Belichick Goes Shopping

It is often understood that the New England Patriots do not spend big in free agency. When they do, it’s on a proven game changer that becomes an anchor of the team (see Stephon Gilmore). Instead, the Patriots prefer to hold tight, wait for all the other teams to outbid each other for the available talent, overpaying for unproven players and then signing proven veterans to small contracts who fill a specific role in the Patriots roster. These veterans not only help the team through their own play but can also mentor the young rookies drafted by the Patriots (usually on day 3). Then after all of this, the Patriots find hidden gems in the draft and rejuvenate the careers of previously seen as washed-up veterans. Then came 2021.

First, context shall be provided. Tom Brady, the franchise QB, 6x Superbowl winner and Greatest Player of All Time left for the sunny beaches of Tampa Bay. The Patriots were left with small cap room left to re-load this team. It’s very possible that Belichick could have signed Brady but the deal was not made and the team suddenly seemed underwhelming. A still-strong defence was opposed by a dismal offense. Bargain signing QB Cam Newton originally seemed positive through the first 3 weeks before contracting Covid and never looking like himself, including decline in arm strength and mental processing. The receivers were severely under NFL average (one reason why Brady may have wanted to leave) and no help was coming out of the tight end position. After a 7-9 season, their first losing season since 2002, the Patriots then found themselves with the third most cap space in the league and a declining cap which saw multiple teams already over cap, keeping potential competition low in bidding wars. Whilst everyone was laughing at Belichick after seeing Brady leave and win another Superbowl, this time in Tampa, Belichick was planning beyond the 2020 season. He simply didn’t have a chance to win in 2020. Now 2021 is here.

The largest holes on the roster were on offense, specifically QB, TE and WR. Re-enforcing the O-Line was also a need. On defence, interior D-lineman to stop the run and reinforcements to the linebacking core would be nice. Belichick signed TE Jonnu Smith to a 4-year $50 million contract. Smith is a run-after-catch (RAC) freak. Belichick described him last year (whilst Smith was still a Titan) as the best TE at RAC in the league. Belichick then decided to sign the consensus top free agent TE on the market in Hunter Henry to a 3-year £37.5 million contract. Now the Patriots have gone from the worst TE group in the NFL to maybe the best. Belichick has always had an affinity for the 12 personnel package. As seen when having Ben Watson and Daniel Graham before replacing them with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski more recently. TE is now solved.

Next up is WR. Belichick hasn’t swung for the big-names (not yet anyway) in signing Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Agholor may seem an overpay at 2 years $26 million but it’s a short-term candidate for a WR that might just boom. If Agholor keeps his form from the Raiders, the Patriots have just signed one of the best deep-ball threats in the league, the role that was left unfilled last year. The risk is if Agholor returns to his Philadelphia form when he led the league in drops. Bourne’s 3-year $22.5 million contract is more conservative, he can serve as primary backup to Julian Edelman or even take the spot if Edelman is past his best (will be 35 next season). Whilst the Patriots don’t have a NO.1 receiver, they do have depth. That top receiver could be found in free agency (Kenny Golladay) or in the draft (Rashod Bateman seems reasonable for where the Pats are picking).

Belichick traded for RT Trent Brown and a 7th round pick for only a 5th rounder. When healthy, he may be the best RT in the league and is a former Patriot. Brown is also on a reasonable contract (1 year $11 million). This allows the Patriots to cover for the loss of Joe Thuney to the Chiefs. The O-Line next year will likely look like:

LT Isaiah Wynn

LG Michael Onwenu

C David Andrews (currently a free agent, believed to either re-sign with Patriots or head down to Miami)

RG Shaq Mason

RT Trent Brown

If Andrews does re-sign, this is easily a top 5 unit in the league. And this was for the price to move back 2 rounds on day 3 of the draft and the Patriots don’t have to pay $16 million a year for the services of Joe Thuney, which the Kansas City Chiefs now have to.

To turn to the defensive side of the ball, the Belichick signed Davon Godchaux for a small 2-year $16 million contract to stop do what the Patriots couldn’t do in 2020, stop the run at the line of scrimmage. This signing along with the Henry Anderson signing instantly improves the Pats D-Line which has been underwhelming in past seasons. Anderson isn’t going to light the league on fire but is a veteran who likely will grab a few sacks and fit into a rotation.

Then comes the largest splash in signing linebacker Matthew Judon. The ex-Raven didn’t have his greatest season last year but before that, he was a force. 9.5 sacks in 2019 and 4 forced fumbles. He will instantly replace Kyle Van Noy who also left before 2020. He will fill the void that the Patriots have long had success at from Ninkovich to Van Noy and now Judon. To those who point that Judon is not a game-wrecker on his own, he will be on a defence featuring workaholic Chase Winovich, the returning Donta Hightower and exciting 2nd year player Josh Uche. This will be a front 7 working by committee. Expect multiple Patriots to have between 5 and 10 sacks rather than 1 or 2 players at 10+ and the rest under 3. 4-years $56 million is not an overpay for Judon who re-enforces this already strong Patriot defence.

The last question is at QB. This is where all the signings make sense. The common criticism of the Patriots’ free agency is they are spending big on good but not great players. However, after signing a 1-year extension for QB Cam Newton, the Pats have a veteran QB next year. A veteran QB who can mentor and test a rookie. All singings were at a point of need for the Patriots, none (maybe outside of Jalen Mills) are at positions of want. This allows the Patriots to go all in on the draft. Their roster outside of a NO.1 WR and a QB past the coming season is looking quite full now. No contact exceeds 4 years, the length of a rookie contract (excluding the 1st round option to make it 5 years). This allows the Patriots to overpay for players outside the QB position for the next 4 to 5 years. This was utilized by both the Eagles and Rams in recent years surrounding Carson Wentz and Jarred Goff respectively. This along with the long history of Belichick finding undervalued players points to the Patriots having and executing a plan. I am now convinced the Patriots will move up in this year’s draft into the top 5 for a QB. They could offer their 3rd rounders this year and a 1st next year to move from 15 to 3 or 4 depending on who is more willing out of the Dolphins and Falcons to trade. That should leave them with a choice of Justin Fields, Mac Jones or Trey Lance (after Lawrence and Wilson go 1 and 2). The rookie QB will then be able to learn behind Newton for up to a year before taking the reins. If they can escape the trade with their 2nd rounder this year, there will still be multiple top quality WRs in a loaded draft class. It looks as if Belichick is playing for 2022 challenge at the Superbowl. The rest of the NFL better watch out.

2021 Draft Rankings BY-Position

These are my by-position for the 2021 NFL draft. Top 3 of each position (and top 5 for QBs because of the depth of the class and the positional value). Some players are polar-opposites and would only fit on different teams (interior O-Lineman Vera-Tucker and Davis spring to mind) so the rankings are purely personal preference of type rather than the player.

QBs:

  1. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)
  2. Zach Wilson (BYU)
  3. Mac Jones (Alabama)
  4. Trey Lance (North Dakota State)
  5. Justin Fields (Ohio State)

Lawrence is a standout prospect with great accuracy and better decision making than most college prospects. Wilson has incredible arm strength and is gifted at off-script plays. Jones has the brain to overcome his lack of mobility, Brady and Rivers have played in the league the last few years, whilst the move has been to mobile QBs, thinking it’s a “must” is a step too far. Lance is unproven but high upside and Fields needs to stop holding onto the ball forever. One of the best QB classes in recent memory, Fields is still a top 10 prospect and he’s QB5!

RBs:

  1. Travis Etienne (Clemson)
  2. Javonte Williams (North Carolina)
  3. Najee Harris (Alabama)

Etienne is a day 1 starter with great agility. Williams has made highlight plays behind a sub-par O-Line, he will explode if his future team has a great O-Line. He’s definitely under the radar. Harris is the best true power back in the class.

WRs:

  1. Ja’Marr Chase (LSU)
  2. Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)
  3. Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

Special Shoutout: Amari Rodgers (Clemson)

Chase is unbelievable, would have been the top WR for all recent draft classes. His catch radius/ability is otherworldly and is physical enough to dominate corners. Waddle is slick in route running and explosive. Bateman follows in those footsteps who is just slightly behind Waddle in route running but is larger and can use that to his advantage. Rodgers is a coach’s son and it shows. He may be the smartest receiver in the draft, he’ll be day 1 plug and play and surprise the team that picks him likely late day 2 of the draft. This class is stacked, Heisman winner Devonta Smith is incredibly athletic, just a little small. Kadarious Toney is the definition of electric, just worry about how many extreme cuts he can make before injury. There are many, many other as well. This draft class is WR heavy, day 2 and even early day 3 picks have a chance at being starters.

