|From: realityczech (Original Message)||Sent: 8/31/2007 7:07 PM|
Okay, this first post won't be the detailed team-by-team breakdowns (they'll come next week, after the final roster cuts this weekend). I've watched more preseason games this year (at least parts of them, now that I have to PAY for the NFL network, thanks a lot Comcast!), than in years past, so even though I've seen a lot of folks who will be bagging groceries or digging ditches this time next week, it's still given me a feel for some trends in the NFL.
Heres' some random observations:
1. There is a glaring lack of depth of Offensive linemen in the league, you lose one starter, and more often than not, teams are in trouble. What's the injury rate like for O-lineman? 2nd highest in the league (behind defensive backs). So, chances are one (or more) of your starters are going to go down, and you're going to have to put Charlie Turnstile the QB killer out there against some elite D-linemen. So, if your team doesn't have serviceable backups, you're going to struggle. For some teams, whose starters are less than stellar (Detroit, Mia, Hou, TB), your season is in severe danger before you even take a snap. The big guys in the trenches often get ignored, but without them, the glory-boy QBs and little Wrs and RBs don't go anywhere.
2. There really is a moment where someone either makes it in the NFL or doesn't. I'm not talking about getting cut, I'm talking about the game "slowing down" and someone beocming comfortable with NFL play. For some folks (Robert Ferguson, Ryan Leaf, Rod Gardner, Reggie Williams) it never happens, and they struggle for a few years before washing out of the league, for others (J.P Losman, Vernon Davis, Javon Walker, Reggie Bush), the proverbial light goes on and they become stars. Watching Losman this preseason is night and day from where he was last year. Calm in the pocket, deadly accurate with his throws, and unquestionably in control of his team, he looks like he's going to be a good one (if his line doesn't get him killed).
3. There is a huge divide between the good and bad teams in the NFL, and I think we're going to see less parity this year than in years past. I don't think the Ravens will be 13-3 and the Chargers 14-2 again this year, but I don't think the Packers will get to 8-8, or the 'Fins will win six games either. Not every bad team will stay bad, but some are hopeless (looking in your direction, Detroit). Some miserable teams last year will have to improve some (Oakland), but that's like saying they got their parenting lessons from Britney Spears instead of Chris Benoit for this season. Look for some blowouts this year, as well as a few nailbiters when good teams play each other, or when one of those "any given sunday" games pop up when a big underdog just won't go down and gives a better (on paper) team an absolute fit all day.
4. The statuesque gunslinger days are over. If you're a QB and you can't move in the pocket or roll with coverage, you are dead meat in today's league. D-linemen are bigger and quicker than ever before, and D-coordinatoors have gotten really exotic in disguising blitz packages. What all that nonsense means is people are going to be getting free and chasing after QBs a lot, and if your guy is slow or just slow to react, he's going to get hit, and eventually, hurt. Marino and Bledsoe would be sitting ducks in today's league, even with their great arms.
5. Penalties. I'm really hoping the refs were just trying to set a tone during the preseason, because otherwise, we may never see a special teams play without a flag again. It's bad enough we have the score-commercial-kickoff-commercial pattern to bog it down, but when you make a team kickoff or punt multiple times due to penalties, it kills momentum (not to mention some ST players) even further. If it doesn't effect the play, keep the stupid flag in your pocket, people pay to see players on the field, not senile old men throw their laundry around and then stumble over their words. Also, a note to WRs: if you don't catch a ball, unless the guy almost stripped you naked or cut one of your arms off, stop bitching and get back to the huddle and catch the ball the next time, you're not always being interfered with.
6. 3rd downs. WTF is wrong with some offensive coordinators these days? If it's third and more than 5, don't send three of your receivers on routes that don't get past the 1st down marker. QBs are all too happy to dump it off (it counts as a completion, and if the guy gets tackled, its his fault, not the QB that the team didn't get the 1st down). Make everyone have to make a play, a 3 yard pass on 3rd and 8 does nothing but waste valuable seconds as the punt team jogs on the field (looking in your direction, Chi, Bal, TB). For the love of God, throw the ball 10-15 yards down the field, no more flares and square outs for 2-3 yards, or let's not forget the amazing completed pass to a back behind the line of scrimmage who's immediately tackled for a loss. Bah!
Okay, I'm done with preseason observations, I'll have the team breakdown next week.
P.S., I didn't check this rant for spelling/grammar, so forgive any egregious typos or malapropisms.
2-10 of 10
Okay, now onto the team breakdowns, division-by-division.
Buffalo Bills-The Bills are at a crossroads, from the win-everything-but-the-superbowl days of the 90s K-Gun team to the pretty bad teams of the last decade, Bills fans have been through it all. This team is still not a juggernaut, but there is hope. J.P. Losman appears to be on the verge of a breakout season, as he looks calm and accurate in the pocket, and has a very strong arm. Converted TE Jason Peters is the new phenom at LT, and scouts agree he's going to be a good one. Recently signed (from Was) Derrick Dockery further anchors the left side of the line, which should afford Losman some protection. The rest of the line is questionable, so Losman's scrambling skills may be tested, but that's not anything he isn't used to. Rookie (Cal) RB Marshawn Lynch takes over feature back duties, with Willis McGahee having been (happily) shipped off to Baltimore. Lee Evans is their #1 wideout and definite deep threat, he is talented and dangerous. Roscoe Parrish, Josh Reed and Peerless Price are their other receiving options, and are nothing special. TEs also aren't noteworthy, they'll mostly be used as extra blockers. Defensively, Aaron Schobel is their primary pass rusher, and new rookie Paul Poluszny anchors a revamped linebacker corps (Takeo Spikes is now an Eagle, and London Fletcher a Redskin). CB Nate Clements moved to San Francisco, so that leave vet Terrance McGee and some untested youngsters to cover other teams WRs, and that's never a good situation. The defense faces an uphill battle this year, especially with the revamped Patriots WR corps on the schedule twice, but if Losman and Co. play well, the Bills could (but probably won't) sniff .500.
