The Obstructed AFC Championship Game Preview

I apologize for my hiatus as I have been battling some health issues. I’m still not 100% but for the last couple of days I have been feeling better. I will be posting more soon. Starting with this game.

The Patriots held serve last weekend in beating the Chargers decisively. I thought perhaps Los Angeles would have done the upset before the game so I would have predicted it wrong. And say what you want about Brady and Belichick, but they are still the kings of the mountain for a reason.

The Chiefs silenced critics (and me once again) with their also decisive win against the Colts. The defense stepped up coupled in by Andrew Luck having probably the worst game of his career on top of it and Kansas City jumped to a big early lead and never looked back.

So we get the two teams with the best records in the AFC fighting it out in a rematch of their shootout in the regular season where New England won 43-40. However, people were left amazed by what Kansas City did at that point. So will it be a classic shootout again? Probably, but strange things happen in the playoffs.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, 6:40, CBS

PATRIOTS WIN IF:

Jan 13, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play against the Los Angeles Chargers during the third quarter in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

THEY CAN START OFF FAST: Well, both teams last weekend (Patriots, Chiefs) got off to strong starts and somewhat hit the cruise control after that. However, New England never really let the foot off the gas that whole time. They kept coming after the Chargers as everything clicked. They will have to do the same exact thing against that Kansas City offense. The games I remember the Patriots losing this year was that the starts New England had were very slow starts and were really out of rhythm.

THEY FIND A WAY TO KEEP TYREEK HILL FROM BEING A GAME-CHANGER: Hill to me is that wide receiver that should be considered elite if he isn’t one already. But to me, out of any receiver in the league, he is that one who can change a game with one play due to his insane speed. We can most certainly give Patrick Mahomes all the credit in the world this year, but when you have that guy as your wide receiver, your job is slightly easier given how he can make that big catch or make that big break off a small pass. New England has to make sure he is in check all the time or else the Patriots will be giving up 40 pretty quickly.

BRADY IS NOT PRESSURED: Kansas City has been well maligned on defense. It is a known fact. But the Chiefs pass rush is very good (really the secondary is the giant issue for Kansas City). If the Patriots are able to keep Brady from being hit and not pressured, he can have a field day with the Kansas City secondary. If he isn’t, there will be some frustrations that are starting to be more and more shown with Brady during games he’s not been like we have remembered since 2001.

CHIEFS WIN IF

Jan 12, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

MAHOMES MAKES THE RIGHT DECISIONS: Mahomes has had an amazing year and an MVP year. However, as we are splitting hairs somewhat, the times Kansas City has fallen in games, Mahomes has made some questionable decisions which has resulted into turnovers and such. Now the two things that really does hinder him at times is when the games are close and he either has to play from behind (Rams) and forces it or when the Chiefs are slightly ahead as he seems like he wants to be aggressive but pulls back just enough to not be Patrick Mahomes. So that is the one thing he needs to do in the sense of knowing when he needs to be aggressive and when he needs to play for the next play.

THEY DO NOT LET THE FOOT OFF THE THROAT: We see it over and over with teams in college and the pros. We see teams jump off to big starts and by the third and fourth quarter, everything they did right in the first half/three quarters of the game, they let up and not do what got them the lead (i.e. playing not to lose). Kansas City did that with the Chargers late in the season and had Indianapolis not made some mistakes, even that game had a feel like Kansas City let up in the second half a bit. Yes, the Chiefs scored in the 4th, but late to make it 31-13. They can’t sit on a lead against New England. We’ve seen that in January with Jacksonville last year and Atlanta the year before that.

AN UNSUNG HERO STEPS UP: Who? The running game guys, notably the Williams boys, have Sammy Watkins look like that guy in his early days in Buffalo, Chris Conley, etc. New England is going to try to stop Hill and Travis Kelce, so it is the other guys who need to make sure they are on their game. And given how Mahomes has been this year, it may be the case. So in other words, have the Chiefs beat the Patriots at the Patriots own game.

OUTLOOK: I mentioned in my playoff rankings list is that if Kansas City wins their divisional game, they could take off. I’m going to stick by that argument. Arrowhead Stadium will be a madhouse and while I do think Brady and the Patriots will have success scoring, I do think he will be pressured early and often to give KC an early fast start. My lone question will be if Kansas City can maintain that pace the whole game, which I think they can, but they can’t be too comfortable. I do like the Chiefs and Andy Reid to silence the doubters here as New England isn’t the same team on the road as they are at home (3-5 away from Foxboro in 2018). CHIEFS 48, PATRIOTS 40

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Have the Chiefs Already Hit Their Peak?

