The Daily Briefing Friday, June 1, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com with an interesting number on the INTs of QB MATT RYAN who was bedeviled by “skipping stone” picks last year:
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan threw 12 interceptions last season, which is not an inordinately high number for a quarterback who starts all 16 games. But it was a lot more interceptions than he should have thrown.
According to data from FootballOutsiders.com, Ryan threw five interceptions that should have been caught by his own teammates, an incredibly high number of passes that were thrown into his own receivers’ hands, only to be tipped into the hands of a defensive player who made the interception.
How rare is that? Football Outsiders has been tracking tipped interceptions for years, and no quarterback has had that many tipped interceptions in a season since 2010. Last year Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger all threw more passes than Ryan and had zero passes tipped by their own receivers and intercepted.
Most quarterbacks have more potential interceptions dropped by the defense than passes intercepted after their own receiver dropped the ball. Ryan, who had just two potential interceptions dropped by the defense, was a rare quarterback whose bad luck resulted in him having more interceptions than passes thrown into the hands of the opposing team.
Here is the whole table – Trevor Siemian deserved 20 picks, but only had 14 while Ryan threw 12, but deserved 9.
New OC Brian Schottenheimer says he is only tweaking Darrell Bevell’s attack. Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:
There’s probably a danger in reading too much into the Seahawks’ stated desire to revive their running game in 2018.
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What Carroll would like is to get the pass-to-run percentage more where it was in 2013 or 2014 (47.29 and 48.56 respectively) than where it was last year (59.38).
Or, more realistically, somewhere in the middle of those two numbers, such as the 55.78 last year of Super Bowl champ Philadelphia.
Seattle passed as much as it did last season in large part because it couldn’t run, averaging just 101.8 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry in going 9-7 and finishing out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
And while the internet is rife with debate about how much a good running game matters, Carroll and the Seahawks view it as no coincidence that those numbers were far worse than during the team’s 2012-15 heyday, when Seattle averaged at least 136.8 yards per game each season to rank among the top four teams in the NFL, and at least 4.3 yards per attempt, led by a 5.3 average in 2014.
The offensive struggles of the last two seasons resulted in Carroll making the most significant coaching staff overhaul of his career in firing offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and line coach Tom Cable and re-assigning quarterbacks coach Carl Smith, hiring Brian Schottenheimer as OC and de facto QB coach, and bringing in Mike Solari as offensive line coach.
Streamlining and changing the voices in the ear of quarterback Russell Wilson was also a prominent factor in the firings and hirings.
But Wednesday, when Schottenheimer met the media for the first time since his hiring, Carroll also made clear that Schottenheimer’s background with some successful running teams — specifically, the 2009-10 New York Jets, which each advanced to the AFC Conference title game — was also paramount.
“It’s a commitment to that’s the style of play and that fits,’’ Carroll said. “You go back to a couple of years ago when he had Mark Sanchez back there and they ran the football like crazy and they won a couple of championships there really with a young quarterback based on the commitment to the run and playing defense. Well you know us, that’s something that we do understand about how you play the game of football. He’s committed to it. He gets us.’’
The 2009 Jets ranked first in the NFL in both rushing attempts and yards while the 2010 Jets were second and fourth.
Schottenheimer, who also was the OC for the Rams in 2012-14 and spent the last two years as the quarterbacks coach of the Colts, on Wednesday affirmed Carroll made clear what his marching orders are in taking over for Bevell.
“That’s just something that we’ve talked about from the very beginning when I first started talking to Pete,’’ said Schottenheimer, son of longtime NFL players and coach Marty Schottenheimer. “That was something that you’ve got to have the ability to run the football when people know you are going to run the football. And when you lose that, you become one-dimensional and that’s hard. We’re trying to find some different wrinkles. Find out who we are and different ways to attack people.”
The key part of that statement may be “the ability to run the football when people know you are going to run.’’
That, more than anything, is what the Seahawks really want to get back to more than simply running it more. But running it well would also mean running it more since teams inevitably do more of what they are doing well.
As Schottenheimer acknowledged, though, it’ll take more than just wanting to run more to actually run better.
“I think the biggest thing with the running game is it starts with the guys up front,’’ he said. “That physical mindset of ‘hey, we’re going to control the line of scrimmage.’ That’s easier said than done. It’s easy to have that mentality.’’
That’s where what Solari can do with an offensive line that will likely include four of five returnees from last year and free agent signee D.J. Fluker may be as critical to the success of the 2018 Seahawks as anything.
“But, when you emphasize things in coaching you normally get results,’’ Schottenheimer said. “. … we’ve always been the best at places I’ve been when we were able to run the football when people knew we were going to run it. We could throw the football when people knew we were going to throw it. That just gives you that balance you need to be successful.”
