Welcome to Takin’ on Sports, a weekly-ish series where we talk, um, sports — sometimes current happenings, sometimes previews, sometimes irreverent takes on random sports-related topics. Let’s have some fun.
The NFL season is upon us – well, technically it started Thursday with that 10-3 shootout between the Packers and Bears, but the less we talk about that, the better. While we here at The Take (that’s right, Ohio State, I capitalized ‘The’) prefer the college game, we appreciate the pros, too. Especially if this supposed offensive revolution sweeps the league and makes it a little more fun to watch. A slew of young, exciting quarterbacks have taken up as franchise QBs, and it seems like the NFL is finally ready to quit clutching their pearls and accept the notion of mobile quarterbacks and Air Raid offenses (again, ignore what happened this past Thursday). When looking at the NFL, you usually know what teams will be around come January, and you also know that a few teams will absolutely subvert your expectations and do some crazy good or hilariously bad shit. There will also be a couple of off the field happenings that really make you question why you watch, but football clings to you like that. Let’s dive into the madness and look into each division.
The Patriots will win again, yawn. Even if the addition of Antonio Brown burns them in the ass, they’ll still win the division going away. Let’s move on.
Full disclosure, I’m a Ravens fan so I’ll talk the most about this division.
Y’all, let’s cool it on the Browns hype and let them actually win on the field before we anoint them champs of the North. I like Baker Mayfield and OBJ. I love Freddie Kitchens, and he provided me maybe my favorite Iron Bowl Memory of all time, but he’s never been a head coach before at any level. This is the Browns we’re talking about. They’ll find a way to fuck it up. I’m thinking Nick Chubb has a monster first half, then Kareem Hunt (you know, the guy who was caught on camera kicking the shit out of a woman while she was on the ground) will come off suspension and they’ll cut Chubb’s carries down to like five a game or something.
Elsewhere, the Steelers basically gave away their two best weapons this off-season (James Conner is not better than Le’Veon Bell, people) all to appease their aging QB. All signs point to this being the beginning of the end for the Big Ben Era Steelers, which probably means they’ll win 12 games this year.
I have no clue what to expect from the Ravens this season. Anything from 6-10 to 13-3 is in play. If the offense is as revolutionary as John Harbaugh says it is, the Ravens could challenge for the AFC title. If Lamar Jackson makes the leap as a passer, he can take his place as one of the stars of the next generation. If the young receivers, led by first round pick Marquise Brown, play up to their ability, Jackson will have the weapons to improve. If Earl Thomas is even 3/4ths of the player he once was, the secondary will be the best in the NFL. If young guys step up, the pass rush will make a smooth transition from the losses of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith. That’s a lot of ifs, too many for my comfort.
But, I do like how the offense looks, especially with the addition of Mark Ingram in the backfield. The Ravens have the tools to pound the ball, and if they can have success running without Jackson, they’ll do just fine. This is kind of year where 9-7, 10-6 will win this division, and there are three teams capable of winning, none of which are the Bengals.
Even though this might be the most boring division in football, it’s got the best race.
Andrew Luck decided he was sick of this shit and retired, and who can blame him? The Colts didn’t do shit to get him protection during his career. Tennessee may be the ultimate “who the fuck knows?” team, but I’m cool as long as Derrick Henry keeps ripping off Grown Man runs. Houston looks like they should win, especially if the offense stays healthy. Jacksonville added Nick Foles, which means they’ll probably win.
The Chiefs should win this, and easily. The Chargers seem like they have some tension coming into the season, the Broncos big addition was Joe Flacco, and the Raiders are the comic relief.
Pat Maholmes is the real deal, and K.C. was ever so close last season to making the Super Bowl. They give me no reason to think they won’t be even better this year. The Broncos D is great, but who the hell knows what they can get from Flacco and the offense. If he can avoid throwing too many picks (hahahaha), and they can run the ball solidly, they may do enough to earn a wild card berth. Either way, it’s gonna be hilarious to watch the fans faces in Denver when Flacco throws up his first patented 60-yard “hope my guy catches this or draws the flag” ball, because I assume they’ll all immediately have flashbacks and start screaming. Also, the Raiders will play.
The Eagles probably should win, but should is a funny word. Their front seven is elite, and should propel them to the division crown. The Cowboys are their only real challenger, and could very well take the title if the running game does its thing and Dak Prescott limits mistakes. The Giants won’t win much, but I bet Eli Manning has one last ‘fuck you’ game in him and scores an upset or two. Washington is headed in the right direction, but still a year or so away.
If the Thursday opener was any indication, I have no interest in watching a single NFC North game this season, The Bears D is superb, but I think they’re getting too much love this off-season. Mitch Trubisky ain’t the answer. The Vikings are the best team on paper, but that might’ve been the case last season when the missed the playoffs. Paper don’t mean much on the field. Aaron Rodgers is finally free of Mike McCarthy, and the offense could thrive, but the D is too risk/reward for my liking and could cost them. Then there are the Lions, and while I think Matthew Stafford is the most underappreciated QB of this generation, he doesn’t have much in the way of weapons around him.
The Saints should’ve played in the Super Bowl. If they can get over that, they can make it this year. If they can’t, their arch-nemesis in Atlanta will steal the division from them. With possibly the best receiving corps in the NFL, the offense should score points a plenty. However, it’s the D that’s the problem for the Falcons, and it needs to improve greatly if they’re to get back to the playoffs. Cam Newton is recovering from surgery on his throwing shoulder, so that’s something to watch in Carolina. Tampa Bay has a new coach, but not much hope beyond that.
The Rams should win again, although Todd Gurley’s knee causes quite a lot of concern. Still, they have a bevy of weapons and a solid enough defense. The 49ers are getting a lot of love as contenders, provided they stay healthy. I like the Seahawks for that spot, though. The addition of Jadeveon Clowney is huge for their defense, and if the passing game can do just enough to complement their run game, Seattle might regain their mojo. Arizona won’t win much, but will be fascinating to watch as the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray experiment begins.
Super Bowl Contenders
I like last year’s final four – New England, New Orleans, Kansas City, Los Angeles (Rams) – to make deep runs again. The Eagles slipped last season, but are still only two years away from a Super Bowl win. Further down the list, call me crazy, but I kind of like the Cowboys as a sleeper if they can put everything together. The Falcons have the guns on offense, but need a serious improvement on D if they’re to make a run. No, the Browns aren’t even coming close.