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2015 Super Bowl Preview


Falconsin
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"In Super Bowl XLIX, I believe that the Houston Texans will play the Atlanta Falcons in Glendale, Arizona."

http://sportsspangle...r-bowl-preview/

No, that’s not a typo. Nor am I in a fixed Bill Murrayesque ‘New Year’s Day’ state in which I think every day is New Year’s and, thus, think this year is 2015. No one is, for that matter.

Take 2.

I am writing a prediction of next year’s Super Bowl for a couple of reasons:

The first, and more vital for the coherence of this post, is that I chose to stay in for New Year’s Eve. As a result, I consumed copious amounts of Irish tea rather than the more traditional holiday choice of literally anything with alcohol. Unfortunately, my availability of sports on television was distressingly limited, but – resolute in my choice to stay in, I continued to search for a sports high. I drove to two different Game Stops and a Best Buy to attain NBA 2k14 so, at least in a fantasy capacity, the Timberwolves would have a center who did not have T-Rex arms. However, little did I know, everywhere is apparently closed at 9 on New Year’s Eve.

Based on the desolate streets and parking lots, I should have made some basic connections before arriving at the barren wasteland of abandoned outdoor mall, but because desperate, I needed to physically pull on the door of the darkened and securely locked stores to feel closure. Next option: make my own sports. I went home and played FIFA 10, since I’ve foolishly ceded possession of the past few FIFA games to various fools, but within 15 minutes of inferior Manager Mode, I – once again – accepted defeat.

I should have went out.

But beating on against the current and tired of getting borne back ceaselessly, I decided to write in hypotheticals: specifically, a post about the NFL playoffs. The only thing is…

The second reason for this post is that I don’t care about these playoffs. Not at all. My favorite team did not come close to postseason qualification, neither New York team made the playoffs, and I don’t hate any team (closest is probably the 49ers because of Jim Harbaugh and his ever-slacked jaw, but that’s a strong dislike at most). When I hate a team, at least I can rally behind the opposing team each week, but this year? Nothing. My two hated teams have always been the Patriots and Ravens because of Bill Belichick and Ray Lewis, respectively, but my appreciation for Brady has superseded my hatred for the New England Sith Lord over the past year after decade-long enmity, and Lewis is retired (Ravens also didn’t make playoffs). So, in lieu of any interest over these next few weeks, I will take the approach of any Raiders, Browns, Jaguars, Bills fan and already begin to look toward next year.

In Super Bowl XLIX, I believe that the Houston Texans will play the Atlanta Falcons in Glendale, Arizona.

Wait a minute…

What about Denver? Seattle? Carolina? Cincinnati? San Francisco? Arizona?

My rationale for this prediction has everything to do with timing. Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick all have large pay raises on the horizon due to the overhauled rookie wage scale, which will compromise roster decisions that were possible when the star signal callers were making several hundred thousand to a few million dollars, rather than $12-16 million.

In the case of Seattle, highly paid players like Brandon Mebane, Chris Clemons, or Cliff Avril (Sidney Rice too, if that somehow matters to anybody) may be cap casualties in the upcoming offseason. Michael Bennett will also be a free agent, meaning that Seattle’s currently vaunted pass rush will have a much different look next year. Unless the team makes a killing on one-year and two-year deals, further big contracts will be very unlikely, since Wilson and the league’s best corner back, Richard Sherman (who will likely use the Revis deal as a value reference), will both be making at least $12 million in their next deals, meaning less flexibility moving forward.

Following two seasons of more than 330 touches (career highs), Marshawn Lynch will be expected to show signs of wear-and-tear next year. He will only be 28, but he is coming off the only two seasons in which he played all 16 games. Wilson’s role in the offense will be expected to increase regardless after two seasons of very similar production. The heightened passing emphasis will be a new challenge for both him and his offensive line, which has struggled mightily at times this season (which, of course, isn’t to say he won’t produce). Unlike this current year, I don’t like Seattle as a title contender for next season, simply due to too much change on both sides: in personnel on defense and in philosophy on offense (especially if offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell finds a gig as head coach).

For Carolina, who I take – along with Arizona – as Atlanta’s primary obstacles in the NFC, Newton will almost definitely receive a contract extension this summer (you have to figure at least $15 million a year, around a $10 million raise), which will be quite interesting due to star defensive end Greg Hardy’s pending free agency (he’ll likely demand at least four years at $12 million per season, even with a hometown discount, which he said he would give). Finding cap space for most of the other free agents like starting corner back Captain Munnerlyn, four (!) of the team’s starting offensive linemen, and the team’s two starting safeties (Mikel and Mitchell) will be impossible. Like Seattle, the team will – by all accounts – have significant volatility along the offensive line, as well as in the secondary, due to the little cap space left after Hardy and Newton re-sign.

