NFL End of Season Round-Up

First off, I would like to wish everybody a very happy 2018, and that "this is the year" for everybody. 2017 ended with a bang sports-wise, as we were treated to a full slate of NFL games, many of which had playoff implications. The Buffalo Bills circled the wagons, and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, the Tennessee Titans found a way to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars and sneak in as the #5 seed in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens had yet another late-season collapse, and the Atlanta Falcons continue their quest to avenge last year's Super Bowl meltdown, as they clinched the #6 seed in the NFC. Today, I'll headline some of the biggest rumors/news of Black Monday in the NFL, do some playoff previewing, and some of our favorite things from the NFL season.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills Make the Playoffs for the First Time Since 1999

-Truthfully, I am very happy that Bills fans are finally able to experience the playoffs again, even if it came at the expense of my Ravens. "Bills Mafia" have some of the most entertaining, and passionate fans around the NFL, and waiting nearly 18 years for another shot at the Lombardi Trophy is just cruel. The 2017-2018 Buffalo Bills have a solid team, and this season has been nothing but adventurous. The Bills cleaned house this off-season, firing GM Doug Whaley and HC Anthony Lynn (who was the interim HC after Rex Ryan got fired). As a matter of fact, McDermott was the Bills 7th coach in the past 9 years, a truly impressive feat. Buffalo then went on to trade away stud WR Sammy Watkins, 2nd-year LB Reggie Ragland, and CB Ronald Darby, all of whom were expected to be impact players. While Buffalo did a tremendous job accumulating extra picks (they have 2-first round picks this year, 2-second round picks, and an extra 6th round pick), they also traded away a lot of talent, and for an entire new regime and coaching staff, it was probably viewed as a rebuilding year in Buffalo. However, the Bills consistently surprised, behind Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy's consistency, and an advantageous and aggressive defense that turned teams over at a high rate. Things were going well in Buffalo, until Sean McDermott inexplicably benched Tyrod Taylor for rookie disaster Nathan Peterman against the LA Chargers, where he proceeded to throw 5 interceptions in the first half! (Hue Jackson would probably love the guy). The Bills somehow bounced back from that debacle, and here we are, January 1, 2018 and the Buffalo Bills will be traveling to Jacksonville to face off against the Jaguars. If you predicted that before the season started, you are probably a very wealthy person.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens Collapse in Epic Fashion (Again)

-As a Ravens fan, I am all too familiar with Baltimore consistently blowing their chance at the playoffs. It seems like every year, the Ravens are in a "control your own destiny" game against the Bengals, and every year they blow it. I hear a lot of people bashing Joe Flacco for his play as a whole this season, and while he didn't play well at all in the first half against the Bengals yesterday, he is not to blame at all for their collapse. Flacco was working with a washed-up Jeremy Maclin, a washed-up Mike Wallace, a first-round bust in Breshad Perriman, and a 37-year old tight end coming off of a torn Achilles. To make it worse, the best offensive lineman in football, Marshall Yanda, broke his ankle just two weeks into the season. The Ravens were ravaged by injuries (and poor personnel construction) offensively, but their defense was phenomenal all year, until stud CB Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles against the Detroit Lions. Truthfully, Baltimore was decimated by injuries this year, and a ton of guys on the team stepped up, including RB Alex Collins, OL Ryan Jensen, the ageless wonder Terrell Suggs, and CB Marlon Humphrey. While there is no excuse to allow a 40+ yard TD to Tyler Boyd on a 4th & long with 40 seconds left, it is somewhat impressive that Baltimore was in that position to make the playoffs to begin with. While rumors will be swirling around John Harbaugh and his head-coaching future, I think he is one of the best HC's in the NFL, and absolutely deserves to keep his job. Ozzie Newsome has to do a better job surrounding Joe Flacco with weapons, and going after receivers such as Sammy Watkins or Allen Robinson in free agency could be a start, or drafting a player like Calvin Ridley out of Alabama. If the Ravens can add a weapon or two for Flacco, stay healthy on both sides of the ball, and add a pass-rusher, they will be a sneaky AFC contender next season.

NFL Black Monday is Here:

-Below, I have listed all of the head-coaching jobs that are currently open, and some that I expect to open up:

Definitely Open:

New York Giants (fired Ben McAdoo)

Arizona Cardinals (Bruce Arians retired)

Chicago Bears (fired John Fox)

Detroit Lions (fired Jim Caldwell)

Oakland Raiders (fired Jack del Rio)

Indianapolis Colts (fired Chuck Pagano)

Expected to Open:

Denver Broncos

Cincinnati Bengals

-Currently, there are six available head coaching positions in the NFL, with the potential for many more to open up. Currently, I predict that the Broncos & Bengals will have a head coaching vacancy to fill, although Cincinnati's win yesterday might convince owner Mike Brown to give Marvin Lewis a new 8-year contract. Cincinnati technically has a HC opening because Marvin Lewis' contract expired, but I list it as expected to open simply because the Bengals will continue to love Marvin, even if he never wins a playoff game. The Broncos should make Vance Joseph a "one-and-done" head coach, as he somehow made a vaunted defense terrible (even though he was previously a defensive coordinator) and an offense pitiful.

