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By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

Hear Me Out...The most courageous 2019-20 NFL season predictions: The Either, Or

 

August 22, 2019



The most courageous 2019-20 NFL season predictions continue and this week’s predictions will focus on the “Either, Or” teams. These seven teams can either have a lot go right this season, or a lot go wrong and I’m basing my prediction that things will mostly go wrong for them.

The subcategories for the Either, Or teams are Should, Should Be Better, Purgatory and Drop off.

The over/under win totals for each team are pulled from oddsshark.com and the stats are courtesy from pro-footballreference.com.

Let’s get to it!

SHOULD, SHOULD BE BETTER

Buffalo Bills

2018 record: 6-10

2019 Over/Under: 7.5 – Under, I think they hit right at seven wins this year.

The Bills had one focus this offseason, do everything they could to bolster the offense to help QB Josh Allen. The offensive line is better, they upgraded at receiver, even if they had to overpay for Cole Beasley, (but if you’re Buffalo, you have to overpay in free agency because, it’s Buffalo) and the running back depth is strong with LeSean McCoy, TJ Yeldon and the immortal Frank Gore.

Now it’s on Allen to deliver, and I’m not saying he has to be a top 5 QB this season but he’s got to at least be a top 18 QB with flashes of being a top 10 guy down the road. I think Allen will be better this year and he’ll be a Cam Newton type of QB. 

The Bills defense is still stingy and if Allen and the offense can get going they should finish second in the AFC East behind the Patriots.

New York Jets

2018 record: 4-12

2019 Over/Under: 7.5 – Under,

I’m not sure what to make of the Jets. On paper, they should be better but I just don’t trust them. The addition of Le’Veon Bell is going to help and their defense should be improved, I think it’s their coaching that I don’t trust the most. Jets head coach Adam Gase is just one of those coaches that I can’t buy into and it’s not because he’s a weirdo.

Gase’s stint in Miami started off nicely with a playoff trip but the following two seasons were a mess. From an outsider’s perspective, it really seemed like when things got tough he freaked out and made a lot of panic moves like trading away Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry. He was basically that dude in your fantasy league that trades his top players after a bad game for 30 cents on the dollar.

Maybe with a better QB, Gase will be able to show off that offensive genius title he was given and maybe, Miami was just a bad fit and the Jets will be a competitive football team this year. Or it’s possible that Gase isn’t the offensive genius he was claimed to be in Denver and his time in Miami is closer to who he is as a head coach. This leads to the Jets being a top 5 pick and the New York media pounding Gase into oblivion. I’m prepared for anything with this team.

PURGATORY

Detroit Lions

2018 record: 6-10

2019 Over/Under: 7 – Over, they’ll go 8-8 which is perfect for a team like this.

The Lions are stuck in NFL purgatory, not bad enough to be a top 5 pick and not good enough to contend for a playoff spot. They can beat the bad teams but not the good teams, QB Matt Stafford record vs. winnings teams shows that, 8-57.

Detroit is also in the NFC North with the Bears, Packers and Vikings. Rough, real rough stuff for the Lions. On top of that, you add Matt Patricia as the Lions head coach and it feels like going 8-8 will be the best-case scenario for this team.

Patricia seems like a lock as the next wilted leaf on the Bill Belichick coaching tree. It’s almost as if Patricia watched what Belichick did but never really comprehend how/why he was able to do it. From the jump in Detroit, Patricia was passively combative with the press. You can get away with this if you’re Belichick because you have Super Bowl rings but if you’re Matt Patricia and you haven’t done anything as a head coach, it’s a harder sell.

It was a bit of a tell that Patriot fans were ecstatic when he left town last offseason and not at all surprising that the Pats defense greatly improved after his departure.

DROP OFF

Dallas Cowboys

2018 record: 10-6, lost in NFC Divisional round

2019 Over/Under: 9 – Under, too many things going against them this year.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is that person that swears, swears that they hate drama but every time you turn around they’re knee-deep in some petty feud of their creation. This offseason, the headline dominating Cowboys drama involves paying their young talent. Do the Cowboys pay Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper?

No, yes and yes, are my answers.

I’ve been hard on Dak since he came into the league but last season I was really impressed with his play. He’s not the gunslinger QB who can throw for 350 yards in his sleep but he knows how to get his team in position to win.

He reminds me of Tom Brady early in his career, Brady didn’t rip secondary’s apart but he did all of the little things that gave the Pats a better chance at victory. Paying money to a non-big arm QB like Dak isn’t sexy but if Jerry Jones pays Dak now, he’ll save money in the long run rather than waiting and watching as the QB market goes up and up. (By the way, there is no way that I believe Dak asked for $40 million a year. That was 100 percent a Jerry Jones leak to try and get Dak and his team to take some money off. Get out of here with that. Dak should tell Jerry he’s playing out his contract and hitting free agency, he’d look good in a Jags uni.)

