Tuesday, September 01, 2009

2009 NFL season predictions

Patriots - I don't see a Super Bowl trophy in their future, but they went 11-5 without Brady and they put up an awful lot of points in 2007. No team stays that hot for that long and he defense is definitely older and less talent than it used to be. I’m also expecting that after Brady’s injury and the Giants success in the Super Bowl that teams will be sending the house against this offense.

Bills - I don't know how far I trust Trent Edwards, but he is certainly talented with a bunch of potential. Even without TO this team was loaded, Marshawn Lynch, backed up by Fred Jackson, hell their 3rd RB is Dominic Rhodes. At WR they have Lee Evans, James Hardy, Roscoe Parrish and Josh Reed. I do think TO helps them - he is on a one year contract and was cut, he knows he has to behave and he usually takes a season to really lose it anyway (although if they struggle...). He is still talented enough to give Buffalo their first dynamic offensive threat in a while. And the defense is good - they are not household names and the depth is thin, but there is talent at linebacker and secondary. On the DL Marcus Stroud showed the Jags made a mistake. The pashrush might be better if first round pick Aaron Maybin finally signs and aging Aaron Schobel can rebound - if not they will struggle here too. However for all that the Bills are a wildcard at the very best. Mainly because they were using the mammoth Langston Walker, a right tackle reject from the Raiders at left tackle. And two rookie guards. And who knows at RT and center. Plus I’m not a believer in Dick Jauron. And an aging Ralph Wilson and talk of moving to Toronto gives this team an unsettled feel that may hinder them.

Dolphins - I don't think this team will fall back as much as most pundits. But I predict Pennington will get hurt (the weakness of this under-appreciated QB) and/or Sparano will flip to the strong armed Chad Henne seeking to put some explosiveness in offense that other than Ronnie Brown is mainly plodders. And that Wildcat won't catch folks by surprise. Maybe returning home will rejuvenate Jason Taylor and he and Joey Porter will be all over opposing QBs - enough to hide a young secondary and they sneak into the playoffs. But I doubt it. Do remember the name Davone Bess.

Jets – New York will come to regret hiring Rex Ryan. He has already shot his mouth off several times, the apple did not fall far from the tree. They did add some talent on defense in Bart Scott, Lito Sheppard, and Jim Leonhard, but I'm not sold on Sanchez - it is easy to look good at USC against the defenseless Pac-10. I do like Shonn Greene, remember that name when the takes over for Thomas Jones by next preseason at the latest. Dustin Keller is an up and comer at TE, but without Laveranues Coles they need to find another WR.

Steelers - The defending champs get their first round pick RB Rashard Mendenhall back after he barely played, have 2nd year WR Limas Sweed to replace the departed Nate Washington, and probably upgrade at ILB by releasing Larry Foote for Lawrence Timmons. They lost their #2 corner, but remember this is a team full of guys who have gone through the Super Bowl let down and know how easily it can hit.

Ravens - Joe Flacco is getting way to much hype - he was hardly carrying Baltimore last year. That said the defense will still be strong, the OL got a first round pick at right tackle and there is no reason not to assume they won't be playoff team again. Their RB corps is more settled, their OL is a little better, (about the same at center) they lost one LB and still have no WRs outside of Derrick Mason. I think highly of John Harbaugh at coach.

Browns - They adde and egotistical coach, have their two QBs back (bet you Quinn starts), traded away Winslow making Braylon Edwards, who they tried to trade, their only big play guy. They added two receivers in the second round, but rookie WRs rarely make impacts and these guys are not impact type guys. Jamal Lewis is a year older – look for James Davis to take more and more of his carries as the season goes on. They lost SF Sean Jones in the secondary. There just not that much talent here.

Bungles - Initially I had them ahead of the Browns. Admittedly they are running Cedric Benson, and replaced TJ Houshmandzadeh with Laveranues Coles, and Chad OchoBozo is now in decline as well as a cancer, but they still have a fair amount talent. They get Keith Rivers back and team him with Rey Maualuga at LB. Drafting Andre Smith eases losing both their old tackles. But I have no idea who is playing left tackle for the statue Carson Palmer. Chris Henry is a good third WR. They added Roy Williams at safety, which actually weakens them in coverage. Still they have more talent then the Brownies, but I think this team unravels and Marvin Lewis is gone. I don't understand why HBO decided to do "Hard Knocks" here, but it is funny to hear how it shows clueless Mike Brown dictates to his coaches.

The Bungles continue to make awful moves (possibly because they are cheap). A perfect example: why did they keep Cedric Benson rather than get find a better starter? Benson averaged 3.5 yards last year. He did manage to tally a hundred yard three times - against teams with a combined 11-37 record. In no other game did he get more than 73 yards, which he did once, otherwise he was 57 yards or less every game. He never cracked 4.5 yards a carry outside of his three big games, or 3.8 in any other. Really, explain it to me.

