Oakland Raiders

Jon Gruden on Marcus Mariota: 'He is like Russell Wilson only he is 6-4'

Jon Gruden on Marcus Mariota: 'He is like Russell Wilson only he is 6-4'

The Oakland Raiders are apparently close to signing free-agent quarterback Marcus Mariota. And given Oakland Coach Jon Gruden's feelings about Mariota, going back to the 2015 draft, when there was controversy over whether Mariota or Jameis Winston would be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Here is what Gruden, then not coaching in the NFL and working as a commentator, said about Mariota:

I don't understand why he isn't the No. 1 player in this draft on Mel Kiper's Big Board. I don't know anybody in this draft that can do for a football team what Mariota can do. He can read the field. That whole thing about Oregon being a no-huddle, dive-option team, that is just a narrative resulting from a lack of information. The Ducks run a lot of pro-style concepts. Mariota does a lot with the protections. I've seen him throw the ball with touch and timing in tight windows.

Mariota is the same size as Jameis Winston. He runs 4.52 40, he is incredibly elusive, and man, is he a playmaker and a great competitor. I see him functioning in the pocket, out of the pocket, and if you want to run a zone-read, he'll rip the defense apart. He is like Russell Wilson, only he is 6-4.

Gruden has a reputation as a head coach who is tough on quarterbacks. Very demanding. But it appears Mariota would be heading toward a fresh start for a head man who has liked him for a long time.

Report: Raiders interested in former Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Report: Raiders interested in former Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Could we see Marcus Mariota in Sin City in 2020? 

It’s not out of the question.

According to NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo, the Raiders could have their eyes on Mariota when free agency opens next week. The report also stated the Raiders would be more interested in a “1B” backup like Mariota rather than a big move.

The former No. 2 overall pick out of Oregon is coming off his fifth NFL season, where he was benched for Ryan Tannehill. Prior to being sidelined, Mariota led the Tennessee Titans to a 2-4 record as starter and he failed to complete more than 60 percent of his passes.

The Titans eventually took off with Tannehill at helm in 2019, reaching the AFC Championship, where they fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

At 26, Mariota still has a ton of potential, but a change of scenery might do him well. In his sophomore campaign, Mariota threw for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and only nine interceptions before breaking his leg. Things went downhill from there for Mariota, who threw just 13 touchdowns with 15 interceptions the following year.  

Before being benched last season, Mariota has a 29-32 record in 61 games as a starter with 13,207 passing yards, 76 touchdowns, and 44 interceptions.

As Garofolo pointed out, Raiders general Mike Mayock had Mariota as his No. 1 quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft class.  

It’s unclear whether teams see the former Oregon quarterback as starter or backup material. If Carr remains in the fold in Las Vegas, Mariota could be an intriguing option to compete for the starting gig.

There could be some truth behind the report, or it could mean absolutely nothing. It’s worth noting the Raiders have also been linked as a potential suitor for six-time Super Bowl champion and soon-to-be free agent Tom Brady. Mariota also has received interest from the Colts and Patriots, per reports.

Social media reacts as Seahawks best Raiders to finish preseason 3-1

Social media reacts as Seahawks best Raiders to finish preseason 3-1

There was that beautiful throw from Geno Smith to Terry Wright, Ben Burr-Kirven put on a show in front of his hometown crowd and Jacob Hollister showed why he could be the Seattle Seahawks’ best receiving tight end.

The Seahawks preseason has officially come to a close! After a big first half, the Seahawks managed to survive a Raiders comeback in the remaining 30 minutes to beat Oakland 17-15, finishing 3-1 in preseason play.

Here’s a look at the best moments on social media. You can also view Seahawks Insider Joe Fann’s three takeaways from the game here.

In the first quarter, Geno Smith wasted no time sealing the deal for the backup quarterback job over Paxton Lynch. In the pouring rain, Smith delivered a five-play, 73 yard touchdown drive, including a jaw-dropping throw to wide receiver Terry Wright for 39 yards.

Ben Burr-Kirven was everywhere on Thursday, but perhaps his biggest play of the night came when the rookie linebacker blitzed and sacked Raiders quarterback Mike Glennon on fourth down.

Jacob Hollister was the next man up to catch a touchdown from Geno Smith. The Seahawks tight end snagged an 11-yard touchdown in between two defenders. Fans on social media liked what they saw. 

Akeem King also came up with a huge play in the second half, recording a forced fumble and a sack.

The Seahawks roster will be narrowed down to 53 by Saturday. Those who remain on Seattle’s roster will take on the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday for the first game of the NFL season. 

Oakland Raiders flip the script with Antonio Brown trade, but does it make sense?

usatsi_11817617.jpg
USA Today

Oakland Raiders flip the script with Antonio Brown trade, but does it make sense?

In the end, the Oakland Raiders pulled a fast one with the acquisition of wide receiver Antonio Brown, a move that should serve as an example of how premature judgment of any situation can ultimately blow up in one's face. 

The Raiders have reportedly secured a deal that will send Pittsburgh's disgruntled All-Pro wide receiver to Oakland for draft picks in the third and fifth rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. The deal will become official Wednesday when the NFL's new calender year starts and free agency begins. 

