HANDICAPPING THE NFL
Don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a great NFL season—and winning money against the Lords of Vegas.
From that perspective let’s roll through the eight divisions of NFL teams and try to predict who will kiss the Lombardi next February.
We’ve always believed teams with relative stability have a tangible advantage over teams either transitioning to a new Head Coach, (HC) or one or both coordinators, changing offensive or defensive schemes or quarterbacks—or those in a seemingly constant state of turmoil or change.
Teams like Houston, The Fish, Detroit, the Bolts; Chicago, Da Raiders, Jacksonville, NYJ, Washington, or the Cowboys year in, year out seem to flail away at achieving the stability necessary for consistent success in the NFL.
The Brownies, Cardinals, Cincy, and Buffalo are recent examples of teams who have struggled for a decade or more and seem to have found that stability—each of these teams has the young QB and talent necessary to win—but, to paraphrase Mike Tyson, every one has talent, until they get punched in the face…
We’ll briefly examine the four teams in each division, focusing on the quality of ownership, coaching, the QBs, and schemes—the four pillars of NFL stability--and how each of those factors influences our strategy as a handicapper.
From best, (NFC West/AFC North), to worst, (NFC East), we will predict the likely division winners along with our “Best Bets” for Super Bowl futures players.
At a 36-28 the NFC West is the best division east or west of the AFC North. Most years, it seems, no matter the teams’ records, they beat each other up.
Scores like 13-9, 16-10 or 19-17 are common among these four. These intra-divisional contests have been reliable “Under” wagers in my universe.
Best Ownership…Los Angeles Rams – Stan Kronke
Best GM…Seattle Seahawks – John Schneider
Paul Allen’s death has left the Seattle Seahawks with a “trust” as the legal owner. So far, the heirs to Allen’s estate are jockeying for control minus the animosity affecting the family of, say, the Broncos’ late owner, Pat Bowlen. Stay tuned; with such a valuable NFL property and the egos of the rich and famous, things could get ugly fast.
In San Francisco, a soap opera of some kind always seems to be ready for a debut; i.e., Jim
Harbaugh’s saga, and the Debartolo/York family struggle for ownership and control. That situation is turning uglier by the week.
Gold Miners GM, John Lynch, seems to be a steady force until you read about the draft room drama that unfolded while debating whether or not to draft Trey Lance.
I usually dismiss the Arizona Cardinals’ Bidwells because they are, well, the Bidwells.
However Steve Keim has been GM for seven years. He hired Bruce Arians, and the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury gives the Cardinals, at least the appearance of stability. Under his watch, Keim has improved Arizona’s drafting significantly.
I love Stan Kronke. Yeah, okay, he screwed St. Louis, but the reality of team sports is the city must invest in a team’s future, or owners without roots will go someplace where they can nurture new ones.
I score Kronke the best of the NFC West owners because when L.A. balked at investing in another “new” team—Mr. Kronke had the walnuts and resources to buy a prime hunk of land adjacent to Hollywood Park. The place was iconic before it was built—at 5.5 billion dollars it damn well better be one of the world’s biggest and most glamorous stadiums.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Kronkster out-spent, out-built, and out-glitzed Jerry Jones—and you know that has to irk Jerrah to the core—and that makes me one of Stan Kronke’s biggest fans.
When it comes to the GMs, we’re going with John Schneider in the Pacific Nortwest—he’s the only GM in the division with a gaudy ring on his finger as a GM. (John Lynch earned a ring as a player with the Bucs.)
However, any one of the four GMs in this division are worthy contenders.
Best Coach…Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll
Best QB…Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks
I could have picked any of the four head coaches in this division and still have been on solid ground.
Kyle Shanahan will never deserve any superlatives—though I concede the guy has a good system—until he wins a Super Bowl. As play caller for the Falcons in the 2016-’17 Super Bowl his stubbornness gave the Pats a shot to take the game over and eventually steal a Lombardi trophy.
Shanny can make up all he excuses he wants; sometimes, in football time trumps system, strategy, or execution. The guy has lost two SBs with his teams leading in the fourth quarters. In those two quarters his Niners and Falcons were outscored 46—0. Enough said.
Sean McVay led a young Ram’s team with Jarrod Goff at QB and lost a tight low scoring game against New England in Super Bowl LIII.
McVay, GM, Les Snead, and Stan Kronke were all in extending Jared Goff after the 2019 loss to the Pats—but after last year’s divisional loss to the Green Bay, Snead sent Goff and two first round picks to Detroit for Matt Stafford.
I love the former Georgia product. Eleven years ago, I posted a clip of him exhorting his teammates to get set after a hit on his right shoulder. He lost that game and missed the rest of the 2010 season due to a grade three separation.
In the ten years after that shoulder injury, the kid broke bones in his back and missed half the 2019 season. Other than those two injuries Stafford has been remarkably durable.
He has earned the unfortunate label as the NFL’s biggest waste of QB talent since Carson Palmer held the title after signing with Arizona.
Despite some good statistical years in Detroit and getting to throw passes to Calvin Johnson, Stafford never had a running game, a top ten defense or any other top line receivers to work with.
In L.A Stafford will have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsay leading the NFL’s top defense, Kooper Kupp and second year WR, Van Jefferson, along with blossoming tight end, Tyler Higbee.
Given Sean McVay’s system has a habit of making decent running backs like Darrell Henderson or Cam Akers look great, the former Georgia Bulldog could be walking into a very good year.
If I would have picked Stafford as the division’s best QB, it would have been a slight to Russel Wilson. The former Wisconsin product was taken in the 3rd round and was one atrocious play call from winning the Super Bowl MVP honors he should have received when the Gulls routed Denver in SB XLVIII.
I don’t blame that play call against NE on Pete Carroll. That is a ball you do not throw unless only your guy can make the catch.
Jimmy G, Trey Lance, Matt Stafford, and Kyler Murray, especially Stafford, all have to prove they belong in the biggest games.
Russell Wilson has already proven himself many times over.
I love what ‘Zona’s HC, Kliff Kingsbury is doing down in the desert, and I think his Cardinals and Murray are going to surprise a lot of people.
The Red Birds shored up their O-Line trading for Vegas C Rodney Hudson and signing guard, Brian Winters, from Buffalo. Add a still great J.J. Watt and A.J. Green, and an excellent draft, and all of a sudden Murray doesn’t have to perform like Superman for the Cards to win games.
Division Winner – Los Angeles Rams
Wild Cards – Seahawks & 49ers (Don’t count out the Cardinals!)
Best Super Bowl Futures Bet – Arizona +3500