TEs:

  1. Kyle Pitts (Florida)
  2. Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)
  3. Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame)

Kyle Pitts is the best TE prospect in memory. He is projecting to dominate at the next level on any team. He could be the first TE to be drafted in the top 5 since Riley Odoms in 1972. Freiermuth is tough and will be a the typical modern TE. Mobile with a good catch radius, he will be a solid player. Tremble is an incredible run-blocker and will never get run away from contact, he will make a defence hurt even if he isn’t the quickest/biggest.

Offensive Tackles:

  1. Rashawn Slater (Northwestern)
  2. Penei Sewell (Oregon)
  3. Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)

Slater can play any of the 5 O-line positions. He is solid, and that is the largest compliment for an O-Lineman. Sewell is great, strong, physical and reads the ends well. He has the odd issue with footwork, otherwise a top prospect. Darrisaw is mobile and has shown technical improvement over his years at Virginia Tech, he needs to add more strength to be dominant.

Interior O-Line:

  1. Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC)
  2. Wyatt Davis (Ohio State)
  3. Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma)

Vera-Tucker is perfect for zone blocking schemes, getting out in space and running up field to the second level. Davis is never letting go once he gets a hold. He will have pancake after pancake in the next level, just lacks mobility. Vera-Tucker and Davis are total opposites, it’s not really one is better than the other, more a team needs to pick their “type”. Humphrey’s hands and technique are brilliant and he displayed that at the Senior Bowl.

Interior D-Line:

  1. Christian Barmore (Alabama)
  2. Levi Onwuzurike (Washington)
  3. Tyler Shelvin (LSU)

Barmore is a 3-Technique who is adapt at exploding up field to create interior pressure. He is by far the leader in this class. Onwuzurike is leadin the class in the pure mobility department. He’s quick and explosive but can struggle slightly against the run. Shelvin, on the other hand, is a brick wall. He may not pressure the QB but put him on the interior and RBs aren’t gaining yards.

Edge Defenders:

  1. Jayson Oweh (Penn State)
  2. Kwity Paye (Michigan)
  3. Carlos Basham Jr (Wake Forest)

Oweh is a freak. He may not have recorded a sack last season but he still had a high-pressure rate. Every now and again, a prospect comes along where the upside is too enticing to not take the, this is that prospect this year. Oweh is the kind of prospect I would expect the Raiders to take a swing at. Paye is athletic and has been destructive when running twists. Basham Jr lit up the senior bowl. He has a never-say-die attitude and has the ability to ignite a defence.

Linebackers:

  1. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)
  2. Micah Parsons (Penn State)
  3. Jamin Davis (Kentucky)

JOK is extremely versatile. He is a strong tackler who reads the game better than any other college linebacker. Parsons is a physical freak who transferred from edge. He might need a season to get to grips with the NFL, expect an Isaiah Simmons like rookie year from Parsons before a potential year 2 explosion. Davis is quick and can sift through traffic, he has great instincts, just needs the right coach to fully reach his potential.

CBs:

  1. Caleb Fairley (Virginia Tech)
  2. Patrick Surtain (Alabama)
  3. Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)

Fairley is fast, like really FAST. He can make up for mistakes with his speed which will pay off in his rookie year. Fairley has the potential to be a lockdown corner. Surtain is physical and looks to bully receivers. Some WRs will look to exploit his slight lack of speed but we have seen multiple corners thrive with subpar speed (Richard Sherman). Horn is the son of former WR Joe Horn. He has size and length and great hands. He just needs to tackle better.

Safeties:

  1. Tyree Gillespie (Missouri)
  2. Jamar Johnson (Indiana)
  3. Trevon Moehrig (TCU)

Gillespie is a hitter. He will shake any receiver that dares to wonder into the middle of the field. He can change the momentum of a game in one play. Johnson is ridiculously underrated. He is expected to go day 3 yet he is already playing like NFL safeties. He is tricking QBs pre-play and he doesn’t miss tackles. He is fast enough to play as well. He should be an early 2nd not a Day 3 pick. Moehrig will instantly improve the pass defense even if he struggles to tackle or be in run support, another player that projects to excel in certain situations.

Case Study: How To Ruin A Team In 4 Easy Steps. Featuring The Houston Texans

In order to ruin a team, one must first have a team with promise to ruin. Indeed, the Texans had just that. For the first time in their short history (shorter than Tom Brady’s NFL career), the Texans were looking promising and then it all went downhill – fast.

The Houston Texans were founded in 1999 and played their first competitive game on the 8th September 2002 against the Dallas Cowboys. After selecting David Carr 1st overall, the Texans also had their QB. But after years of neglecting the O-Line leaving Carr skittish and a subpar defence giving up points, the Texans never materialised into a true contender. However, over the last few years they improved. A defence consisting of franchise great JJ Watt and linebackers Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney. An offense which included one of the best receivers in the league (if not THE best) in DeAndre Hopkins as well as promising superstar at the most important position – QB Deshaun Watson. They had traded many draft picks away for LT Laremy Tunsil but with Tunsil playing great football (except from the false starts), it could be argued it was worth it. The Texans had truly entered their first Superbowl window. In 2018 and 2019, they had won the AFC South back-to-back and were leading the favoured Kansas City Chiefs 24-0 in the AFC Divisional round and then it all went wrong …

Step One: Blow A Big Game That Stays With The Franchise For A Long Time

Other recent examples of this include Superbowl 51 for the Atlanta Falcons or any time the Saints make the playoffs recently (even if their losses weren’t all their fault). In this case the Texans were facing of against the Chiefs, eventual Superbowl Champions but that was not looking likely after the Texans had pulled out a 24-0 lead in just the 2nd quarter. It seemed as if this was the first playoff matchup between two future great QBs in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson and Watson had the upper hand. But 2 key coaching decision changed the course of the game. Firstly, electing to kick the field goal to take the lead to 24 points instead of going for it on a 4th and short with the chance to make the lead 28. Then, after sending out the punt team in their own territory, the Texans faked the punt and ran for the 1st down. Dan Sorensen tackled Justin Reid short and the lead quickly dwindles to 10 points (24-14). The rest of the match was a bloodbath. The Chiefs emerged victors on their way to their 1st Superbowl title in 50 years and the Texans went home for the offseason. A loss like this lingers in the locker room, whether through decreased confidence, or just a basic sports curse, teams rarely recover and are set for years of tragedy (just ask the Saints).

Step 2: Hire An “Interesting” Front Office

Everyone has probably heard of Jack Easterby by now. He shot to fame after the firing of Bill O’Brien as O’Brien was no longer a possible candidate to consistently blame as he was no longer with the team. Jack Easterby was previously a character coach with the New England Patriots who have been the dominant team since the turning of the century. But it seems even Bill Belichick, the Patriots renowned Head Coach does not see Easterby as fit for his current position. Belichick said “Jack’s not a personnel person, no”. This has been displayed with the Texans’ moves. Since Easterby has become the de facto General Manager the Texans personnel moves have been, well, interesting. And this co-insides with step 3.

Step 3: Have Your Coach And GM Trade, Trade and Trade Some More – And Get Worse.

This starts with an issue that every team has faced. You have a QB but no O-Line. Watson was getting sacked at a ridiculous pace (62 times in 2018) and so the Texans gave up a fortune for LT Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil has continued his stellar play over the last 2 season but Watson was still sacked 49 times. Consider as well that Watson is playing better himself, getting the ball out faster which will also leads to fewer sacks. The Texans gave up 2 1st round picks (2020 and 2021) and a 2021 2nd round pick in exchange for the services of Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills. Stills has also been useful, a deep threat who can play from the slot who stretches the field for other targets such as Will Fuller (deep threat) and Brandin Cooks (deep threat), so not much variety. They also traded for Tunsil in his contract year. Meaning if they didn’t resign him, they gave up 2 1st and a 2nd for less than a season of good LT play. Therefore, Tunsil could essentially ask for as much money as he wanted, he wanted $66 million over 3 years with $50 million guaranteed. Tunsil is now the highest paid O-Lineman in the history of the NFL. Yes, LT is an important decision but not at $22 million per year (well, not yet anyway with the ever-increasing cap, not including this year). Then we get to the real gem.

