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Week 6 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 17, 2009

We’ve run into another busy week, so we’ll just get right to the picks.

Last week: 9-5 Season: 56-20

– Jets over Bills: Buffalo looks like a complete mess, so much so that they only scored three points against the hapless Browns.  Terrell Owens is even rumored to be on the trade block before the coming deadline.  The Jets have lost two straight on the road and are thrilled to be back at home.  New York wins easily.

– Patriots over Titans: Tennessee at 0-6?  Seems ridiculous but it will happen.  The Titans got waxed at home against the Colts in their biggest game of the season, and now they hit the road to one of the toughest places in the league to play.  New England is coming off a tough overtime loss so they will be out for blood.  This will not be pretty, Patriots by a lot.

– Bengals over Texans: Cincinnati has won its last four games all in thrilling fashion at the last minute.  This one shouldn’t have to go down to the end.  The Bengals are indeed for real with Cedric Benson running hard (yes that is accurate) and the passing game clicking.  It is their defense especially that has been impressive.  Houston has been a major disappointment especially in the secondary and they will not be able to stop the Bengals.  Houston’s offense could keep up a little, but in the end Cincy wins easily.

– Steelers over Browns:  Is any analysis really necessary here?  Cleveland got a nice win last week but now reality slams them in the face at Heinz Field.  Pittsburgh is running again and they just flat own the Browns.  Pittsburgh in a blowout.

– Vikings over Ravens: This will be a great game.   Baltimore has lost two straight so they will be desperate for a win, especially the defense, which allowed a 100-yard rusher last week for the first time since the Nixon administration (not really but it seems like it).  They will try to slow down Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre, but it’s Baltimore’s offense that could be the key to the game.  I think the Vikings D will slow them down, and I like The Vikings to win in the dome.

– jaguars over Rams: This is, well, not the game of the week.  The Rams are awful and Jacksonville isn’t much better.  I do like the Jags to bounce back offensively after last week’s embarrassment in Seattle, and the Rams, well, they will keep floundering.  Jacksonville wins at home.

– Chiefs over Redskins: Upset alert, sort of.  I say sort of because Washington isn’t very good either, for their two wins have come against Tampa Bay and St. Louis.  In fact, in this week’s best strange but true statistic, the Redskins have yet to actually square off against an opponent who isn’t winless this season.  Even though KC is on the road, I thought they actually showed effort last week against the Cowboys.  I like the Chiefs to win this ugly game, say 6-3.

– Eagles over Raiders: This will be a blowout for Philly, especially now that McNabb and Westbrook are back healthy.  The question is more how many first downs the Raiders will actually get, and could the Eagles hit 50 points?  Find a sports bar if you’re stuck with this one late.

– Saints over Giants:  This is the clear game of the week in the Superdome.  Both teams are undefeated.  Both teams have done it on both sides of the ball so far this year.  The key will be turnovers, and that can sometimes be a crapshoot as to which team will force more.  I think both teams will get points on the board, but since both defenses have played better than expected this year, someone will get that key turnover at some point.  In the end I am at a loss so I go with the home team.  New Orleans wins.

– Packers over Lions: Detroit is actually improved, but it won’t show in this game.  Green Bay is coming off a bye and has had two weeks to stew over the loss in Minnesota.  The Packers will roll easily here at Lambeau.

– Buccaneers over Panthers: I like Tampa to get its first win at home here.  The Panthers were fortunate to get a win last week against the Redskins, but are still nothing close to their playoff team of a year ago.  Tampa Bay is in clear rebuilding mode, but a hunch here says they get it together for one week.  I like the Bucs in the mini-upset.

– Seahawks over Cardinals: Seattle is at home and brimming with all kinds of confidence after last week’s rout of Jacksonville.   A healthy Matt Hasselbeck has clearly made the difference for the Seahawks, and Seattle will score points again this week.  Arizona still doesn’t seem quite the same as the team that made the Super Bowl run last year, and going on the road in a division game is too much to ask for them right now.  Seattle wins.

– Falcons over Bears: This should be a good Sunday nighter.  Atlanta woke up in a big way last week in San Francisco, and now their passing game faces a good test in the Bears’ defense.  I do like Matt Ryan and company to put up enough points to oustscore the Bears, although this could turn into a shootout.  In the end I like the Falcons at home.

– Broncos over Chargers: I know, this looks very much like a homer pick.  Truthfully, I almost did pick San Diego.  The Broncos do not play well there historically (they have lost 6 of their past 8 there), and they also generally stink in Monday night road games (6-23 all-time).  However this looks a new group, and the Chargers don’t seem quite right.  Shawne Merriman has not been involved at all, and that has hampered their defense.  The San Diego running game has also struggled mightily, averaging a horrible 53 yards per game.  That plays right into the hands of a Denver defense that has been awesome against the run so far this season.  The Chargers might be able to make some plays in the passing game with Philip Rivers, but the Broncos also should be able to get some pressure on him as well.  The Denver offense will have Correll Buckhalter back, so that will definitely help them as well.  This will definitely be a very important test for the Broncos, but in the end this team has a special feel to it.  I like the Broncos to hold the Chargers off 24-17 heading into the bye week.

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NFC North Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 29, 2009

Teams listed in projected order of finish.  I will say that I think this division is very tough to project as the top three teams could end up all being very close.

