NFL Preseason Preview: Seattle Seahawks

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: New York Giants 10-6, Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons 13-3, New Orleans Saints 11-5, Carolina Panthers 7-9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Kicking off the NFC West will be the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks took the league by complete surprise in 2012 by drafting and then starting rookie Russell Wilson. Many doubted the Wisconsin alumni’s true NFL potential, as he was labeled too short and wasn’t favored to run a pro-style offense. However, Wilson took the supposed reigns from then-newly signed Matt Flynn. Seattle, led by the fiery offense of Pete Carroll and the shutdown defensive stratagem of Gus Bradely, was able to clinch a playoff berth. Many now look for the Seahawks to be the main challenger of the powerhouse that is Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers. But with a new defensive coordinator — and some new faces — will Seattle be able to trounce Kaepernick and the reigning NFC champions?

Image

Lynch’s presence keeps the box stacked and forces the secondary to eye him, which will give Wilson a lot more fun with his new receiving options.

Sidney Rice and Golden Tate will always be home run threats when it comes to a play-action deep pass. Don’t expect that to change much with the return of Marshawn Lynch at running back. When Lynch is able to keep the defense, especially the safeties, focused between the tackles, it allows for Wilson to go deep to either Tate or Rice. And if the addition of Percy Harvin works out well for Seattle, they will be scary in the air. Another dynamic that is added to this offense is Russell Wilson’s knack to wriggle free from pocket pressure. Broken plays are a great opportunity to gain huge yardage if executed correctly. Wilson is the kind of player that can turn broken plays into a touchdown.

The Seahawks made great strides this offseason when they acquired Antoine Winfield to reinforce the secondary. This defense was fun to watch last season and should continue that trend, and maybe claim throne as the top defense in 2013. They have all the pieces: a strong line, a sturdy line backing core, and a secondary overflowing with talent. There are not too many problems with the starting eleven, and the depth is present to have consistency.

Prediction:

This may seem odd to some, but I see the Seahawks winning the West with a record of 12-4. They should split games with San Fransicso, but sweep Arizona and St. Louis. I think that the league will figure out that Kaepernick isn’t as proficient as the average quarterback in the pocket — when withheld in that area. Seattle’s defense should be able to hold him at bay as far as scrambling goes and the offense should be able to do just enough to overpower the ‘Niners. Seattle should make waves in the NFL in 2013, and expect to see them lingering in January.

Five teams in need of Jose Abreu

Aside

Image

Abreu has a high asking-price — but that doesn’t mean teams aren’t going to bite.

Free agency is still about five months from its full boom, but the most popular free agents are often unearthed before Winter Meetings: foreign players. Those coming over to the MLB are immune to prior contractual standard, arbitration and the opportunity to resign with a former team, making them a top priority for any team in need of an immediate fix. Of course, the danger lays in their unproven talent, and most often a foreign phenom will yield a high asking price – like Yu Darvish’s six-year, $60 million contract.

This year’s hottest market item will be first baseman Jose Abreu, the former Cuban League MVP who had defected from his native home earlier this week in order to become an eligible free agent in this offseason. Abreu is a 26-year old right-handed power hitter who most notably hit 33 home runs in 66 games in the 2010-2011 season. Reports have stated that Abreu’s prowess will yield him greater contract offers than Yoenis Cespedes’ four-year, $36 million or Yasiel Puig’s seven-year, $42 million – meaning that, arguably, the greatest hitter in Cuban League history may have a shorter list of potential suitors than his former teammates had. Regardless, the market will likely be fixated on his recruiting process until he signs, and there are at least five teams who could both sorely need his services and pay him his worth as well. Here’s the top five candidates in the Abreu Sweepstakes, starting from least likely to most:

 5: Cleveland Indians. Cleveland is suffering a severe power-outage at first base, with players splitting time there slugging a combined league-worst .349. Mark Reynolds was a part of that problem, hitting .215 before being released yesterday. His salary comes off the books this offseason, as does 42-year old Jason Giambi. Nick Swisher is the Tribe’s resident first baseman, but he’s been as much of a defensive liability there as he is in the outfield. Moving him to a permanent spot as a designated hitter would be beneficiary for both parties, as Swisher is getting paid to be a hitter and Cleveland could use Abreu’s power from the right side of the plate – Swisher switch-hits, and Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis are lefty hitters. Cleveland, currently 63-56, is fringe-contenders after last offseason’s splurge. They need one more bat to be at least be in wild card contention.

