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A little late but everyone knows the saying.."better late than never." So, here it is, my one and only '09-'10 NFL preview/prediction article.
Note: *Division winner #Wild Card berth
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (2008 record: 12-4, SB XLIII Champs; '09 prediction: 13-3)*
2. Baltimore Ravens (2008 record: 11-5; '09 prediction: 10-6)#
3. Cincinnati Bengals (2008 record: 4-11-1; '09 prediction: 5-11)
4. Cleveland Browns (2008 record: 4-12; '09 prediction: 4-12)
The Super Bowl XLIII Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, of course, are the favorites in this division again this season but expect the Baltimore Ravens to have another solid playoff run. Quarterback Joe Flacco has one season under his belt and I expect even more from him this season. His line is solid but what is going to hurt Flacco the most is his lack of weapons on offense. The defense will be stellar as always, but the Steelers still have the edge over Baltimore because of the supporting cast that Big Ben Roethlisberger has around him on offense. This division is rather top heavy after the 1-2 defenses (Pitt and Bal) with the rebuilding Bengals and the struggling Browns. I expect a strong bounce back season from Carson Palmer with weapons such as Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles and Cedric Benson in his backfield but Brady Quinn/Derek Anderson don't have much to work with other than Braylon Edwards (who happened to drop a league-leading 16 balls in '08). Cincinnati's defense is still in rebuilding mode (drafted LB's Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga in consecutive seasons to improve their thin LB corps), but is looking more and more like a team each day. Cleveland's new head coach Eric Mangini brought in Rob Ryan--brother of Rex and son of Buddy--to help with last year's 17th ranked defense.
Bottom Line: Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both playoff teams but Cincinnati and Cleveland still have a long way to go to make it back to the top of the division.
1. New England Patriots (2008 record: 11-5; '09 prediction: 14-2)*
2. Miami Dolphins (2008 record: 11-5; '09 prediction: 9-7)
3. New York Jets (2008 record: 9-7; '09 prediction: 7-9)
4. Buffalo Bills (2008 record: 7-9; '09 prediction: 6-10)
The return of Tom Brady has been the main headline in the East this offseason and will also be the difference-maker. The offense may be even better this year than back in '07 (when the Pats went 18-1) with the key additions of WR's Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis, both deep threats for a rejuvenated Brady, TE's Chris Baker and Alex Smith and of course veteran RB Fred Taylor. All of these players will make an immediate impact in an already very dangerous offense for coach Bill Belichick. New England's aging defense lost Mike Vrabel (trade to KC), Tedy Bruschi (retirement) and the team's leading sacker in '08, Richard Seymour (acquired by Oakland). But, to add young talent, the front office went out and drafted three solid defensive players in the second round of the draft (S Patrick Chung, DT Ron Brace and CB Darius Butler), which will add depth to the secondary, the defense's primary weakness.
But, enough about the AFC's favorite, how about we talk about the remainder of the AFC East a little. For some unknown reason people jumped on the Bills' bandwagon as soon as they signed Terrell Owens earlier this offseason. Trouble is, they already had a playmaker at the receiver position (Lee Evans; 63 rec, 1,036 yards, 3 TD's in '08), that wasn't their biggest need. We still aren't sure if Trent Edwards is capable enough to carry a team without a proven run game (Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games and the Bills cut RB Dominic Rhodes a few days ago). All the above reasons and the questions involving the team's defense lead me to believe that the Bills will finish at the bottom of the division in 2009. The Dolphins and Jets have promising futures but neither will knock off the Ravens and Texans for a Wild Card berth.
Bottom Line: Patriots pick up where they left of in 2007, dismantling the rest of the East and go on to take the AFC's number one seed.