Texans – I have been burned by them before, but boy do they have some talent. I am seriously worried about this prediction because both their QB and RB are too much of an injury risk for me (Shaub is already dinged). They are not a bad team and Gary Kubiak is not a bad coach – but unfortunately this may be his last year. If they can stay healthy with Schaub, Slaton, Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels, strong legged Kris Brown at kicker, Mario Edwards, DeMeco Ryans, and a hopefully recovered Dunta Robinson then this is your team that comes out of nowhere to win the division. But that is asking a lot and they have no depth (Dan Orlovsky anyone?). I am prepared to hear it come December, but I stand by this prediction.

Colts – I have predicted their decline incorrect before but, Harrison is gone, Dungy is gone, Peyton is getting older. The window is starting to close for the Colts. But they won twelve games last year after a poor start as Manning was coming back from a knee and with a rushing attack (actually more of a rushing harassment) that averaged 3.4 yards a carry. To this they added speedy RB Donald Brown with their first round pick. And don’t forget they still have the 2007 Division III player of the year whom they drafted last year. But I don’t want to oversell this, there is no reason not to expect 10-11 wins. Maybe Bob Sanders will even stay healthy (they better hope so given that Antoine Bethea is already hurt).

Titans – I love Jeff Fisher, but Kerry Collins has historically been way too inconsistent for my blood (and we all know to pay attention to history right kids?). And Lord help them if they have to go to Vince Young (who I bet is entering his last year as a Titan short of taking a major paycut). Plus Haynesworth is gone after really helping them with a career year - although they did pick up Jovan Haye who showed something in Tampa. They drafted a WR from Rutgers (“Times they are a changin’”), but rookie WRs rarely do much . On the other hand ex-Steeler Nate Washington, could go from a big play change of pace guy to their #1 outside threat. Last year as a third WR he had 40 catches. Only one less then Tennessee’s leading WR (TE had 58) – and that was Brandon Jones who left for the Niners. Journeyman Justin Gage is the best returnee who had 34 grabs and more than 2tds for the first time in his career. And they have some solid depth on TE (even if Crumpler is spent). Cortland Finnegan is a year older and hopefully less of a hothead.

Jaguars - Two years ago David Garrard surprisingly took over as QB, and led them to a 11-5 record while throwing only three picks. Everyone said he was great (ignoring his three picks in two playoff games), but I had the advantage of watching him regularly. Last year I said "I want to be clear that I don’t think they contenders – Garrard became a hero last year by guiding them to eleven wins and only throw three picks, but he is not as good as you might think. He can’t put a team on his back, and he makes more mistakes than those three picks would lead you to believe (he himself said he was lucky to have some dropped – he threw three more in two playoff games)" and he went on to throw 13 picks on a five win team. They also suffered for trading away Marcus Stroud and thinking a quality spot player (Rob Meier) could be the starter. This is the "home" team I see the most and it is moments such as these that I really do believe I could be at least a slightly above average NFL exec. Anyway the Jags grabbed two bookend tackles for their O-line in the first two rounds, but let Fred Taylor leave and I am not sure Maurice Jones-Drew can handle 300+ carries. LB Mike Smith left because Del Rio got a stick up his ass (he'll be leaving this year too). They got new WRs, which was clearly the right move, but when your headliner (Tory Holt) was cut by one of the worst teams in the league as too old you get fourth in the division. Maybe last year's first two DE bookend picks Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves can make a big leap and get six sacks each - as opposed to combined.

Chargers - If there was ever a team that was the posterchild for winning by default it is the San Diego Chargers. Last year in a terrible division they squeaked in at 8-8 (I know they lost in Denver on a crap call, but that still only makes them 9-7). Milquetoast Turner should thank GM John Butler for giving him the best talent in the division. They may win a few more games this year if LT is healthy. He is in decline, but is still a little better than he played last year (although if the Charges think Darren Sproles can be an every down back they have trouble in their future). Antonio Gates was dinged up last year (remember that toe in the 2007 playoffs?) and will be a little better. Vincent Jackson is coming on at WR (as Chambers is stepping off). Phillip Rivers is good, although his hothead ways will eventually cost him - you can do that at WR, but not QB. Both lines are still good, although the DL is getting a little long in the tooth. Don't underestimate the value of getting Shawne Merriman back. Even if he is off the juice he still is talented. They spent their first round pick on a DE/OLB passrusher (Larry English) who has looked good and will benefit playing on the other side of Merriman too (and look better than he is), if he can beat the injury bug that has been working him over through camp.

