It’s the football overload time of year. You’re trying to set your fantasy rosters, sift through matchups for knockout pools, feverishly create a Pinterest account for “Buffalo Chicken Dip Recipes.” We are here to simplify your life. After the Broncos last-second win over the Panthers the season is officially underway. So let’s give you what you need to know.
Cam Newton is a better Cam Newton. He was battered throughout the night by a tenacious Denver defense, but continually shook off massive hits to put his team in winning position. He also took the high ground after the game on the helmet-to-helmet shots and officiating. He sidestepped a racial hornet’s nest in the GQ article. He retired the Dab. He’s matured since the Super Bowl loss, and he’s one of the greatest football weapons we’ve seen on the field in years.
The Panthers will not win the Super Bowl. 43 years and counting since the last Super Bowl loser came back to hoist the Lombardi the next year (’72 Dolphins). There’s a reason. It’s physically punishing and mentally exhausting to fight your way back to the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons. Unlike the other major professional sports, it’s also a road of one-and-dones. LeBron can lose Game 1 and still win the series. Super Bowl winners are inflated by a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and addiction to the taste of that championship. Losers have to summon all the same energy to return, but overcome the emotional hurdle that all that work was for naught. There’s a reason it hasn’t happened since Nixon was in the White House.
The Jaguars are way more talented than you realize. They have one of the best WR tandems in the league (Hurns and Robinson had nearly 2,500 yards and 24 TDs combined). Blake Bortles, Julius Thomas, Chris Ivory, TJ Yeldon, and Denard Robinson are all good pieces offensively. On defense, Malik Jackson, Paul Posluszny, Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler, and Jared Odrick are a tremendous core. We hear the players love Gus Bradley, but he’s the biggest question. If this team doesn’t get to 8 wins, he’s underachieved and not the right man for the job.
The Raiders are not winning the division. It’s impossible not to love the young trio of Carr, Cooper and Khalil. But it’s too early in their development to win the AFC West with very good Chiefs and Broncos teams in their way. This organization hasn’t had a winning season since they lost the Super Bowl a million years ago (2002). They’re on the doorstep of the playoffs, but it’ll take a two or three-win improvement from last year’s 7-9 to even make the playoffs. I’m not ready to go there yet.
The world assumes Tony Romo will be Bledsoe’d. This is an inherently weird thing. When Bledsoe went down, no one expected an under-the-radar 6th rounder to keep the job. Unless it’s a highly-touted draft pick or a backup who’s wowed the fans before, we never presume that a Pro Bowl quarterback and franchise guy is going to get Wally Pipp’d. But since we have a wildly popular narrative already in place with the Patriots, and Romo has been injury-prone and underwhelming in big games, we are now waiting for this very situation to unfold again. Usually a Brady-Bledsoe situation comes out of nowhere. If Dak Prescott soars and never looks back, we’ll have all said we saw it coming.
Jeff Fisher is a quarterback serial killer. Now that Jared Goff is inactive for Sunday, we should ask the question: Why does it always seem like Fisher has bad QB luck? Maybe it’s because he can’t coach them. Since Steve McNair left the Titans, here’s Fisher’s top QBs each season: Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Sam Bradford, Austin Davis, Nick Foles. That’s a landfill of broken signal-callers. Fisher is a defensive guy reared in the 1980s Bears organization. Which also produced Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan, neither of which could ever properly coach quarterbacks.
The Browns will not be 0-16. It’s easy to bag on them because of all the carcasses on the side of the highway, but I really like the brain trust and its decisions so far. Hugh Jackson has something to prove since he’s been passed over so many times. Paul DePodesta is an unorthodox thinker in an orthodox league. They used all of their draft picks (14!) on high-character guys and college leaders. That’s how you change the culture. They may pick first next April, but they’ll win a few games and scare opponents others.
The Vikings made a mistake in giving up that much for Sam Bradford. How much better is Bradford than what they had in Shaun Hill? In my mind, not much. With Teddy Bridgewater healthy the Vikings weren’t Super Bowl caliber in a strong NFC. They weren’t better than the Packers, Seahawks, Cardinals or Panthers. At best Minnesota’s season was going to end in the NFC Title Game (I think more likely it was a Wild Card or Divisional loss). With Bradford, are they going to now ascend to that NFC Championship Game? Bradford has a career record 12 games under .500. They spent a 1st and a 4th on a guy who at best will make them a Wild Card team, but will lose his job next season anyway when Teddy comes back.
Rex Ryan will be fired after the season. The Bills organization is already tired of his antics, constant chest-beating, trash-talking, and spilling of company secrets to any reporter with a microphone. He won’t fix the defense dramatically enough to get this team to the playoffs. Buffalo will be gasping for breath as we start December, Rex Watches will begin on every pregame show, and the guys will play hard for him down the stretch until Week 17, when they’ll be eliminated from the playoffs yet again. We will get emotional pleas of support from the players that want him back. But Bills brass will give him the boot the following week.
The Cardinals will defeat the Steelers in the Super Bowl. I think the Patriots will be fine at quarterback, but spotty some other places. A not-as-dominant Pats squad will lose on the road in the playoffs, a la ’05. This will open the door for the Steelers, they’ll host the AFC Title Game at Heinz. Subpar QB play will sink the Chiefs and Broncos in January. Pittsburgh will head to its fourth Super Bowl of the Big Ben Era. The NFC playoffs will feature an incredible divisional round, where the Packers outlast the Seahawks, while the Panthers lose in Arizona. The Cardinals go to Lambeau and get over the hump in the NFC Championship, avenging last year’s road loss in Carolina. Despite a few hiccups along the way, Carson Palmer does enough to lead his team to the Lombardi.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.