Image

Moreland is a free agent next season, and the Rangers have become big spenders in past years.

4: Texas Rangers. The biggest problem is that they have adopted Alex Rios’ remaining $25.5 million through 2015. The best cause for them to pick up Abreu is Jeff Baker entering free agency in 2014, as well as Mitch Moreland becoming arbitration-available that year. The loss of Nelson Cruz to Biogenesis suspensions may hurt their pennant run, and he could be released next season therefore. Adrian Beltre is their best hitter under long-term contract by far, and his presence could ease the responsibility of Abreu immediately. For five years, the Rangers have been big spenders, and still have no hardware to show for it. Abreu could be their last push towards a ring – they’re slowly fading to younger AL squads.

3: New York Mets. Ike Davis has been one of the biggest liabilities of any position player in the NL, hitting .220 since 2012. While he has shown flashes of impressive power-hitting, the last thing the Mets need after the failures of Jason Bay and Davis is an unsure thing at cleanup. David Wright is proving at his prime that he is more suitable as a spray-hitting run producer than he is a free-swinging power hitter. What he’s missed since his last MVP-caliber season in 2008 is a slugger with the stature of Carlos Beltran hitting behind him. New York shopped for Giancarlo Stanton this season, but their asking price of Zack Wheeler was far too severe for the Mets to bite. The starting pitching could be a top-five rotation within two years, and a lineup of Juan Lagares, Daniel Murphy, Wright and Abreu would boast enough variety to actually support the aces. Both Marlon Byrd and Davis may be let go this winter to make room for another Mets gamble in Abreu.

2: New York Yankees. It’s not a list of big spenders without the most notorious of them. The Yankees’ offense was devastated by injuries to Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and even Alex Rodriguez. The team is bottom-ten for runs scored for the first time in nearly a decade, and the only thing keeping them afloat is rigid veteran pitching. Last offseason was strangely quiet for New York, and that will certainly change this year when Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, Andy Pettite, Hiroki Kuroda and Mariano Rivera’s combined $51 million due comes off the books – out of that group, it’s uncertain who will retire, re-sign or walk. Also, a potential full-season Rodriguez suspension would give the Yankees the option of withholding his $26 million due next season. That’s the sound of cap space clearing up.

Yes, a healthy Teixeira is the best option at first base, but don’t hold it past Brian Cashman to make a few deals to clear up room for Abreu anywhere they could put him – outfield included. The Yankees are ancient, and while Cashman and the Steinbrenners have put off rebuilding for pennant races since the mid-90’s, a young phenom like Abreu could supply some warranted future insurance.

1: Milwaukee Brewers. Juan Francisco is the team’s only current first baseman – and he’s not even a first baseman. Original starter Mat Gamel failed to deliver before injury, and Corey Hart had filled the void until requiring knee surgery in early July. Francisco was brought in from Atlanta for prospects, and has done enough to keep himself in the everyday lineup for the last-place team. In itself, the Brewers’ season is lost: Carlos Gomez’s MVP run will go unnoticed after the most recent Ryan Braun scandal, and the brilliance of Jean Segura and Norichika Aoki is lost in the disappointing starting pitching. The rotation has been a recurring issue for this decade’s slugging Brewers squad, and the addition of Kyle Lohse did little to quell it.

Image

Braun has casted a big shadow over Milwaukee — but can’t Abreu just cast a shadow over him?

