2019 NFL Draft Preliminary Evaluation: Oregon QB Justin Herbert

2019 NFL Draft Preliminary Evaluation: Oregon QB Justin Herbert

Justin Herbert Preliminary Draft Profile

When looking at the 2019 NFL Draft at first, one of the most noticeable characteristics one can recognize right off the bat is that this class appears to pale in comparison to last year’s at a position of considerable importance: quarterback. However, many of the potential choices in the next crop of signal-callers offer the talent to skyrocket up draft boards or solidify their stock with a convincing 2018 campaign. This article will be spent on an early evaluation of one of the (expected) upcoming QB prospects who fits in with the latter category: Justin Herbert.

 

Photo Credit/www.goducks.com

STRENGTHS

Herbert is as poised as they come in the face of pressure. His willingness to stand in the pocket and deliver while staring down the barrel and taking a hit is quite the attribute to have as a college sophomore.

Herbert comes prototypical height and size, but more importantly, the skill set coveted in a franchise QB. His arm talents jumps out as one of his greatest assets; Herbert’s ability to sling the ball downfield with relative ease, fire with velocity, and excellent touch over the top means there’s not a spot on the field Herbert isn’t capable of hitting. He has no problem making throws outside the hashes as well. His mechanics are clean for the most part. While he has a longer release, Herbert makes up for it with a lightning fast follow through and fluid weight transfer through his motion.

Although his effortless arm strength is captivating, what sets Herbert apart from his fellow draft hopefuls is the stunning accuracy he displays for a player who’s only been 20 years old for a couple of months now. Whether he’s dicing up opponents with laser beams in the middle of the field or hitting receivers on vertical shots in stride for huge gains,  Herbert routinely exhibits outstanding ball placement to all areas of the field. He’s able to put the right amount of touch on throws to drop the football in between levels of the defense.

He makes brilliant, jaw-dropping dimes in tight coverage and small windows in between zones. His proficiency in vital areas of QBing, such as timing and anticipation, at such a young age are encouraging signs that he has a realistic chance to blossom into a superstar. On multiple occasions, Herbert has been able to connect on beautiful throws in between the back of the end zone and a defender with exceptional placement and trajectory.

If he wasn’t impressive enough, the Eugene, Oregon native has already looked to master the art of the back-shoulder throw. He combines perfect timing and location of the ball to put it in a spot where a defender couldn’t possibly make a play on it, and allows his receiver to get in a position to use his body to shield a defender and extend for the catch.

Not only is he a surgeon in a clean pocket, however; Herbert’s ability to thread the needle is still very much present even when his feet aren’t set. On the move and throwing off just about any platform, he’s an incredibly precise passer who keeps his eyes downfield when he gets forced off his spot.

It only helps that he possesses the desired athleticism to escape pressure, extend plays, and rip off considerable yards as a runner. He’s no Cam Newton, but Justin Herbert can be a reliable chain mover and can be utilized as a weapon in the red zone with his legs.

Herbert’s eyes are just as lethal as his rocket right arm. He shows the ability to decipher coverage pre-snap and weed out potential mismatches. Post-snap, he’s proven more than capable of scanning the field and working past his first read and through multiple progressions at an NFL level (or at least close to it).

Where Herbert shines most of all is his ability to manipulate defenders through body language. Using subtle movements in his dropback and his eyes, Herbert finds tremendous success in creating gaping throwing lanes over the top. He excels at forcing deep safeties to account for other potential targets, leaving his intended target open to cash in.

 

WEAKNESSES

Lower body mechanics appear to be an issue Herbert has. As Matt Waldman describes, he rushes his process when faced with pressure, and the size of his base varies as he transitions from target to target. Ideally, an accurate ball is delivered with feet placed shoulder width apart. When they get too wide, the risk of sailed passes/misfires increases greatly.

Rushed process due to pressure leads to early release, overthrown ball, and an interception.

 

EARLY COMPARISON

Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles. Not many quarterbacks in the league share too many similarities with Herbert, but his blend of size, arm talent, accuracy, and mobility gives him serious playmaking ability that reminds me of the young Philly phenom. Wentz displays the same traits that made him the 2nd overall pick in 2016, but also the same flaws: Wentz needed to work on shortening his stride in his transitions and making safer decisions with the ball under pressure. Herbert’s style of play fits in very well with the evolving offenses in today’s NFL and his athleticism and precision on the move should get him looks in rollouts and boot-action.

 

PRELIMINARY GRADE

Top 5 prospect. Herbert has all the makings of a franchise quarterback. He’s a special talent who is quite a bit more advanced in his development than his peers. With steps in his development of course, Herbert can establish himself as one of the better players in the game at his position.

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Russia World Cup 2018 Group Stage Predictions: Group B

Let’s talk about group B.

