By Lucas Kochevar
It's overreaction Monday and I think the Falcons are going to the Super Bowl while Desmond Ridder ends the season with 900 passing yards. I can't wait! Week one is in the books and the NFL delivered some bad, but interesting games. There was some chaos, some silly plays and standout performances. Rookie quarterbacks looked like rookie quarterbacks. Joe Burrow and the Bengals looked atrocious. Jordan Love might be the next Packers quarterback to torture Bears fans for another couple decades. This performance stood out to me the most, but it wasn't just Love that impressed me. The entire Packers team played with some excitement and energy that they never had last season. Their defense did a rather strong job containing Justin Fields and Matt LaFleur called up perfect plays for Love and this offense. Last night, the Eagles re-established the run game behind a huge day from D'Andre Swift. Devonta Smith also had a great day for the Eagles as they start 2-0. Now, let's look ahead to week two for some intriguing match-ups.
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) @ Jacksonville Jaguars
This is the marquee game of the week for me. I'm super excited to see how this game turns out if Travis Kelce plays. The Chiefs lost last week to the Lions in disappointing fashion, but they're going to get DT Chris Jones back and potentially Kelce. They look to bounce back this week against one of the up-and-coming teams in the league with the Jaguars. The Jaguars squeaked out of Indianapolis with the win, but it definitely wasn't as sharp as they would've liked. Trevor Lawrence threw several jaw-dropping passes with perfect placement on Sunday. New acquisition Calvin Ridley also scored a touchdown in his first game with the Jaguars. This game is also a rematch of last years divisional round matchup where the Chiefs won.
This game will come down to whether or not Lawrence can answer the call against a tough Chiefs defense. The Chiefs defense shut down a high octane offense in the Lions with stellar secondary play. Cornerback Trent McDuffie was terrific week one and he'll have his hands full with this Jaguars receiver group. I mentioned Ridley, but Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram are all threats to space out the defense. Lawrence will also have the challenge, as I mentioned, of seeing Chris Jones with his new contract. The Chiefs will need their young weapons to step up, because they can't be any worse than they were in week one. There's a lot of key factors in this game and the hype train will be zooming if the Jaguars can earn this win over the favorited Chiefs.
Indianapolis Colts (-1) @ Houston Texans
This is a sicko game to pick as one of my favorites, however, there's many layers to why I think this matchup will be fun and a game to look out for. Admittedly, these are two of the worst teams in the league, but they're both led by rookie quarterbacks that were picked in the top four. The Colts and Texans are coming off losses in both of their games. The Texans lost in an ugly matchup versus the Ravens, where C.J. Stroud threw for 242 yards, but no touchdowns or interceptions. The Colts lost to the Jaguars with Anthony Richardson threw for 223 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for 40 yards and a touchdown. While Richardson had the best debut out of the rookie quarterbacks, Stroud had a solid performance.
If I haven't made it clear yet, the rookie quarterbacks are the storyline in this game. The rookie head coaches are also an important storyline in this. If these two guys happen to be the coaches of the future for their respective teams, this could be a rivalry we see for years. It's not often we see two divisional opponents traveling alongside each other in their rebuild, but here we get to see the development of two young teams that need to rise from the ashes. The key to this game will be the pass protection. The Texans allowed five sacks on Sunday against the Ravens, while Richardson got sacked four times. Keeping those two guys standing could be the deciding factor between a winner and a loser. Also look to see how Richardson protects himself running the ball as he suffered an injury late in the game versus Jacksonville.
New York Jets (+9) @ Dallas Cowboys
This game could be an absolute thrashing from the Cowboys, however, I'm super curious to watch the dynamic between both teams. The Jets won their game on a crazy punt return, but they lost their quarterback to an Achilles injury. It's really sad that it might've been the last time that we'll see Aaron Rodgers on the field. The Cowboys, on the other hand, demolished the New York Giants 40-0. It was never really in doubt so we didn't really see what this team is fully capable of. The defense was the star of that performance and they helped my fantasy team win this week. The best part of this matchup is the Dallas offense versus the Jets defense.
Dak Prescott has been ridiculed for turning the ball over a lot this season and this Jets defense could force him into some interceptions. On the other hand, the Jets have Zach Wilson and a bad offensive line. The Cowboys defense could wreak havoc on this Jets offense. It's not often we get a star defense versus a star defense, but Sunday should provide that between these two teams. Although I do think the Cowboys will win this matchup, I'm curious what this Jets team will look like when a player like Josh Allen isn't throwing the ball around like a mad man. I also want to see more out of the Cowboys offense since they didn't have to work too hard in week one. This game could set the tone for each team as they move forward in the season.
LK's Best Bet of the Week: San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams Over 44.5
Well, we lost last weeks bet very badly. Thanks for nothing, Steelers. We are back in on the 49ers as they play the Rams this week. The Rams were a pleasant surprise when they blew out the Seahawks on Sunday. Matthew Stafford looked sharp throwing to Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell. The run game showed life with the likes of Cam Akers and Kyren Williams. They had this offensive explosion without their main weapon in Cooper Kupp. The 49ers absolutely obliterated the Steelers and showed that Brock Purdy and the offense are as sharp as ever. Brandon Aiyuk was the star of the show this week with two touchdowns.
I love this over. This is slightly scary because the Rams could turn into a pumpkin against one of the best defenses in the league. I feel okay, however, given the fact that Sean McVay has Kyle Shannahan's number. I love both of these coaches and they're two of the best offensive minds in the league. I expect big points in this one with the potential for a 30-17 finish. Let's win this bet!
Sources: Image via The Kansas City Star
By Lucas Kochevar
Week one of the NFL season feels like Christmas with an early gift yesterday between the Lions and Chiefs. Travis Kelce was ruled out hours before gametime and it proved to be a big loss for the Chiefs, who had several drops from their receivers down the stretch. Although people will talk about how the Chiefs lost the game, the Lions did everything to deserve the win yesterday. The Lions offense moved well most of the game and it was clear the connection between Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown is strong. The Lions defense also held up most of the game with the improved secondary and Aidan Hutchinson causing the tackles trouble all night. There's been a lot of optimism with the Lions since their winning stretch last season and it might have been justified after last nights huge win. In this edition of LK League Notes, I'll be previewing some of my favorite games of week one and my NFL bet of the week!
Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) @ Cleveland Browns
This game is intriguing to me in many ways. First off, I love the AFC North and this is our first peek at the division this season. It should be hard-nosed, entertaining football. Joe Burrow tends to struggle at Cleveland so that could make this a close game. Secondly, we have the intrigue of what this Browns squad will look like. I mentioned in my preview on this division that the Browns could be the best team and they have the potential to win the North. It'll be all up to Deshaun Watson. The star quarterback struggled coming back late last season and the reviews haven't been that great in this off-season. This will be the first time with him starting the season with the Browns and his offense is loaded with talent: Nick Chubb, Amari Cooper and an elite offensive line. It'll be up to Watson to get the most out of this team. Lastly, the Bengals are one of the most explosive offenses in the league with the trio of Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. It'll be a treat to see one of the best AFC teams take the field against a potential playoff contender. I'm excited for this one.
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears (-1)
The NFC North's two most iconic franchises meet once again for week one in a battle that could be the first of many. Justin Fields is entering his third season with the Bears and looks to make the leap and prove himself as the quarterback. Across the field, a young quarterback is also trying to prove himself. Jordan Love is entering his fourth season in the NFL and it's his first time as a true starter. Love has sat behind Aaron Rodgers for the past couple season and finally has his chance. The Packers have pedigree in finding franchise quarterbacks and it'll be very interesting whether or not Love follows that trajectory. This game will be a good litmus test for Love since the Bears defense isn't all that threatening. This will also be a good litmus test for Fields since the Packers defense is pretty good. Obviously there are more intriguing players outside of the quarterbacks, like D.J. Moore and Christian Watson, but the two young passers will be the story at the end of this one.
Miami Dolphins @ Los Angeles Chargers (-3)
If there was a game of "Guess the line!" I would have guaranteed that Miami was favored, however, Vegas disagrees. The Chargers are looking at a ton of pressure this season and this will be the first big test. They paid Justin Herbert, drafted a new receiver and hired a new offensive coordinator. Also with everyone coming back healthy, they should be in the running for a playoff spot. Outside of the Chargers, the Dolphins will also be hunting a playoff spot after a disappointing end to last season once quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was hurt. Now with Tagovailoa healthy, the Dolphins look to make the jump to division winners. This game looks to be a track meet between two very talented teams and, once again, the quarterbacks will be at the center of it. With both guys being drafted back-to-back in the 2019 draft, they'll be linked forever and this will be a fun game to see after they've been in the league for a couple seasons. I'm excited to see two fast-paced offenses.
NFL Best Bet of the Week: Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.5) vs San Francisco 49ers
The bet of the week for me goes to another game I'm excited to see the outcome of. The reason I love this bet, I think the Steelers can win this outright. Giving them 2.5 points is generous and I'll gladly take it. I think the Steelers will be a playoff team next season with their great coaching and an emerging Kenny Pickett. The 49ers are a Super Bowl contender, but I think they're coming back this season to a rocky start. Purdy played out of his mind down the stretch last season, but there was a reason he went in the seventh round last season. Don't get me wrong, he's good and I think he'll be productive, but a defense like the Steelers could give him fits. It also doesn't help that they have to travel from San Francisco to a hostile environment like Pittsburgh. This win will be more about the Steelers defense than anything, but I'm confident in them. Lets have a strong start to the season!
