Buy or Sell: D-Wade, Willie Taggart, Colorado Rockies

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Dwyane Wade” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Cullen Jekel, RahimAli Merchant, and Mickayeen Farner

Welcome to Buy or Sell!

In this new, weekly segment, Mickayeen Farner, RahimAli Merchant, and I will go through three current topics and discuss whether we’d jump on board with a certain idea, team, or player (“buy”), or run away from that same idea, team, or player as fast as we possibly can (“sell”).

Each writer will present one topic to the other two writers. The two writers may agree or disagree, but it’s the conversation that’s the meat of this segment.

For example, I could posit the notion that, based on the first two weeks of the NFL season, the Jacksonville Jaguars will return to the AFC Championship game. Both Mr. Farner and Mr. Merchant could agree, but for entirely different reasons.

Let’s get to it.

 

RahimAli: Dwyane Wade’s Return to Miami for One More Year Will Help the Team.

Mickayeen: I’m gonna go ahead and sell D-Wade helping the Heat. There are shades of the Kobe retirement tour. I just picture too much attention going to Wade while the future of the team is compromised a bit. It’ll distract from the fact that [Hassan] Whiteside is unhappy and take playing time away from someone else. They’re lucky to be in the East, because I don’t think they’re a better team than Dallas and would finish as the 10th seed at best in the West. This team is far from being an actual contender in the playoffs and a year of a Wade retirement tour is only going to distract upper management from doing what they need to in order to help this team rebuild.

Cullen: I’m buying Wade helping the Heat. Wade’s an experienced player, the face of the franchise, even during the Big 3 Era with LeBron [James] and [Chris] Bosh. Sure, he’s aged and lost a step, but this is a team that without Wade wouldn’t have made the playoffs. With him, they will win the Southeast and get probably the 4th seed in the East.

Will his return make much of a difference in the playoffs? I doubt it. But while the Heat have a playoff roster, they don’t really have a big name. Wade gives the fans someone to come out and watch, to cheer on, even if it is for old times’ sake. He’ll help, but not a lot.

 

Cullen: Florida State Fires Head Coach Willie Taggart After This Season.

RahimAliI buy FSU moving on from coach Willie Taggart. He doesn’t have a good resume as it is and I believe he is just the placeholder for another coach they have their mind set on. Plus, Taggart’s coaching career was at Western Kentucky and South Florida before coaching Oregon last year, but even then he could not succeed. He isn’t going to succeed as a head coach and will be out of the college head coach picture by the end of season, when unknown replacement is found. Taggart is better suited as a positions coach than a head coach, especially at one of the biggest college football schools in FSU.

Mickayeen: I’m gonna sell the idea that they move on from him. I can see the argument being made that he couldn’t get his team ready for a game against Syracuse, but this is only his first year and the guys he recruited are not even upper classmen yet. I say they let it ride one or two more seasons after this.

 

 

Mickayeen: The Colorado Rockies Will Win the NL West.

Cullen: I’m selling on the Rockies, and I’ll bank on the Los Angeles Dodgers instead. They took over the West lead last night, and while it’s only by a half-game, they’ll hang on. They’ve got the better bullpen, they’ve got experience, they have one of the best pitchers in baseball with Clayton Kershaw, and their offense is hitting on cylinders. Yasiel Puig is hitting the cover off the ball right now, and that lineup looks pretty solid, with only 2B lacking–or slacking, rather.

The Rockies, unfortunately, have been playing with house money all year, and it’s finally catching up to them. They’ve been outplaying their Pythagorean projection as they’ve been leading the West, but with a run differential that is, once again, in the negative. Teams just don’t make the playoffs that way, and they especially don’t win tough divisions like that. In the offseason, the Rockies front office tried to re-make the bullpen on the fly with some high-priced relievers, including Wade Davis. That has not gone well. A group of big bats can only take a team so far with undependable pitching, even a group that has four guys with 20+ home runs, including two guys with 33 or more home runs. It’s been a fun season for the Rockies, and this current series is extremely pivotal. But L.A. won game one 8-2, and I expect the Dodgers to take at least one more, if not get a series sweep.

