Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pete Prisco's Power Rankings

1. Giants
2. Colts
3. Saints
4. Ravens
5. Jets
6. Vikings
7. Patriots
8. Falcons
9. Eagles
10. Chargers
11. Cowboys
12 Bengals
13. Steelers
14. Packers
15. Broncos
16. Bears
17. 49ers
18. Cardinals
19. Seahawks
20. Titans
21. Miami
22. Redskins
23. Bills
24. Jaguars
25. Texans
26. Raiders
27. Panthers
28. Lions
29. Buccanneers
30. Rams
31. Chiefs
32. Browns

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Interesting College Football Games

#4 LSU vs. #18 Georgia

#7 USC vs. #24 California

#8 Oklahoma vs. #17 Miami


Well we have decided to start posting our predictions and this year just start at week 4 (since the other ones have already happened). So I will try to bring them out as soon as possible.

Pennington On IR, Dolphins trade for Chiefs QB Tyler Thigpen (Alex)

The Miami Dolphins put Chad Pennington on IR and traded for Kansas City's 3rd string QB for a undisclosed draft pic. The Dolphins second string QB Chad Henne will start instead of Thigpen but the Dolphins use the Wildcat formation alot so Thigpen may start when the play the Wildcat. Thigpen has alot better stats then Henne but Henne has never started in a game. Last year the Chiefs starting QB was injured then the second string QB was injured and Thigpen played most of the season. He threw 420 times and completed 230 of them(that's good considering that his receivers dropped 50% of them) . He had 18 TD's and 12 INT's. He threw for 2,608 yards. He ran for 386 yards and 3 TD's.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Jon's Thought's

Well I am going to start posting my predictions for each week but I will go ahead and give you my record in each week

Week 1: 14-2

Ones I was wrong on: 49ers beat Cardinals and Packers beat Bears.

Week 2: 10-6

Ones I was wrong on: Texans beat Titans, Bengals beat Packers, 49ers beat Seahawks, Bears beat Steelers, Broncos beat Browns and Giants beat Dallas.

Week 3: 11-4 (so far, I am predicting Dallas to beat Carolina tonight)

Ones I was wrong on: Jaguars beat Texans and Patriots beat Falcons.

So far I am 35-12 and a clue to getting a good prediction record is just pick the no brainers and don't be like those announcers and pick dumb ones just to get attention:-)

An example is Chiefs against Eagles this week. A lot of people picked KC to win but Kolb is playing well and KC looks like it has one of there worst teams in a long time. Another one is Ravens against Browns. Quinn can't get anything going and the Ravens are red hot and in this one around 50% of people guessed Browns to win. Now there is times where the no brainers turn out to be a loss on your record but that is only about one or two a week, save your dangerous guesses for the close games.

Now for the close ones like Washington vs. Detroit and Chicago vs. Seattle this week it's just a matter of luck.

Injury may again end Chad Pennington's Season

The news came today that Chad Pennington's injury may end the season for him as well as end his career in Miami. Pennington is up for free agency next season and I don't think the Dolphins would want to pay some good money for a QB that has had two seasons in his career ended with injury and a guy that is seeming more injury prone by the minute. Pennington started his career in New York with the Jets before being released in the 2008 off-season. The Miami Dolphins then picked him up and he led their team from the previous years 1-15 season to a AFC East Division title and an 11 win season. He won 2008 comeback player of the year but has not played well this season and as I said my not play again till next season. I still think his career as a starter is not over. I think a team that needs other things besides QB in the draft but the QB position is still quite weak would love to have a one or two year stick in at QB as they rebuild although the chances of him leading another team to the playoffs is highly doubtful. He is in his tenth year in the NFL and has only played a full 16 game season twice (one with the Jets and one with the Dolphins). Well I think we will see with in the next few days what and where Chad Pennington's future will be.

Winless Bucs bench Leftwich, promote Johnson

The news came today that the Buccaneers have decided to bench starter Byron Leftwich and promote 2 year QB Josh Johnson to the Starting QB position. Leftwich in his 3 games as starter only had 594 yards 4 TD's and 3 interceptions. Most of you might say that isn't bad but it isn't just his stats but he is not making the plays when he has too and his balls are not coming out very smooth. Also he only had 22 passing yards vs. New York Giants last week. Meanwhile Josh Johnson had a good preseason and what better time to test a QB. I personally think they should start Rookie Josh Freeman, they did use their first round pick to get him and he had a great preseason. But lets see how Johnson does as the season goes on.

Good Enough for Royalty

Kansas City Royals Pitcher Zach Greinke picked up his 16th win on Sunday to improve his record to 16-8 and his ERA to a MLB best 2.06 which will give him a fantastic chance of winning the Cy Young trophy. Although his record at 16-8 doesn't look great being a pitcher for Kansas City answers the question. In 2 of his losses he held the team to only one run but Kansas City couldn't muster a run them selves. Then in another he didn't sacrifice a single run but the relief pitcher came in and lost it. So you look at it and if he played for the Yankees or one of those teams he would definitely have over 20 wins. But I guess looking at his League best ERA at 2.06 does help answer the question. There is two other pitchers in the chase for the Cy Young trophy but they are both a run over Greinke which will probably give Greinke the easy win of the trophy.

Big News

First of all Tim Tebow took a hit at the end of the Gators game against Kentucky and suffered a concussion. They now he will be in active for sometime but this week is Florida's off week so lets see if he is able to comeback and play against #7 LSU.

Second is last year standout Freshman QB Robert Griffin who torn his ACL last week and is out for the season.

Also Bob Stoops says that Bradford my be in a position to start Saturday against #17 Miami.

Top 25 Upsets

Well this week had a ton of upsets. There where 7 top 25 upsets and another 7 top 25 teams only won by 7 or less. So this week we almost had over half of the top ten teams lose.

#4 Mississippi vs. South Carolina

Outcome: South Carolina wins 16-10

#5 Penn State vs. Iowa

Outcome: Iowa wins 21-10

#6 California vs. Oregon

Outcome: Oregon wins 42-3

#9 Miami (FL) vs. #11Virginia Tech

Outcome: Virginia Tech wins 31-7

#17 Florida State vs. South Florida

Outcome: South Florida wins 17-7

#22 North Carolina vs. Georgia Tech

Outcome: Georgia Tech wins 24-7

#24 Washington vs. Stanford

Outcome: Stanford wins 34-14

Close wins

#7 LSU vs. Mississippi State

Outcome: LSU wins 30-26

#14 Cincinnati vs. Fresno State

Outcome: Cincinnati wins 28-20

#15 TCU vs. Clemson

Outcome: TCU wins 14-10

#17 Houston vs. Texas Tech

Outcome: Houston wins 29-28

#20 Kansas vs. Southern Mississippi

Outcome: Kansas wins 35-28

#21 Georgia vs. Arizona State

Outcome: Georgia wins 20-17

#23 Michigan vs. Indiana

Outcome: Michigan wins 36-33

Friday, September 25, 2009

2009 Rookies (Alex)

From so far here are the rookies that have proven it was a good idea for the team to draft them. This will only be players from the first round to 5th pick of the 2nd round.

1. Mark Sanchez
Position: QB
College: USC
Team: Jets
Games played: 2
Wins: 2
TD's: 2
INT's: 1
YRD's: 435

2. Percy Harvin
Position: WR
College: Florida
Team: Vikings
Games played: 2
Wins: 2
TD's: 2
REC's: 8
YRD's: 77

3. James Laurinaitis
Position: MLB
College: Ohio State
Team: Rams
Games played: 2
Wins: 0
Tackles: 22
Assits: 6

There are a lot more but I am only doing the players that are doing great.

Games to Watch in College Fooball this Season

September 26

#9 Miami vs. #11 Virginia Tech

October 3

#6 California vs. #12 USC

#9 Miami vs. #10 Oklahoma

October 10

#1 Florida vs. #7 LSU

October 17

#2 Texas vs. #10 Oklahoma

October 31

#2 Texas vs. #16 Oklahoma State

November 7

#3 Alabama vs. #7 LSU

#5 Penn State vs. #13 Ohio State

November 28

#10 Oklahoma vs. #16 Oklahoma State

Another Top 10 Team Down

South Carolina Wins!
Well yet another top ten team has lost and now I think the total is 6 that have lost and none of them to good team. First Oklahoma lost to a decent BYU, then Oklahoma State lost to Houston, then Ohio State lost to a good USC team, then USC lost to Washington, then BYU lost to Florida State and then finally Ole Miss lost to South Carolina. I telling you the people that are choosing the top 25 are not very good at picking. Now the Ohio State game was not a shock since USC was ranked 3rd in the country but then USC goes and loses at Washington. Meanwhile for Ole Miss it always shocked me that they ranked them 4th in the country but I quess
they want to keep the old who is the best Big 12 or SEC going. Also BYU looked strong but not strong enough to put them in the top ten yet. Below I am going to put down a list of the teams I think should be in the top ten.

1. Florida

2. Texas

3. Alabama

4. Penn State

5. California

6. LSU

7. USC

8. Oklahoma

9. Boise State

10. Oklahoma State

Here I had to put eleven.

