Well, well, well… the NFL season has FINALLY gotten here. We were just watching the Super Bowl seven months ago, saying we didn’t want football to go away — but this year has FLOWN BY (thank God — let’s start the countdown to the third week in May 2009 already LOL). NFL 2008 is HERE!
With that said, let’s get right into the prognostications and analysis division by division and conference by conference.
*** PLEASE BE ADVISED THE RECORDS WILL NOT COMPUTE EXACTLY — THEY ARE MERELY TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA OF WHAT I BELIEVE THE TEAM WILL PERFORM LIKE AND WHERE THEY WILL FINISH IN THEIR RESPECTIVE DIVISIONS. NO SMART ALECK EMAILS ABOUT THE COMPUTATION BEING UNEVEN. Thanks.***
National Football Conference
NFC East Division:
1. Dallas Cowboys. Dallas has the most talent in the NFC and possibly the NFL as a whole. No one can sensibly argue that. Their problems are 1) out of control egos in Terrell Owens and Tony Romo (who refused to listen to Parcells’ advice!) 2) questionable receiving corps without Glenn now 3) their history of flat out CHOKING in the playoffs in recent years, where they have not won a playoff game since 1996. That said, Owens is still the 2nd or 3rd best WR in the NFL and it will be interesting to see if Marion Barber III can be as effective carrying the ball 25 times a game with defensive coordinators scheming to take him out of the game and get after Romo. I still think they will be the team to beat in the end, but again, they have that postseason thing to shake.
Their special teams are average.
They are like the 1990s Atlanta Braves of MLB! They win a ton of regular season games, but don’t do squat in the playoffs. More of the same this year, now that Big Blue showed the NFL “how to do this” (i.e. getting after Romo). Whoever they play in the Wild Card this year will do the same.
As for the regular season – 12-4.
2. New York Giants. The New York Football Giants were already being counted out by the perennial haters (ESPN, FOX Sports, irrational Cowboy and Iggles fans, people who hate New York City in general and those with inferiority complexes that can’t stand to see others succeed, etc. etc. etc.) the minute the defections from the Super Bowl-winning team began. Gibril Wilson left, then Kawika Mitchell, then Reggie Torbor. Then Strahan retired. Then we trade Shockey. Then Plaxico Burress’ ankle messes up again in training camp and finally, Osi Umenyiora’s knee injury knocks him out for the season. That only made the irrationale even worse. Even with all those setbacks, the Giants quietly acquired Danny Clark to fill Mitchell’s shoes (Clark is better in all areas as a linebacker, BTW), they acquired Sammy “Good” Knight to replace Wilson and drafted Kenny Phillips, to play strong and free safety, respectively. Phillips hits harder than anyone in the secondary that the Giants have had since Shaun Williams’ first year in 1998 (before he got soft). Aaron Ross and Webster are MORE than capable in the secondary, provided the front seven gets adequate pressure, which it will.
Special teams look good, especially with Domenik Hixon emerging.
Much has been made about what Spaggs (Giants’ defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo) will do to fill the void of Strahan and Umenyiora. Yes, it is a loss of 23 sacks. But only Osi’s knee injury is shocking. People knew Strahan was going to retire if we won the Super Bowl. We did. So he did. Justin Tuck is going to give left tackles fits all season. Kiwanuka will do the same to right tackles. Add to the fact that at times the Giants can shift Kiwanuka back to strongside linebacker and put Renaldo Wynn at left end, move Tuck inside to defensive tackle and shift Dave Tollefson to right end (or put Clark at strongside and put Kiwanuka at right end with Tuck inside at DT, Wynn at LE) and you see the Giants AREN’T out of options here, defensively in regards to pressuring the QB. What they CANNOT avoid is another injury to anyone in the front seven. Antonio Pierce is the ONE player who was indispensible on the front seven even with Osi being considered. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, I’m sane. The offense is better than people think. Eli has swag now. Jacobs, if he stays healthy, will be a 1,200 guy. Ward and Bradshaw give you a couple of different looks as the Giants have the deepest RB corps in the NFL. Burress, “Well-Dressed” Amani Toomer, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, Domenik Hixon, Mario Manningham, David Tyree give Eli Manning a plethora of weapon. Shockey’s trade is overpublicized. Kevin Boss played great after Shockey broke his leg. The Giants will be fine.
