Red has a distinct fondness for this division. Not because it is easy to pick (even though it only has 3 teams – take that Browns fans). But because it is challenging. Every season one team really outperforms expectations and mystifies the pundits – Red included. So here goes nothing.
Stealers. Many long years ago, Red went to see a late-season game between the Oilers and Stealers in the last days of the Astrodome. He chatted up a few Stealers fans before the game – one of whom told him that it was cheaper for him and his son to fly to Houston, spend the night at a reasonable hotel and buy tickets for the game than it would be to get two ticket to a Stealers home game. With fans like that name Red one good reason why the AFC Championship game should not be a rematch of last year when the Patriots steamrolled the Stealers 36-17 in a game that wasn’t even that close. Of course, losing Le’Veon Bell early on and having some dude named Chris Hogan be the hero with 2 TDs and 180 yards doesn’t help your cause. So why pick the Stealers? It’s a good question. Will this be the year that Bell actually suits up for 16 games? He is playing on the franchise tag, so he has a lot to prove for a big payday. Can Big Ben hold his battered, bruised and frequently broken body together for one more season of greatness? Can a Stealers defense that was nothing short of awful against the Pats snap back? Will the Stealers avoid last season’s horrific start? Will dead Dan Rooney (ensconced in the luxurious NFL wing of St. Peter’s Estates) be taunting the emaciated ghost of Al Davis as he walks the netherworld searching for another Superb Owl ring for all eternity? Lots of questions? Red has no real answers, except that with a relatively easy first 5 games, the Stealers should not have to count on a 7 game winning streak to secure a playoff spot like they dead in 2016. And to give you one good reason the Stealers might not be in the AFC Championship game. They’re called the Oakland Raiders (somewhere Al Davis lets loose a creaky “Just Win Baby”). Pittsburgh goes 10-6 and win the North nonetheless.
Ravens. Flacco Joe’s deal with Satan must have timed out. After all, the first 5 seasons of FJ’s NFL career are basically unmatched by any other quarterback. Flacco Joe led his team to 5 straight playoff appearances culminating in the Ravens second NFL title in 2012. He was the first rookie quarterback to win 2 playoff games. He had the most wins by a quarterback in his first 6 and 7 seasons. He was the first NFL quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first 5 seasons. But since 2012, there has been one playoff win (albeit against a good Stealers team in 2014) and lots of disappointment on the Chesapeake. So it was good while it lasted for FJ, but Red thinks he needs a change of scenery. Perhaps the Argonauts are in the market for a tall, strong-armed, washed-up quarterback. Ravens do have some positives. The combination of Maclin and Perriman at wideout will keep defenses wondering. Meanwhile, the Ravens defense is a palimpsest of the former playbook and they are searching for a running game. Ravens will have to score lots of points to win this season. They do have longfoot Justin Tucker and his ability to hit from range will keep them in a few games – just not enough games. Baltimore is 8-8 and sitting at home in January.
Bengals. Last year Red wrote, “So it’s pretty much make or break time for this current iteration of the Bengals.” Well, “break” it was as the season was pretty damn miserable for the Bengals. They finally figured out that Jeremy Hill sucks and that Gio Bernard is a “specialty back” and that. yep losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu does make a difference. So they are going young on offense this year with wideouts John Ross and Josh Malone. And to meet their NFL minimum requirement of at least one girl-beater per team, they drafted Joe Mixon from OU. The big problem for the Bengals is up front. They lost all-world left tackle Andrew Whitworth to the Rams and are expecting unproven backups to take up the slack. As for Red’s favorite distant relation “Red Rifle” Dalton – it looks more and more like one of those wasted careers as far as playoff success goes. He can cry on LaDanian Tomlinson’s HOF shoulder about that one. The good news for Bengals fans (and Red) is that this won’t be the year when the Bengals ignominiously lose their 9th playoff game in a row – because they won’t have a chance. Cincinnati goes 7-9.
