yardbarker
RealGM Football

RealGM Football Articles

New York Giants 2014 Season Preview

By Jeff Risdon

2013: 7-9, third in NFC East

2014 line: +/- 8 wins

Why the Over

The New York Giants have lost some of the bite on defense lately, but they are still strong on that side of the ball. The difference is that the strength has moved from the line to the back end.

This secondary is pretty good, featuring one of the most underrated cornerback groups in the league. Prince Amukamara is not a shutdown #1, but he’s a reliable cover man with good instincts. The former first rounder plays well to his help and is a sturdy tackler to prevent yards after the catch. Adding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond reloads the position with proven talent and more playmaking ability. Thurmond comes over from Seattle and brings that Seahawks physical mentality with him.

They lack star wattage but have very sound depth. Trumaine McBride played quite well in coverage a year ago, good enough that he’d start in many places. Here he’s no more than sharing the nickel role. Jayron Hosley will miss the first four weeks with a league suspension, but he too would slide up at least one spot on the depth chart of most other teams once he returns.

Safety is still in good hands with Antrell Rolle and Stevie Brown. They’ll miss playmaker Will Hill, a troubled talent who was released after his third drug-related suspension, but getting Brown back at full speed will help mitigate the loss. Brown missed last season, however, so his health is not a given. At least Rolle continues to churn out consistent good-not-great play. Cooper Taylor offered strong potential as the third safety, though he will be on the shelf for some time with a toe issue.

The line should be improved, and that improvement will come on the backs of two second-year talents. Tackle Johnathan Hankins and end Damontre Moore both played less than 200 snaps as rookies, but will be counted on to handle a much bigger workload in their second years. Hankins stepped right in and emerged as the best run stuffer on the team. He uses his bulk to clog holes well, and his quickness and nose for the ball are both exemplary for a 325-pound behemoth.

Moore is the third end behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Matthias Kiwanuka, but he figures to play a lot as a pass rusher over Kiwanuka, who is coming off a miserable season. Moore is a limited athlete but a very smart football player who thrives on relentless effort and judiciously using his burst. Playing across from JPP, still one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the league, is an optimal situation for the Texas A&M product. A healthy JPP adds a lot more snarl to this front, and he’s looked like his old self in preseason.

Honestly I don’t know what to make of Kiwanuka. He was wildly ineffective last year, playing soft against the run and looking tentative as a pass rusher. Both those negatives have not reared their ugly heads in preseason, but it’s hard to trust in the former first-rounder.

The Giants will miss Linval Joseph inside, but rookie Jay Bromley has outplayed expectations and earned major buzz from camp. Veterans Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins give the unit solid depth and makes it very difficult to run between the tackles.

Linebacker is a question centered on how you feel about oft-injured Jon Beason. He’s a stud in the middle, though he’s missed the entire offseason with a foot injury. The Giants have clearly defined roles for the LBs, and Beason’s ability to snuff out plays between the numbers is critical to that plan. He’s a downhill striker with excellent instincts and quickness. Jacquian Williams is a coverage specialist, and a good one. He can match up with opposing tight ends and does an excellent job of carrying his mark down the field to the safeties. Rookie Devon Kennard has impressed all summer and offers more muscle than Spencer Paysinger as the outside strongman.

On offense, the line cannot be any worse. Adding Weston Richburg in the second round was a brilliant move. He’s the center of the future, though he might play guard early on. The Colorado State metalhead (when I talked with him at the Senior Bowl we chatted about Lamb of God and Mastodon) is technically sound and nasty to play against. He will be an above-average starter for years.

Will Beatty, one of two holdover starters, is sporadically effective at left tackle. It’s odd that he’s better at run blocking than pass protection, as it’s his lack of base strength that makes him highly vulnerable on the edge to power rushers. He’s due for a bounceback season after struggling a year ago; in 2012 he was much better. Justin Pugh, the other holdover, acquitted himself well at right tackle as a rookie. He played with more confidence as his first year progressed, and his tenacity serves him well.