1. Tennessee Titans (2008 record: 13-3; '09 prediction: 12-4)*
2. Houston Texans (2008 record: 8-8; '09 prediction: 10-6)#
3. Indianapolis Colts (2008 record: 12-4; '09 prediction: 9-7)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (2008 record: 5-11; '09 prediction: 4-12)
This is as bold as it gets..picking both the Titans and Texans to earn playoff berths, over the Colts no less. I'm going out on a limb, for sure, but I really do think that this is the year the Texans get over the hump and finish above .500 for the first time in franchise history (they went 8-8 the last two seasons). The Titans will capture their second consecutive division title with a 12-4 record thanks to a stellar run game and mind-blowing defense while the Texans' high-powered offense wins 10 games as the second Wild Card team. Yes, Peyton Manning is..well, Peyton Manning. But, the Colts have just taken too many blows lately. Whether it's bringing in almost an entirely new coaching staff or losing key parts of the team (Marvin Harrison, Dominic Rhodes, Hunter Smith, etc.). I just think that Indy's reign as the AFC South's team-to-beat is close to over with and the younger teams (Tennessee and Houston) have made the playoff race in the South a whole lot more exciting come December. The addition of RB Donald Brown (via the draft) will certainly help with Indy's poor run attack (31st in the league last year) but this team may need a lot more than just a pair of fresh legs in the backfield.
Bottom Line: Defense will be the key in this division. All four teams have a solid offense (including Jacksonville who has one of the top three best fantasy backs in Maurice Jones-Drew, who can also catch passes coming out of the backfield), but the Colts' poor run defense (allowed close to 2,000 yards on the ground in '08) may hurt them in the long run.
1. San Diego Chargers (2008 record: 8-8; '09 prediction: 11-5)*
2. Kansas City Chiefs (2008 record: 2-14; '09 prediction: 6-10)
3. Denver Broncos (2008 record: 8-8; '09 prediction: 5-11)
4. Oakland Raiders (2008 record: 5-11; '09 prediction: 3-13)
Overall, this division is a mess. You've got the Oakland Raiders, the scum of the AFC, the Denver Broncos, won the award for biggest bonehead move this offseason (dealing franchise QB Jay Cutler) and the Kansas City Chiefs, who are currently still in the rebuilding process. Then there's the San Diego Chargers, one of the few bright spots in this entire division. Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers is leading a high-powered Charger offense with a solid offensive line and weapons galore. He has a couple of receivers (Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers), a tight end who can block and catch 60+ passes coming off the line in the five-time Pro Bowler Antonio Gates. Plus, two more-than-capable RB's--Ladainian Tomlinson and little man Darren Sproles--who are great inside runners and pass-catchers. If you want another reason to like San Diego's chances this season, take a look at the nasty defense, led by LB Shawne Merriman, who is looking to bounce back from injury this year. If he can keep his off-the-field issues to a minimum during the season, then I'll expect big things from him.
Bottom Line: San Diego wins the division title easily, going 6-0 against the rest of the West. There's no question about it, really..
1. Minnesota Vikings (2008 record: 10-6; '09 prediction: 12-4)*
2. Chicago Bears (2008 record: 9-7; '09 prediction: 9-7)
3. Green Bay Packers (2008 record: 6-10; '09 prediction: 8-8)
4. Detroit Lions (2008 record: 0-16; '09 prediction: 4-12)
All Brett Favre has to do for the Minnesota Vikings is manage the game, meaning PROTECT THE BALL. Keeping the interceptions to a minimum is key for him in this offense. Gameplan: give the ball to AP, give the ball to AP, toss the ball to AP, pass, give the ball to AP. I don't think head coach Brad Childress is going to ask Brett to do all that much "gunslinging." They are a run-first team, and why wouldn't they be with a guy of Adrian Peterson's talent in their backfield? I like the looks of the combo in Chicago--Jay Cutler and Matt Forte--but they just don't compare to the firepower that Minnesota has with the stout running attack and smashmouth defense, led by Jared Allen and Antoine Winfield. With the defense in Green Bay, the Packers will give the second place Bears a run for their money but a lack of a sufficient running attack will hurt QB Aaron Rodgers in the end. And, obviously we will see improvement in Detroit (duh, you can't get any worse than 0-16) but there's no way in hell that rookie QB Matthew Stafford can lead his team past any of the other team's in the North.
Bottom Line: Minnesota, as expect from most every NFL follower, will take the division but I don't really expect them to still be on the field come February (sorry, Brett).
