Two things that let me know pro football is near: I had a hankering for a Big Tuna grinder yesterday, and I spotted The Direct TV Blimp (featured below) hovering over Queens at the U.S. Open this weekend. As for the expectations of Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez are concerned; I'm reminded by the pictured pigskin prophet, Bill Parcells, when he once referred to one of his own young, flashy QB's, Tony Romo, with, "Don't put him in Canton just yet!"
If everybody else gets to write an NFL preview, then I want in. And now is the time to write it, because by now, so many NFL team previews really are broken records to the average Remote Controller. How many times must I hear Mark Sanchez and Joe Namath in the same sentence before the former even takes a regular season snap for goodness sakes? It’s unavoidable. How do I know? I don’t even own a T.V.!
I made my best effort to take the “road less traveled” analogy for each NFC team heading into week one. For example, in the 3,200+ words I put together, the words Brett, Favre, Michael and Vick account for only .003%. I think. Either way, I promise its under the legal limit.
Disclaimer: Prediction boundaries will be crossed. Good thing my Mom, by accident three times a year, is the only one who reads this blog. Because otherwise, I might have the nut house banging my door down upon reading a few of these predictions that some may complain are on the same outlandish level as “Clippers All-The Way!”
New York Giants
What the pigskin wonks are saying: Who, what, when, where, why and how, concerning the wide receiver position.
Not since the days of Chris Calloway have Giants Fan had this much concern about the wide receiver position.
The way we see it: In general, how difficult it will be for the Giants to remain as the class of this division, with a focus on a depleted ground attack, for one more season.
Quit brooding about the receivers for one day, and focus on preserving the strengths of this team-the running game in particular. The Giants bread and butter in ’08 (and seemingly every year they compete for a championship) was running the football.
So don’t discount the loss of Derrick Ward. As dispensable as the running back position in the NFL appears to be, you cannot replace a 1,000 yard, second-string back-with smarts-like Ward, overnight. Because of his running style, starter Brandon Jacobs will miss at least one start in every season he plays in. So expect Ahmad Bradshaw to see as many carries down the stretch as he got during the Super Bowl run of the ’07 season.
The question is: Does Bradshaw have an encore performance in him for ’09, after a stint in witness protection in 08? The Giants will depend on Bradshaw, or whoever the No. 2 back will be, to win the division.
Wonks are giddy over: A certain backup quarterback not named Kevin Kolb.
The way we see it: Can the defense overcome the loss of former franchise centerpieces Brian Dawkins and the late, great defensive coordinator Jim Johnson?
Can anyone that’s not an Eagles fan name a starting linebacker? Stewart Bradley, you say? He’s out for the season. The Eagles defense just doesn’t have the necessary personnel-the enforcers or intimidators-that it used to. I don’t trust them against the run, and that alone could domino into a cumulative mess in a division that lives and dies on the ground, offensively.
And now that Michael Vick has been added, the roof of expectation is hanging on by a nail or two. Eagles fans are so insatiable. If a doctor from Philly discovered the root cause for autism, a Philly fan would respond with, “Well what about cancer? Hey, Family Guy’s on!”
What the wonks are saying: That they are the worst team in the NFC East.
The way we see it: Hold the phone, because I’m going to go out on a limb even further than SI predicting the Texans to win their division: The Redskins will make the playoffs.
The reason being the prospects behind two key individuals: Albert Haynesworth and Jason Campbell. If both can put together a FULL season, displaying their full potential, respectively, that will be enough to give the Hogs a wild-card birth.
Don’t sleep on Campbell; he has all the tools to be an elite quarterback in the NFL. His most important attribute is his class and character. He’s the antithesis of Jay Cutler, with an arm that’s not too shabby and above average mobility. After learning the Redskins no longer wanted him, he’s already proved that he has a winner’s mentality by answering all the questions, lacing up the cleats everyday, and going about his business.
As for Haynesworth, it’s just a matter of effort and durability. He’s the best defensive tackle in football, and a true franchise cornerstone. Assuming he will see the A version of Haynesworth this season, the Redskins will significantly improve defensively.
Offensively, this is a Redskins nucleus that has made the postseason before, why not now? Has everyone else in the NFC East gotten that much better since the Redskins last made the playoffs, two seasons ago? With the exception of Philly’s offense, I don’t think so.
What the wonks are saying: Can Tony Romo keep his play at a high level with T.O. out of the equation?
