The Seahawks Play The Giants This Weekend

Before the season, this game looked a little scary.  The Giants were pegged to contend for the NFC East, Eli Manning had a bunch of cool weapons on offense to throw to, and a defense that looked remarkable in 2016 had a year’s worth of experience and an off-season of moves to better itself.  Then, the Giants started out 0-5, and all of a sudden this game looked like one of the easier matchups on the Seahawks’ schedule.  THEN, the Giants went into Denver as something like 13-point underdogs last Sunday night and somehow managed to not just win, but DOMINATE the Broncos 23-10.

And now this game is scary again?

I’ll admit, I didn’t watch a lick of that Giants/Broncos game.  Like most everyone in America, I expected the Broncos to win easily.  I don’t know if I necessarily expected a blowout, or even a cover of the point spread, but I did think we’d be in for a boring, grind-it-out game where the Broncos would win comfortably by 7-10 points or so (with still a reasonable chance of it being a blowout victory).  It feels impressive that the Giants were able to run for 148 yards and a 4.6 yards per carry average against a quality defense like the Broncos.  It feels even more impressive that the Giants were able to win at all, considering Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall were out and are officially lost for the season, but, you know, last week was a crazy fucking week.  A lot of underdogs won outright.  Hell, this SEASON has been fucking crazy with the underdogs; it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before!

But, I digress.  The question remains:  are the Giants good or not?  Obviously, with 5 losses in their first 6 weeks, and all their injury issues at wide receiver, it feels impossible for them to make the playoffs.  I’m sure they’ll give it the good ol’ college try, but I can’t see them finishing any worse than 8-2 over the next 10 games and still making the post-season.  With the Eagles at 5-1, that probably puts the division out of reach, so they’d have to hope for a Wild Card berth at 9-7 in that scenario, which isn’t impossible, but again, I don’t know if I see 8 more wins on their schedule.

The Giants lost on the road to the Cowboys and Eagles, which feels reasonable.  Those are a couple of good teams.  They lost at home to the Lions, which isn’t out of the question, as you’re talking about a playoff team from a year ago (largely the same as they were), and a team looking to compete for the NFC North.  But, then you tack on a road loss to the Bucs (who look bad) and a home loss to the Chargers (who look worse) and I gotta tell you:  I think the Giants are NOT good.

In which case, this should be a win for the Seahawks, right?  I’m not saying it’ll be easy.  They’ve still got a quality defensive line that should give us fits (as they all do).  But, I mean, where are they getting their points from this Sunday?  Their best and healthiest offensive weapon is rookie tight end Evan Engram, who legitimately looks like he could be one of the better players at his position.  Second year wideout Sterling Shepard should be returning from an ankle injury, so there’s another.  But, I mean, come on.  I know we like to joke around about the Seahawks’ defense sucking against tight ends, but we’ve actually been vastly improved this year!  It looks like Kam Chancellor has taken more of an active role in guarding them one-on-one, and he’s shutting them down pretty good.  Instead of being the worst in the league, the Seahawks are right in the middle of the road, which is fine.  That sort of improvement is something you can take to the bank.  Engram will get his looks, but I hardly think he’ll be a dominant force like we’ve seen from other tight ends in years past.

As for Shepard, he looks okay, but he hasn’t made that leap to elite status (not with ODB hogging all the glory to date), and it’s questionable that he ever will.  He looks fine.  If Richard Sherman were to follow him all over the field, I have no question whatsoever that he’d be locked down, but something tells me that’s not the gameplan.  But, either way, Shaq Griffin has looked better and better every week, and I think he’d be fine against Shepard.

Which leaves their running game.  I know the Seahawks have gotten gashed this season, but that was by the likes of DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and Carlos Hyde.  Those are some of the most talented and productive running backs in the league this season!  That having been said, this defense used to eat even the very best running backs for breakfast, so getting gashed at all is of great concern.  But, Orleans Darkwa?  Wayne Gallman?  Shane Vereen?  I’m supposed to be quaking in my boots over this triad of suck?

Even when the Giants had all the receivers in the world, they weren’t able to run the ball effectively.  It’s only last week – when they had no one to throw to – where they put all their effort into the running game (and Denver mysteriously didn’t load up to stop it).  That one will puzzle me to my last breath, but I guess you could say that since the Giants over the last 2-3 years haven’t put any sort of running game whatsoever on tape, the Broncos just weren’t expecting it and had no evidence on how it could theoretically be stopped?

