sneaking in one of those… things and they don’t want any of the human warriors still here escaping. But don’t worry, I’m perfectly safe!” “Human warriors? Terror weapons?” her mother cried. “How can you possibly be safe?” “I’m staying at a friend’s embassy,” Karashel said proudly. “This place can take a hit from one of their fusion bombs!” “THEY HAVE FUSION BOMBS?!?!?” Karashel winced. She shouldn’t have said that. “Don’t worry! I’m safe in here!” “Oh, Jellybean! You can’t possibly be safe!” “Don’t tell anyone,” Karashel said as she leaned in close to the mic and started to whisper, “The embassy that I’m in, it belongs to-” “THOSE... SIBLINGFUCKERS!!!” an enraged screech echoed down the hall. “IF THEY THINK THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH THIS...” “Mom, I gotta go,” Karashel said looking at the door. “Something is up.” “Jellybean!” her mom cried. “Wai-” Karashel switched off the transmission and quickly scooted out into the hall as the breaking of glass could be heard from Caw’s office. She cautiously poked her head into the room as Caw pulled out a rather wicked looking carbine from a smashed bookcase and was slamming a black oblong object onto it. “Caw?” “What?” he asked in annoyance as an amber light glowed briefly on the side of the weapon. “What’s going on?” she asked nervously. Caw was many things, excitable, intolerant, pedantic, but one thing he wasn’t was violent, at least she thought he wasn’t. “Robbery! Plunder! Violation!” he yelled as he started to storm out of his office. “And if they think I’m going to just sit here and let them do it they have another thing coming!” he yelled as he shoved his way past her. “Wait!” Karashel asked desperately undulating after him. “Where are you going?” “The Locus!” he shouted. “But there are humans in there!” “I don’t give a FUCK!” he screamed steadily leaving her behind. “Can I come with you?” she shouted. Caw stopped and turned around, looking at her in astonishment. “Have you lost your mind? There are humans in there!” “You don’t care, why should I?” she yelled catching up to him. “Because I’m an Xx!” he exclaimed. “If the humans are smart enough not to wish to anger the kalent they will almost certainly extend me the same courtesy. You are a baleel. No offense but they could slow roast you over open coals and nothing of consequence would be the result!” “I’m still a councilor!” she replied. “They can use me as another hostage or something!” “Compared to who they are holding at gunpoint, you are of absolutely no consequence!” “Yeah, we suck,” she snapped. “but I still want to go!” “By the ancient gardeners why?” “Because I want to talk to them!” she replied. “I’m getting nothing but wormshit from official channels! I want to understand what’s happening and why? Who better to ask than human warriors!” Caw looked at her in amazement. So great was her hunger for knowledge she was willing to risk her very life! That was so… Romantic! It was something right out of dramas, out of ancient history! How could he say no? “Well, more than one person has died because of Xvakk’Keen, the knowledge madness,” he chuckled, “but few do it with such style! You can die from this, you know.” “Possible, but not likely,” she replied. “one thing is certain though. I won’t get another chance like this!” “Ok,” he replied with a shrug, “I’ll try to protect you with my Xxness but no guarantees.” “Wasn’t asking for one!” she giggled nervously. This was insane… exhilarating, but insane. “Well what are you waiting for?” Caw grinned. “Let’s go!” *** Caw sprinted down the hall, hissing in exasperation as he had to stop every few dozen yards as Karashel “ran” after him. “Can’t you go any faster?” he shrieked. “If I could I would!” An Xx, pushing a hover cart laden with boxes of data crystals, walked around a corner. Caw lunged forward and seized his cart. With a single jerk, he slid all of the boxes off, scattering thousands of crystals across the floor. The other Xx shrieked and screamed in an alien tongue. Karashel didn’t know the exact wording but from Caw’s grin, it wasn’t nice. “Get on!” he yelled. Karashel flopped onto the cart and started wiggling herself onto it. Caw, his patience finally gone, grabbed her, rather inappropriately, and threw her onto the floating cart. She squealed in surprise as she tried to grip the cart as Caw tore off at a breakneck pace, scattering Xx and other races as he threatened to plow right