Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2010 Sixer's Preview: It Can't Get Worse

Can we all just forget last season didn’t happen?

Seriously, basically no one saw it. There were few victories- and definitely no moral ones. There was a coach, but since he won’t be back, let’s just pretend he was never even there.

Can’t we go back to before last season, when there was at least some level of excitement? Thaddeus Young still had potential. Andre Iguodala seemed to finally be coming into his own. He even hit a game winning shot- in the playoffs! Marreese Speights was playing so well that Elton Brand seemed to be glued to the bench. Better yet, Brand wasn’t even there for most of that season. Now those were brighter days.

The fact is, those days can come back. Ed Stefanksi has made mistakes in his time here, but give him credit for cutting the cord on the Eddie Jordan experiment before it sunk this team even farther. It was clear that this team did not respond to him. The minute he tried to force this team to play some semblance of an offense, and not just let them run, the season started to sink- and it kept going until the Sixers found themselves 20 games worse then they were the season before.

Jordan even managed to turn this town against the team. Sixer’s tickets could not be given away. Announced attendances 10,000 below capacity were even lower then that. Every game felt like a preseason game.

The good news it, it can’t get much worse.

The Sixers might not be a top team, but the fact is, there is a lot of talent of this team. With even a decent coaching job, this team should be greatly improved this season. Also, the Sixers are lucky enough to play in the Eastern Conference, where a .500 record could get you in the playoffs. Before the “season that shall not be named”, the Sixers were a .500 team, and even gave the Orlando Magic a scare in the playoffs.

Since they, they have gotten younger at point guard, added the number two overall pick in the draft, traded Willie Green and improved their head coach. The team, despite what the public thinks it or will watch it, is ready to take a step forward.

Lets take a look at the roster and what we can expect from this team.

Starting Line Up: Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Jason Kapono, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes.

The Sixers return only 2 of the players that started for them in last seasons opener. The play from the guard positions could very well determine how this season turns out for the Sixers. Many NBA experts- and not just ones that reside in the Wells Fargo Center- are very high on Jrue Holiday. Holiday posted modest numbers last season- 8ppg, 2 apg, 2rpg- and has improved those numbers in pre-season play. The Sixers better hope that he is ready to take the leap many predict, because other then him, they do not have a true point guard on this roster.

If Holiday can play well and run Collin’s offense, it will help this team tremendously. Andre Iguodala is coming off of an impressive performance for USA this summer, but all that really did was confirm what we all believe- he is a great sidekick, but cannot be “the man” on a team. Iguodala is said to be working on his defense, which took a step back last season. Coach Collins is said to be pushing him to be on of the best defensive players in the league once again. Combined with the solid defense Holiday is capable of playing, and the Sixers have a good defensive backcourt.

The frontcourt, however, is a different story. It is good to see Kapono will get minutes this season, after being buried on Jordan’s bench last season. Kapono can shoot the three, but as a defensive player he is a huge liability. With shooting guards and small forwards getting stronger and faster every day in the NBA, Kapono will be a defensive mismatch every time he steps on the court.

Elton Brand is the starting power forward on this team, but he is not the best. That title belongs to Speights. But because of his salary, Brand will be out there when the game starts. Brand has lost a lot of weight, and he says he feels better then he has in years. If the Sixers can get anything- and I mean anything- out of him this season, it will be a bonus. If Brand can even be 70 percent of the player he once was, he can finally be the down low option this hoped he could be. But no matter how well Brand plays, he is not going to get younger or faster overnight. Brand is a square peg trying to fit on a team with only rectangle holes. The Sixers are best when they are out and running- Brand could not beat Charles Barkely in a race.

For the first time since 2003, Samuel Dalembert will not be the starting center on this team. That job now belongs to Spencer Hawes, the former 10th overall pick turned lottery bust. Hawes has talent, and may benefit from a change of scenery. He will not give the Sixers the shot blocking threat Dalembert did, but he does have hands that can actually catch the ball down low. At the end of the day, Hawes is not a player to write home about, but in the Eastern Conference, who can say their starting center is?

