Welcome to NCB’s weekly NFL roundtable where a bunch of our best and brightest writers will discuss the aftermath of each week in the season, and figure what’s in store in the future. Join us as we share our thoughts on the latest breaking news, the key match-ups, and any other strange story that will surely develop from the league. Let’s get rolling.
1. Most interesting team and story from the offseason?
Robert Zeglinski: Football is a cruel sport in that all your hopes of contending can be dashed by one injury to an important player. In that respect, it’s fascinating how the Vikings reacted to the season ending injury to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. This is one of the youngest and most talented teams in the league that some had as a chic pick to make a trip to the Super Bowl. However, no one expected them to partly mortgage their future and trade valuable draft picks-particularly a first round pick-for Sam Bradford. Bradford is a relatively competent starter with a solid supporting cast around him now, but I doubt he turns the Vikings back into the contender they think they still are. Either this blows up in Minnesota’s face or we applaud the organization for aggressiveness. Stay tuned.
Cody Broder: Bumping a little bit into current news, the handling of Sam Bradford from the NFL. Not only was his holdout impressive, but apparently teams think the man is still talented enough to warrant multiple draft picks – and valuable ones at that. May the man fare well in the frigid Minnesota winter and may he never find black ice.
Nate Vieira: This offseason has been the offseason of the quarterback. We had two quarterbacks taken with the first two picks of the NFL Draft. We had a starting quarterback be suspended four games for allegedly deflating footballs, even though there was no actual proof of anything. Lastly we’ve had two starting quarterbacks go down with injuries. But the biggest story of the offseason has nothing to do with football itself. It has to do with more than football. Colin Kaepernick standing up for what he believes in while sitting down during the national anthem has hijacked any story coming from the NFL, and rightfully so. He turned a simple peaceful protest into a much needed nation wide conversation. A conversation no one felt comfortable talking about before the sit down. You might not agree with what Kaepernick did. You might agree with what he did. No matter the stance you have on the topic you have to tip your cap to him for exercising his right and most importantly, he got us talking.
Brian Hall: The Browns. What makes Cleveland’s situation so different from year’s past is that this season instead of just being terrible, they’ll be (likely) terrible with a clear plan. Sure the offensive line and entire defense have some glaring issues, but there’s so much talent at the skill positions, both young and old. If the offensive trio of RG3, Josh Gordon, and Terrelle Pryor can make some good things happen and help Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson develop into more steady options at running back, the Browns could spend a draft filling in necessary holes in the depth chart, rather than burning high picks on quarterbacks.
Dan Soden: The most talked about story this offseason had to be Colin Kaepernick’s protest. I’ve heard just about everyone mention it in some fashion since it became national news. We’ll discuss that later though so I’ll go with the robbery and assault the Philadelphia Eagles committed on the Minnesota Vikings. For a guy who more than likely would have been tossed to the curb next season, the Eagles were able to not only get a 1st round pick, but also a potential 2nd rounder for Sam Bradford. Bradford now takes over this year for the fallen, but not forgotten, Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings fan base was hoping David Stern would do a run in and veto the trade.
2. Headline of Week 1 reads?
Robert Zeglinski: Carr is just what the Raiders needed. Oakland is everyone’s trendy pick to return to the postseason given the young talent at hand in quarterback, Derek Carr, freak of nature pass rusher, Khalil Mack, etc. This team will be one of the bright spots in the league this year and they’ll get off to a blistering start against a mediocre Saints team on the road. For Carr particularly, this will be the start of a Pro Bowl season.
Cody Broder: Prescott makes strong claim to Dallas throne. Rookie Dak Prescott should have a strong showing in Week 1 as long as he doesn’t play over his head. It’s more about the cast surrounding him and the defense he’s facing. Last year, the Giants’ defense ranked last in yards allowed per game and bottom-three in points allowed. That’s not even mentioning the Giants have nothing but Texas A&M film and a handful of quarters of preseason action on him. Look for this one to be a fluid contest, with strong contributions from both rookies (Ezekiel Elliot at running back) behind the Cowboys’ offensive line.
