This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.
OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: 2014 AFC storylines
Eric Edholm: Houston Texans' rebound
The past four owners of the No. 1 pick in the draft have averaged an improvement of seven wins the following season, including nine each from the Kansas City Chiefs and Colts the past two seasons.
The assumption is that the Texans can be the next team in that line. With the addition of head coach Bill O’Brien, a few big-name players on offense, a potentially devastating duo on defense and a softer division, some believe that immediate improvement is in the offing.
Hold off on that thought for a year, I say.
Both the Chiefs and Colts added new franchise quarterbacks prior to their improvements and turned heartache and even tragedy on their heads — the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide for the Chiefs, Chuck Pagano’s leukemia diagnosis for the Colts — into incredible positives and came together as teams as a result.
The Texans’ quarterback additions — Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage — do not yet inspire that kind of confidence. Just ask holdout star receiver Andre Johnson, who doesn’t appear to want to go duck hunting with either one this season.
Throw in a gimpy Arian Foster, whose injuries have just traveled up his body and will (if they have not already) catch up to him very soon, and you have the makings of a potentially ghastly offensive team, even O’Brien cut his teeth on that side of the ball and has a reputation for making chicken salad from chicken, um, parts. But where does that rep come from? He had Tom Brady, Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg as his quarterbacks, which is not exactly slumming it, relative to their levels of play.
As for the J.J. Watt-Jadeveon Clowney pairing, yeah, I am intrigued. But I also am a bit leery at first on Clowney. Mario Williams had 4.5 sacks in 16 rookie starts. DeMarcus Ware had eight. Robert Mathis 3.5. Tamba Hali didn’t have more than 8.5 until Year 5. Clowney won’t turn 22 until after the Super Bowl. Pass rushers do, in many cases, need time to develop.
Plus, you can’t tell me that the work is done on this roster. Sure, it wasn’t either for the Chiefs and Colts the past two seasons, but there was more in place than many realized. The Texans have talent, but also some holes and some depth concerns, and the special teams need major improvement. I see better results in 2014, but this is not an 11-win team or anything goofy like that.
Certainly not with Fitzpatrick at quarterback.
Frank Schwab: Peyton Manning's legacy
Typing that header made me want to vomit in my mouth. The constant argument about Manning's legacy is just tired, and the critics move the goal posts to fit their argument.
Remember when facing Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC championship game was Manning's legacy on the line? Sure was ... until he didn't follow up that win by winning the Super Bowl. Somehow the Super Bowl was all Manning's fault, and means he isn't that great. That game wasn't about Manning, although he didn't play well. It was about a great Seahawks team that dominated the NFL last season from start to finish.
But here we go again, I'm sure. Every game will be a referendum, as usual with Manning, especially after Denver loaded up for a title run in free agency. The same people who think LeBron James is a failure for going 2-2 in the NBA Finals the last four years (I'd love to see what team you root for that you wouldn't sign up for that four-year run) are going to say Manning is not that great if he doesn't win the Super Bowl. If he does, they'll say he didn't do it well enough I'm sure (and let's be clear, Manning isn't going to duplicate last season's numbers. It's not happening). Some folks hate James over "The Decision." Many more hate him to protect the standing of Michael Jordan, who is almost unanimously regarded as the greatest NBA player ever and is almost never criticized ... so I'm not sure why people get so lathered up about criticizing James in the name of Jordan (but we're getting off topic here). Manning doesn't have anything like "The Decision," and I'm not sure why fans can't let go and admit that he's the greatest quarterback ever. But whatever the reason, get ready for another season of overreactions surrounding Manning and His Legacy instead of appreciating the last years of his career. What fun.
EE: E.J. Manuel's development
Let’s be clear: I am a bit ambivalent on Manuel right now. I never thought he would be the 16th pick in the draft, and he hasn’t shown enough right now to make anyone think differently.
But to say that his development this season isn’t a huge storyline is missing something big, I believe.
The Bills are building something. It’s not all the way there, and it tends to hurt losing players such as Jairus Byrd and coaches such as Mike Pettine, but I believe this is a playoff-caliber roster. If — and it’s a big if — Manuel steps up.
The system is there. They’ll run up-tempo again, maybe even faster than they were in early 2013, and another year at that pace can help Manuel. They have three running backs capable of handling/sharing the load now with Bryce Brown in the mix. Sammy Watkins makes the receivers so much more dangerous. No great tight end, but I think the O-line is respectable, with a few questions (left guard and right tackle might be weak spots).
The defense is a strong unit that finished No. 9 in yards allowed last season. The defensive line has the makings of a very good unit again. The linebackers are strong, and Kiko Alonso could be a huge producer with his move to the “Will.” The secondary lacks anything resembling star power but is a lot cast with solid football players — a younger, slightly stronger version of what the Panthers had on the back end last season, let’s say.
If they get their special teams in order, there are few discernible weaknesses — again, short of Manuel proving himself — on this Bills team that could tailgate the Patriots a bit for the division crown.
FS: Johnny Football ... emphasis on football
I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm over the whole "What party did Johnny Manziel show up at this weekend?" thing. It's a popular topic among fans, and I have no problem with that, but to me Manziel is the most interesting player in the league this year because he's a fantastically unique football player.
The attention has been on money phones and inflatable swans but I just want to see Manziel play. Remember the days when the debate about Manziel was whether he had enough arm strength, if he could operate in the pocket and whether his running style would translate to the NFL? That's what I want to get back to.
He'll be the Browns' starter soon enough. Unless the partying has kept him from learning the offense (I don't buy that), he's a much more talented quarterback than Brian Hoyer. You don't trade up to draft a guy like Manziel at No. 22 overall and then sit him behind Hoyer. And when Manziel does play, that's when the real fun begins. Not with where he's spending his weekends or the opinion of every former football player on how he should live his life. But how good he is on the field. That's been entirely lost during the Summer of Johnny.
I still think Manziel is going to be a very good quarterback. I like his skill set. I do not like what the Browns have done at receiver, so I can't tell you that Manziel is going to pull a Cam Newton and have a rookie season that changes the course of NFL history or anything. But I do think there are going to be some moments and games that remind us that Manziel was one of the greatest college players ever, and he might be a pretty good pro too. That's the story line that I'm interested in watching.
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