The way we see it: Can the inconsistent play of Romo’s offensive line, with an emphasis on pass protection, improve on a weekly basis and keep their franchise quarterback on the field for 16 games?
If you count the game in which Romo actually injured his thumb that kept him out of two contests in ‘08, the Cowboys went 1-2 and missed the playoffs by a narrow margin.
When you factor in team chemistry, obviously the Cowboys were a mess in 2008. They made the Bundy’s look like evangelicals. But I think it just goes to show you how much Dallas relies on Romo from week to week on the field of play. They missed the playoffs because the offensive line looked like pop-warner second-stringers in an overtime loss to eventual NFC Champion Arizona.
Even with T.O. out of the mix, the Cowboys are still good enough to make a deep run into the postseason.
Romo is one of the best playmakers in the NFL. Jason Witten, Patrick Crayton and Marion Barber were all able to take their career to the next level, respectively, while Romo’s career blossomed along with them. That’s not a coincidence.
Big D will be fine without T.O., but they cannot overcome another injury to their quarterback.
On the defensive side of things, if Dallas can come up with one big stop, in a big game, that would be the first time it did so in years. Even if Romo puts up MVP-like numbers, it won’t matter if the play of Wade Phillips’ defense does not improve.
Green Bay Packers
The Wonk Wave: Green Bay is a playoff sleeper.
The way we see it: This will be the season that the Aaron Rodgers bandwagon begins to swell.
If I was the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, we wouldn’t speak a word about a quarterback controversy right now, because I would have chosen Aaron Rodgers with the 1st overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Instead the 49ers took Alex Smith, and the rest is a mystery, certainly not history, because nothing positive will ever be written about Smith’s pro career to this point. The former Utah standout ran a gimmick college offense, and has turned out to be a bon a fide bust in the NFL.
But let’s take a look at where Rodgers is at in his NFL career. For three seasons in Green Bay, after sitting behind arguably the greatest quarterback of all time in Brett Favre, he made the most of his opportunity in ’08, with a 4,000+ yard, 28 touchdown passing season.
Oh, did I mention that he had to deal with all the muckraking media attention surrounding his replacement of Favre, as well as the highly publicized falling-out affair between the Packer organization and the future hall of famer in the off season? Unapologetically, Rodgers had to keep his cool and answer all the circus questions while preparing for his first full season as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers is the real deal. And the NFL prognosticators are right; the Packers have what it takes to make it to the playoffs. If the defense and the running game improve, look out for Green Bay. Don’t be surprised if Rodgers and Matt Ryan are the last two quarterbacks standing in the NFC come championship weekend.
Aaron Rodgers will take the Packers to this year's Super Bowl.
The Pigskin Wonks: Who will win the QB battle?
The way we see it: For the Motor City Kitties, hope for a comfortably digestive effort on Thanksgiving, against the Packers.
Because we can count on the Raiders, who will be playing in Dallas, to put up a competitive effort on Turkey Day like we can count on spotting Paris Hilton getting off at the bus stop closest to Gucci.
"Like, Your turn to drive, Tinkerbell!"
That’s it. We don’t care if you win any games again, Detroit. Just be competitive on your one special day, or at least, throw the ball to Calvin Johnson a lot.
The Wonks: Brett Favre makes the Vikings a Super Bowl contender.
What we are saying: Keep the backup QB’s happy, because they will play this season.
If you have or plan on drafting Brett Favre in your fantasy league, you better have either A.) fantasy football insurance or B.) another quarterback on your bench.
Forget an over/under for amount of games Favre will play this season, because that’s impossible to predict (and I couldn’t find the Vegas odds online). But let’s not kid ourselves: If Favre has shown us anything new on the field since he left Green Bay, its that his body cannot take the punishment it used to.
An NFL quarterback gets touched by a defender, at varied levels of intensity, on almost every play. In a month, the NFL’s Iron Man will turn 40. Can we really expect Favre to withstand the physical and mental wear for an entire season? Remember, this idea initially kept him from joining the Vikings in the first place.
The wonks are saying: Tight end Greg Olsen is going to have a breakout year!
The way we see it: How about the defense? Are they who we thought they were?
Assuming Cutler can steer clear of the boozing and "foxes" that circle the "Wild and Crazy" Chicago night scene, the Bears now have themselves a franchise QB for years to come.
