Preseason Edition

It’s time to get serious about football, people, the Preseason has arrived! Last year, I covered football pretty aggressively, and this year, I am hoping to take it to the next level. On top of the usual weekly betting column, I am going to fire off a quarterly powder ranking, a Monday morning coffee column and, of course, my annual ZeNFL column. Before any of that though, we are going to evaluate where each NFL team stands after the offseason and place the teams into a preseason ranking of their powder.

No folks, that is not Andy Dalton, that is a powder. Talc powder to be exact. See, various minerals have different strengths or “powers” if you will (streeeeeeeetch). I am bored with the conceit of the “NFL Power Ranking” that appears on every sports based website that exists, because it is a boring exercise. Some person aggregates the teams based on arbitrary measurements (Is it wins, recent wins, quality of play, preseason expectations, personnel? YOU DON’T KNOW) and then someone (or ones) from the site writes a meaningless 3 sentence blurb that is… meaningless. So I am going to do something completely different. We are going to use minerals/items to rank the teams, do more like a 5 sentence blurb, and base it on… ok, totally arbitrary measurements. Fine, you got me on that one. If you aren’t sure how hard your teams powder rank is, just check out the Mohs hardness scale. It’s not really that hard to figure out, and I will even include the Mohs number next to the item. This will offer us a little more in the way of flexibility. A team can be similarly strong to another, or not even remotely as strong.

Carbonados (10): Kansas City Chiefs

The class of the AFC, the Chiefs addressed their glaring weakness from the Super Bowl, totally overhauling the offensive line. With this addressed, they still have all the rest of the key pieces, with the biggest losses being Sammy Watkins and possibly Frank Clark (depending on his recent arrest for driving around with an Uzi). My biggest concern with them is if the NFL decides to officiate all the other games the same way they did the Super Bowl, where they call defensive interference/holding (which the Chiefs do constantly). Something tells me that is just a special thing they do for Tom Brady though.

Diamond (10): Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Speaking of Tom Brady, the ageless GOAT (dark lord, whatever) struck again last year, elevating his play in the playoffs and carrying a young, but very talented, squad to the championship. The entire team is back (almost literally), so they immediately become the co-favorites to return. A huge positive for the Bucs is that most of their top competition took steps backward or sideways this offseason. Not the Bucs. Brady now has more connection with the playbook and his receivers. Could he/they be even better this year?

Boron (9.5): Buffalo Bills

The Bills have very few weaknesses. In just one season Josh Allen moved from being a liability to the third best QB in the league. Their defense is balanced and strong. Their only real weakness last year was in developing a rushing attack. They continued to be judicious with their cap space, filling small holes and making solid draft picks. As Allen gains confidence and ability, this team will inch closer and closer to the top. The question is, how much more room for growth could there possibly be with Allen, and if not him, then where?

Tungsten Carbide (9): Cleveland Browns

The Browns had another brilliant offseason where the addressed some of their defensive deficiencies in the secondary. Another year should also mean more growth from Baker Mayfield who finally gets to have a second year with the same offense. Their rushing attack is second only to the 49ers, and it’s close. The questions exist around Mayfield and the retooled defense: can the gains they make this offseason translate onto the field?

Chromium (8.5): Green Bay Packers

It looks like Aaron Rodgers, Devante Adams and the Packers are going to do an awkward Last Dance season a la Pippen, Jordan and the Bulls. That season was filled with tumult but did end with a title anyway. We will see where this goes for the Packers. Their offense will be fine. The defense was very up and down last year. They have some good pieces with Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith, but it is simply not a lock down unit. More than anything, Aaron Rodgers needs to do what Tom Brady did last year. Elevate his play in the post-season to get this team over the hump. That simply didn’t happen last year. Might be tough with a lot of new holes in the offensive line.

Silicon Nitride (8.5): Los Angeles Rams

The Rams improved considerably with the change from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. I have seen a lot of people questioning this by pointing to their respective statistics. This is simply not fair. Stafford has been playing for a clown car outfit in Detroit while Goff benefitted from one of the most innovative minds in the sport in LA. Before you bring up Jared Goff getting to the Super Bowl, I will remind you that Blake Bortles almost got to the Super Bowl too, and Nick Foles won the Super Bowl. Winning is about more than just the QB, but having a great QB really helps. My question is, can Stafford stay healthy?