RahimAli: I sell the Colorado Rockies winning the NL West. The Dodgers also manage to find themselves in the postseason no matter what comes up. They have their young sluggers who can put up the runs and Yasiel Puig has turned into something else lately. The Dodgers pitching is also one of the best in the majors and with a healthy Kershaw and [Closer Kenley] Jansen, they will once again be hard to stop in the postseason. The Rockies tend to fall apart near the end of the season and it will be hard for Wade Davis to get saves with the explosive bats in the Dodgers lineup.

I do however, see the Rockies getting one of the wild card spots, as the Atlanta Braves look to take care of the St. Louis Cardinals to help Colorado’s chances. Nonetheless, it’s going to be an exciting finish in the National League playoff picture. But Go Dodgers!

The Big Ten and Its Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Weekend

Wisconsin vs BYU
Images from a Badger rout in Provo!” by Enrique A Sanabria is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Cullen Jekel

 

Man, oh man, what a horrible weekend for the Big Ten.

On Saturday, September 15th, 2018, thirteen of the fourteen teams that make up the Big Ten (because math) took the field. Of those thirteen teams, only one–Ohio State–faced a ranked opponent.

And yet the the Big Ten went 6-7, with seven losses to unranked opponents and six of those losses coming at home.

Now, let’s give credit where credit is due: the Buckeyes took care of #15 TCU in Dallas and #19 Michigan stomped SMU, while #11 Penn State dismantled Kent State. Indiana also trounced Ball State, Minnesota beat Miami (Oh.), and Iowa took care of UNI.

But, man: the losses were horrible. Let’s take a look at each of them.

 

Maryland lost to Temple, 35-14.

This was a home loss for the Terrapins, who were a surprising 2-0 before this game. The Owls, meanwhile, were 0-2 with losses to such powerhouses as Villanova and Buffalo. This loss brings Maryland crashing back to earth after a great start under interim head coach Matt Canada.

Rutgers lost to Kansas, 55-14.

On the bright side, Rutgers did not lose to Kansas in New Jersey–the game took place in Lawrence, Kansas. That’s it on the bright side.

They gave up 55 points to the Jayhawks! That’s a basketball school! Kansas’ head coach had a career record of 4-34 before this game! This is the school’s first winning streak under his tenure!

55 POINTS!

Good thing the Big Ten poached Rutgers to get that New York market.

Nebraska lost to Troy, 24-19.

This happened in Lincoln. It was Scott Frost’s second game as head coach of the Cornhuskers. He lost the other one, too, but at least that was to another Power Five school (Colorado).

The Curse of Solich lives on.

Illinois lost to South Florida, 24-18.

The Fighting Illini were 2-0 entering this match-up in Chicago, though those games were against Kent State and Western Illinois. Illinois led this one 19-7 before collapsing in the fourth quarter. The Lovie Smith project is still going poorly, though should end soon.

#6 Wisconsin lost to BYU, 24-21.

This one hurts the most as Wisconsin was a) ranked in the Top 10, and b) the best looking team in the Big Ten West. Now the West looks like a complete joke. Tough blow for the division, tougher blower for the conference, seeing its second-best team lose at home to an unranked program.

Purdue lost to Missouri, 40-37.

Playing at Purdue, QB David Blough set a school record for passing yards with 572–and the Boilermakers still lost, this time as time expired on a field goal by Mizzou’s Tucker McCann.

After going 7-6 with a bowl win in coach Jeff Brohm’s first year at the program, the Boilermakers have now fallen to 0-3 in Year Two.

Northwestern lost to Akron, 39-34.

Really, only two things have to be said about this game. One, it was played in Evanston, Illinois. Two, it was Akron’s first win against a Big Ten team since 1894.