over them. She laughed insanely. This was fun. She started making siren noises as Caw laughed, despite his rage. “Woo Ooo… Wooo Ooooo...” she shrieked as Caw sprinted through the sprawling building. A rather elaborately dressed Xx and a group of what were clearly guards were waiting for them at the exit. “Woooo Oooooooooooo...” Karashel slowly tapered off into silence as Caw came to a halt directly in front of the lead Xx. “What the FUCK do you think you are doing?!?!” the well dressed Xx yelled. “Stopping a crime, ambassador!” Caw yelled. “You can’t be serious, Caw!” “As serious as a blocked bowel!” “Crime?” “One of the Eel Lords is in The Locus right now! There is only ONE THING that would have one of them here!” “...” “Now get the FUCK out of my way, Kawk!” “Fuck it,” the ambassador said and started to walk away. “Shouldn’t we help him?” one of the guards asked. “Nah,” The ambassador said as he walked away. “It’s just one eel and a few humans. Caw is enough. Don’t reveal what that weapon does if you can help it,” he called out over his shoulder as he returned to his office. He had a drama to finish watching. Caw sprinted to his waiting grav-car, Karashel in tow. *** Karashel squeezed her eyes shut as Caw, switching his grav-car to manual, careened through the capital with breakneck speed. “By the progenitors themselves,” Caw screeched. “If they have touched so much as ONE THING I will snatch that glowing tally-wacker right off of his scaly head and SODOMIZE HIM WITH IT!!!” Kalent don’t glow... Karashel thought to herself trying not to lose her rice balls as the grav-car turned on its side and she felt her stomachs being shoved down into her foot. “What are they stealing?” “Things priceless beyond measure! Things that belong to all of us, not just to those sanctimonious sperm breathers!” “Eeeeeee!” Karashel screamed as they plummeted for what felt like forever. Then, throwing her forward into the restraint webbing that had mysteriously appeared, the vehicle slammed to a halt. She carefully opened one eye and saw Caw retracting the window. Standing there was a Federation trooper. “What?!?” Caw snapped impatiently. “You can’t proceed any farther, sir,” the trooper said calmly. “This is a combat zone.” “Really?” Caw said in his best patronizing tone. “Is that why there are all these soldiers and tanks? Wow! I would have never guessed. Now get the FUCK out of my way!” “Sir,” the trooper said pointing his weapon at Caw, “get out of the car, now.” “Boy,” Caw said glaring at him. “Do you know who I am?” “No, and I don’t care. Get out of the car!” “I am Caw Itsheesh, the councilor for the Xx. If you think you have a problem now, fuck with me. Then you will know what a problem really is! Now I’m driving through this barricade. Shoot me if you want.” “Sir!” the trooper yelled as Caw hit the accelerator. The air around the car glowed as bolts from the guards’ blasters struck the vehicle’s shields. “They actually shot at us!” Caw laughed as he quickly turned a corner to get out of the line of fire. “Maybe I should get a diplomatic transciever after all!” He looked over at Karashel who had wiggled out of the restraint web and was cowering on the floor board. “Relax, they can’t get through these shields with those toys! They would need… One of those!” Caw yelled as he hit the brakes as a strange curvy… thing… floated down in front of them.” Caw retracted the window again and leaned out of his ride. “Get out of my way, eel!” he shouted. “I’m councilor-” “I am perfectly aware of your identity, Xx!” a loud voice said. ”Go away.” “I will most certainly not!” Caw yelled at the craft. “I am going to The Locus and you will not stop me!” ”The situation is delicate. We do not need an Xx, especially you, further complicating matters.” “Barring me from the archives is a direct violation of the accord!” Caw shouted. “Are you telling me that the accord has been broken? If so, there is no reason for the Xx to remain sitting on this spoiled egg you call the Federation! If I leave I’m taking ALL of our toys and we are going HOME!” The strange craft hovered there in silence for what seemed like forever. ”Proceed but be warned. If you cause harm to our lord, it will not go well for the pathetic Xx!” “Try it, you prickless bastards!” Caw yelled as the craft floated back up into the sky. *** Hands tied behind her, Tawnie, glared at the kalent with pure hate as she sat against the wall with one of the