1. Minnesota Vikings – I tipped my hand in an earlier post before the season preview that I think the Vikings will be scary good in 2009.  Last year they did manage to win this division, thanks largely to winning five of their final six regular season games, only to get surprised at home by the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.  There is no question that Minnesota has talent all over the board, and now they might have enough to take the next step and really give people in the Twin Cities something to celebrate.  There is also little doubt the Vikings offseason was very eventful, and according to many very controversial (even perhaps causing some tension in the locker room?), but I think in the end it will prove to make all the difference for the Vikings.

The reason for the controversy surrounding the Vikings is Brett Favre.  I am on record as saying I think he can still play and will end up being a good fit in Minnesota.  I do think his will he or won’t he retire saga did get very old very fast, especially because it seems the whole thing was planned all along for him to miss the arduous training camp.  The fact is that prima donna or not, Favre is still good enough to make a difference for the Vikings.  I don’t think anyone can make a reasonable argument that he isn’t an improvement over Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels.  Jackson’s performance last season was shaky enough that coach Brad Childress felt compelled to trade for Rosenfels back in Februrary.  Even at his age Favre is an improvement over both, and he knows the offense.  Favre will also have the benefit of throwing to veteran wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who will be joined by first round draft pick Percy Harvin of Florida.  Harvin has blazing speed and should be a terrific fit on the Metrodome surface.  Tight end Visanthe Shaincoe also gives Favre a reliable target over the middle, and Bobby Wade is a good option in the slot.  The biggest strength for the Vikings though is the running game, anchored by the NFL’s top running back, Adrian Peterson.  The scary thing for opponents is that Peterson worked very hard in the offseason to improve his pass blocking and his receiving ability.  As it is, Peterson won the league’s rushing title last season with 1,760 yards, and that was without a consistent passing game.  If Favre is even just above average, teams will have to respect the passing attack with those receivers, and that could mean even better numbers for Peterson.  Chester Taylor also gives Minnesota a good option for a few carries per game as well as a third down back so they don’t have to wear down Peterson.  The offensive did lose center Matt Birk in free agency, but they still have an excellent left side of the line in tackle Bryant McKinnie and perennial Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson at guard.  They also drafted Oklahoma’s Phil Loadholt in the second round for depth.

There is also no question the Vikings defensive line is an easy top three unit and probably the league’s best.  Defensive end Jared Allen made a huge splash last year as Minnesota’s big free agent signee with 14.5 sacks, while tackles Kevin and Pat Williams both made the Pro Bowl as well.  The Williams’ could be facing a four game suspension by the league if the courts ultimately rule in the league’s favor that the duo used a banned diuretic last season.  Right now their fate is unknown, but the Vikings are hopeful that they’ll be able to play a full season.  It is worth noting that the Vikings’s first four games are very manageable so a suspension may not cripple the team in any case.  The Vikings’ front seven is also boosted by linebacker E.J. Henderson, who is an excellent tackler.  For years teams have been unable to run against the Vikings, plus they are able to get great pressure on the quarterback.  I see no reason that won’t continue this year.  The secondary did lose safety Darren Sharper to New Orleans, but the coaches also felt his talent was slipping after he intercepted just one pass last year.  The Vikings are confident that Tyrell Johnson can take his place, and the corners are solid, anchored by Antoine Winfield.

The kicking game is in great hands with veteran Ryan Longwell.  Punter Chrs Kluwe took a lot of criticism last year (mainly for not kicking away from Reggie Bush in a Monday night game last year), but he does have a strong leg and the coaches have confidence in him.  Percy Harvin is expected to handle the return duties, and he should be able to make an impact there.

I said before I started this preview that I think the Vikings are headed for the Super Bowl.  They had most of the pieces in place already, and I think Favre will put them over the top.  A decent passing game coupled with the league’s top running game and a very stingy defensive front seven is a tough combination to beat.  In any case they are clearly the class of this division.

2. Green Bay Packers – The Packers as expected had a rough first season post-Favre.  The irony is it wasn’t really Aaron Rodgers’ fault.  Rodgers did a much better job than expected of handling the pressure of replacing the Packer legend, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns.  What doomed the Packers was the defensive side of the ball.  In a six day span in late November, Green Bay surrendered a staggering 86 points in losses to New Orleans and Carolina.  The Packers did finish on a positive note, winning their final game against 0-16 Detroit, but they had lost six straight prior to that, finishing 6-10 overall.  The Packers should be much improved this year, and they are confident that lying in the weeds quietly is a better approach than the big splashes made by their division rivals.

We touched on Rodgers’ season a year ago, and his first full season as a starter certainly exceeded expectations.  Now he needs to put it together when the game is on the line.  The Packers were 0-7 last year in games where the offense got the ball with less than five minutes to go in the game with a chance to tie or win.  Rodgers took that stat personally, and he vows to be better in 2009.  He will have plenty of help from an offense that returns largely intact from a year ago.  Running back Ryan Grant rushed for over 1,200 yards, but his yards per carry dipped from 5.1 in 2007 to 3.9 last year.  To be fair, he played through a hamstring injury last year and is now healthy, so the Packers feel he should be back to his old self.  They also hope to find a complementary back, such as Brandon Jackson, who can spell Grant on occasion and keep him fresh.  The receivers are also strong, with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver both very capable of stretching the field.  The duo combined to catch over 150 balls last year, and if Rodgers improves in his second season as a stater, that number should go up.  Tight end Donald Lee is also an excellent red zone presence as well as a blocker in the running game.  The offensive line is a bunch of unknowns, but it returns intact save for the addition of center Duke Preston from Buffalo and the loss of tackle Mark Tauscher to free agency.  Since the unit is virtually the same from a year ago, the Packers hope the continuity will breed improvement.