Victor Cruz is still a lethal weapon at receiver, as any fantasy football player can tell you. Even though he didn’t turn in as many highlight-reel long runs after the catch last year, he’s a dynamic player with the ball in his trusty hands. He gives Eli Manning a reliable threat and can create problems for opposing defenses.

Cruz is a natural fit for the new passing scheme of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The Giants are switching to a (hopefully) more efficient, precise and shorter-range scheme that will get players in space more readily. This should help the rebuilt line too, as Manning will get the ball out quicker. This also plays to the strengths of shifty Jerrel Jernigan, who can line up in the slot or the backfield. He goes down on first contact pretty easily, so getting him in space and using him more on quick-hitters and jet sweeps builds his value. Keep an eye on rookie widebody Corey Washington, who has been a summer sensation and will push perennially overrated Mario Manningham off the roster.

I’m still a firm Tom Coughlin advocate as coach. The coordinator changes should offer fresh perspective and fine-tune an engine that was running on fumes. The players respect and trust Coughlin, who has proven he can maximize limited talent and lift his team in times of adversity.

Why the Under

This was one of the worst offenses in the NFL last season, and I’m not sure they’re going to be any better this year. Being very different doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be improved.

Part of the problem is that Eli Manning appears to be what he is. That’s an odd way to phrase something that I could write about 2,500 words on here, but I’m a firm believer that the Eli of the last two years is the Manning going forward. He’s thrown 42 INTs with a completion rate of 58% in those seasons, neither of which is good.

Perhaps the only way to get Manning back to being acceptable would be to push him from within, but the Giants’ cupboard is bare behind him. Curtis Painter is lucky to be on a NFL roster, and probably won’t make the final cutdown. Ryan Nassib, a fourth round pick in 2013, has had some strong moments in preseason, but they’ve come late in games against players who won’t be in the league in the regular season.

It would help if Manning had a better receiving corps, but the Giants’ overall talent level at wideout and tight end has fallen off a cliff recently. Other than Cruz, this cast sorely lacks anyone who really threatens the defense. Rueben Randle could make a solid possession receiver, but he has no deep speed or elusiveness after the catch. Jernigan offers the versatility highlighted above, but he’s a limited-use weapon with serious durability issues.

I love Odell Beckham Jr. as the first-round pick, but he’s missed all of camp with an injury and figures to be playing catchup all season. The team desperately needed him to step right in as a major contributor, but he might not catch more than 25 passes as a rookie. Still, that’s more productivity than any of the tight ends appear to offer.

The starting TE will either be Kellen Davis or Larry Donnell. Both caught exactly three passes a year ago, Davis doing so in Seattle after years of failing to meet expectations in Chicago. Daniel Fells is a mediocre blocking specialist. This might be the weakest positional unit on any NFL roster this season.

The offensive line overhaul was long overdue, and it’s a necessary evil to suffer with the growing pains of change. There is talent present that could form a solid line, but it’s not likely to happen this year. The guard situation is unsettled, to put it nicely. Eric Herman’s PED suspension hurts here, because it forces a lesser player like John Jerry or Brandon Mosley into the starting lineup. The fact that stiff James Brewer makes the final roster, and he will, tells you that the depth here remains awful thin.

Running back is an unfortunate mess. David Wilson’s forced retirement due to a neck injury robs the G-men of their expected feature back and legit playmaker. Now they must rely on Rashad Jennings and rookie Andre Williams. Both have some skills but are one-note runners, unlike the versatile weapon that Wilson provided. Jennings does offer the ability to catch out of the backfield. Fullback Henry Hynoski is a good one, but he won’t touch the ball more than 10 times.

The defense could be very good, but it’s relying on a lot of variables. Beason must stay healthy. JPP must be his dominant old self. Kiwanuka must bounce back. Brown must prove he’s fully recovered. I really do like the talent, but it’s premature to say this unit will be able to hold up over the course of a long season.

