The way too soon, season prediction. Part 1

Hello Cards fans. After looking at the schedule, measuring the Vegas odds, and even some fantasy projections; here is what I think is going to happen this year.

In this post I will look at the first three games of the year and I will follow up with another three game prediction shortly.

Let’s start with a couple assumptions that I am making to create this breakdown. We will stay relatively healthy. No injuries to the nine guys that made the most recent NFL top 100 list or to thin position groups like cornerback or O-line. But, I am making that assumption for all of our opponents as well.

Cardinals 23- Patriots 20

The offense has not looked like itself without John Brown stretching the field. He is going to be out of shape and out of sync when he does come back.

The Patriots D is tough even with the loss of Rob Ninkovich and will hold us to only two touchdowns. One on the ground and one through the air. But they will get an easy score themselves off of a bad Palmer turnover.

The three Catanzaro field goals will be the difference even if he does miss one of his tries.

Cardinals 31- Bucs 17

The Cardinals have a week under their belt and are a little more balanced in their attack. Both Johnsons will score on the ground and Palmer will throw a pair of touchdown passes. One may be to a running back, but a pass non the less.

The Bucs are outmatched and their front seven is better than in the past, but they are not ready for our road grading O-line.

Jameis Winston will throw a beautiful pass for a score, but will make enough boneheaded plays that his team will be out of the game by the second quarter. BA won’t be happy with how we finish.

Cardinals 20- Bills 13

Low scoring affair with two very good defenses slugging it out. We are lucky to have drawn this cold weather road game so early in the season. We will look bad on the east coast like we have in the past, but our D will win this game for us and bring us back home 3-0.

Honeybadger gets back into form against a team that likes to throw to the slot and people will start talking early about the DPOY race after this game. Catanzaro will have another miss outside in the wind.

I expect a fast start to this season like we have had for the last two seasons. Our D will be slightly ahead of the offense at this point of the year, but I think that will change as we go on.

I will follow up with games four through six in a couple days, but will have all 16 games before the start of week one.

Let me know if you guys would like to see predictions for any other teams.

#LongBall

Tragically Hip

This week, while I was traveling in Toronto and North Bay, Ontario there has been talk of a national event. It has been mentioned on every radio station that I have listened to, talked about by our tour guide, and pop up t-shirt carts have started selling commemorative apparel. It is not for hockey and it is not one the biggest MMA fights in the world and it is not for the Olympics. It is for a band. 

The Tragically Hip are playing their last concert ever in their hometown Kingston and it will be on multiple broadcast television channels. Lead singer Gord Downie has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and will be saying farewell to the stage tonight. 

I have been trying to wrap my head around a band’s farewell concert being broadcast equivalent to the way we broadcast the President’s State of the Union address on CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC in the States. 

The Tragically Hip are a national treasure in Canada. They have been around since the 80’s and without reaching fame in the US they have reached ultimate celebrity in the Great North. 

From my American perspective their level of stardom is mind blowing. I have yet to pass a bar that is not advertising a viewing party  for the Hip on the same night as UFC 202 and Canadians love MMA. I have even heard it called Tragically Hip Day, but I have not confirmed that. 

In the States we have been blessed with thousands and thousands of world class musicians and it would be impossible to call one our national band. 

I was trying to think of any band, if hit with the type of tragedy as the Hip is faced with, would garner this much national attention. Enough to cause a major network to change their programming and air their performance live.

Here is the list that I was able to come up with after some conversations with friends. 

Maroon 5: After hitting the national stage with their first album “Songs About Jane” and Adam Lavine staring in The Voice he could probably draw the attention of NBC with his relationship with the network. I am not sure that they have been around long enough to demand multiple networks covering the show.

Aerosmith: Even without playing a show together for years. If something were to happen to Steven Tyler it would draw the nation’s attention. Like Adam Lavine, Tyler may be able to draw the network he already has a relationship with, but I don’t think it would be covered on multiple channels. 

