Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Two Thousand and Seven N F L Season

AFC East
1) Patriots – Hardly a surprise is it? But I’m not on the bigger bandwagon. I don’t believe signing two injury prone deep threat receivers guarantees you a ring [UPDATE: Moss is already hurt]. While Dillon was slow as a lineman last year, he did give them the option to spell Lawerence Maroney – who sure seemed to bruise easy last year. I guess that job falls to talented but also easily hurt Sammy Morris this season. Still they are a contender and the class of the division. [UPDATE: With Rodney Harrison suspended and Richard Seymour out hurt for 6 weeks I have been hearing a lot about how the Pats D may struggle, but don’t believe it. They have enough there to overcome the temporary loss of two talented leaders]

2) Bills – Let’s see they have a retread nobody as head coach, a retiree GM who made awful moves this offseason ($49 million for Derrick Dockery!?! and trading for a DT they couldn't sign), an unproven QB and lost a bunch of guys. So you have to admire my kohonies in picking them second don’t you? It is pretty simple – they are not great (I see them as around .500), but they do have talent, and you have to consider the rest of the division…

3) Jets – I have always been a big Chad Pennington guy – last year I said if he could stay healthy they could surprise. And I like their moves, Thomas Jones gives them an everydown back. So why am I down on this former playoff team? First of all they are the Jets, you can’t ignore history. Secondly everything came together for them last year, and I can see a few bad bounces or key injuries (I like Pennington, but lets be serious - maybe Kellen Clemens will come on gangbusters) really killing them. And yes I know about Andre Wadsworth, I am rooting for him, but I don't think he will make a difference [UPDATE: he was cut].

4) Dolphins – They are a year older, basically added no talent other than Joey Porter, have a first time head coach (not that Saban was loss) and a 37 year old injury prone quarterback who his last team viewed as inferior to Damon Huard. Congrats Phins Phans (Dol Fans?) you get a top five pick next year.

AFC North
1) Ravens – I thought long and hard about giving the division to the Steelers, but they lost Porter and have a new coach while the Ravens added Willis McGahee who is a huge jump over an aging Jamal Lewis. They defense lost Adalius Thomas, but I was never sold that he wasn’t benefiting from who he was playing around. The defense will still be good. Last year I said if the never given enough due Steve McNair could stay healthy this team would be a force and they were 13-3 when he did. The same holds true.

2) Steelers – Roethlisberger hasn’t done and face first dives into cars lately so I am expecting this team to be better. They have pretty solid talent all around him (Santonio Holmes and TE Heath Miller help the passing game), some depth (but they don't have much behind RB Willie Parker) and if they have a rookie coach Mike Tomlin, so far he seems to be okay.

3) Bengals – How many arrests did this team have last year? And for all the jailtime you would think they had more talent, but nope their defense is still suspect and can’t stop the run. Wasn’t that supposed to be Marvin Lewis’s specialty? They lost some bodies on both lines, but with Palmer throwing to Johnson and Houshmanzadeh and handing off to quiet stud Rudi Johnson this offense has the potential to keep them in a lot of games and possibly get them a bunch of wins and into the playoffs.

4) Browns – I don’t grasp how Jamal Lewis is supposed to be an upgrade over Rueben Droughns at all. But the offensive line will be a lot better (especially if LaCharles Bentley makes a miracle comeback). In the second half of the season when Brady Quinn takes over throwing to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow they will have an offense in place. To bad the defense is a bunch of nothing starring backup quality starting DL. So long Romeo it was nice knowing you.

AFC South
1) Texans – Have I lost my mind? Do I really think that Matt Shaub is that much better than David Carr? Not exactly, but they also added Ahman Green after having no running game last year and there is some talent here – Andre Johnson, Dunta Robinson, they have been picking early for a while now. This is also a reflection of my thoughts on the rest of the division.

2) Colts – After winning a Super Bowl (WHICH I WAS AT – DON’T QUESTION ME) the typical run on the champs players began. They lost some talent on defense and then they drafted offensive players. (but hey, that has always been the model). Highly underrated LT Tarik Glenn retired. They have no backup plan if RB Joseph Addai gets hurt (which was not uncommon for him at LSU). All of that hurts, but also I think they take a step back just because this wasn’t a team for the ages. Their defense got hot when they needed it to, but I don’t buy they fixed it permanently (and Booger McFarland blew his knee out).