Prediction 6-10, 3rd in AFC East
Miami Dolphins-This proud franchise in a major transition period. Nick Saban basically screwed the team completely over, between bailing on them after only two seasons and having some very marginal drafts, he left the 'Fins with only their aging defensive stars, and not much of anything on offense. Trent Green and his severely concussed brain come to town as the starting QB, but rookie John Beck is definitely the future, and one big sack on Green may make the future the present. Ronnie Brown is a good back, but when three guys are on you as soon as you recieve the snap, there's only so much you can do. Chris Chambers and Marty Booker are old and overrated at WR, Chambers will make highlight reel catches on occasion, but more often than not drops simpler passes thrown right at him. Return Man Wes Welker went to rival NE, so instead of drafting Brady Quinn, the dolphins picked up the speedy Ted Ginn from Ohio State. Ginn is fast, but unpolished, don't look for him to help much in the passing game this year, but he should give them a chance to score on kick/punt returns. TE Randy McMichael is now a Ram, so another threat is gone, and not really replaced. The O-line is bad, even with guru Hudson Houck coaching them, they need work, Green staying healthy is almost an impossiblity at this point. Defensively, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas still anchor the team, but their best days are behind them. Channing Crowder and Joey Porter join Thomas in the LB corps, which is talented on paper, but will really need to produce on the field. The secondary is a mess, the halycon days of Surtain-Madison are long gone and Will Allen, Yeremiah Bell, and Alonzo Goodman (who's hurt anyway) aren't going to be big playmakers. New coach Cam Cameron doesn't have a lot to work with, and with the window rapidly closing on his defensive front seven, major rebuilding is in order. This team is going to struggle, they can rush the passer, but that's about all they'll be able to do this year, and if they don't get to the opposing QB, he's got a good shot at completing his passes through their porous secondary.
Prediction-3-13, last in AFC East
New England Patriots-Superbowl favorites after signing several new Wrs and uber-LB Adalius Thomas, the Pats have hit a couple speed bumps towards the end of preseason. Rodney Harrison will miss the first 4 games of the season after admitting to acquiring HGH, and Richard Seymour will miss the first six weeks of the season on the PUP (physically-unable-to-perform list). Brandon Merriweather will step in to fill Harrison's shoes, and Jarvis Green and company will ably fill in for Seymour, but the veterans will be missed. However, the defense may be overlooked as new father Tom Brady tries out all of his new weapons. Reche Caldwell has been cut, Jabar Gaffney is buried on the depth chart, and Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker are the new (and talented) WR corps. TE Ben Watson joins them as a receiving threat, and that foursome should give second year RB Laurence Maroney ample room to run. The offense is loaded with big play ability, provided Moss and Stallworth's hamstrings hold up. If they don't, Wes Welker and Troy Brown are solid posession receivers, and can eat up yards in chunks, instead of in one big burst. The O-line, as always is solid, with Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Nick Kazur being a young and cohesive group, with some decent depth behind them. Defensively, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren will do their best to make up for Seymour's missing presence, they're both forces to be reckoned with on the interior of the line. Asante Samuel ended his holdout and will man one CB spot, the other will be covered by Randall Gay, Ellis Hobbs, or Tory James. The LBs are solid, but a little long in the tooth. Roosevelt Colvin, Teddy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and the aforementioned Adalius Thomas should cover a lot of ground and give opposing offenses headaches, as long as they all stay healthy. NE looks great on paper, and if they don't stumble out of the gates, have a good shot at playing in February.
Prediction-12-4, 1st place in the AFC east, #2 seed overall
New York Jets-This team really screwed me over last year, thanks to a resurgence from Chad Pennington, the emergence of Jericho Cotchery and Leon Washington, and a schedule so soft you couldn't find a better pillow to sleep on. Gone is that soft schedule (the downside to making the playoffs when nobody expected you to), and also gone is the possiblity of being overlooked by their opponents. Pennington returns at QB, but is being pushed hard by Kellen Clemons, who has a bigger arm and a nastier attitude. Thomas Jones comes over from the Bears to give them a much bigger threat out of the backfield, with Washington still backing him up. Cotchery, Laverneous Coles, and Justin McCairens are a surprisingly good group of WRs, and can threaten (if the noodle-armed Pennington can get it far enough down the field for them to outrun their coverage). Chris Baker is still their TE, and is nothing special. The O-line is on the rise with D'Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold now in their second year, if they really start to gell, the team could compete again, if they (and verterans Anthony Clement and Anthony Clarke) struggle, fireman Ed won't have much to cheer about in the Meadowlands this year. Defensively, they are still looking for an identity under Mangini. SS Kerry Rhodes is fast and talented, Jonathan Vilma is still adjusting to the 3-4, and youngsters Darrel Revis (R) and Justin Miller (3rd year) provide some decent options at CB. Sean Ellis, Dewayne Robertson, and recently-signed Kimo Von Olhofen are an underwhelming set of linemen, if they can't get to the QB, the secondary will be tested early and often. I was down on this team last year, and paid for it, I won't be as down on them this year, but bandwagon fans beware, the Jets are due for a fall back to earth.
Prediction 7-9, 2nd in the AFC East. Oh, if anyone cares, K Mike Nugent added 10 lbs of muscle in the offseason to improve his kickoff distance and long FG accuracy. Yawn.
Next: NFC East
Dallas Cowboys-Wade Wilson rides into town to take over for the departed tuna, Bill Parcells. He inherits a pretty solid team, who shouldn't chafe under his player-friendly style. Tony Romo, despite his holding issues, emerged as a starter last year, and there's not much depth behind him (Brad Johnson has a fork sticking out of his back), so fans need to hope that he plays like he did in the first 6 games last year, and not how he did at the end of the season (and hope that defenses haven't caught up to him and revealed him as a marginal talent). Marion Barber III and Julius Jones are in constant competition at RB, word is that Jones may fare a little better under Phillips than he did with Parcells, but Barber doesn't plan on taking a backseat. Having two good RBs is a problem a lot of teams would love to have, so don't expect this battle to hurt the team. T.O., Terry Glenn, Patrick Crayton and Jason Witten (TE) are a deadly receiving corps, providing age doesn't catch up to TO and TG. They should provide Romo with ample safety valves, and help keep his numbers respectable. The O-line is a work in progress, a mix of veterans (Flozell Adams, Marc Colombo), and some talented youngsters Andre Gurode, Kyle Kosier, who, if everyone plays up to their ability, can hold their own against most of the defenses they'll face this year. Defensively, Phillips will try to emulate the pass rush he engineered in San Diego, and it looks like he may have the personnel to do it. Marcus Spears, Jason Ferguson, and the under-appreciated Chris Canty are a tough front three and Demarcus Ware and Akin Ayodele lead a young, hungry group of LBs. Terrance Newman and Anthony Henry are the starting corners, and don't overlook the Cowboys pickup of former Ravens CB Evan Ogelsby, he'll get playing time, and play well. Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin are a hard hitting safety combo, and as long as they don't overpersue trying to make the big hit, will help this defense punish the other team. The Cowboys look pretty solid overall, and should make it back to the playoffs this year.