As for Cooper, the Cowboys have to pay him. They traded a No. 1 draft pick for him, you just can’t let the guy walk.

Now to Zeke, it’s unfortunate that the RB position has been so devalued the past four, five years but that’s the reality of the NFL as of this moment. It’s a shame too because RBs, along with WRs, are easily the most entertaining skill position players because all it takes is one play for them to turn a game on its head.

If the NFLPA wasn’t asleep at the wheel, they’d have seen this trend taking shape and worked on a solution. If you’re an RB in this era of the NFL you’re likely not to be paid anything close to your true value. It’s surprising the NFLPA isn’t working on this problem during recent CBA negotiations. You’d think they’d try to get rookie RB contracts lowered to three, maybe two years. Or they could work in provisions that if a player hits certain marks, they can renegotiate their deal sooner or receive significant bonuses.

I’m over 400 words about the Cowboys and still haven’t said how their season is going to play out, but that’s the Drama Loving Cowboys for you. As to their 2019 season outlook, I think it’s going to go poorly. They went 7-2 after their bye week and that’s what won them the NFC East but if you look closer at that streak, you see they won a lot of close games. All seven of their wins were by one possession. History has shown time and again teams that do that well in close games, have a hard time repeating that success the following season. They’re going to regress to the means and maybe just maybe, this is Jason Garrett’s final year in Big D.

Chicago Bears

2018 record: 12-4, lost in NFC Wildcard round

2019 Over/Under: 9 – Under, all eyes are on Mitch

Let’s see here, we have historically good defense paired with questionable quarterback play, coming off an unexpectedly good season. Where have I seen this before? That’s right! My Jags were in this same scenario and it did not go well for them in 2018. The Bears defense in 2018 forced a ton of turnovers and created short fields for their offense. They led the league with 36 takeaways, gave up a league-best five rushing TDs and only allowed a score on 28.6 percent of drives, also a league-best.

Keeping up those numbers is tough and not likely to be repeated by the Bears in 2019, that’s not because they’re going to be bad but just regression. So if they’re going to win the NFC North again the Bears have to turn to their offense to help carry the load. And this is where it gets tricky because I am not confident in the Bears QB Mitch Trubisky. By not confident, I mean I don’t think he’s very good. I can’t remember a single memorable play he had last year, all I remember him doing was overthrowing or just missing Allen Robinson, who was on one of my fantasy football teams, I’m not bitter though.

Maybe this is the year Trubisky breaks out and/or Matt Naggy designs an offense that unleashes him. If that happens the Bears will be playoff-bound. Otherwise, I think we’ll see a lot of this; a gassed Bears defense leaves the field after forcing a punt. A decent punt return gives the Chicago offense solid starting position. Trubisky drops back to pass on the drive’s first play and throws too far outside to an open Robinson. The Bears run a screen on second down to make third down more manageable. On third down, Trubisky overthrows Taylor Gabriel on a post that’s picked off and after the play, the TV feed cuts to a dejected Bears defense contritely trotting back onto the field.

New Orleans Saints

2018 record: 13-3, lost in NFC Championship game

2019 Over/Under: 10 – Under, the makings of a year from hell are all there.

Here are the last five playoff defeats for the New Orleans Saints

2010: Lost in the Wildcard to a 7-9 Seahawks team, aka, the Beat-Quake game.

2011: Lost in the divisional round to the 49ers team with a bad offense, on a TD pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis with 10 seconds remaining in the game.

2013: Lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.

2017: Lost in the divisional round to the Vikings on a 61-yard Hail Mary pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs, aka, the Minneapolis Miracle.

2018: Lost in the Conference Championship to the Rams in OT, this was The PI That Wasn’t game.

BRUTAL. ABSOLUTELY BRUTAL.

The last two postseason losses have to hurt the most because you could argue it was two plays that cost them trips to the Super Bowl. TOUGH. STUFF.

The Saints have been saying all the right things this offseason that they’re over it and ready for this season. Even though their fans are far from getting over it, and by the way, if there was ever a reason to remove a judge from office it’s the New Orleans judge who is allowing that ridiculous lawsuit against the NFL to continue. It’s a football game and has no impact on the grand scheme of life. Move on you nerds.

Back to business, I just have a feeling the Saints are due for a rough year in which everything seems to go against them. I see them finishing somewhere around 7-9 and 9-7. Then next season they can bounce back and send Drew Brees out a champion.

Honestly, just looking at their recent postseason history would it be good for the Saints to make it to the Super Bowl this season? They had a rough loss in the divisional round two years ago, followed by another devastating loss in the championship round the next season. If they make the Super Bowl this season, it might be the toughest/most savage loss in NFL history.