Defensively, the Packers got quite possibly the steal of the draft in Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji at number nine overall.  Raji was clearly the best defensive player available in most scouts’ minds, and his presence should be huge for the Packers in the middle of their defense, especially since they will play a 3-4 this season.  The linebacking core is also starting to mature with former Ohio State standout A.J. Hawk and steady veteran Nick Barnett.  The secondary is anchored by cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris, both of whom made the Pro Bowl last year despite the struggles of the defense as a whole.  Both are aging, but are still among the best in the league.  Their play will offset that of the young safeties, Atari Bigby and Nick Collins.  I do expect the defense to be better than last year mainly because of the presence of Raji, and I think that could be enough to make the Packers a contender for a wild card slot.

The Packers are set at kicker for a long time with Mason Crosby, who has a very long leg (he kicked a 60-yard field goal in college at Colorado).  Punter is another story however, as Derrick Frost was so horrible he got the boot after 12 games last year.  Jeremy Kapinos of Penn State will take that over this year.  Will Blackmon returned two punts for scores last season, so the Packers do appear to be in good shape there.

I think the Packers could be in play for a wild card.  I like Rodgers and the offense to be better, and I also think the defense will be tougher with the presence of Raji.  The Packers didn’t make many moves in the offseason, but it’s possible their stability could make the difference as opposed to the big shakeups of their prime rivals.

3. Chicago Bears – The Bears have a very different look from the team that made the Super Bowl in 2006.  For years they have been a run and play defense kind of team, winning lots of low scoring games.  Last year they did finish 9-7, but they let a playoff spot slip away with a bad loss at Houston in the final game of the season.  The Bears still have their running game and defense to rely on, but now they have a quarterback to go with it, as they pulled off the offseason’s biggest trade by acquiring Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler from the Broncos.  All of Chicago is ga-ga over Cutler, who is only 25, has a rocket arm, and may be Chicago’s best quarterback in 30 years.  The Bears feel Cutler is the missing piece for a run at the Super Bowl.  While they have good reason to be excited, I don’t see a Super Bowl in Chicago’s future just yet.

Cutler no doubt has posted good numbers in Denver.  Last year he threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, but he also threw his share of interceptions, many of them forced into double coverage, and is just 17-20 as a starter.  Cutler also played very poorly in Denver’s final three games last year, resulting in a Broncos’ collapse out of the playoffs.  The Bears do have reason to be very excited about Cutler, for they have gone through a whopping 37 quarterbacks over their last 171 games, a span of nearly 11 seasons.  Given that you can’t blame Chicago for paying a steep price to land a quarterback.  Cutler does have a lot of years ahead of him and is very talented.  Chicago does need to hope that he cleans up his attitude (the Broncos felt many of his interceptions came when he got impatient and frustrated), and Cutler does need to show that he has what it takes to win in the clutch.  The good news for the Bears is they may not need to rely much on their passing game, because Matt Forte is quickly emerging as one of the league’s top running backs.  Forte rushed for over 1,200 yards last year, and he has shown an ability to run inside and outside.  The Bears are counting on the mere presence of Cutler to open up the running game significantly.  They also hope that Cutler’s presence will improve the passing enough to make their offense a threat not seen in Chicago in a long time.  Cutler will have to work magic with a very suspect group of receivers, the best of which is probably Devin Hester, who is still adjusting after transitioning from cornerback.  The Bears do have a good tight end in Greg Olsen, but the rest of the group consists of rookie Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma, and a pair of relative no-names in Rashed Davis and Earl Bennett.  The offensive line also took hits with losses of John Tait (retirement) and John St. Clair (to Cleveland).  They did sign veteran Orlando Pace to protect Cutler’s blind side, and Olin Kruetz remains an excellent, albeit aging, center.

Defense has long been a Bears’ staple, and this year shouldn’t be much different.  The defensive line has good talent in Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye and Tommie Harris.  The linebackers are outstanding, led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.  Despite all this talent in the front seven, the defense wasn’t always its usual self last year, surrendering 41 and 37 points respectively vs. division rivals Minnesota and Green Bay.  One reason is that their secondary can be considered average at best.  Charles Tillman can’t really be considered a shutdown corner, and Nathan Vasher is a liability against the run, and has also battled injuries the last two seasons.  The Bears did add safety Josh Bullocks from New Orleans.  If the secondary is average again, the Bears will have to rely very heavily on their front seven.

The Bears are in great shape at kicker with Robbie Gould, who has hit on 85 percent of field goals in his career despite kicking in windy Soldier Field, as well as punter Brad Maynard, who placed 40 punts inside the 20-yard line last season.  Devin Hester’s reputation as a returner is well documented, but the Bears might want to be careful not to let him get too distracted by trying to play wide receiver that he loses steam as a returner.  Daniel Manning as well as the rookie Iglesias could be capable of stepping in that role as well.

The Bears could well be a playoff team despite playing in a brutal division.  I know many people in Chicago think Cutler is their knight in shining armor, but I think he has some work to do before he becomes an elite player.  The question marks at receiver, offensive line and secondary could prove to be their undoing.  Despite that, it should be a great battle with the Packers and Vikings in this division.

4. Detroit Lions – Last season was obviously one to forget for the Lions, who became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16.  Most of their games weren’t even close, and perhaps the only positive thing for Lions fans was that the team sent general manager Matt Millen packing after years of ineptitude.  Not surprisingly, the head coach also lost his job, and the team used its first overall draft choice on a new quarterback.  Oh, and the logo is new too, because we all know that makes all the difference.  Of course it will take much more than a new logo to generate success in Detroit, but at least they can’t be any worse this year right?