Forsaken soldiers standing over her. Colonel Laurent rubbed his bruised eye. For a little slip of a civilian, that girl was a fighter. It took four of them, and one of her boots to his face, to stop her from attacking their hostage. Thank God she snatched a sabergun instead of an AK. The AK’s safety was a lot simpler to figure out than the control interlock on what she grabbed. “I am so very sorry for what the Federation did,” the sarcophagus said with a regretful tone. “Fuck you!” Tawnie hissed as she spat at him, causing his attendants to leap between the two. “Children, please,” the abyssal lord said calmly, “Human spittle is not dangerous to us.” “You better fucking kill me!” Tawnie yelled at the kalent. “Because when I get out of here you’re dead! All of you are fucking DEAD!!!” “Tawnie,” the colonel said still rubbing his eye, “you will get your chance to kill soon enough, I promise. For now, please calm down.” “Calm down?!?” Tawnie shrieked. “They killed my family!… They killed my MOM!” “And we will avenge her,” Colonel Laurent said calmly. “How?” Tawnie yelled. “I think...” The colonel said turning to the kalent. “I think it’s time for you to leave.” “Yeah,” Tawnie hissed. “Let’s fucking do this!” “The archives!” the sarcophagus said in alarm. “You can’t! We had an agreement!” “The situation has changed,” the colonel said with a grim smile. “You need to go, now.” “Sir?” a voice said over the colonel’s communicator. “We have a situation.” *** “What the hell?” the colonel muttered in French as two figures were brought into the room, an Xx and … what the hell is that thing? “What are you doing here?” the colonel asked. “I’m Caw Itsheesh, councilor for the Xx,” Caw said confidently. “And I’m Karashel, councilor for the Baleel,” Karashel added cheerfully. “Hi!” “I didn’t ask who you were,” Colonel Laurent snapped. “I asked what the fuck are you doing here!” “I’m investigating a crime against all species!” Caw said in a loud confident voice. “Well then I suggest going to the human enclave!” the colonel replied with an icy voice. “If you want your crime, you will find it there!” “And we shall, believe me, we shall!” Caw shouted in reply. “We are outraged by the events of today, the crimes committed by the Federation, and your kind, are unforgivable!” “Our kind?” Tawnie screamed from the corner of the room. “Our kind?!?” she yelled as she struggled to her feet, only to be firmly sat back down by the human standing beside her. “Get off me!” she yelled at him as she bit his hand. The soldier just smiled. Teeth don’t do much against combat gloves. “But today I am addressing the crimes perpetrated by them!” Caw shouted as he pointed at the black sarcophagus. “Thieves! Vandals! Looters!” “We have far greater concerns,” the sarcophagus said gravely. “the humans are going to destroy everything down there… everything.” “W-what,” Caw gasped in horror. “You can’t!” “We have the capacity,” the colonel replied. “Shouldn’t be that difficult.” “What’s down there… It’s priceless!… Beyond priceless!… Please!” Caw begged. “More priceless than fifty thousand lives?” the colonel asked. “They must be avenged.” “They were!” Caw screeched. “What?” the colonel asked. “Oh dear,” the sarcophagus said in a rather shaken voice. “Yes, Colonel, Jessica Morgan exacted a terrible price for their lives. She unleashed what can only be described as hell itself upon the Vulxeen homeworld. They will be avenged several times over before the death ceases.” The colonel shrugged and turned to Tawnie. “Tawnie, if we untie you do you promise to behave yourself and get that lift operational?” “Fuck yeah I do!” she said with a malicious smile. “As long as I get to see it burn.” Colonel Laurent nodded to her warden who proceeded to pull her to her feet and cut her restraints. She grabbed her tools and sprinted towards the exit, pausing only to flip off the xenos as she left. “Look,” Caw said imploringly, “Colonel was it? What is down there are treasures for all people, all species, things that-” “If it’s for all of us,” the colonel said cutting him off, “then why are we just now finding out about it?” Yeah, Karashel thought as she looked suspiciously at her friend. What are you hiding, Caw? “It’s… complicated...” Caw said cautiously. “Is it?” the colonel smiled. “Well it won’t be for long.” “If you do this,” the sarcophagus said evenly, “It will be war.” “It will be war anyway,” the colonel replied. “Do you honestly