3 reasons why Derek Carr won’t be traded anytime soon

By: Jake Rajala

Derek Carr, the pocket passer that holds the most late-game comebacks in a quarterback’s first several seasons (20), has been in controversial trade rumors over the past couple of seasons. It’s unclear if Carr will follow in the footsteps of past former elite QBs like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, likely Aaron Rodgers, in switching uniforms in a high level of his career. 

As of right now, Carr is dedicating all of his energy to obtaining a Lombardi trophy in Las Vegas. Carr is so fixated in marriage to the Raiders that when asked about getting traded, this is how he responded, “I’d probably quit football if I had to play football for someone else”.

Carr’s allegiance to Las Vegas is unquestionable. The real inquiry is, “do the Raiders want Carr to be the face of their franchise forever?”. My response to that question: I believe so. 

I will outline the three reasons why Carr will remain the Raiders QB until the death star (Raiders stadium) is inhabitable.

  1. Carr will be the best “long term option” available 

The Raiders signal-caller isn’t only an elite caliber of talent, but he is only 30 years old. Carr is the same age as Taysom Hill, two years younger than Russell Wilson, and two years younger than Kirk Cousins. Carr has at least a decade of quality football left in him. 

As long as Carr is the franchise QB, the Raiders will have an excellent floor each season. The Raiders have improved from four wins to seven victories, to eight wins, under Jon Gruden’s reign. Even if the Raiders miss the playoffs or have an early postseason exit, they should be in a tough spot to acquire a decade-like talent at QB in the draft each year.

There have been talented QBs on the trade block, but the available QB options are no longer available, or the steam has left the QB’s camps. Deshaun Watson doesn’t appear tradeable at this point, Russell Wilson is staying in Seattle, Aaron Rodgers appears to be in a Denver uniform or staying in a Packer jersey, and Tua Tagovailoa will be a franchise QB in Miami if he improves, or below dealing for if he sinks.

To sum it up, Carr will always be the best long-term offseason option to start for the team moving forward. 

  1. The Raiders need to seriously focus on improving the defense

Gruden knows that improving a defensive unit that ranked 25th in 2020 is the highest priority on the horizon. The Raiders had issues against the pass (26th ranked) and opened the floodgates against the run (24th). The Raiders have made this defensive emphasis clear with four defenders getting drafted in the first four rounds of the 2020 NFL draft. 

LV acquired pass rusher Yannick Ngakouye and cornerback Casey Hayward in free agency this offseason. Holes still lie in the secondary for the Raiders defense. CB Damon Arnette hasn’t proven his worth as a first-rounder, while the safety position was an Achilles heel in 2020. Corey Littleton was a sneaky good signing last offseason at LB, but the team desperately needs more consistent production in the LB unit. 

In an AFC West division featuring MVP Patrick Mahomes, OROY Justin Herbert, and potentially Aaron Rodgers, the Raiders have to be featuring a competitive defense (at the very least) in the divisional gauntlet. A lackluster defense with a young, different face at QB could also put the Raiders in a massive hole in their very own division.

  1. Jon Gruden is a Derek Carr supporter

There have been false claims of Gruden wanting “his own guy” or in search of a different QB. This common, false report, can be put to the grave. Gruden AND Mayock firmly stand strong behind their QB held on a high pedestal. 

They’ve expressed their gratitude and defense for their QB after putting on a fantastic showcase in the 2020 season. Carr displayed a career high passer rating (101.4) last season. His personality of grittiness is also very similar to Gruden’s style in the locker room. 

Carr told Vinny Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review Journal that his relationship with Gruden is often misunderstood. He elaborated by saying “what people don’t understand is how close we are. Not just football, but off the field. Whether it’s him texting videos of his dog and what they’re doing, and I’m sending videos of my kids hitting baseballs in their first game. People don’t understand that.”

The young Carr had an amazing season of production in 2020. If Carr ousts another year of mastering the offense and capping elite numbers, the connection should only continue to grow in the upcoming years.

Why Cam Newton could master the Patriots offense

By: Tayyib Abu

Cam Newton enjoyed an inconsistent debut season as the Patriots quarterback. Understandably, there was always going to be some growing pains. Newton is an entirely different quarterback to Tom Brady; add a truncated offseason program and a lack of weapons;

Newton was climbing a steep mountain. Nevertheless, the former MVP played well, even recapturing some of that MVP form at times. Conversely, some erratic performances blighted his season. Newton returns in 2021 in Foxboro.

This year, rookie quarterback Mac Jones will share the quarterback room in Massachusetts. The pressure is on Newton to master the offense and be QB1 come opening day. It’s time to break down why the former first overall pick and MVP could master the attack in 2021.

Reason One – Familiarity

Familiarity is often said to breed contempt. However, familiarity can be a quarterback’s best friend, even more so in New England. The Patriots run an adapted version of the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system. It got installed by Charlie Weis nearly 20 years ago, and the Pats have stuck with it since.

One of the more complex elements to learn about this playbook is the verbiage. It is very different from the standard NFL playbooks that the rest of the league utilizes. We saw Tom Brady struggle to adapt in the early phases in Tampa Bay, and the same can get said for Newton.

Now with an entire season’s worth of experience as well as a full offseason, Newton should be able to wrap his head around the playbook at a higher level. The first building block of success for quarterbacks is understanding every tiny detail of the offence. Newton should get that checked off this offseason.

Reason Two – New Weapons

The whole NFL world knew the severe lack of talent and depth hurt the Patriots last year. With Julian Edelman retiring this offseason, the final piece of the Brady Bunch finally departed 1 Patriot Place. Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft knew the offense required a significant overhaul. Therefore, it surprised no one that New England spent big as soon as free agency started.

Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor all made their way to New England. In addition, new England added experienced players that Newton could form relationships with immediately. The two tight ends could be an inspired decision from New England. Jonnu Smith is an excellent red-zone target, while Hunter Henry is a gritty, talented pass-catching target between the numbers.

Newton excelled in 2015 when he had Greg Olsen at his best; he could recapture some of that magic with these two players. Finally, the Patriots understand the potency of two-tight end sets and 21 personnel. With a big, physical runner at quarterback, it could unleash Newton’s ability as a runner.

Reason Three – Full Health

Cam Newton has not played an entire 16 game season since 2017. A myriad of different injuries and concussions have plagued him since his MVP campaign. Fortunately, Newton looked in good physical shape last year, and in the early phases of minicamp, no injury concerns have appeared.

Newton is a player that must play at full throttle to be at his best. Sadly, he hasn’t been at 100% so much of his career, and it’s affected his confidence and on-field play. If Newton can enter training camp healthy, he can start the season in the best condition since 2015.

Reason Four – The Running Game

The Patriots are committed to running the ball. The ground game is something that Bill Belichick wishes to establish. With their bevy of complementary backs, the Patriots will lean on the run a lot in 2021. Their offensive line ranked 10th in ESPN’s run block success rate metric, and they should be strong again. With an established running game, the playbook should open up for Newton.

His play-action game is still strong; New England could even use play-action, bootlegs or designed rollouts for Newton out of heavy personnel. Newton can thrive when throwing into good windows; a successful running game could do that for him. Finally, a running game can add Newton’s threat of running to the backfield, especially in the red zone.

Top 5 dark horse wildcard playoff teams right now

New teams that could make the playoffs this year

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Every season in the NFL there is a new field of playoff teams. It is extremely rare for the same exact group of teams to make it two years in a row, especially when it comes to the wild card spots. There are always teams every season that plays far below their expectations while other teams end up being much better than projected. Let’s speculate who some of the dark horse candidates could be this year for the wildcard spots in the playoffs. We will define a dark horse as a team that finished below 500 last season and did not make the playoffs. Here are five teams that fit the criteria.