Forecast

It’s tough to like the “over” here, as eight wins seems like a Herculean task for what appears to be one of the worst offenses the NFL has seen in recent times. Yet you write this team off at your peril. Manning can still dial up the 400-yard, 4 TD game a couple times a year, and the defense is capable of providing wins. They held three opponents to 7 points or less as they won 7 of the final 10 games, and they’re now deeper and healthier.

The schedule features a whole lot of 50/50 games, contests that either team could realistically win. However, the young offensive line is going to be tested hard against fearsome defensive fronts in Detroit, Houston, Tennessee and pretty much the entire NFC West, which the Giants draw as non-division opponents. Those are bad matchups, and it starts with the Monday night opener in Detroit. Given their inevitable splits with all three NFC East teams, New York has to win five of 10 outside the division.

That’s asking too much of this offense. Barring a surprise renaissance from the erratic Manning, the Giants are going to finish near the bottom in scoring offense and giveaways. That’s a tough recipe for success. These Giants finish 7-9 once again. 


Buffalo Bills 2014 Season Preview

By Jeff Risdon

2013: 5-10-1, last in NFC North

2014 Over/Under: +/- 6.5 wins

Why the over

There is a lot to like with these Bills on both sides of the ball. While lacking true star power, both the offense and defense have several Pro Bowl-caliber talents and nice pieces that do seem as if they can fit together nicely.

Offensively, the weaponry is very impressive. C.J. Spiller is a versatile threat at running back, an accomplished receiver as well as an effective speed back. He averages over 5.0 yards per carry for his career, and he can build upon his nearly 3,000 yards of combined offense over the last two seasons.

Adding Sammy Watkins at wide receiver helps transform the entire offense. He’s a legit #1 wideout and could prove to be that lofty right away. His blend of speed, body control, hands and field smarts should make him an instant impact player.

Watkins’ presence pushes everyone else on the receiver depth chart to where they can thrive. I’m not a big Mike Williams fan, but the former Buccaneer can be an excellent foil to Watkins. He plays big for his size and has soft hands. If he buys in--which is an ongoing issue for Williams--he provides a solid downfield target and possession receiver with sizzle.

Robert Woods, a 2nd round pick from USC last year, appears poised to make a jump forward in his progress. He can play either in the slot or outside, which is where he’s received most of his camp reps. He’s athletic with reliable hands and can make the first tackler miss in space. He’s bumped outside more because the team is very high on young slot man Chris Hogan, a former Monmouth fullback who is coming into his own after time on the practice squad. He’s nifty and tough.

The receiving corps is strong enough with special teams standout Marcus Easley thrown in that 2012 3rd round pick T.J. Graham is probably not going to make the team.

Fred Jackson is a strong change-up back to pair with Spiller, when the veteran can stay healthy. He played all 16 games last year, catching 47 passes and finding the end zone a combined 10 times. Anthony Dixon and to a lesser extent Bryce Brown offers the Bills some useful depth in the backfield. Dixon is very good at maintaining his speed and balance through contact and could emerge as a strong short-yardage back.

The core of the offensive line has talent. Cordy Glenn is a massive left tackle with good instincts and decent footwork. He’s got Pro Bowl potential in 2014. Eric Wood and Kraig Urbik are an effective C/RG tandem that opens holes and does a great job keeping interior pressure off the quarterback.

A couple of rookies could positively impact the front. They took tackle Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round, but he’s the least likely of the three to do anything positive thanks to balky knees that got him removed from many draft boards. Fourth round guard Cyril Richardson has potential to be a very effective run blocking force, though he must widen his base stance; if he can learn to not set up so narrow and negate his natural strength, he could be a real good left guard.

Then there’s enigmatic 7th rounder Seantrel Henderson. He’s a legit 1st round talent when he has his head on straight and plays with passion…which happened about a quarter of the time in his college career at Miami. If Henderson can check his considerable baggage at the door, I strongly believe the Bills have themselves a Pro Bowl right tackle.