Chiefs - Speaking of by default... Kansas City is not a playoff team, but they are the second best in their division. They paid Cassel way too much, but remarkably only gave up a second to get him and Mike Vrabel at LB. Cassel is an average QB who looked good throwing to Randy Moss. Reports from training camp talk about him being outplayed by the immortal Brodie Croyle, he of the lifetime 0-8 record. Croyle is actually no so bad, but can't stay healthy. Last year they developed Tyler Thigpen, but the new regime may dump him. They will be able to run, because if Larry Johnson can't regain his form they have a talented young pup in Jamaal Charles. Dwayne Bowe is a star in the making and they were right to get something for Tony Gonzalez since they are rebuilding. Of course they also signed Zach Thomas. Maybe at 35 he has a little left, maybe Vrabel does too at 34 (my bet is one does and one doesn't, not sure which), but neither will be starters by the time this team gets good (ditto for Amani Toomer and Bobby Engram). Why not see what you have in your youngsters and get the some experience? Not sure about Pioli. In the draft they spent the #3 overall pick (and a wad of cash) on a 3-4 DE. I like Tyson Jackson and always respected him in the bayou. You can make he claim they took him too high and could have traded down (Mel Kiper sure would), but I am of the view if you get the right talented guy and he pans out it is a good pick. They probably could have traded down, but maybe lost Jackson in the process. And maybe he will fix Glenn Dorsey's head. At least he is a fit in the 3-4. This defense is the fad of the moment (well, after the wildcat) too many idiots look at Pittsburgh's success and think they can emulate it not realizing that the Steelers have been drafting players to fit that system for years and did not suddenly switch figuring any old DE can bounce back to linebacker. Ask the Browns how well that works.

Raiders - It pains me not to be able to put them fourth this year, but I will have to console myself by remembering they won't even sniff eight wins. Good ol' Al Davis blew another pick after getting mesmerized by a 40 time. So far former Gator Luis Murphy, their fourth round pick, has out performed Darrius Heyward-Bey. Not that it really matters with JaHamburger Russell throwing passes. Jeff Garcia was very good, but is the same age a Favre now so who knows what he can still do (besides play better than the JaHamburger). It is moot anyway, Al won't let Iron Tom "The Hurricane" Cable play him. Honestly could a pro team be any more dysfunctional? Want to amuse yourself? Go read Warren Sapp's comments about Oakland once he retired. [NOTE: do not do this if you are a Raiders fan]. They have a good RB (and depth behind him), TE, P, and CB (though he is a little too hyped) and that is about it. Rob Ryan is gone as defensive coordinator. Their big free agent was 34 year old Cowboy castoff Greg Ellis or maybe Jaguars OT Khalif Barnes, who looked good when he first entered the league but lost favor in Jacksonville. Although given their spending last year that is may not be a bad thing. Javon Walker is still on the team, maybe this year will be the one he recaptures his 2004 form. He's only 31 and has plenty of mileage after only starting 12 games (41 catches) the last two years right? [Some times my biases come out a little huh?]

Broncos - If you fire an experienced coach for some who clearly doesn't know what he is doing and makes such a hash of the situation that the team has to dump a franchise QB there is a feeding frenzy for that gets you fourth place in my eyes. It would have been even funnier had they actually traded for Cassel and he had bombed. Their #1 receiver is pulling a Chad Johnson. Kyle Orton is a spot starter. They had two first round picks thanks to Cutler and spent their first on a running back when they had a mess of quality there - although admitted a mess of injured quality without a clear every down stud. They had already signed LaMont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter, and J.J. Arrington (since cut). This does not scream of a team with a well thought out plan. With their second they took DE Robert Ayers out of Tennessee. Do you remember them having a stud DE? Me neither. And they are moving him to OLB because they are switching to a 3-4 too. Jarvis Moss is becoming a LB as well. They did grab a couple of CBs (after dumping Domonique Foxworth last year, although that was Shanahan). Brian Dawkins probably has more left them most 35 year olds, smart players age better, but for how long on a team that is at least (and I really mean at least) two years from contending for anything? They did not add much to their D on paper so unless those rookies surprise they will be a weak defense again, but without a big arm QB to throw them back into games.

Eagles - The East is pretty wide open, any one of three teams could win it, but I am going with the Iggles. They made a major push to upgrade their offense, bring in two big offensive tackles, FB Leonard Weaver from Seattle (who is an offensive threat, not a stud blocker), and drafting two quick big play weapons in the first two rounds. Admitted the running back is basically the same guy as Brian Westbrook, but Westbrook is getting older. They picked up SF Sean Jones from the Browns to replace long time great Brian Dawkins to get younger too (and the OTs). All of this was to convince Donovan McNabb to stay, and he did sign a two year contract, when he still had two years left, for big bucks. Then they waded into the Michael Vick pool. Ignoring that he scumbag, it makes little sense. He isn't a quality QB, let alone good for a West Coast Offense. Are you really signing a guy for a handful of gimmick plays a game? And do we really think the wildcat will work when defenses have a year to prep? McNabb supposedly favored bring him in, but Vick is more likely to inadvertently cause a QB controversy when bitter Philly fans turn on McNabb then help this team to a Super Bowl.

