To say the Chargers had a bad year in 2015 would be like saying Phillip Rivers only has a handful of children. Nah B, that is the definition of an understatement. They were terrible last year. And Rivers has enough children to re-enact the Seven Dwarves plus a substitute in case one is busy doing their homework. In the Chargers’ defense, they were probably more unlucky than anything. Nine of their 12 losses were games decided by 10 points or less. And to add injury to insult, wide receiver Keenan Allen was putting up great numbers until he suffered a season-ending kidney injury midway through 2015, missing 8 games. Honored with a new contract earlier this summer, Allen will make a healthy return this season but I’m not sure it will be enough to improve the Chargers very much. The Gene Wilder “YOU GET NOTHING!” Award goes to the Chargers’ front office after they drafted Joey Bosa 3rd overall but refused to pay him his signing bonus in full. As a result, Bosa missed all of training camp and essentially all of the preseason. After an ugly summer of negotiations, the Chargers finally decided to pay what they owe and inked Bosa to a 4-year deal a week before the regular season started. Other than that, the organization didn’t make any significant moves during the offseason. No back-to-school shopping or nothing. They’re really gonna start the year wearing those same dusty ass powder-blue Nikes they got clowned for wearing last year. The Charges may improve their win total but I don’t see them making any noise in an already difficult AFC West division. Further up those division rankings are the ol’ reliable Kansas City Chiefs. Ever since The Walrus Andy Reid took over as head coach in 2013, the Chiefs have always had a winning season and have always finished 2nd in the division. This organization has embodied the hare’s approach – that slow and steady actually does win the race. Yeah sure, they’re a little boring but do you know what they aren’t? Sitting at home in January watching other teams play! But 2015 wasn’t always as sweet as sausage and syrup for the Chiefs. They started the season 1-5 (suffering a 5-game losing streak at that) and after losing their best player running back Jamaal Charles to a gruesome season ending knee injury, the 2015 season appeared to be over rather early. But Coach Reid stuck to his guns and those down-and-out Chiefs went on to win 11 straight games, including a shut-out playoff victory over Houston. Their season came to an end after a close loss in New England the following week. Many believe that game may have ended differently had it been played in Kansas City. If the Chiefs can get key contributors like Charles, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston back healthy, I expect Kansas City to continue to be just as boring and predictable as they’ve always been under Reid – except this time they’ll finish as winners of the AFC West instead.
**Warning: this excerpt may contain a bit of Baltimore bias**
Man, I am beyond excited for Ravens football to start back in the B. Like any fan I am certain my team has what it takes to win the Superbowl. But I would be blind, deaf, and dumb if I didn’t acknowledge the question marks surrounding my Dirty Birds. The Ravens finished last season a miserable 5-11, the first losing season under coach John Harbaugh. It all started when 1st round draft pick Breshard Perriman got injured the very first day of practice and would miss the rest of the season. What followed was the unluckiest, most heart breaking course of events I’ve experienced as a fan. EVERY SINGLE ONE of our key players suffered injuries. Matt Elam. Terrell Suggs. Steve Smith. Joe Flacco. Justin Forsett. Elvis Dumervil. The Ravens finished the season with 22 players on injured reserve. Twenty-two. I felt like I was watching Final Destination and all of my friends got knocked off in front of my eyes. To make matters worse, all of the Ravens first 8 losses last season were in close games, each decided by 8 points or less. This season the Ravens have added some veteran experience via safety Eric Weddle to help improve our horrendous secondary, as well as receiver Mike Wallace who brings playmaking ability to a stagnant offense. I personally will not trust Wallace until he scores a touchdown against his former Pittsburgh team. Success for the Ravens this season comes down to one question: can their veteran players come back healthy and return to form? Cheering for the Ravens will be like attending a concert of an R&B group who used to be hot in the 90s, but now you’re uncertain if they still have the juice. They can either come back and produce all the classic hits just like in the good ol’ days. Or they could……well, just Youtube “KC & JoJo pass out on stage.” The Ravens opponent this game is the Buffalo Bills, a