AFC West: Is the West Coast the Best Coast?

LA Chargers Logo     The AFC West had an argument last season that they were the best division in the NFL, with the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs both finishing 12-4.  In fact, the 12-4 records were the two best in all of the AFC.  When you have two teams finish so well, though, that generally means the other two weren’t so hot.  That was definitely the case in the West last year as the Denver Broncos finished at 6-10 and the Oakland Raiders finished a paltry 4-12.  Will we see the same outcome this year or is a shakeup in store?

As much as I like Jon Gruden and respect him as a coach, he is playing the long game for the Oakland Raiders.  Mark Davis, son of legendary owner Al Davis, has given the keys to the kingdom to Gruden along with a 10-year contract to rebuild this once fearsome franchise!  He immediately made big moves last year by releasing stars Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack.  It showed on the field as there were no playmakers and their record took a beating.  Gruden has turned around and picked up Antonio Brown and Vontaze Burfict along with a strong draft class to begin the rebuild.  Expect the Las Vegas Raiders to be strong but the Oakland Raiders of this year will struggle once again.  The Elldee Sports Formula is predicting a 2-win season, much to the dismay of the Black Hole.

The Denver Broncos are hoping to regain their Super Bowl form from 4 years ago.  Their one major problem that is preventing them from achieving that is QB play.  They hoped that Case Keenum would be the answer but that clearly did not work out and have parted ways after only one season.  They have decided to bring in Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens but Joe hasn’t been much more than a game manager for the past few seasons and I don’t know if he is really going to bring much change in the Mile High City.  Outside of the quarterback, this team didn’t make any earth shattering moves from a 6-win squad and the Elldee Sports Formula is predicting only a one game increase from last year.  At 7-9, the Broncos will once again miss the playoffs.

Kansas City and Coach Andy Reid have been on fire as of late.  Led by sensational quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs hope to continue to improve offensively.  They led the league in points per game last year as they were able to effectively balance the passing attack with a strong rushing game.  In fact, over the last three seasons, this offense has consistently climbed the statistical rankings.  The other side of the ball has not fared as well, though, as the defense has fallen in the rankings just as fast as the offense has risen.  The overall defense has dropped from 24th to 28th and finally to 31st last year.  After finishing tops in the division last year, they now get a much more difficult schedule and that porous defense will be exposed even more during the regular season.  Elldee Sports is predicting a 9-7 record this year and also predicting the Chiefs to miss the playoffs.

Things are looking sunny in California for the Los Angeles Chargers.  Unlike their rivals in Kansas City, the Chargers have an offense and defense that are both ranked in the top 10 of the NFL.  Phillip Rivers and Keenan Allen lead an all-star cast on offense.  The running game may take a ding if management and Melvin Gordon cannot come to an agreement but I wouldn’t worry too much about that as negotiations appear to be moving forward.  The defense will be anchored by a monster D-line consisting of Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, and Brandon Mebane.  The schedule sets up nicely for this crew and they will win the AFC West with a 13-3 record.

The AFC West will be represented by the LA Chargers as the #4 seed.  Kansas City, coming off of a 12-win season will fail to make the playoffs but still finish 2nd in the division.  The Denver Broncos will improve and finish one game better than last year at 7-9.  Oakland will round out the West with a 2-win season but expect a bright future once they get to Vegas.  Until next time, good luck.

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AFC South: Has Luck Run Out For the Colts?

Houston Texans Logo     Will the AFC South have a repeat of last season?  Only two games separated the first place Houston Texans and the third place Tennessee Titans, with the Indianapolis Colts sandwiched right in the middle.  The Jacksonville Jaguars would also like to force their way into that conversation instead of floundering at the bottom of the division.  Who will represent the AFC South in the playoffs this year?

Jacksonville Jaguar fans believe that their team should be competitive year in and year out, especially in the football crazed state of Florida.  Ownership agrees and they are doing their part in boosting the talent level of the Jags.  This offseason, management decided to part ways with Blake Bortles, a man they had hoped would be a franchise quarterback, went out, and picked up Former Eagle Nick Foles.  Foles has been a perennial backup but oddly seems to play for teams that lose starting QBs to injury, forcing him into a lot of playing time.  The playing time eventually culminated in him becoming a Super Bowl MVP two seasons ago.  The defense is stingy and a healthy Leonard Fournette is as good a back as there is in the NFL.  The running game and defense will finally be accompanied by a veteran quarterback with talent.  Foles will face something he is not familiar with this season, though…pressure.  As a backup, Foles always came in with no expectations and played care-free.  The pressure will take it’s toll and the young players will not gel fast enough, leaving this team with a 4-win finish and another wasted year.