New York Giants (pre-Umenyiora injury) 11-5.
New York Giants (post-Umeyiora injury) 10-6.
Again, the injuries and players who have left the team aren’t as big of a deal as people make it seem.
3. Washington Redskins. I will be brief with this one, because they really did not do much change with their roster in the offseason. The big move was getting a new head coach (Jim Zorn) after Joe Gibbs stepped down and changing offensive schemes yet again. Jason Campbell will build upon his very good season last year and they do have weapons to run Zorn’s offense. Portis will do his normal 1,300-1,400.
Yes, they looked awful vs. Carolina last week, but at the end of the day, an above average offense and a very good defense means they will be in the mix. Maybe a wild card team again. The NFC East is strong, and they will most likely be the third NFC East team (and last team into the playoffs) in the postseason again this year.
4. Philadelphia Eagles. Without being nasty or placing personal biases ahead of objectivity, I do have to wonder what Donovan McNabb has been smoking that makes him think that 1) they are “the team to beat in the NFC” and/hence 2) be better than the other three teams in the division with, for the 15th straight year — the CRAPPIEST set of wide receivers this side of the Miami Dolphins! McNabb needs to prove he can stay healthy for once. He hasn’t played a full season since they went to the Super Bowl in 2004. Brian Westbrook is the only great player they have, and when he was injured last year, Osi Umenyiora had 6 sacks lining up against Winston Justice. McNabb isn’t what makes them go. (Puts on Hubie Brown Second Person Voice) And when your QB doesn’t have that kind of pull, then you are not a contender in the NFL. Brian Dawkins, who I respect, is getting long in the tooth. He has a year or two left before he really drops off. The rest of their secondary is weak. Their linebackers are nondescript and Trent Cole, who is a BEAST, is the only lineman you really have to account for with them. MAYBE Mike Patterson here and there and MAYBE Broderick Bunkley (FROM?!?!?! FLORIDA STATE!!!) I just don’t see how this team is supposed to be anyone’s favorite except delusional Eagles’ fans.
Iggles’ record: 8-8.
NFC North Division:
No one really cares about this division, but for the sake of arguing…
1. Minnesota Vikings. They have the best running attack in the division. With a conference bereft of quarterbacks, that’s the only thing (and a decent defense) that will get you any W’s in that division. Adrian Peterson is going to gain close to 1,800 yards this year if he is healthy. Chester Taylor is still giving you close to 1,000 when Peterson isn’t in there. With their wimpy QB Tavaris Jackson nicked up again, it’s tough for this offense to do much consistently. Their offensive line is arguably the best in the NFL, though. That is enough to keep them in games. Their defense has gotten BETTER, but they still have plenty of holes in their secondary aside from Antoine Winfield. If the Williams Brothers (Pat and Kevin) can get pressure up front and stuff the run, they are tough to beat. Ask the Giants last year.
2. Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers has big shoes to fill, blah blah blah. They overachieved by a good 4 games last year. The other shoe finally dropped (I had been waiting for it all season) in the NFC Championship vs. the Giants. They won’t make it to the playoffs, but Rodgers will prove he is going to be good for years to come. Their defense will keep them in most games, but they don’t have any real gamebreakers unless WR Greg Jennings and Rodgers can connect deep regularly. I don’t see that happening though. At least not early.
