NFL coach hot seat

An early look at the 2018 NFL coaching hot seat

Unfortunately, the NFL offseason has arrived, but the pressure on coaches to win never ceases. It is also never too early to start looking ahead at the NFL coaching hot seat heading in to the 2018 season.

It goes without saying that established winners like Bill Belichick, Sean Payton and Mike Tomlin should feel very good about their job security at the moment. The same can be said for rising stars like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay.

Even though it is becoming less and less unheard of for head coaches to be fired after a single season, all the guys who just took new head coaching jobs are safe unless things go sideways to an extreme extent.

Also, Marvin Lewis has done a nice job in Cincinnati to bring that franchise back to a respectable level. However, the end of last year was the time for him to go and he got another contract extension. Thus, he is excluded from any article like this until further notice.

Here are the coaches not as lucky as those mentioned in the last three paragraphs.

Hue Jackson

Jackson is well respected around the league. So, it is not all that surprising that there was not much outrage when it was announced he would be back for a third season in Cleveland.

Still, this situation is about as cut and dry as it gets. Jackson is coming off a winless season and has won a grand total of one game with the Browns. Browns management actually sticking with a coach for more than a cup of coffee is refreshing and admirable. They could greatly assist their current coach by somehow finally getting the quarterback position right this offseason.

Regardless, if there is not significant improvement in 2018, Jackson is gone.

Vance Joseph

Much like Jackson in Cleveland, Joseph’s biggest issue in Denver last year was the quarterback position. The difference is the Broncos and their fan base are not used to picking in the top five of the draft.

How John Elway will address the quarterback position for the Broncos may be the single biggest question of the entire offseason. The roster has talent. Previous head coach Gary Kubiak guided many of the same players to a 9-7 mark in 2016 a year after winning the Super Bowl.

5-11 is not good enough for this franchise. Last year was Denver’s first losing season since 2010. Joseph will need to get this team in or very close to the playoffs in 2018 to keep his job.

No matter who the quarterback is, Joseph and his staff need to limit the careless turnovers and mindless penalties that doomed the Broncos in 2017. Only Cleveland had a worse turnover margin last year.

Andy Reid

Reid is an outstanding football coach who has won almost 200 games in this league when regular and postseason stats are combined. However, his lack of postseason success is starting to catch up with him in Kansas City, similar to the way it eventually did in Philadelphia.

NFL coach hot seat

Photo from 12up.com

Even with an 18-point halftime lead at home, league rushing champion Kareem Hunt was virtually invisible in the second half of Kansas City’s playoff loss to Tennessee. Reid is not solely responsible for the play calling, but that is the kind of loss that people lose their jobs over.

Reid and the Chiefs have taken a huge gamble to start the offseason by shipping ultra-consistent quarterback Alex Smith to Washington. This means the organization is now all in on second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has infinitely more upside than Smith at this point in their careers. But turning the keys to your franchise over to a young quarterback is always a huge gamble. This is especially true if the guy being replaced has been reasonably successful like Smith.

The bottom line is this. With the way last season ended and this offseason began, heads are going to roll in Kansas City if the 2018 season does not produce another trip to the playoffs as well as a win or two once the Chiefs get there. The first guy out is almost always the head coach.

Dirk Koetter 

Lovie Smith was forced out of Tampa Bay a couple years ago so that young quarterback Jameis Winston could be polished by Koetter, whose background is on the offensive side of the ball.

Year two of the Winston-Koetter marriage was a disaster. Tampa Bay’s win total decreased by four from 2016. Moreover, two of their five wins came with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick starting at quarterback for an injured Winston.

The two big concerns on Winston coming out of Florida State were maturity and turnovers. Neither has been adequately cured under Koetter. Winston and the Bucs likely need a playoff appearance in 2018 to keep Koetter around. Otherwise, the head coach is always going to be shuffled out of town before the young quarterback with loads of raw talent.

Honorable mentions

NFL coach hot seat

Photo from profootballtalk.com

Even though the Cowboys have not reached the conference championship game since the glory days of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, Jerry Jones always thinks his team is a legitimate contender. So, Jason Garrett should be nervous if the 2018 season fails to live up to expectations that are probably unrealistic.

Adam Gase is also worth keeping an eye on in Miami. He gambled on bringing Jay Cutler out of retirement to fill in for an injured Ryan Tannehill and lost. Even with a playoff appearance in 2016, Gase has not yet turned the Dolphins offense into a consistent point producer. At some point, you have to live up to your “offensive guru” label or else.

 

Featured image from Cleveland.com

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Marvin Lewis bengals legacy

The complicated legacy of Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati

It has been a week since the first reports that longtime Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis would step down at the end of the season became public. While we have not gotten confirmation from the relevant parties involved, we also have not gotten anything that approaches a denial.

With no playoff wins in 15 years and consecutive seasons of at least nine losses, the opinion of most fans on the potential departure of Lewis is either “good riddance” or “it’s about time.”

If the end is near for Lewis in Cincinnati, the sentiment in the above paragraph is not unwarranted, but it is also not entirely fair. Here is a closer look at the legacy Lewis may be leaving behind in the very near future.

What he walked into

Simply put, Lewis took over the worst franchise in professional sports when he was hired after the 2002 season. The team had not posted a winning record since 1990 and all but two seasons since then had featured double-digit losses. Naturally, the fan base simply did not care. The Bengals were irrelevant in their own city and home games were like funerals.

As bad as that sounds, words on a page alone do not do this period in Bengals history justice. Check out the 12 Days of Christmas parody below from John Bunyan on YouTube. It was done by a Cincinnati radio and television station towards the end of a 2-14 season in 2002. Many coaches would not have even considered this job, and who could blame them?

What he did

However, from the second Lewis was hired, Cincinnati was a different franchise. Perhaps his biggest impact was felt in the draft. Owner Mike Brown has long been known for total control of that aspect of the Bengals organization. In 1999, New Orleans offered its entire draft to Cincinnati in an effort to draft Ricky Williams. Williams did eventually wind up with the Saints, but Brown and the Bengals stayed put and took Oregon quarterback Akili Smith. Smith played four seasons in Cincinnati and never had a passer rating higher than 73.4.

Things were very different under Lewis. It was not so much drafting high profile names like Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton. It was getting guys like Marvin Jones, Geno Atkins, George Iloka, Mohamed Sanu and Domata Peko in the middle rounds. All those players became key contributors on playoff teams for the Bengals. Make no mistake, the owner’s eye for talent did not magically improve. The difference was Lewis.

A.J. Green

Photo from whodeyfans.com

Unfortunately, his 0-7 playoff mark is what Lewis will be remembered for most in Cincinnati. However, this franchise has been in the playoffs seven times with Lewis as its coach. That is the same number of postseason trips made by all other coaches in franchise history combined.

