2019 NFC South Previews & Predictions: Chasing Ghosts

With the season underway it’s time to take a look at the NFC North where the most loaded division in the conference exists. In the last 10 years, 3 of the teams representing the NFC in the Super Bowl have come from here. The Saints in XLIV, the Panthers steamrolled to Super Bowl L and the Falcons are still reeling from the comeback they gave up in LI. Last January many felt the most egregious non call in NFL history prevented a 4th with seconds to go in the NFC Championship Game.

The Saints have said they have gotten over the debacle of the NFC Championship….have they?? What about the Minneapolis Miracle on the last play of the ’17 NFC Divisional loss to the Vikings?? Not since the Cleveland Browns of the late 80’s have we seen an NFL team so snake bitten with bitter endings in playoff games.??

2019 NFC North Predictions

  1. New Orleans Saints 11-5*
  2. Atlanta Falcons 10-6**
  3. Carolina Panthers 8-8
  4. Tampa Bay Bucs 5-11

The most competitive divsion in football just solidified with Julio Jones inking a 3 year extension which will keep him in Atlanta. The beauty is he stayed in the fold working and he and Matt Ryan should be firing away from the start of the season. However Deion Jones needs to return to form and their defense has to improve from a ranking of 28th.

Will Vic Beasley ever return to his 2016 All Pro form when he had 15 1/2 sacks and terrorized the division?? Matt Ryan has to get the Falcons leads and over the last 2 years he hasn’t had the rushing attack of the Super Bowl season of 2016. He’s been mired in games where he has been forced to throw to bring the Falcons back in games.

Can Freeman carry the load in ’19?

Last year the rushing attack plunged to 27th after dipping to 13th in 2017. Ever since the loss of Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling (’16) and Tevin Coleman’s departure (’17) and Freeman’s injury, Atlanta has left that defense on the field and they’ve suffered too many breakdowns.

Matt Ryan has to become the QB that can overcome play deficiencies and deliver. He has to be able to take over games when the attack is sputtering. Might not be fair but as a Super Bowl franchise quarterback, he has to held to that standard. This is Matt Ryan’s 12th season he isn’t a kid anymore and has to take over in games that mean something for Atlanta.

In Carolina and Tampa each will be held back by their quarterbacks and could both be looking for new ones next April. Since this game has been founded nothing has derailed a quarterback’s career like shoulder injuries. Cam has been recovering since off season surgery and hasn’t looked right.

Will Carolina develop other weapons to take the heat off McCaffrey.

His delivery was always a problem but earlier in his career he could power the football with his shoulder strength. He hasn’t developed throwing on time where he doesn’t have to and loft over the underneath coverage. Newton throws a lot of interceptions to Linebackers undercutting his routes.

Newton has been hesitant to let the football go and the offense relies way too much on Christian McCaffrey. Without the threat of attacking defenses downfield McCaffrey is an easy key and will be worn down by season’s end. Carolina has an aging defense that will short circuit their best efforts as Newton learns to trust the system and throw on time. He also can’t run and accumulate punishment on it either. This is a recipe for disaster as most of the Panther’s offense revolves around Newton running and throwing.

As for Winston and the Bucs… they brought in the QB whisperer in Bruce Arians. The question is will Jameis Winston pick up on the nuances of reading defenses and delivering the football on time to all of his receivers?? Winston is locked in on TE Cameron Brate but he has to be able to complete all his throws… deep digs, posts, post corners and get the ball out on time. Much like Newton he tries to gun the ball in late and sees a lot of interceptions by defenders cutting under his routes.

jameisIt’s one of the reasons DeSean Jackson connected with Ryan Fitzpatrick last year and emerged as a deep threat for Philly in game 1. However 2 of the Bucs former head coaches are on the Falcons coaching staff where Raheem Morris and Dirk Koetter are employed.  Tampa is in another coaching rebuild and will struggle. Tampa will struggle as will their quarterback. Will Winston make improvements to the point Tampa picks up his 6 year option?? Or will he fall by the wayside where the Buccaneers officially enter the Jalen Hurts sweepstakes??

The Chancellor of Football thinks it will be the latter.