In Nashville, the Tennessee Titans are hoping to get over the hump and make the playoffs this year.  Following three consecutive 9-win seasons, only making the playoffs in one of them and failing to win the division, the Titans think this may be their year.  Marcus Mariota appears to have the potential to be special but each year he fails to live up to the hype.  This year will be no different as Mariota will slowly backslide on his development, hurting the organization.  The offense has been in the lower third of the league and even though the defense plays well, they are not good enough to carry the offense.  The Elldee Sports Formula is predicting a 7-9 record at the end of the year, a 2-game slide from the last 3 seasons.

The biggest news in the NFL has just come out of Indianapolis, home of the Colts.  All-Pro Quarterback, Andrew Luck, has announced his retirement after injury concerns forced him to re-evaluate his life’s decisions.  The fans in Indy don’t need to be that worried though, as Luck has been questionable or out for much of his last few seasons so the team and organization are prepared to play without him.  Jacoby Brissett is no Andrew Luck but he is a serviceable stand-in and may even grow to be an outstanding player.  The defense is strong and will keep this team competitive in most games, providing a legitimate chance to win them.  The formula is actually predicting a 13-win season.  Now, Luck is a difference maker so it is possible that the ceiling of 13 may be a game or two high but I can only work with information I have.  If the Colts can finish the year at 13-3, they will earn a #5 seed and a road playoff match in sunny Los Angeles.

The cream of the crop in the AFC South are the Houston Texans.  Deshaun Watson is a young quarterback that has played tremendously well when healthy.  The biggest problem so far in his career is the injury bug.  The Texans cannot afford to lose him this year as starting RB Lamar Miller tore his ACL and will miss this season.  In fact, despite above average offensive and defensive stats, this team has struggled to keep it’s stars healthy.  It seems that each year, they lose a key starter just prior to the season beginning.  Although Miller is a starter, running backs are much easier to replace.  Their luck cannot be that bad for another year so I believe they will go into the season with minimal additional injuries.  The star power and schedule line up for the Texans, enabling them to finish the year 15-1, garner a #2 playoff seed, and hold a serious shot at reaching the Super Bowl.

The AFC South will be strong again and will send two teams to the playoffs for the second straight season.  The Houston Texans will finish the regular season with a historical best 15 wins and a divisional championship.  The Indianapolis Colts will fight through the shocking retirement of Andrew Luck and prove to be more than just a one-man show.  They will finish second in the South with 13 wins and receive an invitation to the playoffs.  The Tennessee Titans will slide this season, miss the playoffs, and finish with a losing record for the first time since only winning three games in 2015.  The Jacksonville Jaguars will continue to struggle and lose support of the local community, potentially forcing this team to eventually move to a friendlier city.  Until next time, good luck!

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NCAAF: Arizona at Hawai’i

PAC-12 Logo     The Arizona Wildcats travel to Honolulu to face the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors in a season opening matchup.  This game will be played on opening night and has a time slot all to itself, sure to draw a national crowd.  Will one of these teams prove to be championship caliber or both fall into the sands of time?

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors expect improvement to last year’s 8-6 record.  This is likely to occur with the return of 17 starters, 8 on offense, 9 on defense.  The quarterback, Cole McDonald, returns with his top receiving threat on an offense that finished last season 9th in the country in passing yards per game.  The biggest weakness of this offense has been the running game (109.6 ypg) but returns four offensive lineman which should open up holes for the backs and relieve some of the pressure from the passing game.  The defense will need a big turnaround as they finished last season ranked lower than 100 in 3 of the 4 major statistical defensive categories.  Luckily, the Rainbow Warriors have some senior leadership and return almost every starter from last season.  The experience on that side of the ball will help and these Warriors will be too proud to just lay down.

The Arizona Wildcats come in hoping for a turnaround in year 2 under Coach Kevin Sumlin.   With star quarterback Khalil Tate, the offense looks to be primed for a breakout year.  Not only do most teams make the biggest jump from year 1 to year 2 in a new system but the Wildcats also return 8 starters on offense.  The offense wasn’t terrible last year (31.3 ppg) and has the potential to be much better this year.  Regardless of how strong the offense is, it can only carry you so far if the defense struggles as much as it did last season.  Arizona finished last place in pass defense for the PAC-12 last season and was one of the worst teams defending the pass in the nation!  This team is too talented to struggle this much defensively on an annual basis so, expect them to play better this year.

The game should provide plenty of fireworks and be a nice encore to the defensive slugfest that the Florida-Miami game looks to be shaping up as.  Expect the Arizona Wildcats from the PAC-12 to be far superior to the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors from the Mountain West.  The talent level that each of these schools recruit at are not close and it will show on the field.  With both teams fielding struggling defenses, expect plenty of points.  The Elldee Sports Formula is calling for a 45-26 Arizona Wildcat victory.  Until next time, good luck.

