1. Carson Palmer will throw for 5,000 passing yards
I thought naming the Cardinals as a playoff team would be bold enough but my boy Josh Katzowitz already went there (for the record, I have Arizona in as a wild card). Instead, I'm going to throw my hat into Palmer's corner.
For starters, let's talk about Palmer -- who was once a no-doubt, top-five NFL quarterback -- and what he did last season. It was probably the best year of his career, as he completed 63.3 percent of his passes and threw for 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also threw 22 picks, but four of those were against the Seahawks (in a win, in Seattle!) and aside from that game, only four more of them came after October when he started to get locked into Bruce Arians offense.
Palmer's got three dynamic wideout weapons in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown (the latter two who are going to explode this year). To borrow from Pete Prisco, Andre Ellington is an "air back." That ain't bad for a quarterback.
And Palmer's defense, without Darnell Dockett and Daryl Washington, won't be as good as it was in 2013. That's bad for the Cards but good for more throws and higher passing yard numbers.
2. 2014 Panthers wideouts better than in 2013
All the virtual ink devoted to the Panthers losses at wide receiver this offseason is a complete waste. Panthers wide receivers totaled 1,983 yards in 2013.
That's ... nothing. For point of reference: Josh Gordon had 1,646 by himself, catching passes from Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer. Greg Olsen (816 yards) was the leading receiver and Ted Ginn (556) was the biggest in NFL free agency, bar none. You'd think Carolina saw Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall depart the way Ginn and Brandon LaFell (627) are breathlessly mentioned as losses.
Carolina doesn't play a high-octane offense. Among the 17 quarterbacks who started 16 gameslast year, Cam Newton had the fourth-fewest passing attempts (473). Mike Shula wants to methodically move the ball down the field and maximize their scoring opportunities.
For as great a leader as Steve Smith was/is, and for as much as he was the face of the franchise, adding 6'5" Benjamin and sneaky touchdown machine Cotchery (10 touchdowns last year!) will make this a more dynamic, efficient and flat-out better unit in 2014.
|Year||Pass Att/Game||Total Pass Att|
2010 is a year I bolded and for a reason: the very next game Romo suffered a season-ending injury. Now, he wasn't hurt -- directly anyway -- because he threw too much. But more passing attempts a quarterback equates directly to more potential hits from defenders.
The good news is Romo's attempts are on the decline since 2010. The double good news is his offensive line: it's quite good this year.
The bad news? Unfortunately Romo's defense is terrible and he'll probably approach 40 passing attempts per game during the first four games of the year. The really bad news? He's 34 and coming off back surgery bad enough to prevent him from playing golf this offseason.
Unnecessarily piling on Romo is a September/October/November/December tradition like no other. But he might deserve MVP consideration if he makes it midseason with his arm intact.
4. Two rookies will top 2,000 All-Purpose Yards this year
Might seem like a random number, but 2,000 all-purpose yards is hard to pull off, particularly as a rookie. It's only happened 13 times in NFL history. Here's the funny thing ... two guys did it in 2009 (Percy Harvin, Danny Amendola) and two guys did in 2007 (Ted Ginn and Adrian Peterson, when he was returning kicks).
To hit 2,000 as a rookie you either need to return kicks or be an absolute monster (Edgerrin James and Eric Dickerson are the only two without return yards on their slate).
So this year I nominate Brandin Cooks of the Saints and Dri Archer of the Steelers to top the number. Both will be given ample opportunity to pile up numbers in the passing game of their respective fast-paced offenses, both guys will get a few carries here and there and both guys will pile up receiving yards as well.
5. Johnny Manziel starts Week 5 for the Browns
Is this even BOLD? I'd say it's more "medium" or "full-flavored" but I am technically calling my shot on a week and I'm already in on this particular opinion so let's roll with it.
Everything sets up too nicely. Brian Hoyer starts out 0-3; at Pittsburgh, home against the Saints and Ravens is terrifying. The Browns are winless heading into the bye. Fans are angry. Jimmy Haslam is fired up to the max.
Bring in Manziel against the Titans, watch him win a tough battle in his first start and then it sets up for Cleveland hosting the Steelers in Week 6. If Manziel wins that game? Better beef up your servers just in case, Twitter.
6. Toby Gerhart is a top-10 rusher
Pure volume, baby. The Jaguars had 378 rushing attempts in 2013. That's a disappointing 28th in the NFL but it should be higher with an improved offense and a substantially improved defense. Getting 425 carries out of them as a team isn't asking too much I don't think.
Gerhart for his career averages 4.7 yards a carry. I'm gonna knock him down NEARLY A FULL YARD here and give him 4.0 yards a carry for next year. That's ... not great.
To be top 10 in terms of rushing yards Gerhart would've needed 1,122 in 2013, 1,215 in 2012, 1,092 in 2011, 1,221 in 2010. So on average 1,162.5 yards will make you a "top-10 back."
At 4.0 yards a carry, Gerhart only needs 291 carries to hit that number. Even at a lowly 3.7 yards a carry, Gerhart can hit our average with 314 carries. That's 19.6 carries a game for a dude who's only got 276 carries on his career tires.
It doesn't have to be pretty, folks.
7. Lavonte David wins Defensive Player of the Year
David might've been best known last year -- by the general public -- as the dude who shoved Geno Smith out of bounds and allowed the Jets to sneak past the Buccaneers in Week 1 of last season.
