Extending the NFL Season in a Way Everyone Can Like

Roger Goodell 2012
Roger Goodell has voiced interest in expanding the NFL season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Over the last several years, there have been rumblings coming from NFL headquarters about adding two more games to the regular season to maximize the amount of profit the league could make. Of course, the NFL Players’ Association was not on board with that, and after all of the research that has surfaced in recent years surrounding CTE, who can blame them.

Extending the NFL season is still something the league seems interested in though. I think I might have a solution here that could actually help the players as well.

First and foremost, scrap the Hall of Fame game. No one watches it and after last year’s fiasco, it is clear that not even the league really cares about it. After doing that, bump the start of the preseason up a week. Coaches won’t love this, but it will pay off down the line.

What does that do? It creates room for another bye week in the NFL schedule without pushing the Super Bowl any later, adding any games to the schedule or sacrificing any preseason games that teams use to evaluate talent.

The NFL regular season will now be 18 weeks long instead of 17. Each team would have a bye week some time during weeks 4-7, with two divisions, one from each conference, taking the week off. This makes scheduling easier and allows for last week of the season division games to still take place. That means that eight teams are off each week, across four weeks that gets us to all 32 teams getting a nice early season break.

Everyone plays during weeks 8 through 11. Then in week 12, the second round of bye weeks start. Once again, two divisions, one from each conference, take the week off during weeks 12 through 15.

Weeks 16, 17 and now 18 wrap up the regular season and lead to wildcard weekend being the same as it always is.

It may seem like a pretty trivial move, but giving players an extra week off could limit the wear and tear an NFL season takes on a player’s body. The hope is that this would lead to a higher level of play throughout the season with players being better rested.

An extra week also gives the league another week of prime time marketing opportunities. An additional, Thursday, Sunday and Monday night football game means another week’s worth of advertising revenue for networks, which means that the relative worth of a television contract increases for the league.

For a league looking to show concern for player safety and find increase revenue, this seems like a solid option on paper.

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2017 NFL Draft Grades

We’ve had about a week to let things settle now. There were some interesting developments that took place in the draft, from the Bears trading up for Mitch Trubitsky to the Jets taking two safeties to John Ross going in the top ten. With a few days gone by to digest all of this, it is time to grade each team’s draft haul.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)Arizona Cardinals
Grade: B+

With all three of the perceived top quarterbacks off the board at 13, Arizona took the best player available and filled a need in Haasan Reddick. Fourth round pick Dorian Johnson will compete right away. Budda Baker is a great pick to have in the second round, but he fills a similar role to Deone Bucannon as an in the box safety who can play in the slot. Not taking a quarterback in a deep signal caller class was an issue as well.

Falcons logoAtlanta Falcons
Grade: A-

Nabbing Takkarist McKinley after trading up definitely improves an already solid pass rush. He is versatile and crafty. Duke Riley could also see some meaningful time as a cover linebacker and special teams ace. Adding offensive line and running back depth was a good move. Not adding a young safety is the biggest knock here.

Ravens logoBaltimore Ravens
Grade: B

Rebuilding the defense with four straight defensive picks is a great move. However, Baltimore could use some help at the skill positions. With no true starting running back, a middling receiving core that just lost Steve Smith Sr. and a number of unproven tight ends, offense would have been a good focus. Still Tim Williams could develop into a stud, Marlon Humphrey is going to play smash mouth football. Tyus Bower and Chris Wormley will contribute right away as well on passing downs. But come on Ozzie, passing on O.J. Howard???

Bills logoBuffalo Bills
Grade: A-

Buffalo stood pat on drafting a quarterback when it didn’t one. Instead, they landed another first rounder and took a versatile corner who can contribute right away. Taking Zay Jones could lead to Sammy Watkins finally getting a true compliment in their offense. Nathan Peterman might just develop as well. Really high upside draft for the Bills, who realize that they are more than one piece away.

Panthers logoCarolina Panthers
Grade: A

Only knock here is not adding a corner. The offense just became a lot more electric though with Christain McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel joining the mix. Taylor Moton could challenge for a starting spot right away. There are some holes on the defense still but Carolina took a huge step in the right direction.

Bears logoChicago Bears
Grade: D

No one has quite figured out what the Bears were thinking yet. Trading up to take a player they could have taken at 3 doesn’t make much sense, especially after signing Mike Glennon. The potential of Adam Shaheen and Eddie Jackson prevent this from being a F. But when you have only five picks, your mistakes are compounded.

Bengals LogoCincinnati Bengals
Grade: C-

Another slightly confusing draft class here. John Ross is a blazer, but top-10 is bold. There were some much better players still on the board. Adding a controversial figure like Joe Mixon to a backfield that already has Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill is a head-scratcher as well. Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson have a lot of potential. This is a big draft class for the Bengals, but a very risky one as well.

