Friday, May 20, 2005

NFL '04-'05 Predictions (NFC East)

We've thoroughly exhausted the AFC and we gave you a day to digest that. And today we crank up the NFC starting with the NFC East (because, just like the AFC, that's where it all ended last year). So without any further delay, here we go.

Dallas Cowboys - When Bill Parcells took over the New England Patriots, be honest..sucked. A few years later, they were in the Super Bowl against Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren's Green Bay Packers. Parcells left there and went to coach the Jets. Their team wasn't that bad....but they weren't that good either. He ended up making Vinny Testaverde look like a good QB, and took the Jets as far as the AFC Championship game, only to lose in a heartbreaker. So logic would tell us that the Cowboys' time should be right around the corner right?.....Right?...For some reason I just don't believe it.
Parcells' approach hasn't changed since he was coaching the Giants, Pats, and Jets. It's his way or the highway. Just about every good player that he's had in Dallas is no longer with the team. Last year, while the Cowboys were hurting for a running back, Rashad Lee stepped in and played the role of running back and kick returner. He did an admirable job. Lee is no longer with the team. The man who has been the staple on defense for years, Dexter Coakley, has now bolted to St. Louis. And Marcellus Wiley is gone to Jacksonville. Midway through last season, he shipped Antonio Bryant to Cleveland. This was a dumb move, but Parcells did it because he and Bryant had had a disagreement that was border line physical earlier in the season. Parcells pushes his players to great lengths, and some of today's athletes just can't take it.
But enough about Parcells, let talk about his players. He brought it Drew Bledsoe to hold down the QB position until the other Drew (Henson) is ready to take over the helm. Until then, Julius Jones can look to see lots of carries. When he gets tired, Parcells brought it Anthony "A-Train" Thomas to give him relief. And if he can't cut the mustard, look for Marion Barber III out of the Univ. of Minnesota to be the man. Barber is a physical specimen, and a hell of a running back. He's 5'11" 221 lbs. of all muscle. Ripped like a steroid freak.
That'll pretty much be it. Drew Bledsoe often gets happy feet in the pocket so don't be surprised if by Week 4 Keyshawn isn't calling him out for underthrowing passes. The receiver who'll benefit the most from Bledsoe, though, is Terry Glenn. They had an excellent chemistry in New England, and I don't see why it shouldn't work here. Also, Jason Witten became a serious threat at tight end last season. Look for him to continue his excellent play, as he'll see a lot of passes coming his way, since Bledsoe likes to get rid of the ball fast.
Defense is where the Cowboys have placed ALL of their emphasis. And they look like they're gonna have one of the top defenses in the league. They brought in Jason Ferguson from the Jets to play at Defensive tackles, and to man the outside, they used their first two draft picks to bring in pass rush specialists DeMarcus Ware from Troy St. (that's in Alabama, by the way) and Marcus Spears from LSU. They also draft Outside Linebacker Kevin Burnett from Tennessee to replace Dexter Coakley. Burnett is a big, fast physical linebacker who plays a lot like Coakley.
To help its secondary, the Cowboys took Aaron Glenn way from Houston and signed Anthony Henry from the Cleveland Browns.
The Cowboys will win some big games this season, but look for them to be a middle of the pack squad again this year.

Record: 8-8 either way. I'll explain why at the end of this report.

Philadelphia Eagles - Philly has been knocking on the door for the past three years. Could it be that they're the newest version of the Buffalo Bills? Of course not. Donovan McNabb is a young brilliant talent with his best years still ahead of him. They re-signed Correll Buckhalter. Michael Westbrook will be back. And Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, and Jevon Kearse still anchor that defense.
So all the stuff that you hear in the news now about T.O. wanting more money, and him not liking Donovan McNabb..Don't pay any attention to it. While T.O. is an excellent player, he's an attention whore. He's doing this sh*t to get attention. This is D. McNabb's team, and that's the way it'll be with or without T.O. He got them the NFC Championship game two years straight without T.O. and with half-ass receivers.
The Eagles didn't make many "sexy" moves in the off-season, but that's what class organizations do. They try to keep continuity. So they made some not so big media splashes that will make BIG splashes on the field. They extended the contracts of Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter, and fullback John Ritchie. They added by subtracting when they let Freddie Mitchell go. To replace him, they drafted Fred Brown from Georgia. He'll easily catch 50 passes this season, and he's effective AFTER the catch (something Fred Ex couldn't be). And the biggest re-signing that they made was to re-sign Def. Coordinator Jim Johnson to a four year extension.
And when Week One rolls around, T.O. will be in an Eagles uniform. He'll get over himself soon enough.

Record: 12-4 as long as McNabb is healthy. 8-8 if he goes down.

New York Giants - This is the year that Eli Manning starts to look like he looked in college. The Giants cleaned house and placed all the support around Eli that he'll need. They got rid of Ike Hilliard and brought in Plaxico Burress. They brought in two veteran offensive tackles in Karim McKenzie from the Jets and Bob Whitfield from Jacksonville. Tiki Barber is still in the backfield and the Giants should be okay this season.
The defense looks good, and I think that this team can seriously give Philly a run for the division title as long as Eli is healthy.