Clearly there will be a lot of pressure on Matthew Stafford, the talented signal caller from Georgia who was the Lions’ choice at number one overall in the draft.  The Lions are hoping for some good karma here.  See, Stafford went to the same high school as the only legend quarterback in Lions’ history, as well as the last one to lead them to a championship.  That would be Bobby Layne, and the year of that championship was 1957.  The Lions hope that Stafford will prove to be a good selection, and he definitely has the tools to be a good player.  He will have competition this year though from Daunte Culpepper, who has bounced around to several teams but lost 30 pounds in the offseason and has actually looked good in the preseason.  Either way, the Lions hope the position will be improved over last year, when Dan Orlovsky memorably symbolized the futility by running out of the back of the end zone untouched for a safety against the Vikings.  Whoever is at the controls will have the luxury of throwing to one of the league’s top receivers in Calvin Johnson.  Despite the awful quarterback play last year, Johnson ranked fifth in the NFL in yards and first in touchdowns.  With improvement under center, Johnson might be able to post scary numbers (Be sure to tab him in fantasy this year if you can). He will be joined by Bryant Johnson, who comes over from San Francisco and Ronald Curry, signed from Oakland.  Not necessarily household names, but they are decent enough to be able to take some pressure off Johnson.  Second round draft pick Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State also adds an intriguing option.  The Lions top running back is Kevin Smith, who nearly hit 1,000 yards last year, and he will be backed up by Maurice Morris, who is looking for a fresh start after leaving Seattle.  The offensive line wasn’t really addressed save for the addition of no name Daniel Loper from Tennessee.  Odds are the line will be a mess, and that means the offense overall will unfortunately still be a work in progress for Detroit.

New coach Jim Schwartz is frantically trying to get his defensive linemen to bulk up. Last year no one on the line weighed over 300 pounds, which put them at a disadvantage against opposing offensive lines virtually every week.  One of the Detroit’s free agent signings was tackle Grady Jackson from Atlanta, who weighs roughly 345 pounds.  They also drafted Sammie Hill, a 329-pound tackle out of little known Stillman University.  The linebackers should be significantly improved with the additions of Larry Foote, a key player on Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl winning teams in ’05 and ’08, as well as Julian Peterson, who comes over from the Seahawks.  The secondary was also addressed in the offseason, a good call considering they unit picked off just one pass last year.  Phillip Buchanon comes over from Tampa Bay, and the Lions also tabbed Anthony Henry from Dallas.  Couple those additions with holdover Keith Smith, who actually has good cover ability, and I’ll go out on a limb and say the Lions’ secondary will pick off more than one pass this year.

Detroit’s longest tenured player is kicker Jason Hanson.  He was vocal in his displeasure last season, and he is back for another year in the Motor City.  Punter Nick Harris has bounced around to multiple teams, but was very consistent last year (Hey, he had plenty of practice!).  Rookie Derrick Williams from Penn State is a candidate for return duty, as is Avion Cason, who was solid but not spectacular in the role last season.

I will make a bold prediction and say the Lions will not stumble to 0-16 two years in a row.  It may not be in the first few weeks, but there are a few winnable games on their schedule.  The defense is completely rebuilt, and the offense has some talent.  It will take a few years, but believe it or not there is a new direction here.

Coming next: the AFC South

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NFC East Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 27, 2009

Teams listed in predicted order of finish:

1. Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles certainly peaked at the right time last season, winning four of their final five regular season games to sneak into the playoffs.  They then won playoff road games in Minnesota and at the Giants before losing a tough NFC title game battle to Arizona.  This year the Eagles are very confident they can keep that momentum going and take the next step.

Offensively, the Eagles are as talented as any team in the NFL.  Start with Brian Westbrook, arguably the most talented back in the NFL.  Westbrook did have offseason surgery that he hopes will extend his career, but so far it appears that Eagles fans can expect another big year out of their star back.  The Eagles did also draft LeSean McCoy out of Pittsburgh in the second round of the draft in hopes they can give Westbrook an occasional break and keep him fresh.  The passing game is also among the league’s best thanks to signal caller Donovan McNabb.  I really think McNabb does not get the respect he should as a top quarterback in the league.  After he got benched at halftime in an embarrassing loss at Baltimore last season, McNabb played some of the best football of his career in leading the Eagles to the NFC title game.  The receivers are solid with last year’s rookie standout DeSean Jackson and this year’s first round pick, Jeremy Maclin of Missouri (I might be biased as a Mizzou alum, but I think Maclin was clearly the best wideout available in the draft).  Factor in the dangerous Kevin Curtis, and Philadelphia has no shortage of targets that can stretch the field.  Philadelphia also boosted the offensive line with additions of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters (from Buffalo) and guard Stacy Andrews from the Bengals.  Oh yeah, and they also signed this Vick guy that’s supposed to be talented.  In all seriousness, do not underestimate Michael Vick’s potential impact here.  The Eagles have possibilities of lining him up at tailback, pairing him with Westbrook on plays where either could run the ball, using Vick in the Wildcat, using him to spell McNabb for a few plays, or even having him and McNabb on the field together.  This is of course assuming Vick is still the talent he was two years ago.  Keep in mind Vick will not be allowed to play until at least week six.