Nate Vieira: There’s a lot going on in Week 1. A rematch of Super 50 is going down on Thursday night in Denver. The LA Ram’s debut on Monday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers. A Tom Brady-less Patriots beginning their four week journey without the future Hall of Famer. I could go on and on with different storylines taking place across the league. The biggest headline coming from Week 1 though will be the official arrival of Dak Prescott. The rookie killed it in the preseason for the Cowboys. He’ll come into Jerry World against the Giants and take the throne away from Tony Romo for good.
Brian Hall: Dallas Sellers Club. Dak Prescott looks very much like a rookie in his regular season debut, and Mark Sanchez reminds folks why he isn’t a coveted quarterback. A mediocre Giants defense shuts down the highly-hyped Ezekiel Elliott despite the Cowboys’ very good offensive line, and the Giants win a sloppy, gross game that has most Dallas fans chalking this season up as a lost cause already.
Dan Soden: “Cardinals Deflate Garoppolo” or “No Dak’s Given.”
3. In light of the Kaepernick controversy, do NFL players (i.e. stars) need to be more active with social issues?
Robert Zeglinski: I think of the major professional sports leagues, the NFL gives off the most conservative vibe. In that respect, more prominent players should use their status as idols. While Kaepernick’s protest has been wonderfully instrumental in pushing forward important conversation about race, you can’t help but wonder what would happen if Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton did the same thing. Plenty of people already believe the NFL has an image problem regarding domestic abuse and general heavy handed crime. So when the most relevant player to step up is a backup quarterback, those who are made uncomfortable by these issues will just unfortunately mock his status in the league. The NFL is America’s gorilla of professional sports. No other league literally owns a day of the week. It’d be nice to see faces of the sport pushing important issues with that in mind.
Cody Broder: Yes and no. No one should be forced into the crosshairs of the media firestorm Kaepernick has endured over the past couple weeks. However, if there is an issue players are passionate about, they should be able to express their opinion. The only thing to consider: How much of a ‘superstar’ or ‘big name’ do players have to be for the media to grab the story and for the public to care? A lower-profile player’s stance will need to be more radical for the media to share it with the masses.
Nate Vieira: It always seems like some of the first people we look to when a social issue comes to fruition are athletes. And rightfully so. Athletes have some of the largest platforms to voice their opinions. They can bring attention to something that may not be covered properly by the national media with a simple tweet or Instagram post.
Brian Hall: Yeah, players really should use the platform. What Kaepernick has done, above all else, is get the conversation going. Now as more athletes on different teams and in different leagues join the cause, we’re getting more and more real conversation rather than just the angry reactions we saw when it first came up. If more players used the platform to “give a voice to the voiceless” it would at least get conversations started, which is an incredibly necessary first step.
Dan Soden: If you have a voice and feel strongly enough about an issue then use your ability to help others like Kaepernick has chosen to do. If you look at a situation and see an opportunity, then just like Kaepernick did, sit down. We need leaders in all communities to come together and construct a better home for all of us. This isn’t the time for business men and women to attempt to make a dollar though. I’ve seen some athletes taking steps in that direction and it’s going to muddy the waters. I’m 100 percent on board with the Kaepernick’s of the world standing and leading the charge towards a better tomorrow.
4. What team makes the playoffs that didn’t last season?
Robert Zeglinski: I already a spoiled my affection for them, but it’s the Raiders. Oakland has one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Derek Carr, who is now the best in the AFC West and will soon be the best in the AFC overall (I said it first). Carr has one of the league’s best offensive lines protecting him bolstered by the addition of star (if guards can be “stars”) Kelechi Osemele, and should light it up with future fantasy favorite receiver, Amari Cooper. Defensively, Khalil Mack (who was not born on this planet) isn’t alone anymore with the pick-ups of Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson. The Raiders, while still growing, have the quarterback and the pass rush that you need in the modern NFL. Since 2002, Oakland has been one of the league’s consistent laughingstocks. Not anymore. This team’s going to be bonkers.
Cody Broder: It has to be Indianapolis for me. This is a team that went .500 without Andrew Luck for the majority of the season, and they still managed to miss the playoffs by a single game. The offense has too much firepower to do any worse. The Colts will make the postseason as AFC South champions and be strong contenders for a first-round bye.
