NFL Preseason Predictions We Got Way Wrong

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2018

NFL Preseason Predictions We Got Way Wrong

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    The NFL is nearly impossible to predict.

    Football is the ultimate team sport, and it's one of the most volatile. Injuries, poor performances and unexpected breakouts can drastically alter the way a season unfolds.

    Yet every year, we attempt to predict how the upcoming season will go.

    It's always nice to pat yourself on the back when one of your predictions comes to fruition. But when you're wrong, you're wrong. The only thing to do is own up to it, look back and figure out why your predictions went sideways.

    That's what we're going to do here.

    Get ready to shout "I told you so!" and "What were you thinking?" as we carve ourselves up some humble pie. There are the NFL preseason predictions we got horrendously wrong.

        

Brandin Cooks Will See a Drop-Off in Los Angeles

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    Before the season began, we took a look at potential fantasy football busts. First on the list was Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks, whom the New England Patriots traded to the Rams in early April.

    That had nothing to do with Cooks going from Tom Brady to Jared Goff at quarterback. The rationale was that the Rams would be running their offense through Todd Gurley, and that fellow receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp would steal receptions from Cooks.

    Well, Gurley is the centerpiece of the offense, and Woods has been more productive than Cooks, but the Rams offense has been prolific enough to make him a solid fantasy starter anyway.

    Kupp has missed the past few weeks with a knee injury, but Cooks' numbers are a product of there being enough touches to go around in L.A. regardless. 

    Cooks was trending as the WR20 during draft season. He's currently the 19th-best WR in PPR formats, according to FantasyPros, which means most folks who drafted Cooks got him right where they should have.

The Addition of Kirk Cousins Will Make the Vikings a Force in the NFC

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    When projecting win-loss totals, we viewed the Minnesota Vikings as one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL. They were coming off a 13-3 campaign, had a strong defense, a pair of tremendous receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and would be getting Dalvin Cook back from injury.

    The piece that would put Minnesota over the top, though, was going to be quarterback Kirk Cousins.

    "As long as Cousins doesn't fall flat with his new team, Minnesota should be just as much of a threat as last season," we predicted.

    Well, Cousins hasn't fallen flat. He's passed for 2,521 yards and 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He holds a passer rating of 102.5. Has he been perfect? Of course not, but Cousins hasn't been the team's problem.

    The offensive line is a bit of a mess—it's allowed Cousins to be sacked 23 times already—and the defense is allowing 24.4 points per game, compared to 15.8 last year. 

    Oh, and Cook has only appeared in three games because of injury.

    At 4-3-1, Minnesota is  alive in the NFC North race. However, we were wrong to think they were just one piece away from being a dominant title contender.

Chiefs Will Regress with Patrick Mahomes at Quarterback

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    Talk about a swing and a miss.

    The son of former MLB pitcher Pat Mahomes has looked nothing like an inexperienced quarterback in his first season as a starter.

    "The Texas Tech product, who has just one pro start on his resume, is going to experience some growing pains," we predicted heading into the season. "If those include numerous turnovers (Alex Smith had just six total in 2017), the defense is going to be exposed even more—and the Chiefs will be in store for a notable step back."

    That Chiefs defense is still bad, but Mahomes' growing pains have been few and far between. In fact, he already might be one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the league, and he's the clear midseason front-runner for MVP.

    Mahomes leads the NFL in passing yards (2,526) and passing touchdowns (26), and he sits behind only Drew Brees, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Philip Rivers among starting quarterbacks in passer rating (115.3).

    Sorry for doubting you, Patrick!

Tyreek Hill Will Be a Fantasy Bust

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    Missing on Mahomes caused us to miss big on a prediction involving his top receiver, Tyreek Hill. We thought that the West Alabama product would disappoint those who made him one of the first 10 receivers off the fantasy board.

    There's no questioning Hill's playmaking ability, of course, but we did wonder if Mahomes would be able to consistently get him the ball.

    Smith had been starting in Andy Reid's offense for five years. Mahomes had started one game. We wondered if the Chiefs wouldn't lean heavily on the run in order to protect the young signal-caller.

    Instead, they have opened things up with Mahomes under center, and Hill has become one of the most productive players in fantasy as a result. He is currently the third-best wideout in PPR formats, according to FantasyPros.

Andrew Luck Will Struggle to Regain Form

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    In a piece examining fantasy players to avoid overdrafting, we talked about Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and his road back from shoulder surgery. We questioned Luck's ability to return to Pro Bowl form for a couple of reasons. At the forefront were his surgically repaired throwing shoulder and his year away from the game.

    We weren't the only ones to question it, either. The Colts themselves wondered how quickly Luck would come all the way back.

    "I don't think there's any mental restrictions," General manager Chris Ballard said, per Mike Wells of ESPN.com. "I think it's more of getting the live reps versus live people. That's the timing, getting used to moving in the pocket. All those are the things you have to get used to."

    Our doubt of Luck looks quite silly now, as he is in the midst of perhaps his best season ever.

    Luck isn't playing with a ton of proven offensive talent, but he has still amassed 2,187 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He is every bit the top-tier quarterback he was before the shoulder injury, and we were wrong to think he wouldn't be.

Joe Mixon Will Be a Fantasy Disappointment

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    Second-year back Joe Mixon is becoming a significant part of the Cincinnati Bengals offense and is emerging as a fantasy star. But he didn't project as such before the season.

    There were two reasons for this. The first is that Mixon seemed to be struggling to adapt to the speed and nuances of the NFL as a rookie (not surprising). He averaged an underwhelming 3.5 yards per carry in 2017, not a number that screams "stud running back."