Tight end Scott Chandler is a solid two-way end, a reliable receiver who blocks better than most at his position. Backup Lee Smith is an even better blocker who lines up as H-back quite a bit. He caught just 5 balls last year, however, and that might be more than he does in ’14.

The strength of the defense is the front, where Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus have the potential to be a wrecking crew inside. Williams is one of the most underrated talents in the game, a nonstop gap attacker who has enough burst to chase down plays behind the line and the balance and strength to finish the play. Dareus has improved at playing the run on his way to the quarterback, and still he bagged 7.5 sacks.

The key here is Mario Williams, who will thrive under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Williams was very good a year ago with 13 sacks, up from 10.5 in his first Buffalo season. He’s got the complete physical package to tick up to 15 this year, and he could wind up leading the league in plays behind the line of scrimmage. In Schwartz’s scheme he won’t have to worry about doing anything but attacking and moving forward, which helps cover his poor spatial awareness.

The other ends are Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson, both of whom are one-dimensional pass rushers. Hughes has finally shed the draft bust label after bulking up and learning to use his hands in concert with his incredible first step. He’s a great balance to Williams. Lawson fits nicely as the third end.

The Bills have two first-round picks as the starting corners, to mixed results. Stephon Gillmore and Leodis McKelvin are both good-not-great players. Gillmore is overhyped but has excellent ability to redirect at the line and turn-and-run with receivers. He’s very aggressive in going after the ball, with 26 career PDs in just 25 starts. The downside is he also has 21 penalties and is a major sucker for play action. He’s a confident playmaker, a must-have in today’s NFL.

McKelvin isn’t as inherently sticky as Gillmore, but he plays a more disciplined and patient style. He’s also been an accomplished return man, and if he gets his hands on the football he can score some points for the defense. Together they offer potential to be a very solid 1-2 punch at CB.

I like a lot of the young talent amassed in the secondary. Duke Williams is a thumper of a strong safety with great closing burst. Rookies Kenny Ladler and Ross Cockrell both had solid college tape that showed real NFL skills with ceilings as functional starters. Nickell Roby is very short at 5’7” but has proven to be game as a slot corner. The pipeline is flowing, though the best days are probably a year or two away from gushing.

Why the under

E.J. Manuel is the franchise quarterback.

There really isn’t a need to write much more than that. He’s the worst starting quarterback in the league at this point. Don’t just take my word for it…

I know it’s reckless to put too much stock into a few preseason games, but with Manuel I did not see one iota of progress from the faults that plagued him in his rookie season. He still plays as if he’s wearing a neck brace. He doesn’t survey the field and has to rotate his entire body to make a progression. There just isn’t time for that in the NFL, and defenses will continue to sit and then jump to where he’s looking. He’s also not a thrower but rather an aimer. That’s not going to change quickly, folks.

It would be helpful if the Bills had a veteran mentor for Manuel, or even a legit backup to push him or afford more developmental time. They have neither. Jeff Tuel brings energy and agility but has no experience and a subpar arm. Thad Lewis couldn’t beat out Kellen Moore to be Detroit’s 3rd stringer last year, and if you think I’m harsh on Manuel you should ask me about Mr. Moore sometime…

The defense took a major hit in losing top tackler Kiko Alonso. The rangy, savvy linebacker was the beneficiary of some stat padding, but even so he was already one of the most reliable tacklers in the league as a rookie. Alonso was also very adept in coverage, and they’re hurt even deeper here because Arthur Moats is now in Pittsburgh.

Rookie Preston Brown can help some here, but coverage is not his strong suit and he had some stiffness and range issues at Louisville. Coverage is the weakest part of Spikes’ game, too. They do have some intriguing athletic potential, but Alonso is an all-around talent that just cannot be replaced.

The secondary probably concerns me more than it should. Some of that is that McKelvin and Gillmore so seldom play well at the same time. Some is a function of losing stud safety Jarius Byrd, one of the best in the game. They have a functional replacement in Da’Norris Searcy and a youngster I really like in Duke Williams, but they are largely unproven commodities.

