2012 Team Previews: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys

  • 2011 Record: 8-8 (3rd in NFC East)
  • 2011 Point Differential: +22 (12th out of 32)
  • 2011 Strength of Schedule (per PFR’s SRS system): +0.3 (t-12th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (offense): 7.1 (5th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (defense): 6.3 (23rd)
  • 2011 Adjusted Pythagorean Record (accounting for Strength of Schedule): 8.7-7.3 (t-12th)
  • 2010 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: 7.2-8.8 (23rd)

And now an essay on how Tony Romo is vastly underappreciated and yet, in the final analysis, is still probably a bit of a douchebag

Look. I get it. It’s fun to make fun of Tony Romo. A lot of fun. Why this is, I have no idea. Sure, part of it is the fact that America loves to see the Cowboys fail and watch the frozen expression on Jerry Jones’ face on the sideline after yet another crushing loss (wait, that same frozen expression is there even after a win. Forget I brought that up). It’s the reason why Romo’s flubbed hold of the game-winning field goal in the 2007 Wild-Card game remains an enduring symbol of everything the United States holds dear. And, let’s be real here, good ‘ol Tony’s personal life has always been quite the suitable punching bag. There was that cute, misguided period of time where he became enamored of Jessica Simpson and they ate Chicken of the Sea together in Cabo San Lucas (ah, Tony. So young. So naive.); there was also that fling with Carrie Underwood that ended with Underwood dismissively saying Tony wasn’t even worth a bitter breakup song (which, coming from a country singer, is really a pretty sick burn); even when he settled down, got married, and had a kid, he somehow managed to turn the baby pictures into an endorsement for Starter (but Eli Manning’s kid already has a contract with Adidas, so he can’t win there, either). In conclusion, all the jokes that have been made about Tony Romo over the past five years have been somewhat deserved and we can only hope he sticks around for another five so we can continue mocking him mercilessly, ultimately driving him towards a hermitic lifestyle in the backwoods of Wisconsin, penning folk songs about lost loves.

From a statistical standpoint, however, Tony Romo is good. Like, really good. Like, so good I don’t think you quite understand just how good we’re talking about here. Pro Football Reference has a handy tool in which they take a quarterback’s efficiency numbers and turn those into a percentage that reflects how far above or below average the quarterback was, relative to his era. This allows for great cross-comparisons across the vastly different eras of NFL history and takes some of the air out of the crazy numbers that 21st century quarterbacks have been putting up. For example, you’ve probably seen the stat posted during random Cowboy games that Tony Romo ranks really, really high in career passer rating (currently he’s second all-time entering the 2012 season). This is, of course, largely a product of the wide-open, passer-friendly era we live in; Matt Schaub ranks 10th all-time, for Gunter’s sake. Surely when we use the handy PFR cross-era comparison tool, Tony Romo’s efficiency will sink like a stone down around the depths of Babe Parilli and Norm Snead, right?

As much as it pains me to say it, that would be a vastly incorrect assumption, Admiral. Here are the top 100 quarterbacks of all-time, as ranked by PFR’s Adjusted Yards Per Attempt* Index tool. I highly doubt any knowledgeable football fan’s personal ranking of the greatest quarterbacks ever would slavishly follow those same rankings, but overall that would be a pretty rock solid list of the top 100 quarterbacks ever. And even with his numbers contextualized for era, Tony Romo ranks really high on that list. Higher than Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Fran Tarkenton, and every other quarterback who’s thrown 2000 attempts in the NFL except for four.

Does this mean Tony Romo is the fifth-best quarterback of all-time? Of course not. In microcosm moments, you would obviously take Joe Montana or John Elway or Tom Brady or Kurt Warner well before Tony Romo (heck, you might take Jeff Hostetler before going for #9). Pressure-packed moments have been known to get to Romo, both literally and figuratively (for example, Football Outsiders noted in the Cowboys chapter of their outstanding 2012 Almanac that Romo’s efficiency cratered when blitzed heavily). In a macro sense, however, it would be pretty tough to get a better quarterback over the past five years than Tony Romo. You would definitely take Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning over him and probably Aaron Rodgers as well, solely on the strength of his last two years. But after that? Maybe Philip Rivers? Maybe Roethlisberger? I don’t know. But you can definitely live with a few pants-wetting episodes when overall you’re going to get something in the neighborhood of 4300 yards, 30 TDs, and 15 INTs a season. Like it or not, Tony Romo will be one of the top ten quarterbacks in the league again this season (unless Michael Boley separates his shoulder again) and quarterback will be the area of least concern for the Cowboys. We now resume our regularly-scheduled mocking…

*Adjusted Yards per Attempt take normal yards per attempt and adds a 20-yard bonus for each touchdown and a 45-yard penalty for each interception. If you’re wondering why we didn’t use Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, sack data isn’t readily available for quarterbacks who played before the AFL-NFL merger and using Adjusted Yards per Attempt allowed for those quarterbacks to be used in the sample.