Essentially, this is the point where Milwaukee should look at a talent like Abreu and say, “Why not?” Their franchise player’s name is tarnished, the top of the lineup is superb and there’s a gaping hole at the position he plays. Why not? There’s currently not enough available pitching to genuinely make the Brewers contenders with the Reds, Cardinals and Pirates next season, so why not stuff the lineup like they had in 2011? Why not swap out the flailing Rickie Weeks and let Hart walk so hitters one-through-eight are on full stage for any contender looking to buy next July? Why not glorify the team’s best asset –hitting – to force teams to help rebuild their core, while making the apparently greatest Cuban hitter of all time the biggest attraction over one of the biggest liars of this decade in professional sports? Why not, Milwaukee? Why not?

NFL Preseason Picks: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10, New York Giants 10-6

NFC SOUTH: New Orleans Saints 11-5, Atlanta Falcons 13-3, Carolina Panthers 7-9

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Excitement is swirling in Tampa Bay this August as they gear up for a season that has upside for a change. The Buccaneers finished last year at a very pedestrian 7-9. This is a team that, since winning the Super Bowl in 2002, has had very little success otherwise. Head Coach Greg Schiano is now entering his second year as head coach of the Bucs and is hoping to take his team to a new level. It seems that the talent is beginning to formulate in Tampa, however it may take some time for this talent to result in anything too positive.

Quarterback Josh Freeman had a very up-and-down year in 2012, showing glimpses of greatness — and glimpses of a frustrated shot caller trying to catch his breath. The Bucs are waiting for their first-round pick to show his worth in 2013, and are putting some pressure on him in the form of third-round pick Mike Glennon, who, barring a sub-par preseason showing, is giving Freeman a run for his money. Freeman should retain the starting role, but now has to remain in winning form if he is to keep his job in this contract year. One can’t forget the machine at running back, Doug Martin. When Martin is hot, which seems to be often, the Tampa Bay offense becomes a force. This takes pressure off of Freeman, and allows players like Vincent Jackson, Kevin Ogletree and Mike Williams to get downfield. But this offense relies on Freeman continuing his development into a sturdy starting-caliber quarterback. It may not be in the near future, but he is showing signs of being an adept threat at some point down the road.

Image

Sophomore Doug Martin is coming off a Pro Bowl-caliber debut. Can he combine with a revamped defense to get Tampa Bay out of the cellar?

The Buccaneers made some very good improvements on the defensive end of the ball. The name that is most notably seen on the depth chart is Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets. He suffered a torn ACL last season and is hoping to have a huge comeback year, proving that he isn’t a liability. They also drafted Johnathan Banks, the dominant corner from Mississippi State and recipient of the Jim Thorpe award. He is probably going to play a big role for Tampa Bay when they slide into nickle and dime packages. The Bucs’ rushing defense was amazing for them last year, only allowing two rushers to gain more than 100 yards in a game. If this holds true for 2013, with the addition of a renewed pass defense, the Buccaneers’ defense could again be dangerous.

Prediction:

The Buccaneers are a team with a great upside and potential, but I do not see that paying off in 2013 because their division is very strong at the moment. I see them finishing with a record of 5-11. This means that Freeman will probably be let go, as this is the last year in his contract. 2013 is not the year for the Bucs, as fans should be looking into 2014 for more success. This team has a very bright future, but either needs to make an astounding run in the south or wait for the Falcons, Saints, and Panthers to fall off, which is unlikely to happen soon. 

NFL Preseason Picks: Carolina Panthers

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10, New York Giants 10-6

NFC SOUTH: New Orleans Saints 11-5, Atlanta Falcons 13-3 

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Image

Smith, 34, isn’t getting any younger. Can Newton and him continue to stay afloat in the NFC South?

Carolina had nothing less than a disappointing season in 2012. Former Rookie of the Year Cam Newton was coming off a red-hot debut, only to follow it up with some sophomore blues. It didn’’t help that the Panthers are in a tough division, but lesser teams have been in tough divisions before and have won. There is no room for excuse in professional sports; the struggle is necessary for victory.

