Posted on: June 21, 2009 12:27 pm

2009-2010 NFL Preview

Where There's a Will, There's a Will

Well well well, who expected for the Super Bowl to come down to Pittsburgh.........and ARIZONA?????

Certainly not me.

I don't think anyone did. And that's what makes the NFL so unpredictable- with the parity of the league today, any team in any year can make it to the Super Bowl. And yes, that means the Lions too. Okay, not really, but you get my point. The league is full of surprises.

Kansas City, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Seattle, and Green Bay are teams that struggled in the past year, but could bounce back in a big way. Kansas City completely bebuilt themselves, and look like New England Lite (complete with no clear starting running back). Cincinnati never fielded a bad team last year, they just didn't have all the pieces together to make a good run out of it, mainly missing Carson Palmer. Jacksonville's offensive line just broke down. If they can repair that and find a good option at receiver (no, Jimmy Smith won't come back), they can get back up into contention. Seattle had injuries galore, but they're still a really good team. Green Bay should have been a playoff team, they just couldn't seem to win the close ones.

If all these teams perform well, we could be in for an interesting year.

I always tell myself not to make a rambling introduction, yet I always do it........anyway, here's my predictions for each team and each conference. I hope you enjoy.


Divisional Winners

1. Indianapolis Colts (13-3)
- In case anyone forgot at the beginning of last season, the Colts are really, really good. Really good. Peyton Manning isn't going anywhere soon. He makes their offense potent by himself. Then, you add on Reggie Wayne, one of the most consistently great wideouts of the past four to five years. They released aging receiver Marvin Harrison, who will be replaced by Anthony Gonzalez. Gonzalez should pick up the slack immediately. Dallas Clark doesn't get half the publicity he should from the tight end position. The offensive problems- the offensive line wasn't quite as good as in past seasons last year, and that forced incumbent running back Joseph Addai, already not a prototypical feature back, to take a beating. They'll need a running back by committee this year to improve on the second worst running game in the league, and rookie back Donald Brown of UConn will help out.

Defensively, things are solid, as they tend to be. Defensive end Dwight Freeney still hates a quarterback, and a healthy Bob Sanders at safety makes this D almost imposing. The rest of the defenders are adequate, if unspectacular, with defensive end Robert Mathis, playing opposite of Freeney, being the best of the rest.

Tony Dungy will be missed. He is a truly great man and a great coach. However, Jim Caldwell shouldn't miss a beat if he just sticks with the system.

Summary: Super Bowl caliber once again. They just have to have a little luck.

2. New England Patriots (12-4)- He's baaaaack. Tom Brady has returned from a lost season of making love to his model girlfriends...okay, maybe not lost. But the Patriots are surely glad to have him back after missing the playoffs in an impressive 11-5 campaign led by fill-in signal caller Matt Cassel. Cassel's gone, but weapons are everywhere. At receiver, Randy Moss and Wes Welker form the AFC's greatest receiving tandem. It doesn't really matter who wins the receiver spot opposite Moss (Welker plays from the slot), so long as they block and catch 2-3 balls thrown to them a game. Running back is a variety of flavors. Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Lawrence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and Benjarvis Green-Ellis will likely all see time. The offensive line is solid enough to provide a few holes per game.

The Patriots aren't in quite as good shape on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary is nothing special, and the Patriots will never be particularly great at getting to the quarterback from their 3-4, so that could prove problematic when facing great passing teams (the Colts). The Pats defensive line is excellent at stuffing the run, however, and the three studs up there- Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, and Richard Seymour- have been together for a long time. Jerrod Mayo is a rising star at linebacker and the rest of that unit is solid.

Bill Belichick is still moping around the sideline like a stick in the mud, staring at the field. What he lacks in personality he makes up for in coaching ability, and he's got an eye for talented players that fit the system.

Summary: They'll be very good, but not as great as in 2007. There's problems with the defense, and who knows what to expect from Brady?

3. San Diego Chargers (12-4)- Phillip Rivers finally lived up to the hype. He popped out 34 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions and carried the team on his back at times. He should only continue to improve. There are no problems in the receiving core with gigantic Vincent Jackson and veteran playmaker Chris Chambers. Antonio Gates is the tight end, so obviously nothing wrong there. The offensive line is solid, they do what they need to. Running back looks really good on paper, but if LaDainian Tomlinson has injury problems again, they could come up a little short. If he's healthy, then he and Darren Sproles can be one of the better tandems in the league.