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Overcoaching Vol IV: 2019 Week 1 Editorial Rant – Packers v Bears

Quit overcoaching!!!! All these young goofy coaches know nothing of running the football to establish tone and attitude. Who are you fooling in shotgun and a shuttle step handoff?? Your running back isnt generating any momentum once they get the football. Each time they go down at first contact at the line of scrimmage. Yes talking mainly about Chicago Bear coach Mike Nagy but this extends to Green Bay’s Lafleur’s play calling as well.

3d illustration of an NFL logo behind a transparent silver American football on top of a green football field

How many times did we see that last night with both teams?? Root your lineman in the ground, three point stance and fire forward…have your running back back step and explode forward generating momentum when he hits the line of scrimmage whether you run through 1, 3,5, or 7 hole.

He might break a tackle!!!

Employ a hop step, counter step, or back step for the runner and go!!

With your QB constantly in Pistol or Shotgun you cant fool the linebackers. They are seeing their keys and even the ball movement is too evident with this shotgun handoff bullshit… they’re looking right at the exchange.

What is being lost is nuance… and physicality. Keep this up and Bill Belichick and the Patriots will be lined up in a Power I and taking another title. All these gimmicky Sports Center coaches swam upstream like fish to get swallowed by a fat old carp named Belichick who knew better.

What most people havent noticed is Belichick is the greatest collector of information and teacher of situational football. Yes he runs pick plays to get slow mediocre receivers open but he runs the football with muscle and authority UNDER CENTER. He keeps the linebackers from gaining half a step in scraping toward the hole the runner is heading for.

Belichick actually is employing elements of his 2001-2004 playbook when he was feeding Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon down opponents throats. Go look at the TDs when Smith scored in Super Bowl XXXVIII against Carolina. He has DE Richard Seymour and LB Mike Vrabel on offense blocking at the goalline and knocked Panthers back in the endzone.

Fast forward to last January and the Super Bowl and Sony Michel was behind #46 Devlin and a power set and ran for 3 TDs against San Diego in the playoffs, nearly 100 yards in the AFC Championship and another score in Kansas City… then when the Super Bowl was on the line and gimmicky Los Angeles needed the ball back, Belichick put the team in power running sets and ran it down their throats…

Remember the NFL is starting its 100th season. Running the football with force has won all 100 of those years!! Get your knuckles in the dirt and fire off the damn football and knock your opponent back!!

Last night were two anemic offenses that never set anything up. It was like a boxer not throwing jabs…to set up the cross or uppercut to knock the opponent out. If you throw punches your opponent can see coming from a mile away…??

Quit with the 725 colored chart play call sheets… ain’t nothing but 25 pick plays from 12 formations anyway. Run the football with power and nuance linebackers to be where you want your offensive linemen to block them. Under center YOU get to dictate where that happens.

Jesus I see another 4 receiver spread formation from the 5 yard line and I’m going postal….

Unsung Players: Isaac Curtis Breakout 1973 Season

One of the unsung players I remember growing up was Isaac Curis of the Cincinnati Bengals. It was 1981 and the Bengals were looking to upgrade their receiving corps when they selected wideouts David Verser and Cris Collinsworth with their 1st & 2nd round selections. What of the incumbent starter Isaac Curtis??

It made me go back and look at who he was and I learned about what happens as a player ages.  I remember reading his exploits and had come across his performance as a rookie many moons ago and saw it on film once. Recently I found Curtis’ rookie season in my video archives and wanted to share them.

When you think of rookie sensation receivers some will think of Odell Beckham, Jerry Rice, Randy Moss or some old timers will bring up Paul Warfield or “The Catawba Claw”… one guy forgotten about?? Isaac Curtis

In a season where only 1 receiver crossed 1,000 yards (Harold Carmichael) Curtis broke out with one of the eras greatest rookie seasons. He amassed 49 receptions for 849 yards and 9 TDs yet broke huge plays for Cincinnati. Five of his scores were from greater than 40 yards out and 3 of those over 70 yards. Those are Randy Moss-esque for that era.

Take a look:

Cincinnati won the AFC Central however fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Dolphins in the divisional playoffs which curbed the impact historically. However players were the only voters for the Pro Bowl back then and they voted him in as a rookie and the next 3 years. Quarterback Ken Anderson became a two time passing champion and joined his deep threat in the pro bowl in ’75 & ’76.

