Monday, August 24, 2009

Projected Records - AFC West

Denver Broncos 3-13
Keys to Defeat: This team is a complete mess. I can't help but wonder if Pat Bowlen's nightmares consist of seeing genius football coach Mike Shanahan's face and hearing the worse "You're fired" come out of his own mouth. Bringing in "wonder child" Josh McDaniels has turned a playoff contender into a complete joke of a team, and just might be COMPLETELY INSANE. Knowing full well that he has one of the best young QBs in the league, coming off a pro bowl season, Josh decides to go after Matt Cassel with only one year of success under his belt in a much superior offense than Denver's. This causes the entire soap opera that led to the blockbuster Cutler-to-Bears trade which brought noodle arm QB Kyle Orton to start for the Broncos. What could have been the second highest powered offense in the league after New England now just looks like a joke. Hopefully, early pick Knowshon Moreno gives the running game the spark it sorely needs, but if Orton can't open up the passing game, well.. I don't to state the obvious. The defense isn't much better than last year, Brian Dawkins was a great acquisition, but the secondary, while skilled, is ancient, the youngest starter being 30 years old. I don't think the linebackers they're trying to use are going to fit with Mike Nolan's new defense either. In the end, the only games I think the Broncos can win at this point in time are teams with offenses as bad as their own; Oakland and Cleveland. Though to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't be too surprised if either teams came away with a win over this miserable team.

Kansas City Chiefs 6-10
Keys to Defeat: Though Denver flirted with Matt Cassel, it was the Chiefs who got him. It was believed that Cassel would be the uncontested starter, pushing promising youngster Tyler Thigpen into the backup spot, but word is that forgotten man Brodie Croyle could be under center in week one. Obviously, this isn't going to happen, they didn't give Cassel franchise money to sit on the bench. It does make it interesting, though. Was Cassel worth the money? He's coming off a good year, yes, but he had one of the best groups of WRs in the league to work with, a great offensive line, and a solid enough defense to keep him from constantly playing from behind. He doesn't have any of that in KC. And to make things worse, playing behind NE's dominant line, with most of his snaps in the shotgun, Cassel still took 47 sacks. He'll now be playing under center of a much weaker line. The running game is interesting at least, as Larry Johnson is looking to redeem himself after some legal and motivational issues, but finds himself in a competition to start with speedster Jamaal Charles. All in all, if the line can pass protect, the team is beyond doomed, because the defense isn't going to hold anyone off.

Oakland Raiders 4-12
Keys to Defeat: Al Davis.

San Diego Chargers 12-4
Keys to Victory: You can honestly mark them down for a free 6-0 right now. They'll sweep the division. Easily. Beyond that, Merriman is back, and it's going to be noticeable. With the pass rush element back, there is going to be a lot more shaky throws for the Bolts' talented secondary to take advantage of. And for an extra boost, they brought in LB prospect Larry English who could make a pretty decent impact right away, and may even step in to Merriman's shoes in a year or two. The defense should be back to it's dominant form, perhaps even more so now that it'll be in full swing with defensive guru Ron Rivera this year. On the offensive side of the ball, Philip Rivers is now filthy rich, being paid, deservedly, as one of the top QBs in the league. He may not have a ton of weapons after Gates and Jackson, but he's skilled enough to work with what he has, and is quite possibly the toughest QB in the game today. It'll help him that Tomlinson is out to prove that age is nothing but a number, and may do just that with the "Lightning Bug" Darren Sproles ready to take on a slightly increased role, which will help keep LT fresh and healthy longer. The Chargers will coast easily into the play offs and, once again, knock on the door of the Super Bowl as one of the most solid franchises in the league.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Projected Records - AFC South

Houston Texans 10-6
Keys to Victory: The Texans are a young team, but they've improved quickly. Over time, they've assembled the pieces, from Carr to Schaub, Green to Slaton, they finally have the team capable of taking them to the playoffs. With a talented young defense, all the Texans need to really do is perform on offense to make to the post season. They definitely have weapons; Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Steve Slaton, Owen Daniels. If Schaub can stay healthy, Houston can go far. While I think the team has potential, I think they need to work a little harder for the glory, and they wont make it very far in the play offs quite yet. All in due time, though. All in due time.

Indianapolis Colts 12-4
Keys to Victory: Manning. Manning, Manning, Manning, and Manning. Probably the greatest QB in the game since Steve Young(nh), Manning will take the colts to another winning record, and another playoff appearance. A lot of people think the Colts will slide this year, but I disagree. They haven't lost much, Marvin Harrison is gone and makes room for the fresh, young talent. Anthony Gonzalez is more than ready to step up and be one of Manning's new go-to guys, and the addition of Donald Brown should breathe new life into the running game. Not only will he help keep Addai fresh, but he has plenty of play making ability of his own. The only obstacle the Colts face is their defense. Bob Sanders may start the season on PUP, Marlin Jackson is having problems with his surgically repaired knee, Kelvin Hayden has a significant hamstring injury, and Antoine Bethea broke his hand. That's every single starter in the secondary injured, and if this carries into regular season, the Colts will have some real trouble. They're already soft against the run, though the re-addition of Ed Johnson should help a bit, and the LBs are mediocre at best, which leaves the tandem of Mathis and Freeney to carry the defense. Good luck guys, you'll need it.