That pretty much sums up the entire Big Ten’s performance so far this season.

 

 

 

AFC West Thoughts After Opening Sunday

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Denver Broncos” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Cullen Jekel

 

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs showed a lot of positives in their 2018 opening win in Los Angeles against the Chargers. For one, the win basically gives them a two-game lead on their division foe with the return game later in the season at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

WR Tyreek Hill showed up in a big way, scoring long touchdowns by way of punt return and a catch-and-run. He added another later on some trickery.

Perhaps most importantly, though, second-year QB Patrick Mahomes (of Texas Tech fame) lived up to the high expectations placed upon him as soon as the Chiefs traded Alex Smith. Yes, it’s only one game–but it was a big game, and Mahomes responded. While he only connected on 15 of 27 pass attempts, he connected with his teammates for four touchdown passes. He also consistently showed off his cannon of an arm while adding in some touch passes for flavor.

Now some shows for concern:

  • RB Kareem Hunt averaged just a hair over 3 yards per carry*;
  • TE Travis Kelce was held to one catch for 6 yards;
  • WR’s not named Tyreek Hill didn’t grab more than 3 catches;
  • Chargers QB Phillip Rivers shredded the secondary.

*The team, collectively, gained 106 yards on 27 attempts.

Overall, a good first week for the Chiefs. They did what they needed to do to win a divisional away game, and can now address their weaknesses.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

Before its defense could even take the field, the Chargers were losing, and they never recovered.

Special Teams hurt L.A. all day, from Tyreek Hill’s 91-yard punt return touchdown, to fumbling away a punt at a point where the game’s outcome was still in question, to Kicker Caleb Sturgis’ missed field goal in the fourth quarter that would have made it a seven-point ball-game.

Outside of WR Keenan Allen, Chargers’ wide receivers had a tough game, with multiple passes getting dropped, including several that would have resulted in big gains, if not touchdowns.

As far as positives, Phillip Rivers showed he’s not slowing down any time soon. He lit up the Chiefs for 424 passing yards and three touchdown passes. RB Melvin Gordon had a decent game on the ground, but he also collected 9 receptions for 100 yards receiving.

Fix some boneheadedness and the Chargers will be dangerous, but it’s not like this is a new thing for them. The same problem plagued them last year. They fixed it, eventually, to finish 9-3 in their last twelve games–but they were winless in their first four match-ups, and 9-7 wasn’t good enough for the playoffs.

 

Denver Broncos

New QB Case Keenum threw three interceptions yesterday against the Seattle Seahawks, and yet the Broncos still won 27-24.

Overall, Keenum went 25 for 39 for 329 yards and three touchdown passes to go along with those interceptions. WR Emmanuel Sanders did most of the damage, hauling in 10 receptions for 135 yards and one touchdown. WR Demaryius Thomas enjoyed a solid outing that included a touchdown reception. On the ground, the Broncos ran it 32 times for a collective 146 yards, splitting carries between rookie RB Royce Freeman and RB Phillip Lindsay (who also had a TD reception).

The defense gave up a shade under 300 yards in the air and three touchdown passes to QB Russell Wilson, but they also picked him off twice and held the Seattle running attack to under 70 yards. Led by LB Von Miller’s three sacks, the team collected a total of five. Kicker Brandon McManus nailed both of his field goal attempts, including a 53-yarder.

This team is already looking better than my predicted 4-12 record.

 

Oakland Raiders

No, the Raiders haven’t played yet in Week One.

Yes, I’m going to make some comments about them anyway, and only because EDGE Khalil Mack made his debut for the Chicago Bears last night.

It was really a win-lose for the Oakland Las Vegas Raiders last night: Mack showed up big in prime time for the Bears, recording one sack, recovering a fumble, and scoring on a 27-yard pick-six. Why, again, did the Raiders trade this guy?

