Saturday, September 02, 2006

NFL: Season Preview '06

One week until kickoff Sunday.
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 (Washington). You need “cheap” labor on the lines, on special teams, stars that are not costing millions yet, and depth everywhere. Teams that draft well and depend on home-grown players (Pittsburgh, New England) remain in contention year after year and can add the suitable free agent when necessary.

NFC East:

-Dallas: They approached the year hoping to contend and even win now, so they tried to address every weakness from the previous year. At the OL they replaced aging Larry Allen, and brought in a three-way competition for the nagging RT spot (former Chicago first round pick Marc Colombo won the job from Jets veteran Jason Fabini, but both have questions around their game. The line play especially LT Flozell Adams, who returns from a knee surgery, is essential to the play of immobile QB Bledsoe. Tey have considerable depth on all offensive positions except at WR, where they feature two 30+ wideouts, with the T.O. situation flaring out faster than expected.
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.

-Philadelphia: This is a team that had made a serious playoffs run in 4 of the past 5 years, and it still has a good number of the players from the 04 SB season, especially the younger ones. Now that they are recovered from the T.O. saga, have a healthy Donovan MaNabb, and added yet another excellent rookie class, they are ready to compete again. They addressed the eternal WR situation by adding Dante Stallworth late, but the question remains regarding their ability to run the ball. RBs Brain Westbrook and Ryan Moats fit well into their system, which substitutes running by screens, swings and short routes that put the RBs in open space, but it would have been nice if they had a healthy Correll Buckhalter or a Duce Staley for some runs between the tackles
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.

-New York: Another team that approached the off-season with the win-now mentality. The best thing Tom Coughlin did was to build an OL that is two- player deep at every spot and retains all five starters from last year. The production of offense depends on the maturity level and improvement of Eli Manning, who has enough tools around him from Tiki Barber (coming of a career year) to veterans receivers (Amani toomer and Plaxico Burress) to young speedsters (Tim Carter, Willie Ponder, and rookie Sonorice Moss).
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.

-Washington: The “different” approach this team uses to go after its business continues for another year.The most confusing move was the hiring of former Kansas City offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who runs a different style of offense than that of Joe Gibbs . They loaded up on wide receivers, who are going to be very effective in Gibb’s bunch formation, only if they can find someone to throw them the ball. Mark Brunell, Todd Collins, and sophomore (with zero starts) Jason Campbell won’t do it. The receiver group includes Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El, and impressive rookie Mike Espy who join David Patten and Santana Moss . The shoulder injury to their workhorse RB Clinton Portis could be worse tha initially thought of, since they rushed to trade for T.J. Duckett.
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 Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers at corners, and the addition of SS Adam Archeluta to play across from All-Pro Sean Taylor. They are able to compete for a playoffs spot at the toughest division in all of football.

NFC South:

-New Orleans: The team went through a complete overhaul. The offense cannot survive the tough division behind the shaky line and the lack of any receiving threat besides aging WR Joe Horn.
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.

-Atlanta: They have been seriously investing in free agents in the past two years. They shored up the receiving group after the loss of Brian Finneran for the year by trading for WR Ashley Lelie, giving inconsistent QB Mike Vick more toys beside TE Alge Crumpler. The OL replaces one player (Wayne Gandy could be an improvement over departed Kevin Shaffer) and they have Alex Gibbs the best line coach in business. In the backfield, small yet mighty tough RB Warrick Dunn is backed up by rookie Jerrious Norwood who was impressive in the preseason.
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.

-Tampa Bay: The post SB Jon Gruden era has not been very impressive. Their playoffs appearance last year looks more like a fluke. A team that is lead by QB Chris Simms is not going far in the playoffs and that is common Knowledge to any Longhorns fan. The line is a continuous patch-work year after year, which will make Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman job harder. The receiving group is deep and depends on Joey Galloway to repeat last year’s numbers and on the emergence of sophomore TE Alex Smith.
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.

-Carolina: A solid all-around team that made a deep playoffs push last year, despite some key injuries. The OL is a solid unit that added veteran center Justin Hardwick. They have one of the top three QBs in the conference throwing to a very impressive group (Keyshawn Johnson, Steve Smith, Keary Colbert, Drew Carter). Rookie RB D’angelo Williams gives them explosiveness and depth behind fragile DeShaun Foster.
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.

