All I gotta say for the Giants this year is good luck. The offensive line that once started 38 games in a row has all but dissolved, leaving Eli in a very unfortunate position. He has only been as successful as he has because of a strong O line, without that, he’s going to be in trouble. Not to mention the departure of TE Kevin Boss, who leaves behind a couple tight ends that may or may not be stars in the making. Expect Eli to be relying on his deep receivers to cover the slants, which will hurt them on the deep routes. The defense is a whole nother issue, as there are no clear cut leaders on that side of the ball. The Giants missed the playoffs last year with ten wins, they’ll miss the playoffs this year with less.
After giving up a team record 436 points last year, and finishing a weak ass 6-10, the Cowboys have brought in defensive mind Rob Ryan (and his massive stomach) to hopefully fix the holes. Bradie James, DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears have already been whining about the learning curve associated with Ryan’s defensive plans. However, these guys are veteran professionals and I expect that the Cowboys defense will be much, much stronger this year. Jason Garrett will be coaching again, and Tony Romo is returning as healthy as ever. So will the Cowboys compete in their division? I expect that they will. Will they make the playoffs? If their defense holds up, I expect that they will.
The Redskins went hogwild with departures & additions. Haynesworth, McNabb, Chris Wilson, Clinton Portis, Vonnie Holliday and more are gone. Incoming players include Tim Hightower, Donte Stallworth, Kellen Clemens and a slate of rookies. Shanahan is already putting the team in a funk, with making John Beck and Rex Grossman fight for the starting job. You can’t do that going into a season, he better make up his mind damn quick like. Neither of these QB’s can give this team a chance to win, so this is a really quick conversation. Expect the Redskins to suck, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The defense will probably end up scoring more points when all is said and done.
Is this the team to beat in the NFC? On paper, sure, the Eagles are looking pretty hot. But I’m going to say this now – they won’t even win the division. Yes, the addition of Vick and Young will change the dynamic of the offensive game. Ronnie Brown will pick up where Westbrook left off, as far as the dominant running back. And the addition of Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha in the CB position will only make the defense stronger, but shit, it isn’t going to matter if Vick and/or Young fail. Vick is one side tackle or bad run away from another injury, while Young is about as consistent as a horse drawn carriage with Styrofoam wheels on a brick road. Not to mention a new rookie kicker, a defensive coordinator who was an offensive line coach since 1985 and an offensive line whom I still don’t have faith in to protect the QB. Sure, all this could add up to total win, or total disaster.
Green Bay Packers
I’m still dancing from predicting at the beginning of the 2010 season that the Packers would win the Superbowl. Or at least go to the Superbowl. So what, do you think I should go two years in a row with that prediction? Well, Rodgers has plenty of targets to throw to, and his connection with Finley is only growing stronger. Hot running back James Starks will be competing with Ryan Grant for the starting job, with badass prospect Alex Green out of Hawaii
waiting right there to get in the game. The offense is no question going to be high scoring, high flying and lights out. The defense is also back and stronger than ever. Clay Matthews is joined by Brad Jones & Frank Zombo, all hungry and at full health. I don’t think this team will have the dreaded Superbowl hangover at all. I’m putting them right back in the playoffs, this time taking the division crown with them.
The Bears surprised everyone with their playoff run last year, even having a league worst 56 sacks allowed. However, no one was surprised by their late exit in the playoffs at the hands of the Packers. This year, they have shaken up the O-line in the hopes that Jay Cutler has time to throw to some new blood, courtesy of the Cowboys. Roy Williams, Marion Barber and Sam Hurd join the offensive ranks in Chicago. Also notable is Matt Spaeth coming in to replace Greg Olsen at tight end. The problem with the Bears is going to stem from an aging defense who is going to tire during the hot games, and freeze up during the cold ones. I’d expect some rookies to start rotating in midway through the season on the defensive side. Meanwhile, it’s going to be up to Devin Hester once again to force teams to make mistakes by being bold. He’s the spark of this team, but I don’t see that being enough to propel them back into the playoffs this year, save for the Vikings outlook, which isn’t that great.
The phone call never came. The reality of a Brett Favre-less universe hit the Vikings like a cold brick. Can Donovan McNabb lead this team to the playoffs? I don’t think so. Thankfully, they have a good rookie QB in Christian Ponder and it’s my advice to the Vikings to treat this like a rebuilding year and play the kid under McNabb, let the veteran show him the ropes and rebuild the team around him. McNabb has a one year deal, you know that Joe Webb won’t be playing QB so just start Ponder. Meanwhile, Sidney Rice is gone, replaced by Michael Jenkins who is just as fast. Harvin will move up to the number one receiver. The big deal is the defensive line, after coach Frazier released Bryant “Mount” McKinnie who was the most popular guy on the line. Yeah, he was out of shape and Frazier is all “I mean business” but it’s gonna fuck up morale. Already the line is showing signs of sucking. No playoffs for this team, not this year.