expect me to believe that the kalent, and the Xx won’t get involved anyway? It was a fucking kalent that suggested our genocide in the first place!” “What she suggested was far from what transpired, Colonel,” the abyssal lord replied from within his sarcophagus. “You have already struck one of the races behind the travesty that befell your people.” “One that you, both of you,” the colonel said glancing over at Caw, “idly sat back and watched.” “I didn’t know anything about it!” Caw screeched angrily. “You can be assured that we WOULD NOT have just sat idly by had we known!” “I didn’t know about it,” Karashel added trying to help. “It wasn’t announced in the council or anything. For the record we are really angry about it too!… not that it matters much...” “I beseech you,” Caw said his voice shaking, “please don’t do this!… Not this… The kalent does speak the truth, though. If you destroy what is down there, the Xx will never forgive you as well.” The colonel kept his countenance grim but he was becoming increasingly concerned. Two “elder races”… “Hey,” Karashel said with a friendly, if a bit disgusting looking smile. “Maybe… maybe we could work something out?” “Quiet,” Caw hissed. “This is beyond you, Kara.” “I might not be some big “elder race”,” Karashel said puffing herself up to her full somewhat slimy height. “But I’ve been studying humans! And from reading their history I know two important things. When they are angry begging for mercy doesn’t work.” She then flicked her eyestalks over to the kalent. “And neither do threats. Humans don’t give a fuck when they are like this.” She undulated towards the colonel. “So, why don’t we make a deal,” she said in a friendly voice. “You have them by the, as you call them, ‘short and curlies’.” The colonel laughed. “So, give them a tug,” she said in a friendly voice. The colonel smiled at the slug-like creature. It had offered him an out, God bless the thing. “So what would you suggest, Kara was it?” “Karashel, but Kara is cool.” she replied. “Well first of all why don’t we go see what all the fuss is about?” She looked back at Caw with a wicked smile. “I mean, these treasures are for ‘all of us’ right?” If looks could kill… *** The lift went down for a good minute before it came to a stop. The doors opened into a wide hallway, wide enough for small vehicles to drive down it. “Ok, we’re here,” Caw said as the group left the elevator. “The data center is this way.” “Yeah,” Karashel said, “That’s nice and all but what’s down that hall over there, the one you are trying very hard not to look at?” Caw glared at her. “Let’s go that way!” Karashel said brightly and started scooching along. I’m going to shoot her, Caw thought darkly, Just as soon as I get my gun back... The hallway ended at a large doorway. “If you don’t mind,” the colonel said gesturing at the door. Caw, cursing under his breath, entered a code into the keypad mounted in the wall. A door as thick as the entrance to a bank vault silently started to open. The lights switched on, illuminating huge chamber filled with row after row of books, scrolls, stone and clay tablets… statues… And some cases that were completely obscured. The colonel let out a low whistle as he looked around. “A museum?” he asked. “A repository of priceless manuscripts and artifacts”, the sarcophagus answered. “Artifacts of what?” He smiled as he caught Caw glancing over at whatever was in that black box behind him. “Um...” Caw said uncomfortably, “Items collected from the various races of the Federation, things from their early history.” “Annnnnd?” Karashel asked impishly. “And ‘other stuff’...” Caw mumbled. “My Xx friend here is quite correct in his accusations,” the sarcophagus said. “We intended to remove certain items for safekeeping. We felt they were no longer safe here. Our current situation is proof of that. Even you must agree, Caw Itsheesh.” “Tell me about this ‘other stuff’,” the colonel said examining a most unusual statue. It unnerved him. Caw sighed. “There are species, civilizations, far more ancient than even the kalent,” he said, “Here is where their artifacts are stored, their writings, everything we could find is in stored here. This… This is why we joined the Federation. To gain access… to this.” “And why didn’t I know about this place?” Karashel asked, just a bit angry. “You?” Caw scoffed. “You haven’t even scratched the surface of the archives you can reach! Until a few