It’s a balance Schottenheimer said he’s hoping to find without completely throwing the team’s playbook out the window.
“If you put a number on it I’d say it’s probably 70 percent of what they’ve done here and then maybe 30 percent of ideas from Mike and myself and some of the new guys,’’ he said of how much the offense will change in 2018. “It’d be crazy to ask some of the guys to learn a completely new system. I’ve been working extremely hard trying to get up to speed with the way they’ve done things. They’ve had so much success here that was easy for me to do. I’m excited about some of the things that we’ve added both in the run and pass game. I think that’ll be something that is noticeably different. It’s a comprehensive approach. We’re all in this thing together. It’s been fun to really figure out who we are and ultimately right now we still don’t know. We’re still trying to figure that out. The more we practice and go up against a great defense we’ll figure that out as we go up against a great defense we’ll figure that out as we go.”
Ouch. Pat Bowlen’s daughter will not be taking over the team per his trust. The AP:
The daughter of Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen announced her desire to take over the leadership role of the team and was informed she hasn’t met the criteria.
The Pat Bowlen Trust issued a statement Thursday saying Beth Bowlen Wallace “is not capable or qualified at this time.”
The team was placed in a trust when Pat Bowlen stepped down in 2014 because of Alzheimer’s. The trust is overseen by three people, including team president and CEO Joe Ellis, who has final say on day-to-day operations until one of Bowlen’s seven children can succeed him as controlling owner.
Bowlen Wallace said in a statement that it is her desire to “lead this team with the same passion my father did and help the Broncos become Super Bowl champions again.”
The Broncos have made 18 of their 22 playoff appearances during the Pat Bowlen era. Since he was introduced as the majority owner on March 23, 1984, the team has the second-most regular-season wins (behind New England) and captured three Super Bowl titles.
“I have advised the Trustees that I am ready and have done everything they said I need to do to take this step,” the 47-year-old Bowlen Wallace said. “Working in management at the Broncos is something I have prepared for and dreamed of doing.”
The stipulations to be controlling owner of the Broncos included completion of a business or law degree and five years in management in the NFL or another major business organization.
Bowlen Wallace graduated from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law in 2016. She also worked with the Broncos as the director of special projects before her employment was ended in 2015.
She’s assisted with Colorado-based nonprofits and charitable organizations, including the Alzheimer’s Association. She’s also worked as an executive in the oil and gas industry since 2016.
“My father’s number one goal was to win,” Bowlen Wallace said. “He understood that took financial commitment, hard work, dedication, the right leadership, and drive. He was motivated to win not only for himself and the team but for the pride of Broncos Country, our beloved and loyal fans.”
Bowlen Wallace has the support of Amie Bowlen Klemmer, the oldest Bowlen child; Bill Bowlen, Pat Bowlen’s brother; and minority owners of the team, Kerry and John Bowlen (John is Pat Bowlen’s brother).
“Pat Bowlen’s wish and his legacy was to have one of his children run this team,” Kerry and John Bowlen said in a joint statement. “That is what he always wanted. Beth is the best positioned of all the children to take over now. Her plan is just right — to take over as managing owner now and in the future allow the other children to mature, learn and grow into the position, keeping this team in her family and in Denver, where the Broncos belong.”
The Trust said Pat Bowlen made it clear that his children “were not automatically entitled to a role with the team and that they would have to earn that opportunity through their accomplishments, qualifications and character.”
In the statement, the Trust said it had communicated this with her.
“Although Beth has declined our invitations to discuss her qualifications for the last two years, we will continue to proactively engage and meet with any of the Bowlen children who express a desire to earn the right to succeed their father,” the statement said. “We will vigorously defend Pat’s plan in responding to these and any statements that are contrary to Pat’s words and intentions.”
Added Ellis: “As a trustee and someone Pat designated to oversee his team, I have an enormous responsibility to carefully administer his succession plan and make decisions in the best interests of the Broncos. We will continue to follow Pat’s blueprint — and nobody else’s — while keeping our focus as an organization on having a successful season.”
There is less hype for WR DAVANTE PARKER this year. Barry Jackson in the Miami Herald:
The Dolphins are trying a new public approach with DeVante Parker. Though they appreciate how he has handled himself this offseason, they’re apparently done making effusive, grand predictions.
Last year at this time, then-offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen predicted: “I really think he’ll have a great big year, a gigantic year for us.”
Then, last August, then-receivers coach Shawn Jefferson said Parker “will be a monster. If he keeps progressing like we think we can, he’ll be invited to the Monster Bowl after the Super Bowl. His name is not DeVante; he’s a Monster.”
Parker went on to finish last season 52nd in the NFL in both receptions (57) and yards (670), 66th in yards per catch (11.8) and tied for 160th in touchdown catches (one).