The Houston Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins for a 2nd round pick and RB David Johnson. Not the 2016 Johnson, but the post injury Johnson, who plays what might be the least valued NFL position. The reason for trading Hopkins was he wanted too much money and had differences with the coaching staff and front office. The money that was essentially gifted to Tunsil, could have been used to help keep Hopkins happy, a true game changer who put up elite numbers with 9 different QBs before Watson. Between them they racked up victories leading Houston to the matchup previously discussed against the Chiefs. Watson was happy, Hopkins was happy and the defence was relieved to not have to carry the team as in past years. But Easterby and O’Brien traded Hopkins to Arizona (where he has since continued to thrive). To replace Hopkins, the Texans bought in Brandin Cooks for a 2020 2nd round pick. Not only is that another pick traded away (the same value as they got for Hopkins) but Cooks is also on a mega-deal which pretty much destroys the narrative of getting rid of Hopkins to save money. Cooks also is not as good as Hopkins, that is no slight at Cooks but rather a testament to Hopkins’ talent which is truly extraordinary.

Entering 2020, expectations were mixed for the Texans and they not only missed them but to an embarrassing amount. They went 4-12 despite Watson putting up numbers and performances which could lead to MVP votes in other years. This is a team that lost 12 games despite elite QB play. They did this whilst trading away their future in picks and floundering in cap hell. Franchise hero JJ Watt even apologised to Watson for the team wasting a career year – not that it was in any way JJ’s fault and I hope he gets traded to a contender and wins a ring he has deserved for so long. This all brings us to the final step.

Step 4: Annoy Your Franchise QB At Every; EVERY SINGLE TURN.

First trading away his favourite weapon, spending away cap space to replace those weapons, then waste one of his career years by going 4-12 and then promise him the chance to hire the coach he wants before ignoring that promise. Watson is a sane person. He wants to stick with the team that drafted him. He stuck around after Hopkins was traded, after they traded their future, after cap hell but it seems it was the mistrust and even disrespect that may be the final straw. After O’Brien was fired, the Texans reportedly promised Watson that he could help find the next Head Coach. Watson wants Eric Bienemy, Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator. The Texans are in such a mess that Bienemy made it clear he had no interest in the job, despite the allure of coaching Watson. The New York Jets also landed Robert Salah, another Coach Watson was interested in. The Texans hired Nick Caserio for GM role, not consulting Watson, then hired David Culley as their new head coach. All opinions on Culley aside, the Texans did not live up to the promise they gave their franchise star QB and so Watson has officially asked for a trade from the Texans. At this point, with a mostly new regime (only Jack Easterby and owner Cal McNair remain from the previous regime), it would be expected that they do right be Watson trade him to a team he wants to play for (Jets or Dolphins are his apparent favourites) and look forward to rebuild this mess. Not so fast.

Instead, the Texans new GM Nick Caserio has reported the Texans are not interested in trading Watson and look forward to working with him for years to come. Just brilliant. To add to this, coverage suggests that this may be more than just smoke and that Caserio and Culley will try to persuade Watson to stay. If they do it, they deserve a medal and hopefully it would work out, but I don’t see that happening. Watson needs to be traded and they might be able to recoup picks that they had previously traded (most potential offers START with 3 1st round picks).

No team has collapsed from contender to a mess of this size so quickly. It’s a stain in the Texans’ short history and has caused many of their fanbase pledging allegiance to Watson or JJ Watt and their (potential) future teams instead of the Texans. It’s a mess, blown games, bad cap management, worse personnel management and disrespect to franchise stars. Hopefully this is turned around just as quickly and there are people within the organization capable of that but we’ll just have to wait and see.

NFL Awards 2020/21

Let’s take a look at who should win on NFL award nights.

Defensive Rookie Of The Year: Chase Young (DE – WFT)

Young has lived up to his NO.2 overall pick. He’s racked up 7.5 sacks and accomplished the 6th highest PFF grade out of ALL edge rushers in the league (87.2). Young has followed recent rookie explosions from Myles Garrett and Nick Bosa. It may not be the sexy pick but sometimes these highly drafted rookies are the best – he just needs to learn to not poke the bear, especially when that bear is Tom Brady.

Runners Up: Jeremy Chinn (LB/FS – CAR), Kamren Curl (S – WFT)

Offensive Rookie Of The Year: Justin Jefferson (WR – MIN)

Eagles fans won’t be happy for years. They took Jalen Reagor (who still may be good) over Justin Jefferson. Jefferson has had a rookie season for the record books. He first beat Randy Moss for most reception yards by a Vikings rookie before one-upping that by taking the league record for a rookie. This beats Anquan Boldin’s 1,377yds in 2004 (Jefferson had 1,400). This is ahead of all receivers throughout league history. Beating Jerry Rice, Calvin Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr. This wasn’t erratic performances, instead it was a continued effort with seven 100yd games. Jefferson has replaced Stephon Diggs (who led the league in receiving yards, 1535yds) and may well be the steal of the draft, despite being as high as the 22nd pick (although he was the 5th WR taken).

Runners Up: Justin Herbert (QB – LAC), Antonio Gibson (RB – WFT)

Defensive Player Of The Year: Aaron Donald (DL – LAR)

This may be a boring pick but it’s the right pick. Simply, Donald is outstanding. He’s more athletic than any interior D-lineman and stronger than any edge rushers. He can take on double teams and win consistently. Despite being the only elite pass-rush threat on the Rams, he still accumulated 13.5 sacks on the season. To accompany this there’s also 4 forced fumbles and 27 QB hits – he applies constant pressure and is the best defensive player in the league and that’s pretty much inarguable. He’s now only 14.5 sacks from 100, next year will be a BIG year for Donald

Runners Up: Xavien Howard (CB – MIA), TJ Watt (OLB – PIT)

Offensive Player Of The Year: Derrick Henry (RB – TEN)

Only the 8th player (and second Titan) to run for over 2000yds in a single season (2,027). That includes two single-handed demolitions of the Houston Texans which squeezed his teams into the playoffs. Henry has the best stiff-arm in league history and has more than once shrugged off defenders causing them to lose all dignity. Watching Henry is truly exciting, any run could go for the house (17 times in 2020). He was the best non-QB in the league this year and it wasn’t really close.

Runners Up: Patrick Mahomes (QB – KC), Josh Allen (QB – BUF)

Coach Of The Year: Kevin Stefanski (CLE)

He’s the coach that did it, overcame the largest challenge known to man – get the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs and look a legitimate title contender. For his first head coach season, that’s ridiculous. Mayfield has been turned into a good QB, the running game is still ridiculously good with Chubb and Hunt. The defence can be suffocating with Ward looking down WRs and a pass-rush of Garrett and Vernon. All of this came alive the moment Mr Stefanski wandered into Cleveland. One hopes that he can overcome Covid and the Browns can win on Wild Card weekend without their head coach, but no matter the outcome, what Stefanski has done this year is pretty mind-blowing, maybe more mind-blowing than Sean McVay’s first year?

Runners Up: Sean McDermott (BUF), Matt LaFleur (GB)

Comeback Player Of The Year: Alex Smith (QB – WFT)

The most well-deserved award to maybe ever be given in the NFL – the award may be renamed after him. It cannot be understated how ridiculous it is that Smith is playing football. Two years ago, he could have lost his leg, even his life. He was told it’s likely he’d never walk again, told playing again was a ludicrous thought. Instead, he’s just led the Washington Football Team to their first NFC East Division Title since 2015 (their lowly 7-9 record is irrelevant to the point). He may not be as athletic than he was and his play level has dropped, but it still led a team to the playoffs and this week he faces the greatest QB of all time in Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will this underdog story continue?

Runners Up: Nobody comes close to Smith – sorry.

Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers (QB – GB)

The best player this season, he outduelled Mahomes to the end. The 37-year-old should win his 3rd MVP (Pat McAfee has already crowned him so he better win now). Over 70% completion percentage, over 4000yds passing and 48TDs : 5INTs. He only had one terrible game (against Tampa Bay) and otherwise developed the best QB-WR connection with Davante Adams and helped TE Robert Tonyan have a breakout season. Rodgers has his eyes set on the Superbowl – as he should but he’ll pick up the MVP award on his way.

Runners UP: Patrick Mahomes (QB – KC), Derrick Henry (RB – TEN)

Playoff Predictions

AFC Wild Card

Colts (7) 17 @ Bills (2) 38

Browns (6) 24 @ Steelers (3) 21

Ravens (5) 31@ Titans (4) 35

NFC Wild Card

Bears (7) 14 @ Saints (2) 24

Rams (6) 12 @ Seahawks (3) 21

Bucs (5) 24 @ Football Team (4) 17

AFC Divisional

Browns (6) 28 @ Chiefs (1) 31

Titans (4) 27 @ Bills (2) 41

NFC Divisional

Bucs (5) 27 @ Packers (1) 31

Seahawks (3) 24 @ Saints (2) 17

AFC/NFC Conference Championships

Bills (2) 35 @ Chiefs (1) 34

Seahawks (3) 20 @ Packers (1) 31

Superbowl

Bills (AFC) 28 @ Packers (NFC) 38

The Future Of The NFL Is In The East

It would be mad for someone to say that the two divisions that will be running the NFL in 3 years’ time will be the AFC and NFC East. They are currently 48-62-1 this year heading into Week 17. The AFC East consists of the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and the lowly New York Jets. The NFC East (known as the “NFC Least”) is filled by the Washington Football Team, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. Only one of these teams, the Bills, are seen as a Superbowl challenger this year, yet I believe that at bear minimum 6 of these teams (not the Cowboys or Eagles) will be fighting for playoff spots and being legitimate Superbowl contenders heading into Superbowl 57 and 58. Let’s take a look at each of the individual teams that I believe have Superbowl aspirations within 3 years and their personal outlook.