This deal comes months after the Raiders and first-year coach Jon Gruden were blasted by most of the football world for having traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft midway through last season .  

The Raiders, 4-12 in 2018, are having the last laugh. 

The net result of these move is that the Raiders have essentially traded Cooper, a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder for Brown and a first-round pick.

Let that sink in for a second. That's one heck of a deal. 

Yes, the Raiders must pay Brown $31 million in guaranteed money over the next three years, but that's the cost of doing business and Cooper would have commanded a king's ransom when his rookie contracted ends following the 2019 season, anyway.

Often lost in examining NFL trades that involve expensive stars for draft picks is the combination of the pick acquired and the shedding of an expensive contract or the prospects of having to pay a large extension to the star player in the near future. While fans and media often blast the team that gave up the star, they ignore the double benefit coming back the other way.  

With the extra cash, the team that dealt the star can go out and sign another star in free agency or trade for one and absorb that salary while in many cases keeping the draft picks acquired in the original deal. This is what Oakland has done. The Raiders upgraded at wide receiver while moving up in the draft in a deal that would never happen on its own, the dealing of a third and a fifth for a first. 

Gold star for new Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, best known for being NFL Network's NFL combine and draft guru for several years. 

It is interesting to point out that Pittsburgh, which now faces 21.1 million in dead cap space after dealing Brown, must not have received interest from many bidders seeking to deal higher picks and sign Brown to big money. That says a lot about Brown, who is as dynamic as they come at his position but is also a bit of a headache in the locker room. 

Statistically, it's unfair to compare Brown and Cooper. Brown has certainly been better since Cooper entered the league in 2015. Over the past four years, Cooper caught 278 passed for 3,908 yards and 25 touchdowns. Brown, during those same four years, caught 447 passes for 5,948 yards and 46 touchdowns. 

No comparison.

However, Brown played with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a lock future hall of famer, while Cooper was paired up with promising but young Derek Carr, who entered the league a year before Cooper, and then third-year quarterback Dak Prescott in Dallas.

Also, one must also consider number of targets. Cooper was targeted 465 times in four years while Brown, since 2015, was targeted 678 times. 

On the flip side of all of this is the age factor. Cooper, 24, is just entering his prime while Brown, 30, is closing in on the tail end of his. It stands to reason that Cooper, who in nine games with Dallas racked up 725 receiving yards and six touchdowns, will be more productive than Brown over the next five seasons just like Cooper's first five seasons were more productive than Brown's. 

Brown didn't become a consistent star until his fourth season in the league. Through his first four years, he caught 261 passes for 3,561 yards at 15 touchdowns. All three numbers sit below Cooper during his first four seasons. 

The age factor is real. For a rebuilding team such as Oakland, Cooper actually makes more sense. But the youth given up could easily be made up for by wisely using the pick acquired from Dallas (No. 27). Brown, in the meantime, gives Carr arguably the best receiver in the game to work with and if the team can make some other moves in free agency, and draft well, the Raiders could be incredibly improved in 2019.  

None of this exonerates Oakland from the other big deal it made last offseason when the Raiders sent All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack, 28, to the Chicago Bears for multiple draft picks, including two first-rounders. The Raiders thought that the Bears would be bad enough to turn those picks into at least top-15 selections. Instead, the Bears won the NFC North and the 2019 pick acquired is set at No. 24. 

Still, while losing Mack certainly stings, the acquisition of three first-round draft picks over the next two years to go along with the Raiders' normal allotment of two, plus saving about $35 million in cap space before the Brown deal, certainly gave the Raiders a chance to rebuild in a hurry. 

Brown is the first step in that process. It's a huge win. We shall see how the Raiders do with the other subsequent steps in their rebuilding process. 

There is a new sheriff in town for Dallas

usatsi_10356407.jpg
USA Today Img.

There is a new sheriff in town for Dallas

There is a new sheriff in the Dallas Cowboys organization, and his name is Amari Cooper. 

After a disappointing 1-5 start to their season, the Oakland Raiders have traded three-year wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a first-round draft pick.

The Cowboys (3-4) need for an outside threat can't be overstated enough. Dallas is ranked 28th in the league in total passing yards (1,282), and the addition of Cooper should greatly increase that. Along with Cooper, Dallas has Cole Beasley, Tavon Austin, and unfortunately a handful of six or seven-year players who don't contribute enough. 

This comes at a good time for the Cowboys organizaiton as they head into their BYE week giving Cooper one additional week to adjust and get aquainted with the playbook.

Seahawks feel at home in London, roll past Oakland

usatsi_11442602.jpg
USA Today

Seahawks feel at home in London, roll past Oakland

The Seahawks discovered during the week and on Sunday that they are quite well loved in London, England.

The 84,922 in attendance for their 27-3 win over Oakland at famed Wembley Stadium appeared to favor the Seahawks (3-3) over the Raiders (1-5).

"It felt like we were playing in another home game," wide receiver Tyler Locket told reporters. 

Maybe the fans recognized the Seahawks' logo more so than the Raiders' and because of Seattle's recent success. Or, maybe the fans could tell right away when the game started which team had its act together and which team was a white hot mess. Whatever the circumstances were that led to such a partisan environment, the trip couldn't have gone much better for the Seahawks. 