 

Group B is a group of mystery and suspense – just kidding. We all know what’s going to happen in this group, and the only uncertainty is that we don’t know who’s going to be sitting at the top of the table when June ends. Portugal and Spain are both title challengers, and they’re going to go all in in their first group stage game as they face each other because the winner of this game will basically secure the B1 position. Playing against Uruguay in round of 16 can be tricky, so being the leader in this group will be strategically beneficial. (There is a distinct possibility that Uruguay may end up at A2, but we’re going to omit this situation here.) For Morocco and Iran, however, making it into the World Cup is already an awesome achievement. I’d say their job is just to enjoy the games and Vodkas as much as possible.

 

Iran

Similar to Saudi Arabia, Iran is a strong and consistent team coming out of the AFC. However, I believe that coming into the world cup, This Iran team is much stronger than Saudi Arabia, and is arguably the best Asian team in this tournament. (Japan and Iran are basically at the same level, it is hard to say which one’s better. Australia this year is not at their level to be honest: they have a very solid defense but their weakness on the offensive side is a big problem. I’ll discuss that in my later articles.)

Iran always have some really good players. In the late 1990s they have this insanely good striker Ali Daei, who is still holding the record of most international goals scored. In the 2000s Mehdi Mahdavikia and Ali Karimi were the two biggest stars for the team. Both players played in Bundesliga: Mahdavikia spent most of his professional career playing for Hamburg, while Karimi played for Bayern Munich between 2005 and 2007. Both players dominated in Asian competitions and showed their talent in club games in Europe, but were really underappreciated outside of Asia. I think that the general impression that Asian players are worse than European players certainly affected the development of players like Karimi. Although the impression sometimes gives us correct judgments, but it is certainly disadvantageous and very harmful for Asian players and teams that are trying to catch up.

So please, when I say Sardar Azmoun of this Iran team is really good and has the potential to be a star player in the future, don’t assume that he’ll be worse than Cutrone or Mayoral. Azmoun is an extremely creative striker that can create opportunities for his team under pretty much any circumstance. I think this World Cup is going to be a perfect opportunity for him to shine, and hopefully he can achieve more than what Mahdavikia and Karimi have achieved.

With Azmoun’s talent, Iran’s frontline will be flexible and unpredictable. Iran’s manager Carlos Queiroz, who has worked with Sir Alex Ferguson in Manchester United before, will always have the option of putting Azmoun in the front as a lone striker, and supporting him with 2 or 3 attacking midfielders. But it is more likely that he is going to play a classic 4-4-2 to ensure a balanced formation.

However, beating Portugal or Spain is going to be almost impossible for this Iran squad. They need a miracle to fight their way out of this group. I think they’re going to get the 3rd place of this group just because they’ll concede less goals than Morocco will.

 

Morocco

I barely knew a thing about this Morocco team. To be more accurate, I only knew Belhanda and Benatia of this team before doing some panic research. I didn’t even know Benatia comes from Morocco. (This made me feel so stupid.) So this preview is going to have less reference value. I sincerely apologize for that.

I do know that Belhanda is a really good midfielder that can control the tempo for his team. He has good vision and ball playing skills. The problem is that in Galatasaray he plays along with Feghouli and Fernando, but in Morocco he will have no helper with Feghouli or Fernando’s caliber. I don’t think he can energize Morocco’s midfield single-handedly, so I would expect Morocco’s midfield to be a typical example of nonexistence.

Similar to their midfield, Morocco’s defense is pretty much also a one-man show. Benatia, who has played for Bayern Munich and Juventus, is definitely ranked at the top of tier 2 defenders in the world. (Or, say, arguably at the bottom of tier 1 defenders.) He is Morocco’s only hope to keep Cristiano Ronaldo or Diego Costa from scoring against them, and that hope is not very realistic. However, I don’t expect Portugal to win over Morocco by a big margin because Portugal’s offense is relatively monotonic and some studying after the first game should slow them down for a bit. But Morocco are going to lose to Portugal, and are going to lose to Spain badly. They may even lose to Iran, but I don’t want to be too mean. I would prefer Morocco to secure a draw against Iran, although deep down in my heart I know that Iran the better team of the two.

 

Portugal

With Cristiano Ronaldo, anything is possible except for getting eliminated in the group stage in World Cup 2018.

I would like to describe this Portugal team as a proper title challenger. I think their EURO 2016 victory can definitely take them to a whole new level because the experience of being a champion gives you guidance, confidence and motivation: that you know what to do to win the game in different situations, you set up higher standards for yourself and your teammates in trainings and in games, and you want to win more trophies because after winning one trophy winning another one no longer seems impossible. Their EURO 2016 victory can also be the fundamental factor that drives them to build up a real force: we can expect them to stay in top 5 on FIFA rankings for a long time, if they really learned a lot from their journey in that tournament.

However, things can also go the other way because they have Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is the center of this team, he outshines everyone, and his teammates are all playing under his shadow. It is problematic because although his teammates are all decent players, they all tend to underperform when Ronaldo’s on the pitch. Sometimes it looks like players such as Quaresma and Moutinho are having less space in front of the opponent’s box and are taking less responsibilities when it comes to controlling tempo and creating chances: they may be too lazy to think because they’ll always have the option of passing the ball to Ronaldo then let him figure out what to do with it. Fortunately we’re seeing less of these lazy passes in the European Qualifiers and this Portugal team looks decently synchronized, yet their offense is still lack of tactical diversity and creativity from other players.