Browns logoCleveland Browns
Grade: A+

What. A. Haul. The Browns took the best player in the draft in Myles Garrett. Adding a potential playmaker in Jabrill Peppers and added a huge offensive weapon in David Njoku whose potential is through the roof. Deshon Kizer could be the quarterback of the future and Cleveland landed him in the second round. Caleb Brantley is an intriguing pick as well. This doesn’t guarantee the Browns will be better, but this is the best think they could have done to improve. Oh and they got another first round pick for next year.

Cowboys logoDallas Cowboys
Grade: A-

After landing a stellar class a year ago, Dallas made a lot of smart moves this season. Taco Charlton should help the pass rush right away. The secondary got a lot deeper with Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Both could develop into solid number two guys. With Jaylon Smith coming off a full offseason, this defense should be better. What holds this back is the inability to find a tight end of the future, Jason Witten is getting up there.

Denver_BroncosDenver Broncos
Grade: B

This would have been lower if they hadn’t just signed Jamal Charles. Garrett Bolles fills a need, but I think he was the third best tackle available. DeMarcus Walker won’t be DeMarcus Ware, but represents a smart pick. Jake Butt could be a steal for a team that hasn’t had a ton of production at tight end since Julius Thomas left town.

Lions LogoDetroit Lions
Grade: B+

Jarrad Davis and Teez Tabor will compete for time right away and improve a defense that ranked last in opponent’s completion percentage. Michael Roberts will be a red zone threat and Kenny Golladay has a huge build to work with. Detroit adding some interesting pieces that need some molding. Solid class, but it won’t blow anyone away.

Packers logoGreen Bay Packers
Grade: B+

Green Bay went defense on it’s first four picks. Kevin King and Josh Jones should improve what was a dreadful secondary a year ago. Montravius Adams will develop into a solid defensive lineman. The biggest thing still missing is a true inside linebacker to ensure that Clay Matthews stay on the outside in that defense. Jamaal Williams from BYU should be a nice complementary running back from day one for the Packers as well.

Texans logoHouston Texans
Grade: A-

Filled some major needs and added a few pieces that will contribute this year for a team that made the divisional round of the playoffs last year. Cornerback was the only need not filled with A.J. Bouye in Jacksonville, but Deshaun Watson, Zach Cunningham and De’Onta Freeman could make this a special draft class. Cunning needs to improve his tackling mechanics but he is great at diagnosing plays. Freeman adds some power to the run game and Watson is the most pro ready quarterback entering the league this year. Julie’n Davenport might be the starting tackle by 2018 too. It just better pay off with no first rounder next season.

Colts logoIndianapolis Colts
Grade: B+

Still not adding anyone to protect Andrew Luck was a mistake. The Colts waited until the fourth round to draft an offensive lineman. However, adding Marshon Lattimore and Quincy Wilson will make this secondary very good this year. Wilson will slot in next to Vontae Davis. Marlon Mack could be the heir to the throne as well at running back. Good draft class for Indianapolis.

Jaguars logoJacksonville Jaguars
Grade: A

This might finally be the draft class to pull the Jaguars out of a top five draft spot. Leonard Fournette projects to be a beast. Cam Robinson will be a good offensive lineman when Jacksonville determines what his best fit is. Dede Westbrook is a burner, but has some durability concerns. Dawaune Smoot is a future starter with a high motor. The only thing that would have made it better would have been a developmental quarterback.

Chiefs LogoKansas City Chiefs
Grade: B

The Chiefs made some risky moves in this year’s draft. Patrick Mahomes could pan out great as the future at quarterback. Kansas City gave up a lot to get him though. Tanoh Kpassagnon, Kareem Hunt and Jehu Chesson all have a ton of upside, but won’t make much of an impact this season. In two years, this could be an A+ class, or a complete failure.

Chargers logoLos Angeles Chargers
Grade: A+

There is no one happier with his team’s draft class than Philip Rivers. After signing Russell Okung in the offseason, the team added Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney to finish rebuilding the offensive line into a strength. Throw in the best receiver in the draft in Mike Williams and suddenly this offense has been transformed. Desmond King could also be a steal in the fifth round if he makes the transition to safety smoothly.

Los Angeles Rams logoLos Angeles Rams
Grade: C

That other Los Angeles team added some weapons for Jared Goff. Cooper Kupp could develop into a really solid number two receiver. Josh Reynolds has a ton of upside. Gerald Everett is solid pick, but in a tight end class like this one, his selection is a bit of a let down. Overall, the Rams did alright without much draft capital. Sixth rounder Tanzel Smart might be an early impact guy as well.

Dolphins logoMiami Dolphins
Grade: B+

Miami went defense on five of its seven draft picks, including each of its first three picks. All three, Charles Harris, Raekwon McMillan and Cordrea Tankersley could all have an early impact. The Dolphins lose points though for taking Harris with Takkarist McKinley, T.J. Watt and Taco Charlton still on the board. Isiah Ford in the seventh round could turn out to be a great value pick.