(All statistics correct as of 27/12/2020)

AFC East

Buffalo Bills:

The best team out of the 8 currently. They made a jump to true Superbowl contender a year earlier than my prediction. Sean McDermott has been a yearly coach of the year candidate and Brandon Beane has consistently been one of the best GMs in the league. Ever since their hiring in 2017 (McDermott in January and Beane in May), the Bills trajectory has been directly upwards, causing multiple tables to be smashed by the ever-loyal Bills Mafia. Josh Allen has been a fringe MVP candidate throwing to a true NO.1 receiver in Stephon Diggs (what a trade that was for both teams!) and a revitalised Cole Beasley. Dawson Know is capable of big plays from the TE position. Diggs is closing in on 1500yds and sits 3rd in the league in receiving yards – only 4 yards behind Travis Kelce (1318yds) and a game in hand on DeAndre Hopkins (1372yds). Beasley is only 50 yards off his first 1000yds career, obliterating the middle of the field. The running game hasn’t been as successful as hoped with no running back reaching over 644yds so far (Devin Singletary) but with so few holes to fill and RBs being a consistently deep position on draft day – I doubt that issue lasts much longer. However, it may not be Moss nor Singletary’s fault. The Bills have a subpar line. Cody Ford may well be improving and Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams performing averagely at tackle. However, they do need an upgrade. If it’s possible to land Joe Thuney or Brandon Scherff then the offensive will be unstoppable next year. The only issue on this front is that the Bills are forecast to be $6.4 million over the cap next year, although that is comparatively low to other teams.

Then we get to the defence. The unit is 15th in both point and yards allowed per game. This is a bit of a surprise given its strength over the last few years. This issue is down to the pass rush. A secondary including Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is naturally elite (and underrated) but Ed Oliver, Jerry Hughes and Vernon Butler have not been getting it done. The Bills hurry a QB on only 7.7% of snaps (27th in the league). This is not elite and is costing the Bills serious issues. Their offense is elite with a special teams of punter Corey Bojorquez and rookie kicker Tyler Bass, but their defense needs help (especially the D-Line), Jayson Oweh out of Penn State could be a very nice fit. They just need pressure and this team will be stacked for years to come. I have confidence Beane and McDermott know exactly what to do.

Miami Dolphins:

Brian Flores is one hell of a coach. No coach motivates his players more than the former Patriots defensive coordinator. The Dolphins sit at 10-5 after narrowly beating the Raiders and are the only team outside of the Bills without a losing record in the East divisions. Like the Bills, the Dolphins do need to add to the O-Line, Robert Hunt has been a surprise at tackle but Hunt and left Tackle Austin Jackson need time to mature. The inside of the O-Line is good enough but any improvement will help. The skill positions are deep, with DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant at WR, tall and athletic TE Mike Gesicki and breakout stars Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed at RB. The last remaining question is a QB. Tua is good but not yet in the league of fellow rookies Burrow and Herbert. To add to this, Tua has had time to sit and learn from magic man himself, Ryan Fitzpatrick before taking over the starting job in week 8. There’s no doubt that Tua has been carried to wins by the strong defense and was even benched for Fitzpatrick to return and win the game against the Raiders. Fitzpatrick is a bad aid, despite being beloved and entertaining. The only consistent part of his play is his inconsistency. Tua does need to improve, but he has not made any major mistakes. If it wasn’t for the insanely fast starts from Mahomes, Watson, Burrows and Herbert over the last few year, Tua’s performance would be likely be praised. He throws the ball accurately and has been protecting himself (needed due to his injury history). Add that to his coach being Brian Flores and I do believe he’ll improve. The offense isn’t necessarily dynamic but with a defence like the one they currently have residing in Miami, it can easily be good enough to go far into January … and just maybe reach February in a year or twos time.

It makes sense for a Flores led team to be strong on defence. They play as passionately as he acts on the sideline. They play in the classic style of bend but do not break, only 24th in yards allowed but 3rd on points allowed. The leader of this defense is defensive player of the year candidate Xavien Howard who is partnered by Byron Jones at CB. A top 5 CB due in the league, they led the defense to intercepting Patrick Mahomes 3 times. A strong LB corps of former Patriots (Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts) create havoc for opposing run games. The Doplhins are also getting to the QB, 40 sacks this season. This defense will be strong and well-run for years. It’s also worth noting the draft capital. Miami could potentially become the first team to ever make the playoffs and land a top 3 pick in the draft of that year. This is because they hold the Texans 1st round pick from the Laremy Tunsil trade. His should be used to get Tua the most help possible. CBS writer Josh Edwards has them landing the best WR prospect in years with Ja’Marr Chase. Expect interior O-Line with their latter pick. Wyatt Davis from Ohio State if he falls would be perfect. The Dolphins could well become the best AFC East team in 2-3 years which will leave them a Superbowl contender.

New England Patriots:

Some fall from grace the Patriots have had. From 20 years of dominance they fell back down to Earth. I expected them to do better – I envisioned a week 1-4 Cam Newton to continue, not the noodle-armed and panicked post-Covid Newton. This has led to an anaemic offense to say the least. However, winning 6 games with this roster shows two things. Firstly, Bill Belichick is the best to ever do it. Finding at replacements for all the free agency losses and the Covid opt-outs (most in the league). Scheming opponts and often showing his superiority as a coach (see win over Chargers). Secondly it shows the strength of the defense. JC Jackson is the largest pro-bowl snub in recent memory. He should be in the conversation for defensive player of the year and yet half the country don’t know he exists. Devin McCourty is one of the best safeties in the league. Chase Winovich is exploding and my personal pick for steal of the 2020 draft, Josh Uche, is already a polished edge rusher after only entering the line-up halfway through the season. They need an inside linebacker to partner Bentley after Hightower retires and they are desperate for a big run stopping nose tackle to take up space. Otherwise this defence is set. It’s also led by the greatest defensive mind in NFL history in Bill Belichick. Also, Jake Bailey (punter) is a weapon. Field position is important in the NFL (and undervalued) and Belichick has once again shown just how important special teams really are.

The outlook turns to the draft. With this comes the QB situation. Belichick wants a smart QB who’s not prone to turnovers. With this (and the fact that Wilson will be off the board by the time the Patriots are on the clock), I expect Belichick to select a QB from his old mate Nick Saban. Mac Jones has had an incredible season. Belichick has always liked Alabama prospects (Hightower, Jennings) so I fully expect this to happen. Losing Thuney will be a large blow to the O-Line but the rest is strong with Wynn, Andrews, Mason and “Big Mike” Onwenu. With their large cap space for the incoming year and the lack of opposing teams’ cap space (although, the Pats will likely use some of that money to resign current players) getting a WR will be top priority. Chris Godwin would be a ridiculously good get or Kenny Goliday if he somehow reaches free agency. Many people have written pieces about the Pats dynasty finally ending. Whilst, I doubt it will continue in the same vain as the Brady-Belichick era, Belichick is too good of a coach (and the surrounding coaching staff) to allow this team to miss the playoffs year after year. They will return and people are so desperate for the Patriots to finally fail, they are kidding themselves that this is the true end. The Pats will be back in a year or two.

New York Jets:

There’s no chance that the Jets can reach the Superbowl in the next 5 years right? WRONG. Let’s start at the receivers. Crowder is one of the best slot receivers in the league, Mims looks like a NO.1 in the making, currently playing like Marvin Jones in Detroit. The line is good. Becton is not just a physical freak but also a steal and will man the LT position for years to come. McGovern is an average centre and Greg Van Roten is a franchise right guard. They need a tight end and a running back but they are low priority needs for a franchise.

Move to the defense and the Jets are stacked for the future, yes, the Jets are going to be good and the average points scored in an all-AFC East matchup over the next few years might well be below 40. Williams and Shephard are powerful inside which is leading to a high pressure rate by the Jets (that may be down to recently fired defensive coordinator Greg Williams being blitz heavy). Fatukasi is a great run-stopping nose tackle. Bryce Hall is looking like a future starter at corner and safety Marcus Maye is ridiculously good and will cost less than traded star Jamal Adams. Think they’re light at LB? They get back CJ Mosely next year after he opted out this season. This team is good for the future; it may be 1-13 this year but hey will get better – quickly. There’s just 2 issues.