team many considered to be on the rise in 2016. After Coach Rex Ryan’s first year with the team he set out to establish a run-first, defensive minded squad that could compete in the AFC East. The Bills played well within their division but struggled against the rest of the NFL, finishing the season at 8-8. The Bills have a few injuries themselves that could derail their high hopes this season. First round draft pick Shaq Lawson is recovering from shoulder surgery and may not hit the field until late October. Second round pick Reggie Ragland tore his ACL in practice and will miss the entire season. Both players were expected to immediately fill voids in the Bills’ defense. The offensive side of the ball includes an elusive group of guys such as Sammy Watkins, LeSean McCoy, and Reggie Bush to surround second year starting QB Tyrod Taylor. Taylor and the Bills signed a 6-year $92 million contract extension this summer, where essentially most of the money is not guaranteed. They got my man Tyrod working on a get-paid-as-you-go basis. Taylor will make about $9.5 million in the first year, but the Bills can back out of the deal after that if they decide to. Taylor can’t shout “show me the money” unless he achieves all the incentive-based requirements of the contract. We will find out soon if Taylor is the guy for the Bills moving forward. And if he isn’t, the Bills will force Taylor to start a GoFund Me Account to come up with the other 82 million. I think this Bills-Ravens matchup will be a close, physical game. It will be good to see the Bills’ Rex Ryan, Tyrod Taylor, Corey Graham, and even defensive assistant coach Ed Reed – all former Ravens – return to Baltimore for this one. Hopefully they don’t play too well.
The Chicago Bears look to recover from a painful 2015 that was doom and gloom for the team as soon as it started. Top-10 draft pick Kevin White, who was expected to play a key role in Chicago’s offense got hurt in offseason workouts and never saw the field. To add insult to that injury, they started the season 0-3 and had to play catch up in a division with 2 other playoff-bound teams. Multiply that insult with the subsequent injuries of Alshon Jeffrey, Eddie Royal, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett, and Antrel Rolle, who all missed significant time throughout the season. It was tough to watch the Bears get beat on by Leonardo DiCaprio in the woods in Oscar-winning fashion every Sunday. But last season wasn’t all bad news…Chicago finished with a top-5 pass defense which should be even better all-around this year with the growth of their young talent. Add the signings of Tracy Porter and Danny Trevathian this offseason and the Bears have a formidable defense on paper. Not to mention Jay Cutler had the best statistical season of his career in 2015, posting a career high in QB rating and a career low in interceptions. If Kevin White can return healthy to join that already explosive group of Chicago receivers led by Jeffrey, I think Jay Cutler’s infamous resting-bitch-face may look a bit more contented in 2016. If all these “ifs” become gifts in Chicago, the Bears should compete for a playoff spot this season. The Houston Texans are coming of a 9-7 season which was good enough to earn them a playoff spot. However their playoff story came to an abrupt end when they were shut all the way out 30-0 against Kansas City. This loss was glaring proof that Houston indeed had a problem – they did not have a viable option at quarterback. QB Brian Hoyer was out there handing out turkeys like Bumpy Johnson in Harlem, throwing 4 interceptions that eliminated any chance for the Texans to win. Folks in Houston are still looking for evidence that Hoyer was on Kansas City’s payroll. Coincidentally, Hoyer signed with the Bears this offseason and I’m sure the Texans would like a chance to repay him in week 1 for all of his treachery. The Texans gonna be eyeing Hoyer from across the field like:
The Texans believe they have found their quarterback for the near future, inking Brock Osweiler to a $72 million deal in the offseason. Some believe the Texans overpaid for a player who has yet to start a full season, but their urgency to win is far worth the risk. Osweiler will have receiver DeAndre Hopkins as well as an improved running game at his disposal, with the addition of Lamar Miller to pair with Alfred Blue. The Texans have a top 5 defense led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt, who looks to return healthy this year along with Jadaveon Clowney. If the Watt-Clowney tandem can emerge as the star duo everyone believes they can be, along with Vince Wilfork in the middle and that experienced secondary behind them, Houston could instantly become a serious threat in the AFC… which makes the Osweiler move all the more justified.