Sources: Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
By Lucas Kochevar
The next time NFL football is played, the game will actually matter. The longest offseason in sports has ended with the preseason wrapping up. The teams are cutting players, which sucks, but it is the closest step to kicking off the 2023 NFL season. There's a ton of intrigue around the league regarding the exciting quarterbacks, talented defenses and big play receivers. The last true domino to drop is where Jonathan Taylor will land. It's looking like he'll be traded, but he's still in Indianapolis. There's two teams that I think make the most sense is Chicago and Miami. Chicago has a stable of okay running backs, but Taylor would be a clear upgrade. They aren't paying anyone big money so they could extend him too. The Dolphins also could turn their offense up a notch with this addition. We'll see what team gambles on him once he comes off the PUP list in Indianapolis. In this last LK League notes before the season starts, I want to touch on some last minute predictions with the awards and the Super Bowl.
MVP: Jalen Hurts QB, Eagles
The MVP for me will be the guy who received runner-up last season. Hurts was excellent last season in leading Philadelphia to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, he lost the MVP race after an injury sidelined him the last month of the season. I think this season will be some sort of revenge tour to claim the MVP he lost. Last season he was a touchdown machine, mainly through the ground. I think he'll make a significant jump in passing touchdowns this season and that'll put him over the other quarterbacks that could be in the running here like Joe Burrow, Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes. Hurts is also going into his second season with star receiver A.J. Brown and their chemistry should be sharp. The MVP may only go to one player, but it takes a village to win the award and the Eagles have one of the best villages in the league for Hurts to lead. Barring another injury, I really like Hurts to take home this award.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tyreek Hill WR, Dolphins
Tyreek Hill was close to joining the 2K yards club last season, but quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's injury complicated that for him and he was 300 yards short. This season, I think Hill will have a big season and help the Dolphins clinch a playoff spot. I was questionable about how Hill would look without Mahomes throwing him the ball, but he still had a huge year. Hill's speed is game-breaking and his ability to turn nothing into something is second to none. Hill should knock on the door of Calvin Johnson's record this season. Justin Jefferson and Cooper Kupp won the award before so it would shock me if the voter gave them the nod, therefore, Hill should get the award.
Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt LB, Steelers
The defensive player of the year award went through a repetitive, but fair, stretch when Aaron Donald was the name penciled in year after year. This season, I think we get a familiar name again, this time it's T.J. Watt. Similar to Hurts, injuries slowed him down last season and his presence was missed severely. Watt is a sack artist and should push for season record, similar to how he did in his first DPOY campaign. On top of his individual success, I think the Steelers defense will be very good and as the leader of that, Watt will get big time credit. The Steelers are 1-10 without Watt on the field and that tells the story of Watt's impact on the field.
Comeback Player of the Year: Damar Hamlin S, Bills
This feels like a fairly easy lay-up pick when it comes this award. Typically, it's given out to a player that suffered a tough injury and had a good season. Hamlin returning to the field in any capacity is a miracle and it should be celebrated. He literally died on the field and has managed to comeback and play in whatever capacity he can. It's truly a remarkable story and it'll, once again, be a big deal when this time comes for him to accept the award. There's not much more explanation needed for this.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Bijan Robinson RB, Falcons
The offensive rookie of the year typically goes to a quarterback and there are plenty of worthy candidates, but I'm going to choose the best overall offensive player that isn't an offensive lineman. Robinson was an absolute star in college and that warranted a top ten selection for the former Longhorn running back. I love his fit in Atlanta and it should be a big year for him. The Falcons were the best rushing team in the league last season and Arthur Smith knows how to get a running back involved. If the Falcons manage to win their division and Robinson is the star for the offense, Robinson should walk to the award. He's the odds-on-favorite for a reason and I'm excited to see how he looks in the pros.
Defensive Player of the Year: Devon Witherspoon CB, Illinois
The Seahawks have a knack for finding talent at cornerback and I think they found another stud with Witherspoon at the fifth pick. Transitioning to the NFL as a corner is perhaps the hardest adjustment and it's rare for rookies to be playmakers. I think Witherspoon can really pop out of the gate. Sauce Gardner showed us how a rookie corner can be an All-Pro and although I don't think Witherspoon can be at that level, I think he can be elite enough to win this award. He also pops as a corner with his physicality and tackling. If Witherspoon can be a leader among this very talented defense, pencil in the former Illinois star for this award.
Coach of the Year: Dan Campbell, Lions
This feels like another obvious pick if the Lions make the playoffs. The Lions have always been our lovable losers and they have big expectations. If they manage to win the division for the first time since 1993. Last time the Lions won the division, it was called the NFC Central. The Lions getting to this point has largely been behind the overhaul in culture with Campbell. I talked a lot about the Lions in last weeks LK League Notes, but I want to reiterate that the Lions should be a playoff team this season behind Campbell's leadership.
Super Bowl Prediction: Buffalo Bills 31, Philadelphia Eagles 23
Look away, Eagles fans. Rejoice, Buffalo fans. The Bills have suffered from sky high expectations the past couple of seasons and I don't want to say they aren't high this season, but they feel tempered. The Jets are the team everyone is talking about in the division and I think that takes a little bit of weight off the Bills shoulders. They dealt with a ton of adversity over last season, but I think they'll come back to a sense of normalcy and have a solid season. The Eagles will also walk through the NFC with no serious teams to challenge them. Buffalo will need their defense to take a leap from what it was last season and I think they do that with the return of Von Miller and emergence of defensive end Gregory Rousseau. I'm very excited for this season and I can't wait to share all my thoughts with you guys!
By Lucas Kochevar
The first couple weeks of preseason football has come and gone and the reactions are out of control, in the best way. It means that we've finally made it to NFL football. The only thing missing from the beginning of the season is the ending of my divisional preview series! It's the ending of this journey throughout the NFL and it's fitting that we end in the NFC North given the fact that these teams were really prominent in the first week of the preseason. The Bears were the big talk with Justin Fields connecting for two touchdowns with his three passes. I truly don't know what the Titans were doing on defense, but the Bears did look explosive. Their rival, the Packers, had a great showing during their preseason game against the Bengals. Although the stat line wasn't as flashy, Jordan Love had a positive showing. The Vikings and Lions didn't play their starters so it's hard to gauge them, but since they're the two favorites, they don't need to show too much. For the first time in a long time, the NFC North feels like it's up for grabs with all four teams in the running. It should be a very exciting division.
Minnesota Vikings (13-4 Last Season)
The Minnesota Vikings from last season were one of the most fascinating teams last season because they loved to play on one score games. Even with 13 wins on the board, the Vikings were a huge disappointment by losing in the Wild Card round against the Giants. There are many issues with how they operated last season, but they're all fixable issues. I'm also overselling the issues they've had because when you look at the bigger picture, they had a successful season. First year coach Kevin O'Connell ran a super successful offense with record-breaking receiver Justin Jefferson. Kirk Cousins even had his best season as a pro, in my opinion. The biggest X-factor will be their defense.
Following a season as one of the worst defenses of all-time, the Vikings hit a hard reset on the unit and made some changes. The most important one of those bunch would be the hiring of Brian Flores. Following his exit from the Dolphins, Flores went through a spat with the league. He's back in the mix now after a season on the Steelers staff. Flores is one of the best defensive minds in the league and can likely coach up a defense that needs guidance. They made some changes to the cornerback room and they'll also get back second year safety Lewis Cine. The Georgia safety missed all of last season with a broken leg and I think he can be a game changer coming back. With this defense hopefully improving, the offense looks to keep up their success. Veterans Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen were critical in the past couple years, but now they're gone. They'll need the replacements to step up with Alexander Mattison and rookie Jordan Addison.
The Vikings have a high floor with all the talent they have and the solid coaching from O'Connell. They also have a low ceiling with Kirk Cousins at quarterback. I like Cousins and I think he's underrated by many, however, it's clear that there's a limit to how far he can take a team. That being said, I like this Vikings team and they've improved, primarily on the defense. They should be the favorites to win the NFC North heading into the season, due to the uncertainty of the other teams. I don't know if they'll win the division but I expect them to make the playoffs in some capacity. Barring injury, Jefferson should break more records and continue his climb as the best receiver of his generation.
Detroit Lions (9-8 Last Season)
The Detroit Lions could potentially win the NFC North for the first time in my lifetime, at least since I can remember. In the past, the Lions have entered the year and it's been doom and gloom, but there's an energy of excitement in Detroit. It all goes back to the hiring of Dan Campbell. I was low on the hire, but he's proved me wrong and can be one of the best culture guys in the league. Last season, their offense was explosive and quarterback Jared Goff had a career renaissance. The defense started off poorly, but finished the season strong and they were the reason Detroit had a shot at the playoffs in week 17. The expectations have taken a big as they're the team that's featured on opening night taking on the Kansas City Chiefs.