Random thoughts

The Cowboys’ move to trade up in the first round of the draft to pick stud cornerback Morris Claiborne is a move likely to pay large dividends in the future. However, Football Outsiders noted in their previously mentioned 2012 Almanac that rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle with the adjustment to the NFL, so it is probably unreasonable to expect lock-down play this year from Claiborne…The Cowboys essentially blamed their near-playoff miss last year on their secondary, getting rid of their top three cornerbacks from a year ago and signing Brandon Carr away from Kansas City, in addition to drafting Claiborne. No doubt Rob Ryan would love to leave his new corners out on an island so he can dial up those exotic blitzes his family’s grown famous for. So far, though, Rob’s scheming talents have paled in comparison to those of his father and brother…Kyle Orton’s market value has fallen dramatically as he’s become a known quantity — that of an average starting quarterback — but the Cowboys may now have the best backup quarterback in the league. Orton could easily start for at least twelve teams in the NFL…

Outlook

In a vacuum, the Cowboys look like they will once again be an above-average team. The Romo-led offense should have little trouble moving the ball and, though they may be initially disappointed with their revamped secondary, the defense has a guy named DeMarcus Ware who’s pretty good and will once again offset his teammates’ weaknesses. The problem that figures to arise for the Cowboys in 2012 is the schedule, which we are projecting to be the toughest in the NFL this season. Between two meetings each with the Giants and Eagles and matchups with the AFC North and NFC South, there are very, very few games on the slate that Dallas can mark down as a probable win. And with the NFC appearing to have no shortage of wild-card contenders, that added degree of difficulty may be enough to keep Dallas out of the postseason for a third year in a row.

2012 Projected Point Differential: 376.6-391.2

2012 Average Projection: 7.6-8.4 (3rd in NFC East)

2012 Team Previews: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns

  • 2011 Record: 4-12 (4th in AFC North)
  • 2011 Point Differential: -89 (27h out of 32)
  • 2011 Strength of Schedule (per PFR’s SRS system): +0.2 (14th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (offense): 4.6 (t-28th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (defense): 5.7 (t-10th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Pythagorean Record (accounting for Strength of Schedule): 5.2-10.8 (26th)
  • 2010 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: 7.3-8.7 (20th)

And now a story I call…The Texas Chainsaw Massaquoi

“Thanks again, you guys, for letting me tag along on this trip,” Trent said from the backseat of the 1970 Dodge A-100 van. Seated in front of him were new friends he had made in his first week of work: Joe, Colt, Mohammed, and Montario. “I’m really excited to be off on this journey with all of you.”

“Trust us, Trent, the pleasure is all ours!” Joe bellowed from the passenger seat. “You’re far and away the most talented guy we’ve had at that position since Jim B. way back in the day. I’m so excited that my vast talents aren’t going to be completely wasted like they were last year. Honest to God, Betty White would have been an improvement over who we had back there last year. No offense, Montario,” he added quickly, having momentarily forgotten who was driving the van.

“None taken!” Montario grinned happily. “I don’t know how I still have a job, either! All I know is I’m looking forward to a nice, quiet weekend at the old Hardesty homestead, courtesy of our employer…hey, look, a hitchhiker! Let’s pick him up!”

“I don’t know, Montario,” Colt said with a worried look. “He looks pretty old…and yet he also appears much more intimidating than I do. This is probably something that’s going to set us back a few-“

“Too late!” Montario shouted with a smile, as the van had already pulled over to the side of the raod where the old man was standing.

“Thank you kindly, everyone,” the stranger said with a weary face. “Name’s Brandon. And I sling oblong objects around with my right arm.”

“Nice to meet you, Brandon,” Trent said while extending his hand. “It’s funny, we’re supposed to have a new guy starting at our work in the next week with the name of Brandon who also slings oblong objects around with his right arm.”