11. Miami

I do think Oklahoma and USC should be higher but since they lost they should have to work for the spot. Well if Texas and Florida can keep the mistakes off then I think they will play for the national championship. I still think that Florida will win it because they are I think by far the best team in the NCAA. Texas is a good team but Florida really has a team in place and Tebow is as good as they come although I still think he will not make it in the NFL. McCoy isn't as good as Tebow but I think he is the second best QB in College and I think he has a lot bigger chance of a good NFL career then Tebow has. For Miami I don't think they are as good as people think but because what they have done this year I do think they deserve number 11. The sad think about College football right now is that except for the teams I just listed there isn't really any other good College Teams.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Week 2 Playoff Teams

Well here is my prediction for the playoff teams after week 2. I put down here that the Dallas Cowboys will take the second NFC wildcard spot over the Eagles but I think that will be a battle and it could very well go to the Eagles.

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
AFC East: New York Jets
AFC West: San Diego Chargers
AFC Wildcard: New England Patriots
AFC Wildcard: Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
NFC East: New York Giants
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers
NFC Wildcard: Atlanta Falcons
NFC Wildcard: Dallas Cowboys

AFC in the hunt for wildcard: Titans, Bills and Bengals.

NFC in the hunt for wildcard: Eagles, Packers, Bears, Seahawks and Cardinals.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Falcons First Round Pick Out for Season

The news came today that Falcons rookie DT Peria Jerry suffered a knee injury in the victory against the Panthers yesterday and will be out for the season. His help will be very much missed on the struggling Falcons Defense.

15 Comments by Clark Judge

1. Relax, Giants fans. Your team might have found the next Plaxico Burress in Mario Manningham. I realize it's early, but Manningham does what no other wideout could the previous seven games -- namely, catch an Eli Manning touchdown pass inside the red zone. Manningham's emergence is just in time, too. With Hakeem Nicks out and Domenik Hixon sidelined against Dallas, the Giants needed someone, anyone, to take the heat off Steve Smith.

2. Tell me again why banishing Richard Seymour to Oakland was such a good idea. The Patriots should be 0-2 and would be were it not for Leodis McKelvin.

3. I'm sorry, but New England is demanding way too much of a quarterback coming off a serious knee injury. In two games, Tom Brady has had to throw 100 times -- or 50 times per start. That's not how you treat a recovering patient.

4. If you didn't know it last year, you do now: The Baltimore Ravens have themselves a franchise quarterback. Joe Flacco has five touchdowns through two weeks. A year ago it took him nine games to reach five TDs.

5. You heard it here first: Detroit ends its 19-game losing streak next weekend against Washington.

6. Please, Steelers fans, tell me you learned a lesson from Buffalo and will do the right thing. You will leave Jeff Reed and his home alone.

7. The toughest decision in Buffalo isn't where to go for chicken wings. It's whom to start at running back in two weeks -- Fred Jackson or Marshawn Lynch. There are those around the team who believe that Jackson just might be the better back.

8. Just a hunch, but Cincinnati's Antwan Odom is the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. All he did was produce a career-high five sacks, including three in the fourth quarter. He had three all of last season.

9. Seattle better hope Matt Hasselbeck's rib injury is no worse than Donovan McNabb's. The Seahawks have no chance if he misses significant time again.

10. OK, here's another prediction: First team to hold Drew Brees under 300 yards passing? The Jets. They'll face off in two weeks.

11. It's official: The Browns stink. Again. For those of you keeping score, that's one offensive touchdown in the past 32 quarters. Pathetic.

12. Now I know why Pete Carroll wanted Mark Sanchez another year.

13. As it turns out, Jacksonville, blackouts might be a good thing.

14. San Diego makes Philip Rivers one of the highest-paid players anywhere, and Rivers responds by shredding Baltimore for a career-high 436 yards. But when the Bolts must make a play in the last minute -- one play they absolutely, positively had to convert -- they put the ball in the hands of -- Darren Sproles? Somebody please explain.

15. Poor Kansas City. It has lost 25 of its past 27 games and must wait a month for another chance at victory. Its next three opponents are, in order, Philadelphia, the New York Giants and Dallas. Then along comes Washington on Oct. 18, and you're on your own, Todd Haley.

What a Week

It was a great week in football and once again the Patriots start the season 1-1. The Titans surprisingly start 0-2 after two heart breaker last second losses. Also no one expected Chicago to take out the defending Champion Steelers. Another upset was the raising 49ers running down the strong Seahawks. The biggest of them all, although not unexpected is the Jets shutting down the Patriots. The Bengals beat the red hot Packers and when Ochocinco scored a TD he was to scared to do the Lambeau leap like he promised. The week was quite wired in ways. Brett Favre finished his second game with the Vikings with no interceptions this season, the only other QB's that has scored a TD and has no interceptions are Kyle Orton, Aaron Rogers and Brodie Croyle. Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing as usual. Also everyone thought that the Giants would have to trust their running game but Eli is third in the league for passing yards and Steve Smith and Mario Manningham are hold second and third place for most receiving yards in the NFL. Drew Brees is up to a MVP season already having 9 TD's and 669 yards passing in 2 games. The Eagles, Steelers and Patriots who where suppose to be the dominating teams this year have already suffered a loss. Big NFL defensive players Brian Urlacher, Jerod Mayo and Troy Polamalu are not expected to return until at lease mid season if not the whole season. There has already been 5 interceptions returned for TD's and a total of 41 interceptions thrown in two weeks. The Detroit Lions haven't won a game yet. The Falcons recently traded for hall of fame TE Tony Gonzalez is showing why he belongs in Canton with 12-144 and 2 TD's with 11 of his 12 catches being first downs. T.O. finally caught a TD and dropped a deep pass after he had said all week they where not throwing deep enough times to him. T.O. has also already blown up a bit. There is already a problem with the Cowboys brand new 111,000 seat stadium (the 60 yard screens are to low). The Cowboys are questioning Coach Phillips again after a heart breaker loss in the stadiums opening day. McNabb has already missed a game. But all in all it's been an exciting start to the season.

NFL Week 2 Upsets (Alex)

Here is this week's upsets...

Titans vs Texans

Result: Texans Won

Saints vs Eagles
Result: Saints Won
Bengals vs Packers
Result: Bengals Won
49ers vs Seahawks
Result: 49ers Won
Steelers vs Bears
Result: Bears Won

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Predicted Wins for this Week (Alex)

My Predicted wins for this week are...

1. St.Louis Rams vs Washington Redskins
Result: Redskins Win
The Rams are rebuilding their Team so naturally the don't have a lot of talent on the team and the Redskins offense did good last week having 507 yards of total offense, and their defense allowed 16 points against the N.Y Giants who have a solid offense.

2. Houston Texans vs Tennessee Titans
Result: Titans Wins
The Titans have a great D and a good offense and the Texans have a ok offense ok defense.

3. New Orleans Saints Vs Philadelphia Eagles
Result: Eagles Win
If Donavon McNabb is able to play this week the Eagles will probably win because the eagles offense is better than the Saints. The Eagles have a lot better defense especially because the Saints starting DT is injured, Starting CB is injured, and Starting SS is injured so the Eagles will probably win.

4.NY Jets vs New England Patriots
Result: Patriots Win
This game will go down to the last seconds, offensively the Patriots are barely ahead of the Jets, Defensively the Jets are barely ahead of the Patriots only because of injurys. The Patriots MLB Jerod Mayo, and ROLB Adalius Thomas are injured.

Oakland Raiders vs Kansas City Chiefs
Result: Raiders Win
Todd Haley is currently rebuilding the Chiefs from their 2-14 record last year under Coach Herm Edwards so they are weak on both sides of the ball. The Raiders QB Jamarcus Russell is having Accurcy problems so the Chiefs only scoring possibility is pass Defense. The Raiders rushing game will be great considering that at HB they have McFadden, Bush, and Fargas so they can keep all of their HBs fresh. Their passing game isn't doing great.

Ok that's about a fourth of the games this week so that will kind of give you an idea of who will win and lose.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Urlacher Out

The news came yesterday that the 4 time pro bowler Brian Urlacher is out for the rest of the 2009 season. I think this will majorly hurt their chances of winning the NFC North. And with Cutler starting bad last week Urlacher is even more needed then before.

Urlacher on the sidelines after
his injury on Sunday night.

Playoff Teams

Here is a list of who I think will win each division and who will get the wildcard spots in each conference.

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
AFC East: New England Patriots
AFC West: San Diego Chargers
AFC Wildcard: Baltimore Ravens
AFC Wildcard: New York Jets

NFC North: Green Bay Packers
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
NFC Wildcard: New York Giants
NFC Wildcard: Dallas Cowboys

Here are a few Teams that might snag a Wildcard spot
AFC: Tennessee Titans
NFC: Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints

A Game to Watch (from Alex)

A Game this week to watch is the Saints vs Eagles. The Saints have the better QB mainly because the Eagles QB Donovan McNabb is injured. The Eagles have the Better RBs Brian Westbrook and Rookie LeSean McCoy. The Saints have the better TE in Jeremy Shockey. The Eagles have Better WRs DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles have better Lineman Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Jammal Jackson, Stacy Andrews and Shawn Andrews. The Eagles are tied with the Saints for Defensive Lineman. They are about tied for Linebackers. The Saints have the better safetys Roman Harper and Darren Sharper. The Eagles have better DBs Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown. The Eagles have Better Special Teams. Well I think the Eagles have a little bit of advantage but we will have to find out who wins Sunday.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brady is Back

Patriots beat Bills in last season comeback by Brady 25-24

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Back on center stage, Tom Brady acted like, well, the NFL's biggest star.

