NFl headlines, predictions, and reports
Dante Ornelas ‘24, Luke Rapallo ‘24, Will Ristau ‘22
The NFL is back and bigger than ever, literally this time. It’s been a long wait since the Superbowl, but for the first time since February, Sunday will be synonymous with NFL football once again. This means there are plenty of controversies, headlines, and predictions to be had. All centering around one thing- The Super Bowl. The essential question of every NFL season is who will be the champion when the dust settles. In this article we seek to answer some of these questions, as well as give some of our own predictions.
In a controversial statement, the NFL has made a point of emphasis about implementing new and controversial taunting penalties. If a player is caught taunting, their team will be penalized fifteen yards, and if a player amasses two taunting penalties in a single game, officials have been told to eject said player. This is going to slow down the pace of play considerably, bogging down the game with even more penalties. In the first two weeks of play there have already been eleven taunting calls, the same as the total amount called in the entirety of last season. There have been many questions about the necessity of the emphasis, as well as what should and shouldn’t be taunting. It also seems to take a lot of the fun and emotion out of the league, overly policing every behavior of the players. Eventually a taunting flag is bound to be thrown during a critical moment in an important game, and it will be interesting to see how the league reacts.
In the offseason, the NFLPA and the NFL had discussions about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the main result of which is an extra regular season game for each team, making the regular season seventeen games each season from now on, where before it was sixteen. This has caused many players to be disappointed and frustrated with the player association, as the NFLPA failed to get any significant benefits for the players. On the topic, Steelers TE Eric Ebron tweeted “Can’t believe we agreed to that lol. We can only play this game for so long and y’all didn’t want everything we could get out of it? Smfh. 2030 y’all do better” This decision has raised questions about player safety, with many people wondering if an extra week of hard hits will cause key injuries to star players right before playoff time, which could seriously affect the outcome of the season.
The Cardinals finished the 2020 season with a slide that kept them from advancing to the playoffs. Though the Cardinals did not sit on their hands during the offseason, by acquiring All pro veteran DE JJ Watt and WR AJ Green. Both of these additions will contribute positively to the competitive environment the Cardinals are trying to construct. Watt will help bolster that ascending defense and AJ will hopefully further contribute to that already seemingly unstoppable offense. They also opened the season with a road victory against the Titans who went 11-5 and won their division. A major question about these Cardinals is if they have enough juice to make the playoffs in an an extremely competitive NFC West. In order to make the playoffs they will need to escape with some victories against some very good football teams.
For the past two seasons, the Chiefs have been “the team to beat” league wide. With an unstoppable offense starring Patrick Mahones, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs were any defense’s nightmare. Our question is, how long can that last? With Patrick Mahomes being attacked in the Super Bowl by the Bucs defensive line, Andy Reid seeks to revamp their O-Line. In the draft, the Chiefs selected Creed Humphry, and RG Trey Smith, and as it stands now, both are starters. I have my reservations about starting rookie O-line players, especially against some of the better edge rushers in the league. This showed in their first game against the Browns, with Mahomes running for his life play after play. Obviously the Chiefs are still undoubtedly one of the best constructed rosters in the league, and should be early Superbowl favorites, however, this year they aren’t infallible.
Despite not winning many games last season, last year was undoubtedly a good year for Chargers fans. ROTY QB Justin Herbert broke many rookie QB records despite missing a game due to being the backup behind Tyrod Taylor for the first game of the season. With Herbert heading into his Sophomore season, the Chargers are slated to be a much improved team. Coaching wise, the Chargers hired Brandon Staley, the former defensive coordinator for the Rams, who had debatably the best defense in the league last season. The defense is also poised to be much better, with Derwin James and Joey Bosa sharing the field for the first time in nearly two full seasons, due to injury. They also improved their CB2 position by drafting Asante Samuel Jr. to play alongside veteran CB Chris Harris Jr. Despite the loss of star receiving TE Hunter Henry to the Patriots in free agency, the Chargers are also a much better offensive team than last season. The Chargers playmaking core remains potent as ever with perennially underrated star WR Keenan Allen, his #2 WR Mike Williams, and RB Austin Ekeler. But perhaps the most improved element of the Chargers this season is their offensive line. They drafted Rashawn Slater 13th overall in the draft, who showed out in his first career start, allowing 0 QB pressures. They also added Corey Linsley to play alongside former Packers teammate Bryan Bulaga. With one of the best O-Lines in the league, Herbert should have plenty of time to pass the ball, and that should be enough to get them over the .500 hump.