Vikings logoMinnesota Vikings
Grade: A-

Without a first round pick, Minnesota still got a first round talent in Dalvin Cook. Pat Elflein will be an above-average interior lineman for the next decade. Minnesota also added a lot of depth to its receiving and linebacking corps. Sixth round pick Bucky Hodges will be a good piece to develop. The only knock is that Minnesota waited until the 245th pick before taking a player in the secondary.

Patriots LogoNew England Patriots
Grade: B+

The Pats made a number of moves in this year’s draft, coming away with just four players. Fitting that Patriots did not make any of their originally slotted selections either. The draft class itself isn’t overly impressive. Adding Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy make it seem a bit better. New England only selected defensive and offensive linemen. One of them is bound to be a Pro Bowler, but failing to add a linebacker or young wide receiver hurts a bit. On top of all of that, only Derek Rivers is likely able to have any impact on this year’s team.

Saints logoNew Orleans Saints
Grade: B

Adding all of the talent that the Saints did makes this class very impressive. Giving up Brandin Cooks and having only one pick after the third round hurts it a little bit, especially when New Orleans failed to take a receiver with any of its picks. Marshon Lattimore dropping to 11th makes him a steal. He could develop into a good starting corner. Ryan Ramczyk is a prototypical right tackle. Alvin Kamara is good, but after signing Adrian Peterson with Mark Ingram still on the roster, it seemed like overkill a bit. There is also still no long term plan for when Drew Brees retires and that has to be a little worrisome.

Giants LogoNew York Giants
Grade: B-

I’m going with my gut on this one, but many people mocked the Giants’ decision to take Eli Apple at number 10 last year. He turned out to be a big contributor. Evan Engram might be a similar style pick. I can’t help but wonder why not David Njoku though, who went six slots later. Dalvin Tomlinson is the best pick of the lot and will pair up with Damon Harrison to create a road block in the middle of that defense. Davis Webb and Wayne Gallman have potential. For what feels like the millionth time though, the Giants did not address the linebacker position in this draft.

Jets logoNew York Jets
Grade: C+

Mike Maccagnan started trading, and then never really stopped. Jamal Adams is a great pick. So is Marcus Maye honestly with Calvin Pryor headed for the door. Ardarius Stewart has the makings of Jerrico Cotchery. However, not drafting an offensive lineman after losing Ryan Clady and Nick Mangold is questionable. As is waiting until the sixth round to draft a corner. Jordan Leggett might be a steal though in the fifth round, giving the Jets a much needed pass catcher at the position.

Raiders logoOakland Raiders
Grade: B+

D. J. Haden went to Detroit, so Gareon Conley is a great pick, but carries some baggage. Obi Melifonwu with start next two Karl Joseph, giving Oakland a very solid young secondary. Eddie Vanderdoes might turn out to be a sleeper going late in the third as well. I felt like a pass catcher would have been nice to add to this offense to take some pressure of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Linebacker is also still a concern with Aldon Smith’s status seemingly perpetually up in the air. Overall, a very solid group.

Eagles LogoPhiladelphia Eagles
Grade: A-

This team filled just about every perceived hole. Philly added a pass rusher in Derek Barnett, even if in between positions. Sydney Jones might just end up being the best corner in a very deep draft if he can recapture the form he had before tearing his ACL. Rasul Douglas will help now while Jones recovers. Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson both won’t see the field much this season, but if Alshon Jeffrey doesn’t stay and the team moves on from Jordan Matthews, these two could find some meaningful playing time.

Pittsburgh_Steelers logoPittsburgh Steelers
Grade: B

Overall, a solid draft class, but Pittsburgh waited a bit to address the secondary and made a confusing move to grab JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round. T. J. Watt should help an aging pass rush though and John Connor will be a nice goal line back when needed. Adding a young quarterback to develop in Joshua Dobbs doesn’t hurt either.

49ers LogoSan Francisco 49ers
Grade: A+

Obviously, the trade to move back one spot and still land Solomon Thomas boosts this grade. Reuben Foster might be a Pro Bowler one day, even if he might miss his rookie year. Adding a young signal caller makes sense and George Kittle is a big sleeper in a deep tight end class. He will be on the field from day one as a blocker and developing receiver. Expect Joe Williams to play a role as well. San Francisco really took the idea of rebuilding seriously and made the most of it selections.

Seahawks logoSeattle Seahawks
Grade: C

This was a bit of an odd draft for Seattle. Malik McDowell has some effort concerns, something that the Seahawks have had previous issues dealing with. Ethan Pocic is a great pick for a team that lost Max Unger. There are a few intriguing pieces looking down the rest of the board, but with no corner to develop or linebacker depth, this is a little disappointing by Seattle standards. However, John Schneider has been known to know what no one else in the room knows with some of these later round picks. In two years, this grade might be a little harsh.

