The official outlook for the Browns is that this is a rebuilding year. This is the year that they expect Colt McCoy to dig in his heels as a starter, and new head coach (and offensive coordinator) Pat Shurmur to show that he’s got the chops to lead this team. He’ll be instituting a west coast style offense, and I think that Colt and his main receivers, Massaquoi and Robiskie will take to it well. The addition of Brandon Jackson to the backfield with Peyton Hillis will solidify their running game for sure. The questions still remain on defense. Look, the Browns have had a hot and cold defense the past couple years – when they are on, they are on. But when they aren’t, they give up a lot of passing yards. The addition of rookies Joe Haden & T.J. Ward in the secondary will help on those third and long stops, but a bunch of unproven defensive ends up front could pose a challenge. I’m looking for the Browns to do well this year. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but I think they’ll at least break even on the year. As a Browns fan, I’d love for them to make the playoffs, but I hold no illusions about what this team is right now, and that’s in the middle of a transition to a better team.
The biggest changes for the Ravens had to be the switching up at wide receiver. Houshmandzadeh didn’t get along with the coaching staff, so he’s gone. Derek Mason was also let go, along with Donte Stallworth (worthless) and tight end Todd Heap. Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee also packed their bags and left Ravens camp in the offseason as well. Really though, who cares? The Ravens signed Anquan Boldin. He’s going to certainly click with rocket arm Joe Flacco. Tack on a couple good rookie receivers and the rejuvenated Ricky Williams in the backfield and you’ve got a certain offensive threat with this team. The defense, still lead by Ray Lewis will be the key to victory though, can they beat out the Steelers for best defense in the AFC? We’ll find out week one, as these two teams meet for the first time in the season. I have a feeling they’ll be seeing each other in the playoffs as well.
The Steelers have their work cut out for them in the first couple weeks, with visits to Indy, Baltimore and Houston lined up. The aging Steelers team still has it though, and not to mention still has nearly every starter from last years Superbowl team. This is a good team. The defense is going to be touch to score against this year, just like every year. James Harrison & Troy Polamalu are back from surgery, solidifying that defense. Their main goals are to stay healthy. The only questions hover around the offensive line, but are those real concerns? Ben won two Superbowls basically scrambling for his life, still making plays regardless of the holes that opened up in front of him. He’s a threat when he’s on the run, so for all we know the sub-par play of the offensive line is completely intentional. However, if their opponents find a true way to rattle Rothlesberger by taking advantage of the holes in the line, then the Steelers might need to worry. I doubt it though. The Steelers are on their way back to a division title and the playoffs for sure this year.
Well, the “Bungles” are certainly back in full swing. I keep wondering why Marvin Lewis still has a head coaching job. I think after this year, and another losing season, he’ll finally be shown the door. If he even lasts all season. I mean, your star QB retired young rather than play another season for you. That’s got to be a bad omen right? Palmer has a lot of game left in him, he was that disgusted, Cincinnati ruined him that much that he simply retired. Well, the Bengals are now left with rookie Andy Dalton and perennial back-up Bruce Gradowski in the QB spot. Gradowski will probably be starting, but it doesn’t really matter who starts. This team is going to stink. T.O. and Ochocinco added very little to the offense last year, and they’ll add even less this year as they are both gone. The defense is full of holes, like wide gaping holes. I’ll be suprised if this team racks up three improbable wins this season.
The Jags were an up and down team last year, with star running back Jones-Drew playing through a knee injury all year. They finished the season 8-8 and 3rd in the league for rushing. That’s not too shabby, but they’ll have to do better this year. They always seem to compete well in this division and I don’t see that changing. What I do see changing is the quarterback situation. I expect Garrard will be out by game three and rookie Blaine Gabbert will be taking the snaps under center. I only say that because of the whipping that Garrard tends to take behind a spotty offensive line. The big deal is the defense though. They underwent a bit of an overhaul in training camp and need to do better than the 28th overall rank they had last year.
The Colts made it to the playoffs last year, after having in my mind – a terrible season. I say that because of the slate of injuries both on the offense (Gonzalez being a key one) and most of the offensive line. This year, everyone is healthy and ready to go. Donald Brown needs to break out at running back, especially with his pass blocking skills. It’s part of the job Donnie. Peyton is coming off neck surgery, which could be an interesting storyline if he gets re-injured. I sure hope he doesn’t though. His goal, and the teams goal is the Superbowl – and playing it at home (Lucas Oil is the location for Superbowl XLVI.) I can at least see them in the playoffs for sure.
Adding Matt Hasselbeck to replace the retired Kerry Collins and the departed Vince Young was a smart move. A really smart move. Hasselbeck can still play, and even if he physically can’t – Jake Locker can. Locker is in one of those advantageous positions, like Aaron Rodgers, getting to train under a consistent and reliable veteran quarterback. Locker should relish holding the clipboard this year, because his time will come and this will make him a better QB when it does. What the Titans are waiting on however, is Chris Johnson. After leading the NFL in rushing two seasons in a row, blowing the rushing records out of the water, the Titans are yet to give him the lucrative deal that he’s looking for. The problem for Johnson is that the Titans have 3rd year back Javon Ringer taking the handoffs in preseason games, and he’s doing a good job. Johnson better make up his mind quick. Adding Barrett Rudd was another smart move, the guy might not be the best linebacker in the game, but he’s a great spirit and a leader. That’ll help. Cortland Finnegan is back in the secondary after a short holdout, and while he’s a bit of a dirty player – he’s a good player. The Titans should do well this year, but not playoff well.