With Jefferson and Christensen now in different roles on the staff, new receivers coach Ben Johnson said: “We were making these giant claims about him last year. Now just one-day-at-a-time mentality. Keep stacking good days on top of each other.”
Shawn Jefferson, Miami Dolphins WR coach, says receiver DeVante Parker “is a monster…he will be invited to the monster ball”. Charles Trainor, Jr.firstname.lastname@example.org
But Johnson made clear he’s very happy with Parker.
“I know coach [Adam] Gase has already mentioned his maturity level improving, and that’s been evident from the end of last season,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if there’s many guys that have spent more time in the building than him, whether it’s getting his health right, in the training room, in the weight room, even watching film. To me, it’s been a different guy this offseason. He understands the urgency and how important this year is.”
Regarding Parker’s willingness to play through discomfort, Johnson said: “He turned the corner two years ago at Baltimore. He was in a lot of pain that game and he understood hey, that’s what it’s going to take to play in that league.”
THIS AND THAT
Keith Mumphery was a blip on the NFL radar last spring when the Texans cut him upon learning that Michigan State Univeristy, the home of Larry Nasser, had deemed him a sexual assaulter. Michael Powell of the New York Times says Mumphrey was “convicted” in a kangaroo Title IX court.
This is a story of a rape accusation that would not die and a misshapen version of college justice meted out in three chapters.
Let’s begin with two Michigan State students looking to hook up in March 2015, mess around and perhaps have sex. Soon after, the woman accuses the man, Keith Mumphery, who would become a pro football receiver, of sexual assault in her dorm room.
The police investigate. Mumphery turns over the text messages from his phone and provides a DNA swab. Prosecutors conduct interviews. The accuser does not return calls. They decline to prosecute.
So ends Chapter 1.
Michigan State’s Title IX office, which investigates accusations of sexual harassment and violence and adheres to a significantly looser standard of evidence than in criminal cases, examines the texts and interviews friends and a nursing supervisor who oversaw the exam of the woman. Mumphery is not allowed to question his accuser. The panel clears him.
So ends Chapter 2.
The woman appeals that finding. (Unlike in criminal cases, where acquitted defendants cannot be retried, in Title IX cases, accusers may appeal.) Michigan State reopens the case.
The university sends an email to Mumphery at an address he no longer looks at. He knows nothing of the appeal. This time, Michigan State holds him responsible for relationship violence and sexual misconduct.
So ends Chapter 3.
Now we turn to the consequences. In May 2017, The Detroit Free Press reports that Mumphery, a receiver for the Houston Texans and a graduate student at Michigan State, was expelled by the university because of a sexual assault. Two days later, after practice, the Texans’ coach calls him into the office: Keith, this case is a problem and we’re letting you go. Mumphery drives home to Vienna, Ga., which has a diner, fast-food joints, a single motel behind the gas station and a streetlight. He wonders what has become of his life.
Accusations of sexual assault offer perilous waters in which to swim as a reporter, an investigator, a lawyer. Sexually charged texts and a photograph, which exist in this case, can establish flirtation but do not speak to consent — the woman claims in her own lawsuit and in police reports that she was very drunk and had consumed well in excess of a dozen shots of vodka before Mumphery arrived. She insisted she could not agree to have sex. Mumphery disputes that the woman was drunk. A police report states that surveillance videos show her walking “with a steady gait” and with no trouble keeping her balance. Mumphery says that she opposed his use of a condom and that they did not have sex. The woman says she has been traumatized.
What is clear is that the consequences for Mumphery of this broken process are perilously close to that of a criminal conviction. Mumphery is boxed in a societal cell. He has not gotten a tryout with another N.F.L. team, and at 25 he sees his prime earning years as an athlete slipping by. He was an honor roll student and class president with a 1240 SAT score at his high school, and with this mark on his record, he is unlikely to gain admittance to another graduate program.
And people read that he was responsible for sexual violence and view him as a rapist.
I traveled to Vienna, in southern Georgia, to talk with him. “I knew I was going to college and maybe to the pros,” he says. “Always. Dream big. When I found out about this, it hurt. I was crying like a baby. A baby.”
His lawyer, Andrew T. Miltenberg, who has defended students in many high profile Title IX cases, is fierce and eloquent on the procedural flaws and missteps of the Michigan State investigation, and of the larger problems presented by the lack of safeguards. Mumphery last week filed a suit against the university, charging that it denied him due process and wrecked his football career.
Judges often ask, well, how can you prove future financial damage to a client who is, after all, still a student? “What makes this fiasco at M.S.U. so unique is that this terrible process has reached into the N.F.L. and destroyed the career of someone who was near the pinnacle of his profession,” Miltenberg says.