NFC North:

-Chicago: Obviously the class of a terrible division. They stayed put in free agency and return the same devastating defense (before it collapsed against Carolina in the playoffs), and only lost FS Mike Green (SEA: he is out for the year). The Defensive line features pass rushers DEs Alex Smith and Adwele Ogunkeye who plays the run as good as anybody, and DTs Tommie Harris and Ian Scott. Not only they add a nickel corner CB Ricky Manning Jr. but they spend the whole draft adding defensive players.
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 Georgia Southern) on the depth charts.

-Detroit: A new head coach, a new couple of crappy QBs (Jon Kitna, Josh McCown), and no reason to expect anything from the same old Lions. The addition of Mike Martz as an offensive coordinator could help utilize thee fleet of their first round draft picks wideouts. (Although both Charles Rogers and Mike Williams are so deep on the depth charts they may not earn roster spots). With a decent OL two good TE (Dan Campbell and Marcus Pollard) and good depth at RB headed by Kevin Jones this unit could improve could improve.
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.

-Minnesota: New owner, new head coach and a ton of new players, probably the same disappointing Vikings. They acquired some offensive free agents players, now that they are going in a different direction after the departure of Randy Moss and Dante Culpepper. A ridiculously overpayed Guard Steve Hutchinson to a very good FB Tony Richardson and RB Chester Taylor were the main additions. QB Brad Johnson may not find alot of taregets to throw to, but if Brad Childress installs the same version of the dinky-dunky offense he ran with the Eagles they wont need speedy receivers.
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.

-Green Bay: Brett Favre said: “This may be the most talented group I played with”, to later add “ … but we may not win a single game this year”. Judging from the team’s preseason the latter could be the more accurate. When Favre made his “not-retiring” decision, did he take a look at the interior (Center and Guards) of the line in front of him? Or the receivers he will be throwing to if Donald Driver is not open (rookie Greg Jennings had a solid offseason)?! The main problem is that a line that used to be one of the best in the league was hit hard by free agency and now neither Ahman Green nor Favre can have the success they had in the past.
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?

NFC West:

-San Francisco: What a miserable franchise. Last year they had a center and a fullback on the cover of their media guide. C Jeremy Newberry retired and FB Fred Beasley did not get along with his RB Kevan Barlow and they both left (MIA, NYJ). There are no players of any significance on either side of the ball, except for rookie specimen TE Vernon Davis who has Alex Smith (1 TD 11 INT last year) throwing him the ball. The only hope this team has is for Eddie DeBartolo (whose return is now welcomed by the team owners) to retake his team from his sister and the Yorks.

-Arizona: New stadium, new uniforms, new logo, new RB, and the same old Cardinals. The OL is an obscure groupthat watched its best player (former Steeler) Oliver Ross go down for the year. But the offensive “skill” positions are loaded: RBs Edgerrin James and J.J. Arrington. WR Larry Fitzgeral, Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson, Troy Walters, Az Hakim, and rookie TE Leonard Pope. Kurt Warner is supposed to be lobbing passes to the talented group but if he struggles behind the shaky line, rookie QB Matt Leinart can replace him. Leinart, despite holding out, showed big potential in his pre-season games.
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.

-St. Louis: For the first time since 1999 the Rams are not going to be the best show on turf. Scott Linehan says that this team is going to be a running team, which is exactly what he said every year during the time he was offensive coordinator at Minnesota, and it never happened. On the other hand, he did not have stud RB Steven Jackson running behind what appears to be a solid OL. The Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce era may be fading away, while Dane Looker and Kevin Curtis are more of role players. For a coach who likes to use TE (see Wiggins and Kleinsasser with the Vikings), a depth chart of two rookies (both good college players) may not be enough.
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.

-Seattle: Practically the same team that went to the Superbowl last year, and was a few calls away from winning it. Same superb OL (despite the loss of G Steve Hutchinson, they added backup tackle Tom Ashworth (NE) to an already deep unit). They may have the best QB in the NFC now, but they had a problem with receivers last year that they did not address (Darrel Jackson, Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson, and TE Jerramy Stevens) are not that good.
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.

AFC East:

New York: They can be considered a rebuilding team that suffers from multiple holes. Chad Pennington still have issues with his throwing shoulder. Curtis Martin may miss the whole season, although Kevan Barlow is not a bad runner when he is not running behind a line that is starting rookies at center and left tackle (even though D’Brickashaw Ferguson was great in drills and workouts, but he is starting at one of the toughest spots in the game).
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, Derrick Strait and Erik Coleman.

-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.