Record: 10-6 if Eli is healthy 6-10 if not.

Washington Redskins - The Redskins didnt' really make any earth shattering moves either. They traded L. Coles back to NY for Santana Moss. They drafted Carlos Rogers (to play alongside Sean Taylor. That'll be the best safety tandem since Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater). They signed Jason Campbell (who won't play right away). And they managed to piss off LaVar Arrington. So I don't think the Redskins will be in playoff contention this year either. They'll win a big game or two, but I don't think they'll make it. And a lot of it will have to do with Joe Gibbs having the same coaching style as he had 20 years ago.

Record: 7-9 either way.

So let's recap. The Eagles will win the division. The Giants will contend. The Cowboys and Redskins won't. The following is a story to explain exactly why Dallas and Washington won't win because of their coaches.

Laura noticed that on every Thanksgiving, her mother would cut both edges from the side of the ham before she put it into the pan to place it in the oven. She'd noticed this for the past couple of years. So on this year, Laura asked her mother, "Mom, why do you cut the edges off of the ham before placing it in the pan?" Her mother's reply "Because that's the way that your grandmother showed me how to do it." Laura's mother gave her that response, but she still wondered herself why she did it. So she called up her mother, and asked "Mom, why did you always cut the sides off of the ham when I was younger" and her mother replied, "Because our pan was always too small for the entire ham."
So the point of that story is to say that times have changed. If there are better methods in place, you should use those methods as opposed to what once worked. Joe Gibbs & Bill Parcells won't conform, and thus...they won't win.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

NFL '05-'06 Predictions (AFC West)

Today is the last day that we talk about the AFC. We’ll recap after we’re done with this division. Today’s topic of discussion is that wild wild AFC West. Last year it didn’t really have much to offer except San Diego’s Cinderella season. This year looks to be even wilder in the AFC West, so let’s jump right into it, starting in the Mile High City.
Denver Broncos – This team has been an enigma every year since John Elway retired. On paper they look to be one of the best teams in the league, but they always end up limping into the playoffs. This year will be no exception, and their chances of making the playoffs are iffy. Here’s why. Reason number one is Jake Plummer. I love Jake as a player. I admire his tenacity, toughness, and his will to win. However, Jake tends to make a LOT of mistakes when it matters the most. That’s been the one thing that’s plagued him for his entire NFL career. If he can avoid those mistakes this season, it will give his team a better chance of making the playoffs.
Good play from Plummer won’t be the only thing that they need. They’ll need some great play from at least ONE of the thousands of “marquee” running backs that they have. Here’s the list: Quentin Griffin (who started brilliantly last year, but got injured. He also did an excellent job of backing up Clinton Portis before he left), Tatum Bell (who they drafted last year. He got hurt early in the season and worked his way back up and really impressed coaches by being willing to play on special teams. He ended up being excellent there, and Mike Shanahan feels like he owes him a shot at the RB position.), Mike Anderson (the first back after Terrell Davis to come in and put up mammoth numbers. He’s back from a serious injury and looks to take back his starting spot at HB), Ron Dayne (former Heisman Trophy winner who was a bust in New York; looking for a chance at redemption), Santonio Beard (3rd year man from Alabama. Looking to make his mark in the league), and the man that Denver is taking a gamble on, Maurice Clarett. They’re so stacked that they shipped Rueben Droughns (last season’s thousand yard back) to Cleveland.
Now it’s all good and dandy to have all of these running backs, but let’s look at something here. Conventional thought leads us to believe that any running back can have a breakout season in Denver’s system. But has one ever given thought to the fact that maybe Shanahan has to have all of these top backs, because his system is a high risk/high reward kind of deal, with the high risk being serious injury. True enough backs in this system always put up big numbers, but by season’s end, Denver is always down to the guy who was 3rd or 4th on their depth chart when the season started. That’ll be something to keep an eye on this season.
Denver’s offensive line is always stellar, so that will really be nothing to worry about.
Plummer will still have the same targets that he had last year. Rod Smith and Ashlie Lelie will be back. And Denver re-signed budding superstar Tight End Jeb Putzier. And as late as today, there are wide spread reports that Shanahan wants to bring in the most prolific receiver in the history of the game, Jerry Rice.
On defense, is where Denver will have problems, and it will ultimately cost them a shot at making the playoffs. Let’s look at the positives of this defense before we start bashing them (and believe me, there’s plenty of bashing to do). They still have the premier shut down corner in the league in Champ Bailey. He’ll have one side of the field on lock, but that other side is a question mark. They lost Kelly Herndon to Seattle, so they went and drafted three corners with their first three picks in the draft. The brought back Ian Gold from Tampa to play Linebacker alongside John Mobley and company. Now we get to Denver’s problem area: the defensive line. This all goes back to Cleveland, so pay close attention. Over the last five years or so, the Browns have used their first pick in the draft to draft defensive linemen on at least 3 occasions. Over the last five years, the Browns have been dead last in the league at stopping the run on at least three occasions. This all ties in together so follow me. When Corey Dillon was still in Cincinnati, he broke the all-time single game rushing record of 275 yards AGAINST DENVER. The next season, Jamal Lewis said, “I’m gonna go out and break Corey Dillon’s record AGAINST CLEVELAND.” And he did. In an effort to make cap room, Cleveland let go of most of those defensive linemen. And guess who picked EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM up off of waivers. You guessed it: The Denver Broncos. Look for LaDanian Tomlinson to break the rushing record in his first game against the Broncos this year. Then Priest Holmes will break THAT record when KC plays them. LT will break Holmes’ record the next time San Diego plays Denver, and Holmes will reclaim the title the next time that KC plays Denver. Hell, LaMont Jordan might get in on the action too. I guess the one good thing about this is that all of Denver’s linebackers will go to the Pro Bowl. They’ll all have well over 100 tackles once these running backs break through that paper thin defensive line.
Making these moves shows me that Denver isn’t committed to stopping the run. If you can’t stop the run, you won’t win many games. If you don’t win many games, you find yourself in Cleveland’s position as a perennial top 5 picker in the NFL draft. Karma’s a bitch ain’t it? Nearly 20 years ago, the Broncos kept the Browns from reaching their pinnacle on more than one occasion. Now Cleveland’s back and dumping all of their city’s garbage on Denver.
Record: 6-10 because they won’t stop the run in a division where at least two of the running backs are annual locks for the Pro Bowl. (One other thing to keep in mind too: as close as Mike Shanahan and the Denver owner may be, this season HAS to be a statement season for Shanahan. He has never done anything significant in his career without John Elway. He’ll have to show the world that he’s the genius that NFL “experts” made him out to be, and not Elway’s jock rider.)