1. Philadelphia Eagles (2008 record: 9-6-1; '09 prediction: 12-4)*
2. New York Giants (2008 record: 12-4; '09 prediction: 11-5)#
3. Dallas Cowboys (2008 record: 9-7; '09 prediction: 9-7)
4. Washington Redskins (2008 record: 8-8; '09 prediction: 5-11)
As if the Giants' defense wasn't scary enough last year (5th in the NFL in total yards allowed). This year their dangerous defensive line, possibly the best in the entire league, will get two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Osi Umenyiora back in their lineup. The addition of former Dallas defensive end Chris Canty and Seattle defensive tackle just adds to the team's depth on the line. Antonio Pierce and Aaron Ross will continue to anchor the linebacking and secondary corps this season and look to improve on last year's success. Funny thing is that I didn't even pick the Giants to win the division, though. Donovan McNabb's Eagles will knock off the Giants by a game because of the simple fact that Eli Manning doesn't have too many weapons to choose from in the passing game. Manning may have a couple running backs that are tough to bring down (6-4, 256 pound Brandon Jacobs and 5-11, 195 pound speedster Ahmad Bradshaw) but McNabb has it all, including a threat with the Wildcat formation (as soon as Michael Vick is done serving his suspension).
Tony Romo has a lot going for him in Dallas, but he will have to prove he can lead his team for a full 16 game season, like Manning and McNabb, before I can pick him to beat them out for a spot in the playoffs. Like just about every other season, all four teams are strong and this division could wind up flipped upside down come January, you just never know with the NFC East.
Bottom Line: Washington is still in the rebuilding mode and hasn't decided whether or not Jason Campbell is 'the man' yet. Until then, they will be at the bottom while Philly and New York battle it out for the division. McNabb leads the Eagles to a number one seed in the playoffs with Eli getting in with a five seeded team.
1. Carolina Panthers (2008 record: 12-4; '09 prediction: 11-5)*
2. Atlanta Falcons (2008 record: 11-5; '09 prediction: 10-6)#
3. New Orleans Saints (2008 record: 8-8; '09 prediction: 7-9)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2008 record: 9-7; '09 prediction: 5-11)
Jake Delhomme has certainly seen better days but with the supporting cast he's got in Carolina, it's tough to go against him. Jake could have a fantastic season if he manages to limit the interceptions to around 10, and hands the ball off to his dynamic duo in the backfield--DeAngelo Williams, A.K.A. TD Machine, and Jonathan Stewart. My bold prediction for this team is that both RB's will top 1,000 yards and score double-digit TD's. The defense for Carolina has improved as well, with the young Jon Beason roaming the field, making fantastic open-field tackles (138 tackles in '08; named to first career Pro Bowl) and Julius Peppers coming off the end for last year's 12th ranked defense. The Falcons will be in the hunt as well with second-year QB Matt Ryan leading the attack, alongside Pro Bowlers Michael Turner and Roddy White. The defense is what will hold back the Falcons and Saints from winning the division. New Orleans has what they need on offense (outstanding air attack with record-breaking QB Drew Brees and RB Pierre Thomas), but their defense just doesn't stack up to Carolina's. Tampa is still undergoing maintenance and is currently in search of their future QB (possibly rookie Josh Freeman, who was taken with the 17th overall pick in this year's draft).
Bottom Line: Carolina's run game, not Delhomme's arm, carries Carolina into the playoffs. Matt Ryan picks up where he left off last year, leading his team to 10 victories and a playoff spot once again.
1. Seattle Seahawks (2008 record: 4-12; '09 prediction: 9-7)*
2. Arizona Cardinals (2008 record: 9-7; '09 prediction: 8-8)
3. San Francisco 49ers (2008 record: 7-9; '09 prediction: 5-11)
4. St. Louis Rams (2008 record: 2-14; '09 prediction: 4-12)
The NFC West, as usual, will be the weakest of them all, despite being home to the defending NFC Champions. Arizona lost both their offensive and defensive coordinator over the offseason and I am questioning their ability to bounce back after a superb 2008 campaign. Mainly due to the fact that Kurt Warner is running out of gas and lost many key parts to their 19th ranked defense from last year (other than the DC, of course). The Cards lost veteran running backs Edgerrin James and J.J. Arrington, too, but they made up for it by drafting former Ohio State RB Chris "Beanie" Wells in April. How this team will respond in '08? I really don't know. I expect there to be a few struggles/issues, which is why I have chosen the Seattle Seahawks to take back their title of NFC West division champions this season. Matt Hasselbeck seems to be healthy again and with T.J. Houshmandzadeh catching passes for him, I expect big things from him this season. The defense still has a few questions to answer, but with a new defensive coordinator in town, I expect things to be a little different (in a good way, though). Mike Singletary has his hands full in San Francisco with the whole QB situation and Michael Crabtree fiasco, so I don't expect him or Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis to make much noise this season..wait til next year SF/STL!