It seemed to take forever, though.
A year after being sidelined with torn knee ligaments, Brady resembled a rusty game manager more than the invincible record-setting quarterback who guided the Patriots to a perfect 2007 regular season. Yet, he threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:06 as New England beat the Buffalo Bills 25-24 on Monday night.

When the spotlight hit, Brady lived up to the advance billing.

"We have a real competitive locker room, a real competitive team," Brady said. "When you're in a situation like we were, it's when you really have to step it up. It takes every guy on the field to step it up. Hopefully, we will continue to do that."

But Brady needed help in the form of Leodis McKelvin's fumble on a kickoff return after the Patriots pulled within five points.

Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski, of all people, recovered at the Buffalo 31. Brady needed three plays before hitting Benjamin Watson over the middle for the decisive 16-yard touchdown with 50 seconds to go.

Just 1:16 earlier, he found Watson on a similar play for an 18-yard score. It was vintage Brady, who threw for a record 50 TDs two years ago in leading New England to a perfect record.

"Two-minute drives always are fun for a quarterback," Brady said. "Spread it out, the pass rush gets a little tired, you get a feel for the coverage, you just have to be patient.

"I'm glad it's over, glad we are moving on, got a win, and we'll learn from it."

That unbeaten season was spoiled in Brady's last full game that counted, the February 2008 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. He was hurt in last season's opener.

Now he's back, although for much of the game he and the Patriots played conservatively, even passively. Indeed, Buffalo seemed ready to break an 11-game losing streak against New England and win for the first time in Gillette Stadium.

Then came the late fireworks, demonstrating that Tom Terrific hasn't lost his touch.

"That's not how we drew it up, but I'll take it," Brady said. "We did a lot of things poorly but we got the win."

Buffalo did a lot of things well, but got a shocking loss.

Coming off a 1-4 preseason in which the offense flopped, the Bills made plenty of big plays.
Trent Edwards outperformed Brady for much of the game and threw for two scores. A 10-yard screen pass TD to Fred Jackson put Buffalo ahead 24-13 with 5:32 to go -- even though its new spotlight-grabber, Terrell Owens, barely caused a ripple. Owens had two catches for 46 yards.
When the offense wasn't doing the damage, defensive end Aaron Schobel was rambling 26 yards with an interception for a first-half TD.

Still, these are the Patriots, who have not lost a regular-season game with Brady at quarterback since Dec. 10, 2006. And they still have all those threats in the passing game, from Randy Moss (12 catches, 141 yards) to Wes Welker (12, 93) to tight end Watson (six, 77, two TDs).

Although Brady had those impressive stats, he never looked deep and struggled to convert key plays until the final moments. Perhaps that big hit he took on his shoulder from Albert Haynesworth 2½ weeks ago limited Brady. And maybe his team was uncomfortable in the throwback red uniforms or being introduced as the Boston Patriots for the first of the NFL's tribute games to the old AFL. Something wasn't right in Foxborough -- until the end.

"It has nothing to do with his layoff," Moss said. "I think it's just first-game jitters. I'm not making an excuse, we just had to settle down and get to playing football the way we know how."

A Heart-breaker (from Alex)

What a Heart-breaker for the buffalo bills. The bills were ahead of the patriots by 3 with only 2:00 left when 1 year pro Leodis McKelvin tried to be a Hero and pulled away from the patriot's tackler which made him fumble the ball and was recovered by the patriots which resulted in a TD for the Pats (that won the Game 25-24). Tom Brady had a great game throwing for 378 yards, 39-53, 2 TDs, He did really good especially since today was his first game since week 1 of 2008. Trent Edwards had a good game too, Throwing for 212 yards, 15-25, 2 TDs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NFC West Preview

Once the NFC West belonged to Seattle, with the Seahawks winning four consecutive titles and reaching the playoffs five seasons in a row. But their run ended with Arizona's unexpected ascension in 2008, and now it's the Cardinals, not the Seahawks, who are the neighborhood bullies. Most persons have them winning the division again, but I'll pass, thank you very much. Arizona is loaded, particularly on offense, but I believe in the Super Bowl jinx that almost annually bites the losers of the championship game. The Cardinals were that team, so I make them second here. Seattle is my favorite, mostly because Matt Hasselbeck is back, healthy and determined to get his team to the top again. The Seahawks have talent, but they have holes, too -- especially on the offensive line. If they avoid the injuries that crippled them last year, they can overcome them.
Of course, Arizona will be there, too, and they might reach the top again -- but pay attention to your history, class. New England lost the Super Bowl two seasons ago, and look what happened in 2008.
San Francisco is a dark horse to sneak in, but there's too much bad karma around this team, with the Michael Crabtree negotiations the latest blow.
The only thing I am certain of in this division is that St. Louis will finish last. There's just too much work to do with this team to expect it to be anything other than a doormat.

Seattle Seahawks
Significant additions: LB Aaron Curry, RB Edgerrin James, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, CB Ken Lucas, DT Colin Cole, DL Cory Redding, TE John Owen.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Seahawks
2008 standings: 4-12

Pts Scored: 294
Pts Allowed: 392
Off. Yds/G: 274.1
Def. Yds/G: 378.0
2. Cardinals
2008 standings: 9-7

Pts Scored: 427
Pts Allowed: 426
Off. Yds/G: 365.8
Def. Yds/G: 331.5
3. 49ers
2008 standings: 7-9

Pts Scored: 339
Pts Allowed: 381
Off. Yds/G: 311.1
Def. Yds/G: 326.0
4. Rams
2008 standings: 2-14

Pts Scored: 232
Pts Allowed: 465
Off. Yds/G: 287.2
Def. Yds/G: 371.9
Significant losses: LB Julian Peterson, RB T.J. Duckett, G Mike Wahle, WR Bobby Engram, T Floyd Womack, FB Leonard Weaver, RB Maurice Morris, TE Will Heller, DT Rocky Bernard, S Brian Russell.
Biggest offseason move: Jim Mora succeeding Mike Holmgren. The transition had been in the works for a year, with Mora the coach-in-waiting last season. Holmgren will be missed, but in Mora's first season as head coach of Atlanta Falcons, he took the Falcons to the top of the division. There's no reason he can't do the same here.
Will make the playoffs if ... Matt Hasselbeck and his offensive line stay healthy. The Seahawks lost a zillion wide receivers last year, but they lost their quarterback and most of their offensive line, too. If they can avoid the injuries, the talent is here to go places.
Rookie to watch: It has to be Curry. He was the most complete player in the draft, and he was a load in OTAs and mini-camps. OK, so he tailed off this summer as he battled nagging injuries. He still can be a contributor.
Overview: I like this club, and it's because there is a raft of talent. The one concern I have is the Seahawks' ability to run the ball. Edgerrin James and Julius Jones is not my idea of a formidable combination, and the offensive line always seems to be an issue. But Hasselbeck looks good, and the defense should be ... better be ... improved. It ranked dead last against the pass, and that's not good when you share a division with Arizona.

Arizona Cardinals
Significant additions: RB Chris Wells, TE Anthony Becht, FB Dan Kreider, CB Bryant McFadden, RB Jason Wright.
Significant losses: RB J.J. Arrington, RB Edgerrin James, LB Monty Beisel, DE Antonio Smith, S Aaron Francisco, TE Leonard Pope.
Biggest offseason move: Losing offensive coordinator Todd Haley to Kansas City. The Cards have two new coordinators, but Haley is the guy who oversaw one of the league's most dangerous offenses. The good news: The Cards might have found a franchise back in Chris Wells. Haley and the Cards had been looking for one the past two years.
Will make the playoffs if ... They don't succumb to the dreaded Super Bowl jinx. Super Bowl losers typically don't return to the playoffs, and New England was supposed to buck that trend last year. It didn't.
Rookie to watch: Wells. The Cards haven't had a solid running game since Ken Whisenhunt took over in 2007, and that's not his fault. He preached the strength of a solid running game from the day he was hired; he just didn't have the personnel to pull it off. He might now. Wells gained 5.7 yards per carry and scored twice in preseason.
Overview: Most people make these guys the favorite in the division, and they have the personnel -- and coaching staff -- to do it. But for some reason, Super Bowl losers suffer the following seasons, with most of them failing to get to .500. Normally, I would back the Cards, but not when they lost a Super Bowl. I'm sticking to that formula.