Topaz (8): San Francisco 49ers

Health is the biggest obstacle for this team. I am not sure what the underlying issue is, but this team suffered a rash of injuries last year for which I have no point of reference to compare. They have already started having injuries this year. If they can stay healthy, this is a legitimate contender, only 2 years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. The problem is, they still have a huge question mark at QB, and if things don’t start well, or Garoppolo gets hurt yet again, they will have to go with the VERY untested Trey Lance. Their defense is also likely to get worse with the departure of DC Robert Saleh, and several pieces as they start to feel the salary cap crunch.

Cubic Zirconia (8): Baltimore Ravens

Another team to feel the salary cap pinch this offseason, the Ravens have been largely unable to address holes that have opened up at Edge, center and wide receiver. The Ravens simply weren’t able to make the improvements they need to make this offseason to hang with the very best teams in the AFC. Their hope rests solely with Lamar Jackson improving his accuracy and decision-making as a thrower. Last year was a big step backwards. They need to get him back on track or this year will be another quick trip into and out of the post season.

Osmium (7): Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals made a lot of splashy additions to their team this offseason, with players like JJ Watt, Rodney Hudson, AJ Green, Malcolm Butler and James Conner. The problem is, these players’ days of full health and peak skill are well behind them. The core of the team centers around Kyler Murray, and he has struggled with inconsistency. He is still young and there is definitely room for improvement, and his upside is the reason the Cardinals are here and not lower. Can he be elite and can he stay healthy?

Opal (6.5): Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins missed the playoffs last year, but they have improved considerably since then. They had multiple picks in the first and second round, added players like Will Fuller in free agency, and their young core (the youngest in the NFL) had another year to season following a 10-6 … season. This one is mostly projection based on their continuum from the last two years of Brian Flores, but this team is on a stark upward trajectory. Can they find stability as a top team despite their youth?

Jade (6.5): Seattle Seahawks

Any team with Russell Wilson will always be likely to make the playoffs, but the Seahawks are REALLY testing this. Their defense was an absolute disaster for most of last year (until injuries slowed some of the teams they faced) and the offensive line is bad. They have done nothing to improve either significantly. The best element of this team is Russ with his skill position stars, but that is probably not enough to get this team out of the first round as things stand, and in that division, they might miss the playoffs altogether unless the defense has a miraculous turnaround.

Iron Pyrite (6.5): Tennessee Titans

A tale of two sides of the ball, the Titans should have an overwhelming offense with Julio Jones replacing Corey Davis and Taylor Lewan returning. On defense, however, there are still a ton of questions. Bud Dupree is the only pass rusher of note, and he is coming off an Achilles tear, an injury that takes at least a year to recover from. In the secondary, they replaced a lot of players, but the players they brought in don’t have a history of being much better. If this team can just occasionally stop the other team, they could make me look silly. But… can they?

Titanium (6): Dallas Cowboys

Slowly, the Cowboys have been healing their overwhelmingly damaged defense, bringing in some pieces like Micah Parsons and Malik Hooker. They will also get some players back from injury. Still, there are a lot of holes and I am very discomfited by the ongoing presence of Mike McCarthy. The offense is a true powder keg though that gets back all world talent Tyron Smith and with a full healthy line, they will be a force to be reckoned with. If they can keep the other teams under 30, they should be a threat to win the division.

Uranium (6): New England Patriots

This is another team that could make me look silly if everything jells. They added a ton of pieces and draft picks in the offseason. The problem is, the team that wins the offseason rarely wins the season for a number of reasons. First, that means they haven’t drafted well. Second, it means they didn’t have much talent to begin with. Third, it means they paid market value. All of these things are true for the Pats, who somehow spent all that money but didn’t improve significantly at QB or WR, their two biggest areas of need. Their defense should be strong though, and their coach knows what he is doing. They will be in the playoff mix.