Pretty much whenever it comes to Kansas City fans and me, it hasn’t been a pleasant history.  I don’t know why.  Getting into hotly arguments with Royals fans over 10 years ago to arguing about how I can’t consider the Chiefs a legit Super Bowl contender over the past few seasons because of their holes on parts of the team and the whole “playoff futility” factor that has dated back to the mid 90’s or wasn’t high on Patrick Mahomes (yes, I was way wrong on that one), for some reason I bring out the “best” in Kansas City fans.

So needless to say, this post may not be an olive branch.  

The Chiefs this year really proved me wrong in a lot of ways, notably through Mahomes who is a legit MVP candidate and perhaps the favorite to win it and I wouldn’t argue with the decision if he was (though right now his three losses were to the cream of the NFL-Rams, Patriots, Chargers…so it is somewhat of the Aaron Rodgers conundrum of not beating the top quarterbacks in the NFL).  The offense is fun and exciting.  Tyreek Hill is one of my favorite players to watch on TV and probably the most underrated receiver in all of football.  Travis Kelce is one of the best tight ends in the game.  

But….

Did they hit their peak too early?  

The history is there….recent and the past 20 years.  In what feels like a same old song and dance, we see Kansas City jump to a hot start in the season, going 8-1, 9-1 10-2, etc. ending up 13-3, getting homefield throughout the playoffs or at least a bye, and then losing to a team really has no business being there (Colts in 1995, Steelers in 16, Titans last year).  

But one thing I come back to is when the Chiefs get off to that red hot start, near the end, there is always “that loss” or that “small run”  you go “how?”  The Chiefs in 95 were 10-1 and then lost to Dallas and Miami in a three game window where they only mustered 18 total points in those games to where the Colts kept them to only 7 points in the Playoff. Or in 2003 when KC started off 9-0, but finished 4-3 with the final two losses (Denver, Minnesota) being games where the defense was shredded all over the place only for Peyton Manning to break out of his playoff woes.  Or even in 2016 when the Chiefs took a rare home L to the Titans, where they could only put up 17 points and allowed nearly 400 yards; Pittsburgh a few weeks later followed suit by keeping the Chiefs to 16 points and shutting down all aspects of the Kansas City offense while the defense couldn’t get that needed stop.  Or last year with the inexplicable losses to the Giants and Jets where they faced off against a depleted Giants squad but somehow couldn’t punch it in or a offensively-challenged Jets squad and gave up nearly 500 yards of total offense.  And then Kansas City blows a 21-3 lead at home to the Titans in the Wild Card round.

This year we have seen an exciting Chiefs offense which prior to the Chargers game Thursday was one of the best in the NFL.  And I honestly thought despite the defensive hiccups, Kansas City has a great pass rush that could really cover up some deficiencies in the secondary.  However, in the NFL today, if your secondary is subpar, you won’t stand a chance.  And while Eric Berry returning is a big jolt, it is still not enough to offset the Chiefs struggles on defense.

The one thing that differs from prior years of the Chiefs playoff woes is at quarterback.  Mahomes is an MVP candidate-and a favorite (and despite the loss, I thought he played pretty well; it was just he wasn’t able to make those huge plays).  It’s a different take than when Kansas City had the likes of Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, and Alex Smith.  All of those quarterbacks were fine and more than serviceable, but they weren’t that quarterback you felt when the game was on the line could take over like Elway did, Manning did, etc.  Mahomes so far in his career hasn’t shown if he can, though the Ravens game was a “maybe it’s different this time” mentality for fans.  

Kansas City has been snakebit/cursed with their football team since the mid-90’s.  They are known as one of the best regular season teams and have held two great regular season winning coaches in Marty Schottenheimer and now Andy Reid (who is battling his own playoff demons).  The first reaction I had to their loss to the Chargers is, “did they finally hit their peak and from now until the end of January will they be in free-fall mode?”  The defense is suspect and the running game without Kareem Hunt who was released by the team for an off-field altercation really has soured the chances.  Kansas City’s best hope now is to keep the Chargers off their backs as they go to Seattle for a big game before returning back home to the hated Raiders.  But it has that feel of “here we go again” to Kansas City.”

