A new story from The MMQB NFL Podcast
It just seems weird. It seems like a very odd decision to move off of Zappi and risk him getting claimed and everything else when, what is your backup plan? It's not even Malik Cunningham. You waived him too. It was interesting. I don't know what your thoughts are, but I was surprised at the way New England handled that. Yeah. You know, I know he came back on the practice squad, and maybe that was kind of like, you know what, we could risk losing him. But that says a lot, right? You're willing to risk losing Bailey Zappi and for the entire off-season, we're all wondering, will he take over for Mac Jones? So I'm probably going to give away a little sample of my story next week. I'm doing winners and losers for the preseason. And I wrote Mac Jones is a winner. He hasn't really done much, but it's all set up for him to succeed this season. I feel like Bill Belichick wants to make sure this guy has a fair shake. Yeah, last year was a disaster with the coaching hires that I made. But Mac, I'm going to do you a favor here. I'm going to give you a dominant defense. I'm going to give you a reliable running game, a competent OC and Bill O'Brien, and we're going to make Zappi on the practice squad. Like, what else do you want Mac Jones? If you can't win with a good defense, a good running game, and you can't improve the passing game. Yeah, I get the targets or the weapons are not as good, but it's all set up for you to do something. And, you know, Trey Lance will kill for the situation, right? Like even as Zach Wilson, the same guys from the quarterback 2021 draft class. So I just view Mac Jones as a winner, but does he deserve to have all this kind of, you know, success around him? Yeah, no, it's a good point, man. And if Mac Jones is smiling ear to ear right now, because Bailey Zappi is on the practice squad. And Mollie Cunningham, by the way, also got added back to the practice squad. So you end up getting them both back. But to your point, like anybody claims them, they're gone. I mean, you know, it shows New England's not too in love with either one of them. But if I'm Mac Jones, I'm like, look, both those guys just got cut. So I know I'm clearing away the number one guy. Number two, I don't have a defensive coordinator as my offensive coordinator anymore. So that's a nice change of pace. I actually have a coach who's on the offensive side who's running the offense. And Bill O'Brien, who said what you want about him as a head coach, he's a good coordinator. And they added, you know, they went out and got Kasicki and they added Juju Smith-Schuster. I'm sure they lost Jacoby Myers. But all told, like, look, I don't think the Pats are going to be the greatest show on turf this year. But they're better set up for success than they were a year ago on offense, where a year ago, Matt Patricia, who's a defensive coordinator who can't even coach a defense, was coaching the offense. I don't know. Bill Belichick, maybe the greatest coach ever. It's an interesting decision, to say the least. Yeah, no, I'm with you. And I'm really intrigued to see what, like, you know, last week we were talking about, like, it's a bad year for the pesky teams to make a noise in the AFC because it's just so low in the AFC. I really want to light the Patriots. And we're going to get into it right now with their AFC bracket predictions. But it's going to be tough, man. And it just, again, all eyes on Mac Jones. And, yeah, you know, even a guy like the wide receiver from last year, the second-round pick, the surprise, Taequann Thornton, right, the speedy wide receiver, he's kind of struggling. So it might be a tough uphill battle for Mac Jones. But, again, like, when you have a good defense and you have a good running game, all you need is, like, maybe 17 points to win a game. Yeah, I canned the ball to Armandre Stevenson. Don't turn the ball over and hope you can score, like, on one or two key drives in the game. All right, look, let's get into it. So we got the AFC preview. We'll do the NFC after this. You and I differ on a few of our playoff teams, not that many of them. Why don't we lead off with this? Why don't you give your division winners in the AFC, and then who are your three wildcards as well? Okay, for the AFC West, I have the Chargers. The AFC East, I have the Jets. AFC North, I have the Bengals. The AFC South, I have the Jaguars. And now my AFC wildcard teams are stacked. I got the Buffalo Bills, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Baltimore Ravens. I'm telling you, man, you wrote the story about the quarterbacks in the AFC. They're just dominant quarterbacks. So for me, I can't pick the teams who are the underdogs right now, but those seven for me are pretty loaded. Okay, so I know the big question under that is, why the Chargers over the Chiefs? Yeah, I know that's going to be the big question I'm going to get for that one there. And it might not be the best reasoning here, but I know it's only one year of a sample size, but I saw the Rams firsthand covering them a year ago and trying to be a defending Super Bowl champion for the longest season in NFL history. They got to that mountaintop, and they lost that urgency. It's a different scenario because they don't have a Patrick Mahomes, and they just unloaded everybody after a terrible 5-12 season. But I just saw the fatigue, and maybe they parted too hard, Sean McVay, and everybody seemed injured. I don't know if I'm ever going to see this again, Matt, but