Browns. Does Red really have to say anything here? He thought not, but here goes anyway. Red gives the Browns credit for trying to build a team in the old-fashioned way with major upgrades to both lines with additions of JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler on O line and first round pick Myles Garret and rookie Larry Ogunjobi on the D line. Browns might actually win a division game with Bengals and Ravens trending down. Jets, Jaguars, Chargers and Bears are other chances to win. Browns improve, Brock Osweiler doesn’t completely suck, but no one notices. Cleveland swaggers to 4-12.
Could not happen to a nicer Klansman.
Red guesses that Gen. Kelly put his foot down after Trump screwed the pooch in his presser this week. Kelly likely told Trump – it’s Bannon or me and if I go your whole operation is headed back down the shithole. Even Trump knows when he holds no cards and that having a Chief of Staff quit after 3 weeks would be more blood in the water. So Bannon was history. It remains to be seen how Trump’s hard core base of white nationalists takes this. Hell hath no fury like a voter scorned.
The Wild Wild West. A dangerous place for the pundit.
Raiders. Raiders would have almost certainly been playing in the second round of the playoffs if not for losing first and second string quarterbacks and suffering a season-ending loss to the Broncos that cost them a division title and home field advantage. The only team in recent memory to win a playoff game with a third stringer under center was the Texans in 2011 with T.J. Yeates. But they beat the Bengals so it almost doesn’t count. And nothing against Connor Cook, but when your QB is 18 of 45 with 3 INTs and rating of 30.0, it’s going to be a long plane flight back to California. With even an average Derek Carr day, the Raiders had a decent shot at beating a Texans team with Brock Osweiler at the helm. So Carr (brother of David – who, by the way, still sucks) and most of the offensive weaponry is still intact. And they now have “The Beast”. With that addition, Latavius Murray might become the league’s best third down back and catch about 60 passes when it really counts. The Raiders defense is the weak link here – which is a surprise on a Jack Del Rio coached team. The Raiders end their championship drought when they clinch the title in the last game against the Chargers. The emaciated ghost of Al Davis croaks “Just win Baby” as the champagne pours. But sadly, Walking Dead Al continues to roam the soon-to-be abandoned corridors of Oakland Coliseum hoping for an Uber ride to Vegas for all eternity. Oakland takes home the silver and black cake with an 11-5 record.
Chiefs. It’s hard to bet against the Chiefs. Red thinks they got the steal of the draft in Patrick Mahomes. He looks like the real thing and may be starting by November. Of course he will have to find someone other than Travis Kelce to throw to. And C.J. Spiller and the running back committee will have to take charge at times. A lot rides on the Thursday night opener in Foxboro. If they knock off the champions, then the Chiefs may swoop in on their war ponies and beat enough of the weaklings and mediocrities on the schedule to grab a wildcard spot. A humiliating loss could send the team into a tail spin. Red likes the Chiefs chances. Kansas City grabs the last AFC Wildcard spot with 9-7 record.
Broncos. New head coach Vance Joseph is going to be a winner. But sorry Vance, probably not this season. Yes the Broncos defense will keep them in a lot of games. But this may be a year that Red’s Rule (score 13 points and beat the Cowboys) takes a road trip to Colorado. Neither Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch is going to drag this offense over the goal line anywhere near enough times for the Broncos to have a shot at playing in January. Having the injury prone Jamaal Charles and C.J. Anderson as your best options in the backfield is not encouraging. Denver stumbles out of the gate and are lucky to finish 8-8.
Chargers. Red has always like this franchise. Everyone in Southern California seemed so happy at the games sitting half-naked in the warm sunshine of Jack Murphy Stadium. The fans were in fact beautiful and so was the way the Chargers played the game. The offense was exhilirating and the high scoring games were entertaining. Having Red’s favorite LT for a decade helped cement his love for this franchise. But that love has been a one-way street. Red has repeatedly picked the Chargers and they have rewarded him with disdain. So the best thing Red could do for the Charges is shit all over their prospects for this season. That he will gladly do. Charges are woeful in their new home. Just how stupid do you have to be leave San Diego? You’ll go 4-12 and like it.