San Francisco 49ers
Significant additions: WR Michael Crabtree (unsigned), DE Demetric Evans, WR Brandon Jones, FB Moran Norris, Tony Pashos.
Significant losses: LB Tully Banta-Cain, RB DeShaun Foster, T Jonas Jennings, WR Bryant Johnson, QB J.T. O'Sullivan, CB Donald Strickland.
Biggest offseason move: Keeping Mike Singletary as the club's head coach. Singletary replaced Mike Nolan seven games into the 2008 season and made an impact, winning four of his last five starts and finishing with a winning record. He made an impact in training camp, too, with the 49ers holding one of the most physical and most demanding camps anywhere, and let's see what impact that has on the club in November and December.
Will make the playoffs if ... They get their offense untracked. The 49ers failed to score more than 17 points in seven of their games and dropped five of them. Rookie to watch: Forget Crabtree. By staying out of camp, he's a non-factor for the season. So let's concentrate on who's here, like running back Glen Coffee. The 49ers will run the ball and run it a lot, which means a lot of Frank Gore with glimpses of Coffee. The rookie from Alabama led the team in rushing this summer and figures to give Gore time off when he needs a break.
Overview: The 49ers haven't had a winning season since 2002, but this might be their chance. First of all, the NFC West is wide open. Second, Shaun Hill gives them stability at the most important position. Third, Singletary had the club playing hard at the end of last season. If it can start as it finished a year ago, anything is possible.

St. Louis Rams
Significant additions: T Jason Smith, LB James Laurinaitis, C Jason Brown, QB Kyle Boller, S James Butler, FB Michael Karney, WR Laurent Robinson, S Anthony Smith, DT LaJuan Ramsey.
Significant losses: TE Anthony Becht, WR Drew Bennett, CB Fakhir Brown, CB Tye Hill, S Corey Chavous, QB Trent Green, WR Dante Hall, WR Torry Holt, FB Dan Kreider, C Nick Leckey, T Orlando Pace, C Brett Romberg.
Biggest offseason move: Hiring Steve Spagnuolo. The previous two head coaches were successful offensive coordinators, which was OK ... except the Rams' defense suffered. Now comes the architect of the defense that buried Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII, and there's hope that the 31st-ranked unit in points allowed starts improving.
Will make the playoffs if ... it's a one-team division, and that's not happening, folks.
Rookie to watch: Tackle Jason Smith was the second player in the draft for a reason: The Rams must start protecting their quarterbacks and opening holes for their running backs. The offensive line stunk a year ago; now it's a brand-spanking-new unit, with Smith and Brown the cornerstones of a massive makeover.
Overview: The team that was horrible a year ago might not be a whole lot better, but that's not grim news. The Rams have the right idea tearing the place apart from top to bottom, and give GM Billy Devaney time: He will get this thing turned around. It might take years, but the Rams are right to rebuild from the inside out. A year ago they took defensive end Chris Long with their first pick; now, it's Smith. So they play in a weak division. They still will have trouble keeping up.

Monday, September 7, 2009

AFC West Preview

There is only one way that the San Diego Chargers won't win the AFC West, and that is to tinkle down their legs.
Get it? They are a lock to win what is the weakest division in football.
The Chargers, who won the division last year, feature one of the deepest teams in the league, and the three other teams feature first-time head coaches and quarterback situations that have questions.
The Chargers have Philip Rivers; the other three teams have Matt Cassel (Kansas City), Kyle Orton (Denver) and JaMarcus Russell (Oakland).
The question then is how far can they go from there.
Coach Norv Turner's team has talent at every spot. They can run it. They can throw it with Rivers and they can play swarming defense, especially with the return of a healthy Shawne Merriman adding pass-rush help.
The only thing that might hold the Chargers back is Turner. There are still questions as to whether he's truly a big-game coach. Is he more coordinator than head coach? At some point, we will find out and this could be the year. He needs to get this team to a Super Bowl to quiet his doubters.
San Diego shouldn't lose a division game, barring an upset. That should give them a nice seed in the playoffs.
The rest of the division will be a battle for second. None of the three teams has a playoff look. All three look more like teams that will scramble to get close to .500.
The Broncos finished second last year, but won't this time around under first-year coach Josh McDaniels, he of the jettisoning of Jay Cutler fame. Denver will be lucky to win five games.
That leaves Oakland or Kansas City to finish second. The Chiefs are a year or two away from being a contender and the Raiders need to hope Russell turns into a special player to have a playoff chance.
That isn't likely. But even so, the Raiders will be the second team in the division, despite a horrible preseason.
Hey, somebody has to get it.
The San Diego Chargers have to love the spot their team is in right now, which appears to be the dominant favorite in the worst division in football.
Just don't tinkle down your legs.
San Diego Chargers
Significant additions: LB Kevin Burnett, OLB Larry English and G Louis Vasquez.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Chargers
2008 standings: 8-8

Pts Scored: 439
Pts Allowed: 347
Off. Yds/G: 349.0
Def. Yds/G: 349.9
2. Raiders
2008 standings: 5-11

Pts Scored: 263
Pts Allowed: 388
Off. Yds/G: 272.2
Def. Yds/G: 360.9
3. Chiefs
2008 standings: 2-14

Pts Scored: 291
Pts Allowed: 440
Off. Yds/G: 308.7
Def. Yds/G: 393.2
4. Broncos
2008 standings: 8-8

Pts Scored: 370
Pts Allowed: 448
Off. Yds/G: 395.8
Def. Yds/G: 374.6
Significant losses: DE Igor Olshansky and G Mike Goff.
Biggest offseason move: Keeping LaDainian Tomlinson. They could have let him walk, but did the right thing by keeping him around. He is healthy now.
Will go to the playoffs if ... we're all still breathing come January. They are a lock.
Rookie to watch: English won't start, but you can bet you'll see more and more of him as a rush linebacker as the season moves along.
Overview: They remain one of the better teams in the league. They are deep and they have a star passer in Rivers. With Tomlinson expected to return to his old form, the offense should be tough to stop. The defense gets back Merriman to create problems for the opposing quarterback.The talent level here says this is a team that should compete late for a lot more. It's time for Turner to make that happen. We'll find out if he can.
Oakland Raiders
Significant additions: DT Richard Seymour, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, C Samson Satele and WR Louis Murphy.
Significant losses: C Jake Grove and S Gibril Wilson.
Biggest offseason move: Deciding to keep interim coach Tom Cable as the head coach. Cable has already made some headlines for the wrong reasons. How long does he have?
Will go to the playoffs if ... Russell turns into what the Raiders thought he'd be when they picked him first overall a few years ago.
Rookie to watch: Heyward-Bey. They surprised a lot of people when they took him seventh overall, but he has the speed to make plays down the field. He's an Al Davis player.
Overview: The Raiders looked awful in the preseason, worse than any other team in the league. But that doesn't matter now. They have some quality players, but it's all on Russell. He has to take his game up a notch. With Darren McFadden behind him, he should have a capable running game. The defense has major issues, although picking up Seymour in a trade with the Patriots will help a run defense that needed it. It looks like it's going to be another long year for the Silver and Black.
Kansas City Chiefs
Significant additions: Cassel, LB Mike Vrabel, WR Bobby Engram, G Mike Goff, DE Tyson Jackson, DE Alex McGee and K Ryan Succup.
Significant losses: TE Tony Gonzalez and LB Donnie Edwards.
Biggest offseason move: Trading for Cassel and then paying him a long-term deal. Couldn't they have waited to see if he's the real thing?
Will go to the playoffs if ... Cassel is Tom Brady. Doubt it. He might be more of a one-hit wonder than what we saw last year in New England. Rookie to watch: Jackson. He's already starting at left defensive end and would appear to be the perfect guy for the 3-4 scheme. He'll never be a huge sack guy in their defense, but he could end up with six or seven as a rookie.
Overview: New coach Todd Haley faces a tough first season. There is a lot of work to be done here. With Cassel, the Chiefs feel they have a quality quarterback, but we'll have to find out if he's a one-hit wonder. Larry Johnson should run better with the improved passing game. The defense, which will play a 3-4, will be better. They've upgraded that side of the football. Haley would love to be able to play an aggressive offensive style, but he might be a year away from doing so. Cassel has to show he can handle that like he did last year in New England. The Chiefs will battle each week, but the talent level is down.
Denver Broncos
Significant additions: Orton, QB Chris Simms, RB Correll Buckhalter, S Brian Dawkins, S Renaldo Hill, WR Jabar Gaffney, DT Ronald Fields, LB Andra Davis, RB Knowshon Moreno and DE Robert Ayers.
Significant losses: QB Jay Cutler, DT Dewayne Robertson and CB Dre' Bly.
Biggest offseason move: Chucking Cutler in favor of Orton. This is a move that will likely take down McDaniels.
Will go to the playoffs if ... McDaniels is more right than we know. He isn't.
Rookie to watch: Moreno. He missed time in preseason with injuries, but he is a big-play runner. In this system, he will be explosive.
Overview: McDaniels wanted to put his stamp on this team, so he got rid of Cutler. That is a decision that will follow him his entire time in Denver. How do you get rid of a player with that type of talent? The Broncos will now turn to Orton, who has to show he's capable of making plays down the field. To have success, he needs Brandon Marshall, who was suspended for the last two preseason games. The defense was a major issue the past two seasons. It can't be that bad this time around. Can it? It has to be better considering Cutler is gone. The Broncos won't be nearly as good on offense. This is going to be a long year in Denver.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