Cowboys - I initially had them first, and not just for the kickass new stadium with the cartoonish scoreboard. They did not do much beyond dump TO. No picks in the first two rounds, biggest free agent name is the washed up Keith Brookings to replace last year's done but still a name signing (a Jerry Jones special) Zach Thomas. Igor Olshansky (Chargers) does add to rotation. While axing TO does add something, he was still a weapon for them last year. Roy Williams is not as good, but he is a #1 WR. I don't get why everyone was dumping on him. Go look at his stats for the Lions, yes they were only super in the Mike Martz throw a zillion times year, but let us remember that he was catching passes from Joey Harrington and John Kitna opposite Mike Furrey. Jason Witten will help him out too. Last year's number one, big play RB Felix Jones is back from injury and they discovered Tashard Choice can play too when Jones was out. Patirck Clayton, Miles Austin, and Sam Hurd give them okay depth at WR and rookie TE Martellus Bennett showed talent last year (and that he is an idiot this offseason). They also have a second first round pick from last year in CB Mike Jenkins who hopefully will develop after not showing much last year. If you look down the roster and at starting lineups, this is a talented team. It is not because I hate them that I have them second, as I said I had them first in the beginning. Then I remembered Wade Phillips and how he is promising to be Mr. Fancypants and a tougher disciplinary this year. Do you think I would call Andy Reid Mr. Fancypants? I didn't think so. Reid may not be the best, but he has earned his strips. Jerry Jones may know how to market a team [see: stadium, new], but he sure doesn't know how to run one.

Giants - They lost Derrick Ward, but are replying on Ahmad Bradshaw to be the speed guy with Brandon Jacobs – which is reasonable. Amani Toomer is gone (he had a surprising 48 catches last year), but they drafted Hakeem Nicks in the first round. Of course first years receivers rarely do anything - Hicks is being outplayed by third round pick Ramses Barden. Are you fascinated yet? They do get DE Osi Umenyioraback from injury (although he is feuding with then new defensive coordinator, but otherwise this is the same team that went 3-3 after Quick Draw Mc Burress put a hole in his own leg.

Washington - This is going to be a bad team. Two years from now everyone will be laughing about how idiotic Daniel Synder was to drive off Jesse Campbell after his success with a new team. The same way they will be laughing about how Albert Haynesworth shut it down after he got paid. And the same way will be asking how did such a stud as Brian Orakpo fell to 13th overall. No one will be feeling bad Jim Zorn who deserved a better shot. Or be worrying about what washed up Clinton Portis will be doing on some new team.

Bears - Last year Jay Cutler played a team with a terrible defense, lots of injuries at RB which crippled the rushing attach, and very good receivers. This year he plays on team with bad defense, a good RB, and a bunch of non-entities at WR (TEs are a little better). On paper this team does not look good, however they went 9-7 with Kyle freaking Orton – surely Cutler is worth a couple more wins? With no first day picks the Bears did add a few free agents. Pisa Tinoisamoa improves the linebacking corps. Their third round pick Jarron Gilbert helps the DL rotation. Their biggest name addition was OT Orlando Pace, who has suffered many injuries lately, although he squeaked 14 games last year. He is close to done, but might muddle through one more season. Or not. Their OL will also be improved with the return of their first round pick form last year - Chris Williams of Vandy. He had a hurt back which the Bears ignored when they took him, but he can play LT if Pace goes down. I'm not sure what I think of Cutler. He has a bunch of physical talent and doesn't make bad decisions on the field (usually - he is still young), but more and more he is striking me as a meathead who is too quick to throw others under the bus and then scramble to take it back. McDaniels was an idiot, but Cutler did throw a tantrum. In a few years we will know if Chicago got a franchise QB for the first time in my lifetime (even if I was 61).

Vikings - I would have had them high even without Lord Brett. I don't know I would have with Tarvaris Jackson. Matt Birk is gone at center, as is an aging Darren Sharper at SF. They did add two intriguing rookies. Percy Harvin was a great college player, but I'm not convinced he becomes a successful WR in the pros (he wasn't running great routes or showing great hands last year). Still he might be useful for a few big plays. On the other hand Phil Loadholt solves a longstanding revolving door at right tackle. They also get EJ Henderson back a middle linebacker. Simply put there are not many holes in this team and features a great, if injury prone, running back, highly underrated first tier cornerback, the best run stopping DTs in the league. Plus a consistently overrated QB who leads NFL history in turnovers (by quite a bit) and a flounder moron of a coach - which goes well together. There are rumors several players wanted to stick with Jackson - I am just waiting for one to talk to the press after the first patented Favre 3 pick game.