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed AFC West Preview: 2018

The AFC West is always a heated division with rivalries across the board.  However, it just seems like there is a gap between the top two teams in the division and the bottom teams of the division every year.  And it just has that vibe.  But I think at least three teams have a great shot to win the division, but those same three teams have gaping holes that keep them from being relatively considered a lock.  The Chargers have high hopes and rightfully so as they are probably the most balanced squad in the AFC West, but with injuries on defense already there is some depth issues.  The Raiders bring back their coach from almost 20 years ago in Jon Gruden and hope to get the offense rolling, but questions are abound on the defense especially if they don’t have Khalil Mack around via holdout.  The Chiefs will put their dynamic offense into a young gun in Patrick Mahomes, but like the Raiders, there are major questions abound that really hasn’t been answered in the off-season and questions are all over the place with one of the more consistent squads in the league in Denver, where the Broncos may have a very rare off-year (though this would be the 2nd straight off-year for them) and it just doesn’t look like there are a lot of bright spots with them.

Chargers.jpg

(1) LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

LAST SEASON: 9-7 (2ND PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Geno Smith (FA-New York Giants), TE-Virgil Green (FA-Denver), C-Mike Pouncey (FA-Miami), K-Roberto Aguayo (FA-Carolina), K-Caleb Sturgis (FA-Philadelphia), S-Derwin James (Draft-Florida State), LB-Uchenna Nwosu (Draft-USC), DT-Justin Jones (Draft-NC State)

KEY LOSSES: TE-Hunter Henry (Injury), S-Jaylen Watkins (Injury), CB-Jason Verrett (Injury), TE-Antonio Gates (FA), RB-Branden Oliver (FA-Indianapolis), K-Nick Novak (FA), C-Matt Slauson (FA-Indianapolis), G-Kenny Wiggins (FA-Detroit), DT-Tenny Palepoi (FA), LB-Chris McCain (FA-Indianapolis), LB-Korey Toomer (FA-San Francisco), S-Tre Boston (FA-Arizona)

Similar to my feel on the 49ers I really am buying into the Chargers this year.  I think their defense despite some injuries and dings, is a championship, top 5 defense.  And the scary part is when you add a healthy Keenan Allen into the mix, you have a top 10 receiver in him with a quarterback like Philip Rivers.  Rivers has been one of those mid-tier guys who you are just waiting on to bust out and have an MVP caliber year.  The numbers are there, but the wins aren’t, which has led a good friend of mine to say “some of those numbers are empty calorie numbers” and only have them when the team is behind.  However, the Chargers have a good balance of a passing game, a running game, and a defense.  Those are all formulas for a great team.  It can be if can Rivers take them to that next level and can the special teams can step up, which really has been the team’s ultimate albatross since Drew Brees still wore the bolt.  The Chargers have Joey Bosa, who has proven me wrong time and time again since joining the NFL and could be in line for the defensive player of the year.  And on the other side is Melvin Ingram.  Sick.  The key question will be past the defensive line, notably at linebacker which does raise some concerns and a little surprised they let Korey Toomer go.  But the secondary should be on the upswing with Kasey Hayward and draft pick Derwin James.  But they cannot afford any other hits in the secondary as it is relatively thin.  KEY QUESTION:  Assuming everyone is healthy, is it somewhat of a do-or-die bit for Rivers to get them to that next level?  Honestly, yes.  He’s 36, almost 37.  He has to get the Chargers in the playoffs and deep.  I think they have to consider getting a quarterback in the NFL Draft next season.  MY PREDICTION: 11-5 they’re going to be good enough to win a lot of games and they may be the one team that can really scare the Patriots in the AFC.  

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos

(2) OAKLAND RAIDERS

LAST SEASON: 6-10 (3RD PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: RB-Doug Martin (FA-Tampa Bay), FB-Keith Smith (FA-Dallas), WR-Jordy Nelson (FA-Green Bay), WR-Martavis Bryant (Trade-Pittsburgh), WR-Ryan Switzer (Trade-Dallas), TE-Derek Carrier (FA-Los Angeles Rams), T-Breno Giacomini (FA-Houston), K-Mike Nugent (FA-Chicago), DE-Tank Carradine (FA-San Francisco), DE-Frostee Rucker (FA-Arizona), LB-Tahir Whitehead (FA-Detroit), LB-Derrick Johnson (FA-Kansas City), FA-Emmanuel Lamur (FA-Minnesota), S-Marcus Gilchrist (FA-Houston), FA-Rashaan Melvin (FA-Indianapolis), CB-Darryl Worley (FA-Philadelphia), CB-Shareece Wright (FA-Buffalo), FA-Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (FA-New York Giants), P-Andrew DePaola (FA-Chicago), T-Kolton Miller (Draft-UCLA), T-Brandon Parker (Draft-NC A&T), DT-PJ Hall (Draft-Sam Houston State), DE-Arden Key (Draft-LSU)