First: Is Sam Darnold going to become that promised franchise QB? I believe he needs a new start; he has talent but going to a team such as the Patriots of 49ers could be a perfect new start for him. I expect he’ll have a Ryan Tannehill-esque career. That means they can turn to the draft. They may have lost Trevor Lawrence due to beating the Rams and likely losing the NO.1 overall pick (not as bad as it seems) but this is a STACKED class. If they are not sold on Wilson or Fields and prefer Trask or Jones they can move back and gain picks to fix more holes, or they get their passer early. Remember Darnold will still have trade value as well.

Second: The coach. Adam Gase will be gone at seasons’ end; at least he better be or not firing him will be the worst decision in the history of the NFL. He is awful and holding this team back, way back. If they can get Eric Bieniemy or Brian Daboll (personal favourite) then this team will blossom. Both have unleashed a rookie QB on the league before (Mahomes and Allen respectively) and both are well-respected. It may take 2-3 years for the culture to change but we’ve already seen how quickly fortunes can change with a good coach entering a bad franchise in the AFC East – see Brian Flores and the Dolphins. The Jets aren’t as bad as everyone thinks, they might just be lifting a Lombardi in a few years.

NFC East

Washington Football Team:

In the space of a year, Washington has changed from a bottom-feeder no one likes to a plucky underdog everyone is (or should be) rooting for. Alex Smith has gone through hell to still be playing this sport and may well be starting in the playoffs after returning from that ridiculous injury. Ron Rivera has fought through cancer to change the culture of this team from one of losing to one of winning. With these two leading the team, it’s no wonder the players are playing so hard and tough against every single opponent. If they can retain Brandon Scherff, their O-Line is solid. They have found an absolute gem in 3rd round rookie RB Antonio Gibson and just need one more receiving weapon to partner Terry McLaurin and breakout TE Logan Thomas. They need to find a QB but luckily enough, this is the draft class for it. Plus, Jimmy G and Carson Wentz may be possible through trade and Dak Prescott potentially via free agency (and at a push a rejuvenated Mitch Trubisky? I know, I doubt he’ll keep it up as well). Then, partner that with a top 3 defense. The front 7 consists of Payne, Ioannidis, Allen, Kerrigan, Sweat and second overall pick Chase Young. That is just plain ridiculous. On the backend there’s Kendall Fuller, Landon Collins and surprise rookie Kameron Curl. If they can sign a WR in free agency and resign Brandon Scherff they are QB away from the Superbowl. That is not an exaggeration. They are playoff bound with a dink and dunk offense and only one year of River Boat Ron’s schemes. This is going to be a seriously good team if they can just find a QB.

New York Giants:

The final team that seems to be soon Superbowl bound is the Giants. Joe Judge (another former Patriots coach). Like the Patriots, Jets and Washington; the Giants are seemingly just a QB away. Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard are an undervalued one-two and if Evan Engram could consistently catch, he would be a top TE. They have a powerful O-Line which look to physically overpower their opponents – in line with Joe Judge’s philosophy. They will also get Saquon Barkley back from injury next year. Their defense has been steadily improving over the course of the season. Leonard Williams and Blake Martinez have had second lives with the Giants and Logan Ryan had earned his recent 3-year extension at DB. They could use that one great player, however. They need a Jamal Adams, Nick Bosa or Darius Leonard to put the fear into an offense rather than just be good. However, a QB is first and foremost on the list. Daniel Jones is NOT the answer, they swung and missed, otherwise this team has been built correctly. Despite all the negative reviews GM Dave Gettleman has received (including from myself) he has built one hell of a team. Joe Judge looks to be a great coach that has earnt respect from his players (look and learn Matt Patricia). This team will rival Washington for the next few years and be a Superbowl contender.

Conclusion: This in no way is meant as excluding the Chiefs nor Seahawks from future Superbowls, but a piece in support of two divisions that have been heavily criticised this year and in previous years for being weak. I see the Eagles as being consistently mediocre and the Cowboys needing a full rebuild due to cap issues (mainly caused by the Elliot deal). Other young teams are set to improve as well with the Chargers and Bengal leading the way but I see these divisions taking home the Lombardi in the next few years. Most of these teams is a QB away which is the hardest part of the roster to solve but with such a strong class incoming (and veterans potentially up for grabs) I believe most can solve that problem. Good luck to them, they will need it.

The 2020 Draft Class

As we reach the halfway point of the season, I believe it’s a good point to look back at the 2020 draft class. A class brimming with talent. They have had to deal with a lot (as we all have) and whilst that seems to have effected some – others have thrived. With that in mind, these are the 10 players that I believe have made the largest impact for their draft position this season – or players that will make an impact in the coming weeks. Some (one in particular) have proven me wrong whilst others have lived up to my expectations. This could be an all-time great class.

Joe Burrow QB (Pick 1 – CIN):

It makes sense to start with the first overall pick. The former LSU Tiger jumped up draft boards and into the lap of the Bengals over the 19/20 season due to his record setting year. Burrow is playing behind a bad O-Line – it is awful – it’s currently ranked 31st in pass protection (per Football Outsiders) and 25th in run power rankings.  The main issue is seen at the tackle spots, currently maned by Jonah Williams and Bobby Hart, whilst there is promise with Williams (former 11th overall selection – 2019), Hart is top priority to replace. However, Burrow has carried this team around these issues. He was sacked 8 times against the Eagles and 7 times against the Ravens, but he gets up and he throws and throws and carries this team. Using fellow rookie Tee Higgins and running back Joe Mixon (when healthy) to his advantage – Burrow has thrown for 2272yds through 8 games (282yds/game) behind one of the worst O-Lines in the league. He has led the team to 2 wins and a draw with the latest win beating a surprise beat down of the highly talented Tennessee Titans. He is living up to his NO.1 billing, but everyone needs to hope the Bengals don’t ruin him, we don’t want another David Carr or Andrew Luck.

Tua Tagovailoa QB (Pick 5 – MIA):

Tua made his first starting, replacing the magical Fitzpatrick, against the Rams. He passed for only 93yds and 1TD but that was enough to leave with a win. Tua looked shaky and not confident out of the field but he took care of the ball and let the Brian Flores masterclass on defence (he likes playing Sean McVay clearly – see Superbowl 53) takeover. Tua has promise, may worry for him on draft day was how injury prone he was in college but he didn’t take any unnecessary large hits and protected the football. He is a prospect to wait on right now.

Justin Herbert QB (Pick 6 – LAC):

I apologise to Herbert, I believe I gave him my lowest grade of 1st round picks. I did not like him at all and all he has done is balled out. Gone is his lack of anticipation, gone are his hospital passes, gone are his constant 50/50 balls down the sideline. Instead, most of the time, we are seeing a calm, consistent QB. Through 6 games he’s thrown 15TDs to only 5INTs – not bad for a rookie. He went toe to toe with Superbowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and then the GOAT himself Tom Brady, losing each by a single score. He has shown he belongs in this league but there is one issue. The Chargers are blowing leads, Herbert has played well but as the QB he needs to lead this team and come through in the clutch when necessary, this hasn’t happened so far, the losses haven’t been his fault but it’s still his responsibility to win. Having said that he is better already than I imagined he would ever be, and I hope he continues to prove me wrong.

Jedrick Wills T (Pick 10 – CLE):

Wills has slotted in nicely to this much improved Browns team. He has held his own against top pass rushers. He has made some mistakes but for a rookie to have faced the Ravens, Steelers and Washington’s D-Lines and only concede 3 sacks, best for 9th in the league (per Pro Football Focus), that’s not bad – in fact that’s pretty great. He does have an issue with false starts, conceded 5 already but that is a matter of experience, something he will gain. He is well on his way to becoming one of the top tackles in the game, his pass blocking and run blocking for the fearsome due of Hunt and Chubb (when healthy) is far in excess of the usual rookie.

Justin Jefferson WR (Pick 22 – MIN):

There are only two bright spots in all of Minnesota right now – Dalvin Cook and this rookie WR, Justin Jefferson. He exploded onto the scene against the Titans in week 3, securing 7rec for 175yds and a TD. He was drafted to replace Stephon Diggs, all he’s done is excelled beyond in just his rookie season. He has since backed this up with 2 further 100yd games against the Texans and then the Falcons (103yds and 166yds 2TDs respectively). Out of all the rookie WRs, it is Jefferson who has made the largest impact so far on any team. Sadly, the Vikings are struggling with a below par Kirk Cousins and an abnormally leaky Mike Zimmer defence, but if they draft as well on defence as they did with this selection, the Vikings will soon become a contender, Jefferson isn’t a rookie – he plays like a seasoned pro.