Bottom Line: I doubt they'll get far, but Seattle will be back in the playoffs in '09-'10. If they can improve the defensive play a little then who knows, maybe they will win a playoff game or two. So far, it looks like it's the same old, same old in the NFC West..sorry.
BBB15's Regular Season Awards:
MVP: Adrian Peterson
Offensive POY: Adrian Peterson
Defensive POY: Mario Williams
Comeback POY: Michael Vick
Coach of the Year: Gary Kubiak
Rookie of the Year: Matthew Stafford
1. Patriots (14-2)
2. Steelers (13-3)
3. Titans (12-4)
4. Chargers (11-5)
5. Ravens (10-6)
6. Texans (10-6)
1. Eagles (12-4)
2. Vikings (12-4)
3. Panthers (11-5)
4. Seahawks (9-7)
5. Giants (11-5)
6. Falcons (10-6)
Wild Card Weekend
Titans over Texans..A bit more playoff experience and the fact that Tennessee has a better overall "smashmouth" football team than the Titans, not to mention a more sturdy defense. It was a good run for Houston, but it ends here.
Chargers over Ravens..If they played the Texans instead of San Diego, I would certainly have picked Baltimore. But, I just think Shawne Merriman and Co. are gonna eat up the young Joe Flacco in the playoffs this year. The truth hurts, but San Diego is just the better team.
Panthers over Falcons..Matt Ryan falls to 0-2 in the playoffs but he has nothing to be ashamed of. Carrying your team (with a little help from RB Michael Turner) to the playoffs in your first two seasons is fantastic. The next step is winning when it counts. Matt will get there eventually.
Giants over Seahawks..I picked them to go to the playoffs, but I certainly didn't expect Seattle to get out of the first round. Especially not against this defense. Umenyiora put Hasselbeck on his back several times and sent him home all bruised up. Manning rolls on..
Patriots over Chargers..Always a great matchup, especially when they meet in January. The Chargers have a nastier defense, but it's one Brady knows well and can beat without a problem (he's done it numerous times in the past). Brady survives and the Pats live another day.
Titans over Steelers..The run game is always an important part of the game, especially in the playoffs. Titans win this game because they have the edge in the running game because of the combination of Chris Johnson's speed and elusiveness and LenDale White's pure power. It hurts to admit, but the Titans will win this game.
Eagles over Giants..These two teams have played many, many times before, so both teams obviously know each other pretty well. Donovan McNabb knows how to exploit the defense and the Wildcat formation with Vick certainly puts them over the top.
Vikings over Panthers..Adrian Peterson single-handely wins this game, rushing for 150+ against Carolina's defense, putting the Vikes into the NFC Championship game. Favre doesn't have to do much to do it either.
Patriots over Titans..Brady passes for 300+ against the Titans' secondary (not exactly the strength of their solid defensive attack) while veteran Fred Taylor breaks 80 yards and adds two touchdowns. Taylor is overjoyed with the chance to play in his first-ever Super Bowl.
Vikings over Eagles..Philly beat Minnesota in the playoffs last year but it's Minnesota's turn this time. Favre gets the chance to play in his third career Super Bowl as Peterson carries his team to victory with 120 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns.
Super Bowl XLIV (in Miami, FL)
Patriots over Vikings
Ok, I understand that quite a few people are picking these two teams to play in the Super Bowl, as well. But, here are my reasons as to why I think it will the Patriots and Vikings:
Balance is very key and both of these teams have balance on both sides of the ball. Yes, I understand that New England's defense is a bit old, but they have a decent team put together and Bill Belichick knows how to use his players to their full potential. Lets face it, he's a winner.
As for Minnesota, their defense is nasty, especially up front, and swarm the ball on every play. Adrian Peterson gives them a fantastic run threat and if Brett Favre just limits turnovers and doesn't air it out on every passing play, he should do fine.
MVP: Tom Brady..he will return to his '07 form and use his new offensive weapons to their full potential.
Whew! Glad I finally got this out. Personally, I cannot wait for the season to kick-off in Pittsburgh tomorrow night (8:30 PM ET)..Titans v.s. Steelers.
Are you ready for some football?!