Steve Smith continues to be the ageless wonder that never ceases to be a threat from anywhere on the field. He was heavily responsible for the Panthers Super Bowl run back in 2004 — back then he was paired with the tepid passer Jake Delhomme. For a third year he will be the main target of Newton — a younger, more athletic signal caller whose track record bursts with promise. However, inconsistency and claims of immaturity have plagued him. Newton still needs to establish reliability in the NFL or he may be riding the pine as a back-up on a more prominent squad someday. The Panthers have a new offensive coordinator in Mike Shula, who will simplify things while keeping the play call aggressive. No more of the gimmicky plays they attempted on teams; expect a balanced attack that allows the immense dynamism of a rushing attack from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Newton is also surrounded by more talent as the Panthers have added proven secondary weapons Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn. This offense has a lot of potential, but results must change.

With the tackling-machine Luke Kuechly being the nucleus of the Panthers defense, expect a stronger leadership role from the sophomore linebacker in 2013. Carolina upgraded their defensive line to join the trend of focusing on the pass rush in 2013, as well as upgrading their secondary. They will not be a prominent run-stopping team in the next season, but they will be much more capable of defending the pass, which is something that they have had large amounts of trouble with as of late. The defense will not be the strong suite of this team but they should do enough to get by.

Prediction:

I believe that the Panthers will improve from last season and post a record of 7-9. This is surely not good enough to make the wild card — let alone challenge the division. The word “potential” is thrown around a lot in conversation about the Panthers. I think that they are a team that is indeed on the rise, but needs to take an even further step to be a playoff contender. That step begins with the maturation of Cam Newton, who needs to show that he can be a leader and have control over a playoff-caliber team. Things like this take time, and I don’t believe that Carolina has enough time in 2013.

NFL Preseason Picks: Atlanta Falcons

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10, New York Giants 10-6

NFC SOUTH: New Orleans 11-5

ATLANTA FALCONS 

Atlanta’s 2012 season ended in a disappointing loss to the white-hot Colin Kaepernick and the dominant San Francisco 49ers. It again seemed as though Matt Ryan can’t produce when the biggest moments are upon him. During the regular season, the Falcons were an absolute force, putting offensive numbers on teams that were ridiculously impressive. They only lost by more than a touchdown once — in a huge upset to the Carolina Panthers in Week 14. Roddy White and Julio Jones quickly morphed into the hottest wide receiver tandem in the NFL. But only one stigma stuck at the end: it just seems that when the going gets tough, the Falcons don’t have an answer.

Image

Jones and the dynamic offense gets one more year out of Tony Gonzalez. Can they finally make it over their postseason peak in 2013?

From the second that Matt Ryan came into the NFL from Boston College, he hit the ground running. Since he has been the Falcons quarterback they have never missed the playoffs, meaning they have also never posted a losing record. His mature demeanor and highlight-reel talent have provided Atlanta with consistent brilliance over the years. With the combination of Roddy White and Julio Jones – as well as keeping Tony Gonzalez – the Falcons offense supplies the team with dynasty-like talent. As long as they can produce with the fervor that they did in 2012, and with Steven Jackson providing even the smallest contribution — something he is more than capable of producing — the Falcons will dominate almost all of their opponents.

If the Falcons have a good enough defense to keep up with their offense, this team will go places. They have a relatively solid defensive backfield headlined by corners Marcus Trufant and Asante Samuel who provide a veteran touch on both sides of the box. Osi Umenyoira will help create a strong pass rush from the right side, which should free up other players on the line. If this defense holds opponents to roughly 25 points a game, they should be set for a very good season. If the secondary holds and the line produces a decent amount of pass rush, expect this team to go on a very deep playoff run, maybe even to make a Meadowlands appearance in February.

Prediction:

I see Atlanta having a relatively dominant season this year and posting a 13-3 regular season record. If Matt Ryan is able to shake his nerves when the moment is at its peak, this team remains poised to go to the Super Bowl. They have all the right weapons on offense. The offseason acquisition of Steven Jackson is absolutely huge for this team because it makes them a multi-dimensional offensive look. Remember that if it weren’t for a rolling Niners squad, the talk right now may have been about Atlanta’s chances of repeating this year.

NFL Preseason: Why RG III is going to be just fine

To see where Jimmy predicts the Redskins to finish this season, click here.