When Lewis was hired in 2003, every Bengals fan on the planet would have signed on the dotted line for seven playoff trips in 15 years. If any fan says different, they are lying. Of course, any fan would have liked to have seen a playoff win or two. Even so, prior to the Lewis era, the playoffs were a figment of Cincinnati’s imagination. Lewis turned them into a realistic expectation.

His time in Cincinnati has probably gone on a few seasons too long, but that is not his fault. If Lewis does indeed leave after this season, the organization will be in infinitely better shape than when he arrived. That should be the ultimate goal of any NFL head coach.

Looking ahead

Should the Bengals job become available this offseason, it will be one of the more attractive openings on the market. Whether it is Dalton or AJ McCarron, whoever takes over will inherit a serviceable NFL quarterback, one of the best wide receivers in the game, at least one solid running back and a defense with a few playmakers. That is more than 99 percent of head coaches get when taking a new job.

A good portion of that can and should be attributed to Lewis. Whenever his time in Cincinnati ends, Lewis will have done an incredible job.

 

Featured image from upi.com

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2017 week 3 NFL picks

Hagan’s Haus 2017 week 3 NFL picks

Welcome to Hagan’s Haus, where football is the only thing that matters. You won’t find me in a church on Sunday because football is my religion and the number one priority in my life. I am so excited that the NFL season is finally back in action! I pride myself in studying the game of football. We can’t get all our picks or predictions right, but I am going to leave it here in the open every week for everyone to see. In Hagan’s Haus, it’s all about bragging rights. 

Who is the best? Because winning is the only thing that matters. We don’t get points for second place. I challenge you to post comments on your weekly picks and compare them to mine. This isn’t about point spreads. I will give a score prediction, but winning is winning. Doesn’t matter if it’s by an inch or a mile. So try and beat me in picking NFL games. I promise you it won’t be easy, but it will be fun. Here are Hagan’s Haus 2017 week 3 NFL picks.

Last week: 8-8

season: 16-15

Thursday Night

Los Angeles Rams (1-1) 20 @ San Francisco 49ers (0-2) 14: The Rams look like a really good team this year, good enough to possibly win the division over the Seahawks. If they are to take the step towards becoming a playoff team, this is the type of game they must win. San Francisco will be in the lottery.

Jared Goff is still going to go through some growing pains. If they run the ball well enough and continue playing great defense, then they can succeed despite their young quarterback. The 49ers have improved defensively, but can’t make up for the lack of offense. The Rams will win this game, but it will be a defensive dogfight.

Sunday Morning

2017 week 3 NFL picks

(Photo credit: https://www.si.com)

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) 13 @ Baltimore Ravens (2-0) 16: Something tells me to pick Jacksonville in this game, but then I think about how Blake Bortles has to go against a defense that is destroying quarterbacks. Jacksonville will be in the game because of their stout defense, but will ultimately fall because of Bortles’ turnovers.

Baltimore will start the season 3-0, but still won’t be a contender in the big picture.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) 20 vs Minnesota Vikings (1-1) 24: This game hinges on the health of Sam Bradford for the Vikings. If Bradford plays, then Minnesota will win this game at home. That is a big if though. With or without Bradford, Minnesota will play stellar defense as usual.

Tampa Bay completely shut down a great Bears rushing attack last week, holding them to 20 yards. Repeating this against Minnesota would guarantee a win. They won’t shut down the Vikings the same way they did the Bears, and Sam Bradford takes the field to lead the Vikings to a big win at home.

Denver Broncos (2-0) 27 @ Buffalo Bills (1-1) 13: Does there have to be actual thought here? Can I just say Broncos will win? No, that is probably not a good idea.

So, the Broncos will win because their defense is going to annihilate the Bills offense. Once the Broncos stop the run, the Bills will have no answer. Tyrod Taylor will look completely lost and inevitably throw a pick-six. Denver’s offense will run up and down all over the Bills for over 200 yards.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) 28 @ Chicago Bears (0-2) 10: This seems like a totally unfair matchup. The Bears resemble a baby cub more than an actual Bear. The defense has played lights out, but can only do so much with turnovers from the offense happening so often. Mike Glennon looks incapable of running an offense.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, looks like they are in midseason form. The offense is starting to click and the defense looks hungry. This game will be over early and the steel curtain will remain untangled.

Atlanta Falcons (2-0) 34 @ Detroit Lions (2-0) 38: This is one of the most difficult games to pick this week. Both teams have looked shaky at points this season, but in the end have gotten the job done.

Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan are going to put on a show in Detroit. This game will likely be a shootout that comes down to the wire. The Lions have been known to be the kings of comebacks. Detroit wins this game because of their home-field advantage and a late drive by Stafford.

Cleveland Browns (0-2) 24 @ Indianapolis Colts (0-2) 17: This game could be one of the lowest-rated games in NFL history. What is there to really watch in this game if you aren’t a fan of either team? Yes DeShone Kizer is a rookie that can maybe give some excitement, but the offense still doesn’t look fluid. Defensively, there is nothing eye-popping or exciting either.

The Colts are completely boring without Andrew Luck. So boring I’d rather watch a middle school basketball game. The Browns have looked like the better team of the two, so far so what the heck, go dog pound.

2017 week 3 NFL picks

(Photo credit: http://biginf.com/)

Houston Texans (1-1) 13 @ New England Patriots (1-1) 26: Tom Brady is back! Or he just lit up the worst defense and secondary in the NFL. This week, Brady will get a real test by facing Houston. If Brady looks good this week, then he is a robot who will play in the NFL until he’s 90.

On the other side, rookie Deshaun Watson will have to try and beat a Bill Belichick defense. Good luck with that. That is the sole reason New England wins this game. Watson won’t be ready for the Patriots’ defense.

Miami Dolphins (1-0) 37 @ New York Jets (0-2) 18: Miami escaped with a victory last week. Now they get to face the worst team in the NFL. The Jets don’t do anything well and won’t win more than two games this season.

Jay Cutler is going to look like a prime Brett Favre in this one. Dolphins are going to New York to dominate the Jets.

New York Giants (0-2) 16 @ Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) 19: The Giants are in some serious trouble. Their offense looks pretty horrible with the worst rushing attack in all of football. The offensive line is arguably the worst in the league and the nucleus of their problems offensively. There isn’t much they can do to fix it either.

The Eagles are going to exploit that offensive line to stifle the Giants offense. Carson Wentz is going to have a tough time against the Giants’ defense, but will outperform Eli. That will be the difference in the end.

New Orleans Saints (0-2) 17 @ Carolina Panthers (2-0) 31: The current issue with the Panthers is their offense. Losing Greg Olsen doesn’t help Cam Newton out, but he is still shaking off the rust.

A game against New Orleans is the perfect time to gain confidence offensively. The Saints rank 31st in scoring defense, giving up 32.5 points per game. Drew Brees won’t be able to put up many points against this defense. Newton shakes off the rust and Christian McCaffrey has his coming out party.

Sunday Afternoon

2017 week 3 NFL picks

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks (1-1) 20 @ Tennessee Titans (1-1) 24: Seattle has looked average at best thus far, mostly because of their offensive line that can’t block anything. Tennessee has an underrated defense that will take advantage of this weakness.

