Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.
In this space, I'll be articulating a handful of positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Here are my takes on each AFC team heading into the 2018 season (we'll hit the NFC on Wednesday) ...
BUFFALO BILLS: Sean McDermott is working against you.
He's too good of a coach. I mean, I loved the team's reaction in the locker room after they
backed in earned their playoff bid. I love the fans. You guys rock, and I can appreciate you as somebody who loved to watch Tommy Dreamer dive through tables in ECW. But what did that playoff appearance really net you? You're not better. Hell, you were outscored by 57 points last year. Now you mortgaged the future for Josh Allen. Which is fine. If it works out. You could have just gone 5-11 like the Jets and ended up with Sam Darnold. Now, you get to face him twice a year.
Tannehill was pretty good in Adam Gase's first season. He had the best year of his career with a completion percentage of 67.1 and a 93.5 passer rating. The Dolphins even made the playoffs that season. Yet, it seems like people still blame Tanny for last year's debacle -- even though he didn't play. It's like when work goes to hell on your day off, and you return and have to deal with the fallout. That's not cool. Tannehill is back and will be great this year, with a revamped offensive line to go with Kenyan Drake, Frank Gore, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. It's all set up for Tannehill, who is entering a make-or-break year ahead of a hefty salary-cap hit in 2019.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: You will be in the AFC Championship Game.
This isn't unpopular because it's unlikely. But it's unpopular because a lot (most) of you are sick of the Patriots. Which probably has to do with the Patriots always beating your favorite team. (No, not you, Giants fans.) But we're past the point where you can be all, "But the Patriots lost [insert player here]." Dude, they lose people every year. They won a Super Bowl without Gronk, for crying out loud. As long as we have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, we will have them in the championship game. Deal with it.
NEW YORK JETS: You actually have a good receiving corps.
You ever notice when people say "actually," it's really a low-key put-down? Like, "Hey Rank, this was actually a good idea." As if it was unexpected. So it might be a little unexpected to hear this about the Jets' receiving corps, but it's actually pretty good. Robby Anderson became a deep threat for the Jets last year (and made Josh McCown an accurate deep-ball thrower) with six scores of more than 20 yards. He's on the cusp of being the 1,000-yard receiver the Jets have needed since 2015 (looming suspension or not). Jermaine Kearse and Quincy Enunwa are capable receivers. And then you have Terrelle Pryor, who, let's be honest, wasn't great last year.
Ah, man -- I always felt bad for Flacco. It wasn't his fault he became part of the "Is Joe Flacco elite?" narrative that has stood the test of time on Twitter. In truth, he had some amazing playoff runs a few years ago, but it was a back injury that derailed him. And back injuries are no joke. It has cost some of the great athletes of all time. Larry Bird ... Mario Lemieux ... Shawn Michaels. Legends. (I might have mentioned this all before.) It's been bad for Flacco over the last five years. His 82.1 passer rating over that time is the second-worst in the league. But nothing will quite motivate you like drafting Lamar Jackson. I'm not going to be shocked when "Is Joe Flacco Elite 2?" hits theaters this fall.
Oh my God. Burfict is that bad boyfriend/girlfriend that all of your friends have been begging you to end it with. Burfict is talented. But it's not like the Bengals are that much better with him than without him. They are 19-15-2 when he's on the field. They are 16-12 without him. As in, about the same -- just without the headaches that he routinely brings. So you need to let him go. And if you do, does that mean he's going to immediately join the Patriots and win the Super Bowl? Sure. But you can't have him on your team.
Only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have a better TD-to-INT ratio than Taylor in the last three seasons. Taylor has thrown 51 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions over that stretch. In fact, he's responsible for the fewest giveaways (21) of any regular starter since 2015. Shoot, Nathan Peterman gave away that many in one game. Sorry, that's not accurate. It was one half. Taylor is a franchise player in this league, and he needs to be given a chance. Unfortunately, that chance won't come in Cleveland, because Baker Mayfield will be the starter in Week 1.
The Steelers have done an amazing job staying competitive over the years, making smart financial decisions on players. Even if they have to let a great one go. Like Rod Woodson. Or even James Harrison last year. The situation with Le'Veon Bell seems different. I know, it's probably smart not to invest so much in a running back. But at the same time, it would be nice for the Steelers to try to win in Ben Roethlisberger's remaining window, instead of being content to finish 10-6 every year and get eliminated by the Patriots. You need to look at it like an anniversary dinner. Sure, you could probably save a few bucks going to Sizzler. But there are instances where you need to spring for the five-star on a special occasion.