Packers - Yes Aaron Rodgers played better than expected last year, but that is no reason to get excited under your cheese hat. He put up good fantasy stats, but did not display an ability to win NFL games (4-10 against teams that managed to win at least one game last year). 2007 breakout player of the year RB Ryan Grant came back to earth and seemed average as well. You could make an argument that they were so bad because of the Brett Favre saga and that won't bother them this year. Ignoring that this year they suddenly find him on a rival's roster, I don't buy the argument in the first place (they started 4-3). I also be worried about Al Harris (34) and Charles Woodson (32) at corner, that is a high pressure position were guys go suddenly and there is little behind them. Relatively quiet in free agency, the Pack had two first round picks. They added Clay Matthews (yes, his son - but having a *deserving* Hall of Fame father does not guarantee greatness, as Jarrett Payton or Anthony Dorsett) out of USC at OLB to help what was a poor defense last year. They also added B.J. Raji who they can team with Ryan Pickett (wow, I still can't believe his lazy ass revived his career) to give Green Bay a solid pair of DTs that will really up their run defense. Except that they have also wandered into the 3-4 rabbit hole expect a magical cure for their D. This also brilliantly moves their best players, DE Aaron Kampman back to OLB, where he doesn't know what he is doing and is unhappy. Sure he has average 12 sacks a year over the last three seasons, but whatever the scheme will make him better right? What a way to waste the few remaining peak years of a 29 year old DE - who was very good holding point against the run for a primary rusher too.

Lions - I'll be honest. I never thought they would go 0-16. It seemed so improbable, they had to win one. Bring back Wayne Fontes!! As you might expect with a new regime (sort of, Millen's sidekicks are now running the team - probably still into the ground) taking over a terrible team they made a bunch of moves. However most of these moves were mainly journeymen. Here is a list of the better free agents they signed: RB Maurice Morris (29) Shaun Alexander's backup - never had more than 628 yards in his career, FB Terrelle Smith (31) good blocker, WR Bryant Johnson (28) a former first rounder who never made it, just dumped by the 49ers, OT Ephraim Salaam (33) career swing tackle on his fifth team, DT Grady Jackson (36) was a quality big runstuffing DT, but is now on his fourth team in four years and has talked of retirement (and failed a drug test), CB Phillip Buchanon (28) another first rounder who never quite made it, is a small gambling guy who is beatable and on his third team in four years. Here is a list of players no longer with the Lions - RB Rudi Johnson, FB Moran Norris, WRs Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey, OT George Foster, DT Shaun Cody, CBs Leigh Bodden and Brian Kelly. Which list is better? To me this screams of lateral moves made to just make moves. How many of these new guys will be quality starters? How about in 2011? They also signed WR Ronald Curry and then traded him two months later (ironically he actually had some potential, could he ever stay healthy). What is the team's game plan here? They also signed LB Larry Foote and at least were smart enough not to trade something to Pittsburgh when it was clear they were going to cut him. He will join Julian Peterson who they traded for. Of course they gave up their best DT in Corey Redding to get him. At 31 Peterson might be in decline, but he will still be their best passrusher. They also traded with Dallas for CB Anthony Henry who has been a good big bodied corner (6'1")for a while, but at age 32 the team is already playing with him at safety. I think Matthew Stafford will bust, and I knew the Lions will play him too early (not that I love Culpepper), but maybe their other first round pick, TE Brandon Pettigrew from OK state, will pan out - just don't expect too much this season. On paper they don't look to bad, they have one of the best receivers in the game in Calvin Johnson, and a competent RB in Kevin Smith (just competent, he is from UCF after all), and if 2008 first round pick RT Gosder Cherilus keeps developing the line will be a little better. They will win one or two games this year - trust me. It's too improbable for a modern NFL team to lose all its games.

Man I wrote a lot for a last place team. I'm still weak to complaining about stupidity.

Saints - Last year the Drew Brees threw for 5,000 yards and the Saints scored bunches of points. And that was with their best receiver only starting six games. Along the way they found their next RB to replace Duece McAllister (because lord knows that won't be Reggie Bush. Charley Casserly is a genius, seriously how small will the contract offers for Bush be when he is a free agent) in Pierre Thomas. Of course because they are the Saints they only went 8-8. So the team used its only pick in the first four rounds on OSU's Malcolm Jenkins to be one of their starting corners, although he may not be quick enough and end up a safety. That will not hurt as much if Tracy Porter comes back healthy. The rookie second rounder looked amazing last year, until he went on IR. The secondary also got SF Darren Sharper, who has lost a step but is a smart defender and can help the youngsters. New addition CB Jabari Greer is an okay starter, probably a hair better than the returning Randall Gay. Well traveled SF Pierson Prioleau also adds depth. Plus Jason David is gone, which is worth gaining half a DB right there. I hesitated to put 'Or-lins first though because Sean Payton screams coach with a good year or two early and nothing more to me. And I am not convinced Pierre Thomas is better than an average NFL back. Nor do I expect Jeremy Shockey to make a big splash and give then another offensive weapon. Plus both their starting DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith (key cogs) are suspended for the first four games of the season (while the Williams DTs in Minnesota get an injunction). Two of those four are very winnable (Lions and Jets at home) and the might very well be able to sneak out of Buffalo with a win.