However, that effort was ultimately futile, as the Bears blew a huge lead to lose to the Green Bay Packers 24-23. The Bears are a young team with a young QB and a young head coach. They will struggle this year, and the Raiders will benefit from that, having acquired Chicago’s first round draft pick as part of the deal for Mack.

Right now, though, it looks like just about everyone (except for Jon Gruden) predicted: Mack is worth it.

 

 

The Fade Away: Witnessing the Sad, Slow Decline of Albert Pujols

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Albert Pujols” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Cullen Jekel

Back on July 15, 2005, I attended my last St. Louis Cardinals game at the old Busch Stadium (or, if you remember Sportsman Park, Busch II).

The Cardinals, who in the previous year won the pennant for the first time in manager Tony La Russa‘s tenure, were battling the Houston Astros. Andy Pettitte, a future Hall of Famer, was on the mound for Houston against the Cardinals’ Mark Mulder.

This battle of southpaws went into the ninth inning with the Cardinals up 2-1. Closer Jason Isringhausen–like La Russa and Mulder, an ex-Athletic–promptly blew the save. On to extra innings.

And then for the first time in my life, I witnessed what is one of the most exciting plays in baseball: the walk-off home run.

In the 12th inning, suddenly down 3-2, against Chad Harville (I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember him), Cardinals 1B and resident superstar Albert Pujols came to bat with David Eckstein on first. Pujols launched a high fly ball to deep left-center. Houston’s left fielder, Orlando Palmeiro, and center fielder, Willy Taveras, converged on it. Taveras jumped, seemed to have snagged…

but came down empty.

Ball game. Cardinals win, 4-3.

***

Flash-forward a bit over four years. On August 28, 2009, I’m at the new Busch Stadium with my girlfriend, my father, my sister, and her husband.

Since that July 2005 game, the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, and Pujols has added to his lore. The man appears unstoppable (hence his nickname, The Machine), and is in the midst of his third MVP-year of his career, including his second straight.

Against the Washington Nationals that night, the Cardinals saved a solid outing by SP John Smoltz by tying the game at 2 apiece with a Khalil Greene solo home run in the 8th inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Pujols led off the inning against Nationals reliever Jason Bergmann.

And absolutely destroyed a pitch to left. Unlike in 2005, there was no doubt about this one.

Ball game. Cardinals win, 3-2.

***

Albert Pujols played eleven seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting 10 walk-off home runs, including the two described above. He won three Most Valuable Player Awards, made nine All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves, won three pennants, and won two World Series championships.

The second of those World Series championships came in 2011 when the Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers in seven games. After the series, La Russa announced his retirement.

And then Pujols left, signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

***

On August 29, 2018, the Angels announced that Pujols would miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his left leg. He still has three years left on his contact with the Angels, with $28 million due in 2019, $29 million in 2020, and $30 million in 2021, when Pujols will be 41 years old.

To say things have not gone according to plan since he joined the Angels would be an understatement. He’s made the All-Star team just once, and despite playing alongside the game’s best player, Mike Trout, has reached the playoffs just once. That was in 2014, when the Angels had the best record in baseball. They were promptly swept in the divisional round by the Kansas City Royals.

After slashing .328/.420/.617 for eleven years in St. Louis, he’s slashed a mere .260/.315/.453 with L.A.

Pujols missing the rest of the year is no big blow to the Angels. While not mathematically eliminated, they are well out of contention yet again, below .500 once more. Pujols finishes 2018 slashing .245/.289/.411 with 19 home runs and 64 runs batted in. For only the second time in his career (the first being 2013, his second year in L.A.), he’ll finish with below 500 plate appearances.

While undoubtedly a first-ballot, should-be-unanimous future Hall-of-Famer, he’s gone from superstar to below-average player. The Angels may be better off making him ride the pine.

***

That’s what happens when athletes age. It’s unnerving and uncomfortable to watch. Instead of gracefully exiting, they fade out–usually with a different team, usually not on their own terms.