Seattle coach Pete Carroll called it a bowl game atmosphere. Quarterback Russell Wilson called the experience "amazing" and recalled a summer trip he and his wife, music artist Ciara, made to London in which he noticed many Seahawks' fans existed in the city.

The logical assumption would be that Seattle's 65 wins in six seasons and two trips to the Super Bowl with one win has created fans far and wide. Losing, however, could have the reverse effect. 

Seattle is attempting to transition from a Super Bowl contender of the past into one of the future without first becoming a losing team. Seattle's win on Sunday was the team's most impressive to date and brought the Seahawks to .500 for the first time this season. They looked sharp on both sides of the ball and continue to show signs of being a potential playoff threat in a league filled with parity. 

"We're fired up about what we can do and where we're going," Wilson said.

Seattle once again ran the ball well, gaining 155 yards on the ground. That's three consecutive games of 170, 190 and 155 coming off of a decent 113 against Dallas. 

"We put together really four weeks of really good football here," Carroll said. "I like the way the way we're playing, the style we're playing with, how physical we're playing."

Seattle converted on 9 of 13 third-down attempts, registered six sacks of Raiders' quarterback David Carr and neutralized running back Marshawn Lynch, making his potential revenge game against his former team go kaput with just 45 yards on 13 carries. 

There couldn't possibly be many complaints following a showing like that before an off week. 

"It's been real, London," Lockett said as he ended his press conference. 

In the near future we will find out just how real these Seahawks are and if they can continue living up to the fandom that greeted them in another country. 

--- Aaron Fentress covers the Seahawks and the Oregon Ducks for NBCSportsNorthwest. You can follow him on Twitter Facebook and Instagram

Seahawks' Griffin twins had contrasting travel experiences to London

Seahawks' Griffin twins had contrasting travel experiences to London

Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin, twin defensive players on the Seattle Seahawks, had slightly differing travel experiences during the team's trip to London, England where on Sunday they will face the Oakland Raiders. 

The lengthy flight was scheduled to leave Wednesday so that the team could sleep on the plane in order to be well rested for a Thursday afternoon practice.   

"I think I slept six hours," Shaquill told reporters in London. "I didn’t think I was going to sleep that long, but yeah I got about six hours in.”

His twin brother one-upped him. 

“I fell asleep and I woke up and didn’t even know the plane had landed, that’s when you know you’re sleeping good," Shaquem told reporters. "I can definitely say that we got some good sleep on the plane.”

Interestingly, Shaquill, a second-year player, had the better set up. 

"I had the first-class seat where it lays all the way down like a bed, so I wasn’t used to that, Shaquill said. "I’m mostly in the back with the seats standing straight up, so my neck be hurting sometimes. This plane was really nice. Pete (Carroll) definitely made sure we were comfortable on this one.”

Shaquem, a rookie, didn't have it so lucky. 

“The rookies didn’t have that seat," he said. "I don’t know what he’s talking about. We really were closed off, so it was cool, I didn’t get that experience of it. I was definitely comfortable, and I slept well. They had it blocked off, so we didn’t know what was going on with the vets. I’m pretty sure they were living good up there, but you know we got here safely."

Shaquem Griffin: “A lot of the guys were excited. We got on the plane; we didn’t leave until late night, so it was kind of a time where we could start sleeping, so it worked out just fine. We were on the plane talking to each other and interacting with the coaches and stuff, so it wasn’t a bad flight. Everybody was interacting with each other and walking around. We got here and was ready to work, everybody came in tuned in and ready. I think that’s one thing that was very important is being able to relax, but as soon as soon as it’s time to work, turn it on. I think we do a very good job at that.”

Seattle (2-3) is in sort of a must-win situation against the desperate Raiders (1-4).  A loss would put the Seahawks at 2-4. This team does not appear to be built to come back from being two games under .500 to make a playoff run. 

“You can see everybody dialed in as soon as we got off the flight," Shaquill Griffin said. "Everybody got their rest, we came in and got a quick meal and hit the practice field. You could see how everybody hit the ground running, so you could see the focus is still there."

The team is looking forward to playing at famed Wembley Stadium, which seats 90,000. Shaquem said he expects that both teams must prepare for the neutral site almost like it's a college bowl game. 

"You’ve got to be ready to be adjusted well to noise or if anything is happening to the field," he continued. "It’s everything that’s been talked about before we got here so we’ll be well-prepared for anything that is going to come to us and I’m just excited to get there.”

Marshawn Lynch should still be in Beast Mode with the Seahawks

usatsi_11398522.jpg
USA Today

Marshawn Lynch should still be in Beast Mode with the Seahawks

RENTON, Wash. - In a perfect football world, Marshawn Lynch would still be with the Seattle Seahawks and remain with them until he could no longer play NFL football. 

It's simply not right when legends that define an era end up playing elsewhere for any reason. Emmitt Smith should have never played for Arizona. Joe Montana should have never gone to Kansas City. Peyton Manning never should have thrown a single pass in Denver. Okay, the latter one worked out well, but still... 

I just thank the lord that Walter Payton never played for anyone other than Chicago because that's how it should be. 