Falcons - Did you know the Atlanta Falcons have never put together back to back winning seasons in their 43 year history? Well it is time. They have a franchise QB, the best QB in their history. They have a quality running back (with a speedy change of pace guy) and burgeoning star at WR in Roddy White. They added TE Tony Gozalez, who is 33, but had 1,000 yards on an awful team last year. He won't repeat those numbers, but great players sometimes age well and he looks as though he is. This is pretty much the same team as last year. They replaced Michael Boley (young and talented if not a star) and Keith Brooking (pretty much done) with 33 year old Mike Peterson who feuded his way out of Jacksonville. They said goodbye to five starters on defense: those LBs, old space-eater Grady Jackson, slowing SF Lawyer Milloy, and CB Domonique Foxworth. That last one I am not to sure about, he has shown flashes - enough that GM Ozzie Newsome of the Ravens, whom I hold in high regard, signed him. Plus outside of SF Erik Coleman, who is no Pro Bowler, there is not a single established guy in the secondary. Honestly this whole team seems a little light - John Abraham better stay healthy.

Panthers - I have taken them highly in years in past, but won't be burned again. Something about this team just feels off. They have a bundle of talent on paper - Delhomme, Steve Smith, Williams and Stewart, Jordan Gross, Peppers, Jon Beason, etc. But the Panthers have always followed up a good year with a bad also never having two winning seasons in a row. And I did not know that until I just looked it up (conversely for the Falcons I have one a bet with that trivia) - they just have that feel of an up and down team. Their quarterback threw 5 picks in a home playoff game, that is the type of thing that can linger. As can the Peppers saga - if for no other reason than 14% of the teams cap is going to him - ask me what free agents they signed? NONE. They lost Ken Lucas at CB, and while Richard Marshall can step in, there is a world of difference in what you can do with a defense with three solid CBs compared to two. Their best run stopper, DT Maake Kemoeatu tore his Achilles in camp for extra fun. The only good news is that they traded with the 49ers [MORE ON THAT LATER - the pilot is instructing you to fasten your bitter seatbelts] to move up in the second round for DE Everette Brown out of FSU. He has looked solid in the preseason and playing opposite Peppers will get 10+ sacks.

Bucs - It may have been time to say goodbye to Gruden, who apparently was canned because ownership realized a lot of his players hated him. Derrick Brooks was getting older and with the team rebuilding it was not a travesty to part ways, although they could have handled it better. In a related note Ronde Barber has a lost a step and is not physical enough to play safety, watch for him to be cut in 2010. However I've not been impressed with the new regime at all. Raheem Morris was promoted to defensive coordinator and then head coach after the surprise Gruden firing. He has never been anything more than a position coach in the NFL and I don't think he is ready. Just the way the whole team has carried it self this offseason as seemed very amateurish. That does not make for a playoff team, although I don't think that they will be as terrible as others do. Look at the offense. The OL isn't bad, they added Kellen "Soldier" Winslow at TE (but gave him a crazy new contract) who will some the pressure of last year's revelation/sensation Antonio Bryant if he can stay healthy, Derrick Ward of the Giants will improve the rushing attack (but only slightly, Warrick Dunn was surprisingly effective and I am surprised he has not resurfaced), and Byron Leftwich. Say what you want about Lefty, he is a legit NFL starter if not a star. Of course there are rumors they may trade him and start someone else if they can move him but not backup Luke McNown (WTF!?! What was I saying about amateurish?), but he'll probably be the starter. Still he is a step down from Jeff Garcia, who was probably cut mainly for age (besides Garcia, Dunn, and Brooks the Bucs also parted ways with such graybeard familiar faces as Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, and Kevin Carter - I'll give Morris credit for at least knowing how to start a rebuilding job). On defensive the cupboard is much more bare (even more so if second year CB Aqib Tamoron is suspended for attacking a cabbie) and Monte Kiffin is no longer around to scheme away deficiencies. They lost some talent in free agency with DT Jovan Haye and LB Cato June, and their best signee, LB Angelo Crowell, is already on IR. They are so thin they moved veteran safety Jermaine Phillips to linebacker because they needed him there, but then moved him back when an even bigger hole opened in the secondary. Honestly for what has traditionally been a great defense, how many Bucs defenders can you name? How many under 30? Pat yourself on the back if you could even pull Gaines Adams and Barrett Ruud. In the face of this the Bucs traded up to get a QB in the draft. They selected the strong armed Josh Freeman. I'm not sold on him at all, he seems to be a screw it my big arm can force it into coverage guy, but I 100% sold on the fact that he is not ready to start and would greatly benefit from spending the year observing on the sidelines. I'm also 90% sold on the fact that that will not happen and after the team flounders early he we will be starting games - for his sake I hope that is not until the second half of the season.