The Seahawks still have a very good defense, but it won’t stop Marcus Mariota and the rest of the Titan offense.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) 10 @ Green Bay Packers (1-1) 20: This could be the game that gets Andy Dalton benched and catches Marvin Lewis’ seat on fire.

The Bengals are playing like crap on offense, but the defense is only giving up 16.5 points per game. They also rank first in pass defense, giving up just 104.5 yards per game through the air. Aaron Rodgers will more than double that while leading the Packers to win.

Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) 24 @ Los Angeles Chargers (0-2) 21: The Chiefs look like the best team in the NFL. Their offense is rolling behind Alex Smith while the defense continues to be a force. The Chargers are two field goals away from possibly being 2-0. The first would have sent them to overtime while the second would have won the game.

Sometimes that is how the cookie crumbles. The cookie will continue to crumble that way for one more week at least. The Chiefs go into L.A. to push themselves to 3-0.

Sunday Night

Oakland Raiders (2-0) 34 @ Washington Redskins (1-1) 24: The Raiders are thriving thus far this season and haven’t even begun to tap into their potential. Their defense still hasn’t faced a quality offense that can make them prove themselves.

This week they get that chance. Washington ranks 15th in total offensive yards per game (324.5). Washington has been running the ball efficiently, but the passing game has been underwhelming. Expectations were high for Kirk Cousins heading into the season. Derek Carr is going to have a huge game in prime time. Oakland keeps up with Denver and Kansas City by getting to 3-0.

Monday Night

Dallas Cowboys (1-1) 27 @ Arizona Cardinals (1-1) 17: Dallas got embarrassed against Denver and will be looking to get that taste out of their mouth. The Cowboys are going to get back to running the ball well. Ezekiel Elliott will have over 20 carries for at least 125 yards.

Arizona won’t be able to keep pace with the Cowboys’ offense. Carson Palmer has lost it and can’t carry the offense without David Johnson. This will be a snoozefest of a Monday Night game.

 

Featured image from Sporting News 

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Cincinnati Bengals

Toothless Tiger: Perspective on the state of the Bengals

As we prepare for the second full Sunday of NFL action, everyone is definitely hoping there are lots of highlights to help erase Thursday night’s eyesore of a game from our collective memory. The position the Bengals now find themselves in is also worth a closer look.

It is no secret that their start has been comically bad. It also must be incredibly frustrating for everyone involved not just because they have lost consecutive home games to start the year, but also because they have scored a grand total of nine points.

One of the better kept secrets of the young NFL season is how well the Bengals defense has played. They have only allowed 33 total points in two games. Also, a decent chunk of those points have been given up due to short fields after turnovers by the offense. Translation: any sort of production from the offense would have meant a 2-0 start as opposed to 0-2. More than anything, that has to be what is keeping the players, coaches and fans up at night.

The familiar and often accurate narrative in regards to the Bengals lack of success is that the ownership of Mike Brown is the problem. Brown is not going to fire himself. Thus, the head coach and quarterback are once again taking most of the heat.

Marvin Lewis

As a native of Cincinnati, the opinion that Marvin Lewis has done a great job during his 15-year tenure as Bengals head coach is not a popular one right now, but it is the truth.

Atrocious does not even begin to accurately describe this franchise prior to his 2003 arrival. From 1991-2002, the Bengals had a .500 record just once and eight seasons of double-digit losses. Fan morale was lower than low and many kids from my generation became fans of other teams, myself included.

Cincinnati Bengals

Photo: cincyjungle.com

With Lewis at the helm, the Bengals have notched four division titles, seven playoff berths and just four losing seasons. The revitalization of football in Cincinnati during the early years of the Lewis era was incredible to see. Games were suddenly fun to go to because of the Bengals rather than the opponent, and gear was being sold on street corners during the week.

Starting with Cincinnati’s return to the playoffs after the 2005 season, the city was caught up in “Bengalmania.” It had not started to slow down until very recently. Lewis’ 0-7 playoff record is well documented. Has he been employed in one spot too long for a guy who has never won a playoff game? Probably. Is it time to move on? Probably.

Even so, if this season turns out to be his last in Cincy, it is shaping up to be a cruel ending for the man who played a key role in bringing this franchise back from the dead. The fact is the ending for most NFL coaches is cruel. The goal of any NFL head coach should be to leave the franchise in better shape than when he was hired. Lewis has done that in Cincinnati.

Andy Dalton

The same winless playoff record that follows Lewis around also follows Andy Dalton around, even though he has only been around for just over half of the losses.

After guiding his team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, Dalton appeared to reach the next level in 2015. He was a legitimate MVP candidate until a season ending thumb injury. Since then, his decline has been swift and dramatic. He is 6-11-1 as a starter and responsible for just one more touchdown pass than turnover.

Backup AJ McCarron has been adequate in spot duty throughout his career. Every time Dalton struggles, calls for the former Alabama standout and soon to be free agent only get louder. While this is understandable, Dalton’s career is still filled with much more good than bad. Fixing him is top priority for this franchise right now.

Looking ahead

Cincinnati Bengals

Photo: upi.com

Dalton’s struggles correlate with the promotion of Ken Zampese to offensive coordinator in 2016. Zampese was let go Friday. While it is virtually impossible that Zampese was the entire problem, it is a logical place to start.

However, the reality is the Bengals already have two losses on the board. The upcoming schedule includes Green Bay, two games with the Steelers, another date with Baltimore and Tennessee. This season is probably going to get a whole lot worse. Thus, there is almost no conceivable way this organization does not look a whole lot different come 2018.

 

Featured image from cincyjungle.com

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2017 AFC North division preview

2017 AFC North division preview

The NFL regular season is fast approaching. In the blink of an eye, Sep. 7 will arrive and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-2018 NFL season. In the meantime, Hagan’s Haus will be bringing you the divisional previews and predictions of how teams will finish in their respective divisions. Without further ado, here is the 2017 AFC North division preview.

4: Cleveland Browns

2017 AFC North division preview

(Photo Credit: http://www.clevelandbrowns.com)

Last season: 1-15

Strength of schedule: 21

The Cleveland Browns had an atrocious 2016 NFL season but that has become the norm in Cleveland. In the last 10 seasons, the Browns have had more the seven wins only twice. It has been even longer since the Browns have made the playoffs which last occurred in 2002. The struggle has been real but the Browns seem to be moving in the right direction finally.

It isn’t hard to improve on a 1-15 season and the truth is the Browns have nowhere to go but up. Improvement started with the draft and Cleveland did a tremendous job in the draft this year. The selections of Myles Garrett, David Njoku, Jabrill Peppers, DeShone Kizer, Caleb Brantley and Larry Ogunjobi show just how much the Browns are moving in the right direction. All these players will be key pieces for the Browns moving forward.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns will be much better than last years 31st ranking. Danny Shelton and Desmond Bryant will do a solid job plugging the middle allowing Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey to make a lot of tackles. In the secondary, Joe Haden is the veteran star who will attempt to lead this secondary’s improvement in defending the pass which gave up 249.8 passing yards per game.

