Monday, September 6, 2010

Back to School/Summer Review/NFL Predictions, Day 1

Summer is officially over and what a busy one it was. This summer marked my tenth year at Camp Walden and it was probably my best ever. That took me into mid August, and when it ended, I had 2 weddings to attend on back-to-back weekends, visited family, and toured a few colleges with my younger brother. All this equates into virtually no time to blog. But have no fear, for I am back now and better than ever.

So, the question becomes, what should my first article after over 2 months address? This summer was loaded with issues that any self respecting sports blogger should write about. The World Cup was certainly intriguing… from what I heard. Needless to say, working at a sleep away camp allowed me to see a grand total of 0 World Cup games after the group stage. As for my picks… um, yeah… Germany was a good one. Hey, at least I hit the nail on the head with my NBA Finals predictions, Lakers in 7. Terrific…

And then, the biggest story of American sports this summer, the formation of the super-team in Miami, with Chris “the Raptor looking, ex-Raptor” Bosh and LeBron James joining Dwayne Wade with the Heat. There are so many things I could write about here, starting with the terrible decision of LeBron James, to go from the biggest star in America, to taking a back seat on the Miami Heat, which are, and will always be, Dwayne Wade’s team. Shocking. Then, we have the whole other side of the story regarding LeBron and his “quitting.” I find this word to be incorrect. The last time I checked, LeBron was a FREEagent. That means he is FREE to make any choice he wants. Whether or not he made the correct choice is an entirely different matter, and as I just stated, I would argue that he made a very wrong one. However, if the Cleveland front office feels betrayed by James, they need to do some serious soul searching to think about how this situation was created by them. Maybe LeBron would have stuck around if, in the seven years that he was in Cleveland, the team managed to acquire a single all-star, either through the draft, free agency pickup, or trade. The fact that this did not happen speaks to the inadequacy of the Cavaliers Organization. In my first blog article, written on May 13, I wrote,

Remember the Amare Stoudemire possible trade earlier in the year. Only 4 guys have put up more points this postseason then Stoudemire, and one of them is obviously LeBron. How did the Cav’s not get this guy? If I’m a Cav’s fan, that’s where my anger and frustration rest. He was exactly the type of guy they needed. A big player that could take some attention off LeBron. By not trading for Stoudemire the Cav’s front office was basically making that statement that:

1. LeBron was good enough to win it all without any real help and
2. Happy enough in Cleveland that he would stay even if he received no further help

I guess he wasn’t on both accounts.

The end of summer means several things. 1. There will be no more waterskiing, relaxing, and stress free weeks (bad). 2. I will be going back to Union (good) and not living at my home any more (really good). And 3. Football season is here (the best). Therefore, my inaugural blog will be my NFL season predictions, which, like all my other predictions, are infallible. The predictions will be broken down into 3 different days. Today’s discussion will be on the NFC, followed by the AFC, and concluded with a look at the postseason.

The NFC is far easier to predict than the AFC, for the simple reason that there are fewer quality teams, and thus, less competition. Most would agree that of the sixteen teams in the conference, only 7 or 8 of them are legitimate playoff contenders. Here’s how I see it stacking up at season’s end.

NFC East

1.Dallas: 10 – 6 (wins division, 3 seed)
2.New York Giants: 9 – 7 (second wild card team, 6 seed)
3.Philadelphia: 8 – 8
4.Washington: 7 – 9

The Cowboys are the strongest team in a division that, as usual, should be very close, with all 4 teams capable of beating one another, or anyone else in the league. This said, the Cowboys have the most complete team. The running game, although not utilized enough, is still dangerous with the combination of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. Romo seems to be improving after putting up career high numbers last season. Additionally, one cannot overlook the impact that a first playoff win should have on Romo’s confidence. Miles Austin will have a full season to shine at wide receiver and the addition of Dez Bryant should take a little attention off him and Witten. The O-line is a bit more shaky than usual, but I do not foresee that being significant enough to drop them out of the top spot in the division. If they want to go deep into the playoffs or get a few more wins during the regular season, they will need to improve on a pass defense that ranked 20th in the league last season.