What was lost was the offense fashioned by Bill Walsh under Paul Brown became one of the most efficient in history.  However Curtis was their long range weapon in the Ohio bred “West Coast offense.” In 4 of his first 6 years he led the Bengals in receptions & in 4 of those seasons he led Cincinnati in touchdown receptions.

Curtis played on through the 1985 season finishing as the Bengals career reception leader with 416. He was also Cincy’s career recption yardage leader ( 7,101 yards) and touchdowns (53). Thirty four years after his retirement he still ranks in the top 5 in all 3 team categories.

These stats may not get Isaac Curtis to Canton but he definitely deserves to be in the Bengals “Ring of Honor” as one of the team’s greatest players. That 1973 breakout was equal in impact and stature to the ’64 debut of Hall of Famer Paul Warfield. A few more bounces of the ball in playoff appearances in 1973 and 1975 may be the only difference why we’re not talking about Curtis in a Gold Jacket. An unsung great.

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2019 NFC North Previews & Predictions

Welcome to the 2019 NFL round robin version of “Be Careful What You Wish For?” No division has had its teams decide to go down a given path then have to ask themselves if they have bitten off more than they could chew. Over in Packerland Aaron Rodgers questioned the game planning of Mike McCarthy and became downright ambivalent. Now he’s already made grumblings about new caoach Matt LaFleur’s decision to hold joint practices. Not exactly the way to show unity with the new coaching regime establishing a new culture.

Then off to Chicago where the NFC North defending champions entered last year’s playoffs, and the fear The Chancellor had “Would Coach Nagy call too cutesy a game in blustery conditions and cost the Bears a playoff game?”

Then came this nonsense on a 2 point conversion in the 4th quarter of the Wild Card Game at home against the Eagles:

Wouldn’t you know that ill fated 2 point conversion is the difference between the NFL’s #3 ranked defense going to New Orleans in the divisional round. Why not run former RB Jordan Howard on the 2 pt conversion vs a shovel pass in frigid conditions?? Remember him?? The 6’0 224 lb running back nicknamed “Bulldozer?”

Shovel pass to a 165 lb WR Taylor Gabriel at the goal line?? That is too cutesy…

This was the difference between winning a playoff by 1 and losing by 1…17-16 well that and Cody Parkey’s missed field goal at the end of the game. Then turnaround and trade your power back to the NFC rival Eagles who just beat you in the playoffs?? Who does Chicago give the ball to for the tough yards. On that ill fated 2 point conversion that was Khalil Mack motioning out of the backfield. What did I say about cutesy play calling??

2019 NFC North Predictions

  1. Minn. Vikings 12-4** (Homefield)
  2. Chicago Bears 9-7
  3. Green Bay Packers 6-10
  4. Detroit Lions 5-11

Watching all this is the division’s best team in the Minnesota Vikings. The national press and pressure is off of QB Kirk Cousins who didn’t live up to expectations after signing a huge contract to come over from Washington. As a team they fell from grace after an NFC Championship visit in 2017.

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the smoke Cousins completed 425 of 606 passes for 4,298 yards 30 TDs and 10 picks and has the best WR tandem in Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen. All Diggs (102 rec / 1,021 yds/ 9 TDs) and Thielen (113 rec / 1,373 yds/ 9 TDs) did was power the 13th best passing attack with room for improvement. There were 87 missed connections on passes that short circuited drives forcing punts and disrupted offensive rhythm in games. Cousins is a beta quarterback however this is the spot where he performs without expectations.

This is also the year Dalvin Cook has his break out year now that he is 2 years removed from a knee reconstruction. The same time frame Jamal Lewis ran for 2,000 and a year shorter than Adrian Peterson ran for his 2,000. Not to say Cook is going for 2K, just illustrating this is that explosive year post surgery and a 1,400 yard season is within reach.

Keep in mind the Vikings field the 4th best defense in all of football. This could vault to a number one status if Cook and the running game dominate time of possession. LBs Anthony Barr and Eddie Kendricks need to have great seasons against the run and covering speedy backs and crossing receivers.

Smith intercepting a pass in last year’s 17-16 wildcard loss to Philly.