As far as quarterback ratings go, the top two signal callers last year were Green Bay Packer’s Aaron Rodgers and Denver Bronco’s Peyton Manning. Neither one comes as much of a surprise — besides the fact that Manning was coming off a neck injury, his record shows that he is one of the best of all time.

Image

Washington fans will hold their breath when Griffin scrambles this season, but there’s no reason to doubt an apparent “superhuman.”

While the two signal callers above have been household names, the third on the list came as a bit of a surprise. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III finished the year with an astonishing quarterback rating of 102.4. He also tossed twenty touchdowns, ran for 815 yards and seven touchdowns and threw only five interceptions — the least of any full-time starter. He led the ‘Skins to a 10-6 record and brought them to their first playoff appearance since 2007.

Unfortunately, this was not the lasting image of Griffin’s rookie year. Fans all over had to watch the young standout hobble off his home field with a torn ACL in the wildcard round matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

ACL injuries are said to take at least a year to fully heal, but players such as Minnesota Viking tailback Adrian Peterson proved that wrong last year — and then some – as he nearly broke the season rushing record held by Eric Dickerson. Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery on Peterson, called the Viking running back a “superhuman.”

That same doctor performed surgery on Griffin, and he says the same for him.

Peterson did not start in the Vikings’ first game last season, but he played often and had the same burst he always did — if not better. There is little to no doubt that Griffin will be playing when the Redskins open their season with the Philadelphia Eagles on September 9th.

Not only is there not much doubt that he will begin the season, but it’s difficult to imagine the former Heisman winner falling off at all.

Griffin may have to be smarter about his decision-making and should attempt to remain in the pocket unless it is absolutely necessary to take off, but may not be an issue. Griffin was one of the top pocket passers in the league last year and has proven that he can make big throws in big situations. If his leg holds up then who knows? Maybe last year’s rookie sensation will come back even better, as he already likely expects to.

It was difficult to watch Griffin go out the way he did, but his talent and drive makes him a favorable bet for the Comeback Player of the Year award at next year’s NFL awards ceremony.

NFL Preseason Picks: New Orleans Saints

JIMMY’S PICKS

Washington Redskins: 9-7

Dallas Cowboys: 8-8

Philadelphia Eagles: 6-10

New York Giants: 10-6

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Kicking off the NFC South are the New Orleans Saints. Scandal and turmoil surrounded the Big Easy last year as the team was unable to fully recuperate from losing defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and head coach Sean Payton. They began to catch fire at the end of the season, but it was too little, too late. In 2013, the Saints seem bound for a deep playoff run — if the defense holds up — with the return of Payton to the helm.

The pass-happy offense under Brees will continue to supply, but the Saints need at least a league-average defense to get back on top of the NFC South.

The pass-happy offense under Brees will continue to supply, but the Saints need at least a league-average defense to get back on top of the NFC South.

The Saints may just be one of the best teams to watch in 2013 on the offensive side of the ball. Obviously, Drew Brees is going to have Brees-like numbers with the aid of a weaponized backfield in Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. Also, Lance Moore and Marques Colston haven’t lost a step. What tends to be the Achilles heel for Brees is an unnecessary amount of interceptions. If this problem is addressed, then expect the Saints to have huge numbers in the regular season.

New Orleans wanted to make defense a priority in this year’s draft, and they may have made all the right moves — but only time will tell. The main upgrades that they acquired were cornerback Kenny Vaccaro and nose tackle Jonathan Jenkins. Even from an outsider’s standpoint, it was obvious that the Saints defense often kept them out of games. If the defense makes a drastic improvement — which is a very bold ‘if’ — then New Orleans will be a scary team to say the least. But, the main upgrades that they made were draft picks, so there can’t be too many leaps and bounds for them in the future.

Prediction:

I have the Saints going 11-5 for the 2013 regular season, however I cannot see them making much out of the playoffs come December. They have a fairly easy season, with the most challenging game coming from the 49ers on Week 11. They should play very well in inter-divisional play due to the lack of talent in the South; expect them to split games with Atlanta. The Saints will be playing for their pride in 2013, much of it being stripped away by commissioner Roger Goodell. Expect them to make a big splash in the regular season, but not withhold that energy going into the playoffs.