KEY LOSSES: WR-Michael Crabtree (FA-Baltimore), K-Sebastian Janikowski (FA-Seattle), DE-Denico Autry (FA-Indianapolis), LB-Navorro Bowman (FA), CB-TJ Carrie (FA-Cleveland), P-Marquette King (FA-Denver), WR-Cordarelle Patterson (Trade-New England) T-Marshall Newhouse (Released-Buffalo), FB-Jamize Olawale (Trade-Dallas)

People are giving Oakland the benefit of the doubt that with Jon Gruden back, things will automatically giving them the Division and another option besides New England for the AFC representative in the Super Bowl.  I don’t see it at all.  Yes, Derek Carr is a solid quarterback and they supplied more weapons with Carr in Nelson, Bryant, and Doug Martin to compliment Marshawn Lynch.  So from a paper standpoint, the offense could rival some of the best in the NFL.  However, there is A LOT of turnover from the roster, notably on defense and they were horrid last year.  Adding on, nobody knows when Khalil Mack will return from the holdout and Gruden didn’t really ease tensions on his comments.  They added pieces like Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson to offset Mack, but they’re not Mack.  And the secondary looks to be a giant mess, which may be problematic but not too problematic given what they have on their schedule this year.  But it will still be an issue I believe for the offensive minded Gruden.  They do have the potential to be competitive, but I don’t think the holes Oakland has on defense right now will put them over the top in the AFC.  KEY QUESTION:  When will Mack return?  I think both Donald for the Rams and Mack for the Raiders will be uniform in the opening week, but it sounds like in Oakland’s case it is very tense with them and Mack to the point I can see them not have their star defensive player for a few games assuming how the Raiders start.  MY PREDICTION: 9-7.  Raider fans may not be excited on this record as they are already thinking Super Bowl or bust, but they are just not that balanced.

Chiefs.jpg

(3) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 

LAST SEASON: 10-6 (1ST PLACE, LOST TO TENNESSEE IN WILD CARD)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Chad Henne (FA-Jacksonville), QB-Matt McGloin (FA-Houston), RB-Kerwyn Williams (FA-Arizona), RB-Damien Williams (FA-Miami), WR-Sammy Watkins (FA-Los Angeles Rams), DT-Xavier Williams (FA-Arizona), LB-Anthony Hitchens (FA-Dallas), CB-Kendall Fuller (Trade-Washington), CB-David Amerson (FA-Oakland), CB-Orlando Scandrick (FA-Washington), DE-Breeland Speaks (Draft-Ole Miss), DT-Derrick Nnadi (Draft-Florida State), LB-Dorian O’Daniel (Draft-Clemson)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Alex Smith (Trade-Washington), CB-Marcus Peters (Trade-Los Angeles Rams), WR-Albert Wilson (FA-Miami), C-Zach Fulton (FA-Houston), DT-Bennie Logan (FA-Tennessee), LB-Derrick Johnson (FA-Oakland), LB-Kevin Pierre-Louis (FA-New York Jets), CB-Terrance Mitchell (FA-Cleveland), Ron Parker (FA-Atlanta)

Of all the teams I’ve looked at, Kansas City is the hardest to figure out especially with Andy Reid as the head coach.  I don’t really doubt what Reid does in the regular season but of course January comes and then I doubt him.  Alex Smith is gone but gun-slinger Patrick Mahomes is in.  And I’m not fully sold on the guy.  Yes, he’s been fine during the preseason, but it has been preseason.  While I think they got a good trade in Kendall Fuller, I don’t know if he’s as better as Peters.  And I see major defensive flaws to the Chiefs that make me think they really aren’t a viable threat to the Patriots and the rest of the AFC.  But somehow, notably to Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs are always in the mix.  It may be a similar year like that in 2018, but I don’t see them being as better as what they’ve been the last few years.  KEY QUESTION: Will Patrick Mahomes be that guy to get the Chiefs over the hump?  Something about him doesn’t sit right with me.  He has an arm and is relatively mobile, but I don’t see him being like one of the elite quarterbacks and not really a guy that fits into Reid’s system.  We’ll see though.  MY PREDICTION: 9-7.  They’ll be competitive, but I don’t know if they will beat the better squads, especially on the road.