Prediction-11-5, 2nd in NFC East, Wildcard, #5 seed, overall.
New York Giants-Eli Manning is under fire in the big apple, and Tom Coughlin is on his way out the door. The players quit on Coughlin last year, with Tiki Barber's retirement and foray into broadcasting undermining the team down the stretch. This year saw Tiki and Eli sort-of argue (everything's blown out of proportion in NYC) and Michael Strahan "ponder retirement" until training camp ended. Strahan is now back in uniform and on the field, and that's a plus for the team. Eli's supporting cast is suspect, to say the least. Plaxico Burress always seems to have a nagging injury, it's his back to start the season. Sinorice Moss is also banged up, and the other Steve Smith (USC) is playing, but was concussed in week 2 of the preseason. Jeremy Shockey is still dropping too many passes as their flambouyant tight end, and Brandon Jacobs is now the #1 back, with his slower, older clone Ruben Droughns backing him up. The O-line is not good, plain and simple, with career backup guard David Diehl now the starting right tackle. Chris Snee (Coughlin's son-in-law) is their best lineman, but he has no support around him. Defensively, Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Matthias Kiawanuka are all dangerous pass rushers, when healthy. Antonio Pierce is a great middle LB, but he doesn't have much help around him. The secondary is bad, and that's before Will Demps was lost for the year. Between a shaky Eli and even shakier pass defense, don't be surprised if Coughlin is on the unemployment line before week 8.
Prediction-7-9, 3rd in the NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles-Fight Eagles Fight, on the road to victory...Well, maybe. McNabb was reportedly not happy that Kevin Kolb was drafted to be their QB of the future, but looking at Donovan's injury history, it wasn't a bad move. Kolb may be called on sooner than he expected if Donovan gets hurt, as A.J. Feeley broke his hand in their final preseason game, just a day after they traded Kelly Holcomb to the Vikings. If Donovan stays healthy, he's one of the top-5 QBs in the league. Bryan Westbrook is all kinds of threats out of the backfield, but he needs to stay healthy as well. The receiving corps lacks superstars, but can hold its own as Reggie Brown, Hank Baskett, Greg Lewis and Jason Avant are all capable and reliable at their jobs. L.J. Smith is hurt, but will play, and he and Matt Schobel are a solid pair of TEs. The line is a strong suit, with the monstrous Shawn Andrews and Jamaal Jackson clogging the middle, while William (formerly Tra) Thomas and Jon Runyan hold down the tackle spots. Defensively, the Eagles always appear to be solid. Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley will be called on to provide pressure up the middle, while Jevon Kearse, Trent Cole, and Darren Howard will provide an edge rush. Takeo Spikes is the new leader of the LBs, with Jeremiah Trotter jettisoned early on in camp. Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither support Spikes, but they're still learning the game. Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown are reliable at corner, Brian Dawkins is still a devastating hitter, and Sean Considine takes over for the maligned Michael Lewis. David Akers is still a good kicker, but may no longer be one of the best in the game. Still, if the Eagles playmakers don't get too banged up, they should repeat as Division champs, and threaten to make it deep into the playoffs.
Prediction: 12-4, NFC East Champs, #2 seed
Washington Redskins-Joe Gibbs is probably scratching his head right now. Whether it's because senility is setting in or the fact that he has no depth at all remains to be seen. On paper (as always), Washington has talent. On the field, not so much. The Skins let Derrick Dockery go in the offseason, then found a gaping hole at Guard, so the traded for the disgruntled Pete Kendall (NYJ). Chris Samuels is a solid left tackle, and the aging Jon Jansen still holds down the right side. Casey Rabach is undersized but effective at center. The line will be blocking for Jason Campbell, in his first full season as a starter, and he shows potential. Behind him are Bro Sweets Clinton Portis and the underrated Ladell Betts. The committe approach should keep both of them healthy and on the field, which is a plus. Campbells targets include the just-extended Chris Cooley at TE, who isn't afraid to go over the middle (which could lead to Don Beebe syndrome), and the speedy Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd on the outside. Again, on paper, the 'Skins offense looks good, on the field...meh. Defensively, the 'Skins need a little work. Andre Carter was supposed to be their big pass rush threat, and he registered only 5 sacks last year, not the stuff of legend. Their tackles are always hurt, and this year is no exception. Cornelius Griffin is the only one of note, anyway. Marcus Washington and London Fletcher are tackling machines, even if they are getting a little long in the tooth. Youngster Rocky Macintosh joins them in the LB position, and they should cover a lot of ground. If they don't the secondary should be hitting people all day long. Fred Smoot, Carlos Rogers, and Shawn Springs are all capable of being very good CBs, whether they will or not remains to be seen. Laron Landry and Sean Taylor are the two highest drafted safeties, ever, and they are on the same team, but bring the same skillset (big hitters, borderline liablity in pass coverage). Look for Landry to end up being a signal caller for the defense, he's taking to that role more naturally than Taylor ever did. The 'Skins will give certain teams fits, but are eminently beatable.
Prediction: 6-10, 4th in the NFC East, and Joe Gibbs calls it quits after this year.
Baltimore Ravens-This has actually been a quiet offseason for the Ravens. They import Willis McGahee from Buffalo, so they have a bigger threat at RB than they have in years. McGahee never liked the small town of Buffalo, reunited with 'U alums Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, he is happy in Charm City. Steve McNair is also now comfortable in Baltimore, hopefully "Captain Checkdown" will air it out a little more this year. His primary targets will be Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, and Todd Heap, who give the Ravens a decent WR group in seemingly forever. The O-line is young and hungry, as the legendary John Ogden is preparing to head off into the sunset, his heir apparent is already in town, in the form of 6-9, 355 lb Jared Gaither (MD). Jason Brown and Ben Grubbs are the young guards, Chris Chester is the center on the rise, who will start behind Mike Flynn for now, and Adam Terry is now the starting right tackle, with Tony Pashos gone to Jacksonville. This line has a chance to grow and gell together, and if they do, they will be a strength for years to come. Defensively, Baltimore is still the class of the league. Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata are monsters in the middle, while Terrell Suggs and Trevor Pryce get to the QB in a hurry from the outside. Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, and Jarrett Johnson are the LBs, and all are quick, heady, and mean. Chris McAllister still anchors one CB spot, Samari Rolle is being heavily challenged by Ronnie Prude for the other one. Ed Reed is the real captain of this defense, and 2nd year man Dawan Landry was a great find at the other safety position. Regardless of what the offense does, this defense will keep the Birds in nearly all of their games. They won't be 13-3 again, but they should still make the playoffs.
