Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NFL Preview Part II

Now that we're switching from the AFC to the NFC, one thing is quite clear, this conference is more wide open. It seems like only four teams are capable of winning the AFC, while the NFC has eight such teams. It seems right that the NFC is open, last year all but the Giants didn't make it in 2007. However, unlike past years when the NFC's parity belied a weakness that gave us Rex Grossman in a Super Bowl, the conference has now become good and it's right up there with the AFC. Let's continue with the NFC preview.

NFC East- One thing's for sure, this is still the best division in the league, since the Detroit Lions still call the NFC North home. The Giants and Eagles basically split when it comes to who should win the East by most people, as well as the NFC itself. New York is set at RB, Eli Manning is entrenched at QB, the offensive line is good, the pass rush should be great and I expect the secondary to play very well (best secondary since Mark Collins and Everson Walls were there). Every story you hear about the Giants this offseason was their receivers and how they didn't do the job after Plaxico Burress shot himself. The fact is, when a playmaker (who wasn't playing well in the first place) is just taken out during the season, you can't just replace him (also the case with Osi Umenyiora). Now the Giants are ready to go into the new campaign with Domenick Hixon, Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks. One more thing to remember, the Pats showed you don't need great receivers to win a title, as did the Ravens.

The Eagles are along with the Vikings the team everyone will watch because of the Michael Vick dynamic. They will try to see if Vick disrupts the offense, or turns it into a lethal one. I, on the other hand, will pay attention to their defense now that Jim Johnson has sadly passed away, Brian Dawkins left to Denver and Stewart Bradley was injured for the season. Can Sean McDermott maintain that defense at a high level? Other things to look at are will Donovan McNabb stay healthy, as well as Brian Westbrook. Either way, look out for a look at LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Macklin as two new weapons, on an already improved offense.

The team lack buzz is the team over the last few years had more buzz than the NFC West combined. Dallas comes into this season with the only thing being talked about is the new game of who can hit the Cowboys Stadium scoreboard. Is it like the catwalk in Tropicana Field where it's out of bounds when off the side, but a live ball down the middle? Will Tony Romo be able to hit it when he sees Jessica Simpson making out with John Mayer? Speaking of Romo, he no longer has TO as a receiver, thus it's time for Roy Williams to prove if he can be a number one target. I think the Cowboy defense will be good as DeMarcus Ware will challenge Michael Strahan's sack record. Two questions, can Romo finally win in December and can Wade Phillips avoid being fired for Mike Shanahan or Mike Holmgren.

In our nation's capital, the Redskins seem just like last year's team. Now obviously, Albert Haynesworth was a big move, but this defense was good already and I can't see him turning them into all-time great. Which means they need to score some points and Washington will again have trouble. They still lack a great receiver and Santana Moss isn't getting younger. Also, Clinton Portis, while great on the field, is always hurt. As for Jason Campbell, he will be punished as the offensive line isn't a typical Redskins line. Chances are, if Jim Zorn can't turn them around, he will be out the door, along with Campbell chained to his neck.

NFC North- We go from the best division to the most interesting as the NFC has three legit teams that can win the Super Bowl. Let's start with the Bears, since they made the flashiest move in trading for Jay Cutler (and because he's my picture). I don't have to ask Jake from BUSE that the streets of Chicago embraced their first good QB since Jim McMahon and possibly great one since Sid Luckman. Their season will rest on if the Bears defense can improve somewhere closer to 2006 levels. My season will rest on whether Matt Forte takes the leap, since three of my fantasy teams include him. Also, can Cutler turn a poor group of receivers into an above average group? If so, they will contend, if not, they won't. Sometimes picking football is that simple.

While the Cutler trade involved picking up a QB entering his prime, the Vikings signing Brett Favre is the case of a team so desperate that they pick up any has-been or never-was at QB. After last year's dreadful playoff performance, the Vikings knew they had to replace Tavaris Jackson as a starter and no one was excited after they traded for Sage "Finds New Ways to Lose" Rosenfels. Thus, Brad Childress with his Tony Kornheiser beard (our first great PTI look-a-like since Wilbon and Chi McBride) visited Hattesburg, Miss to bring back Brett Favre, even giving him the airport pickup, the most binding of social contracts. Now, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, they have a great run defense and a quality pass rush led by Jared Allen. They needed a game manager QB who can make a play or two. Only once did Favre prove he can do that, 2007 and that ended with an OT interception in the NFC Championship game and the next chapter of Favre's epic that he read from Roger Clemens.

Favre's old team, the Packers, have moved on from last year's drama and now are primed to have a good season as well. The Vikings have a manageable first five games, but Green Bay can really be 9-2 or 10-1 after Thanksgiving; that's how easy that schedule is. Aaron Rodgers is ready to build on his success this season (another player I need for most fantasy teams). The defense and Ryan Grant need bounce back years this season, which I believe will happen. Dom Capers coming in to coach the defense is akin to having Norv Turner as your offensive coordinator and the switch to the 3-4 will be much more seamless than if anyone else (except Wade Phillips or Dick LeBeau) made it. They also have a terrific secondary to get over any kinks in the front seven.