Watson's passer rating of 103.0 was the second-highest in NFL history by a rookie with at least 200 pass attempts. You have to go all the way back to ... ah, shoot -- it was Dak Prescott. And if anybody wants to make that comparison, I'm going to have to stop you right there. It's like comparing Ric Flair to Ryback. Sure, they both list professional wrestler as their job on their taxes. But one is the damn G.O.A.T. The other is Ryback. When Watson started in Weeks 2-8 last season, the Texans had the top scoring offense (34.7). The Texans averaged 13 points without him.
I wouldn't give updates on Luck's health if I were the Colts. Take a tip from the WWE. Could you imagine the pop at Lucas Oil Stadium if Luck wasn't on the sidelines to start the game, but then rappelled from the rafters on the team's first series like he was vintage Sting or something? The place would go absolutely bananas. And it would probably be the only interesting thing the Colts are going to do this year, so you might as well take advantage.
I feel like no matter what Bortles does, he'll always be a punchline to a lot of you. Much like how you'll never let Adam Sandler live down "Jack and Jill," no matter how great he was in "Punch Drunk Love." Where he was awesome. But Bortles threw for 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the team's 10 wins last year. He had his bad games in the losses, but he was stellar during the playoffs. Showing some running skills against the Bills, throwing some dots against the Steelers and, let's be honest, if they call that Myles Jack play correctly, we could be talking about Super Bowl champion Blake Bortles. So, work on some new material, "The Good Place" on NBC. (Or don't. It is kind of funny.)
TENNESSEE TITANS: You are better off with Mike Vrabel at the helm.
All right, to be fair, it's hard to imagine few clamored for Mike Mularkey to retain his job. Outside of grizzled old-school broadcasters who speak in cliches like, "You don't fire a coach who wins a playoff game," everyone knew it was time to move on. Most were surprised when it was Vrabel, who doesn't have a ton of coaching experience, even at the coordinator level. The move I really loved was bringing in Matt LaFleur, who comes from the Los Angeles Rams with an actual modern offense. It's like upgrading to a Samsung Galaxy after trying to make calls with a toaster.
DENVER BRONCOS: You're better off in 2018 having not drafted a QB with the No. 5 overall pick.
I'm with Bucky Brooks, who recently wondered if Keenum is really a long-term answer for the Broncos. But the best thing you did for him was give him the job unequivocally. Because if Denver had drafted, say, Josh Rosen, Keenum would have looked over his shoulder after every errant pass, a quarterback controversy would have ensued, and the only thing Broncos fans would have to look forward to would be more of Von Miller's commercials. Now you have a good(ish) quarterback and paired Miller with Bradley Chubb. The Broncos were No. 3 in total defense last season, but struggled in pressuring the quarterback. That problem should be solved now.
Or at least the most exciting player since Michael Vick. I don't mean to say Alex Smith isn't exciting -- oh, wait, that's what I'm saying. But I don't mean that in a bad way. Alex is good. But that's about it. Alex Smith is like when your buddy says he's stopping for beers on the way over to your house and he shows up with Bud Light. You know exactly what you're going to get, and most likely it's going to get the job done. Mahomes is like a jalapeno-pineapple IPA that could be the greatest thing you've ever had in your life, or it's going to be something you take two sips of and leave behind the couch for somebody to find six months later. High risk, but definitely exciting.
The Chargers have already been stung with injuries to Hunter Henry and Jason Verrett, but the Eagles won a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback (no disrespect, Nick Foles), and that excuse no longer flies. The Chargers have way too much talent up and down the roster. Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen are a trio on par with The New Day. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are the best tag-team in the world -- well, maybe just behind the Young Bucks. It's been a long time coming for the Chargers, and it needs to happen this season.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: Jon Gruden is long-conning all of you.
I want this to be the case. Gruden made waves by saying he was going to take the game back to 1998, but he really didn't mean that [expletive], right? He's been connected to the game, so he can't be that out of touch ... right? I'd like to think that, but then he went out and invested in Jordy Nelson, who is the NFL receiving version of a fax machine. As in, it was ahead of the game at the time -- now it's merely a relic that you point at and say, "I remember when we used to use those." Add in the fact he's rarely spoken to Khalil Mack, and you get scared. Gruden said that if the Raiders don't win, he would refuse his salary. Now I'm worried that his children are going to have to make their own Christmas presents this year.