-As for the New York Giants, I believe they may opt for an experienced head coach, specifically with an offensive background. The Giants have a lot of defensive talent and DC Steve Spagnuolo is highly-respected within the organization, so my guess is that New York would like to retain their defensive staff (even if they had a miserable season). I can see Josh McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator, landing this job, as I think he can coax another solid year out of Eli Manning while his successor, Josh Rosen, sits for a year to learn. McDaniels is a perfect fit to revamp this offense, and install stability into a team that desperately needs it.

-The Arizona Cardinals lost a great HC in Bruce Arians as he opted to retire, and the Cardinals shockingly finished this season 8-8 despite a multitude of key injuries to their team. Arians deserves a ton of credit (franchise leader in wins), and he will not be easy to replace. With possibly Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer opting for retirement as well, I think Arizona might go in a weird direction here, and bring in a candidate that is somewhat unknown to helm the rebuild project. I think Arizona will give Stanford HC David Shaw a call, and will probably pursue high-level NFL assistants, such as Bears DC Vic Fangio, Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo, or promote from within, and give the job to their current OC Harold Goodwin. I actually think Arizona does simply promote from within here, and Goodwin lands the job.

-The Chicago Bears were a mess this season, as John Fox consistently looked overmatched, from challenging a call that ended up with the Bears turning over the football (seriously, how do you challenge a play that results in your team turning it over?), to consistently running the ball nearly every first and second down. Chicago does possess a lot of talent however, especially on defense, and has their franchise QB in Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears could use an offensive-minded coach, somebody like a Josh McDaniels, John DeFilippo, or Matt Nagy (Chiefs offensive coordinator), and I'm guessing they land one of them, while trying to retain DC Vic Fangio and his staff.

-The Detroit Lions are the best team to currently have a HC vacancy, and with a lot of offensive firepower, they will probably be a coveted position. Detroit will probably be looking for a defensive-minded head coach here, and Patriots DC Matt Patricia seems like a perfect fit. Lions GM Bob Quinn came from New England, so the connection is there, and Detroit could use a guy like Patricia to revamp their defense while allowing Jim Bob Cooter and the offensive staff to stay in place.

-The Oakland Raiders appear to have locked up Jon Gruden to be their next HC, by making him one of, if not the highest paid head coaches in the NFL while giving him an ownership stake in the team. Gruden nailed this, somehow they're paying him to get a part ownership in a NFL franchise? Insane. I think Gruden is a slam-dunk hire, personally I believe broadcasters make great head coaches because they see the game from a different angle, and learn a lot while in the booth. This Oakland team needs an identity, and a serious revival on defense, but with Gruden at the lead, don't count this team out.

-The Indianapolis Colts are very likely to hire either Matt Nagy or Dave Toub as their next head coach, as both are well-regarded Chiefs assistants who have worked with current Colts GM Chris Ballard before. Josh McDaniels will certainly be in the running here, but I expect Nagy or Toub to land this job.

Playoff Predictions:

-In the AFC, the Tennessee Titans will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face off against the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Buffalo Bills will travel to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars. Over in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons will face off against the surprising LA Rams, and the Carolina Panthers will have a divisional battle against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

TEN @ KC (4:35-ESPN, January 6)

-The first playoff game I think is easily the worst one, and the least intriguing. Personally, I think both of these teams kind of suck, but Tennessee is awful. Marcus Mariota hasn't progressed, they have had a limited running game all season, and their defense, especially their secondary is downright awful. Tennessee lost to a Blaine Gabbert led Arizona Cardinals team! While the Chiefs aren't great either, I think their home-field advantage will play a huge role and this game.

Key Thing to Watch: The Tennessee Titans, while abysmal against the pass, are actually allowing only the 4th fewest yards per carry to opposing running backs. Kareem Hunt is really the engine that makes Kansas City's offense go, and he might struggle to find running lanes in this game. If Tennessee can keep Tyreek Hill in front of them (HUGE IF), then the Titans have a chance to keep this one close, and maybe even pull the upset.

