Chill on Dak Prescott

Everyone just relax. No seriously, take a deep breath and stop calling him the second coming of Tom Brady. The NFL world has exploded over the past month as Dak Prescott tortured NFL defenses during the preseason. His emergence in his first three preseason games was impressive, but not indicative of anything.

dak-prescott
Prescott is a fourth round pick from Mississippi State. (Wikimedia Commons)

To start with, it was three preseason games where he played about half of each one. None of these games count for anything. Prescott also played most of the second game against Miami’s backups on defense. Defenses aren’t sending full blitz packages, coverage schemes are still being implemented and top defensive stars likely aren’t even playing. So yes, while the performance was impressive, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Looking past that, Prescott was never going to touch the field in the regular season unless Tony Romo got injured. This was not a quarterback competition. Romo is in no danger of losing his starting job once he is fully healthy. One day we might see Prescott as the preferred starter under center, but it won’t be until Romo retires or leaves Dallas.

And even when we do see him play, we don’t have any guarantee that he will put up the same video game-like numbers we saw during the preseason. Odds are, he will be outplayed by his New York counterpart Eli Manning. Prescott’s sample size is tiny and that should be a red flag to anyone proclaiming him as the next great quarterback. This article I found today from CBS Sports is already calling Prescott a future Super Bowl-winning passer. He hasn’t played a snap of a regular season game yet!

And what even more people seem to forget is that this is Tony Romo we are talking about. The same guy who was an MVP candidate in 2014 and lead Dallas to the divisional round of the playoffs. You know, Romo, who has over 34,000 career passing yards and 247 career touchdown passes, both franchise records. This is the same team that Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach played for I will remind you. Tony Romo is right on the cusp of being a Hall of Famer. His numbers are better than those of Staubach and Aikman who are both in Canton. You don’t just kick your Pro Bowl quarterback to the curb because a rookie has a couple of impressive preseason games.

Tony_Romo
Romo is out several week with a broken bone in his back. (Wikimedia Commons)

This article is not just so I can hate on Dak Prescott. In fact, with the pieces that are around him, I do think Prescott has a bright future. He has shown flashes of brilliance, shows that he has most of the physical tools to play the position at a high level and he is on a team with a recipe for him to be successful. Between that stellar offensive line and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott has some nice pieces to grow with and compliment him. Hopefully, by the time he takes over as the starter, (if we reach that point) the Cowboys will have found another receiver to either aid or replace Dez Bryant.

Prescott will be under center Sunday for Dallas as they take on the Giants. New York had the worst statistical defense in the league a year ago, so this might be the perfect way to east him into regular season football. But even if does have a great game against the Giants, let’s hold off on anointing him a Hall of Famer until maybe he finishes his first season in the pros.

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NFL Preseason Award Predictions

It’s that time of year again. Where we can all pretend to being doing work while actually setting our fantasy football lineups. The NFL season is about to kickoff.

This time of year also means it is time for me to (probably incorrectly) predict the 2016 NFL award winners. Prepare for a couple of dark horse candidates.

NCAA Football: National Championship-Ohio State vs Oregon
Elliott was the highest drafted running back since Trent Richardson in 2012. (Wikimedia Commons)

Offensive Rookie of the Year:
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Dallas
Let’s start with an easier one. Put the best running back from the 2016 draft class behind arguably the best offensive line in the league and he is bound to be successful. Tony Romo’s injury probably helps Ezekiel Elliott’s chances even more as he will likely be leaned on more than if Romo was on the field. This kid might end up with 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns, as a rookie.

Defensive Rookie of the Year:
Xavien Howard, Cornerback, Miami
This might be a bit of a headscratcher for some, but Xavien Howard is in the best position to make his presence felt early and often. Starting alongside Byron Maxwell, Howard likely won’t draw the top receiver on each team, but he will be on the field to make plays. Joey Bosa would have been a likely candidate here, but well, I’m sure you know by now…

Offensive Player of the Year:
Todd Gurley, Running Back, Los Angeles
Le’Veon Bell continues to miss out on this award with his suspensions, which opens the door for the second year bruiser, Todd Gurley. He won’t be a huge asset in the passing game, but he will likely carry the Rams offense for most of the 2016 season. Case Kennum, Sean Mannion and Jared Goff probably won’t be lighting up the score board, so expect Gurley to have a monster season.