49ers - That's right I said it. I actually know another Niner fan now (first time in a long while), although he seems a little resentful that I am not from the left coast. We agreed that the absolute best case scenario is 9-7, winning a weak division, and going one and done in the playoffs. Well I am calling it!! I had said for a long time that the owner needed to be replaced and he has thankfully turned operations over to his 27 year old son. The jury is still out, but he almost has to be better. Plus Mike Nolan and Mike Martz (and his latest turnover machine J.T. O'Sullivan) are gone. Mike Singletary went 5-4 last year, and might have gone 6-3 had Martz not blown a last second short yardage attempt in Arizona. Singletary is not going to bring a return of the beautiful offense of Montana to Rice, but he knows how to get the most of his players (both by putting them into position and by riding them tough). I haven't liked every move he has made, such as considering bringing in Michael Vick and hiring a retread (several times over) offensive coordinator in Jimmy Raye. Still for the first time things are looking up for my team and I am enjoying it. Singletary will make sure this team is working hard. The team itself is a little better. CB Donald Strickland provided good depth and is now gone (they have since signed Eric Green – which I like), but I liked signing WR Brandon Jones from the Titans until he got hurt. Ditto on Steelers RT Marvel Smith (who retired when he got hurt). I did not like signing the gambling Dre Bly at corner when Walt Harris blew out his knee (not that I liked him either) because I want to see the youngster Tarrell Brown (who was competing with Bly until he got hurt). We are all supposed to be thrilled with the return of big blocking FB Moran Norris because he leadblocked Frank Gore's 1,700 yards. That he leadblocked for the subsequent ho-hum 1,100 yard season gets less press. Make no mistake they will be running. Gore is good, but I always worry about his ability to stay healthy. However in the third round they drafted Glenn Coffee out of Alabama and I think he will be a great compliment. And I liked taking Crabtree even if he is proving to be a diva. San Fran has been throwing old bodies in at WR for years without ever addressing it with a high pick. Crabtree won't do anything this year, but maybe Josh Morgan will. And maybe (although less likely) Singletary can fix TE Vernon Davis's head - which has already happened a little. I like the picks they made, but I absolutely hate the pick they did not. In the second round FSU passrushing DE Everette Brown fell to them after projecting to be a first rounder. San Fran has NO passrush, it was perfect - put him opposite Justin Smith. But NOOOOOOOO they traded the pick AND a fourth rounder to Carolina for their first rounder next year. Yeah it is nice to have two first rounders, but don't outthink yourself. Everette was a quality player who would have filled a big need. Now the only hope for the passrush is OLB Manny Lawson (and no, I am not forgetting our first rounder last year) - their second first round pick in 2006. In the very first game of 2007 - a Monday Nighter against the Cardinals - he was absolutely awesome. Arguably one of the best backers in the league awesome. I remember watching the game and thinking holy shit who is this #99 guy before I remembered it was Lawson. The next game he got a season ending knee injury. Last year he was not awesome. This year he is two years removed from his ACL surgery which is usually the standard. However reports are from training camp are not saying he is awesome again so in instead I get to watch Everette Brown develop while my team has no passrush.

Seahawks - Seattle crashed and burned in a big way last year, and not just because Matt Hasselbach was hurt (they went 1-6 in his starts). Holmgren never should have been coaching with one foot out the door - I suspect he started to tune out once the team tanked. Jim Mora Jr. has never struck me as the brightest bulb, but he's not terrible. Seattle did not lose anyone of major note, FB Leonard Weaver is gone but they signed the underrated Justin Griffith (who similar to Weaver has some ball skills, if not as many - he is a better blocker) and have Owen Schmitt the bulldozer from West Virginia they drafted last year. Also gone is Floyd "Porkchop" [his nickname, not mine] Womack - a valuable depth guy on the OL. In the last six years he started 47 games filling in at guard and tackle. Meanwhile center Chris Spencer has torn a quad muscle and LT Walter Jones is old and has back problems (they did take an OT in the second round)... OLB Julian Peterson was traded away for DT Corey Redding. That makes the team a little younger, but I am not sure better. They did draft Aaron Curry to replace Peterson second overall, so I guess on the whole it was a good move. Not as good as removing the franchise tag on their other OLB, Leroy Hill, on draft day and then still signing him in a move that let him save face (he was arrested for drugs in January, so might have not been getting too many bites). It was a ballsy move, he is a very talent guy to potentially let walk - even for a high pick. Those don't always pan out you know (I know little about Curry). The defense also brings back CB Ken Lucas, who is a little punchy from his time in Carolina, but could start. Especially if Marcus Trufant has a disc problem in his back. With Peterson gone the secondary better hope DE Patrick Kerney can regain his old form at 32 after an injury plagued season, or that last year's first round pick Lawrence Jackson matures quickly, or both. Their biggest move was spending a bunch of money bringing in T.J. Houshmandzadeh from the 'Nati. He is good, but is 31, has never averaged more than 13 yards a catch (and just 10 last year), and is probably not really a #1 NFL receiver. The rest of the receiving corps includes familiar names such as Deion Branch and Nate Burelson who have been more injured than awesome since coming to the Pacific Northwest (Koren Robinson and Bobby Engram are outta there), and several guys who were pressed into duty last year by injuries - none of who caught even ten balls. They do have second year TE John Carlson who I bet has several trips to Hawaii in his future (assuming the Pro Bowl stays there and isn't tied the Super Bowl city the way it is this year). It is tough to predict how much firepower Seattle will have. ESPN put up this headline when they signed a rapidly declining Engerrin James after two preseason games: "Edge joins Seahawks' stagnant offense." Ouch. Although given that Julius Jones is the starting RB maybe they are on to something - Edge looked okay in spurts at the end of last year.