The defense can be really good. It could also flop and just be average, putting pressure on the offense. A healthy Shawne Merriman at linebacker can help, of course. The rest of the defense could step up their collective games, as well. At best, this is a top 5 defense. At worst, it finishes at the middle of the pack.

Norv Turner seems to be a good fit for this team, but in both of his seasons as head coach, the team has gotten off to poor starts. He needs to rally them in week 1 right on through the year.

Summary: I pick them high every year, and only get disappointed. This year, MAYBE they'll put it all together. Maybe.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)- The Steelers would have their best chance at repeating this year if the offense improves. Quarterback Ben Roethisberger is great, but had a shaky regular season. As long as he doesn't completely screw up, the offense will be good enough to win the division. Fast Willie Parker hopes to bounce back from a forgettable season, and a healthy Rashard Mendenhall will take some pressure off of him. The receiving corps should be fine, with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes forming an underrated tandem. The offensive line has to improve for the Steelers to put up big numbers. It's half the reason for Roethlisberger's average season.

There's not much to say about the defense, it simply performes game in and game out. The line is solid, the linebackers excellent, and the secondary great. If Lawrence Timmons steps up to be another great linebacker.......ohhhhh boy.

Mike Timlin can coach with the best of them. He's got a mean game face, but gets along with pretty much anyone. He's gonna be coaching the Steelers for years and years.

Summary: Offensive improvement + continued defensive dominance = at least another AFC Championship game.

Wild Cards

5. Tennessee Titans (10-6)-
I see no problems with the Titans making it to the playoffs again. Chris Johnson can score from anywhere, and you can't stop LenDale White at the goal line. Those two running behind a great offensive line makes for a great offense. Kerry Collins can manage the game at quarterback, and he has good targets in receivers Justin Gage and Nate Washington, as well as playmaking tight end Bo Scaife.

The defense will still be great despite the loss of Albert Haynesworth. The return of end Kyle Vanden Bosch will help to keep the defensive line potent. The linebackers are playmakers, and the secondary is one of the best in the league. This is one of the best defenses in the league any way you slice it.

Jeff Fisher's an experienced hand at coaching, and he won't make any mistakes running the team like he always has.

Summary: Don't be surprised to see this team make it to the Super Bowl. With a consitent passing attack, it could happen.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)- This may be the stupidest pick of my life, but I've done it. A healthy Carson Palmer will do wonders for this offense. He's capable of putting up crazy numbers. The receiving core should be solid despite losing TJ Hou'snameIcan'tspell (Houshmanzadeh). Chad Ochocinco (I can't believe I just typed that) should bounce back, and Leveranues Coles should perform like the experienced veteran he is from the other side. Cedric Benson's never lacked talent, he was just never used right. He could have a breakthrough year. If the offensive line improves just a little, this pick will be a little closer to the truth.

The defense is very underrated. The front four is anchored by Domata Peko, he of the epic hair. If Keith Rivers breaks out at linebacker, that corps will be very good. The secondary is blue collar and gets the job done. Overall, the defense is probably better than the offense. If they take the next step, watch out.

Marvin Lewis is a great coach, and he's gotten this Bengals team to a point where a year like last year can be turned around fairly quickly. He knows what he's doing.

Summary: I just have this feeling that this team is going to surprise you. There's no real problem on this team. If everyone plays up to their level (looking at you, Ochocinco), they can make the playoffs.

Other Playoff Contenders

Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars


Divisional Winners

1. New York Giants (11-5)- Despite their receiver woes, this team should still be tops in the NFC. Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, or Hakeem Nicks should step up and become a solid number one, and whoever doesn't win that job will be an excellent complement. Eli Manning sets up behind a great offensive line, and that makes the running committee of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and he who is yet to be named even better. Kevin Boss is an adequate tight end, capable of being a good, very big safety valve.

The Giants' defense is what makes them the best team in the NFC, though. The already unfairly athletic defensive line, featuring Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, got even better by adding tackle Chris Canty. Oh, and Mathias Kiwanuka, the most athetic of the bunch, won't even start. The linebackers all perform well in their roles, with Michael Boley still on the upswing of his career maybe to soon become the best of the bunch. You might not recognize the names in the secondary, but it's an excellent group of solid if not spectacular players. This defense rivals the Steelers as the best in the league.