With superstars/future Hall of Famers, it’s worse, because teams will keep giving these guys chances. This happens in all sports. It’s painful to watch a center fielder who can no longer field, a running back who lacks quickness, a quarterback with flailing arm strength or accuracy, or a basketball player with diminished skill.

Think of these guys:

Those guys had little-to-nothing left to give, but because of their statute, they didn’t go quietly in the night. Rather they went gradually, cruelly fading before fans’ eyes as they limped off into the sunset.

Heroes no more.

***

For me, Albert Pujols’ slow fade away out of greatness and into retirement hits closer to home than that of Smith, Mays, Unitas, or Shaq.

I didn’t grow up a Dallas Cowboys fan, so while seeing Smith suiting up for Arizona was shocking, it didn’t sadden me. Same goes with The Big Aristotle–rather a vagabond if you think about it–playing out his days with the Celtics.

Seeing pictures of The Say-Hey Kid worn down with the Mets is jolting, but he last played in 1973, well before I was born. Same with Unitas under center with the Chargers–that also took place in 1973.

With Pujols, it’s different, closer to home. He played for my favorite team. He debuted while I was in middle school. I watched him during my high school years, then college years, then post-graduate years, into adulthood.

It is saddening to watch old highlights of him with the Cardinals followed by current ones with him in a different shade of red.

It hurts watching him limp around the bases and being banished to a DH* role. After all, he started his career as a third baseman before moving to left field. He moved to first base full-time in his fourth season and won two Gold Gloves there. But that was all in St. Louis.

*This year he played more games at 1B than DH–this may have had something to do with his season-ending injury.

For whatever reason, Pujols has faded from the public eye. Overall, it’s disheartening watching him fade while he plays on a noncompetitive team. There is already talk that the Angels may notshould not–bring him back for an eighth season with the team.

If Pujols and the Angels agree to part ways, it would be best for him to hang it up, but there’s going to be some team that will want to bring him on. He’s no longer a threat to break the all-time home run record, yet he would provide leadership to a team and the threat of some pop off the bench.

And so, he’ll retire as an Angel, or a member of some other team–not a member of the team with which he is best known.

He’ll retire on his last legs, fading as we watch him–not a superstar, not the best player on his team. Probably not even a starter.

And he’ll retire, I’m guessing, not after an October playoff push, but rather on a team eliminated, or out of contention, by the beginning of September.

Worst of all, like Willie Mays with the Mets*, not a hero, but the shell of a former one.

*Though Mays indeed retired after playing in the World Series. His Mets lost in seven to the Athletics. Mays appeared in only three games, going 2-for-7.

***

The schedule for the 2019 MLB season was released a couple of weeks ago.

After not visiting St. Louis as a member of the Angels for the last seven years, Albert Pujols will make his return to the Gateway to the West for a series next June.

Here’s to the Cardinals organization properly recognizing him.

Here’s to the Cardinals fans warmly welcoming him back.

Here’s to Albert Pujols bucking the trend, defeating the odds, and gracefully exiting from Major League Baseball.

 

2018 NFL Predictions: AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers
IMG_2426” by Nathan Rupert is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Cullen Jekel

 

1. Kansas City Chiefs

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 10-6

Postseason Result: In Alex Smith’s last game under center for Kansas City, the Chiefs managed to blow an 18-point lead at home against the Tennessee Titans, losing 22-21.

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • Signed free agent WR Sammy Watkins away from the Rams and ILB Anthony Hitchens from Dallas.
  • Overhauled the CB position by signing David Amerson (Raiders) and Orlando Scandrick (Redskins, though he never played a down for them) and traded for Kendall Fuller (Redskins).
  • Drafted DE Breeland Speaks (Ole Miss) in the second round before adding DT Derrick Nnadi (Florida State) and OLB Dorian O’Daniel (Clemson) in the third.