The offense will still be the focal point of this team as they were very fortunate to retain offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Goff solidified himself as the franchise guy for the Lions last season and looks to build on that success. It's fascinating to see two quarterbacks from the 2016 draft in Goff and Wentz that have taken such different career paths. Outside of Goff, he has a top notch offensive line and some talented weapons, most notably Amon-Ra St. Brown. He's a very underrated receiver in my eyes and I think he has top five potential. An X-factor for the Lions in my eyes would be Iowa rookie Sam LaPorta. Iowa has a great reputation with making NFL level tight ends and LaPorta could be added to that list. The defense improvement over last season was key in their turnaround and hot finish. If that unit can start out the season in a strong way that can help this team significantly. The Lions will rely on defensive end Aidan Hutchinson to make that second year improvement.
My biggest concern for the Lions is the increase in expectations. The Lions have gotten by as the plucky, lovable loser and it's benefited them when they do have a good team because the opponents don't expect it. Now that the Lions are being slotted higher than a lot of teams in the league across the media, they'll have more of a target on their back. This is where the culture king in Dan Campbell will be paramount for the Lions locker room. He'll need to keep them level-headed across this important season. I like the Lions to make the playoffs at the very least. They have too much talent to not make that jump and they're in a division that shouldn't challenge them too much.
Green Bay Packers (8-9 Last Season)
The Green Bay Packers are entering uncharted territory this season. They faced it when shifting from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and it turned out pretty good for them. Now, they make that same transition with Jordan Love. The 2020 first round pick was drafted to sit behind Rodgers as he was a raw prospect and Rodgers was getting older. The Packers set the succession plan, but it was quickly ruined when Rodgers rattled off back-to-back MVPs. With Rodgers being traded to the Jets, the Packers get to see what they drafted in full-time action. He's clearly the biggest X-factor for the Packers. If he does turn out to be good, the Packers could be in the mix for the division, like they normally are.
The offense will run as Love runs, but they'll still need to step up. It's not an impressive skill position group with so many young receivers. Christian Watson started off slow last season, but found his groove later in the season. Romeo Doubs was a productive guy too, but outside of that it's very shaky. They'll need running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon to provide consistent offense. Their offensive line remains great and Matt LaFleur is still the play caller. If anything, this season is huge for LaFleur. He's always had Rodgers to help cover up any deficiencies and LaFleur might get exposed since he doesn't have a first ballot Hall of Famer under center. I like LaFleur and think he'll have an average season, but it'll be a storyline to follow. Their defense, however, should be very good. Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander and Rashan Gary are all in their primes and they're some of the best players at their positions. They also have several role players who can step up when needed too like Devonte Wyatt and Darnell Savage.
The Packers defense should be cohesive and dangerous out of the gate. It'll be up to the offense whether or not they make the playoffs. The Packers have been blessed with Hall of Fame level quarterback play for the past 30 years and they'll finally have to deal with an unknown player at that spot. I don't think it'll be a smooth transition and the scheme will be working hard to cover-up Love's weaknesses. I do believe that he can be a starter in the league, but I have my questions about his ceiling. I don't think he'll reach his potential in year one and this will be a big time development year. I like the Packers to win around six-to-right games and miss out on the playoffs.
Chicago Bears (3-14 Last Season)
The Chicago Bears are entering a critical year in Justin Fields development. He's entering year three after a breakout season. The issue is the Bears still lost three games and Fields great play was led by his running, not passing. To be fair to Fields, the Bears surrounded him with some swill. That's why this season will be critical because the Bears made a conscious effort to give Fields weapons and a defense. Fields development and an actual chance at winning the division is in play for the Bears and we'll see if they can live up to the hype. The biggest acquisition they made involved trading away their first overall pick to Carolina since it netted them D.J. Moore.
Moore is the best weapon that Fields has seen in the NFL and they also used their first round pick from the Panthers to draft Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright. These type of investments are huge for building up Fields and we'll see if it pays off. The rest of their offense is pretty solid too with weapons like Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet. The running back position will be interesting with David Montgomery leaving and Khalil Herbert stepping up to fill his shoes. The offensive line doesn't have great names, but they should be slightly better. The defense will be the concerning group for me. It's a mixture of good young players and free agents they spent money on this past offseason. The secondary will be the make-or-break group as they drafted heavily last season and veteran safety Eddie Jackson is the leader among them. Head coach Matt Eberfleus will have his work cut out for him to cause pressure because I'm not sure how this unit will get sacks. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is the most notable edge rusher and, with all due respect, he's on his fourth team in three years.
The Bears still feel like they're a year away, but I think they can make strides this season. The Bears faithful are ready to pencil in Chicago for the division win, but I can't with how this team looks in the trenches. Once again, I like them, but I don't think they'll be in the running for the division win this season. I'm expecting a big season from Fields, at least from a fantasy perspective, and I think he'll be subject to the same discussions Lamar Jackson had at the end of his rookie contract. The Bears should prioritize development over winning this season, but they could be a sneaky team to make a leap to the playoffs.
By Lucas Kochevar
We're inching closer and closer to NFL football as the preseason officially starts this week. The Hall of Fame game showed us a little bit of nothing, but Dorian Thompson-Robinson was pretty fun. The division preview series is starting to slow down too as we approach the season with two more divisions to go. The one today is the toughest division in football, in my opinion: The AFC North. The division has four playoff caliber teams superstars all over. Despite Joe Burrow's calf strain, the Bengals are a big time offensive threat and could race with any team in the league. The Ravens finally put the Lamar Jackson contract dispute in the rearview and brought in great offensive coordinator Todd Monken. The Steelers are always reliable under head coach Mike Tomlin. Even the Browns feel like a competitive team now that the nasty man at quarterback has a full offseason under his belt.
Cincinnati Bengals (12-4 Last Season)
The Bengals have now been a competitive team for two seasons with the emergence of superstar Joe Burrow. They'll look to make it three consecutive AFC North titles behind the leadership of Burrow and this offense. I'm not so sure it'll be as easy as it has been the past couple of years. Burrow is already dealing with a calf strain that'll keep him out "several weeks" according to head coach Zac Taylor. The Bengals have been fortunate with the Steelers figuring out the new era at quarterback and Lamar's injury woes with the Ravens, but that could change this season. The Bengals lost a couple of guys in the offseason that could tough to replace. I've praised safety Jessie Bates III multiple times on this site and I think his reliability in the back end will be missed. Hayden Hurst was also a very dependable target at tight end for this Cincy offense.
The departures shouldn't be all the talk with this team still. They made a big splash in free agency by signing the top tackle on the market in Orlando Brown Jr. and he should provide some big support to an offensive line that's struggled. The Bengals offensive skill positions will be the same as they have been for the past couple of seasons with star receiver Ja'Marr Chase leading the way. He's one of the best young talents in the league and should have a big year. On the other side of him is another super talented receiver in big body Tee Higgins. The passing offense should be crisp once again, but the run game will be important if they want a balanced attack with Joe Mixon. The defense should also be talented again as they've managed to retain their defensive coordinator through two off-seasons. As I mentioned, losing Bates is a blow, but they've drafted the safety position the last couple of drafts and Dax Hill from Michigan will be an X-factor entering his first year as a starter.
I'm expecting big things from the Bengals. Similar to the Bills, they're one of the premier teams that could get over the hump once they beat the Chiefs. It all depends on the supporting cast to help Burrow. There are certain players on the team that you know what you're gonna get, but it's up to the guys in between the margins to get them to the next level. Linebacker Logan Wilson, who just got a contract extension, and tight end Irv Smith Jr., who they acquired in the offseason, come to mind as two of those guys. Their good players have to pull their weight. I like the Bengals to make the playoffs at the very least. I'm still unsure they'll win the division, but they should be the favorites.
Baltimore Ravens (10-7 Last Season)
The Baltimore Ravens entered the offseason with a lot of questions surrounding Lamar Jackson and they answered them all by extending Jackson. There was some doubt whether or not he would return, however, he signed the extension and the Ravens are going full steam ahead as a team that wants to compete. The Ravens feel like an energized club now that Lamar is tied down to their future and they hired offensive coordinator Todd Monken from the national champion Bulldogs. With John Harbaugh at the helm, the Ravens could be a dark horse Super Bowl Contender.
I emphasize the arrival of Monken for this Ravens team because I've seen what he can do for an offense and I was crushed to see him leave as UGA student. Monken's pass happy attack should help Jackson make easier decisions and improve his decision-making. Monken makes the offense just easier and cohesive. The pass offensive coordinator played to Lamar's running and I think that put a cap on them. Monken comes in and I expect big things from Mark Andrews. Brock Bowers turned into a Super Bowl with this offense and if Andrews can look like him, it'll be a great connection between Jackson and Andrews. On top of that, they brough in Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Zay Flowers. This receiving group is the best Jackson has had since becoming the quarterback. That bar is low, but this group does easily clears it. The defense should be decent too as they re-signed Roquan Smith. It always feels like they have some mean dudes along the defensive line and this group is no different. Kyle Hamilton is the guy I'm excited to see as he had a solid rookie year and remains a fantastic athlete.