The Packers look to rebound after one of the most exciting playoff games we’ve seen in a while. I thought Aaron Rodgers’ 61 yard pass to receiver Jeff Janis from his own endzone on 4th & 20 to keep the drive alive, and then the Hail Mary touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jannis again to send the game to overtime was the best tag team effort I’ve seen since Method Man and Biggie exchanged verses on “The What”…
…until on the first play of overtime, Arizona QB Carson Palmer spun out of trouble, escaped the pocket and passed the Courvoisier to professional adult Larry Fitzgerald – who cut through the Packers’ cheese defense to get the W, ending Green Bay’s season. In order to return to that stage this year, the Packers need to get their other wide receiver Jordy Nelson back healthy. The Packer offense struggled at times and often went stagnant without him in the lineup. But Rodgers can’t get the ball to any of his receivers if he is not protected better this season, being sacked 46 times last year. Some believe investing more into their run game could help the Packers set up the pass, but Green Bay has seemed to find a system that’s gotten them to the playoffs the last 7 consecutive seasons. I expect the Packers to be playing January football again as they are set to play the easiest schedule in the league. You know what they say: “if it ain’t broke…” Meanwhile the Jaguars haven’t been able to find a system that works. Every season they break, ball up and throw away whatever plan they thought they had. As typical of a season last year was for the Jags, I am confident that they are confident they’ve found their QB for the future in Blake Bortles. Despite their struggles, Bortles showed flashes to prove he can be successful in this league. The Jags look to invest in their defensive core for the future, adding standouts Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack in the draft. If last year’s 1st round pick Dante Fowler can return from injury, Jacksonville will have the potential to be one of the league’s better front-sevens for years to come. I’ll step out on a limb and say the Jags won’t be the worst team in their division in 2016. They’ll be the second worst. Baby steps, Jacksonville…
The Dolphins will kick off 2016 after pulling off Boss Move of the Year last season. The Dolphins got off to a 1-3 start and following the loss to New York in London’s Wembley Stadium, the team fired coach Joe Philbin as soon as the plane touched American soil. Philbin was not allowed to pass Go. He could not collect his $200. They could not let him off the hook for old times’ sake.
Tight end coach Dan Campbell filled in as interim head coach and dragged the Dolphins to the finish line with a 6-10 record. If you ask me the Dolphins got a steal in this year’s draft, grabbing Laremy Tunsil who dropped to #13 after that infamous video surfaced of him hitting the bong with the Walter White mask on. Yo. Let me start by saying you should never record yourself doing anything incriminating. Unless you hang out with Ryan Lochte – then in that case you should record everything he claims. But…whoever decided to release that video of Tunsil minutes before he was expected to be drafted, is hands down King (or most likely Queen) Petty. Someone really wanted to make this young man suffer. I’m hoping Tunsil can put this behind him and become a star in this league. The Dolphins also added veterans Kiko Alonzo, Mario Williams, and non-believer Arian Foster in the offseason to bring some veteran playmaking to their team. I’m not saying God works in mysterious ways, but has anyone else noticed Foster has been injured ever since he came out and denounced the 6-God and all of his works? Won’t He do it?! After taking over as head coach for the Dolphins, Adam Gase has recently embraced the “dink and dunk” approach for his offense. In other words, Gase is conceding the fact that his quarterback Ryan Tannehill simply cannot throw the ball deep downfield on a consistent basis. Miami will need a big season from Tannehill to take the next step to become a playoff team. And his first test this season is on the road against the Seattle Seahawks, who are famous for giving QBs a rough day at the office. Last season was a year of change for Seattle, who were used to being at the top of the NFC the last few years. The Seahawks got off to a slow start and had to fight their way into the playoffs to earn the 6-seed. They were no longer the best team in their own division, posting a 3-3 record inside the NFC West after being uprooted by the Cardinals as division champs. Seattle was ultimately dethroned as kings of the conference, after the Panthers held them off in the NFC title game. The Seahawks played most of the season without the lead programmer of Beast Mode – Marshawn Lynch, who decided to hang up his cleats at the end of the season to go save the world. Mad props to you, Marshawn! My first thought after his retirement was the impact this would have on quarterback [first name] Russell [last name] Wilson, who was so effective in part because of their productive run game. But Wilson put those worries to bed and tucked them in goodnight after he actually played better (statistically) when Lynch was out. In the last 7 regular season games, Wilson threw 24 touchdowns, only 1 interception, and posted a QB rating of 120-plus in 6 of the 7 games, as the team went 6-1 during that span. With Wilson able to get a full season under his belt with TE Jimmy Graham, the Seahawks’ offense is preparing to do most of its damage through the air if needed. If Seattle’s defense can continue to play with that championship pedigree this season led by “All Lives Matter” advocate Richard Sherman, the Seahawks have a great chance to retake their place on the NFL’s iron throne.