Well, it’s a good thing the Seahawks were on BYE last week, because they had nothing else going on last Sunday and were able to watch every minute of that game.

It’s also good, because I think you’re going to see incremental improvement in the Seahawks’ run defense over the next few weeks.  There’s been a lot of turnover on the D-Line.  Tony McDaniel is gone.  Ahtyba Rubin is gone.  Those guys were instrumental in stuffing the run the last couple seasons.  Jarran Reed is getting more playing time.  Naz Jones is a rookie.  And Sheldon Richardson is new to our system.  As they get more experience in practice and games, with gap assignments and whatnot, I expect this unit to gel and return to its run-stopping roots.

So, I mean, if we stop the Giants’ running game, what do they have left?  Eli Manning?  Please.  He should be lunch meat, with or without Cliff Avril.

Speaking of which, that’s a really sad case right there.  Avril was knocked out of the Indianapolis game a few weeks back with a neck/spine issue (he was seen, right after the hit, shaking his arm as if he’d lost all feeling, which is pretty terrifying for him).  Ever since, he’s apparently been seen by every doctor on the planet, and it’s looking more and more like he’s headed for surgery and the Injured Reserve.  At which point, he’d be eligible to return in mid-to-late December.  But, given the nature of the injury, and the uncertainty around the surgical procedure, it’s possible he misses the rest of the year entirely.

It’s also possible he’s played his final game in the NFL, which is the biggest bummer of all.

It’s a serious blow to this defense, but not one that’s impossible to overcome.  It means stripping away some of our depth at a position of strength, which is always a bad thing.  It also means more of a role for Frank Clark.  It remains to be seen how that will change things.  Will more Frank Clark allow him an opportunity to step up and become a star in this league?  If so, that’s fantastic.  But, does a little Frank Clark go a long way, and will we see a decline in his production on a per-snap average due to overuse?

Avril is a stalwart.  He’s a pro.  You can always count on him.  He’s also still right there in the prime of his career, as pass-rushing defensive ends tend to age pretty well in this league compared to other positions.  Clark is still young, still learning, still growing.  I don’t believe he’s yet reached his full potential.  Here’s to hoping this accelerates his development and he becomes one of the greats in this league by season’s end.

As for the Seahawks’ offense, your guess is as good as mine.  That second half against the Colts feels more and more like an anomaly against a really bad team.  Say what you want about the Giants as a whole, but that defense isn’t bad.  I think they’re every bit as capable of making our lives miserable as the Rams, 49ers, and Packers.  In which case, I guess we’re in for another slow Russell Wilson start, another shitty performance by the running game, with the only signs of life coming in the final two minutes of each half.

Can we win this one 14-9?  With that Giants offense, I’d be furious if they reached double digits in points, so I’ll go out on a limb and say yes.  But, while a 14-9 victory is still a victory, and you’ll take them however you can get them, it’s still not something that inspires hope.

A good Seahawks team would come out and blow the doors off, winning 44-3 or some damn thing.  But, I can’t imagine a scenario where we don’t get more of the same.  For the same fucking reasons.

Only now, we’re down our second-best offensive lineman in Luke Joeckel (who used his BYE week to have a cleanup surgery on his knee, and will be out for a month or so).  In his place, we’re looking at a combo of Mark Glowinski (the starter at LG last season) and rookie Ethan Pocic (whose natural position is center, and who doesn’t really have much college experience on the left side of the line).  For the record, I expect Glowinski to get the start and the lion’s share of the snaps.  I also expect him to struggle, and within a week or two I expect Pocic to take over that job until Joeckel returns.  Hopefully I’m proven wrong.  Hopefully Glowinski takes his recent demotion from the RG spot to heart and returns like a rabid pitbull.  But, I just don’t think he has the talent to be a starter in this league.  Doesn’t mean he can’t have a long and pointless career as a backup (or move on to another team in the future and have great success, because he’s just not cut out for Tom Cable’s zone blocking scheme).

At running back, I think we’re all hoping for Thomas Rawls to take the bull by the horns, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see a steady stream of handoffs to Eddie Lacy.  For what it’s worth, I still like Lacy and I think he fits this offense pretty well.  I think he’s a volume-dependant running back though, and I just don’t know if this offense, with this O-Line, has what it takes to give him the volume of carries he needs to succeed.