It's true Jackson has had limited success in the playoffs, but this feels like a team that can change that. Overall, it's a solid team and the coaching is top notch. The Ravens are one of those teams that just look like trash some weeks, but you look up and they have double digit wins. I think they've upgraded from last season and they still managed to win ten games. I expect a big year from Jackson and I think their offense will be humming by the time December rolls around. I also really like Flowers to have a strong rookie season. I think the Ravens will finish near the playoff race, but a tough AFC might keep them out.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8 Last Season)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been over .500 every season under Mike Tomlin and they barely squeaked over the mark last year. This season, I'm expecting more from them. They go into the season fully committed to Kenny Pickett and the rest of this young offense. Last season with Mitchell Trubisky, they never seemed serious, but when Pickett was in a rhythm they were a serious threat. With Pickett's continued growth and the Steelers typical elite defense, the Steelers should look to make a jump. They didn't make a ton of moves in free agency so they are relying heavily on the development of this young group.
The group is, obviously, led by Pickett and I'm very curious to see if he does make a jump this season. The rest of this division has guys that have done it at the highest level and Pickett is the worst of them. Still, he can have a very solid year and keep up the steady improvement that most young quarterbacks have in that sophomore season. He has talented players around him in Najee Harris, George Pickens and Diontae Johnson. Those three will be important, but the biggest X-factor has to be the offensive line. Their O-line has been dreadful the past couple seasons so they need that unit to be better for Pickett's sake. I haven't mentioned the potential best defensive player in football in T.J. Watt. The star pass rusher was hurt last season so him being healthy would be a big boost to this defense. The Steelers are also very young on the defensive side of the ball with rookies Joey Porter Jr. and Keanu Benton. I really like both of these guys, but they'll need time to grow into their own. I still have hope that this defense will be among the leagues best. Minkah Fitzpatrick is also another guy I forgot to mention but his playmaking will be huge for this defense.
The Steelers are going to be a good team. I would bet on that. The Steelers will need their guys to make big strides if they want to compete in the AFC. As I mentioned earlier, the AFC will be a slaughterhouse and the Steelers won't have time to wait on young players development. There should be some patience with these young guys. It's an important year for development and they should be focused on the long term, not the short term. The Steelers could be pretty good in the very near future, but pump the brakes for now, Steeler nation.
Cleveland Browns (7-10 Last Season)
The Cleveland Browns have a win-now mentality and the way that they've approached this offseason backs that up. They still have a good base roster and they added a couple pieces that could be very productive players. They rescued Elijah Moore from the Jets and signed Za'Darius Smith from the Vikings. Two minor players to the general public, but they could be big time contributors. On top of that, they have Deshaun Watson for the entire season. No matter how you feel about Watson, he's a very talented player. The issue he ran into last season was just the lack of play. He had to knock off the rust after not playing for well over a year. Now, he looks to return to normalcy and if he can reach the level he was at before, the Browns will be dangerous.
The Browns offense will clearly depend on how Watson performs and he doesn't have any excuses. They have one of the better offensive lines in the league with strong veterans. They have the best pure running back in the league in Nick Chubb and some very formidable receivers in Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Those three aren't household names, but they're pretty talented guys. They also have some peak guys on the defense. Myles Garrett is one of the best defensive players in the league and Denzel Ward is one of the better corners in the league. Ward just got rewarded with a big contract so he'll look to live up the that hype. They are similar to the Steelers and Bengals defense in the fact that they have some young, talented players that are going to be starters for the first time. Grant Delpit is the name that sticks out to me as someone to watch out for.
The Browns have the talent to be a really solid team. I once again have to iterate that the AFC is super tough this season. The biggest factor for the Browns could be their coaching staff. Head coach Kevin Stefanski came out of the gates hot with the Browns faithful by making the playoffs and beating Pittsburgh, however, these past couple of seasons has thrown his position into question. I like him and think he schemes up a great offense behind some good play-action. The Browns have a solid overall team and I can see them fighting for a playoff spot, but this division will be a war.
By Lucas Kochevar
Suddenly losing power while working on something is very similar to just losing your star player to injury. That's what happened to me this past weekend here in the good ole peach state, but I'm back on track to bring you the next division in the season preview series, the NFC West. This division is fascinating to look at with it's many unknowns. The division has three playoff caliber teams and the Cardinals. The 49ers are talked about among the best in the league with numerous terrific players, however, they have the uncertainty of Brock Purdy at quarterback. Can he repeat his success? The Seahawks have put together back-to-back terrific draft classes and they just paid Geno Smith. The Rams just suffered from the worst Super Bowl hangover ever, but they still have Sean McVay, a healthy Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald. Lastly, the Cardinals have the worst team in the league, but could they pivot off Kyler Murray and select USC's Caleb Williams? These questions make the NFC West fascinating and I'm looking to answer some of this in this volume of LK League Notes.
San Francisco 49ers (13-4 Last Season)
Trey Lance advocates are in the mud. Specifically, I am in the mud. His injury was a domino last season that opened up the door for Brock Purdy and Purdy seized the opportunity. The issue that Purdy is facing now is an elbow injury that would likely take a pitcher out for the year. It feels weird because no one seems concerned about an injury to the arm of quarterback like the way people would be concerned about an ACL injury for a running back. Alas, the 49ers will still look to Purdy to carry on his success from last season. Along with him, they have the most dangerous weapons in the league and a defense that can rival the best in the league. With all this, the 49ers also have mastermind head coach Kyle Shannahan to lead them.
Shannahan has a fun cast to play with this season starting off with running back Christian McCaffery. He's one of the most electric players in the league and showed the potential in that offense last season. Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk makes up one of the better wide receiver tandems in the league. It feels like Samuel took a step back last season, but injuries and more mouths to feed dropped his production. It feels like we've been waiting on the Aiyuk next step for a couple years now, but he still managed to get over a thousand yards last season. Then they have George Kittle and Trent Williams, who are some of the best at their respective positions. Still, everything leads back to that quarterback position. Purdy came on to the scene as an unknown and really thrived. No defenses really caught on and the 49ers rattled off all those wins in a row, however, this is the NFL we're talking about. Defensive coordinators have had the entire offseason to adjust and they'll throw some crazy looks at Purdy, but maybe this offense is still too talented for that.
I wasn't even able to touch on the defense, which is uber talented. Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Arik Armstead are some big names on that side of the ball, but they'll have to overcome losing their defensive coordinator. They brought in Steve Wilks, who had a great year with Carolina last season. The 49ers have a lot of pressure on them as their roster is far too talented to not make the Super Bowl. I don't think Shannahan is on the hot seat or anything, but there might have to be a dialogue on him if the 49ers fall flat on their face or choke a playoff game. I still really like the 49ers to win the division and finish near the top of the NFC.
Seattle Seahawks (9-8 Last Season)
The Seattle Seahawks were a pleasant surprise last season with the emergence of Geno Smith and they made the playoffs. The Russell Wilson trade was thought to be the kick starter to becoming a rebuilding team, however, the Seahawks earned a big time boost to their resources. Specifically, numerous draft picks added to the arsenal. On top of the draft picks, the Seahawks nailed most of the picks they made. Tariq Woolen and Kenneth Walker III were terrific picks and were under consideration for rookie of the year honors. Now that they paid Geno Smith, they look to make the next step.
Geno Smith is now a $100 million dollar man and looks to build off of last season. Smith and the Seahawks faltered to end the season, but this year they look to be more consistent. The offense should be humming again with two young tackles going into their second season. Rookie tackles often struggle so the fact that these guys were good and can still improve should be a beacon of hope for the attitude of this offense. Another position group that should provide a ton of optimism is the wide receivers. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are one of the most underrated receiver duos in the league and they added Jaxson Smith-Njigba to that mix. Smith-Njigba comes into the league as my favorite rookie receiver and he has two great platers to learn from. The defense should be better too. They're another unit that was full of young kids that have matured over the last season. They brought back Bobby Wagner for a strong veteran leadership and I think they'll be a surprising unit in the top half of the league.
The Seahawks will need their franchise quarterback to continue his upward trajectory. Smith finally got his opportunity and seized the day, but now that the expectations are there, can he live up to them? That'll be the big question. I'm not sure I would slot in the Seahawks as a guaranteed playoff team, but I think they'll be a competitive team. I do think they'll be in the running for one of those Wild Card spots. They'll have to make this run sooner than later since head coach Pete Carroll is getting up there in age.
Los Angeles Rams (5-12 Last Season)
The Rams are in a critical period for their teams history. The Rams won the Super Bowl two years ago, but they've quickly fell from grace by having one of the worst seasons in history following a Super Bowl win. Still, I'm not willing to downplay what the Rams currently have. Sean McVay seems close to retirement, however, that day is not today! McVay is one of the best offensive minds in the league and he still has a well-respected quarterback and receiver combination. Cooper Kupp demolishes the league when he's healthy. On defense they also have Aaron Donald, one of the best defensive players the game has ever seen.
