Third String Quarterback - season preview, week 1 predictions
Mon, 12 Sep 2011 5:02p.m.
By Dylan Moran
Ed's note: Although this story has been published after the majority of the week 1 games, it was written and sighted before the weekend. Unfortunately, a little thing called 'the Rugby World Cup' got in the way of publishing it on time.
Spring is in the air and we all know what that means… another season of NFL action. The fantasy drafts are done and dusted, the pick ‘ems are submitted, and we’re just waiting for the Saints v Packers to kick off at lunchtime today.
We’re coming off the back of an amazing off-season, where instead of players getting in legal trouble, they’ve been the ones doing the litigating as owners and sportsmen squared off during the lockout.
Like Sonny Bill Williams, the main storyline revolved around money – but there were several other issues players and owners were contesting, and eventually a resolution was reached.
This then progressed into one of the best free agency markets I can remember, as instead of waiting until the final day and holding out on players to get them cheaper, owners actually reached deep into their pockets to secure the talent they felt was necessary. More on a few individual signings later, but the big movers were Chad Ochocinco to the Patriots, though he had wanted out of Cincinnati for a while. The Eagles secured a massive amount of prodigious talent – Nnamdi Asomugha the biggest name of a bunch including Ronnie Brown, Vince Young and Jason Babin.
But let’s get down to brass tacks. Since this is the first preview of the season, I’m going to do it a little differently – a preview of what I perceive to be each team’s storyline, then who I’m picking to take out the round 1 battles.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills come out in 2011 looking better than last year, but that’s just because they have new uniforms. Their grotesque former design is finally out the window and they’re looking so fresh, so clean.
In terms of players their offense retained Stevie Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, though Spiller is starting to look like he’s struggling a wee bit.
Shawn Merriman is finally looking like he actually wants to play for the Bills, enjoying a relatively successful pre-season.
Prediction: Not playoff bound, and because of the strength of their division stable-mates likely to be the cellar dwellers again.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins finally cast off their running backs – Brown going to the Eagles and Ricky Williams to the Ravens – and signed Richie Incognito to a three-year contract.
Oh, and Jason Taylor’s back in town, which should please franchise fans. They’ve also cut Tyler Thigpen, Chad Pennington, Channing Crowder and Lousaka Polite – but picked up Reggie Bush to help out rookie Daniel Thomas.
How this pair will be utilised is not yet known, but Bush offers a terrific pass-catching option for QB Chad Henne in his 3rd season.
Something interesting, though somewhat meaningless, to take note of is that Henne actually possesses similar numbers to what Drew Brees put up early in his career, and that he was very unlucky with his 19 interceptions last season as only one int attempt was dropped – the lowest in the league – although this may also suggest he’s throwing straight at CBs.
Here’s what Bill Barnwell of Grantland has to say:
“They both sat out for most of their rookie season and then came in to play for most of their second year. Brees completed 60.8 percent of his passes. Henne completed 60.8 percent of his passes. Brees threw an interception on 3.0 percent of his passes and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt. Henne threw an interception on 3.1 percent of his passes and averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. In his third season, Brees tanked; in fact, to a much worse extent than Henne did. All of his numbers fell off, but what was particularly noticeable was his interception rate, which hit 4.2 percent.”
Prediction: Remember, this is a team which has gone 7-9 the last two years and finished 11-5 in 2008. Last year they knocked off the Packers and Jets, and in 2008 they took out the Jets in both their meetings. They’ve got Rex Ryan’s number. Their struggles against the Patriots (only beating them three times in the last five seasons) are their biggest hurdle. They are definite wildcard contenders.
New England Patriots: Remember the days when you could say the same things about the Pats as I am about the Bills? Every year they’re seen as a threat in pre-season predictions, because of one man – Tom Brady.
He seems to get better every year, and with a receiving corps of Ochocinco, Wes Welker and Deion Branch, along with tight end breakouts Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski who’s surprised?
I actually do not think Ocho will be the Randy Moss everyone’s predicting. Over his last couple of seasons at the Bengals he struggled to shake off one-man looks, so the double-coverages he’ll face as a part of simply pulling on the Patriots jersey will negate any ‘talent’ he still has.