Here’s to hoping Russell Wilson gets some time to throw, though, because I think some serious gains can be had in the passing game.  The Giants are TERRIBLE against opposing tight ends, so you’d think Jimmy Graham would have a field day.  And, if they sell out to stop him, then it should open up opportunities for Baldwin, Richardson, and Lockett.  Again, though, Russell needs time to throw.  We’ll see.

All these games are important, but this one really feels big.  The Giants are still banged up, we’re coming off of a BYE, yeah it’s on the road across the country, but it’s a late afternoon game and we’ve had a lot of success playing in this stadium.  It’s also a conference game, which becomes vitally important for playoff seeding.  And, not for nothing, but the Rams went on the road and beat the Jags last week, regaining sole possession of first place in the NFC West.  They play Arizona in London this Sunday and could very well be 5-2 when the weekend is over.  We need to win just to keep pace with the Rams!  Who could’ve ever predicted saying that sentence before the season started?

Players To Watch In Super Bowl XLIX

You know who the big dogs are on the Seattle Seahawks.  The top ten, in some order, looks like this:

  • Russell Wilson
  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Bobby Wagner
  • Earl Thomas
  • Richard Sherman
  • Kam Chancellor
  • Michael Bennett
  • Doug Baldwin
  • Cliff Avril
  • Max Unger

So, I’m not going to sit here and tell you why all these guys are important.  You KNOW why.

This one’s dedicated to the specific Patriots we should probably be concerned with heading into the game next week.  These are the guys everyone will be talking about until this low simmer we’re all on ratchets up to a huge boil.

Let’s start with Tom Brady, because why not?  He’s the only sure-thing Hall of Famer on that team (though, there are some other possibilities, that we’ll get to).  Tom Brady has been one of the best quarterbacks in football pretty much since he took over the starting job with New England in 2001.  His career passer rating is 95.9 – which is outstanding – and he hasn’t even really missed a beat.  In 2014, he had his usual gaudy numbers, adding up to a passer rating of 97.4.  And, with the exception of a few peak years with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Brady has done all of this with a largely anonymous group of receivers (sound familiar?).

Tom Brady is a quarterback who clearly makes the people around him better.  He has an unquestioned dedication to the game of football and that’s why his teams have always gone to the playoffs and why they’ve had so much success once they’ve gotten there.  Also, it doesn’t hurt that the rest of the AFC East has largely been one big shitshow the entire time, but that’s neither here nor there.

Unlike Manning, Brady doesn’t run his own offense.  He’s not his own offensive coordinator.  If it’s going to help the team win, Brady is more than willing to defer to the running game, if that’s what it takes.  I guess that’s the difference between being a 6th rounder vs. a #1 overall draft pick.  I guess that’s the difference between being led by one of the most successful and talented head coaches in NFL history (even if he is a big, lousy cheater sometimes) vs. a random smattering of guys who are more than willing to let their star quarterback just do his own thing.

Brady is dangerous in the same way that Russell Wilson is dangerous, in the fact that all they care about is winning, at any cost.  It just so happens that Brady has never REALLY had a dominating running game to defer to.  He’s never had a Marshawn Lynch to lean on.  Early in his career, though, Brady DID have an outstanding defense backing him, which was the real driving force in their three Super Bowl titles.  As Brady emerged from that early period in his career, the talent on defense diminished, so he was required to do more.  And, to his credit, he succeeded in almost every way.  That 2007 squad will go down historically as one of the very best teams of all time.  But, when shit got real, they were nipped by the Giants, and that’s that.

Nowadays, Brady doesn’t have the cannon he once did.  You’re not going to see the jump balls he threw to Randy Moss.  Part of that is the talent around him (Brandon LaFell isn’t anywhere near Randy Moss’s UNIVERSE), but part of that is just Brady getting older.  37 years old.  Over 50,000 yards on that arm.  In that respect, he is like Manning, or a latter-day Marino.  He’s going to hang around in that pocket (when he’s not sneaking for that first down on 3rd- & 4th-&-inches), he’s going to rely on rhythm passing from 0-10 yards in front of him, and he’s going to try to dictate tempo by going hurry-up to keep the defense on its heels and tired.