Bench: Thaddeus young, Marreese Speights, Andres Noccioni, Louis Williams, Jodie Meeks, Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Darius Songalia, Craig Brackens.

The Sixers starting line up will change a lot at the beginning of the season, with Collins figuring out how to mesh this young team together. One result of that will be a bench that is better then in years past. Young, Speights, and Williams are all players who could come in and give the team instant offense. Those players could also start on a number of other teams. Young is the player who’s game suffered most under Jordan, and if he can improve his play and reach his potential, don’t look for him to be on the bench for long. Andres Noccioni is something the Sixers did not have last season- a tough, proven, veteran player that knows his role. Noccioni also brings a toughness to this team that it lacks.

Evan Turner will start this season coming off of the bench. Turner has not played one minute in a regular season NBA game, and yet he has already been labeled a bust by many. Reports I have read say that when Turner first arrived at Ohio State, people said the same things about him- he was having trouble adjusting. Former coaches of Turner say that he is a player that needs to feel like he belongs before he succeeds. I buy into this train of thought. Evan Turner might not be the stud he was in Ohio State. It’s to early to tell. Bur Turner will give this team something this year, and he helps round out a very impressive bench.

Final Verdict:

Not many people expect this team to go far. There is no question that this team should not be mentioned in the same breath as the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics. Right now, the teams that are unquestionably better then the Sixers in the Eastern Conference are the Heat, Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls. Other then that, there is not much standing in the way of the Sixers. They will battle with the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, and the Charlotte Bobcats for those final playoff spots. They only have to beat out 1 of them to make the playoffs. And I think they will. Whether it Is good for this team to make the playoffs this season or not is debatable. They could benefit from another lottery pick. But the East is bad, and the Sixers have enough talent, finally coupled with competent coach, to make the playoffs.

Prediction: 6th in Eastern Conference, First round exit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Weaver Should Be Lesson to Jackson

It’s no secret by now that DeSean Jackson is not happy about his contract. The Pro-Bowl wide out is not having a good season so far, and has to see the dollars slipping away every time Kevin Kolb lines up behind center.

Jackson has been a good camper so far, not holding out, not creating a scene, and has yet to start working out in his driveway. His refusal to talk to the media on most days is the farthest he’s gone to show his displeasure.

It’s unlikely Jackson could be any more motivated to get a new deal. A base salary of 800,000 will do that to the top weapon on the team. But if he needs more proof now is the time to get the deal done, he needs only to look a few lockers down to Leonard Weaver and Owen Schmitt.

Last season, Weaver signed a one-year deal with the Birds. One Pro-Bowl appearance later, Weaver turned that one-year deal into the highest contract ever given to a fullback. With 6.5 million guaranteed, Weaver will receive over 3 times as much as Jackson will over the next two years (around 1.8 million dollars).

After the devastating injury Weaver suffered the first week of the season, his season is now over. Some question if he will ever be able to recover from the damage suffered in his knee. Once Weaver went down, the Eagles had no choice but to bring in a little known fullback in Owen Schmitt.

Schmitt’s play since he has arrived has been a pleasant surprise. He is averaging almost 10 yards a catch and players on the team have raved about what a great job he has done opening up lanes for LeSean McCoy.

Will Schmitt permanently replace Weaver? That remains to be seen. Weaver has come back from a season ending injury before. But if he comes back and is not the same player, he will be replaced by the Eagles, as the Birds have done with many other players. Schmitt has made the most of his opportunity. Ask Kevin Kolb what happens when a backup shines in your absence.

How does this relate to DeSean Jackson? Because every time Jackson takes the field, he risks his career ending. Jackson is a little receiver, one that kills teams with his speed. In the NFL, speed is the first thing to go. It is also the hardest thing to get back after an injury. Every time Jackson returns a punt, or catches a screen pass, he risks suffering the same fate Weaver did- without the big pay day.

If the Eagles front office decides to go with Kolb as their future quarterback, does Jackson become as valuable to the team? His numbers under Kolb are horrible, and you can tell Jackson is frustrated when Kolb is on the field. The Eagles already have a number one wide out in the making in Jeremy Maclin. They would not hesitate at all to make him the premier wide out on this team.