Bon Jovi: The east coast might come to a complete stop if something happened to Bon Jovi and he was forced to play only one last show. I am not sure it would be as detrimental to California as New York and Jersey. 

Beyoncé: I know she is not technically a band, but it would change the feel of the music industry, the way that Michael or Prince’s passing did. She might be one that is loved enough to get a farewell tour broadcast nationally.

Justin Timberlake: This is the one. Being from Memphis and living in LA, JT has coast to coast appeal. His appearances on SNL and roles in movies transcends him beyond his music career. But a farewell concert would draw as well or better than a Super Bowl. 

That is my list. I would love to hear yours. Once you get past the morbid thought of giving your favorite performers brain cancer, it is an interesting conversation to have with your friends. 

#LongBall

The Legend Of: Jerry Colangelo 

With Olympics in full swing and the US Men’s National Basketball Team a center piece of the United States’ dominant presence in Rio, I thought it would be a good time to talk about my guy, Jerry Colangelo.

I don’t know many people outside of Arizona or absolute basketball fanatics that even know the name, but he has had a major impact in our sports landscape.

I was introduced to Colangelo as the understated, but supremely respected owner of the Phoenix Suns. He was the man behind the Charles Barkley era and one of only two finals appearances in the team’s history.

This was an amazing time to be a Suns fan with a new arena in downtown Phoenix and Colangelo’s paint the valley purple marketing taking over the city.

I remember my mom selling Suns themed gift baskets and teddy bears to her friends. Business was booming during the championship run, but ended quickly when John Paxson hit that game winner at the end of game 6. My dad even took me to the arena for an away game where Colangelo opened up the stadium for us to watch the game on the jumbo trons. I don’t know how many teams were doing this in 1993, but it seemed genius to me at the time.

Now if this is where the story ended this would not be a tale of legend, but in fact the opposite because the next move that he made was to sell the team to an ownership group that included Robert Sarver. Sarver would be the worst owner in the league, if it didn’t already have some racist and genuinely crazy old guys.

But the Colangelo legend doesn’t end there. He brought baseball to the valley in 1998. I was in junior high and remember the newspaper front page showing the purple and teal uniforms with the moniker of the Diamondbacks. I was stoked. I didn’t really follow baseball, but had an affinity for the Yankees (I know but I was a kid and they were always winning). But now that we had our own team, I was 100% on board.

It was only a few years later that I remember watching Game 7 of the World Series with my future wife. Jesse Maguire played the national anthem on the trumpet, a B2 stealth bomber did the fly over and we were playing the Yankees.

It was the bottom of the 9th and Luis Gonzalez hit a blooper over Derek Jeter’s head as Jay Bell and his wire-framed glasses scored the game winning run.

Colangelo had brought a championship to Phoenix. Our first and only championship in any of the four major sports. Sure we have been dominate in arena football (Colangelo also owned this team from 1992-2005) and have since had some pretty good women’s basketball played here, but it still stands as our lone beacon of hope.

Again Colangelo sold the team to an ownership group that has not been able to duplicate the success that he had.

In 2005, Colangelo was asked to help take over the US Men’s Basketball Team. The team had not won a major international tournament since the year 2000. With now real leadership and guidelines, the team had believed that they could just show up and win in the Olympics. Colangelo’s first move was to bring in Coach K. This helped him secure the top talent in the NBA to participate and he also made it mandatory that players join the program for the smaller FIBA tournaments to be included on the Olympic roster.

It has obviously worked. We are undefeated since then and by the end of this Olympics will have won three gold medals.

Locally in Phoenix he took over and restored the bankrupt Wigwam resort, a local treasure that has been in the west valley of Phoenix since just after World War I.

He has also taken a major role in Grand Canyon University with sponsoring their sports marketing program and helping them to obtain Division One status for their basketball program that is coached by Thunder Dan Majerle.