Kansas City – Offense has never been much of a problem with this team. Since Dick Vermeil has been in Kansas City, they’ve posted some huge offensive numbers despite their best offensive player, Tony Gonzalez, having a mid-life crisis and wanting to play in the NBA, Priest Holmes being injured, Larry Johnson crying like a beeeeeotch, and not having a real dominant threat at wide receiver. All of those things will be back in tact this season.
The one thing that KC has never really been able to do is stop the other team from scoring. Former KC head coach and current Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will NOT have that problem to worry about any more. Ryan Sims will break out of his career long slump and blossom into the man-beast that he is. Before, he probably worried too much about being exposed because he didn’t really have anyone behind him. Now he can take more chances because the Chiefs used their first pick to draft MLB Derrick Johnson out of Texas. Ladies & gentlemen, this is another “you heard it here first”. This guy will be a MONSTER in the middle. He’s 6’3” and 234 lbs. with great sideline to sideline speed. The Chiefs have him to go along with Shaun Barber (who carried that defense last season), and they also brought in Kendrell Bell from Pittsburgh. Bell has the potential to be a Kevin Greene type backer, but he has to stay healthy. At the safety position, Jerome Woods is already a pro-bowl caliber safety, and the Chiefs have now brought in veteran safety Sammy Knight to play alongside him. They’ve also freed up some cap room so they can make a serious push for Ty Law, and all signs point to Law being in Kansas City for the ’05-’06 season.
One facet of the NFL that’s often overlooked and underrated is special teams. This year, the Chiefs will have one of the best special teams units in the league. Dante Hall will still be there giving his offense a short field to work on. And KC drafted punter Dustin Colquitt from Tennessee. Colquitt’s punting is flawless. I watched him for four years at Tennessee and he probably had one bad kick during his tenure. He will pin opposing offenses inside the 20 every time he steps onto the field. If this KC defense does indeed live up to its billing, some of that credit is going to have to go to Dustin Colquitt.
With all that being said, KC makes a strong push to win the division, but it will go down to the wire.
Record: 10-6. They’ll be a solid well-coached football team, who won’t slip like they did last year. And I didn’t mention him in the analysis, but Trent Green MUST stay healthy. 8-8 if they lose a key component.

Oakland Raiders - Don't be surprised if Kerry Collins ends up looking like Dan Marino this year. He has the best deep threat in the NFL at his disposal in Randy Moss. He has a receiver who's on the verge of becoming a superstar in Jerry Porter, and he has a good young receiver in Ronald Curry. He can't go wrong. If his offensive line can protect him, Collins will be a lock for the Pro Bowl. Jerry Porter will also put up big numbers in this offense as Moss will be faced will several double teams per game, which will leave Porter one on one most of the time.
Another beneficiary of Moss's presence will be running back LaMont Jordan. Any time Randy Moss is on the field, you'd be an idiot to stack 8 men in the box. So Jordan will be able to breathe a little easier with that kind of threat on the perimeters.
The defense added by subtracting when they shipped Philip Buchanan to Houston. They used their first two picks to draft two corners to possibly replace him. Warren Sapp will still anchor the defensive line, but to help him out, they brought in pass rush specialist Derrick Burgess from Philly. Their linebackers are young, and will be fair to middling at best. Their defenseive backfield will be led, once again, by Heisman trophy winner Charles Woodson.
To make a long story short, I think the Raiders will seriously contend for the AFC West this year. Both the Chiefs and Raiders will have extremely explosive offense. However, I think Kansas City's defense (on paper, at least) matches up better against Oakland's offense rather than vice versa. The rights to this division will go down to the wire.
Record: 9-7 either way

