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.
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.
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
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.
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
Super Bowl Pick
Indianapolis Colts over New Orleans Saints