Offseason Departures: 

  • Traded Alex Smith to Washington as part of the Fuller deal.
  • Traded Marcus Peters to the Rams.
  • Defensive veterans Tambi Hali, Derrick Johnson, Ron Parker, Bennie Logan, and Darrelle Revis are gone.
  • Three other CB’s signed elsewhere, including Phillip Gaines, who left for Buffalo.
  • Lost OL Zach Fulton to the Texans.
  • Assistant head coach Brad Childress retired only to later re-surface as the head coach of the Atlanta franchise in the start-up league, Alliance of American Football.
2018 Preview/The Big Question

The West is there for the taking once again. This team, leaning on second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, may experience more bumps in the road than they’d like, especially with an offensive line that has looked rather porous so far this preseason.

As a unit, however, this offense is supposed to light up the scoreboard with the big-armed Mahomes calling the shots and Watkins and Tyreek Hill on the outside. Travis Kelce is the best tight end in the league outside of Boston, and second-year running back Kareem “The Dream” Hunt looks to build on his stellar rookie campaign. If the line holds up, and it should do so just enough, then the Chiefs will roll up the points.

The question lies on the defensive side of things. Will this secondary unit, rebuilt seemingly on the fly, be able to thwart opposing aerial attacks? Landing Fuller in the Smith trade was great, as was nabbing Amerson from Oakland and later Scandrick off the scrap-heap, but this unit would be so much better had the Chiefs kept Marcus Peters. Outside of Eric Berry (coming off a major injury, mind you), the safeties are thin. This team will depend on a pass rush that managed only 31 sacks last year, good for just 24th in the league.

There could be a lot of high-scoring games this year. Mahomes, who only started one (meaningless) game last year, needs to have it together as soon as the season kicks off.

Prediction: 10-6

 

2. Los Angeles Chargers

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 9-7

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • Signed C Mike Pouncey away from Miami while adding TE Virgil Green from Denver.
  • Added back-up QB Geno Smith and K Caleb Sturgis.
  • In the draft, they went heavy on defense, using their first rounder on S Derwin James (Florida State), a second round pick on OLB Uchenna Nwosu (USC), a third round pick on DT Justin Jones (North Carolina State) and their fourth rounder on S Kyzir White (West Virginia).

Offseason Departures: 

  • Though he had considerably slowed down, it will be weird to watch a Chargers offense without TE Antonio Gates.
  • Lost some depth both on the offensive and defensive side of the football.
2018 Preview/The Big Question

The Chargers are notorious for having players who are unable to stay healthy. This year is no different, with free-agent acquisition S Jaylen Watkins already ruled out of the year with an ACL injury. Joining him is CB Jason Verrett with an Achilles injury. It’s not good to have that depleted of a secondary before, you know, the season starts.

But I’m looking at Philip Rivers. How much does he have left in the tank? The dude’s 36 years old (37 in December), entering his 15th season. He’s started every single game since he took over for Drew Brees at the start of 2006.

In 2015 and 2016, the Chargers won a combined 9 games. They matched that last year. But was 2017 a mirage or the real thing?

Sure, Rivers has stud WR Keenan Allen and Swiss Army Knife Melvin Gordon out of the backfield, but it feels like time is catching up with Rivers. I think he slows down this year, putting some urgency on the front office staff to look at drafting a QB sooner rather than later.

Prediction: 7-9, missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

 

3. Oakland Raiders

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 6-10

Postseason Result: Ha. Good one.

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • Most importantly (to them), they (re-)hired Jon Gruden, who coached them from 1998-2001, a tenure that included two playoff wins. Gruden helped build a team that would reach Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden brought in his own coordinators, too, with Greg Olsen on offense and Paul Guenther on defense.
  • The team was busy in adding players too, trading for wide receiver Martavis Bryant from Pittsburgh. They also added WR Jordy Nelson in free agency from the Packers.
  • RB Doug Martin comes over from Tampa Bay to back-up Marshawn Lynch.
  • Defensive additions include CB Rashaan Melvin (Indy), MLB Derrick Johnson (Kansas City), and OLB Tahir Whitehead (Detroit).
  • In the draft, they primarily addressed their lines, taking OT Kolton Miller out of UCLA in the first round, followed by DT P.J. Hall (Sam Houston State) in the second and DE Arden Key (LSU) in the third.