Surprisingly, the NFC South (unlike almost every other division) is actually comprised of teams entirely from the South. More fun facts to follow.
Falcons. You know how many times Red has picked the Falcons before giving up on them last season. That’s right – a whole shitload. And how did that work out? And then last season Red finally wakes up picks the Panthers – who decide to suck while the Falcons finally wake up – at least until the second half of the Superb Owl. Take heart Falcons fans, Red can failure pain. And despite their pathetic performance in Houston, Red is biting on the Falcons. It may be a collapse of judgment to pick this team to win the NFC South, but this fall apart from some questions about a Superb Owl hangover, the Falcons look solid. Choking the list of positives, they have Matty Ice and the same basic offensive crew around him. Expect lots of bombs and dive plays. There may be a few questions – suck gas what happens without offensive wiz Kyle Shanahan? And is crack-up quarterback Matt Schaub capable of tanking over if needed? What will their record be? 10-6 or 11-5? Just flop a coin and don’t sink about it too much. Really, Falcons fans you should stop gripping, just say “Tanks” for a memorable season last year and hope for the bust in 2017. Atlanta strolls to an 11-5 record.
Buccaneers. The Buccaneers have a decent shot at a Wild Card spot. Their 5 game win streak to close the season almost almost landed them in the playoffs where nobody wanted to face them. They look to have two elite talents in Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. Doug Martin remains a question mark – he is either great or injured with little room in between. Jaquizz Rodgers needs to take over as the Number 1 back. Adding DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard makes this a formidable offensive unit. On defense, Kwon Alexander put up Defensive ROY numbers in 2015 and improved last season and the rest of the defense looks good enough to win a lot of games. The Bucs have had trouble finishing off close ones. Dumping erratic kicker Roberto Aguayo and bringing in Nick Folk may help in that area. Look for the Tampa Bay to go 10-6 and make it to Wildcard Weekend.
Panthers. Panthers are a sexy pick to with the NFC South despite their first to worst performance in 2016. Losing six games by 3 points or less will get a bad record. Red thinks the Panthers are sadly headed in the wrong direction as evidenced by the firing of GM Dave Gettleman in July. Rivera’s job is on the line this season and his best work is not done under pressure. They do have an easy loser’s schedule and will not be playing with a makeshift O line as in 2016. But lack of a real running game will limit Cam’s options. CN does improve his woeful 52% completion rate last season, but it would be hard not to. On the other side the additions of Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn (perhaps Red’s favorite name in all of the NFL) will bolster a defense that distinctly underperformed last year. Still it is a difficult climb back to the excellence of 2015. The Panthers make it back a ways, but not a long ways. Carolina fans can expect an 8-8 record at best.
Saints. The Saints’ window of opportunity has closed. Not that it was all that wide open anyway with three consecutive 7-9 seasons. Adding boy-beater Adrian Peterson might help, but probably doesn’t offset losing rising star wideout Brandin Cooks. Last year Drew Brees refused to look tired and old. The ageless wonder completed a league-leading 471 of his league-leading 673 attempts for 70% completion rate (who in God’s name completed more than 70% of their passes last season?) for a league-leading 5208 yards (are you getting the drift here?) and 37 touchdowns! Imagine what that could have done for a team like say – the hapless Texans. Even though DB should be tired and old in his by-God 17th NFL season, he again refuses to follow the script and that alone will carry this team a long ways – just not long enough. Saints cannot score enough points to make up for sadly sagging defense. New Orleans slumps to 6-10.
Answer: Sam Bradford completed 71.4% and Matt Ryan completed 70.1% of their attempts to edge out Brees.
Some call this the highest profile division in the entire NFL. It’s hard to argue with geography and tradition. When you have teams from the big cities in the Amtrak corridor (Giants, Eagles and OTNAs), and the hated and loved (but seldom indifferent to) Cowboys, not to mention three teams that have won multiple NFL Championships – then yes a lot of people are watching what happens here. And maybe more than any other division, the NFC East in recent years has been up for grabs like a Matt Schaub floater in the slot. No team has repeated as division champion since the Eagles in 2004. And since 2011, every team has won at least one division title with the Cowboys and OTNAs each grabbing a pair.