This is not an outtake from a bad men’s rights movie. Civil libertarians and legal scholars, including those with impeccable feminist credentials, have challenged the lack of due process in these Title IX proceedings, particularly for the accused. Twenty-eight members of the Harvard Law faculty, including prominent female and male liberal professors, recently signed an open letter in The Boston Globe.
Their letter read: “Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused and are in no way required by Title IX law.”
Nearly every detail of that bill of indictment could apply to Michigan State.
Much blame resides with a 2011 directive from the Obama administration’s Department of Education, which was sent to thousands of schools that receive federal funds. This “Dear Colleague letter,” as it is known, was no doubt well intentioned. Sexual assault on campuses is real, women are hurt, embarrassed and reluctant to step forward, and historically too many universities shrugged off the terrible as “kids will be kids.”
Before the arrival of that letter, many colleges used “clear and convincing” as a standard of proof in in-house investigations of sexual assault and harassment. A few, such as Stanford University, applied the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
This federal letter set a new and lenient standard for schools of “more likely than not.” Many universities quickly adopted that policy. So with a casual shrug of the bureaucratic shoulders, a chasm opened beneath the feet of the accused.
That letter pushed school administrators to complete investigations quickly, preferably in no more than 60 days. It required universities to let accusers appeal findings of no guilt, which created double jeopardy for the accused. And it discouraged universities from giving the accused the right to cross-examine accusers.
It’s difficult to overstate the extent to which this flipped fundamental concepts of fairness. The right to cross-examine an accuser is a bedrock constitutional protection. In a 1988 Supreme Court decision, Justice Antonin Scalia was joined by the court’s liberal wing in reversing a conviction in a case in which an accused could not see a person testifying against him. “It is difficult,” Scalia wrote, “to imagine a more obvious or damaging violation of the defendant’s rights.”
He noted that the right to confront witnesses could cause pain, not the least in cases of child abuse and rape. But, he said, “it is a truism that constitutional protections have costs.”
I called Sheri Lynn Johnson, a professor at Cornell Law School and a founder of the university’s Death Penalty Project. She helped write an amicus brief signed by many fellow professors on behalf of a student suing Cornell over a Title IX case in which he was denied the right to submit questions to his accuser. “There is no due process right like you have in a criminal case, even though the consequences can be very similar and dire,” Johnson said.
Michigan State has many headaches. In January, its president, Lou Anna Simon, resigned amid much criticism of how she handled the huge sexual abuse scandal involving Lawrence G. Nassar, who is now serving what will most likely be a life sentence after pleading guilty to molesting athletes while at Michigan State and while serving as the team doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics. When I called, a spokeswoman said the university would respond only to emailed questions.
I sent a list of questions, several of which went to policy. The university did not answer most of these questions, although Emily Guerrant, its vice president and spokeswoman, wrote that it was Michigan State’s “policy that a student would be notified when a case is reopened.”
A report filed by the Michigan State University Police in June 2016 and obtained by The New York Times through a freedom of information request stated: “It should be noted that although this letter was mailed to him, at this time it cannot be confirmed that he actually received the letter nor has he been served in person.”
So I asked again: Did Michigan State ever reach Mumphery to let him know that he was being investigated again? He was, after all, playing with the Houston Texans and not backpacking through the Himalayas. He was easy to find.
Guerrant declined to comment, citing student privacy. I twice asked her to identify the specific Title IX wording that prevented the university from saying that it had complied with federal rules to notify students. I’m still waiting for her reply.
I called Karen Truszkowski, who represents the woman who says that Mumphery sexually assaulted her. Her client is not happy with the way the university handled the case, and she has sued Michigan State. Truszkowski represents many young women in sexual assault cases and sees the complications with this aspect of Title IX, not the least with due process.
“Do some guys probably get caught in this net?” she said. “Yes, probably they do.”
She counterposed a question. What if the university did not investigate such cases? “A lot of these cases are never prosecuted because law enforcement does not feel they can meet a burden of proof,” she said. “There is egregious behavior. Something happened.”
That’s a fair point. In legal terms, I’d heed another Justice, Felix Frankfurter, who wrote: “The history of liberty has largely been the history of the observance of procedural safeguards.”
In more personal terms, Mumphery offers a pretty good personification of what happens when a jury-rigged system breaks down. He runs through the streets of his hometown each morning, pulling an iron sled to stay in shape. His mother was poor, and when the family ran out of water, he and his siblings filled buckets with it at the gas station and toted them home.
His mother lives in a trailer. He amassed excellent grades and excelled in sports. None of this inoculates him against the terrible vagaries of human nature. I can’t say what happened in that dorm room on that early evening in March 2015.
I know only this. A prosecutor decided not to bring charges, and a university investigation found Mumphery was not responsible. The only investigation that found him guilty did so apparently without his knowledge and without his offering a defense.