Buccaneers logoTampa Bay Buccaneers
Grade: B+

Landing O.J. Howard 19th is a coup for Tampa, who desperately needed a game-changer at tight end. Justin Evans is going to need a lot of time before he can contribute though with poor tackling form. Jeremy McNichols and Chris Godwin both have upside and could develop into starters one day. The Bucs have had success taking running backs from Boise State (Doug Martin).

Titans logoTennessee Titans
Grade: C-

Now, this isn’t as bad as Chicago, but passing on Mike Williams for Corey Davis makes no sense. Neither does passing on Gareon Conley and Tre’Davious White to take Adoree’ Jackson. Taywan Taylor might turn out to be a good slot man, but Jonnu Smith over some of the other tight ends available (George Kittle, Jake Butt) is a bad pick. Tennessee filled needs, but not with the best available players.

Washington made up logoWashington
Grade: A-

Even without a GM, Washington quietly had a good draft. Johnathan Allen has some health concerns, but if he can play, he is a top ten talent. Ryan Anderson will contribute right away. Samaje Perine will hopefully aid a struggling backfield. Taking a gamble on Joshua Holsey could pay off as well. Drafting a quarterback to develop would have been nice with Kirk Cousins mulling a move elsewhere after the season, but Washington got some good value from this draft.

2017 Aftermath NFL Mock Draft

Welcome back NFL Draft fans. Matt, Brian and Jack join me once again for our annual mock draft. This is who we think each team should take at their spot, not who we think they will take.

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
The Browns shouldn’t overthink this. Just take Garrett and move on. He is a great talent that would hugely improve a terrible pass rush in Cleveland. This is a deep quarterback draft, wait on selecting one. -CM

2. San Francisco 49ers: Jamal Adams, S, LSU
While a QB is tempting here, I would rather test out Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley first and then wait for next year when there is a stronger QB class. So, they need to fill their defense, and with the last 2 first round picks being D-linemen, a strong secondary presence makes sense for the Niners. -ML

3. Chicago Bears: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
After a 3-13 season, the Bears need to fix a lot.  Importantly, they need to continue to rebuild their defense.  More importantly, a shut down corner can expedite the process, and even with the injuries, Marshon Lattimore is the best cornerback on the board for the Bears to pick. -BM

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
This was easy. Fournette fills a need and was probably the best talent at this point. Also, imagine how this offense will look when the passing game is not the only threat on the field. -JV

5. Tennessee Titans: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
The Titans fired their receivers coaches at the end of last season. Rishard Matthews led the way with 65 receptions for 945 yards, in other words, great stats for a number two receiver. Adding Mike Williams fills the void of a big-bodied playmaker who can stretch the field and make third down conversions easier with his huge catch radius. Marcus Mariota was having a Pro Bowl caliber season in 2016 before his injury. Adding Williams would accelerate his growth and make the ground game even more viable, keeping the safety out of the box. -CM

6. New York Jets: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
I really struggled with this pick. In order to avoid the trap of drafting another QB, I really think the Jets should trade down. Malik Hooker made sense here as well, and while Reddick is a stretch, the guy was a freak at the combine and has the ability to play all over the field. Plus, the last guy the Jets drafted out of Temple? Muhammad Wilkerson. -ML

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
The Chargers could have gone with a safety with this pick, but I feel Thomas will have a larger impact on the Chargers defense. Imagine Thomas lined up opposite to Bosa. Do I need to say anything more? -BM

8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Jonathan Stewart only has so many more miles left on those legs. Not to mention McCaffrey has the hands to catch passes from Cam Newton. This will add another dimension to the Panthers offense. -JV

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
It might not be the biggest need for the Bengals, but adding a great pass rusher and likely the best player remaining makes a ton of sense. He could be a long-term replacement for Michael Johnson or start alongside Geno Atkins. -CM

10. Buffalo Bills: OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
This guy is for real.  Howard is a big target, and has the speed and power to match it.  He can make all the catches, run all the routes, and even his blocking as a TE is strong. With the Bills having locked down Tyrod Taylor, it’s time to give him a new toy to play with. -ML

11. New Orleans Saints: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Like every other year, the Saints have a Super Bowl contending offense, but a very flawed defense.  With Hooker dropping this far in the draft, the Saints need to draft him even with the injuries. -BM

12. Cleveland Browns: Mitchell Turbisky, QB, UNC
It’s the same old song and dance. The Browns need a quarterback. Except this time Turbisky apparently wants to play in Cleveland. I guess some people are just gluttons for punishment. -JV

13. Arizona Cardinals: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
While rumor has it that this will be a quarterback, Arizona would be smart to draft the future for wide receiver. Davis can block and is a polished route runner. He needs to work on cutting out drops, but who better to learn from than Larry Fitzgerald. -CM

14) Philadelphia Eagles: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
Having satisfied their receiver need by signing Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, the Eagles ABSOLUTELY need to take a cornerback, no matter how tempting a RB is. Dalvin Cook is available, but the aggressive corner from the SEC with great open-field tackling skills will be more valuable in the long run. -ML

15. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Barnett, LB,  Tennessee
The Colts did a good job improving their defense this offseason, and one could say drafting an OL with this spot would not be reaching.  However, Barnett gives the Colts defense pass rushing they sorely need.  He could even be the most explosive pass rusher after Garret in this draft. -BM

16. Baltimore Ravens: Takkarist McKinley, UCLA, OLB
The Ravens defense has not been the same in recent years and I think they will address that upfront by taking Takkarist McKinley. -JV

17. Washington: Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky
Washington takes a page out of Dallas’ playbook and continues to build its offensive line up. Giving Kirk Cousins as much time to throw is critical and with so many running backs still available, adding one in the later rounds will bolster the running game. -CM

18. Tennessee Titans: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
He might just be the better of the Ohio State corners. Lattimore tends to be more highly rated, but his inflated stats are due to teams consistently targeting Conley, who performed admirably under the pressure. With a clean bill of health that his former teammate does not have, and great size and speed for a corner, Conley could step in as a day one starter for the upstart Titans. -ML

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
The Bucs could go a few different directions with this pick, but their running back corps is in flux with the suspension of Martin.  Cook is a game changing talent once one looks past the off field issues, and Tampa Bay loves Florida State products. -BM

20. Denver Broncos: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
The Broncos need someone to protect that young quarterback of theirs. Ramczyk comes from a Wisconsin system that usually translates well to the NFL. -JV

21. Detroit Lions: John Ross, WR, Washington
Calvin Johnson is gone and not coming back. Anquan Boldin might skip town too. That leaves a pretty serious void behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Ross can start in the slot right away and spread the field underneath by taking the top off of defenses. -CM

22. Miami Dolphins: Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
Once Pouncey returns healthy for the 2017 season, the offense will be shored up, so the Dolphins most glaring hole is CB.  Jackson is explosive and can immediately be plugged next to Byron Maxwell.  An added benefit is his strong play on special teams. -BM

23. New York Giants: Jarran Davis, LB, Florida
For years, ever since Antonio Pierce retired to be honest, the Giants have desperately needed a linebacker, and never taken one. They should this year in one of the strongest LB classes to date, and Davis might just be the best of the bunch. Davis has great tackling instincts, flies to the ball, and word on the street is he’s the kind of character you want to lead your team. -ML

24. Oakland Raiders: David Njoku, TE, Miami
You know how the Raiders usually draft big fast wide receivers? Well, why not a big fast tight end to throw into the mix? Njoku could be a real threat for this team who opens up different areas of the field for other players. -JV

25. Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
About time Houston lands a quarterback. The likelihood is that Watson will be long gone by this pick, but in this scenario, selecting him makes a ton of sense. The one thing that Houston desperately needs is a quarterback. Watson is the most pro ready in this draft, making him a great fit for Houston. -CM

26. Seattle Seahawks: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Seattle is transitioning to a central focus on Russell Wilson, and therefore need to keep him upright so he can make the plays he has to. So, Seattle needs to take the best lineman available who is ready to play right now. I think that guy is Robinson, as the LT at Alabama for 3 years has the experience against great SEC defenses to make an immediate impact on Seattle’s line. -ML

27. Kansas City Chiefs: Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Foster dropped in the draft because of his off field issues, and looking past that, he is clearly the best player available. Derrick Johnson is coming off a torn achillies and will be 35 in November. I have the Chiefs drafting Foster because they should go with the best player available route. Also, Reid knows how to deal with players with previous off field issues, and on the field, Foster will put the Chiefs over the top. -BM

28. Dallas Cowboys: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
As much as I wanted to add to the Cowboys’ offense here, their secondary really needs help. Even though White might be the fourth or fifth corner taken, this is a deep cornerback draft and the Cowboys are getting a good cover corner in White. -JV

29. Green Bay Packers: Zach Cunningham, ILB, Vanderbilt
Keeping Clay Matthews at outside linebacker is essential. Adding Cunningham will allow for that. He needs to improve his tackling, but he always seems to be around the ball. He will likely improve the run defense right away. -CM

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
This was my favorite pick of this mock draft, because I honestly think it is a perfect fit at the end of the first round.  Ever since Troy Polamalu retired, his presence has been missed, as Pittsburgh misses his wrecking ball mentality and his playmaking abilities.  Peppers is athletic enough to fill that void, and if handled correctly, could vault the Pittsburgh defense right into line with its explosive offense. -ML

31. Atlanta Falcons: Budda Baker, FS, Washington
Although the Falcons defense improved last season, there is still a lot of work to be done.  One could argue they need a defensive lineman or a linebacker to help shore up the rush defense, but the secondary needs help.  Baker is a playmaker and could easily make the Falcons secondary the strength of their defense. -BM

32. New Orleans Saints: Kevin King, CB, Washington
Similar to the Cowboys above, I was really tempted to take some offensive talent, but could not ignore the issues the Saints have on defense. Again, this is a deep cornerback draft and we could see quite a few cornerbacks go in the first round. This Saints defense looks a lot better with Hooker and King coming to town-JV

Who takes over after Brady?