Phoenix and our entire sports culture would look extremely different without Colangelo’s experience and leadership. Recently, the Philadelphia 76ers recognized his leadership and have brought him in as a consultant to help rebuild that team.

After all of this, I think I am still mad at him for selling the Suns. But, when asked why he has not helped the struggling Suns as he is with Philadelphia he had a pretty clear answer, “I was not asked.”

#TheLegendOf

#LongBall

The Legend Of: Pat Tillman

It was hard for me to decide how best to approach this article. Pat Tillman is a legend and a hero across the country. But what he has meant to the state of Arizona is immeasurable. How do you capture that kind of life with words on a screen? I can’t, but if there is a story worth telling over and over, it is this one.

I am a huge football fan and no secret that I have a love for the Cardinals that some would describe as unhealthy. I am not a big fan of ASU athletics, but as a Phoenix native and my wife being an alumni, they have been something I am more than familiar with.

This is how I learned about Pat Tillman. For a few hours a week, I would watch him work. How he handled himself on the sidelines and sprinted on and off the field regardless of circumstance. The announcers constantly touting his academic prowess as well as his hard hitting attitude.

From my perspective, the best way to describe the Pat Tillman I watched, is an underrated star. Even as he was coming out of high school where he was great and helped lead his team to a division I title. He was told he was too small to play at the next level. Not only did he play, but he excelled and not at a small Division 2 school, but a major PAC-10 (at the time) school. Of course as he ended his college career he was not high on many teams draft boards and once again was told he was too small to play at the pro level.

But again, Pat defied his critics and was drafted by the Cardinals keeping the local star in the valley, but as the seventh round pick he was not ensured of even making the roster. He continued to fly around and make plays like he always had in high school and college, and so he made the roster.

However, making the roster also meant he would be buried on the depth chart and never see the field, but that changed quickly getting 10 starts in his rookie season.  In 2001 he set a team record with 224 tackles in a single season.

This is where the story becomes legend. Many players have silenced doubters and overcome long odds to make it to the NFL. But Pat Tillman truly was unique. He was more introspective and intellectual than he was jock or brute. He didn’t let football define who he was or who he was going to be. After the Cardinals were set to extend his existing rookie contract to give him millions of dollars, Pat walked away. He walked away from a career that millions of people envy, to join the military.

In the wake of September 11th Pat Tillman was inspired. He wanted something bigger and more meaningful than playing a game on Sundays.

Pat told a reporter, “At times like this you stop and think about just how good we have it, what kind of system we live in, and the freedoms we are allowed. A lot of my family has gone and fought in wars and I really haven’t done a damn thing.”

Joining the military or Army doesn’t really describe what he did though. Pat was an Army Ranger. He wanted to be on the front lines with his brother Kevin that joined with him to fight for our country. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for the freedoms that he cherished.

Pat was shot and killed by friendly fire on April 22nd of 2004. I was sworn into the Air Force 6 days after that on April 28th, 2004. The news didn’t reach me until a few months later after I had completed basic training and technical school in Texas. I was home assisting my local recruiter before heading to my permanent duty station in Las Vegas when I remember thinking about the tragedy and how it could have been different. The coward in me was thankful that I picked the Air Force. For the most part, I would be safe from that type of firefight in a canyon in the Middle East that took Pat’s life. At the time I found out, it was not disclosed that it was friendly fire and speculation  of an attempt to cover up the incident by high ranking Army officials was rumored, but it didn’t matter to me.

What I knew was the guy I grew up watching and admiring was gone. In the service of his country and all that he held dear, he gave the ultimate sacrifice. Pat was a hero the day that he swore this oath;

 “I, Pat Tillman, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of Second Lieutenant do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.”

But out of this tragedy his legend grew. He lives on through the Pat Tillman Foundation, the annual Pat’s Run, the PT42 mantra adopted by ASU football, but most importantly his family.

I am really looking forward to watching “A Football Life: Pat Tillman” airing October 28th of this year. I think this story is worth remembering and worth retelling to our kids and their kids and their kids.