Prediction: 11-5, 2nd in the AFC North, #5 seed.
Cincinnati Bengals-Well, less Bengals were arrested this year, that's an encouraging start. Carson Palmer should be fully recovered from his torn ACL two years ago, that's more cause for encouragement. Rudi Johnson is Mr. Steady at RB, expect another 1200 yards and 10 TDs from him this year. Depth is shaky behind him, with Kenny Watson out for the year. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzedah (championship!) are Carson's goto targets, with Tab Perry being the third option until Chris Henry returns after 8 games. The O-line is solid, but will feel the loss of Erich Steinbach (CLE). Still, Levi Jones, Willie Anderson, and Rich Braham know what they're doing, so don't expect Carson to be under any more fire than he was last year. Defensively, the Bengals still need a lot of work. Jonathan Jospeh wrested one of the starting Corner spots away from vets Deltha O'neal and Tory James (who's now gone), and he looks to be a good one. Madieu Williams is growin in one safety spot, the other is manned by Dexter Jackson, hero of the 2002 Superbowl. The Linebackers are a mess, with the troubled Ahmad Brooks taking over for the even more troubled Odell Thurman. The other two spots are still up in the air, as nobody has risen to the occasion. The line feature Robert Geathers and Justin Smith on the outside, both are adequate pass rushers. The interior is mediocre as well, with Dan Peko and John Thornton underwhelming as tackles. So, the front seven won't get much pressure, and the secondary isn't exactly shutdown quality, which means the Bengals should be in for a lot of shootouts this year. With their offense, expect them to come out on top, more often than not.
Prediction: 11-5, AFC North champs (tiebreaker with Bal). #4 seed, overall
Cleveland Browns-The Browns are trying, they really are. GM Phil Savage engineered a great day 1 draft, locking down Joe Thomas and Brady Quinn, giving the Dawg Pound their (hopefully) LT and QB for the next decade. They join Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow as a set of young stars, unfortunately, they're not surrounded by much. Brady will start the year on the bench, with Charlie Frye the week 1 starter, and Derek Anderson still lurking on the bench as well. Jamal Lewis comes over from Baltimore with a chip on his shoulder, but its the chips in his knees everyone should be worried about, Jamal hasn't been the same since his 2000 yard season (and post season prison stay) in 2003. Joining Thomas on the line is newcomer Eric Steinbach (cincy) and settling in at center is Hank "Honeybuns" Fraley, who will hold down the job until (if) LeCharles Bentley recovers from several severe staph infections. Seth McKinney and Kevin Shaffer are the right side of the line, and they're nothing to talk about, so I won't. The other WR spot is held down by Joe Jurevicious, whose best days are behind him, but Joshua Cribbs is around as a potential big play threat as well. Defensively, the Browns are an up and down team. Their D-line has been totally rebuilt over the last two years, but Orpheus Roye and Ted Washington are both a lot closer to retirement than a Superbowl. Kamerion Wimbley is an emerging star at DE/LB, and D'Qwell Jackson and Antwan Peek are rising talents as well. Willie McGinest and Andra Davis provide some leadership, but neither are the playmakers they once were (or ever were in Davis' case). The secondary has the always overlooked Leigh Bodden, the always hurt Gary Baxter, and the underappreciated Brodney Pool, among others. The Browns have some talent in place, however, they need much more, particularly on the defensive side of the ball if they're ever going to compete in the toughest division in the NFL, the AFC North.
Prediction: 5-11, last in the AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers-Ben Rothliesberger won't be as bad this year as he was last year. You only have one appendix, and his face hasn't met any windshields (that we know of) this offseason. He may still be having nightmares about the Ravens, but he shouldn't have any other post-concussion issues slowing him down. Hines Ward is still their #1 option, but look for Santonio Holmes to emerge as a playmaker this year. Heath Miller is underutilized at TE, but that's no surprise in Pittsburgh. Gone is Bill Cowher, in is Mike Tomlin, who's no nonsense, smashmouth style should sit well with the black-and-gold faithful. What isn't sitting well is Steely McBeam, their new mascot, that looks more like a gay steelworker from the Simpsons than an imposing NFL icon. McBeam doesn't have to block anybody though, that's still Kendall Simmon's, Marvel Smith, Max Starks, and Alan Faneca's job. Faneca has one foot out the door, but they do have Chris Kemoeatu ready to take his place. The line should hold up for one more year and hopefully keep Big Ben from becoming a stain on the field like he was last year. Fast Willie Parker has the RB job all to himself this year, as long as he doesn't fumble, he'll keep Najeh Davenport on the bench. Cedrick Wilson and Nate Washington are the other receivers, they talk bigger than the play. On the other side of the ball, Joey Porter and his mouth are gone, but 1st round pick Lawrence Timmons is in to replace him. He joins Clark Haggans, Larry Foote, and James Farrior as one of the best tackling units in the league (don't forget James Harrison, who may actually start over Timmons on the outside). Bryan McFadden, Deshea Townsend, Ike Taylor, and Ricardo Coclough are all in the mix at CB, with Taylor and McFadden the defacto starters. Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are as good a safety tandem as you can find. Up front, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brad Kiesel can all get to the QB, and will give O-lines trouble. The Steelers will rebound from last year, but with the Bengals and Ravens ahead of them, will be shut out of the playoffs again.
Prediction: 8-8. 3rd in the AFC North
Chicago Bears-Last year's NFC Superbowl Representative, the Bears won with Defense, and fell the better offense of the Colts in the big game. The good news for Bears fans is that the defense looks just as good this year. The bad news is that Rex Grossman still looks like Rex Grossman. Cedric Benson is now their #1 back, with the "other" Adrian Peterson backing him up. Mushin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian start at WR1 and 2, but Mark Bradley and Devin Hester should see the field a good bit. Desmond Clark will be pushed by #1 pick Greg Olsen at TE, a TE battle is something Bears fans may have never seen before. The oline is solid, but aging, as Olin Kreutz, Fred Miller, Roberto Garza, and John Tait are all on the wrong side of 30. Still, they are good at what they do, and have played together for awhile, so don't count them out just yet. Rex needs to step up his game though, as both Brian Griese and Kyle Orton have supporters in they windy city. The strength of the team returns mostly intact from last year. Tommie Harris is recovered from injury, which is a huge help up front, Darwin Walker takes Tank Johnson's place, he's not as fast as Tank, but he's as big as one. Hunter Hillenmeyer, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are the premier LB threesome in the league, but this will most likely be their last year together. Those three, along with Alex Brown and Mark Anderson from the edge, give ballcarriers and QBs nightmares. The secondary is solid, with Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher a good 1-2 combo at CB, and Ricky Manning Jr. solid as a nickel option. Mike Brown returns from injury (again) to man the F spot, Daniel Manning capably backs him up. Adam Archuleta rejoins Lovie Smith to man the SS spot, look for him to fare much better in this scheme than he did in Washington. The Bears are still this class of this joke of a division, and should have no trouble repeating.