The reality is he played at an All-Pro level but was obscured by the drama in Tampa. Voting for the DPOY stupidly comes down to wins a lot of times and that's the only reason I'm not confident in David here.
He fits everything Lovie Smith could ask for in a linebacker (honestly, David might've been worth taking the job in Tampa alone), he's growing as a player and he could put up statistical numbers next season to blow everyone far enough out of the water to warrant consideration even if the Bucs only go .500.
Real quickly, would you rather have from 2013:
Player A: 16 games, 2 sacks, 4 interceptions, 8 passes defensed, 0 forced fumbles, 166 tackles
Player B: 16 games, 7 sacks, 5 interceptions, 9 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 145 tackles
8. Texans trade for Ryan Mallett, Kirk Cousins or Brian Hoyer
Desperation is a stinky cologne and once the action starts jacksoning, Bill O'Brien is going realize what he's got at quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Tom Savage. (Spoiler: it's terrible.)
With Bob McNair laying down an inexplicable "win-now" mandate before the Texans even hired O'Brien, there's pressure to get a quarterback in who can play. Mallett and Hoyer make sense because BOB worked with them before. Cousins is a competent quarterback and would slot on top of the depth chart right now if he was in Houston regardless of scheme.
I don't have the Texans winning many games but they're certainly going to try and trading for a quarterback is the best way to pull it off.
9. We see a 6,000 yard passer
There are eight 5,000-yard seasons on record in NFL history. Four of them, by the way, belong to Drew Brees and somehow Dan Marino doing it in 1984 is still the most impressive thing no one talks about.
There's not even a 5,500-yard passer yet, but this season sets up well for someone to go up top. For one, 400-yard games are the new 300-yard games and 5,000-yard seasons are the new 4,000-yard seasons. We saw a pair last year and six of the last eight happened in the previous three years.
Two, no-huddle offenses are all the rage and there are more great quarterbacks than ever before. Aaron Rodgers has a shot, Peyton Manning can flirt, Brees obviously is in play, Matt Ryan has a bad defense and great weapons, Philip Rivers can get dialed up, Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo could both lead the league in passing yards.
Top it all off with the new rules changes enforcing defensive holding downfield and the first part of the season will mean more offensive opportunities for quarterbacks. Once defenses adjust? Easier throws and yardage numbers piling up.
10. Robert Quinn sets single-season sack record
The other guy outside of David I would pick for DPOY is Quinn, for quite obvious reasons. He's very good and he gets after the quarterback. His sack numbers alone might net him the award, even if the Rams are a .500 team.
Instead, let's give him temporary immortality.
Five times in the last three years someone's gotten in the top 15 for single-season sacks. DeMarcus Ware in 2011 is the "furthest" away from Michael Strahan's record and he was only three sacks back.
Quinn won't see many double teams on account of the Rams ridiculous defensive line -- now with more Aaron Donald! -- and should get to spend all season terrorizing passers to the tune of a new single-season sack record.
11. An undefeated team
Bold AND it'll probably look stupid by Week 4. I just see a lot of top-heavy teams around the NFL this year and, after initially thinking about predicting a winless season, just felt better about an undefeated squad.
So who then?
The Broncos, obviously, are enticing. Their schedule is much harder this year but if they can get past a Week 3 trip to Seattle, their biggest tests are 1) at New England in Week 9, 2) at St. Louis in Week 11, 3) at San Diego in Week 15, 4) at Cincinnati in Week 16 and 5) Manning and Co. resting because they have the top seed clinched.
The Patriots are always a good bet because of their division schedule. I kind of expect them to be undefeated when the Broncos come to town in Week 9. A post-bye Week 11 matchup in Indy looms, as does at Green Bay in Week 13 and at San Diego in Week 14. Other than that (and Cincy/Chicago at home) this is a friendly schedule. Pencil in 12 wins as their floor.
The Packers will run an up-tempo offense and if Aaron Rodgers is healthy can flirt with perfection although I don't like them just for their schedule. Week 1 at Seattle is a tough way to get off the ground (but they're more equipped for that game than Denver/New England). They also play at New Orleans in Week 8; Drew Brees doesn't lose at home much. Hosting the Eagles (Week 11) and Patriots (Week 13) nearly in success is tough, on top of a difficult NFC North schedule.
The Seahawks are a team we have to mention because of their 2014 season but I'm not a huge fan of them going undefeated. Even if they get through hosting Green Bay and Denver two of the first three weeks (not to mention traveling to San Diego in Week 2), a few road games loom as trouble. The Rams (Week 7) and Panthers (Week 8) both play a style of defense that's difficult on the Seahawks. The division is difficult, of course, and they also play in Kansas City (Week 11) and Philly (Week 14). It's a champ's schedule. But if they can get through the first three weeks anything could happen.
The Saints are straight sneaky for this pick. It would be stunning if they weren't undefeated by their Week 6 bye. Playing at Detroit in Week 8 and then hosting Green Bay in Week 9 isn't easy. At the Steelers and at the Bears in Weeks 13 and 15, respectively, are the biggest red flags because of the outdoors location. If anyone wants to pour it on and go undefeated it would be Sean Payton and Brees, my top pick for running the table.