I bet Kyle Shanahan can relate to Peter Parker, and not just because they share a certain boyish charm.
As you may know, Parker’s alter ego (SPOILER ALERT!) is Spider-Man, who regularly lays his life on the line to keep the city safe from a gaggle of powerful ne’er-do-wells, but instead of offering thanks, controversial journalist J. Jonah Jameson sells him to the public as a bad guy…and at least some portion of the population buys it! Same goes with Shanny, whose critics point to the QBs he could’ve had in the draft (see: Mahomes; Watson) or free agency/trade (Tom Brady; Matthew Stafford) but chose another path.
Well, you either believe Kyle Shanahan’s a great QB coach or you don’t – and you can put me firmly in the believer column. The guy helped Matt Ryan win an MVP and Jimmy G get within one throw of winning a Super Bowl. He brought along two very different rookie QBs – RGIII & Kirk Cousins – in the same system. He’s won NFL games, ones that count in the standings, with Nick Mullens, Brian Hoyer & CJ Beathard…so I’m gonna assume he can help Trey Lance. And I’m also gonna assume Shanahan’s gonna once again have his Niners in the Super Bowl hunt all season long.
Let’s get to the NFC West, then take a look at the division in Spider-Man’s neighborhood, the AFC East…
1. NINERS 11-6
Win division (+175)
George Kittle UNDER 5.5 TD rec (-118)
Nick Bosa OVER 11.5 sacks (-112)
If you blur your eyes just a bit, you might notice a similarity between these Niners and their NFC-winning forefathers from a decade ago: Exceptional defense, QB-friendly head coach, diverse collection of pass catchers, a powerful run game, and an athletic-if-inexperienced specimen at sports’ most important position. Smart move to keep Jimmy G as a failsafe, but given the infrastructure Shanny & John Lynch have built, if Lance can make a few special plays and avoid colossal mistakes, I can come up with zero reasons why these Niners shouldn’t expect another deep playoff run.
2. RAMS 10-7
Division top two exact finishing order – 1. SF; 2. LAR (+390)
Cooper Kupp UNDER 109.5 rec (-112)
Les Snead has once again defied the properties of a league-wide salary cap to keep most of the Rams’ 2021 stars – and bring in a few more for good measure – in pursuit of a second-straight Lombardi. There’s too much star power for them to fall apart, but at some point the lack of roster depth’s gonna cost ‘em in a sport that features large people running into each other. In the here and now, Matthew Stafford’s elbow problem has gotta have Sean McVay & co spooked…but assuming he’s okay, the receiving corps might wind up even better than last season if OBJ ends up re-signing (which I predict he will) to join Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson. With the additon of Bobby Wagner, the defense now features three guys – along with AD & Ramsey – who’ll wind up in Canton one day. The trick in the meantime, though, will be keeping them on the field.
3. CARDINALS 7-10
James Conner UNDER 8.5 rush TD (-126)
Kyler Murray OVER 11.5 INT (-112)
Alt win total UNDER 7.5 (+150)
If you’re Cards’ cup is half-full, you’ve got a lot to be excited about: The Kyler contract melodrama is in the rearview mirror, the league still kinda underrates them (they were the NFC’s #1 seed a week into Dec ’21!), and the defense has a bunch of “chess piece” guys like Isaiah Collins, Budda Baker & Zaven Collins, and Kyler’s best pal Hollywood Brown on the same field with Nuk Hopkins and Zach Ertz is a handful.
If you’re Cards’ cup is half-empty, you’ve got to be worried about: The public shaming clause in Kyler’s new deal has caused irreparable damage no matter how many times they let #1 call preseason plays, Nuk’s not back ’til Week Seven, Chandler Jones moved to Vegas, and Isaiah Collins & Zaven Collins are positionless just-misses as NFL defenders. Did I mention Kliff Kingsbury’s Cards celebrate Halloween by turning into a pumpkin every year (9-19 after Wk7 over KK’s three seasons)?
4. SEAHAWKS 3-14
1st win of season – v ATL Wk3 (+200)
DK Metcalf OVER 900.5 rec yards (-112)
DK Metcalf OVER 6.5 TD (-108)
The ashes of last decade’s almost-dynasty have been swept away, with only the architect John Schneider and foreman Pete Carroll sticking around for the rebuild. Whichever QB Seattle drafts in the first round or signs to a big free-agent deal next year, the building blocks are set thanks to the choices Schneider’s made this year (which, by the way, is gonna be…quite poor): The GM played roster fixer upper by landing bookend offensive tackles and a Heisman-worthy RB, plus DIY’d the secondary with three picks. The Hawks also re-signed DK Metcalf, who I’m betting has a big year in losing shootouts with gunslinger Geno. 2022 is about Carroll, Schneider and brave souls in navy ‘12’ jerseys trying to cross a shaky bridge to get to the other side of the season with minimal damage.