San Diego Chargers - Last year was a dream season for the Chargers. Drew Brees was a man on fire. You'd be surprised what competition will force you to do. LaDanian Tomlinson did his usual thing, and Antonio Gates emerged as maybe a top 3 tight ends in the league (along with Tony Gonzalez and Alge Crumpler). This team looks good, but if history has taught us anything, it taught us that Marty Schottenheimer's teams usually max out at this point. Remember all of those great teams in Kansas City with Derrick Thomas (God Bless Your Soul..ROLL TIDE!!! ), Neil Smith, Marcus Allen, Christian Okoye, Steve DeBerg, Joe Montana, J.J. Birden, and they still never got deep into the playoffs.
San Diego will be the most under achieving team in the league this season. They will have all of the tools to go deep into the playoffs, but they won't make it. Tomlinson will rush for 1,300 yards and receive for 500. Gates will have 75 catches. But the team will not make it to the playoffs.
There are some good things to look at from this team though. They drafted a wide receiver from N. Colorado by the name of Vincent Jackson. This kid is 6'5" 241lbs.!!! He's gonna be a MONSTER on the perimeter.
On defense, they used their first round pick to choose Shawn Merriman from Maryland, but I just don't think he's exactly gonna be Junior Seau (hell, who is?!?!), but he'll be a solid NFL linebacker.
Again, to make a long story short, this team will be in several close games, but they won't make the playoffs.
Record: 7-9 either way.

So that's it for the AFC West as well as the AFC. Let's recap this division first. KC and Oakland will go down to the wire for the division championship. Denver will self-destruct because of the inability to stop the run, and San Diego will underachieve.

Now let's review what I've picked for the AFC Playoff lineup for this season.
1. Indianapolis (NFC South Champ); 2. Baltimore (AFC North Champs); 3. NY Jets (AFC East Champs) 4. Oakland/KC (AFC West Champs) 5. Cincinnati (Wildcard) 6. Houston (Wildcard)
AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year: Braylon Edwards / Ronnie Brown (co-recipients)
AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year: David Pollack
AFC Offensive Player of the Year: Peyton Manning
AFC Defensive Player of the Year: Ray Lewis
AFC Coach of the Year: Tony Dungy
AFC Most Improved Player: LaMont Jordan

So that's it for today. I'll be back with the NFC East on tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

NFL '05-'06 Predictions (AFC South)

And today we break down the AFC South; a division that has been, and should be again, an extremely competitive one. This division has the best collection of proven and potential super stardom at the all-important QB position. Last year Indianapolis almost ran away with the division, but two young surprising teams in Houston and Jacksonville remained a thorn in their sides the whole season. With Steve McNair being hurt most of the season, the Titans had to rely on first year starter at tailback, Chris Brown, who stayed injured almost as much as McNair, but was effective whenever he was there. The NFL isn’t used to seeing the Titans in such a sub par position. But that was last year. Now it’s time to discuss the ’05-’06 season.

Houston Texans – Dom Capers is a hell of a coach. Back in the late 90’s he took the expansion Carolina Panthers to the NFC championship only to be dismissed in favor of former 49er coach George Seifert a couple of years later. Now he’s taken the expansion Texans and made them serious threats for playoff contention. Leading the way on the field is future all-pro David Carr. Coming out of college he got a lot of fan fare. Over the last two years, he has lived up to the hype by being a consistent and tough QB. Two years ago, his rookie season, he was sacked more times than any other QB in the league. Last year, his O-line improved and he made the necessary adjustments to get rid of the ball quicker, and he looked like an all-pro QB. In the process, he made the city of Houston fall in love with him. Now with the pressure of carrying a franchise to the next level, if Carr can pull it off, he will be revered in the city like Warren Moon.
Andre Johnson was a man among boys at the wide receiver position. I look for him to be a modern day version of Ernest Givens (that’s for all you Houston Oilers’ fans). If Jabar Gaffney could ever stay healthy, he would help the wide receiving corps a great deal.
Running back Dominick Davis is another one that needs to remain healthy if Houston has any chance at all winning. Davis turned head two years ago when he stepped in to replace an injured Stacy Mack . Since then, Davis hasn’t really been 100% healthy. However, if the Texans plan on making that next step, he will have to be.
On defense, the Texans are solid up front. They play with a bunch of no-names that make big plays. They added a possible impact player when they drafted DT Travis Johnson from Florida St. He should make splashes in 2-3 seasons. One big hole that they had to fill right away, though, was the void that was left when All-Pro linebacker Jamie Sharper signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the off-season. For that, they brought in Marlon Greenwood from Miami. He and Sharper are cut from the same cloth, so the Texans shouldn’t take a step backward.
They have no questions at at least one corner, however. Last season, (then) rookie cornerback Daunte Robinson made his mark as the next great shut down corner in the league. He’ll be matched up against the opposing team’s best receiver, and will be looking to make them null & void. They lost Aaron Glenn to free agency, but the brought in Lewis Sanders from Cleveland and drafted two more corners.
Whatever the case, if Houston is going to take that next step, it all rests on the shoulders of David Carr. That offensive line will have to protect him and Dominick Davis will have to give him some run support to keep opposing defenses honest, but ultimately, this team’s success will be determined by David Carr’s play. If he goes down, that’s it for them. You can go ahead and write it off until next season.
Record: 9-7 if Carr is healthy……3-13 if he’s not.