Portugal is most likely to play a regular 4-4-2 against Morocco and Iran, but I think they’ll switch to 4-3-3 against Spain to provide more support for Ronaldo. Their back 4 is structured; Pepe will be leading the line. Jose Fonte to me is the weakest link of this Portugal team. He is not the Jose Fonte in Southampton anymore. He’s so washed up. Judging from his performances in China, he’s now slow and conservative. I won’t be surprised to see him hesitate when trying to make crucial tackles or fail to mark his man tightly. In the midfield they really have some young talents. Bernardo Silva and Guedes have silky touches and can provide deadly passes. It will be important for Portugal’s manager to make sure that they step up and play their regular game instead of seeing their spaces squeezed because of Ronaldo’s existence and just playing easy brainless balls sideways.

Portugal will qualify easily to the knockout round but I don’t think they’ll finish as B1. Spain is having some issues now but they’re just tactically superior. But battling Spain early can be an advantage for Portugal coming into round of 16, as the players will be less tired and more used to playing against tough opponents. I think Portugal has a chance to go really far in this tournament.

 

Spain

Teams from La Liga’ve been dominating European football for a very long time. Real Madrid just won the Champions League 3 years in a row, and despite a shocking exit in the European competition, Barcelona actually looks like a better team than their rival this year, achieving success domestically. Although the best player from Barcelona and the best player from Real Madrid are not from Spain, Spain still have top quality players in all areas. Think about these big names: Diego Costa, David Silva, Iniesta, Isco, Pique, De Gea… You really can’t say that this team is not one of the favorites to win.

There’s another very big advantage for Spain: most of the players come from La Liga, and a good amount of players even come from the same team. 4 players are from Barcelona (including Iniesta), 3 are from Atletico, and 6 are from Real Madrid. Back in 2010 when Spain won it in South Africa, 10 of their starting XI were from either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Capdevila was the lonely man who was playing for Villarreal at the time. It may be dubious but it looks like having players coming from the same team/league can be beneficial. Spain and Germany are the two big examples that support this theory, and the Argentina team kind of prove it from another angle, as their attacking players are playing in different leagues, which may be a reason why their frontline is so messy.

However just before the World Cup starts Spain decided to replace their manager Lopetegui with Hierro because of Real Madrid and Lopetegui’s irresponsible announcement. I think it is the right thing for them to do, but it is very harmful at the same time. It is the right decision because Lopetegui will definitely be distracted by club affairs, and Barcelona players will probably feel less comfortable playing under his directions, but it is harmful because changing manager can cause huge instability within the team, and may negatively affect game preparations. In my opinion, this move will make this Spain squad much weaker, but since Spain is already in the leading position in player quality and tactics, and since Hierro knows Spanish football too well, the damage of this move will be smaller than what people think it will deal.

Hierro will probably stick with Lopetegui’s undefeted 4-2-3-1 in group stage games against Iran and Morocco, but he might switch to 4-3-3 when facing stronger opponents. 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 are the two main formations for Spain for a very long time, so I don’t think we’ll see any significant change in formation from this team in this tournament. Diego Costa will be the one who scores most of Spain’s goals, and if he gets lucky he has a good chance of claiming the golden boot of World Cup 2018. Iniesta and David Silva will support Costa with their magic, but I think Koke and Saul will get some chances to impress once Iniesta gets tired. Pique, Ramos, Carvajal and Alba will be the back 4. It is one of the best backlines in this tournament, but you never know when will Pique or Ramos make stupid mistakes. Spain also have the best goalkeeper in the world, David De Gea, so it’ll be hard for any team to score on them.

I don’t want to see Spain lifting the trophy this summer because I am supporting Brazil and England, but if Hierro knows what he’s doing and reduces the damage caused by Lopetegui’s irresponsible decision to a minimal, then they have a really good chance of winning it.

 

Score prediction:

Portugal 0-3 Spain

Iran 1-1 Morocco

 

Portugal 1-0 Morocco

Spain 3-1 Iran

 

Spain 2-0 Morocco

Iran 0-1 Portugal

 

Group B W D L GF GA GD P
Spain 3 0 0 8 1 7 9
Portugal 2 0 1 2 3 -1 6
Iran 0 1 2 2 5 -3 1
Morocco 0 1 2 1 4 -3 1

 

Best and Worst Case Scenarios for every NFL Team in 2018

Best and Worst Case Scenarios for every NFL Team in 2018

It’s that boring time of the NFL offseason.  The NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals recently concluded, and so all there is to watch is baseball (and the World Cup).  But, it’s still fun to speculate how each NFL team will do in 2018 (then be proven completely wrong later).  Today, I will go over each team’s floor and ceiling.  Think of it as their best case scenario vs. worst case scenario.  Anyway, let’s get started.