The defense in Philly will have a very different look because they lost captain and fan favorite Brian Dawkins to Denver in free agency.  Dawkins was the heart and soul of the Eagles defense and he will be sorely missed, not just in the secondary but throughout the entire defensive unit and in the locker room as a leader.  It is imperative that someone else on the defense take the reigns as leader, or else there will be complete chaos and it could end up dooming the Eagles.  The secondary itself is still loaded with talent thanks to Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown at corner.  The front seven is still a fairly young group, but they did rise to the task last year.  Tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are good run stuffers, and linebacker Trent Cole has shown great ability to rush the passer.  The Eagles will also be impacted by the summer passing of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who sadly died of cancer.

The Eagles don’t have many concerns on special teams.  Kicker David Akers is among the best, and punter Sav Rocca does a capable job.  With Jackson and Maclin both extremely capable of handling returns, along with new addition Ellis Hobbs from New England, Philadelphia will be dominating the field position battle more often than not.

Overall, I don’t think there is much doubt the Eagles will return to the playoffs, and I like them to prevail in this very difficult division primarily because of their offensive firepower and special teams.  Plus, I’ve learned not to pick against Andy Reid.

2. New York Giants – For awhile last season, the Giants looked every bit like the defending champs.  In fact they were pretty much dominating the league, starting 11-1 and winning many games that weren’t close.  The turning point came when Plaxico Burress accidently shot himself in a New York nightclub.  The Giants proceeded to lose three of their final four regular season contests and then looked listless in a home playoff loss to the division rival Eagles.  Burress is gone, being that he’s about to serve a two year jail sentence.  The question for the Giants is can the move past that and get back to their Super Bowl level?  They think they can.

With Eli Manning at quarterback, that is the half the battle for the Giants.  Manning recently signed a 6-year $97 million extension, so he will be around for a long time.  More importantly for the Giants, he is starting to show that he might just be as good a quarterback as his older brother after all.  The Giants also have good running back talent with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  Jacobs is considered the starter, but both will be major factors in the running game.  Don’t forget that Derrick Ward rushed for over 1,000 yards last year in a supposed backup role to Jacobs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bradshaw is able to duplicate that.  As for the question of replacing Burress at wide receiver, much of that burden falls on their first round draft pick, Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina.  I think the Giants got great value considering they were picking toward the end of the round and several other wideouts were already gone.  Nicks looks like he has the potential to be a factor right away.  The Giants also have the capable Steve Smith as well as Dominik Hixon (who I am still upset my Broncos let go).  Tight end Kevin Boss also made Giants fans forget Jeremy Shockey pretty quickly last year.  The offensive line is one of the best around, anchored by Pro Bowlers Shaun O’Hara and Chris Snee.

If there is a reason besides Burress’ off the field behavior for the Giants’ collapse at the end of last year, it was injuries along the defensive line.  New York is thrilled to have defensive end Osi Umemyiora back, for he sat out last year with a knee injury.  The Giants also sustained a major injury to defensive tackle Justin Tuck, whose presence is vital to creating pass rushing opportunities for Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka.  The linebacking core is reasonably solid with veteran Antonio Pierce leading the way, but the secondary could be an issue.  The Giants did sign safety C.C. Brown from Houston in free agency, but he can’t be considered a viable starter.  The key will be the play of corners Aaron Ross and Corey Webster.  The Giants spent big bucks to keep Webster from leaving via free agency, so they have confidence in him.

Lawrence Tynes is back as the full time kicker this year, after he missed significant time last year, first to injury and then sitting behind the ageless John Carney.  Carney has retired, and the equally capable Tynes is back.  Pro Bowler Jeff Feagles is an oustanding punter, and Dominik Hixon is a very good returner.  Not much to complain about on special teams for the G-men.

I think the Giants could well be a playoff team, but they do play in arguably the toughest division in football.  Three of their first four are on the road, so the Giants need to hope they don’t dig themselves a hole they can’t get out of.

3. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys were needless to say a major disappointment last year.  I will admit that I picked them to win the Super Bowl.  Things started out good for Dallas with a 4-1 start, but things started to go south fast.  The Cowboys ended up losing three of their last four, and missed the playoffs altogether after getting trounced by Philadelphia 44-6 in the final game.  Gone are Terrell Owns, Zach Thomas, Roy Williams (the safety, though the receiver is still there), and Pacman Jones.  In is a new glitzy stadium and supposedly a better attitude.

Quarterback Tony Romo has a very good record as a starter (27-12), but he is just 5-10 in December and January when the pressure is on.  Romo has a terrific arm and has shown ability to make great plays, but now he needs to put everything together and show consistency.  The Cowboys did have a rough stretch last year when Romo was out with a fractured pinikie, so they signed Jon Kitna, who is a very capable backup.  The Cowboys do have few worries in the running game with Marion Barber, who did have a good year last year, and Felix Jones, who looked nothing short of outstanding before suffering hamstring and toe injuries in the sixth game.  Both are healthy and could make the Cowboys running game a real threat.  The biggest offensive change is at receiver, where Owens is gone, and Roy Williams is the main guy now.  Williams was largely a disappointment after Dallas surrendered three draft picks to get him midseason last year, but he might be better suited to be the number one guy.  Jason Witten also gives Romo a great target at tight end, and the Cowboys do have depth with Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin.  There is no question the talent level will be down without Owens, but the attitude and chemistry of the offense could be much improved.  The biggest concern on this side of the ball is the O-line, which is aging and doesn’t have much depth.