NFC South Preview

The NFC South is almost impossible to figure. There are three teams capable of winning it -- sorry, Tampa Bay -- yet there are convincing arguments why each should not. Defense kills New Orleans. Injuries could cripple Carolina. And Atlanta never seems capable of putting together two good seasons.
Your guess is as good as mine, and I'm picking New Orleans. One of these days I figure the Saints learn how to play that other side of the ball, and I say that day is now. They made all sorts of moves in the offseason to improve their pass defense, and it should pay off if they can avoid the injuries that ravaged them a year ago.
Carolina is the defending champion, so they're a possibility. But all these injuries -- including a season ender to defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu -- has me thinking this just isn't their year. I feel the same way about Atlanta, only for other reasons -- like the Falcons' track record. They're the most balanced of these clubs, but they make me nervous.
That leaves Tampa Bay, and too bad Lee Roy Selmon is a restaurant owner, not a player -- the Bucs could use him. They could use anyone.
New Orleans Saints
Significant additions: CB Malcolm Jenkins, DT Rod Coleman, FB Heath Evans, CB Jabari Greer, S Darren Sharper, DE Paul Spicer.
Significant losses: S Josh Bullocks, RB Deuce McAllister, CB Mike McKenzie, WR David Patten, RB Aaron Stecker, G Matt Lehr.
Biggest offseason move: Letting McAllister go. The guy was one of the team's top running backs ever, but he kept getting hurt and carried a heavy price tag. That and the emergence of Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas made him expendable.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They ever figure out how to play defense. Drew Brees can take this team to the playoffs. The question is: How much will the defense drag him down? It kept him out of the playoffs the past two seasons, but the additions of Greer, Jenkins and Sharper should help a needy secondary. Plus, injuries aren't the factor they were a year ago -- at least not now.
Rookie to watch: So he showed up late for work and wilted in the heat his first day on the job. CB Michael Jenkins will be a factor in the defense, either as a starter or nickel back. The Saints overhauled their secondary, and they should: It ranked 23rd last year and it held them back.
Overview: The Saints are this decade's Air Coryell -- they can throw the ball all over the lot, but they can't cover anyone. Result: A lot of high-scoring games and no playoff appearances since reaching the NFC Championship Game in 2006. One of these days these guys will figure out how to play defense. I say it happens now.
Atlanta Falcons
Significant additions: DT Peria Jerry, DB William Moore, CB Tye Hill, TE Tony Gonzalez, LB Mike Peterson, LB Jamie Winborn, C Brett Romberg.
Significant losses: LB Michael Boley, LB Keith Brooking, DT Rod Coleman, CB Domonique Foxworth, DT Grady Jackson, T Todd Weiner, S Lawyer Milloy, T Wayne Gandy.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Saints
2008 standings: 8-8

Pts Scored: 463
Pts Allowed: 393
Off. Yds/G: 410.7
Def. Yds/G: 339.5
2. Falcons
2008 standings: 11-5

Pts Scored: 391
Pts Allowed: 325
Off. Yds/G: 361.2
Def. Yds/G: 347.9
3. Panthers
2008 standings: 12-4

Pts Scored: 414
Pts Allowed: 329
Off. Yds/G: 349.7
Def. Yds/G: 331.2
4. Buccaneers
2008 standings: 9-7

Pts Scored: 361
Pts Allowed: 323
Off. Yds/G: 341.0
Def. Yds/G: 306.1
Biggest offseason move: Acquiring Gonzalez. Tight ends were almost no factor in the Falcons' passing game last season, but that changes with the arrival of Gonzalez. He led all tight ends last season with 96 catches for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns. Look for him to be Matt Ryan's yardage security blanket over the middle.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They continue to run a balance attack as efficiently as they did in 2008 -- with the emphasis on run. Nobody in the NFC had more rushing attempts than Atlanta, and only one team (the Giants) had more rushing yards. The running game protected then-rookie quarterback Ryan, who wasn't forced to take many chances, and you saw what happened.
Rookie to watch: Defensive tackle Peria Jerry is listed among the team's starters, and he should be. He was the team's first-round pick, and the Falcons lost run stuffer Grady Jackson to free agency. Jeria could be an immediate impact player, but there was unexpected competition from an unlikely source -- veteran Thomas Johnson, who had been cut by three teams.
Overview: The Falcons caught everyone off balance by reaching the playoffs. I'm not sure why, but I don't see it happening again. Maybe it's because I trust history, and history tells us that when the Falcons go to the playoffs they fizzle the following season. Look what happened when they made it in 2004. The following year they were 8-8. They reached the 2002 playoffs, too, but flopped one year later. In 1998 they reached the Super Bowl but fell to 5-11 in 1999. I think you get the idea. History is against Mike Smith.
Carolina Panthers
Significant additions: DE Everette Brown, DT Louis Leonard.
Significant losses: CB Ken Lucas, C Geoff Hangartner, T Jeremy Bridges, RB Nick Goings, WR D.J. Hackett, WR Mark Jones, T Frank Omiyale, DT Darwin Walker.
Biggest offseason move: Keeping Julius Peppers. Remember those stories about Peppers getting traded? Well, he wasn't. Instead, the team made him its franchise player, guaranteeing Peppers about $1 million per start. That's a lot of dough concentrated in one position. Now it's on to a long-term contract, and we'll see how that goes. At least Peppers acknowledged that he's "excited" about playing in Ron Meeks' defense, and that's a start.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They can overcome the loss of DT Maake Kemoeatu and injuries to key people like linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis -- and if they can continue to run as effectively as they did last season. The lack of depth at defensive tackle concerns me. You don't want to put too much pressure on QB Jake Delhomme, but that will happen if you can't stop opponents up the middle.
Rookie to watch: Brown. He had two sacks and one forced fumble through the first three preseason games. Yes, he's probably a situational pass rusher, but that's OK. It takes time to get used to the pro game, and Brown has demonstrated he knows how to get to the quarterback.
Overview: The Panthers have a habit of disappearing immediately after making the playoffs, and this may be one of those seasons. Already, there are significant injuries. Management is in flux. And coach John Fox may be on the bubble. It's an unsettling situation, which is why the Panthers better do what they do best -- run the ball and play solid defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Significant additions: TE Kellen Winslow, QB Josh Freeman, LB Angelo Crowell, QB Byron Leftwich, K Mike Nugent, RB Derrick Ward. Significant losses: LB Derrick Brooks, CB Philip Buchanon, DE Kevin Carter, RB Warrick Dunn, WR Joey Galloway, QB Jeff Garcia, DT Jovan Haye, WR Ike Hilliard, LB Cato June.
Biggest offseason move: Firing Jon Gruden and going with the unknown in Raheem Morris. Gruden had taken the Bucs to the Super Bowl, but the team's collapse last season finished him. So Tampa Bay hires its secondary coach, and good luck guys. It can be tricky for assistants to assume command of a team because players sometimes don't recognize the change in authority. So they treat him as they always did. Or he treats them as he always did. Either way, it can be tough -- especially for someone as young (33) and raw as Morris.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They won't. This is a teardown project.
Rookie to watch: With quarterback Freeman struggling to learn the pro game you can look at one of the Bucs' receivers, seventh-round pick Sammie Stroughter. In limited action this summer, he proved more than adequate as a catcher and kickoff returner and could fill in as the team's slot receiver. "He's a steal, who are we kidding?" said Morris.
Overview: This is a start up, with new players, a new coach and a new identity. The Tampa Bay Bucs used to be Derrick Brooks' team -- now they're Morris' club, and I don't know what that means until they suit up and play. What I do know is they can't survive in this division with the guys they have starting -- not now they can't. But this is a process, and the process is just beginning.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

AFC South Preview

How do you take the next step when there are two obstacles already standing on it?
Now you know how the Houston Texans feel.
They enter the 2009 NFL season trendier than a $400 pair of jeans, with many pegging them as the team that will have a playoff breakthrough. Two consecutive 8-8 seasons and a nucleus of top-tier talent have made them a preseason darling among many prognosticators.
Did they forget about the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans, the two teams already standing on the higher step?
"One thing we know is we can't wait for those teams to come back to us," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.
The Titans won the AFC South with a 13-3 record last season, while the Colts earned a wild-card berth with their sixth consecutive season of 12 wins or more. Tennessee returns much of that deep lineup while the Colts, despite a coaching change, will be a lot like their last six teams: loaded on offense.
The key for the Titans in their quest to repeat will be quarterback Kerry Collins. Was his surprise season an aberration or can he still play at a high level at age 36? He has more weapons outside, which will help, and he played well in the preseason.
It helps that he has a 22-man depth chart that has few holes -- if any. The Titans do have a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Cecil, but that transition from Jim Schwartz shouldn't be a problem.
The biggest transition, at least on paper, for any division team comes in Indianapolis. Colts coach Tony Dungy retired, leaving Jim Caldwell as the new coach. He is cut from the same cloth as Dungy -- only a little louder -- and the Colts players say they don't expect any troubles in the transition.
With Peyton Manning keying the offense, they will score a lot of points again. They do want -- and need -- to run the ball better.
That brings us to the other two teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Texans. The Jaguars had a disappointing season in 2008, finishing 5-11, and they are in a rebuilding mode.
Coach Jack Del Rio's team will get back to playing a more physical style and you can bet teams that play them will feel it on Monday. But they are a year away.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Colts
2008 standings: 12-4