New England Patriots

It seems a little strange calling the Patriots a dark horse considering how long they dominated the AFC and even the NFL in general but that’s exactly what they are heading into this season. Last season was the first time since 2008 that they missed out on the playoffs. Ironically, they actually won 11 games that year and were only the second team in the modern era to win that many games and not make a postseason appearance. Before 2008, the last time they missed the playoffs was in 2002, which was the first full season for Tom Brady.

Their 7-9 record in 2020 broke their incredible streak of 19 consecutive winning seasons. The last time they had a losing season was when they went 5-11 in the year 2000, which was before the Brady era. All things considered, it’s amazing how quickly they went from annual favorites to win the AFC conference to a team that’s being considered a dark horse team. Losing the greatest quarterback of all time can have that effect.

Quarterback Cam Newton will enter his second season as the starter for the Patriots. It was a roller coaster of a 2020 season for Cam, who dealt with all sorts of adversity including injuries, Covid, and a lack of offensive talent. Despite finishing the season with a losing record, they were really just a couple of plays away from a winning season and being right in the race for a wild card last year. The two plays that really jump out are the fumble against the Bills on a game-winning drive and being stuffed at the goal line on the last play of the game against the Seahawks. That was likely the slim difference between 9-7 and 7-9.

That is still no excuse because the NFL is a game that is often determined by a play or two here and there. The Patriots did not make those plays which are why they finished as a losing team. This year could be a different story as they look to make another postseason run. They will return a bunch of key players on defense who sat out last year because of Covid and also added some offensive weapons in the offseason including Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor.

Defense is a staple in New England and it will be better this year with who they have returning. As for the offense, there is much to be optimistic about with Cam leading the way. He has a ton more talent surrounding him this year, he will finally be fully healthy, and he has had a full year to really learn the system and work with the coaching staff. Even if Cam struggles, they have a rookie in Mac Jones waiting for his opportunity to show what he can do. All things considered, don’t sleep on the Patriots this year.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are another team that is not a traditional dark horse. They finished last season with a very disappointing 6-10 record but the year before that they represented the NFC conference in the Super Bowl. Interestingly, the majority of that roster is still with the team today including most of their key contributors on both offense and defense. The biggest difference between the 2019 and 2020 seasons was the health of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. In 2019 he played a full season of 16 games for the only time in his career while in 2020 he was only able to appear in 6 games. Unfortunately, because of his extensive injury history, 6 games is actually the second-most in a season for his career.

In his full 2019 season, Garoppolo was a good quarterback but was not exactly spectacular. He was more of a “game manager” type but not necessarily a huge difference-maker. It is widely believed that the team won the NFC mostly based on elite defense and their dynamic rushing attack designed by Kyle Shanahan. The massive drop-off in results between 2019 and 2020 is not simply just because Garoppolo was hurt. They had many other injuries as well, especially on the defensive side. It’s also important to note that the backup quarterbacks were an absolute disaster.

Nevertheless, Garoppolo will enter the 2021 season as the starting quarterback again. He will of course hope to stay healthy, something he has rarely been able to do, unfortunately, but will also be looking to get the 49ers back to their dominant 2019 version. If he is unable to do so, they will turn to Trey Lance, who is a very talented rookie that they traded up to draft. It is very possible that he will eventually be a star but just needs some time to develop. If he is ahead of schedule, he may even be an instant upgrade from Garoppolo.

The quarterback situation in San Francisco is fascinating considering all of the different factors. It could really make or break the 49ers this year. As stated before, they still have many of the key players on their roster from that 2019 team including George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Fred Warner, and Nick Bosa. The 49ers are a talented enough team from top to bottom, coaches included, to not only qualify as a wildcard dark horse but a sleeper Super Bowl contender as well.

Carolina Panthers

A team that qualifies as a true dark horse candidate is the Panthers. This is a rebuilding team with the potential to be very competitive this season. They have a ton of young talent that pairs perfectly with their young up-and-coming coaching staff including Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. They finished last season at just 5-11 but the 2021 version has a real chance to far exceed that because of how different the roster will look from players returning from injury to changes in player personnel.

Maybe most important is the return of Christian McCaffrey from injury after playing just 3 games in 2020. He is the most dynamic player in the NFL when healthy and his 2392 total yards in 2019 prove it. Another key factor to their success is the fact they have switched quarterbacks this year from Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold, who they acquired from the Jets. Darnold is a real wild card and it will be very interesting to see what he does in this new and much better situation that he is in. He was a very high-rated prospect but never quite worked out with the Jets, but will now have a much better roster and coaching staff with his new team.

Rhule and Brady are a major upgrade from the revolving disaster he was dealing with on the Jets. The weapons available to him on offense will be much better also, starting with McCaffrey and DJ Moore but also including Robby Anderson, with who he previously played and had some success. The Panthers also drafted three very talented rookie weapons in Chuba Hubbard, Terrance Marshall, and Tommy Tremble. Darnold has a real chance to thrive in this ideal situation.

The defense is still going to be a weakness of this team but they are trying to improve on that side of the ball as well. Adding cornerbacks AJ Bouye and Jaycee Horn is a great start to getting better but the unit is still a work in progress. Taking everything into consideration, the Panthers are a true dark horse wildcard contender with a very wide spectrum of possible outcomes this season. They could make the playoffs or could finish towards the bottom of the conference but one thing is for certain, the Panthers are trending in the right direction and are a team to watch.

Denver Broncos

On paper, the Broncos are a team loaded with talent. Unfortunately for them, it did not show up in the wins and losses last season as they finished a disappointing 5-11. Part of that is due to missing some key players like Von Miller but much of it can be credited to the big question mark at quarterback. Drew Lock has yet to prove that he can be a solid starter in the NFL. He has had some flashes of really good but also some long stretches of underachieving. This is why they decided to also bring in Teddy Bridgewater, but ironically his inconsistencies are not too different than those of Lock.

If one of these two Broncos quarterbacks can find a way to blossom into a better version of themselves then the Broncos can be a legitimate playoff threat. They are loaded at the offensive skill positions including Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Noah Fant. They still have a very solid defense lead by superstar Von Miller and a stingy secondary anchored by Justin Simmons. This roster is built to win now if an answer can emerge at quarterback. They have the potential to be a team with double-digit wins and that makes them a dark horse for a wildcard this year.

Los Angeles Chargers

Not enough can be said about how good Justin Herbert was last year in his rookie season. Passing for 4336 yards and 31 touchdowns highlighted one best of the best rookie seasons ever. Herbert is what makes the Chargers a dark horse for a wild card this year. If he can repeat what he did last year, or possibly be even better than the Chargers need to be taken seriously as a contender this year. They did win just seven games last season but, more importantly, they actually finished the season on a four-game winning streak which included beating all three of the other teams in their division. This gives a great reason to be optimistic about the upcoming campaign.

Besides Herbert bursting onto the scene, the Chargers have a lot of good complimentary pieces as well. They have solid weapons on offense including Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler while also using this offseason to improve their offensive line and focus on protecting their young superstar quarterback. Their defense, lead by Joey Bosa, is well above average and they will be getting a huge boost this season with the return of Derwin James. He is one of the most dynamic defensive players in the entire NFL and is an absolute game-changer when he is healthy.

In conclusion, if the rookie year of Herbert was not a fluke and he actually is the real deal then the Chargers definitely have a shot to make the playoffs this year. Those chances improve even more if Derwin looks like himself upon returning. Though not impossible, it is still unlikely that they will beat out the Chiefs in the divisional race this year but don’t count them out of the wild card race.

Three quarterbacks who could be surprise Week 1 starters

By: Chris Thomas

Now that the NFL is in the midst of their mandatory minicamps, quarterbacks competitions around the league have officially begun. Every year a couple of teams will have two (or three in rare cases) quarterbacks compete for the starting job. Quarterback competitions could be between two veterans, a veteran & a younger player, or an incumbent starter & a rookie. Every once in a while, a quarterback who many believe will lose the quarterback competition has a great camp and can be awarded the starting job.