days ago you didn’t even try. What good would this do for you? You can’t even begin to understand what is in here! If you reached a point where this would be of use then you would have been made aware of it, not that it would ever, ever happen to a society so devolved as yours!” “Well fuck you too.” Karashel replied. “Maybe if we knew such things existed then maybe more races would be inclined to seek your precious knowledge.” she replied nastily. “You don’t even begin to understand how foolish you are sounding right now!” Caw sneered. “And you don’t have the slightest idea how much of a condescending prick you are being at the moment! Do you know why we are so ‘devolved’? You shitheads fucking hobbled most of us out of the gate, do you know that?” “What are you talking about?” “Culture shock, motherfucker!” Karashel snapped. “I’ve looked at my history too!” she said advancing on her “friend”. “Blindsided by you ‘siblingfuckers’ before we were even close to being ready! Completely overwhelmed, swallowed up by a galaxy a million times bigger than anything we expected. Slapped around by the vulxeen and the morash, and a dozen other races while you, and you,” she said pointing at the kalent, “just sat there letting it happen!” Her body started quivering. “And why? Why?” she said starting to yell. “Pure ‘devolved’ colonialism! A fucking land grab! God forbid the Empire, who takes care of its subjects get to us first! We just got swallowed up! Could the Xx have survived that? Or the almighty kalent? You were free to develop on your own, at your own pace, figure out things for yourself, and when you did enter the galaxy as a whole you did so fully established, able to stand on your own, protect yourself on your own!” She turned on Caw undulating towards him angrily. “And you have the fucking nerve to look down at us?” she demanded. “How long did it take you to develop your precious ‘post scarcity society’ huh? How many thousand years, how many hundred thousand years did it take? How many years did you spend just as fucking filthy as us? Did you go from where we were at first contact to your oh so perfect enlightened state in one-hundred and eighty-three years? Did you do it in two hundred and eighty-three, three hundred, four?” Caw flinched. “Yeah, that’s what I fucking thought!” Karashel snapped. “Damn,” the colonel muttered. “I’m just going to look around a little while you guys sort things out,” he said with a smile as he started walking around looking at the strange and weird objects. “But we didn’t have the archives!” Caw shot back. “So fucking what?” Karashel replied. “Technological and societal progress are two entirely different fucking things. You can’t expect a society to just magically change just because they have some fancy new toys, you… asshole. We got grabbed and hurled right into the deep-end of this fucked up galaxy, free to ‘chart our own destiny’ right to the fucking bottom!… Fuck you! Our civilization survived, intact! So did all the rest of us lowly little dirty undeserving worms! Until you get hit with something like we did, you can’t say shit to me!” “You tell them,” the colonel smiled as he admired the most alien thing he had even seen in his life, an obelisk, floating on its side in a long crystal case. “Amazing,” he muttered and then he froze. There on the obelisk, was a very familiar symbol, an eight-rayed chaos star… with an… eye?… in the middle. The rays weren’t straight though, they were curved making a spiral and those weren’t arrows on the ends… They looked like… hands! Fear gripped him as he started to look at the other symbols more closely. He hadn’t been this afraid since his first battle, so many years ago. He felt his mind “falling” into that obelisk… there was something in there! He wrenched his gaze away from it and staggered back. Pale and sweating, he walked back to the entrance. He sensed the creature in the sarcophagus looking at him. “So now you understand?” it asked quietly as Caw and Karashel continued to yell at each other. “I understand that you really don’t want to lose what’s in here,” he replied. “I have a proposal,” the abyssal lord said quietly, “How would you like to survive, not just you, your men as well. I can make that happen.” “Yeah, only to stab us in the back once we are safely away from your little treasure trove.” “You little boneless slimeball!” Caw yelled. “You judgmental feathered poo-ball!” Karashel snapped. “I