Ben has been locked in a bunker watching game film. Faris has been drinking Four Loko and working on his Sebastian Janikowski fan page. Here are their thoughts on the upcoming season.
1) Will the Redskins still be the Redskins in 2015?
Ben Higgins: I’m going to go out on a limb and say no.
Owner Dan Snyder will stubbornly try to keep the nickname as long as possible, but this is starting to become an embarrassment for the NFL. Several high-profile members of the media, including Keith Olbermann and Peter King, already refuse to say or write “Redskins,” and more are joining the cause each week. The editorial board of the Washington Post just announced they would no longer use the nickname in the team’s hometown paper.
Momentum is building, and the NFL will eventually realize that it’s on the wrong side, and the name will be changed before the start of next season.
Faris Tanyos: No. When the U.S. Patent Office canceled the Redskins' trademarks, calling them “disparaging to Native Americans,” that was game, set and match.
Like Donald Sterling’s removal, the name change here is inevitable. It will happen. So why delay? It's in the NFL's best interest to end this quickly and move on. The NFL is stubborn about many things (replacement refs anyone?), but this won't be one of them.
If it has to twist Snyder's arm to do so, it will.
2) Which last place team from 2013 will win its division in 2014?
Faris: The Raiders. Just kidding. I already detailed Oakland's misery here. The Raiders couldn't win the Grey Cup if their opponent had food poisoning.
Dig: Every year, the four worst teams get relegated to the Canadian Football League for one season. We'd call it the Maple Kerfuffle.
We just solved tanking.
The answer is clear as crystal: The 5-10-1 Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings hired the best available head coach this summer: 58-year-old Mike Zimmer, who’s been a phenomenal defensive coordinator for 13 years. Last season, Zimmer took a Bengals defense decimated by injuries and held them together. They finished ranked in the top-three.
Why did it take him this long to get a head coaching gig? He's not a people person. So what. Neither is Bill Gates. You don't need to be charismatic to be successful.
The Vikings also brought in offensive guru Norv Turner. As the Chargers can attest, a great head coach Turner is not. But last year with the Browns, he transformed relative unknowns Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron into stars.
Now he gets Adrian Peterson and physical freak Cordarrelle Patterson. Of course, there's the question mark known as Teddy Bridgewater. If anyone can make Bridgewater into a franchise QB, it's the man who coached Troy Aikman to two of his three Super Bowls. Matt Cassel will start the season, but my guess is Bridgewater finishes it.
The Packers won't be as explosive as everyone expects. The Lions will underwhelm with Jim Caldwell. The Bears will ride a rollercoaster to a wildcard berth. This is the Vikings division to lose.
Ben: Resting your argument on Norv Turner isn’t going to take you very far, Faris. Norv had plenty of weapons as offensive coordinator in Cleveland last year, and the Browns still finished in last place. Why? Injuries left them without a quality quarterback.
Luckily, that’s not a problem in Minnesota, where Matt Cassel was just named the starter. Wait. That’s actually a huge problem for Norv. Sorry, Vikes.
This question isn’t just a meaningless exercise, by the way. For 11 straight years, at least one team that finished in last place in the NFL came back to win their division the next season.
I’m going to predict the Atlanta Falcons make it 12 in row. They actually have a good quarterback in Matt Ryan, and are unlikely to suffer the devastating injuries that sunk them last season.
3) You have the first pick in your fantasy draft. Who do you take?
Ben: Since every rule in the NFL seems designed to benefit the passing game, there will be a strong temptation to take Peyton Manning or Calvin Johnson. I understand this impulse, but my strategy in fantasy football is to look for players that can give me a huge advantage over opponents at certain positions.
I’m not afraid to use an early pick on Jimmy Graham—he’ll vastly out-produce most tight ends in the league.
But if I’ve got the very first pick? It’s got to be Adrian Peterson. He’s your best chance at big numbers from a running back position that is producing fewer and fewer stars.
Faris: I understand your thought process. Elite running backs and tight ends are in very short supply, so it’s best to grab them early, rather than wait until the middle rounds and hope you win the lottery with someone like Ben Tate or Jordan Reed.
However, my priorities in round one are health and dependability. I want a Camry, not a Mustang. I want someone who has a better than 80 percent chance of playing all 16 regular season games.
Elite pocket quarterbacks are the safest bet. Yes, they get freak injuries. But from a purely statistical standpoint, there's a better chance that Drew Brees makes it through the season without missing time than say, Arian Foster.
AP is already 29. He's entering his eighth season. He had a combined 627 carries over his last two. That's too much mileage.
I'm making my No. 1 overall pick Peyton Manning. No, he won't repeat last year's success. Yes, he's 38. Yes, he missed a year with a scary neck injury. But for me, he's the safest play.
4) Referees will be putting more of a focus on defensive holding and illegal contact. Is this good or bad?
Faris: Bad. Quarterbacks can't get crushed anymore and runners can't lead with their helmets.
Rome didn't fall in a day. Neither will the NFL. But it's slight modifications like these that, combined, could eventually topple it over time.