Denver.jpg

(4) DENVER BRONCOS

LAST SEASON: 5-11 (4TH PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Case Keenum (FA-Minnesota), T-Jared Veldheer (Trade-Arizona), DT-Clinton McDonald (FA-Tampa Bay), CB-Tramaine Brock (FA-Minnesota), S-S’ua Cravens (Trade-Washington), P-Marquette King (FA-Oakland), DE-Bradley Chubb (FA-NC State), WR-Courtland Sutton (FA-SMU), CB-Isaac Yiadom (Draft-Boston College), RB-Royce Freeman (Draft-Oregon)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Brock Osweiler (FA-Miami), RB-CJ Anderson (Released-Carolina), RB-Jamaal Charles (FA), WR-Bennie Fowler (FA-Chicago), WR-Cody Latimer (FA-New York Giants), TE-Virgil Green (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), T-Donald Stephenson (FA-Cleveland), CB-Aquib Talib (Trade-Los Angeles Rams), QB-Trevor Siemian (Trade-Minnesota)

I think right now, Denver is somewhat in a position they rarely are in: a mess.  And I blame John Elway for the mess.  The moves they made, the inability to keep Wade Phillips around and having a top tier defense, etc. it just doesn’t look great.  Case Keenum had a surprising year in Minnesota, helping to get the Vikings to the NFC Championship, but he’s not a guy I think that can be relied on for a lengthy period of time and instead of trying to get a young quarterback that is a franchise guy, he went with a veteran that has ups and downs.  Adding on, CJ Anderson is gone, replaced by Royce Freeman, who can be a steal, but it has always been a back-by-committee in Denver.  And the mishandling I think of the head coach with Vance Joseph (where Elway was indecisive on either keeping him or firing him) also stings as Joseph looks lost right now.  And even with Von Miller on defense, the Broncos defense has fallen back badly, looking old and underperforming.  And I honesty think Denver made no steps to improve their team this year.  KEY QUESTION: Would Denver actually ask Elway to step down as GM if they have another porous year?  Yes.  Elway is the executive VP so it isn’t like he’d be completely out of the Broncos organization, and I know he orchestrated a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015, but many feel it was because of Manning, Gary Kubiak, and Wade Phillips with the defensive play.  Right now, it could get very ugly with Denver.  At least that’s how I see it.  And it is really on his watch with the moves.   MY PREDICTION: 3-13.  Denver messed up I think with the moves they made this off-season.  Were they going to be at the forefront in the AFC?  No, but being competitive was still considered.  And I don’t see them being that too much.

That’s all the look-ins.  Next week will be my picks for the Super Bowl (which honestly I have zero clue who I am going to pick), MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc.).

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed AFC South Preview-2018

For the last few years, the AFC South has been regarded as one of the worst divisions in the NFL if not the worst.  It felt like a 9-7 or an 8-8 team would win the division, thanks to injuries to star players within the division or just plain out ineptitude.  But it has a feel the AFC South from top to bottom will be a little different and maybe one of the more tougher divisions in the NFL in 2018, assuming that certain stars do not get injured.

Last year, Jacksonville’s defense was the talk for getting turnovers and having a physical play to their defense.  They won the division with it and were a few plays away from stunning New England in the AFC Championship.  Tennessee with their run game and Marcus Mariota took that next step and returned to the playoffs and stole a first round win in Kansas City before getting educated by the Patriots.  The Texans for a brief moment had looked to have a great offense to go with a great defense thanks in part to DeShaun Watson.  However, Watson was injured as well as JJ Watt and it derailed the season.  And the Colts, while looking pretty rough without Andrew Luck, weren’t as awful as the record points out to be and has some pieces moving forward.  Will it be Jacksonville’s year to take over the AFC?  Will Tennessee make a bigger jump and jump ahead of Jacksonville?  Will a healthy Texans team return to the top and will Indianapolis look like a threat with a healthy Andrew Luck?

