NFL Mock Draft guru Xavier Cromartie and I (RC) recently published a daily series we do about this time every year – a computer simulation of the upcoming NFL season based on our inputs on the talent levels of the rosters, the schedule challenge/interpretations, etc.
Now, we are publishing our annual post-simulation chat about each division in the NFL -- looking at our differences and asking various questions about teams in the division. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we’re far apart.
We’ll be publishing our chat, done via email, division-by-division each day and soon after we’ll be publishing our ‘Top 3’ over/under win total bets with a fictitious $1,000 to spend on the three teams and seeing how we do after the season. We’ve both been ‘over/under’ winners for a couple of years now…you could make money following our ideas. Or just sit back and enjoy the free discussion and debate of ideas.
Please note, we were emailing back and forth. There might/will be typos, grammar things, abbreviations…but they’re limited, and you’ll be able to follow just fine, but note this is the raw transcript of our discussions…
AFC East (RC)
NE …. 12 - 4 = 0.750
BUF … 9 - 7 = 0.563
MIA … 6 - 10 = 0.375
NYJ … 4 - 12 = 0.250
AFC-E (XC) W L .PCT
z-NE … 12 - 4 = 0.750
NYJ … 7 - 9 = 0.438
BUF … 6 - 10 = 0.375
MIA … 5 - 11 = 0.313
RC: I picked the AFC East to start off this year's chats... I usually try to find the division where we have some big diversions all the way around, but we're not far off on the AFC East. I figured we'd start with tipping the cap to our mutual champions (New England), and then I'm going to where I'm fascinated with how two of our teams turned out, where we are a bit opposite -- Buffalo and the Jets. But, first the Patriots.
We both have them going back to the Super Bowl and winning it...defeating the same team (the Rams)...a repeat of 2018 season reality. I absolutely hate when I see some picking the exact teams to repeat the following year -- it's like the most boring copy/script ever. Yet, here we are...both of us.
It's much more dynamic, fanciful, and captivating to pick like the Chargers (in your final four, not in the playoffs for me) or Jaguars (in my final four, not in the playoffs for you). Why the Patriots for you...the 'obvious' pick/the Vegas favorites? Did you think it would be the Patriots before you started putting together the simulation? How close pull the trigger for the Rams or Chargers or Saints did you come?
XC: I knew who the final four teams would be before I looked at the schedule, but I didn't know which combination would come out of that group. I rate the Chargers, Patriots, and Rams as clearly the three most talented teams. Then the Saints and Colts are in the second tier. The dropoff to the third tier is large enough that I don't consider any of the other 27 teams to be serious contenders.
I'd ask why someone would not pick the Patriots. They've been to eight consecutive AFC Championship games. They've won five of those eight. They've won the last three. The team hasn't changed significantly since last season. The hypothetical problems would be the loss of their LT (Trent Brown) and TE (Gronk). Brown was ok; the Raiders ridiculously overpaid for him. Isaiah Wynn will come in and do just as good of a job. Gronk is a big stiff robot at this point. N'Keal Harry is almost a small TE in terms of size. They'll be fine targeting Julian Edelman and James White. On defense, they're arguably even better than last season. Michael Bennett is still pretty solid at his age. Chase Winovich is a madman. The league was asleep when the Pats signed Mike Pennel. Since Jason McCourty is only 5'11, I think that they drafted Joejuan Williams (6'4) specifically to match up against the Chargers' tall pass-catchers (Hunter Henry 6'5, Mike Williams 6'4, Keenan Allen 6'2).
Underdog stories are what I absolutely hate. I don't want to see inferior talent advance because of improbable fortunes. The point of competition is to determine who is the best. The best team deserves to win, not the team with the most interesting story. If the Patriots are the best team every year, then I want them to win every year. Get good, other teams.
RC: I went into this knowing I'd have the Patriots winning because. like you mentioned, it's stupid not to. We are no longer in the era of every year it's new teams because "it's so hard to repeat." It probably is except Bill Belichick is running rings around 31 other teams...or 30 and a step ahead of the Rams/Sean McVay. As you and I like the financial markets, we like charts and trends, etc., so how could we ignore what the Patriots are doing to this league? Only Brady getting hurt/gone could stop them, they could overcome everything else. if Brady went down Week 1, and Jarrett Stidham or whatever Belichick did in trade started the rest of the season because of the Brady injury...I'm not sure I wouldn't still pick them to win, that's how great Belichick is/how bad the rest of the league is (besides the Rams and maybe the Saints).