personally believe that the Forsaken are here to stay,” the ancient fish replied. “The Federation isn’t going to win, at least not completely. How would you like to be their envoy to the kalent? Your men can be your staff. You join me on my ship and we return to our home system. We will prepare an embassy for you there where we can ensure mutual non-aggression.” “I thought nobody returned from your homeworld.” the colonel replied quietly, their conversation completely overshadowed by the raging argument next to them. It was starting to get ugly. “They don’t,” the abyssal lord replied. “It will be a one way trip for you and your movements will be very restricted.” “Sounds like prison. Hard pass.” “Perhaps,” the creature replied, “but it will be a most pleasant incarceration. Our guests are quite happy and it will be a far better fate for you and your men than your current one.” “How can you say that?” Caw yelled. “The two situations are completely different! You are comparing a rock with a rock lizard!” “Really?” Karashel yelled back, “Consider the rise of organized labor in twentieth-century America...” “Oh here we go with the twentieth century again!” Caw exclaimed. “I wanted you to glance over it as a cautionary tale, not make a fucking religion out of it...” “Why don’t you address my point instead of bitching about it… bitch!” The colonel looked at the black sarcophagus with a shrewd look in his eye. “Here’s the deal,” he said after a few moments. “I go with you. My men get the option between staying with me or evacuation.” “Evacuation?” “Yes,” the colonel smiled. “A fleet of transports, completely unarmed, will be allowed into this system. We will then evacuate everyone who wishes to leave, everyone. While that happens I, and a few very well armed and well equipped soldiers will remain here, to ensure the Federation’s good behavior. If anything goes wrong, we start blowing shit up. Once they leave, me and my men will go with you. You can execute us at that point if you want or you can take advantage of the opportunity to start a dialogue with the General, something that you really want to do.” “I cannot make promises for the Federation, Colonel.” “Bullshit,” the colonel replied. “That’s my deal. Make it happen or hope you took good pictures.” The sarcophagus sat there silently for a moment. “Listen, you little shit,” Caw yelled, “You can claim ‘culture shock’ all you want but does not excuse-” “It isn’t a fucking excuse, shithead!” Karashel shouted, “It’s an explanation!” “What’s the difference?” “What’s the difference?!? Listen here, pillow stuffing...” The sarcophagus moved towards the colonel. “Alright, we will make it happen,” the creature said. “It will take some time, but we do have pull, perhaps not as much as you believe, but we can exert pressure.” “No problem, gives us more time to set the charges,” the colonel smiled. *** An hour later Karashel and Caw were still going at it. “And you leave the aat out of this!” Caw yelled. “Why?” Karashel replied. “Just because they are your little pets makes them immune to your pathetic rating scale? How is their ‘post scarcity’ coming along?” “That is completely unfair!” “My point exactly!” “Gah! That’s ‘wormshit’ and you know it!” “Ok, how are they when it comes to other societal factors, hmm? Public welfare doesn’t require literacy! How about universal suffrage? You mentioned kings, where does feudalism rank in your little grade book?” “They are still developing!” Caw said defensively. “At their age, your people were likely still figuring out how to rub sticks together!” “Why would we… nevermind!” Karashel gurgled, the yelling wearing out her voice box. “You love to compare us to you but compared to you we aren’t that much more advanced than your little aat buddies are we?