We saw this last year!  None of this is new!  We were worried about the same damn thing with the Broncos and it ended up being a non-issue!  Tom Brady CAN be affected if you get in his face.  You don’t necessarily want to send wave after wave of blitzers after him, but then again, maybe you do.  I mean, the Jets seem to have the Patriots pretty well figured out, and they’ve been running out a Junior Varsity quarterback out there for the last couple decades!  All Rex Ryan DOES is blitz!  I’m not saying that’s what the Seahawks will do – we tend to be among the least-blitzing teams in the NFL, in spite of our mascot’s name – but in theory, if things start getting hairy, it’s not a bad idea.  Let our corners press, and start throwing five and six guys after him on the reg.

If you let Tom Brady stand there all day, he’s going to pick you apart.  Unlike Manning – who’s so afraid of taking a hit that his internal clock is running on fast-forward at all times – Brady will hang in the pocket as long as necessary.  It’s not what he wants, I’m sure, but if the defense is going to press and bump receivers off of their routes, then we’re going to have to punish Brady accordingly for having the gall to wait it out until they get open.

I don’t necessarily see this as a game where the Patriots are going to try to slug it out with us on the ground.  We’re not the Colts, who are a wet paper bag when it comes to stopping the run.  Of course, we’re not necessarily the Ravens either – who make it a point to go all out in stopping the run.  We are who we are.  We’re going to stop your run the same way we stop everyone else’s run.  So, in that sense, I wouldn’t expect the Pats to completely abandon it the way they did in the second half of that Ravens game, but at the same time, we’re probably going to get a heavy dose of passing regardless.  On the year, Brady threw the ball 36 times per game.  That’s about what I’d expect out of this one as long as it remains close.  If it gets out of hand one way or another, figure to add or subtract about 15 to that total.

Pressure Brady, and everything else should fall into place.  A great way to do that?  Put the lockdown on Gronk.

The Pats have four primary receiving threats.  Here’s what they looked like in the regular season:

  • Rob Gronkowski:  82 catches, 1,124 yards, 12 TDs
  • Julian Edelman:  92 catches, 972 yards, 4 TDs
  • Brandon LaFell:  74 catches, 953 yards, 7 TDs
  • Shane Vereen:  52 catches, 447 yards, 3 TDs

Gronk’s just a beast.  He broke out in his rookie year of 2010 with 10 TDs, then turned into a total monster in 2011 with over 1,300 yards and 17 TDs.  The two subsequent years were marred by injuries and he lost large swaths of playing time.  You had to wonder if he would even be able to return to the game.  At the beginning of this year, it seemed like the team was a little too overly-tentative with him.  He’d be off the field for huge chunks of games and the offense struggled accordingly.  In the first four weeks, he had 13 catches for 147 yards and 3 TDs, while mostly playing around the red zone.

After the Pats got crushed by the Chiefs and fell to 2-2, they had no choice but to let Gronk do his thing.  The Patriots won 7 in a row and 10 of 11 overall to close out the regular season, with Gronk putting up the following numbers in that span:  69 catches, 977 yards, and 9 TDs (with an average of approximately 6 catches, 89 yards, and just under a TD per game).  Absolutely unreal.

As you can tell, Gronk IS the red zone offense for this team.  If I were a gambling man, I’d put a very large chunk of money on Gronk scoring a TD in this game, with a good portion of that on him scoring the FIRST touchdown in the game.  I’m sure you’d hardly win a damn thing on that wager, but what are you gonna do?

Seahawks fans are going to sit here and say, “Well, we’ve dismantled guys like Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas; I’m not worried about Gronk!”  That would be a mistake.  Guys like Graham and Thomas are glorified, slow-footed wide receivers.  They’re soft.  Breathe on ’em wrong and they’ll go home crying to mama.  Gronk is built more in the Tony Gonzalez & Antonio Gates mold.  Remember those guys?  Remember how they were able to pick apart our defense for huge catches and scores?  Those guys thrive on contact, as does Gronk.

People are going to talk about the Gronk & Chancellor matchup, and believe you me, I’ll be looking forward to it as much as anyone else.  There’s nothing I’d like to see more than for Bam Bam to knock Gronk on his ass.  But, the underlying theme will be people talking about Kam shadowing Gronk all day, and that’s just not the case.  That’s not how the Seahawks operate.  We’re going to stick a linebacker on him just like most teams.  Since our linebackers – especially K.J. Wright – are better in coverage than most teams, we should be able to prevent Gronk from racking up a ton of yards.

But, it’s in that red zone where I’m worried.  When they opt to run Gronk out wide, with someone like Simon or Maxwell on him.  Good cover guys, sure, but I could see our corners draped all over him like a Snuggie and see him STILL come down with the ball at the goalline.