Offensively, the Browns will need to be committed to running the football. Their upgrades along the offensive line will create a solid foundation for improving an offense that only managed to score 16.5 points per game. The quarterback situation is still unfolding but having a solid offensive line will allow them to run the ball well with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. This will make life easier for whoever ends up under center over the course of the season.

No matter who starts, or eventually plays, at quarterback they will have really good receivers to connect with. Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt are capable of having big years and both could find their way to 1,000 yards. Duke Johnson Jr. will also see some time at wideout and with his speed could turn any touch into a house call.

Although the Browns seem to be heading in the right direction, they won’t see a ton of wins this season. Cleveland plays in a tough division and just doesn’t have enough talent to win it. The Browns will be more competitive but are a year or two away from really competing for the division crown.

Prediction: 4-12 (2-4), miss the playoffs

losses: Pit, @Bal, @Ind, @Hou, Ten, Min, @Det, @Cin, @LAC, GB, @Pit, @Chi

3: Baltimore Ravens

2017 AFC North division preview

(Photo Credit: https://www.si.com)

Last season: 8-8

Strength of schedule: 24

Baltimore has struggled since winning Super Bowl XLVII, missing the playoffs three of the last four seasons. The defense hasn’t been as elite and the offense doesn’t seem to have a true identity. The Ravens are in for another tough season and John Harbaugh may be on the hot seat by the end of this season.

As previously mentioned, the Ravens do not have a true identity. Despite having Marshal Yanda on the offensive line, the unit as a whole is a weak spot and Pro Football Focus ranks the unit 23rd out of 32 teams. The offensive line is going to face some tough defenses, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh twice, Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Tennessee are teams capable of dominating the Ravens front.

With a below average offensive line, the running game is going to struggle as it did last season averaging just 91.4 yards per game. There is also a three man committee at running back between Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West and Danny Woodhead. Each has their own specialty, but with three running backs splitting time, none will be able to get into a good enough rhythm to lead the running game to succeed.

Because of this, the running game will not open up the passing game which is a must for Joe Flacco to have success. Aside from an amazing playoff run in 2013, Flacco is rather average. His QBR shows just how average he is at 58.4 last season. In Flacco’s nine year career he has averaged 3,626 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions per season. These numbers scream average. Flacco is also 11-19 in his last 30 starts. His career seems to be trending down and the Ravens are going to hurt this season because of it.

The receiving group has a lot of experience and speed. Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace will cause nightmares for defensive backs but can the offensive line hold up enough for Flacco to get them the ball, that is the question. Breshad Perriman is another speedster that can become a dangerous deep threat.

Defensive has been the strength of this franchise for a long time. Last season was no different as the Ravens ranked ninth in points allowed. Baltimore gave up the seventh fewest yards during the season which was due to their outstanding rush defense. Teams only ran for 89.4 yards per game against the Ravens. The defense will remain good but not good enough to carry a team with a bad offense to the playoffs.

The Ravens really struggled on the road last season going 2-6 and it is likely that the road woes continue. Pair this with an offense that will struggle to score and you get a team that ends up with only a handful of wins.

Prediction: 6-10 (3-3), miss the playoffs

losses: @Cin, @Jax, @Oak, @Min, Mia, @Ten, @GB, Det, @Pit, @Cle

2: Cincinnati Bengals

2017 AFC North division preview

(Photo Credit: George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Last season: 6-9-1

Strength of schedule: 29

After making the playoffs for five straight seasons the Bengals took a step back and only won six games last year. Marvin Lewis is entering his 15th season as the head coach and has gone 0-7 in the playoffs. If he does not win a playoff game this season he will be fired. 15 years is plenty of time to prove you can win a playoff game and if the Bengals don’t do so there needs to be a new voice in the locker room.

The Bengals offense was nothing spectacular last season. Cincinnati ranked 24th in scoring at just 20.3 points per game. The Bengals offense will need to score more points this season. Rushing the ball seems to be easy for the Bengals as they averaged 110.6 rushing yards per game. Joe Mixon will improve the running game even more as long as the replacements along the offensive line create running lanes.

The passing attack will also be better this season. A.J. Green will still be a beast on the outside but a healthy Tyler Eifert will open up the middle of the field. Speedy receiver John Ross will complement these two players and create mismatches for opposing defenses. Andy Dalton just needs to get the ball out of his hands and into these playmakers hands as quickly as possible to make up for the below average offensive line.

Losing offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler is going to be huge blows to this offense. Cincinnati is hoping they can soften this blow by reacquiring Andre Smith. If the offensive line can replace these losses and hold up, then the Bengals will easily have a top 15 offense in the NFL.

Similar to the Ravens, the strength of the Bengals is on the defensive side of the ball. Cincinnati gave up the seventh fewest points last season at just 19.7 per game. The front four is led by studs Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. Vontaze Burfict returns at linebacker and the Bengals upgraded their middle linebacker from Rey Maualuga to Kevin Minter. The secondary is also not to be messed with as the Bengals return Adam “Pacman” Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka.

The success of this season depends on the offense. Defensively, there is little to no concern. If the offensive line can create success then the Bengals will be in the hunt for the playoffs.

Prediction: 8-8 (3-3), wildcard candidate

losses: Hou, @GB, @Cle, @Pit, @Ten, @Den, @Min, @Bal

1: Pittsburgh Steelers

2017 AFC North division preview

(Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.com)

Last season: 11-5

Strength of schedule: 27

How did a team that finished 11-5 and made it to the AFC Championship, get such an easy schedule? Pittsburgh has the fifth easiest schedule in the NFL and returns a plethora of talent. The Steelers have plenty of experience on their side and should be one of the best teams in the NFL and a Super Bowl contender.

The Steelers quietly had a very good defense but the offense gets all the recognition. Pittsburgh did rank 10th in points allowed and total yards. The high total yards ranking was because of their rush defense which only gave up 93.2 rush yards per game, ranking eighth.

The biggest area the Steelers need to show improvement in is in third down defense. Pittsburgh could not get off the field and spent an average of 62 plays per game on the field. Opposing offenses converted 41.1 percent of their third downs. The Steelers added rookie T.J. Watt in the draft to get some more pressure thus helping them get off the field more on.

Supringingly Pittsburgh is all about the offense though. The Steelers have a three headed monster on offense that led them to having one of the leagues best offenses. The oldest of the three, Ben Roethlisberger, had another great year. Big Ben threw for 3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Even at his age, he will still throw for close to 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns as long as he remains healthy.

Le’Veon Bell is who this offense is built around so this hold out is alarming. As long as Bell can play the entire season, the Steelers will have an unstoppable offense. Bell is the first player to ever average 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving for a season. He is a key piece to the Steelers success.