The depth behind the starters on both lines is paper thin. Doug Legursky can play guard or center in a pinch but belongs as a gameday inactive. If Henderson keeps his head on straight the tackle depth is at least okay, but it’s tough to buy into that at this point. Defensively it’s even spottier, where Ohio Bobcat journeyman Landon Cohen is the best reserve. He’s had a strong preseason and fits Jim Schwartz’s defense well, but he’s never done much in his bouncy NFL tenure.

Special teams are also an issue. Only Washington finished with a lower aggregate special teams grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) than Buffalo’s -22.0 score. This starts at the top with coordinator Danny Crossman, who had atrocious units in Detroit (his units were directly responsible for 3 losses in 2012) before taking his talents to the other end of Lake Erie. Punter Brian Moorman is coming off a down year and at 38 it’s questionable if he can climb back up. Don’t expect much improvement.

Forecast

The Bills have a lengthy playoff drought, the only NFL team that has not appeared in the postseason in the 2000s. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that drought is not getting quenched as long as E.J. Manuel is the quarterback. Even though they’ve got an impressive cadre of weapons and a solid line, Manuel is the governor on the engine that keeps the team from speeding forward.

The defense is good enough to keep the team in most games, so the handful of times where Manuel doesn’t look awful figure to be convincing wins. Yet the schedule is not favorable. The non-divisional slate is the high-flying NFC North, where games will be won by the first team to score 30, and the AFC West that put three teams in the playoffs last year. The “easy” teams on the schedule (OAK, HOU) are roadies.

With the line at 6.5, I’m strongly investing in the under. I’d consider betting the under at 4.5. There doesn’t appear to be more than 4 wins to be found, barring the skill players on offense all being otherworldly. This team will earn a top-3 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft…which they’ve already traded away. Buffalo finishes 3-13.


Cleveland Browns 2014 Season Preview

By Jeff Risdon

2013: 4-12, last in AFC North

2014 line: +/- 6.5 wins

Why the Over

If the Cleveland Browns are to top even five wins, it’s on the back of the defense. This is a deep and talented unit with solid players across the board and no glaring weaknesses, a top 10 unit last season that might be even better in 2014.

The front line is one of the best in football, though it doesn’t get the national attention. Desmond Bryant, Billy Winn, Athyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, John Hughes and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen make up a versatile, tough, physical and very deep D-line. Even undrafted rookies Calvin Barnett and Jacobbi McDaniel have shown legit NFL ability in the preseason, yet they’re not likely to make the team. While the unit lacks a true star, it’s got solid starts and fantastic backups no matter how the depth chart shakes out.

The linebackers behind them aren’t too shabby either. Even after parting ways with inside backer and team leader D’Qwell Jackson, they still have appreciable talent. Outside guys Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger are a solid tandem. Mingo has so much speed and ability to flatten around the edge. The second-year LSU product is poised for a breakout campaign a year after being a top 10 pick. Mingo should push 10 sacks this year after bagging five as a rookie.

Kruger was a disappointment with just 4.5 sacks, though he wasn’t used as aggressively as anticipated under deposed defensive coordinator Ray Horton. He’s a more physical rusher who can also crash inside against the run. It’s a mistake to write him off, though expectations should be lowered a bit. Fortunately the team has two solid reserves in Jabaal Sheard and Justin Staples who can rotate in and generate some pass rush and chaos off the edge. Sheard actually led the Browns with 5.5 sacks and did so in just 13 games.

Rookie Christian Kirksey could be a real find in replacing Jackson. The third-round pick from Iowa is a very fluid athlete with an outstanding football IQ. I like that he’s playing behind a line that can keep him clean even though it’s a 3-man front. It’s his coverage skills that will stand out the most in 2014. With veteran Karlos Dansby next to him and mentoring him, he could blossom quickly.