That’s not a good definition of liberty.
In a Reason magazine story on the case, written by Robby Soave, the so-called Chapter 3 guilty finding came from a procedure where Mumphery was not the only significant absentee.
There are two sides to every sexual misconduct dispute, and it’s of course possible Mumphery did something very wrong on March 14, 2015. But the investigator who actually spoke with both Mumphery and Roe—Catherine Riley—decided that a preponderance of the evidence favored Mumphery’s account. Only the subsequent investigation, in which neither Roe nor Mumphery nor Riley participated, produced a finding of guilt. The former athlete presents a strong argument that MSU wronged him, and should make amends while guaranteeing that this never happens to another accused student.
In a statement, Miltenberg accused MSU of railroading Mumphery in order to distract from its mishandling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
“In order to arrive at their predetermined outcome of guilty, Michigan State conducted a sham investigation and blatantly ignored the due process rights of my client, who at the time had already graduated from Michigan State and was training in Florida,” said Miltenberg. “The University repeatedly and systematically failing to give him notice of the appeal and the subsequent second investigation. Mr. Mumphery continues to suffer ongoing harm, including damages to his reputation and the permanent loss of employment and educational opportunities.”
A spokesperson for Miltenberg’s office tells me that MSU never successfully informed Mumphery of this finding, since the emails bounced. He didn’t find out until he came to MSU for a golf outing, at which point a football coach told him that he wasn’t allowed on campus.
Mumphery did play 13 games with the Texans in 2016 after being drafted that year in the fifth round.
ESPN asked their reporters to predict the over/under on wins for their respective teams as they look at the “projected” total from ESPN’s computer. Are they a bunch of homers? Only three of the 32, all near the bottom, predict their team to UNDER achieve. And one of the three, Mike Rodak is the Bills writer filling in and doubling up on the Dolphins.
How many wins will the Browns have? Which team is expected to have the best record?
NFL Nation reporters predict the over/under on win totals for all 32 NFL teams, as projected by ESPN’s Football Power Index, a predictive system that weighs offensive, defensive and special-teams efficiency.
New England Patriots
Projected wins: 10.5
Mike Reiss’ take: The last time the Patriots didn’t win 11 games was the 2009 season, so recent history is on their side. I predicted an 11-5 season in April, factoring in some early-season growing pains that reflect how September, in some respects, has become an extension of the preseason as Bill Belichick balances the short- and long-term viewpoints in putting together what he considers the best team to compete for a Super Bowl title. Prediction: Over 10.5 wins.
Projected wins: 10
Jeremy Fowler’s take: The Steelers have won fewer than 11 games once in the past four seasons, when Ben Roethlisberger missed four games with a knee injury in 2015. This team is more established and talented than that squad. The Steelers have a reasonable schedule and should take advantage of a weak AFC North that featured 31 total wins by Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland since 2016. The Steelers know they underachieved late last season and plan to atone for that with a top-two playoff seed. Prediction: Over 10 wins.
Projected wins: 9.9
Tim McManus’ take: The defending champs have a pretty challenging schedule on paper — a slate that includes matchups against the Saints, Vikings, Falcons and Rams — and will have to dig deep to reset after a long, franchise-altering 2017 season. But Carson Wentz is eager to make the push back up the mountain post-injury, and it’s hard to imagine a team this talented not reaching double-digit wins. Prediction: Over 9.9 wins.
Green Bay Packers
Projected wins: 9.5
Rob Demovsky’s take: Since 2009, the Packers have never won fewer than 10 games when Aaron Rodgers has been healthy for the majority of the season. They have a 15-win season, a 12-win season and two 11-win seasons in that stretch. The last time Rodgers broke his collarbone (2013), he came back to win league MVP and lead the Packers to a 12-4 record. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he does that again. Prediction: Over 9.5 wins — well over if Rodgers stays healthy for an entire season.
Projected wins: 9.4
Courtney Cronin’s take: The Vikings’ runner-up finish in the NFC was no fluke. Minnesota has elite playmakers on offense and is backed by the league’s No. 1 defense. With Kirk Cousins taking the reins in hopes of leading this team past where it left off last season, it’s not unreasonable to expect 10 or 11 wins at a minimum in 2018. It certainly won’t be easy with a schedule that features road games against the Rams, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks. The NFC North is also no cakewalk. Still, the Vikings are one of the league’s most complete teams and are in the right position for another deep postseason run. Prediction: Over 9.4 wins.