The bottom feeders of the NFC East last season clash in this week 1 matchup that will almost certainly come down to the wire. Their last 8 meetings have ALL been decided by a touchdown or less. The New York Football Giants weren’t able to send Tom Coughlin out in style during his last year as head coach, as the team failed to make the playoffs for a 4th straight season. I swear I could hear Alec Baldwin yelling at the Giants all season as they failed to close out games. They lost 5 games in which they actually had the lead in the final 2 minutes. Despite monster seasons from Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, the Giants didn’t have enough support on the defensive side of the ball to get the job done. Jason Pierre Paul would say they were “short-handed” last year. No? Okay. There’s no doubt in order for the Giants to have a chance this season they must improve their defense. Big Blue Nation points to the emergence of Owa Odighizuwa, the tandem of Landon Collins and Darian Thompson, as well as the drafting of Eli Apple, as signs of optimism. After quickly improving the Giants’ offense as coordinator over the last few years, Ben McAdoo was hired as head ball coach in 2016 to replace the great Tom Coughlin whose tenure with this organization cannot be undervalued. McAdoo is armed with a group of young talent at the receiver position to help Eli as well as fill the void of the injured Victor Cruz who looks to return healthy after not playing a down or doing the Salsa in almost 2 years. If the defense can’t get stops again this season, expect the Giants’ offense to put a lot of points on the board just to stay in games. The Cowboys on the other hand are also coming off a season where they struggled primarily because they were without their two star players. WR Dez Bryant broke his foot in the first game of the season and missed almost 2 months. The more damning injury came the very next game when QB Tony Romo was sacked in the 3rd quarter and fractured his collarbone. Dallas’ season was essentially done as the team lost 7 straight games in his absence. Romo returned in week 11 to help the Cowboys stop the bleeding, but the following game Romo injured his collarbone again and the injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. The secret is out – Romo’s Achilles’ heel is actually his collarbone. After a 4-12 finish, 2015 was the worst season for the Cowboys since 1989. Success for the Cowboys in 2016 comes down to their ability to stay healthy. They have the talent. They always have. The problem is Dallas cannot seem to get their defense, their running game, and a healthy Romo to all show up to the family function and act accordingly. Romo’s injury woes continued at the start of this season after he broke a bone in his back during a preseason game – he is expected to miss 2 months.
If Romo cannot stay healthy for the long term, Dallas may have a viable option at QB in the young wolf Dak Prescott, who turned some heads this preseason with his play and poise as a rookie.I’m not saying Romo should be looking over his shoulder, but if he sees Prescott approaching in his rear-view mirror blasting that Ludacris & Mystikal song, Romo better acquiesce. The addition of Ezekial Elliot alongside Prescott and Dez Bryant gives me the feeling Dallas may have their new “Triplets” for the foreseeable future. If both teams get their stars back healthy, the Giants and Cowboys very well may be fighting for the division lead late in the year.