Offseason Departures: 

  • Cleaned out the coaching ranks with none bigger than canning Jack Del Rio, who had been the head coach there since 2015.
  • They cut Michael Crabtree, who landed in Baltimore.
  • Longtime kicker Sebastian Janikowski is now in Seattle.
  • Punter Marquette King is now in Denver, while CB David Amerson joined the Chiefs.
2018 Preview/The Big Question

Really, the AFC West is there for the taking. However, the Raiders have a stench about them. A 4-12, 5-11 kind of stink that always seems to come to Oakland. For all the makeover in the offseason, the offensive line still looks weak and they’ll still be depending on a washed-up Beast Mode. Their franchise QB, Derek Carr, regressed last year, and top WR Amari Cooper has trouble catching the football.

The defense, despite having perhaps the best edge rusher in the league in Khalil Mack, hasn’t been solid in years, and it in no way, shape, or form improved over the past six months.

However, the move to hire Jon Gruden away from ESPN is baffling. It’s not as if Gruden rode off into the sunset at his last head coaching job before joining The Mothership. No, he flamed out in spectacular fashion with the Buccaneers–and that was in 2008. The game has changed a lot since then. Yes, Gruden had a front row seat to that evolution, but it’s different watching the game from the broadcast booth than from the sidelines.

This hire may work. It may not. With the team moving to Las Vegas in the near future, owner Mark Davis wanted a splashy, showman leading his team. He got one, but everyone’s pretending Gruden’s still a head coach.

Gruden went 38-26 in four seasons with the Raiders in his first tenure there. Expect this one to be shorter, and also less successful

Prediction: 5-11, missing the playoffs.

 

4. Denver Broncos

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 5-11

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • Brought in QB Case Keenum from the Vikings.
  • Signed punter Marquette King away from divisional rival Raiders.
  • Traded for T Jared Veldheer from the the Cardinals, and did the same with S Su’a Cravens from the Redskins.
  • The Broncos are banking on their first three draft picks paying dividends early. With the #5 overall pick, Denver took DE Bradley Chubb. They Followed that up in the second round taking WR Courtland Sutton from SMU.
  • Equally as important, if not more so, the Broncos selected their new starting RB, Royce Freeman (Oregon), in the third round.

Offseason Departures: 

  • Dealt QB Trevor Siemian to Minnesota.
  • Dealt CB Aqib Talib to the Rams.
  • Released longtime RB C.J. Anderson.
  • QB Brock Osweiller left for the Dolphins, while WRs Cody Latimer (Giants) and Bennie Fowler (Bears) also exited stage right.
2018 Preview/The Big Question

Have the Broncos found their answer at quarterback? It all depends on that. Despite another solid outing by the defense last year, the Broncos cratered to 5-11 because they had no good answer at the most important position on the field.

HC Vance Joseph, in his first year in Denver, cycled through Siemian, Osweiller, and (for two games) Paxton Lynch. None could lead the team, and that led GM John Elway to sign Keenum in the offseason.

Keenum, though, may turn out to be a one-hit wonder. If that’s the case, Joseph’s career in Denver will be short and bittersweet. Even more surprising is that Keenum’s failure could spell the end of Elway’s reign as de facto czar of the Broncos.

Keenum will have the tools to succeed, including the aforementioned Freeman and Sutton, and also stud WR Demaryius Thomas. Keenum needs to prove that last year was no fluke, and that he’s the QB he was in 2017 as opposed to the QB in 2012-2016.

My prediction is that he’s more of the latter than the former.

