Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Future shock: Packers will own 2014-16
If you expect your team to stand out in the NFL in three to five years, it's a given you need at least three of the following ingredients beyond a young, stud quarterback:
Star young players just coming into their prime on offense.
Star young players -- especially a pass-rusher -- just coming into their prime on defense.
A top-flight personnel department that knows what it takes to build through the draft and doesn't rely on free agency.
A solid to above-average running game is nice, but in today's passing-dominated league, it's like parsley. It's nice decoration, but it's not a requirement.
If you have all of these key ingredients -- and you're also coming off a Super Bowl title --- you have a good chance to be very good, maybe even dominant, in three to five years. Take a bow, GM Ted Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers. With a superstar quarterback (27-year-old Aaron Rodgers), a rising young superstar-in-waiting at tight end (Jermichael Finley), a solid offensive line and a young, deep defense led by linebacker/wild man Clay Matthews, your team is the pick of the ESPN.com Pigskin Panel to be the NFL's dominant team from 2014 to 2016.
"It's rare that a defending Super Bowl champion is considered an up-and-coming team, but that's exactly what the Packers are," ESPN.com AFC West blogger Bill Williamson said.
With six votes from our 24-person panel, the Packers didn't exactly win the popular vote in a landslide. Two other teams with young standout quarterbacks -- Tampa Bay (Josh Freeman) and Atlanta (Matt Ryan) -- finished second and third with five and four votes respectively. With three votes each, the Steelers and Rams tied for fourth.
Four other teams received one vote apiece.
Freeman, coming off a monster second season (25 TDs vs. six picks), will only be 26 in 2014. Ryan, 33-15 as a starter, will only be 29 at the start of the 2014 season.
"Tampa Bay's biggest hurdle is the division it plays in," ESPN.com AFC North blogger James Walker said. "But once the window closes on the New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees, who's 32, the Bucs and Atlanta Falcons should battle for NFC South supremacy."
The panel will weigh in on hot NFL issues throughout the season.
The Pigskin Panel: Most dominant team from 2014-2016
Four teams received one vote apiece: Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
EXPERTS: Most dominant NFL team from 2014 to 2016
ERIC ALLEN, ESPN: When I evaluate a team over a two- or three-year period, the first thing I do is check upstairs in the personnel department. The Green Bay Packers have put themselves in a position to win over an extended period of time. Ted Thompson has done an awesome job of building the team with young players and adding hungry vets along the way. Follow the money: The Packers pay players who make up the core of a team: QB, CB and both lines. Aaron Rodgers has all the tools to lead the next dynasty in the NFL, and an emphasis on the running game will also help. I like the fact that the Packers have potential playmakers in every unit. And they also have that great home-field advantage.
THE PICK: Green Bay Packers
MEL KIPER, ESPN: While it's almost impossible to consider the broad personnel picture, we do know who will be taking the snaps for the Rams. If you have the best quarterback in the league and you can keep him upright, you can win a lot of games. By 2014, Sam Bradford could very well have taken that mantle, and because the Rams have the beginnings of a very good offensive line, they could have the beginnings of a very good team by that time.
THE PICK: St. Louis Rams
DAVE FLEMING, ESPN The Magazine: It was the Monday night game in Week 8 of the 2010 season when I discovered the future formula for winning in the NFL. The injury-plagued Colts, using receivers they had seemingly pulled out of the parking lot during pregame warmups, still managed to dominate the loaded Houston Texans, 30-17. Why? Because the Colts had the only two things you really need to win in the NFL: a star quarterback (Peyton Manning) and a stud pass-rusher (Dwight Freeney). By using that formula and applying it to what we now know, one team jumps out at me as the dominant NFL franchise from 2014 to 2016. The youngest quarterback currently ranked in the top 10 in passer rating is Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, 23, who threw for 3,451 yards with 25 TDs against just six picks in 2010. On the other side of the ball, the Bucs have 2010 No. 1 pick Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle and 2011 No. 1 pick Adrian Clayborn at defensive end. As a junior at Iowa in 2009, Clayborn had 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. After a slow start, McCoy has reshaped his body and has become a team leader while thriving in the three technique. The Bucs have a few more years to quietly build while New Orleans and Atlanta cool off.
THE PICK: Tampa Bay Bucs
JOHN CLAYTON, ESPN.com: The team that drafts Andrew Luck in 2012 has the best chance to be a dominant team from 2014 to 2016. For that to happen, the Bills must have the worst record in the NFL in 2011 to end up making Luck the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. Because they have the AFC East's fourth-best talent, the Bills have a decent chance of going 0-6 in divisional games; they will probably struggle in out-of-division games too. Most scouts believe Luck is the best sure-bet elite quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. Thanks to Manning, the Colts usually count on 12-win seasons and a chance to go to the Super Bowl each year. Luck offers the same hope. What helps is the Bills have potential. According to the ESPN.com Dream Team of Tomorrow ballot, the Bills are tied with Packers for the top number of Dream Team candidates (9). There is a genuine excitement about Marcell Dareus anchoring the Bills' defense at tackle. Luck could be the anchor of the offense. Whoever gets Luck has a chance to build a dominant team around him. The Bills could be that team.