Patrick Queen LB (Pick 28 – BAL):

Queen is leading all rookie line backers in tackles right now with 48, 2nd in the entire rookie class (Jeremy Chinn S for the Panthers leads with 67 per ESPN). Queen took a while to warm up, and the week 3 matchup against Andy Reid’s Chiefs did expose him. But since then he has only improved. First against the Bengals when causing Joe Burrow to fumble before his game against the Steelers. Here he penetrated the line to make tackles for loss or at least within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage against the undefeated Steelers. He then made the critical stop on 3rd down to get the ball back to his offense one last time, he came flying round the right tackle to stuff the run before the 1st down marker. Queen is only improving and is the only rookie LB that looks pro ready – Isaiah Simmons has made the odd, nice play but is too inconsistent and that is shown by his lack of snaps.

Antoine Winfield Jr S (Pick 45 – TB):

Winfield has been maybe the most impressive rookie so far. He has had 2 sacks, recorded an INT and a forced fumble. That’s great pace for a rookie safety. He has played lights out so far, always being in the right place at the right time, whether to make a tackle of a pass deflection. This was displayed in last weeks matchup with the giants, disrupting the 2pt conversion which would had tied the game with 28 seconds left – effectively winning the game for the team (no, it was not pass interference – it was just perfect timing to a badly thrown ball). This guy is good, there must be something in that blood with his Father being Antoine Winfield Sr.

Josh Uche LB (Pick 60 – NE):

He may have only played one game but Uche was my draft steal and that one game showed why. During his 12 snaps he played both OLB and MLB (MLB once Bentley was injured) and registered a QB hit and tackled Josh Allen on a 3rd down attempt – pretty damn hard to do that. He also played on special teams so he’s clearly in Belichick’s good books. He is player to watch the rest of the season and indeed the next few.

Antonio Gibson RB (Pick 66 – Was):

Gibson was an intriguing player having played WR at Memphis before transitioning to RB just before the NFL draft. Whilst Gibson may have only topped 50 rushing yards twice and reach 100yds only once, he has still been impressive. Not only because he is behind a sometimes-makeshift Washington O-Line and part of an offense with no passing threat but because he consistently collects 3-4 receptions every game – more often than not for first downs. He has shown the ability to make defenders miss and also find the endzone – 4 times. He will only improve as the team around him does, and now Washington is lead by Riverboat Ron and has a top 5 defence (and maybe the best D-Line, fight it out with Pittsburgh), this teams on the up and Gibson is certainly a big part of it.

Michael Onwenu OL (Pick 163 – NE):

There’s something about the Patriots being able to draft O-Lineman. I thought for many years it may be Dante Scarnecchia but now he is retired, and the Pats keep doing it, that may not be the case. I label Onwenu as “OL” instead of any particular line position because at some point throughout the season so far he has played in 4 out of the 5 positions. He is a mauler, big and powerful at 370 pounds! His quality of play has been high to, he didn’t give up a single QB pressure against the Bills despite playing all 65 offensive snaps. He’s also a regular on special teams. Onwenu was a jewel of a 6th round pick – the Pats also seem to be good at drafting in the sixth round (a guy called Brady rings a bell) – maybe they should trade all draft picks and just buy out the sixth round every year?

Where I was Wrong on the 2020 NFL Season

Naturally before every season, I feel set up to try and predict what will happen during the year coming. However, after we have reached about a third of the way through the season, enough games have been played for everyone to have a vague idea of where this season is heading. At this stage, it is not clear which of my predictions are particularly right (they may look promising but not certain) but what I have got wrong seems more certain. This piece looks as what prediction I have got wrong, some happily, some disappointingly.

One quick note, I really hope that the Dolphins win over the lowly Jets isn’t the last time we see the great Ryan Fitzpatrick as a starter. The Dolphins (or rather Adam Schefter) announced that the rookie Tua Tagovailoa is starting. Fitzpatrick is endless fun to watch and had lead a below average Dolphins team to a 3-3 record. I hope he gets a starting job soon.

The Rams are “Good”

Whilst the loss to the division rival 49ers (still injury affected as well) did not look good. To add to this their loss against the Bills was going to be a blowout till an awful referee decision changed the momentum (Tyler Kroft catch that was ruled an interception). BUT they are 4-2 and Sean McVay has shown ways to enhance his offensive playbook, rushing around the rush now teams are using 6-man fronts to slow down the running game. Goff has returned to his 2018 form, even if that isn’t spectacular, it was enough to get him to the Superbowl that year. Donald isn’t alone on defence either, Johnson III has already amassed 46 tackles and fellow safety Taylor Rapp is making an impact everyday with big tackles. However, Donald is looking like defensive player of the year with 7.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. The Rams aren’t Superbowl challengers, but they ARE a Playoff team, certainly not the bottom dweller I predicted.

Poor Minnesota

I predicted a 10-6 season; they’ll be lucky to reverse that. Zimmer’s defence is a likely they worse he’s ever had. Dantzler has been picked upon and Gladney is only just starting to pick the game up at the NFL level. Ngakoue is the only consistent rusher on the team and Kendricks is having to tackle everyone because no one else seems to want to. Cousins looks more like a backup than a starter and the injury to Dalvin Cook has showed how valuable he really is. Justin Jefferson is the single light in this dark sky and 1-5, every game from here on out is must win. Expect a loss next game against the Packers as well.

The Arizona Defence Isn’t Working for Isaiah Simmons

Bubba Baker is doing his best, proving his 4-year $59 million deal to be the right choice but the Cardinals seem lacklustre – especially in the front 7. Simmons is not an NFL starting LB yet, he won’t win defensive player of the year. It seems the lack of training has hit him hard. That means the defence has had to rely on Haason Reddick, who is good but not great. However, he did record 2 sacks most recently so there is promise. A game against the Seahawks this Sunday will prove whether this unit is truly up to the challenge, they are 4-2 so there is promise, but those 4 wins don’t look so impressive right now.

The Steelers and Titans are the Teams to Challenge the Chiefs in the AFC

I would have picked the Ravens and Broncos (due to what looked like a fearsome offense, expected them to do what the Raiders did) as the teams to take up that mantle. The Steelers defence has continued to improve with JJ Watt becoming a true defensive player of the year candidate and Bud Dupree running everywhere at 100mph and hitting the ball carrier at every opportunity. Cam Heyward is moving O-Lineman every which way he wants, and Fitzpatrick reverted to his intercepting ways last match against the Browns. On the offensive side, Big Ben has returned in almost full form and Chase Claypool is a mismatch nightmare, very few corners are large enough and quick enough to cover him. The receiving core is deadly and whilst James Conner may not be super-fast, he is elusive. This is a very good team and Pittsburgh may well find themselves the only 7-time Superbowl champion come the end of the year.

Then there’s the Titans. They are led by a head coach in Vrabel, Brian Flores (Miami) and Vrabel himself seem the only Belichick disciples to be great coaches and coaches that could have a hall of fame career. Vrabel knows the team he has, power. Opening up holes for the big bulldozer of Derrick Henry to run through and stiff-arm opponents out of the stadium. He ran for 212yds and 2 TDs against the Texans, effectively single-handedly winning the game in OT. Then there’s Tannehill. Since escaping the clutches of Adam Gase, he has thrived. He is opening his play, utilizing the bigbodied of Corey Davis, breakout tight end Jonnu Smith and the most undervalued receiver in the league of AJ Brown. This offense is going to eat up time, entice the LBs and Safeties forward before hitting seam routes and streaks to Smith or Brown, using Davis in the red zone. However, the defence also must stop the random 90+ yard runs by Derrick Henry – good luck. I had the team at 8-8. They should end around 12-4. Tannehill hasn’t regressed and Henry looks as good as ever, this offense isn’t slowing down, they might well go one further than last year.

The NFL Coaching Carousel Predictions 2020-21

Before we dive into the coaching. It’s certainly worth admiring Alex Smith. Smith is 2 year removed from the gruesome injury sustained whilst playing against the Texans and he finally made it back onto the field. It looked like he would never walk again and may even have his leg amputated, never mind be able to play, but instead with help of family, friends, and the NFL world he made it back onto the pitch.

I’d also like to hope for a swift recovery for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, who suffered a devastating injury Sunday night playing the Giants. It looks like a broken ankle and he has undergone surgery. Prescott will almost certainly miss the rest of the year. Let us hope he follows the path of Teddy Bridgewater and indeed, Alex Smith, in making a full recovery back to the football field.