Indianapolis Colts – I’ll go ahead and put it out there. I’m biased toward this team. So you’ll have to forgive me if any of the following comments sound personal. The Colts are another team that needs to take that next step this season. For all that Peyton Manning accomplished last season with breaking Marino’s record, I guarantee you that he’d give it all back just to beat New England. But Peyton is a gamer. He’ll be back better than ever this season. At his disposal, he’ll have All-world receiver Marvin Harrison and the two men who should give Marvin half of their checks for allowing them to have one-on-one coverage while he’s double and triple teamed, Brandon Stokley and Reggie Wayne. In the backfield, is my main man, All-world running back, Edgerrin James. Edge has made it clear that he wants to stay in Indy. But what did Bill Polian do? He gave all of his money to Brandon Stokley. He did that because Manning and Stokley are friends back from their high school days. Manning is the one who asked management to pick him up out of free agency. So all James has done is gain 1500 yards each of his first two years in the league, bounce back from a normally career-ending injury only to gain 1200 yards the season after that, and protect Manning from blitzing linebackers by blocking and releasing into the flats and becoming a receiving threat. What more do you want? Hasn’t this man earned that money? Pay him what he’s worth already!!! Manning has said that they could take money from HIM to pay Edgerrin, because he wants him there. But Colts’ management won’t budge. This isn’t unforeseen. Jerry Rice took a serious pay cut during the ‘94-‘95 season in order for the 49ers to sign Deion Sanders. AND THEY ENDED UP WINNING THE SUPER BOWL!!!!
But enough about contract disputes. Let’s talk football. Nothing needs to be said about the Colts offense. It speaks for itself. With the exception of Teddy Rupskin (NOT Bill Belicek), nobody can stop it. Some notable offseason moves, though, include the departure of oft-injured TE Marcus Pollard who bolted for Detroit along with LG Rick DeMulling. Also, trying to cover their own asses, the Colts drafted RB Anthony Davis from Wisconsin.
Defense, however, is where the Colts get criticized a lot though. This is ironic seeing as how Tony Dungy’s staple has been defense over the years. They went almost totally for defense in the draft, bringing in 6’ corner Marlin Jackson from Michigan along with another corner, a free safety, and two defensive ends. But there will still be skeptics as to why the Colts STILL won’t be better on defense. So here’s some food for thought:
1) The Colts’ offense scores TONS of points, so the defense has everything it needs: a decent secondary (which they upgraded in the draft, by the way) to stop the teams who desperately try to keep pace with Peyton & Co. and two excellent pass rushing defensive ends in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
2) The Colts’ offense scores TONS of points….quickly. So the defense will often go out there fatigued. They’ve just gotten off the field, and while they’re jubilant that their offense has produced points, they have to hang their heads that they did it so quickly and didn’t give them a chance to catch their collective breath.
3) Finally, the Colts’ offense scores a TON of points….frequently. So opposing coaches’ game plans are almost always the same: run the football, eat up clock, and keep that offense off the field. This is another reason why the defense is always so fatigued. If they see this same strategy week after week, their bodies will start to wear down in the latter part of the season.
Either way, if Manning stays healthy, which I’m sure he will, the Colts will win the divison.
Record: 14-2 Best case scenario….11-5 Worst case scenario

Jacksonville Jaguars – Jack Del Rio made his mark as an NFL coach last season, and Byron Leftwich was brilliant. The Jags won a lot of close games, and for the first time in forever, Fred Taylor was healthy. There’s an old saying that “you have to be a good team in order to win the close games.” Well, Jacksonville won too many close games, which leads me to believe that last season was a fluke. Even though they didn’t make the playoffs, they made a lot of noise.
Well Jack Del Rio knows that a solid defense will get him where he wants to be. So he went out and beefed up his defensive line. He brought in DT Tony Williams from Cincinnati, DE Reggie Hayward from Denver, and DE Marcellus Wiley from Dallas. And after re-signing LB Akin Ayodele, he went out and brought in LB Nate Wayne from Philly.
Del Rio looked like a genius until draft day came. They used their first pick to draft QB/WR/TE Matt Jones from Arkansas. Now being in Alabama, I watched Jones torture us and other SEC schools for the past 3 years. (He was also a decent basketball player). He’s 6’6” and 240lbs. And the Jags want to use him at receiver because he consistently ran sub 4.4 40’s at the combines. The only problem is that Matt is “deceptively” fast. More like Randall Cunningham circa 1989 rather than Darrell Green around the same time. He uses his long legs to take very long strides. This means that if he’s in the open field he could do some damage. But anything 10 yards or shorter will be a disaster. Then if they use him at TE, he’s not physical enough to tangle with NFL linebackers in the run blocking game. No need to use him at QB because you already have a franchise player in Byron Leftwich. So if this all works out for the Jags, they’ll look like Bill Walsh in his prime. But if not…
Record: 8-8 either way. Best case or worst case. They’re no better than a .500 team.