Prediction: 4-12, earning a shot at West Virginia’s Will Grier or Missouri’s Drew Lock, if they should so desire.

 

Predicted division standings:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
  2. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
  3. Oakland Raiders (5-11)
  4. Denver Broncos (4-12)

The Raiders Keep on Raidering

Oakland Raiders
2011 Oakland Raiders” by Charlie Lyons-Pardue is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

By Cullen Jekel

The world in which we live is an ever changing one, but some things, thankfully, remain the same. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, taxes must paid, babies are born, and couples get married.

And the Oakland Raiders screw things up.

This time, they’re screwing it up with arguably their best player, Khalil Mack.

For a minute there, back in 2016, it looked like the Raiders had steadied the ship despite still being owned by a Davis. For the first time since reaching Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002, the Raiders posted a winning record, going 12-4, and clinched a playoff berth.

Their rising QB, Derek Carr, led a potent offensive attack including wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree that had just finished 6th in yards and 7th in points. The defense still struggled (26th in yards allowed and 20th in points allowed), but it boasted a burgeoning superstar off the edge in Mack, veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith, and young corner back in David Amerson.

Led by Jack Del Rio, this team’s trajectory was pointed up. Then things took a dive.

First, owner Mark Davis got his wish when the league voted to allow his moving of the franchise to Las Vegas starting in the 2020 season. After that, when actual football was played, injuries mounted, players underachieved, and the Raiders, preseason darlings, finished well outside the playoff picture, staggering to a 6-10 finish.

Davis then canned Jack the River. Understandable really, as Del Rio didn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence with which to begin. However, Davis then made the head-scratching decision to replace him with Jon Gruden–he of ESPN who hadn’t coached an NFL team since bombing out with the Buccaneers in 2008.

Sure, Gruden has a Super Bowl ring (against the Raiders–awkward), and he built the Raiders into a consistent winner–well, for two seasons under him and the year after he left under Bill Callahan.

But that was over fifteen years ago.

Now that he’s back on the sidelines, Gruden has forgotten how to handle players. He’s forgotten that he needs to connect with his employees because now, unlike at ESPN, how he fares depends solely upon how well his employees perform.

Look, the offense tanked last year. The Raiders dropped 16 spots in points scored. The offensive look doesn’t look great, Carr has regressed, the wide receiving group is a giant question mark, and the team’s leading running back is 32.

The defense didn’t improve at all from 2016, but it didn’t regress either. Mack, undoubtedly this team’s MVP, tore it up again, adding another 10.5 sacks to his career total.

For his career, Mack has 40.5 sacks in four seasons plus another 231 tackles. He isn’t just this defense’s best player, he is the team’s defense. It starts and stops with him. As he goes, the Raiders go, which is why it’s so baffling the Raiders are taking a stance against paying him. He’s holding out for a new long-term deal, and the Raiders’ brass won’t budge. He has completely outplayed his contract since being drafted 5th overall in 2014 out of Buffalo. Now that he’s asking for his, the Raiders–well, Davis and Gruden–won’t give in.

This team is going to have a hard enough time as it is with Mack in 2018. The AFC West could still be won as the Kansas City Chiefs turn things over to QB Pat Mahomes II, who’s essentially a rookie; the Los Angeles Chargers are one big hit on Philip Rivers away from depending on ex-Jet Geno Smith; and have you seen the Denver Broncos quarterbacks play?

But the Raiders have a stench about them. Mark Davis can’t have nice things. He has this team that just went 12-4 and he runs it into the ground as quickly as possible. In a year in which his team could compete, it feels like they’ll buckle yet again. Especially without Mack.

Without Mack, 3-13, 4-12 both seem like distinct possibilities. The Raiders will crater if they trade him to, say, the Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, or even the Buffalo Bills.

Without Mack though, AFC West fanbases should all chip in and send a “Thank You” card to Gruden.

Welcome back, Chucky.