Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NFL Preview: AFC

Here is the breakdown of the AFC this season, with the Philadelphia Eagles preview coming later this week:

AFC North: The division will come down to one game: Baltimore at Steelers, Dec 27th. 

1. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens surprised the league last year, advancing all the way to the championship game behind the play of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, and rookie head coach Jon Harbaugh. If it was not for the 3 losses to the Steelers, it might be the Ravens who would be defending Super Bowl champions. The Ravens boast a strong running game behind the play of second year player Ray Rice and veteran Willis McGahee. I think Joe Flacco is ready to take the step into league star this season. And the defense? There ok.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: Its a hard to repeat. Since Super Bowl 1, only 8 teams have managed to win back to back championships. The Steelers return virtually everyone from last years team. Head Coach Mike Tomlin is one of the best in the league, and this is a team that has experience in being defending champions, having won the Super Bowl in 2006. At the end of the day, its hard to continue to dominate a team like the Steelers did to the Ravens last year, and I the Ravens will beat the Steelers this season in the key games. 

3. Cincinnati Bengals: With Carson Palmer back under center, the Bengals hope to rebound from a dissapointing 2008 campaign, where they didn't get their first win until week 9. The combination of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco should be a dominant one, but the connection has yet to result in wins for this team. This season should be a better one for the Bengals, but at the end of it, Marvin Lewis could be looking for a new job. 

4. Cleveland Browns: I can't remember the last time I saw a team go from so promising to such a mess so quickly. Last season the Browns were a trendy Super Bowl pick. Now? Its  days before their first game, and they havn't even named a starter. Reports are that Brady Quinn will get the nod, and I think he will be decent. But there is to little talent on this roster to compete. And with lame duck Eric Mangini at the helm, this should be another dissapointing season for the Browns. 

AFC South: After running away with this division last season, the Titans show their age  at QB, and Manning shows why he is MVP.

1. Indianapolis Colts: There are a lot of reasons to think this season could be a disapointing one in new Lucas Oil Stadium. After a year of learning the ropes under Tony Dungy, rookie head coach Jim Caldwell will take over. I think rookie running back Donald Brown will be a bust. Saftey Bob Sanders is injured again. So why will the Colts win this division? Peyton Manning is still under center. The real coach of the team, Manning will make a star this year out of Anthony Gonzalez, and should be able to put enough points on the board to lead this team to a division title. 

2. Tennessee Titans: Even though last season ended on a dissapointing note, losing their first playoff game to the Ravens, the Titans surprised everyone last year, rolling all the way to the best record in the AFC. The running back combination of Chris Johnson and Lendale White is one of the best, if not the best, in the league. But this is the season I think Kerry Collins falters. The Titans are paper thing at receiver, and Collins will show his age this year as the Titans miss the playoffs. 

3. Houston Texans: Everyones favorite team this season, the Texans finished up 5-1 to end last years campaign. Rookie running back Steve Slaton showed enough promise to push him up to the top of everyones fantasy football draft board. Wideout Andre Johnson is the best receiver in the game no one knows about. But I am not ready to say Matt Schaub is good enough to lead this team to the playoffs. 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags upgraded their wideouts this off season, adding Tory Holt to try to help out quarterback David Garrard. Garrard threw an uncharacteristically high amount of interceptions last season, totaling 13 picks to only 15 touchdowns. Maurice Jones Drew is now the feature back with Fred Taylor in New England. The Jags should be better then last season, but this division is to strong for the record to indicate it. 

AFC West: Anyway the Chargers don't go 6-0 in their division? Anybody?

1. San Diego Chargers: This one should be a cake walk for the Chargers. After stunning the Denver Broncos last season to capture the division, their should be little fight from any of the other 3 teams this year. The Chargers boast one of the quickest backfields in the league with Ladanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, last seasons playoff hero. Quarterback Phillip River's pockets are a lot heavier this year, fresh off 36 million dollers in his new contract. Its Super Bowl or bust this year for the Chargers. 

2. Denver Broncos: It could be one and done for new coach Josh McDaniels. Since his hire, whether you can blame it on him or not, its been nothing but bad news for the Broncos. Franchise quarterback Jay Cutler is in Chicago, leaving the once high powered Bronco offense in the hands of Kyle Orton. The defense was a mess last season, and even more pressure will be on them this year. With that being said, there is enough talent on this team if Brandon Marshall plays to at least finish 2nd. But no playoffs once again. Poor Dawkins.

3. Oakland Raiders: This season is a big one for JaMarcus Russell, as the Raiders will look for the former number 1 pick to finally flash some of the talent he showed at LSU. The Raiders cut Jeff Garcia to make no doubt in Russell's mind that he was their guy. I think Russell, along with Darren McFadden and Micheal Bush, will show enough promise this season to get the group of fans in the Black Hole excited for next year.

4. Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Cassell will be eager to prove that he is not a product of the New England Patriots system. Simply put? He won't. Long year in KC.

AFC East: Tom Brady shows he's human, and the Jets surprise everyone. 

1. New York Jets: If theirs one team that isn't afraid of Bill Belichick, its Rex Ryan and the New York Jets. And if theirs one sports writer that isnt afraid to go out on a limb, its me. Alot has to go right for the Jets to win this division. Mark Sanchez has to play like someone who has more then just 14 starts in him- all on the college level. Leon Washington and Thomas Jones have to take enough pressure off Sanchez to give him time to grow. Rex Ryan has to back up all his talk. The defense has to be great. I think all of that will happen.

2. New England Patriots: Even though they didn't make the playoffs last year, the Patriots enter this season in a familar role- Super Bowl favorites. This is all because of the return of Tom Brady. Brady, who tore his knee up so bad last year there were some rumors he might never play again, is expected to step back in and be the same player who led his team to 18-1 the year before. Why does everyone just assume he is going to be ok? It took Donovan McNabb and Carson Palmer a full season playing before they were the same. Daunte Culpepper never recovered. Is Brady Culpepper? No. But he also isn't superman. 

3. Miami Dolphins: Can the Dolphins ride the wildcat to another playoff berth? Even with the Wildcats wetdream Pat White on the team, the Dolphins still have Chad Pennington under center. Pennington had a solid year last season, but he has not been able to put it together in consecutive seasons his whole career. The division was strong last year, and is even stronger now. The Dolphins are the odd team out. 

4. Buffalo Bills: Its going to be a cold winter in Buffalo. With the off season addition of Terrell Owens, the Bills feel they are ready to win now. Marshawn Lynch and Trent Edwards, along with Owens, do form a nice core of talent, but does anyone believe Owens is going to be quite as he catches from the worst quarterback hes had his whole career? Things could get ugly quick, as the Bills limp to a last place finish. 

1. San Diego Chargers
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. New York Jets
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
6.  New England Patriots

Round 1: Colts over Patriots; Steelers over Jets
Round 2: Ravens over Colts; Chargers over Steelers
Round 3: Ravens over Chargers

AFC Champion: Ravens

Sunday, September 6, 2009

NFL Season Preview: NFC

This week on Philly Stand Up, I'll get you ready for the upcoming NFL Season with a week long preview. Today is the NFC, the AFC tommorw, and then the rest of the week will be focused on the Birds. 

National Football Conference

East: With almost every quarterback in this division on the hot seat, the Eagles emerge from this group of teams that all have big question marks.

1. Philadelphia Eagles- The preseason was not kind to the Birds, as they entered it as a trendy Super Bowl pick, and left it with more questions then answers. The offensive line, linebacker, and secondary is a concern, but in this once strong division, who dosn't have holes? The Eagles have the best quarterback, wide receivers, and running back in this division- and that should be enough. More to come later in the week. 

2. New York Giants- This is the year we will get to see what Eli Manning is really about. After a strong start to last year, the Giants finished the season in a downward spiral. After the suspension of Plaxico Burress, the Giants went 2-3 in the last 5 games, then lost their first round playoff game. While rookie wideout Hakeem Nicks has been impressive in preseason (8 catches, 263 yards, 3 TD), the Giants are paper thin at receiver. The running game and defense will be good, but Manning showed us last year he can't win without Plaxico, and he won't prove us wrong this year.

3. Dallas Cowboys- The pressure will be on the Cowboys this year: with the opening of their new stadium, the departure of Terrell Owens, and the embarising end to last year. The Cowboys should commit to the run this year, as they field an impressive backfield of Marion Barber and Felix Jones. Tony Romo will find that despite the headache Owens gave him off the field, he will get a bigger one on it when he realizes the Roy Williams is no T.O.

4. Washington Redskins- This team is one losing streak away from completely imploding. Jim Zorn and Jason Campbell are playing for their jobs this year. Albert Hanyesworth has bust written all over him. Clinton Portis is getting older, and his relationship with his coach is cordial at best. Its very possible that after this year, Campbell, Zorn and Portis could all be gone. 

South: The Falcons, Panthers, and Matt Ryan try to prove they were no fluke last year- only the Falcons pass the test.

1. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons took everyone by surprise last year, and have "bust" written all over them. They return a second year coach and quarterback, an aging tight end, and an immense amount of expectations to live up to. But this team has to much fire power on offense not to be good again. Couple that with a mediocre division, and that leads to a NFC South crown for the Falcons.