Atlanta Falcons

After another rough playoff elimination last season, maybe the Falcons will follow in the paths of the Astros, Eagles, and Capitals, and finally win that ring.  They have all the talent on offense, and Vic Beasley and Deion Jones are dangerous on defense.  To me, their absolute best case scenario (ceiling) is 13-3 and that first Super Bowl ring.  I can’t imagine them doing better than 13-3 in that division.  The floor is when Matt Ryan starts looking like 2015 Matt Ryan, and the offense continues to regress from that incredible 2016 season.  Steve Sarkisian gets his walking papers, and the Falcons go 7-9 and miss the playoffs.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals just drafted a man who has been considered the most pro-ready QB.  Personally, I think he’ll be quite successful in the NFL, but Sam Bradford could possibly hold him off for a while.  Because the Cards are in this awkward transitional phase, I can’t see them doing much better than 9-7.  And because they’re competing in a division with two teams on the rise (San Fran and L.A.) and one team that’s still pretty good (Seattle), things could get really hairy.  I think their floor could be 3-13.

Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco and his huge contract should be able to hold off Lamar Jackson, at least for one year.  Maybe Flacco can return to his vintage form and the Ravens pull off another playoff run.  In a division with Cincy and Cleveland, it’s possible for them to do as well as 11-5.  This team has a history of giving the Pats trouble in the playoffs, but I just don’t think a Super Bowl run is realistic.  And their worst case scenario?  Probably 5-11 if injuries happen, Terrell Suggs’ 16th season just ain’t cutting it, and the run game can’t get it together under Alex Collins and Javorious Allen.

Buffalo Bills

So, Buffalo got A.J. McCarron to be that awkward “bridge” QB for Josh Allen (the job might actually go to Nathan Peterman).  Well Bills, at least you made the playoffs last year!  Even with Shady McCoy still playing great (which may not happen now that he’ll be 30 this season), I don’t see Buffalo doing better than 8-8.  Sure, the Jets and Dolphins are also at a crossroads, but New England should probably be marked on the calendar as two Ls.  As for their worst case scenario, we’ve certainly seen it get bad with teams in this transitional phase.  2-14 is the floor.

Carolina Panthers

Cam and Carolina got back in the playoffs after a rough 2016 season.  As Jon Bois noted in this video, Carolina’s consistency is the absolute craziest in the NFL (just skip to 9:10 if you want proof).  Christian McCaffrey should continue to add to this team, and Dontari Poe should help improve the d-line.  To me, their best and worst case scenarios are quite like the Falcons.  13-3 if everything goes right, 7-9 if everything goes wrong.  Now watch them pull a 2015 Panthers and go 15-1 again, or a 2016 Panthers and go 6-10.

Chicago Bears

Mitch Trubisky will no longer have to wait behind the human giraffe Mike Glennon, and will get his chance to lead the Bears into playoff contention.  In a tough division like the NFC North though, I can’t see them doing better than 10-6.  However, that could very well net them a playoff spot in the Wild Card.  As for their floor, think Matt Nagy will oversee an improvement from 5-11.  The Bears are a high-floor, low ceiling team in my opinion, as their floor should should be 6-10.

Cincinnati Bengals

When Cincy’s stubborn owner Mike Brown kept Marvin Lewis AGAIN in 2018, I can just imagine Bengals fans having the same mindset as Squidward in this clip.  Maybe Dalton and A.J. Green will go back to their vintage years of 2011-15 by going 10-6… and losing in the first round of the playoffs again.  To me though, their worst case scenario is that they continue their downward trend and go 4-12.  Maybe that will make Mike Brown do something?  No, I doubt it.

Cleveland Browns

You know what, I think this team could shock the world and win a game this season.  Actually, 10 of them.  Considering Tyrod Taylor quarterbacked a team to the playoffs last year, why can’t he do it again?  Cleveland has a pretty scary 1-2 combo in Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry, and a defense that actually isn’t that bad.  The elephant in the room is Hue Jackson.  Maybe if that jump in Lake Erie truly did wash away all the losing, they can go 10-6 and make the playoffs.  Or, they could just go 2-14 (they can’t possibly go 0-16 again.  Can they?).

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas had a disappointing season last year, as they had to deal with injuries and the drama known as the Zeke suspension saga.  Jason Witten and Dez Bryant leaving could certainly hurt the offense a bit, but I can still see them improving to 12-4.  But no more than that, as they have to deal with Philly and an improved Giants team.  Of course, I do see a possibility of them going 6-10.  Jason Garrett would probably get fired in that case.

Denver Broncos

It was a rough first season for head coach Vance Joseph, as the former defensive coordinator had to deal with a QB controversy.  John Elway has given him a new QB in Case Keenum, who should definitely hold down the fort for at least this year.  Keenum obviously had a great season last year, and he’s still playing on a team with a solid defense (though not as good as Minnesota’s).  Considering the AFC West still has some question marks, I can see Denver doing as good as 12-4.  However, if the Keenum experiment fails, things could get ugly.  Perhaps another 5-11 season is their floor.