Now for the coaches. These are the 5 openings that are/will/should be open at the end of the season. Then there are the 5 coaches who should/will/ take up those openings in an ideal world. Therefore, the coaches picked are realistic replacements to take up the spaces that are/will/should be available (apart from the Jets because realistically, what coach would want to go there right now?).

Houston Texans: OUT – Bill O’Brien        IN – Eric Bieniemy

Bieniemy (Chiefs OC) moves from Patrick Mahomes to Deshaun Watson – what a lucky guy. Watson will finally have a versatile, creative offensive mind to guide his talent that does not seem to have been fully utilized. Watson has started to miss some passes, throw some into the dirt instead of for the first down and is getting sacked … a lot. Watson has been sacked 17 times, that’s only behind Wentz (who has the most beat-up O-Line in the league) and Burrow (who is protected by Bobby Hart). Watson has the mobility of Wilson or Mahomes and has the same play-making ability. Bieniemy will utilize that. There are issues with the Texans, first the extreme lack of draft picks and young talent on the team. This is not a team that is built for the future. The defence is leaky, especially the run game but with a good GM (position is also open for hiring), these holes can be filled and Eric Bieniemy has the support of Watson and a good coach – QB duo leads to Superbowls.

Atlanta Falcons: OUT – Dan Quinn           IN – Josh McDaniels

McDaniels (Patriots OC) is often considered as the man in waiting to Bill Belichick. However, Belichick keeps coaching and now his son, Steve Belichick is effectively joint DC with Jerod Mayo. Therefore, McDaniels should be looking for a way out. He has had experience of an immobile QB for many years (some guy called Brady) and was with the Patriots when they had receiving superstars such as Moss or Gronkowski. He will have a lot of fun drawing up plays for Jones and Ridley. Add to this that McDaniels has experience of being a head coach after his short tenure in Denver and can build on it. If you don’t think having an opportunity to learn from your first stint as a head coach – just look at Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll and what they are doing now. What makes the Falcons intriguing is that the talent is there, they just seem unconfident and therefore are losing games they shouldn’t, maybe some New England culture would help re-right the ship? Also, they also have a GM opening and McDaniels would likely relish the opportunity of being able to pick his GM (even though the GM should pick the coach but that doesn’t always happen).

The Teams That Still Haven’t Fired Their Coach

Jacksonville Jaguars: OUT – Doug Marrone            IN – Dan Quinn

Quinn should be the only fired coach to land in the same rank at his new job and I will be banging the drum for it to be Jacksonville. I’ve always been more of a fan of defensive minded head coaches (and then get a young, creative OC) and Quinn is just that. Quinn was heralded as a genius leading up to Superbowl 51 before the 28-3 collapse. He helped (and may have been a lead part) in the creation of the Legion of Boom in Seattle. He revolutionized the game, opting for deadly zone coverage (mainly cover 3 or 2) with small/fast defenders with a few big-hitters (Kam Chancellor) sprinkled in the mix. Now look at the Jags defense. Fast players with a mobile LB corpse in Myles Jack and Joe Schobert with a young, talented D-Line which includes Josh Allen and rookie K’Lavon Chaisson. This defencse needs to be led by a veteran who has a proven scheme – that is what Quinn is. With a good OC in Jay Gruden, don’t expect the offense to decrease in output either – the move just makes sense.

Detroit Lions: OUT – Matt Patricia            IN – Don Martindale

Martindale (Ravens DC) has revitalised the Ravens defence in his two-year stint. He has finished top 3 in point allowed in both seasons there, including one year allowing Za’Darius Smith to accumulate 8.5 sacks which led to the large free agency contract with the Green Bay Packers. If the Lions hold Jamie Collins and Jeff Okudah in front of Martindale, he may very well come running, especially if the Ravens make the Superbowl this year. After a heavy investment in their O-Line, the Lions are ready for a ground and pound game along with the explosiveness of Swift. Martindale is used to a run-first offense in Baltimore as well. The Lions have been perennially awful, but Martindale is the man who can turn this team around and potentially give Stafford one last go at getting the big prize – a Superbowl.

New York Jets: OUT – Adam Gase (ASAP)               IN: Brian Daboll (sacrificial – hopefully he will survive)

Daboll (Bills OC) could take up the worst position in football, but that was said when Brian Flores took over AFC East rival Miami Dophins, and he is turning it around and looking like a top quality coach in the process. Daboll, like Flores, was once a Belichick disciple before moving onto Cleveland, Miami and Kansas City. Luck was not great through this period but two of those stints were in Cleveland and Miami – so is unsurprising. After spending time with Belichick (and wining Superbowl LI), Daboll coach at Alabama under Nick Saban. Therefore, Daboll is from the Belichick tree and Saban tree of coaching. This experience has paid off over the past 2 and a bit seasons. With some extra help from underrated coach Sean McDermott, Daboll has turned the highly talented, yet erratic, QB Josh Allen into a Superstar and the Bills into a legitimate Superbowl contender. If ever there was a young QB (even from the same draft class as Allen) who was erratic and needed a new coach and lease of life? Darnold would love Daboll – or Trevor Lawrence if they draft him. If they trade out of the NO.1 pick (they will have it, I guarantee) then Daboll will use the excess picks to build a defence around CJ Mosely, remember, Daboll was originally a defensive assistant. He coached with New England in that role between 2000 and 2002 (the great Bruschi and Milloy days). He would be a perfect fit, especially as he has coached at all 3 division rivals. Daboll would be one of the very few coaches that would be capable of powering up the Jets into a force to be reckoned with.

Run Out of Jet Fuel

There are many great franchises throughout the NFL. There are many perennial Superbowl contenders – Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. All teams (even those just listed) do have their droughts, Patriots pre 2001 and the Steelers’ adventures between 1933 and 1969. However, there are some teams that make up the other end of the league. These include the Detroit Lions, the current Cleveland Browns and the Arizona Cardinals. These teams (as well as the Bengals, Chargers, Falcons, Jaguars, Panthers, Texans, Titans and Vikings) have never won a Superbowl. A few of them, Browns, Jaguars, Lions and Texans have never even reached the Superbowl. However. These teams are either recent expansion teams – Browns, Jaguars, Panthers and Texans – or are loveable underdogs – Cardinals and Lions. Indeed, the Cardinals are 1 of only 2 currently active charter franchises (the other being the Chicago Bears). There is one team which is neither, one team that has in fact won a Superbowl, yet is in the endless pit of misery at the bottom end of the NFL. Through the years, they have, overpromised and underdelivered, and quite frankly been embarrassed. This was the team that saved the NFL, now it is the worst team in football – that franchise is of course, the New York Jets.

Originally founded in 1959 as the Titans of New York, the Jets competed in the AFL (the NFL’s little brother). The first player they would sign would be an “NFL reject” named Don Maynard (WR). Maynard was originally drafted 109th overall in 1957 by the New York Giants (the Jets’ big brother) but was cut after two seasons. After a year in the Canadian Football league he returned to America with the Titans. Their inaugural season was a success at 7-7 and second in division. However, they suffered from financial issues and were bought for $1 million in 1962 and promptly renamed the Jets – it reflected the modern approach the team was going to take (oh, where has that approach gone now), as well as their home ground being next to LaGuardia airport (Shea Stadium). However, over the next few years they never reached a winning season.

In 1964, a young QB named Joe Namath was turning heads at Alabama, leading the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season. Jets ownership and head coach Weeb Ewbank saw a franchise star and so drafted Namath 1st overall in the 1965 AFL draft. Just one issue … Namath had been drafted 12th overall by the St Louis Cardinals in the 1965 NFL draft. The NFL being far more prestigious then the AFL, it was almost certain Namath would take his talents to St Louis. Despite Namath’s demands of $200,000 per year (and a new Lincoln Continental), the Cardinals were happy to have him on board but they wanted him signed before the Orange Bowl (the big game of the season for Alabama) which would make Namath ineligible for it. This demand is possibly the reason the NFL is what it is in this very day. Wanting to play in the Orange bowl, Namath declined the Cardinals and instead joined the Jets (the day after losing the Orange bowl but winning MVP). With a salary of $427,000 per year far larger than any other football player, he was not just the face of the franchise, but the face of the league. After appearing on the front of sports illustrated, left tackle Sherman Plunkett named him “Broadway Joe”, a name sticking to this day.

In 1965 it seemed the Jets had made the right decision, Namath winning OROY and Don Maynard catching 68 passes for 1218yds  and 14TDs (per Pro Football Reference) leading him to his first pro bowl. In 1966 the AFL and NFL agreed to a championship game, which became known as the Superbowl. The winners of each league would battle it out to be truly known as the best team in football. For Superbowl I and Superbowl II, this was the Green Bay Packers led by QB Bart Starr and the infamous coach Vince Lombardi. These first two Superbowls were a demolition job of the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Oakland Raiders. There were talks that an AFL team could never beat the best of the NFL – if this was the case, there would be no AFL-NFL merger and pro football would have never been what it is today. Then Superbowl III.

