It’s the offseason, so it’s time to remind ourselves why we love the NFL: parity.
In 2012, Kansas City won 2 games & had the #1 overall pick. In 2013, the Chiefs won 11 games & made the playoffs. There is a story like this every year, and yet a big chunk of the fans & media seem to forget how fleeting NFL success can be.
So with that in mind, I’m going to divide the NFL into 4 groups:
- Teams with an elite quarterback
When I say “elite,” I mean “elite.” I’m talking about Brady, Brees, Manning, and Rodgers – guys who can win games pretty much on their own. If your team is in this group, consider yourself lucky because barring injuries or other weirdness, your team will pretty much be in the playoff hunt every single year.
- Teams with abnormally good talent across the board, but no elite QB
These are teams like the 49ers & Seahawks who are loaded at multiple position groups but don’t have a truly elite QB. This is a small group whose overall talent sets their “floor” at around 8-8.
- Every other average-to-above average team in the league
Here’s your parity. This is the majority of the league, and typically about half of playoff teams fall in this category. The variance is high for this group – they could go 5-11 or 11-5 depending on a bunch of factors: coaching, injuries, luck, etc.
- The basement (rebuilding teams)
This is a small group of teams that have fallen on hard times, such as Jacksonville. There aren’t many “pieces” in place and they need at least an offseason or 2 to right the ship.
Make no mistake – many NFL fans are nodding that their team is in group 1 or 2, but the majority are in group 3. That’s what makes the league so great — you just never know who will step up & claim the few playoff slots that change each year.
The draft “silly season” has started & some prognosticators are already predicting crazy things, such as “Houston might not take a QB #1 overall!”
Let me tell you a story that will teach you how to predict the draft better than about 80% of the sports media.
Flashback to the fall of 2011.
The Minnesota Vikings released their starting left tackle, Bryant McKinnie. He had, um, “issues” with his weight and the team moved Charlie Johnson to that position. He was serviceable enough, but at the end of the 2011 season they announced they were moving him to left guard. Free agency came & went & they didn’t sign a left tackle.
So, prior to the draft, the Vikings had no left tackle on their roster.
Repeat. The Vikings had no left tackle on their roster.
And as it turned out, they held the #3 overall pick in that draft, where blue chipper Matt Kalil was projected around that spot and was the only truly elite left tackle on the board.
Remember, picks #1 & #2 in that draft were decided long before draft night: Andrew Luck & Robert Griffin III. So, at #3, the Vikings were sitting pretty. Seems pretty obvious, right? They just took a QB in 2011 (Christian Ponder) and last I checked, a solid left tackle was a pretty important spot.
Yet, I remember very clearly in the days/weeks before the draft, talking heads projecting the Vikings taking a defensive back, or some other position. Do these people even look at the rosters of these teams before making these predictions? I called into Sirius/XM Radio to one of their morning shows & told the host this little tidbit – that the Vikings had no left tackle on the roster, while they weren’t all that bad at cornerback. The guy dismissed me, saying DB is a need.
Sure enough, come April 26, 2012, not only did the Vikings take Matt Kalil, but they actually were able to hoodwink the Browns into trading up a pick to get Trent Richardson. So the Vikings traded back 1 selection, got the guy they wanted, AND 3 additional picks (a 4th, 5th, and 7th). Credit GM Rick Spielman for that swindle.
Bottom line: don’t look at any mock drafts right now. Wait until free agency in March & watch what positions teams address. THEN make an educated guess.
The Bucs enter the 2014 draft short on picks (traded away a 3rd & a 6th), but also, thankfully, short on dire needs. The positions the team will likely want to address are (in no order): QB, interior OL, and pass rush.
Things might get interesting this year, because where the Bucs sit in the 1st round (#7 overall) will likely keep them out of the QB & DE market. This year, there is only 1 elite QB and 1 elite DE: Teddy Bridgewater & Jadeveon Clowney. Those guys will almost certainly be gone when the Bucs are on the board. And because interior OL is typically a “low value” position, they won’t address that at #7 either, so my guess is they will look to 1 of the elite linebackers, namely Anthony Barr or Khalil Mack. Either guy could be and end rusher on passing downs and provide an immediate boost to an already solid defense.
The only other direction I could see them going at #7 is offensive tackle, simply because there is great value there in this draft. Donald Penn isn’t getting any younger and there are at least 3 OTs that grade top 15(ish) in this draft.
The 2nd round is where I think things might get interesting. Assuming they want to find an immediate successor to Davin Joseph, they can easily do so in the mid/late 2nd round. This is not a top-heavy draft for OGs, so it’s likely that someone like Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State) or David Yankey (Stanford) will be available in the mid-late 40s (Bucs pick is #38). In trading back, the Bucs could possibly get a 4th round pick or so AND get a guard who can immediately start.