“Uh-huh…” Brandon said with a devilish grin. “That’s me.”

Everyone in the van did a double take. “But…but that’s impossible,” stammered Trent. “This new guy was supposed be just out of college, like me.”

“And I am,” Brandon countered menacingly. “I slung spherical objects around before moving back to oblong. And now your employer is foolishly expecting me to turn around your organization. MUAHAHAHA.”

“AHH! GET HIM OUT NOW!!” Trent screamed and, after a brief struggle, he and Mohamed pushed Brandon back out of the van.

“That was TOO close,” Colt shuddered while sucking his thumb.

“No need to worry now!” Montario said blissfully. “We’re on the magical Hardesty homestead! Colt and Mohammed, why don’t you boys run out to the front yard and ask what that stranger with the leathery face is doing with that  meat hook and we’ll be ready to start our nice, quiet weekend!”

*********************************

After approximately two hours had passed, Joe ventured out of the van to see what was causing the delay. His search for the two was fruitless until, exhausted from his pursuit, he opened a walk-in freezer, hoping to find a popsicle but instead finding something very different.

“Ah! Mohamed!” Joe shouted. “What are you doing stuck in here?”

“I don’t know why I haven’t talked more,” Mohamed whispered with a cough. “The story is named after a pun on my last name, after all-“

“No time for words, Mohamed!” Joe cried while pacing about the room. “Oh, don’t you see this is all a trap?! Our employer has sent us out here in vain! We’ll never make it back! My potential Hall-of-Fame prime is ruined forever! Oh hi, stranger with the leather face, what are you doing with that sledgehammer?”

*********************************

Back in the van, Montario and Trent were growing restless. “Man, I hope everything’s all right in there,” Trent said nervously.

“Oh, of course it is!” Montario said with a dismissive wave. “This is the old Hardesty family homestead! Nothing bad ever happens here! Let’s just go inside and see what’s going on with the others and we can finally start our nice, quiet weekend! Oh, look, it’s the stranger with the leather face again! Hello, sir! May I ask what you’re doing with that chainsaw?”

*********************************

Trent awakened to find himself tied up in the kitchen of the house. “My friends…what has happened to all my friends?” he murmured, trying to regain his senses. When he looked up, he gasped. “Brandon?! And oh my-is that Leatherface Holmgren?!?!”

“Hehe, it certainly is,” Brandon cackled with glee. “‘Ol Leatherface and I have orchestrated this whole thing from the start. To the outside world, it’ll look like a good faith effort to get your doddering, stale fart of an organization back on the right track, but all the while we’ll be sabotaging it from the inside, ruining whatever promise you and the rest of your teammates may have had. And now, to give the final blow, I’d like to you to meet Grandpa…”

“Jim B.?!” Trent gasped as an old man came out of the darkness holding a hammer. “But shouldn’t you be trying to help me, not saying nasty things about me in public and hitting me in the head with a hammer in private?”

“I made love to Raquel Welch in a movie back in 1969,” Jim B. said in a low voice. “What do I care anymore?” And with that, he raised his hammer and attempted to ruin Trent’s career from the start. But for reasons that are unclear, confusion ensued and somehow Trent ran away and leapt into the back of a passing pickup truck as Leatherface Holmgren hopelessly attempted to catch up to him.

“Man, why couldn’t I have been drafted by Tampa Bay?” Trent said with a heavy sigh.

Random thoughts

Here’s a list of quarterbacks who entered the NFL at age 27 or above and had substantial playing time in their rookie season. Five of the eight had originally played in Canada before heading to the NFL and Charlie Conerly and Paul Christman both entered the NFL late because they served in World War II. Thus, Chris Weinke is the only player in that group who is directly comparable to Brandon Weeden, which doesn’t bode well for Brandon Weeden. Other recent players who played baseball for some time before returning to football late include Drew Henson and Chad Hutchinson. Which, again, doesn’t bode well for Brandon Weeden…So Trent Richardson will likely be fighting a losing cause, but there’s little doubt about his ability. The Browns probably won’t be ahead enough late in games for him to put up Adrian Peterson-circa-2007 numbers, but a similar-type impact isn’t out of the question…The Browns defense has been steadily above-average the past two seasons, though with very different contributors each season. Last year, oft-injured linebacker D’Qwell Jackson stayed healthy and became a tackling machine. And rookie defensive end Jabaal Sheard picked up eight and a half sacks; multiple Pro Bowls may be in his future…

