1. Philly, 10-6: Philly definitely raised some eyebrows with off season acquisitions that included Nnamdi Asomugha and Cullen Jenkins, but I still have questions about their offensive line and ability to stop the run before I will consider them as sure fire Super Bowl contenders. For now, they are the cream of the crop in an extremely overrated NFC East.
2. Dallas, 9-7: While I love the discipline that Jason Garrett brought to the underachieving Cowboys when he took over as coach mid-season, and I LOVE the Rob Ryan hire as their new defensive coordinator, their offensive line could be brutal as they rebuild following the release of 3 aging veterans at RT, LG and C.
3. Giants, 8-8: Pre-season injuries in their secondary and on their defensive line have dampened expectations for the Giants. On the other hand, they still have Eli Manning, I just can't decide if that's a positive or a negative.
4. Washington, 6-10: My initial instinct is to completely write the Pigskins off. However, I think their defense will perform better now that Albert Haynesworth is gone and they have added a high motor guy like Ryan Kerrigan at OLB as a bookend opposite Brian Orakpo. Quarterback is still a major question, but I suspect that Mike Shanahan will get enough out of Rex Grossman and/or John Beck in his west coast offense to at least be respectable...kind of like he did with Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and John Elway.
1. Detroit, 10-6: Believe it or not, Detroit is going to be good this season, and possibly REALLY good. Their defensive line will create chaos for even the most experienced quarterbacks, their secondary is underrated, and Mathew Stafford is looking like he is poised to become the next elite quarterback in the NFL. Their offensive line/power running game is the last area that the Lions need to address in order to go from a Playoff contender to a Super Bowl contender.
2. Green Bay, 10-6: I'm still puzzled as to why the Packers elected to re-sign James Jones when they have an abundance of depth at wide receiver, but made no effort to re-sign Cullen Jenkins, who was arguably the most important player in their 3-4 defense last year.
|Cullen Jenkins brought muscle to the interior of the Packers 3-4 defense|
3. Chicago, 8-8: Every Chicago fan I talk to wants to remind everyone how the Bears, and not the Packers, won the NFC North last year. I like to remind them that had the officials not screwed the Lions out of a win on Calvin Johnson's "did not complete the process" catch, the Bears wouldn't have even made the Playoffs.
4. Minnesota, 5-11: I honestly thought that Minnesota would be an ideal fit for a motivated and in-shape Donovan McNabb to prove Mike Shanahan wrong. Then I saw McNabb in a pre-season game and he looked slow and fat. And when I say slow and fat, I mean slow and fat in the context of Dante Culpepper after he had his knee surgically replaced with the joint from a deep fried turkey leg that he was eating. Throw in some serious questions surrounding the Vikings offensive and defensive lines, and I think they have a major rebuilding project on their hands. Especially when Adrian Peterson looks to leave Minnesota via free agency after this season.
1. New Orleans, 10-6: I'm not sure that New Orleans made the right decision letting Reggie Bush walk as a free agent. While Darren Sproles is a great third down back, he doesn't give the Saints the down field receiving threat that they had with Bush where the opposing defense had to account for him on every play. With the addition of Mark Ingram, look for the Saints to become more of a power running team than we've seen in the past.
2. Atlanta, 10-6: I love the additions of DE Ray Edwards and WR Julio Jones to bring big play elements to what were positions of need. I just seriously question a power running team's decision to let their best offensive lineman in Harvey Dahl leave in free agency.
3. Tampa Bay, 9-7: Tampa Bay is an up and coming team, but playing in a tough NFC South, I think they once again come up just short of a playoff bid.
4. Carolina, 1-15: I'm still dumbfounded that Jerry Richardson selected Cam Newton with the 1st overall pick in the NFL Draft. Not only did he select 2.5 quarterbacks last year in Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike and Armanti Edwards, but he'll have no choice but to take Andrew Luck with the first pick in next year's draft.
1. Arizona, 9-7: Kevin Kolb may not be an elite quarterback, but he's good enough to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald and help get the Cardinals to the top of a relatively week NFC West. I look for Beanie Wells to have a breakout season, who's not only down to his last chance, but he's really the Cardinals only option at running back.
2. St. Louis, 8-8: I like where this Rams team is headed, I'm just hearing that it may take Sam Bradford a little while to adjust to Josh McDaniels' new offense given that there was a limited offseason due to the lockout. Harvey Dahl is a huge addition on the offensive line. Robert Quinn and a developing Chris Long should finally give the Rams the pass rush that they have been searching for.
3. Seattle, 5-11: I'm a little bit puzzled as to why Pete Carroll let Matt Hasselbeck leave as a free agent if he wasn't going to make a move for someone like Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer. Handing your team over to Tarvarius Jackson without any sort of a quarterback competition is a major step backwards for a team that back-doored their way into the Playoffs last season. I'm pencilling the Seahawks in for 5 wins, and that's assuming that Charlie Whitehurst takes over as their starting quarterback relatively early this season.
4. San Francisco, 4-10: Has Alex Smith sucked because he's now on his seventh different offensive coordinator in six years, or have the 49ers had seven different coordinators in six years because Alex Smith sucks? In either event, that's not a proposition that I would have explored if I was Jim Harbaugh.