If that perfect football universe existed, Lynch today would still be going all Beast Mode on opposing defenses while wearing his No. 24 in a Seahawks uniform and rambling for big chunks of yards, not Chris Carson or Mike Davis. No offense to that rising duo, but Lynch helped define the Seahawks from 2010 through 2015. He can still play. Therefore, he should still be in Seattle. 

But the sports world is far from perfect. And so is Lynch, who despite his relationship with teammates, entertaining personality and often-endearing don't-give-a-bleep attitude, essentially grew older and wore out his welcome with the franchise. 

On Sunday, for the first time since leaving Seattle (2-3) following the 2015 season only to returning to the NFL in 2017 to play in his hometown with the Oakland Raiders, Lynch will face his former team on Sunday in London.

Since Lynch's departure, Seattle has searched far and wide for a competent replacement at running back. So far this season, Carson and Davis have gotten the job done. But neither is Lynch, on or off the field. 

It's the off-the-field Lynch that hastened the end of his career in Seattle before his time. Lynch didn't conform to norms. He didn't have time for what he perceived to be insincerity or posturing. He essentially wore out his welcome by being high maintenance. 

But what Lynch wasn't was a bad person. He was, and is, more of an edgy goofball with a heart.

Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin recalled a young player years ago taking a liking to Lynch's colorful backpack and expressing as much to the Pro Bowl running back.

"Where did you get it from," the receiver asked.

On the spot, Lynch removed the backpack, dumped his belongings out and handed it to the player.

"Here, you can have it," Lynch told the receiver. 

That player was Baldwin.

"As simple and as plain as that, Marshawn, didn't matter who you were, if you respected him and loved him for him as a person, literally he would give you the backpack off his back," Baldwin said. "I thought it was the epitome of the man that he was."

Lynch, who was in Seattle with the Raiders during the preseason but did not play in that exhibition game, was famous for giving random gifts to teammates. Gucci ski masks. Televisions for his offensive line. 

"Just random stuff all the time," Baldwin said. 

Lynch has proven in Oakland (1-4) that he had a lot of football left in him when he departed Seattle. Last season, he rushed for 891 yards and seven touchdowns. So far this season, he is on pace to crack 1,000 with 331 yards and three touchdowns in five games. 

“He looks good, he looks really good," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "He looks healthy and aggressive. He wants the ball more, you can tell that. His running style and everything about him looks good."

When asked if Lynch had always been a handful, Carroll responded: “I don’t know if that’s the case. I wasn’t there in Buffalo.”

Point taken. 

However, Carroll said that he believed he handled Lynch well and that things certainly worked great for the franchise. Lynch rushed for 6,347 yards and 57 touchdowns while being named to four Pro Bowls. Seattle reached two Super Bowls with Lynch and won one of them.  

"Shoot, I think we did okay," Carroll said. "We had a great time together."

Whatever negativity Lynch might have felt when he left Seattle, the bottom line is that the Seahawks gave his career a major boost when they acquired him in a trade with Buffalo during the 2010 season. The Bills determined Lynch to be expendable with Travis Henry as the starter and Lynch being, well, Lynch. In Seattle, that same Lynch became the heart and soul of the offense and the perfect compliment to a budding dominant defense and rising young quarterback in Russell Wilson.

"When he got here, he got a fresh start," Carroll said. "Man, he took the opportunity and went with it and fit in."

Seattle, Carroll said, needed the attitude, intensity, focus and toughness that Lynch exuded.

"He grew a lot with us and so we just went through a lot together," Carroll said. "I have tremendous respect for that guy and it’ll be fun playing against him. I like playing against guys I like.”

Lynch's career ended with him deciding not to play in a playoff game at Minnesota in 2016 despite being medically cleared and then gaining just 20 yards on six carries in a Divisional Playoff loss at Carolina the following week. 

Just like that, Beast Mode was gone after an injury-plagued and controversy-filled season.

"Honestly, I don't really care how it ended because I know the man," Baldwin said. 

Seattle hasn't had a running back gain over 500 yards in a season since Lynch's departure. The Seahawks have also not had a personality like his in the locker room, which is probably by design. 

"He was who he was," Baldwin said. "He didn't try to act like something he wasn't. He didn't pretend with you guys in the media then come back to the locker room and act differently."

Baldwin stopped short of saying that Lynch's personality is missed today. He said the veteran guys would have understood Lynch while maybe the younger guys wouldn't have been the right fit for Lynch's personality. 

"He was amazing because he brought a uniqueness," Baldwin said. "He was old-school. We live in a world where everybody is projecting this facade. You see it on Facebook. you see it on Instagram. Everybody is trying to project this facade. and he was not about that. He was genuinely who he was."

Baldwin said he expects Lynch to embrace the opportunity to face his former team.

"He's going to have fun for sure," Baldwin said. "He will probably be in our locker room at some point talking trash. But that's just Marshawn. He is definitely going to have fun."

In the end, having fun - albeit at times with a heavy dose of grating disregard for authority - defines the man. 

"Marshawn is just a really, really good dude," Baldwin said. 

And he's a Seattle legend that in a perfect world would still be doing his thing with the Seahawks where he belongs. 

-- Aaron Fentress covers the Seahawks and the Oregon Ducks for NBCSportsNorthwest. You can follow him on Twitter Facebook and Instagram

Raiders vs Browns pits Blazers teammates against each other

Raiders vs Browns pits Blazers teammates against each other

Damian Lillard is a Raiders fan. CJ McCollum is a Browns fan. The Raiders play the Browns this Sunday. So these two must have a friendly wager on this one, right? Wrong. 