The remaining star, Antonio Brown,  contributed 106 receptions, 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns to the high powered offense. Brown consistently dominates the league and with him passing success is easy to come by. These three superstars are the reason the Steelers are going to have another year in which they score a ton of points.

The Steelers have an easy schedule, tough defense and explosive offense. Pittsburgh will win the division and contend for the Super Bowl

Prediction: 12-4 (4-2), division champion

losses: @Bal, @KC, NE, @Hou

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Featured image courtesy of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uY9XhulFyM

John Fox

NFL preseason coaching heat check

NFL coaches on the hot seat is a topic that fans and media alike never seem to stop talking about. NFL preseason is a good time to take an inventory of coaches that could be in trouble if the upcoming season goes poorly.

The NFL never stops surprising us. Thus, the coaches mentioned here are by no means the only ones that might be relocating in 2018. These are just the situations that jump off the page immediately.

Dead men walking

John Fox

John Fox is a hugely underrated coach who has engineered massive turnarounds and deep playoffs runs everywhere he has been. Everywhere except Chicago, that is, as he is just 9-23 in two seasons with the Bears. These days, coaches rarely get more than three seasons to be awful in the same spot.

Unfortunately for Fox, the front office has given him his worst Bears roster yet. The already murky quarterback situation was only made messier by the surprise drafting of rookie Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick. Outside of running back Jordan Howard, there just is not much talent on this roster.

There are a lot of projects. Fox does not have time for projects. Despite going 3-13 last year, Chicago did not make much of an impact in free agency and only ended up with five draft picks.

NFL preseason coaching heat check

Photo: nydailynews

It is not entirely his fault, but this is not the recipe for the kind of turnaround Fox needs to keep his job. Right or wrong, the head coach is always the first to go.

Todd Bowles

Minus the established track record, Fox and Todd Bowles are in very similar spots. Bowles is 15-17 in two seasons with the Jets.

With a quarterback race that features Bryce Petty, Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg and a receiving group in which no one has caught 60 career passes, a winless season is very realistic for the Jets. No coach survives that. Bowles will likely land on his feet as defensive coordinator somewhere in 2018.

Not likely, but not impossible

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer is one of the most respected coaches in the game. He had the back story of assistant coach who paid his dues in the NFL for almost two decades before getting a shot to be a head coach.

However, the reality is that Zimmer is slowly becoming Rex Ryan without the brash and bold guarantees. The defense has always been elite during Zimmer’s time in Minnesota. It even carried them to a 6-0 start last year.

Much like Rex Ryan’s teams though, the offensive side of the ball just is not very good. They have never ranked inside the top 20 in total offense under Zimmer. Even in 2015 when Zimmer’s Vikings reached the playoffs, they were 31st in passing offense.

Rex Ryan has a 61-66 record with four playoff wins as an NFL head coach. He’s now a commentator for ESPN. Zimmer is 26-22 without a playoff win. If Zimmer does not figure out the offensive side of the ball this year, his record will creep closer to .500 and he could join Ryan at ESPN.

Adam Gase

Two weeks ago, Gase would not have been in any article like this. He did an outstanding job in leading the Dolphins to the playoffs last year in his first season.

NFL preseason coaching heat check

Photo: espn.com

However, bringing his favorite pupil Jay Cutler out of retirement to save the day after the injury to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is pretty bold. Yes, Cutler had his best statistical season when Gase was his offensive coordinator with the Bears in 2015, but that team still managed only six wins. Last year, Cutler only started five games due to injury and poor performance.

Cutler’s lack of passion for the game of football has always been painfully apparent. Despite a wealth of natural talent, he is only led a team the playoffs once and has losing record as a starter.

He will no doubt fill the stat sheet with touchdowns and interceptions in Miami. Even so, there is nothing to suggest that he will fare any better than original backup quarterback Matt Moore in terms of winning games.

Gaze really stuck his neck out for Cutler. It is only a one-year deal. Even so, if the experiment blows up in his face and muddies the future of the quarterback position in Miami, ownership having a quick hook would not be all that surprising.

Unique Situations:

In addition to the four coaches mentioned above, 2017 is also a big year for several coaches that have been with their current teams for many years. Marvin Lewis, Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, Bruce Arians and Chuck Pagano have all experienced significant success in their current coaching stops. However, they all missed the playoffs last year.

Some of them are on a streak of unsuccessful seasons. They have all done great things for their respective franchises over the years and have immense respect of ownership. Thus, I cannot see any of them getting fired. If the upcoming season goes poorly though, a mutual parting of ways is certainly possible.

 

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Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks (Week 13)

Hopefully everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week! Picking games didn’t go so smoothly, but eating Thanksgiving Dinner sure did. As cold weather starts to cool down the country, the NFL playoff races are heating up. Week 12 shook up some of the standings. There are a lot of top headlines from the week as well. The Cowboys are the best team in the NFL and show no signs of slowing down. The Titans have a legitimate shot at winning their division. Atlanta has developed a pass rush and might have finally figured out how to finish a game and a season. Cleveland is still winless, and the AFC West is the best division in football.

unknownPlenty happened last week and this week could be just as fun. This will finally be the last week with teams on a bye and those two teams are Cleveland and Tennessee. Starting next week everyone will have played the same amount of games and the playoff picture will become more clear. The regular season is nearing its end so it is time to get this win total up. Here are Hagan’s Haus NFL picks for week 13.

Last Week: 8-8

Season: 100-72-2

Thursday Night

(http://wallpapersdsc.net/sports/dez-bryant-776.html)

(http://wallpapersdsc.net/sports/dez-bryant-776.html)

Dallas (10-1) 23 @ Minnesota (6-5) 21: Dallas is clearly the best team in the NFL, which is why this is a trap game. The Vikings defense is not going to let the Cowboys run down their throat. Many times teams are upset on these Thursday night games, especially when going on the road. Minnesota is a desperate team and desperate teams are dangerous. Although this is a trap game, the Cowboys will just barely pull off the road win.

Sunday Morning

Kansas City (8-3) 26 @ Atlanta (7-4) 24: The Falcons better hope the Bucs lose because the Falcons are heading towards a loss with the Chiefs coming to town. The Chiefs are a good team with a great defense. The offense just needs to put up some points and take care of the football. Atlanta is a good team and they have finally found a pass rush, but the Chiefs are just better.

(US Presswire)

(US Presswire)

Detroit (7-4) 38 @ New Orleans (5-6) 41: The Saints defense has trouble stopping a nosebleed let alone a defense. Their offense can score on anyone. Last season the Lions went into New Orleans and won 35-27. The Saints can’t let the Lions win another one in the Superdome, especially when the Saints need to win out to make the playoffs. Drew Brees outplays Matthew Stafford in a shootout.

Los Angeles (4-7) 21 @ New England (9-2) 37: Since the Browns have the week off, NFL fans need someone to feel bad for this week. Everyone needs to feel bad for Jared Goff because Bill Belichick always gets the best of rookie quarterbacks. The Rams defense gets pressure, but Tom Brady will get the ball out too fast for the Rams defense. Tom Brady and the Patriots will continue to roll towards the playoffs.