The Eagles front office pays for the future, and does not reward players based off past achievements. Regardless of what Weaver’s future holds, he is set for life financially.

Jackson can not say the same. And with the situation at quarterback, and a possible hold out coming next season, Jackson has to be frustrated on how long till that pay day will come- if it ever does.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eagles Defense Needs to Toughen Up

Perhaps no play portrayed the state of the Eagles defense Sunday better then the first quarter touchdown run by Ryan Torain.

On the play, the Eagles defensive front was pushed back. The linebackers over pursued the run and had to turn around to try to make a play. Once Torain got into the secondary, he through Saftey Quiten Mikell like he wasn’t even there. Touchdown, Redskins.

This play not only was typical for the day, but for the season so far when it comes to the defense-their to make the play, but unable to finish. This defense is one that will succeed with its speed. It has no big bodies on the line, and it’s linebackers are also under sized. The corner backs and safeties are ball hawking players that will rarely put a lick on a receiver coming across the middle. This puts them in position to make a game changing hit or tackle- but their size prevents them from doing so.

On Sunday, the defense was beaten and bruised up and down the field. Clinton Portis, a player who was considered washed up the week before, ran through tackles like he used to in his prime. He shed the smaller Eagle’s arm tackles like they weren’t even there. Multiple times the Eagles used their speed to get to him in the backfield, but were unable to finish the play. Their lack to do so really highlighted the problem this defense will face all year- they are simply not big enough to beat an offense man to man. They can blitz and scheme their way to an occasional big play, but cannot win the one on one battles when it matters most.

The defense lacks any toughness what-so-ever. The only player that strikes any semblance of fear into players is MLB Stewart Bradley. Other then that, the unit has no intimidator. This is one area where the team really misses Brian Dawkins. Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott tries to use Quiten Mikell in that Saftey/Blitzing LB role Dawk excelled in, but he lacks the size and toughness to mix it up like Dawk did. Ask Torain if he is afraid when Mikell comes running at him.

When the Eagles defense was at its best, it had players who would knock the daylight out of an opposing player. Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins punished players through out the game to the point where they would wear down as the game went on. By the fourth quarter, the players were so physically beat up, they could not run like they did when the game started.

One player who became available this week that might help is Saftey Michael Lewis. Lewis was asked to be released by San Francisco, and is now a free agent. For all of his liabilities in coverage, Lewis would bring an attitude and toughness to this defense it lacks. People said Dawkins could not cover when he left, but he brought enough to the Denver defense that he earned a Pro-Bowl Bid. Clearly Lewis is no Dawkins, but the Eagles are thin at safety already, and Lewis would not have been knocked over like Mikell was on that play.

This unit has talent. It can create turnovers and only gave up 17 points on Sunday. But if it wants to move to that next level and really become a defense that can win a game, it needs to toughen up, start winning the one on one battles, stop being pushed around.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Reid Has Tough Week Ahead

When Reid made the decision to bench Kevin Kolb in favor of Michael Vick, he sat at the podium and said he didn’t mind being the made guy, and was paid to make the tough decisions.

Well after the way this football team played against Washington, he should get ready to make a lot more.

He already began to answer some questions, but what happened at the end of the first half was such typical Andy Reid clock management is was nauseating. Only Reid could manage to get a delay of game out of a time out, following a challenge that took so long it had Joe Buck questioning the time it was taking. Reid said after that game that the ball was moved back, and when he got no explanation as to why, he had to pick a new play. I find it hard to believe that a play that is designed to get inches in dramatically different then a little under a yard. Donovan caught a lot of flack during his time here for his 2 minute drive, but I think today we found out that it was 100% Reid that was behind those lazy efforts within 2 minutes. Reid should get ready to face tough criticism all week about what happened.

Next on Reid’s plate is going to be what to do about the quarterback situation. Reid better hope that Michael Vick is a quick healer and can play next week. If not, Reid will have a real mess in front of him. There’s no question that Kolb is not the player that Vick is. He showed today that when the heat is on, he eye’s down his receivers to that point that even Troy Aikman could see where he was going from the booth. Kolb was lucky to not have more of this throws intercepted.