3. Detroit Lions. I don’t know what to think about this team. Kitna gets you 4,000 yards every year (good for fantasy) and 30 TDs last year (also good for fantasy football). But he gets killed every year, too. They could not run the ball, and really have not since Barry Sanders walked out on top in 1998. They have receivers, but no one plays them honestly (Roy Williams gets double-teamed every game and still makes great catches and had a ton of catches in total last year). Calvin Johnson will be great, but if they can’t get their running game going this year, it will be more of the same. Their defense is a joke.
4. Chicago Bears. Their defense is the only thing worth noting. I feel bad for guys like Mike Brown and Brian Urlacher, as well as Lance Briggs — wasting their prime teams on this train wreck of a team. They refuse to get a real quarterback — indeed; they have not had one since McMahon and he was overrated. They basically gave Thomas Jones to the Jets, kept Benson (should’ve been the other way around) and then cut Benson this offseason. I also feel bad for my boy Kevin Jones. He is finally healthy and then ends up with the Bears. What did he do in his youth to deserve this? LOL
Rex Grossman is only in the league because he played under Steve Spurrier (whose QBs have NEVER EVER done anything in the NFL, does anyone notice this???) There’s Good Rex (which is below average at best) and Bad Rex (as in worst in the NFL bad). How can you be taken seriously and win in the NFL with a joke of a quarterback? Kyle Orton, while suffering from the Chad Pennington/Matt Leinart syndrome, DOES win games, because he doesn’t kill you with the mistakes that Grossman does nearly every game. I still think they will royally suck.
Take Devin Hester out of the equation and they would be the absolute worst team in the league. He literally won the Bears two games last year.
NFC South Division:
1. Carolina Panthers. This division will be tight. However, I give the nod to Carolina for three major reasons: 1) Jake Delhomme is healthy, 2) the running game is solid and Muhsin Muhammad is back with the Panthers to take away the double/triple-teams Steve (Steven) Smith faced all last year and 3) Dan Morgan is out of the picture with his perennial concussions, Mike Rucker retired and Chris Gamble is back healthy. Their defense was always their strong point, but they were injured most of last year on all three levels. Add in Delhomme’s catastrophic arm injury and you should tip your hat to them for even winning 7 games last year.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Smoke and mirrors. I said that about Green Bay all last year. I’ll be saying it about Tampa this year. Cadillac Williams has the Bernard King-type knee injury. He will never be the same and may need this entire year to recover after missing ALL of last year after initially injuring it early in the Carolina game. Their defense is looking a bit long in the tooth. Derrick Brooks is one of my all-time Florida State guys, but he is 35. This might be his last go ’round. I don’t know how they will do it, but…
3. New Orleans Saints. The Saints are a solid football team. Brees will win you a few and rarely cost you one. He just gained a weapon in Jeremy Shockey (if he stops dropping the ball once a game). Their defense is solid with Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma leading the way. I like their receivers, but for some reason, I still don’t see them making it over the hump.
4. Atlanta Falcons. The worst team in football. Period. Pray for Matt Ryan.
NFC West Division:
1. Arizona Cardinals. Yes, I think the Cards can do it IF Warner is the QB and IF he stays healthy for at least 13 games this year. Matt Leinart is just not an NFL QB. Any real scout saw this throughout his years at USC (he had a stellar offensive line, great running backs, GREAT receivers and a GREAT defense, my mom could’ve won the Heisman with that team). He’s overrated. But Warner puts up pinball machine numbers (see the last half of the 2007 season). With two of the best WRs in the league in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (both have had 100-catch seasons) and a decent running game in an aging Edgerrin James and a young stud (pause) out of Richmond, they will be a force. Now if Rolle can anchor the secondary…
***I resign the right to adjust this for a Warner concussion and say they will be 5-11 if he misses more than three games.***
2. Seattle Seahawks. One last hurrah under Holmgren. I put them here because their GLUE on offense, Bobby Engram, will miss several games to start the season. Hasselback does not have much to work with. Julius Jones’ best days are behind him in Dallas. Maurice Morris is better at this point. Won’t matter. They miss Steve Hutchinson at left guard too much. Walter Jones (FROM?!?!?! YAK…) is great, but he’s just a tackle, he can’t drive out defensive tackles also. Pork Chop Womack gets it done, but regardless, Seattle will only go as far as their defense (which is very good — bends but doesn’t break) takes them. Tatupu is a very good mike linebacker, and their defensive ends get plenty of pressure with Kerney and Wistrom, but their secondary will decide it all.