Prediction: 12-4, NFC North champ, #1 seed, overall, NFC
Detroit Lions-Ugh. Outside of Roy Williams and rookie Calvin Johnson, this Lions team is bad. Their offensive line is terrible, their RBs are hurt or not good (Kevin Jones, Tatum Bell, T.J. Duckett), and their defensive secondary is embarassing. Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald join Williams and Johnson to make up a really good group of WRs, they should give John Kitna plenty of targets, if he's upright long enough to throw them the ball. Defensively, Shaun Rogers is a force, when he feels like playing, and Ernie Sims and Boss Bailey aren't terrible LBs. Other than that, this team sucks. Dre Bly is now a Bronco, and Josh Bullocks, their best safety prospect is out for the year. If the Lions and the Bengals meet in a real game (they played in the preseason), it could be a 52-49 shootout. Matt Millen has another non-winner on his hands.
Prediction: 3-13, last in the NFC North
Green Bay Packers-The frozen tundra isn't all it's cracked up to be, as the mysterious homefield advantage the Pack used to have is now gone. Brett Favre is still around, and is still declining noticably. Brandon Jackson is the de facto starter at RB, he's got a lot of work cut out for him. The Offensive line improved markedly last year, and is suddenly a solid group, led by Chad Clifton, but youngsters Mark Tauscher and Jason Spitz and Darren Colledge have proven solid, and give Brett a chance to fire the ball into double coverage with reckless abandon. Donald Driver is still Favre's favorite target, and his foot injury doesn't appear to be serious. Greg Jennings is the deep threat, and Ruvell Martin and James Jones round out the WRs. They're average, but have some upside. Bubba Franks is done at TE, expect the Pack to address that in the draft next year. Defensively, the Pack isn't bereft of talent, but it does have some holes. KGB and Aaron Kampan are fine DEs, but Pickett and Harrell in the middle leave something to be desired. Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett aren't great LBs, A.J. Hawk is, and will continue to be, for years to come. Al Harris and Charles Woodson are excellent at corner, but are getting old. Their safeties are useless, they should just put tackling dummys out there, it would slow the opposing teams down just as much as Nick Collins and Arthur Bigby will. Dave Rayner lost out to rookie Mason Crosby as the kicker, I don't think anyone in GB will lose sleep over that. GB overachieved last year, look for them to underachieve this year, and send Brett packing with a sour taste in his mouth.
Prediction: 6-10, 3rd in the NFC North
Minnesota Vikings-Hmm, that must be what Tavaris Jackson thinks when he scans the field and doesn't see anybody to throw to. Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk are a great 3/5ths of an O-line, the right side isn't terrible either, but they can keep Tavaris upright all day, and he still may not have anybody to throw to. Troy Williamson is one "option" at wideout, Bobby Wade is the other, the reality is they both suck. Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson are good options to have at RB, but they may be facing 11 in the box, and that doesn't bode well for their knees.
On the other side of the ball, Kevin and Pat Williams are the best DT tandem in the NFC and second only to Stroud and Henderson (Jax) in the league. Kinechi Udeze and Erasmus James haven't lived up to their 1st round status, and need to get to the QB more. E.J. Henderson, Ben Leber, and Chad Greenway are an overlooked LB unit, that don't miss a whole lot of tackles. Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are the starting corners, they have decent depth behind them. Minnesota is the only team that has 2 sets of starting safeties, with Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith being the actual starters, and Mike Doss and Tank Williams the backups, but who are both capable of starting for a lot of teams (GB, paging GB). Minnesota's offense has a chance to be historically bad, but I think the defense, Adrian Peterson, and the luck of playing in the NFC north will prevent that from happening.
Prediction: 6-10, 2nd in the NFC North (tiebreaker with GB).
Next: AFC South
Houston Texans-David Carr is gone. Unfortunately, the line that let him be sacked 200+ times in five seasons is still around. Matt Schaub is the new sacrificial lamb at QB, but he has talent, a big arm, and good instincts, so he should be more successful than Carr. Ahman Green is in to give the Texans a featured back for the first time in their brief history, but they can only expect to get a year or two out of him. Ron Dayne and Samkon Gado back him up, so the Texans are actually ok at RB. Andre Johnson is a star at WR, and emerging rookie Jacoby Jones may be one as well. Owen Daniels was actually second in TD receptions for TEs last year, so he's better than what you think. The line is bad, I'm not going into detail, just trust me, they suck. Defensively, the Texans have a lot of high draft picks, with "Super" Mario Williams and youngster (20) Amobi Okoye on the line, and tackling master Demeco Ryans anchoring the LB corps. Former 1st round pick Dunta Robinson is one of the league's better corners, but he has almost no help out there in the secondary. The Texans will continue to struggle, but at least Matt Schaub will give them some hope for a few weeks.
Prediction: 4-12, last in the AFC South
Indianapolis Colts-The reigning champs, Peyton Manning has the "can't win the big one" monkey off his back, and Tony Dungy gets his deserved SB win (Gruden won the superbowl with the team Dungy assembled and coached in '02). the offense returns intact, with the exception of LT Tarik Glenn, this could be a big deal if Tony Ugoh doesn't prove to be up to the task. Not only for the rush getting to Manning, but also for the necessity of having to keep a TE in to assist in pass blocking, which would hamper a lot of the Colts 3 WR sets. The WRs are the strength of this team, with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and rookie Anthony Gonzalez, along with TE Dallas Clark giving Manning a plethora of good options to throw to. Joseph Addai is the man now at RB, and with virtually no depth behind him, needs to have a solid, productive, healthy season. Defensively, the Colts were looted in the offseason. Fortunately, the players they were looted of weren't that good, with the possible exception of Nick Harper. The Colts always manage to find a linebacker who will make 100 tackles, this year, it looks like it will be Freddy Keiaho getting the hance. Marlon Jackson steps into the starting CB spot, he'll be joined by Kelvin Hayden. Bob Sanders is an undersized hitter, Antoine Bethea has to prove something at the other safety spot. How good this secondary is won't matter if Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can get to the QB early and often. It'll be up to them, because the Colts have no Defensive tackles of note. The Colts offense is good enough to get them back to the Superbowl, but their defense (particularly against the run) just isn't. They'll still win the division going away, but against some of the stalwarts in the AFC, they don't have what it takes.