Kolb also checked down way to often today, especially when the game was on the line. He needs to know better then to be throwing a ball 6 yards to LeSean McCoy in the middle of the field with time running down and his team needing to score. Kolb showed that his decision making with the ball sill leaves a lot to be desired. Add that to the way he carries the ball in the pocket, and he can be a walking turnover out there.

But with that being said, Kolb still moved this offense at times and kept the team in the game. Kolb was thrown into a nearly impossible situation- down 14 to his former mentor, having already been benched, then having to bring his team back in front of 60,000 people in the stands and 52 on the sideline who don’t believe in you.

However, If it wasn’t for Reid’s poor clock management at the end of the half and McCoy’s fumble late in the game, we could very well be sitting here discussing Kolb bringing this team back. Analysis aside, Kolb still threw for over 200 yards behind one of the worst lines in the NFL. He had close to 80 yards more then Donovan McNabb did.

Next week the Eagles face a 49ers team that is 0-4. What is Reid going to do is Kolb plays well and leads the team to victory? What is Vick misses two weeks, and Kolb plays well enough to win the games he’s in? Kolb excelled in this exact same role last season. What does Reid do then? How can Reid look Kolb in the face and bench him again if he plays well in Vick’s absence?

After Reid figures out his quarterback situation, he needs to take a look at his fellow coaches. Ultimately the players are the ones who are responsible for making plays, but how can Reid ever feel confident his team had a chance to win when two crucial units of your team- offensive line and special teams- continue to cost them games. Bobby April’s unit allowed McNabb to start his first drive inside the Eagles 40 yard line. After the Redskins score, Jorrick Calvin proceeds to bring the ball out 4 yards deep in his own end zone. What is Calvin thinking there? Why is Bobby April’s voice not in his head telling him not to bring it out?

I wrote about it in earlier in the week, but this offensive line is getting to the point that it’s going to end up costing Juan Castillo his job. Better coaches have been fired because their unit simply can not perform. If I had a dollar for every time this offensive line had a stupid penalty that killed a drive, Jayson Werth would be a Phillie next year. It’s getting to the point that you can’t have Jason Peters on the field.

Andy Reid says he doesn’t mind making the hard call. But as this season goes on, and McNabb isn’t here to take any blame, the questions he is faced with are just going to get harder and harder.

Reid created this mess- let’s see if he can get himself out of it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where is Castillo's Blame?

Today before practice, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg talked about his suffering offensive line. Mornhinweg said he had faith that the line would improve and they can be great.

To say an offensive line that features Mike McGlynn and Reggie Wells could be great is a stretch to say the least. But is it a stretch to say that Offensive Line coach Juan Castillo might not be the man to take them there?

People within the organization, and most in the media, pump up Castillo. He is often referred to as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league. But the performance of the offensive line this season has been unacceptable, and it's his job to improve it. The simple truth is, he hasn't, and the O line has been a problem for a while.

Once the Eagles jettisoned Donovan McNabb to Washington, we heard that him holding the ball for a long time was the problem. We were told that quick-release Kevin Kolb would be the answer. But Kolb was sacked 3 times in his only half of action. This offensive line has even managed to get Michael Vick sacked 11 times in his 2.5 games of action- against Detriot and Jacksonville. If this keeps up, Vick will get sacked a whooping 70 times this season. Sound too high? Castillo’s line in 2007 gave up almost 50 sacks. That year he had Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, and Shawn Andrews in a Pro Bowl year. Needless to say, this offensive line does not have that kind of talent.

Many fans can not break down the intricate ins and outs of how the offensive line is supposed to block on certain plays, but this line has made glaring mistakes that anyone with eyes can recognize. This line has to many penalties. Penalties that have stalled drives.

Castillo has been blessed in the past to have very talented players at the two biggest positions- Left and right tackles. But since John Runyan and Tra Thomas left, this team has not found adequate replacement. While none of us really know how much input Castillo has on who the team drafts or signs to be on the line, I do know he looks at players before they are brought it. He is there to work out draft picks. So he had a say in bringing in players like Stacy Andrews. The current offensive line has no depth, and it's starting 5 is suspect at best. Where is his share of the criticism for this?

