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NEW TGS COVER STORY...NFL SEASON WINS TO WATCH!

by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


As we like to do in front of every NFL season kickoff, it's time to take a late look at our preferred season-wins projections, which appear below...

NFC

DALLAS UNDER 10.5 wins... Jerry Jones has let it be known that he expects his team to do something in the playoffs come January and not just exit proceedings at the first hurdle like last January when the Niners came into Arlington and bounced Dallas out of the postseason. ‘Ol Jer, however, might be overestimating his roster (not like he hasn’t done that before) even assuming they’re going to make the postseason. Dak Prescott has hardly proven to be more than the “King of Hollow Stats” when healthy in recent years, as his big-game record has hardly impressed, and it helped Dallas last season for the East to offer six wins to help push the Cowboys upward. With every other team in the division looking like it might be upgraded, sweeping Philly, Washington, and the G-Men might not be so easy this season, and Dallas was barely .500 (6-5) outside of its division a year ago. Zeke Elliott is also running out of chances to rediscover his early-career form (indeed, we think Tony Pollard might emerge as the feature back), there are questions along the OL, and while the defense was much improved for new coordinator Dan Quinn last season, not sure a low-cost addition to the pass rush (Dante Fowler, from the Jags) replaces the contributions of Randy Gregory, now in Denver. One more thing...HC Mike McCarthy is squarely on the hot seat, as Jones has not-so-subtly hinted that McCarthy doesn’t have much rope (certainly not as much as predecessor Jason Garrett), and the Sean Payton rumors could eventually become a distractions. But it’s expected improvement from others in the East that makes us just as confident that Dallas regresses from last year’s 12 wins.

DETROIT UNDER 6 wins...The Lions have become a chic pick to make a move this season, partly because of their competitive form in so many losing efforts last autumn. Eight times Detroit covered poinrspreads in games it lost outright, which was useful info for handicappers last fall. But the Lions only won three times and not at all into December, and we're still waiting for some indicators that Jared Goff really is going to be able to advance the offense to the next level (Goff didn’t take a snap in preseason when Dan Campbell spent most of August conducting a backup QB audition...then releasing both Tim Boyle and David Blough on the final cutdown day). There are some weapons for Goff to utilize, and the defense might play with more of an edge with the regional flavor added by first-round pick Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson. But what looks a still-shaky stop unit with substantial holes all over the platoon should for another year keep Wayne Fontes’ record safe as the only Detroit coach to win a playoff game (1991) since 1957 and prevent the Lions from doubling their win total from a year ago.

SAN FRANCISCO OVER 10 wins... The Niners were oh-so-close to their second Sper Bowl trip in three seasons last January and probably would have made it DB Jaquiski Tartt doesn’t drop a sure interception that Matthew Stafford chucked right into his hands in the 4th Q, instead keeping the Rams alive to make a late rally. After unsuccessfully trying to move Jimmy Garoppolo and his contract in the offseason, San Francisco might fortunately be catching a break as Jimmy G will stay in house and act as a security blanket in case second-year Trey Lance gets hurt or otherwise proves he’s not ready to fly solo in the cockpit. But if he is, the Niners have their own version of Kyler Murray and a completely different problem for opposing defenses who will have to worry about a 49er QB on the run for the first time since Colin Kaepernick briefly terrorized opposing stop uinits nearly a decade ago. Meanwhile the defense retains plenty of star power and was good enough to keep San Francisco in all of its playoff games in which it was an underdog in each last January, and came within a whisker of winning another NFC crown. Much of this optimism has to do with a belief that Lance will offer an upgrade for Kyle Shanahan, but just in case, Jimmy G is capable of getting the Niners back to the playoffs as well.

WASHINGTON OVER 7.5 wins... We sort of get why the sports media is so anti Redsk...no, Commanders (forgive us, that’s taking to take a while), as Dan Snyder remains an easy target for their hate. Moreover, adding Prince Harry-lookalike Carson Wentz at QB has added fuel to the fire. But Meghan Markle is nowhere near FedEx Field, and even if Piers Morgan remains skeptical, we suspect that whatever warts Wentz carries, he’s an upgrade from what Washington has had at QB the past couple of years, and truthfully didn’t fall out of favor at Indy until the Colts laid such an egg in their regular-season finally at Jacksonville, blowing a playoff spot. There are questions, to be sure, beyond Wentz, including DE Chase Young’s absence past Halloween due to an ACL injury, plus an offensive line that took some hits in free agency. But there are still difference-makers in the defensive fold, and Wentz will have top weapons wideout Terry McLaurin and RBs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic ready to go from the outset. More Wentz... after cycling ten QBs in and out of the lineup for the past four years, including names like Garrett Gilbert and Josh Johnson, Wentz at least seems an improvement. Ron Rivera has also proven time and again that he can cobble together a respectable product throughout his coaching career, too. Can’t the Cs improve just a tick from their seven wins last season?