I hate to break it to you Patriots fans, but Tom Brady can’t play forever. The legendary New England quarterback is in his 16th year in the league, and while he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down, at age 39, you have to think he will be looking to hang up those cleats in the next 2-3 years.

Tom_Brady
Brady surpassed Peyton Manning’s record of 200 career wins this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

With Brady being the undisputed (or as close as you can ever get to undisputed in sports) best quarterback in the league, his eventual retirement will open the door for someone else to take that crown.

Brady represents the end of a very dominant era, where he and Peyton Manning rewrote the record books practically every year. They squared off in some of the most memorable games of the last decade and consistently drew in viewers whenever the two matched up. Manning is already gone and with Brady set to follow in the near future, who exactly will step up to fill the void.

It is kind of hard to say. The iconic 2004 draft class of quarterbacks featuring Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers likely still have a few more years in them. However, Rivers turned 35 today, Roethlisberger will be 35 in March and Eli Manning turns 36 in January. That group likely won’t be around for a whole lot longer to constitute an era or start an awe-inspiring rivalry. Most of their time in the league will be remembered as part of the legendary Brady-Peyton era.

Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has an MVP award and a Super Bowl ring to his name since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. (Wikimedia Commons)

You next look to Aaron Rodgers, who joined the league in 2005. Rodgers just turned 33 last week, so he might be able to hang around a little longer than the three I just mentioned. However, he might have already started showing signs of slowing down with his rocky start to 2016. I could see Rodgers having a three-year run as the unquestioned top signal-caller. He might be the best-suited to succeed Brady in the short term. Keep in mind that even though this is his 12th NFL season, Rodgers did not start his first three years in the league, so he might have a bit more left in the tank than we think.

After Rodgers, well I’m kind of stuck. Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, but approaching 38, I’m not expecting him to take over. Carson Palmer is on his way out as well. As will Alex Smith.

There is an interesting crop of three quarterbacks that offer some intrigue. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton all bring a lot to the table. All three of them are 28 years old or younger, all three are rather mobile and all three have the ability to take over a football game.

The major knocks against Newton are his ball security and his completion percentage. For his career, Newton sits at around 59 percent through almost 6 seasons. While he may be a huge asset with his legs, he is prone to fumbling and trying to do too much with the ball, often leading to mistakes. Another big red flag is that despite tossing 35 touchdowns in 2015, it is the only season he has thrown more than 25 scores. This year, he has just 14 through 12 games. Those numbers don’t exactly scream elite.

Luck was named the heir apparent to the NFL quarterback throne around his junior year of college. He started with two solid campaigns, followed by an outstanding 2014, only to fall into a weird funk for the last year and a half. 2015 was a lost season for Luck as he only played 7 games and likely played all of them hurt. The big knock against him has to be his lackluster completion percentage, which is only fractionally better than Newton’s. He also has a tendency for interceptions, with 63 picks in 66 career games. Part of that is due to the amount of pressure he faces. Luck is the most sacked quarterback in the league despite missing a game already this year. Luck is actually trending up after the last few weeks we’ve seen him play. Even though he has a poor supporting cast, Luck has failed to live up to Manning-sized expectations laid on him back in 2012.

Russell_Wilson_with_Lombardi_Trophy
Wilson has already played in two Super Bowls, winning one. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then there is Wilson. He already has a Super Bowl ring. Point all you want to a great run game and defense, but that’s a good chunk of why Brady got his first three rings. Of these three, he seems the most poised to take the throne. Wilson has only 39 interceptions in 72 career games. He is closing in on his second consecutive 4,000-yard season and his career completion percentage is around 65 percent. However, when Wilson is off, he is really off. In Seattle’s three losses this year, he has thrown zero touchdowns, three picks and has a yards per attempt average under 6.5. If I had to pick someone long term when it comes to taking up the quarterback mantel, it would be Wilson. He already has that championship background and I could see him getting more.

And he might just have a West Coast rival to deal with as well. There are a number of intriguing young quaterbacks in the league right now in Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Long term, we might see a really fun rivalry between Prescott and Wentz, both being in the NFC East. However, there is one young quarterback that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Derek Carr
Carr was the fourth quarterback in the 2014 draft, but looks to be the best one selected that year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Derek Carr is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season. At only 25 years old, Carr has been lighting up NFL defenses all year long. He launched 32 touchdown passes a year ago, in just his second NFL season and threw for just shy of 4,000 yards. This year though, Carr is set to break that 4,000-yard mark and throw for close to 32 touchdowns again. What is more impressive though is the increased completion percentage and absence of turnovers. The young Raiders quarterback has only thrown five interceptions this year and raised his completion percentage four plus points to a healthy 65.5 percent. This is just one year for Carr, but based on the jump he has made in each of his first two seasons, I am beginning to think that this kid is for real.