Lillard tweeted out yesterday that the Browns were going down. This prompted local radio personality Brandon Sprague to ask if the teammates had a bet on the game. McCollum responded, saying Lillard wasn't having any of that action.

When a fan asked Dame what he had to say about it, he said "absolutely nothin." 

Maybe there is a bet we don't know about, or maybe Lillard is just focused on training camp and the team's first preseason game on Saturday. However, considering the freshly inked Raiders logo Lillard has tattooed on his forearm, we think he's definitely paying attention to this matchup.

If they aren't throwing down money for a bet, Lillard and McCollum will most certainly to battling for those locker room bragging rights. 

 

NFL Week 1 Power Rankings: The splendor of the Rams

usatsi_10484741_1.jpg
USA Today

NFL Week 1 Power Rankings: The splendor of the Rams

The NFL season is upon us so it's time for a list that takes a lot of effort and ultimately results in multiple people telling me how dumb the finished product is. 

Ah, yes, NFL power rankings. Gotta love 'em. 

It's been eight years since I've ventured down this road, and I must say, it's as ridiculously mind-numbing as I remember. Attempting to rank 32 NFL teams before they've played any games is like targeting gnats in the dark with a bow and arrow. 

That said, I welcome all critiques and suggestions. Just don't be that person who feels that your team has been wrongfully persecuted because someone ranked it lower than warranted. These rankings are for entertainment and discussion purposes only. They are not necessarily a prediction. Such lists are a snapshot in time that remain fluid from week to week.  

So, enjoy:

 

1. LOS ANGELES RAMS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 11-5. Lost 26-13 at home to Atlanta in the wild card round. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Oakland, Monday night.  

Betting line: Rams minus 5. 

Fentress says: The Rams are stacked. That said, most modestly accomplished teams that go into a season appearing to be loaded typically don't live up to expectations. The NFL is funny that way. But this team is simply too sexy to ignore. Quarterback Jared Goff should make another jump. Todd Gurley is arguably the NFL's best running back. They added wide receiver Brandin Cooks to stretch the field. On defense, the Rams plugged defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerback Marcus Peters into the lineup. Wunderkind coach Todd McVay is the so-called next genius on the sideline. Is 16-0 possible? Nah! I won't go that far. But the Rams are my pick to win the Super Bowl, which means that they probably won't. 

 

 2. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 11-5. Lost 29-24 at Minnesota in the divisional playoffs.

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Tampa Bay.  

Betting line: Saints minus 9 1/2. 

Fentress says: The Saints were one fluke play away from playing in the NFL Championship game last season. The running back duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram (suspended four games) and a much improved defense (17th ranked last season, up from 27th in 2016)  helped balance out the passing of Drew Brees. Should Brees, 39, have another strong season remaining in his right arm, the Saints could make another run at the Super Bowl.  

 

3. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 13-3. Lost to Philadelphia in Super Bowl LII.  

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Houston.  

Betting line: Patriots minus 6. 

Fentress says: Is this the season quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick finally go away? The defense is being retooled. The running backs and wide receivers have taken a hit. Surely, the 41-year-old Brady couldn't possibly put forth another MVP season, right? Right?  All of that will happen someday. But until I see the Patriots fall to pieces, they remain the class of the AFC in my book. Belichick will find a way to reinvent the defense and keep Brady upright long enough for the Patriots to win at least 12 games and host the AFC Championship. Goodness gracious, this has gotten old. 

 

4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 13-3. Won Super Bowl LII over New England.  

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Atlanta.  

Betting line: Eagles minus 3. 

Fentress says: The Eagles are probably being somewhat undervalued here. They made some nice additions on defense by adding defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and defensive end Michael Bennett, and should be just as strong on offense once quarterback Carson Wentz fully returns after undergoing knee surgery last year. But no team has repeated since the Patriots in 2005 and Wentz' health is an issue. Will he be the same in his first year back?  If not, could backup Nick Foles possibly duplicate what he did in the playoffs?  These question marks are enough to start the defending Super Bowl champions at at No. 4.

 

5. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 13-3. Lost 45-42 to Jacksonville in the divisional playoffs. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Cleveland.  

Betting line: Steelers minus 6. 

Fentress says: Wide receiver Antonio Brown is arguably the most unstoppable force in the NFL. Running back Le'Veon Bell is once again playing hard to get but ultimately will take the money and run...for a lot of touchdowns. Like Brees and Brady, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, 36, is defying his age. The only real question mark is the defense, which ranked fifth last season but surrendered 45 points in a home playoff game to Jacksonville. All-Pro defensive end Cam Heyward is confident that the Steelers' defense will be much improved. “I saw growth in a lot of different guys, newer guys you want to see,’’ Heyward told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’d like to think we have some good additions but that’s only talk right now. You have to prove it when real games matter.” 

 

6. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 13-3. Lost 38-7 at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship game.

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. San Francisco.  

Betting line: Vikings minus 6. 