Los Angeles Rams
Projected wins: 9.2
Lindsey Thiry’s take: The Rams finished 11-5 last season, which included eight away wins and a brutal road trip at Jacksonville, in London (vs. the Cardinals) and at the Giants. This season, the Rams will stay closer to home, not making a trip to the East Coast, plus they’ve bulked up the roster. They return 10 of 11 starters on offense, including reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley II. On defense, they’ve added All-Pro cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and All-Pro defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh to play alongside reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. While depth at some positions could be a concern — namely on the offensive line — a healthy team has the potential to win at least 10 games. Prediction: Over 9.2 wins.
New Orleans Saints
Projected wins: 9.2
Mike Triplett’s take: I predicted the Saints to match their 11-5 record from last season. Many view them as top Super Bowl contenders because they’ve surrounded Drew Brees with so much young talent and are as balanced as they’ve ever been when it comes to the passing game, running game and defense. The problem is the NFC is so loaded with bona fide contenders that the teams can’t all go over. Prediction: Over 9.2 wins.
Projected wins: 9
Vaughn McClure’s take: The Falcons made a significant upgrade on offense with the addition of playmaking wide receiver Calvin Ridley, the first-round pick from Alabama. I had the Falcons winning nine games before Ridley was drafted. Adding him and the expected offensive improvement in Year 2 under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian — plus the continued progress of Marquand Manuel’s young defense — should be enough for another win or two above FPI’s projection. Prediction: Over 9 wins.
Projected wins: 8.8
David Newton’s take: The Panthers have had double-digit wins in three of the past five years, including an 11-5 record last season. They have upgraded the offense significantly since 2017, particularly at wide receiver with the additions of Torrey Smith and first-round pick D.J. Moore. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner should help make Cam Newton more efficient. There’s no reason to think the defense, with one of the best front sevens in the league, won’t again be among the top 10. The NFC South will be strong again with New Orleans and Atlanta, but nine to 11 wins for Carolina is more likely than not. Prediction: Over 8.8 wins.
Los Angeles Chargers
Projected wins: 8.7
Eric D. Williams’ take: The Chargers finished 9-7 last season and appear to have patched obvious holes in the roster, including signing a consistent kicker in Caleb Sturgis. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Chargers have the ninth-easiest schedule to start the season, based on opponents’ 2017 win percentages. The Chargers have the best quarterback in the AFC West in Philip Rivers, along with a defense that allowed 17.3 points per contest last season, third best in the NFL. If the Bolts can stay mostly healthy for a second straight season, they should contend for a division title. Prediction: Over 8.7 wins.
San Francisco 49ers
Projected wins: 8.7
Nick Wagoner’s take: The 49ers finished last season on a five-game win streak after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took over. Although those games didn’t mean anything in the playoff picture, the 49ers beat Tennessee and Jacksonville, teams that were still jockeying for postseason position. This year’s Niners will have Garoppolo for a full season (after an offseason spent studying the offense) and spent big bucks and draft capital to bolster his supporting cast. Although there are important questions to answer on both sides of the ball, the 49ers should again benefit from playing a last-place schedule. Something in the eight-to-10-win range is probably about right, but barring an injury to Garoppolo, the Niners should be able to jump over the .500 mark … even if it doesn’t end with a playoff berth. Prediction: Over 8.7 wins.
Kansas City Chiefs
Projected wins: 8.6
Adam Teicher’s take: The Chiefs have won at least nine games in each of Andy Reid’s five seasons. It’s a season of change in Kansas City, but it’s not a rebuilding year. The Chiefs have too many talented players, at least on offense, and are too well-coached to slip to .500 or below. Prediction: Over 8.6 wins.
Projected wins: 8.5
Todd Archer’s take: The Cowboys finished 8-8 in each of Jason Garrett’s first three seasons as head coach from 2011-13, so 8.5 wins falls in line with history. The Cowboys play against the NFC South, which had three playoff teams a year ago, and the AFC South, which had two playoff teams a year ago and has Andrew Luck and DeShaun Watson, who are returning from injuries. In 2014, the Cowboys won 12 games. In 2016, they won 13 with a rookie quarterback. In 2018 — with Ezekiel Elliott no longer burdened by suspension talk, a strong offensive line and a defense that has been better than many believe — they can get to 10 wins and be in the playoff conversation. Prediction: Over 8.5 wins.
Projected wins: 8.5
Mike DiRocco’s take: The Jaguars have a tougher schedule in 2018, and it appears that the division is going to be pretty darn good (if Andrew Luck is healthy), but the defense returns 12 of the top 14 players from a unit that finished second in the NFL in 2017. That includes six Pro Bowlers, two first-team All-Pros and one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. The Jaguars added All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell to a rushing attack that led the NFL last season. If Leonard Fournette stays healthy and Blake Bortles takes care of the ball the way he did last season, the Jaguars should win 10 games and repeat as division champs. Prediction: Over 8.5 wins.