There are a couple quarterbacks who may seem like long shots to win the starting quarterback job, but may end up being the Week One starter. Here are three quarterbacks who can surprise the league and be the Week One starter for their team.

Washington Football Team: Taylor Heinicke

The quarterback situation for the Washington Football team is not as open-and-shut as many believe it is. According to ESPN staff writer John Keim, Washington will still have a quarterback competition after signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year $10 million deal. The competition will be between Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, and Steven Montez.

After Fitzpatrick, the favorite to land the starting job is Taylor Heinicke. The former Old Dominion quarterback was back at school prepping for finals when Washington signed him to their practice squad. He was eventually promoted to the active roster and saw game action Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers. He completed 12 of his 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in relief of Dwayne Haskins. Then when Alex Smith was ruled out for their playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Heinicke was named the team’s starting quarterback. During that game, he completed 26 of his 44 passing attempts for 306 yards and one passing touchdown. On top of that, he had six rushing attempts for 46 yards and a rushing touchdown. The most impressive part of that game was the fact that the Heinicke-led Washington team was within eight points of taking down the eventual Super Bowl champions in the first round.

After coming into the year as the team’s fourth quarterback last season he is the favorite to be the team’s backup behind Fitzpatrick. However, it wouldn’t be shocking if Heinicke was named the Week 1 starter. After his performance in the playoffs, the team has rallied around Heinicke. He also showed that he is capable of taking control of an NFL offense and will lay it all on the line for his team. If Heinicke outshines Fitzpatrick in training camp, he could be Washington’s starter Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Houston Texans: Davis Mills

The first draft selection of the Nick Caserio/David Culley era was former Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. Houston took Mills with the 67th overall pick in the third round. The selection was not a popular one because many thought Houston would have been better off taking a potential starter for another position of need with this selection over a project quarterback. But by selecting Mills in the first round the Texans administration feels that he could be their long-term starter and could even be their starter at this point this year. The Texans’ current quarterback room is made up of Mills, Tyrod Taylor, and Jeff Driskel. The belief is that former Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson will not play for the Houston Texans this season or ever again after his trade demands and his off-the-field concerns.

In a deep 2021 quarterback class Mills was considered a candidate to be the sixth quarterback drafted and the first one selected out of the first round. He ended up being the eighth quarterback drafted behind now-former Florida quarterback Kyle Trask who was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 64th overall and former Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond who was taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the 66th overall pick. According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Texans were prepared for select Mond with the 67th selection before Minnesota took him with the selection before.

Mills was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and the top quarterback coming out that year. However, Mills only had 11 career starts at Stanford. Mill redshirted his freshman year and only had two passing attempts his sophomore season. During his junior year, he completed 65.6% of his passes throwing for 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions in eight games. He took a slight leap forward during his senior year completing 66.2% of his passes throwing for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions. Mills also had three rushing touchdowns during his senior year.

It isn’t certain that Mills will become the Texans quarterback of the future. It is very possible that the team takes a quarterback in the first round next year and Mills becomes a high-end backup. However, after taking Mills with a high selection the Texans must give him starting reps at some point this season. He was taken as high as he was because of his upside. If Mills shows why he was such a highly regarded high school recruit and has flashes of the upside Houston saw in his tape during training camp, he could easily supplant Tyrod Taylor as the team’s starting quarterback next season as early as Week 1.

Philadelphia Eagles: Joe Flacco

After the 2020-21 NFL season it was believed that the Philadelphia Eagles would have a quarterback competition between Carson Wentz and 2020 Second Round pick Jalen Hurts to determine the team’s starter for this upcoming season. But instead, Philadelphia decided to trade Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a package of draft picks. Even with Wentz off of the roster new head coach Nick Sirianni still wants to have a quarterback competition to determine the starter for this upcoming season. The veterans that Hurts will have to compete with for the starting job are recently signed former 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.

It has felt like a long time since Joe Flacco was considered a borderline Pro Bowl quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. Eight years has passed since Flacco won the Super Bowl MVP winning Super Bowl XLVII against the San Fransisco 49ers. Since that point Flacco had been very average and then was replaced by Lamar Jackson late in the 2018-19 season after a neck injury.

He was traded to the Denver Broncos the following season for a fourth-round pick. He went 2-6 in eight games for the Broncos completing 65.3% of his passes and throwing for 1,822 yards, six touchdowns, and five interceptions. After injuring his neck Brandon Allen and 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock started the rest of the Broncos games that season.

Flacco was then released by Denver the next offseason and picked up by the New York Jets to be the backup to Sam Darnold. When Darnold missed four games due to a shoulder injury, Flacco played decently well as the starter. He completed 55.2% of his passes and throwing for 864 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions during that time.

After how Hurts played during his four starts last season it would be shocking if he was not the teams starting quarterback in year one. But if he has a rough camp and doesn’t show improvement in a new system with a healthy offense around him, Nick Sirianni may feel that the 13-year veteran may give them a better chance to win early on. It is important to note that Nick Sirianni has done a lot of more work with veteran pocket passers versus younger mobile quarterbacks like Hurts.

More backup QBs who can become starters later in the year

Minnesota Vikings: Kellen Mond

One of the biggest surprises of the 2021 NFL Draft was the Minnesota Vikings selecting Kellen Mond with the 66th selection in the third round. According to Mike Florio of ProFootball Talk, the Vikings were prepared to move up to the eighth overall selection to take Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to eventually replace Kirk Cousins as the team’s starting quarterback. That didn’t work out and Fields ended up with division rival Chicago Bears. So their plan B was the take Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond in the third round to potentially fill that void. Similar to Fields, Mond is a mobile quarterback that may be rawer than Fields but has the upside to become an NFL starting quarterback.

In 2016 the Dallas Cowboys did not land Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch in the first round and settled for Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott in the fourth round. It is fair to say that their plan B worked out for them extremely well. That is what Minnesota could hope for in Mond. If the Minnesota Vikings struggle early in the 2021-22 season, they could turn to Mond and see if he could potentially be the team’s long-term future at quarterback.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mason Rudolph/Dwayne Haskins

After the Pittsburgh Steelers crushing playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns the biggest question surrounding the team was how would the team be constructed and whether Ben Roethlisberger would return for another season. Roethlisberger decided to return for his 17th season after taking a pay cut. He is expected to be the team’s starter in Week 1, but at this point of his career, Roethlisberger may not be capable of competing at a high level for a 17 game regular season and potential postseason play. Pittsburgh may have to evaluate their options in the house and make the tough decision of replacing Roethlisberger midseason with one of the younger quarterbacks on their roster.

Their quarterback situation this season may be similar to what the Super Bowl 50 Champion Denver Broncos’ was during the 2015-16 season. 2021 Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning only played in ten games during his finals season in Denver and was relieved by Brock Osweiler midway towards the season. But Manning returned as the team’s starter right before the playoffs and had enough in the tank to win the Super Bowl. That should be the blueprint for the Pittsburgh hopes to achieve this season with their aging quarterback and the younger quarterbacks behind him on the depth chart.

The battle for the backup job in Pittsburgh is between Mason Rudolph and 2019 first round pick Dwayne Haskins. Both have underachieved throughout their careers, but feel that they could be the Steelers long term option at quarterback if Roethlisberger decides to retire after this season. In 2019 Rudolph went 5-3 as a starter, but only threw for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Last season Rudolph threw for 324 yards two touchdowns, and an interception in five games (only one start).