Detroit Lions

Having a top 10 QB like Matt Stafford is usually enough to net this team 6 wins, so I can’t see them doing much worse than 6-10.  Unfortunately for the Lions, they play in a division with the Packers, Vikings, and a Bears team that is much improved.  Unless Matt Patricia truly does bring that Patriots attitude to the team, I can’t see them doing better than 10-6 and a possible Wild Card berth.

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is back, which means the Packers being a playoff team is probably back as well.  This is despite him losing one of his favorite targets in Jordy Nelson and the NFC being stacked.  After all, they added Jimmy Graham, who will probably emerge as a solid red zone option for Rodgers.  The defense added Muhammad Wilkerson and Jaire Alexander, and maybe new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine can turn their defense into a solid unit.  If he does, the Packers could do as well as 13-3.  If he doesn’t (and some injuries happen), expect an 8-8 year.

Houston Texans

It’s all about staying healthy for this bunch.  Deshaun Watson was having a great rookie season until his ACL injury.  And when J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus went down, so did the Texans.  As long as their most important pieces don’t suffer from the injury bug, I can see them doing as good as 12-4.  However, if injuries strike yet again, I can see 5-11 being the floor.

Indianapolis Colts

Despite a gutty performance from Jacoby Brissett, the Colts had a disastrous 4-12 season last year that saw coach Chuck Pagano get fired.  After being royally screwed over by Josh McDaniels, Frank Reich will now try to lead this team to victory.  If Andrew Luck returns healthy and the new pieces on the o-line come together, this could be an 11-5, division-winning team.  If not, this could be another 4-12 year in Indy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags surprised the NFL world last year by making it to the AFC Championship Game a year after going 3-13.  The bad news for the Jags is that the division has gotten a lot better if everyone stays healthy.  The good news for Jacksonville is that they’ve retained the young defensive core that got them a game away from the Super Bowl.  The elephant in the room is Blake Bortles, and if he has a poor year, the Jags could do as bad as 6-10.  But, if all goes according to plan, I say they can do as well as 13-3 and get the franchise’s first title.

Kansas City Chiefs

A lot of the Chiefs’ season will be determined by their QB play, and no one really knows what we’ll get out of Pat Mahomes.  He has a veteran coach in Andy Reid and spent a year learning behind Alex Smith though, so those are some good signs.  If Mahomes can make good use out of his weapons on offense and the defense stays solid, a 12-4, division-winning record could happen.  If Mahomes is significantly worse from Alex Smith though, things could get as bad as 5-11.

Los Angeles Chargers

The 30,000-seat soccer stadium that the Chargers play in may very well be home to a division champ this year.  The Chargers have a trusty vet in Phillip Rivers at QB, and some good weapons for him (though Hunter Henry is out for the year).  The defense is where this team is super stacked from top to bottom.  It starts up front, where Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram bring the heat.  In the secondary, a healthy Jason Verrett, Casey Heyward, and rookie Derwin James should be exciting.  I see this team doing as well as 13-3 and seriously contending for a Super Bowl.  However, they could disappoint and go 7-9.

Los Angeles Rams

Boy, is this team going all-in this year.  Getting Pro Bowl caliber players like Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib clearly demonstrates this.  Jared Goff and Todd Gurley should be with this franchise for a while, but this great core they have will only stay around 1-2 years.  If the Rams make the most of it, they’ll go 14-2 and bring a Super Bowl to L.A.  If they waste this stacked roster or if injuries happen, this team could do as poorly as 8-8.

Miami Dolphins

This team traded their star RB and star WR, plus they lost arguably their best player on defense in Ndamukong Suh.  Ryan Tannehill hasn’t played since 2016.  Some of their more notable free agent signings include: Brock Osweiler, a 35-year old Frank Gore, and Danny Amendola (they did draft Minkah Fitzpatrick though).  In any case, things could get ugly in South Beach, and I think they could do as bad as 2-14.  And to me, their ceiling is only 8-8.

Minnesota Vikings

After a stellar year from Case Keenum at QB, the Vikes weren’t convinced and nabbed Kirk Cousins in free agency.  Will the move pay off?  The money is fully guaranteed, and for someone who doesn’t have one playoff win, it’s certainly a risk.  If Kirk is solid and the defense stays elite, a 14-2 season with the franchise’s first Super Bowl could be in order.  If not, it could be a disappointing 8-8 year.

New England Patriots

Will this be the cliff year for Tom Brady?  He’s 41, and he’s lost Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks, and both of his starting tackles.  The defense lost a key piece in Malcolm Butler.  But who am I kidding, this is the Patriots we’re talking about!  Their best case scenario is 14-2 and a Super Bowl, because Brady and Belichick are still there.  However, if the gloom and doom scenario truly does play out, this team could go 8-8, their first non-winning record since 2000.  That’s really how good this team has been.