Chicago is going to field an even better defense although their statistics will be skewed with an offense that won’t possess the football as it did last year. Not only is defending Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack going to be in game shape week 1, Roquan Smith is ready to leap into player of the year status himself. Wearing #58 is like watching Wilber Marshall reincarnated and making plays all over the field.

Smith will now have his first complete offseason to get ready for 2019. In a year he didn’t make the Pro Bowl, he led the Bears with 121 tackles with 5 sacks and 1 pick. In the Wildcard he took an interception 60 yards for a touchdown that was called back when he was ruled down by contact.

Danny Trevathan was second in tackles (102 / 2 sacks/ 2 ints) roam the intermediate passing lanes with Smith. Together they knocked down an additional 17 passes.

Mack is the only 2 time TBTDPoY and still lose in a division with no pro bowl tackles.

Keep in mind these hunters are behind Pro Bowl and All Pro Khalil Mack, Pro Bowl DT Akiem Hicks, and both Pro Bowl and All Pro S Eddie Jackson & CB Kyle Fuller had the same accolades. This bunch will play for a new coordinator in 2019 but expect the same results. This overall is an incarnation of the 85 & 86 Bears who endured a coordinator change and will have that type of impact.

The problem is this defense will be let down by the offense who traded their hammer (RB Jordan Howard) and accounts reporting Mitch Trubisky has been off in training camp. Can Tarik Cohen carry the load at RB?? Taylor Blitz doesn’t think so. Great change of pace guy but doesn’t have the rocks in his pockets to last the season. Quick and flashy but doesn’t run with body lean to get tough yards.

Chicago is much better starting Mike Davis #25, who is 30lbs heavier than Cohen, and ran for 514 yards on 114 carries last year. Without a prominent running game to rest this defense puts the ball in Trubisky’s hands. Opponents have to watch for constant “jet sweeps” and “bubble screens”.. trickery plays where the propensity for fumbles and issues will arise. Taking this team back to the pack.

Speaking of the Pack, for the first time we can say this team is in a rebuilding year in many a moon. Rodgers is still the staple at QB and has a younger team around him than in year’s past. Entering year 15 it seems like just yesterday this was the fresh faced QB with so many years to come… now he is where Brett Bavre had been.

In 2018 Rodgers enjoyed a season where he completed 372 of 597 passes for 4,442 yards and 25 TDs to just 2 picks. However he was short circuited by a defense ranked 22nd against the run and 18th overall. Despite his best efforts he was forced to come onto the field in deficit situations pointwise and momentum-wise.

How do we know this??  The Packers were 22nd when it came to time of possession. It’s a catch 22 where Green Bay wasn’t in position to work on their running game if they wanted to.

By the way did you see the last preseason game against the Ravens? They gave up 36 carries for 171 yards and 4.6 yards per carry. You can’t win football games that way as the defense was pushed off the ball all night. Yes it’s preseason but you can’t turn on and off the ability to knock your opponent back. A staple in football for more than 100 years. 2019 will look much the same way as this will be a rebuilding year and defensive leaders and playmakers need to emerge.

In 2019 it’s all Minnesota Vikings and they will go deep in the playoffs.

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2019 NFC East Previews & Predictions

Last year’s NFC East race was one that showed that football is a marathon not a sprint. Last year when the green and white crossed flags were waved the Redskins were dominating the division with a 5-3 record. By season’s end it was a resurgent Cowboy team that dominated winning 7 of their last 8 games. They leaped right over the defending champion Eagles and won the NFC East.

Yet here goes Jerry  Jones again with all the angst surrounding the contracts of Zeke, Dak, and Amari Cooper. How will this affect the team’s psyche at the outset of the season?? With Elliott holding out and Jerry Jones drawing a line in the stand, this stalemate will go into the season. Who will Jones sign first?? Will Jones sign all three??

This team has several young quarterbacks coming into the division in Dewayne Haskins in Washington and Daniel Jones in Gotham with the Giants. Each were 1st round selections which should be clipboard holding rookies although there were grumblings in NewYork wanting to see more of Jones after 1 exhibition game.