Namath and Maynard led the Jets to an AFL Championship – the true first success for the Jets. In doing so, Maynard was selected for his 3rd Pro Bowl and Joe Namath received his first league MVP. However, they still had to play the Baltimore Colts in the Superbowl. The Colts had shut out the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship and were under guidance of the great Don Shula (now the winningest coach of all-time at 347 wins including playoffs), and a young Chuck Noll (defensive backs coach). At QB they were led by Earl Morrall who had taken over from the great Johnny Unitas. The Colts were touted as “the greatest football team in history” and were favoured to win by 17-21 points. If the Jets didn’t win, it’s doubtful there would ever be a merger. Tired of being an underdog, Namath told reporters “We’re going to win the game, I guarantee it”. The lacklustre Colts offense conceded 4 interceptions, leading to Johnny Unitas coming in for Earl Morrall, whilst Namath was able to throw for 206yds without a turnover. This led to the biggest upset in Superbowl history as the Jets won 16-7. Two years later (after another Namath MVP season, though not a Superbowl), the two leagues merged to create the modern-day NFL.

Over the next few years, the Jets declined to mediocrity, after saving the league from non-existence, the Jets were just another team stuck far from success. Both Namath and Maynard left the Jets (and later retired) in early and mid-1970s, both later being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Indeed, it wasn’t until the strike-riddled season of 1982 that the Jets won their next playoff game since Superbowl III. They lost the 82-83 AFC Championship to the Miami Dolphins (this was the year of the Snowplow game in a regular season matchup with the New England Patriots). The 80s saw the Jets reach the playoffs 4 times (81, 82, 85 and 86). This was largely due to the New York Sack Exchange, the D-Line of the Jets led by Marty Lyons. However, the late 80s and early 90s saw mediocrity and just plain failure for the once great Jets. This was the point that coaches came thick and fast. They hired the successful former Bengals OC Bruce Coslet in 1990 but after only one playoff appearance (and loss), they turned to a guy named Pete Carroll. The former DC under Coslet, Carroll’s energy sparked the lowly Jets to a 6-5 start, then Dan Marino beat them with a fake spike and the Jets finished the season 6-10 and Carroll was fired (what could have been – see Seahawks from 2010). After 2 years of Rich Kotite (4-28 record), the Jets picked up Bill Parcels, a 2-time Superbowl winner with the Jets’ big brother – the New York Giants. This wasn’t as easy as it seems however (is anything for the Jets?).

Parcels was still under contract with the New England Patriots who he had just led to the Superbowl (lost to Green Bay Packers). New owner Robert Kraft wasn’t allowing him the control Parcells wanted so he wanted out of there – fast. So, the Jets signed former Browns coach and Parcell’s NO.1 assistant (and best DC of all-time, see Superbowl XXV against Bills) Bill Belichick to the role for the interim HC while they discussed compensation with the Patriots for taking Parcells (4 draft picks, a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th spread over the next 3 years).In the second year, the Parcells and Belichick led Jets reached the AFC Championship but lost to the Elway led Broncos (Elway and the Broncos won the next two Superbowls). After injuries derailed the Jets 1999 season, Parcells retired from coaching and the Jets needed a new head coach. Who better than Parcells’ NO.1 assistant and defensive supremo, Mr Bill Belichick?

Naturally, the Jets offered Belichick the job and he accepted … for 1 day. Due to the changes to ownership happening to the Jets at that time, Belichick was not comfortable with the job. As a result, he created the most famous beer mat in sports history. On it he wrote “I resign as HC from the NYJ”. Belichick resigned after 1 day (see press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkcKAPdNbto&t=418s) making him the only coach to coach twice for a team and never coach a game. Belichick instead took the job vacated by Pete Carroll at the New England Patriots – move that the Patriots were told was a mistake at the time. In return the Patriots gave the Jets a 2000 1st round pick. This time Kraft learned from his mistake with Parcells and gave Belichick full control of personnel for the Patriots. This left the Jets without a head coach, but an extra first round pick. The Jets signed Al Groh as head coach for the 2000 season. This season Dan Marino retired and so the AFC East wasn’t a Dolphin (or Bills) dominant division anymore, it was time for the Jets to fly.

In 2000 the Jets record was 9-7, not bad for a new head coach and much better than the disloyal failure of Belichick who could only reach 5-11 with the Patriots, after all, the Patriots spent a 6th round-pick on the immobile, weak QB named Tom Brady – no chance of him being good, right? Groh pursued a job at his alma mater University of Virginia and the Jets hired Herman Edwards. The Jets reached the playoffs, losing in the divisional playoffs to the Raiders (the Jets probably want to overlook Belichick creating a defensive powerhouse in New England and winning the 2001-02 Superbowl – the largest upset since … the Jets winning Superbowl III. Oh, the Patriots also won the 03-04 and 04-05 Superbowls). After more playoff appearances (and losses) the Jets were likely regretting not keeping that pesky Belichick guy around. They had gone from being beaten up on by the Bills in the early 90s to the Dolphins in the late 90s and now the Patriots in the early 2000s.

In 2007, the Jets traded up to select Darrelle Revis (“Revis Island”) in the 1st round of the draft. This left the Jets with one of the best corners the league had ever seen. In 2009 the Jets traded up, yet again, this time to land QB Mark Sanchez, giving him the largest contact in Jets history (at the time), 5 years $50 million. With strong coach Rex Ryan at the helm, was this the next Maynard, Namath and Ewbank? No, sadly no.

Despite reaching two straight AFC Championship games (09-10 and 10-11), the Jets lost both and to date have not returned to the playoffs. Despite promise in 2012, the Jets were destroyed by what may be the worst play in NFL history (only other contender is the Colts weird punt attempt vs Patriots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i7VKQwDS2s). This play is the Buttfumble. Sanchez runs into the butt of O-Lineman Brandon Moore, fumbles the ball which is then scooped up by Patriots’ safety Steve Gregory who ran it back for a TD (see play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82RIfy-gRa4). From there it really has been all downhill. Sanchez left the team after injuries and Revis (after a year in Tampa Bay) returned to the AFC East with the Patriots, where he won a Superbowl along with Bill Belichick (now up to 6 Superbowls for Belichick plus the two he won as DC of the Giants).

In 2018, after two 5-11 seasons, the New York Jets drafted USC QB Sam Darnold 3rd overall. Darnold was to be the face of the franchise to come. Darnold had interception issues in college but with the right coaches, he could become a star. I personally had him ranked as a late 1st round pick (despite being my second ranked QB behind Josh Allen – the less we talk about my ranking of Lamar Jackson out of college the better) but the Jets believed he was their future. Darnold became the leagues youngest opening day starter since the AFL-NFL merger, beating the Lions 48-17 despite his first career pass being intercepted for a TD. This along with the signing of top RB Le’Veon Bell and deep threat WR Robby Anderson, the Jets looked ready on offense. On defense they had top draft pick Quinnen Williams and MLB CJ Mosely, the 2019 Jets looked strong with Darnold entering his second year. New head coach Adam Gase joined the team desperate to prove doubters wrong after a disappointing spell in Miami.

However, it was leaked that Gase didn’t think Bell was worth the massive contract, causing team friction. Mosely played injured and wound up on injured reserve, Darnold contracted mono, Anderson left for the Panthers after the year and Williams was seriously disappointing in his rookie season. Going into the mad year of 2020, Gase was on the hot seat, Mosely opted out and the controversial Gregg Williams was the DC for the second straight year. After 4 games, the Jets are 0-4. They are the worst team in football, matched only by their New York brothers, the Giants. The difference, the Giants have 3 more Superbowls and some hope for the future. In the most recent game (01/10/20) against the Broncos on Thursday night football, the Jets faced an injury riddled team starting their 3rd QB of the year. Whilst the Jets had injuries, they were not comparable to the Broncos. To add to this, Gase was coaching for his job, especially after multiple rumours of players’ unrest. It was pretty much a demolition, the defense committed multiple personnel foul penalties (just like a normal Gregg Williams defense) and gave up 37 points to a 3rd string QB. Despite an incredible 45 yard run by Darnold, the Jets could only post 28 points in return. Gase will likely get fired in the coming days or weeks and it’s possible the Jets will start over again by drafting Trevor Lawrence in the upcoming draft. Back in the late 60s, it could be said that this franchise saved the NFL, now it is them that need saving from themselves.