The defensive side of the ball has been completely retooled, but it remains to be seen if this will be a good thing.  An underrated loss could be defensive end Chris Canty, who was one of Dallas’ more effective pass rushers.  Nose tackle Jay Ratliff did have seven sacks last year, and DeMarcus Ware is an excellent pass rusher as well.  Beyond that, Dallas will go with several unknowns on defense.  Greg Ellis really started to slow with age last season, and Anthony Spencer has not even come close to justifying his selection as a first round pick in 2007.  The Cowboys did sign veteran Keith Brooking from Atlanta, and that should help stabilize the linebackers a little.  Terence Newman has the potential to be a shutdown corner, but he has not been healthy for the past two seasons.  The rest of the secondary is average, and will miss the loss of the other Roy Williams.

The Cowboys will have punter Mat McBriar back after he broke his foot last season.  Kicker Nick Folk has also been excellent, connecting on 46 of 53 field goals the last two seasons.  A healthy Felix Jones should also make a difference in the return game, and Patrick Crayton is capable there as well.

This could well be an interesting season in Dallas.  Jerry Jones wants to win bad, especially now that he has opened his new, expensive pleasure palace.  The Cowboys play a very tough schedule, largely because of the division they play in.  The Cowboys believe they have improved chemistry and that will help them win.  It may or may not.  If it doesn’t, expect coach Wade Phillips to be out.  Mike Shanahan could be coaching this team in 2010.

4. Washington Redskins – The Redskins are always a tough team to figure out.  Over the years they have made several big splashes in free agency, or in the coaching ranks, or in some other way.  There are always expected to be good but never seem to be a serious contender.  Last year looked good with a 4-1 start, including wins at Dallas and Philadelphia.  Things started to unravel though, and Washington finished a mediocre 8-8.  The Redskins made another big splash this offseason, but it remains to be seen if this team will be any better than medicore in the rugged NFC East.

This is a very important year for quarterback Jason Campbell.  The Redskins were rumored to be very involved in the Jay Cutler sweepstakes, but ultimately couldn’t swing the deal, perhaps because Denver may not have been enamored with Campbell.  The Redskins hope that Campbell will be highly motivated this season, for they feel he hasn’t shown the fire they expect out of the quarterback position thus far in his career.  One fact many don’t know is Campbell’s quarterback rating has actually gone up every season, so there is a chance he could reach his potential this year.  The running game is in great shape with Clinton Portis, who is a workhorse and isn’t afraid of a high carry total, and Ladell Betts, who has proven capable of spelling Portis when necessary.  There is also talent at receiver with Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, as well as tight end Chris Cooley.  The offensive line could be a problem, as it is a very aging unit and doesn’t have much depth.  The Redskins offense has been puzzling at times because the pieces seem to be there for the most part, but they have been unable to really get it together.

The Redskins wasted no time in free agency, spending $100 million over seven years to sign defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth from Tennessee.  The Redskins wanted Haynesworth so badly they signed him on the first day that free agency was open.  He could prove to be worth it, as his presence alone usually ties up two blockers, allowing other players to get pressure on the quarterback and stop the run.  The downside to this move is that Haynesworth has missed time due to injury more than once in his career, so this could be a risky investment.  The Redskins also addressed defensive line in the draft, tabbing Brian Orakpo from Texas with their first pick. The linebackers could also be in good shape with London Fletcher leading the way.  Fletcher is a very underrated player who should be regarded as one of the best tacklers in football and a guy who can make plays all over the field.  The cornerbacks are also outstanding with Fred Smoot and DeAngelo Hall, whom the Redskins signed to a 6-year extension in February.  It’s amazing how much better Hall played in a Redskins uniform than when he was in Oakland last season.

The special teams were a huge problem for Washington last season. Percentage wise, Shaun Suisham was the worst kicker in the league, so it is puzzling that he is still around.  The punting game was also ineffective last year, but the Redskins addressed that by raiding the Colts for Hunter Smith.  Randle El has the talent to be a good punt returner, but he has yet to show that potential with the Redskins.

Washington has the talent to be a playoff team.  On paper this looks like it could be a dangerous team, but everything seems so precarious (the play of Campbell and the health of Haynesworth in particular), that it seems like it could fall apart like a house of cards any moment.  Coach Jim Zorn has to win to save his job.

Coming next: the AFC North

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AFC East Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 26, 2009

We’re about halfway through the preaseason, and that means it’s about time for me to make my predictions on the season.  I will point out last year was just flat dismal for yours truly in this regard.   Neither of my two Super Bowl picks even made the playoffs,  and in fact I missed on half of the playoff teams.  Heck, I was 0 for 4 on conference championship game picks.  (If you’re still reading with baited breath to see what I’m picking this year I am stunned).  Nevertheless, I will attempt to do better this year.  On the plus side, I had a roughly 68 percent success rate on individual games last season, and that’s not bad considering how tough it is to pick today’s NFL.  In an effort to do justice to each team before the season, we will look at one division at a time, and wrap things up right before the season with the full unveiling of wild card and Super Bowl picks.  Today we look at the AFC East, with teams listed in predicted order of finish.

1. New England Patriots – Last year the Patriots got flat robbed.  Despite finishing 11-5, winning their final four games in the process (including a 47-7 thrashing of NFC champ Arizona), they missed the playoffs, while 8-8 San Diego got in.  Oh, and they still posted a good record despite losing Tom Brady to injury in week one.  Brady is back, and that alone has the Patriots poised to retake this division and maybe return to the top of the AFC elite.