… Or are you not as technologically advanced as you claim to be?” “SCREEEEEEEE” Caw screeched. “You are without a doubt the most arrogant presumptuous sanctimonious little turd I have ever met!” “Quit complimenting me and answer the fucking question!” Karashel said spitting up a little bit of phlegm. “Where. Do. We. Compare. To. You. Relative. To. The. Aat? Are we closer to them or are we closer to you?” Caw just stood there and fumed. “Thought so,” Karashel said triumphantly. “You give them a pass and shower them with cuddles and kisses only because they have tech that you want. I bet if we had things that you wanted you would be much more forgiving of our little shortcomings as well, us ‘still developing’ and all.” “If you developed as much native technology as they have, sure, we would be much more ‘forgiving’” Caw replied, “But you haven’t done shit and the aat had even more of your ‘culture shock’ than you did.” “Wormshit,” Karashel snapped back. “The aat are protected by their bulletproof minds! They are so far behind most of it went clear over their heads… and they have been protected by you since you found out about all of their goodies! Nobody is going to fuck with them!” “But they were the targets of the injustices you cry about before that!” Caw replied with a sneer. “And they came out of it the winners, unlike the baleel. If you want to try to pull in another race in a pathetic excuse to distract, do take care not to use one that completely outclasses you in every single way!” “Listen here you piece of...” “It is done,” the abyssal lord said, “The Federation has agreed to an evacuation of the capital in exchange for you sparing the contents of this room.” “If you are intending to fuck us on this you do realize that you will have to deal with whatever the General considers worse than what she has already deployed as well as what I do here, yes?” “If the Federation ‘fucks’ you they have us to deal with as well.” The colonel gestured to one of his people “Sir?” “Get me a connection from here to the hyperspace relays. I need to speak with the General.” “How can you not see the complete lack of validity your argument holds?” Caw screeched. “If it is so invalid, prove it! All I hear is screeching and insults!” “I can’t disprove a ghost! Your argument is indeed valid,” Caw screeched, “if your presumptions were true. You have yet to prove a single one of them!” “Oh, really...” “Should we tell them that we are done here?” the sarcophagus asked. “Nah,” the colonel said with a smile. “We got plenty of time and I want to see where this goes.” “Indeed,” the sarcophagus replied. “It is most gratifying to see an Xx get it’s rectum stretched over its head like this. What is that creature?” “I think it’s a baleel?” “Interesting...” *** “Ok,” Karashel gasped. “I will agree to forestall this ‘discussion’ until I ‘acquire knowledge’ concerning some of your points and verify some of your less asinine statements.” “Yes… yes… We are going around in circles,” Caw sighed in complete exhaustion, “And we are running out of new combinations of slurs. I will also investigate some of your outlandish statements.” As the anger and the baleel equivalent of adrenaline faded she started to realize what she did, what she said. Oh Creators what have I done? “So...” Karashel asked looking down at the ground, “are we still friends?” “What?” Caw looked at her raising his crest in confusion. “That is the absolute dumbest question you have ever asked, and that’s saying something. Of course we are! I haven’t had that much fun in ages!” “That was fun?” Karashel asked in shock. “Well,” Caw replied with a smile, “Wasn’t it?” “...” Karashel looked him with a combination of shock and horror. “By the Creators themselves, it was… Void take me it was...” she gasped. “Now we both retreat, gather fresh information, and then do this again!” Caw said happily. “You have chosen a most intriguing position, an invalid and doomed position, but an intriguing one. I look forward to the fresh thoughts this Xvakk’Lok, knowledge battle will create!” “And I look forward to kicking your ass!… Not that I have feet...” “I hope you will accept your defeat with the same amount of grace as the foolish confidence with which you approach it!” “Oh bite me.” “Bite you?” “It’s a human term.” “You two kiss and make up yet?” the colonel asked. “We are taking a break to reinforce our positions,” Caw replied, smoothing his feathers. “You do realize the exact circumstances in which you two decided to have your spirited debate?” the sarcophagus asked. “The extreme gravity? The potentially dire circumstances?” “Silly me,” Caw replied. “I was so engrossed in teaching my silly little sidekick a lesson that you were the only one who had to make concessions. Don’t worry, if you had gotten in over your head, I would have come to the rescue.” “...” The colonel snickered. “However, the fish is right. This is a rather unique situation,” Caw said to Karashel. “Since we are here there are some things I would absolutely love to show you...”
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