Prediction: 12-4, #2 seed overall, lose in divisional round
Jacksonville Jaguars-Byron Leftwich was given his release after playing through all of training camp. David Garrard is the starter, but he's really not any better than Leftwich, which is to say, average, at best. Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor are a great 1-2 punch at RB, and they're going to have to be, because the WRs are a bunch of underperforming high picks (Matt Jones and Reggie Williams), as well as a never-was (Dennis Northcutt). Garrard is mobile, and has a decent record, but he will be exposed this year, and the Jags will suffer. Their line is made up of no-names, but they do a decent job of protection. Defensively, the Jags have some monsters. John Henderson and Marcus Stroud are the biggest, meanest, and best DT tandem in the league. Reggie Hayward hopes to return to his 2005 form and lead the league in sacks again, Paul Spicer doesn't get the recogintion he deserves at the other end spot. Mike Peterson is a good tackler in the middle, the other LBs are liabilities. Rashean Mathis is a true shutdown corner, Brian Williams adequately covers the other side. Safety is a big question mark this year, with the ancient Sammy Knight and untested Gerald Sensabaugh and Reggie Nelson all in the mix. Jax has been sabotaged before the season started with this Leftwich debacle, look for them to stumble out of the gates, and give up on the season by the halfway point.
Prediction: 6-10, 3rd in the AFC South
Tennesse-The Titans surprised everyone last year, and if not for a blocked FG by Baltimore, may have made the playoffs. Vince Young emerged as a playmaker, he may not have had the whole playbook down, but he knows how to make plays on the field, and quickly got the support of his teammates. Chris Brown, Chris Henry, and Lendale White are all vying for time as the starting RB, right now it's White's to lose, with Brown still getting some looks. Brandon Jones and Eric Moulds are Young's main options at WR, look for him to target Bo Scaife (TE, whom Young played with at Texas) early and often, if he doesn't just choose to run it himself. Kevin Mawae and Michael Roos are the veteran anchors of an underrated O-line. Defensively, the Titans will miss PacMan Jones, both as a corner and as a punt returner. They brought in Nick Harper, but he would have been a good complement to Pacman, instead, he's their #1 CB, with no real #2. Chris Hope is their only good safety, they released starter Lamont Thompson. David Thorton, Stephen Tulloch and Keith Bulluck form a fast, agile, and fierce group of LBs, while Kyel Vanden Bosch provides the pass rush. Albert Haynesworth and Randy Starks clog up the middle at DT, but neither are superstarts. The Titans are a dominant WR and a pacman away from being really dangerous, as they stand now, they'll still give some teams trouble.
Prediction: 7-9, 2nd in the AFC South.
Atlanta Falcons-Well, not much more can be said about Michael Vick, the team, the league, and the fans all need to move on, at least until we see how long of a prison term he'll serve. Joey Harrington is now the starting QB, and it's not as bad as you might think. Warrick Dunn and Jerrious Norwood are a good combo at RB, look for Norwood to get the bulk of the carries as the year progresses. Michael Jenkins, Roddy White and Joe Horn are the WRs, and the two youngsters should get some pointers from Horn. Alge Crumpler is still a great TE, and should be Harrington's favorite target, much like he was Vick's. The offensive line is unremarkable, if rookie Justin Blaylock plays well, they should give Harrington time to find his receivers. They just need to catch it. Defensively, Rod Coleman needs to get past his injuries and return to being a dominant DT if they are going to threaten. John Abraham also needs to display some of the talent that got him his big contract, he's been coasting on reputation since becoming a falcon. Keith Brooking is still the man in the middle, with Demorrio Williams and Michael Boley joining him at LB. DeAngelo Hall talks a big game, and somewhat backs it up on the field, Lawyer Milloy is the veteran of the secondary, with 2nd year man Jimmy Williams clinging to the other safety spot. 54 year old Morten Anderson may not have to come out of retirement to kick this year, which may actually disappoint some Falcons fans. Without Vick, attendance will suffer, but the team may actually improve.
Prediction: 7-9, 3rd in the NFC South
Carolina Panthers-The panthers went from superbowl contenders to also rans so fast that no one knew what happened. Injuries and a regression by Jake Delhomme are the main reasons. David Carr comes to town, and will sit behind Delhomme for now, but if Jake puts out a couple stinkbombs like he did last year, Carr may see some action. RBs will be a tossup until one of them gets hurt, Deshaun Foster starts, but DeAngelo Williams will see plenty of action as well. Brad Hoover is always around in case they both get banged up. Steve Smith is still their go-to guy, and as teams learned last year, cover him, and you stop the Panthers. Dwayne Jarrett takes Keyshawn's place as the posession receiver, while Keary Colbert and Drew Carter sprint down the field so Delhomme can ignore them and fire a ball to a triple-covered Steve Smith. The OL is nothing special, with Travelle Wharton and the massive Jordan Gross manning the tackle positions, and Mike Wahle never living up to his billing at guard. The defense has playmakers, but it also has a lot of injuries. Kris Jenkins is almost unstoppable when he's healthy, but that's rare, so he's not as much of a threat as he should be. Julius Peppers is also deadly, to be as fast as he is, for his size, is amazing, but he's banged up fairly often as well. Poor Dan Morgan gets concussed when the box of cereal falls out of the pantry and hits him, so don't expect him to make it through this season either. Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas are good CBs, they never make highlight reels (which is good and bad, never because they're being torched, but also because they never make really big plays). Mike "after dinner" Minter retired on the eve of training camp, leaving the Panthers to scramble to find a good replacement. They haven't, so their safeties aren't good. Prediction: Delhomme falls apart, we see Carr by week 10, but he doesn't help much.