Thank you Pat.

#TheLegendOf

#LongBall

The Legend Of: Micheal Phelps

This is the first installment of a series that I am calling the #TheLegendOf. I will cover world class sports figures that I have been able to watch and enjoy in my lifetime.

With the news tonight of Michael Phelps getting his 22nd gold medal, I thought starting with him would be fitting.

Darren Rovell put it fantastically in a recent tweet.

16 years ago, the 2000 Olympiad Michael Phelps splashed onto the scene (Sorry about that, I couldn’t help myself). He was a 15 year old kid that still had braces on his bottom teeth. He finish fifth place in the 200m butterfly.

His teammate and gold medal winner of that event patted Phelps on the back and told him, “The best is ahead of you,” according to “No Limits,” one of Phelp’s autobiographies.

I don’t think the man that beat him that day had any idea how much was still ahead of Phelps.

He is now the most decorated Olympian of all time.

He has the most overall medals, the most gold medals and the most individual wins of any competitor ever,  beating out Leonidis of Rhodes from 152 BCE. The previous 2168 year old record fell to our 6’4″ tall (but only 32 inch inseam) canoe of a man in 2016. Phelps has as more medals than 84 different countries. Morocco is tied with him at 22 gold medals and they have competed in 13 different Olympiads.

Phelps has a beautiful wife and adorable baby with him in Rio. He can walk away now and will be remembered as the greatest of all time and he should. There is nothing left to prove. No mountain to climb and nothing but the future in front of him.

Now, not to be a downer, but…

I would throw any of these accomplishments into the most unbreakable records of all time with Brett Farve’s career wins and Cal Ripkin’s Iron Man records. But the standout of them all is a young girl named Katie Ledeke.

That is how good she is. In an article that is meant to show the greatness of the best swimmer to ever walk on this earth; Ledeke has a shot to top her teammate Phelps and I will be writing an article about her legend in 16 years.

#TheLegendOf

#LongBall

Worst Sports Movie Ever

In America, we have have all been taught the power and importance of the freedom of choice. Because of this we are always looking to capture the best option and are quick to label something as better or best than it’s competition.

My wife, her cousin, and I were at a winery in Napa a couple of years ago. We were on a tour and at this particular winery they would take you on a tour of their caves that they aged barrels of wine in. We had a fantastic guide from New Zealand that had a great accent and an even better job. We meandered through the cool corridors of the caves lined with casks of wine and every few barrels he would insert some sort glass flange to extract wine directly from the barrel for us to try. About 10 minutes into the tour we got to a pair of barrels and he was describing the type of grape that was used and that this particular batch was split into two different casks. One was made of a French Oak and the other American Oak. I am not so naive to think that American Oak is better than French, but I was not willing to concede that fact without asking the expert. So Mr. New Zealand wine guy “Which is better, the American of French?”

In his charming accent he laughed at me and then quickly apologized for laughing, but said that it was a very “American” question. He explained to us that the difference was simply that, just different. He went on with an analogy of his dress socks and how he would pair them depending on the suit he was wearing, but he didn’t have a favorite pair of socks, they were just different.

I was a little offended that he laughed at me, but his message hit home. Since that day, I have tried to be careful to not compare things and try to rank them if not absolutely necessary. Now, I am not doing this to be more politically correct or some anti-American bias, but to simply get rid of the idea that something has to be best and open myself up to trying new things.

I say all of that to explain that when I do call something the best or the worst, it has been thoughtfully considered.

So when a couple of friends and I got into a conversation about sports movies and this movie came up, I was clear. Hoosiers is the worst sports movie of all time and here is why.

It sells itself as a classic come-from-behind redemption story, but really it’s not. Hackman, who plays a failed college coach is forced to take a job at a high school in a tiny town after being fired. Why was Hackman fired? He hit a kid.