Brady’s return should mean better numbers for Randy Moss.  While Matt Cassel did an admirable job filling in, his arm isn’t that of Brady’s.  I expect a big bounce back year for Moss, and I once again expect the big play to be an important part of New England’s attack.  Wes Welker should also benefit from Brady’s return, and could well top 100 catches again in the slot.  The Patriots also got a boost in the running game with the signing of Fred Taylor, who while aged is still very capable, and should take some pressure off Laurence Maroney.  The offensive line remains solid as well with few changes from last year’s unit that paved the way for 2,278 rushing yards last year, the most for the Patriots since 1985.  If the Patriots can also get solid tight end production from Benjamin Watson and trade acquisition Alex Smith, the offense could return to the scary good levels of 2007.  New England did lose their play caller from last year, as Josh McDaniels is now the head coach in Denver, but that shouldn’t prove to be much of a problem.  Remember the Patriots replaced Charlie Weis too after he took the Notre Dame head coaching job.

Defensively, the Patriots must stay healthy to be effective.  This is true for any team of course, but in New England’s case they are battling age and a lack of depth in this area.  The 3-4 defense favored by Bill Belichick relies on solid pressure, particularly from the nose tackle.  New England has a solid one there in Vince Wilfork, but ends Ty Warren and Richard Seymour both battled injury last season.  If both are healthy, the Patriots should be able to get the rush they need.  If not, the pressure will be on a linebacking core that lost Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs.  There is no reason to think that Jerrod Mayo shouldn’t duplicate his outstanding rookie season, but he can’t do it all by himself.  New England may need one of their young unknowns to step up.  The Patriots added Shawn Springs in the secondary, but that could still be question mark for a unit that gave up 27 touchdown passes last season, second most in the NFL.

New England’s special teams remains solid with kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punt Chris Hanson.  Kickoff returns could be an issue after the loss of Ellis Hobbs (traded to Philadelphia). New England also has a new long snapper after the departure of Lonie Paxton to Denver.

Overall expect a big year for the Patriots.  It will be a major upset if they don’t make the playoffs, particularly after they missed them last year.  Five of their first eight games are at home, but four of their final six are on the road.  New England also plays in London this year against Tampa Bay.

2. Buffalo Bills – The good people of Buffalo have had a tough decade.  The Bills have missed the playoffs nine years in a row and the fans have had very little to cheer about.  Despite a promising 5-1 start last year, they flamed out and finished 7-9, losing four of their final five games.  In an effort to turn their fortunes around, the Bills had a very active offseason.  I think it will be an improvement, but will it be enough to get them back in the playoffs?

Trent Edwards is a good quarterback when he is healthy.  His record as a starter is just 12-11, but I think he showed improvement in several areas last year, and this year he might finally have the weapons to really help him.  The Bills made perhaps the league’s biggest splash by bringing in Terrell Owens.  While Owens certainly has his problems, he does have a proven track record of being extremely successful his first year in a new place.  Hence, the genius of the Bills to sign him to a one year contract.  With Owens around, defenses can’t key on Lee Evans anymore.  Factor in Josh Reed, and suddenly the Bills have a very dangerous trio of wideouts.  I think Owens’ impact will be staggering, not only for his own numbers but for his impact on the rest of the offense.  Unfortunately for the Bills, running back Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the season, but I expect a big year from him once he is in the lineup.  Until then, Fred Jackson should help provide some depth, and new acquisition Dominic Rhodes should be good for a handful of carries as well.  Buffalo also will have a completely retooled offensive line, so it remains to be seen if those changes will be good or bad, particularly the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to the Eagles.

The defense should be improved, if nothing else because most of the players are back and should have a better grasp of the Tampa 2 scheme.  Marcus Stroud is a good a defensive tackle as there is in the league, but the Bills will need to get better pressure on the quarterback.  Last year they accounted for just 46 sacks and takeaways, which ranked near the bottom of the NFL.  The addition of first round draft pick Aaron Maybin of Penn State could provide a big impact in this area.  That is, if he’s not too far behind after a lengthy holdout.  I really like their linebackers, particularly Paul Posluszky, who returns after suffering a broken arm last season.  The secondary has talent, but they will need an improved pass rush in order to see better interception totals.

The special teams is a good as any around.  Returners Leodis McKelvin and Roscoe Parrish can be scary returning punts or kickoffs, Kicker Rian Lindell and punter Brian Moorman are also very solid.

If the Bills don’t get walloped  and get their confidence shattered in a week one Monday nighter at New England, their schedule might just be conducive for a playoff run.  However, their fate may hinge on a tough final three games: home vs. New England, at Atlanta, and home vs. the Colts.

3. Miami Dolphins – There is no doubt that Miami made one of the most staggering turnarounds in NFL history last season, recovering from a 1-15 finish in 2007 to an 11-5 effort last year and a division championship.  However, reality hit when they were waxed by the Ravens at home in the first round of the playoffs.  Miami introduced the Wildcat formation to the league with tremendous success, and it appears that the culture is changed in South Florida for the better.  Now they face the task of doing it again.

Miami had to be pleasantly surprised by the play of Chad Pennington at quarterback last season.  It’s funny that if the Jets didn’t sign Brett Favre before last season, Pennington never would have been available.  While Pennington is successful for now, the shadows of Chad Henne, Miami’s QB of the future, and of Pat White, Miami’s second round pick out of West Virginia, loom large especially if Pennington struggles early.  The running game is very solid with Ronnie Brown and a much more focused Ricky Williams.  Brown’s presence and ability to throw should make the Wildcat effective for Miami again this year should they choose to use it.  There are some questions about the receivers.  Ted Ginn Jr. has shown promise but has not played to anywhere near the potential he showed at Ohio State, and Greg Camarillo, while capable, doesn’t strike fear into opponents the way many other receivers do.  The Dolphins should have a good offensive line if they’re healthy, especially since a solid line is a trademark of teams run by Bill Parcells.