Outlook

One of the best attributes of the current brand of NFL football that has been on display for the past ten to twenty years is the parity that has reigned during that time period. It is no longer crazy for any team, no matter how poor their record the previous year, to dream of making the playoffs the next season. With that said, it would be pretty crazy if the Browns made the playoffs in 2012. They plan on being led by a twenty-nine year-old rookie quarterback who has no room for further development, a coach who somehow deserved a head job after leading the worst offense in the NFL for his two years as offensive coordinator, and a team president who has had little-to-no success as a talent evaluator. Other than that, everything’s fine. The defense will keep the Browns from being embarassed and Trent Richardson will be the first reason to watch the Browns’ offense in five years, but overall there’s perhaps less hope to be found here than any other place in the NFL.

2012 Projected Point Differential: 284.2-356.5

2012 Average Projection: 5.9-10.1 (4th in AFC North)

2012 Team Previews: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals

  • 2011 Record: 9-7 (3rd in AFC North, lost AFC Wild-Card Game to Houston)
  • 2011 Point Differential: +21 (13th out of 32)
  • 2011 Strength of Schedule (per PFR’s SRS system): 0.9 (t-24th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (offense): 5.6 (t-17th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (defense): 5.7 (t-10th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Pythagorean Record (accounting for Strength of Schedule): 8.2-7.8 (18th)
  • 2010 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: 7.4-8.6 (19th)

And now a very special preview of the 2012 Bengals from Super Bowl-winning coach and current ESPN announcer Jon Gruden. Take it away, Coach Gruden!

Well, my fellow pigskin compadres, when I think of up-and-coming franchises that made a TREMONDOUS LEAP FORWARD in 2011, I think of these Cincinnati Bengals. Did you know that THESE GUYS made a jump from four wins to nine wins in JUST ONE YEAR? Just the sort of POSITIVE TURNAROUND you used to see an old ball coach manufacture back in Oakland and Tampa Bay, if you recall. *turns to his right to guffaw with an imaginary Ron Jaworski* Now I’ll tell ya that my HIGH SCHOOL ALGEBRA skills might be a tad rusty, but by my count these CINCINNATI BENGALS won five more games in 2011 than they did in 2010. And should they keep improving at that rate over these next few years, as I fully expect they will, we’re looking at a team that’s going to win TWENTY-NINE GAMES in 2015. Now that’s some job security I ENVY! *chuckles heartily*

And, without a doubt, the biggest reason for this SEISMIC RESHIFTING OF THE AFC NORTH LANDSCAPE is the improved offensive play brought about the new quarterback Andy Dalton, his playmaking wide receiver A.J. Green, and the tremendous new offensive philosophy brought in by new offensive coordinator JAY GRUDEN. These Cincinnati Bengals scored a whopping twenty-two more points in 2011 than they did in 2010. TWENTY-TWO! That type of improvement is INFECTIOUS and lifts the spirit of your entire organization. Just look at the Bengals defense. With their faith SUITABLY RESTORED in their offensive counterparts, they went out and allowed seventy-two fewer points than in 2010. Amazing how a few flare passes in the flat and some six-yard slants can LIFT THE SPIRITS OF MILLIONS. *tears up slightly, juts jaw to counteract these strange feelings* I tell ya, it reminds me GREATLY of the improvement I brought to the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS when I took their head coaching job way back in the year 2002. Anybody want to hazard a guess on how many more points we scored in my first year there? *chuckles, nudges imaginary Mike Tirico* You guessed it all right, TWENTY-TWO. I hardly need to tell you the effect it had on our defense (improved by eighty-four points), our schedule (magically became much easier), and our Super Bowl opponent (caused my good buddy Rich Gannon to horrifically crap his pants). *raises right eyebrow, smirks* What can I say, some of us were just BORN TO INSPIRE.