Khalil_Mack.JPG
Mack is the only player in NFL history to be named All-Pro at two different positions. (Wikimedia Commons)

Defensive Player of the Year:
Khalil Mack, Defensive End, Oakland
J.J. Watt will likely start the season for Houston, but he is not going to be at full strength coming off surgery. That means Khalil Mack gets his shot at taking the award. Mack had 15 sacks and 77 tackles in just his second year as a pro in 2015. He has become a disruptive force in the NFL and moves fluidly between the defensive line and linebacking core. Oakland has also added some other pieces around Mack in the form of Sean Smith and Bruce Irvin, which means he will have even more opportunities to make explosive plays. If Mack manages to take another step forward in his development, he could be threatening some records this year.

Comeback Player of the Year:
Jamaal Charles, Running Back, Kansas City
This is definitely a risky pick. Jamaal Charles will turn 30 in December and he is coming off his second major knee injury of his career. However, Charles has never more than 285 carries in a season and is not a volume touch player. He is very effective when he gets the ball, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in his career. Look for Charles to hit the 1,000 yard rushing mark and score at least 10 total touchdowns in 2016.

Coach of the Year:
Andy Reid, Kansas City
Another member of the Chiefs’ organization taking an award. Kansas City has been a solid team for the last few years, but this year, Andy Reid has his team set to win the division and possibly earn a buy into the divisional round of the playoffs. A strong defense and a reliable running game is how Reid has built this team, and it will carry them to a division title and another playoff appearance.

Russell_Wilson
Wilson has led Seattle to the playoffs in each of his four seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Most Valuable Player:
Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle
Saving the best for last. At this point, the MVP award just goes to a quarterback. Adrian Peterson is the only non-quarterback in the past 10 years to win the award and he rushed for over 2,000 yards that season. In Seattle, the ground game is as uncertain as it has maybe ever been and Russell Wilson just continues to grow as a passer. In 2015, he tossed 34 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions and threw for over 4,000 yards. That doesn’t include anything he did with his legs either. Wilson accomplished all of that with a porous offensive line that got better this offseason. Look for the former third round pick to snag his first MVP award this year.

 

Projecting the entire NFL regular season

With the season starting tomorrow night, Chris and I completed our annual tradition and predicted every NFL game this upcoming season. Here are my results. Chris’ are here. Check back tomorrow to see how the playoffs shake out. 

Pittsburgh_Steelers logoAFC North
Steelers 11-5
Ravens 8-8
Bengals 5-11
Browns 2-14

This year, a slightly weakened division will allow for an easier time for the Steelers, with a now potent offense; LeVeon Bell, Antonio Bryant, and Martavius Bryant are strong weapons surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, who is coming off his best year as a pro. Baltimore faces issues on offense: with Torrey Smith gone to Baltimore and rookie Breshad Perriman is the only replacement. Joe Flacco will be forced to rely on the swan song season of Steve Smith, who may struggle to carry the load again at 35. In Cincy, Andy Dalton needs to be effective in protecting the football if they are going to have any chance of contending with the strong defenses in this division. I don’t see that happening, and Jeremy Hill will not be able to change that. As for Cleveland, Josh McCown is not the answer, and the lack of a running game is a big issue; if Cleveland struggles early, we may see Johnny Manziel starting a lot earlier than Week 16 this year.

Patriots LogoAFC East
Patriots 13-3
Bills 9-7
Jets 8-8
Dolphins 8-8

This is a strong division this year, but I find it hard to bet against a pissed off Tom Brady on a consistent basis, especially since the Pats returns all of his weapons from a year ago. The Bills defense, already a fierce defense with a lethal pass rush, only get better by adding one of the best defensive head coaches in the game, Rex Ryan; if Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy can lead to a fairly average offense, their defense can carry them to the playoffs. The Jets were primed to be better this season, until they pulled several classic Jets moves. In spite of the loss of Sheldon Richardson, the additions of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and rookie Leonard Williams could be enough to support Ryan Fitzpatrick and his strong cast of receivers. Miami improves on defense just by adding Ndamukong Suh; if Ryan Tannehill can continue his success from last year, they could also make a push to the playoffs. A wild card will likely come out of this division, and any team behind New England has a chance to win it.

Colts logoAFC South
Colts 13-3
Texans 6-10
Jaguars 4-12
Titans 4-12

Indy is the class of the AFC South; Andrew Luck will have his way with weak defenses on his way to another divisional title. The additions of Frank Gore and Andre Johnson give them the veteran presence and depth needed to go deep into the playoffs. Houston will struggle for the first few weeks while Arian Foster recovers from groin surgery, but once he returns, they could see some success; until then, maybe they give the offensive playbook to JJ Watt and see what he can do with it. Jacksonville could have made a big step forward had they not lost Dante Fowler to an ACL injury. Even so, Blake Bortles is the future of this team, and adding a stud TE like Julius Thomas is a big deal for his development. Tennessee will run with Marcus Mariota and he might see some success, but this team is bare of talent at almost every position; they need a few more years before seeing any success.