3) Jaguars – Ah Jacksonsville, every year they have so much talent and yet can’t put it together (their WR is a perfect microcosm of this). The Jags play good teams tough, but then get upended by sub .500 rosters. This year they have even less of a chance because there is tons of tension between Leftwich and Del Rio thanks to Del Rio publicly stating he wanted to draft Quinn, the team telling Lefty they wanted to sign Dante Culpepper, and him probably still being pissed about being forced to the bench with an injury he thought he could beat. Most ironic – probably neither of them are back next year. [Update: or maybe Del Rio would show he is cluesless by cutting Leftwich right before the season started after not having his new starter David Garrard ever play with the first team. And while everyone likes Garrard and says the team wins with him, he is not that good – he runs, but is an average passer.]

4) Titans – Vince Young ran around his rookie season and everyone thinks he is great – don’t believe the hype, go check out his passing numbers. And who is he supposed to throw to? Can you name a Titan receiver now that Drew Bennett is a Ram? The running game is not much better as they resigned Chris Brown after he was in free agency for a long time because Lendale White can’t put down the donut (they also Chris Henry in the second). And the only defender you know (possibly besides the money Keith Bullock) is suspended Pacman Jones (whose talents will be missed on the field). Too bad; I am worried Fisher will get canned, he is a good coach who deserves better.

AFC West
1) Broncos – Cutler will hopefully grow into his role, and he will be helped by the addition of Travis Henry to give a steady ground game and Javon Walker in his second back from an ACL. Their defense should be a little better with DE Jarvis Moss and CB Dre Bly (neither of whom will be huge stars) - which adds to their impressive DL and CB depth.

2) Chargers – Arguably the most talented roster in league outside of wide receiver (and what a great move to draft Craig Davis out of LSU in the first round – he wasn’t even the #1 guy at LSU last year!! Hope Vincent Jackson comes through), but welcome Norv Turner. I am not opposed the idea of giving coaches second chances, it takes a while to learn and sometimes you need to take some time off and reflect – but if a guy has totally washed out twice and got a reputation for not being able to get his teams up for big games you don’t give him a third shot. Some guys are just meant to be coordinators. (As an aside you don’t fire coaches who went 14-2 either).

3) Chiefs – Given that they have not lost much why I am predicting them to fall from the playoffs? They lost Will Shields, but hey they lost Willie Roaf last year. They added Donnie Edwards, and I like Herm as a coach (laugh about “you play to win” but he gets good mileage from his teams). And while Scary Larry has his big contract and carried the burden last year I don’t see a major backslide for him. I can’t exactly place why I am down on them, but do I really think Damen Huard can do it two years in a row? And remember he is throwing to an aging Tony Gonzalez and the same makeshift WRs they have had for years. They barely made the post season last year and were quickly bounced. They do have enough talent on their roster that I can’t really put them much lower. Remember the name Tamba Hali their first round pick at DE last year.

4) Raiders – As terrible as they were last year they will be better. Lamar Gordon was hurt, but he is talented. And with Michael Bush and Dominic Rhodes spelling him the ground game will be there - and don't sleep on the value of new FB Justin Griffith. JaMarcus Russell will bust, but people forget how good Culpepper was just a few years ago, if he can recapture that (I will say the odds are 50-50) the Raiders will not be a joke (they would have been if they had stuck with career backup Josh McNown as their “veteran” starter). They don’t have much of a receiving corps though. The defense was pretty good last year, and they added Gerard Warren to their line rotation. Still it is short of stars and defenses with high ratings on bad teams don't tend to do as well when the team get better and opponents don't come into the game expecting a snoozer. In a weaker division I would not have them 4th.