But getting back to THESE GUYS, the Cincinnati Bengals. Now most of you, I think, already know the OUTSTANDING SECOND-YEAR offensive coordinator of these Cincinnati Bengals is my younger brother Jay. And I gotta say, I’m proud of ‘im, but I’m more than a little surprised at his success. Every last person in the extended Gruden clan loves Jay dearly, but…*raises right eyebrow even higher*…let’s just say he was always lagging behind the BIG DOG so to speak. When I was diagramming six-yard slant plays on the kitchen table with my box of Cheerios, Jay was experiencing violent nosebleeds as a result of picking his nose too much. When I was climbing the coaching ladder and hobnobbing with great coaching minds like Mike Holmgren and Ray Rhodes, Jay was off playing and coaching that little ArenaBall they play there in those basketball arenas. Heck, the only reason I hired him as an assistant when I was coaching in Tampa was because I thought he was at risk of losing his house and getting stabbed by a hobo on the street without that steady paycheck I could provide. So imagine my surprise when I turn on the game film of these Bengals games last year. I’m seeing BONA FIDE WEST COAST PRINCIPLES jumping out at me on that tape. Ideas that would make BILL WALSH HIMSELF rise from the dead and then kill himself again because he would know he could never come up with something so brilliant.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that the vast majority of these plays Jay is using are being lifted directly from my old Tampa playbooks with, in most cases, the same terminology even being used verbatim. But I’m not here to judge Jay. I’m aware if you want to BE THE BEST, you have to learn FROM THE BEST. And, frankly, it gives this old ball coach QUITE A THRILL to see his offensive theories still in practice today and know that his legacy is SECURE AND INTACT. That’s what gives me so much optimism for these Cincinnati Bengals and why I expect them to win something in the area of eight Super Bowls in nine years. And if they somehow find themselves in need of a new coach…*smirks, raises right hand*…I think there’s a certain Super Bowl-winning coach available out there who might be interested in TAKING A STAB at it…*grows visibly agitated*…No, not Bill Parcells, me! *finishes purchase of Icy Hot at neighborhood CVS, leaves in a huff*…

 

Random thoughts

If you’re looking for the biggest reason for the Bengals’ return to the postseason in 2011, look no further than strength of schedule. A year after playing one of the toughest schedules in the league (and finishing 4-12), the Bengals rode one of the easiest schedules in the league to a 9-7 record and a wild-card berth. The team’s jump in Adjusted Pythagorean record, on the other hand, was much more modest…The Bengals offense actually faced a tougher-than-average slate of defenses, so Andy Dalton’s solid-for-a-rookie ANY/A of 5.7 looks even better after taking that in consideration…Of course, much of Dalton’s success came from heaving up prayers to fellow rookie A.J. Green, who was a deserving Pro Bowl selection in his first season. Interestingly, Chase Stuart notes that it is rare for a wideout to have the best rookie season of his draft class and then go on to have the best career of that given class, so it’ll be fascinating to see how Green follows in that trend…While the Bengals’ defense had one of the easiest slates of offenses in the league, there’s no doubt that defensive tackle Geno Atkins had a breakout season, notching 7.5 sacks and becoming a force against the run. At 24, he might be turning into a superstar…

 

Outlook

The Bengals’ win totals have gone up and down dramatically over the past four years: from four in 2008 up to ten and a division title in 2009 back down to four in 2010 back up to nine and a wild-card berth in 2011. The Bengals’ team quality, however, has not greatly deviated in that time period, basically hanging around as a eight-win team that is subject to the whims of its schedule. That trend doesn’t figure to change in 2012. Dalton’s numbers will likely improve in his second year with an easier slate of defenses to face, but the defense will probably fall back below average as a result of having to face the quarterbacks of the NFC East and AFC West. The good news is the AFC looks to be entering a down period, with only the Patriots and Steelers standing out as true Super Bowl contenders and everyone else hanging below them with various levels of major flaws. Thus, a repeat of last year’s nine-win season absolutely could land Cincinnati back in the postseason. Serious title hopes, however, do not appear imminent.

2012 Projected Point Differential: 349.4-357.0

2012 Average Projection: 7.8-8.2 (2nd in AFC North)

This Week in National Football Links

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In case you’ve been locked in a Turkish prison for the past seven days, here’s a sampling of the stories that have trickled out of the NFL over that time period…