I name those few guys, but when you look at the rest of this roster it gets dark quickly. The Rams have Cam Akers at running back, which went horribly last year. The wide receiving core consists of Cooper Kupp and some other guys! Those other guys are Ben Skowronek and Van Jefferson. They're both fine guys, but to rely on them as their other weapons is just dark. Their offensive line also didn't make any improvements to their terrible unit. They added a rookie at left guard, but that's not a real upgrade. The defense is not much better with naming guys outside of Donald. Russ Yeast and Cobie Durant are definitely players that I've never heard of. It really feels like a rebuilding defense. It feels like a rebuilding team. With little to no draft picks too. It's a dark looking future for this Rams team. It'll take some serious development from this coaching staff to make these defense into a respectable unit.
The Rams are much worse off than I thought heading into this preview. There was a bit of hope from the names that I did know, but then you quickly realize the state of a team that sold their soul for a Super Bowl. They don't have much of a future and their present isn't very good either. If the Rams hold on to their 2024 first round pick, it'll be the first time they'll make a first round pick since Jared Goff. It feels insane when you put it like that. I'm curious how long it might take for the Rams to decide it's time to sell off these pieces. The Rams seemed like they wanted to trade Stafford this offseason but pulled him off the trade market. I think Stafford could find his way on the trade market again if the Rams crash and burn. The Rams stink and I'm afraid they'll be picking in the top ten this season. Good luck, Los Angeles.
Arizona Cardinals (4-13 Last Season)
Just when I thought the Rams were bad, my goodness the Cardinals are dreadful. This team is a leading candidate to earn the first overall pick in this years draft because of their own pick and the fact that they have the Texans first round pick. The Cardinals will have a big time decision to make if they do happen to earn the first pick. Kyler Murray is one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league when healthy, but unfortunately tore his ACL last season. If they get the first pick, they'll have to decide whether they want Murray or draft one of the generational quarterbacks in this years class. Caleb Williams or Drake Maye would be worthy selections, but you'd have to move off of Murray. It'll be interesting to see how they handle this decision.
With Murray out, first year head coach Jonathan Gannon will have to roll with Colt McCoy or rookie Clayton Tune. Either way, they'll just be filler guys until Murray can comeback. Outside of quarterback, they have a couple of skill position guys that are okay in running back James Conner and wide receivers Hollywood Brown and Rondale Moore. On top of that, they have a good tight end duo with Zach Ertz and Trey McBride. These are good players, but definitely not superstar level talents. Their offensive line is better than I thought with rookie tackle Paris Johnson Jr. slotting in to tackle. Their defense is also better than I thought in terms of young guys that can develop into actual starters. B.J. Ojulari is a name that I'm looking to pop as a pass rusher. They're similar to the Rams on defense where they have a number of guys I'm not sure are consistent starters in the league, but in a rebuilding year, they can figure out who can stick around. Jonathan Gannon will get to tinker with this unit to figure out his ideal defense too.
Overall, I like the direction the Cardinals are heading. They're clearly a losing team and they know it. They have the resources in draft capital and if they decide to move off of Murray, they'll have even more. I like what the Cardinals are doing a lot more than the Rams due to the simple fact they're not lying to themselves. They understand they'll be stinky and that's okay. They have some good prospects to build up and can play spoiler to some teams down the stretch. They're a team playing with house money and I expect them to be some big time losers next season.
Next Week: AFC North
By Lucas Kochevar
The division previews continue with the AFC West, but before that, the Jets did a good thing. The Jets and star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams reached a contract extension. Williams sought a similar deal to Giants defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and he earned it while also earning one more million than Lawrence. Williams finally reached that next level as a defensive star and had 12 sacks. Along with that, he earned first team All-Pro honors and a Pro Bowl. Williams will once again look to anchor the Jets defense from the center. The Jets will need his contribution in a very competitive AFC, including the group of teams I'll talk about today with the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos.
Kansas City Chiefs (14-3 Last Season)
The Super Bowl champs are looking to cement themselves as the modern day dynasty by capturing their third Super Bowl since Patrick Mahomes became the quarterback. It'll be a bit harder in an AFC that's continuing to improve every year. That along with some losses to the team will prove to be a tough task. The loss I'm most curious about is offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy. Andy Reid does call the plays and Mahomes improvises a ton, but losing a stable voice that you've been winning with could throw things off.
Along with Bienemy, the Chiefs lost receivers Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs will always have Mahomes and Kelce to headline their offense, but it was timely performances from players like Jerick McKinnon that truly separated them from the rest. Now, the Chiefs will look to Skyy Moore or Kadarius Toney to really step up as those next guys. A player I'd watch out for is Justyn Ross. The former Clemson star essentially redshirted last season and has comeback this training camp to show why he was so highly-touted in college. The Chiefs offensive line will also look different with both tackles departing in free agency. They did get solid replacements in Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith. On top of that, they still have elite guys on defense too. The Chiefs defense has been the subject of many jokes over the years due to their extreme 'bend, don't break' style of play. This year they'll need to step up, especially if those guys I mentioned on offense don't pan out. Their linebacker acquisition of Drue Tranquill could be huge for their front seven.
I'm hoping this is the year people start putting respect on the Chiefs out of the gate instead of late in the season. I love watching Josh Allen and Joe Burrow as much as the next guy, but the AFC will have to go through Kansas City until proven otherwise. It wouldn't shock me if the Chiefs record took a dip because their schedule is significantly harder with games against Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and many other formidable foes. Still, they'll always have the quarterback and coaching advantage. I have the Chiefs winning the AFC West again, but I'm not sure where to place them in the grand scheme of the conference.
Los Angeles Chargers (10-7 Last Season)
The Chargers are up there in the ranks of 'Most Cursed Franchises' and this upcoming season feels very make or break for them. They're approaching one of the last cheap years with Justin Herbert and head coach Brandon Staley is on the hottest seat. The Chargers season ended in an embarrassing fashion last season in the playoffs against the Jaguars. Despite forcing four interceptions and jumping out to a 27-0 lead, the Chargers managed to lose the game. It was performance art for how to lose a game. The blame can be passed to Herbert and the offense by only scoring three points in the second half or you can blame the defense for allowing 31 points. Either way, the Chargers have to play a more consistent level of football to reach their peak.
There's no doubt in my mind that Justin Herbert can be an MVP candidate. He's got one of the best arms in the league and pinpoint accuracy. Herbert should reach that next level on this team with the amount of talent he has around him. Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Quentin Johnston should all be playmakers to boost Herbert's production. There is some questions about Ekeler's contract situation, but I can't imagine he'll make the same mistake Melvin Gordon made on the Chargers years ago. I also think their offensive line will be good with the return of left tackle Rashawn Slater, who was hurt majority of last season. Expect big numbers from this offense. The defense is another story. I don't know if they'll be bad or not, but they'll have to punch up if they want to keep up with the Chiefs. Eric Kendricks is a veteran presence at linebacker that should help out and Joey Bosa should continue to wreak havoc.
The Chargers will have to do some serious winning to repair their image and I think they could be a real contender if they don't get injured. The biggest X-factor will be the coaching. Head coach Brandon Staley was hired to create a great defense and he hasn't quite held up his end of the bargain. He also hired former Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to lead his offense. These two guys will be on the chopping block if the Chargers fail to make the playoffs. In a tough AFC, the Chargers will be fighting tooth and nail for a wild card spot. Their schedule features a healthy balance of challenge and fluff that should keep them in the mix. I think the Chargers sit in the third tier of the AFC with potential to make the wild card again.
Denver Broncos (5-12 Last Season)
The biggest disappointment in the entire league last season had to be the Denver Broncos. They made a home run swing for Russell Wilson and hired Nathaniel Hackett as head coach. Wilson was absolutely dreadful and Hackett didn't even make it to the end of the season. With that being said, they took another home run swing at hiring head coach Sean Payton after his season off. Payton looks to bring his years of experience to Denver to run an offense that could revitalize Wilson's career. I'm a notorious Russ hater, but I didn't even expect him to be as awful as he was last season. He missed open receivers, ran into sacks and lost the team. He'll need to do a 180 this season to be taken seriously again.
One of the disappointing parts of the Broncos offense last season was the loss of Javonte Williams to an ACL injury. With Williams back, I think the Broncos offense could look vastly different. Wilson won't have to play hero ball and Williams can slide into an Alvin Kamara role. Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick make up a strong receiving core that specializes in different areas. This offense has a lot of striking similarities to the players Payton had in New Orleans the last couple of seasons. They also spent some money on upgrading the offensive line with left guard Ben Powers and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. The defense is lead by the secondary with star cornerback Patrick Surtain II. The young star is already in the upper echelon of corners in the league and should help the Broncos against the likes of Mahomes and Herbert.
The Broncos are primed for a bounce back season. Surely it can't get worse than what Broncos fans went through last season. Outside of their divisional games, the Broncos will face off against some bad teams and that should play to their benefit. The Broncos will need Wilson desperately as the offense was the main unit that held them back last season. If they scored just 20 points in more of their losses, they make the playoffs last year. With coach Payton in place, Wilson has zero excuses. With that being said, the Broncos are still far from being a top tier team in the AFC. Similar to the Chargers, they're in that third tier with teams fighting to be a wild card team. I'll be very curious to see how the Broncos look this season.