You’re probably wondering “what about QB?” This is a very deep QB draft, and once you get past Teddy Bridgewater, there (arguably) isn’t a ton of difference between the next couple QBs off the board & a guy they could get in the 3rd round (assuming they trade up). And certainly, there’s nobody that is a clear-cut improvement over Glennon. For that reason, it’d be silly to overdraft someone when they can fill 2 big needs with guys who are less likely to be busts.
It’s January, so I might revise this as we get further into the process. But for now, that’s my story & I’m stickin’ to it.
Quick… who’s the 2nd best team in the SEC?
Quick… who in the ACC is half-decent outside FSU/Clemson & maybe Miami?
Quick… other than Ohio State, Wisconsin, & Michigan State, what Big 10 team even has a pulse?
2013 is fast becoming the year of the haves & have nots. As of now, there are 4 teams with a legitimate shot to play for the national title, and 2 of those play schedules so weak that winning all their games might not be enough. Let’s examine.
The Buckeyes will most likely finish the regular season having played one (1) ranked team – a home game vs Wisconsin. The rest of their schedule:
Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal, Florida A&M, Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan.
Woof. Buckeye fans can gripe all they want about media bias, etc, but that is a very weak schedule, and if there are more than 2 undefeated teams at the end of the year, the weakness of the Big 10 will likely freeze the Buckeyes out of the BCS title game.
The Seminoles will complete 2013 with 1 marquee win: @ Clemson. They will also probably point to a home win vs. Miami, but let’s be honest – the ‘Canes aren’t an elite team. Miami will have feasted on a very easy schedule & finish the year overranked.
The rest of FSU’s schedule: Pitt, Nevada, Bethune-Cookman, BC, Maryland, NC State, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho, Florida
Make no mistake, this is tougher than Ohio State’s road, but still not exactly murderer’s row. FSU will be ahead of OSU in the pecking order, but they, too, need to hope both Alabama & Oregon lose a game, or else it’s Orange Bowl for them.
The Tide plays in the SEC, so they will have a great résumé, right? Eh. Bama lucked into a pretty easy SEC draw in a year when the whole conference is down. Their schedule includes Texas A&M, LSU, & Auburn – all good teams. But the rest?
Virginia Tech, Colorado State, Ole Miss, Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Chattanooga
Even if you lump Ole Miss in with the “good” teams on their schedule, it’s not particularly daunting. Certainly, this is good enough to keep their #1 slot, or at worst fall to #2, but the entire month of October was basically a vacation (Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee).
Very quietly, the Pac-12 has made a case for being the toughest conference in the nation. There is only 1 elite team (Oregon), but the middle of the conference (UCLA, Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State, USC, Arizona) is surprisingly decent. It certainly isn’t the SEC of the past few years, but unlike the above teams, Oregon won’t be able to lay an egg & expect to win each week.
It’d be a massive upset if either Ohio State or Florida State lost a game this season, whereas Alabama & Oregon may very well drop a game (Oregon, more likely).
In any case, it’s a fitting final year for the BCS, as someone will certainly be angry — either an undefeated Ohio State/Florida State team that is frozen out due to schedule, or an 1-loss Oregon who is passed over for one of the above teams simply because they had to play more tough games.
Everyone loves the bracket. It’s good for gambling and gives us crazy & unpredictable matchups that we’d never see in the regular season. And it makes great TV!
But c’mon. You & I both know that there are at least 30 teams on that bracket that have no realistic chance to win the whole thing. They are there purely to play spoiler & create excitement.
In a single-elimination tournament in sport like basketball, weird things can happen. An elite team can spend 4 months amassing an impressive record, win its conference, and then lose to a far inferior team in the NCAA tournament that just happens to shoot 80% from 3-pt range. Everyone whoops it up, gets excited by the “Cinderella,” and sure enough, 1 or 2 games later, the double-digit seed loses.
If we really wanted to crown a true “national champion” (rather than have the best “made for TV” event possible), we’d have a double-elimination tournament with, MAX, 32 teams. Remember, in 17 the past 28 tournaments, the winner was a #1 seed, and 9 of the 11 times when a #1 seed did not win, the winner was at least a 4 seed. The 2 exceptions to that were #8 seed Villanova in 1985 and #6 seed Kansas in 1988.
In fact, say what you will about college football’s system of determining a champion, at least they don’t bother pretending that a team like, say, UNLV, has any business playing for a national championship. Certainly, the BCS has the exact opposite problem as the NCAA Tournament — too few teams with a shot. But in a couple years, we’ll have a 4-team playoff in college football which pretty much settles that. A team that doesn’t finish the year in the top 4, truly, is almost like a college basketball team seeded below 4. Sure, they could make noise, and yes, there will be rare years when they “belong,” but most of the time, it’s totally fine to send them to the Capital One Bowl.
In sum, enjoy the NCAA Tournament. It’s a lot of fun & is certainly one of the best events in sports. But don’t give me your pious bullshit about how it’s some pure method of determining a national champion. You’ll take your “tournament champion” and like it.