Here's my next pre-prediction column prediction, the Detroit Lions will win a game this year. That being said, they won't pull a Miami and make the playoffs. This year will be about watching Matt Stafford throw the ball to Calvin Johnson and seeing if anything else on this team can get better. The key question for Detroit, is Jim Schwartz a good coach or overrated as a Jeff Fisher assistant. Gregg Williams was in the middle, since he's a good coordinator, but a bad head coach. Schwartz must be a competent coach if the Lions are to have future success.

NFC South- As they switch from facing the AFC West and NFC North to AFC and NFC East, this division should drop from last year. The favorite to win is the Falcons who added Tony Gonzalez to an already impressive offense with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White. The biggest issue with Atlanta is defense since they didn't play any last year. If their offense slows down in any way, they will miss the playoffs. Ryan can't have a sophomore slump and if he doesn't, the Falcons have the offense to win this division. Keep an eye out on if Mike Peterson makes the defense play better, particularly at linebacker.

The champs from a year ago, Carolina are in the crossroads. They still have a terrific rushing attack with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith still plays here and their defensive line still has Julius Peppers rushing the QB. However, do you really think Jake Delhomme can recover from his all-time stinkbomb of a playoff game? That's how the Panthers season could come down to, though I believe their defense is overrated. I mean, imagine being a Panthers fan and you see Delhomme throw an interception, you'd think to yourself that you should leave the game at that point to avoid watching a hanging.

The best pure passer in the NFC has the Saints lurking as a possible sleeper top team in this league. Drew Brees I believe will be even better this season, which is say a lot after throwing for over 5,000 yards last year. The defense was the reason New Orleans went 8-8 since they stopped no one. The key addition is the hiring of Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator, along with signing Darren Sharper. If Williams does what he's done in the past for defenses, the Saints could go to the Super Bowl. If not, they will be 8-8 again.

Tampa Bay is the last of the three teams to fire their offensive coordinator in the last week, giving some unwelcome spotlight to new coach Raheem Morris. It's one thing for a desperate Dick Jauron to fire his OC, but for first year coaches Todd Haley and Morris, I'm puzzled. The defense will be good at times, but it's in transition now that some of the older players have left, particularly Derrick Brooks. Derrick Ward has joined them in the backfield and with Earnest Graham and possibly Cadillac Williams, the running game should be good. The rest of the offense will wait for Josh Freeman's development.

NFC West- This division is still the worst in the league, since there's no San Diego's here. Now I know what you're thinking, what about the Cardinals, defending NFC Champs and almost Super Bowl winners? Well, the fact is they didn't win, and remember the loser jinx means they won't make the playoffs. How can they break this? Another great year from Kurt Warner and the defense to play like they did in the playoffs. They also could use a breakout rookie year for Beanie Wells, so they can have some sort of running game to complement Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. As long as the Cardinals win their divisional games, they will have their shot to head back to the playoffs.

The biggest threat to challenge Arizona is the old standby, the Seahawks. Seattle is healthy this season and in circles, the favorite to win this division. It really does come down to Matt Hasselbeck playing this year (much like Carson Palmer in Cincy). The passing game is better now that TJ Housmandzadeh is catching balls for him. Aaron Curry will be the best rookie in this draft and strengthens a pretty good group of linebackers in the league. Their defense should play well as a whole and if they get anything out of the running game, watch out.

"I want winners" is the motto of coach Mike Singletary of San Francisco. The way the Niners end 2008 was good enough to gain early sleeper status. I even have a San Fran NFC Championship bet on my refrigerator door. Unfortunately, I wish my bet was an over/under, not a Super Bowl appearance since the Niners won't go that far. The Michael Crabtree mess hurts this ballclub because if there was one player they needed, it was a big play receiver to give Shaun Hill a legitimate target. The Niners need Frank Gore to prove worthy of his fantasy status and then some, as well as continued improvement from the defense led by Patrick Willis.

Finally, the Rams led by Stevie Spags. Spagnuolo takes over an awful team from a year ago who need a change in culture and attitude. The good news, Steven Jackson could be back as the Steven Jackson of a few years ago (who was number two in fantasy draft behind LDT). The bad news, Marc Bulger is still there and though he's not awful, he's not good either. On defense, they will be better as Leonard Little and Chris Long will get a chance to rush the QB like Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora did. But more than anything, this is a rebuilding year which 5-8 wins is a good thing for St. Louis.

Finally, here's the pick for tonight's opening game. I have the Steelers (-6.5) over the Titans since the defending champs always win the first game next season and it won't change my view on either team unless there's a major injury, which for tomorrow, I will be sure to highlight in case I need to.

1 comment:

  1. The Saints will win the NFC this season, hands down.