I could see something along the lines like they’re getting blown out in the Super Bowl but rally, to not only comeback but take the lead late. Their defense forces a turnover with five minutes remaining, they methodically march down the field, eating clock and forcing the Jags to burn timeouts.

But it’s third-and-six at Jacksonville’s 8-yard line with 1:16 remaining and the Saints are up 24-23. A first down or touchdown puts the game away. Staying true to their aggressive nature, the Saints call a pass. Brees drops back but is strip-sacked by Yannick Ngakoue. Calais Campbell of the Jags is about to scoop up the ball but the Saints Alvin Kamara beats him to it and has a path to the end zone. Kamara is a yard out from the end zone before he’s caught by Myles Jack, who rips the ball from Kamara. As the ball bounces on the turf, Jags all-world DB Jalen Ramsey picks it up and goes 96 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

After that the Jags convert on their two-point conversion and go up 31-24. There’s still time left, just under a minute, and the Saints get the ball at their own 25-yard line. Jumping ahead, it’s fourth-and-10, and the Saints haven’t moved the ball. Things are looking bleak but Brees completes a pass to Tre’Quan Smith that brings them just outside of Jags territory and they burn their second timeout. There’s life again for the Saints, while the Jags are reeling a bit.

Next play, the Saints run a draw for Kamara, who takes it to the Jacksonville 17-yard line and gets out of bounds with 23 seconds left in the game. New Orleans is feeling it and Jacksonville is hurtin’. The Saints run a slant for Jared Cook, he catches it and is tackled at the Jags 9. With everyone thinking they’re going to call a timeout, the Saints lineup immediately and run their next play, a screen for Kamara. Kamara powers his way into the end zone with :07 seconds left. The Hard Rock Stadium is rockin’ with the cheers of Saints fans, you can barely even hear the announcers calling the game.

The Saint lineup for the PAT to tie it at 31-all, the snap is good, the hold good and no sooner does the ball leave Will Lutz’s foot, it smacks right into the outstretched hand of Calais Campbell. Screams, mixed with cheers from the Jags fans, ripple throughout the stadium as everyone reacts to the blocked PAT. The Saints trail 31-30 but there’s still hope, there are seven seconds remaining and the Saints have a timeout left, all they have to do is get the onside kick. Lutz strikes the ball perfectly, it takes weird bounce after weird bounce and whether you believe it or not, the Saints come up with the ball.

But, there’s a yellow flag on the field.

After what feels like an eternity, we get an explanation. The Saints Tre’Quan Smith was offside on the kickoff by half a step. Having to rekick, after the penalty, the Saints attempt another onside kick but the Jags recover the kick, kneel out the clock and are the Super Bowl champions.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2018 record: 9-6-1

2019 Over/Under: 9 – Under, Tomlin is going to take an unfair amount of heat after this season.

The Steelers Killer B’s era ended quite dramatically, Le’Veon Bell is in New York and Antonio Brown and all his antics are in Oakland. So as it stands, the Steelers choosing Big Ben over the other Bs looks to be the better move and everyone in Pittsburgh in celebrating. Which feels a bit premature to me, the real games haven’t even started. What if the Steelers go 4-12 this year, are those fans still going to be fist-pumping the departures of AB and Bell?

Really though, how many teams jettison their two best offensive players and get better the following year? Anything bad that happened in 2018 was immediately dumped on Bell and Brown as being their fault, even though Bell didn’t play a snap in ’18. The problems with the Steelers went beyond anything Bell, who wasn’t in the building, or Brown did. The team going 2-4 over the season’s final six weeks had far more to do with the defense than the absence of Bell or attitude of Brown.

The Steelers defense, along with the Chiefs, led the league in sacks, awesome right? Well, they were bottom of the barrel in nearly everything else. They were 24th in third-down percentage, 27th in rushing defense and 29th in takeaways. For a quick summary, they could get to the QB but couldn’t force turnovers, stop the run or get off the field on third down. How is AB supposed to fix a bad defense?

I’m not saying AB didn’t play his part in last season’s issues, he had his role, but a large part of last season’s collapse was on the defense. They did bring in linebacker Mark Barron who should help improve the defensive unit, but will it be enough to turn things around? I have my doubts.

Offensively, the Steelers should still be good, not as good as they were with Bell and Brown, but still good. JuJu Smith-Schuster is going to have a big season and James Conner showed he can run the rock. My biggest question with the offense is how long before Big Ben starts complaining about the offensive line, his receivers, the coaches and Conner not being the receiving threat that Bell was? As bad as Brown was last season, Big Ben played his role in creating the strife in the locker room. But I expect Big Ben will start trashing his teammates during their bye week when they’re 2-4.

Overall, the Steelers took a step back from last season while their two rivals in the AFC North took a step forward. Doing more with less usually results in doing less.

The most courageous 2019-20 NFL season predictions continue next week with a look at the “Outside Looking” in teams.

 
 

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