Haskins spent his first two seasons in the league in Washington and was thrown in as the starter about midway through the season when he clearly wasn’t ready yet. In his first season, he went 2-5 as a starter, threw for 1,365 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions. The following season new head coach Ron Rivera made it clear early on that Haskins would have to earn the starting job and showed signs of not believing in him long term. Due to the lack of depth in the quarterback room, Haskins was named the starter and started six games for Washington last season. He went 1-5 as a starter, threw for 1,439 yards, five touchdowns, and seven interceptions. After a photo leaked of Haskins breaking COVID-19 protocol and attending a party with strippers, he was stripped of captain and later released after a brutal start against Rivera’s former team the Carolina Panthers. This offseason he signed a futures contract with the Steelers.

An interesting transaction that occurred this offseason is that the Steelers did give Rudolph a one year extension after this season worth $5 million. That is a sign that they view him as the potential replacement for Roethlisberger long-term or is comfortable with him competing for the job with Haskins or a rookie next season. It would be hard to imagine one if not both of these quarterbacks getting a shot at being the teams starting quarterback for a couple games this season to preview what their quarterback situation could look like next season and beyond.

Top preview for each NFC West team in minicamp

What to watch for as the NFL season approaches

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

As the NFL offseason continues to roll on and the regular season quickly approaches, teams will head to training camp and begin their real practice and preparation. Camp for each team will include new faces in both the roster and coaching staff as well as new strategies and philosophies to implement with hopes of a successful campaign in the upcoming season. All of the changes and other storylines from the offseason now become a reality as players begin to report to the team facilities.

The NFC West is a division with four very solid teams heading into this season. All of them have expectations this year to at least making the playoffs and high hopes of a deep run with aspirations of a Super Bowl. There were plenty of headlines surrounding all four of these teams throughout the offseason. Let’s take a look at each team and the key storylines as they head to training camp.

Seattle Seahawks

After an excellent season including twelve wins and a playoff appearance, one would think that the Seahawks would be positive and optimistic heading into the offseason. Unfortunately for them, this was not the case for their superstar quarterback Russell Wilson. He was reportedly very unhappy with the organization and its decision-making processes. In particular, he felt that he was not being included enough in major decisions such as game strategy and personnel changes. He was upset by this, and so much so that there were heavy rumors going around that he wanted to be traded away from Seattle.

Luckily for the Seahawks, they were able to get together with Wilson and hash out their issues. It appears that he is satisfied with whatever conclusion was reached behind closed doors and is now ready to get to work. Wilson is easily a top-five quarterback in the entire NFL and with the weapons available to him on their offensive roster, the Seahawks are a very dangerous team and a true contender in the NFC Conference.

This offense is absolutely loaded and one of the best in the league on paper. The real question is going to be their defense. They were poor last year and didn’t do much to improve on that side of the ball. In the 2020 season, they ranked 11th worst in total yards allowed per game with 380.6 and 2nd worst in passing yards allowed per game with 285. They will need to be better than that but as long as Russell Wilson is playing quarterback with the offensive weapons he has at his disposal, the Seahawks have a shot to win any game.

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams made the biggest move in the entire NFL offseason when they traded away Jared Goff and draft picks in exchange for Matthew Stafford. It is uncommon for a team as successful as the Rams have been over the last few seasons to make such a sudden change at quarterback but that’s exactly what they did. Goff was not bad for the Rams last season but he definitely wasn’t great either. His 3952 passing yards ranked 14th and his 20 touchdown passes ranked 19th, which are both acceptable but not exactly impressive. The bigger problem was his 13 interceptions which was the second-highest total in the NFL.

Goff played to a total QBR of 58.5 which ranked an uninspiring 23rd in the league. The Rams are a very good team at every other position group besides quarterback and even had the number one ranked defense last season. They believe that with an upgrade at quarterback they would become a real Super Bowl contender. This is why they traded for Stafford, a quarterback who is seven years older than Goff. They are fully committed to being a win-now team and sold off their future to prove it.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how Stafford does with his new team. He has spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions so far but now has the luxury of a better roster and coaching staff than he’s ever had before. His talent has never been a question and he has a bunch of excellent seasons to demonstrate that. The only thing missing from his career has been sustained winning and postseason success. The Rams are taking a gamble that his shortcomings were simply a product of being a stud on a bad team and that he will shine bright in a more favorable situation.

Arizona Cardinals

After finishing the 2020 season at an even 8-8 record and just barely missing out on the playoffs, the Cardinals are approaching this upcoming season with a ton of optimism. They appear to have found their quarterback with young star Kyler Murray, who is one of the best dual threats in the entire NFL. He has developed nicely so far and there is good reason to believe that with another year of experience he will be an even better player this upcoming year. The organization is fully committed to his growth and has made sure to surround him with as many weapons as possible.

The biggest thing they did for Murray was trade for DeAndre Hopkins last season, who is a top-three wide receiver in the league. They continued to improve the offensive weapons this offseason by acquiring wide receiver AJ Green and running back James Conner. The Cardinals were already the 6th ranked offense last year averaging 384.6 yards per game and with these new additions to compliment the growth of Murray, they can climb even higher than that.

Another huge addition to this team for the upcoming season is veteran pass rusher JJ Watt. He will definitely help them on the defensive side, which they do need, but it’s his leadership that may be his most valuable asset. Everything is trending in the right direction for Arizona and they should be feeling very excited heading to camp this year. Watch out for the Cardinals because they could be the biggest sleeper in the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the 49ers are just one season removed from a Super Bowl appearance. In fact, if not for one missed throw by Jimmy Garoppolo they probably would have won that game. Unfortunately, he missed almost all of last year due to injury, playing in just six games. This has been an ongoing problem for Garoppolo. He just can’t seem to stay healthy and even when he is, his statistics are not at all jaw-dropping anyway. It seems like the 49ers have seen enough because they decided to trade all the way up to the third pick in the NFL Draft to select quarterback Trey Lance.

Lance is an incredible athlete with a ton of potential. He is a very exciting prospect but he just doesn’t have much experience even at the college level. Most scouts believe that he will blossom into a star but there’s no telling how long that process could take. That makes the quarterback situation in San Francisco a very interesting one. It’s likely that they will start the season with Garoppolo but at any time they could make the switch to Lance. This is one of the most intriguing storylines in the league, especially considering the potential of the 49ers team as a whole.

When they won the NFC Conference just two seasons ago, they had arguably the best defense in the entire NFL. The large majority of that unit will be back and healthy for the 2021 season. They also have one of the best rushing attacks in the league under the Kyle Shanahan system and solid offensive weapons across the board as well. All of these factors combined to make the 49ers a fascinating team with a wide spectrum of expectations. Mostly depending on how the quarterback scenario plays out, they may not be better than their 6 wins last year but could potentially be a Super Bowl team like they were two years ago.

Why the Buffalo Bills could get the #1 seed in the AFC

By: Noah Nichols

To finish the regular season of 2020 the Buffalo Bills stomped the Miami Dolphins 56-26. The Bills wrapped up the season as a 13-3 juggernaut, looking nearly unbeatable. This success came on the waves of Josh Allen’s massive improvement, both throwing the football and running it. If not for Aaron Rodgers having a hall of fame type year, Allen probably would have won MVP. The Bills locked up the number two seed in the AFC and enjoyed their week off.

To begin the playoffs the Bills would face the Indianapolis Colts, whom they beat 24-27 in a game that was not quite so close as the score indicated. The Bills would then face the Baltimore Ravens and beat them 17-3. The game was, again, not as close as the score might indicate. The Bills finally prepared to face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that was supposed to be “one for the ages.” The Bills lost 38-24. After the infamous decision to kick field goals twice, in the second and third quarters, Bills head coach Sean McDermott regretted the decision. “If I had to do it over again, I’d probably go for one of them,” said McDermott when asked about the field goals.