Las Vegas Raiders (6-11 Last Season)
Oh man, where to begin with the Raiders. I've addressed every team's quarterback and coach situation and the Raiders, by far, have the worst combo out of the four teams in this division. Josh McDaniels is proven to be an incompetent head coach and Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't had a consistent season since the 2020 Super Bowl season with the 49ers. The only consolation is that Garoppolo and McDaniels are familiar with each other from their New England days, but even then, I'm not optimistic for this team. They are entering a new era now that Derek Carr is gone, but I also don't understand the direction of the team. If the Raiders stink it up and get a top two pick in next years draft, they'll make more sense. Until then, they're a team of mismatch puzzle pieces with a few highlights.
They have star power. Davante Adams, Maxx Crosby and Josh Jacobs are among the leagues best at their positions, yet they're surrounded by some junk. The offense could be, at best, league average and I actually really like their skill positions. The receiving core is great with Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Jakobi Meyers. Rookie Michael Mayer could be a pleasant surprise too. The offensive line is where I'm worried. Garoppolo has proven to not be a healthy quarterback and now that he's behind a line that I don't have faith in, I'm curious if he'll play double digit games. The defense also falls off a cliff after Crosby and Chandler Jones. The Raiders have invested serious draft capital looking to improve this unit over the years, yet they cannot produce. Rookie edge rusher Tyree Wilson could change that notion, but behind him is where even more problems begin. The secondary is filled with guys drafted in the last four years and I can't see them fairing well in this division. The Broncos secondary will struggle in this division and they have Pro Bowl talent, the Raiders do not have that same level of talent.
It's going to be a long season for the Raiders. With McDaniels and Garoppolo tied down to big contracts, I'm not sure how the Raiders will get out of this mess. Unless they get some otherworldly performances from unexpected guys, the Raiders will be big time losers this season. They might scrap together some competent stretches, but not much more than that. The best bet for the Raiders is to look forward to drafting Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or an unknown draft riser in next years first round. Las Vegas may want to find the receipt for the Raiders so they can return them to Oakland after this season.
Next Week: NFC West
By Lucas Kochevar
The NFC South was an absolute disaster last year. It might be worse this year. Although the teams are worse, the division should still be competitive. It has the intriguing storylines that you would look for in a division. Can the aging Saints get back to winning the division with a new quarterback at the helm? Can Bryce Young lead the Panthers out of obscurity? Can Arthur Smith finally put an explosive offense on the field? Lastly, what do the Buccaneers look like post-Tom Brady? It's crazy to think that this division had Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan just two years ago. It's a friendly reminder that the NFL is constantly a revolving door for teams and it can change on a dime. This entire division has a low floor and a mid-level ceiling. The storylines are there and it'll be intriguing to see who rises to the occasion in this division.
New Orleans Saints (7-10 Last Season)
The New Orleans Saints were a mess of a team last season, but still managed to put seven wins on the board and compete until the end in the division. They were forced into a new era after both Sean Payton and Drew Brees were officially gone and it's safe to say they missed their consistency. They had to roll out a couple of quarterbacks in Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill. Although they were all serviceable, none of them provided that extra notch to elevate the offense. Along with that, nagging injuries to players like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas held back the team. The bright spot they had was rookie wide receiver Chris Olave. He had a little over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie year and did this with the odd circumstances around the quarterback position.
Going into this year, Olave should be looked at as the number one option, even with Michael Thomas coming back. It sounds like a casual thing to say because there are many factors that go into this, but the Saints need to find a way to get Olave the ball more in the endzone. The Saints offense feels like a jumbled mess of good pieces that are led wrong. The way that they're looking to get the unit back on track is by plugging Derek Carr in at quarterback. The longtime Raiders quarterback makes his way over to New Orleans after a number of years in Oakland and Vegas. Carr is a solid starter, but something has felt off about him since his ACL injury in 2016. There hasn't been quite the same level of efficiency for Carr since then and I think he'll be tasked a lot with turning around New Orleans. If New Orleans had a structured offense like the 49ers or Rams, I would like Carr here, but I'm not sure if he can thrive in chaos. Carr dealt with chaotic situations with the Raiders, but it's not like he was ever incredible there on a week-to-week basis. I'm just very curious to see how he rebounds with the team.
All these weird puzzle pieces on offense seem to over shadow the defense and how good they are. That's truly how the Saints will win games. Their defense is full of veterans that have grown together and have an amount of cohesiveness that makes them dangerous. Head coach Dennis Allen may have no idea how to help his offense, but he does know the defense very well. Cam Jordan, Demario Davis and Marshon Lattimore look to hold the unit together at all three levels. Looking at the entirety of this Saints team, I truly have no pulse on what this team will be. If I had to take a guess, I think they'll handle business at home and drop a couple games they should win. I think they'll be a solid 9-8 team on the verge of making the playoffs. Derek Carr is the biggest X-factor in the NFC South and he'll be paramount for New Orleans if they want to win.
Atlanta Falcons (7-10 Last Season)
The Atlanta Falcons are one of those teams that feel like they're frisky and have some pieces, but they can never quite deliver on a competent product. In the Arthur Smith era, the team has yet to make the playoffs, however, they increased their win totals from Smith's first year to his second. Now, he's got multiple starters at skill positions that he's drafted along with the quarterback. Desmond Ridder is another piece of the formula that'll be crucial in turning this thing around in Atlanta. Ridder played the last four games against inferior opponents, but he got some much needed experience to help lead him into this upcoming season. The Falcons were also big time spenders in free agency on the defensive side.
With names like Jessie Bates III, Calais Campbell and a number of other players, the Falcons defense is expected to take a leap. The Falcons defense hasn't been a considerable threat since 2017 and these acquisitions should lead to a more comprehensive defense on all three levels. The biggest X-factor for that defense is Jeff Okudah, who they acquired in a trade with Detroit. The former third overall pick was healthy last season for the Lions and had an up-and-down season with the team. The corner showed some flashes early on, but later got benched. Both sides needed a fresh start and that's what Okudah gets in Atlanta. The defense is very important to Atlanta's playoff push, but the offense will be the driving force. They've been disappointing since Smith took over, but now with a fresh offseason and talent across the board, Atlanta should at least be a respectable unit. Drake London and Kyle Pitts have shown flashes, but have been too inconsistent. First round pick Bijan Robinson looks to be a huge piece of the offense running the ball and catching the ball. As I said earlier, Ridder will be the key piece to this offense.
Ridder will be under a microscope this season from the jump, but I think he'll put together a solid season. In my eyes, Ridder is like Alex Smith where he can get you to a certain place with solid play, but there's a definite ceiling. That type of quarterback play is good and can win some games. I think that's the main goal for Smith and co., who could be on the hot seat this year. The Falcons feel like a solid team that can take a jump this season. They managed to get seven wins last year with the horrid play of Marcus Mariota and with Ridder at the helm, I think they can get a couple more. With the division in flux, I think Atlanta gets to the playoffs with a very generous schedule. Although I think they have a tough end to the season, I can see Atlanta winning ten games. It's a big year for the entire team that hasn't won anything in years. Let's see how they respond.
Carolina Panthers (7-10 Last Season)
Out of the four teams in this division, the Panthers feel like a true wild card. With a new head coach and the first overall pick in Bryce Young, the Panthers could be a great story and make the playoffs or they could be working through first year kinks. Either way, the progress of Young will be the most important thing to monitor this season. Young had a vaunted two year career at Alabama that earned him the first overall pick. Many people think he can turnaround the team, but others also think he is a bit too small.
The Panthers offense is lead by a rookie so it shouldn't be shocking if they start out slow as Young finds his footing in the league. Outside of the uncertainty with Young, the rest of the Panthers offense is actually pretty solid. They brought over Miles Sanders, Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark in free agency to revamp this offense. Sanders could provide a spark after a productive year with the Eagles. Thielen and Chark have dealt with injuries over the past couple of seasons, but could bounce back in a way with Reich. They also have a fairly underrated offensive line. A unit that used to be laughable has turned out to be a productive unit. The Panthers defense is also pretty solid with a number of productive players. Brian Burns is one of the underrated pass rushers in the league and Derrick Brown started to breakout last season. Their linebacker Frankie Luvu is an emerging player too. Overall, I like this roster a lot for the development of Bryce Young. They have it set up in a way that isn't too committal on big contracts while also having enough quality players to turn it into a playoff team.
The Panthers have a similarity to the 2012 Seahawks in my eyes because of how their defense is young and emerging and they have a small rookie quarterback with talented veterans. I think the Panthers have that potential, but they'll struggle to find that. Due to having a good year, they actually have a harder schedule than the Falcons and Saints. It's also good to remember that rookie quarterbacks are bad at first. The guys that come out swinging are rare and if you think of the top five quarterbacks, none of them came into the league as superstars. I still like Young and think he'll be a good player, but give him time to grow into his NFL body and learn the tricks. I have the Panthers going a modest 7-10 in Young's rookie year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9 Last Season)
The Buccaneers love going through peaks and valleys. They either win Super Bowls or roll around in the mud. Its admirable as too many teams just suffer in the middle with no Super Bowls. With Tom Brady gone, I'm anticipating them to enter that purgatory towards the bottom of the league, even though the roster still has a number of veterans from the Super Bowl team. Having a coach who hasn't had a whole lot of success and Baker Mayfield is not the recipe for a winning team. Objectively, Todd Bowles has not been a winning coach. Yes, he was with the Jets and we know how that goes normally, but he had Tom Brady last season and it was still an absolute mess.