In 2009, there were 190 defensive pass interference penalties called in the regular season and playoffs. Over the next four seasons that rose to 207, 210, 253 and 247, respectively.
Receivers are changing the way they play. They're seeking out flags instead of looking to make catches. We're watching an army of Manu Ginoblis. How many yards would Jerry Rice compile in today's NFL? 3,000 a season?
The trend is clear: The NFL wants football to look like a video game for fans with ADD. No running back was taken until the tail end of the second-round in May's draft. Why? Because we're in a pass-happy era that's manipulating stats like steroids manipulated home run numbers in baseball.
Football should be about hard hits and toughness and earning your place on the field. Yes, we should protect players' health. But the NFL needs to come up with creative safety measures that don't force players to abandon their instincts.
Darrelle Revis should be allowed to jam Calvin Johnson and pull his jersey and pull down his arms. There's no concussion debate there. I want to see these players wrestle and struggle and fight to get the ball.
NFL: If you really want to make the game more enjoyable, cut down the number of commercial breaks. Shorten the game to 2 ½ hours.
Fan: If the NFL isn't exciting enough for you as is, go catch Transformers 4. That's probably more in your wheelhouse.
Ben: Good, to a certain extent. Do I want flags thrown on every play? Of course not. But neither does the NFL. Players will adjust, referees will adjust, and life will go on with a few more points. Points are fun.
Besides, defensive backs will still be able to jam within the five-yard zone. After that, they weren’t supposed to be touching the receivers anyway. Great plays will still be made on defense. The cream will rise to the top, and guys that can’t play by the new rules will be exposed. They’re simply enforcing the rules that are already on the books.
I do agree with you about all the Ginobilis running around. Any player who mimes the motion of pulling a flag out while wildly looking around for the nearest referee should be penalized for whiny behavior.
5) Which rookie quarterback will have the biggest impact this season?
Faris: Johnny Football. It's not even close.
I love that he flipped off the Redskins. I love that he spent his summer partying in Vegas. I love that he's frustrating his coaches, hasn't learned the playbook and is saying all the wrong things at all the wrong times.
He's Joe Namath 2.0. His career is going to land somewhere in the spectrum between Russell Wilson and Steve Young. The brashness he displays off the field is what makes him so good on it.
The NFL is a corporation that prides itself on groupthink. We need coaches like Bill Belichick and players like Richard Sherman and Manziel. Not just because they're villains, but because their perspective flaunts the norm, and the NFL's norm is mind-numbing.
Ben: I actually think Johnny Manziel has a chance to be a dynamic player in the NFL when he gets his head screwed on correctly. But that process is going to take more than one season.
The whispers out of Cleveland are that Manziel is having trouble absorbing the playbook. Not shocking, since anyone who flashes a middle finger when at least 15 ESPN cameras are trained on him constantly during Monday Night Football is probably not in the gifted student program. I also like Brian Hoyer and expect he’ll be able to hold onto the starting job for most of the year.
Call me crazy, but I think Blake Bortles is going to have the biggest impact. He’s been the most impressive of the rookie quarterbacks in the preseason, and I expect he’ll be named the starter over Chad Henne in short order.
Plus, the Jacksonville Jaguars know they have no chance this year, so they might as well start looking to the future, which means getting Bortles as much experience as possible.
6) Who is your dark horse to win the Super Bowl?
Ben: First of all, how do I define dark horse? For the purposes of this question, I’m only throwing out four teams—the Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, and Patriots. Those were last season’s conference finalists, and no one would be too surprised if any of them won the Super Bowl.
To win the Super Bowl, the first thing a team has to do is make the playoffs. Once a team is in the tournament, anything can happen, and often does so. To me, the NFC East looks like a soft division this year, and Chip Kelly may still have some tricks that he didn’t reveal in his first season as head coach in Philadelphia.
Nick Foles was sharp last season. If the deep stable of playmakers stays healthy (even with DeSean Jackson gone), I think the Eagles could be your Super Bowl shocker.
Faris: Child, please. The Eagles are the Phoenix Suns circa the Steve Nash era. They're fun as hell but they'll never be a real threat. I'm counting out the NFC because no one is touching the Hawks or 49ers. They're too good, too deep and too well-coached.
No, my dark horse is much darker and much colder: The Bills of Buffalo.
The Bills haven't recovered since the Jim Kelly no-huddle offense took them to four straight Super Bowls. In fact, they haven't been to the playoffs since 1999.
Now they have their best QB since Kelly in E.J. Manuel. They have the best running back duo in the NFL in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. They gave Manuel weapons by drafting college phenom Sammy Watkins with the No. 4 overall pick and bringing in Mike Williams from Tampa Bay.
Defensively, they have a scary front-four that includes Mario Williams, Kyle Willams and Marcell Dareus. They signed Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers in the offseason to anchor their linebacking corps.
Is Doug Marrone a good head coach? We'll find out. I think they'll challenge the Patriots for the division.
Ben’s Super Bowl final score: Seahawks 31, Patriots 13.
Faris’ Super Bowl final score: Steelers 31, Bears 24.