Pts Scored: 377
Pts Allowed: 298
Off. Yds/G: 335.5
Def. Yds/G: 310.9
2. Titans
2008 standings: 13-3

Pts Scored: 375
Pts Allowed: 234
Off. Yds/G: 313.6
Def. Yds/G: 293.6
3. Texans
2008 standings: 8-8

Pts Scored: 366
Pts Allowed: 394
Off. Yds/G: 382.1
Def. Yds/G: 336.6
4. Jaguars
2008 standings: 5-11

Pts Scored: 302
Pts Allowed: 367
Off. Yds/G: 319.1
Def. Yds/G: 330.9
The Texans have the division's best pass rusher (Mario Williams) and best receiver (Andre Johnson). They have a star-in-the-making runner in Steve Slaton and quarterback in Matt Schaub, who played well down the stretch last season, although he does need to stay on the field. If the secondary can come together, who knows how good they can be on defense?
"We're on the brink, but what do we do next?" Kubiak said. "You see some teams take the next step. You see teams go backwards. We can't go backwards."
Yeah, but pushing one or two of those other guys from that step won't be easy.

Indianapolis Colts
Significant additions: RB Donald Brown, DT Fili Moala and WR Austin Collie.
Significant losses: Coach Tony Dungy, WR Marvin Harrison and DT Darrell Reid.
Biggest offseason move: The retirement of Dungy with Jim Caldwell taking over. When a coach like that leaves, there are bound to be eyes watching the replacement.
Will go to the playoffs if ... Peyton Manning stays upright. They will score a lot of points and he's the reason why.
Rookie to watch: Brown. He will take away some carries from Joseph Addai, but don't expect him to steal his starting job. Brown does have the ability to make plays in the passing game.
Overview: The prevailing notion is that this is a team in regress. I don't buy it. The Colts have won at least 12 games for six straight seasons and they will push to that number again. Caldwell is a good coach and we know as long as Manning is throwing darts they will be fine on offense. The new defense under coordinator Larry Coyer will have to come together quickly. The injuries in the secondary, especially to safety Bob Sanders, remain a major concern. They need him. But there is enough talent -- as long as Dwight Freeney is on the field -- to have a playoff defense. By the way, they have Manning, who helps cure a lot of ills.

Tennessee Titans
Significant additions: WR Nate Washington, DT Jovan Haye, WR Kenny Britt, TE Jared Cook, DT Sen'Derrick Marks.
Significant losses: DT Albert Haynesworth, CB-KR Chris Carr and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Biggest offseason move: Losing Haynesworth. He leaves a big hole in the middle of that defense that they will have to fill with a bunch of bodies.
Will go to the playoffs if ... Kerry Collins plays like he did last season. If he does, they might go to the Super Bowl.
Rookie to watch: Cook has great receiving skills for a tight end. He will provide another middle-of-the-field threat for Collins.
Overview: The roster is loaded. They are a deep, talented team that has few holes. So it all comes down to Collins. Can he do it again? Some have to wonder whether he can. But I think he will play just like he did in 2008. That will put this team in the Super Bowl mix again. With the additions of Britt, Washington and Cook, the passing game will be better. On the defensive side, new coordinator Chuck Cecil has a lot to work with. They will use a lot of bodies to fill the void left by Haynesworth. They will be fine. The Titans will be a good team. Collins can make them a Super Bowl team.

Houston Texans
Significant additions: DE Antonio Smith, OLB Brian Cushing, LB Connor Barwin, QB Dan Orlovsky, QB Rex Grossman and DT Shaun Cody.
Significant losses: QB Sage Rosenfels and DE Anthony Weaver.
Biggest offseason move: Paying Smith big money and pairing him as a pass rusher to go with Mario Williams.
Will go to the playoffs if ... The defense elevates its play and they learn how to beat the Colts and the Titans.
Rookie to watch: Cushing. He missed time with injuries during camp, but the Texans expect him to make an impact this season. He plays with a relentless style.
Overview: This is the trendy pick to crack through as a playoff team. I'm not sold on that. I think they still have some issues, most notably the division. It's too tough. They will be good on offense, but it's all on the defense. The front seven should be good, but there are major concerns in the secondary. I look for them to score a lot of points, play in a lot of shootouts, but they aren't quite ready to get past that 8-8 of the last two seasons.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Significant additions: WR Torry Holt, T Tra Thomas, T Eugene Monroe, S Sean Considine and DT Terrance Knighton.
Significant losses: RB Fred Taylor, S, Gerald Sensabaugh, LB Mike Peterson, WR Matt Jones and WR Reggie Williams.
Biggest offseason move: Changing the mentality. Coach Jack Del Rio had his toughest camp in years and hopes it will make his team return to its physical roots.
Will go to the playoffs if ... David Garrard can play at a 28-touchdown, 10-interception rate.
Rookie to watch: Monroe. He should be an immediate starter and will be a fixture at left tackle for years.
Overview: This team is in a rebuilding mode, even if it won't say it. The Jaguars were a playoff team two years ago, but didn't play well last season. Bad locker-room influences hurt, but more than that this is a team undone by some bad drafting. Injuries crippled the offensive line last year, so they will be better there. Look for a lot of Maurice Jones-Drew, although they've showed more passing in the preseason. The defense needs to get more pressure on the quarterback. That means second-year defensive end Derrick Harvey. With a lot of young players set to make major contributions, they will be lucky to get to .500.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

NFC North Preview

Drama is back in the NFC North, which means one of two things: 1) Either Brett Favre decided to un-retire again, or 2) there's a horse race about to take place.
Actually, it's both. Favre is back, this time with Minnesota, and the Vikings, Packers and Chicago Bears are about to duke it out for first place.
They were supposed to square off last year, too, only Green Bay didn't cooperate. The Packers dropped seven of their last nine, leaving it to Minnesota and Chicago to settle the division, with the Vikings winning their first title in eight years.
The Packers are better now than they were in 2008, particularly on defense, and they should hang around for a photo finish with Minnesota. The Bears could be there, too, but I keep asking why we should believe in Jay Cutler when he never produced a winning season in Denver.
The only thing I am sure of is that Detroit is a lock for last. But let's at least hear it for the Lions. They get to discover what it's like to win football games again, and never underestimate life's little victories.

Green Bay Packers
Significant additions: DT B.J. Raji, LB Clay Matthews, C Duke Preston, S Anthony Smith.
Significant losses: DT Colin Cole, T Mark Tauscher.
Biggest offseason move: Hiring defensive coordinator Dom Capers away from New England. Capers will oversee the Packers' new 3-4 defense, and hooray for that. Something had to be done, and something was: In three preseason games under Capers the Packers already have 12 takeaways. Green Bay last year ranked 26th against the run and 20th overall. Worse, 11 times it allowed 20 or more points -- including its last six starts.
Will reach the playoffs if ... They can win the close calls. A year ago the Packers lost seven games by four or fewer points. The key element here is getting the running game to be more effective than the 17th-best attack that bogged down too often last year. That's a wake-up call for Ryan Grant and the offensive line.
Rookie to watch: Raji. Though he reported to work late, he looks like a perfect fit for the middle of Capers' new defense. Not only did he have four tackles last weekend, but he has been throwing around blockers as if they were cardboard cutouts.
Overview: The Pack is back. If Green Bay can keep Aaron Rodgers healthy, recreate the running game of two years ago and make defensive strides, it should win this thing. Rodgers is a franchise quarterback waiting to happen, but Grant needs to step up his game to where it was in the second half of 2007.