Projected wins: 8.4
Jamison Hensley’s take: The Ravens have been the ultimate middle-of-the-pack team, going 40-40 since they won the Super Bowl in 2012. But Baltimore should be able to reach nine to 10 wins this season — the futures of coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco depend on it. If Baltimore fails to make the playoffs for a fourth straight year, it could signal the end of the Harbaugh-Flacco era. The key for the Ravens is to overcome a challenging early schedule in which they play four of their first six games on the road. After its bye, Baltimore plays only two of last year’s postseason teams in the final seven weeks. Prediction: Over 8.4 wins.
Projected wins: 8.4
Sarah Barshop’s take: The Texans have the NFL’s easiest strength of schedule, and if Deshaun Watson can stay healthy, the Houston offense, led by receiver DeAndre Hopkins, could be one of the best in the league. The AFC South is improved, but the Texans will at least be one of the teams competing for a wild-card spot. Even though they’re coming off a four-win season, they should be a much better team with serious playoff potential. Prediction: Over 8.4 wins.
Projected wins: 8.2
Cameron Wolfe’s take: The Titans, who finished 9-7 in each of the past two seasons, fired Mike Mularkey because being a middle-of-the-pack team wasn’t good enough. Tennessee should be a much-improved defensive team after adding Malcolm Butler, Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry as potential Day 1 impact players. Marcus Mariota is a strong bounce-back candidate after spending this offseason fixing his footwork and learning a more flexible, comfortable scheme created by new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. The AFC South will be more difficult with a healthy Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck, but the Titans have an otherwise favorable schedule. Another 9-7 season and a playoff berth seem to be the minimum expectations for this team. Prediction: Over 8.2 wins.
Projected wins: 7.9
Paul Gutierrez’s take: I had the Raiders going 9-7 after the schedule was released, as Oakland is tied for the third-easiest strength of schedule. And that was before the draft and seeing Jon Gruden’s retooled squad on the field in OTAs. The roster has been rebuilt in his image, so everyone is going in the same direction now, as opposed to in last year’s 6-10 flameout. The defense should be better, and the offense has firepower. As tight end Jared Cook said of Gruden, “You can tell the difference in a coach that knows what he’s talking about and a coach that does not. He knows what he’s talking about.” Prediction: Over 7.9 wins.
Projected wins: 7.9
Brady Henderson’s take: FPI’s projection is in line with my prediction of an 8-8 season. That took into account all the key pieces who departed this offseason, including Richard Sherman and Jimmy Graham; the renewed competitiveness in the NFC West, in which the Rams are the clear favorites and the 49ers are on the rise; and the fact that Seattle’s schedule is tied for fifth-hardest in terms of opponents’ 2017 win percentages. Although some are expecting the Seahawks to bottom out after such a significant talent drain, that isn’t going to happen on a team with an MVP-caliber quarterback in Russell Wilson and other stars such as Earl Thomas and Bobby Wagner on defense, not to mention an excellent coach in Pete Carroll. Prediction: Over 7.9 wins. Barely.
Projected wins: 7.7
Michael Rothstein’s take: The projection is right around where I have the Lions pegged this season: 8-8 or 9-7. Detroit is in a tough division with a difficult schedule, but the Lions are also a talented team that should have a pretty potent offense if the improvements made to the running game come through. Questions about the defense — particularly about the front seven — and the running game make it hard to predict the Lions any better than around .500. This team might be better than the one Detroit fielded last season, but it could end up with a similar record. Prediction: Over 7.7 wins. But not by much.
Projected wins: 6.9
Mike Rodak’s take: This seems like a fair projection for the Bills because a strong case could be made that they are a six- or seven-win team. The glaring question for Buffalo is at quarterback, where AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman split first-team reps to start organized team activities but could eventually cede the role to seventh overall pick Josh Allen. In any case, second-year coach Sean McDermott has made it clear to his players that their success last season — snapping a 17-year postseason drought — will have little bearing on what they do this season. The Bills exceeded expectations last season enough for me to give them the benefit of the doubt, but they could still struggle to match their 9-7 mark from 2017. Prediction: Over 6.9 wins.
Projected wins: 6.9
Katherine Terrell’s take: The Bengals have had two down years, but they’ve won six or fewer games only three times in 15 seasons under Marvin Lewis. The Bengals should be able to win seven or eight games minimum this season if they can improve their offense from its last-place finish in 2017. They’ll need solid seasons from A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and the new-look offensive line to do so. Prediction: Over 6.9 wins. But not by much.
Projected wins: 6.9
Jeff Legwold’s take: Nobody is saying the Broncos solved all of their worries this offseason, but they should improve more than two wins if the Case Keenum-led offense can avoid the turnover troubles of 2017, when the Broncos finished 5-11 with an eight-game losing streak in the mix. Only the winless Browns turned over the ball more than the Broncos did last season, so if Keenum achieves anywhere close to his performance last season in Minnesota, the offense should be a quality addition to a defense that added Bradley Chubb and has Von Miller in his prime. Prediction: Over 6.9 wins.
