Chip Kelly is not insane.
Sure, it's weird that a Machiavellian, transformational leader of men is named Chip -- but it's equally weird that a guy who's won 10 games in each of his first two NFL seasons needs to be defended. Anyway, lemme try to do so here.
We know the surest way to a Lombardi Trophy in the 21st century includes having an elititudinous quarterback on the roster. Nine of the last 15 Super Bowl winners have featured a guy of the highest elitiosity under center: Tom Brady (four), Ben Roethlisberger (two) and Peyton Manning/Drew Brees/Aaron Rodgers (one each).
So yes, having a great QB is important ... but it's not essential. (Good thing, because -- as detailed here -- we can't find even 20 guys to play the position effectively, despite living on a planet with seven billion human beings.) There is one other path to the top of the football mountain, one that has been taken by this century's other six Super Bowl winners*: rugged defense complemented by a strong running game. Yes, the teams on that list include the Ravens (two), Giants (two), Buccaneers and Seahawks (one each).
[ I recognize the 2011 Giants are the exception to my rule, so let's either write this outlier off as Eli Manning just having Tom Terrific's number or acknowledge Big Blue's defense and running game both turned it on against elevated competition in January. While I'm beating you to the counterpunch, I also know the first Super Bowls won by Brady and Roethlisberger were owed more to their teams' defenses and complementary running games, but it doesn't nullify the overall point. In fact, it helpsmakeit.]*
Anyhoo, if I can figure this out, I assume Chip Kelly can, too. Maybe he assumed he couldn't acquire -- or didn't want to acquire -- any of the league's aging elite QBs. And maybe that's why the offensive innovator instead focused the Eagles' resources on building a (much) better defense and snatching up a couple of RBs who -- if nothing else -- better fit his desired approach (read: north-south) than the departed Shady McCoy.
Another point in Chip's defense: His detractors accuse him of thinking his system is more important than the talent of his players -- but take a closer look. Kelly swapped third-rounder Nick Foles for No. 1 overall selection/2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford. At worst, Bradford's pedigree is higher. At best, Bradford is positioned to return to his rookie form with the help of his first pro offensive coordinator (and now-PHI OC) Pat Shurmur. While we're on the ROY topic, 2013 defensive runner-up Kiko Alonso gives Philly a dynamic talent in the middle of its defense -- which now has playmakers at every level, guys like Mychal Kendricks, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Byron Maxwell (even if he is a little overpaid) and Malcolm Jenkins.
The departure of Jeremy Maclin, like that of DeSean Jackson, feels grim, but remember: Both receivers had far and away their best respective seasons under Kelly. Neither is an irreplaceable talent. And with another WR-rich draft upcoming, look for Kelly to prove that. Meantime, the pass-catching cupboard isn't bare in Philly: Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Riley Cooper are three big, capable targets for Bradford, and Jordan Matthews returns for his second pro season after logging six TD grabs in November/December.
I can understand why the glasses of some longtime Iggles fans might be half-empty after so many decades of frustration. But if these players can catch a break and not break, pull, sprain, tear or otherwise hurt as many body parts as last year's team did, those fans will be toasting Chip's second NFC East title with full glasses of Yuengling. (Or would it be Hop Devil IPA?)
Then again, it's just March. I don't have any sources telling me these things. I'm not spending much time doing film work. I use my gut. Some artists work in oils, others work with clay. I use reckless speculation (reckless SHEKulation??). And now that I'm warmed up, I might as well keep going:
Saints will move up to draft Marcus Mariota (and might deal Drew Brees).
Battista: Extreme makeover in NOLA
As you've no doubt noticed, the Mickey Loomis/Sean Payton brain trust, which spent the last several years jamming the roster with lousy contracts, has spent the last couple of weeks trying to purge those deals and, apparently, remake the team's identity. They've notably brought back Mark Ingram and inked C.J. Spiller to go along with promising sophomore WR Brandin Cooks, moves that are certain to inform a new offensive approach going forward. They've also added a second first-round draft pick (along with center Max Unger, in exchange for Jimmy Graham).
