Tonight the NFL season begins. Millions of Americans will grab a seat at the bar or in their living rooms and witness a great event, the reunion of Dan Patrick and Keith Olberman on NBC’s Football Night in America. So take a break from your lesson plans, thinking about management, and let’s watch grown men try to kill each other and then slap their teammates on the ass.
Before the season gets going, I want to give a quick preview of how I think the season will unfold. During the fall, I attend the Church of the NFL and watch every game I possibly can. I obsess over the sport in the off-season, to the point where I actually wanted to go to the NFL draft. In other words, I probably know more than the average reader. If you actually do know more than me at football, I’ll buy you a beer while watching a game. I’ll write more in depth pieces as the season goes along, but here a division by division preview of how I think the season will shape up starting with the NFC.
Clearly the toughest division in football right now, with the AFC South coming in a close second. Any team in this division could potentially make the playoffs, and as the G-men proved last year could make a run deep into the playoffs. Here is the way I see the division shaping up in order of finish.
1. Philly: The Eagles consistently play tough. Last year they ended up 8-8 despite Quarterback Donovan McNabb’s struggles, and their defense adjusted well to changes. They have elite players all over on defense, and Running Back Brian Westbrook is one of the few players in the NFL who can take over a game.
2. Dallas: Big D has a ton of talent; everybody knows this fact. However, they also have the makings of a powder keg with their personalities. The fact that they continue to struggle in the playoffs makes me doubt how just how much of an elite team the Cowboys are.
3. G-men: The Super bowl hangover will be rough for this team, and Giants fans should get used to it. Last year is over, so stop celebrating and stop punching holes in walls. The offense should be fine, possibly even better than last year. The defense is suspect however, and will need to have key players step up all year long in order to even make the playoffs.
4. Washington: I’ll be the first to go on record saying I love this team, but they are still about a year away. Jim Zorn did wonders with Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and should do wonders for Jason Campbell with his development as a quarterback. The receivers are there, and Running Back Clinton Portis can tote the rock. The tragedy of Sean Taylor leaves a huge hole in this defense, and it is the big question mark going into the future for this team.
This is an interesting division with the rise of Adrian Peterson and the departure of Brett Favre. Both the Vikings and the Packers are young talented teams, and the development of that talent could determine the outcome of this division, but here is the way I see it at this point in the season.
1. Minnesota: Running Back Adrian Peterson will gain yards, lots of them. The left side of the o-line is just too dominant and he is to talented not to. That should make the passing game easier for Jackson, and allow him to develop. The defense could be scary if it can play together as a unit. (Did I mention I’m still bitter about Steve Hutchinson playing in Minnesota?)
2. Green Bay: Great defense, great skill players, great offensive line, but we just don’t know about Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He has had plenty of time to develop watching one of the greatest ever, but he is still just a first year starter. In one year, this could be an elite team.
3. Detroit: They should be more balanced this year on offense, which will lead to them scoring tons of points. Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson is poised to have a break out year and stay healthy across from Roy Williams who will be playing for a contract. They still won’t be able to win too many games though, because they are still the Lions.
4. Chicago: When Devin Hester is your best offensive player, you’ve got problems. I’m happy they finally realized that Quarterback Rex Grossman isn’t an NFL starter, but Kyle Orton won’t put too many points on the board either. The D will still be good, but it is starting to age and won’t be as dominant as it once was. They will have some evaluating to do at the end of this year.
This is the most unpredictable division in all the NFL right now. Three teams really could win this division depending on who stays healthy throughout the year. It will be an interesting year to watch, but here is my early prediction.
1. The Saints: Hurricanes didn’t destroy their dreams this year, but just mind remind the team what they mean to the city. The offense will be explosive with excellent playmakers all around. The defense should be improved, but might struggle to keep the Saints in games with elite teams.
2. Tampa Bay: It seems that the Tampa defense has the groove back, and will be good forever. However, the offense is starting to collect social security checks which places them at risk for injury. This might be the swan song for aging Quarterback Jeff Garcia.
3. Carolina: This team could be the one to screw everything up. If Quarterback Jake Delhomme is healthy, if Steve Smith stops punching teammates, and if they find a running game, they will be good on offense. The defense definitely isn’t what it once was, but a renewed Julius Peppers could change that. Simply put though, that’s too many ifs.
4. Atlanta: Let’s just hope they can stay in some games. I have no faith in new Running Back Michael Turner.
It’s time to be honest, because it will become apparent over the course of this year that I am a homer. I love the Seahawks, and will not try to hide it. That said, I think this is the easiest division to predict.
1. Seattle: I don’t care that they are “my” team. They are clearly the best team in this division. The defense should be scary this year. Pro-bowl caliber players populate every level of the defense, and if LeRoy Hill becomes more consistent, they could have three pro-bowl linebackers. The offense will look different, but I feel that this is the year that Mike Holmgren puts his final seal on the ‘Hawks and goes back to the purest form of the West Coast offense. This is made possible by the addition of John Carlson, who could turn out to be the most important acquisition for them because he will help in the running and passing game.
2. Arizona: Yes, they are “up and coming”. The problem is you can’t be “up and coming” when Kurt Warner is your quarterback. Warner is not reliable as he once was, and Running Back Edgerrin James seems to be wearing down. The defense will be stout enough, but I foresee this team making too many mistakes to win consistently.
3. San Fran: Niners’ fans will just have to keep talking about the glory days, because these are not them. Alex Smith is a bust. Vernon Davis may turn out to be a work-out freak who never truly matures into an NFL player. And basically, Frank Gore lives alone on the offense. The defense has some bright spots, namely Patrick Willis, who along with Lofa Tatupu will provide the NFL with two perennial pro-bowlers from the NFC.
4. St. Louis: The greatest show on turf finally broke up, with Isaac Bruce leaving the Rams. Running Back Steven Jackson is still a beast, and may not be able be contained despite not having many decent blockers. The defense looks like it will be porous this year, despite first round draft picks on the line.
If you think any of these predictions are crazy, feel free to start a discussion about them. This is what the blog is for. Coming up soon I’ll write my AFC preview and playoff picks, and eventual Super Bowl champion.