In San Francisco, I think Gore will finally succumb to wear-and-tear as he hits the wrong side of 30, but if Marcus Lattimore can return to 100%, the running game will not suffer at all. Kaepernick, who – like Newton – is also due to become a free agent in 2015, will likely get anywhere from $12-16 million per year in his next deal this upcoming summer. While the 49ers currently have a tight cap, it shouldn’t be a big issue. Bigger problems will be finding replacements for Justin Smith (enjoyed another great season, but at 34, how much longer will he keep it up?), Carlos Rogers (32), Tarell Brown (if he leaves in free agency), and Anquan Boldin. Boldin’s return seems unlikely due to his resolute contract demands, but he’s been an essential crutch for Kaepernick, especially when Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis were out with injuries. A pass rush reliant on Aldon Smith and on Ahmad Brooks to repeat a career-best season seems like an equally dangerous proposition.

Simply, in the cases of Cincinnati, Denver, and Arizona, my issue is at the quarterback position. While I typically hate to speak in finalities, as stacked as the Bengals are at almost every position, I don’t think Andy Dalton is capable of going on an extended run of great form against top-tier opponents. In other words, his record in big games speaks volumes, and he needs to change the script quickly. Perhaps he will this season, but for now, I see him as the Bengals’ primary limiting factor.

In Denver, I don’t see how Manning will be able to hold up another full season. This year is the year to win for him. As historic as his current campaign has been, he has struggled to recover from minor injuries all season, which does not bode well when he’s a year older. On the defensive side, the team’s ability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback – with 32-year old Shaun Phillips set for free agency – will be significantly dependent on Von Miller’s ability to make a full recovery from a torn ACL. It’s a tall task, particularly as Champ Bailey becomes less and less of a presence in the secondary.

Arizona needs Carson Palmer to stay healthy in order to compete for a championship. 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Cooper’s return should provide a boost to a unit that conceded a lot of shots at the former Trojan. While I consider him good enough to take a team to the Super Bowl, the combination of his past injury issues and propensity to force passes goes against him in this scenario.

I like New England’s improvements to its front seven, especially when combined with the return of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo next season, but the secondary – as has been the case for the past several years – needs to improve, especially if Aqib Talib walks in free agency (although he’s probably more likely to stay). Brady will be 37 next season and while Peyton Manning has had a career year at 37, his supporting cast has improved; Brady’s, on the other hand, has declined significantly. I think New England will be the primary challenger to the Texans in the AFC, but I like Houston as one of the few teams with the personnel to make Brady see ghosts in the pocket for four quarters.

So Why Atlanta?

Atlanta, unlike the a few of the NFC teams listed above, got the big quarterback extension out of the way last summer, already made tough cuts (like long-time RT Tyson Clabo), and will only marginally be affected by free agency (only needs to re-sign center Joe Hawley; DT Peria Jerry and Corey Peters). It endured the brunt of the rebuilding process on offensive line and defense this season, aided by its early descent from the playoff race, and found a couple of potential future starting linebackers in Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu. The two rookie corner backs, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford – also improved immensely as the season progressed. As long as Osi Umenyiora can provide another solid season of 6-8 sacks, the team’s defense is one great pass-rusher away from becoming its best unit in the Matt Ryan era.

Drafting Anthony Barr with the sixth overall pick seems like a perfect match: the former tight end played in a hybrid defensive role with UCLA, has two seasons of excellent performance, and – as a team captain – fits the leadership mold that the Falcons brass covets.

As in the case of Tom Brady, while his stats took a hit, Matt Ryan proved that he is an elite quarterback in this season more than in any other. Behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, and without Julio Jones and a healthy Roddy White for much of the season, Ryan still ran one of the league’s best passing offenses while throwing to Tony Gonzalez (ok, well, he was still really good), Harry Douglas (chronic underachiever until now), and Dominique Davis (yikes). The addition of Steven Jackson turned out to be one of the league’s biggest disappointments. Sam Baker – off an injury-plagued horror show of a season at left tackle – is a very good blindside protector when healthy; the team will almost definitely address the need for offensive line cover in either round 2 or 3.

With a year of experience under the belts of the rookie linebackers, defensive ends, and corner backs, the return to health of Sean Weatherspoon, and the selection of Anthony Barr (or Khalil Mack, even though the team needs more of a primary pass-rusher), the team’s pass rush will improve a great deal in the next season. I expect the sack total to increase by at least a half dozen. The offensive line will also improve from the experience, stability, and return of Sam Baker. With Julio Jones back and Roddy White healthy, this team will finally be good enough to represent the NFC in the 2015 Super Bowl.

