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 articulate 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 is my take on why I'm not buying the hype on one NFC team.
During this time of year, everybody is making predictions and projections. It's wonderful; every NFL team is going 9-7 or 10-6 and will be challenging for the playoffs! Or it just seems that way. And one of the hottest picks this offseason have been the San Francisco 49ers. But again, I don't see it.
Now, I have nothing against the 49ers. Outside of them denying Walter Payton a touchdown in the Super Bowl. (It's a long story, and my dad tells it way better, so let's just move on.) Hell, one of my favorite players in the league is George Kittle, the guy who broke the ancient, long-standing record for receiving yards for a tight end. A mark that stood nearly 50 or 60 ... minutes before he took that record from Travis Kelce. Not to mention, Kittle might be a bigger wrestling mark than me. There is no beef there, kayfabe or otherwise.
I'm just having a hard time putting the 49ers in the upper half of the NFC. I love Jimmy Garoppolo, my dude from Arlington Heights, Illinois, which is not too far from my birthplace of Schaumburg. Love him, but it's got to be tough love. He's never started more than seven games in an NFL season. He closed out 2017 with five consecutive wins after being traded to the 49ers and has the best winning percentage since 2016 (.800) among quarterbacks to have started 10-plus games in that span, but he's coming off a devastating knee injury that ended his 2018 campaign after three brief appearances. In Week 1, he threw three interceptions against the Vikings. He avoided disaster against the Lions in Week 2, though he looked timid as he was sacked six times (including three that came in the red zone). Garoppolo also threw an interception late that would have cost the 49ers the game if it hadn't been nullified by a holding penalty. I will say he was looking great against the Chiefs in Week 3, but the Chiefs' defense was "Madden" rookie level last year. Just being honest. Garoppolo is still developing as a quarterback. He's going to be very good in this league, but it's a process.
When it comes to the team's pass catchers, like I said, Kittle is my dude. But outside of him, I can't identify any of the receivers. I mean, I can, because it's my job. But the layperson would be hard-pressed to name one, which is kind of depressing for a team that has had guys like Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Isaac Bruce in its history. And yes, I might be joking about Bruce, but he would be the best receiver on this team. Like, modern-day Isaac Bruce at age 46. That's not to say Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd aren't talented. Hurd especially is an intriguing prospect, but he's still a prospect at this point.
Then you have the defense. It ranked 28th in scoring last year by allowing 27.2 points per game. And remember, the 49ers had seven takeaways last year. SEVEN. That was the fewest takeaways in a season in NFL history. The unit had just two interceptions as a team last year, while 98 players across the league had at least two interceptions last year. To add insult to insult, the 49ers allowed 35 touchdown passes last year. It's one of those things where you're like, "Hey, it can't be this bad forever." Which is the same sentiment I have every time they make a new Superman movie. (Although "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" was good, just about 30 minutes too long.)
This is the NFL. The 49ers could win 12 games and it wouldn't surprise me. They could also win three. But you have the Rams and Seahawks already in the division. The Cardinals are going to be much better than people think they are. In fact, Kyler Murray is going to be like Lamar Jackson, but in a more dynamic offense. So I need to be convinced more regarding the 49ers.
ONE TEAM I AM DIGGING: THE BUFFALO BILLS
I know, I'm a weirdo. Josh Allen is more unproven than Garoppolo at this point, even though they've started just about the same amount of NFL games. Allen ranked last in completion percentage (52.8) among qualifying quarterbacks last season. And only Josh Rosen was worse in passing yards per game, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating. Seriously, Allen's passer rating was 67.9 last year. Although I will point out that he completed 17 of 26 passes for 224 yards and three passing touchdowns to go along with 95 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns against the Dolphins in Week 17.
But he's a risk, I know.
And his receiving corps doesn't have a George Kittle, but I do like what they have in John Brown. Allen likes to heave the ball deep, and, per Next Gen Stats, Brown averaged more than 16.3 air yards per target last season, the fifth-highest among qualifying wide receivers. So I like that. The Bills also committed to protecting Allen by adding seven offensive linemen between free agency and the draft.
But the reason I'm leaning toward the Bills is the defense. Thanks to the Giants and Raiders making surprise picks in the draft (I didn't say bad picks, but they were sort of surprise picks), the Bills landed DT Ed Oliver to fill in for the retired Kyle Williams. Oliver had 54 tackles for loss from 2016 to '18 at Houston, the second-most among FBS players.
Oliver joins a unit that ranked second in total defense in 2018 (294.1 total yards allowed per game). They led the NFL with 179.2 passing yards per game allowed. They were great on third down. Tre'Davious White was one of just two players in the league with a defensive passer rating below 75.0 (71.8) and two or fewer touchdowns allowed in coverage on at least 70 targets, per NGS.
And the Bills were good without getting much pressure on the quarterback up the middle, which Oliver should help with.
DEREK CARR IS GOING TO BE REALLY GOOD THIS YEAR
I'm not there yet, David.
The Raiders' offense struggled last year, as they were both in the bottom third in scoring and total offense. But adding a player like Antonio Brown, who is easily the second-best receiver to ever play this game, will help. Brown has had at least 100 receptions, 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns in every season since 2013. Nobody has ever done that in the history of the NFL. NOBODY. Hell, the Raiders haven't had a receiver with at least 1,200 receiving yards since Jerry Rice in 2002.
And that's the thing. I liken Brown's arrival to Rice's back in the day. The biggest difference is, Brown is about a decade younger than Rice when he joined the Raiders. Rice helped take journeyman Rich Gannon to the NFL MVP award in 2002.
Let's be honest. We're not far removed from Carr and his magical 2016 performance, when he threw for nearly 4K with 28 touchdowns and six picks. Last season, he set career highs in completion percentage (68.9 percent) and passing yards (4,049). He did have a career-low 19 touchdown passes, but Brown and Tyrell Williams immediately change that.
So like I said, David, I'm not there yet. YET.