Cardinals - What!?!?! Am I actually saying that last year's NFC champions will finish third in their division? You bet your sweet bippy. Last year the Pats went 11-5, but since 2000 in the only Super Bowl loser to make the playoffs the following year were the Seahawks - who went 9-7 to win a weak division. Otherwise here are the teams with their records: Gaints 7-9, Rams, 7-9, Raiders 4-12, Panthers 7-9, Eagles 6-10, and Bears 7-9. Arizona would be lucky to go 7-9. Let's not forget they only went 9-7, looked awful down the stretch, and got hot at the right time (as opposed to being a good team). Delhomme had a meltdown against them, they almost blew a 24-6 led against Philly, and got handled for three quarters in the Super Bowl. They did get a little better by adding CB Bryant McFadden from the Steelers and drafting Beanie Wells at running back at the close of the first round. Wells will hopefully stabilize a rushing attack that struggled at best last year - provided he can shake the injury bug he had at Ohio State. Add that to Warner throwing to Fitzgerald (the best WR in the league at the moment), Boldin, and Breaston - the best WR corps in the NFL - and that is a winning combination. TE is thin, the OL is not so great, and how many people can you name on this defense? I bet just LB Karlos Dansby and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie despite the fact I just told you about McFadden (DT Darnell Dockett and SF Adrian Wilson are other possibles). Basically to me this just has the look of a team that throws a bunch, scores some, and doesn't win so much. With the same roster they went 8-8 in 2007. And remember they did not have too many injuries last year - that only lasts so long even without at 38 year quarterback. If I am wrong it will be because of their head coach Ken Whisenhunt who I think is good at throwing out new tricks - but he is breaking in two new coordinators this year (ah the price of success).

Rams - Last years the St Louis Rams were bad and they will be bad again this year. They let go a bunch of name guys - WR Tory Holt, TE Anthony Becht, C Brett Romberg, OT Orlando Pace, and DT La'Roi Glover - but none that are really quality players anymore. LB Pisa Tinoisamoa is the only one that may hurt. They did take James Laurinaitis from OSU in the second round and he had reportedly looked pretty good. Replacing Pace (not literally Alex Barron will be the LT) will be there their first round pick Jason Smith from Baylor who was the second overall pick. Credit the Rams for trying to build from the lines. Last year they took DE Chris Long - also with the second overall pick (that's not so good). They also have WR Donnie Avery from their second round pick last year. He looked good for a while last year, possibly leading to the release of Holt. Otherwise the Rams have not done much in free agency. SF James Butler from the Giants came to support a position that was not their biggest weakness. He probably came because of the Rams new coach, former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (although Butler was the lone Giant -that is unusual, most new coaches work to bring in their guys, something I am neutral on). Might Spagnuolo be the answer? Maybe, but not this year. Their only stud is RB Steven Jackson (and maybe SF O.J. Atogwe - he certainly gets some highlight reel plays). And Jackson has missed four games each the last two seasons, and played dinged quite a bit (barely getting over 1,000 yards). They do have an okay QB in Marc Bulger. WAIT. Don't come after me, I said "okay." When he has some talent around him and time from his OL he can win you some games. And Rams fans better hope he stays healthy because after Trent Green retired they inexplicably signed Kyle Boller who has by now conclusively proved he just isn't mentally sharp enough to be an NFL QB no matter how strong his arm is.

AFC wildcards: Ravens and one of Bills, Colts, Titans
NFC wildcards: Two of Falcons, Cowboys, Vikings

It is crap to layout playoffs and a Super Bowl before a season full of injuries. But I will throw out Saints-Ravens


Blogger Aaron said...

So bret, love the enthusiasm but its way way to much in one post. Im looking over a few of your analysis (which isn't bad by the way) and I glaze over when I realize I have 6 more pages to read on the lions.... Break it up in installments next time...easier to read.

3:30 PM  

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