3. St. Louis Rams. Can Bulger stay healthy? How effective will Jackson be? Their offensive line is decent. Not great. Same with their defensive line with Howie Long’s son. I can’t really say much about them. They’re really not a good team.
4. San Francisco 49ers. Alex Smith might have just lost his job to J.T. O’Sullivan, who has been a journeyman his entire career. Isn’t that something? The 49ers waste tens of millions on a QB with small hands who can’t catch a break. They have Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and nothing else to mention offensively. They have Pat Willis at LB, but his 200+ tackles last year were just a testament to the fact their defense was on the field all the time last year and the bookend LBs did not make plays. Willis is VERY GOOD, but 200 tackles is never a good thing; even though it looks good on paper. Their secondary is a complete joke even WITH Clements back there.
American Football Conference
AFC East Division:
1. New England Patriots. Anyone who knows football knows they will not repeat what they did last year. Brady’s numbers will fall back to his average (which are better than everyone’s other than Peyton Manning’s, so that’s not a bad thing) and Randy Moss will not put up the same type numbers, either. Only the (90% bandwagon) deluded Patriot fans out there really think this team will come close to that.
Having said that, they will still be formidable and tough to beat regardless. Their linebackers are on their last legs and that got exploited in the Super Bowl. Their secondary is depleted with Samuel gone. Donte Stallworth’s defection leaves them thin at WR. How does one figure this team will go undefeated?
2. New York Jets. Brett Favre is overrated and has been this entire decade in terms of how much ink he gets. His best days ended the day Reggie White (thankfully he is with God for sure, RIP) left. And if you go look through your almanac, you see that was NOT last year. They only won that one Super Bowl because of White’s two clutch sacks at the end of the game to keep Drew Bledsoe from completing a last second touchdown drive. Barry Sanders should have had the 1997 NFL MVP award to himself after amassing 2,000 yards, but NOOOO, they had to “split” it with Favre. How can you have TWO MVPs? Favre was great that year, indeed, they made it to the Super Bowl again after making it the previous year and winning. But he wasn’t even the best QB in that game, and wasn’t the best QB that season, NOR is he the best QB ever, as some claim (Elway across the board). Give Barry his due.
Thomas Jones (fam)is a force in the backfield, to go with Leon Washington and other spot backs, they have a running game. Their offensive line is solid with the addition of Alan Faneca. Their receivers are pedestrian, but make plays (Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery & Co.). The real question is their defense, and no one really stands out aside from Kerry Rhodes and Erik Coleman. When your best defensive players are your defensive backs, that says something about your defense — and it’s not a GOOD something.
However, the Jets have a VERY GOOD special teams. Especially returning kicks and punts – Leon Washington is only second to Devin Hester (albeit with much less ink) he scored just as often last year.
3. Buffalo Bills. They have talent, but they can’t figure out who their QB is. Their defense has been a revolving door the past few years. LITERALLY. Hard to guage them. If Lynch can run the ball consistently, they’ll play a lot of close games. But that’s about it. They won’t win them without consistent QB play.
4. Miami Dolphins. You can give them a pass this year. Can’t really rip them too much after having won only two games last year. They drafted a relatively good set of picks in the 2008 Draft and get injured players back. We don’t know most of those players, though, so I’ll give them an incomplete right now. They gave up two of their defensive stalwarts in the offseason in Zach Thomas (Dallas) and Jason Taylor (Washington).