Tennessee Titans – This season is going to be extremely painful to watch if you’re a Titans fan. With Steve McNair contemplating retirement, and damn near EVERYBODY on the roster gone, this is the price that you pay for success (see San Francisco and Dallas). McNair will be back, as will be his formidable backup Billy Volek. Chris Brown will be starting in the backfield once again, but just look at what they’ve lost. WR Eddie Berlin (Chicago), DE Kevin Carter (Miami), CB Andre Dyson (Seattle), DE Carlos Hall (KC), FB Robert Holcombe (Free Agent), OT Matt Martin (Tampa Bay), WR Derrick Mason (Baltimore), TE Shad Meier (New Orleans), OT Fred Miller (Chicago), K Joe Nedney (Free Agent), CB Samari Rolle (Baltimore….damn Baltimore’s gonna be good), and RB Antoine Smith (New Orleans).
Jeff Fisher’s trying his best to hold this ship together but it’s sinking fast. They brought in Pac Man Jones to replace Samari Rolle, but that’s about all they’ve done. They drafted 3 good college receivers, a tight end, another cornerback, 3 offensive tackles, a running back, and a free safety.
And the ONE move that they’ve made in free agency? They signed kicker Ola Kimrin from the Redskins. Titans’ fans, you have my deepest sympathies.
Record: 7-9 VERY best case scenario (i.e. McNair staying healthy) … 3-13 if all goes as planned.

So that’s it for the AFC South. Let’s recap: Indy will win it. Houston will compete. Jacksonville is a HUGE question mark and Tennesseee…whew. So we’ll be back tomorrow to wrap up the AFC when we go out west to talk about Randy Moss’s new home, QB controversies in San Diego, a new emphasis on defense in KC, and a LOADED backfield in Denver.

Monday, May 16, 2005

NFL '05-'06 Predictions (AFC North)

Made a big mistake yesterday. I meant to say the '05-'06 Predictions and not the '04-'05 predictions. But here it is in all its glory, the preview of the AFC North, one of the hardest divisions to predict.

Baltimore Ravens - I can’t say enough about this squad. I love their defense. I’m a huge Ray Lewis fan, and I’m glad to see how far he’s evolved since that terrible tragedy five years ago. Some people still hold it over his head, but the truth of the matter is that he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. And in our country that’s what matters. If Ray is indeed guilty of the charges, then he’ll meet his judgment in due time. But as for now, I and the rest of the world can watch him wreak havoc on the football field. Now he has a certified star playing behind him in Ed Reed, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year. Terrell Suggs started to come into his own toward the end of last season, becoming a better cover linebacker and honing his skills as a pass rusher. The only bad news about this unit is that they just released Peter Boulware. It’s gonna be hard to replace that kind of talent & experience. But they did try. They drafted DE Dan Cody from Oklahoma. This is the guy that passed out during the little huddling & jumping around just before kickoff. Then, he went in on the first play of the game, got a sack, caused a fumble, and passed out again while he was celebrating. That sounds awfully dangerous, and he apparently has some neurological problems, but if he can get that worked out, they’ll have two excellent pass rushers on either side, a MAN in the middle, and a set of DB’s that make you want to tuck & run every time.
Offensively, the Ravens have upgraded. Jamal Lewis is in jail right now, but he’ll be ready for the season. He’ll have a little rust that he’ll have to work off, and until then Kyle Boller, who I’m STILL not sold on at all, will have to carry the load. Brian Billick did him a favor by signing Derrick Mason in the off-season. They also drafted a receiver out of Oklahoma in Mark Clayton. I always thought Clayton was THE top receiver in the country because of what he could do after he caught the ball. Remember how Barry Sanders wasn’t necessarily fast, but he could shake a defender out of his draws? (yeah I said draws. Not drawers). Well that multiplied by 4 is Mark Clayton. If Boller can find a way to get the ball to Mason and Clayton and allow them to get the ball up the field, then Jamal Lewis’s transition should be a smooth one. Also, Todd Heap needs to stay healthy. When Shannon Sharpe retired, he anointed him and Tony Gonzalez as the two men to carry the torch for Tight Ends for the next 10 years. You can’t do it from the training room Todd. Billick did himself a favor too in drafting QB Derek Anderson from Oregon State. I watched him play in the game early this past season where they (OSU) should’ve beaten LSU. He looked good. Really good. And there’s something to say about QB’s who aren’t a product of a system (i.e. Andre Ware at Houston or the countless Florida QB’s who amount to zilch in the league). And Anderson fits that bill. If Boller stinks up the place, I know Billick will have no bones about putting Anderson in to clean up his mess.
So Baltimore’s defense will keep them in every game, but their offense is gonna have to earn their paychecks at some point. Either way, I think this team wins the division.
Record: 12-4 if Boller (or his backup) plays well. 9-7 if he doesn’t