…And Why Houston

This Texans team recently surpassed last year’s Chiefs team as the most talented 2-14 team in recent history. Matt Schaub – Andy Dalton’s future self – effectively tanked Houston’s season with an early season implosion of turnovers. The silver lining was that he was never good enough to get Houston to the Super Bowl, and this season simply sped up that realization for the entire league to see.

The Texans’s march to the Super Bowl starts with a healthy Arian Foster, who is a top-5 running back when healthy. The next step would be to select talent over need with the first pick of the draft, which would mean choosing Jadeveon Clowney over Teddy Bridgewater. With an owner who expects to win a Super Bowl in the immediate future, a rookie quarterback who is not Andrew Luck will not bring a team any further than Case Keenum could, especially if the defensive line on Keenum’s Texans team had J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

Keenum had an extended audition and didn’t exactly steal the show on a weekly basis, but he played well against some good defenses. The selection of Clowney would implicitly declare Keenum as the team’s starting quarterback for next season. He showed enough to prove that he was an improvement over Schaub, which would be enough to solidify title aspirations for a team with such a wealth of talent on defense and at its skill positions.

If Bill O’Brien brings back Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, the Houston pass rush will get at least 10 more sacks than its lowly 32 this past season. An upgrade for the nickel corner back position is the secondary’s biggest need and will probably be addressed in the middle rounds of the NFL draft, but the team’s starting safeties – Shiloh Keo and D.J. Swearinger – played better as the season went on. The secondary will likely be an improved unit next season.

With the only change in the starting offensive line happening at right guard with second-year player Brandon Brooks taking over, the team’s exceedingly poor sacks allowed and QB hits allowed totals, per NFL.com, figure to be an apparition - largely attributed to injuries and tough schedule – rather than a major red flag. If Keenum were to remain as starter and Foster remains healthy, the offense’s primary needs would pertain to slot receiver, back-up running back, and offensive line depth.

With J.J. Watt, Joseph, and Whitney Mercilus already in place, this team’s pass defense – ranked 3rd despite low sack total – will get even better with the addition of Clowney. Brian Cushing – despite another devastating season-ending injury – should be back in full health by next season, and will supply a massive boost to the 23rd ranked run defense.

With the condition that Clowney is the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft, the Texans will make the Super Bowl with a revitalized defense and stability on offense with the return to health for Arian Foster.

Insane? Probably. But from now until draft night, this will be the prediction. Enjoy the playoffs, fans of playoff teams. From now until February 3rd, I will be in a Netflix-induced coma.

Edited by Falconsin
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So Why Atlanta?

Atlanta, unlike the a few of the NFC teams listed above, got the big quarterback extension out of the way last summer, already made tough cuts (like long-time RT Tyson Clabo), and will only marginally be affected by free agency (only needs to re-sign center Joe Hawley; DT Peria Jerry

Stopped reading right here.

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Stopped reading right here.

I don't think he's too far off. We'll probably re-sign all 3 of these guys, it'll just all depend on their price tags.. Jerry showed flashes at the end of this season and will probably come cheap. Peters should come cheap considering the injury and Hawley will be a serviceable backup, and again, who should come cheap.

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I don't think he's too far off. We'll probably re-sign all 3 of these guys, it'll just all depend on their price tags.. Jerry showed flashes at the end of this season and will probably come cheap. Peters should come cheap considering the injury and Hawley will be a serviceable backup, and again, who should come cheap.

I would hope that the incoming line coach would have some input on that.

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"In Super Bowl XLIX, I believe that the Houston Texans will play the Atlanta Falcons in Glendale, Arizona."

Behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, and without Julio Jones and a healthy Roddy White for much of the season, Ryan still ran one of the league’s best passing offenses while throwing to Tony Gonzalez (ok, well, he was still really good), Harry Douglas (chronic underachiever until now), and Dominique Davis (yikes).

Edited by ~SEAMILL~
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Guest King Jigsaw

I'm glad I'm not the only one that noticed he said Matt Ryan was throwing to Dominique Davis and not Drew Davis, who I'm sure probably got less targets than Darius Johnson.

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I don't think he's too far off. We'll probably re-sign all 3 of these guys, it'll just all depend on their price tags.. Jerry showed flashes at the end of this season and will probably come cheap. Peters should come cheap considering the injury and Hawley will be a serviceable backup, and again, who should come cheap.

I don't want Jelly back at any price laugh.png

Dude should have retired after that.

Bingo!

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