NFL Preseason Picks: St. Louis Rams

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

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks 12-4

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Today we gaze upon St. Louis, where the Rams are working out some long-standing kinks in the preseason to get ready for their 2013 campaign. Last year, St. Louis looked like they were still experiencing some growing pains as they finished off the season at a record of 7-8-1. With a pretty good-looking draft, and the upside of young quarterback Sam Bradford, the once-Greatest Show on Turf hopes to improve on its misfortunes from 2012.

The Rams made waves in the NFL when they drafted Tavon Austin out of West Virginia in April. Austin has incredible speed, quickness and a natural big-playmaking ability. He will be a valuable weapon for Bradford as he tries to make that leap into the upper echelons of NFL signal callers. However, it seems as though Bradford can never catch a break: injuries, coaching changes and lack of surrounding talent has kept him at bay. But now with the addition of Austin, he may finally have his go-to guy. The loss of Steven Jackson is tremendous for this team. With Jackson on the field, the steady running game set the foundation for a dynamic offense. Not taking anything away from new lead man Daryl Richardson, but not many players can fill the shoes of Steven Jackson. It will be interesting to see what Jeff Fisher has up his sleeve to ignite the rebuilt Rams offense.

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A weakened run game and depleted secondary puts more pressure on Laurinaitis and the front seven.

The Rams defense was exceptional in 2012, tied for first with sacks and a strong linebacking core and secondary to boot. Expect a bit of a fall off the throne in 2013, as the Rams lost both of their starting safeties. A solid defense is the perfect preset for a solid team, and the Rams are fortunate enough to have that. In an era where points are abundant, the teams that achieve greatness are the ones that are competent on defense.

Prediction:

I see the Rams staying mediocre in 2013 and posting a record of 7-9, not much of a deviation from 2012. The Rams are a team still in the rebuilding phase. Gone are the days of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. They must ditch that old persona and find a new identity. There is no shame in trying to leave one’s past behind, especially when you are trying to reach that steeple once again. Look for St. Louis to be a very good team in 2015. But this season, look for the Rams to be just another one in the herd.

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?

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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.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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: Philadelphia Eagles

JIMMY’S PICKS

Redskins 9-7

Dallas Cowboys 8-8

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Oh, the Philadelphia Eagles. What a long, strange offseason it has been. With the climatic firing of Andy Reid and the acquisition of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, the Eagles seemingly made a step in the right direction going into the 2013 football season. With his read-option/ spread offense that is paced to run about 85 plays a game, Kelly could quite possibly revolutionize the way that professional football is played on the offensive side of the ball. However, a somewhat mediocre quarterback battle paired with mounting injuries has kept the birds flightless for the time being. And one can’t forget the enormous elephant named Riley Cooper that still dwells in the locker room in wake of the team’s latest distraction – as if it hasn’t been covered enough.

A faster offense means less rest for defenders. Trent Cole and Demeco Ryans need to step up this season.

A faster offense means less rest for defenders. Trent Cole and Demeco Ryans need to step up this season.

The Eagles offense is a mess, simply put. Many an Eagle fan will sing praise for what Chip Kelly is bringing to the league; the speed and hastiness of his offense, they believe, is going to dominate opponents. But, in order to have a dominant offense, one must first have a quarterback. It’s understood that other teams are also in quarterback disputes this offseason, but none of those teams had posted a record over .500 last season. With mounting injuries and an air of uncertainty about who goes where, it’s really difficult to see the Eagles making that step into a serious threat on the offensive side of the ball. Their receivers are dropping like flies and they have made little to no improvement on a complete dilapidation of an offensive line. Sure, when this offense gets going it will provide the promised flash and spectacle that the fans are wishing to see, but it should not be expected this season.

In 2010, the Eagles appeared to make all of the right choices on the defensive side of the ball. They retained Justin Babin, and formulated a secondary that seemed daunting to even the sharpest of quarterbacks. Going into 2013, defense seems like a sore subject for Philly, who needs to get a grip on its defense if it is ever going to keep up with its division rivals. Getting Patrick Chung will definitely help them in coverage, but he can only help so much. Linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole absolutely have to step up and become a dominant duo in order for their defense to work this season.

Prediction:

It’s hard to see the Eagles having too much more success than they had last season. With controversy, distraction, and a new coaching staff, Philadelphia is going to have to overcome a lot of obstacles just in the preseason in order to have momentum going into September. My prediction for the Eagles is going to be, what I believe to be a very generous estimate, 6-10. The offense is brand new, meaning that there are going to be growing pains that last until the middle of the season at the earliest. Their defense is a giant question mark also, and was very hot-and-cold last year to say the least. Who knows: maybe Chip Kelly and the boys will completely shock the world and go on a trailblazing run. Oh wait, this isn’t college — this is the NFL. Things are much more predictable. And as far as rebuilding goes, this year does not bode well for the birds.