New Orleans Saints

Sean Payton saved his job last year after three consecutive 7-9 seasons from 2014-16.  The defense finally stepped up, and Drew Brees had another great year in his late 30s.  Brees not only has help from his defense, but his running game has a great one-two punch with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.  Ingram is suspended the first four games, but I don’t think that will derail the season.  As a matter of fact, this team could do as well as 13-3, and win the franchise’s second title.  However, they could drop back to 8-8 if things go wrong.

New York Giants

After a disastrous campaign last year that saw their ringmasters at head coach and GM get fired, the Giants have regrouped.  They have a smart offensive mind at head coach, and an old school GM now.  They landed a generational talent in Saquon Barkley at RB, and some much-needed pieces on the o-line as well.  If Eli can still play well at age 37 and the defense can return to its 2016 form, this team could do as well as 12-4.  That might be enough to steal a division title from Philly.  But, if this team doesn’t look as good on the field as they do on paper, it could be a disappointing 6-10 year.

New York Jets

The Jets took what could be the long-awaited answer to their QB woes in Sam Darnold.  We don’t know whether he’ll start Week One yet, but there’s a good shot he gets some playing time this year.  Darnold’s weapons on offense are a bit questionable though.  The Jets are building something solid with their young defense however, where they added Avery Williamson and Morris Claiborne.  Those aren’t the greatest additions, but they’re starter-level players.  To me, this Jets team will probably see some bumps in a transitional QB year, and they could do as poorly as 3-13.  But, they could do as well as 9-7.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders were hyped up as contenders in the AFC last year, but they suffered from a very disappointing year.  So, they fired their head coach and made what many consider a “splash hire” in Jon Gruden.  While it’s been quite a long time since he’s coached, I still believe he can do it.  He has a lot of talent to work with on offense, as Derek Carr is a young franchise QB.  This team could disappoint and do as poorly as 6-10 again, but I could see them going 12-4 and retaking the AFC West.

Philadelphia Eagles

Philly broke their long stretch of misery last year, but what does it take to repeat as champs?  Well, it looks like Carson Wentz will be back as the starter, but will he be during Week One?  In any case, this team retained most of the core that got them to the Super Bowl, and added Michael Bennett on defense.  The thing that might hold them back this year is playing in a talented NFC.  Their best case scenario is a 14-2 season and another Super Bowl title.  However, they could regress back to 8-8 if things go horribly wrong.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Killer Bs are back after a disappointing playoff exit last season, but can they rebound this year?  The Steelers promoted from within for their new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, who should hopefully help this offense stop playing down to their competition.  That was a big struggle for Pittsburgh last year.  This team still has a great core in tact though, and they could go 14-2 and win the franchise’s 7th title if all goes according to plan.  However, they could go 8-8 and possibly lose the division to the Ravens if things go poorly.

San Francisco 49ers

There’s a lot of pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo, who just received a $137.5 million contract after an impressive 5 starts with San Fran.  One fact that really shocked me is that the 49ers went from playing one primetime game last year to FIVE this year.  That goes to show you how much the NFL values having a franchise QB when it comes to scheduling primetime games.  If Kyle Shanahan’s squad can live up to the hype, they could go 12-4 and possibly steal the division from the stacked Rams.  However, if they can’t live up to the hype, they could disappoint and possibly stay a 6-10 season.

Seattle Seahawks

With the Rams and 49ers as improved teams, and the Cards getting a potential franchise QB, Seattle might be taking a backseat.  They lost a lot of key pieces this offseason, like Jimmy Graham, Richard Sherman, and Michael Bennett.  It wasn’t anywhere near San Francisco’s 2015 offseason level of bad, but it was pretty bad.  They drafted Rashad Penny in the first round, which is definitely a questionable move.  Russell Wilson should carry this team to at least a 6-10 record.  But, I can’t see them doing better than 10-6 in this tough NFC.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa was a trendy pick to win the division last year, but they suffered a very disappointing, 5-11 year.  The Bucs made some big additions on the d-line this offseason, trading for JPP, signing Vinny Curry, and drafting Vita Vea.  Paired with Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence, it looks like a stacked unit on paper.  The big thing is Jameis Winston getting it together with Dirk Koetter.  It didn’t work last year, but it probably has to in 2018 for Koetter to keep his job.  I can see the Bucs improving to 11-5 this year if it all goes right, but they could do as poorly as 5-11 again.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans made their way back to postseason football last year after posting another 9-7 season.  With the signings of Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler, perhaps they have what it takes to make more noise in the AFC.  In a stacked division though, there’s a lot of pressure for Marcus Mariota and first-year head coach Mike Vrabel.  If they respond to it well, I can see Tennessee going 12-4 and possibly getting the franchise’s first Super Bowl.  If they don’t, I can see them having a disappointing 7-9 year.