Jacksonville

(1) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 

LAST YEAR: (10-6, 1ST PLACE, DEFEATED BUFFALO IN WILD CARD ROUND; DEFEATED PITTSBURGH IN DIVISIONAL ROUND; LOST TO NEW ENGLAND IN AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Cody Kessler (Trade-Cleveland), WR-Donte Moncrief (FA-Indianapolis), TE-Niles Paul (FA-Washington), G-Andrew Norwell (FA-Carolina), CB-DJ Hayden (FA-Detroit), CB-Dexter McDougle (FA-New Orleans), S-Cody Davis (FA-Los Angeles Rams), S-Don Carey (FA-Detroit), DT-Taven Bryan (Draft-Florida), WR-DJ Chark (Draft-LSU), S-Ronnie Harrison (Draft-Alabama)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Chad Henne (FA-Kansas City), RB-Chris Ivory (Buffalo), WR-Allen Robinson (FA-Chicago), Allen Hurns (released-Dallas), TE-Marcedes Lewis (FA-Green Bay), LB-Paul Posluszny (retired), CB-Aaron Colvin (FA-Houston)

Jacksonville, who had been the target of jokes throughout the last decade of being a stale team and ranking near the bottom of the NFL for a while, surprised many and made it to the AFC Championship.  And they nearly pulled off the upset.  Blake Bortles, who has been much maligned because of his play over the years, played solid throughout, not making porous decisions with the ball, thus earning him a contract extension.  But the running game of Leonard Fournette and TJ Yeldon really kicked it in gear last year and is the Jags bread & butter.  It is a key reason why they let two key targets in years past of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns walk.  On defense, which they were excellent lat year, they only improved their roster this year.  They added Taven Bryan from Florida and Ronnie Harrison from Alabama, two great defensive players on defensive oriented teams in college while adding more depth with Cody Davis, Don Carey, and others.  The Jaguars look primed for a late January run, even with Bortles, but if Bortles can continue to make smart decisions, who knows what might happen.  KEY QUESTION: Is Blake Bortles good enough to take the Jaguars to the Super Bowl.  If he just makes the right moves, it is possible with that defense.  He was a couple of plays away last year.

MY PREDICTION: 11-5.  Jags defense is a very young and tough-minded bunch.  They will not be easy for anybody on their schedule this year.

Henry

(2) TENNESSEE TITANS

LAST YEAR: 9-7 (2ND PLACE; DEFEATED KANSAS CITY IN WILD CARD, LOST TO NEW ENGLAND IN DIVISIONAL)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Blaine Gabbert (FA-Arizona), RB-Dion Lewis (FA-New England), WR-Michael Campanaro (FA-Baltimore), G-Xavier Su’a-Filo (FA-Houston), DT-Bennie Logan (FA-Kansas City), LB-Will Compton (FA-Washington), CB-Malcolm Butler (FA-New England), LB-Rashaan Evans (Draft-Alabama), LB-Harold Landry (Draft-Boston College

KEY LOSSES: QB-Matt Cassel (FA-Detroit), QB-Brandon Weeden (FA-Houston), DT-Sylvester Williams (Released-Detroit), LB-Avery Williamson (FA-New York Jets) S-Da’Norris Searcy (FA-Carolina), RB-DeMarco Murray (retired)

Like Jacksonville, Tennessee ended their playoff drought and had a come-from-behind win against Kansas City before the Patriots had their way with them.  With DeMarco Murray gone, expect to see Derrick Henry be the main guy in the backfield, and he is a load to bring down.  And the Titans added Dion Lewis who can be a multi-purpose guy and change the climate when he is subbing for Henry.  It’s a great move for Tennessee and it will also take a load off of Marcus Mariota to throw and hopefully his targets of Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews continue to trend upwards as they could have a very formidable offense in 2018.  On defense, which struggled at key times last year, the Titans added Bennie Logan at tackle and Malcolm Butler from the Patriots to shore up any shortcomings there.  The Titans also drafted Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, who could be a sleeper.  So while the Titans I believe are already a good team, the potential is there to be far better and be a threat in the AFC.  KEY QUESTION: How far can the Titans go in 2018?  As far as the defense takes them and Mariota is healthy.  The running game is there but with Mariota being a mobile QB, he is always at high-risk of injury.  Defense has to get better especially being in a division with the Jags and Texans (when they’re healthy).  KEY QUESTION: Can the Titans offense become multi-dimensional and have a quality passing game?  That’s a key one to look at.  Mariota can pass the ball.  It’s a matter of can Matthews and Davis keep taking steps upward?  Again, adding Lewis will help and I think they will take a step in the right direction.

MY PREDICTION: 10-6.  Maybe lofty, but the pieces the Titans have in place are excellent pieces like Mariota, Henry, Jurrell Casey and if the players respond around them, watch out.  