Dansby remains effective. The free agent from Arizona was one of Pro Football Focus’ top ILBs last year, and it’s from a similar defensive scheme. He’s also an oddball personality that can loosen up the locker room and be a real asset for new head coach Mike Pettine. The inside duo has the ability to shut down the short and intermediate passing games over the middle, a staple of many NFL offenses. This tandem is an upgrade over Jackson and Craig Robertson, who now slides into a reserve capacity.

The secondary has a chance to be very good. Joe Haden isn’t as awesome as he thinks he is, but the confident corner is a legit Pro Bowl talent. He’s a playmaking corner who plays like a shutdown cover man…at times. More consistency would be nice, but Haden is a viable #1 corner in a league where not many of those exist anymore.

In swapping in Donte Whitner for T.J. Ward, the Browns traded a little bit of range for more reliability. “Hitner” also brings a winning mentality and real attitude to his hometown defense. He’s one of the best short-range safeties in the league and a menace to any receiver crossing the middle. Tashaun Gipson emerged as a playmaking safety a year ago, picking off 5 passes. His cover skills aren’t great, but to that end the team added (hopefully) better corner play to mitigate his lack of deep range.

I’m admittedly not a big fan of first-round pick Justin Gilbert, the speedy corner from Oklahoma State. He’s got outstanding measurable and showed great improvement in his final season in Stillwater. He could wind up being a very good #2 corner, and I do appreciate that the Browns aren’t relying on him to travel all over the field mirroring the opponent’s top wideout.

Between Buster Skrine, Isaiah Trufant, Leon McFadden and rookie Pierre Desir, the Browns do have potential to have depth at the position. Skrine has been a disappointment but still is young enough to have potential in the slot. Desir, the team’s 4th round pick, probably needs a year to get up to NFL speed but could wind up being better than Gilbert in the long run. I also like the potential of reserve safety Jordan Poyer, though it’s time for him to start showing more of it.

Offensively, the line features two elite talents in left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack. Both are no worse than the 2nd-best player in the league at their respective positions. Thomas deserves mention as one of the top 5 overall talents in the NFL today. Second round pick Joel Bitonio looks like a plug-and-play fixture at left guard between them.

Jordan Cameron has developed into a very good receiving threat at tight end. He’s got an outstanding catch radius and his route running continues to improve. His line of 80-917-7 could actually increase now that he appears to be the primary target. With superb talent but drug addicted Josh Gordon’s availability very much in questions, Cameron should challenge Jimmy Graham for the most catches and yards among TEs.

Gordon is the big variable. He’s one of the most physically gifted receivers in the league, a downfield speedster with great strength and strong hands. Alas, he’s facing a suspension of at least 8 games for repeatedly violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. It could be a full season. If he is available for even half a season it greatly augments Cleveland’s chances to compete for as many as 8 wins, but that’s an unknown at this point.

The special teams are solid, with return man Travis Benjamin an explosive threat. Punter Spencer Lanning is one of the league’s more consistent punters and can hang the ball high. 

Why the Under

Go ahead, name one viable NFL wide receiver on the roster other than Josh Gordon. When the first name that comes to your lips is Andrew Hawkins, you know there’s a problem.

Sure, Miles Austin and Nate Burleson are on the roster. Those are recognizable names, but injuries and age have robbed both of much of their skills. They combined for 63 catches and one touchdown as part of significantly better passing offenses in Dallas and Detroit, respectively. Austin does have some potential to top 50 receptions, but it’s no safe bet. Burleson is an awesome locker room presence, but that can only do so much.

Hawkins, a free agent defection from rival Cincinnati, is one of the quickest and niftiest players in the league. Unfortunately his incredible YouTube work has never really translated into greatness on the field. The 5’7” slot man has just 86 receptions and 4 TDs in his three seasons. He’s a nice player, but over his head as the #2 option.

Of course, with Gordon’s looming suspension Hawkins could very well be the de facto No. 1 wideout. Pair that with the quarterback chaos, and this Cleveland passing offense sure looks like the worst in the NFL. In a league where everything is geared towards high-octane, precision passing attacks, the Browns are going in the opposite direction.