Prediction: They’re the Patriots, and given their form last season they’re a formidable foe. However they’ve got a somewhat tough schedule with the Chargers, Jets twice, Cowboys, Steelers, Giants, Eagles and the annual match against the Colts. If they drop a couple, the Jets or Dolphins could be in position to pounce.
New York Jets: The Jets didn’t get their man. They courted Asomugha for so long, then got done when he went to the Eagles. Though they kept Antonio Cromartie, for the first time in a wee while a Rex Ryan defense looks a little bit wobbly. Jason Taylor is out of New Meadowlands and of their six defensive linemen, only Kenrick Ellis stands out.
If they want to have success in a schedule in which their four opening games feature teams with solid RBs, they’re going to have to put up a tonne of points when they have the ball. The signing of Plaxico Burress is a gamble, but one which looks like it may pay off based solely on pre-season action.
Prediction: I could be made to pay for this, but I don’t see the Jets competing with the Patriots this year. More likely they’ll be slightly ahead of the Dolphins – though if they go down to the Miami Bush they may miss the playoffs for the first time in Ryan’s tenure.
Pittsburgh Steelers: They’re a solid team, and the fact they made it to the SuperBowl last year without a QB the first few rounds is a testament to exactly what a formidable opponent they are.
One slight problem is a lack of depth, and their offensive line issues are very well documented. They’ve had an off-season being movie stars, now is their chance to [once again] step up and be noticed.
Prediction: The North is theirs to lose, yet again.
Baltimore Ravens: You get the feeling with the Ravens that if Joe Flacco could pull it all together they’d have an untouchable season.
As it is, he’s been competent enough to advance them to the post-season, but he lacks that ‘elite’ standard and takes too long to read the field – resulting in sack after sack.
Anquan Boldin had an up-and-down season last year, but the additions of Lee Evans and rookie WR Torrey Smith should hopefully allow him to see fewer double-teams and more touches.
Prediction: Wild card spot is almost guaranteed – but as with every year, if they can get one up over the Steelers, they’ll take the North.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns showed flashes of creative brilliance last year, and finally have a young QB who looks like he can mature into the game.
But don’t buy into the hype. Peyton Hillis had a breakout season in 2010, there’s no doubting that, but the wheels started to come off later on in the year. He’s not a guy who can pound the ball down after down and stay healthy – he’s already got injury concerns and the season hasn’t started.
Compounding this, the Browns don’t play their division mate Ravens and Steelers until the last five weeks of the regular season – so even if they put up good numbers, Hillis needs to be around or he won’t be the only one hurting in December.
Prediction: They’ll definitely improve on last year’s 5-11 – mainly because of an easy schedule – but their defense can’t stack up in my books.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are mailing this year in and going to take Andrew Luck with the number one pick in 2011. Nuff said.
Prediction: Think I just covered that didn’t I?
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts had a fantastic, blissful offseason, with Peyton Manning saying he’d take less money if it meant they could keep the same players, and all was fine and dandy in the land of candy.
That illusion has been shattered since Manning may now actually be out for several months as he recovers from a second neck surgery.
Don’t let people fool you by saying ‘the Colts still have a decent team’. They have a decent team because of the way Manning controls the offense. This isn’t a Jim Caldwell scheme another QB can slot into. This is a Peyton Manning scheme a QB must study and learn.
Prediction: Even so, they should still be competitive. If Kerry Collins can overcome the Texans in week one and Peyton returns by week seven (doubtful) they can probably pull it together.
Houston Texans: The Texans have been a scoring/yardage machine in recent years, but their defense let them down.
2011 should see a change in that pattern, and given they’ve got no competition in their division, they’ll be in good shape.
Prediction: Playoff bound.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Who knows why the Jags let David Garrard go, but Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbart now need to step up.
Prediction: No. Bottom of the division.
Tennessee Titans: One of the large unknown factors in the NFL this year. Chris Johnson’s holdout meant we didn’t get to see him in pre-season, and Matt Hasselbeck has proven himself to be a consistent – even though he’s nowhere near elite – QB.
If CJ2K can get anywhere near his 2009 numbers and Hasselbeck gets a good relationship with Nate Washington and Kenny Britt they could take out the South.