NFC East
1) Eagles - There is a lot of buzz with the other teams in this division, but year in and year out the Eagles are steady and usually the class of this division. Assuming McNabb can stay healthy I don't see any reason for this to change (if he isn't A.J. Feeley can't pull a Jeff Garcia). They are still dubious at WR (for how many years now?), their only move was adding Kevin Curtis, who isn't at good as the departing Donte Stallworth, but on the other hand since his hamstrings aren't made of glass he might be able to actually play all 16 games. On defense they lost Darwin Walker, who was good if not a star. Last year's #1 Broderick Buckey better step up. They also punted Jeremiah Trotter, but since they added Takeo Spikes I think they have a solid upgrade in their Old-LB position. I'll remind you that last year they drafted Jeremy Bloom to be their return specialist, but he was hurt all year so now we shall see how wise that pick was.

2) Cowboys - This mainly by default, everyone talks about how talented this division is, but I doubt. Dallas is not going back to the playoffs. Romo came back to earth in a hurry. T.O. is starting to show is age (and Terry Glenn will soon enough). Bill Parcells got a good mileage out of a bunch that is not as talented as most think (at least they finally recognized that the most overrated player in NFL - Roy Williams - is lost in coverage). So now Wade Phillips is the solution - are you kidding me!?! I never understand why owners buy into trying to retread flops rather than taking a risk on an up and comer. I know the players are going on and on about how happy they are the tyrant Parcells is gone, but the Pats said the same thing and then found that discipline actually served a purpose.

3) Redskins - Unless Jesse Campbell is alot better than he looked at Auburn or so far in the NFL this will continue to be a team with two injury prone offense stars trying to hang on with an overachieving defense. Maybe Gibb's last season, so Snyder can go back to wrecking his team next year.

4) Giants - Let's see. You best player retired because he hated the coach. Your second best player may do the same (or play all season in a funk). Your QB had his "I am woman hear me roar" moment is a verbal spat with his ex-RB. The defense has no real stars and is weak to the run (and not great against the pass). The two offensive weapons are a over hyped injury prone tightend (who is a dickhead) and a physically talented receiver with no heart. I also really don't like cutting LT Luke Petitgout. Maybe he was not a Pro Bowler and had some injury issues, but he was solid (he sure was able sign elsewhere quickly didn't he?). With a team in serious transition you don't do that without a replacement ready (the Gints are not sure who their LT will be). Now a good LT would not make this team a contender, but a void over there may stunt Eli's growth...if that still matters. The only good news is I think their new GM picked pretty well in draft - good practice for when they are picking high next year.

AFC North
1) Packers - No I don't really like them, but since I don't think the Bears can keep it together they are the only other option. They have the only legitimate starting QB in the division, Driver is an NFL #1 WR, if not a top tier one (assuming he is kay after a preseason ding). They have an okay defense, but may miss Ahman Green.

2) Bears - Last year a great defense and getting all the breaks got this team all the way to Miami (WHERE THEY SAW ME). Chances of that happening again are slim, especially since by now even Sexy Rexy knows he sucks. His confidence has to next to nil at this point. Thomas Jones, a good blue collar guy, is gone as his safety blanket. Darwin Walker for Tank Johnson is a wash (or an upgrade as Walker isn't suspend for half the season). Adam Archuleta still can't cover anyone.

3) Remarkably they are going with John Kitna at QB again. Other than the ability to make crazy boasts about ten win seasons what does he bring to the table? Calvin Johnson will be good, but no rookie is going to turn Kitna into Joe Montana. Maybe Drew Stanton from Michigan State (I'm always cautious when a team takes a local boy), their second rounder will develop and be something next year. With their talented, but injury prone, RB Kevin Jones coming off a serious foot surgery they added the less talent and equally injury prone Tatum Bell and the hearty, but talent-challenged T.J. Duckett. The defense is pretty good. They did lose their best CB in Dre Bly (not that he is a 1st tier guy - despite was ESPN's talking heads think) but I like the addition of Dwayne White and they added some spot starters on the OL.

4) Vikings - Having no quarterback is not the way to be competitive. Tarvaris Jackson may have been their second round pick last year - but with Quinn sitting there starring you in the face to pass on him...well let us just say that Adrian Peterson better be as good as advertised (and able to stay healthy). There is a little talent on this roster in spots (but none at WR unless rookie 2nd rounder Gamecock Sidney Rice comes on house a fire), but not nearly enough for in a mile over his head Brad Childress to savage anything.