I want to talk Buffalo and the Jets, but first the Jets. I think they're one of the worst teams/franchises in the league. I think Sam Darnold is one of the five worst starting QBs and Adam Gase is one of the ten worst head coaches with Dowell Loggains as one of the one/two worst offensive coordinators. The team President one of the five worst in the league, possibly the worst (aside from Mark Davis). Gase now making the moves as GM is nuclear bomb dropped on another nuclear bomb -- he's the worst (see: Miami 2016-18, see the 2018 roster). Transitioning from Todd Bowles's guys to Gase's is a mess on top of a mess as well. I think the Jets will get bent by the defenses of Buffalo and Cleveland early on, losing back-to-back home games...especially Mayfield pouring it on to show up Darnold, then losing to the Patriots to go 0-3 out of the gates -- and they could lose their first 8 games (at Miami is always a tough road game Week 9). I don't see 7 wins for the Jets if you added the preseason games to the count. You like them a lot more than I do, why? Just schedule-based and distrust of non-NE AFC East teams...or you see something here?
XC: A lot of people like the Jets as a sleeper. Vegas has the Over 7 Wins odds at -140. I''m not buying in to that side, but I understand it. You can say what you want about management. They clearly overpaid their free agent signings. They threw away a bunch of draft picks to get Sam Darnold. But the actual talent on the roster has kind of a scrappy determined quality to it. It's not very good either, but I wouldn't say it's the absolute bottom of the league. The defense is pretty solid, aside from having no edge rushers. On a game-by-game basis, I had them 6-2 at home and 1-7 on the road to go 7-9. They have some weak opponents in home games. I think people generally exaggerate the difference in talent between NFL teams, especially when the teams at the very top and bottom are out of the discussion. In other words, teams 6 through 26 are close enough in skill that the six-point swing from home field advantage makes a huge difference in wins and losses. The absolute worst teams should be projected to win 4-5 games, and so if the Jets are a little better than the worst, they should win 6-7 games.
RC: Where do you place Sam Darnold in the tiers of NFL starting QBs...top 10, middle 10, bottom 10? And same for Adam Gase? My argument would be that you are right...the difference between #6-26 best teams in the NFL is a very close, usually changed by schedule, injury in-season, coaching more than judging their rosters down to the backup linemen. I'd say the key areas...QB, HC, Organization, the Jets are bottom 10 in all of them -- which lends itself to a bottom 10 record/not sniffing close to .500 for me. I'd say they have a gravitational pull to be closer to the #1 pick in the draft than hitting the 7 wins. I think the Vegas odds are like the Cleveland Browns' crazy Super Bowl odds -- the fans are hyped because they love their QB. Only the Browns' fans still don't realize how truly great Mayfield is and the Jets fans have been sold a media bill of goods on Darnold, but they are believing it 100%. The Jets represent everything wrong with football analysis...the establishment loves Sam Darnold and Adam Gase, like/more than they loved Hue Jackson + DeShone Kizer and Lovie Smith + Jameis Winston -- it's going to blow up in their faces with the Jets 2019. Bad Organizations tend to be what they are...bad.
XC: I'd rank Darnold, with his current roster and coaching, as the #24 or #25 QB (depending on which QB the Dolphins start). Winning seven games (0.437) isn't much to be proud of, if they do it. Their schedule gives them a good chance to do it, though. Theoretically they could win any of their home games. They also get road games against four weaklings in the Dolphins, Redskins, Bengals, and Bills. If we assume automatic losses on the road against the Patriots, Eagles, Jaguars, and Ravens, they still have 12 games that they could plausibly win. They should be at least a slight favorite in most of their home games, and so it's reasonable to expect them to win 5-6 of them and then steal 1-2 road wins against those four weak teams. All the criticism of how bad the organization is can be correct yet nonetheless still result in the math's working out this way.
RC: I think one of the twists within the AFC East is that I have the Bills 9-7 fighting for a wild card, whereas you have them 6-10 and bottom feeding with the the dregs of the AFC East. I see the Bills a step ahead in every way over the Jets and Dolphins -- I think Sean McDermott is showing to be a borderline great defensive mind in the NFL...and he's building/has built a top 3-5 defense in the NFL. All they need to do is not screw it up on offense...and thus the problem...Josh Allen (but BUF was 6-6 with Allen starting, and 0-4 with all the rest). But I think the Bills can be the low-key 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars who nearly got to a Super Bowl behind Blake Bortles -- killer defense, just need enough offense for the defense to help them win. They are not as good as the 2017 Jags, but they also have MIA 2x-NYJ2x-CIN-NYG-WAS-DEN on the schedule. Their defensive front collection and O-Line talent collection is getting very good.
