Up The Gut Week 1: Mraz Previews NFL Season

The Patriots have a bottom-five roster, the Saints will win the NFC, and the Browns might actually make the playoffs, Shaun Morash says in his first column of the season

The DA Show
September 10, 2020 - 7:38 am
Drew Brees Saints

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By Shaun Morash

Cold Open

In a year of hardship, bad luck, and downright awful moments, the NFL has seemingly lucked out on timing. The pandemic hit the country hard a month after the Super Bowl, and the NFL never had to deal with rescheduling games. In fact, the timing of their free agency period and draft allowed the league to be the sports league to distract us from the horrible news on our televisions each day. Then when it came to social justice issues and police brutality, the NFL not being on the field playing games allowed them to not have to directly handle a potential boycot of a slate of games. Again, a PR win for the league.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that nobody is immune from hardship, so the NFL should expect to have to deal with an issue head on when it should surface. It could be a rash of positive tests; it could be a boycott of games should more social injustices arise. Roger Goodell has helped his perception this year, but that is tenuous at best.

I never understood the negativity around expecting the NFL to get this season going or even finish it. I was not in the camp of not trying to do this or expecting it to happen. The NFL is back and we should all be thankful, but expect the unexpected. Expect hiccups. I just hope Roger Goodell is as prepared as we should be as fans for all of this.

Ten Yard Gain

1-Relax on Bucs expectations just a bit. The last time playoff football was the cool thing to do in Tampa Bay was 2007, so I understand local excitement when the greatest quarterback of all time decides he is coming to play for you. Nationally, though, we need to take a deep breath and realize Tom Brady has become a deteriorating shell of himself over the last 18 months. At 43, that clock isn't going to be turned back often enough for the Bucs to be a Super Bowl team. Think more Joe Namath on the Rams for this one. 

2-The Patriots have a bottom-five roster in the NFL. Bill Belichick is the ultimate "X-Factor" as a head coach. If this team finds its way to 10 or 11 wins, it will be his greatest coaching job to date. I am intrigued by Cam Newton and if he can still be Superman, but ultimately it feels like people are scared to admit the Patriots will be in the mix for Trevor Lawrence by virtue of picking at the top of the draft. Their roster says they will be.

3-The Cleveland Browns were the sexy, trendy, playoff pick just a year ago but have flown under the radar ahead of 2020. That should be a good thing for Baker Mayfield. In fact, it better be. It may be unfair to think any team with a new head coach and system can be a real contender in a COVID-19 year where so much time and preperation has been lost, but the lack of love the Browns are getting makes me believe in them a little more as a serious playoff threat.

4-The Colts and Steelers should be interesting teams to watch mainly because of their veteran quarterbacks and deteroriating ability. Much like my commentary on Tom Brady, I have very uneasy expectations for these two classic AFC contenders. One or both waving goodbye after a very down 2020 is very much a storyline to watch unfold this season. 

5-If Adam Gase doesn't find a way to keep Le'Veon Bell happy, that should be it for him as far as chances go as an NFL head coach. The Jets have less at the wide receiver position than any other team in the league. Sam Darnold is a quarterback who is being set up to fail when he has all the tools to become a top-10 quarterback. This falls on Gase now to allow Bell to be the weapon both on the ground and through the air that he once was in Pittsburgh. If his ego gets in the way, then get him the heck out before it is too late for Darnold. 

6-Mike McCarthy has enormous pressure on him to win right away in Dallas. The weapons are in abundance, Dak is the savior, the defense is seemingly loaded, and Jason Garrett was the scapegoat for failing to live up to expectations. The NFC East seems down again. If this isn’t a 12-win team, then maybe it wasn't Garrett's fault after all. 

7-Dynasty talk for the Chiefs should not be dismissed so quickly. Yes, in a salary cap era it is extremly hard to keep a core of a great team together. Patrick Mahomes inked his mega-deal this offseason, and in reality the Chiefs have not lost much off of their roster as of now. They can cash in now and for the next 2-3 years before the roster truly loses pieces. This Kansas City team is built much differently and has a different caliber of quarterback unlike we have ever seen. If they aren't a dynasty, we really may never see one again. 

8- My AFC Championship game pick, as a result, is the Chiefs upending the Texans. The AFC is weaker than many realize. The Texans will continue to succeed in spite of Bill O'Brien, but ultimately they will get throttled in this their biggest stage to date. 

9-My NFC Championship game pick will be the Saints over the Rams. I hate going chalk with the Saints, especially with so many letdowns over the past three years in the moment. I think the Rams surprise a bit and get back to this spot for a rematch of the robbery NFC Championship of two years ago. The Saints and Drew Brees get through at last.

