Abu Shreek examines the strengths and weaknesses of every team.
Predictions are the most annoying aspect of sports. Even "expert's" predictions, which depend on deep research and analysis, usually end up with abysmal results. None are more annoying than those ridiculous ones which try to predict teams’ exact records and the exact score of the SuperBowl, in August. But that is the beauty of sports and especially the NFL; A couple of key injuries, a rookie exceeding the expectations, a veteran playing out of his mind on his contract year, a defensive unit mysteriously playing well together, or three back-to-back wins, and all the preseason predictions are flushed down the drain.
However if one wants to make a estimate a team’s chances in making a serious playoffs run, keep in mind that these teams have these main components for success:
-Head Coach: A football team assumes its head coach personality and character. He is in complete control of a very complex operation and he has to show that. Tony Dungy is a nice human being and a class act, but he does not reflect a competitive attitude on his players (and does not get involved with offense). Herman Edwards is a great motivator (and a one who knows how to breach a contract and jump ship), but he admits he can’t manage the game clock. Rookie coaches (especially those who inherited teams that have won less than 10 games in the past two years) of the Jets, Saints, Vikings, Packers, Lions, Texans and even the Raiders cannot win the SuperBowl in their first year.
-Quarterback: Despite the fact that it remains the most important position in the game, less than 10 teams come into this year with a stable QB situation (The Cowboys and Drew Bledsoe is considered one of the ten!!). The once in a decade 2000 Ravens phenomenon should not change the fact that a team with a crappy QB cannot win it all, even if the team chose to hide him under the “ care taker” or “bus driver” tags.
-Offensive line: If the hardest throwing QB and the fastest running RB had no time to throw or a hole to run through, they will not be effective. A solid hard working line, which is disciplined by a strong coach, and has stability is essential for any offense.
-Defensive playmakers: The unit as a whole has to be solid especially in stopping the run and pressuring the QB. But one or two difference makers, like a tackling-machine LB or a ball-hawk safety can make game changing plays, and that will carry and motivate the team, on both sides of the ball.
-Draft: If a team has two players left from its last 4 drafts and none of them is a starter, the team is not going far (
The defense is young especially the DEs in the front three, but they are promising hard-workers. The addition of sure-tackler LB Akin Ayodele is important to the success of the 3-4 and he will play ILB next to Bradie James who is not as impressive as initially thought. The move of Gregg Ellis to the OLB spot opposite to DeMarcus Ware could benefit both of them if Ellis can adjust to playing from the two-point stance. In the Secondary where they got burnt deep too many times last year, Anthony Henry returns from injury and the team likes tall rookie Pat Watkins who could help protect (recently) overrated SS Roy Williams in pass coverage.
On defense they are solid and deep. They added DEs Darren Howard and rookie Brodrick Bunkley to a deep line rotation. Their biggest concern is the LB position who after Dhani Jones and Jeremiah Trotter have nothing of significance. the secondary have four star players, any of whome can make the pro-bowl on any year.
On defense they have a very good line with the best edge pass rushers rotation in the league (Strahan, Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, rookie Mathias Kiwanuka). The LB group is thin but it depends on how much LB LaVar Arrington is able to cintribute after a couple of idle years. The secondary was revamped with the addition of CB Sam Madison, CB R.W. McQuarters and the underrated FS Will Demps.
The defense is a very good unit that carried the team last year. The front seven are hard nosed underrated players and they are joined by DE Ander Carter (SF). LBs Marcus Washington and Lamar Marshall are underrated star defenders. The secondary also is one of the best and deepest in the business with
The defense lacks any playmakers and their rookie class is average at best. Under the current city situation, the speculations surrounding the team moving to another city, it is highly recommended to avoid following this team all together, despite the presence of rookie sensation RB Reggie Bush.
On defense they needed (the always in demand) massive NT and got Grady Jackson to play next to Rod Coleman, flanked by Patrick Kearny and newly acquired John Abraham (who practically took the past two years off). Their linebackers and secondary remain suspect despite the addition of FS Lawyer Milloy (if he has anything left), and the presence of (noisy) Pro-Bowler CB D’angelo Hall.
The defense has the same SB core group but Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, sheldon Quarles and Ronde Barber are getting older without getting significant young additions around them.
On defense they added more depth to an already deep line by acquiring DT Maake Kemoaetu to account for the annual Kris Jenkins injury. The linbackers depend on the performance of converted safety sophomore Thomas Davis, free agent Na’il Diggs (who was let go by Green Bay despite their needs at the position), and the health of MLB Dan Morgan. The secondary have a nice CB tandem of Krn Lucas and Chris Gamble, with not much depth at nickel, and makes up for the departure of Marlon McCree (SD) with Shaun Williams (NYG), a significant drop.