In addition, the Pro Bowl offensive lineman who have been brought in here have regressed. The fact that Jason Peters cannot grasp the concept of how to avoid a false start penalty is a direct result of coaching. Before Peters came in here, he was praised as one of the best tackles in the league. People in Philadelphia will tell you his Pro-Bowl selection last season was based on reputation alone. A first round pick and millions later, Peters is now just another member of the offensive line that drives the fans crazy.

People blame Sean McDermott for the step down in defense last season. Mornhinweg and Andy Reid are constantly criticized for their play calling. Speical teams coach Ted Dashier got ran out of town last season. Even the strength and conditioning coach was let go last season.

Castillo is not solely to blame for this mess upfront. But to not hear his name at all when the problem is talked about makes no sense.

Where is Castillo's blame?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Eagles- Packers: What We Know, Don't Know

What We Know:

Andy Reid loves the wildcat, McNabb didn’t- Vick in on the first play from scrimmage? Eagles running the wildcat 4 plays out of first 14? That would never have happened with McNabb on this team. While Reid ran the wildcat with McNabb, it was clear that McNabb was not as ok with it as Kolb is. It was like tag team QB’ing out there. When the Eagles went into the locker room at half time, Vick had more carries then McCoy. The wildcat is an effective play, like when Vick scrambled for the first down on 3rd and 1 play in the second quarter. But to pull Kolb out of the game (roughly) every 4 plays is not the way to get him going. This was not Kolb’s first start, but there’s no question that the pressure was on him today to prove he belonged. Reid killed any chance he had by constantly putting Vick in.

Same Old Andy Reid: To have no time outs, and be unable to stop the clock after the two minute warning is simply put, unacceptable. His horrible clock management over the years has been discussed, and this game was just another example of it costing his team a shot to win a game. The quarterback has changed, but the same infuriating Eagles are still here.

Eagles Defense is Fast, Can Get Pressure- Looking for a positive in this game? Look no further then the front 7 of this Eagles defense. The front 7 got after Rodgers early and often, sacking Rodgers 3 times and forcing him out of the pocket. Juqua Parker, benched in the preseason in favor of rookie Brandon Graham, finished the game with 2 sacks. Stewart Bradley got in Rodgers face consistently. They made Ryan Grant a non factor. They held TE Jeramichal Finley to only 4 catches. Only after Bradley left the game did they start to get run over. But with Bradley in the game, this defense looked like some of the Eagles defense of old. If it wasn’t for the defense, this game would have been over early. They kept the team in the game.

Eagles’s Are Better Then They Look- It couldn’t have gone worse for the Eagles. Their Quarterback, center, middle line backer and fullback all go down- in the first half. Those positions right there are the heart and soul of your team. If you told Eagle fans that in the first half, the Eagles would have 0 yards passing and they would loose Kolb, Bradley, Jackson, and Weaver, but only be down 10, they would have taken it.

But this team didn’t give up or get blown out. This game could have gotten ugly. But they fought back. The Packers are, if you listen to the experts, one of the best teams in the league. Many people think they will come out of the NFC, and Rodgers will be MVP. The Eagles played with this team. And for a young team, that is saying something.

This Offensive Line is a Mess- Remember when the Eagles thought they had one of the biggest, best lines in the league? That the Andrews brothers and Jason Peters would anchor the line for years to come? Those days are long gone. Kevin Kolb was running for his life from the start. Packers ran into the Eagles back field early and often. The Eagles were able to get nothing on the ground. Only once Micheal Vick came in the game, and was able to run away from the pressure, did they offense get anything going. Even then, Vick was running for his life. They couldn’t have even get enough push to get the most mobile quaterback in the league 1 yard when the game was on the line. There’s no question Kolb was not sharp (to say the least). But the O line did not help him one bit.