Fentress says: The Vikings' defense led the NFL in most major categories last season and figures to be just as dominant this season after adding defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Minnesota became one of the rare successful teams in NFL history to make a change at quarterback the following season. Minnesota watched Case Keenum evolve into a quality starter only to let him walk to Denver so the Vikings could sign Kirk Cousins away from Washington. Cousins is only a slight upgrade but will be able to get the ball to wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, one of the league's best receiving tandems. The Vikings clearly believe that Cousins, who is 0-1 in the playoffs, is the missing ingredient. We shall see. 

 7. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 10-6. Lost 24-20 at New England in the AFC Championship game.  

Record: 0-0.

This week: At New York Giants.  

Betting line: Jaguars minus 3. 

Fentress says: Jacksonville overcame a 3-3 start to win seven of its next eight to become a playoff team. The Jaguars then upset Pittsburgh in the playoffs and had New England darn near beaten before squandering a fourth quarter lead. The defense once again should be dominant and running back Leonard Fournette will likely improve upon his quality rookie season. Still, Jacksonville likely won't get past New England unless quarterback Blake Bortles improves. That might be tough to do now that wide receiver Marqise Lee is out for the season with a knee injury. 
 

 8. CAROLINA PANTHERS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 11-5. Lost 31-26 at New Orleans in the wild card round. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Dallas.  

Betting line: Panthers minus 3. 

Fentress says: Carolina bounced back from a disastrous 2016 season to return to the playoffs last year, and did so without Cam Newton playing at the MVP level he displayed in 2015 when the team marched to the Super Bowl. The offensive line is an issue and consequently so is the pounding Newton takes on a weekly basis. He must develop as pocket passer under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner if Carolina is going to leapfrog the NFC's elite. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly leads a strong front seven that will alone could make Carolina playoff contender.

 9. ATLANTA FALCONS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 10-6. Lost 15-10 at Philadelphia in the divisional playoffs. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Philadelphia, Thursday night.  

Betting line: Eagles minus 3. 

Fentress says: Quarterback Matt Ryan earned the NFL MVP in 2016 after a career season. His numbers fell off dramatically last year and the Falcons weren't nearly as good because of it. Still, they came within an eyelash of upending the Eagles in the playoffs. This team is not too far off from being Super Bowl-caliber. The defense is strong and the running game is solid. Plus, wide receiver Julio Jones remains a top-tier receiver. What Atlanta needs is to figure out who to get Ryan to replicate the season he had in 2016. 

 

 10. GREEN BAY PACKERS 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 7-9. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Chicago.  

Betting line: Packers minus 7 1/2 

Fentress says: The Packers' struggles last season were the direct result of quarterback Aaron Rodgers missing nine starts with a broken collarbone.  Green Bay went 4-2 in games he played the majority of, and that includes close losses at Atlanta and Carolina, both playoff teams.  With his return, and the addition of tight end Jimmy Graham, the Packers might have enough to return to the playoffs. But they won't challenge Minnesota in the NFC North unless the the defense, 22nd last season, improves dramatically. 

 

 11. TENNESSEE TITANS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 9-7. Lost 35-14 at New England in the divisional playoffs. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Miami.  

Betting line: Titans minus 1.  

Fentress says: The Titans, who snuck into the playoffs as a wild card team and upset Kansas City, won't go any further this season unless quarterback Marcus Mariota reaches his potential. And that won't happen until the Titans stop changing his coach on virtually an annual basis. Mike Vrabel is Mariota's third coach in four years. That qualifies as cruelty to quarterbacks. Plus, his receivers - save for tight end Delanie Walker - remain suspect and the running game must be revived. The Titans are a team that is decent all over but not great anywhere. Tennessee desperately needs wide receiver Corey Davis, the fifth-overall pick in 2017, to emerge as a true No. 1 receiver or this team could easily miss the playoffs.  

 

12. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 9-7. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Kansas City. 

Betting line: Chargers minus 3.

Fentress says: Could we be headed toward an all-Los Angeles Super Bowl? It's not that farfetched. San Diego began last season 0-4 before winning 9 of 12 to close the season. However, eight of those wins came against non-playoff teams. So, who knows what any of that really means? What we do know is that quarterback Philip Rivers can still play at a high level, he has a quality fleet of receivers led by Keenan Allen, running back Melvin Gordon could be set for a huge season and the defense has one of the league's elite pass rushers in defensive end Joey Bosa. Sounds like a playoff team to me. 

 

13. KANSAS CITY

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 10-6. Lost 22-21 to Tennessee in the divisional playoffs.  

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Los Angeles Chargers.  

Betting line: Chargers minus 3. 

Fentress says: Last season began with a bang when Kansas City won at New England and quarterback Alex Smith looked like he might make a run a league MVP. Fast forward 12 months and Kansas City is coming off having been upset in the playoffs by the Titans, Smith is in Washington and second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the starting quarterback. Mahomes has crazy arm talent and is a highlight waiting to happen. But he's also green and likely will make plenty of mistakes in coach And Reid's offense. Furthermore, the defense ranked 28th last year with cornerback Marcus Peters, now with the Rams. If Mahomes can make his share of big plays and running back Kareem Hunt can duplicate the 1,300-yard performance from his rookie season, this team could win the AFC West. 

 

 14. BALTIMORE RAVENS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 9-7. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Buffalo.  

