Necessary Roughness

Necessary Roughness, Week 0: Pre-Season Predictions

Necessary Roughness with BTBAM's Paul Waggoner
Paul Waggoner Photo Credit: Metal in the Midlands

Football season is upon us! The time of year when a large percentage of Americans begin spending their Sundays camped in front of an excessively large television with a salsa-stained and awkwardly oversized team jersey draped proudly over their torso. The time of year when anticipation and unrealistic expectations are met with disappointment week after week. The time of year when Chris Berman officially emerges from hibernation to mutter unintelligible drivel with his Countdown co-hosts.

Football means different things to different people. For me, it’s an opportunity to completely immerse myself in the nuances of what I believe to be an amazing sport. I love the analytics of the game, the drama both on the field and off, and the convergence of a diverse array of cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds to a common interest. For other folks it’s just an opportunity to eat a shitload of grilled food and get drunk. Whatever it is that gravitates you towards this all-American pastime, I hope the next 17 weeks provide you with much joy and laughter. I also hope the Carolina Panthers go 16-0 en route to a historic Super Bowl run.

For those who aren’t familiar with who I am, my name is Paul Waggoner and I play guitar for Between the Buried and Me. I’m also a bit of a sports junkie, particularly when it comes to the NFL. I’m honored to have been asked to write this weekly column and I would be remiss if I didn’t in some way honor my predecessor. Dave Brockie was a creative genius and one hell of an entertainer. He also wrote a really awesome football column! I will miss reading his hilariously insightful articles and I hope I can honor his legacy by contributing some worthwhile analysis and commentary on this upcoming football season. Rest in Peace, Dave.

Now that the torture of a penalty flag-riddled preseason is out of the way, we can stop talking about how not-good Johnny Football is and get down to brass tacks. I want to give y’all my predictions for each division. So here we go!

NFC East

This is the most mediocre division in the NFL, and yet somehow the media can’t stop talking about it. I don’t think RG3 is an elite quarterback. I’m not even sure he’s the best quarterback on his team. From what I’ve seen in the preseason, Kirk Cousins is a much more finely-tuned pocket passer, and if RG3 doesn’t deliver in the first few weeks, we could have a QB controversy in Washington. In New York, I expect Eli Manning will bounce back and have a better year despite a questionable O-line, but the Giants lack the big time playmakers to make a legitimate playoff run. The Dallas Cowboys may have one of the worst defenses in the league; I can’t imagine they will have much of a pass rush with the loss of Demarcus Ware, and while the Dallas offense should be decent if Tony Romo stays healthy, I don’t think they will be able to score enough points to win many games. Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles are my favorites to win this division. Nick Foles will come back down to Earth this year and likely throw more than two interceptions, but I still think he’s a serviceable quarterback in the Chip Kelly offense and the Eagles are going to score points. Lots of them. Here’s my standings:

1. Philadelphia 10-6
2. New York 8-8
3. Washington 7-9
4. Dallas 6-10

NFC North

This is Green Bay’s division to lose; from top to bottom, they have the best team in the North. If Clay Matthews can stay healthy and play without a Sock ’em Bopper on his hand, and Julius Peppers can find it in his heart to actually give a damn on every down, this should be a stout defensive front. Oh yeah, they have that Aaron Rodgers guy too. He’s pretty good. I don’t know what to think about Chicago; on the surface, they have the offensive playmakers to give Green Bay a run for their money. But I’m not sure Jay Cutler can stay healthy past week six. If he can, Chicago has a decent team and could be in the wild card hunt. Detroit has been a disappointing team the last few seasons, and sadly for Lions fans, I don’t see this year as being much different. Matthew Stafford ended the year woefully last year and there are some question marks in the defensive secondary. Getting rid of Jim Schwartz was a step in the right direction, but this team has to something to prove before I can consider them as a playoff contender. Minnesota is going to have a tough time competing in this division. You have to figure Adrian Peterson can’t carry this team’s offense much longer. Sooner or later they need to find a quarterback that can take the load. I’m not sure Matt Cassel is that guy. Teddy Bridgewater might be. I expect he will start getting some snaps as the season progresses. My standings:

1. Green Bay 11-5
2. Chicago 9-7
3. Detroit 7-9
4. Minnesota 5-11

NFC South

This is such a weird division that rarely has much consistency from year to year. I wouldn’t be shocked if my beloved Panthers, who won the division last year, end up at the bottom this time. They have completely overhauled their receiving corps by cutting Steve Smith and losing Brandon LaFelle to New England through free agency. Jordan Gross retired, leaving a major void in the offensive line that Byron Bell has been tasked with filling. Cam Newton is going to take a lot of hits this year. Still, Carolina has one of the best defensive fronts in the game, and that should get them some wins. Atlanta may be better this year, but they still have yet to find an apt replacement for Tony Gonzales at tight end, and Matt Ryan seems a little lost without that weapon. Atlanta also has a fairly porous offensive line and not much of a pass rush. Tampa Bay is going to be a better team this year. They have some big receivers including the 6’5″ Vincent Jackson and if Josh McCown can get them the ball, this team will score some points. I’d have to say New Orleans has a leg up to win this division. The Drew Brees/Jimmy Graham combination is vicious, and the defense is much improved from a year ago. And these guys are damn near unbeatable at home. Here’s what I’m thinking:

1. New Orleans 11-5
2. Carolina 8-8
3. Tampa Bay 8-8
4. Atlanta 7-9

NFC West

This is going to be another wild year in the West with Seattle and San Fran duking it out for the division title. You have to figure that whoever doesn’t win the division will at least earn a wild card spot, making the competition for that final playoff spot in the NFC all the more challenging. I’m giving Seattle the edge here because they seem to have an offensive formula that is not quite as fragile and turnover-prone as the one in San Francisco. That, and the fact that SF has had some off-field distractions that could play a role in them coming up a little short for that divisional title. Arizona was robbed of a playoff spot last year by the divisional imbalance within the NFC. I blame the NFC East. Arizona was better than any of those teams. This year though, Arizona’s schedule is gnarly, and I really can’t see them challenging for a wild card. In St. Louis, the season is largely a bust: the defense will be solid, but they will tire out from being on the field way too long over the course of a given game. Losing Sam Bradford is a deal-killer for any hope these guys may have had. I got this:

1. Seattle 11-5
2. San Francisco 10-6
3. Arizona 8-8
4. St. Louis 5-11

AFC East

Let’s face it, New England is waltzing into the playoffs by easily winning this division. Tom Brady shows no signs of slowing down, and if Rob Gronkowski can actually play an entire season these guys are going to put up some big-time numbers. The NY Jets should have a solid defense, led by a stout D-line. The offense will likely be pretty run-centric, perhaps reigniting the career of Chris Johnson. We will see how Geno Smith performs, but if he struggles, Michael Vick will take over the gig. The Buffalo Bills could surprise some people. This is a team that is headed in the right direction and I do believe that EJ Manuel has potential. 2014 is not the year though, and the Bills still have some bumps in the road before they can challenge New England for the division title. Miami is another team that is rebuilding and heading in the right direction, but Mike Pouncey’s hip injury is not going to help what is already a fairly depleted offensive line, and Ryan Tannehill is going to suffer for it. I’m going with this:

1. New England 12-4
2. Miami 8-8
3. NY Jets 7-9
4. Buffalo 7-9

AFC North

This should be a fun division with a good amount of parity within three of the four teams. The aging Pittsburgh Steelers are still a good team under the leadership of one of my favorite coaches, Mike Tomlin. Big Ben had a terrific finish to last year and if they carry that momentum forward, the Steelers could be the team to beat in the North. The team most likely to give Pittsburgh trouble is Cincinnati. This a talented team with big time playmakers and despite losing both their offensive and defensive coordinators, could make a push for the division title or a wild card berth. Baltimore is still not back to Super Bowl form. Not even close. Joe Flacco got the big contract after the championship season, and then had a pretty dismal year last year. He’s got some weapons, especially with the ultra competitive Steve Smith coming up from Carolina, and I think Joe will bounce back this year. Ray Rice will be sidelined for a WHOLE two games for punching his wife unconscious which will have a somewhat minimally negative impact on the Ravens’ running attack. Sidenote: I think Rice should have been suspended for at least six games, if not the whole season. For what could be the worst team in the league, Cleveland has been making headlines throughout the offseason and preseason. Thankfully it was finally announced that, unsurprisingly, Johnny Football would not be the opening day starter. Johnny Football is a rockstar, but unfortunately for him this is a football league, with football players. He’s a rookie with a lot of raw talent, but he’s far from ready for this grown-man league. But Cleveland is going to lose a lot of games, so Johnny may find himself under center sooner than he or anybody else thinks. Here’s what I got:

1. Pittsburgh 10-6
2. Cincinnati 9-7
3. Baltimore 8-8
4. Cleveland 4-12

AFC South

Reggie Wayne is back, and Andrew Luck is what everyone thought he’d be… a big time quarterback. That Indianapolis offense is going to put up a lot of points and I think they are the odds on favorites to win the South. Tennessee has a solid defense, but Ken Whisenhunt needs to get the offense situated. This team struggles to score, and if that trend continues it will be hard for them to compete with the Colts. Houston is not as terrible as their record from last year would have you believe. JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney make that line one of the more athletically gifted league-wide. But can the Texans score? I’m not sure Ryan Fitzpatrick has what it takes to lead that offense to much success. Jacksonville is a young team with potential, but again, can they score? They will have an improved defense but the offense will likely falter. Look for rookie Blake Bortles to potentially take over under center if the Jags struggle to win games in the first half of the season. The AFC South picture:

1. Indianapolis 10-6
2. Tennessee 7-9
3. Houston 7-9
4. Jacksonville 4-12

AFC West

With Peyton Manning showing no signs of slowing down, this is still Denver’s division. Losing Wes Welker will hurt, but Peyton finds a way to make guys successful and Denver will not struggle to put points on the board, that’s for sure. Denver certainly was exposed in the Super Bowl last year, but I still don’t think any teams in the West pose a real threat to them. San Diego has a good chance to return to the playoffs this year. Philip Rivers has plenty of weapons to throw to with Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates leading the charge. Not many people talk about SD’s defense, but they are good. I’m giving a wild card spot to San Diego. Kansas City started the season last year looking like the 1972 Dolphins, but reality set in and the Chiefs were 2-6 in their final eight games of the year. I think they miss the playoffs this year. The Raiders are not a good team; this might be their last year in Oakland and there are lots of new faces on this roster. Matt Schaub has an opportunity to start over after his disappointing run in Houston, but clearly Derek Carr is the QB of the future for the Raiders. Expect to see him taking snaps before week six. I’m going with this:

1. Denver 11-5
2. San Diego 10-6
3. Kansas City 8-8
4. Oakland 4-12

So there you have it, folks, my predictions for this upcoming NFL season. You probably want to know who I think is going to win the Super Bowl. My gut is painfully telling me that New England is going all the way this year. And I hate New England. I really do. Like, I wish harm upon them. But damn, they are good. My sleeper pick to win it all… Indianapolis. I promise my columns will get more interesting as the season plays out and the drama unfolds. Until next week!!!!


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