From the outside looking in, then, the Saints are pulling the Band-Aid off quickly. So why not go all the way and reboot the franchise at the sport's most important position by combining those two first-round selections for the Oregon QB? In fact, why not unburden themselves of the albatross that is Drew Brees' weighty contract? I know this is hard to hear, Saints fans, but your 36-year-old hero is coming off a down year (by his standard, at least) and brings a $26.4 million cap hit this year ... plus an even bigger one in 2016. Maybe the team can scratch out a division title this season, but -- hold your laughter -- the NFC South isn't guaranteed to be crummy in 2015 just 'cause it was in 2014. (In fact, bounceback seasons for Carolina, Atlanta and Tampa Bay all seem plausible.) Either way, if Loomis is being honest with himself, he knows a Lombardi isn't within reach this year. Right now might be the right time to send Brees to the Redskins or Jets -- whose owners both like making a PR splash -- while transitioning to a new era.
The Texans will be one of the four best teams in the AFC.
No, this isn't based on the triumphant emergence of Jadeveon Clowney (which isn't to say he won't deliver on all that potential as soon as this autumn). Even without last year's first overall pick, Houston's defense is terrific -- and will be improved by the addition of safety Rahim Moore and (to a lesser extent) Vince Wilfork. Arian Foster's in a bemusing category where even some "experts" fail to recognize him as one of the league's best, most complete RBs. The fact is, though, when Foster's healthy, the Texans win. A lot. DeAndre Hopkins was the team's best receiver even before Andre Johnson was shown the door. And now the team has its quarterback. Yeah, my glass is half-full on Ryan Mallett, but he's a first-round talent who slipped because of his naughty behavior as a student-athlete. And after four training camps learning at the knee of Tom Brady, I'm guessing he's ready to flourish. Then again, maybe Brian Hoyer (who has some experience competing with talented-but-troubled younger QBs) will win the job. Either way, the only thing that'll keep Bill O'Brien and his growing collection of ex-Patriot players and coaches from a home playoff game is the bad Luck of being in the same division as the Colts.
Running backs Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon will BOTH go in Round 1.
The blight of Trent Richardson is now hidden in the shadows of Oakland ... while the success of second-rounders-who-shoulda-been-first-rounders Eddie Lacy and Le'Veon Bell serves as evidence that high-end talent at RB shouldn't be passed over just 'cause the NFL is allegedly a passing league. Give a long look at the 2013 draft. How many of the guys taken in the first round would you want over Lacy or Bell? (I'll wait here -- it won't take you long to put your list together.) Playoff contenders in San Diego and Dallas certainly will give a long look at 2015's two best prospects at the position -- and teams like the Jets and Jags would be wise to do so, too.
The Broncos will miss the playoffs.
Denver was the conference's most talented team as recently as January, but the Broncos flopped in the postseason because of an injured/over-the-hill (?) Peyton Manning and, as NFL Media's Bucky Brooks asserts, a general lack of toughness. Now the team has lost 2012 scapegoat Rahim Moore, run stuffer "Pot Roast" Knighton, versatile O-lineman Orlando Franklin and TD maker Julius Thomas (who, you might have heard, played college basketball). Meantime, the Chiefs, Chargers and even the Raiders (!) have closed the gap in the race for the West. Don't be surprised when the Bolts take the top spot. Unless K.C. takes it.
The Patriots will also miss the playoffs ... if Gronk can't stay healthy.
While most people buried New England after they got bludgeoned by K.C. last September, I said the Pats would end up where they always do (in the postseason, with a bye) so long as Rob Gronkowski could get back to good health. He did, and they did. Gronk is the league's most important Jenga piece among non-QBs: Take him out of the Pats' depth chart, and the whole thing collapses. Like a lot of big guys, Gronk has already taken a beating from defenders desperate to bring him down.
With the 2015 defense almost guaranteed to drop off following the loss of Darrelle Revis, the offense will have to take on more of the load. That'll be tougher than it's been because of the significant improvements each of their three division foes have made. (Side prediction: The AFC East will replace the NFC West as the league's best defensive division.) Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are worthy of all the praise they get, but they've also gotten the perennial benefit of crummy competition in the East. That inordinate advantage looks like it's gone ... and their usual seat in the playoffs will also be gone if Gronk isn't present all season long.
The Ravens will finish no better than third in the AFC North.
Pretty simple here: The Steelers and Bengals are more talented right now. Baltimore has parted ways with Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith and last year's offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak. Terrell Suggs is 32, Elvis Dumervil is 31 and Steve Smith is ... a great guy. (He's also going into his 15th season after tailing off in the second half of what was, overall, a nice 2014.) Yes, Pittsburgh has some holes, too (at OLB and CB), but they're the same ones the Steelers had last year -- when they won the division.