The Giants could compete for this division as well. Hopefully their injuries from last season will be a thing of the past. They will have one of, if not the best D-line in the NFL and a revitalized running game, a formula that won them the Super Bowl a few years ago. If Eli Manning can play at his best for a majority of the games, the Giants should be able to wrap up the final Playoff spot in the NFC.

As for the other two teams, the Eagles have numerous question marks, most significantly with LeSean McCoy at Running Back and Kevin Kolb at QB. Personally, I think both these players will step into their new roles quite well. Then at wide receiver, there are a plethora of fast guys, who at times, lack consistency. I do not expect to see DeSean Jackson put up numbers quite as impressive as last year, given the change at QB. Trent Cole, DE, is one of the most underrated players in the NFL and Ernie Simms was one of the most underrated acquisitions this offseason. The two should help to lead a solid defense. They will be in the mix of playoff contenders until season’s end.

The Washington Redskins are the worst team in the division, yet, perhaps the most intriguing. Can Donovan McNabb revitalize his career in Washington? I think not. Expect a very Jason Campbell-esque season out of him. Will Albert Haynesworth learn to play nice with coach, Mike Shanahan, and perform like his days in Tennessee? Again, I think not. Add in the questionable offensive line and you have a recipe for a mediocre team in a strong division getting left out of the action.

NFC West

1.San Francisco: 10 – 6
2.Arizona: 6 – 10
3.Seattle: 6 – 10
4.St. Louis: 3 – 13

The 49ers benefit from being in the worst division in American Professional Sports. This said, they are a much-improved team and would compete for the title in any division. Perhaps I’m delusional, but I believe Alex Smith will have a pretty good year in 2010. His rating of 81.5 last year was the best of his career. Running back, Frank Gore, will have another pro bowl year and young talents Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis will further develop their respective games. On defense, the 49ers are one of the best teams in the league, led by all-world middle linebacker Patrick Willis, whose season averages over his first three years in the league are absolutely monstrous, 156 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1.3 ints (he had 3 last year), and 7.7 pass deflections. He has also scored 2 touchdowns over that span. Willis is my preseason vote for defensive player of the year in 2010.

Goodbye Kurt Warner, goodbye post-season. Arizona is now left with Derek Anderson at quarterback (ouch!). The running game will improve this season, with Beanie Wells having a breakthrough year (or at least I hope so given his presence on my fantasy football team). Their defense may have some stars, but there is not enough consistency to be considered a good enough unit to carry their team to the post-season. On the Brightside, however, Arizona gets to play Seattle and St. Louise twice.

Honestly, Seattle, who the hell knows what you’re going to do this season? I imagine it won’t be good. Hasslebeck is past his prime. The running back corps is a hodgepodge of mediocrity and frustration. The receivers could be all right, I guess, but then again, they could be the worst in the league. Maybe the scattered talent on defense (Aaron Curry, Lofa Tatupu, Marcus Trufant) will play like their athletic talents should dictate, but, eh, probably not. On the Brightside, Seattle gets to play St. Louis and Arizona twice.

On the Brightside, St. Louis gets to play Seattle and Arizona twice.

NFC North

1.Green Bay: 12 – 4 (wins division, 1 seed)
2.Minnesota: 10 – 6 (first wildcard team, 5 seed)
3.Chicago: 6 – 10
4.Detroit: 5 – 11

The Green Bay Packers will be the best team in the NFC in 2010. I have them finishing at 12-4, although a 13-3 or even 14-2 finish is not impossible. Aaron Rodgers will be a MVP candidate and erase the memory of a certain, other Green Bay quarterback. Defensively, they are one of the top teams. One should not expect a repeat of last season from Charles Woodsen, the reigning Defensive MVP. However, he still needs to be highly effective to enhance the Packers’ weakest area, pass defense. The running game, in my mind, is another question mark, but I see many similarities between this team’s style of play, and that of the 16-0 Patriots of a few years ago. They will not be running too much, so therefore, a weaker running game is nothing major. Anything less than a deep playoff run from this team should be viewed as a disappointment.