-New England: The team that played in 3 of the past 5 Superbowls, and made a deep push in the playoffs in 05 with a ton of injuries, is reloaded again. This year there will be no FB Heath Evans starting at running back, since veteran Corey Dillon is backed up by the most impressive rookie runner Laurence Maroney (even Kevin Faulk looked good in camp). The team continues to draft extremely well and plugs every hole with cheap and serviceable players. The best QB in the league may have some concerns about a thin WR group with the continuing holdout of his Deion Branch (almost reached a trade) and the departure of David givens (TEN), but they plan to use more tight ends in their offense utilizing big TE Ben Watson, and hope for rookie Chad Jackson to come along as the season proceeds.
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.

AFC North:

-Pittsburgh: The Superbowl champs retain most of last year’s team. Despite the versatility of Antwaan Randle El (WAS) they can replace him with Cedric Wilson, Quincy Morgan, (rookie Sontanio Holmes did not have a great offseason), or by increasing the role of TE Heath Miller. Jerome Bettis retirement could have an emotional effect but RB Willie Parker was the starter last year and he is backed up by Verron Haynes and Duce Staley, all running behind the best OL in the game. By leading the team to the champioship, QB Ben Roethlisbereger prooved that he is in the conversation of the best QB in the league.
On defense the significant loss of Kimo von Oelhoffen (the Cincinnati game breaker) leaves a void on the great 3-man front next to underrated rotation NT Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke and DE Aaron smith. This void is filled by free agent Rodney Bailey (SEA) and Brett Keisel. The Linebacker group are all solid tacklers and capable pass rushers, but unfortunately the least deserving of them, is the loudest mouth and he ended up on the cover of SI NFL preview edition. James Farrior, Larry Foote, and Clark Haggans could all be more deserving . The departure of underrated FS Chris Hope (TEN) could be the hardest loss to replace, given the average players on the corners. SS Troy Polamalu is one of the biggest playmakers in the game.

-Cincinnati: The prime example on the five elements of success mentioned above. They hire a good coach, they find the QB of the future (looks recovered from the knee surgery and ready to join the conversation of top 4 QBs in the league), build a solid OL (that returns all five starters) , string together 4 good drafts, and they are competing. The receivers group of (big mouth Chad Johnson, underrated T.J. Houshmanzadeh, troubles Chris Henry, free agent Antonio Chatman and even TE Reggie Kelly) is one of the deepest in the league. RB Rudi Johnson has been able to carry most of the load but with Chris Perry placed on Injured Reserve, there is not much depth behind him.
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.

-Cleveland: For the eighth straight year the Browns look like an expansion team. One week away from opening kickoff and they do not have a center yet, after their biggest offseason signing (!) LeCharles Bentley was lost for the year on the first practice. They have a good group of RBs but too bad it would not matter behind that line.
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.

-Baltimore: It could be the year that their offense catches up to their defense. The only problem is that defense may not be what it once was. Reuniting QB Steve McNair with his favorite target Derrick Mason, the return of TE Todd Heap, the emergence of WR Mark Clayton, and the RB group of a refreshed Jamal Lewis, Mike Anderson and Musa Smith predicts a good year for the offense (despite a problem at RT).
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.

AFC South:

-Indianapolis: A SB preseason favorite for each of the past few years. The reason for their shortcomings is easily the most overrated player in the league. QB Peyton Manning ignores offensive coordinator Tom Moore, believes that he can outsmart the other team by himself, and crumbles under pressure. The loss of RB Edgerrin James should not affect their prolific offense (since Manning refused to hand him the ball anyway: against Pittsburgh (Second half-two carries)). The offensive line is a solid unit that has been playing together for a while despite the fact that they got confused and abused by Pittsburgh’s rushers. The receivers group has the great tandem of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but with the injury of slot receiver Brandon Stokley it looks thinner than usual.
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.

-Jacksonville: Last year’s team could be the most unnoticed 12-4 team ever, and maybe that was justified judging by their poor showing against New England in the playoffs. The 2005 squad returns almost intact with very minor changes. Sophomore tackle Khalif Barnes proved that he can handle the left spot as a rookie and the he rejoins the four other starters from last year. RB LeBrandon Toefield, Alvin Pearman and rookie Maurice Drew have to share the load when RB Fred Taylor gets hurt. QB Byron Leftwich who continues to get better will miss the retired Jimmy Smith, but he hopes the young group of Reggie Williams, converted QB Matt Jones and rookie TE Marcedes Lewis will all live up to their first round potential. Actually they may all take a back a seat to Ernest Wilford (last year:41 catches for 681 Yards, 7 TDs and Thirteen catches for 20+ yards), who had a great off –season.
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.