Prediction: 8-8, 2nd in the NFC South
New Orleans Saints-The feel good story of '06, they return home to Nawlins, and make it all the way to the NFC championship game. Drew Brees has been everything they could have hoped for and more, and he is absolutely beloved in Louisiana. Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister are a great RB tandem, and Bush is a threat anywhere on the field. Marcus Colston leads a young, quick WR group, with Terrance Copper, Devery Henderson, and #1 pick Robert Meacham filling out the roster. The line isn't bad, Jamaal Brown is emerging as a very good tackle, and the rest of the line holds their own, including the heavily-tattooed Jeff Faine. On the other side of the ball, the Saints seem to be in perpetual need of a second cornerback, and as Mike McKenzie isn't getting any younger, they may need 2, and soon. Josh Bullocks and Roman Harper aren't bad as safeties, with the ageless Jay Bellamy and the average Kevin Kaesvaharn backing them up. Will Smith (not fresh, or a prince) and Charles Grant pressure from the outside, while Hollis Thomas and Kedrick Clancy eat up space in the middle. The Saints defense doesn't scare anybody, but if they make just a few stops, their offense should score more than enough to win some games.
Prediction: 10-6, first in the NFC South, #4 seed
Tampa Bay Buccaneers-The Bucs are too old, or too young, and don't have much in the way of big names. Simeon Rice is now a Bronco, so Gaines Adams will be called on (and will fail) to take his place. Derrick Brooks is over the hill, but still playing, and Ronde Barber only has a few good years left as well. The rest of that once-vaunted defense is a shell of its former self, as Jermaine Phillips never took Lynch's place, and recently signed Cato June will rack up a lot of tackles, but usually only after the guy has gotten the yardage he needed for a first down. Back over to the offense, Jeff Garcia comes to town and will try to make folks remember Rich Gannon during Chucky's years in Oakland. Joey Galloway is still fast, but the geritol could wear off at any time. Michael Clayton went from a rookie phenom to barely making the team, and David Boston has more arrests than catches over the last three years. The O-line lost Todd Steussie, and doesn't really have anyone to replace him, they did bring in Luke Pettigout to keep up their roster of aging, not-as-effective veterans though, so that's something. Don't expect much from the Bucs this year, poor Cadillac Williams will be run into the ground by week 5, and the rest of the offense doesn't scare anybody.
Prediction: 3-13, last in the NFC south, and picking 1st overall.
Denver Broncos-Jay Cutler is not the next John Elway, but he is going to be a solid QB. Travis Henry comes to town to be the next successful Denver RB, and there's no reason to think he should fail. If does falter, Mike Bell and Cecil Sapp will fill in without any problems. Javon Walker is their unquestioned #1 WR, and Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokely will give Cutler some nice options. Rod Smith is still recovering from hip surgery, he may not make it onto the field this year. Matt Lepsis and Tom Nalen are still good at what they do, and the O-line should continue to be effective with their zone-cut blocking style. Defensively, the Broncos have been bit hard by the injury bug. Jarvis Moss is out for awhile, and Warrick Holdman is out for the season after bruising his spinal cord. Simeon Rice comes to town to join Elvis Dumervil, John Engelberger and Sam Adams on the line. The Broncos boast the fastest LB group in the game, with Dede Lewis, D.J. Williams and Ian Gold running all over the place. They are also the only team that can claim two shutdown corners with Champ Bailey and Dre Bly making opposing QBs think twice before releasing the ball. Nick Ferguson and John Lynch are the safeties, they know their role and perform to expectations. This all makes for a solid team, that could probably win any other conference, but they'll have to settle for a wild card in this one.
Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in the AFC west, #6 seed, wildcard.
Kansas City Chiefs-Oh, the poor Chefs. Good googly moogly is too nice of an expression for the mess they are in. Larry Johnson is in camp, but has over 400 carries from last year wearing on him. Damon Huard is the starting QB, only because Brodie Croyle made too many bad decisions during the preseason. Eddie Kennison, Samie Parker and Dwayne Bowe are the designated pass missers, while Tony Gonzales is still their only legitamite receiving threat. Priest Holmes is back...on the sidelines, where he'll have a good view of poor Brian Waters watching this new KC Line let rushers through to murder anyone in the backfield. Casey Wiegman and Kyle Turley aren't bad, but they won't make Chiefs fans forget Will Shields or Roaf anytime soon. Defensively, DE Jared Allen will miss the first few games due to a DUI suspension, but Tamba Hali is still around to cause QBs discomfort. Look for rookie standout Tank Tyler to crack the starting lineup at some point, he's a monster. Ty Law and Patrick Surtain are old, but they're also the starting corners, speed receivers will beat them handily. Bernard Pollard and Jerrod Page start at safety, with Greg Wesley and John McGraw ready to step in, if need be. Napoleon Harris, Kendrell Bell, Donnie Edwards and Derek Johnson are an adequate LB corps, this could be Edwards last year, so he'd like to go out a winner, too bad that won't happen in KC. Two feel good stories are Boomer Grigsby and Bobby Sippio, the former a converted linebacker who's now the starting FB, and Sippio is an arena league WR who made the team against all odds. Herm Edwards will have ample time to wax poetic at the podium this year, this team is going to struggle, big time.
Prediction: 5-11, last in the West.
Oakland Raiders-The Raiders and Art Shell were the laughing stock of the NFL last year, but Shell is gone, and Lane Kiffin is in. The Raiders quietly had the third best defense in the league last year, it returns intact. However, they were absolutely inept, offensively. Aaron Brooks is gone, hopefully to never throw the ball the wrong way again, and Daunte Culpepper is keeping the seat warm for JeMarcus Russell, who is in no rush to sign with the team anytime soon. Josh McCown and Andrew Walter also hang on as QBs, they are less than stellar, to be kind. Lamont Jordan is the feature back, at least until Dominic Rhodes returns from suspension in week 5. Travis Taylor, Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry and Mike Williams are collectively 2 good WRs, unfortunately they have to play as individuals. The line is in flux, as Kiffin isn't going to protect anyone due to their draft status, everyone has to earn a spot. That being said, former 1st round pick Robert Gallery is being moved inside to guard, he and Jake Grove need to perform, or they could be looking for work next year. Barry Sims is ok at left tackle, that's the nicest thing I can say about this line. Defensively, things look much better. Warren Sapp is playing like a man posessed, and his enthusiasm has affected Terdell Sands and Gerard Warren as well. Tyler Brayton and Derrick Burgess will rush from the outside, Burgess hopes to get back to double digit sacks. Nadi Asomougha is developing into a real shut down corner, Fabian Washington is the fastest man in the league, and Stanford Routt is no slowpoke, either. Michael Huff is a future star at SS, and Stuart Shweigert does a good job at FS. The linebackers aren't good, but with the speed of the secondary, they don't really need to be. However, expect Kiffin to address that weakness in the near future.
Prediction 6-10, third in the AFC West (thanks to a sweep of the hapless Chiefs).
Finally, the NFC West.