AFC North Division:
1. Cleveland Browns. I think this is their year to overtake Pittsburgh. They could have done it last year except QB Derek Anderson got a case of the yips down the stretch last year. Cost them a game vs. Cincinnati. Nevertheless, they have Jamal Lewis, who is in the best shape of his life at RB… a STELLAR TE in K. Winslow, Braylon Edwards at WR making great plays every game and a very good offensive line. Their defense is still lacking a run defense, but they are better. Bend but don’t break. I have them winning the division on the last game of the regular season over Pittsburgh in a tiebreaker. Watch Josh Cribbs on special teams!
2. Pittsburgh Steelers. They actually got better through draft picks. Their only true loss was Alan Faneca and they had players ready to fill in. Willie Colon (Ah Ah, Oh No) can move to RT and they can move a couple of other players around to make that line just as good as it was earlier in the decade. Santonio Holmes is a game breaker, Roethlisberger seems poised for a big year and Fast Willie Parker should be healthy. Their defense needs S Troy Polamalu to be healthy in order for it to be effective. They were rather pedestrian when he did not play. It hurt them in the end going into the playoffs (along with Parker’s injury). If healthy, they will be right there.
3. Baltimore Ravens. McGahee is going to have a 1,500 year. Mark it down. Even though defenses will stack the line with One-Arm Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and Joe Flacco as their QBs. Jonathan Ogden retired and their line is not well-known. I still stand by my prediction about McGahee. Just watch (and no, it’s not because I have him in FF). Their WRs are okay, the only one worthy of note is Mark Clayton. Another smoke and mirrors team. Their defense isn’t what it was, but they still make plays with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Samari Rolle, Chris McAlister and Landry. They are one of those teams that are on the fence of not making the playoffs or being the second wild card. I like their return game.
4. Cincinnati Bengals. Marv Lewis is going to get fired if they start the season 0-2 (conceiveable). They won’t come back from that 1) T.J. Houshmandzadeh isn’t 100%, nor is Chad. They even relented and brought back Chris Henry. You know it’s bad when you have undrafted rookies getting time that the starters normally would have gotten in game three in the preseason. Their running game really fell off as Rudi Johnson started playing like RUDY from the movie. He’s done. At age 29 and less than 5 full seasons of playing under his belt. Go figure.
Kenny Watson and Chris Perry are okay, but they won’t win games for you. The defense is absolutely abysmal, considering Marvin Lewis is a defensive coordinator. Their offense is supposed to be the strong point, but in their last eight offensive possessions in the preseason, they haven’t even managed a field goal. Scary.
AFC South Division:
1. Indianapolis Colts. This is mostly by default. I, for one, am not worried about Peyton Manning’s injury. He will be there. Marvin Harrison is healthy. Reggie Wayne is in his prime. Anthony Gonzalez has been gettin’ it in. Joseph Addai is primed for a 1,400 yard year. If Freeney is healthy and Bob Sanders (best free safety in the NFL, sorry Dawk and Polamalu) can avoid nick-nack injuries, they are going to be in the mix for the Super Bowl. Keep this name in mind: Tony Ugoh. He protects Manning’s blind side and is virtually unknown, but he played VERY WELL last year and how well he plays this year is pivotal.
2. Houston Texans. Yes. Houston. If healthy (Andre Johnson), they would have won 12 last year. Does not matter who their RB’s are. Their offense is pretty explosive. Their defense isn’t great, but it makes timely plays. I expect more of that this year. They were able to hang with Dallas last week.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguwires might take a step back without their defensive tackle tandem anymore. They do get Harvey into the fold to play defensive end, but I have to wonder how much that will matter. Without pressure up front, the rest of their defense is painfully average. They couldn’t slow New England in the playoffs last year for this reason.