Betting line: Ravens minus 7. 

Fentress says: The Ravens haven't made the playoffs for the past three seasons mostly because quarterback Joe Flacco hasn't come close to living up to the massive deal he signed after leading the team to a Super Bowl win with one of the hottest playoff runs ever. The offense needs running back Alex Collins to lead the way and hope Flacco follows. The defense figures to remain sound, but isn't enough to overcome an expensive quarterback that throws 18 touchdown passes in a season.

 

 15. CHICAGO BEARS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 5-11. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Green Bay.  

Betting line: Packers minus 7 1/2. 

Fentress says: The Bears added All-Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack and rookie inside linebacker Roquan Smith to a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL last season. If the defense pushes its way closer to the top five, and if quarterback Mitchell Trubisky develops under new coach Matt Nagy, the Bears might flirt with reaching the playoffs. Chicago upgraded the offense with two new starting receivers, including former Pro Bowler Allen Robinson, and a tight end, led by Allen Robinson. They should compliment running back Jordan Howard quite well. 

 

 16. DALLAS COWBOYS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 9-7. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Carolina.  

Betting line: Panthers minus 3. 

Fentress says: The Cowboys' offensive line is starting to show some cracks in the foundation due to injuries. That's very bad news for Dallas, which relied on an elite line to make quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott look good. The defense, 8th last season, is solid enough to get this team to the playoffs. But there might not be enough in the passing game to get it done if Prescott plays like he did last season (22 touchdown passes with 13 interceptions). Targets for Prescott are a question mark now that wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten are gone. 

 

 17. CINCINNATI BENGALS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 7-9. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Indianapolis.  

Betting line: Colts minus 3. 

Fentress says: Is this finally the year the Bengals get the job done under coach Marvin Lewis? Probably not. A solid running game will compliment the oh-so-average quarterback, Andy Dalton enough to help wide receiver A.J. Green put up great fantasy numbers and the Cincinnati defense will be up and down. In the end, the Bengals will either narrowly miss the playoffs or get bounced after one game. Rinse and repeat. 

 

 18. HOUSTON TEXANS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 4-12. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At New England.  

Betting line: Patriots minus 6. 

Fentress says: Much is expected of the Texans with the return of quarterback DeShaun Watson and defensive tackle J.J. Watt.  Watson threw 18 touchdown passes in five games last season before tearing up his knee. The Texans defense fell to pieces thanks to numerous injuries. The running game isn't exactly dominant, but if Watson tosses 35 touchdowns and Watt gets the defense - ranked 20th last year - back to being formidable, Houston could challenge Jacksonville and Tennessee for the AFC South crown. 
 

 19. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 9-7. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Denver.  

Betting line: Broncos minus 3. 

Fentress says: Seattle is in major flux. Gone are three major stars from the once dominant defense. That amount of turnover is not easy to overcome. The good news is that Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas has ended his holdout and the offensive line appears to be better than that horror show from last season. An improved running game would only make quarterback Russell Wilson better and give Seattle a chance to remain relevant. But this is not close to a contending team and the Seahawks most likely won't make the playoffs in the very deep NFC. 

 

 20. DETROIT LIONS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 9-7. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. New York Jets, Monday night.  

Betting line: Lions minus 7. 

Fentress says: The Lions can't play defense and the running game has been in shambles almost every year since Barry Sanders retired in 1999. But Detroit can sling the rock with quarterback Matthew Stafford and receivers, Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. If new coach Matt Patricia can find some hidden gems on defense in that beard of his, Detroit could once again flirt with the postseason before ultimately falling short. 

 

 21. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 6-10. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Minnesota.  

Betting line: Vikings minus 4. 

Fentress says: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo might look like every actor that ever played Clark Kent/Superman but regardless of the hype we do not know if he is closer to Kent or the Man of Steel as a quarterback. Yes, the 49ers closed the season 5-0 shortly after acquiring Garoppolo from New England for a second-round pick. But Garoppolo threw just six touchdowns with five interceptions during that stretch. So, let's slow the roll on the hype train and let the guy actually complete a season before anointing him the next great 49ers quarterback. Plus, the defense is just okay and running back Jerick McKinnon is out for the season. 

 

 22. NEW YORK GIANTS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 3-13.

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Jacksonville.  

Betting line: Jaguars minus 4. 

Fentress says: There is a lot of chatter that the Giants could make a quantum leap this season. Why? Because they drafted electric running back Saquon Barkley, rebuilt the offensive line and made nice with wide receiver Odell Beckham? So? The defense finished 31st in the NFL last season and the maddeningly inconsistent Eli Manning is still the quarterback, and he's now 37.  Clearly, I'm not buying. This team will be better but its not a playoff contender. 

 

 23. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 4-12. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Cincinnati.  

Betting line: Colts minus 3. 

Fentress says: Many are down on the Colts even with the return of quarterback Andrew Luck, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. The Colts' roster certainly doesn't appear to be loaded and the defense finished ranked 30th in the league last year. However, Luck is 43-27 as a starter for a reason. If he returns to his old self, the Colts have a chance to return to respectability. 

 

 24. DENVER BRONCOS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 5-11.

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Seattle.  

Betting line: Broncos minus 3. 