Turquoise (5.5): Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are a team that does everything pretty well, however, the preseason injuries to Carson Wentz and all world guard Quentin Nelson could end up scuttling their season. While it remains to be seen if Carson Wentz can get back to being the best version of himself, we won’t find out till at least week 3, but maybe as late as week 8. With him in place, they are good at throwing, running, stopping the run and stopping the pass. They have no clear weakness. The problem is, they aren’t really capital G great at anything. That means that it won’t take much more than a key injury or two to put them on the bubble, and that is exactly where I have them.

Cobalt (5.5): Washington Football Team

Yep, that is still their name. Now going on two years. The WFT is going to be massively underrated heading into the year. Their defense is VERY good. Their offense should see improvement with the very solid Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over for an absolute dumpster fire at the position last year. This team has weapons, youth at key positions, and a strong coach. I see no reason for this team to be anything but at least a co-favorite with the Cowboys for the division. It’s also not surprising in a franchise nearly totally void of leadership that this happened.

Zirconium (5): New Orleans Saints

The Saints finally had to pay the piper for the sins of salary caps past. A number of contributors are gone, and almost nothing significant was added. However, there is still a lot here. This team didn’t get that much from Drew Brees last year, and remained very competitive when he was out so I am not sure his absence will matter that much. While I would not describe this team as a Super Bowl threat, they are hardly going to be an easy mark. Like Bill Belichick, Sean Payton knows what he is doing, and there is still plenty of talent here to keep this team afloat and in the playoff mix. The Michael Thomas surgery, however, was a huge blow for a team that needs all hands on deck.

Tooth Enamel (5): Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are in a full blown retool. They have some obvious strengths in areas like the skill positions, and offensive line, and some clear weaknesses in the secondary and with a limited pass rush. This team feels like a classic .500 team in a year where that will be almost impossible (thanks to the 17 game schedule). So, a few coin flip games could go their way or not. Who knows. Oh, wait, I mean this is definitely the correct ranking.

Steel (4.5) Pittsburgh Steelers

Haw haw. But seriously, the Steelers have some real question marks. While I think a return to health will help their defense return to form, their offense has major question marks. The offensive line was bad BEFORE they lost all the good players that were on it. Now, they are protecting an aging, immobile QB with the line that couldn’t keep DMV patrons out. I have real concerns about whether Roethlisberger will make it through the season.

Nickel (4): Los Angeles Chargers

This is a very mysterious team to me. On the one hand, the roster is littered with talented pieces, their QB is coming off of a great rookie year, and they got rid of the worst coaching staff in the NFL. On the other hand, their new coach is VERY untested (can you guess where ownership doesn’t like to spend money), their QB could be in for a sophomore slump, their defense was pretty terrible last year, and they always seem to disappoint (…long stare at ownership).

Iron (4): Denver Broncos

Another team with a strong defense and skill positions, but real problems at offensive lines and quarterback, they are essentially Pittsburgh west. They are younger on defense however, and they have more depth at QB than the Steelers. Plus last year, they ran the ball ok. So why are they behind? They don’t have Mike Tomlin at coach and while Roethlisberger is old, he at least has a track record of success. Lock and Bridgewater have track records similar to my marks in the mile.

Fluorite (4) Chicago Bears

The Bears actually made the playoffs last year, by the skin of their claws, but they didn’t really belong. In the AFC, they would have had no shot. The Bears have nothing at QB right now, limited skill position players and they put a huge dent in their defense by letting Kyle Fuller walk for nothing. This team is set to take a big step backward this year, unless Justin Fields can save them. I think it is too soon for that.

Platinum (3.5): Las Vegas Raiders

Usually a safe bet to get right to .500, this team feels like it might have a little trouble getting there this year (besides needing a tie). They tore apart the one good thing they had (offensive line) to add a few pieces to their porous defense. Beyond just being an O’ Henry story, this move is part of their tradition of shifting the problems around to make it look like progress. Remember when they traded Khalil Mack so they could add offensive players in the draft to help a flaccid offense? Now offense has been traded for defense. Basically all that has been accomplished is that they don’t have Khalil Mack now. The Raiders lead the league in moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic.