All of this is to say that the Bills season came to an unfortunate and abrupt close to finish the 2020 NFL season. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. While the Bills folded at the end, they showed promise. They have a very strong team and showed poise in the playoffs. And to be fair to the Bills and McDermott, they did not have a lot of playoff experience. It should actually be seen as a good sign that the Bills hung with the Chiefs for about half of the game. It was the first time since 1994 that the Bills made an appearance in the AFC Championship game. And Sean McDermott is not planning on missing the Championship game.

“We accomplished a lot,” McDermott said. “We won a division, won 13 games, hosted and won two playoff games. There’s one game after the game that we just played. Do we make it a goal to make it to the AFC Championship Game? No. The goal is to win the World Championship. So we came up short, disappointed in that but extremely grateful for what we were able to accomplish this season. Believe me, we’re going back to work. We’re already back at work to assess where we are and how we can move our team forward. I feel good about what we’ve done, not satisfied.”

So, what can be expected of the Bills following that disappointing end to an otherwise great season? The Bills should be able to build on their success in 2020 and bring all that momentum into 2021. They should be a strong contender for the number one seed in the AFC. And besides the Chiefs, the Bills probably have the best chance to take the number one seed in the AFC this season. But before I get into why the Bills can and, potentially should, win the first seed in the AFC, its important to note why the first seed is valuable.

After the NFL expanded the Playoff teams to seven in 2020, only one team received a bye week. That bye week is extremely helpful to teams that want to win the Super Bowl. The last team to win the Super Bowl without a bye week was the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. And it took a couple of miracle plays to make that happen. Every other team since that point that has won the Super Bowl has had a bye week. It’s that important. So if the Bills want to get to the Super Bowl, which they do, the best way to do that is to secure the number one seed and have a bye week.

The Bills are loaded with talent

The first real reason that the Bills could win the number one seed in 2021 is because of how much darn talent they have. Taking a look at the offense you have to start with Josh Allen. Allen threw for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also posed a threat on the ground, running for 421 yards and eight touchdowns. Allen was nearly unstoppable during the last six weeks of the season. He threw sixteen touchdowns compared to three interceptions. And on the year he only threw ten. During that same six week stretch to close out the regular season Allen ran for three more touchdowns and threw for almost two thousand yards. His strong finish put him strongly in contention for MVP, but Aaron Rodgers just outplayed him. If not for Rodgers, Allen probably would have received the award.

Not to be left out of the conversation, Stefon Diggs put up a career year. It might be the best Diggs will ever have. Diggs was arguably the best receiver in the league in 2020. He had 127 receptions, 1,535 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Stefon Diggs already had the Bills’ franchise record for receptions and receiving yards in a season, and lead the league in both categories. He added the NFL mark for most receiving yards by a player in his first year with a new team. That’s called domination. Sean McDermott had this to say when asked about what he thought his All-Pro receiver brought to the team:

“Well overall, I think he’s brought experience to our receiving corps,” McDermott explained. “We’ve had experience before to some extent, but he’s brought legitimacy to that group, even more than we were before. He’s brought energy and a dog mentality to our offense and to our football team, quite frankly. I think the yards everyone can pull it up, look on a computer, and find the numbers, but I believe it goes beyond that. There’s a lot of intangibles in there as well that we as a team have benefited from.”

Clearly, McDermott was pleased with what Diggs brought and pleasantly surprised with the production that Diggs created on the field. But Diggs was also pleasantly surprised with what Allen brought to Diggs’ experience with the team. “Everybody knows Josh to be a jokester,” Diggs stated. “He’s definitely jokester, so spending that time with him on the field whether we’re playing around or running routes or whatever is intentional. I do everything like I mean it, so spending time with him and getting to know him, even as to recent events, I just have more love and more respect for him. He’s become more of a brother than anything at this point and he never made an excuse, not one time. He didn’t use that we didn’t have an offseason or that we didn’t have much time, he used the time that was allowed, and he made it work.”

That chemistry that is always important to quarterbacks and receivers is clearly evident here. And in a season where it was incredibly hard for players to spend time together off the field, the brotherhood the two have with each other is remarkable. The rest of the receiving room cannot be forgotten either. Cole Beasley had 82 receptions for 967 yards in what seemed like a career resurgence. Rookie Gabriel Davis had 35 receptions for 699 yards, averaging an impressive 17 yards per catch. John Brown had 33 receptions for 458 yards, not bad as the third receiver in a stacked offense.

The rushing game was not bad either. Devin Singletary led the way with 156 carries for 687 yards. Rookie Zach Moss had 112 carries for 481 yards, and four touchdowns. He was the Bills leading red zone running back threat. Allen of course led the team with 8 rushing touchdowns, but the Bills seem to be preparing to hand the ball off to Zach Moss more. Moss was the lead back in the red zone, and there is no way the Bills will risk Allen by having him continue to run.

All in all, the Bills will be bringing a stacked offense into 2021. They will only be looking to grow on the repour that was built in 2020 and look towards a more established running game led by Moss. The Bills ranked second in 2020 in total offense and actually led the league in points scored per game. That had a lot to do with new offensive coordinator Brain Daboll, who was the 2020 AP NFL Assistant Coach of the Year. But the defense was no slouch either. And all the main players that starred on the Bills defense last year will still be there entering the 2021 NFL season.

The Bills defense ranked 16th in the NFL last year. But the Bills added Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham in the first and second rounds of the 202 NFL draft. Rousseau will start at edge and Basham will start at defensive tackle. Both were drafted for one thing and one thing only: improve the Bills pass rush. Both will do that, Rosseau was arguably the best pass rusher available in the draft and Basham was no slouch either. Rosseau had 15.5 sacks in his junior season. Basham had 11. Clearly, the Bills had one goal here, and if the rookies play like they expect them to, the Bills pass rush will be much improved. The secondary is still fine, with Traedavious White leading the way as one of the best corners in the league.

The AFC East is not too tough

The Bills will be bringing a competitive team into 2021. The same cannot be said for the rest of their division. The New England Patriots will be starting either Cam Newton who showed his age last year or Mac Jones. The Patriots don’t exactly have anyone on offense that puts fear into opposing defenses. Neither do the New York Jets. While the Jets are young and have a new and potentially, star, quarterback, there is no way they can pose a real threat to the Bills in 2021.

The Miami Dolphins are the only real threat to the Bills next year. With a young and feisty defense, and an offense loaded with talent at receiver, the Bills will have a tough time sweeping the Dolphins. It really all revolves around what Tua Tagovailoa does next year. If Tua can take the step forward, the Dolphins offense could be deadly. And the Bills defense must play at its best to handle the speed that the Dolphins bring, with Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller.

If the Bills can develop their pass rush then they can present a most likely above average defense to the Dolphins. But those games will still be close and hard-fought. The Dolphins have a real secondary, and even the tandem of Allen to Diggs won’t have an easy time against the Dolphins secondary. Ignoring the final game of the year, when the Bills were on fire and the Dolphins…were not, the Dolphins gave the Bills a tough time. In the first game between the two teams, the Bills won by only 3 points in a 31-28 win.

Sean McDermott wont let success go to their heads either.

“If you sit here and say, ‘All we need to do is do this much more to make it to the Super Bowl,’ you’re wrong,” McDermott said. “You have to start over. Yes, we can carry a lot of things forward, but every year you have to start over. You have to rebuild the football team, you have to grow as an individual. You have to take it upon yourself, just because we had success, to ask yourself the hard questions.”

McDermott knows the Bills won’t have an easy time in the division or the rest of the AFC.”To think well we made it, we won 15 games and lost four, well we’re perfect. No, we’re not. And even if we were, you have to take the growth mindset approach. That’s what you do when you’re a winner. That’s what you do when you’re hungry to be the best and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

And if the AFC East is not to hard for the Bills to handle, that is one step closer to a number one seed.