AFC South
1) Bucs - This is a tough division to prognostocate. Anyone but the FalcDogs can make a legitimate argument that they will take this division crown. I am crossing my fingers that Garcia can stay healthy for most of the season (the way he throws himself around he will miss at least a few games - maybe if he gets whacked Jake Plummer will come in). Ditto for Joey Galloway as they have few other options as WR. With a real passing attack Cadillac will have more holes to run through and the defense added Cato June and Gaines Adams with the #4 pick so they should still be a tough D (and still fast, but small) save maybe at safety (perhaps they can move June back to his old college spot). Kevin Carter gives them DL depth and Petitgout improves a so-so OL.

2) Saints - How many teams have had one hot season and then fallen back? How midlevel talented does this roster look on paper? It is very risky to keep them this high but - Brees has by now established himself as a Pro Bowler and one of the better QBs in the league. Three seasons despite a torn lat does that. The OL is deep and they have two good DEs in Charles Grant and Will Smith and solid DTs in runstopper Hollis Thomas and high motor Brian Young. They added Robert Meachem at WR with their first pick in case Colston was a one hit wonder. And if Eric Johnson can stay healthy at TE (admittedly a big if - but I was very sorry to see him leave San Fran) that give another very serious receiving threat. Reggie Bush is a unique talent, I don't think he will ever be an every down back (and I want to go on the record now I see a DUI or something in his future) but with Duece McAllister working the everydown back role (and in his second year off a knee) Bush can be used to maximum affect. On defense they added some depth in the secondary and some bodies to the bodies they already had at LB.

3) Panthers - I have been singing their praises for a while, but at some point if you have a great roster you need to put it together and actually win something. And while I never liked Keyshawn Johnson he was a solid #2 WR; cutting him leaves Steve Smith to battle against the world alone again unless someone develops (not holding my breath on Dwayne Jarrett). As for adding Texans reject David Carr (who to be fair is a strong candidate for a relocation rejuvenation), maybe he will put enough pressure on Delhomme to make him more consistent. Maybe Fox is in his last year. Dan Morgan should not be allowed to play, someone needs to be given the authority to step in and tell these guys they can't play. They they are 40 and know who they are they will thank whomever it is. All of this NFL ignoring how badly concussions leave their players (and how beat up they are in general) is really starting to wear me down and make it hard to just chill out and enjoy the game in the moment sometimes.

4) Falcons - Michael Vick should fry in hell - his team will go through a hellish season. It wasn't his upbringing, or that he got caught up with the wrong crowd, or did not know how to handle fame and riches - he is just "Bad Newz." Even if the RB/qb had been playing they would not have been that good - adding the declining Joe Horn to a receiving corps of underachieving first round picks means TE Alge Crumpler is still their only legit threat through the air. Consider it a mulligan year. Petrino will learn what he has and the pro game. They'll have some high picks next year so Bobby can pick up his college QB if he wants and add some other talent to a roster that isn't as bad as the top-5 pick they will have, meaning they will have a bunch of talent. Two years from now they may be better off for it. Also it is too late now but I want credit for thinking of the obvious answer to their Vick dilemma: not Dante Culpepper, but Jake Plummer. By the time it was clear they needed starter every halfway decent one already had a job - save for the recently "retired" Plummer. Plummer has said he would come back if he was guaranteed a starting job which Tampa would not give him, but Atlanta sure could have. He's not great, but he can get you to the playoffs and since he has some wheels they would not have had to scrap their entire Vickfense gameplan. You may laugh but which would you rather have: Jake the Snake or an a 5th round pick and the Joey Harrington and Company Pu-pu platter?

NFC West
1) Seahawks - They had it rough last year, but hung in there. That impressed me enough that I am willing to say they will retain the NFC West crown for a 3rd season if Shaun Alexander is healthy. Losing (and using that word roughly since they willingly traded him off) Darryl Jackson hurt, but they will Deion Branch in camp this year rather than learning the offense.