He then hires the town drunk to be his assistant to help turn the team around. Except he can’t. At least not without the star player, Jimmy Chitwood, that is not playing because he is neglecting his school work. So to get the team moving in the right direction, he decides to forgo developing his team into the best they can be and focuses his attention on badgering the teacher who is keeping Chitwood on the sidelines.

Then we get to the climax of the movie as they make it to the state championship and they are paired against an all black team in the 1950s. The racism is dripping off of the screen and classic sports stereotypes are brought to life before your eyes. The overdone back and forth Rocky style of a sports game is played with Chitwood hitting the game winning shot.

The only real winner in the movie is Denis Hopper that played the drunk assistant, who is able to put the bottle down long enough to help the team win. His accomplishment however is almost completely thrown away as they focus on Hackman and Chitwood and their respective victories. We celebrate the redemption of a coach that went from college failure to lower division high school champ, because he didn’t assault anyone this time around.

This movie was fantastically directed and had a feel good ending that everyone was rooting for, but those two things did not make up for the biggest problem with the movie. The plot.

#LongBall

 

 

Three Big Signings!!!

Steve Keim is the best GM in football and it is not even close.

With hundreds of roster moves at the back end of the roster, finding veteran diamonds in the rough, and keeping the core players happy and paid, he is killing it.

His first extension to get done this training camp, may be the most exciting. Honey badger is a once in lifetime talent and is a redemption story for the ages.

It was not a straight forward negotiation with both sides working to get what was best. You can tell that Tyrann was frustrated with the process, but in the end both sides knew it would happen.

The relationship between Tyrann Mathieu  and the Cardinals is probably the symbiotic player/organization pairing in the league. Mathieu’s troubles prior to the NFL are well chronicled, but it is not as well known of a story about how he has become who he is today. When the Peterson’s (Patrick and his father) moved Mathieu into their home, it gave him the structure that he needed. Players like Rashad Johnson, Jarrod Powers, Darnell Dockett and most importantly Peterson all helped to provide guidance and support to a kid that was willing to listen and learn.

Tyrann treated his issue with Marijuana seriously and put his heart into the process. He had a pragmatic look at the mistakes he made. It slandered his name and cost him millions of dollars.

Steve Keim said this week there was a time that he looked at Mathieu’s name in his draft board and thought “there is no way”. But, Steve Keim is also the same guy that said if Hannibal Lecture could run a 4.3 forty, he would classify it a eating disorder. So it makes sense that as he watched more and more film of Mathieu that he was willing to learn more about him.

Keim also recently told a story about taking Mathieu to dinner and Keim’s six year old son was there and told his dad that Honey Badger was the real deal.

Hindsight is able to show us that Mathieu is the type of player and in this case more importantly the type of man the Cardinals needed. Taking risks and coming out ahead on this gives the team confidence to take chances on other players like Robert Nkemdiche, which could pay off big again for Keim.

These risks don’t always work out. The Cardinals know all too well what can happen if a player can’t get past issues with marijuana. Darryl Washington was one of the most promising up and coming players in the league before getting suspended indefinitely in 2013. He has still yet to be reinstated and is still on the Cardinals roster.

There is also defensive lineman Randy Gregory from the Cowboys, a team famous for taking risks on players as well. Gregory also had issues documented before the draft, but unlike Mathieu he has just been suspended for the first four games of this season.

So, as fan of him as person and a player, congrats to Tryann and his family. Hopefully, Arizona will be your home for life.

Then the other big news from the week, was extending both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald by a year.

This is a sign that BA and Keim believe the window for a super bowl is two years and not a one time, go big or go home year that this year has been shaping up to be.

This somewhat silences the questions about Fitz’ potential retirement. I have not looked at what this does to their cap number for the next two years, but you have to believe that this was also done in part to address resigning Chandler Jones next year.

It is widely anticipated that the Cardinals will use the franchise tag on Jones, to lock him up, but will need to come to an agreement before the season. Jones most likely won’t play on his tagged contract number if he has a big year.