Cincinnati Bengals – This team is about two years away from being as good as the Boomer Esiason Bengals were. Just for this team being in playoff contention, Marvin Lewis should be considered for Coach of the Year every season. Last year, Chad Johnson showed me something when he torched Champ Bailey on Monday Night Football. He talked it and he came in and put up big numbers. Not only that, but the man drives an old school pink Buick. Damn the Escalades and Bentleys. Chad Johnson has moved into my top 5 list of favorite NFL players. Rudi Johnson did well as a backup to Corey Dillon, but when he was called upon to carry the load, he had trouble. Let’s not forget about running back Chris Perry from Michigan who two years ago was a leading Heisman candidate. He got hurt early last season, but if he can stay healthy, that should be a great shot in the arm for this offense, while giving Rudi Johnson the rest he needs. One more thing to keep in mind: Rudi was hit with the franchise player tag this summer, which means that he’s only signed for THIS season. He claims he wants BIG money, and I applaud the Bengals for not giving it to him. He’s no Shaun Alexander or Edgerrin James. Hell, he’s not DeShaun Foster!!! So I look for him to do either of two things. One: where he goes out and earns that big payday that he’s asking for or two: he pouts like a b*tch and ends up getting his spot taken by Perry.
On defense, everything was already solid. All they needed was an impact player. And ladies & gentlemen, let me be the first to say, they just got one. Please believe the hype. David Pollack is as good as advertised. To be so small he is a BEAST coming off of the corner. Look for him this season. He can be found on the back of your favorite quarterback’s uniform. It’s that serious. You heard it here first. Think of a smaller, white Charles Haley. He has a motor that doesn’t stop.
And I haven’t even mentioned Carson Palmer yet. He looked awful early in the season, and he cost the team a few games. Marvin Lewis was immediately emasculated for having him as the starter over John Kitna, but as the season progressed, Palmer found his way, and things started to happen. If he can be consistent and serviceable this season, look for the Bengals to be…..brace yourself….IN THE PLAYOFFS.
Record: 9-7 if Palmer plays well. 6-10 if he doesn’t.

Pittsburgh Steelers – After last year’s almost dream season, how can they top that? Big Ben stepped in the place of Tommy Maddox and won a starting spot, Rookie of the Year, a trip to the Super Bowl, and the hearts of Pittsburgh faithful. I think teams will be more prepared for him this season, and the deciding factor will be how well he’s able to handle the pressure; the same pressure that Eli Manning faced last year. Nothing was expected of Ben and he took full advantage of it. Now he has to face all the pressure of being anointed as the next Marino without his favorite target, Plaxico Burress, who left Pittsburgh to become Eli Manning’s favorite target in New York (Damn. Irony is just WASTED on some things). Hines Ward is back, as is Antwan Randal-El, and they drafted Fred Gibson from Georgia (think Hines had something to do with that?). While he’s not as tall as Burress, he’s the same player. Tall, dangly, good hands, and a nice vertical. Unlike Plaxico, though, he runs nice routes, which should help Ben adjust to being the next big thing. Also, pitching in to support Ben with his efforts are Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis. Both are back and should be plenty healthy to start out the season.
On defense, everything is pretty much still in tact except for the loss of Kendrell Bell to the Chiefs. Thing is, though, he stayed hurt for most of the time after his stellar rookie season, so they won’t miss him that much.
Record: 10-6 if Ben is Ben….8-8 if he buckles under the pressure

Cleveland Browns – Cleveland..Teddy Rupskin. Teddy…Cleveland. Welcome to Cleveland Romeo Crenell (the human embodiment of Teddy Rupskin). I actually thought that this team would make some waves this year, but with Kellen Winslow being an idiot, those chances just may have been shortened. The Browns have Kelly Holcombe at QB who can’t seem to get a break. He was Tim Couch’s backup and he put up better numbers than Couch. He was Jeff Garcia’s backup and in two games last year, he put up better numbers than Garcia. So I guess you can say he’s earned that spot. With their first pick in the draft, they took Braylon Edwards (who, in my mind, was the best player PERIOD coming out). I really wanted to see if his and Kellen’s egos butted heads or meshed to gel the perfect unit. Either way, Holcombe will still have targets, although Winslow (for the second straight season) won’t be one. Antonio Bryant will be opposite Braylon Edwards. Bryant won the Belitnikoff trophy (nation’s top college receiver) TWICE, and this will only be his third season in the league. So his legs are still fresh. The biggest problem with the Brown’s offense will be that they have no threat in the middle of the field (where Winslow could’ve helped greatly). Their backfield will be serviceable but not great.
Defense…well..let’s just say that they should be glad that Teddy is their coach. Hopefully
he can have the same impact on the Browns that Marvin Lewis has had on the Bengals.
One positive thing for them to look forward to in the future however, is QB Charlie Frye out of Akron. He’s another good QB who isn’t a product of a system. Either way, the Browns finish dead last in the division.
Record: 8-8 if everything goes well and they get a couple of bounces..5-11 if they are the Browns

Sunday, May 15, 2005

NFL '04-'05 Predictions (AFC East)