the offensive line had 11 starting offensive line combinations in the first 12 games, and I could not keep track of who's who on that roster. So part of me kind of feels like, well, they've won. You might be right here. I forget what it is. AFC West six or seven consecutive AFC West division time. They've been the big hosted five straight AFC title. That's a lot, and at some point it's like, two Super Bowls in four years, I think we kind of let off a little bit, and that's the only reason I have. I'm not even worried about the wide receivers, Matt, on the Chiefs. I think they have some good players, but it's just kind of getting back to that mountaintop, and it's been two decades since the team has repeated, and I keep looking at the Chargers, and I shouldn't put my faith in the Chargers. I've covered that team for four years, like I mentioned on the top of the show. They're always having high expectations but always falling down in Jacksonville, falling down in Las Vegas. They just can't seem to get out of their own way, but they're talented. They're stacked, and maybe I was out there too many times in Costa Mesa watching Kellen Moore and Justin Herbert operate. They look pretty good, and I feel like eventually you've got to take the opportunity and take that division from the Chiefs, but I don't feel confident about it, but it kind of feels like, okay, there needs to be some type of change eventually. Yeah. Listen, they're to a point where, and the Chiefs I mean, they've won seven division titles in a row. The only team, I believe, that's ever won more division titles in a row are New England with Brady and Bell. At one point they won 11 in a row. I think the Rams in the 70s also won seven. Yeah, they've been to three Super Bowls out of the last four years, won two of them. You're right, at some point you would think there's just going to be a year where maybe they have some injuries or they step back. The one thing I will say with the Chargers here before I get into my pick, they are super talented. My concern with them is always the same two things, their coach and their injury history. They just get hurt every year and then Stanley does things that I just can't understand, although I do think Kellen Moore is a big upgrade over Lombardi and Herbert's fantastic. Hey, this is Paris. I downloaded all my favorite things into my new Roblox experience. It's called Slivingland. Sliving. It's got everything I love. Discovering. Shopping. Collecting. Partying with my friends. Live. Slive. And now celebrating her new podcast series, The History of the World's Greatest Nightclubs on iHeartRadio. Come sliven up and jump through the portal to iHeartland for a quest to unlock a limited edition UGC item. It's going to be epic. Now you're sliven. Slivingland on Roblox. Loves it. It's today. So, my seven playoff teams, so the same teams that we have, I'll give my division winners, we both have the Bengals and the Jaguars, so we were in lockstep there. I had the Dolphins winning the AFC, so basically all this ensures is that we're going to get a lot of hate mail from Buffalo. And I had the Chiefs winning the AFC West. I'm just a big, like, you've got to prove it to me. So the Chiefs have proven it so many years, I'm sticking with them. My wildcard teams, as you have, I have Buffalo, I have the Jets, you have them going in the division, I have them as a wildcard team. And instead of the Ravens, I'm going to go with Pittsburgh. I went back and forth on that, because that division I think is the best division in football. All those teams are solid, like, you could even make an argument for Cleveland if you want to, I just think Cleveland's in the wrong division. I just, man, I love the Steelers' defense and I love Tomlin. So my whole thing is, if Pickett's just decent, that team should win a lot of games. Now, I don't think they have the ceiling that Baltimore does. Baltimore, if it all comes together, I think is a team with a higher ceiling. I just wonder, you know, different offensive coordinators, is that a good thing, is that a bad thing? And then you have, like, Beckham, that could be great for them, that could be he plays five games. It's just, it's a weird, I feel like I know a little more of Pittsburgh, so I went there. And with the Chargers, they always ended up putting them in. I'm just wondering after last year, after that loss to Jacksonville, is there any kind of a hangover to that? You know, and then you have a lot of guys in that team that are getting a little bit older and you have a huge cap crunch coming up. I mean, Allen, Williams, Eckler, Mack, like, this could be the last year for all those guys here. So maybe that plays in their favor and there's an urgency and they play great. Or maybe if things start off rough, it becomes almost like, well, where are we going? So I had them at 10 and 7, but just losing a tiebreaker, they were the next team in for me. But yeah, I think the AFC is ridiculous. There's going to be two or three teams that aren't making the playoffs that are legitimately good football teams that just can't get in. Yeah, and you know, I guess with the Chargers, I am banking on that urgency for them to kind of do something. And to even add to your point, man, the GM's been around 11 years, man, and he has never won. Well, I think he won a division title, actually, no division title, no division titles, no AFC championship game appearances. He won like one or two playoff games with the Los Costa Jam. Yeah. And