Denver (7-4) 31 @ Jacksonville (2-9) 17: Denver is coming off a heartbreaking loss. They blew an eight-point lead and lost on a field goal in overtime that bounced off the post and somehow went in. The Jaguars are looking to solidify yet another top-five pick. This game will be competitive for a while, but eventually the Broncos pull away.

(Credit: Rick Wood)

(Credit: Rick Wood)

Houston (6-5) 14 @ Green Bay (5-6) 27: All season I’ve been saying the Packers would eventually find their mojo. Last week I conceded that this may be the year in which they don’t find that mojo. Then what do the Packers go out and do? Play one of their best games of the year and get right back into the thick of the playoff race. Houston is pathetic on the road and the Packers are about to get hot. Green Bay wins this one easily.

Philadelphia (5-6) 24 @ Cincinnati (3-7-1) 17: Cincinnati is bad and it is time for the Bengals to fire Marvin Lewis. A new voice is needed. Philly is still a decent football team that is young and still learning. The Eagles defense ranks fifth in points given up and the Bengals offense ranks 27th in points scored. The Bengals won’t score enough to win this game.

Miami (7-4) 24 @ Baltimore (6-5) 21: The Dolphins are the hottest team in the AFC and have a six-game win streak. Ryan Tannehill is getting no credit for how well he has played. He has seven touchdowns to just one interception during the win streak. All year I have been saying the Ravens are a .500 team and they won’t make the playoffs. They will lose this week to get to .500 and they will slowly fall behind the Steelers in the division. Miami needs a big win to stay in the wild card race and they will get it to win their seventh straight game.

San Fransisco (1-10) 32 @ Chicago (2-9) 31: There may be about 20 total people watching this game, but it is an important game. The loser of this game will be in prime position for the second overall pick in the draft. This is a game that neither team should want to win to solidify that draft pick. It is hard to pick a game in which two horrible teams are playing. Because of a flip of a coin, the 49ers end their 10-game losing streak and get a win in the Windy City.

Sunday Afternoon

(http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/12514/lesean-mccoy)

(http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/12514/lesean-mccoy)

Buffalo (6-5) 34 @ Oakland (9-2) 31: The Raiders look poised for a run at the Lombardi Trophy, but the injury to Derek Carr’s finger on his throwing hand will halt their progress a bit. The Bills are hard to figure out, but their offense is exciting. LeSean McCoy had a huge game last week. The Raiders have the seventh worst rush defense in the NFL and that will be their demise this week.

New York (G) (8-3) 34 @ Pittsburgh (6-5) 36: This is the best game of the week. Eli Manning and the Giants are playing great football at this point of the season and have a six game winning streak. Pittsburgh is fighting to win their division. This game could be an aerial display as the Steelers rank eighth in passing yards (263.9 yards per game) and the Giants rank 12th (256.5 yards per game). This game will be a dogfight and Big Ben will make one more big play to Antonio Brown than Eli will make to Odell Beckham.

Washington (6-4-1) 21 @ Arizona (4-6-1) 24: The Redskins have an impressive offense. Washington is second in passing yards (314.8), 11th in rushing yards (111.5), and ninth in points (25.5). The Cardinals are giving up the least amount of yards in the NFL (294). The Cardinals need Carson Palmer to take care of the football. This will be an upset and the Cardinals will get one game away from .500.

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay (6-5) 27 @ San Diego (5-6) 24: The Bucs still have a chance to win the division, but they seem to lose games they are expected to win and win games they are expected to lose. If the Bucs are serious about winning the division and making the playoffs, they have to beat the Chargers. The Bucs are going to do what they need to and put pressure on the Falcons.

 

Sunday Night

(http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/nfl/carolina-panthers/article40474167.html)

(http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/nfl/carolina-panthers/article40474167.html)

Carolina (4-7) 20 @ Seattle (7-3-1) 24: The Panthers are struggling this year and it is hard to figure out why.  Seattle took a shocking loss on the road to the Buccaneers. The Seahawks have a good record, but they will not get to the Super Bowl if they continue to struggle along the offensive line. The Seahawks are still playing the best defense in the NFL by leading the league in points given up per game(17 points per game). Their defense will get to Cam and hit him hard to send Carolina to a surprising 4-8.

 

Monday Night

Indianapolis (5-6) 24 @ New York (J) (3-8) 27: The Colts versus the Jets may be the worst Monday night game of the year. The Jets have nothing to play for but pride. Indianapolis is still fighting for a chance to win the division. The Colts have the fifth-worst scoring defense in the NFL and have trouble stopping anybody. It is hard to pick a team to win this game, but the Jets are at home which is why they will win.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Cubs Victory Should Give NFL Fans Everywhere Hope

We are over a week removed from the Cubs ending their 108 year drought and winning the World Series. The sports world is still buzzing. It is nice to see this country captivated by baseball again. If the Cubs drought can end, so will every other big-time drought in sports, including those of the NFL. Here is a look at a few of the longest suffering NFL fan bases and reasons for each to be hopeful. For the record, I do not believe in curses. I believe in being poorly run and poor executing.

Buffalo Bills

Very few fan bases in all of sports have experienced more heartbreak than that of the Bills. They have been so close so many times. While losing a playoff game on the “Music City Miracle” kick return had to hurt, it is the four straight Super Bowl losses in the early 90s that stand out. In fairness, only one was close. Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed a 47 yard field goal as time expired in Super Bowl XXV that would have given the heavily favored Bills their first Super Bowl. “Wide right” are forever cuss words in the city of Buffalo. Those of you who are not Bills fans can relive the kick below thanks to the NFL’s YouTube channel.

 

Reasons to hope – Most important, after a few years of chatter, it looks like the franchise is staying in Buffalo. Rex Ryan has this team competitive again on a week in, week out basis. They have a ton of playmakers on offense. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor continues to come in to his own. His performance in Seattle Monday night was mighty impressive, despite the loss. A trip back to the Super Bowl is likely a long way off, but the end of a 16 year playoff drought is not.

Minnesota Vikings

In terms of the “can’t win the big one” stigma, the NFC version of the Buffalo Bills resides in Minnesota. Behind the “Purple People Eaters” defense and legendary head coach Bud Grant, they reached the playoffs in all but two years from 1968-1980. They could never close the deal, including losing in two of the first 11 Super Bowl’s. As bad as that had to hurt, the most devastating blow came in 1998. Minnesota raced to a 15-1 regular season record. The offense, spearheaded by then rookie Randy Moss, set a record for points scored. Vikings kicker Gary Anderson did not miss a kick all year. However, in the NFC championship game he missed a relatively short field goal that would have extended the Minnesota lead to ten late in the fourth quarter. The upstart Falcons drove down and tied the game and ultimately won in overtime. The video below from the Mauer EssPee YouTube channel sums the whole situation up very nicely. As crushing as last year’s playoff loss to Seattle had to be, that team probably was not winning a Super Bowl anyway. The 1998 team had a chance to go down as one of the greatest ever.