  • The Falcons released linebacker Lofa Tatupu upon learning that the torn pectoral injury he suffered would cause him to miss the entire season. Avid readers of this blog may recall our Falcons preview last week stating that Tatupu would be a solid starter “until he gets hurt three days into training camp.” In actuality, Tatupu’s injury occurred the week before training camp. We regret the error.
  • In an attempt to gain the upper hand in contract negotiations, Jaguars stud running back Maurice Jones-Drew has not yet reported to training camp; the team can fine him up to $30,000 for each day he misses. At the risk of editorializing, all MJD really had to do was show this video on a continuous loop and Shad Khan would have given him $100 million after three minutes.
  • Jets backup quarterback and planned punt protector Tim Tebow was heckled by fans during the team’s first public practice of training camp after unexpectedly throwing some ugly passes. Embattled starting quarterback Mark Sanchez tried to celebrate by high-fiving one of the hecklers, but missed the fan’s hand and instead accidentally smacked a retired ninety-one year-old World War II veteran in the forehead. Again, as a reminder, the Jets have two GREAT quarterback options.
  • Panthers center Ryan Kalil took out a full page ad in the Wednesday edition of the Charlotte Observer to boldly predict a Super Bowl victory this year for Carolina. “With our offseason additions of Justin Smith at defensive end, Ed Reed at safety, Darrelle Revis at cornerback, and the ghost of Lou Groza at kicker, we know we now have the defense and special teams to go all the way!” Kalil wrote in the ad. When informed that none of those transactions had actually occurred, Kalil took out another ad on Thursday to retract his earlier prediction and state that “10-6 actually doesn’t sound too bad.”
  • Former NFL Vice President of Officiating and current Fox talking head Mike Pereira made the controversial argument that the replacement officials the NFL is planning on using in lieu of the locked-out regulars “are going to make a lot more mistakes than the regular officials.” Pereira also went on to note that if one drops a deuce in a toilet and doesn’t flush it down, the lingering smell will be unpleasant.
  • Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker successfully underwent a hair transplant procedure earlier this month and was immediately able to return to his routine of putting on helmets and marrying Hooters girls. Ultimately, this news is rather inconsequential, but it does selfishly allow us to put in a plug (or should we say 4,000 plugs?) for our upcoming Patriots team preview.
  • And, finally, Steelers linebacker James Harrison apparently had never heard of Ken Stabler before a Thursday interview with a Pittsburgh radio station. In fairness, Richard Seymour has never heard of Terry Bradshaw, so ultimately it all balances out.

So until next time, the balcony is closed…

Alberto Riveron Fun Fact of the Day: July 26, 2012

Welcome to the Alberto Riveron Fun Fact of the Day! Each day, you’ll find out something new that you probably didn’t know about esteemed NFL referee Alberto Riveron. Please enjoy responsibly.

Did you know that…

  • Alberto puts in more than 35 hours a week preparing for his refereeing duties, studying film, taking rules tests, working out, and doing other referee-like things?

Now you do!

And on that note, Someone Still Loves You, Alberto Riveron is off on a long weekend; new posts will resume early next week. Thanks to everyone for reading this first week!

 

2012 Team Previews: Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears (previously known as the Decatur Staleys and Chicago Staleys)

  • 2011 Record: 8-8 (3rd in NFC North)
  • 2011 Point Differential: +12 (16th out of 32)
  • 2011 Strength of Schedule (per PFR’s SRS system): +0.9 (5th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (offense): 4.7 (t-25th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (defense): 5.4 (8th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Pythagorean Record (accounting for Strength of Schedule): 8.8-7.2 (11th)
  • 2010 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: 10.0-6.0 (8th)

And now it’s time for Rough Cutler, your summer movie season review penned by none other than Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. The floor is yours, Jay!

The Avengers

*smirks*…You know, this really wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before, it’s kinda your standard superhero action thing, gotta save the world, these evil Asgardians are gonna kill us all, that sorta thing…Yeah, you know, the whole superhero ensemble thing set it apart a little bit, but at the end of the day, this superhero thing is something we’re used to and just something we’ve gotta get better at…On the plus side, ScarJo looked pretty hot…

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

*eye roll*…Well, you know, we kinda knew what we were getting into after seeing the first two, we had worked on blocking out the kid noises in the theater at practice, so there wasn’t really anything that surprised us out there…*condescending glance at reporter’s question*…Nah, I don’t think so, we knew going in that they were going to set it in Europe, so there’s not really any excuses for watching it, we just gotta make better decisions in the future…On the plus side, the chick who voiced Gia the Jaguar sounded like she was pretty hot…