Prediction: Could doesn’t mean will. Their defense is still a concern.
Denver Broncos: I feel for Kyle Orton, as he’s a decent QB but looks like he’ll never play for a championship team.
The Broncos are like the Hurricanes – recovering from poor decisions to get rid of good players.
They’ve brought John Fox over from the Panthers, but that doesn’t inspire confidence in my book. This is the same guy who couldn’t win with two good RBs, an elite WR, and an ok defense.
Prediction: Same as last year: pain. Especially in a season where they play the Chargers twice, Packers, Jets, Bears and Patriots.
Kansas City Chiefs: Call me crazy but I’m not loving the Chiefs. Eric Berry is good yes, so is Jamaal Charles, and Dwayne Bowe. They’ve got Steve Breaston to draw defensive attention, whether that will work or not is yet to be revealed, and they’ve got a capable fullback in Le’Ron McClain.
Yes it’s only pre-season, but Charles’ 15 carries for 35 yards isn’t all that inspiring.
Neither is the fact Tony Moeaki’s out for the season, and Matt Cassel’s potentially carrying a rib injury.
Prediction: I feel a bit bad for this, but I don’t think they can repeat their success of 2011. Maybe 2012 will be their year.
Oakland Raiders: They’ve lost their cornerstone cornerback, so who knows what will happen to their defense.
Jason Campbell could go ok, and Darren McFadden showed a lot of promise in 2010. Can he handle the workload though?
Prediction: If the Chiefs falter, the Raiders will be Gibraltar in second spot but don’t expect them to make the playoffs.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers have, in my opinion, one of the easiest schedules in the NFL in 2011.
They also have Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates.
What they don’t have is a clear number one RB – or an elite RB.
Prediction: The West should be all Chargers, Chargers, Chargers.
Dallas Cowboys: Again, call me crazy but I’m liking the Cowboys this year. They’re behind the Giants and Eagles in my standings, but could be a wildcard if either of those teams loses their starting QB.
Dez Bryant is deservedly getting a lot of wraps for his play in his 2010 rookie year – even though he’s broke now – and should take the number one spot from Miles Austin by the end of the season.
The Cowboys’ corners and offensive line still provide a concern for me.
Prediction: They’ll be shadowing the Giants and Eagles, and if they can sweep one or both they should take a wildcard spot.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are putting together the dream team for a one-year run.
And it could definitely pay off big, though the Giants did show how to contain Vick last year (even though the Eagles won both, it was only due to Giants mistakes on offense)
Prediction: They’re at the top of the East. Playoff lock.
New York Giants: They’ve lost nothing in not having Steve Smith. This was a team stacked with capable WRs, and one of them had to go.
Bradshaw and Jacobs return, and should be a bit happier with their team this year. None of last year’s sulky sulks.
Keeping Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck was key if they were going to hope to knock off the Eagles.
Prediction: The NFC’s boom-or-bust team. They’ll either take out the Eagles or collapse and be behind the Cowboys.
Washington Redskins: Keeping Rex Grossman instead of making a play for several other QBs is another sign Dan Snyder is looking at Andrew Luck.
Prediction: They’ll be head-to-head with the Bengals in Luckfest.
Green Bay Packers: It’s a good feeling at the top, and the Packers don’t look like the kind of side which will have a Superbowl hangover.
Aaron Rodgers’ biggest ability is to spread the ball, it feels as though there isn’t an actual number one in Green Bay, just whoever’s open.
Ryan Grant comes back after picking up a massive injury last year, and that’ll only be an improvement.
Prediction: There or thereabouts. They’ll be eyeing up the playoff bye week.
Chicago Bears: The Bears have it made on defense, they have a capable RB in Matt Forte, Jay Cutler could do the business…
But their awful line and WRs who seem like they’re paid per drop, not per reception, cause their problems.
Prediction: They could make it in a wildcard spot.
Detroit Lions: The annual joke seems like they’re sick of being the punchline.
Should Matt Stafford stay healthy, they look like making a massive run.
Their defensive line will terrorise Jay Cutler and opposition QBs all season long.
Prediction: Lots of points, but will it convert to wins?