Chicago’s defense finished an eye-raising 30th in the league against the pass last season. That can only mean they weren’t getting enough pressure on the quarterback. By running the Tampa Cover Two, the Bears rely heavily on the defensive line to disrupt the opponent’s tempo in the passing game.
If ends Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown repeat their combined ’08 efforts of 11 sacks this season, that assures us of two things: 1.) Ogunleye and Brown are far too dependent on the presence of defensive tackle Tommie Harris, therefore, making them overrated, and 2.) Chicago will not contend for NFC supremacy without improving the pass defense.
The Pigskin Wonks: Can they take the next step in making a run to the Super Bowl?
The way we see it: Like Chicago, Atlanta will only go as far as its defense allows them to go.
I fully expect Matt Ryan to have an All-Pro season. He has the running game behind him, a solid receiving core in Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and now future hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. The second-year signal caller has all the tools to become enshrined into Canton himself.
The Falcons offense will improve, and should score more points, but that may prove to be a disadvantage towards the defensive side of the ball. The Falcons are expected to throw a little more now that Ryan is fully entrusted by the organization to turn loose on opposing defenses with the passing game. This will also give All-Pro running back Michael Turner, who led the NFL in carries last season, a necessary shaving in total carries.
I admit, I have the Matt Ryan fever as well.
But part of the reason why the Falcons defense overachieved last season was because it was not on the field as much as years past. Atlanta was second in the NFL in rushing attempts per game, chewing up a ton of clock in the process. And they were probably able to sleep better knowing teams like the Raiders, Chiefs, Rams, and Lions were on the schedule.
New Orleans Saints
The wonks say: What else but play defense?
The way we see it: Saints + average defense= Super Bowl Contender…Need I say more?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The wonks say: The worst team in an otherwise strong division.
The way we see it: What have they got to lose? They have the tools to prove everyone wrong.
“Happy employees make for more productive employees.” I think Mike Judge said that in his cult classic film Office Space, when he played the role of Chotchkee’s Manager, enforcing his Flair duties on Jennifer Aniston’s character.
I still don't care for Jon Gruden's bedside manner.
My point being is this: The previously listed philosophical quote applies to the ’09 Bucs. Now that Chucky is gone, the Buccaneer morale has undoubtedly improved. I think Tampa Bay, who still has talent on both sides of the football, will surprise some people. They may not win the division, but they won’t play the role as pushover either.
Of course, Byron Leftwich will be the “x-factor.” Leftwich can still throw the ball with the best of them. He has the weapons-and the offensive line to work with in Tampa. But he will need to be more consistent, with an emphasis on accuracy, if the Bucs are to shock everyone and win more than six games.
The talking heads are wondering: Can Jake Delhomme mentally rebound from his last game: A playoff loss in which he committed six turnovers?
The way we see it: Carolina simply has the all-around personnel to compete on any given Sunday in this league.
The Panthers do, in fact have a glaring hole, and its on the defensive side of the football. Fortunately for Carolina, they can make up for not being able to stop the run by giving their counterparts a taste of their own medicine-extra strength.
They call ‘em Smash and Dash: It’s Carolina’s exceptional backfield rotation of second-year man Jonathon Stewart and veteran DeAngelo Williams.
Stewart has future full-time starter potential, but Now is Williams’s time. The former first round pick out of Memphis proved what he can do when given the chance to be the starting tailback for an entire season, notching 20 total TD’s. If Dominique Wilkins is still the “Human Highlight Reel”, then we will call Williams “Happy Hour,” because he’s only featured for a period of time, and he’s intoxicating to watch slip, spin, shake and duck through defenders.
We didn’t forget All-Universe athlete and star wide out Steve Smith, either. Is it just me or have the wonks taken him off the top of the metaphorical wide receiver leader board with Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, and Andre Johnson?
Jake Delhomme reportedly spent some time at his horse farm in the off season. Every man has his sanctuary.
As for the frequently picked-on Panther quarterback Jake Delhomme; he will be his old self. He’s a veteran who has seen it all in the NFL. If there is one thing the Cajun is better at than most quarterbacks, its handling general adversity. He’s used to it. Think about all the career hurdles Delhomme has had to endure: undrafted, played in NFL Europe as a backup, then labeled with the “career backup quarterback” stigma, losing the Super Bowl to New England despite having the best game of his career, recovering from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, then last season’s debacle. Am I forgetting anything? This guy has been through it all on the field of play, and you think a playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals is going to send him into a career-ending manic depression?