4. Tennessee Titans. I like VY. He still hasn’t improved enough in the passing game to win games from the pocket. Plus, he does not have the receivers. What he DOES have, however, is a running game. They aren’t boring to watch offensively. With Vince Young himself, Chris Brown (RUN IT!) and LenDale White, they are up there in terms of running attacks in the NFL. Keith Bulluck is still a force at mike on the other side of the ball. Other than that, their front four is very good with Vanden Bosch and Haynesworth. I don’t know about their secondary. Finnegan made plays here and there, but they aren’t shutdown corners by any stretch, nor hard-hitting/big-play safeties. Tough to gauge a team like that.
Record: (Fittingly, in accordance with the last line of analysis above) 8-8.
AFC West Division:
This division may return to being fun to watch in a few years, but the Chargers own it until then. I won’t spend much time here.
1. San Diego Chargers. Rivers’ mechanics are FINALLY sound. That will help their offense overall, with Tomlinson healthy, Gates healthy and Chris Chambers to stretch the field with guys like Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood and Eric Parker (back from injury) to put out there as well. Marcus McNeal is one of the best left tackles in the league that no one knows. They will have the best offense in the NFL this year. Not on the Patriots’ level from 2007, but at the top this year.
The defense is the focal point. With or without Merriman, the defense is fine. Shaun Phillips was the best LB on the team last year. Merriman should have the surgery and rehab for next year. But he knows his own body. The 3-4 scheme confuses teams, but Jamal Williams, the best nose tackle in the league according to John Madden (and I agree) will determine how effective the four LBs are. The secondary might just be the best all around in the NFL. Quentin Jammer is FINALLY playing up to par after six seasons of not making big plays. Although Terrence Kiel died in the offseason, they are still deep back there. Clinton Hart is up and coming. Special teams are fine.
2. Oakland Raiders. JaMarcus Russell will make strides and their running game is deep, but I don’t expect much from them this year. Their defense is suspect with so many players being traded and the dreaded Your-Best-Player-Is-A-Cornerback (Nnamdi Asemougha) situation. Give them another year and a new coach and they will be back into the playoffs.
3. Denver Broncos. Bronco fans won’t admit it, but while Cutler is decent, they don’t have much else. They just cut their running game (Henry) and they have no receivers to relieve Brandon Marshall of the double and triple-teams he will face. Their defense is weak — smallish linebackers, no pass rush whatsoever (which killed them last year) and Champ Bailey on the verge of the wrong side of his prime, they can’t be expected to do much. Which of course means they MIGHT be better than I think.
4. Kansas City Chiefs. Admittedly, they were bad last year because their offensive line took serious hits with retirements over the past couple of years (Shields, Wiegmann) and the whole fiasco with Roaf. Larry Johnson’s injuries did not help matters. I’ll dare someone to name their WRs. Or their QBs for that matter. They are terrible. Too bad this will reflect more on Herman Edwards than anyone else.
In regards to playoff matchups —
3. Arizona Cardinals.
4. Minnesota Vikings
5. New York Giants.
6. New Orleans Saints.
NFC Wild-Card Playoff:
New Orleans Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals. (Cardinals)
New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings. (Giants)
Byes (Dallas, Carolina)
NFC Divisional Playoff:
Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers (Panthers)
New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys (Giants)
New York Giants vs. Carolina Panthers (Giants)
New York Giants – NFC Champions.
1. San Diego Chargers.
2. Indianapolis Colts.
3. New England Patriots.
4. Cleveland Browns.
5. Houston Texans.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers.
AFC Wild Card Playoff:
Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns. (Browns)
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots. (Patriots)
Byes (San Diego, Indianapolis).
AFC Divisional Playoff:
New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts. (Colts)
Cleveland Browns vs. San Diego Chargers. (Chargers)
Indianapolis Colts vs. San Diego Chargers. (Chargers)
San Diego Chargers – AFC Champions.
Super Bowl XLIII – Tampa, Florida.
New York Giants vs. San Diego Chargers.
I don’t DARE pick that one yet LOL… stay tuned this season!