AFC

HOUSTON UNDER 4.5 wins... Whatever has been motivating the Texans’ front office in recent years, it all looks wrong. Hiring long-serving NFL assistant David Culley as HC last season before the Deshaun Watson controversies, then removing Watson from the 2021 equation, was the equivalent of pulling the rug out from underneath Culley, who deserved better...especially after Culley was forced to walk the plank in January. Even with a broken roster and forced into playing Stanford rookie Davis Mills at QB, Culley still cobbled four wins together from the mess. Why the McNairs seem to think the much-traveled Lovie Smith, promoted from d.c. after getting fired from the Bears, Bucs, and the Big Ten (Illinois) in his last three head coaching jobs, will be an upgrade is more than a bit puzzling. Houston finally moved Watson and his many distractions in the offseason, but the team does not seem to be built to seriously compete, as Mills will need to make a big leap in his sophomore season for Houston to become even a minor nuisance. That might be a neat trick for Mills, with no proven targets aside from Brandin Cooks, what looks to be a shaky offensive line, OL in front of him, and unsung fourth-round Florida draft pick rookie Dameon Pierce apparently entrusted to carry the infantry burden. Lovie’s defense last season also ranked near the bottom of the league in all relevant categories; usually, when coordinators get promoted, it’s because their platoons excelled. The rebuild is in its early stages at NRG Stadium, the coach doesn’t look to be a long-term answer, and GM Nick Caserio still seems in the mode to acquire draft capital and create salary cap space for 2023 & 2024. By January, Texans fans might be thinking that Culley did a pretty good job to get this bunch to four wins last year. Well, at least they have the Astros in Houston!

NEW ENGLAND OVER 8.5 wins... The Patriots haven’t been scoring many style points since Tom Brady left Foxborough (and, for those who can recall Brady’s last season at Gillette Stadium in 2019, there weren’t many style points that autumn, either). But Bill Belichick has proven too crafty over the years to project the Pats to land under .500 unless they’re going with Cam Newton at QB (as the case in Covid 2020). Remember of all of the touted QBs in last year’s draft class, none outperformed ex-Bama Mac Jones, who steered Belichick back to the postseason as a rookie in 2021. Sure, Belichick has been doing some unorthodox and un-Belichick things lately, such as not officially designating an o.c. or play-caller throughout preseason (Matt Patricia handled much of that in August along with Joe Judge, back in New England after his failed tenure with the Giants), but by this stage we are inclined to give Belichick the benefit of the doubt, especially as he won plenty with Charlie Weis and others before longtime o.c. Josh McDaniels (now Raiders) joined his staff. Belichick’s defenses are always going to be at least serviceable, and no reason to think differently this fall. The Pats don’t even have to reach last year’s 10 wins to clear the very modest wins hurdle for the “over” to cash this season.

NEW YORK JETS UNDER 5.5 wins... Even Hoda and Al Roker could tell you that any chance the J-Men could get off to the fast start that has eluded them in recent years probably went out the window with news that QB Zach Wilson is expected to perhaps miss the first month (and maybe more) of the campaign as his preseason knee injury has been slow to heal. Even a healthy Wilson, however, remains a work in progress in his second year, and hardly a guarantee to deliver at this stage of his career. Instead, Joe Flacco, barely more ambulatory than Joe Namath these days, will have to be in the driver’s seat thru at least September, and a challenging early schedule featuring all of the rugged AFC North in the first four weeks seems to ensure another slow break from the gate. Moreover, Flacco hardly seems the guy to compensate for a defense that was one of the NFL’s worst a season ago (ranked 31st). Progress was tedious at best in the first year of the Robert Saleh regime a year ago, and the J-Men look not much further along than either of the past two eyars when they could only cobble together a combined eight wins. Increasing the win total by 50% from last year, knowing that Wilson is out for at least part of the fall, seems a big ask.

PITTSBURGH OVER 7.5 wins... We’re a bit surprised the Steelers are being so completely dismissed by so many. It’s not as if the now-retired Big Ben was putting up career numbers the past few years; indeed, we’d be surprised if Mitch Trubisky (or, perhaps, Pitt rookie Kenny Pickett later in the fall) don’t post stats as good or better. The trick, of course, will be providing the sort of leadership and intangibles that Big Ben brought to the table the past 17 years, and able to do just enough to nudge Pittsburgh back into the playoffs in his swansong campaign a year ago. We’ll see. For what it’s worth, Trubisky (who has the QB job at the outset) has many admirers around the league who believe he became a victim of a team and playbook that lost its way in Chicago a couple of years ago, and even so, Trubisky did lead his last Bears team to the playoffs in 2020, and drew ravfe reviews from everyone in Buffalo for his presence behind Josh Allen last season (the Bills weren't able to afford to keep Trubisky as a backup with Pittsburgh offering more money and a chance to start). There are concerns about an OL that leaked in August, but Najee Harris could be ready for a real breakout in his sophomore season, and most of the parts are still in place from what has been a robust defense the past few years. And for all of the talk that Mike Tomlin has only thrived because of Big Ben, keep in mind the Steelers stayed unbeaten into December two years ago and made their way back to the postseason last term with Roethlisberger a shell of his old self. Tomlin has never had a team win fewer than eight games in fifteen seasons, either, and doubt that changes  this fall. 


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