2019 NFC West Predictions

  1. Philadelphia Eagles 11-5 *
  2. Dallas Cowboys 9-7
  3. Washington Redskins 6-10
  4. New York Giants 5-11

One season removed from their Super Bowl championship, the Eagles find themselves a team with a lot to prove. Can Carson Wentz fulfill the promise of his #1 draft status?? Many pundits credit the miracle playoff run of Nick Foles for the Super Bowl LII championship although Wentz had led the team to a 11-2 record before his injury. Speaking of which can Wentz finish the season upright?? Wentz has been knocked out ending the last two seasons on the sideline.

The Eagles lacked muscle and attitude in the running game once they lost LaGarrette Blount to Detroit. However the Iggles may have pulled a coup stealing RB Jordan Howard from the Bears in an offseason trade.

Entering his 4th season he has already rushed for 1,000 yards (1,313 yds & 1,122 yds) in ’16 and ’17 respectively. He fell out of favor with Bear Coach Nagy whose gimmicky offense didn’t allow Howard to get into a groove. He’s a power back who will move the chains and keep defenses honest. Expect a 1,200 yard season in ’19.

Carson Wentz will be the benificiary of defenses being bludgeoned by Howard and have a rebirth with All Pro Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey and the resigning of deep threat DeShawn Jackson. This team will win the division going away.

Conventional wisdom has Colt McCoy headed to become the Redskins starting QB over 1st round pick Dewayne Haskins this season… conventional wisdom will get Coach Jay Gruden fired if it plays out this way. McCoy hasn’t passed the eye ball test since he was knocked out of the National Championship Rose Bowl vs Alabama.

Last year he was 0-2 in his starts completing just 34 of 54 for 372 yards 3TDs and 3 ints. This was on a team that started 6-3 where Lazarus (Peterson) rose to rush for 1,090 yards and a defense that finished 17th. Washingon’s defense gave up less than 20 points 6 times in their 1st 9 games then only once over the final 7. McCoy couldn’t win with or lift his team’s spirits then there is no chance of doing it now. Haskins has to play. McCoy’s NFL ceiling is that of a second string QB… Haskins?? Can become a Pro Bowl player if he gets in camp and shows he wants it.

A murderous 0-3 start facing Philadelphia on the road, then Dallas and Chicago at home should do the trick. Haskins would then start against the moribund New York Giants (24th ranked defense) with a bye week to follow. Haskins has these next 6 weeks to save Gruden’s job. Why not now with a veteran laden group and a power runner to take the pressure off??

Over in New York it’s hard to watch Eli Manning age and fall into a QB controversy as 1st round pick Daniel Jones. The heir apparent should wind up holding a clip board all year as Manning has his final season where Jones can learn on the sideline. Unlike the situation in Washington, this team is in a complete restructure where playoff aspirations are out of reach.

The only talent in The Big Apple is Saquan Barkley who may have to dial it back a bit to keep from being overworked. A super back out of the Walter Payton/ OJ Simpson mode. Tremendous talent on a team where he is the sole focal point of an inept offense. The future isn’t now in New York…next year once they add some players they can make a move and insert Jones.

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2019 NFC West Previews & Predictions

Once the final seconds ticked away at the conclusion of Super Bowl LIII, a series of questions rose to greet the Rams before they trudged back to their locker room. Scott McVay’s “Boy Wonder” status had been ripped to shreds in a 13-3 loss where the Rams offense couldn’t get out of it’s own way.

What was the impetus for RB Todd Gurley’s diminished role in LIII just as it had been down in the NFC Championship in New Orleans?? Did Gurley really hurt his knee where Rams brass kept it quiet or was it fall out from his appearance on LeBron James’ show “The Shop”??

How did the NFL’s highest scoring team, averaging 32.9 points per game, wind up tied with the Dolphins of Super Bowl VI with the lowest game total in S.B. history with 3 points?? Have McVay and Jared Goff recovered from being dominated in a world championship game when all eyes were on them??

When you lose a Super Bowl all questions rise to the surface and no team recent memory has as much to answer to than the defending NFC Champions.

One of the teams they have to stave off to repeat as NFC West champions is the #1 rushing attack of Seattle. Pete Carroll’s 3 headed monster, Chris Carson (1,141 rush yds), Mike Davis (514 yds) & Rashad Penny (420 yds) combined for 15TDs while averaging 4.7 yards per rush. Their combined 2,084 yards running established attitude and tone the Seahawks hadn’t seen since Marshawn Lynch. With Penny coming on at the end of the season it’s hard to see this group along with the front line not becoming the bellwether focal point of a young ball club.