As for last year's anemic offense, it did not look any better in the preseason under QB Rex Grossman, and he may be replaced by Brian Griese early in the year. The options at receiver are very limited past the againg Muhsin Muhammad, and the Bears continue to play without the important pass-catching tight end. On the bright side the OL has the same solid five starters from last year. RB Cedric Benson is already on the bad side of his coaches and teammates, and it is hard to predict how is Thomas Jones is going to react after the team tried to trade him all summer long. They are both currently behind Adrian Peterson (5th year man out of
The defensive unit has a few “names” on it (DT Shaun Rogers, DE James Hall, LB Boss Bailey, CB Dre Bly) and a couple of good rookies (LB Ernie Sims and S Daniel Bullocks), but even those who are supposed to be the unit leaders seem to get sucked into the Lions losing culture.
On defense this team has a star or a high draft pick at every single position. The tackle tandem of Pat and Kevin Williams is one of the best in the league. Ends Erasmus James and Kenechi Udeze came into the league as high picks with huge potential. the young linebacker group of E.J. Henderson, Napoleon Harris and Dontorrious Thomas are joined solid new comer Ben Leber (SD) but they lost rookie Chad Greenway for the season. In the secondary Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield are the best tackling CB tandem in the league with safety help from Darren Sharper who averages 5 picks a year for his career (9 last year). The problem is the Vikings looks great on paper year after year with no results to show for it.
The defense does not look any better. On the line there is absolutely no interior presence (although KGB and Aaron Kampman are solid DEs). LB A.J. Hawk, the rookie first round pick did not look all that impressive in the preseason, and the CB tandem of Carles Woodson and Al Harris used to be good 4 years ago.
The question here is how many games do they lose before it becomes okay to bench Favre and his reckless interceptions to give Aaron Rodgers some game-time experience?
The team invested in free agents and high draft picks on defense over the past couple of years, but it has not showed statistically. LB Karlos Dansby and DT Darnell Dockett got noticed last year but they need to emerge as stars to carry the unit. Top ten draft pick CB Antrel Rolle struggled with injuries last year and needs to show imrovement this year.
They added some veterans on defense most notably DT La’Roi Glover to play next to former first round pick Jimmy Kennedy. their DL is only solid group on defense, and other than that there are not many playmakers on this unit, maybe free agents MLB Will Witherspoon, CB Fakhir Brown and SS Corey Chavous can make a slight difference.
The defense still has the deepest line rotation in the league, and they added LB Julian Peterson (who may not be as good as he was with SF before being injured) next to Lofa Tatupu, LeRoy Hill and D.D. Lewis. The secondary is lead by CB Marcus Trufant and SS Michael Boulware with thin depth after them, especially with the loss of free agent S Mike Green for the year.
The SB loser hang-over, the Madden 07 Shaun Alexander curse, and the much improved NFC make a second straight SB appearance highly unlikely.
The defense may be switching to a 3-4 front, which will require their best two defenders DT Dewayne Robertson and LB Jonathan Vilma to make adjustments and maybe play out of position. Their secondary is very young but has potential playmakers in Justin Miller,
-Buffalo: A franchise that had three head coaches since 2001 could not be heading the right direction. Their offseason was highlighted by a QB battle for the starting job between sophomore J.P Loseman and Kelly Holocomb (not a good sign for Loseman or the Bills who ended up giving him the starter job anyway). Not that it will matter much behind that line (They lost veteran center Try Teague and, other than Jason Peters, none of the other positions look impressive), The team lacks any legitimate receiving target past Lee Evans (unless Peerless Price can resurrect his career), and their offense has to be carried on the back of RB Willis McGahee.
On defense they invested too much in this years draft to shore up the DT spot (Larry Triplett and rookie John McCargo (considered a reach) ) and the secondary who lacks any depth behind star corners Terrance McGee and Nate Clements. The LB group that used to be the best in the league welcomes back Takeo Spikes and replaces Jeff Posey (cut, signed with the Redskins) with emerging Angelo Crowell.
-Miami: Last year rookie coach Nick Saban lead them to a very strong and improbable finish, which raises the team’s expectations heading into this year. They tried to improve their offensive line by signing LT L.J. Shelton and G Bennie Anderson. They are also hoping for the improvement of third year tackle Vernon Carey who moved to right, but they were set back by the season ending injury to C Seth Mckinney. QB Daunte Culpepper looks healthy and has a group of nice receivers headed by WR Chris Chambers coming off a career year and TE Randy McMichael. It remains to be seen if Ronnie Brown can carry the majority of the running load after the (suspension then) retirement of Ricky Williams, with limited depth behind him.
The defense played tough last year, but star players DE Jason Taylor and LB Zach Thomas are getting older, and age is the highlight of a unit that lacks any upcoming young players (with the exception of LB Channing Crowder). The team lost all four star secondary players over the past two years with no legit replacements.
The front three (four on some passing (third) downs) remains the best in the league (DT Vince Wilfork, DEs Ty Warren and Richard Seymour) with a healthy rotation of (Jarvis Greene and Marquis Hill). But the biggest question is the LB position that used to be the heart of their defense. After the retirement of Ted Johhnson and Roman Phifer two years ago, the departure of Willie Mcginest and the broken wrist of Teddy Bruschi, they scrambled to sign retired Juniour Seau. They still have Mike Vrabel, Roosvelt Colvin and last year’s disappointing free agents Chad Brown and Monty Beisel (Oops they were both cut). In the secondary the return of Rodney Harrison and the emrgence of sophomore Ellis Hobbs will be a big boost for the group.