This is a really great job of Keim identifying and solidifying a core of players that will keep the Cardinals competing for at least a couple more years.

In Keim we trust.

#LongBall

Rio is a disaster sure, but watch it anyway…

Every news outlet in the world has taken their shot at the upcoming Rio Olympics. The Olympic village is a disaster in a terrible part of town, the open water is a cesspool of disgustingness and the security of the events has been questioned from the start. Oh yeah, and Zika.

The other big issue interestingly enough that the media has not over covered is the Russian doping scandal. The fact that government officials are suspected to have helped the athletes avoid detection and some of the best competitors in the world will not be there is a big deal. If true, government involvement is the exact opposite of the spirit of the games.

Dispite this tweet:

Hope Solo actually feels the same way that I do. She is quoted in the Seattle Times as saying this:

“You look back in 2004 in Greece, and the same thing there, bad publicity surrounding the Games — and China (in 2008) as well,” Solo, 35, said. “I don’t know why, but we like to sensationalize everything and scare people and then … when the Games go on, everything goes on as planned, ends up being a beautiful tournament. And I expect no less here.”

The Olympic games are a celebration of human athletic achievement. The perfect mix of God given talent, combined with an unbreakable will and extraordinary work ethic. It is also the peaceful combination of cultures, all with a spirit of friendly competition.

Still, despite all of the negative press that has been given to this Olympic games, we should watch, and we probably will.

When the lights go on and the cameras roll, mankind’s best will be on display for the world. People that have dedicated their lives to something and given them purpose, in many cases their entire lives, have a one month long competition to live out their wildest dreams.

NBC will put on a show. Bob Costas will share insights of unbelievable feats accomplished and Herculean obstacles overcome by some of the athletes to have just made it to arrive in that one moment in time. Will Olympic regulars like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt rise up on the biggest stage and continue to impress or has father time slowed them down?

Who will emerge as the next big star like Gabby Douglas four years ago or Mia Hamm back in 1996.

I hope to catch a few of the highlights as the USMNBT beats every team by 20 points or more, without Steph Curry or Lebron James on the roster. I hope to see Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) dominate US wrestler standing on a podium and then step off on his way to a lucrative UFC fighting contract. I hope to see the US at the top of the Gold Medal count and hear the Star Spangled Banner played nonstop.

When the torch is lit and the games are played, you will forget about the stories of the dorms and the quality of the water for a handful of events and you will marvel.

So watch the Olympics and support these athletes, it is the American thing to do.

#LongBall

 

#CardsCamp Notes

Carson Palmer had the day off from throwing the ball, but did participate in some of the run game reps.

Here are some of the things that caught my eye:

There was good balance from both the offense and defense today. Patrick Peterson had an impressive twisting interception on a overthrow from Stanton.

Jaron Brown then beat rookie Brandon Williams on a post route for a 35 yard TD.

DJ Humphries had some really impressive blocks in the run game. One of which sprung David Johnson for a long TD run. He was celebrating his block so much that he forgot his assignment on the PAT after the score.

Kent Somers provided this insight:

He got beat badly a couple of times by Chandler Jones during some third and long scenarios. But in Humphries defense, Jones made a lot of people look bad all day.

Some of the middle and  back end of the roster played will today also.

Kareem Martin flashed a few times, stopping runners in the back field on couple of occasions and getting his hands on a ball that he was playing underneath coverage on. It was an impressive play as he was covering Chris Johnson in the flat and the throw went to the receiver up the field. He was able to peel off and with his 6’6 frame he almost came up with a pick.

Trevon Hartfield had a pick and a pass break-up on consecutive plays. Asa Jackson had a very athletic pick after a tipped pass. That was his second interception in as many days.

Xavier Williams got some time with ones today and looks slimmer than last year. It looked like they were giving him some time at D tackle and not just keeping him at nose.