then the head coach, Brandon Staley, might be on the hottest hot seat right now. And you know, a lot of people want that job, too, because of Justin Herbert, so it puts a lot of pressure on Brandon Staley. So, you know, I'm going to say they're going to put it together for at least, you know, a good run. I don't I don't know how far they're going to go, but I think they might win a division. Will that be enough to keep everybody intact? I don't even know that that's going to be enough. So we'll see. I'll tell you what, man, if you're right, though, and the Chiefs, the Bills and the Ravens are wildcard teams, that is going to be an insane first weekend of play. You're going to have these teams at home, having Mahomes come in and Allen come in. And you covered the team, you know, better than me, like if the Chiefs go play the Chargers on the road in a playoff game, it's going to be Arrowhead Stadium out there. I mean, it's such a weird or if like the Bills go to Jacksonville, it's going to sound like Buffalo. I mean, it's just such that to me is everything with the Chargers. It's so hard. Every game's a road game for them. I mean, very rarely, you know, maybe once a blue one, they'll play some game like whatever. The other fan base is not large either, but it's just tough. They play the Cowboys at home this year. The place is going to be Jerry World. It's just, it's so, that's got to be so defeating. You have a big home game and you come out and there's 70,000 people rooting against you. I'll never forget covering the Super Bowl at SoFi and there were as many Bengals fans as there were Rams fans. You're like, how, how is that possible? I mean, since he's a tiny city in any event, it is weird. All right, so who, who's the team in the AFC that you think is not going to live up to the hype? That is a team that maybe is getting too much shine. And you're right about the whole LA being all over the place, man. I've lived there all my entire life and, and I even grew up a Vikings fan. I don't even know if I ever told our boss, John plume that, but I was a big Randy Moss fan because there was no LA team for three decades here. So that, that, that, that makes sense for why it's a, it's a very unique situation, a very unique town. And I'm sure Chargers are probably tired of talking about it. I used to ask all the time, Matt, so I could tell you about how I know they get with that. But as my my disappointment, right, that is a question here. I didn't, you know, for you, you know, you didn't have the chargers and that's surprising to me. But for me, it was the dolphins, you know, you have the winning division and the way I look at the dolphins is like, man, losing Jalen Ramsey is going to be tough. Like, you know, he's supposed to be this big piece that, that you got on the off season, you know, helping out with Xavier and Howard and they have a good defense. But Jalen Ramsey is supposed to be a big part of that defense and he won't be back until December. So that's a long time. What if you have a rough start there and you're already, you're already in the stack division, you're playing the Jets, the Bills and the Patriots twice a year. So why don't you fall behind there? And then I feel like every time I see a big fan, Joe defense, it's always year two. Year one is kind of a transition year and they don't really take off until year two. So if you don't have Jalen and that really kind of hinders, hinders your progression a year one. And then on offense, like it feels like, yeah, they got Jalen Watto and they have Tyreek Hill, but then it's kind of like, well, no tight end. And I get Mike McDaniel doesn't really like to feature a tight end. And then the three running backs, they're really fast, but is one of them really good? I can't figure that out. I know they have the rookie from Texas A &M who, you know, he can't really stay healthy. And then you have Jeff Wilson also going to be an IR. That's also concerning to me. And then two, can he stay healthy? So I think a lot of focus is on the big two there. And I'm not even sure I'm, you know, there might be the best to do on the NFL. Some people are higher in general water than, than I am. I still see some concerns there with drop balls here and there, but Tyreek Hill is amazing. Everybody knows that. So I feel like the dolphins are a little, even with Jalen Ramsey, maybe a little overrated for me. You know, it's fine. I pick them in the division because I like Fangio being the coordinator there and Ramsey I thought was a good get. Obviously he mentioned he's hurt most of the year. Of all the teams I picked to win the divisions in the AFC, they're definitely the team I'm the shakiest on because A, the division's good, B, all the things you just mentioned are fair. Like I don't know if Tua is going to play a full season. I mean, what happens, obviously nobody wants to see it, but God forbid if he gets hurt like week one, what if he gets a concussion? Like how long is he out for? Is he out for the year? Like I don't know, you know, I mean, it's a scary thing. So I do hear you. There's a lot of concerns. My team is Baltimore. I kind of laid out why, look, Odell Beckham's a great talent, but can he stay healthy? Rashad Bateman's a good talent, can he stay on the field? I believe in Lamar Jackson. I am curious though, if they ask him to throw the ball as often as Burrow has to throw it, Mahomes has to throw it, Allen has to throw it. Can they play that way and still have that element of being