Navigating the waters post-Tom Brady will be tough. The level of stability he brings is huge and replacing that with Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask is like replacing a race car with a mini van. The offense still has Mike Evans and Chris Godwin so they could be threatening if they employ some type of Big 12 offense, but I don't think it'll be enough. The Tampa offense will need to rely on Mayfield to look somewhat competent. That's something that hasn't happened since 2020 and I'm not sure it'll comeback this year. If I did have to point to something positive, it's the defense. Their defensive line should be legitimately scary. They retained Lavonte David and Devin White along with a secondary that has a number of playmakers. Cornerback Jamel Dean is one of the more underrated guys in the league. Sadly, I don't think they'll be good enough on this side of the ball to make up for the offensive deficiencies.
I hope Baker Mayfield sees this (he won't) because it might put that chip on his shoulder that makes him play competent football. It's been a pain to watch him play football and for the Buccaneers sake, I want him to look a little bit like he used to. Sadly, I cant see the career renaissance coming this season and I have the Buccaneers falling to a measly 4-13. Todd Bowles will be out as coach and the Buccaneers will look to draft the quarterback of the future. As I stated earlier, there's nothing the Buccaneers love more than going from Super Bowl to absolute trash cans. Good luck, Tampa Bay.
By Lucas Kochevar
Back with another division preview in the middle of summer with little to no news in the NFL. This time we head to the South, and I suppose one city in the Midwest, to talk about the AFC South. This division has gone through different stretches of dominance from one team and there could be a new reign on the South with Jacksonville stepping up last season. The Colts were the consistent winner with Peyton Manning in the 2000s. The Texans were largely relevant during the 2010s. The Titans were sprinkled in there throughout the years and have won back-to-back division titles in 2020 and 2021. Now with Trevor Lawrence and co., the Jaguars look to dominate the division for years to come while other teams go through their own rebuilds.
Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8 Last Season)
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been historically bad ever since I've been watching football. Even after a surprising 2017 AFC championship performance, they've been horrible. For the first time in a long time, the Jaguars have hope and could win their third ever AFC division title. This is one of the funniest and sad stats that I have regarding the Jaguars: Doug Pederson is the fifth winningest coach in Jags history after coaching the team for one season. The Jaguars have hope. With Lawrence and Pederson, they have hope to win games, even in the playoffs. With a rising offense and defense, the Jaguars are the favorites to win the AFC South.
I've been very high on this Jaguars offense since they acquired Calvin Ridley from the Falcons last season. Although Ridley was suspended last year, I was still very high on this move to help out Lawrence and this offense. Ridley was a multi-time 1,000-yard and double digit touchdown receiver. He brings a different element to the team that Christian Kirk and Zay Jones couldn't. I've elaborated on the team before in my top five offenses list and you can find that here. The defense's improvement will be something to look for when monitoring the Jaguars this season. With Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd entering their second years as full-time starters, the Jaguars will need their improvement to reach their ceiling as a team. Despite being the first overall pick, it was known that Walker had to develop. Their secondary also has young talent in safety Andre Cisco and corner Tyson Campbell. I also haven't mentioned Josh Allen, not the quarterback. Edge rusher Josh Allen has been building upon his success these past couple years, but they're still waiting for that big breakout year.
I've given all the attention to Pederson, Ridley and the defense in this write-up, but I haven't mention Lawrence that much. I don't want to underate how big this year is for him. The third year for young quarterbacks feels like a critical one. He improved substantially in his second season and could make the jump to no-brainer elite quarterback. People are high on Lawrence for good reason and there aren't many quarterbacks in the league you would take over him going forward, but I do think the expectations have to be lowered. Despite winning his first playoff game, he had four interceptions in the first half of that game. Don't be too shocked of that problem shows up early in the season. I think he'll have a really strong year and the Jaguars will win the division at 10-7.
Tennessee Titans (7-10 Last Season)
The Tennessee Titans have been a product of great defense, great coaching and Derrick Henry for the past couple of seasons. Now, it feels like they have to change the formula and find a new way to win games. Henry has a ton of mileage on him and quarterback Ryan Tannehill proved he couldn't carry an offense last year when Henry went down. Ever since they decided to move on from A.J. Brown, the Titans receiver room has been in flux and their offense really hasn't been the same since Arthur Smith left to be the head coach for Atlanta. Tennessee will have to figure out that side of the ball in order to win games because as they're currently constructed, I'm not sure they can average 15 points per game. It's truly dreadful.
The clock is ticking on Tannehill, but if you want some optimism to look at, they have the succession plan with two young quarterbacks on the roster in Will Levis and Malik Willis. Willis started a couple games last year and definitely didn't look good, but he's still super raw and Levis is also a raw player with upside. Second year receiver Treylon Burks is also going into the season healthy, something that didn't happen last year. Their first round pick, Peter Skoronski, should also be a starter this year. It's never fun when your team draft an offensive lineman, but if he can make an impact on the field early, then you feel a whole lot better about the pick. Even though I know the Titans want to compete, I think development is the big thing for this offense. The defense largely has the same problem as the offense. They have a couple players that are great, but the rest are young players that need time. I think their defense will be better than their offense just because head coach Mike Vrabel is an excellent defensive coach and he'll get the most out of them.
All-in-all, I don't think this team will win a ton of games. They benefit heavily from a weak schedule and two divisional opponents that are rebuilding. On top of that, I think the way their coached will win them a couple of 50/50 games. The Titans launched a mini rebuild these past couple of off-season's and I think if they start off slow, they'll sell off some pieces and really lean into the rebuild. I'll be curious if they keep Mike Vrabel after this season, especially if they're big time losers. I have the Titans finishing 7-10 with the reasons I listed earlier. Their schedule really is that weak.
Indianapolis Colts (4-12-1 Last Season)
My biggest fear for the Colts heading into the offseason was them hiring Jeff Saturday full-time. They didn't make that move and went with Shane Steichen as their new head coach. I've talked about him, Anthony Richardson and the Colts at various stages throughout this offseason because this upcoming season is a big one for the Colts. It's the first time they've drafted a quarterback in the first round since Andrew Luck and a lot of their great players are in the middle of their prime. The Colts could be a sleeper team this year if Richardson is ahead of schedule in his development. That's a big time if and with a first year head coach, I cant see them jumping to the playoffs.
The Colts real success will likely be tied to Richardson's success this season. He may or may not start the season, but I have to imagine we'll see him at some point this year. He'll have a great cast around him with Jonathan Taylor behind him and Michael Pittman Jr. on the perimeter. Alec Pierce and Josh Downs are also young guys that can affect the passing game in different ways. Downs is the vertical threat and Pierce is a big, physical receiver. I think this offense has a real chance to be a threat quickly if Taylor can stay healthy. The defense is also pretty good. They have Shaquille Leonard and DeForest Buckner as the trademark names with many other solid starters. Watching Kwity Paye develop can hopefully jump start this pass rush and I think they can have a good year. The Colts are, unfortunately, apart of that gambling scandal around the league with Isaiah Rodgers being guilty. He'll be gone, which throws rookie Julius Brents into a starting role. I like him, but starting a rookie corner is always risky business.
Even though it sounds like I'm high on the Colts as bounce back candidates this year, I do think they'll fail to make any real noise. Similar to the Titans, I think this year will mainly be a development year. The Colts are definitely set up to move forward and win games quicker than Tennessee, but all roads lead back to Richardson. I think Richardson will be decent in his first season, but I think his interception numbers will be high. The Colts faithful will have their patience tested this year as he really isn't quite ready to be a full-time starter. They have to remember that he only started 13 games in his entire career at Florida. The potential is there, just wait. As I said with the Titans, the schedule is weak for this division and I have the Colts going 6-11 in year one under Steichen.
Houston Texans (4-12-1 Last Season)
The Texans are in a very similar spot as the Colts with a first year head coach and rookie quarterback. Former 49ers defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans takes over the Texans and looks to lead the Texans to immediate success. Houston likely won't find that success immediately since they've been rebuilding their team for years and years. It's by design since they've had to pivot from the Deshaun Watson fiasco and ripping the team down to the studs was the best way to do that. Now, they made the biggest investment of all in the young rookie quarterback. I've talked about C.J. Stroud at length and his fit with the Texans. I think it's a good one, especially if the offense is very structured for him.
I think Stroud did his best work in college when the system was set up to be very direct for him to read. Improvising isn't Stroud's best trait and that's okay. I think Stroud has a good chance to have early success with some of the young guys he's throwing to. I also wouldn't be shocked if he struggled early to anticipate the speed of the game and talent level. Stroud luckily has a good offensive line and young pieces at receiver. The real work in turning this thing around is the defense, especially since that's Ryans' trademark. Stroud wasn't the only elite guy they drafted as they got Will Anderson Jr. in a trade up for the third pick. The Texans defense leaves a lot to be desired with veterans that are fine players, but should probably be rotational pieces. The Texans are the ultimate "Be Patient" team when it comes to the amount of young guys they have. They're likely going to be terrible again, but finding hope in some of their young guys should make them watchable instead of the slew of players they've put on the field these past couple of seasons.