Washington Redskins

The Skins ditched Kirk Cousins for Alex Smith, and it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  I think it’s a typical Dan Snyder move and it’s not going to lead to a lot of success for Washington.  The Skins added Paul Richardson in free agency and got Da’Ron Payne and Sheldon Richardson in the draft.  Ultimately, I can’t see this team doing much better than 11-5.  I could see them doing as poorly as 6-10, but no worse than that given that Alex Smith is a pretty steady QB.

Russia World Cup 2018 Group Stage Predictions: Group A

World Cup is finally here.

In the regional qualifiers, we witnessed Netherlands and Italy’s shocking early exit, Iceland’s impressive campaign, and Argentina’s last minute redemption. Now we’re about to reach the climax of the battle royale. Are the Germans going to finally win it in Russia? Are the Brazilians ready enough to reclaim the ultimate glory? Or are we going to see a Cinderella fairytale, a dark horse to win it out of nowhere?

In this preview series I will go through the 32 teams that will participate in the tournament, analyze the overall quality of the squads, and give you my own predictions of every group stage games.

 

Today we’re going to take a look at teams in Group A. In group A we have the host Russia, Egypt Saudi Arabia and Uruguay.

 

Russia

The Russians probably didn’t enjoy their last World Cup run that much. They were eliminated in a fairly easy group stage back in 2014. Now they are back in the tournament again as host, but their group this time is much harder. If Russia want to make it out of the group stage, they have to win against Saudi Arabia, and try their best to get points from Uruguay and Egypt.

Because Russia didn’t participate in European Qualifiers, so it is really hard to estimate how they’re going to perform on a highly competitive level. Base on Russia’s performances in friendly’s it is evident that they have a fairly good midfield led by Alan Dzagoev and Denis Cheryshev, but a relatively weaker defense. if they manage to build up good connections between Dzagoev and their striker Smolov, they can pressure their opponent’s backline pretty well, but personally I don’t believe it is going to happen. Smolov is a decent player and is the key player in this Russia team, but only few teammates matches his caliber. And, to be honest, Smolov still has a long way to go to become a top tier player, which means that Russia have a lot of tactical work to do on a game-to-game basis in order to make up for their lack of talent.

I expect Russia to play 4-5-1 or 3-5-1-1 with 2 defensive midfielders. They have to outnumber opponent’s attacking force because they don’t really have good defense. Poor positioning when dealing with crosses and through passes, poor 1-on-1 defending, lack of ball-playing center backs, you name them. Their goalkeeper Akinfeev will definitely be super busy on the pitch. But as I previously mentioned, their frontline is capable of creating opportunities. If they play 4-5-1, their 45 crosses into the box in counter attacks can be deadly.

Of all 32 teams in the World Cup, I believe that Russia is slightly below average, maybe average at the very best. However, they have the home field advantage, they have less pressure, and they are definitely better prepared than other teams. I don’t think they are going to qualify; I think they’re going to lose to Egypt in their second game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually make it to the knock-out round.

 

Egypt

Base on Egypt’s performance in African Qualifiers, it is evident that they have what it takes to go further in the World Cup. Personally I believe that Egypt is the best team in Africa at this moment, because they’ve developed consistency, and they have the incredible Salah.

We just can’t talk about this Egypt team without talking about Mohamed Salah. People are comparing Salah to Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi these days. He just enjoyed a record-breaking season with Liverpool, scoring 32 goals in 36 appearances in the Premier League, which helped Liverpool secure a top 4 finish; his performance in the Champions League is phenomenal as well: he scored 11 goals in 15 appearances, carrying his team to a Champions League final. Salah’s breakout season is an unequivocal proof that he has the potential to be one of the biggest stars in world football in the near future, but to be fair, it is still too early to say that he is ready to win a Ballon d’Or, or to say that he is already the third best player in the world. He needs significant team achievements to testify his amazing talent. This summer, however, would be a great opportunity for him to make a statement. If he can do more than what Ryan Giggs did for Wales, or what Dwight Yorke did for Trinidad and Tobago, Mohamed Salah will be a Ballon d’Or winner in the near future.

Egypt is highly likely to stick with the balanced 4-2-3-1 formation they used in their 0-3 friendly defeat against Belgium. If Salah is healthy enough to play in the group stage then Egypt’s right wing will be very scary. Their opponent’s left back will definitely try to force Salah to go the outer route, as his crosses would cause fewer problems than his cut-ins. Salah is also good at beating offside traps and converting low crosses and through passes into goals, so although Egypt’s attacking force is more like a one-man show, it is not going to be monotonic, or predictable. Egypt’s defense, however, relies heavily on Elneny’s performance. Arsenal fans definitely have a lot to say about Elneny and his inconsistency. If he is having a good game he would look like Patrick Vieira. Otherwise he would just look like, you know, Elneny. Egypt’s other defenders are definitely hardworking, but it appears that it is not enough to make up for their disadvantages in overall ability, understanding of the game from the tactical aspect, and experience. So I don’t think Egypt can count on their defense to win them games.