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AFC East: Beast of the Least

New England Patriots Logo     Things are not bright in the AFC East.  This division has the unenviable position of being the worst group in all of the NFL.  The lone bright spot in New England still shines but there’s not much after them.  The Miami Dolphins, NY Jets, and (to a lesser extent) Buffalo Bills are pitiful.  There isn’t a whole lot of mystery when it comes to who will win this division.  The biggest question is just how bad will the rest of the AFC East be!

In this preview we will start with the, projected divisional winner, New England Patriots.  There just isn’t that much suspense to build up to when looking for the winner of the division.  Bill Belichick has built a system that can beat you with offense, ask the Kansas City Chiefs.  Additionally, with time to game-plan, the defense can stymie anybody, ask the LA Rams.  This organization has been built where almost any part is replaceable and interchangeable which makes the Patriots a team to be reckoned with year in and year out.  This season is no different as the Elldee Sports Formula is predicting a 14-2 finish, good enough for a #3 seed in the AFC Playoffs.

Next up, the Buffalo Bills are finally rounding the corner.  Let’s just say that it’s a LONG corner.  While this team is on the rise, they have a long way to go before they are competitive on a weekly basis.  Josh Allen is showing promise at quarterback and LeSean McCoy provides veteran leadership but if this team wants to continue to improve, they will have to increase passing yards per game.  The Bills are one of only eight teams in the NFL who pass for less than 200 yards per game in a league that is built for passing.  The defense has buoyed this team but the offense has ensured that Buffalo will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  A -5 turnover margin hurt last season and will need to improve as well.  The formula is projecting a paltry four-win season.  Better luck next year, Buffalo.

The Miami Dolphins are trying their luck with a new head coach in Brian Flores.  Flores is a defensive coach who has spent his entire career under Bill Belichick, learning the defensive nuances of the legendary coach.  When he wasn’t coaching, he was a scout for New England.  That means he knows defense and he knows how to find diamonds in the rough when it comes to players.  That is great news because he has taken over a team that needs a complete overhaul.  Miami ownership has already started making moves, going out and trading for Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals.  They needed to do something as the Dolphins finished last season ranked 29th on Offense and 31st on Defense.  It shows in the predictions as well, as Miami is only projected to win 2 games this year and finish 3rd in the East.

If you think that the Miami Dolphins are lousy, you haven’t met the New York Jets.  Led by 2nd year QB, Sam Darnold, the Jets are another team that hopes to improve this year.  You may think that should be easy given that they only won four last season.  You would be wrong.  New York has added LeVeon Bell, one of the best all-around backs, to help take the pressure of opposing defenses off of Darnold.  The development will continue and the Jets will eventually get better but this isn’t the year to expect that.  Elldee Sports is predicting a 2-win season and a last place finish in the division.

So there it is.  The AFC East in all of it’s glory.  One great team and three others with 2nd year quarterbacks and boat loads of potential.  The New England Patriots, AFC champions for 4 of the past 5 years, are once again on top.  A familiar spot as they have won 10 straight and 16 of the past 18 divisional championships.  The Buffalo Bills trying to right the ship, the Miami Dolphins and their new coach, and the NY Jets forming the core of a future champion.  Until next time, good luck!

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NFC North: Lions, Vikings, and Bears, “Oh, My”

Chicago Bears Logo     The NFC North has traditionally been a rough and tumble division.  In the old “Black-and-Blue” division, defense and running games used to rule.  It seems as though the Chicago Bears are the only one that have kept that formula and it seems to be working.  The Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings have gone further and further towards a pass-first, high scoring type of football.  For the most part, this new style has worked for these teams.  Will it continue this season?

The Detroit Lions are riding their veteran quarterback, Matt Stafford, to the bitter end.  Stafford has done well in his career, becoming the Lions all-time leading passer with over 38,000 yards!  The difference in young Stafford and experienced Stafford is that the young Stafford had one of the best receivers in NFL history, Calvin Johnson.  Well, Johnson is gone and the passing attack is not what it once was.  Compounding the issues is the fact that Detroit has only had a rusher gain over 100 yards twice since 2013!  The only saving grace is that new Head Coach Matt Patricia is defensive-minded and improved the Lions defense to a top-10 unit.  Even still, the offensive struggles will handicap this team as the Elldee Sports Formula is predicting a 5-11 season and last place finish for Detroit.