Unlike the AFC East, this is a tough call. Smart money is on the Cowboys with 2016 ROY Dak Prescott and suspended girl-beater Ezekiel Elliott returning from unbelievable stellar rookie seasons. If all that JerryWorld had to worry about was a sophomore slump from those two, then the Cowboys would be an easy pick. But hold on Hoss. Forty percent of the best O-line in football is gone with the unexpected retirement of excellent RT Doug Free and coveted LG Ronald Leary heading to the Broncos. They are not easy to replace and a unit that played together for several seasons is not readily replicated. Add to that, the near complete fruit basket turnover in the Cowboys secondary with CBs Claiborne and Carr and Safeties Chuch and Wilcox being shown the door. That leaves Byron Jones as the only remaining starter. Unless the pass rush is much better than anticipated, expect to see the secondary getting burned early and often by the excellent wide receivers in this division. And don’t forget the tougher champions schedule. The only potential nothing-burgers on the schedule are the Rams and 49ers. Every other team can beat the Cowboys. Red sees the Boys at 9-7 at best.
The Giants will have the best defense in the NFL this season. The line has been solid and the secondary took a big step forward with addition of Janoris Jenkins. The big question for the Giants is the offense. Young Manning is now 36 and coming off his worst season in years. Maybe adding Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram helps, but unless the Giants can run the ball, look out for trouble. As with the Boys, the Giants have a tough schedule. The Week 2 matchup with the Cowboys could be critical since they will likely be coming off a loss to the Patriots in Week 1. Realistically, the Giants are 8-8 material, but they could grab second with the Elliott suspension looming.
The OTNAs will blow and be lucky to hit 6-10.
The Eagles have done more than any other team to boost their offense at the skill position with Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery, Donnel Pumphrey, and LaGarrette Blount (aka the Fat Pig). The Fat Pig will function as the anti-Darren Sproles. Trading Jordan Matthews is a serious and unexpected blow, but the defense needed help. Most analysts think the Eagles are a year away. Red thinks that the Carson Wentz workshop will be cranking out a bunch of touchdowns with his new tools and a solid O line. Eagles score early and often. The addition of Derek Barnett may give the Eagles the best pass rush in the NFL. Red predicts Bosa, Barnett, Graham and Cox may combine to break the NFL team sack record in 2017. And just so you don’t have to look it up that would be the Bears 72 sacks in 1984. A relatively easy early schedule (at least compared to the division rivals) has the Eagles at 6-2 at halftime and with some breathing room. It gets tougher and the season-ending matchup at home against the Cowboys will be loser goes home. Eagles don’t lose. Eagles win division with a hard fought 10-6 record.
KGOW – AM 1560 announced that Radio Sports God Charlie Pallilo will be returning to the airwaves just in time for football season. Pallilo’s new show will debut on Monday August 21 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. While that is not a coveted time spot, it will be good to have the knowledgeable and largely congenial host back. Sweet justice would have had him facing off with fathead Josh Innes in morning drive time, but Red guesses Charlie doesn’t want to get up that early.
CP had been on Houston radio more or less continually since 1989 until his abrupt firing in October when he was replaced by the bumbling know-nothing Innes – a move which initially sank KBME AM 790’s ratings. The station has been boosted of late by the success of the Astros.
Gow Media reports that Pallilo will contribute to its CultureMap website and its SportsMap site scheduled to launch this year and will at some point contribute in some fashion to the company’s SB Nation Radio Network.
KGOW has been off Red’s radio listening radar since it ditched The Steve Czaban Show. That show had some issues, but was worth listening to if only for the occasional appearance of Evil Jack. Red simply cannot stomach smarmy radio fascist Dan Patrick.
But Red digresses. Congratulation are in order to Charlie for finding another radio home in Houston and to fans who will once again be treated to the finest sports talk radio show host this city has ever know.