Don’t dismiss this guy just because he’s annoyingly awesome and you’d LOVE him if he was on the Seahawks.  To keep the Pats in check, we’ve got to keep Gronk in check, and that’s all there is to it.

Edelman is their possession guy.  Their Doug Baldwin, if you will.  On third down, Brady has two targets:  if Gronk is double teamed, or otherwise covered, he’s looking for Edelman in a crossing route or out in the flat.  We HAVE to control this guy.  If the Pats start converting a ton of third downs, it’s likely going to be because Edelman is getting open and squirming his way to the first down marker.

What I expect the Seahawks to do is put Jeremy Lane on him all day.  This more or less worked out okay last week, with Lane doing the heavy lifting on Randall Cobb.  Aside from the touchdown, Cobb was held to 6 catches for 49 yards.  Throw that TD into the mix, and Cobb still only had 7 catches for 62 yards, so it’s not like he was this unstoppable force (I think, too, Lane either fell down or ran into someone on that TD; but, that’s going off of memory and I’m too lazy to go back and watch it again).

Here’s the deal:  Edelman is no Cobb.  Cobb is probably the best slot receiver in the game.  Edelman is good, but he’s really just a poor man’s Welker.  I don’t think the Seahawks are sunk if we leave Lane on him.

What I’d LIKE the Seahawks to do is put Maxwell on him all day.  Maxwell is taller, with longer arms, but he’s still a strong presence as our nickel corner.  If the Seahawks are able to shut down Edelman, and roll coverage to Gronk to minimize his impact, I just don’t see any way the Patriots are able to move the ball consistently.

Brandon LaFell is a real wild card.  His overall numbers this year are MUCH better than I was expecting.  He’s their deep threat, if the Patriots even have a deep threat.  LaFell – while playing for the Panthers the last few years – was never really much of a problem for us.  The types of catches he makes – on fade routes and other types of throws into the corner – are the types of balls we defend the best.  I can’t imagine LaFell gets even a LOOK if he’s lined up on Sherman’s side.  I could, however, see him getting a good chunk of targets if he’s opposite Sherman, and he’s being guarded by the likes of Tharold Simon.

See, there’s a risky game to play if the Seahawks shadow Edelman with Maxwell, and that’s Simon on LaFell.  I like Simon, I think he would win most matchups against someone like LaFell, but I think if he’s out there, he’s GOING to get picked on, and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a huge penalty or otherwise a big catch going New England’s way.

So, maybe stick with Maxwell on the outside.  Either way, if we’re assignment-sound, I wouldn’t expect to have too much trouble with their passing game.  It’s just:  can we get off the field?  That’s going to require winning on first & second down, and that’s going to require tight coverage on third down.

As for Shane Vereen, I’m not too concerned.  He’s a poor man’s Darren Sproles, and we’ve been able to handle Sproles pretty well in our matchups with him.  I’d expect someone like Bruce Irvin to be big in this one, especially on early downs.

***

On defense, it starts with Darrelle Revis.  He’s not at his peak like he was with the Jets, but he’s still probably a Top 5 cornerback in this league.  It sounds like last week, they stuck Reggie Wayne on Revis Island and Wayne didn’t have an impact whatsoever.  Sounds pretty scary, until you remember the week before where the Ravens threw for nearly 300 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Don’t forget that Ravens game, because I think it’s really important.  The Ravens were VERY balanced, with 129 yards out of Forsett on the ground, topped off by a pretty good day out of Flacco.  Flacco didn’t shy away from Revis, just like Russell Wilson won’t.  The Ravens got beat because their defense – especially their secondary – can’t hold a flame to ours.  If we can get after the quarterback the way they did (the Ravens didn’t have a ton of sacks, but they hit Brady pretty good), I wouldn’t expect anywhere near the type of offensive success the Pats had in that game.

I expect Revis will follow Doug Baldwin all around the field.  So, look for Baldwin to have a pretty ineffective day.  That’s going to put more pressure on Kearse and the rest of our pass-catchers to pick their games up.  New England isn’t impossible to move the ball on, even with some of their relatively big names on defense.

Brandon Browner obviously comes to mind, but we know what to expect out of him.  He’s likely going to stick to a side – maybe even shadow Kearse all day – and put a hurtin’ on whoever comes near him.  Also, I wouldn’t be entirely shocked to see Browner slide inside and take on one of our tight ends.  A matchup I like even less than the Revis/Baldwin one is a Browner/Willson matchup.  I think Browner would eat our #1 tight end for lunch.  Hopefully, we get the Willson/Random Linebacker matchup I’ve been looking forward to all week.