-Tennessee: Since their last playoffs appearance in 2003 they have been continuously losing starters via free agency and salary-cap cuts, but for the first year they are at least able to acquire some free agents to replace the departed players. They released QB Steve MaNair but neither Billy Volek nor rookie Vince Young could replace him so they scrambled to sign QB Kerry Collins late in the pre-season. The offensive line is coming along and replaces C Justin Hartwig (CAR) with long time Jet and muli-time pro-bowler Kevin Mawae. The RB position has depth in Chris Brown and Travis Henry (both unhappy with their reduced carries), and rookie LenDale White. The receiver position is not as deep, but they will depend more on tight ends, where they have a good group headed by Ben Troupe, and features Bo Scaife and Erron Kinney.
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.

-Houston: Four years into the league and they are into rebuilding mode without a single achievement, aside from shattering the sacks allowed records. This trend does not seem to be changing any time soon, judging by this year OL. They added solid center Mike Flanagan (GB), did a lot of musical chairs shifting, and added a couple of high-rated rookies (Eric Winston and Charles Spencer) who still need some time to contribute effectively. The RB depth chart is currently headed by sixth-round rookie Wali Lundy, and one-time franchise player Dominick Davis was fighting for a roster spot. They tried to give disappointing QB David Carr more legitimate targets beside WR Andre Johnson, so they traded for WR Eric Moulds (BUF) and acquired TE Jeb Putzier (DEN).
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.

AFC West:

-Oakland: It is well known that the minute a team gives QB Jeff George the call, it marks the official end of that team’s season. Still it had never happened before the season actually starts! QB Aaron Brooks looked terrible in the preseason and none of the other backups could challenge him. The right side of the line is a disaster and T Robert Gallery struggles and gets overpowered no matter what side he plays on. They used to think they have depth at WR, but with Jerry Porter holding out, and Randy Moss soon to be complaining, it will not matter.
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 Kansas City and San Diego look slightly worse than they were last year could help their record.

-Denver: This is the teamdoes things differently, and although it translates into winning seasons, it does not generate serious playoffs runs. The revolving RB door continues and this year it features undrafted rookie Mike Bell at top of the depth charts. They lost WR Ashlie Lelie for practically nothing and they come into the year with aging WR Rod Smith and rehabbing Jevon Walker. QB Jake Plummer who is not a very good QB could lose his job to impressive rookie Jay Cutler.
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.

-Kansas City: A team that peaked during the 03 season, and may have already watched its window of opportunity being shut with the end of the Dick Vermeil era. Herman Edwards inherits the creative offense that will depend on fantasy football top rated player RB Larry Johnson. Johnson has started only in 9 games last year and the offensive line he is running behind is not that same reliable unit. LT Willie Roaf has retired and is to be replaced by former RT Jordan Black or Kyle Turley(!), leaving the RT spot for Kevan Sampson (1 career start). TE Tony Gonzalez maybe the only legitimate receiver Trent Green has, given the unimpressive group of WR Eddie Kennison, Samie Parker, and Dante Hall (who they are planning to use more as a receiver).
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.

-San Diego: A team that will put the “importance of the QB” theory to the test. The team looks great at every position except for starting QB. Philip Rivers has zero NFL starts in his career, and is backed up by rookie Charlie Whitehurst. Standout RB LaDanian Tomlinson has a chance to lead the team in both rushing and receiving given how pedestrian their WRs are (Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker). They may be considering a bigger role for their TEs, utilizing All-pro Antonio Gates and recently added Brandon Manumaleuna (STL) and Aaron Shea (CLE) who are expected to make up for the departure of Justin Peelle (MIA). The line is an unheralded group, but has solid hard working players all of whom started last year.
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).

8 comments:

Roba said...

Ok, I don't know ANYTHING about NFL, but I do know inno welcome to the Planet!

No_Angel said...

hey where do they have NFL games ? besides showtime is there anywhere else to watch the games here in jordan ?

As for the season overview, good good .
althought i believe the packers will surprise (altho i agree that after last season there is no reason to have any hope LOL )

Abu Shreek said...

Roba,
If you are interested in knowing more about the NFL, you should check with comrade Jameed, who has a special place in his heart for this game.

No_angel,
The bad sign regarding the Packers is not last season, it is that this year’s squad has too many holes (especially on defense), and does not have the elements of a “sleeper” team.

No_Angel said...

ok i guess i was too optimistic and u were right.;
we got decimated last weekend !
mainly due to our young defence

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