2nd and 3rd place in the NFC North is a virtual tie.  The Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers are both expected to finish with a 9-7 records.  Both teams are predicted to win three divisional matchups, splitting the head-to-head games, each defeating the other on their home turf.  These teams are built very differently with Green Bay having a powerful passing attack, led by perennial pro-bowler Aaron Rodgers, but a middling defense that is void of any big-names.  The Minnesota Vikings have one of the top NFL defenses but the offense is a well-balanced, yet, middle-of-the-road unit.  Minnesota is younger and appears to be on the rise while Green Bay looks more towards rebuilding as their nucleus seems to have seen their best days pass by.  Either way, both teams are still solid but must find a way to force turnovers as each team finished with a 0 +/- margin.  To be a winning team in the professional ranks, you have to have a positive turnover margin.

The cream of the crop in the North are the Chicago Bears, who have embraced their roots of a smash-mouth, defense first team!  Young quarterback Mitch Trubisky is a game-manager at this point in his career but only continues to improve.  The running game is solid, as well, but the real strength of the Bears is the defense.  Chicago has the league’s best rush defense, giving up only 80 yards on the ground.  Couple that with a +12 turnover margin, the Bears become very difficult to beat.  In fact the Elldee Sports Formula is predicting a 15-1 record!  The only loss is a 50/50 toss-up game against the New Orleans Saints.  That record will earn this team home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the #1 seed.

The NFC North looks to send the Chicago Bears to the playoffs as the #1 seed, the only divisional representative.  The Vikings and Packers are both quality teams but will just miss the playoffs this season.  The Lions will finish last, at 5-11, and need to do some serious rebuilding and player development to return to the post season.  Until next time, good luck!

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NFC West: We’re Going Back To Cali, Cali, Cali

LA Rams Logo     The Los Angeles Rams have revenge on their mind after the way that last season ended but the rest of the NFC West has something to say about that!  Last season the division was able to send two teams to the playoffs and they hope to meet or exceed that number this year.  There is a lot of excitement in store with many new faces hoping to turn this division upside down.

Starting in Arizona, the Cardinals have a ton of fresh faces.  Following a whirlwind of coaching changes from the long time head coach Bruce Arians to the first-time head coach Steve Wilks, eventually settling this year on young hot shot coach Kliff Kingsbury from Texas Tech.  In his first major move after becoming head coach, Kingsbury selected Heisman Trophy Winner Kyler Murray with the #1 pick in the NFL Draft.  The Cardinals hope that the young coach with fresh ideas and the dynamic playmaker out of Oklahoma can revive a floundering team and create a winner.  Until Arizona can shore up the NFL’s worst rush defense, though, they will remain in the basement of the West.  The Elldee Sports Formula has them winless this season, although this is a difficult call with so many new cogs in the machine.

The San Francisco 49ers lay claim to five Super Bowl titles but those are all from yester-year.  The last title was earned back in 1995 but the ownership in San Francisco are level headed and are slowly building a competitive team.  They look to improve upon a 4-win 2018 season and think they have the team to pull that off.  Even though they only managed four victories, this team ranked in the top half of the NFL in offensive and defensive statistical categories.  If they cut down on their league worst -25 turnover margin, they should easily improve on last year’s record.  Don’t count on a big turnaround though, as Jimmy Garoppolo tries to return from a nasty injury and we expect him to be pretty rusty.  The 49ers will win five this year, improving but only slightly.

The Seattle Seahawks had a strong run last year, finishing 10-6 and earning a Wild Card spot against the Dallas Cowboys.  Even though the “12th Man” in Seattle led the Seahawks to a victory over the Cowboys in the regular season, they were not able to steal a playoff victory in Dallas.  Russell Wilson is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league, a very cerebral passer, and an all-around nice guy.  He will have another great season, especially with Carson and Penny in the backfield as serious threats.  Pete Carrol is a player’s coach and will have this team back in the playoffs, going 10-6 for a second straight season.  This will be good enough for the final Wild Card slot and a date with the New Orleans Saints!

Finally, The Los Angeles Rams are young and will be back with a chip on their shoulder after a run to the Super Bowl last season.  Young players are hungry and nothing makes them hungrier than a seat at the table, only to have the food stolen from their plate.  The defense will only get better as the Rams focused on defense in this year’s draft.  Statistically, the defense was in the bottom half of the league but that is expected when you have one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL.  The formula is predicting a 14-2 season record but in the top heavy NFC, that is only good enough for a #2 seed.

Count on the NFC West putting the same two teams in the playoffs again this season.  The LA Rams will finish with 14 wins and the #2 seed.   The Seahawks will match last season and finish with a 10-6 record, earning a Wild Card Seat.  San Francisco will improve by a game but still finish 5-11, well short of where they want to be.  The Arizona Cardinals will be exciting to watch but will sputter and finish at the bottom of the division.  Until next time, good luck!

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