unique? Because I think the hardest thing to defend about them is how unique they are. And Jackson is such a freak, you know, with his arm, with his legs. Are they going to take that away a little bit because he's been hurt the last couple of years? I don't know. But I'll tell you the truth, my biggest fear with them is just defensively. I mean, you know, Marcus Peters is gone, Kaleis Campbell's gone, Jason Viera-Paul is gone, Justin Houston's gone. I mean, I'll tell you, I was doing a piece that was coming out next week for us where we're kind of looking at everybody's strengths and weaknesses, and you're on the NFC side of that, I got the AFC. I was looking at their pass rush. Who the hell is going to sack the quarterback? It's a problem. So in this conference, I just feel like, man, the AFC, if you can't get pressure, you better be able to score 30 plus because I don't hate stopping anybody. I think Baltimore is good. I just don't see them as like a Super Bowl contender, which I think is kind of where the hype has gone this year. So I love hardball as a coach. I think that they're always going to be a playoff contender. It's partially the defense, it's partially the new offensive coordinator, and it's partially being in a conference where they can win 10 games and still not make the playoffs. Yeah, you know, for me with the Ravens, I'm not going to defend them too hard because I feel like I could easily flip them with the Steelers. They're kind of even for me, but maybe just hearing you right now, Matt, you might have been higher. Lamar Jackson pushing that ball down the field, he's a good downfield passer. I know he hasn't stayed healthy the last two seasons, especially in the back of the schedule. That's brutal. For him to miss that playoff game against the Bengals a year ago, imagine he was playing, they might've won that game. But if you can't be reliable, he hasn't had the MVP year since 2019, which feels like a long time ago, but I just like that they're trying to bring that modern game of pushing the ball down the field and utilizing Lamar Jackson's strength as a passer. I think he gets overlooked in that area. But then we were just talking about Vic Fangio and how everybody's trying to counter the Vic Fangio inspired defenses by running the ball more and who runs the ball the best, the Baltimore Ravens. So maybe they're going away from it a little too early when it, yeah, so, and they were ahead of the, they were ahead of their time maybe with these defenses. And that's the way you counter them is by, you know, you know, doing the quick game and the running game, but sometimes it's good to be ahead of the curve. So who knows? Maybe now I'm going back, back and forth, now I'm going back to the Ravens because if people are all going to start doing the running game and do run heavy to counter these Vic Fangio defense, then maybe the Ravens have something brewing that could be special down the line. But again, I don't, I don't like, can I trust Rashad Bateman being healthy? Will Zay Flowers turn out to be a good first round pick? How about OBJ? Will you turn back the clock? So there's a lot of question marks where like eventually made it, they're going to be like, you know what? We tried it that way. Let's go back to all reliable and throw it to Mark Andrews, whatever, 10 times a game. Yeah. Yeah. Andrew, she's underrated. He's a fantastic tight end. Look, we're going to get nowhere surprises all leagues off. Be quick with this. I already told you. I think they're a playoffs team. Pittsburgh's my team. I kind of laid out why. I mean, I love Tomlin. I think Tomlin is a top three coach in the league with Andy Reed and Bill Belichick. Defensively man, like people don't even know how Alex Highsmith is got 14 and a half sacks last year. They have TJ Watt, they have Cam Hayward, they brought in Marcus Golden, who's a supplemental, like a good rotational pass rusher. They added Desmond King, who the Texans cut. It was one of the biggest surprise cuts of the day on Tuesday. They bring him in. They've got Joey Porter Jr., Patrick Peterson, Minka Fitzpatrick. That is, that's a damn good defense. They have guys. I mean, now the question, of course, is offensive line, how good is it? And can Pickett play? The one thing I can't stand is like false confidence. There are so many people in Pittsburgh, if you tweet out about the Steelers, or just, if you say anything bad about Kenny Pickett, or you question him in any way, the brigade comes out. It's just like, you don't understand the greatness of Kenny Pickett. It's like, I got to tell you, I watched every throw he made last year. He was a guy. He threw five touchdowns against seven picks. He spent five years in college, four of which, by the way, he was mediocre to atrocious, and then one year he was unbelievable as a senior. Fine. I obviously believe in them as a team. I think he's going to be better, but is he going to be more than a game manager? I don't know. I wouldn't go there. Now, look, he's got George Pickens, who I think you pretty much just wailed the ball downfield to him and let him go up and get it. I think the Steelers' weapons are good. Offensive lines are concerned. Pickets are concerned. I think Tomlin, who almost got duck Hodges to the playoffs years ago, can just massage it. Now, I will say, when they get to the playoffs that they do, I think a team like Cincinnati or Kansas City or Buffalo is going to put a number on them, but I think they're better than people think.