10-My Super Bowl Pick, and I feel gross for doing this, the Chiefs repeat. In a year unlike any other we have ever seen before, constants at coach, QB, and system matter, as the two teams I predict ending up here show. But the Chiefs and Mahomes are on another level. The ability under center is Peyton Manning times ten, I mean that. Fire up the brisket and get ready to party again Kansas City. Just wear a mask when you do. 

​Five Games to Chew On

5) Cardinals @ 49ers: Betting sites across the country have Kyler Murray hovering at the top 10 in odds to win MVP. Year 2 could be exceptional for the young quarterback, especially with DeAndre Hopkins now on board. They played the 49ers frantic and tough in both meetings a year ago, seemingly having Kyle Shanahan’s number, just lacking for talent to come up with the win. This year could be different, and the idea of a Super Bowl-loss hangover is certainly one worth watching off the bat. 

4) Seahawks @ Falcons: Dan Quinn has more lives than the average house cat. The Falcons’ bandwagon is as empty as every NFL stadium will be this season, but at home on opening day maybe a sign of the Falcons from the past comes alive? Russell Wilson has yet to win a league MVP, the Seahawks have added Jamal Adams, they look loaded for a Super Bowl run of their own. This has a chance for some early afternoon fireworks. 

3) Packers @ Vikings: Kirk Cousins and the Vikings got a monkey off their back with a Wild Card win a year ago, but their season ended with a thud in San Francisco. Gone is Stefon Diggs; in is Justin Jefferson. The Vikings defense should still be helacious, yet after saying all of that it is as if many forget the Packers did play themselves into an NFC Championship Game last season. Aaron Rodgers has to have a chip on his shoulder following the drafting of Jordan Love. Will that translate to an MVP-caliber season?

2) Bucs @ Saints: Two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time square off for the first of two meetings this year. We aren't too far removed from Ryan Fitzpatrick's Bucs upsetting the Saints on Opening Day. Boy, how the rosters have changed. These are the two favorites in this very good division. Can the Bucs come out of the Super Dome laughing at the doubters?

1) Cowboys @ Rams: Sunday Night Football opens the palace that is SOFI Stadium in LA. The Rams would have made the playoffs a season ago had the new seven-team-per-conference format been in place. They are looking to get their edge back and Sean McVay's credit as an offensive genius back. Expect a lot of points and fireworks for two NFC teams with big dreams in 2020. 

My Picks

A fresh slate for me this season after finising last year three games above .500. For Week 1:

Bills -6.5 vs Jets: The Bills come in with expectations, as the early '90s have met the 2020s. I may remain skeptical of just how good Buffalo will be this year, but the Jets with no Jamal Adams or C.J. Mosley on that defense this year and no offensive weapons except for Le'Veon Bell should struggle early in 2020. The Bills defense should be thumping and ready to go. This game will look and feel ugly. A 17-6 type of win still gets the cover, though. 

Dolphins +6.5 @ Patriots: The Patriots are getting Belichick respect with this spread, but with so many COVID opt-outs, a defense that is a shell of what it was a year ago, no Tom Brady, and a major "if" with Cam Newton in place laying near a touchdown versus the team that ruined their chance at a playoff bye in Week 17 last year is way too much. Ryan Fitzpatrick succeeds in September before he fails later in the year. Miami goes into New England and beats the Patriots outright. (If they don't, the spread is still too high not to hide behind.)

Rams +3 vs Cowboys: The bettors love the Cowboys once again. Look at Dallas lines in September closely annually; they scream Cowboys fans across the country excitedly throwing money on their team skewing a line. The Rams are still a dangerous team that ran into a Super Bowl hangover. They should score plenty of points Sunday, and Aaron Donald will neutralize the Cowboys offense just enough for the Rams to win this game outright.

Football Food of the Week

I would like to take recommendations from all of our DA Show listeners and Up The Gut readers this year for our Food of the Week. So let's go right to one of my favorite listeners in Week 1. It is Adrianna in Boise, Idaho. She gives us some real key items: meat, gooey cheese, and buttery warm bread. Yeah, if that sounds like Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, and CeeDee Lamb, it is totally that kind of offense:

Pizza Crescent Rolls, as stated by Adrianna:

Pizza crescent rolls- super easy, not exactly culinary genius but they're good snack food. Get a roll of pillsbury crescent dough, string cheese, and pepperoni. Break apart the crescent rolls into the precut triangles. Unwrap the string cheese and cut in half. You will use one half per crescent piece. Put 5-6 pepperoni on each crescent piece and one half of the string cheese and roll up. Bake according to the crescent roll packaging and the string cheese will become gooey mozzarella similar to stuffed crust pizza. I brush garlic butter on top and serve with marinara. Can alter what you put on the insides but you get the idea. Easy snack pizza, better than bagel bites.​

Thanks for reading everyone. Remember, if you have Football Foods of the Week suggestions, drop them on Twitter @MrazCBS.