2019 NFC West Predictions

  1. Seattle Seahawks 11-5 *
  2. Los Angeles Rams 9-7**
  3. San Francisco 49ers 6-10
  4. Arizona Cardinals 4-12

Pete Carroll’s team finished winning 6 of their last 7 and was the most solid NFC team coming down the stretch. Now they add the 4.3 speed and size of 2nd round draft pick DK Metcalf to bolster a receiver group in flux. He has the size and speed to become the 1st #1 receiver in Russell Wilson’s tenure. For the 1st time this team will be known for their offensive strength and rely on timely defense vs an overpowering one.

Eventually 49er QB Jimmy Garoppolo was going to have to hit the field and earn his large contract. Truth be told he struggled at the beginning of last year which should be the case at the start of 2019. He hasn’t played against live fire in nearly a year. Fan favorite backup Nick Mullens will have a chance to wrest a few starts from Garoppolo if this team starts 0-3 with a bye in the 4th week.

However the 49ers have bolstered their defense with the signing of free agent LB Kwon Alexander,1st round draft pick Joey Bosa and acquiring DE Dee Ford along with former Raider and Seahawk LB Malcolm Smith. The 49ers should have one of the better defenses in the NFC. It will make for closer games however the Niner offense lacks explosion so they’ll keep games close but…

The Niners running by committee and lack of explosive playmakers on offense will short circuit efforts early in the season. They’ll win a few ugly games late. Keep in mind this team was 1-5 in the division last year. They have to establish themselves here.

In Tinsletown the Rams are ready to bounce back from their Super Bowl meltdown… however we need to find out about Todd Gurley first. Last year Gurley was one of the best weapons in the NFL yet something happened. On Dec 2nd, Gurley rushed for 132 yds on 23 carries and 2 scores and was the big strike RB earning his $57 million contract. Two days later he appeared on Lebron James show “The Shop” where James famously made the comment “NFL owners had a plantation mentality” and all of a sudden we didn’t see him carrying the football.

In the last 4 games of the season he had 11, 12, 0, and 0 carries to finish the season. Interestingly in the wild card win over Dallas he burst for 115 yards on 16 carries yet played 2nd fiddle to CJ Anderson’s 123 yards on 23 carries and 2 scores. Then back in hibernation mode with 4 attempts for 10 yards in the NFC Championship Game and 10 carries for 35 yards in the Super Bowl. Hmmmmmm?? OK

Well there was some fudging with the injury report with an arthritic knee unofficially we learned leading up to the Super Bowl yet it wasn’t reported. Another theory is Gurley was silenced and pulled out of the lineup for the appearance on The Shop… it came at the height of the national anthem debate and in the black community we spoke of it on social media and in the blogosphere. He didn’t defend ownership or give a rebuttal to the “slave mentality” comment and we won’t know for some time.

Either way Gurley and the Rams have to deal with the psychological fallout from this and the Super Bowl flameout or a star running back with an arthritic knee. For one who relies on jump cuts and option routes on LBs and Nickel backs in the passing game, this is a problem and he could be worn down by week 12.

We’re waiting to see how Jared Goff bounces back from the Super Bowl. Goff enjoyed a Pro Bowl year completing 364 of 561 passes for 4,688 yards and 32 scores. Yet he only threw for 1 TD in 3 postseason games and didn’t throw for more than 300 yards in any of the 3. In this copycat league teams will follow what the Patriots did and disguise their coverages then shift into a new look when the play clock gets down to :15. This is when Sean McVay can no longer speak to him in his helmet speaker. He HAS to be able to audible and move his offense into different formations to beat defenses on his own and not just rely on presnap play design.

Keep in mind as NFC Champs they are going to get everyone’s best shot and this team was only 3-3 against playoff teams in the regular season. If the Rams can start fast they won’t have to deal with all these items discussed except Taylor Blitz sees a 3-3 start this year and the talk will begin. They will miss the playoffs in 2019.

Pete Carroll and the Seahawks win the division.

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