The Bills can overcome any hurdles that come their way

The Bills beat anyone not name the Titans, Chiefs, or Cardinals last year. The Cardinals game was close, but if the Hail Murray does not happen, the Bills win. The Titans and Chiefs game were not quite that close. The Titans pretty much blew out the Bills. However, the Bills were playing on a weird week that benefited the Titans more than the Bills. That loss is not an accurate representation of the Bills. They can beat the Titans. They have the weapons and players to do so. The same goes for the Chiefs game.

And just because the Bills lost to the Chiefs does not mean that the Bills cannot beat them. Everyone loses to the Chiefs. But the Bills have everything that they need to beat the Chiefs, and everyone else. The Bills have everything that they could want if their rookies work out. And even if their rookies don’t work out, the Bills will still be bringing back largely the same group as last year. There is not much turnover, so there won’t be a dropoff in play. Though, there is some change.

“The reality of it is, it’s not the same team,” Daboll stated. “Do we have certain players that are the same? Absolutely. Cole and Stef and Josh, Mitch and Feliciano. There’s a lot of the same guys, but there’s also 15 new people, so when you put everybody together in a room, you don’t know how everybody’s going to react when things aren’t great, you don’t have a great practice, you miss a pass. You have to build those relationships because, at the end of the day, that’s the business we’re in, we’re in a relationship business, figuring out how guys work. Do they respond better to tougher criticism? Less? How they work together. You’ve got to gel as a team and this is the start of what we’re trying to do, just trying to gel as a group more than anything.”

The Bills will gel together. They will use their rookies as best as they can, but won’t put them into situations they cannot win. The rookies will be eased into playing in a way that helps both the team and the player. Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll know what they are doing. The team will be ready to go when the season begins.

The Bills have the offensive talent needed to win the number one seed in the AFC. The division is not strong enough that it will stall them out. And the challenges that they will face won’t be too much for them to overcome. Aside from injuries, the Bills have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They have a great head coach. The only thing that might stop them is themselves. Otherwise, the Bills can beat anyone, on any given Sunday.

Quinnen Williams is the New York Jets X Factor for 2021

By: Noah Nichols

A good pass rush makes a great defense. A great pass rush makes an elite defense.

Yes, that argument is not one hundred percent true, because secondary players are important. Are they more important than the front seven? It’s debatable. However, every single great defense in the NFL always has a good to great pass rush. And the best defenses have a great pass rush. Always.

And arguably the best way to build a team is to begin in the trenches. Build a great defensive and offensive line and go from there. That’s what the New York Jets and Detriot Lions are trying to do. Both the Jets and Lions took offensive lineman with high picks, and Jets head coach Robert Saleh has clearly made the defensive line a priority by adding Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, and Vinny Curry.

And when your trenches have an “x-factor” player, then it’s that much easier for the defense to be great. Just take a look at the Los Angles Rams. If Aaron Donald played for some other team, there is no question that the defense would be much worse. Or look at T.J. Watt. If he were to be on some other team besides the Pittsburgh Steelers, would their pass rush even break 30 sacks? There is a good argument that it would not.

The Jets need an x-factor on the defense. After they traded Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks, the only player of note on the Jets defense is Marcus Maye. And while Maye is a fine safety, he is not a star player. And if the Jets want to build a great defense, which is a good bet considering head coach Robert Saleh’s background, then the Jets need start players. They need players that can “call game,” making a play when the defense, and team, need it most.

There is plenty of talent on the offense. Zach Wilson, Mekhi Becton, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter will give splash plays to an offense that badly needed them in 2020. The defense, however, will be picked on if it can’t pick up its own end. Without a star player on defense, it doesn’t matter how many points the offense scores. The Jets will lose anyways. At least, that’s what will happen if Quinnen Williams doesn’t play football in 2021. However, last time I checked, he will play football in 2021. A lot of it.

The former third-overall pick is the focal point on the Jet’s defense. He is their only star player. The pass rush and run defense start with him. Why? He has the most talent out of anyone else on the Jets defense. And because of the free-agent additions of Lawson, Rankins, and Curry, Williams is set up to succeed. The free-agent additions ensure that it won’t be just Williams and “everyone else” rushing the quarterback. And Williams is only getting better himself. He has not reached his ceiling yet, not by a long shot.

Williams almost doubled his rookie stats from 2019 to 2020. In thirteen games last season, Williams had 55 tackles, 10 for a loss of yards, seven sacks, 14 quarterback picks, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles. And the players around Williams were not as talented as the new group of free-agent acquisitions. Instead of players like Nathan Shepard and Kyle Philips on the line, forcing attention to the way of Williams because he was so much more talented than everyone else, Williams now has help. Lawson and Rankins make sure that offenses cannot focus on Williams and only Williams, if they don’t pay attention to Lawson and Rankins and company, life could get hard, and quickly.

Saleh pointed that out in an interview. “That kid is special,” Saleh said during an appearance on “The Michael Kay Show” on WEPN-FM in New York. “He’s a game-wrecker. He’s somebody you have to game plan against to keep him at bay, and, obviously, it gives the other 10 guys an opportunity to excel just because of the focus that he’s going to garner.”

Saleh really likes what he sees in Williams. Really likes what he sees. “In regards to that young man,” Saleh told reporters about Quinnen Williams, “his mindset, his athleticism, his power, his love for football, really, really excited to see him in our system, especially up front and the way we design with that attack style.” So Saleh is going to give Williams chances and create opportunities for Williams to succeed.

The 2021 NFL season is the year for Williams to breakout. And he certainly has the opportunity to become one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL. His talent and surroundings make him the Jets x-factor. Williams can be a Chris Jones, Cam Heyward type player. He only played thirteen games last year. Add four more games to that and his stats have to go up. He probably gets double-digit sacks. The forced fumbles and fumble recoveries should go up as well, but those things are less certain and are more up to chance.

If Williams can take advantage of the talent that surrounds him.

That is really the biggest question. Williams has already proven that he has talent. 2020 proved that he knows how to get to the quarterback too. But can he be the guy on the Jets defensive line? The x-factor so to speak? What does that even mean, “be the x-factor?”

Jokes aside, the x-factor is someone that makes big plays in big moments. Someone who always comes up clutch when needed, cannot be ignored, and most importantly, cannot be stopped. Williams is most of the way there to be the Jets X-factor. Offenses will not ignore him. Not after the campaign that he put together in 2020. He has the opportunity to build on that again this year. The new free agent additions will put together one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL. Williams should be able to take advantage of the problems that the line will cause to offenses. He has the best chance to, out of everyone else on the line. Why? He has the most talent.

And the way that the Jets have built their line, they certainly believe that Williams can become an elite defensive player. The free-agent additions were all compliments to Williams. Rankins improves the inside of the line, Lawson the pass rush, and Williams provides the interior pass rush. The biggest problem is a lack of prominent edge rushers, but there is not much that the Jets can do about it now. Aside from perhaps Justin Houston, no real effective edge-rushing threat remains on the free-agent market.

Williams will have to put in the work. He will need to become the vocal leader of the Jets defense. X-factors lead the defense, both by example and verbally. And he already has started stepping up as a vocal leader. Williams said this when talking about his defense.“The main thing I feel like we need as a defense is just a mentality, like a standard, a culture,” Williams said. “You could definitely see that culture coming with the young guys who we have now. That mentality with the young guys coming in, who’re getting their feet wet in the NFL, who stepped up big like Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, Ashtyn Davis, and just a few other guys, like (former St. Paul’s Episcopal standout) Bryce Huff, Jabari (Zuniga), like a lot of young guys, me, Foley.”

