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They Might Not Be Who We Think They Are

Almost every year, an NFL team that last was seen dwelling at the bottom of its division rises to the very top of its division and just as often somebody in the penthouse takes the elevator to the basement. In 2016, Carolina followed up a 15-1 and appearance in the Super Bowl with a last place finish. Last year, Philadelphia went from NFC East celler-dwellers to Super Bowl Champions. QC thinks the Eagles might have arrived a year ahead of schedule and will be formibable again. But here are 5 teams who might not who they think they will be.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (2017: 10-6; 1st in AFC South)
Jacksonville may be a popular choice to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl after finishing 10-6 and almost getting there in 2017. The defense still looks nasty. But QC is not so sure. The Jaguars finished second in the AFC in play design +/- and were +10 TO and still managed to lose 6 games. Blake Bortles is still the QB here. Last year, Bortles showed that he can play within himself and let the game come to him. But what if he has to do more in 2018? The WR corps has almost no experience beyond Donte Moncreif who the Colts let walk. The TE position is headed by Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Niles Paul, which is not inspiring. Don't expect Jacksonville go over the cliff, but don't be surprised if the Jaguars fall back a little to 9-7 or even 8-8.

2. New York Giants (3-13; 4th in NFC East)
You have to love what the G-men did in the off-season after their 2017 season imploded into a 3-13 dumpster fire that cost HC Ben McAdoo and DC Steve Spagnuolo their jobs. First, NY reloaded with proven play designers in HC Pat Shurmur and DC James Bettcher. When Cleveland's HC, Shurmur was dreafully risk averse. But after spending some time with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, he turned journeyment Case Keenum into a viable NFL QB last year in Minnesota. Meanwhile, at the end of 2017, no defense was balling better than Bettcher's D in Arizona. He brought unheralded DLs Kareem Martin and Josh Mauro with him from the Cardinals and Martin, Mauro and rookie Davlin Tomlinson should fill in adquately for departed Jason Pierre-Paul. New LBs Alec Ogletree and Lorenzo Carter (rookie from Georgia) also are upgrades. On offense, veteran LT Nate Solder and rookie G Will Hernandez upgrade the O-line significantly. And if Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepherd stay healthy, super-soph TE Evan Engram and dyanmite rookie RB Saquon Barkely will give Eli Manning weapons like he has never had in NY.

3. Seattle Seahawks (9-7; 2nd in NFC West)
It seems like a lot of folks are treating the Seahawks like they have jumped in barrel and are ready to go over Niagra Falls. Veteran NFL handicapper @mikewilkening is not amongst them and neither is QC. The Seahawks have finished in the Top 10 in play design +/- every year since QB Russell Wilson arrived. And they have never finished with a negative TO differential in the Wilson era. The O-line will have Duane Brown at LT for a full year and looks way better than the awful unit Wilson has played behind the last 2 years. QC is one of the few people who thinks the loss of OC Darrell Bevell will hurt (Brian Schottenheimber is the new OC), but QC thinks the departure of O-line coach Tom Cable to Oakland is addition by subtraction. Words cannot describe how bad Seattle's pass protection has been under Cable. Moreover, rookie RB Rashaad Penny looks like he as at least some beasty boy in him, perhaps even some beasty mode. On defense, the two big loud names (Sherman, Bennett) and one quieter name (Chancellor) are gone. But S Earl Thomas, LBs Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, and DLs Frank Clark and Jarran Reed are all topflight. And there are few if any play designers in the NFL whose bucket goes deeper in the well of defensive knowledge than Pete Carroll. Sherman and Bennett took Carroll to the mountain top, but his loose hand on the reings works better with a hungry, under-the-radar, team that needs to prove itself to him. This looks like Pete Carroll's kind of team.

4. San Diego Chargers (9-7; 2nd in AFC West)
Welcome to "Philip Rivers Land," Anthony Lynn. In the team's first year under Lynn and in Los Angeles, the Chargers led the AFC in play design +/- at +5.1% and were +12 turnovers. And finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Lynn is learning what Norv Turner and Mike McCoy learned the hard way. Rivers is a the most overrated player in the league and a coach killer. For over 10 years now, the Chargers have put up impressive statistics only to fall short in the Win/Loss column. It is difficult to explain. But for whatever reason, if Rivers does not implode when poise is required, Los Angeles sabotages him and its chances with special teams gaffes. The Rivers-led Chargers are the most mercuiral NFL team coaching stats have ever come across. As usual the playmaking talent looks impressive on paper. And QC loves the additiona of DB Derwin James. He could have Troy Polamalu-like versatility. If he does, look out. But the loss of TE Hunter Henry to injury was a real gut punch. And even Henry, another young player QC loves, was healthy, QC would still caution all (especially all bettors) to treat the Chargers like fireworks on the 4th of July: Avoid handling and just watch your neighbors. It is much safer.

5. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9; 3rd in NFC North)
No tenured NFL HC gets less respect than Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis. While Lewis still has yet to notch a playoff win, he puts a competitive team on the field during the regular season. The Bengals have been positively designed every year for the last 6 years. Lewis gets the most out of his play designers. After an offensively miserable 0-2 start in 2017, Cincinnati promoted Bill Lazor to OC and went 7-7 the rest of the way. The Bengals problems were mostly with the O-line and new T Cordy Glenn and C Billy Price should help greatly there. On defense, Lewis brought in Teryl Austin as DC. Just a few years ago, Austin was a hot HC prospect when Detroit's D turned around. When the Lions let him go, Lewis was quick to pick him up after Paul Guenther left to join Jon Gruden in Oakland. QC thinks this is an upgrade. Remember, Lewis was the play desinger for the great Super Bowl Champion D in Baltimore in 2000. He knows how to design defense. Austin is exactly the kind of designer rehab project at which Lewis excels. Finally, Cincinnati has some impressive new young pieces (DB William Jackson and pass rushers Carl Lawson and Sam "Bad Mutha" Hubbard) to mix with a solid core of veterans.

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