Fentress says: Denver's defense fell way off last season and the quarterback situation wasn't nearly good enough to help mitigate the problem. So, general manager John Elway turned to Case Keenum in hopes that he will replicate the season he had in Minnesota. The one that got him replaced. What are the odds of that happening?  Should Keenum give the team adequate quarterback play and rookie running back Royce Freeman grounds and pounds his way to 1,200 yards and 10-plus touchdowns, Denver could be back in business. But I still can't ignore the fact that Denver would have been much better off last season and be much better off this season with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. 

 

 25. OAKLAND RAIDERS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 6-10.

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Los Angeles Rams, Monday night.  

Betting line: Rams minus 5. 

Fentress says: The Raiders started the season on a low note by trading superstar linebacker Khalil Mack to the Raiders for a boatload of draft picks. Who knows how the team will respond to losing its best player? Chances are, they won't respond all that well. Quarterback Derek Carr looked like he was headed toward elite status following the 2016 season, but he regressed last year. New coach Jon Gruden is a great soundbite and probably still has an elite offensive mind. It took $100 million to get him out of the broadcast booth but there is no way of knowing if Gruden is capable of reviving this franchise. 

 

 26. ARIZONA CARDINALS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 8-8. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Washington.  

Betting line: Even. 

Fentress says: New coach Steven Wilks inherits a top 10 defense, an elite running back and a future hall of fame receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, the defense is undergoing a change to Wilks' 4-3 scheme, running back David Johnson is coming off of a serious knee injury, Fitzgerald is 35 and the quarterback will either be oft-injured Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen. Wilks insists that the Cardinals are retooling and not rebuilding. But the playoffs do not seem like even a remote possibility for this team.

 

27 MIAMI DOLPHINS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 6-10.

Record: 0-0.

This week: Vs. Miami.  

Betting line: Titans minus 1. 

Fentress says: Coach Adam Gase was dealt a tough hand when quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury. Tannehill has returned but gone are wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The only hope is that Tannehill learned while sitting out and is ready to make a jump in production. Second-place in the AFC East is right there for the Dolphins to snag. But they need a lot of things to go right in order to make the playoffs. 

 

 28. WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Previous ranking: NA

Last season:  7-9. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Arizona.  

Betting line: Even. 

Fentress says: Replacing Kirk Cousins with Alex Smith is not going to change Washington's fortunes, and the loss of rookie running back Derius Guice to a knee injury certainly won't help the cause. The defense ranked 22nd last year and doesn't figure to be much better this season. Simply put, this is a very mediocre team with no real signs of hope of getting better this season. One has to wonder if coach Jay Gruden, one playoff win in five seasons, is running out of time.   

 

 

29. BUFFALO BILLS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 9-7. Lost 10-3 at Jacksonville in the Wild Card round.    

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Baltimore.  

Betting line: Ravens minus 7. 

Fentress says: This is a huge drop for a playoff team. But that playoff run seemed like a miracle at the time. Gone is quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who certainly has his shortcomings but threw just four interceptions in 15 games and had 16 over the past three seasons. Now the team turns to Nathan Peterman, who threw five interceptions in one half of football last season, until rookie Josh Allen is ready.  Factor in a weak offensive line that will hinder running back LeSean McCoy and a mediocre group of receivers, and you have the makings of a potentially pitiful football team. 

 

30. NEW YORK JETS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 5-11.

Record: 0-0.

This week: At Detroit, Monday night.  

Betting line: Lions minus 7. 

Fentress says: The Jets' defense must take a big leap under fourth-year coach Todd Bowles in order for the Jets to make some noise. Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold had a strong preseason but chances are that he isn't ready to lead a team to the playoffs with this many holes.  Wide receiver Robby Anderson is a big play threat but the running game needs work. The Jets should take a step forward but not enough to taste the postseason. Will Bowles survive a third consecutive sub-.500 season?

 

 31. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 5-11. 

Record: 0-0.

This week: At New Orleans.  

Betting line: Saints minus 9 1/2.  

Fentress says:  Quarterback Jameis Winston's immaturity has held this franchise hostage. He has all the talent in the world but has yet to demonstrate much interest in being great than he has being inappropriate toward women. His three-game suspension to start the season could doom the Buccaneers to another double-digit loss year. That, and the fact that the defense, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and the running game are suspect, at best. This team is in desperate need of a quarterback to overcome its shortcomings. But first, that quarterback must overcome his own.  

 

 32. CLEVELAND BROWNS

 

Previous ranking: NA

Last season: 0-16. Just shameful!   

Record: 0-0.

This week: vs. Pittsburgh.  

Betting line: Steelers minus 6. 

Fentress says: It's amazing what a few offseason moves and appearing on HBO's Hard Knocks can do for a team's image. Some have the Browns, 1-31 over the past two seasons, as high as No. 25 in their power rankings. Whaaaat? Look, Baker Mayfield might have moxey and a rocket arm, but he's a rookie on a bad team. This isn't Dan Marino, 1983.  Jarvis Landry is a nice receiver, but he isn't a game-changer. The defense might improve on its No. 14 ranking from last season. The bottom line is that until this team wins a game for the first time since Dec. 24, 2016, it deserves to be ranked butt-naked last in the NFL.