1. BILLS 13-4
Josh Allen UNDER 525.5 rush yards (-112)
AFC Championship exact matchup – Bills vs. Chargers (+1100)
I, for one, think the Buffalo Bills will be good this year.
They do, though, need to land on a running back or two who’s a better running back than the MVP-favorite QB Josh Allen. If you’re a fantasy player, roll the dice on at least one of the Bills RB (Devin Singletary is the best bet, but James Cook might end up being the guy. Or maybe that Zack Moss breakout is still coming!)
Skeptics might worry about the offense with Brian Daboll now coaching downstate…but safe to assume longtime assistant-promoted-to-OC Ken Dorsey isn’t looking to fix what ain’t broke.
2. PATRIOTS 9-8
AFC East exact order top two – 1. Bills; 2. Patriots (+230)
Damien Harris OVER 7.5 rush TD (-112)
I know, I know. The opening month’s regular-season schedule is a brute. Josh McDaniels is in Las Vegas. Former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and his pencil are now the offensive coordinator. Mac Jones hasn’t been great this August. Matter of fact, the team hasn’t looked great this August. Then again…
“I don’t think preseason games are a big indicator of what a team is or isn’t.”
That’s a quote from successful teambuilder Bill Belichick…and one I agree with. Yeah, his old (and I mean that literally) pal Tom Brady won the divorce when the Bucs won the Super Bowl two years ago, but Bill scored last year when he swiped right on the fresh-faced Jones to pair up with a strong D. Now throw in a powerful run game, upgrades at WR, and an extended soft chunk in the middle of the schedule…and the Patriots train oughta be able to keep its regular appointment over .500 with a decent shot at making a trip in January.
3. DOLPHINS 8-9
Xavien Howard UNDER 4.5 INT (-124)
Win total UNDER 8.5 (+115)
If you haven’t heard, Tom Brady’s favorite Florida-based NFL team went through some things this offseason, all thanks to one accidental(?) text from Belichick. Long story short, defensive whiz Brian Flores gave way to offensive whiz Mike McDaniel, with stars Tyreek Hill & Terron Armstread close on his heels. Throw in Cedrick Wilson, Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert to go along with Jaylen Waddle, and Tua officially will have no excuse (other than himself, of course) if the offense is anything less than gangbusters…but if it comes to that, Teddy B awaits in the wings. The D still has its coordinator, Josh Boyer, and several high-end defenders, with a front seven starting to catch up to the talented secondary. Bottom line, I can almost talk myself into this team jumping over the Pats…but for all of Tyreek’s pro-Tua platitudes, I’m not yet sold on McDaniel’s ability to get Tagovailoa playing near the level of the QB’s 2020 first-round peers Burrow & Herbert.
4. JETS 4-13
Win total UNDER 4.5 (+185)
Elijah Moore OVER 800.5 rec yards (-115)
We can talk about the great job Joe Douglas did this offseason beefing up the pass catchers around every cougar’s favorite Cougar Zach Wilson while simultaneously turning a grim secondary into an area of strength. We can also talk about an o-line that, despite the loss of Mekhi Becton, looks capable of springing a talented group of RBs…but have you looked at the Jets’ schedule?! It’s plum insane for a fourth-place team. And I don’t mean they’ve got a tough month. The whole thing is brutal. Seriously, how many wins can you count among their first thirteen games?
Wk1 v Ravens
Wk2 @ Browns
Wk3 v Bengals
Wk4 @ Steelers
Wk5 v Dolphins
Wk6 @ Packers
Wk7 @ Broncos
Wk8 v Patriots
Wk9 v Bills
Wk11 @ Patriots
Wk12 v Bears
Wk13 @ Vikings
Wk14 @ Bills
Is Zach Wilson’s mom’s friend’s husband the schedule maker? If so, he’s got a vindictive sense of humor…and maybe a crystal ball, because instead of Wilson, Joe Flacco has magically appeared to start the season against the Ravens. The roster is now borderline respectable going into Year Three for Robert Saleh, who at least needs to show he wasn’t just the beneficiary of San Francisco’s loaded defensive roster… but putting up some actual wins this season to show his coaching prowess will be tough to come by.
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