THE PICK: Buffalo Bills
MIKE SANDO, ESPN NFC West blogger: It's tough enough predicting which teams will win from week to week, let alone which ones will stand tallest several years from now. The teams with the best young quarterbacks have the best shot, so it's tough to bet against Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. I'll cast a vote on a longer shot by saying Sam Bradford's arrival in St. Louis puts the Rams in position to be that dominant team from 2014 to 2016. Bradford immediately took charge of the offense and won over the locker room with his approach and abilities. The Rams' ownership situation has also stabilized with billionaire Stan Kroenke taking over from Chip Rosenbloom. The Bradford-Kroenke combination should be a good one for St. Louis. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has the defense improving behind young talent at middle linebacker and defensive end. The early signs are there for St. Louis. Improving the stadium situation is the next step.
THE PICK: St. Louis Rams
AARON SCHATZ, Football Outsiders: When baseball fans say "the rich get richer," they're talking about big-market teams. In the NFL, when we say "the rich get richer," we're talking about the smallest market: Green Bay. The Super Bowl champions weren't just good last year; they're set up for success in the next few years. It starts the same way that San Francisco built its dynasty in the '80s and New England built its dynasty in the '90s: a franchise quarterback and a young, talented defense. In 2014, Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings will still only be 30, Clay Matthews will be 28, and Jermichael Finley will be 27. Coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson just signed multiyear extensions, and in the past two years, they've restocked their offensive line with Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga.
THE PICK: Green Bay Packers
CHRISTOPHER HARRIS, ESPN Fantasy expert: QB Matt Ryan is currently 26. So is LT Sam Baker. WR Roddy White is 29 and WR Julio Jones is 22. CBs Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes are 29 and 27, respectively. That sounds like the nucleus of a team that's ready to be hypercompetitive for five years. Yes, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and John Abraham are key guys who'll need to be replaced. But RBs and TEs aren't that hard to find, and I'm a Kroy Biermann believer as a pass-rushing replacement for Abraham. Most importantly, spiky-haired GM Thomas Dimitroff "gets it." He has laid a young, playmaking foundation.
THE PICK: Atlanta Falcons
Tim Hasselbeck, ESPN NFL analyst The Packers were dominant in the postseason this past year and most people believe that they can be dominant for the next three years. But if we are looking at 2014-2016, then we need to find the next Green Bay Packers.
The Tampa Bay Bucs look like they could be that team. They have an absolute stud at QB, great talent at the skill positions and they have invested high picks on the defensive line in hopes to be dominant on that side of the ball. Sounds a little bit like how the Packers were built.
THE PICK: Tampa Bay Bucs
KC JOYNER, The Football Scientist: Team building is a process that takes time, so the dominant team for 2014-16 must have a group of talented young players in place right now. Being that the NFL is a passing league, having a top-line quarterback also is a must. Using those criteria, the New England Patriots look to be the best candidate for mid-decade supremacy. For proof, check out their ranking in the following categories:
• 2010 starters who will be 30 or younger in 2014: 17, tied for fourth-best in the league.
• 2010 starters drafted in the first or second round who will be 30 or younger in 2014: 9, tied for fourth-best.
• 2010 starters who have made a Pro Bowl/All-Pro team and will be 30 or younger in 2014: 3, tied for second-best.
Tom Brady's age is the biggest wild card here (he will be 37 in 2014), but let's not forget that Brett Favre recently showed the world how well an aging quarterback can play when he is surrounded by a boatload of young talent. Brady will do the same and thus will have a great shot at collecting more Super Bowl rings than any other quarterback in history.
THE PICK: New England Patriots
MATT WILLIAMSON, Scouts Inc.: The Patriots and Colts crossed my mind, but I can't bank on their quarterbacks still being dominant players from 2014 to 2016. The same applies to the Saints. Teams with young stud quarterbacks (Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta) also crossed my mind. But it's Pittsburgh, led by Ben Roethlisberger (32 in 2014), and Green Bay, with Aaron Rodgers (30 in 2014), who stick out. Call me a Pittsburgh homer all you want, but the Steelers just don't go away. With fantastic defensive play and acute personnel decisions, they have a formula that has stood the test of time. They are perennial contenders. Give me Pittsburgh by a narrow margin over the Packers.
THE PICK: Pittsburgh Steelers