Nate Vieira: The Oakland Raiders will make the playoffs. They have a solid young core of players like Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and Derek Carr who led them to a 7-9 record last season. In the offseason, they made a few splashes by signing cornerback Sean Smith, linebacker Bruce Irvin, and guard Kelechi Osemele. These acquisitions along with the development of their young guns and a somewhat favorable schedule will help propel the Oakland Raiders back into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Brian Hall: I’ll go with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags had a competent offense last year with Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns, and now they picked up Chris Ivory in the offseason to join T.J. Yeldon in the backfield. The Jags also made some major free-agency pickups elsewhere and had a really solid draft, specifically on the defensive side of the ball, which was the major area of concern last season. When you consider that the Texans won the division a year ago with a 9-7 record, you have to think the Jags are just as good as Houston, who are breaking in a new quarterback in Brock Osweiler and whose best player, JJ Watt, is recovering from back surgery. The other primary competitor in the Colts, have shown no indication that the offensive line issues that kept them out of the playoffs in 2015 have been fixed.
Dan Soden: As everything around burns to the ground, the New York Giants will rise like a phoenix and soar into the playoffs. With two rookie quarterbacks leading the way for the Cowboys and Eagles, and the Redskins being the Redskins, I’m not sure much stands in the way of the Giants. Except for the fact that they are indeed the Giants.
5. Who wins Super Bowl LI in Houston?
Robert Zeglinski: The Seahawks get sweet unadulterated vengeance over the Steelers for Super Bowl XL. While not inherently interesting for the rest of the league, the best thing the Seahawks have done, is become the Patriots of the NFC. All they need is a “DeflateGate” and “SpyGate”. Believe it, it’s another dynasty. After a down year in 2015, everything about this team seems to be running on all cylinders again. Moving away from Marshawn Lynch will have the offense playing at a breakneck speed we had a glimpse of last year, and as long as Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and company are members of the team, the defense is in fine shape. They’re healthy, they’re confident, and they just may have this year’s league MVP at quarterback in Russell Wilson. The swagger of the 2013 Seahawks makes it’s return.
Cody Broder: It will be a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl, and the Packers will emerge victorious. Tom Brady will be four games fresher than his opponents, which will help his team endure the final stretch of the season, but it won’t be enough to get him another ring. The Packers’ secondary remains one of the fittest and most underrated units in the NFL. Micah Hyde will be the unsung MVP of the game. He won’t shut down Gronk, but will slow him down just enough to make Brady look to other receivers more often than he’d like. Aaron Rodgers will record a three-touchdown game, cementing himself as the game’s MVP.
Nate Vieira: It’s tough to pick a Super Bowl winner before one snap of meaningful football has been played because anything can happen. The injury bug can come through and wipe an organization who has Super Bowl potential. Players who you expect to preform at a high level could completely fall off. Roger Goodell could suspend a key player on a team just because he ordered gluten free pizza from Dominos and got a pizza filled with gluten instead. Literally anything can happen. All that being said, the Arizona Cardinals will win the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos. I really don’t have any reasoning behind this pick other than Larry Fitzgerald. His career is coming to an end soon and he deserves to win a Super Bowl. Come back to me
during week 8 with a real Super Bowl prediction.
Brian Hall: *sighs* Seahawks over Patriots. It’s boring as hell, but I don’t see Arizona beating Seattle in the playoffs, and I think Carolina is primed for a dropoff. The AFC is even worse, and with the defending champs breaking out a 7th rounder with no NFL experience at quarterback to start the season, it’s hard to pick one team who stands in the Patriots way of getting back to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks new-look offense without Marshawn Lynch will be much less consistent, but a lot more explosive. When you consider how they almost came back against Carolina in last season’s playoff and then realize they get a whole season of that style of play, it makes them the clear favorite, in my mind.
Dan Soden: The Carolina Panthers over the Pittsburgh Steelers. I feel like this is a crapshoot but honestly all Super Bowl predictions are. The Panthers’ offense is going to be light years ahead of what they put on the field last year and I have a funny feeling that the Steelers drunkenly stumble into the Super Bowl.
Photos: (twincities.com, sportingnews.com, usatoday.com, abc7news.com, Seahawks)