2. New Orleans Saints: The Saints failed to meet high expectations last year, as injuries ravaged their season. Drew Brees, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, has plenty of toys to play with. And he better be ready, because the Saints defense gave up the 2nd most points per game last year. 

3. Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have everything you could want in a team- a powerful running game, solid defense, and a good coach. But this will be the year Jake Delhomme comes back to bite them. He started with his choke artist game in the playoffs last season, and will continue into this one. 

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Theres no much to like when it comes to this team: questions at quarterback, no real play makers at the running back or wide reciever postion, a defense that lost its leader in Derrick Brooks, and a rookie head coach. It should be a long season down in Tampa.

West: In one of the weakest divisions in the league, the Cardinals try to loose the division- but win it anyway.

1. Arizona Cardinals: Coming off a surprising Super Bowl appearance, the Cardinals will try to be the first team in a while to make the playoffs after losing in the Super Bowl the previous season. The Cardinals did address their running game with the addition of Chris "Beanie" Wells thru the draft, and still have the best group of wide outs in the league. Kurt Warner will continue to add to his (gulp) Hall of Fame Career. 

2. San Fransico 49ers: The 49ers ended the season as the team no one wanted to play, finishing 5-2, including impressive wins over the Jets and Redskins. Mike Singletary has this team on the right track, but any team that has Shaun Hill at quarterback is not ready to win in this league.

3. Seattle Seahawks: This is a team that has a lot to prove. Matt Hasselbeck is coming off a season ravaged with injuries, and wants to prove he is once again one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Jim Mora is back head coaching, and wants to prove that he can get the job done. TJ Housmandzadeh is out to prove his Madden ratings are to low- and that he can be a number 1 wideout in this league. All three will fail.

4. St Louis Rams: What is there to say for this team? New coach Steve Spagnuolo was a good hire? Stephen Jackson is a good back? Kyle Boller is still playing? Another long season for the Rams. 

North: The best division is football features 3 teams that could win it all- Aaron Rodgers passes Favre for the division title.

1. Green Bay Packers: The Packers have come out like gangbusters this preseason, and America should get to know these names: Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, and Greg Jennings. The Packers defense was actually better then the Bears last year, and their offense was better then the Vikings. The Packers lost 7 games by 5 points or less last year, and with another year under Aaron Rodgers belt, they'll win those games this year.

2. Minnesota Vikings: Look at the numbers of Tavaris Jackson last years, compared to Brett Favres: Jackson: 9 td's, 2 int's, and a quarterback rating of 95. Favre: 22 td's, 22 int's, and had a quaterback rating of 81.  Throw is the fact that Jackson is liked by team mates, mobile in the pocket, and not brittle like an old man, and you have to ask: Is Favre really an upgrade? Jackson killed the team last year with being unable to make things happen in the passing game, which Favre might be able to do better. But Favre is also known to throw the ball to the other team at key points in the game- and that will do the Vikings in, just like it did the Jets last year, and the Packers the year before.

3. Chicago Bears: With the arrival of Jay Cutler to the south side, the Bears finally have the quarterback they need to get to the Super Bowl. Only problem? The defense might not be their anymore. The Bears gave up the 21rst most points in the league last season at 21, and Brian Urlacher is only getting older. And while Cutler is an upgrade, if the Bears really plan to use Devin Hester as their number 1 wideout, Cutler could be forcing his way out of Chicago as well by seasons end. 

4. Detroit Lions: The good news is, the Lions can only improve this year, after going 0-16 last season. The bad news? I think they made the wrong call on Matthew Stafford. Bright spots on the team will be Calvin Johnson and Kevin Smith, but thats about it. When will they win their first game? Week 8, when the Rams visit. 

Overall Conference Breakdown: 
Do the Eagles have question marks? Absolutely. But what team dosn't. The teams that could compete with the Eagles (Packers, Falcons) have little playoff experience at both quarterback and head coach. The Bears, Vikings and Packers will beat each other up in the regular season, giving the Eagles home field. Brett Favre isn't beating the Eagles in a playoff game. The Cardinals don't win that game last year in Philadelphia. The Giants, if they can get their offense together, are the Eagles biggest threat, and the Eagles went into the Meadowland last year and beat them in the playoffs. So by default, its the Eagles.  

Playoff Seeding:
1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Atlanta Falcons
4. Arizona Cardinals
5. Minnesota Vikings
6. New York Giants

Round 1: Giants over Falcons; Vikings over Cardinals
Round 2: Eagles over Vikings; Packers over Giants
Round 3: Eagles over Packers

NFC Champion: Eagles