Kyle Arrington is another guy to keep an eye on.  He’s another cornerback, and apparently is their speed guy (as he took on T.Y. Hilton last week).  I’d look for Arrington to spend his time looking after Lockette, which has the potential to be a nice little mismatch in our favor, as Lockette is 6’2 and Arrington is only 5’10.

Another big one to watch out for is Chandler Jones.  #95 in your programs, he’s a 6’5 monster of a defensive end.  While he only netted six sacks this year, he did miss some time with injury and has been a terrifying beast in the games I’ve seen.  I don’t recall offhand where he generally lines up, but I seem to have him squaring off against Britt in my mind’s eye.  I wish I knew more about his tendencies.  If he’s as aggressive as I think he is, I think we can take advantage of him in the read-option game.  I’d watch for him to crash hard on the fake to Lynch, with Wilson running right around him for big gains.

If only Percy Harvin wasn’t such a massive jack-hole, I could see the jet-sweep being a HUGE play for us, like it was in last year’s Super Bowl.  Why couldn’t we have just kept him inactive each and every week – and away from the team facility entirely – then busted him out for one game a year?

Next up, watch out for a pair of outside linebackers in Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.  Collins especially, #91.  That guy is a FREAK.  He’ll line up on Okung’s side, and could rush the passer or go out into coverage.  He led the team in tackles and really filled up the stat sheet.  I wouldn’t mind seeing us run right at him, to have him swallowed up in our zone blocking scheme, but I gotta wonder if that’s wise.  If he’s able to shed blocks, we might be looking at a long day running the ball.

That’s because the key to the whole defense is Vince Wilfork.  The mammoth nose tackle whose listed weight is 325, but is probably pushing 360.  The Ravens were successful rushing because they managed to run outside the tackles.  But, that’s not really the Seahawks’ game, as we like taking it right at you.  Max Unger and either James Carpenter or J.R. Sweezy will have their work cut out for them.  Considering Carpenter is the only guy on our line who could POSSIBLY move Wilfork’s wide body out of the way, I would expect Wilfork to shade toward Sweezy’s side of Unger.  If Wilfork’s taking up two blockers, that’s going to hurt our running game, because we depend so much upon Sweezy and other guys getting to the second level.

That’s why, again, I like our chances with the zone read.  If we can break off a 100-yard rushing day out of Russell Wilson, that’s going to start opening up things down the field.

If the Seahawks win this game, Russell Wilson will need to have a game for the ages.  Let’s hope he’s got one more left in him.

A Companion Post: Who Might Want Beastmode Besides Seattle?

One thing I failed to explore in the previous post is:  what’s the market look like for a guy like Marshawn Lynch?

Yes, the Franchise Tag is a good cost-cutting tool when trying to re-sign a player.  But, a complete and utter lack of teams desiring to sign an over-priced running back is probably the best thing the Seahawks could ask for.

Of course, on Lynch’s side, you’ve got the age-old adage:  it only takes one.

So, let’s just go around the league.  For starters, you can count out the NFC East.  Dallas has any number of quality young backs already locked in (including super-stud DeMarco Murray who is sure to be a fantasy god for years to come).  The Giants appear to be set with Bradshaw and whoever else behind him.  The Redskins have a nice little stable of young backs.  And the Eagles have Shady McCoy (and, I imagine, not a whole lot of cap room to boot).

In the NFC North, I’m banking my life-savings (and one of my fantasy keepers) on the fact that they will retain Matt Forte.  Minnesota obviously has one of the very best backs in the league.  The Detroit Lions, however, could be interesting.  All they’ve got on their roster right now is Jahvid Best, and he’s a fucking injury waiting to happen!  It’s certainly NOT a good sign that he ended his season with concussions last year.  And, you’d have to think that for a young team trying to cultivate this bad-ass attitude, a guy like Beastmode would slide right in nicely.  Even MORE interesting are the Green Bay Packers.  You’ve got a team with an all-world quarterback, with a shitload of receivers, and with absolutely no running game to speak of whatsoever.  Ryan Grant is a free agent who has played his last game with the green and gold; James Starks is good, but he’s no Beastmode.  I gotta think Lynch might be just the piece to put the right balance into that explosive offense.