But that isn’t everything. Williams wants his defense, and himself to be known. He didn’t say it but perhaps he would even want his defense to be feared. “We’re all young, so the main thing I think next year that we got to establish as being third-year players and fourth-year players is just a defensive culture, man, because you got like the New York Sack Exchange, who had all these sacks and them guys were being known for their defense.” Clearly, Williams has a goal in mind. That culture is starting to improve. Starting with Williams.

But Williams will still need to step up, helping rookies learn a thing or two here or there, calling other players, and himself out, when mistakes are made. Staying up late to watch film, over and over again? Stay after practice to continue working on some small pass rush move that he doesn’t have done quite right?

Yeah, he will need to do that. And more, if he wants to become one of the players on the Jets. It’s a good thing, then, that hard work is not something new to Williams. The former Alabama star received glowing praise from legendary head coach, Nick Saban. “He has always played with a great attitude. Lots of tenacity. He’s a hard worker who tries to do everything right, and he’s a smart player as well.”

Williams has the work ethic. He has the talent. He has the opportunity. The only question left isn’t “can he do it” but “will he do it?” Let’s take a look at the Jets opponents for 2021 and see if we can find our answer there. As a disclaimer, when I say “such and such team had the “insert rank here” line in the NFL”, I am ranking it solely on sacks given up. NOT on how good the line was at running the ball. That statistic is much, much harder to account for because it relies just as much on the running back as the line.

vs. Buffalo

Buffalo has neither a particularly stout or weak offensive line. The Bills gave up 27 sacks in 2020, good for seventh-best in the NFL. Certainly, that is partly due to Josh Allen, who is hard to bring down. Williams certainly has a chance to notch a sack or two, and will certainly garner some pressures, but his biggest challenge is actually bringing down Allen.

vs. Miami

The Dolphins gave up 34 sacks last year, tying the Los Angles Chargers for fifteenth-best in the NFL last year. Williams has a much better chance here to dominate the game. A middle of the road offensive line partnered with Tua Tagovailoa who is not extremely mobile or tough to bring down, should not be a tough challenge for Williams. Williams should eat in this matchup.

vs. New England

The Patriots ranked 19th in the NFL last season in sacks allowed, with 37 sacks given up. And while the offensive line should be a little better than last season given some off-season upgrades through the draft and free agency, it won’t be a top ten unit. Williams will have no trouble with the quarterback either IF it’s Mac Jones, who is not very mobile. And even if Cam Newton is the quarterback, Newton is not what he used to be so Williams won’t have as much trouble bringing him down as perhaps Josh Allen.

vs. Jacksonville

This is a matchup that Williams should LOVE. The Jaguars gave up 44 sacks in 2020. They were tied for the sixth-worst offensive line in the NFL last year. And the Jaguars have not done a whole lot to upgrade that position through free agency or the draft. And even though Trevor Lawrence is a mobile quarterback, Williams should still be able to add a sack or three to his stat sheet during this game. He should dominate.

vs. Tennessee

It will almost be more interesting to see how Williams handles Derrick Henry than how he handles Ryan Tannehill. The Titans were tied for the sixth-best offensive line in the NFL last year, giving up only 25 sacks. So while Williams sure will be focused on sacking Tannehill my best guess is that he focuses more on stopping Henry. It will be a tough task for Williams, but he has the talent to make it happen. If he shines in this game, and the next one, then Williams will be recognized as a bona fide star.

vs. New Orleans

The only offensive line in the NFL that might be better than this one is the Cleveland Browns. And while the Saints gave up 29 sacks, good for 11th-best in 2020, they still have more talent on the o-line than anyone but the Browns. This game will be tough for Williams. It will be easier for him if Jameis Winston is quarterback over Taysom Hill, because Winston is a lot less mobile. If Williams can prove his mettle in this game and make a few splash plays, then he will be well on his way to earning a pro bowl, and potentially, All-Pro honors.

vs. Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay statistically the fourth-best offensive line in the NFL last year and gave up only 22 sacks. This game will be yet another strong test for Williams. He wont have any trouble with Tom Brady, who is not anywhere close to being a mobile quarterback. Williams will certainly be able to put up a sack or some tackles for loss, but that does depend on if the Jets are winning or losing. If the Jets are losing, by a lot, then Williams will probably get pulled from the game at some point to prevent injury, or he just will become a nonfactor. However, if the Jets want to have any chance at winning this game, it will start with Williams being disruptive and in Brady’s face all day.

vs. Cincinnati

Tied for the 5th-worst offensive line last year, the Bengals gave up 48 sacks. And while they do get Jonah Williams back from injury, and added some players in the draft, the line still won’t be great. Williams should have a field day with this line. A two-sack game is very plausible and would be the primary force in shutting down a potentially potent Cincinnati offense.

vs. Philadelphia

Quinnen Williams should have this game circled on his calendar. Next to the circle should be words that say something like; “If Line not healthy, set career sacks record.” The Eagles had the worst line in the NFL last year, by far. They have up 65 (yeah, you read that right, 65!) sacks in 2020. that beat the next closest team by 15 sacks. And while injuries were certainly a problem last year, the Eagles line will still be pretty bad. Jalen Hurts is a mobile quarterback, but Williams should have no real trouble logging a sack or two, and a good amount of tackles for loss.

at Houston

Speaking of teams that sucked at protecting the quarterback, the Texans gave up 50 sacks last year. That tied them with the New York Giants and Washington Football Team for the second-worst offensive line in the NFL in 2020. So, everything that I mentioned about Williams having a field day against the Eagles is the same here too. Oh, and Deshaun Watson probably won’t be the quarterback, so Williams doesn’t need to be worried about a mobile, dual-threat, quarterback.

at Indianapolis

The second-best offensive line in the NFL last year, the Colts will present a tough task for Williams. He will have his work cut out for him in the run game too, with Jonathan Taylor at running back. Williams certainly could have a sack in this game, but if there is any game in 2021 where he becomes a mostly nonfactor, it would be this game. If Williams were to show up big in this game though, the Jets would have a much better chance of winning. Williams could make it happen, but the chances are lower than any other game.

at Denver

the Broncos had a middle-of-the-road offensive line last year, giving up 32 sacks. That was good for 11th-best. Williams should be able to take advantage of talent disadvantage the he poses in this game. His main concern should be Javonte Williams, who led his college division in broken tackles last year. Quinnen Williams should have no problem leading the defense to some big plays in this game. However, if Williams does not play well in this game, the Jets have no realistic shot at winning.

at Atlanta

The Falcons had the tenth-worst offensive line in the NFL last year and gave up 44 sacks. Williams should eat in this matchup. There is no real threat at running back, Matt Ryan is largely a statue at quarterback, and does not shake off would-be tacklers at all. Williams should shine in this game against a weak Falcons o-line, and largely un-talented running back room.

at Carolina

The panthers had the definition of average at offensive line last year. They gave up 36 sacks, good for the 17th-best offensive line in the NFL last year. This game will primarily focus on Williams ability to defend the run, with Christian McCaffrey coming back from injury. If Williams can stop McCaffrey, then the defense should largely be able to handle business. McCaffrey is a big challenge, but it should not be something that Williams cannot win. And while Sam Darnold is a mobile quarterback, Williams knows how Darnold reacts to pressure and should be able to notch a sack.

Overall, throughout all these games, Williams is the key to the defense. As he goes, so does the rest of the defense. If he has a great game, then the rest of the defense will probably shine as well. If Williams is dominant in a game, then the Jets don’t have to worry so much about their secondary. Williams play not only helps the defense, but it will help the offense too. Nothing is better for an offense than a defense that makes timely plays. And Quinnen Williams is the best place to start when looking for someone to make that splash play on defense.