The Dark Knight Rises

*slight grimace*…You know, they didn’t do anything different than we saw on the previous films. They set a foreboding mood well; that film crew gets unbelievable shots and that’s where they generate a lot of emotion from and that’s how they’re successful with that foreboding mood…*frowns at reporter*…There’s no reason to shy away from Bane. I mean, that’s hard for me to say after watching him almost destroy Gotham, but I still think if I had to face him tomorrow, I’d go after him every time…On the plus side, Marion Cotillard was pretty hot…On the minus side, Anne Hathaway was also in it, so they sort of canceled each other out…

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

*condescending look*…Well, if you look at the stats over the past few years, you’ll see a lot of movies that had vampires or vampiric elements to them, so I wasn’t really surprised to see them put Abraham Lincoln in one of these movies…*constipated look*…Well, they sent more vampires than we were expecting. And as a unit in the theater, we didn’t adjust to it. I don’t make the decisions on what movies we see, so you’re going to have to ask someone else about that. I don’t do the movie plan…On the plus side, the chick who played Mary Todd Lincoln was pretty hot…

Magic Mike

*smirks*…Well, you never know what the movie is really going to entail. We liked our plan going into the theater and Mike did a great job of dialing stuff up and keeping us off balance. The guys were able to entertain us a lot and Matt McConaughey had a heck of a day, obviously…*essentially reaches a comatose state*…Without a doubt, Channing Tatum’s starting to come along. You can see him he has his burst back, he’s acting well. He’s got a good fit for what they’re trying to do and whenever they put him in a position to steal scenes he’s stealing them…And also, I say this strictly as a platonic admirer, but he’s pretty hot…

Random thoughts

Not to steal the Bears’ big offseason thunder, but Bears fan expecting Brandon Marshall to be a difference-maker on the level of a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald will be disappointed. Last year was his first season posting an aboveaverage Yards per Target figure since 2006 (targets being all passes thrown in his direction, including incompletions). Marshall will make more than his share of big plays, but he’ll also have more drops than a truly elite receiver should have. With that said, he’s definitely one of the top 32 receivers in the league and a much-needed addition to an offense that had a grand total of one trustworthy receiver last season (Earl Bennett)…The Bears will miss Johnny Knox for however long he recovers from that gruesome back injury he suffered late last season; he’s an extreme boom-or-bust receiver, but somehow has rated in the top 10 in Yards per Target in the NFL the past two seasons…The Bears’ middling 17th-place ranking in yards allowed last season was due to two factors: they were tied with the Jets and Lions for the league lead in drives faced (201) and they had the toughest schedule of offenses of any team in the league. Factor those in and the Bears defense was actually about as good as it was in 2010…

Outlook

Essentially, all you need to know about the Bears’ 2011 season is the following. In the ten games he started before he broke his thumb, Jay Cutler posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt figure of 6.2 (league average was 5.9); that’s an okay figure. In the six games started between them, Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown posted an ANY/A of 2.0. In related news, the Bears were 7-3 with Cutler and 1-5 without him. The story with the Bears throughout Lovie Smith’s tenure is that if the offense can merely be roughly average instead of OH MY WORD WHAT IS THIS ABOMINATION PERFORMING BEFORE MY EYES, the defense and special teams can perform at a high enough level to make the team a contender. With the addition of the overrated but still valuable Marshall and the added depth that Jason Campbell and Michael Bush bring, the Bears’ offense can certainly be average. Factor in possibly the NFC’s softest schedule and the Bears appear to be as safe a playoff bet as you’ll find in the conference. How far they go from there will depend on how much the offense actually progresses.

2012 Projected Point Differential: 376.0-287.0

2012 Average Projection: 10.5-5.5 (1st in NFC North)

2012 Team Previews: Carolina Panthers

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Carolina Panthers

  • 2011 Record: 6-10 (3rd in NFC South)
  • 2011 Point Differential: -23 (20th out of 32)
  • 2011 Strength of Schedule (per PFR’s SRS system): +0.1 (15th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (offense): 6.3 (11th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (defense): 7.4 (t-30th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Pythagorean Record (accounting for Strength of Schedule): 7.5-8.5 (20th)
  • 2010 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: 2.5-13.5 (32nd)

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And now a 2012 Panthers-related Mad Lib

Before reading the following Mad Lib, please fill out an answer for each ot the following categories:

  1. Noun
  2. Verb, past tense
  3. Verb
  4. Noun denoting unsavory qualities
  5. Noun
  6. Number
  7. Exclamation of joy
  8. Adjective
  9. Adjective denoting something poor in quality
  10. Person
  11. Person
  12. An accomplishment of some sort
  13. Verb
  14. Action Verb
  15. Body Part
  16. Person
  17. Action Verb
  18. Noun
  19. Shape
  20. Noun
  21. Current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