The Patriots had a disappointing 2020, ending the season at 7-9. The Patriots are expected to bounce back and compete with the Bills for the top AFC East spot. The Patriots drafted Alabama quarterback Mac Jones 15th overall in the 2021 draft. He played very well during the pre-season, but the Patriots surprised everyone when they released former MVP Cam Newton and named Mac Jones their starter. The Patriots also had to fix their pass catching situation by adding Nelson Agholor to their starting roster. Agholor is an average player at best who can be one of Mac Jones’ reliable receivers with Julian Edleman’s unexpected retirement. To complement Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers, the Patriots also added two veteran tight ends: Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. These were two underrated signings in the offseason that I feel can make a huge impact for this Patriots team. Finally the Patriots defense looks revamped and ready to dominate opponents. Matthew Judon, linebacker, was the Patriots huge splash in free agency who will make an immediate impact on this defense, with Stephon Gilmore out till week seven. The Patriots have a star studded roster this year but are far from Superbowl contention.
Is this finally the Browns year? For the first time in the Super Bowl era the Browns are the favorites to win the AFC North and possibly become Super Bowl 56 champions. For years Browns fans have watched their team struggle throughout the season, finishing last in their division, and wasting great draft picks on busts. This all changed in 2018 when the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield first overall. After Baker was drafted, Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to the Browns to complement Jarvis Landry as one of the best wide receiver duos in the league. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt round out an explosive running game. That is all without mentioning potentially the best aspect of the Browns, which in my opinion is the best OL in the league. Finally the Browns defense is probably top ten with Myles Garrett and Jadevon Clowney leading a fantastic front seven with a revamped secondary including additions John Jonson Jr, Troy Hill, and Greg Newsome. The Browns have a stacked team with one of the most full rosters in the league. I mean it when I say it, this is the Browns’ time to shine.
It didn’t take long for the Football Team’s plans this season to go awry, with the starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick being injured in the first game of the season. He is expected to return in 6-8 weeks, however this hole at the position has led to the emergence of 4th year QB Taylor Heineke. Heineke, a career backup, shocked the league by nearly upsetting the eventual Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Game. He shined in his first start this season against the Giants, throwing 2 TD, 336 yards, on a 73.9 completion percentage. This leaves many people clamouring for Heineke to win the permanent starting spot. The Football Team was certainly carried by it’s defense last season, but this season they hope to improve on the offensive side of the ball. A key addition is former Panthers WR Curtis Samuel, who hopes to be a good 3rd option behind Terry Mclaurin and Antonio Gibson. With a wide open NFC East, I project the Football Team will win their division for the second straight season.
The Green Bay Packers made the NFC championship last season and were super bowl contenders. The Packers fell short of their goals in what seems to be a habit for the perennial runner up. In the last 5 NFC championships the Packers have played in they have yet to win any. This leaves the front office scrambling trying to find ways to improve the team, while simultaneously keeping the reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers happy. This led to a fair share of offseason drama with Aaron Rodgers refusing to attend many offseason practices and minicamp. Ultimately the Aaron Rodgers debacle was resolved when Aaron Rodgers agreed to return to Green bay and lead “The Last Dance”, returning with star wideout WR Davante Adams for one last (hopefully) spectacular year.
This NFL draft class was stacked with talent. Five quarterbacks went in the first round with Trevor Lawrence picked number one. Lawrence was the most hyped up quarterback since Andrew Luck and possibly ever, giving the Jacksonville Jaguars a no brainer to pick him first overall. Pro Football Focus graded Lawrence at a dismal 57.8 overall rookie grade after week two. They commented that Lawrence “is late on far too many throws, which is causing him to force the ball into dangerous situations.” With that said Lawrence has looked uncomfortable in his first two games in the NFL, but was thrown into a bad Jaguars organization with an atrocious offensive line and unreliable weapons for Lawrence. So Lawerence can only do so much as a rookie on this team.
Zach Wilson shined in his first NFL game, barely losing to the Carolina Panthers. But the New York Jets team is in full rebuild mode with unreliable receivers and a banged up offensive line. Wilson’s big arm has shown throughout the last two games and will possibly become one of the next great quarterbacks in the league. Pro Football Focus said that Wilson at “one point had more interceptions than completions” in week two against the Patriots but turned things around “with a pair of big-time throws in the fourth quarter, hitting a couple of hole shots down the sideline.”
Justin Fields had his first start Sunday, September 26 against the Cleveland Browns. An awful start to his NFL career, Fields ended with 68 total passing yards, zero touchdowns, and nine sacks during his 6-26 loss. Fields was hyped all throughout college leading Ohio State to the national championship once, and finishing as a 2020 Heisman finalist. This is only Field’s first start, and with a dismal Offensive Line and limited playmakers, Fields shouldn’t be entirely blamed for the loss, but use this game to get better and eventually become the star QB he was meant to be.
Mac Jones had a great start to his NFL career. So far the Pats seem a little hesitant to open up the playbook for him, but he is playing safe, comfortable football. He’s making good decisions, however he is struggling to move the ball downfield occasionally. It could be debated that that lack of production is caused by the Patriots weak receiving group. Mac Jones has a high ceiling, however in order to succeed, he needs better players around him. Further down the road, I’d like to see Mac attempt more passes downfield, while continuing to make those high quality reads.