Minnesota Vikings
Significant additions: QB Brett Favre, WR Percy Harvin, T Phil Loadholt, QB Sage Rosenfels.
Significant losses: C Matt Birk, DB Michael Boulware, QB Gus Frerotte, T Marcus Johnson, S Darren Sharper.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Packers
2008 standings: 6-10

Pts Scored: 419
Pts Allowed: 380
Off. Yds/G: 351.1
Def. Yds/G: 334.3
2. Vikings
2008 standings: 10-6

Pts Scored: 379
Pts Allowed: 333
Off. Yds/G: 330.5
Def. Yds/G: 292.4
3. Bears
2008 standings: 9-7

Pts Scored: 375
Pts Allowed: 350
Off. Yds/G: 295.9
Def. Yds/G: 334.7
4. Lions
2008 standings: 0-16

Pts Scored: 268
Pts Allowed: 517
Off. Yds/G: 268.2
Def. Yds/G: 404.4
Biggest offseason move: Acquiring Favre. The Vikings wanted him a year ago but had to wait until the Jets let him walk. Coach Brad Childress wanted him badly, and he and Favre are joined at the hip. If Favre fails, Childress does too; if Favre succeeds, Childress gets an extension. The Vikings think Favre is perfect for their offense, but he's 40 and flopped down the stretch in 2008 -- losing four of his last five starts and throwing nine interceptions. Good luck, guys.
Will reach the playoffs if ... Favre doesn't fade in December. Look at the Vikings schedule: Their first five opponents were 19-61 a year ago. But that's when the speed bumps kick in, with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Packers appearing just before mid-season. Favre was 1-4 in his last five games last year, and it could happen again. Minnesota's last five games look like this: at Arizona, Cincinnati, at Carolina, at Chicago and the New York Giants. Uh-oh.
Rookie to watch: Harvin. The former University of Florida star is instant offense ... provided, of course, he stays healthy. He's a wide receiver who can line up as a running back or play quarterback in the Wildcat. He's quick. He's fast. He's yardage waiting to pile up. In short, he's the perfect complement to Adrian Peterson.
Overview: I liked the Vikings more before they acquired Favre, and here's why: Because you could sit down Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels and because each understood his role, which was as a supporting actor to Peterson. Favre plays second to no one, and I dare you to bench him. It's not going to happen. As one coach said, the problem with hiring decorated veterans like Favre is that they come in on their terms, not yours. Remember, Childress staked his future on Favre, so he goes up or down with No. 4.

Chicago Bears
Significant additions: QB Jay Cutler, T Orlando Pace, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, S Josh Bullocks, T Frank Omiyale, T Kevin Shaffer.
Significant losses: QB Kyle Orton, S Mike Brown, WR Marty Booker, QB Rex Grossman, WR Brandon Lloyd, T Fred Miller, T John St. Clair, T John Tait.
Biggest offseason move: Acquiring Cutler. The Bears haven't had a franchise quarterback since the Punky QB (Jim McMahon), and that was over two decades ago. But now they have Cutler, and there hasn't been an arm like this in Chicago since the days of Mark Prior. Cutler was lights-out in his last two preseason games, and that's good. But I'd be careful: It's preseason. GM Jerry Angelo believes Cutler puts the Bears over the top, and maybe he's right. But Cutler also is 17-20 and never won more than eight games in a season. Will reach the playoffs if ... Their defense comes around. For all the angst about Kyle Orton a year ago, it wasn’t the offense that crumbled; it was the Bears’ defense. It ranked 21st overall and 30th against the pass. The good news: That defense also produced an NFC-best 32 takeaways.
Rookie to watch: S Al Afalava. The sixth-round pick out of Oregon State was the hit of training camp and a starter in the Bears' first three preseason games. He is a sure tackler with good instincts and a lock to make a significant contribution to this year's team.
Overview: The Bears are gambling on offense. They have the franchise quarterback to go with the franchise running back, Matt Forte. Only one problem: Where's the franchise wide receiver? There isn't one, and Chicago is hoping it can get by with Greg Olsen, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett as Cutler's primary targets. My only question: What happens when the wind starts blowing in November and December?

Detroit Lions
Significant additions: QB Matthew Stafford, CB Philip Buchanon, CB Anthony Henry, DT Grady Jackson, RB Maurice Morris, LB Julian Peterson, LB Cody Spencer, WR Bryant Johnson, DB Eric King, TE Will Heller.
Significant losses: CB Leigh Bodden, T George Foster, QB Jon Kitna, LB Paris Lenon, WR Shaun McDonald, G Edwin Mulitalo, QB Dan Orlovsky, DE Cory Redding, S Dwight Smith, TE Dan Campbell, WR Mike Furrey.
Biggest offseason move: Drafting Stafford. The Lions haven't had a franchise quarterback for decades. Honest. The last time a quarterback from Detroit was named to the Pro Bowl was 1972 when Greg Landry was chosen. Not it's Stafford's opportunity to do what Joey Harrington could not seven years ago -- namely, convince the Lions he'll be around for years.
Will reach the playoffs if ... Elephants can fly. It’s not going to happen, people; not this year.
Rookie to watch: Stafford, because he plays the most important position. Don't expect Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco performances from the guy. It takes time. It also takes a supporting cast. Let the guy grab some oxygen, people.
Overview: The Lions will be better because they can't be worse. Win one, and they're improved. Win five or six, and Jim Schwartz is a Coach of the Year candidate. Schwartz was a smart hire, but he isn't a miracle worker. He has to undo eight years of horrible football, bad decisions and rotten drafts, and that's not going to happen overnight. Look for the Lions to start coming around the second half of the season.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

AFC North Preview

It was typical Chad Ochocinco, straight and to the point.
"We will be good," the Cincinnati Bengals receiver said earlier this summer. "It's not a guarantee or anything like that, but we will be good. You watch."

I'm watching. I also think he's right. They have Carson Palmer back and they have a defense that finished 12th in the league last season.
Yeah, but they're the Bengals, you say? This group is better than what we've come to expect from the Bengals.
But there are two big hurdles that could make any improvement a moot point: The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals will be better in 2009, but they also have the unfortunate task of playing in the same AFC North division with the two teams who played in the AFC Championship Game last season. One of those, the Steelers, went on to win the Super Bowl. If Cincinnati is to be a playoff team, they'll likely have to move past one of those two.
Good luck.
"It's not an easy division, that's for sure," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "If you win this division, you've had a good season."
How can you pick against the Steelers? They return 19 of the 22 starters who started in their Super Bowl victory over the Arizona Cardinals last February.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is in his prime and should be even better. The defense will be as ferocious as ever. But there are issues. The offensive line might have been the worst Super Bowl-winning line of all time, and four of the five starters are back. They have to play better.
The running game, long a Steelers staple, wasn't the same last season when it finished ranked 22nd. Then there are the Super extras, like a potential hangover and the fact you are the targeted every Sunday.
That gives the other teams in the division hope.
The Ravens, long known for their running game and brutish defense, might be moving more toward a passing offense with second-year quarterback Joe Flacco. He led the Ravens to the playoffs as a rookie starter last season and has made huge strides this preseason.
Flacco has been allowed more freedom in the passing game this summer, and he has responded in a big way. He looked like he was playing in a 7-on-7 drill last week against Carolina, carving the Panthers' secondary to shreds.
What I think will be key for the Ravens is whether they allow that style to continue in the regular season. They should. Flacco can make all the throws and he has a real feel for the offense.
There is some age on defense that is also a concern, but they should be fine for another year. One thing about the Steelers and Ravens: The front offices for those two teams are as good as any. They know how to replace departed players.
Cleveland is the clear bottom team in the division. New coach Eric Mangini will have a tough task in getting this team to win six games. But you can bet the Browns will be tough and physical.
It's the other team in Ohio that intrigues me. It has all summer long. That's if Palmer can stay on the field. He missed time during the preseason, but he's expected for the regular season opener.
The Bengals will score points. They should also be better on defense. So circle Week 3 on the calendar for a Sunday that will give us a real idea if they are truly going to be different in 2009.
That's the day the Pittsburgh Steelers come to Paul Brown Stadium. If they can win that one, who knows?
It's just too bad the Bengals aren't in the AFC West. Then Ochocinco's proclamation and my belief wouldn't seem so far out there.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Significant additions: DT Ziggy Hood, KR Stefan Logan and WR Shaun McDonald.
Significant losses: ILB Larry Foote, CB Bryant McFadden and WR Nate Washington.
Biggest offseason move: They didn't make any big moves. Did they need to? This is a team that returns 19 of 22 starters from the Super Bowl.
Will reach the playoffs if ... Roethlisberger stays healthy and they don't fall victim to the Super hangover.
Rookie to watch: Logan. He will help upgrade a punt-return unit that was next-to-last in the league last season.
Overview: This is essentially the same team that won the Super Bowl last season. There are only three new starters at corner (William Gay), inside linebacker (Lawrence Timmons) and right guard (Trai Essex). The Steelers will be in the playoffs deep into January. The offensive line didn't play well last season and needs to play better if they are to have a chance to get back to their style. With Roethlisberger capable of making big plays in the passing game, look for even better numbers. Remember, his numbers were down some during the regular season. The defense is what will key this team again. Doesn't it always?

Baltimore Ravens
Significant additions: C Matt Birk, CB Domonique Foxworth, CB Chris Carr, T Michael Oher and OLB Paul Kruger.
Significant losses: C Jason Brown, CB Chris McAlister, S Jim Leonhard and LB Bart Scott.
Biggest offseason move: Seeing Brown leave via free agency to sign with the St. Louis Rams and signing Birk to replace him.
Will reach the playoffs if ... They allow Flacco to be more of a passer. It's time to set him free. They did in the preseason, but it has to carry over.
Rookie to watch: Oher. He's already a starter at right tackle and will provide a physical presence in the run game.
Overview: I really like what I've seen from Flacco this summer. He has developed into a player who really sees the field. He carved up Carolina last Saturday. He doesn't have great weapons outside, but they're good enough. Ray Rice is set for a big year running the football. The defense, even with the loss of coordinator Rex Ryan, will be nasty again. There is too much talent for a real fall down the rankings. This team will be a battle every week no matter who the opponent. If Flacco continues to grow, they could get past Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Bengals
Significant additions: WR Laveranues Coles, T Andre Smith, LB Rey Maualuga and TE Chase Coffman.