Reflection on Paul Brown: the first Cleveland Brown

The timeless impact of Paul Brown on the NFL

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Paul Brown is an extremely important figure in the history of football. He was a very successful coach, a team founder, and an executive. His innovations helped shape the standards about how to approach the sport. Several of his contributions are still present in the modern game and the NFL would not be what it is today if it weren’t for Brown. He is in the NFL Hall of Fame as well as the Ring of Honor for two different teams. Let’s take a look back at the legendary career of Paul Brown.

Founder and Owner

The Cleveland Browns are actually named after Paul Brown. That is because he was a co-founder of the team, part-owner, and also their first head coach. The Browns joined the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946 before eventually joining the National Football League (NFL) in 1950. The team was extremely successful in the four-year run in the AAFC, winning the championship all four years.

More than twenty years after helping to found the Browns, he assisted in forming the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968. He coached the team from 1968 to 1975 and then was an executive until he passed away in 1991. His importance to both the Browns and the Bengals will never be forgotten. Deservedly so, he is in the Ring of Honor for both organizations.

Coaching Accomplishments

As a coach, Paul Brown was a winner. He absolutely dominated the AAFL in all four years that he coached the Browns. He won the championship in all four seasons and even went undefeated in the 1948 season. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are still the only other team to ever accomplish an undefeated season. The Browns dominated the AAFL so much so that the league folded after the 1949 season. This is when the Browns joined the NFL to see if they could continue their winning ways.

They did exactly that in their NFL debut when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, who were actually the defending champions at the time. The Browns would go on to win the NFL Championship in 1950 which was their very first year in the league. They would follow that up with two more championships a few years later in 1954 and 1955. Brown put together an excellent coaching career in the NFL and won more than 66 percent of his games.

Coaching Tree

Five assistants that coached under Brown went on to have a ton of success as head coaches. Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Weeb Ewbank, and Blanton Collier combined for a total of 13 championships as head coaches including 10 Super Bowl victories. Walsh and Shula are widely considered two of the greatest coaches of all time and some would even rank them at the very top of that list. The impact of Brown on his assistants is very clear due to their overall combined success.


Many of the concepts that Paul Brown came up with were revolutionary at the time and are still used today in the modern NFL. He was the first-ever head coach to hire a full-time staff of assistant coaches. He started the concept of using previous game films to study upcoming opponents as well as using a practice squad. He was also the first coach to test players on the roster about their playbook memorization. He invented the draw play concept and designed the modern face masks for helmets. All of these contributions are still present in the game today. Most importantly, he played a major role in breaking the color barrier in the NFL. His impact will never be forgotten in football history.

Most likely teams to go worst to first in their divisions

Who can flip the script?

By: Daniel Racz

Every year at least one team comes out of nowhere and earns a division title after having a terrible record the year prior. Last year it was the Washington Football Team, who went from the second overall pick to win the NFC East. In 2018, both the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans rebounded from last-place finishes in 2017. The precedent for a rapid turnaround has been in the National Football League for decades, and it persists to this day.

Most teams that take a massive leap forward undergo some massive change in the offseason, whether it be new personnel, coaching staff, or unpredictable development from a key player. This year, there are a few prime candidates to make playoff births after lackluster finishes, and both have new quarterbacks. 

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers made the Super Bowl in 2019, so fans had lofty expectations for them in 2020. Sadly, San Fransisco did not live up to the hype. Early, season-ending injuries to Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas hurt the team. Quarterback Jimmy Garropolo, running back Raheem Mostert, tight end George Kittle, and wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel could not piece together complete seasons, but all of the team’s weapons looked great when on the field.

Garropolo’s future with the team remains uncertain. In one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent memory, the 49ers gave up three 1st round picks and additional compensation for the right to select North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with the third pick in the NFL draft. Shanahan previously worked with Matt Ryan and Jimmy G, so the mobility that Lance brings to the table may be emphasized in the revamped Shanahan offense. 

The 49ers finished in fourth place in the NFC West, so they will face an easier schedule than the rest of their division. San Francisco managed to win six games with a barebones roster, so a healthy weapons group and a dynamic quarterback could lead to an eleven or twelve-win roster. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

After a trainwreck of a 2020 season, the Jaguars cleaned house. They fired Doug Marrone and hired decorated former college head coach Urban Meyer. Meyer’s tenures with Ohio State and Florida are synonymous with success. He won national titles for both programs, so many Jaguars fans are hoping for the same success in Jacksonville.

Urban takes over a roster that is not in the worst shape. The Jaguars had the first pick in the 2021 draft and took generational talent, Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence is perhaps the most hyped-up prospect at any position since Andrew Luck. It is fitting that Luck is the only number one pick, rookie quarterback to take his team to the playoffs in year one. If Lawrence is indeed the prospect that many believe him to be, a playoff berth is in the range of outcomes.

The Jaguars also play in the NFL’s worst division. With the Texans set to implode without Deshaun Watson, they will contend for the NFL’s top pick. The Titans lost most of their weapons, so a path to mediocrity is foreseeable. The Colts did not make any significant additions, and they need to take on the Carson Wentz reclamation project. The Jaguars may not be the most talented team, but they only need to piece together a half-decent season to win their division. 

Why Derwin James is the most indispensable defensive back in the NFL

Derwin James is finally ready to get back to work.

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

After missing almost all of the last two years due to injury, the highly anticipated return of Derwin James is finally here ahead of the 2021 NFL season. He will now be entering his fourth season in the league, but unfortunately, he has only been able to play one full season so far. On the positive side, that one season was enough to cement himself as one of the top defensive players in the league. His elite versatility and unique skill set make him the most indispensable defensive back in the entire NFL.

Rookie Season

After being selected 17th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Chargers, the 6’2 and 215-pound safety out of Florida State made an immediate impact. He quickly became not only one of the top rookies in his class, but one of the top defensive backs in the league. In fact, a strong case can be made that he is the best safety in the NFL. He filled the stat sheet for the defense of the Chargers and contributed in a wide variety of ways. He accounted for 105 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, and 13 passes defended.

His efforts earned him a selection as a first-team All-Pro. Additionally, he received consideration for both Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year and was on the very shortlist of candidates for both awards. This was obviously an amazing season for James and the fact that it was his rookie season made it even more exciting. Expectations of the potential player he could turn into officially went through the roof, as they should.

Next Two Years

Unfortunately, James missed the majority of the 2019 season and the entire 2020 season due to injury. He was greatly missed by the Chargers for many reasons. Just as important as his contributions statistically and his ability to allow for a ton of creativity in defensive schemes, is his presence and leadership on the field. Along with Joey Bosa, James is the heart of their defense.

James is a player that the organization not only believes in but trusts as well. They want him to be a big part of the future of the Chargers. This was demonstrated in this past NFL Draft where James actually had a big influence on their selection. He told the team that he wanted them to draft CB Asante Samuel, also a Florida State Seminole like James, and they did exactly that.

2021 Season Outlook

Derwin James is finally healthy again and ready to get back on the field. As long as he can avoid another injury, he should once again have a monster season and get back to being the superstar he was back in 2018. He is still only 24 years old so there is no reason to believe that he can’t. The oddsmakers are very optimistic about his upcoming season as well because he is a top 8 betting favorite according to Draft Kings Sportsbook for both Comeback Player of the Year as well as Defensive Player of the Year.

His rookie season demonstrated that he is capable of doing it all defensively. His big frame makes him useful in the box for run support and his athleticism allows for him to be effective on the blitz as well. His physicality makes him great at jamming receivers at the line while his quickness allows him to be successful in man coverage. He is just as good matching up with tight ends as he is receivers. He has elite range and even better intelligence, which makes him one of the best in the league as a ball-hawking center fielder as well.

His unique skillset and rare versatility make him a truly one-of-a-kind player. He is an absolute luxury for the Chargers defense. Nobody is capable of doing what he does at the level he does it on, and that makes him the most indispensable defensive back in the NFL. Watch out for Derwin James.

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