    The other reason was the uncertainty surrounding the Cincinnati offensive line, which was a disaster last season. The Bengals added Cordy Glenn and Billy Price to that line in the offseason, but the group didn't look to be all that improved in the preseason.

    Cincinnati allowed 13 sacks and averaged just 3.3 yards per rush as a team in the preseason. Mixon averaged under two yards per carry.

    Well, Mixon has missed two games to injury and still has racked up 509 yards rushing, 115 yards receiving and five touchdowns. He ranks 13th in fantasy points scored among running backs, per FantasyPros.

    Mixon has grown in his second season, the Cincinnati line is indeed improved, and we were wrong.

The New York Giants Will Be Relevant

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    The New York Giants came into the season loaded with talent. They had defensive studs like Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon. They had explosive pass-catchers like Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard. They had a two-time Super-Bowl winning quarterback in Eli Manning and just drafted a generational running back in Saquon Barkley.

    This is why we thought the Giants would be able to rebound from a 3-13 season and return to relevance in the NFC East.

    "The Giants will be relevant in the NFC East, and the possibility of a surprise playoff run is there," we predicted. "Until the defense proves it can be above average, however, New York is going to be a middle-of-the-road team."

    Yeah...Giants fans would love to have a middle-of-the-road team right now.

    Manning is firmly on the decline, the offensive line can't pass-block—it's allowed 31 sacks already—and the offense is averaging a mere 18.8 points per game.

    Barkley (519 yards rushing, 497 yards receiving, seven touchdowns) has been as advertised, but his talents are being wasted along with those of the other offensive skill-position players. New York cannot get out of its own way, and at 1-7, it's anything but relevant.

Washington Will Take a Step Back

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    While we thought the Giants could rebound, we also thought Washington could be in store for a bit of a decline. There was no guarantee that Alex Smith would be an upgrade over Cousins, and the torn ACL suffered by rookie second-round back Derrius Guice loomed large.

    "It doesn't help that Washington is in the process of revamping a defense that allowed the fifth-most points in 2017 (24.3 per game). Had the team been able to lean on rookie running back Derrius Guice early in the season, it would have been easier to overcome growing pains on defense and under center," we wrote.

    There have been no growing pains on defense. Aside from a hiccup against the New Orleans Saints. it's pretty much just been growing. Washington is allowing the fourth-fewest yards (322.4) and fifth-fewest points (19.1) per game this season.

    Instead of leaning on Guice, the team has depended on veteran Adrian Peterson, who already has 587 yards rushing and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

    It's going to take an unforeseen disaster for Washington to regress at this point. It is are already just two wins shy of last season's total.

Terrelle Pryor Will Be a Reliable Target for Sam Darnold

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    Before the start of training camp, we compiled a list of the most overlooked offseason additions. On that list, we had converted quarterback and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, who we believed would provide a reliable target for rookie New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.

    "Pryor racked up 1,007 yards and four scores in 2016. We also shouldn't forget that Pryor put up these numbers with a rotating group of subpar Browns quarterbacks—including Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III and Kevin Hogan—throwing him the ball.

    Regardless of how Pryor may have played last season, he's still a 6'4", 228-pound pass-catcher with elite speed. He can provide a major mismatch advantage and be a reliable weapon early in Darnold's career."

    Unfortunately, Pryor proved to be only marginally better with the Jets than he was with Washington in 2017. In six games, Pryor had just 14 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns. After being hampered with a groin injury, the Jets decided to release him.

    Pryor signed with the Buffalo Bills on Halloween Eve though, so if he's going to be a reliable target for a rookie quarterback this season, it'll have to be for Josh Allen.

Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen Won't Be Early Contributors

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    In an early offseason piece, we tried to predict how much each first-round rookie would contribute in 2018. For rookie Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and rookie Buffalo Bills signal-caller Josh Allen, we foresaw low impact levels.

    For Mayfield, the reasoning was that he would be sitting behind a proven veteran in Tyrod Taylor. The Browns wouldn't have a reason to rush him into action, and Mayfield could instead sit and learn from the sideline.

    Well, Mayfield took over for an injured Taylor in Week 3, led the Browns to a comeback win over the New York Jets and never relinquished the job to the former Bill.

    We didn't think Allen would jump in as Taylor's replacement in Buffalo, because the Bills had both Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron on the roster, and because Allen was as unpolished as it gets.

    Of course, the Bills traded McCarron away, benched Peterman in the season opener and tried to ride with Allen until an elbow injury forced them to turn elsewhere.

    Mayfield has played well enough (1,471 yards, eight touchdowns, six interceptions) has played well enough to justify keeping him on the field. Allen, on the other hand, has made it clear why should have stayed on the sideline. He's completed just 54.0 percent of his passes, is averaging just 6.0 yards per attempt and holds an ugly passer rating of 61.8.

    We're pretty sure the plan for both Buffalo and Cleveland was to sit their rookie quarterbacks for the majority of the season. We should have known, however, that even the best plans don't always stick when rebuilding teams are involved.

Rashaad Penny Will Be a Big Part of the Seahawks Offense

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    We were under the impression that Seattle Seahawks rookie running back Rashaad Penny would be an immediate contributor.

    "Penny probably reminded the Seahawks brass a lot of Marshawn Lynch—and he'll serve a similar role. He'll give Seattle a reliable option in short-yardage situations, will keep defenses honest and will give the offense a way to grind out games when ahead," we wrote.

    In reality, Penny has been an afterthought in Seattle's offense. He has just 135 yards rushing and 62 yards receiving after seven games, and he's now had two appearances in which he hasn't even touched the ball.

    Seattle is indeed using the running game (134.7 yards per game) to batter opposing defenses, protect Russell Wilson and grind out wins. However, the Seahawks are using Chris Carson and Mike Davis to do to that, not Penny.