The Lions biggest challenge this year will be keeping their offensive line healthy, and having the depth to back them up when they are not. Stafford is back to throwing lasers, and all he needs is an offensive line that won’t let him touch the ground. The really good news for the Lions is the defense. Led by Ndamukong Suh, LB Stephen Tulloch (160 combined tackles last season) and Justin Durant, the front seven is looking strong – very strong. This is a defense that can break some records for the Lions and help this team push for a strong season. Playoffs? I dunno. At this point it’s really hard to tell if the offense is going to be able to score more points than the other teams offense, but again, it comes down to that O-line. Either way, the Lions will not suck this year, I expect them to compete at a high level, maybe even for a wild-card spot.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I live in the Tampa Bay area, so I’ve been getting a lot of heat surrounding my picks for this division. Look, the Bucs are a young team this year – something we haven’t been able to say about them in a long, long time. Josh Freeman is the real deal at Quarterback and is the only reason Raheem Morris still has a job – as both the head coach and defensive coordinator. So can he successfully do both this year with defensive lynchpin Barrett Ruud leaving the team? The deal is going to be can the Bucs rush the ball? In the NFC South, the rush is more important than anything on offense. Yes, LeGarrette Blount rushed for over 1k yards last year but he’s clearly got an anger problem. And if he gets injured? Then what? Earnest Graham is so-so at best and who is Kregg Lumpkin? Thankfully, the Bucs can easily fall back on their strong receiving core. A surprising 10-6 last year, I can see them repeating that, if not doing better. A playoff spot awaits this team, as much as I hate saying that.
New Orleans Saints
The thing you have to understand about the Saints under coach Sean Payton is to expect the unexpected. Keeping that in mind, it was time for players like Reggie Bush & Jeremy Shockey to hit the road. I was a bit surprised that they released Gay, but perhaps he is aging a bit in the CB position. This division was so tough last year, the Saints at 11-5 were only good enough for second in the division and a wild-card, which they lost in a shocker to the Seahawks. Bush was almost a non-factor last year, which should make inserting Mark Ingram into the lineup even more interesting. He joins Pierre Thomas & Darren Sproles behind the O-line. There is no one singular “guy” which makes this team so dangerous. I mean, save for Drew Brees who had a bit of a down year in 2010. The only problems still lie a bit on defense, as they just couldn’t seem to rack up the sacks last year. I expect the Saints to slip a bit this year and have a half and half year.
After going 13-3 last year, then losing to the Packers in the NFC divisional round, the Falcons are looking to bounce back strong. Drafting Julio Jones from Alabama was definitely a step in the win now direction. This team is not rebuilding or taking a year off, they will be coming out of the gate firing. Defensive end Ray Edwards will be joining John Abraham on the line to help with the pass rush that seemed to be missing a bit last year. The Falcons need that pass rush to give their secondary that extra time to make the big plays that we know that they can. Matt Ryan is yet to win a post-season game as a starter, but I expect that to change this year as the Falcons once again take the division and head deep into the playoffs.
If there is any team in rebuilding phase, it’s this one. They spent a ton of money re-signing core offensive and defensive line players, then topped that with the signing of Cam Newton. They also added Derek Anderson to join Jimmy Clausen on the bench in case Cam is a bust. At this point, I don’t think any of these quarterbacks gives this team a chance to win – at this point. The biggest problem for the Panthers is going to be all the coaching changes. New head coach Ron Rivera is joined by Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator and Sean McDermott as defensive coordinator. That’s a lot of new systems to learn in such a short period, and it will be interesting to see if they can catch on before they start worrying about finishing with another losing season.
St. Louis Rams
This team is going to be interesting to watch this year. The loss of Oshiomogho Atogwe, who accounted for more takeaways than any other NFL player over the last six seasons will be felt in the secondary. They also picked up Cadillac Williams, a player never earning his potential and Jerious Norwood, both backing up the only reason this team wins at all – Stephen Jackson. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should spice things up a bit, and considering the division they are in, they have a pretty damn good shot at winning it with a losing record. Gotta love that shit.
If the Rams don’t win the division, it’s going to be the Cardinals. Kevin Kolb is a lot better quarterback than people give him credit for, kind of like Matt Cassel. Now he’s got that rare second shot, riding high off his play with the Eagles. In addition, he’s got some new friends to throw the ball to in WR Chansi Stuckey and rookie DeMarco Sampson, the hot hands receiver from San Diego State. The questions looming are if Beanie Wells can carry the running game, and if playing rookies in the secondary is going to pay off. I say this will be an exciting team to watch, high scoring for sure, but if the defense can’t keep up with the other teams offense, it won’t matter.
The Hasselbeck era has come to a close, and so has the Seahawks surprising winning ways. Tavaris Jackson is the starting quarterback, with Charlie Whitehurst ready to inevitably relieve him. Neither QB is going to pull this team close enough to smell the playoffs, and they have an outside chance at a winning season. The good news is that with some recent re-signings and injury recoveries the defense is back on it’s feet. For the first half of last season, the Seahawks had the #2 run defense in the league, and that type of stat should return if they can stay healthy. If they can’t then we may as well write off the Seawhawks at that point, since the defense is going to be the only bright spot on this team. Pete Carroll is rebuilding this team, and they have a way to go.
San Francisco 49′ers
Hey, it’s Alex Smith and Braylon Edwards, together again. They were in the same draft class, and now they join each other on the field of battle. This will be a good combination to watch, it’s too bad that the Niners offensive line will be too shitty to give Smith a chance to get off those lovely deep passes to Edwards. The Niners are in for a shock this season, as if their 6-10 record last year was a shock. New head coach Jim Harbaugh has his work cut out for him this year for sure. The Niners fans will be hanging their heads for most of the season unfortunately.
Next week: AFC Predictions