I would be remiss not to mention Matt Ryan in this conversation. Ryan is in the midst of a career year at age 31. He is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and yards per attempt as well as set a personal best for fewest interceptions thrown. If Carr is considered an MVP candidate, Ryan certainly has to be in the mix. He currently sits second in passing yards and passer rating, third in touchdowns, fourth in completion percentage and leads the league in yards per attempt. Given that he has a host of offensive weapons and a young offensive line, Ryan is set to play at a high level for the next several years. The tough thing is figuring out if 2016 is an anomaly based on his normal level of play or a sign of things to come. Also, if Brady hangs on for three more years, Ryan will already be 34 himself and running out of time to capture the league’s attention.

The world without Brady is kind of hazy and there is no telling if we will ever see the type of rivalry we saw between he and Manning. The league seems to be running out of elite quarterbacks, but we will have to wait and see who steps up to the plate in the next few years.

2016 NFL Power Rankings: Week 14

Cowboys logo1. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 1)
How bout them Cowboys? Dallas became the first team to clinch a playoff berth for 2016 edging out the Vikings on Thursday night. Minnesota has clearly been slumping but it was a very solid performance from the defense.

Patriots Logo2. New England Patriots (Last week: 2)
The Pats got another solid win at home, but with the news that Rob Gronkowski is out the rest of the season, New England has considerably less hype surrounding then they did a week ago. Trust Belichick and Brady to keep this group moving along, but it is certainly a blow to their Super Bowl chances.

Raiders logo3. Oakland Raiders (Last week: 3)
Oakland is the surprise story of the AFC this season. (I would say NFL, but the Cowboys.) Derek Carr is in the MVP conversation and this defense is finding it’s groove. Jack Del Rio is definitely headlining Coach of the Year discussions.

Chiefs Logo4. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 4)
Someone tell Eric Berry to stop being so mean to Matt Ryan. The Chiefs’ safety bailed Kansas City out with a pick-6 and a pick-2 to seal a win. Next up is a visit from Oakland on Thursday to decide control of the AFC West and maybe the AFC.

Pittsburgh_Steelers logo5. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 7)
No one cares if it’s unorthodox if it results in a win. Pittsburgh has won three straight and has a chance to control their own destiny with three divisional games still on the slate. The Ravens lead the division right now, but the Steelers possess more firepower to get it done.

Falcons logo6. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 5)
Brutally tough loss for Atlanta sees them only move down one spot. The Falcons moved the ball very consistently against one of the best defensive units in the league. If they clean up the mistakes, they should close out the NFC South.

Seahawks logo7. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 8)
Will the real Seahawks offense please stand up? Seattle came off a total dud against Tampa to blow out Carolina 40-7 on Sunday Night Football. Thomas Rawls looks healthy, but Earl Thomas is likely done for the year. Seattle remains a bit of unknown as the playoffs approach.

Ravens logo8. Baltimore Ravens (Last week: 10)
Where did that come from? After failing to score 20 points in their last two games, Baltimore drubbed Miami 38-6. The division race is tight, but the Ravens are still in the driver seat.

Lions Logo

9. Detroit Lions (Last week: 12)
Matt Stafford torched the Saints’ defense to earn the Lions a fourth straight win. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not a fan of Stafford, but I have to acknowledge when he does well. Detroit has a tough final four games standing between them an a division title.

Denver_Broncos10. Denver Broncos (Last week: 6)
This might seem strange to see the Broncos drop four spots after a win. Denver outlasted Jacksonville in a defensive struggle, but Paxton Lynch continued to struggle. If Trevor Siemian is unable to play at points down the stretch, the Broncos will be in trouble against a legitimate contender.

Buccaneers logo11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last week: 15)
Luppino is ready to talk playoffs. The Bucs are the possessors of the final wildcard spot in the NFC after this weekend. An interesting final four games against Carolina, Dallas and New Orleans twice allow Tampa to control their own destiny with wins.

Packers logo12. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 13)
Don’t look now, but the Packers have won back-to-back games in commanding fashion. Even if it was the Eagles and Texans, these were two games that the Pack needed to win to keep playoff hopes alive. They are only a game back of the Buccaneers for the final wildcard spot, and a tough final stretch for Detroit means that the division is not out of reach.

Giants Logo13. New York Giants (Last week: 11)
The Giants were thoroughly outplayed Sunday against the Steelers. The defense held its own for the most part, but the offense struggled and continued to give New York headaches. The running game is non-existent and Eli Manning is struggling to win games for this team. Don’t be surprised if the Giants collapse to miss the postseason.

Washington made up logo14. Washington (Last week: 14)
That was a tough loss for Washington. They got dealt a bad hand, playing on the road in Arizona against a team desperate for a victory. Playoff hopes are still alive, but dwindling.