Wait, dammit, I forgot the Chargers.
San Diego Chargers-They won't repeat last year's 14-2, but they wil get farther in the playoffs. Phillip Rivers is a very good QB, Billy Volek and Charlie Whitehurst aren't bad backups. Ladanian Tomlinson is the best player in the league, and if his backup Michael Turner is hurt, Darren Sproles is electrifying when he's on the field as well. Vincent Jackson, Eric Parker, and Malcolm "pretty boy" Floyd are the wideouts, but TE Antonio Gates is the real receiving threat. The O-line is young, strong, and reliable, with ROY Marcus McNeil, Shane Olivea, Kris Dielman and C Nick Hardwick all being above average, and more than capable. This O is almost unstoppable, and Norv Turner, while not known for being a great head coach, is a great offensive mind, so don't look for the O to slow down. The defense may miss Wade Phillips advice, but all the talent is still there. Jamal Williams is the premiere NT in the league, he draws a double team almost constantly. Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips rush the passer from everywhere, and won't hesitate to knock one out. Luis Castillo is another big inside presence, and Igor Olshansky will rush from the outside as well. The CBs need work, Quentin Jammer never developed into the player the Chargers hoped, and Drayton Florence is just holding the fort until Antonio Cromartie is ready to take over. Eric Weddle and Marlon Mccree are medicore at best, so don't expect any deep safety help. Still, the safeties may not be challenged much if the front seven gets to the QB like they are capable of.
Prediction: 13-3, 1st in the AFC West, #1 seed overall.
Now onto the NFC west.
Arizona Cardinals-Every year this decade, folks have thought the Cardinals were going to be better, and every year they've disappointed. This year...wont' be much different. The Cards actually are improving, but so is another team in their division. Matt Leinart looks like he has all the tools necessary to be a great QB, he just needs another year or two to get them down. Edgerrin James probably regrets leaving Indy, he never realized what bad offensive line meant until he came to Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Bryant Johnson are a great receving corps, and massive Leonard Pope may give the cardinals their first receiving TE since Freddie Jones. Duce Lutui is a big guard, and Levi Brown is the latest first round pick to man a tackle spot for the cards. However, since Leinart is left-handed, these two are the important ones, on the right side of this line. If Leinart gets hurt and Kurt Warner is back in, just hope Leinart doesn't get hurt. Defensively, the Cards are hit and miss. The miss mostly comes from the line up front, quick, name a Cardinals pass rusher....Bertrand Berry technically qualifies, but he's trying to learn to play as a DE/LB hybrid, and isn't comfortable at all. Karlos Dansby is a good LB, but seems to have too many mental lapses. Calvin Pace and Monty Biesel aren't anything special, Daryl Blackstock might be, but he's still a little raw. Antrell Rolle has lost his starting job at CB, but he'll probably get it back at some point, as Eric Green and Rod Hood aren't all that great. Adrian Wilson is, in fact, he's probably the best safety in the NFC. Terrance Holt is the other safety, he's ok. This year, the holes in the D close up a little, but not enough to get the Cards into the playoffs.
Prediction: 8-8, third in the NFC West.
Saint Louis Rams-Marc Bulger got a big contract, now everyone needs to hope he puts up big numbers for the Rams this year. Steven Jackson will run, catch, and probably throw if you asked him to, he defines workhorse back. Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Drew Bennet are all great WRs, however, none of them are 100% healthy, that's cause for concern. Randy McMichael is the new TE, giving Bulger all kinds of options to throw to. Orlando Pace is still an anchor at LT, but he's getting a little long in the tooth. The rest of the line is in transition, and that's not something you want to hear if you're Marc Bulger. But, Richie Incognito, Alex Barron and Claude Terrell all show promise. The achilles heel for the Rams will be their defense. Adam Carriker is undersized but nasty, and will do everything he can as the nose. Leonard Little is still a force from the outside, and LaRoi Glover could surprise with some high sack totals as well. The linebackers need work, Will Witherspoon is good, Brad Chillar is not, and Pino Tinoisamoa falls somewhere in between. Tye Hill and Ron Bartell aren't good CBs, Corey Chavous is past his prime at SS and Oshino Atogwe is ??? at FS. This defense will give up points in droves, wasting a good effort from Jackson and the offense.
Prediction: 7-9, last in the West.
San Francisco 49ers. Say hello to Mike Nolan's little friends. Alex Smith started playing well last year, Frank Gore is a manbeast, as is Vernon Davis, and Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie give them experience at WR for the first time in Nolan's tenure. Joe Staley and Eric Heitmann are the youths on the line, while Larry Allen and Jonas Jennings are the vet. They appear to be gelling as an effective group. Defensively, the 9ers are also on the rise. Manny Lawson, Patrick Willis, Derek Smith, and Jeff Ulbrich are a solid group of LBs, and should give opposing team fits. Bryant Young and Marques Douglas will try and rush the passer, their measure of success will determine how far the 9ers can go. The secondary is greatly improved due to new addition Nate Clements, he along with Shawnte Spencer and Walt Harris will try and keep opposing WRs off their game. Michael Lewis comes over from Philly for a fresh start, he might not have been able to handle the philly environment. SF should prove kinder. The 9ers should surprise folks this year, and will make people sit up and take notice about how to build a team up in just a few years.
Prediction: 9-7, 2nd in the West, #6 seed, wildcard.
Seattle Seahawks. The Hawks had an off year, with both Matt Hasselback and Shaun Alexander injured for part of the season. They're both healthy, and Deion Branch is now comfortable in the offense. He's joined by D.J. Hackett and Nate Burleson to give Seattle its best WRs in years. The O-line is still anchored by Walter Jones, but Chris Spencer, Chris Gray, and Sean Locklear need to be consistent for this team to really contend. Defensively, the Hawks need some help up front, as they lost Marcus Tubbs for the second year in a row. Don't be surprised if Tank Johnson pays the hawks a visit in the near future. For now Rocky Bernard and Cedric Darby will eat up the middle of the line, while recent acquisition Patrick Kerney should provide some outside rush, along with Jason babin and Bryce Fisher. The linebackers are good, as Leroy Hill, Lofa Tutupu and Julian Peterson should be able to cover the majority of the field. Kelly Jennings and Marcus Trufant are capable corners, Deon Grant is okay at SS, and Jordan Babineaux and Byron Russell will battle for the FS spot. The Hawks D is average, but that should be enough for them to coast to another title, due to a fairly easy schedule.
Prediction: 11-5, 1st in NFC west, #3 seed.
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