Tom Coughlin knows how to coach. He's kind of a rough fellow, but he's getting more press friendly. He can handle players as good as anyone in the league.

Summary: Could struggle at times having no go to receiver, but should plug along through the season as the best the NFC has to offer.

2. New Orleans Saints (11-5)- Drew Brees has got to be the most fun player in the NFL to watch, in my opinion. He's about 5-10, can't weigh more than 200 pounds, yet he goes out there and slings it everywhere. He's a giant in a little man's body. He has an excellent receiving corps, with Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Devery Henderson all providing different things for the passing game. Colston's the red zone target, Moore the third down specialist, and Henderson the speedster. Getting Jeremy Shockey officially at tight end only helps. The offensive line is as good as any in the conference. Running back's a small question mark. Will Reggie Bush be healthy and perform to his talent level? Can Pierre Thomas step up if Bush falters?

The defense should be much better. They were already solid along the defensive line and at linebacker, and the addition of Darren Sharper at free safety. He adds a playmaker to a defense that hasn't been known for its big play ability.

Sean Payton's still a mystery to me. I think he's a good coach, but injuries have torn down a bit what he built up. He should see success again this year.

Summary: If they stay healthy and the defense does just enough, this can easily be a Super Bowl Team.

3. Chicago Bears (10-6)- Cutler will make all the difference. They've got the offensive line, they've got the stud running back in Matt Forte, they just needed a quarterback. Now they have Cutler. While his targets are nothing that special- Devin Hester's really the only guy that looks like he might break out- there's enough talent for Cutler to make use of.

It's the Bears. You know the defense will be good. Brian Urlacher is still here, and he's gonna smell blood. He knows this is the Bears' time. Lance Briggs will, too. The front four needs to get a bit more pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary could be stronger at safety, but there are no holes that will be backbreaking. As long as the defense is ranked in the top 10, this team'll be a Super Bowl contender.

Lovie Smith's been to a Super Bowl with a lesser team. This time around, he could win it.

Summary: As long as injuries don't hit, this team could easily push to the NFC Championship game.

4. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)- Nothing's changed. This is still an excellent team. Kurt Warner can sling it everywhere. Larry Fitzgerald will catch it if it's within 20 yards of him. Anquan Boldin could be a number 1 target for two thirds of the teams in the league. Steve Breaston could start for half the teams. The line can pass block. Chris Wells was an excellent choice of a running back in the draft for this team. He could step in and instantly improve the running game single handedly. He and Tim Hightower form a running game that could be unstoppable in short yardage situations.

The defense will be good enough again, and maybe improve. Darnell Dockett showed off his abilities getting to the quarterback in the playoffs, and the rest of the line should do well enough. The linebacking core is solid, and the secondary is one of the better ones in the NFC. The defense is still young, and the team could start winning because of their defense instead despite it, which they did occasionally.
Ken Whisenhunt is smart and he knows how to challenge his players. He should be the Arizona coach for years and years.

Summary: Another Super Bowl run? Maybe. They'd have a great chance with a better running game.

Wild Cards

5. Carolina Panthers (11-5)- DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart form possibly the most powerful running back tandem in the league. They could both run for 1000 yards and have 12 touchdowns apiece this year. The offensive line opens gaping holes for them to run through. Together, they could carry the offense on their backs. But, the Panthers have a pretty good passing game, too. Jake Delhomme can still manage the offense occasionally carry them when the running game is stuck. Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad form an underrated receiving tandem, but it'd be great if Dwayne Jerret could bust out instead of just remain a bust.

The defense didn't perform quite as well as it should have last year, and it showed in the loss to Arizona in the playoffs. The secondary is average but can make plays if the defensive line can get pressure on the quarterback. Julius Peppers will be relied on once again for that. Jon Beason and Thomas Davis are stars at linebacker that can still improve on things. The defense has some holes, but the talent is there to make up for it.

You either love or hate John Fox, but there's no denying he can coach. Sometimes he seems a little nonchalant, but overall, he'll have the guys ready on Sunday.

Summary: They're still hungry. Whether that will help the defense improve or not remains to be seen, but this team can play with any other in the conference.

6. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)- Hello, Roy Williams. You've got some big shoes to fill. It's time for you to break out and become the receiver we all know you can be. Howdy, Tony Romo. It's not all about the blonde bombshells, man. It's about a Super Bowl. Hey, Marion Barber. You need to show you can shoulder the bulk of the running load. Felix Jones can help, but you'll need to provide the power. The only certain things on this offense are Jason Witten at tight end and the offensive line performing well.

The defense can make plays. DeMarcus Ware is DeMarcus Ware. He'll get to the quarterback and cover tight ends as good as anyone. The addition of Keith Brooking will allow Ware to roam more. That's not good for any offensive players. The line fits in with the 3-4 perfectly and can absorb blocking. The secondary is weak in the middle, but the corners can perform. This defense can rival the Giants' if it puts its mind to it.

Wade Phillips is a good schemes man, but overall, he's never seemed to be tough enough to handle all the personalities on the Dallas sideline.

Summary: If Romo, Williams, and Barber step up, this team is the best in the NFC despite the loss of Owens. If not, they may finish under .500.

Other Playoff Contenders

Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks

And now......

Super Bowl Pick

Indianapolis Colts over New Orleans Saints

Posted on: October 9, 2008 4:00 pm

2008-2009 NBA Preview

The Good Guys Don't Always Finish Last

Basketball has changed.

This is far from your father's NBA. Aggresive defense on the perimeter is all but gone. If you want to see roughness and toughness on the court, direct your eyes inside from the widest arc. The post players smash, crash, and bang into each other, while even an errant pinky finger on the perimeter can draw a whistle. Smaller, faster point guards and small lineups begin to creep toward the norm. To see a 5' 11" point man, a 6' 2" big guard, a 6' 5" small forward, a 6' 8" power forward, and a 6' 9" center sharing the court is common occurence.

It's the changing of the game, and it is already upon us. When did this happen? Almost overnight. The new "don't even touch a man on the perimeter" rule has switched the game into its fastest gear ever, and teams are scrambling to keep up. Not that defensive teams stand no chance now- look at the Spurs to smother that argument (though the Spurs are no slouches offensively themselves). It's just the changing of the game. It's now commonplace and a joy to see games that read "Home 128 Away 127". As the game continues its fast break toward just having teams of "athletes" instead of teams that designate each and every player a "center" or a "shooting guard", we will watch in awe as incredible individual efforts and plays overflow on ESPN's highlight reels. They may have to set aside a full hour every day to show each of them.......

But, then we see the Celtics, and that feeling of nostalgia hits us. The Celtics boast three of today's greatest players. Yet, the team looked like it was composed of 12 of today's greatest players. Watching the Celtics last year was at times amazing. Kevin Garnett was kind of the leadoff man of this "new breed" of athletic players that are just players.....tall and athletic guys who can guard 3-4 positions, handle the ball like a guard, jump out of the building, and hit a shot from anywhere. In Minnesota, there was possibly never another guy on the team with him that could nearly match his heart, much less his ability. But he never needed that. He needed the best teammates in the league, not players. He found them in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, James Posey, PJ Brown, Leon Powe, Eddie House, and Glen Davis. Every player I just named stepped into the role that they had to. Pierce, a scoring swingman, remained in that role and added everything else to his game. Allen hit big shots and just seemed to be the quiet glue of the team. Rondo came of age when he should have struggled. Perkins was a sledgehammer, grabbing rebounds and providing excellent post defense. Posey simply did everything that most players in the league would rather slack on- he defended, he hustled, he fought. Brown was the steady guiding hand in the frontcourt for the younger Powe and Davis, who began to look like much younger versions of the veteran. And, last but not least, House scored in bunches and carried the team through its most stressing offensive droughts.

Every one of these men were just that- men. They carried one another. The fought with one another. And they won a championship together. The phrase seems cheesy to some, but they truly were a basketball brotherhood. And the big brother was Doc Rivers, one of the nicest men you could meet.

Yes, sometimes the good guy does win. Correction- the good guys.

Now that I'm sure you are tired of my dramatic rambling, I'll get to the bacon wrapped steak of my post today- my predictions for the NBA's 2008-2009 season.

Eastern Conference

1. Boston Celtics - 58 to 64 wins - Face it, these guys are still the best the East has to offer. The loss of Posey will sting a lot, especially at the end of those really tight games. However, this team definitely still has enough to finish first in the East and get to the Finals again. To have another happy ending, the younger players (Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Gabe Pruitt, Tony Allen) have to step into the roles that the older guys filled last year. A defensive stud needs to emerge, as well.