The Minnesota Vikings are the defending division champs, but I don’t anticipate a repeat in 2010. For one, the offense will not be as explosive offensively. The injury to Sidney Rice has been overlooked in my opinion. Last season Rice put up over 1300 yards and 8 touchdowns on 83 receptions. He will miss at least the first six games of the season with a knee injury, but I expect the toll to be greater than that. Even when he returns, a knee injury to a speedy receiver is a big problem. This said, the major reason I expect the Vikings to go at best, 10 and 6, is Brett Favre. Last season, Favre shocked many football fans with his stats; 33 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions, which for Brett Favre, “the gunslinger,” is especially accurate. However, Favre is now 40 years old, and looking closer to 60. Yet, he continues to play, still never missing a game. Until 2010, that is, I expect Favre to suffer an injury at some point this season, most likely from some 300-pound freak, rushing from his blind side and sacking Favre hard enough to end his days as a professional quarterback. It would be an unfortunate end to a fortunate career, but I believe it will happen. If he somehow makes it through the season injury free, I still expect to see a major drop off in his numbers by the second half of the season.

Julius Peppers may have been the biggest free agent of the off-season, but his presence in Chicago is not enough to transform the Bears into a winning team. The fact is, the Bears were 29th in the league in rushing and Cutler is a highly inconsistent, once 6/10 quarterback with a tendency to be whiney and annoying. The receiving corps is as inconsistent as the pronunciations of the name of number one wide out, Devin Aromashodu. Back to the defense, they are made up of essentially the same group of player that took them to a super bowl; however, they are not getting any younger, nor any better. A once good team is now too many missing pieces away from being a contender.

Bringing up the rear for yet another year are the Detroit Lions. However, the defense will be improved after a solid draft. Rookie running back, Jahvid Best, should be a major contributor this season. Hopefully the draft class and the further improvement of Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith, and Matthew Stafford will give Detroit fans something to be optimistic about.

NFC South

1.New Orleans: 12 – 4
2.Atlanta 9 – 7
3.Carolina: 7 – 9
4.Tampa Bay: 4 – 12

The only reason I can believe that the New Orleans Saints will struggle this season is the appearance of Drew Brees on the cover of Madden. Seriously though, I am almost hesitant to give them the division title. However, using logic over superstition, I will say that the defending Super Bowl champs will play like it during the season and get to 12 wins for the second consecutive season. Brees, along with Rodgers and Manning, will head a competitive MVP race.

There are many signs that point to Atlanta competing for the division with New Orleans. On the offensive side of the ball, Matt Ryan is now in his third year and the jump in ability from year 2 to year 3 is often the largest of a player’s career. Michael Turner returns to the lineup after missing 5 games last season with various injuries. Then there is Roddy White, who has quietly had 3 straight seasons of 80 plus catches and 1100 plus receiving yards. On Defense, John Abraham looks to redeem himself after one the worst seasons of his career in 2009. MLB Curtis Lofton had one of most underrated seasons in the NFL last year, as the second year player picked up 133 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. Much like Ryan, on the offensive side of the football, Lofton is now entering his third year, so we can expect to see significant improvement from last season. And also like Ryan, he is the star on his side of the football, with the Falcons’ defense essentially built around him. Atlanta is my dark horse to make some noise in the NFL this season, that is, if they can beat out the Giants and the Vikings for the elusive wild card spots.

The quarterback situation for the Panthers is the major reason they will struggle in an attempt to reach .500 this season. Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore, and/or Tony Pike have no business starting at quarterback in the NFL this season, yet, one or more of them will. Their running game is one of the best in the NFL this season and that is the only reason they will get to 7 wins this season. The way I look at it, the New York Jets got to 9 wins last season, with a shaky quarterback situation, which was ameliorated by the best running game AND the best defense in the league. The Caroline Panthers have one of the best running games in the league (good for up to 7 wins) but do not have the best defense in the league (good for at least 2 games, which they do not get).

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a sad excuse for a football team and should be pleased that I was so kind to them. They probably have 0 pro bowl quality players. In fact, the most exciting part of that organization is the pirate ship that fires a blast after a Tamp Touchdown. Too bad those are such a rare occurrence. Anything more than 5 wins for the Bucs is a sign of the apocalypse.

AFC tomorrow.

-Adam Weinberger

No comments:

Post a Comment