Denver_BroncosAFC West
Broncos 13-3
Chiefs 12-4
Chargers 6-10
Raiders 3-13

Denver will be strong again this year if Peyton is still Peyton. The emergence of CJ Anderson and the return of a strong defensive front will take some pressure off him. In Kansas City, weapons, such as the return of Eric Berry from cancer treatment, the signing of Andy Reid’s favorite weapon, Jeremy Maclin, and the huge big play potential Jamaal Charles, and easily propel the Chiefs to the playoffs, perhaps even past Denver. The Chargers may have locked down Phillip Rivers for now, but he is lacking the team around him. Even is Melvin Gordon can be successful off the bat, the defense does not have the chops to compete week to week. Oakland has no running game or secondary, which means a lot of pressure will fall on Derek Carr. That is a lot to ask of a second year quarterback whose best weapon is a rookie out wide.

Packers logoNFC North
Packers 14-2
Lions 9-7
Vikings 8-8
Bears 3-13

Even with the loss of Jordy Nelson, the Packers are poised to win this division again behind the best QB in football, Aaron Rodgers, and a generous schedule. I have more faith in Matt Stafford than the average American apparently; the resurgence of Calvin Johnson and the emergence of Ameer Abdullah gives him strong weapons to work with as the Lions make a playoff push. Teddy Bridgewater is ready to make a big sophomore step with the return of Adrian Peterson to open up the secondary for him; if the defense can step up, this could be a playoff team. Chicago, in spite of John Fox’s first year as coach, is missing talent, especially on defense; if Jay Cutler cannot prove his worth, this team will struggle, and he might be looking for a new job after the season.

Giants Logo NFC East
Giants 11-5
Eagles 10-6
Cowboys 9-7
Washington 1-15

I see the Giants pulling it out with a strong passing attack behind the receiving corps of Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz. If Sam Bradford can stay healthy, do not be surprised to see him repeat his strong preseason performances and lead Philly to the playoffs. The Cowboys are poised to regress unfortunately, with the losses of Orlando Scandrick to injury and DeMarco Murray to Philly will cost Dallas, though they can make a push if Tony Romo can repeat his performance from last year. As for Washington, they are a broken team right now that is not ready to compete with Kirk Cousins at QB. Their year is over already.

Falcons logoNFC South
Falcons 10-6
Buccaneers 9-7
Saints 6-10
Panthers 5-11

The Falcons, behind star QB Matt Ryan and a healthy receiving corps, is the favorite to pull out the division win if the defense can play respectably. The Buccaneers come into this season with talent on both sides of the ball and one of the league’s easiest schedules. If the offensive line can keep Jameis Winston upright and help Doug Martin get some yardage, then don’t be surprised if the Bucs sneak into the playoffs. The problem with the Saints this year is their defense; not to mention Drew Brees started showing signs of age last season. The Panthers have lost weapons, namely DeAngelo Williams to Pittsburgh and Kelvin Benjamin to a knee injury. Unless Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly can singularly prop up this team, they will not repeat as divisional champions.

Seahawks logoNFC West
Seahawks 14-2
Cardinals 12-4
Rams 6-10
49ers 2-14

Seattle returns most of their defense, and adds a major offensive weapon in Jimmy Graham for Russell Wilson to throw to; best defense plus best rushing plus potent passing equals a very good football team. Arizona is also poised to repeat their success to start last season with Carson Palmer back from injury, particularly if Andre Ellington can keep defenses honest. The Rams will get the short end of the QB exchange this season, with Nick Foles not able to capitalize on a new team without anyone good to throw to, though the D-line could make this team interesting. San Francisco lost way too much on defense this season to be successful this season, and Jim Tomsula is not ready to field a winning football team yet.

Playoffs
AFC

  1. Denver
  2. Indianapolis
  3. New England
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. Kansas City
  6. Buffalo

NFC

  1. Green Bay
  2. Seattle
  3. New York
  4. Atlanta
  5. Arizona
  6. Philadelphia

Picking the winner of every 2015 NFL game

The NFL season kicks off in just over 48 hours and as part of a time honored tradition with Matt Luppino and myself, we have picked the entire NFL season, game by game, for all of 2015. There are some surprises without a doubt and there are some no-brainers. Check back in tomorrow to see Matt’s picks.