What (1. Noun) lay in front of the Carolina Panthers at the end of the 2010 season! They had just (2. Verb, past tense) through a listless 2-14 season, led by a quarterback who couldn’t (3. Verb), a coach who got choked up when forced to release terrible employees, and a (4. Noun denoting unsavory qualities) owner who didn’t believe Peyton Manning could read a revenue chart. On top of that, the (5. Noun) of the 2011 NFL Draft, Andrew Luck, shocked everyone by electing to return to Stanford for one more year, leaving the Panthers with a relatively unknown quantity at the number one overall pick. With each team in the NFL South winning at least ten games in 2010, it seemed like it would take (6. Number) years for the Panthers to return to prominence.

But (7. Exclamation of joy)! That (8. Adjective) quantity quickly turned out to be one of the league’s most exciting players in his rookie season and made the Panthers a highly entertaining team, if still a (9. Adjective denoting something poor in quality) one. While Jimmy Clausen was safely on the sideline massaging the bunions of (10. Person) and (11. Person), Cam Newton was resurrecting the Panthers’ offense from the dead, setting a rookie record for most passing yards in a season, most total touchdowns, and (12. An accomplishment of some sort). Steve Smith, who had often looked like he wanted to (13. Verb) Jimmy Clausen in 2010, had to be the happiest of all, as NFL fans were once again reminded of how electrifying he can be when he actually has a competent quarterback throwing him the ball. Factor in the tag team running back combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and the Panthers were suddenly one of the most balanced offenses in the league. But the credit largely should go to Newton.

Now it’s time for the defense and special teams to stop (14. Action verb) (15. Body part). After Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason and his cohort Thomas Davis were lost for the season in September, the Panthers’ D completely collapsed to the point where they couldn’t have stopped (16. Person) from (17. Action Verb) a (18. Noun). Beason and Davis are back now (though, let’s be real here, Davis is never healthy) and joined by first-round pick Luke Kuechly. If Coach Ron Rivera can push his defense back towards average in his second year (and also convince kicker Olindo Mare to once again kick that [19. Shape] object back through the [20. Noun]), the Panthers now have an offense that could carry those lesser units into the playoffs. Quite the change from a year and a half ago, wouldn’t you say Mr. (21. Current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture)?

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Random thoughts

The picture you see above is the moment where the Panthers’ 2011 season died: Week 1, at Arizona. Jon Beason tore his left achilles tendon and left a gaping hole in the team’s run defense. It might be a bit excessive to suggest his health is the biggest key to the Panthers’ season, but it’s certainly high up there…To be fair, the Panthers’ pass defense was even worse. Captain Munnerlyn and Darius Butler were the main culprits in Football Outsiders’ Charting Stats. Surprisingly, the Panthers’ pass rush wasn’t too bad, tying for 21st in sack rate with Kansas City…The Panthers paid Mike Tolbert $10 million over four years to be a third running back on a team that already has two good-to-very-good backs and a quarterback who is one of the best goal-line and short-distance runners in the league. Tolbert’s a useful player and probably the closest representation of an actual bowling ball in the NFL, but methinks the Panthers could have spent their money a little more wisely elsewhere…If you didn’t notice up top, the Panthers very slightly tweaked their logo this offseason from this to this. Unnecessary? Probably. A chance to sell new merchandise? You bet!…

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Outlook

As a rule, rookie quarterbacks struggle and they struggle mightily. So what Cam Newton did last season was nothing short of amazing and a portent of possible superstardom to come. That superstardom may not come this season; quarterbacks often give back a portion of their efficiency in the season after their breakout campaign (think Matt Ryan in 2009) and Newton still has a few issues with accuracy that can be kinked out. However, even if with a slight fall back down to earth, the Panthers would still be a top-10 offense this year. And, frankly, the defense and special teams can’t possibly be as bad as they were in 2011 again; that expected improvement should more than offset any regression the offense shows. Expect the Panthers to be virtually even with the Saints and Falcons in 2012. In the years beyond that, though, expect the Panthers to surpass them.

2012 Projected Point Differential: 408.3-390.1

2012 Average Projection: 8.4-7.6 (1st in NFC South)