New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips wants to win. The guy can’t do it as a head coach, so he wants to do it back in the position that he thrives at. First move, Mario Williams has been moved to the outside. Not sure why he wasn’t there in the first place. The guy has the chops to change games. Get him into a spot where he has the best chance to do so. Andre Johnson is one of the most consistent wide receivers in the league, and Matt Schaub and him should be getting along just fine once again. The Texans have all the tools to be a winning team, and even a playoff team. This isn’t the first year one can say that about them though. This team needs to come out strong if they want to compete.
Chad Henne or Matt Moore? I’d say, who else you got? Tony Sparano will be looking for a new job at the end of the season. Look, I know you Fins fans are optimistic about this team, and if the Fins can figure out how to use Reggie Bush they might have a shot at some good wins. But seriously folks, they aren’t in the class of the Patriots or even the Jets. They are in a class by themselves. That class has a good defense, but not a game changing defense. That class has a moderate offensive line, but not a game changing one. The special teams play is pretty good, but that’s not going to be enough to save this team. They should be fun to watch though, as they never play a home game in the snow.
New York Jets
Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress joins Santonio Holmes running routes for the Jets this season. That’s a hell of a receiver core for Sanchez to throw to. The only issue is, can Sanchez hold it together and be consistent enough to get these guys the ball? In my mind, he’s still young and still a bit shaky at times especially when shooting for the deep targets. Expect to see L.T. as a good third down back, with Shonn Greene carrying the load. The Jets need to worry about the pass rush on defense however, as Sanchez needs a good deal of time to hit those deep threats. I’d like to think that the Jets have a good shot at the playoffs, but they are ripe for the upset. Plus, challenging the Patriots like that was a terrible idea. They’ll be gunning for them for sure.
New England Patriots
What needs to be said about the Patriots that hasn’t already been said? They have only gotten stronger with the addition of defensive superstar Albert Haynesworth and new WR Chad Ochocinco. Both these players have had their share of issues in the past, but for some reason the Patriots system starts them with a clean slate. Bellichick is still running the defense, so he must be happy that Shaun Ellis of the Jets is now on the line next to Haynesworth. The only question that remains is that of the starting running back, but then – running back by committee has worked well for the Patriots so I don’t see why it won’t work again this year. Jets coach Rex Ryan challenged other teams to beat the Pats, he double dog dared them. I challenge them to do the same. This team is your AFC Champion this year.
The Bills were all kinds of awful last year, but make no mistake – they are finally moving in the right direction. This team hasn’t had a bright spot since losing the Superbowl four years in a row. And yeah, for this franchises – that was a bright spot. Chan Gailey will find success with the team, especially with young QB Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the offense. This kid was a tremendous asset last year. He threw for over 3000 yards, with 23 TDs and 15 INTs. He’ll be a good fantasy pick this year, even if they don’t rack up more wins than last year (4.) The Bills are in a tough division, their offensive line is a mess and their run defense is terrible. They’ll win a few, but they have a long way to go. I’d look for them to upset someone in the division late in the season as they start to click.
Who is coaching this team? Hue Jackson? Who the hell is that? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. The Raiders haven’t been good since they lost to the Bucs in the 2002 Superbowl and frankly, they weren’t that good back then either. Darren McFadden is constantly getting screwed by a terrible offensive line, even though somehow they managed to be second in the league in rushing last year. Not sure how that happened with eight losses, but whatever. Jason Campbell will be taking over as full time starter, and he’s got Trent Edwards to come in when it’s clear that he sucks. Or the offensive line makes him suck. Whatever the case, don’t start lining up for playoff tickets for this team for a couple years.
Kansas City Chiefs
You weren’t seeing things last year. That was the Chiefs and Patriots cast-off Matt Cassel in the playoffs. Yes, they lost in the first round but they had a hell of a good time getting there. They ranked first in rushing in the league, but 30th in passing. They have to improve that offensive stat if they hope to get back to the playoffs this year. I think, with the addition of Steve Breaston and draft picks Jonathan Baldwin and Dexter McCluster, that stat will improve and the Chiefs will be right back in the playoffs.
Not everyone is a Tebow fan. Merril Hoge of ESPN says Tebow’s mechanics are such a mess that there’s simply no turning him into an effective NFL quarterback. “You’ve got to look at a couple flaws that Tim Tebow had at Florida and still has in the National Football League that I don’t believe ever get better,” Hoge said. “First of all, his delivery is such an elongated motion that you have to have a complete, clear pocket for him to be successful down the field. If you don’t have that, you’re going to struggle.” That’s the biggest story coming out of the Broncos camp, who the starter will be. Will it be Orton? Will it be Tebow? Or will it even be Quinn? Who the hell knows? John Fox has the swagger to change this team for the better, picking a quarterback would be a good place to start.
San Diego Chargers
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. That’d be three reasons why the Chargers failed to make the playoffs last year, and three things they need to fix if they want to make the playoffs this year. Aside from that, special teams needs to tighten up, and Rivers needs to stay healthy. Like seriously top of his game healthy. This kid could be a superstar, but his offense needs to hold on to the damn ball. They do that, they will win and take the division. If they don’t do that, then they are as good as screwed and you can expect some seriously major changes next year.
Next week: My Fantasy Picks