Bobby April Has His Work Cut Out- Special teams is something that will come with time. Only a week ago did April find out who his special teams players would be, when the final cuts were made. But it was not a good showing for his unit. When the Eagles were mounting a comeback, the Eagles gave up returns of 51 and 40 yards when team was mounting come back. Eldra Buckley had a brain fart of epic proportions when he nailed the returner in the 4th quarter.

Those Kelly Green Jerseys are Amazing- The fans waited for it, sat through the hideous blue/yellow debacle, and they finally got it. The jerseys were worth the wait.

What We Don’t Know:

Whos fault was this? Is Kevin Kolb really this bad? It’s clearly too early to tell. But the difference between this team was night and day once Vick entered the game. Kolb was lucky to only have the one interception and threw multiple balls into tight coverage. For as much as he talked about being a distributer this off season, he sure wasn’t able to get any of the Eagles weapons into the game. DeSean Jackson, this teams best player, was invisible when Kolb was behind center. Only once Vick came in did Jackson have a catch. It could be the offensive line or the play calling, but the numbers don’t lie- the Eagles outscored the Packers 17-14 in the second half. Was it all Kolb’s fault? Was this the coaching staffs fault? We don’t know yet. But we’ll find out next week and the upcoming games if Kolb’s performance this week was his fault or Reid’s.

What were they doing during training camp? On each unit’s first series on the field, they had a penalty for illegal formation. To practice those first plays of the game for the whole week, and to be coming off of training camp where the defense is taught, and then have those penalties is unacceptable. As much as it falls on the players, it’s the coaches who are supposed to “put their players in position to win the game”. And they didn’t do that.

Who’s going to play fullback? Has anyone ever felt worse for a player then they did watching Leonard Weaver be carried off the field. You have to respect him getting to the sideline and not taking the cart to the locker room. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Weaver will be out for the season wit a torn ACL. While he could be wrong, no body watched that injury and thought he would be back this season. Coming off of a Pro Bowl season, you have to wonder if it’s not Weaver who gets that ball on 4th and 1 to end the game. Luckily, this team has practice playing with no fullback. While Weaver did not play a big role in the offense, I saw what he ment to the team at training camp and in practice. Weaver was one of the offensive leaders, and a calming voice to Kolb. He won’t be there anymore, and it’s going to hurt this team. But Joe Banner and the coaches have their work cut out for them in replacing a player of Weavers status.

How Long till DeSean Jackson Blows? It’s no secret Jackson is not happy about his contract situation. His mood in the locker room when the media is around it not a positive one. When fans yelled at him during training camp about his contract, he played along and let it be known he wants to be paid. So how long till he starts to yell back? DeSean Jackson thrived last year with McNabb’s strong arm, but if this is how it’s going to look with Kolb under center, Jackson may never get paid. The fact is, the NFL is a league that values the future, not the past. Joe Banner will not care Jackson paid the Pro-Bowl last season if he doesn’t make it this year. Jackson knows how he plays this year, and his numbers, will decide his future. If Kolb doesn’t get him the ball, and Jackson’s numbers start to fall, how long till he calls for Vick? Or start to complain publicly about his contract? We don’t know yet, but I can imagine his mood is even worse today then it was before kick off.

How will this team bounce back? It’s been written about how this is a young team. These are not your Eagles of old who had veteran leadership ozzing from the locker room. How will the team bounce back from a loss where their leader (Kolb) was beaten and battered? How will the locker room respond to Vick playing so well? Will they support Kolb? This loss clearly makes the next two games, against Detroit and Jacksonville, must wins. Good teams in the NFL beat the teams they are supposed to. At the end of the day, the Eagles were not supposed to beat the Packers. But they should beat the Lions. We don’t know yet how they will bounce back, but we will learn a lot about this team during this week and next Sunday.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

AFC Preview

AFC East

1.Patriots- The Patriots were sneaky good last season. While all the attention was on the Jets and Colts in the AFC, the Patriots quietly finished 6th in offensive ppg, and allowed only 17 ppg, good for 5th in the league. Going into the playoffs they were winners of 3 of their last 4. Tom Brady, in his first year after major knee surgery, still managed to throw 28 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. Players coming off of that kind of surgery generally take a big step forward in their second year- and that’s bad news for the rest of the league.