 

Houston

(3) HOUSTON TEXANS

LAST YEAR: 4-12 (4TH PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Brandon Weeden (FA-Tennessee), QB-Joe Webb (FA-Buffalo), WR-Sammie Coates (Waivers-Cleveland), C-Zach Fulton (FA-Kansas City), G-Senio Kelemete (FA-New Orleans), T-Seantrel Henderson (FA-Buffalo), SS-Tyrann Matthieu (FA-Arizona), CB-Aaron Colvin (FA-Jacksonville), CB-Johnson Bademosi (FA-New England), S-Justin Reid (Draft-Stanford), OT-Martinas Rankin (Draft-Mississippi State), S-Jordan Akins (Draft-UCF)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Tom Savage (FA), QB-Josh Johnson (FA-Oakland), RB-Andre Ellington (FA), G-Xavier Su’a-Filo (FA-Tennessee), G-Breno Giacomini (FA-Oakland), S-Marcus Gilchrist (FA-Oakland), CB-Marcus Williams (FA-Arizona), LB-Brian Cushing (released),

Whatever could have gone wrong for Houston in 2017 pretty much went wrong.  JJ Watt was lost for the season after 5 games with a broken leg and has now only played 8 games in two seasons.  DeShaun Watson played great in his short time starting in 6 games and going 3-3 before he was lost to a torn ACL during practice.  And after Watson was injured, that was it for Houston.  That said, both Watt on defense and Waston on offense changes the entire Houston dynamic.  Watson has weapons with DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller and the Texans will have a couple of key additions in the secondary (which was lit up last year) in Tyrann Matthieu and Aaron Colvin, both of whom expect to play huge roles for the team.  Adding on, Jadaveon Clowney continues to get better and better for Houston.  So the Texans could have the potential to really be a massive threat in the AFC, if the injury bug doesn’t hitting key pieces of the team.  They have an excellent shot to win the division this year and I practically forgot Houston went 4-12 last year, which I think Texans fans can relate as it was a forgettable year.  KEY QUESTION: Will JJ Watt ever be the same player after the injuries suffered the last two seasons?  I won’t doubt a guy like JJ Watt ever, but it is a question people need to ask.  Two major injuries and only 8 games in 2 seasons what does he have left?  My guess is he isn’t going to be the same guy, but I also think the Texans are a better team defense than in years past this year.

MY PREDICTION: 9-7.  Of course, if the Texans are healthy they could be better than this, but will need guys to step up if Watt is lost for any time again.

San Francisco 49ers v Indianapolis Colts

(4) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

LAST YEAR: 4-12 (3RD PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Ryan Grant (FA-Washington), WR-Kasen Williams (FA-Cleveland), TE-Eric Ebron (FA-Detroit), T-Austin Howard (FA-Baltimore), G-Matt Slauson (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), DE-Denico Autry (FA-Oakland), DE-Chris McCain (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), Rakeem Nunez-Boches (Waivers-Kansas City), LB-Najee Goode (FA-Philadelphia), G-Quenton Nelson (Draft-Notre Dame), LB-Darius Leonard (Draft-South Carolina State), G-Braden Smith (Draft-Auburn), DE-Komoko Turay (Draft-Rutgers, DE-Tyquan Lewis (Draft-Ohio State)

KEY LOSSES: RB-Frank Gore (FA-Miami), WR-Donte Moncrief (FA-Jacksonville), LB-Jonathan Bostic (FA-Pittsburgh), LB-Barkevious Mingo (FA-Seattle), Rashaan Melvin (FA-Oakland), CB-Vontae Davis (Released-Buffalo)

Andrew Luck has been the Colts franchise since he arrived in 2012.  For the first 3 years when Luck was on his game and playing at MVP caliber level, Indianapolis was near the front of the AFC.  When Luck struggled in 2015 and 2016 as the injuries came in, the Colts struggled.  When he wasn’t on the field, Indianapolis bottomed out at 4-12, though they were competitive in about six of those 12 losses and could have won those.  Jacoby Brissett served in admirably for Luck in that time.  However, Luck is back and he will have a new coach waiting for him in Frank Reich.  Of course the key question will be how well can Luck throw the ball?  Could he be Drew Brees 2.0 where he flings it everywhere or will he end up being a Chad Pennington where 10 yards is about as far as he can go?  But he does have good receivers in TY Hilton and Ryan Grant to throw at and maybe Eric Ebron can step up after a disappointing run in Detroit.  Indianapolis also made key moves on the line signing Austin Howard and drafting Quenton Nelson to make sure the hits on Luck are minimal. The Colts have more questions than their divisional counterparts though, notably on the defense.  Malik Hooker is a good pick from the 2017 Draft and the Colts signed Chris McCain who had 5 sacks with the Chargers last year.  But that is still a major work in progress.  The other concern with Frank Gore gone at running back there is a running back-by-committee where it includes Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Marlon Mack, and now 4th round pick Nyheim Hines from NC State.  So the Colts will be on the upswing, but right now, they are still a healthy distance behind their divisional foes to me at least.  KEY QUESTION: If Luck struggles throwing, would they consider taking him out?  It’s very possible.  A quarterback with a shoulder injury and had a hard time recovering from?  Luck is far from a lock being that QB who was a potential MVP candidate from 2012-2014.