Prediction: I don't see Tennessee being able to contain Tyreek Hill, or score consistently against the Chiefs. This one will be low-scoring, but the Chiefs will take it

Chiefs (17-6)

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

ATL @ LAR (8:15-NBC, January 6)

-This game will most likely be more exciting than the early game, so luckily Saturday isn't a complete wash for the NFL Playoffs. The Los Angeles Rams have one of the best offenses in football, led by Todd Gurley, arguably the best RB in football, and resurgent second-year QB Jared Goff. The Falcons haven't looked great this year, but still have Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones. This could be a high-scoring affair in LA.

Key Thing to Watch: The Los Angeles Rams hold opposing quarterbacks to the 5th lowest QBR in the league, while the Atlanta Falcons rank 21st. If Atlanta cannot contain Aaron Donald when the Rams drop 8, it will be a long day for Atlanta.

Prediction: I love this Rams team this year and will probably root for them to win the Super Bowl out of all the remaining teams. I think Atlanta has been overrated all year, and think the Rams will expose them Saturday Night.

Rams (38-14)

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

BUF @ JAC (1:05-CBS, January 7)

-This game should be fun, as both teams haven't been in the playoffs for a while, and because these are two physical football teams. Honestly, I would be shocked if we didn't see at least 1 or 2 fights in this game. The Bills come in hot, and have a great defense while Jacksonville has lost two in a row, but still possesses the greatest defense we've seen in a long time.

Key Thing to Watch: LeSean McCoy's availability. McCoy left the game against the Dolphins with a high-ankle sprain, and while I expect him to play, he will probably be way less than 100%. The Jaguars have been much improved against the run ever since they acquired DT Marcell Dareus from the Buffalo Bills (#RevengeGame), and I expect them to dominate Buffalo.

Prediction: I think this game will be thrilling at the end, as defenses will control this game. If Blake Bortles doesn't revert to 2016 Blake Bortles (which I don't think he will), then I think Jacksonville will barely survive the Bills.

Jaguars (10-7)

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

CAR @ NO (4:40-FOX, January 7)

-I think a lot of people think Carolina-New Orleans will be the best game of Wild Card Weekend, but I'm not sold. Cam Newton has looked abysmal for two straight weeks, and now has to go face a tough New Orleans defense in the Superdome. On the flip side, the New Orleans Saints offense hasn't looked as powerful lately, but they still can turn it on.

Key Thing to Watch: Cam Newton's playmaking ability. In two games versus New Orleans this year, Cam ran for a total of 67 yards and a TD. In the two games, Cam threw for a combined 350 yards (which is a low number), 2 TDs, and 3 INTs. Which Cam will we see on Sunday? If Newton is running the ball and finding old reliable Greg Olsen, then the Panthers have a chance.

Prediction: I think the Saints are a dark-horse Super Bowl contender. They have all the ingredients (great QB, awesome running game and o-line, solid defense), and as long as New Orleans can eliminate one of Christian McCaffery, Devin Funchess or Greg Olsen, than Cam will struggle through the air.

Saints (28-17)

End-of Year Sendoff:

Favorite Moment:

-My favorite moment from the NFL season has to have been seeing some new faces in the NFL playoffs. It is incredible how Sean McVay turned around Jared Goff and the Rams in one year, how Blake Bortles looked amazing for the majority of December, and how Bills Mafia is back in the playoffs.

Most-Exciting Thing:

-Honestly, I probably have to say Hue Jackson jumping into a lake in the coming weeks will be hilarious. This starts with his guarantee of "we're not going 1-15 again" (well, technically he was right), to somehow going 0-16 with a decent roster, publicly questioning whether his QB will "ever figure it out", calling for a QB sneak at the 2-yard line with 15 seconds left in a half with no timeouts, and then boldly proclaiming at the conclusion of another winless season that "I don't think anybody else could have done this job". That's gutsy from Hue there, and even though he'll be freezing in a few weeks when he plunges into a lake for failing on his guarantee that he wouldn't go 1-15 again, that quote was still gold. I can't tell if he's trying to give himself credit, or if he's taking a shot at the Browns organization, or maybe both. The real question is what is more embarrassing; the fact that Hue Jackson has gone 1-31 in two seasons as a NFL head coach and still has a job, or that he guaranteed he would jump into a lake, but then recently stated that "like I said, I never said I could swim". We'll put that up in a poll later on twitter (@BeastlineSports) so you can vote.

-Thanks for reading everybody! Hopefully everyone had a fun and safe NYE, and are enjoying 2018 and making good on your New Year's resolutions! Enjoy today's college football playoff games, and we appreciate the support we have gotten through BeastLine! Make sure to follow us on twitter (@BeastlineSports) as we will be ramping up our content posting in 2018.