The Patriots will have Wes Welker back in time for the start of the regular season, and with the emergence of Julian Edelman last season in Welker’s absence, will have a solid group of wide outs for Brady to throw to. The main question on this will be age- Brady, Welker, and Moss all have more then likely seen their best days. But the Patriots have won 10 games or more 8 of the last 9 years, and are one of the most consistent teams in the league. No body is talking about them this year, but they will be when they win the division over the Jets.

2. Jets- The Jets are walking a thin line this season. It goes without saying they have talked the talked. A team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the last game of the season was saved by a run through the playoffs that surprised many. That run has expectations through the ceiling for this team. It’s how they made that run that has people excited - a defense that is tops in the league, and a running game that took the pressure off Mark Sanchez. Those things should stay the same this year, and the additions of Antonio Cromartie and Ladanian Tomlinson will only improve those. Say what you want about Tomlinson, but he is the best “backup” running back in the league, and is another weapon on this offense.

But will the Jets catch all the breaks again this season? Can they win with Sanchez throwing 20 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns? Is Shonn Greene ready to be the number one back on a team that relays on the run? The Jets like to talk, but numbers don’t lie- the Jets ranked 2nd to last in passing yards per game. This team has the talent and swagger to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. But it will not be the cake walk that the experts, and the Jets, seem to think it will be, and it may take the regular season to figure it out.

3. Dolphins- When the Dolphins acquired Brandon Marshall this off-season, it was a signal that they were ready to move on from being a one trick pony with the Wild Car offense. With Marshall, they have one of the best wide receivers in the league, and one that will excel in catching the ball over the middle. They can also go to Marshall a lot- Marshall has caught over 100 balls a season since he became a starter. With Marshall being a reliable option for Chad Henne, and a solid running game with Ronnie Brown & Ricky Williams behind him, Henne will not be forced to make a lot of plays. That’s a good thing if you’re a Dolphins fan- Henne was 7-6 as a starter, throwing more interceptions then touchdowns.

4. Bills- The Trent Edwards era continues this season in Buffalo, much to the disappointment of their fans. It might not matter who is behind center for the Bills though, as their offensive line allowed their Qb to be sacked 44 times last season. The line also struggled to get holes for their running backs, and the team finished 21rst in the league in rushing yards. The Bills have had a winning record only once since the year 2000, and that should not change this season.

AFC North

1. Ravens- The Baltimore Ravens are a lot like the Jets without all the talk. The Ravens defense continued to be one of the best in the NFL over the last decade, finishing 3rd in points allowed per game. But it is the offense that has people excited. With the additions of Anquan Boldin and Tj Housmanzadeh, the Ravens have the best set of wide outs they have ever had to team with the Defense.

The Ravens also have something the Jets do not- a reliable quarterback. Joe Flacco threw only 12 interceptions last season, while throwing for over 20 touchdowns. With Ray Rice at running back, the Ravens have everything you need to win in this league- tough D, solid RB, reliable QB, and weapons at the skill positions.

2. Bengals- The most impressive statistic last season might have been 6-0. That was the Bengals record against their division rivals last season. While they won’t be expected to duplicate that, the Bengals teams last season was not a fluke. The team was carried by its defense, which allowed only 18 points per game. With 17 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries last season, the defense also managed to have a take away in 14 of the 17 games. They had more then one take away in 9 of those games. That’s how you win games in the NFL.

3. Steelers- The Steelers were a streaky team last season- they had 2 winning streaks of 3 or more, and a losing streak of 5 games. The Steelers also had an uncharacteristically bad season running the ball, finishing in the bottom half of the league in yards per game. The defense missed Saftey Troy Polamalu last season, giving up over 20 points per game.

The main problem facing the Steelers tho, is the skill positions. With Ben Roethlisberger out for the first 4 games, the Steelers will start the season with Dennis Dixon, Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, and Rashard Mendenhall as their main offensive threats. Even when Big Ben returns, that pedestrian group isn’t scaring any defense this season.