Dentin (3): New York Giants

Like a Vegas gambler putting all his money on 21 after the roulette ball has already stopped on 18, the Giants continue to surround Daniel Jones with skill talent he can’t use effectively. At some point, all this money should result in some wins by default (again, Blake Bortles almost made the Super Bowl once), but unless everything breaks perfectly this year, they aren’t going anywhere. The reality is, they probably already missed their chance. Last year the division was wide open, and they whiffed. I can’t see a situation like that happening again for them.

Fingernail (2.5): Cincinnati Bengals

I like what this team has put together. I think they will be better on defense, and I think Joe Burrow looked good in year one. I think JaMarr Chase is a big time weapon and will help the offense. The problem is, I am not at all convinced they have done enough to protect Burrow. They need to get serious there or this is going to be Carson Palmer all over again. This year, they are in a very tough division, are still trying to jell as a team and they still have a bad coach. I still see hope on the horizon though.

Rock Salt (2.5): Atlanta Falcons

Two steps forward, two steps back. The Falcons drafted Kyle Pitts, a star in the making, and then traded their star that was made, Julio Jones, to make space to sign him. That is the Falcons offseason in a nutshell, where they added a little, subtracted a little, and generally are stuck where they are. They just don’t have any meaningful defensive pieces, and until that changes, they will still be bad.

Calcium (2): Carolina Panthers

I don’t think Sam Darnold is good at football. The Panthers do though. If he is, they have good skill position players there. Their defense should be a little better (it’s still pretty bad though). Having a full season to learn from their coach might help. All of this is pointless if Sam Darnold is bad, however, and they have no depth behind him. So, the fate of the Panthers rests on a man who once saw ghosts on a football field.

Sulfer (2): New York Jets

Yes, the Jets stink, but let’s be fair. They added several meaningful players, gave up on Sam Darnold, added a coach with defensive acumen, gave up on Adam Gase and generally should be a better team than last year. Honestly, it would be hard for them to be much worse. But… they have three QBs with a total of 0 NFL snaps (until yesterday when this occurred to them and they signed Josh Johnson, who I assume they do NOT want to play). I predict a modest improvement that no one will care about.

Ice (1.5): Philadelphia Eagles

I think a lot of people believe the Eagles will rebound behind Jalen Hurts and a healthier squad, and they might, but I have some major concerns. I know we all like to joke about how such-and-such a coach is an idiot or dumb, but, coaches are almost all very smart and know more about football than any of us could dream of. Except Nick Sirianni. After watching him speak several times, I find myself genuinely wondering if Nick Sirianni is smarter than me at football, let alone anything else. Also, I think Jalen Hurts is inaccurate, and with an offseason to review his tape, defenses are going to make it tough on him. He is probably the best QB for them to start though, behind their porous line.

Lead (1.5): Jacksonville Jaguars

This ranking will depend entirely on how Trevor Lawrence looks. If he is immediately as good as hoped, the Jags could sneak up this ranking. If he needs some time to adjust, this is a pretty bad team. The defense should be a little better, but the cupboard is bare. On offense, there are some solid players, but nothing that says they could compensate for a QB who isn’t totally ready. Urban Meyer has had success everywhere he has ever gone, but he has never gone to the pros. Can he figure it out at this level. NICK SABAN couldn’t, so don’t assume the answer is yes.

Talc (1): Detroit Lions

While their erstwhile leader Dan “Man” Campbell is convinced this team will be out for blood, I think it is fair to assume they will be more like powdery talc given the total dearth of talent on this team. While I don’t question his ability to get them to play hard (especially compared to Mr. Napoleon Complex: Matt Patricia) I do question their ability to play smart and well, when they have no skill players of note, and no defensive players of note.

Candle Wax (.5): No one

There is no one at this level.

Caesium (.2): Houston Texans

This team was legitimately bad last year BEFORE losing Deshaun Watson (maybe?), JJ Watt, Will Fuller, Bill O’Brien (a good coach, but bad GM) and all hope. They replaced them with nothing. This team is going to be unspeakably bad, even as I suspect they will play hard for David Culley, a coach getting his first shot as a sacrificial lamb for what is about to unfold. Culley's biggest claim to fame is being the passing game coordinator for the worst passing game in football last year, the Ravens. If you put the Texans and a cat in a box to create a quantum super-position, I won’t need to open the box to know the cat is dead at the rate the Texans are decaying.