The Detroit Lions spent 2015 cleaning house after a 1-7 start; the team fired their offensive coordinator, team president, and general manager before Thanksgiving. Future Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson decided to call it a career at the end of yet another losing season. The leader of the Decepticons said his decision was influenced primarily by his health, and while that is always a contributing factor in any player’s decision to hang up his cleats, let’s keep it a buck: Johnson was tired of wasting his health (and his career) in Detroit. And who can blame him? The Lions only made the playoffs twice in Johnson’s nine year career and based on the way last season transpired I’m sure Johnson saw no hope in sight. Many point to the dysfunction that is the Lions’ organization for Johnson’s retirement, as was the case when hall of famer Barry Sanders surprisingly walked away from football back in 1999 under very similar circumstances. The Lions signed the last dinosaur Mr. Anquan Boldin this summer with hopes to fill the void Johnson left at receiver. Altered-beast Ezekiel Ansa along with veteran Haloti Ngata will look to solidify the Lions’ defense. If Detroit plans to improve at all they must take the offensive load off of QB Matt Stafford and that starts with their running game – or lack thereof – which was theeee worst unit in the league last year. Unless Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders both decide to give it one more shot, I don’t believe the Lions will win many more games in 2016 than they did last year. Indianapolis (I will refrain from calling them the C-word) also struggled in 2015 but many people expected a great season from this squad last year who went 11-5 and made the playoffs in each of the 3 previous seasons. Indy’s issues last year were pretty obvious early on – they could not protect QB Andrew Luck and as a result, he turned the ball over often and eventually got injured. Luck only played in seven games but was sacked 15 times and threw 12 interceptions. Indiana’s team signed Luck to a record breaking six-year $140 million contract this summer, ensuring his future in those stolen blue & white jerseys. With that money Luck will probably start treating his lineman to dinner every night, just to give them an incentive to help keep him upright. If Luck can return healthy in 2016, his line can protect him just a bit, and he limits his charitable donations to opposing defenses, that team in Indianapolis will have a chance to regain their division title.
The Patriots begin this season without their main man, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady – or as we refer to him here on Kings Road – “Jamie Lannister” (any Game of Thrones fan knows when they first saw Jamie Lannister in the pilot he reminded them of Tom Brady. Pretty. Blonde. Rich. Entitled. His piss probably feels like a golden shower).
But this version of the King Slayer didn’t stand a chance against the highest Lord of the NFL – Commissioner Roger Goodell – who upheld Brady’s four game suspension for his role in Deflate-gate. New England will send the unproven Jimmy Garoppola to fill in for Brady with hopes he can keep the Pats above water until Brady returns. If this were any other franchise losing their starting QB for the first month of the season I’d say their playoff hopes were already dead before it started. But the Patriots have notably plugged in their backup QB and won games in the past, Brady included. The Pats added Martellus Bennett and Chris Long in the offseason to bring more veteran presences to both sides of the ball. Unless New England does not win a game without Brady or the other teams in the AFC East decide to make the division more competitive than it’s been for the past decade, expect the Pats to win their 8th straight division title and be playing football late into January. Their opponent in this matchup is the Arizona Cardinals, who had an impressive season winning 13 games and taking the mantle as champs of the physical NFC West division. The Cardinals were ultimately blown out by the Panthers in the NFC Championship game as they tied an NFL record for the most turnovers by a team in a playoff game since 1978. The Cardinals look to return to the championship stage in 2016 after extending the contracts of receiver Larry Fitzgerald and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. 2nd year running back David Johnson is set to emerge as the featured back in an already stacked Arizona team, which will make the number one offense from 2015 (total yards) even more balanced and dangerous. The Cards’ top 10 scoring defense returns this year headlined by the acquisition of defensive end Chandler Jones. Chandler is the youngest member of the extremely talented Jones brothers’ trifecta, which includes his older brothers UFC fighter Jon “Bones” Jones and fellow NFL player Arthur Jones. Chandler will get to showcase his many abilities on Sunday Night as he will sing his rendition of “Hello from the Other Side” while pointing to his former teammates, the New England Patriots – who traded Jones to Arizona just this past spring. Revenge is a dish best served cold, in the Arizona desert, on a Sunday Night…