Reasons to hope – In Vikings country, it is all about that young defense right now. The trick is finding the right quarterback. I am also in the minority that thinks Mike Zimmer is not the right coach to get this team where it wants to go. He was the right guy to get them turned around, but I think his expertise is too limited to one side of the ball to win a Super Bowl. Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, and Everson Griffen could easily be the building blocks of a championship defense. Everything else is a question mark in Minnesota. Despite this season falling apart at the seams, the Vikings are not that far away. However, the jump from good to great is the hardest one to make.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Quite frankly, it is difficult to pick a single moment that hurts the most for fans in my hometown. They have been around since 1968 and have been a shipwreck for the vast majority of the time. They did have a brief run of AFC dominance in the 1980s that resulted in a pair of narrow Super Bowl defeats to Joe Montana and the 49ers. The second of those defeats was a real heartbreaker. As you can see below thanks to the Charles Surette YouTube channel, Montana led a 92 yard drive in the game’s final minutes that culminated in a game-winning touchdown pass to the often overlooked John Taylor with under 30 seconds to go. Apart from that, this franchise has been almost comically bad. They have not won a playoff game since 1990 and have only played in seven. Keep in mind, the Bengals are currently on a streak of five consecutive playoff appearances.

 

Reasons to hope – The Bengals are currently enjoying their most successful run in franchise history. Until he does it or is let go, questions will continue to linger about whether Marvin Lewis is the right coach for this franchise to finally win a playoff game again, and ultimately a Super Bowl. Those questions are fair, but making the playoffs five straight years is no small accomplishment for what may have been the sorriest franchise in professional sports prior to the last five years.

 

Cleveland Browns

No fan base has suffered more than the Cleveland Browns. Believe it or not, they were the NFL’s gold standard at one point. They won four NFL titles in the pre-Super Bowl era. I highly encourage young people reading this to Google the name Otto Graham. After the 50s and 60s, the Browns fell off a cliff and have not been back. As painful as moments like “The Drive” and “The Fumble ” were, the toughest blow for fans started in 1995. The Browns moved to Baltimore following that season and became the Ravens. The scenes from their final home game that year are surreal. Check them out in the video below from the lock18 YouTube channel. The Ravens won a Super Bowl just five years after leaving Cleveland. The Browns reentered the NFL in 1999, but have only made one playoff appearance and have posted just two winning seasons in that time.

 

Reasons to hope – Candidly, there are not many right now. The Browns sit at 0-10 with a real shot at going winless this year, but it cannot get much worse… Can it?

 

The Eagles, Lions, Chiefs, and Jets have also put fans through their fair share of suffering. However, the fact still remains that if the Cubs can finally finish the job after 108 years, then every dog will have its day in the sporting sun… Someday. However, seeing the joy on the faces of those Cubs fans had to give other suffering fan bases everywhere plenty of incentive to hang in there.

photo from timesleader.com

photo from timesleader.com

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The Five Best NFL Head Coaches Right Now

One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of NFL success is coaching. A great coach can elevate his players, an overmatched one can drag them down. Here are my top five NFL head coaches right now. This is based on their body of work along with their current situation.

5: Bruce Arians- Mike Zimmer of the Vikings gets “honorable mention” status in favor of this 64-year-old football lifer. Arians put Temple football on the map in the 80s. His NFL work went largely unnoticed until 2012. As interim coach while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia, he took the Colts and then rookie Andrew Luck from the cellar to the playoffs. However, as an assistant coach, he had a hand in the early careers of both Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. In his first full-time NFL head coaching gig, he has turned the vagabond franchise that was the Arizona Cardinals into perennial contenders. They are 36-17 in just a bit more than three seasons under Arians.

photo from foxsports.com

photo from foxsports.com

4: Pete Carroll- Yes, he was fired by the Jets and Patriots before catching on in Seattle, but every coach gets fired or moves on at some point. Also, while out of the NFL, his USC Trojans dominated college football. In history, there are four people to win a NCAA football title and an NFL championship/Super Bowl. Pete Carroll is one of them. That says it all. On a lighter note, I hope I look half as good and have half the energy Carroll does when I am 65.

photo from reignoftory.com

photo from reignoftory.com

3: Andy Reid- The common knock on Reid is he has not won a Super Bowl. While true, it is not entirely his fault. The guy can coach. He only missed the playoffs four times in 13 seasons in Philadelphia. Under Reid, they reached four NFC title games and the Super Bowl. The franchise still has not recovered from letting him go. Reid continues to work wonders in Kansas City. In three full seasons, he has not posted a losing record. Apart from the one year Terrell Owens ended up in Philadelphia, he has never had top-flight players to work with. He has gotten the most out of guys like Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith, Freddie Mitchell, and Jeremy Maclin. Also, his 11-11 postseason record is far from embarrassing.

photo from nypost.com

photo from nypost.com

2: Gary Kubiak- Yes, I am a Broncos fan, but if anyone thinks Kubiak is overrated at number two, someone please tell me one wrong button he has pushed since taking over in Denver. Last year, he knew exactly when to go to Brock Osweiler and when to go back to Peyton Manning. Under a lot of coaches, that quarterback situation would have disintegrated into a circus. Kubiak calmly named his starter each Monday and got down to business. Long before leading the Broncos to Super Bowl glory, he turned Matt Schaub into a Pro Bowler and led the Texans to the playoffs for the first time ever. He also has three additional Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach. Another sign of a great leader is knowing when to delegate. Kubiak knows his forte is offense. Thus, he hired Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator in Denver. We all know how that has worked out. This year, he has molded Trevor Siemian into a competent NFL quarterback. Maybe the greatest indicator of Kubiak’s brilliance is how awful Brock Osweiler has looked in Houston this year as well as what a disorganized mess the Broncos were without him last week in San Diego. Rant over. Gary Kubiak is brilliant.

photo from bleacherreport.com

photo from bleacherreport.com

1: Bill Belichick- As good as these other guys are, calling Bill Belichick brilliant simply does not do him justice. Prior to being a model of consistency in New England, he led the Browns to the playoffs in the early 90s. They have only been back once since he left. He was also the defensive coordinator for two Super Bowl wins with the Giants in the 80s. He has tallied double-digit wins every year since 2003. Other than Tom Brady, the players have come and gone. Yet the Patriots are never unprepared for a game or lack direction. Whether it is running the ball 45 times or throwing it 50, the Pats are able to do it successfully to win a football game. It is amazing what Belichick has done over the years with players no one else wanted. Wes Welker, Mike Vrabel, and Rob Ninkovich are just a few examples of castoffs from other organizations that Belichick turned into pro bowlers, and in many cases Super Bowl champions.