Jacksonville Jaguars 6-10
Keys to Defeat: The biggest problem the Jags had last year was the offensive line. It was old, banged up, and just.. Not very good. The Jags have revamped, however, bringing in Tra Thomas, Tony Pashos, rookies Eugene Monroe and Eben Briton. The line is significantly improved now, unfortunately, their second biggest problem is still a problem: Wide Receiver. They brought in Torry Holt, but it remains to be seen if he can still play at a high level at his age, and seem to have a couple promising players in Mike Walker and Mike Thomas but on paper, the passing game looks very, very weak. They also have yet to see if Maurice Jones-Drew can handle the load as a feature back. You can also add David Garrard to the long list of QBs who need to step up this season. As for the other side of the ball, the Jags lack a clear #2 CB opposite Rashean Mathis, and have very few play makers. They need their young DEs to step up and generate a pass rush to get the defense off the field as quickly as possible, but I don't see that happening.

Tennessee Titans 8-8
Keys to .500: The Titans are going to miss Haynesworth. One of the most fearsome players on defense, his presence alone made offenses think twice about running it up the middle or staying in the pocket too long. Teams are going to take advantage of his departure, and it's going show. However, the Titans still have a great defense, the secondary can make plays, and they still have a good pass rush. The defense wont be the problem. It's the offense; Collins got the Titans to the play offs riding a hot running game and some short passes, but he needs to do more than that. Especially since defenses know exactly what to look for now, speedster Chris Johnson is not a secret any more, and he's going to have to work harder to get into the open field. With some serious talent at WR now, Collins has no excuse to survive on mediocre play. In the end, I think he's going to manage the Titans right into the .500 crowd, and come up just short of the playoffs.

Projected Records - AFC North

Baltimore Ravens 6-10
Keys to Defeat: The Ravens have been known the past several years for their merciless and unyielding defense, but facts are facts. Ray Lewis is declining, Bart Scott is gone, Chris McAlister is gone, and most importantly, Rex Ryan is gone. Ed Reed remains one of the most elite Safeties in league, and they have a very good defensive line, but that's not going to cut it. Outside of Reed, the secondary now looks like a weakness, and the offense has problems of their own. From day one, I never believed Joe Flacco was the answer, and I'm still unconvinced the kid has the accuracy and vision to lead the team. I think that Troy Smith gives them the best chance to win, but I doubt he'll get the chance. It doesn't help Flacco's situation that the only real receiving threat on the team is the aging Derrick Mason, who already has a flirtation with retirement. Clayton and Williams are too injury prone to be counted on for a full load, and for some reason the team wants to keep the ball out of Todd Heap's hands. The only real bright spot on the team is the running game, which should feature a healthy rotation of the talented young Ray Rice, the powerful LeRon McClain who has a nose for the end zone, and the aging Willis McGahee, who still shows flashes of play making ability. However, it's not going to be enough to carry them back to a winning record.

Cincinnati Bengals 9-7
Keys to Victory: This years Hard Knocks stars. If there is anyone in the league who believes in giving people second (and occasionally third) chances, its Marvin Lewis. And sometimes, it pays off. Cedric Benson may not be the ideal starting RB, but he works for his keep and fights for every yard, and Chris Henry has looked terrific so far in preseason action as he works to redeem himself and show off his natural play making talent. The Bengals could easily find themselves knocking on the door of the playoffs if not for two big issues that must be addressed before they can get there; The offensive line and the defense. The line is full holes, and as of now, promising rookie Andre Smith remains unsigned. The Bengals need the offense to step up and protect Palmer or they're going to find themselves in trouble reminiscent of last year. The defense is pretty weak all around, with Leon Hall being their best player on the defensive side. It's hard not to like the value they got grabbing Rey Maulaluga in the second round, but there's a reason he slipped. There were plenty of whispers circulating pre-draft that Rey was no more than a two down player. The Bengals better hope the rumors were wrong, because they need a play maker right away.

Cleveland Browns 7-9
Keys to Defeat: I want to think the Browns will do better than this, but I just can't. The defense is too soft, and the offensive isn't aggressive enough. The team was willing to make the QB battle between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, but at this point, it seems pretty obvious Quinn will be the starter on day one. Anderson has shown nothing of his 2007 form, and while Quinn has hardly been spectacular, he's playing better ball than Anderson. Braylon Edwards should look better this year, as he's looking to prove he's not a butterfingered bust, just in case the team feels it's time to sever ties with him. The Browns did a ton draft day trading, but what they did come away with in the draft, they've been happy with, praising the abilities of rookie WRs Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massoquoi, and loving the development of rookie RB James Davis, who could emerge as a real threat to Jamal Lewis' job. In addition to their rookie WRs, the Browns brought in veteran receivers David Patten and Mike Furrey, and while they may have traded away one of the better TEs in the league, they have a ton of depth at WR to make up for it. If Quinn can get the offense clicking, I think they can do better than my current projection, but until I see him step up, I think this is the best case scenario for them.
Cleveland fans, hope that Quinn finally will be busy on Sundays.

Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
Keys to Victory: The defending Superbowl Champions. I have to admit, I'm surprised to say that. I didn't think the Steelers would make it to the big game but they did. Coming off of the second championship win of the Roethlisberger era and and underwhelming draft, the Steelers look to remain king of the hill in the AFC North and easily march right back into the playoffs with one of the best defenses in the league. That defense (which only allowed a sparse 10 points per game last year) figures to be the highlight of the year once again, as I refuse to believe that the Steelers have any sort of dynamic offense. The running game is average at best, the oline is letting Big Ben take too much pressure, and way too many hits, and Superbowl MVP Santonio Holmes is the most talented WR on the team, but that's not saying much. While Big Ben may have the rings, he's hardly one of the "best QBs in the league" like most people like to tag him. He reminds me a bit of Joe Flacco, benefiting from having a superior team around him from the start. (Disclaimer: I am not comparing Joe and Ben's talent, only their situation) There's no denying the team has the ability to make the playoffs, they will. Will they make it to the big game? No. But then, I said that last year too.

Projected Records - AFC East

Buffalo Bills 5-11
Keys to Defeat: The Bills took a chance with Terrell Owens, who many people consider a team killer. While he may be a bit over-charismatic at times, you can't deny he's one of the the best WRs in the modern age of football. The way he still speeds down the field and makes plays on the ball makes you think he could play for another five more years and not lose a step. That being said, adding an elite receiver to a weak passing attack is not going to revamp a team into a championship contender. Trent Edwards has done nothing to show he can lead a team to the playoffs, and the running game has question marks all over it. The offensive line took a massive hit when they traded their only good blocker, Jason Peters, to the Eagles. While it earned them an additional round 1 pick, they did little to replace his talent, and its going to be noticeable. And I haven't even touched on the defense yet, where their only real play maker is Leodis McKelvin. I don't see them getting very far in one of the toughest divisions in the league.

Miami Dolphins 8-8
Keys to .500: The Dolphins made an excellent turnaround from 2007 when their greatest victory was to just avoid going 0-16, bringing in new staff, and new QB to lead them into the playoffs. I'm doubting the path will be as smooth this year. While the Dolphins didn't lose too much in the off season, they did little to boost a weak offense. Ronnie Brown will give them a Pro Bowl RB if he can stay healthy, but their young receivers still have some work to do, and Pennington needs to step up as more than a game manager if they want make it back to the playoffs.

New England Patriots 14-2
Keys to Victory: Bostonites rejoice, Golden Boy Brady is back. While he's unlikely to emulate his 2007 form, he's still one of the top three QBs in the league, with arguably the best group of WRs. I was surprised to seem them part with Ellis Hobbs, but it only goes to show that they're very confident in their new secondary. Leigh Bodden is a player to watch, playing on a one-year contract, he has everything to prove, and just one short year ago, before he got shipped off to place he really didn't want to be, he was one of the best young corners in the league. The Pats have the tools necessary to be the most dynamic offense in league, with some great depth at TE and enough talent at RB to rotate players and keep everyone fresh. Just watch out if Brady goes down again.

New York Jets 10-6
Keys to Victory: The Jets weren't bad last year, but the all the mediocrity left a sour taste in the management's mouth and they decided it was time for a change, canning the "Boy Genius" and bringing in defensive guru Rex Ryan. He went to work immediately, bringing over old buddies Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard. Jim's presence will free up Kerry Rhodes to wreck havoc as Ryan's new Ed Reed, and Bart will work with David Harris to make one of the best MLB tandems in the league. The Jets already had a stout defense with Kris Jenkins and Calvin Pace, and Ryan's expert defensive knowledge will propel the Jets to at top 5, or even top 3 defense. On the other side of the ball, the Jets went hard after Mark Sanchez, the top QB prospect after Matt Stafford. The receiving core gets a bit dry after Cotchery and Keller, but there's enough depth to rotate plays and and take advantage of match ups. Assuming Sanchez lives up to the hype, I think he lead the team to a winning record without putting up Matt Ryan stats.

An introduction

Yet another sports blog I'm sure I'd be lucky to even get 12 readers for. But whatever, it's the internet, and what kind of internet user would I be if I kept all my brilliant thoughts to myself. I'll be covering both actual NFL news and stats, plus fantasy info. Maybe a little college stuff here and there. With that said, welcome to Third and Long. I hope I offend your team.