The Pittsburgh Steelers look to add to their 2015 success after sneaking into the playoffs last year and winning a game on the road. The Steelers ultimately lost to the eventual Superbowl champs, but many people inside and even outside of Pittsburgh see a great season in store for this team. There are three things I’m gonna go ahead and predict for the Steelers this year: Big Ben will miss a game or two. Antonio Brown is going to catch 100 passes. And the offense will have to score 30 points a game every week in order to win. However, Pittsburgh may have more trouble carrying that load on offense this year, as two of their starters will miss significant time…because they got high. Featured back Le’Veon Bell is suspended the first 3 games due to a failed drug test, and young standout receiver Martavis Bryant will miss the entire season, suspended as a repeat offender. As talented as Bryant is, the Steelers may be able to fill his void a bit easier by getting DJ Khaled on the track and producing:
Sammy Coates is just another one of those 6 ft+ tall speedsters that Pittsburgh seems to have a plethora of buried somewhere in the basement of Heinz field. Coates is expected to become a key contributor in Bryant’s absence. Coates showed flashes in last year’s playoffs and has consistently improved this offseason. The problems for the Steelers this season will begin and end with their defense. That famous Steel Curtain looks more like rusted window blinds since Troy Polamalu walked away from the game. The Steelers drafted 2 cornerbacks in the draft but their rookies may not come of age quick enough to save this unit. If the offense wasn’t so damn talented I would gladly predict the Steelers’ demise this year. As always, they should be a contender in the rugged AFC North division. Their opponent in this Monday night matchup is the Washington/Landover/Richmond/Ashburn ‘Skins, who handed the keys to the Enterprise over to Cap’n Kirk Cousins last year. Cousins led the team to a surprising playoff berth in 2015, even if it was by default. With all due respect to the Skins, SOMEONE in that division had to go to the playoffs as hard as they tried not to. The Skins made a big splash this offseason signing Josh “I ain’t normal” Norman to a 5 year-deal. Norman will be in the spotlight this season after claiming to be “the best cornerback on Earth.” He will have every chance to live up to his self-proclamation in their first game against the Steeler’s Antonio Brown, and especially since he’s playing in the NFC East now. Norman will face his arch-nemesis Odell Beckham AND Dez Bryant each twice a year – many consider those two the toughest receivers to cover in the league. On offense the Skins hope Matt Jones can stay healthy and take over as their starting running back to replace the departed Alfred Morris. TE Jordan Reed looks to repeat his breakout season from last year which will also make life easier for Kirk Cousins under center. Washington may a tough time defending their division crown this season if the other teams in the East return to the field healthy.
The Rams are returning to Los Angeles this season after playing in St. Louis since 1995. Although I can empathize with St. Louis as a city that has lost their team, the entertainment capital of the world must have an NFL franchise in it. And the powers that be planned the Rams’ move to LA perfectly: the team has a lot of exciting talent and potential. They were also featured in the HBO documentary “Hard Knocks” this offseason, building the buzz and Hollywood appeal that is vital to their success before they even touch the field. Running back Todd Gurley burst on the scene in 2015, winning the Rookie of the Year award and ending the season as a Pro Bowler. Tavon Austin (Baltimore stand up) led the team in receptions last year and is one of the league’s most explosive playmakers in the open field. If the Rams plan to escape their consistent 7 win seasons, they must get more production from their passing game. The Rams drafted QB Jared Goff with the #1 overall pick in hopes that he can be their signal caller for the future. Case Keenum will likely start the season as the Rams’ QB-regent, keeping the seat warm until Goff is ready. As competitive as the Rams may be within the NFC West, I’m not sure they will finish over .500 this year since there are two other teams in their division who are considered Superbowl contenders. The San Francisco 49ers on the other hand find themselves in that rebuilding stage after an ugly 2015 season where the team went 5-11. Jim Harbaugh? Gone. Patrick Willis? Playing golf. Vernon Davis? In Washington. Michael Crabtree? Moved across the Bay to play in Oakland. Those days of the Niners as legitimate Superbowl contenders who played in the conference championship game almost every year feels like it was ages ago. The 49ers fell from top-10 to not mentioned at all…until QB Colin Kaepernick decided to drop a hot-16 featuring Dead Mike on his diss-track about the National Anthem.
As controversial as Kaepernick has been this past week, he still found himself recovering from surgeries and fighting for not only the starting QB position, but a spot on the team – just 4 years after leading the franchise to a Superbowl appearance. The 49ers have come under siege of coach Chip Kelly, who somehow found another job faster than the police arrived at Chris Brown’s house. It will be interesting to see how Kelly fares in San Fran, taking over a team without much superstar talent ironically after he traded away all the talent on his former team. The Niners tried to improve their offensive and defensive lines this offseason after both were amongst the worst in the league last year. Additions of rookie defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Ronald Blair will highlight their defensive front for the future, led by veteran linebacker Navarro Bowman, but the 49ers have so many question marks on offense, defense, special teams, the coaching staff…they will need a miracle for 2016 to be any different. I think even the 49ers know how this season’s gonna end.