Final Analysis: Anything less than the Eastern Conference regular season and playoff title will be a disappointment.

2. Detroit Pistons - 48 to 54 wins - The window is closing. Quickly. But these guys can do it again. Can they make the Finals? That is still up for debate. The core is still there from the Finals years- Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Rasheed Wallace. Just those four make this team one of the best in the league. But they also have Antonio McDyess, the sturdy veteran hand, and the up and coming Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell. If they don't get it this year, a tearing down could be in order.

Final Analysis: They are hungry, but aren't they always? Might not even get to the Conference Finals this time.

3. Orlando Magic - 46 to 52 wins - A new force has been seen in the East. And that force is the Magic, led by blooming center Dwight Howard. He is the behemoth in the middle that pulls everything else together- and he has not even reached his prime. I'm scared, are you? Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu flank Howard, and both are top offensive players that can hurt you with their size and shooting. Jameer Nelson is an adequate point guard, but they could have a better starter there. New pickup Mickael Pietrus will provide the defensive energy at shooting guard.

Final Analysis: A point guard and energy rebounder away from matching up with the Celtics.

4. Philadelphia 76ers - 44 to 50 wins - Elton Brand turns this team from one beginning to emerge from a top notch rebuilding effort into one that is ready to challenge for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Brand provides a 20 point, 10 rebound half court presence for a team that thrives on the run. Andre Iguodala's dunks and developing all around game are still there, as well as unheralded point guard Andre Miller. Samuel Dalembert complements everyone with his fast break sparking blocks and rebounds.

Final Analysis: If the young guys grow quickly, the Magic and Pistons should look out.

5. Toronto Rapters- 44 to 50 wins - Though it didn't grab the media's attention like the Elton Brand aquisition, the Raptors' nabbing of a finally healthy (we hope) Jermaine O'Neal was maybe the most efficient of the offseason. Just the thought of O'Neal and Chris Bosh roaming the paint together puts a smile on any good post play-loving fan's face. But don't forget the other guys. Jose Calderon's 5.38 assist/turnover ratio gets a chance to start. Anthony Parker, Jason Kapono, and Calderon will have an abundance of open threes because of the two guys in the painted area.

Final Analysis: Another team that could be one more impact player away from big things.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers - 42 to 48 wins - LeBron James. Any discussion on the Cavs begins and ends with him. He just needs more help. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is getting to old to have an impact, Ben Wallace hasn't been the same since he left Detroit, Delonte West just isn't consistent enough, Wally Szczerbiak just hasn't gotten it done, and none of the other guys have the talent it takes to have an effect. The aquisition of Mo Williams just got another scoring point guard to go with James. Didn't I say it begins and ends with Lebron James?

Final Analysis: Just spinning their wheels unless they can add a Robin to LeBron's Batman.

7. Milwaukee Bucks- 38 to 44 wins - Richard Jefferson has given this team playoff ability again. Seeing him line up opposite of Michael Redd every night is an impressive thought. Add in Andrew Bogut, who is beginning to show his massive ability, and Luke Ridnour, who came over from the team formerly known as the Sonics, and you have potential to be a playoff surprise. Several guys on this team would be wise to toughen up, and perform every night.

Final Analysis: The base players are there, now the other guys just have to show consistency.

8. Washington Wizards - 38 to 44 wins - Gilbert "Agent Zero" "Hibachi" "Everything But The Kitchen Sink" Arenas is back, healthy and as quirky as ever. His scoring will be a much appreciated addition to a team that carried on well without him last year. Caron Butler is a threat every night now (finally) and Antwan Jamison just keeps chugging out 20 points a night. "Brenda" Haywood started showing a center's toughness last year, and his continued improvement would help this team a ton.

Final Analysis: Too much there not to make it in. Not enough defense to make it any farther.

Other Eastern teams in playoff contention: Atlanta (36 to 42 wins), Chicago (34 to 40 wins)

Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Lakers - 56 to 62 wins - This pick depends a lot on Andrew Bynum's return. If he returns immediately to last season's form, they have the best shot to pull out of the crowded Western pack first. Pau Gasol was an absolute steal last year and his skills could mesh extremely well with Bynum. Derek Fisher is there to do his job, and it will be done like it has his whole career. Many of the young studs are set to emerge, led by Jordan Farmar. Maybe Lamar Odom will turn into a consistent threat, but don't bet on it. Oh, and they still have that Kobe Bryant guy. That has to count for something.