Pittsburgh_Steelers logoAFC North
Steelers 11-5
Ravens 7-9
Bengals 5-11
Browns 3-13
Analysis: Pittsburgh will struggle early in the season without Bell but an easy schedule should see them return to the postseason. Baltimore only has one receiver on the roster with more than 30 catches a season ago. Andy Dalton’s spotty play will finally cost the Bengals big time and the Browns are a bit of a ways away from competing. For the first time in a while, the Steelers are the only AFC North team headed to the postseason.

Patriots LogoAFC East
Patriots 12-4
Jets 10-6
Bills 10-6
Dolphins 9-7
Analysis: Everyone is chalking this up as the NFL’s toughest division this year. They aren’t wrong as all four teams finish above .500. The Jets need to play consistently well but with an easy schedule, featuring the AFC South, Cleveland, Washington and Oakland, 10 wins is achievable. Miami plays well but a tough schedule and an even tougher division will bar them from the postseason. Buffalo just misses out on ending their postseason drought. Don’t be surprised if the final standings are this close and end in just about any order after the Patriots on top.

Colts logoAFC South
Colts 14-2
Texans 7-9
Titans 2-14
Jaguars 1-15
Analysis: The Colts could probably start resting their starters after Week 12 and still win the AFC South. Indy’s defense should be good enough for the offense to outscore just about anyone. Arian Foster missing the beginning of the season will be too much for the Texans to overcome. The Titans and Jaguars still have a lot of rebuilding to do as neither team will improve on their previous campaigns.

Denver_BroncosAFC West
Broncos 13-3
Chiefs 12-4
Chargers 5-11
Raiders 3-13
Analysis: Denver continues its reign atop the division but only after a close call with Kansas City. The running game will be a factor in Denver winning football games and this defense will play well after feeling like their were slighted a year ago in terms of credibility. The Chiefs bolstered their secondary with Marcus Peters and the return of Eric Berry. Not to mention Jeremy Maclin should probably catch a touchdown this year. San Diego finds that playing without Antonio Gates is really tough on an offense that lacks a go to receiver. Oakland looks better but still isn’t ready to compete.

Packers logoNFC North
Packers 13-3
Vikings 11-5
Lions 9-7
Bears 2-14
Analysis: It has been the Packers and then everyone else for quite some time now. The Lions made a push last year but the losses of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are monumental. Matt Stafford is still inconsistent at best. The Bears are in a tailspin and even John Fox cannot turn them around in one year. The Vikings will be the closest challenger this year with Teddy Bridgewater taking another step forward and Adrian Peterson back on the field. However, the Packers still reign supreme, even without Jordy Nelson, due to a relatively friendly schedule.

Cowboys logoNFC East
Cowboys 12-4
Eagles 11-5
Giants 8-8
Washington 1-15
Analysis: It probably won’t matter who starts in Washington if the defense is still as bad as it is. The Giants turn in another average year as the defense cannot keep up with the offense. Philly takes another step forward, going 11-5, but still misses the playoffs in a really tough NFC. The Cowboys repeat as division champs even without DeMarco Murray. Tony Romo will lead the Cowboys to some key wins against a light schedule.

Falcons logoNFC South
Falcons 10-6
Buccaneers 8-8
Saints 8-8
Panthers 4-12
Analysis: The NFC South will experience a major shakeup in 2015. The Bucs rise out of the basement after adding some good value in the draft and in free agency. Games against Tennessee, Washington and Jacksonville comprise an easy first half followed by a much tougher second half. Atlanta gets back to its winning ways with an improved defense and running game. New Orleans is in the midst of a really odd rebuild and find themselves at a crossroads. Carolina drops way down, unable to overcome the losses of Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Hardy.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)NFC West
Cardinals 15-1
Seahawks 13-3
Rams 4-12
49ers 3-13
Analysis: 15-1 probably seems lofty for the Cardinals but with only 5 games against 2015 playoff teams and Carson Palmer back under center, Arizona means business. Seattle will still be in the playoffs, and will actually be the only team to beat Arizona this year. The Rams will have a great run game to occasionally bail out their lack of a passing attack. San Francisco simply will not be able to keep up with the number of exits they had this offseason.

Playoff teams
AFC

  1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. Denver Broncos
  3. New England Patriots
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers
  5. Kansas City Chiefs
  6. New York Jets*

New York wins the tie breaker with Buffalo due to a better record against division opponents (3-3 vs. 4-2).

NFC

  1. Arizona Cardinals
  2. Green Bay Packers
  3. Dallas Cowboys
  4. Atlanta Falcons
  5. Seattle Seahawks
  6. Minnesota Vikings**

Minnesota wins the tie breaker over Philadelphia based on strength of victory (.416 vs. .325).

Check back in at the end of the week to see who me and Matt select as the Super Bowl Champions.