2) Rams - Last year I picked them and they started out well, but then lost a bunch of close games. Bulger, Jackson, Holt (other targets include Isaac Bruce and quality free agents Drew Bennett and TE Randy McMichael), and a respectable defense make them force. Everyone is doing a happy dance over their first round pick Adam Carriker's strong preseason. Also he is probably done, but I will throw in there that they picked up one time return ace Dante Hall from the Chiefs.

3) 49ers - Everyone is saying they playoff bound, but I don't see it. Giving free agents star salaries does not mean they will play that way and it doesn't punch your ticket for Glendale. I know sometimes I seem pessimistic about my own teams, but Alex Smith will have to take a leap (everyone forgets he had 16 picks last year - the same number of touchdowns he had) while working with a new offensive coordinator. Frank Gore is good, but is always a huge injury risk (for those who are curious he is out this preseason with a broken hand). The backup is second year man Michael Robinson from Penn State - where he played quarterback - so in other words if Frank is done so is San Fran. The starting receiving corps - Jackson (a legit #1 WR, if more a posession guy than a star), Arnez Battle (a Notre Dame QB) and last year's #6 pick speedy (but often hurt last year) TE Veron Davis - is qualty, but there are only questionmarks behind them. Speedy rookie 3rd rounder Jason Hill is my favorite, but Taylor Jacobs who they traded for from Washington last year reportedly had a good camp and for the second year in a row TE Delanie Walker is making noise - injuries nixed his rookie year. There is good OL depth, but on the other line there are mainly roleplayers. The best guy is 35 year old DE Bryant Young - assuming his bulging disk can be treated (if not the only passrush from the DL will have is from former Gator Ray McDonald). Good depth at LB, although last year's best player Brandon Moore has been benched. He will eventually break his way back in, probably over Derrick Smith - I don't understand why Nolan doesn't like him) - hopefully Patrick Willis is as good as advertised, and either last year's second first round pick Manny Lawson or ex-Pat free agent Tully Banta-Cain (who I like) can get some passrush (that is the point of OLBs in the 3-4 right?). They have 3 starters (not stars) at CB and depth, but the safety starters are for the most part just guys. So that is my favorite team - and in case you think I am too negative I am will say that I have swung around on Nolan and think if they keeping filling out their roster the way they have then next year they will be deep into the post-season.

4) Cardinals - I hear people talking about them making noise and they certainly have the skill position talent of offense (although Lienart will need time to grow), but not so much on defense besides a couple of good DTs (including rookie Alan Branch from Michigan) and a guy proud to call himself the third best safety in the league. Maybe Roderick Hood will be quality at CB after getting out from under a deep roster in Philly. Plus they have already lost two starters on their lines for the season to replace their top two draft picks.

Wild Cards: Colts, Steelers, Saints, Rams (thought alot about the Panthers).
Wild Card winners: Colts over Texans, Pats over Steelers, Saints over Packers (which everyone will see coming as the 9-7 Pack are basically a default) and Rams over Bucs
Divisional: Ravens over Colts, Pats over Broncos (I am not a card carrying member of the Belichick fanclub, but Cutler is a second year guy and I do think the Pats can get him, even if their coach isn't really one of the all time best), Saints over Seahawks, Eagles over Rams
Championship: Ravens over Pats. The Ravens are very talented - where they are is much more a comment about Ozzie Newsome than Brian Billick. Eagles over Saints

First of all I have to acknowledge that I have picked both my #1 seeds making it to Glendale. I also have picked two teams with older QBs who may not last the season. Note this is a brilliant tactic on my part as a predictor as if they go down I can say hey act of God you can't predict injuries therefore my calls were good ones. This is especially good for this year as I have been busy and not able to put as much time in studying as I normally do. Anyway Eagles upset the Ravens (there I shocked the world) and hopefully I get to see McNabb holding the trophy look into camera and say "hey T.O. get a good look at this trophy because this is the closet you will ever get to it unless I shove it up your ass." (Some of my older fans will recall this was my hope for Jeff Garcia going into the playoffs last year - I've always liked Jeff and he was the only rooting interest I really had one the playoffs started last year. He really was a great QB, but he will never get a ring - on the other hand he is married to possibly the hottest playmate I have ever seen (Carmella DeCesare – I can heard the Google engines firing up now), so he is doing okay for himself.


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