Dolphins logo15. Miami Dolphins (Last week: 9)
Well back to reality. The Dolphins’ six-game win streak came to an end in Baltimore in disappointing fashion. Miami allowed 38 points and now that win streak looks rather flimsy when you consider the only win against a team with a winning-record was Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)16. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 21)
Don’t get your hopes up quite yet. Arizona got a big win against Washington, but a playoff run is highly unlikely here. Four straight wins would push Arizona to 9-6-1. The Cardinals would need to knock off New Orleans, Seattle and Los Angeles, plus get some help from elsewhere.

Vikings logo17. Minnesota Vikings (Last week: 16)
The roller coaster ride that is the 2016 Minnesota Vikings continued in Dallas with a tough two-point loss to the NFC leaders. Mike Zimmer should be back after having eye surgery, but playoff hopes are quickly slipping through Minnesota’s fingers.

Bills logo18. Buffalo Bills (Last week: 17)
Buffalo gave Oakland a run for its money in the first half. Unfortunately, the offense stagnated and the defense fell apart. The Bills still have an outside shot at the playoffs coupled with an easy final four games. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and the Jets all represent winnable games for Rex Ryan’s crew.

Saints logo19. New Orleans Saints (Last week: 18)
Not what New Orleans expected for sure. Drew Brees failed to throw a touchdown pass. The running back committee failed to do much. The defense is a joke. The Saints have a lot of offseason concerns to address.

Chargers logo20. San Diego Chargers (Last week: 19)
2016 will be remembered as a season of what ifs for San Diego. They will look to turn the page in their franchise history with a move to LA next summer. If this team is healthy next year, the AFC West might be the best division ever.

Colts logo21. Indianapolis Colts (Last week: 24)
Say what you want about how week the AFC South is, but the Colts are right in this thing. Indy blew out the Jets, which isn’t much, but it was a good confidence booster going into a slate of divisional games down the stretch. Oh and Dwayne Allen seems to be back.

Texans logo22. Houston Texans (Last week: 2o)
Another deflating loss for Houston. This team has needed a quality win all season, and continually fail to get it. They still hold a lead in the AFC South, but Tennessee and Indy are right on their heels.

Titans logo23. Tennessee Titans (Last week: 23)
The week off sees Houston lose, giving the Titans’ playoff hopes a little boost. Tennessee has a chance to knock off an AFC elite team in the next two weeks in either Denver or Kansas City to show they mean business this year.

Eagles Logo24. Philadelphia Eagles (Last week: 22)
Remember when the Eagles were 3-0 and the hottest team in football. Carson Wentz doesn’t. The rookie quarterback only threw one interception in his first five games. In his last seven, he has tossed ten passes to the other team. This is a Philly team in transition, but the second half of this season has still been a disappointment so far.

Bengals Logo25. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 26)
The Bengals showed a flash of their 2015 form, where they made the playoffs and won the AFC North. A dominant performance against Philly doesn’t really mean very much right now after the season they’ve had. Mark my words, this team will be back in 2017 ready to compete for a playoff spot.

Panthers logo26. Carolina Panthers (Last week: 25)
Carolina is apparently still hungover after losing the Super Bowl. Cam Newton looks pedestrian compared to the MVP version we saw last year. The defense is banged up and it is time for the Panthers to start thinking about next season.

Bears logo27. Chicago Bears (Last week: 27)
There is some promise brewing in Chicago. Jordan Howard looks like the real deal. Cameron Meredith is turning into a solid receiver. The defense is coming together. Yes it was a win over the 49ers, but any step in the right direction is a good one.

Rams logo28. Los Angeles Rams (Last week: 28)
Somehow, Jeff Fisher received a contract extension. Expect the Rams to be bad for the next two years and for Jared Goff to continue to struggle in an offense that lacks talent. Also if someone finds 2015 Todd Gurley, please let me know. My fantasy team could use him.

Jets logo29. New York Jets (Last week: 29)
Well, at least they took the field? The Jets got absolutely demolished on Monday night football. The bright side? Bryce Petty will start the last four games so the organization can see if they have their future quarterback on the roster. That’s as close to a bright side the Jets can get.

Jaguars logo30. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last week: 30)
They hung in their with Denver, but it was another disappointing loss for Jacksonville. Gus Bradley should probably start packing his desk. Blake Bortles continues to look lost and has yet to cut down on the turnovers. This is a young team, but the results have been disappointing.

49ers Logo31. San Francisco 49ers (Last week: 31)
If I’m a betting man, I’d say that San Francisco makes a move to draft a quarterback in the first round in April. Colin Kaepernick was beyond pathetic. Blaine Gabbert wasn’t much better. This team has no one to turn to right now. Chip Kelly should probably just head back to Oregon.

Browns logo32. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 32)
The Browns didn’t lose for the first time this season. They also didn’t play, but you have to take what you can get. Reports point toward Robert Griffin III playing in Week 14 against Cincinatti. This might be Cleveland’s best chance to win in 2016 at home against their division rival. If not, it looks like 0-16 for the Browns.