Projected wins: 6.8
Jeff Dickerson’s take: The Bears look like a seven-win outfit to me. Chicago’s defense is legitimate, but the offense is a work in progress. The Bears spent a lot of time and money this offseason to upgrade the offense, but it usually takes time for a group to mesh. Plus, the NFC North is tough, especially with the arrival of Kirk Cousins in Minnesota. The Bears will be better, but they’re probably not playoff contenders … yet. Prediction: Over 6.8 wins. But barely.
Projected wins: 6.8
Mike Wells’ take: The Colts are rebuilding, but Andrew Luck proved over and over again in this first three seasons that he’s capable of covering the roster’s flaws. That could be easier for Luck to do this season — if he’s healthy mentally and physically — because he could be playing behind the best offensive line of his seven-year NFL career in what will be an even better AFC South. The Colts can eclipse this projection, but only if Luck (shoulder) is healthy and plays in all 16 games and new coach Frank Reich is able to quickly implement his up-tempo offense, which worked well in Philadelphia’s Super Bowl run last season. Prediction: Over 6.8 wins. But not by much.
Projected wins: 6.7
John Keim’s take: The Redskins have topped that total in three straight seasons, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll improve on 2017’s record of 7-9. By how much? That remains to be seen. But they should have an improved running attack with Derrius Guice, and they finally have what should be a solid defensive line with first-round pick Da’Ron Payne paired with last year’s first-round pick, Jonathan Allen, among others. Regardless of whether Alex Smith matches Cousins’ yardage total, he’ll likely cut down on turnovers: Cousins threw 12 more interceptions than Smith the past two seasons combined. The schedule is tough, but if the Redskins avoid the health issues of 2017, they should top their 2017 win total. Prediction: Over 6.7 wins.
New York Giants
Projected wins: 6.5
Jordan Raanan’s take: Only four teams have lower FPI win projections than the Giants, and they all have significantly less talent. The Giants should be improved offensively and defensively. The only thing working against them is depth and their schedule this season. They should still be able to get somewhere from seven to nine wins. Prediction: Over 6.5 wins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Projected wins: 6.5
Jenna Laine’s take: I predicted that the Bucs could go 8-8, and I thought that was being generous, considering they went 5-11 last season and play in an NFC South division that had three 10-plus-win teams in 2017. Jameis Winston showed at the end of the season what he could do when healthy, but if the Bucs are going to have a winning season or get to .500, the defense, which got a complete overhaul up front this offseason, has to step up. They can’t win many games when they give up more yards than any other team in the league (378.1). Prediction: Over. But only slightly.
Projected wins: 6.3
Mike Rodak’s take: I picked the Dolphins to win eight games after the schedule was released in April, which might have been optimistic given the number of questions that persist for the Dolphins after the draft. Will Ryan Tannehill return to form after missing last season with an ACL injury? Will 35-year-old Frank Gore and 32-year-old Danny Amendola help carry an offense that will lose Jarvis Landry’s production? Can Cameron Wake remain a pass-rushing force at 36? There is a wide range of outcomes for the 2018 Dolphins, including bottoming out as a four- or five-win team. Prediction: Under 6.3 wins.
Projected wins: 6.1
Josh Weinfuss’ take: I predicted six wins in April. The biggest question surrounding the Cardinals this season will be whether Sam Bradford can stay healthy. If he can, Arizona could be looking at 10 wins. But history doesn’t suggest that Bradford will make it through the season, which means the offense will be handed to first-round pick Josh Rosen, who will face a significant learning curve. Arizona also has questions at receiver, tight end and cornerback that don’t bolster their win projections. Prediction: Under 6.1 wins. But barely.
New York Jets
Projected wins: 6.1
Rich Cimini’s take: The Jets’ roster remains under construction, but they have enough talent to win more than six games. They play in a weak division (except for the Patriots), and they have one of the easiest schedules in the league. They won five games last season in Year 1 of a major rebuild, so it would be a major disappointment if they don’t improve by at least two wins. The wild card is rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. If he takes over, his growing pains will hurt the team in the short term. Prediction: Over 6.1 wins.
Projected wins: 5.7
Pat McManamon’s take: This is a tough call because FPI’s projection is right where I’d expect the Browns to be. Given their schedule and the normal grind a team goes through with a lot of new parts, the Browns should be in the five-to-six-win range. I’m going to say five based on the difficult first two games and the fact that the Browns are tied for the fifth-toughest schedule in the league. Prediction: Under 5.7 wins.