I predict that Egypt is going to qualify as A2 and lose in the first knock-out round since their first opponent out of group stage will probably be either Spain or Portugal. (I think Portugal will be B1 and win against Egypt.) It would still be a big achievement for Salah and his boys, but if they lose to Russia and get eliminated in the group stage, they should be considered one of the underachievers in this tournament.

 

Saudi Arabia

Now we’re talking about one of the worst teams in World Cup 2018. I’m sorry Saudi Arabia, but this is the honest truth. I know that Saudi Arabia ranked higher than Australia in the Asian Qualifiers, I know that they’re always considered one of the best teams coming out of AFC, but this time, Saudi Arabia won’t offer us much to cheer for.

Saudi Arabia’s been playing disciplined and structured football for a long time. Such playing style gave them a very solid leading position in Asia, but sometimes they appear to be overly structured that they would fail to make quick yet specific adjustments to counter their opponent’s particular play style. A typical example would be the 2007 AFC Asian Cup final. They lost to a very mobile Iraq team 0-1. They had players that were with better skills, much more experience and were trained under much better conditions, but they couldn’t deal with Iraq’s quickness and aggressiveness. Although it’s been 11 years, from what I’ve seen in the Asian Qualifiers, it is still the same old story for Saudi Arabia. They’re good when they get to control the tempo of the game, but once their opponent accelerates and starts to press forward with either long passes or quick short passes to the front, they tend to lose their structure in the midfield and are forced to play passively.

They may be strong in Asia, but coming on to a much bigger stage they would no longer have their advantage in player quality. With below-average players and monotonic play style, I really don’t see them winning any game in this group. Actually, the last time Saudi Arabia has won a World Cup game was 24 years ago. It is pretty clear that if they don’t make any changes, that number would at least increase by 4 at the end of the month.

I am not expecting them to change. They’re going to use their 4-5-1 formation in all 3 games. The only unpredictable factor is whether they’re going to play 2 defensive midfielders to form a 4-2-3-1, or 1 defensive midfielder to form a 4-1-4-1. Intuitively they’re going to have a very balanced playing mentality, which will eventually expose their mediocrity. However, I would say they still have a glimmer of hope to win a World Cup game this year, and that is their midfielder Yahya Al Shehri’s creativity. He scored 5 goals in the Asian Qualifiers, and was on loan in Leganes. His passing ability is very good, but it looks like that it is not enough to save his team from being eliminated in the group stage.

I think that Saudi Arabia will be the first team to be eliminated in World Cup 2018. But their attempt to accommodate faster tempo would be an interesting factor for us football fans to watch. (If it actually happens.)

 

Uruguay

Uruguay is undoubtedly the strongest team in Group A. They confidently qualified from the South America Qualifiers with a 50% win rate. Their striking duo, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, is definitely one of the deadliest striking duos in this tournament. They should qualify to the knockout round easily–they have to qualify to the knockout round easily because their 4th opponent will be either Spain or Portugal, they have to save up some energy for the big battle.

In 2010 South Africa World Cup, Uruguay finished 4th, they were narrowly defeated by the Flying Dutchman in the semi-final, 2-3. Gio van Bronckhorst scored a superb goal in that game. Four days later they lost to Germany with another 2-3 in the third place playoff. In my opinion, that Uruguay team in 2010 was one of the most entertaining team to watch in the 21st century. Forlan-Suarez-Cavani trio can always provide magical moments for fans to savor. Now they don’t have Forlan anymore, Suarez and Cavani are also in their early 30s, their younger players are not ready to take over, it is definitely not going to be easy for them to replicate their impressive run 8 years ago.

In their most recently friendly against Uzbekistan, Uruguay deployed a typical 4-3-1-2 formation, but with the versatility of their young talents in the midfield, it is very hard to predict which formation Uruguay’s going to use each game. Vecino, Bentancur and Torreira are the three rising stars that we need to pay close attention to. Their energy and creativity can definitely provide enough help for Suarez and Cavani. Given 3 fairly easy group stage matchups, I expect Uruguay to score a decent amount of goals. And with top quality defenders such as Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez at the back, it should not be hard for them to win all 3 games in the group stage. If they don’t get complacent, they should easily claim the A1 position. However, I don’t think they’re going to be the dark horse of this tournament. Playing against Spain or Portugal in the first knock-out round is cruel. Uruguay may stand a chance against Portugal, but if they get Spain then that’s pretty much game over. Even if they somehow manage to make it to the quarterfinals, they would be more of a spent force.

 

Score prediction:

 

Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia

Uruguay 3-1 Egypt

 

Russia 0-1 Egypt

Uruguay 3-0 Saudi Arabia

 

Uruguay 2-0 Russia

Saudi Arabia 0-1 Egypt

 

Group A W D L GF GA GD P
Uruguay 3 0 0 8 1 7 9
Egypt 2 0 1 3 3 0 6
Russia 1 0 2 2 3 -1 3
Saudi Arabia 0 0 3 0 6 -6 0