The NFC South will be no competition.  Atlanta still has a lot of money tied up in Michael Turner.  New Orleans drafted the top running back last season (and they have other money tied up in three or four other guys); plus, theirs is not an offense that would make any sense for a guy like Lynch.  Carolina still has three running backs (including the guy who takes snaps from the center).  And Tampa is a young team that will never in a million years put in the money it would take to get Lynch.

As for the other teams in the NFC West:  San Francisco has Gore, St. Louis has Jackson, and Arizona has Wells.  They all seem pretty committed to their guys.

You know who scares me more than any other team in the NFL?  The New England Patriots.  Think about it, they were THIS close to winning it all this past season!  What were they missing?  What are they ALWAYS missing?  A balanced offensive attack!  Let’s face it, Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger.  Yes, I know the Patriots like to skimp on their running backs (just as they like to bank draft picks for future drafts), but at one point or another, they’re going to have to cash in before it’s too late.  That crack about Tom Brady not getting any younger:  the same can be said for him not getting any BETTER.  Tom Brady is as good as he’s ever going to be; it’s all downhill from here.  One of these seasons, his skills are going to erode.  He’s not going to see the open receiver soon enough, he’s going to force more and more balls into coverage, he’s going to take more and more hits from ferocious defenses looking to take out the guy while he’s on top.  The Pats could sure as shit use a guy like Lynch to take off some of the load.

And, don’t look now, but Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are both free agents.  They’re not going to hand the ball off to Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen 30 times a game!  Why WOULDN’T they make a huge push to get Lynch and start dominating the Time of Possession in every game?  What’s the downside here?

Elsewhere in the AFC East, the Dolphins are tied up with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, the Jets seem pretty happy with Shonn Greene and whatever young buck they’re going to slide behind him.  And, of course, the Bills have Jackson and Spiller (plus, duh, they’re the team that traded Lynch in the first place).

In the AFC North, you know damn well Baltimore is re-signing Ray Rice, so forget about it.  The Steelers would be an AWESOME fit for a guy like Beastmode, but they’re still stuck with Mendenhall (plus, they NEVER fork over money on free agents).  Cincy won’t fork over the money it’ll take either.  And the Browns – in spite of his sub-par season – will most likely re-sign Hillis (plus, they’ve got a stable of young backs they could easily throw into the mix should Hillis go elsewhere).

The AFC South has three teams that are simply non-starters.  Houston has not one but TWO massively effective running backs (Foster, who’s a fantasy god; and Tate who – as a backup – nearly ran for 1,000 yards).  The Titans have Chris Johnson and his massively insane contract.  And the Jags have one of the better all-around guys in MJD.

The Indianapolis Colts, however, are a God damned wild card and I just don’t like it!  Now, for starters, if they opt to keep Peyton Manning, then you can just skip to the next paragraph right now, because they won’t have two cents to rub together.  But, let’s say they let him and his $28 million walk:  suddenly, they’re in play!  They will have a rookie quarterback starting from Game 1.  They don’t have a single running back worth a good God damn on their team.  And, the organization will have to do something for its fans to make up for the fact that they just let go of a Hall of Famer (especially if he goes to another team and starts kicking ass again).  I wouldn’t put it past the Colts to do something drastic; mark my words.

In the AFC West, we’re talking about teams who are all pretty much set.  The Chiefs will be looking for Jamaal Charles to bounce back from an early-season season-ending injury in 2011.  The Broncos still have Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno.  And the Raiders will still have McFadden; if they re-sign Michael Bush, then all the more reason for them to NOT sign Lynch.

So, aside from the Seahawks, we’re talking about four potential teams:  Detroit, Green Bay, New England, and Indianapolis.  All have ample reasons to sign a back like Lynch; all have ample reasons to not do a damn thing.  There will be other, cheaper options out there (Hillis, Bush, Mike Tolbert, Cedric Benson, Tashard Choice, Justin Forsett, Ryan Grant) for teams like New England and Detroit to snap up, if they so choose to go the tightwad route.  Really, it’s tough to know exactly WHICH of these four teams would be the most likely, considering I don’t know what their cap situations are like.  If I were Green Bay or New England, though, I’d think long and hard.  Both teams were DAMN close this past season.  Both teams had very similar, pass-first types of offenses.  And both teams lost to the same team (the Giants) which could have been avoided had they had a running game.

Something to think about as these Beastmode negotiations continue.