Minnesota Vikings: Does Donovan McNabb have anything left in the tank? That’s the question.
But there’s more than one with the Vikings. Can AP stay healthy and is he on the decline? Can Percy Harvin get over his migraines and become a legitimate number one WR? Does Bernard Berrian have anything to offer?
Prediction: The Vikings are just drifting into the gravity of a ‘rebuilding phase’. Can they escape it?
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have added a potential new offensive threat in Julio Jones to help out Roddy White, who’s been something of a lone spark.
Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner are quickly heading toward the retirement village and this could be one of their final chances to get a ring.
Prediction: I don’t like the one-dimensional Falcons to do so well with the South’s schedule this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs are a young team who had a lot of upside in 2010. If Josh Freeman can continue his growth and Mike Williams can continue to catch his bombs, they’ll get results.
Prediction: They will be competing for number two with the Falcons, which could result in a wildcard for either side.
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have a good team on paper, with Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Brandon LaFell and Legedu Naanee – along with a defence which was only ranked 18th in yards allowed per game last year.
Where it breaks down is at QB, and Cam Newton may or may not turn his potential into wins. How he will go in the NFL is a large unknown, but it’s odd in that even if he has a good showing on debut the fans and fantasy pundits will say ‘we will wait and see’ – but if Andrew Luck took to the field and put up good numbers it’d be taken as gospel that he was the business.
As it stands, Newton possesses a lot of positives the Panthers are after – and a wildcat formation with he, Williams and Stewart in the backfield and Smith at wideout would have any defensive co-ordinator stressed out.
Prediction: South cellar-dwellers.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints were, for all intents and purposes, a good team last year hampered by injuries.
Those excuses aren’t good enough though. Their defense improved to be in the top 10 and with their offensive weapons (if Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson stop dropping passes) they could put it together.
Prediction: Top of the pops in the South.
Arizona Cardinals: How does Kevin Kolb fare as a starter? The Philadelphia Eagles’ project has been let go, but the Cardinals don’t know if he’ll do the business.
He has Larry Fitzgerald who has been consistently amazing and Early Doucet who has shown flashes of brilliance, but when the game’s on the line, can he run the two-minute drill?
Prediction: An ok team, but the NFC West is just down to who wants it more.
San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith has not shown anything great this far and no suggestion that he ever will, but with Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards, he has a number of offensive weapons.
The 49ers are surely in the best position to win the NFC West. All they need is for Alex Smith to pull it together against their division rivals and they’re in the playoffs.
Should he have a breakout year, they have the potential to be a top-2 team – remember, they have Patrick Willis and the competent NaVorro Bowman in their linebacker corps – in a division where the Rams are probably the only rushing threat. Those two should get quite a few sacks this year.
Prediction: They’ll take out the NFC West.
Seattle Seahawks: Sorry Seahawks fans, but I see very few bright spots in your team this year. Taking Tavaris Jackson was a strange move, unlikely to pay off – but could see them being another team targeting Andrew Luck.
Prediction: Not even good enough to be called also-rans.
St Louis Rams: Sam Bradford was a star for the Rams last year, along with a largely unheralded Danny Amendola. The Rams have picked up Josh McDaniels after he ran the Broncos into the ground, but McDaniels has a pedigree in working with talented quarterbacks – with Tom Brady, Kyle Orton and Matt Cassel.
Along with McDaniels, head coach Steve Spagnuolo has tried to surround Bradford with experience, from RBs Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams to wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker.
This year could be the season which gives Bradford the grounding to become a SuperBowl winner some time in the next decade – if he does.
Prediction: If they play like last season, they’ll challenge the 49ers.
So that’s enough of the bizzo, now down to the week one predictions. Same deal as always, bolded teams are who I'm picking to win their games.
New Orleans Saints v Green Bay Packers
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
Atlanta Falcons v Chicago Bears
Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns
Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans
Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars
Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs
Philadelphia Eagles v St Louis Rams
Detroit Lions v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Carolina Panthers v Arizona Cardinals
Minnesota Vikings v San Diego Chargers
Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers
New York Giants v Washington Redskins
Dallas Cowboys v New York Jets
New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins
Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos
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