The Texans are clearly still in rebuilding mode, but the catch for them is that they traded their 2024 first round pick to the Cardinals for Will Anderson Jr. I'm sure the Texans would love to win immediately so that they don't have to spoon feed a top five pick to the Cardinals. Unfortunately, that isn't the reality for them at this stage. The Texans will need to look forward to potentially spending some money on weapons in the future to help speed up their rebuild and take advantage of Stroud's rookie contract. I believe the Texans will struggle this year and they won't be ready for that next step. I would look forward to watching a rookie quarterback. I have them going 5-12 while giving the Cardinals a very nice pick.
Next Week: The NFC South
By Lucas Kochevar
The NFC East was the best division in football last season. They managed to have three teams in the playoffs with all three teams making it to the divisional round. The Commanders were the lone exception, but even then, they were competitive in most of their games. The theme of last weeks LK League Notes was the expectations, those expectations don't get any lower with this division. The Eagles will try and defeat the Super Bowl hangover allegations. The Cowboys are the Cowboys. The Giants just paid Daniel Jones handsomely. Lastly, the Commanders are about to be sold and their head coach is on the hot seat. The stakes are high for each of these teams in a different way and I'll break it all down in this weeks edition of LK League Notes.
Philadelphia Eagles (14-3 Last Season)
The Super Bowl hangover is a curse that haunts nearly every runner-up in the Super Bowl. It's such a rare occurrence for a team to lose and comeback to win it all. It's only happened twice in history with the 1970 Cowboys and 2017 New England Patriots. The Eagles look to be the third team on that list with this very talented roster. I've touched on the Eagles in previous LK League Notes as I think they have both a top five offense and defense. The talent is, undoubtedly, off the charts with this team, but can put it altogether for a second year in a row. Jalen Hurts is obviously the key cog in the machine and has to remain healthy for the Eagles to reach their full potential.
The Eagles were very fortunate with Jalen Hurts' health, until the last month of the season. Their top of the league offensive line will have to keep him upright to make sure the newly-paid quarterback doesn't get hurt. Another thing that'll be critical with Hurts is his development in the passing attack. Despite improvement in his passing game very year, Hurts still hasn't quite gotten that development on the deep ball. Although he had 12 touchdowns on the deep pass, he only connected on 36.6% of his passes. With talents like A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith on the outside, you would like to see that number raise up. He's still well above the league average. I just want to see that next level as a passer to combine with his hard running. The run game will also be a big factor for this offense with new faces in the backfield. It's a tad concerning given the injury history of the two backs they acquired, but hopefully a healthy mixture of substitutions will keep them fresh.
Moving to the defense, the Eagles defense may regress to some degree because of their unreal sack numbers last season. They'll also need a substantial production immediately from young players like Nakobe Dean and Reed Blankenship. The Eagles also lost both coordinators to head coaching jobs over the offseason. This happened to Frank Reich in Indy and ultimately killed him. It'll be interesting to see if Nick Sirianni can overcome these losses. The Eagles schedule feels fairly pedestrian and I think they'll win a ton of games in the front half. I could see them taking their foot off the gas towards the end of the year and losing a couple. I still have them winning the NFC East over the likes of the Cowboys and Giants with a record of 12-5.
Dallas Cowboys (12-5 Last Season)
The world wouldn't be right if the Cowboys had zero expectations. The Cowboys have largely been Super Bowl or bust since Jerry Jones has taken over. There have been horrendous Cowboys teams since I can remember, but they never went into a season with the goal to tank. For that reason, the clock is ticking on head coach Mike McCarthy and this year will likely be his last if they fail to meet expectations. Along with McCarthy, quarterback Dak Prescott has a ton of pressure. The end of last season was uncharacteristically sloppy and simply wasn't good enough for the Cowboys to win games. They've made improvements over the offseason, but all eyes will be on those two guys.
The Cowboys offense will be entering a new era as Ezekiel Elliott is no longer on the team. The Dak-Zeke combo has been a fixture of the Cowboys offense since 2016 and now the latter half of that duo is gone. Although he was such a big part of their offense, his legs have been slowing down and it was time for both sides to move on. The Cowboys will definitely have to shift to a more pass-heavy approach. That's been the way they've trended for the past couple season, especially with Tony Pollard's role becoming more prominent last season. Pollard, Lamb and Gallup are all back, but the big addition they have is Brandin Cooks. A player that's been on a number of teams, Cooks provides valuable experience and shifty playmaking for the Cowboys offense. Along with an offensive line that's been terrific, the offense has all the pieces to be elite. It'll be in the hands of Mike McCarthy, who's taking over the play-calling from Kellen Moore.
The defense will also look different with Stephon Gilmore joining the team. You can read about the rest of their defense here, but they'll need to produce like they did last year for the Cowboys to be a contender. The Cowboys schedule is a bit of a tough one. It wouldn't shock me if the Cowboys ended up struggling at points, but I do think that they'll end up winning double digit games with a record of 10-7. I think Prescott will be better than he was last year and CeeDee Lamb will have a huge year. I can also see Micah Parsons capturing his first Defensive Player of the Year award. As always, the Cowboys will be like a reality TV show.
New York Giants (9-7-1 Last Season)
One of the more surprising stories last season was the New York Giants. With a first year coach and an unproductive quarterback, many thought they would just be the same Giants we've seen the last couple of years, but they changed. With Brian Daboll coming in as head coach, Daniel Jones made a jump in his play. He threw a career-low five interceptions and rushed for seven touchdowns. He had 15 passing touchdowns, which don't seem like a lot, but when you combine that number with the lack of turning it over, he improved a lot. The decision making process clicked for Jones and that was exactly what management needed to see from him in order to extend him. Saquon Barkley being healthy for the whole season was also instrumental in their improvement. Between Daboll, Jones and Barkley, the Giants are now a respectable team that has to be taken serious.
The Giants made their big decisions already in this current offseason by extending Jones and using the franchise tag on Barkley. The next big to-do on their list was finding a pass catcher for Jones. They addressed that issue in a trade with the Raiders by bringing in tight end Darren Waller. Despite lacking a top end receiver, Waller should patch up the passing attack for the Giants. His big catch radius and athleticism at the tight end position should make him an interesting target and matchup nightmare. Andrew Thomas cemented himself as a bookend tackle in the league and Evan Neal could do the same this year. The Giants defense should actually be improved, as well. Kayvon Thibodeux as another season under his belt and Dexter Lawrence established himself as a top tier interior guy last season. Along with Xavier McKinney, the Giants secondary features young rookie cornerback Deonte Banks. It'll be interesting to see if their defense, specifically their pass rush, will be improved.
The Giants were a pleasant surprise last season and even won a playoff game. I can't see them repeating this success. I'm still skeptical in Jones and whether or not Barkley can repeat last years success. It'll be a big year for Saquon Barkley playing under the franchise tag. I hope he does well because the league is better with him in it. I still maintain that he's the best running back I've ever seen at the college level. Despite winning nine games last year, their opponents that they won against were relatively bad teams. Their schedule gets harder this year and the inexperience in the defense might be an issue. Out of all the teams in the NFC East, I think the Giants are the most volatile team. I have them going a modest 7-10, but I do think they'll be competitive.
Washington Commanders (8-8-1 Last Season)
The Washington Commanders are in a major transition as a franchise. The wicked owner is gone and all of the D.C. area can celebrate along the yellow brick road to relevancy. Dan Snyder, who has created a toxic and terrible environment, sold the team to an ownership group and will finally leave the NFL. Although this awful guy is gone, the Commanders still have a road ahead of them in becoming a winning team. With a coach on the hottest seat and an inexperienced quarterback, the Commanders will need a miracle to be a competitive team in 2023.
The biggest question Washington has to face is: Who will be our quarterback of the future? Sam Howell, a second year kid out of North Carolina, was on the sideline all of last season until the last game of the season. Although there were flashes, Howell is largely unproven heading into this upcoming season. They have a great mentor and insurance plan behind Howell in Jacoby Brissett. Howell has a great set up with a new offensive coordinator in Eric Bienemy, great weapons and a very competent offensive line. If Howell can be competent, I think the Washington offense will be humming. Terry McLaurin is one of the most underrated receivers in the league and Jahan Dotson was pretty good until injuries nagged him. Brian Robinson Jr. was shot in an attempted robbery just weeks before the season started and now he'll be able to head into the season healthy too. The defensive side of the ball has been where Washington has made a name for themselves, but in recent years they've gone downhill.
Despite having a number of big names along their front seven, the Commanders defense played below their standards the past couple of seasons. They've even been floating some of those names around in trade talks, including hot shot defensive end Chase Young. The Commanders, similar to the Giants, have young players in the secondary with a veteran in Kendall Fuller. Head coach Ron Rivera feels like a lame duck coach with Bienemy waiting in the wings, but he's still a big time players coach and will get the most out of his guys. Sadly, I don't think it'll be enough and the Commanders will finish a brutal 4-13 record. Washington has the framework for a surprise team, but I can't imagine them becoming a winning team this season.
Next Week: The AFC South