The one big negative of the day was from a very unsuspecting candidate. Chandler Catanzaro missed at least five field goals. His first one hit the upright and it looked like it got into his head.

It was a good day though overall and it looked like everyone came out clean from a tough padded practice.

#LongBall

NFL and injuries…

Next man up is a mantra used by every NFL team. It is used by every team, because they are going to have injuries in a season. The question is to who and for how long.

I saw this interesting tweet a week ago and I decided to take a stab at answering this question.

Michael asks a great question. When I start looking at teams to come up with the list, I eliminated teams like the Browns and 49ers right away because their season is done before anyone gets injured.

So here are the top 10 that I could come up with. There are a few that you could flip flop spots, but I think the list looks pretty good.

10. Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots

Rob Gronkowski is as good of a football player that we have in the league. Brady does not have an effective receiving core or dependable running game. Having Gronk on the field makes more space to operate for the rest of the offense and he converts third downs at an alarming rate. Sure Brady is great and could keep any  game interesting without Gronk, but it is significantly more difficult without him.

9. Julio Jones and the Falcons

Julio Jones is a freak athlete. There is not another decent option at receiver or tight end to stretch the field for the Falcons. The running game is not bad, but it is not great either. Devonte Freeman can end up being a piece that can help win games, but without Julio the falcons would most likely finish last in their division.

8. Odell Beckham and the Giants

As OBJ goes, so goes the Giants. He is the offense and it needs him to take all of the attention off the defense to get anything going to the rest of the threats on offense. Could there be a shot that the Giants make the playoffs without OBJ? Sure. But the division is so bad that even if they did squeak in, it would be because the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins all imploded.

7. Khalil Mack and the Raiders

The first defensive player on the list. Mack had a  career year last year and is part of a very improved defense and team for that matter. Without the pass rush that Mack provides, the rest of the team will suffer and the sleeper pick by most experts won’t make the turn and end up in the playoffs.

6. Fletcher Cox and the Eagles

Sticking with defense, Fletcher Cox is a terror on the interior of the line. He can single-handedly keep the Eagles in games. As I mentioned earlier about the NFC East, it is so bad that Cox will have a shot at the playoffs where anything can happen. Without Chip Kelley putting the defense on the field for more times than any other team in the league, Cox will be able to apply pressure at an even higher level.

5. Andrew Whitworth and the Bengals

Andrew Whitworth has been quietly one of the best tackles in football for a few years. Protecting the “Red Rocket” is critical for this team and it would be impossible to replace Whitworth. I know this is kind of cheating, because it is still about the QB, but without Whitworth this team will not make the playoffs.

4. Anthony Castonzo and the Colts

For the same reason as Whitworth above, but the Colts need a healthy protected QB more than the Bengals do. The Colts defense is suspect and there are not any great targets that the team would miss too significantly if they had to go without. We are expecting a bounce back performance from Luck this year and Castonzo is a big piece of that.

3. Michael Bennett and Seahawks

I know that Seattle is deep and most think they would be fine without any single piece, but Bennett is the exception. He is the reason that opposing teams can’t simply pick on the side opposite of Sherman all game. The cover three they play is susceptible to the 6-8 yard passes (i.e. Patriots in the Superbowl), but only if you can get Earl Thomas and Kam Chancelor spread out. That can’t happen if the QB does not have time. With Bennett on the field, QBs do not have time.

2. J.J. Watt and the Texans

The Texans might be a team that are out of the playoffs with or without Watt, but he is the best player in football right now. He is the engine to that whole team and without him they could finish in the bottom three or four in the league.

1. Adrian Peterson and the Vikings

The Vikings were a field goal away from beating Seattle in the playoffs. This team is built around AP and for good reason. He is the hardest player to tackle in the league and makes defenses pay for trying to stop him. They’re another Cinderella pick going into this year, but that can only happen with a healthy Peterson.

Honorable Mentions: Luke Kueckly, Von Miller, and Travis Kelce

#LongBall