On defense the significant loss of Kimo von Oelhoffen (the
On defense, they still need playmakers. The loss of sophomore Odell Thurman (4 games for substance abuse) will not help, but they tried to improve their run defense (4.3 YPC last year) by adding two 320+ DTs free agent Sam Adams and rookie Domata Peko. An opportunistic secondary (CB Troy James, Deltha O'Neal and Keiwan Ratliff who had a ton of picks last year), get help from former SB MVP Dexter Jackson and another solid defensive rookie class.
Outside of a few linebackers this team is almost as obscure as the 49ers. Their drafts have been Ok in the last couple of years and they are trying to build a solid OL and a defense, but when the biggest name on a team is Joe Jurevicius the playoffs hopes look dim.
The defense adds DT Justin Banaan and rookie DT Haloti Ngata (to replace departed Maake Kemoeatu) and declining DE Trevor Price (DEN) to play opposite of standout Terrell Suggs (averages 10 sacks a year over his 3-year career). Ray Lewis had made more noise than plays over the past two years and he will be flanked by Adalius Thomas and Bart Scott. They have a gap at SS and no depth past CB Samari Rolle, Chris McCallister and 2004 defensive player of the year FS Ed Reed.
There are questions, as usual, regarding their defense. The defense carried the team early last year, but the undersized group seemed to fad away at the end of the year.Despite the loss of DT Larry Triplett they still have a solid rotation in the middle, and they use speed to rush the passers from DE Robert Mathis (at 245 lbs he is lighter than some linebackers), and star Dwight Freeney (the problem with Freeney that he can be easily neutralized because of him being overaggressive). The linebackers position is thin and not very impressive beyond LB Cato June. The Secondary seems to fit the Cover-two scheme of Tony Dungy, but the corners are not as good as those he had in Tampa, and the safeties Mike Doss and Bob Sanders are small but hard hitters.
The defense is anchored in the middle by the outstanding combination of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, but does not have much behind them at the DE or LB positions. They will depend on MLB Mike Peterson to lead the team in tackles after the loss of Akin Ayodele. In the secondary they added CB Brian Williams (Min) to play opposite to star (but risk-taker) Rashean Mathis. The return of hrad hitting SS Donovin Darius will help the unit.
On defense Kyle Vanden Bosch was a pleasant surprise on a line that is full of young draft picks that have not lived up to expectations. Keith Bulluck remains the anchor of the LB group that added a solid David Thornton (IND) at his more natural weak side spot. The safeties Chris Hope (PIT) and solid Lamont Thomson will need to help a pair of inconsistent second year players.
The defense will feature a 4-3 front with a very solid front four rotation. Sophomore DT Travis Johnson and veteran Robaire Smith could anchor the middle and first round draft pick (disappointing preseason) and free agents Anthony Weaver and N.D. Kalu can rush the passer. The problem is at LB where they will solely depend on rookie LB DeMeco Ryans to make plays. The backfield is not in any better situation than the LBs. Beyond standout CB Dunta Robinson, the other three positions are manned by below average players.
On defense they cannot get any push up the middle from washed up Warren Sapp or (DE) Tommy Kelly and cannot generate any pressure on the opposing QB. The rest of the defense is too young, the veterans in the secondary are second year players, but they all have speed and potential, especially versatile rookie Michael Huff . The fact that
They choose to play virtually without a front four for the second straight year, featuring a bunch of cast outs (the Browns old DL), preferring to depend on the best LB trio in the league (Ian Gold. Al Wilson, D.J. Williams). CB Champ Bailey is one of the most overrated players in the league, and SS John Lynch was supposed to be done three years ago. Somehow they still manage to sneak into the playoffs year after year.
Their defense looks like the same miserable old unit. They have not been successful in their free agency signings or the draft. DE Jarred Allen and rookie Tamba Hali are good pass rushers but the DT and the LB (other than Derrick Johnson, who seems to be going by D.O. Johnson these days) positions are holes. The secondary add another washed up player CB Ty Law next to CB Patrick Surtain and S Sammy Knight.
Their defensive front seven, anchored by DT Jamaal Williams, are as good as any other group in the league (in the same conversation as Pittsburgh and New England without the same depth at the front line).The LB group features Steve Foley, Shaun Philips, 272-lb Shawne Merriman and maybe the hardest working of them all Donnie Edwards (how is Edwards going to respond after the team was trying to trade him away all summer?). They tried to address the secondary problems they had last year since Quentin Jammer was their only reliable player in their backfield (although he never lived up to the expectations of the being the fifth overall pick (6 INTs in 4 years)), so they added rookie Antonio Cromartie (who suffered some injuries during his college career), and SS Marlon McCree (CAR).