New England Patriots - The big question is can they do it again? The answer is simple, but I'll give my reasons for my answer before actually giving the answer. When the Patriots won the Super Bowl against the Rams four years back, they had several players on their team who had been to the Super Bowl five years earlier under Bill Parcells. That was having Super Bowl experience. Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Drew Bledsoe, Willie McGinest, Ted Johnson, etc. Of those names that I just threw out, none of them (except one) are on the team anymore. Law will probably end up in Kansas City, and he went down with an injury against Pittsburgh early last season and was replaced by younger CB's by committee. Milloy got sh*tted on the season after they won the first Super Bowl, and was replaced with Rodney Harrison. Bledsoe was replaced by everybody's "golden boy" Tom Brady. McGinest is still there, and Ted Johnson was there for the second time around, but eventually ended up being replaced by Teddy Bruschi.
So the question now becomes, can't they just keep replacing people since it seems like it always still works out for them? And the answer to that and the previous question is a resounding NO!! I'd be surprised if the Pats even make the playoffs. Charlie Weiss was the mastermind behind Brady's success. The game against Miami on Monday night football this year was a taste of what you'll see with Weiss gone. It seems like he allowed Brady to call that game on his own, because he'd just been hired as the Notre Dame come a week before. Also gone is Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crenell (the human embodiment of Teddy Rupskin. He looks like a big black dude with a deep voice, but just listen to him talk. He smiles all the time, talks with a lisp, and really puts you in the mind of every 80's child's favorite friend, Teddy Rupskin). Romeo had 3 guys on the field that he trusted with his schemes. McGinest on the D-Line (he's getting old), Teddy Bruschi in the LB corp (his career is quite possibly over. He suffered a stroke this winter that left his hospitalized for weeks), and Rodney Harrison with the DB's. They've lost too much, and they won't win the Super Bowl again...any time soon.
Record: 9-7

Buffalo Bills
This team is funny. They haven't played up to their potential since a 31-0 drubbing of the Patriots the first game of the season two years ago. Every year they go out and draft the same kind of receiver. A short speedy slot-type receiver. Two years ago, it was Josh Reed from LSU. Last year, it was Lee Evans from Wisconsin. This year, Roscoe Parrish from Miami. All of these receivers are 5'10" or shorter, and all weigh under 200 lbs. One staple the whole time though, has been Eric Moulds. He's been carrying the offensive load for some time. Last year, though, he got some help from Willis McGahee. If Buffalo resolves to hand the ball off 20-30 times a game, they WILL make the playoffs this year. Not only will McGahee's success help the team, but it will help the confidence of first year starter JP Losman who was drafted last year to replace Drew Bledsoe, but suffered a broken leg in the preseason.
The defense is there, always has been. With Takeo Spikes achoring them, they will be solid once again.
Record: 9-7 if they're smart. 5-11 if they're not.

New York Jets
One can't say enough about Herman Edwards. He is the type of coach I would love to play for. Chad Pennington is a good quarterback who could be on the brink of greatness. Brady had to win 3 before they "all but PUT" him down as a first ballot hall of famer, but the brutal reality of the situation is that all Pennington has to win is ONE before they make him the second coming of Joe Namath, simply because he's in NY. Those chances just got better this year with the return of Laverneous Cole. They have a great chemistry and are good friends off the field (that's often under rated). As a huge Curtis Martin fan, I hope he still has enough in the tank to have a season like he had last year. He put up HUGE numbers, but he lost his backup in Lamont Jordan, who bolted for Oakland for guaranteed playing time. The Jets organization helped him out though, when they drafted Cedric Houston from Tennessee. Being in Alabama, I got to see a lot of Cedric, and he's a carbon copy of Curtis. So if he comes in and is able to give Curtis some relief, the Jets will be okay.
Their defense will be SOLID for years to come. Jonathan Vilma is a GROWN ASS MAN over there at the Middle Linebacker spot. And as far as special teams are concerned, there's no more uncertainty at the kicker spot. They went out and drafted Mike Nugent from Ohio State. He was as close as you can be to perfect during his career at OSU.
Record: 11-5

Miami Dolphins
This season will be a surprise to a lot of people for the Dolphins. They are going to win more games than they are "supposed" to. Nick Saban isn't a stupid coach. He knows where his strengths are. Ronnie Brown will be a front runner for Rookie of the Year through week 8, but at that time, the rest of the league will realize that the Dolphins don't have a QB, and they'll stack 8 in the box to stop the run. At THAT point, AJ Feely? Gus Frerotte? Sage Rosenfeels? Get the f*ck outta here!!!
The defense with Jason Taylor, Junior Seau, and Zach Thomas and the offensive bulk that Ronnie Brown will carry will only take them so far. The absence at QB will be the killer. The truly sad part about it is that the Dolphins have some SERIOUS weapons at receiver. Chris Chambers is a poor man's Randy Moss. Marty Booker is good for 8 catches a game, and Randy McMichael is a wide receiver trapped in a Tight End's body (i.e. Ozzie Newsome).
So Coach Saban, whenever you get a QB, we'll be picking you to win Super Bowls. But until then...
Record: 9-7 if they get a lucky bounce or two ; 8-8 if not.

So that's the AFC East. The Jets will win the division and the Pats will fall from grace. Miami will start making their way back up to the top, and there's a huge question mark hanging over Buffalo.
Tomorrow, the hardest division in the NFL to pick, the AFC North: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.