4. Browns- Poor Cleveland. When Jake Delhomme is your savior at quarterback, your officially in trouble. There was not much to like from the Browns last season. 3rd worst offense in the league, and a defense that gave up almost 24 points per game. Even there future looks bleek- Colt McCoy has been less then impressive in his limited preseason action.

AFC South

1. Colts- For the Colts, the regular season has come to mean very little. They showed us how much it ment to them when they pulled their started against the Jets, deciding to not go for a perfect 16-0 record. They have won at least 12 games the last seven seasons. There offense has been in the top 10 in 6 of seasons. Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning.

The Colts will be there during the regular season. The real season begins for them in the playoffs, where they will be there once again, the top overall seed. As usual.

2. Titans- The Titans are on top of everyone’s list of sleeper teams, so much so that they barely qualify as a sleeper anymore. The Titans got to the top of that list by going 8-2 in there last 10 game. But look at that number closer and it starts to fall apart. During that streak, the Titans beat 7 teams that did not make the playoffs. The only playoff team they did beat during that streak was the Cardinals, and they only won after a miracle play at the end.

Chris Jonson is the best running back in the league- hands down. Will he get 2500 yards? No. Not when he is the only offensive weapon on the whole team. Vince Young is improving, and showed signs last season, but 10 touchdowns and 7 interceptions is not going to scare any teams from stacking the box. And the defense? Finished 28th in the league in points per game last season.

3. Texans- Is this the year the Texans can finally get over the hump? Last season, 6 of the 7 games they lost was by 8 points or less. It seems every year is going to be the year for them, but they have not made they playoffs since they arrived in Houston. They have the weapons, with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton combining to make one of the best trios in the league. For this team, it isn’t about talent- that is there. They lack the ability to win games, plain and simple, especially the big ones. 7 of their 9 wins were against non-playoff teams. And that won’t change this year.

4. Jaguars- David Garrad, once thought to be the answer at quarterback, regressed last season. After throwing only 3 interceptions 3 years ago, while going 9-3 as a starter, he has thrown double digit interceptions the last two seasons- and his touchdown’s thrown has decreased as well. Maurice Jones-Drew will try to make his fantasy football owners happy, but that will be the only reason anyone will watch the Jags this season.

AFC West

1. Chargers- The Chargers picked wrong when they decided to make Darren Sproles there feature back last season. With only 343 yards rushing, and a little under 500 yards receiving, the Chargers decided to draft Ryan Matthews with their number one selection in this years draft. With Vincent Jackson in limbo, the team all of the sudden has a lack of weapons for Phillip Rivers to get the ball to. Antonio Gates continues to be a top tight end in the league, but how long will it be until he takes a step back?

They’ll win the division, but no one will be impressed with them doing it.

2. Raiders- The Raiders will surprise a lot of people this season. This team was better then its record indicated last season. They played the teams in their division close, being within 8 points of each game, and beating the Denver Broncos late in the season. The Raiders have a nice set of Rb’s- Michael Bush, Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas- and an emerging tight end in Zach Miller.

But the big reason the Raiders will be better this year? Jason Campbell. To say the Raiders got nothing out of the quarterback position last season would be an understatement. Campbell is better then people think, and he’ll show people this year. Watch out for the Raiders.

3. Broncos- The Broncos were the opposite of the Titans last season- started off great, but lost it down the stretch, losing 8 of their final 10 games. The loss of Elvis Dumervil is huge for this team- his 17 sacks last season will be hard to replace.

4. Chiefs- If you need any reason as to why the Chiefs will finish last, you havnt been watching the NFL the last few seasons. The Chiefs have not won more then 4 games in the last 3 seasons, or finished better then 25th in overall offense or defense. Matt Cassell also appears to be more a product of the Patriots system then a player- 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season. Bright spot on Chiefs? Rookie RB Dexter McCluster.


1. Colts

2. Patriots

3. Ravens

4. Chargers

5. Jets

6. Titans

Wildcard: Ravens over Titans; Jets over Chargers

Round 2: Ravens over Patriots; Jets over Colts

Conference Championship: Ravens over Jets

AFC Champion: Ravens