Do you agree with my rankings? It is important to realize that no coach can be successful without good players, but the reverse is also true. No coach is perfect and every single one has been fired at some point. If you are a Bengals fan calling for the head of Marvin Lewis or a Bears fan itching to get John Fox out of town, remember how hard it is to win in the NFL. There is nothing wrong with taking a few years to build something. Also, making the playoffs every year is a hell of a lot better than going 4-12 every year like the Browns. There is only one happy coach at the end of the season.

photo from bosonherald.com

photo from bosonherald.com

Surprise NFL Teams in 2016-2017

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 29: Defensive players Mitch Unrein #96, outside linebacker Von Miller #58, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton #94, defensive end Robert Ayers #91 and defensive end Malik Jackson #97 of the Denver Broncos look on from the sidelines against the Arizona Cardinals during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 29, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

DENVER, CO – AUGUST 29: Defensive players Mitch Unrein #96, outside linebacker Von Miller #58, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton #94, defensive end Robert Ayers #91 and defensive end Malik Jackson #97 of the Denver Broncos look on from the sidelines against the Arizona Cardinals during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 29, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

A surprise is usually thought of as a good thing, but we all have had surprises that turned out to be bad as well. I know it is early but if you’re like me you are itching for football to start again. The first training camps will open up in approximately three weeks. Last year four teams made the playoffs after missing the playoffs in the previous year. It is never to early to start talking about which teams may surprise the NFL this year by making the playoffs. Some teams may even surprise us and miss the playoffs.  This list will have both good and bad surprises for how a few teams will perform this upcoming NFL season.

Minor Surprise:

San Fransisco 49ers: Better than expected

There are low expectations for the 49ers this season. They play in a tough division with the Seahawks and Cardinals. Also, it will be Chip Kelly’s first season as the head coach. They seem to be in a rebuilding phase but they will finish second in the NFC west, behind the Seahawks. This is a surprise because many expect the Cardinals to be a playoff team and it would be a shocker for the 49ers to surpass them. It will also mean they will possibly in the hunt for a wild card.

Chip Kelly has a bad reputation in the NFL but in his first season he took the previously 4-12 Eagles to a 10-6 record. That 10-6 record resulted in a division title. He finished with an identical record in his second season, although they missed the playoffs. In his first two season he was a combined 20-12. He was fired in his third year after going 6-9, but has proven he can win games in the NFL. It will be fun to see Colin Kaepernick in his offense and it should result in more wins in the bay than most expect.

Playoffs??

Jacksonville Jaguars: Make the playoffs

The Jaguars are young and hungry to make the playoffs.  They are in the midst of their longest playoff drought in franchise history which sits at eight years. The Jaguars only won three games last season so mentioning the playoffs seems kind of crazy. The reason the Jags will make the playoffs though is because they already have an above average defense and the offense is catching up. Blake Bortles will have a good year because he has been surrounded by a great receiving core with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and tight end Julius Thomas. The AFC south is also a rather weak division and it is time for the Jaguars to take the next step and make the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills: Playoff drought over

Just like the Jaguars the Bills are in the midst of their longest playoff drought in franchise history. Their drought sits at 16 years and they haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years. Rob Ryan has been told he will be fired if he doesn’t make the playoffs. He will no doubt have one of the best defenses in the NFL but for the Bills to grow Tyrod Taylor must take the next step at quarterback. It will be his second season as an NFL starter and he will lead the Bills to the playoffs as a wild card team. Winning a playoff game is an entirely different story but making the playoffs would be a huge step.

New York Giants: Division champions

I truly believe Kirk Cousins is entirely overrated. Last season the Redskins were a one hit wonder.  That leaves the NFC East open for a new winner. Philadelphia is in rebuild mode and will be starting a rookie quarterback by week eight or nine. The Cowboys defense is below average and Tony Romo has broken his collarbone three times. It is safe to say he is injury prone. This leaves the Giants, who will have a very solid passing game, with a chance to win the division. Look for Sterling Shepard to have a huge rookie season alongside Odell Beckham Jr. who will command most of the attention from defensive coordinators. The Giants also made splashes defensively in free agency signing Oliver Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Janoris Jenkins. They will win 10 or 11 games and will win the division.

Oakland Raiders: Divison champions

Photo: Steven Senne, STF / Associated Press

Photo: Steven Senne, STF / Associated Press

People are going to call me absolutely crazy for this one. Yes, the Raiders are improving, but division champs? With the defending Super Bowl champions in their division? Yes, the Raiders have finally made the right moves over the past two and a half seasons.  They have suffered a playoff drought for long enough. Derek Carr will continue to blossom into a great NFL quarterback. Amari Cooper will help him to improve the offense. The Raiders defense is on its way to becoming nasty and is led by the first ever All-Pro at two positions, Khalil Mack. Mack is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL. The Raiders will surprise the league and win the AFC West this year thanks to being led by the young stars on both offense and defense.

Fishing Early

Denver Broncos: Miss the playoffs

The defending champs will be fishing early this year. Losing Peyton Manning, no matter his age or diminishing ability, is a huge loss. Being able to fix minor mistakes, or make adjustments mid game will prove to be a huge difference. Mark Sanchez is an accident waiting to happen. Paxton Lynch played in the American Athletic Conference. It will take him quite some time to adjust to the next level. The defense will still be a top five defense but it will only carry them so far. With the Raiders on the come up and the Chiefs staying competitive I just see the Broncos suffering from a Super Bowl hangover. Sorry Denver, last year was your year.

Cincinnati Bengals: Miss playoffs

The Bengals have made the playoffs for five straight season. In those five straight seasons they lost their first playoff game. The Bengals need a new voice at head coach but still have Marvin Lewis. He is the only coach who can stay with the same team 13 years without a single playoff victory. He sits at 0-7 in the playoffs. Any other coach would have been fired. They have had a great defense for a long time but it is starting to fade a bit since Mike Zimmer left for Minnesota.

To further hinder the Bengals, the Steelers will be the best team in the division barring injuries. The Ravens will be better than they were last year too. This is already a very tough division and I think the Browns will surprise some people this year and win somewhere around seven games. At the end of the season the Steelers will win the division and the Bengals will finish second or third. They won’t compile enough wins for a wild card birth. The Bengals had five straight years to win a playoff game, they won’t have a sixth.

A Surprise Champion?

Minnesota Vikings: Super Bowl contenders

I am sure a lot of people see the Vikings on this list and are asking themselves, how can they be a surprise team? They already surprised the NFL last year by winning the NFC North. Most people know they are a young, talented team on the rise.  The reason they will be a surprise  in the NFL this season is because they will be a dangerous Super Bowl contender. So dangerous in fact, they might just win the Lombardi Trophy.

Mike Zimmer will be entering his third year as the head coach of the Vikings and each year his defense has improved vastly. In 2014 the Vikings ranked 11th in scoring defense and last season ranked fifth. It is very possible that the Vikings will have the best defense in the NFL this year. Pair that with the best running back in the NFL with a vastly improved offensive line and the Vikings should be one of the best teams in the league.