Last season, Buffalo was 6-10... 0-7 vs. playoff teams and 6-3 against non-playoff teams. If I said they'd lose to all likely 2019 playoff teams this year (NE 2x, CLE, PIT)...they would need to go 9-3 to get to 9 wins otherwise with these eight games: MIA 2x-NYJ2x-CIN-@NYG-WAS-DEN as part of those 12 other games.
I think they go 3-3 in division, beat CIN, WAS, DEN at home, and beat NYG early season on the road...that's 7 wins with six other games to find just two more wins for the magical 9-win mark -- need to find two wins from at TEN, PHI, at CLE, at DAL, BAL, at PIT.
I think they got a great shot at 8-8, and a possible 9-win season if they go 3-0 to start the year (at NYJ, at NYG, CIN). Darnold-Eli-Dalton against that defense...I like the Bills to be 'a tough out' this year...and to be way better than NYJ or MIA in-division.
Do you see any potential with the Bills?
XC: I think that the Bills are the worst organization in the NFL. They have the lowest market value, they've never won a Super Bowl, they haven't had a QB since the 1990s, and the city is eternally miserable. They're not the worst team in wins and losses, just a team endlessly going nowhere that always drafts in the 8-12 range (if they haven't traded the pick away). They've been a 6-8 win team every year for almost 20 years, and they haven't made any drastic changes this year. I gave their defense respect, maybe more than it deserved. There is nothing to be excited about on offense. I see them as somewhat similar to Jets and winning 6-7 games. I gave them 5-3 at home and 1-7 on the road. I think that I was a bit generous with their home record, but they could win a few more on the road to balance it out. I have a hard time believing that they'll win all four games against the Jets and Dolphins; they could possibly win only one or two. I'll grant that they can beat the Bengals and Redskins at home, but the Patriots, Eagles, Broncos, and Ravens are difficult home games. I do not see potential with the Bills. Vegas puts them at 7 wins, and I think that's about right.
RC: I agree with your Bills sentiment, mostly. I have 9-7 and a surprise team but it's a foundation built on sand...they could be 7-9 just as easy or 4-12. What's wild is this -- Buffalo has been a going-nowhere franchise for a while. You say worst in the NFL, which is possible, but I say the #1 worst is the Jets...with Miami and Oakland in the running. The Bills might be the 4th-worst franchise in the NFL...with two of their division foes worse than them!. How bad is the AFC East? Another reason to pick the Patriots to win the Super Bowl is -- you know without a shadow of a doubt they're winning that division. Every other division contains at least one surprise team that could shock for a year and win their division -- not in the AFC East. The Patriots win the East if Stidham or Hoyer starts all 16 games.
Nothing really to talk about with Miami, unless you have a nugget, so I'll end on this... If you were given the chance to win one million dollars for the right answer, and nothing if you're wrong, to the question of what non-NE team will win the most games in 2019...regardless of what your simulation spit out, what team would you roll the dice with? The tough road trip to Miami, regardless of their roster/coach, option of the Dolphins? The strong defense but Josh Allen-led Bills? Adam Gase-led Jets?
XC: For the Dolphins I would like to reiterate that I absolute hate Josh Rosen. I have always hated him and I will always hate him. I said in January 2018 that I would not draft him in any round. It's predictable that the media will always have his back, like when they reported that Steve Keim was a big ol' meanie for not talking to Rosen. Actually it's pretty crafty of the Dolphins to sign Rosen if their goal is to get the #1 draft pick without looking like they're intentionally tanking. Ryan Fitzpatrick might accidentally win too many games. Rosen delivered Kyler Murray to the Cardinals, and he might deliver a QB to the Dolphins. If I needed a QB in the 2021 Draft, I'd trade for Josh Rosen and start him all 16 games so I could get the #1 pick and draft Trevor Lawrence.
I would pick the Jets to win the most games, based on not wanting to pick the other two options. The Dolphins aren't trying to win. If they were going to let Ryan Fitzpatrick run wild, I'd give them more consideration. And then I'm not going to pick the Josh Allen team either. The Jets at least have the appearance of a team that has tried to change their losing ways. The name Adam Gase keeps coming up despite the fact that it was Todd Bowles who crashed the Jets to their 14-34 record the last three seasons.
RC: Bowles deserves to be kicked too, but I say Gase because he's not only the coach, he's now the GM...and the reason no one cares about Miami is the Gase roster wreckage left behind. He's a genius who didn't draft a QB after Ryan Tannehill's 1st and 2nd ACLs...how dumb of a smart guy can a person be? Miami may be in more chaos than the Jets coming into 2019. Gase is a poison...one that has full control of a bad organization. What a mess this will become!!
Sadly, our first gauntlet thrown down between us in 2019 is your Jets vs. my Bills!!! I'm not sure 'bragging rights' is apropos for whomever wins this at the end of the season.
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