Ah yes, the quarterbacks. I covered Brian Hoyer’s relative blandness earlier this summer. Nothing I’ve seen in two underwhelming preseason efforts has changed my mind; he’s a suitable backup, nothing more. Then there’s this Johnny Football guy…

I want to believe in Johnny Manziel, I really do. I think his unconventional, improvisational style can work in the NFL, and his arm and eyes are both underrated. I think his general contempt for traditional football structure and common sense can galvanize a team around him. But at some point he’s got to start approaching a middle ground with the firmly entrenched ways and means of life in the NFL instead of flipping it the bird, or drinking champagne on an inflatable one.

The macro problem is that this is a franchise ravaged by instability, irresponsibility and chaos. They’ve had more coaches in the last four years than the rival Steelers have had in 40. This latest edition marks the seventh major overhaul since the Browns returned to the field in 1999.

The constant schematic changes, personnel philosophies and draft strategies have taken a major toll. Even though there is real talent on this team, it doesn’t have any cohesion or continuity.

Now the embattled owner (thanks to his scrupulous business practices with Flying J) turns the reins over to a rookie head coach, an offensive coordinator noted for being unsuccessful, and a cult of personality rookie quarterback already being either lionized or demonized by fans and fellow NFL players. It’s a recipe for disaster.

I have concerns about other spots as well. I don’t trust Billy Cundiff as the kicker, a valuable position for a team that figures to wind up in several lower-scoring duels. I’m not crazy about the right side of the offensive line, though I do think Bitonio will be decent enough as a rookie. Ben Tate is too injury-prone to handle being the lead back, and visionless rookie Terrence West doesn’t move my needle much. The safety and inside linebacker depth isn’t great, but that’s getting nitpicky.

Forecast

The Browns opened last season 3-2 and have since lost 10 of 11, including the final 7 last year. The bigger question might not even be how many games they win on the season, but when their losing streak will end. They will be decided underdogs in their first five games (@PIT, NO, BAL, @TEN, PIT) before they get to what appears to be some winnable games before a brutal final stretch.

It’s a shame a talented defense and a rookie head coach I genuinely like are destined to suffer through one of the most publicized losing campaigns in recent memory. A bad offense is going to be even worse with the incessant quarterback controversy and a schedule which offers several strong defenses. The nonstop cycling of divergent leadership regimes, all with their own styles and peculiarities, have left this team a complete mess.

The good news is that they have two first-round picks next year, and between their own pick and Buffalo’s pick (an absolute steal by GM Ray Farmer) they could very well own two top 5 picks. They really aren’t that far from being a decent team, they just need some stability and cohesion. It won’t happen in ’14. These Browns go 3-13. They’re a strong “under” bet. 



Initial 2015 NFL Mock Draft

Marcus Mariota and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are two Oregon Ducks at the top of our first mock draft for 2015 ahead of Sammie Coates, Vic Beasley and Andrus Peat.


Fantasy Football 2014: Top 150 Rankings, Version 2.0

Adrian Peterson enters 2014 as the No. 2 running back behind LeSean McCoy and ahead of Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte.


Fantasy Football Tiers 2014: Quarterbacks, Version 2.0

The drop from tier 1 to tier 2 is actually larger than the difference from the QBs in tier 2 through tier 4 at the quarterback position.


Fantasy Football Tiers 2014: Running Backs, Version 2.0

The days where you could rely on one or two RBs to carry your team to the playoffs sit firmly in the past. Sure, the RBs in tier 1 could have monster seasons, but do any of them give you that bet-your-house confidence?


Fantasy Football Tiers 2014: Wide Receivers, Version 2.0

Wide receiver strategy should be straightforward. With this much depth, no need to reach for WRs, but draft them as good value presents itself


Fantasy Football Tiers 2014: Tight Ends, Version 2.0

The TE board resembles the QB board in that we have a distinct top 3 (albeit split into two tiers), followed by a deep group of solid options with Julius Thomas right behind Jimmy Graham.