MY PREDICTION: 6-10.  Colts will be better though the run game will be an issueand still have some gaps on the defense that need to be answered.

That’s it for this week.  Will be back in 2 weeks from now.  Be safe!

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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An Open Letter to Alex Smith + What’s Next for KC and WAS

Kendall Fuller had an interesting evening. He went from denying him being traded, to potentially accepting it, to fully accepting it in a matter of a few hours. This series of tweets likely described everyone’s emotions surrounding all of the NFL drama on Tuesday. It started with this:

Then it progressed to this:

Then, this:

Finally, this:

All in the span of a few hours. The Kansas City Chiefs agreed to trade QB Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins in exchange for a third-round pick and slot CB Kendall Fuller. None of this is official until the new league year begins on March 14, but it has been agreed to. One more tweet to give some background information about Fuller:

It seems as if Washington gave up a lot for Alex Smith, including money. Smith and the Redskins have agreed to a four-year, $94 million contract extension (with $71 million of it guaranteed). Smith’s new average annual value of his contract is sixth in the entire NFL. To say he got a healthy payday would be an understatement. The Redskins thought paying a 33-year-old quarterback for this season, then extending his contract for four more and adding plenty of money was a good idea, which we won’t be certain of until the next few seasons unfold.

What does it mean for Washington?

  • The Redskins have officially moved on from Kirk Cousins, whose ~$30 million per year asking price was too much for the front office to agree to.
  • Barring injury/a trade, Alex Smith will be the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins until he’s 38 years old. He will likely end his career a Redskin.
  • Washington will be without its stud young corner, Kendall Fuller. His film looked very good and he graded out as one of the best corners in the league last season, so the team will definitely miss him.
  • The third-round pick is not a huge loss but then again, Fuller was drafted in that same round.

What does it mean for Kansas City?

  • Looking at the trade on the surface, it’s not hard to tell Kansas City won this trade. The team traded up for Patrick Mahomes II in the 2017 draft for a reason. Alex Smith enjoyed a tremendous season (the best of his career), but it’s hard to carry a QB with a cap hit of ~$17 million and the guy you traded up in the draft for as a future replacement. The Mahomes era in Kansas City is officially here.
  • The Chiefs’ secondary made a huge upgrade. Kendall Fuller is better than any corner on the roster not named Marcus Peters. Whether Fuller plays in the slot or the Chiefs try to move him to the CB2 spot, he’s going to make his presence felt.
  • Kansas City has cap flexibility. Getting rid of Smith’s contract and considering Fuller is on his rookie deal, the Chiefs gained about $16 million in cap room. That’s huge.
  • A third-round pick is a bonus. Not huge, but there will be talented players for the Chiefs to take in the third round of the draft.

With all of this said, as a life-long Chiefs fan, I owe Alexander Douglas Smith the most sincere “thank you.” You brought the Chiefs back from QB purgatory and being a laughing stock of a franchise and made them a playoff team in your first season with the team. To make the playoffs in four out five years is extremely difficult, but you did it. You were the best quarterback in football this season. Thank you for everything you’ve done. The NFL has never appreciated you enough. I wish you nothing but the best in Washington.

For every play you kept alive:

For every time you took off and used your (criminally) underrated athleticism to break off a huge run:

For all the times you proved your “deep ball myth” wrong:

https://twitter.com/HerbMcDerb/status/905986652262293504

For every time you made a play to win the game. For every time you proved anyone wrong. For every single day you were a professional and a class act. Thank you.

For every playoff mishap, you’re forgiven. For every mishap in general, you’re forgiven. You gave Kansas City something they hadn’t had in years and for that, you’re respected and appreciated. Thank you.