Significant losses: TE Reggie Kelly (injury), T Stacy Andrews and WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Biggest offseason move: Getting Palmer healthy. They are a different team with him in there.
Will reach the playoffs if ... If the offensive line can come together and keep Palmer on the field.
Rookie to watch: Coffman. With Kelly and Ben Utecht out for the season, Coffman has to be a factor in the passing game. He isn't a good blocker, however.
Overview: When you get back a quarterback of the caliber of Palmer, there's only one way to go. And that's up. How far depends on the line. If they can come together, this team will score a lot of points. What many don't realize is how good this defense can be. It was 12th last year and has one of the best young corner tandems in Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. This is a unit that could be a lot better under underrated coordinator Mike Zimmer. If Baltimore or the Steelers struggle some, Cincinnati could slip into the playoff mix.

Cleveland Browns
Significant additions: S Abram Elam, G Floyd Womack, T John St. Clair, C Alex Mack, DE Kenyon Coleman, WR Brian Robiskie and WR Mohamed Massaquoi.
Significant losses: LB Andra Davis, S Sean Jones and TE Kellen Winslow.
Biggest offseason move: Firing Romeo Crennel and bringing in Mangini to take over. He brings a rigid style that can alienate players.
Will reach the playoffs if ... Palmer, Roethlisberger and Flacco all go down. Even then, it would be in doubt. But the Browns will be feisty.
Rookie to watch: Mack. He's already penciled in as the starter at center and will play a major role in how well the Browns can run it.
Overview: Mangini will do things his way. The question is whether that's a good thing. Some wonder why the Browns hired him, and that is a legitimate question after the Jets fired him. The quarterback situation is still in flux, although I think Brady Quinn will be the starter. He should be, anyway. The Browns will play a physical brand of football, which is the Mangini way, but do they have enough talent? I don't think so. They are the cellar team in this tough division and must wait a year before they can even think playoffs.

NFC East Preview

There hasn't been a repeat winner in the NFC East since 2004, and I mention that as a warning to the New York Giants. As reigning champions, they're vulnerable to a sneak attack by someone down below -- with Philadelphia the most likely choice.
If the Giants have a problem, it's a No. 1 receiver -- they don't have one. Not yet, at least. But that doesn't make them unique.

Every club here has a hole. With Philadelphia it's the offensive line; with Washington, it's the offensive line; with Dallas, it's the month of December and a head coach and quarterback who haven't won a playoff game.
I guess that's another way of saying anything can happen here, but when it does expect the Giants and Eagles to be the last ones standing. They look like the two strongest and deepest clubs. They also look like dead-bolt cinches for the playoffs.

New York Giants
Significant additions: WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Ramses Barden, DE Chris Canty, LB Michael Boley, DT Rocky Bernard, S C.C. Brown.
Significant losses: WR Plaxico Burress, WR Amani Toomer, RB Derrick Ward, S James Butler, CB Sam Madison, PK John Carney.
Biggest offseason move: Cutting their losses with Burress. He was their top receiver and most dangerous red-zone threat but became a problem -- and a distraction -- with his off-the-field behavior. So the Giants did the right thing and cut him, leaving themselves vulnerable at wide receiver. Big deal. They're better off in the long run.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They can figure out how to fill the holes left by Burress and Toomer. Together, they had 81 catches, including eight for touchdowns, last year. Holdovers Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham combined for five TDs; figure on Smith and Hixon as the starters for now.
Rookie to watch: Nicks. He was their first-round draft pick and is the logical choice to replace Burress some day as the go-to receiver. But injuries reduced his time in training camp, with Nicks struggling to catch up. The good news: He's getting there. The best news: He had two TD catches last weekend.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Giants
2008 standings: 12-4

Pts Scored: 427
Pts Allowed: 294
Off. Yds/G: 355.9
Def. Yds/G: 292.0
2. Eagles
2008 standings: 9-6-1

Pts Scored: 416
Pts Allowed: 289
Off. Yds/G: 350.5
Def. Yds/G: 274.3
3. Redskins
2008 standings: 8-8

Pts Scored: 265
Pts Allowed: 296
Off. Yds/G: 320.0
Def. Yds/G: 288.8
4. Cowboys
2008 standings: 9-7

Pts Scored: 362
Pts Allowed: 365
Off. Yds/G: 344.5
Def. Yds/G: 294.3
Overview: The Giants still are the team to beat in the division. They are loaded on defense, particularly up front, and seem set in all but one spot on offense. That, of course, would be wide receiver. There are a lot of candidates, but all look more like second and third receivers at this point. If and when the Giants get that figured out, look out.

Philadelphia Eagles
Significant additions: QB Michael Vick, T Jason Peters, G Stacy Andrews, S Sean Jones, FB Leonard Weaver, WR Jeremy Maclin, RB LeSean McCoy, CB Ellis Hobbs.
Significant losses: S Brian Dawkins, T Jon Runyan, T Tra Thomas, S Sean Considine, CB Lito Sheppard, TE L.J. Smith, RB Correll Buckhalter.
Biggest offseason move: Acquiring Vick. The guy has a world of talent, but he has been out of football 2½ years and might not be eligible to play for a month. This is a dangerous game the Eagles are playing, with Vick a potential distraction and threat to Donovan McNabb.
Will go to the playoffs if ... The offensive line holds up. You tell me how many starts the Eagles get out of Shawn Andrews. Subtract him, and you have Winston Justice at right tackle. The last time I saw him start he looked more like a turnstile than a tackle. Granted, he's better now, but he's a risk.
Rookie to watch: Running back LeSean McCoy took over for Brian Westbrook this summer and was marvelous. He was everything the club envisioned when it made him its second pick, and what it envisioned was someone who could do just about everything Westbrook could. Now he's the perfect complement to Westbrook, a relief pitcher who might help keep the veteran in the lineup 16 games.
Overview: Sorry, Joe Banner, but this isn't the most talented roster in the NFL. It is, however, deep in almost all the right places. The loss of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is huge, with Sean McDermott in the unenviable position of succeeding him. The loss of Dawkins, the leader on and off the field, is big, too. But the Eagles have weapons galore, and isn't that what McNabb said he needed to get to the Super Bowl? One problem: While quick and fast, these weapons are small.

Washington Redskins
Significant additions: DT Albert Haynesworth, LB Brian Orakpo, DL Jeremy Jarmon, G Derrick Dockery, P Hunter Smith, T Mike Williams.
Significant subtractions: G Pete Kendall, CB Shawn Springs, T Jon Jansen, DE Jason Taylor, LB Marcus Washington, DE Demetric Evans.
Biggest offseason move: Shelling out the big bucks for Haynesworth. He was the year's top unrestricted free agent, and the Redskins should be a lot better against the run -- and the pass -- with him bottling up the middle. If there's a concern, it's this: His two best years were contract drives; now that he has the money, what happens?
Will go to the playoffs if ... They can get their offense and Jason Campbell to put together two good halves in one season. The Redskins were 6-2 at the break a year ago, but injuries to the offensive line and Clinton Portis doomed them for the stretch run. That can't happen again, or Campbell and his head coach are out.
Rookie to watch: Orakpo. He was almost unblockable when I stopped by to watch the team practice. He can rush the passer. He can defend the run. He can drop into coverage. For the moment, he looks like someone who will be difficult to solve and who should be on the short list for 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Overview: Washington helped itself defensively with the drafts of Orakpo and Jarmon and the acquisition of Haynesworth. Now it must produce more offense than it did the second half of last season. The problem: The Redskins play in the NFL's toughest division with its fourth-best quarterback. Time for Jason Campbell to make a name for himself.

Dallas Cowboys
Significant additions: QB Jon Kitna, LB Keith Brooking, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Igor Olshansky.
Significant losses: WR Terrell Owens, CB Pacman Jones, DE Chris Canty, LB Zach Thomas, CB Anthony Henry, DT Tank Johnson, QB Brad Johnson, S Roy Williams, LB Kevin Burnett, S Keith Davis.
Biggest offseason move: Letting Owens walk. He led the team in touchdown receptions. He led it in receiving yards. He was second in catches. But when controversy swirled near the end of the season, guess who was in the middle? Enough is enough. Hasta la vista, baby.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They figure out how to win in December. The Cowboys are about as good in the clutch as Alex Rodriguez, with a 5-10 record in December and January the past three years and a 44-6 humiliation in Philadelphia in last year's season finale. Brutal.
Rookie to watch: WR Kevin Ogletree. He's an undrafted rookie out of the University of Virginia, and he has done a good job as a kickoff returner and wide receiver -- with productive games the past two weeks. Look for him to lock down the fifth wide receiver position. The problem the Cowboys have with their high-profile rookies is injuries, with Jason Williams out 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain and Robert Brewster on IR.
Overview: There's talent here, but there's also an aging offensive line and a thin group of receivers. If the Cowboys stick to the run, they could be OK. If they try to make Tony Romo and the passing attack their star performers you can kiss the season goodbye.