NFC Wildcards: Green Bay and Atlanta
NFC Conference Championship: Green Bay over Philadelphia
1. New England, 12-4: I know that not all of their veteran free agent signings work out, but the rest of the league better look out if they hit on even one or two of them out of Albert Haynesworth, Kevin Carter, Chad Johnson and Brian Watters. Now there's even rumors of a Randy Moss comeback floating around. I look for New England to return to the Super Bowl, so long as Tom Brady's play doesn't significantly drop off now that the NFL is testing for Human Growth Hormone under the new CBA. Actually, Relax Patriots fans. I've actually heard (second hand) from a NFLPA Representative that the HGH testing in the new CBA is a essentially a sham, as the NFL has no ability to contest an appeal of a positive test (it is my understanding that there is only one facility capable of testing for HGH under the CBA at this time, and any appeal would involve a second sample going to an outside lab). So as long as a player who tests positive on his first sample files an appeal, the NFL cannot and will not contest that appeal, with the end result being that the player who tested positive will not be identified or suspended...but at least the NFL can say that they TEST for HGH.
|Like his play at Michigan, Tom Brady shirtless was not a pretty sight before he tried to meet up with Barry Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson.|
3. Miami, 6-10: I really like the defense that Mike Nolan is developing, but there is no excuse for the Dolphins bringing back Chad Henne as their starting quarterback, especially when they botched a potential trade for Kyle Orton.
4. Buffalo, 5-11: GM Buddy Nix is challenging Matt Millen for worst GM of the decade. After receiving criticism (and rightfully so) from Bills fans for trading WR Lee Evans to Baltimore for a 4th round draft pick, Nix attempted to deflect that criticism by placing the blame on his capologist, Jim Overdorf, for consummating that trade. I guess Bills fans should blame Overdorf for letting LB Paul Posluszny leave in free agency and their failure to draft/acquire any NFL caliber offensive linemen since they traded Jason Peters to Philadelphia. On the bright side, Buffalo will be right in the mix for Andrew Luck in next year's NFL draft, although I wouldn't be confident that Buddy Nix and his staff are competent enough to take him.
1. Pittsburgh, 12-4: The Steelers finished 12-4 last year even after Ben Roethlisberger's suspension for poor bathroom etiquette and a patchwork offensive line. The Steelers should be just as good, if not better this year.
2. Balt, 10-6: After several years, the Ravens have finally given strong armed quarterback Joe Flacco the deep threats he needs in Lee Evans and Torrey Smith.
3. Cleveland, 8-8: The Browns are showing life with Colt McCoy leading their high efficiency west coast offense. Throw in a relatively easy schedule and an improved front seven on defense, and the Dog Pound could be sniffing .500.
4. Cinci, 2-14: The Bengals are starting over...again. I do like their young corps of receivers and talent on the defensive line. I just don't like handing the team over to an unheralded rookie quarterback with no experienced veteran on the roster worth mentioning to mentor him. Then again, Bruce Gradkowski did work with JaMarcus Russell in Oakland, and we all saw how well that worked out.
1. Houston, 10-6: The Texans have finally added enough to their defense with CB Jonathan Joseph, DE J.J. Watt and LB Brooks Reed to give some help to their potent offense. Look for Watt to step in and play at a high level immediately in his rookie season.
2. Tennessee, 8-8: Eight wins may be a little generous for a team who's only experienced quarterback has chronic back problems, but if Matt Hasselbeck and Chris Johnson stay healthy, the Titans should at least be competitive this season.
3. Indy, 4-12: Prediction: Peyton Manning will not play this season. Even if his cervical fusion heals quickly, and keep in mind that this surgery involves a bone graph and a steel cage, the Colts will be so far out of the playoff race that that there will be no point in playing Manning and jeopardizing his health even further. Given short notice, the Colts don't have another quarterback capable of running their complex offense. Throw in the fact that this is not a team that can take pressure off the quarterback by running, and the Colts are in big, big trouble. Quite frankly, this is an aging team that has little depth to replace any of their key starters, let alone Peyton Manning.
4. Jacksonville, 4-12: The Jags are in full blown money saving mode now that they have released David Garrard and handed the starting quarterback job to rookie Blaine Gabbert. Look for another long year in Jacksonville before they pack up their belongings and move to Las Angeles.
1. San Diego, 11-5: The Chargers have the advantage of playing in the worst division in the AFC. The problem is that Norv Turner never has his team prepared to start the season, and they end up digging themselves a hole that they have to dig out of. Adding S Bob Sanders to the secondary and having WR Vincent Jackson for a whole season should help, but I'm not counting on it.
2. Kansas City, 8-8: The Chiefs looked much better last season than they really were, thanks in part to one of the easiest schedule's in the league. Still, I have to give them credit for taking advantage of it.
3. Oakland, 7-9: The Raiders must withstand the losses of G Robert Gallery and all world CB Nnamdi Asomogha. In hindsight, it looks like Al Davis could have retained Asomogha had he offered him slightly more than the Raiders gave to fellow CB Stanford Routt, which would have been a no-brainer. Then again, Al Davis has been functioning without a brain since he became a zombie in 1987.
4. Denver, 6-10: John Fox gets the task of cleaning up the mess her inherited from Josh McDaniel and Brian Xander. He already appears to be on the right track given his decision to bury Tim Tebow down on the Broncos depth chart at quarterback. If the Broncos can assemble some sort of an offensive line and establish a running game to compliment Kyle Orton's short passing game, they might be able to turn things around sooner than later.
AFC Wildcards: Baltimore and Jets
AFC Conference Championship: New England over Pittsburgh
Super Bowl Prediction: New England 35 - Green Bay 31