Everyone remembers that feeling on the first day of school. Rolling up in that brand-new collared shirt and the impossibly clean shoes. Not thinking, but knowing that, yeah, this is going to be my year. There was something reassuring about seeing everyone back together again. This isn’t new. I’ve been here before. I’ve got this. In those first couple days, the possibilities seemed endless.
For NFL players, that’s OTAs. After a few months away, everyone’s finally back in the same place, and the prospect of starting anew, well ... it tends to get people a little overexcited. This is the time of year reserved for baseless, outrageous predictions by groups of pathologically competitive men drunk on football and hope. With that in mind, we present the 2013 NFL season, based on nothing but those baseless, outrageous predictions.
It’s a clear and crisp 55-degree day in Cleveland, and as the first half comes to a close, the only thing that’s been more perfect than the weather is Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins quarterback got himself a fresh buzz cut this week, and in those new Fins unis, damn, does he look immaculate. That chin is what comes to mind when you think Franchise Quarterback.
It’s not too often that a 2-14 team is eager to retain its core, but that seems to be what’s happening in Kansas City. On the final day to give potential free agents the franchise tag, new Chiefs GM John Dorsey and new head coach Andy Reid made a series of big decisions that both give some insight into their expectations about this season and create more questions about the top of April’s draft.
We might as well start with the exciting part. According to Adam Schefter, Dustin Colquitt’s five-year, $18.75 million contract (with $8.9 million guaranteed) makes him the highest-paid punter in football. With the high level of variance in special-teams performance from year to year, and the lack of difference among most punters (the first- and 16th-ranked punters in net average were separated by just 3.3 yards), there’s always an argument against shelling out more money than necessary for one. Where Colquitt separated himself last year was in his ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory. No punter dropped a higher percentage of his kicks inside the 20 than Colquitt.
The real news is in the Chiefs’ decision to make Dwayne Bowe the third-highest-paid wide receiver in football. Bowe’s deal really says two things: (1) Reid thinks Matt Cassel was an abomination last year, and (2) he and Dorsey see this Chiefs offense as a group that can do some things in 2013 — mostly because Matt Cassel was an abomination last year.
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The AFC Championship Game featured a pair of offenses that for most of the season could not have been more different. As was brought up countless times during the playoffs, Joe Flacco was the best deep-ball thrower in football in 2012, but the Ravens struggled in their intermediate passing game and in manufacturing first downs. For the Pats, manufacturing first downs is all they do. They had 444 in all, 62 more than any other team.
Much of this middle-of-the-field dominance was — and has been — a product of Wes Welker. The 31-year-old receiver has caught 627 passes in his six seasons as a Patriot, and as every other piece of New England’s backfield and receiving corps has turned over, Welker has remained a constant for Tom Brady. Welker had another typically outstanding season in 2012, catching 118 passes for 1,354 yards while Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski missed significant time with injuries, and Brandon Lloyd, well ... didn’t do anything.
This steady production is what’s made Welker’s treatment by the Patriots and Bill Belichick a bit puzzling. Before the 2011 season, Welker, coming off his worst year as a Patriot, was offered a two-year, $16 million contract. He turned down that deal before getting the franchise tag that spring. Last offseason, coming off his best season as a Patriot, Welker was given a lesser offer, which he again turned down before getting the franchise tag. In total, Welker brought home more than he would’ve by signing the original sheet, but what had become clear was that to the Pats, Welker’s value had been defined. In New England, that usually means a line in the sand. When it came time this week for the Pats to decide whether to again use the franchise tag on Welker, they declined, meaning that Welker will likely become a free agent when the league year begins.
Congratulations, you won the five-day holiday war and the fantasy postseason remains a distinct possibility. Thanksgiving meant forced pleasantries as NFL guardians combined to pile on 202 points — the most ever scored on a Thursday. Black Friday was for second-guessing your lineup, reeling from Matthew Stafford’s big day. The weekend brought conventional stress. I’m sorry you had to keep tabs on the Eagles and Panthers, but the goal is still four more weeks of chaos. Office parties are for the weak-minded. Ice-skating and hot chocolate with lovers is an exercise for quitters. Vapid consumerism is for victims of manufactured consent and people that traded for Dwayne Bowe.
You are George Costanza in the bunker. Gather inspiration from luminary thinkers with their backs against the wall: Winston Churchill, Tom Landry, Lil Wayne: “All I have in this world is a pistol and a promise / A fist full of dollars, a list full of problems — I'll address them like P.O. Boxes.”
Sever ties with good luck charms like Randy Moss. Stop waiting for Antonio Gates to do something. Don’t be the contending force that eventually loses by standing pat when it most matters. Most leagues no longer allow trades, and that means the waiver wire has never been more important. With so many ripe prospects breaking, today’s claims are a critical guessing game. There’s so much intriguing talent available, in fact, that I’ve itemized these gentlemen into distinct A and B Teams.
Each week, the Fantasy Island contestants will submit a preview for each of that weekend's games. The best preview from each game will be selected and combined with the others into one comprehensive guide, and points are awarded based on how many individual previews from each writer are selected. Get it? OK. We sorta do, too.
Cardinals at Falcons
Player to Start: Larry Fitzgerald
If you have other options, you’ve probably thought about benching Larry Fitzgerald lately. Facing the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11, there’s a good chance you’ll have Fitzgerald on your bench until 12:55 EST, when you come to your senses and take T.Y. Hilton out of your lineup. Look, the Falcons have allowed the eighth-highest YPA of any team in the NFL, and the Cardinals are quietly one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league. Only the Raiders, Saints, and Jaguars have rushed less frequently than Arizona. Fitzgerald isn’t automatic like he once was, but that last-minute Fitzgerald-Hilton swap needs to be made. Just make sure you hit "Submit."
I’ve thought this before, but now I’m convinced — Tom Brady is messing with us. Brady’s latest magazine shoot, this one for VMAN magazine, features the Pats quarterback both fighting a Doberman and wearing a dog collar. The goat? Fine. Huge Uggs billboards? Whatever. The collar is where I draw a line in the sand. There is no other explanation for this other than Brady seeing exactly how much he can get away with. He is A-Rod’s self-awareness anti-matter. And I, for one, am fed up with the public, blanketed trolling. I can only imagine the yuck-it-up sessions he and Belichick have over this shit.