This is the first time in Pick Six Newsletter history that I -- Cody Benjamin -- have delivered two straight daily doses of NFL content. Feels pretty special. Hope you feel the same. Thanks to John Breech for taking vacation to allow us all this unprecedented time together. Now let's get right into it, because we've got plenty to explore around the NFL.
We've got AFC West projections, burning questions for 2021, Dak Prescott updates and much more:
- Today's show: Projecting win totals for AFC West contenders
Now that the draft, free agency and schedule release are behind us, we're running through every division to "reset" expectations for each team in the 2021 season. On Wednesday, I joined Will Brinson on the Pick Six NFL Podcast to review the AFC West. If you're looking for quick-hitting analysis, win-total projections and other betting tidbits regarding the Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders, this is the episode for you.
Vegas fans will be none too pleased, as both Brinson and I offered a gloomy outlook for the 2021 Raiders. "I wouldn't mess with Las Vegas," Brinson said. "If the Broncos trade for Aaron Rodgers ... then the Raiders are far and away the worst team in the division, and it's not remotely close ... (It's a) hard pass on everything futures related, unless you want to take the under on their win total, but even then, 7.5, that's just not many (wins) in a 17-game schedule."
The Chargers, meanwhile, drew all kinds of praise, with Brinson even deeming them sleeper Super Bowl contenders. They've got all the foundational pieces you're looking for, we noted. You've got the young quarterback who can throw it with anyone. You've got an offensive line that they properly addressed. Quite simply, if you're looking for a clear-cut second-place finisher or somebody that could actually challenge the Chiefs, it's probably the Chargers.
Catch the entire episode (and subscribe for all kinds of daily NFL talk) right here.
2. Burning questions in the AFC and NFC East: QBs are X-factors
After a historically bad 2020 season, the NFC East might be one of the NFL's most competitive divisions this year. After all, every single one of their teams -- the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles and Washington -- are projected to win more games in 2021. Still, there is no shortage of questions among the East contenders. Here are the four biggest ones, according to Cody Benjamin (that's me):
- Cowboys: Will Dak Prescott return to form and stay healthy?
- Giants: Can Daniel Jones ace his audition?
- Eagles: How will the new coach-QB duo work together?
- Washington: Can Ryan Fitzpatrick last a full season?
As you can see, all four teams' QBs are X-factors. Prescott's comfort level post-ankle injury could make or break Dallas' chances. Jones now has better play-makers but still needs to cut down on silly mistakes. Jalen Hurts is still unproven as the presumptive starter for rookie coach Nick Sirianni in Philly. And Fitzpatrick, while splashy, is also 38 with an injury and turnover history.
QBs are a similar theme in the AFC East, where Tyler Sullivan asks whether Bill Belichick can get back on track, Tua Tagovailoa can make a Year Two leap, Josh Allen can replicate his MVP-level success and Zach Wilson can live up to the hype in New York.
3. Ranking Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates: Fields leads the list
Now that the draft is behind us, Chris Trapasso has turned his attention to the future for a look at the top Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates. He's got a full rundown for 11 different rookies, but here's a peek at his top five, plus insight on his No. 1 choice:
Fields is my Offensive Rookie of the Year selection for a multitude of reasons, his phenomenal talent chief among them. On the field, he's Deshaun Watson 2.0, a receiver-caliber athlete playing quarterback with a big arm, smart coverage-reading tendencies, and a propensity to rip it deep down the field and drop it into the bucket.
And he lands with a Bears franchise starving for quarterbacking mastery. It's been so long. Too long. Fields inherits a group perfectly suited to help him win OROY. Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Darnell Mooney, and Cole Kmet aren't so good that a strong rookie season from Chicago's first-round pick will be viewed as buoyed by skill-position talent. But they're competent, ripe to be elevated by an ultra-talented quarterback. And that's precisely what the Bears have in Fields.
Because of his fall to No. 11 overall, he'll be viewed as somewhat of an underdog story, and if Fields has the Bears in the playoffs again -- this time with an efficient offense -- it'll be easy for him to be viewed as a the front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
4. Former Packers GM: 'We have a lot of divas ... in the league right now'
Pete Prisco isn't the only person who thinks "no player is bigger than the game," as he recently remarked while forecasting an eventual mending of fences between Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Ron Wolf, who spent 10 years as Green Bay's general manager from 1991-2000, joined Wisconsin's Big Show Network this week to address disgruntled QBs around the NFL -- Rodgers among them. His take on the mounting drama between star QBs and their respective teams?
"We have a lot of divas playing in the league right now. I fail to understand that all these guys have long-term deals. I can't believe the game has changed that remarkably."
In other words, how did Rodgers and other star QBs -- like the Seahawks' Russell Wilson and Texans' Deshaun Watson -- go from inking long-term commitments with their franchises to attempting to flee elsewhere just a few years later? Wolf, of course, is coming from the perspective of a lifelong front-office man. A front office's job is to put the team's interests ahead of a player's. And plenty would agree with Rodgers, who's reportedly miffed at the way Green Bay has (or hasn't) shown commitment to him. This is merely another reminder that not everyone is entirely pro-player, in this case. Rodgers, Wolf presumably reasons, is under contract, and that should be enough.
5. Cowboys insider: Dak Prescott fully recovered, set for offseason work
Speaking of Dak's health being an X-factor for the 2021 Cowboys, our Patrik Walker just reported the latest from inside America's Team's offseason, and he's got some good news on the rehab front. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said this week that he expects Prescott to participate in most team work during OTAs and mandatory minicamp, the latter of which begins June 8. According to Walker, however, Dak has been capable of full participation for a while:
Sources tell CBS Sports Prescott is already able to do all of the work and has been for several weeks now, so the slight scale back is, again, deliberate on the part of the Cowboys training staff to give them an opportunity to assess him post-practice(s) before fully unleashing him. This means that, barring any unforeseen issue, he's expected to be a go for training camp when it opens in July ... with zero limitations.
Prescott himself appears confident, by the way. Fifth-round receiver Simi Fehoko told reporters this week that the QB has already been coaching up this year's rookies, and not only that, but told him after the draft that "we're about to go light up the league."
Want more NFL news? Good. We've got a bunch of other items for you right here:
- Frank Reich defends Carson Wentz: The Colts coach cringes at the notion his new QB is "broken"
- Patriots sign Brian Hoyer: The old backup is back to compete behind Cam Newton and Mac Jones
- Broncos hire Kelly Kleine: The longtime Vikings assistant is the highest-ranking female in scouting history
- Mark Ingram switches to No. 2: The new Texans RB is going to a single digit for Year 11
- Zach Ertz skipping offseason work: The Eagles TE is still expected to be cut or traded