I’ve never been a big Delhomme fan, and there is a lot to question about his play as a quarterback. Still, with that being said, I would never bet against the guy.
The wonks say: That they can’t run the football.
The way we see it: If Matt Hasselbeck gives Seattle 15 starts this season, the Hawks will make fans proud of their product again.
Anyone who has followed the Seattle Seahawks over the last six seasons feels more secure about the team’s chances to at least compete in every game in which quarterback Matt Hasselbeck starts.
Have you detected a trend throughout this preview yet? If you have a proven franchise quarterback in the NFC, you will automatically be identified as a playoff contender in ’09. (Managed to dodge the Bengal bullet there didn’t I?)
The Seahawks don’t have to run the ball like Lombardi’s Packers to win games. Hasselbeck compensates by spreading the ball around to as many receivers as possible, using short routes-hence the West Coast Offense.
Like Tony Romo, Matt Hasselbeck is not just a franchise quarterback, but a playmaker, a true football player, as well. I would take 40 of this guy on my team.
Seattle is hoping for just one healthy version for the duration of ’09.
The Talking Heads Say: Will they repeat as division champs?
The way we see it: When was the last time Kurt Warner played two full seasons in a row? When was the last time the Arizona Cardinals had two winning seasons in a row?
The answer to both of those questions is: Never. In fact, the 38 year-old Warner has played just three full seasons in his entire NFL career. If the Cardinals are to make team history, they will need Warner, who clearly still has enough to play quarterback at an All-Pro level, to stay healthy.
It’s that simple.
Warren Sapp, Jr? Like the former "U" standout, Darnell Dockett is flat out fun to watch.
Arizona has clearly improved in all facets of the game over the past few years. They pressure the quarterback with regularity, they make plays in the secondary, the special teams is solid, the play of the offensive line has improved, and as proven during last year’s playoff run-they can run the ball when they need to.
Arizona is one of the more talented teams in the NFC, without question. After all, if their most valuable player, Warner, doesn’t throw the ball for a pick-six to Jerome Harrison before halftime of last year’s Super Bowl, we’re talking about the Cardinal’s chances of repeating as Super Bowl Champions.
St. Louis Rams
The Wonks Say: This just might be the worst team in the NFC.
The way we see it: Can the enigmatic quarterback Marc Bulger produce a renaissance season?
It would not really shock me if Bulger came out and threw for 3,500 yards and twenty touchdowns this season. If franchise cornerstone Steven Jackson, who is the second best running back in the NFL, can stay healthy and start 14 games, by default this would have to make Bulger’s job a lot easier.
The problem with St. Louis is that there are too many question marks. At wide receiver, someone has to replace future hall of famer, Torry Holt. The starting offensive tackles are talented, but young and unproven. Marc Bulger has yet to live up to his contract. Steven Jackson can’t stay on the field enough. The starting defensive line looks good on paper, but are they ready to break out as a unit? Is the new head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, the answer as the leader?
San Francisco 49ers
The wonks say: Is starting QB Shaun Hill good enough to lead an offense for an entire season?
The way we see it: How about forming an identity? What do the 49ers do as well as anyone besides kick field goals? Is there a team less appealing in the NFL than the 2009 49ers?
If it weren’t for Frank Gore, this team wouldn’t be worth watching. And if it weren’t for the perceived Mike Singletary bottomless hopper full of sound bites, or Michael Crabtree holdout, I don’t know how anyone could stomach following this team in the off-season.
Vernon Davis is still looking for that "Household Name" profile. I actually forgot the young man's name all together.
The 49ers, to me, just lack excitement, even in the simplest form: who is the guy that can take the ball 80 yards for a score? Isaac Bruce? It’s not 1999, Doc Brown. No, not Frank Gore. He’s a Clinton Portis clone. That tight end, whose name always escapes my mind because he has never carried his supposed “4.3” speed over from the combine to the field of play? Google…49ers…roster…there it is, Vernon Davis.
I’m not insulting Davis, I really do tend to forget his name. He just hasn’t wooed me like Antonio Gates or Jason Witten. I will give him a pass, because the franchise’s inability to put a quarterback to help fulfill Davis’ potential.
For now, Shaun Hill gets the keys to the franchise, but is he the long-term answer?
The 49ers are an average team. We should expect anything but a winning season from them in ’09.
’09 PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
Green Bay, Washington, Dallas, Atlanta, Arizona, Minnesota