Final Analysis: Will fight and claw their way to the front in the competitive West.

2. New Orleans Hornets - 54 to 60 wins - Don't blink. If you do, you'll miss Chris Paul. And missing the most exciting offensive jitterbug in the league would be a shame. But don't miss the rest of these guys, either. David West has his that "star power forward" level that is so hard to attain. Tyson Chandler is still above the rim somewhere, about to smash the ball down with authority. And the role guys- Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, Julian Wright, and Jannero Pargo are there to spark the offense. And James Posey has come down to New Orleans to show these guys what they need to win a championship.

Final Analysis: The Hornets and Lakers are pretty much interchangeable at the top. Look for them to battle in the Western Conference Finals.

3. Houston Rockets - 52 to 58 wins - Yes, I mean those Rockets. The ones with no toughness. The ones that can't buy that big shot it takes to win big games. The Rockets that now have both of those things. Ron Artest just brought both of them along with him from Sacramento. Yes, Yao Ming still is an injury issue. Yes, Tracy McGrady is still his not-quite-a-superstar self. But Artest, along with the multitude of skilled role players in Houston, just may be enough to get these guys over that first round mountain. Everything after that, however, will be a mystery.

Final Analysis: Can they surprise everyone and make.....wait for it.......the Finals?

4. Utah Jazz - 48 to 54 wins - Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer may be the second greatest pick and roll tandem in team history. The fact that Deron Williams-Mehmet Okur may be the third best is scary. While those guys are not Stockton and Malone, they possibly could have a better supporting cast then those guys ever did. Andrei Kirilenko, Ronnie Brewer, Matt Harpring, and Paul Millsap are all top defenders and score enough to keep the pressure of the main three. Speaking of threes, look for a few of them from Kyle Korver.

Final Analysis: They have the depth and star power to be there, they just got to do it.

5. San Antonio Spurs - 48 to 54 wins - The West's big three- Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan- can carry this team as far as the older role players on the team can travel. I really dare you to find a weakness on this team (okay, aside from a center consistency). This team probably will not push the envelope during the season and label themselves "sleepers". If this team's young talent can shine, guess what? They are in the Finals again.

Final Analysis: Will cruise until the playoffs, then shock some of these "younger teams".

6. Phoenix Suns - 46 to 52 wins - If Shaquille O'Neal is ever a hinderance to a team, I'll let you know. His pure size and mass in the middle just opens this team up to breathe. Oh, and he can still play, even if he is a bit creaky now. Amare Stoudamire is just a beast. No other way to put it. Steve Nash is still coming up with out-of-nowhere passes. This team may have missed the bus, however. Not enough youth to grow with the team they have assembled now. Raja Bell and Grant Hill can defend enough for this team to surprise us in the playoffs, but a surprise it will be.

Final Analysis: If they miss again this year, changes could be made.

7. Portland Trailblazers - 44 to 50 wins - Greg Oden has arrived. And Portland is screaming with joy. So is LaMarcus Aldridge, who can breathe a sigh of relief that the behemoth is finally here to pull pressure off of him. Brandon Roy has Hall of Fame potential, and has only begun to show his all around gifts. Youth abounds on this team, and if they come of age this year, anyone in the West is threatened by these guys. Keep an eye on Jerryd Bayless. Defenders, you should keep two eyes on him, though he still may beat you to the paint.

Final Analysis: Potential at every position. Should scratch the playoffs this year, then take a large bite out of them in coming years.

8. Dallas Mavericks - 42 to 48 wins - You can almost hear this team sputtering. You can hear the wheels falling off. Dirk Nowitzki is still here. He is a star. But nothing else is really working as well as it should. The Jason Kidd trade didn't work. Josh Howard isn't developing fast enough. No center on the team is worth starting. And there is not much there for the future. Just old guys that can't really go anymore. That spells trouble for the Mavs.

Final Analysis: One last playoff gasp before the rebuilding starts.

Other Western teams in playoff contention: Denver (40 to 46 wins), Golden State (38 to 44 wins), Los Angleles Clippers (36 to 42 wins)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or