The Dolphins released veteran Vonnie Holliday, but should benefit along the defensive line from the return of Jason Taylor.  Taylor played in Washington last year after falling out of favor with Parcells, but is now back in Miami, and if he’s his old self, Miami should see improved sack totals.  Miami also needs a great year from start linebacker Joey Porter.  Porter was a force last year with 17.5 sacks, and with Taylor’s presence it might even open up him for more sack chances.  The Dolphins secondary is young, but the Dolphins feel they should be upgraded last year with the return of Will Allen and the additions of draft picks Vontae Davis from Illinois and Sean Smith from Utah.

Miami has unknowns at kicker (Dan Carpenter) and punter (Brandon Fields) but both did a very serviceable job last season.  The Dolphins really need more out of the return game, especially from Ginn Jr.  The Dolphins drafted him 10th overall in 2007 in large part because of his return ability.  He needs to start showing that in order for the Dolphins to really justify that pick.

The pressure is on for the Dolphins to return to the playoffs and take the next step.  Their first three games (at Atlanta, home vs. Indy, and at San Diego) will make a good start difficult.  Not to mention their last game against Pittsburgh could prove to be a tough hurdle to overcome for a playoff spot.

4. New York Jets – The Jets were off to the races at the start of last year.  At one point they sat 8-3 after two big roads wins over the Patriots and Titans, and were poised to make a playoff run behind Brett Favre.  Suddenly Favre stumbled, the Jets lost four of their last five, and they missed the playoffs.  Certainly not what they envisioned after surrendering three first round picks to get Favre.  Favre is gone, and so is coach Eric Mangini.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan takes over as head coach, and the Jets hope he can make the defense as nasty as unit in Baltimore has been for years.  One of the first things Ryan did though was address the other side of the ball, trading up to take USC quarterback Mark Sanchez fourth overall in the draft.  The Jets hope that a recipe of a rookie coach and quarterback will mean success, as it did for Atlanta and Baltimore last season.  After what those teams did last year, I’m not going to discount anything.  However, rookie coaches and quarterbacks together generally aren’t a very good combination, and last year for the Falcons and Ravens seems to be the exception, not the rule.  That being said, Sanchez has a rocket arm and he’ll be the starter at some point this year, and he should have it week one based on his preseason performance over Kellen Clemens.  New York does have an excellent running game with the physical Thomas Jones and the speedy Leon Washington, and both of them running behind fullback Tony Richardson, who has several Pro Bowl appearances on his resume.  What has caused me serious head scratching is the Jets’ receiving core.  For some reason they dumped Laveraneus Coles and tight end Chris Baker, and didn’t really replace either.  They still have Jerricho Cotchery, but when David Clowney is listed as a starting wideout on the depth chart, that’s not a good sign.  New starting tight end Dustin Keller can catch, but isn’t near the blocker Baker is.  That means Keller isn’t really a good fit for smashmouth style that Ryan wants to implement.  The good news for the Jets is they have a very good offensive line, led by Alan Faneca and Damien Woody.

Defensively, the Jets could well show their age along the line.  The Jets will play a 3-4 under Ryan, and all three starting defensive linemen are over 30.  Granted, Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins can still play, but the Jets’ lack of depth behind them is almost alarming considering their age.  Rex Ryan did raid his old defense in Baltimore for linebacker Bart Scott, who is a tackling machine and should prove to be an excellent leader in Ryan’s new defense.  New York’s other linebackers are underrated and could really benefit from the new scheme, particularly Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas.  Ryan also overhauled the secondary, highlighted by the acquisition of cornerback Lito Shepherd from the Eagles.  Shepherd was in Andy Reid’s doghouse in Philly, but could benefit from a fresh start.

The Jets do have a decent kicker in  Jay Feely, and their return game is among the league’s best with Washington back there, but their biggest question mark is punter.  Right now that position is still unsettled.  It might seem insignificant, but if the Jets fail to move the ball offensively, the lack of a good punter could prove to be a real problem.

I think the Jets are in a rebuilding year.  The running game is good and the defense should be improved, but I just don’t like the idea of a rookie quarterback in New York without reliable targets to throw to.  I think Sanchez could well have an excellent career, but I think the Jets are a year away from contending again.  They tried to win with Favre last year and it backfired, and now they have to pick up the pieces.  A rigorous schedule doesn’t help either.

Coming Next: the NFC East.

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There Are Things More Important Than Football

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 27, 2009

On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to remember Milo Salomonis.  I’ll let this website explain it, because the circumstances are too painful for me to type here: http://www.milosalomonis.org/.  I urge everyone to visit the site and remember that there are things that are infinitely more important than football.   We shouldn’t need tragedies like this to remind us of that, but football is just a game.  Granted, it’s a game many of us are very passionate about and we may care about it a great deal, but sports is not life.  We all need to remember that.

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Week Nine Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 31, 2008

Obviously my predictions need to be taken with a grain of salt, since I once again managed to be woefully incorrect on the World Series.  I have to admit I really thought the two day layover in the middle of game five gave the Rays an advantage, but alas, the Phillies got the job done, and deserve all the credit for doing so.  From the looks of the awful TV ratings, it seems as though I was about the only one to watch anyway.  (The ratings numbers can’t have been helped by Saturday’s massive rain delay and accompanying 10 pm. eastern start time, or by the Barack Obama ad running on seemingly every channel opposite the conclusion of game five).  Incidentally, not shockingly to those who know me, my TV was on the game, not on politics.  I realize that’s not a choice people needed to make in most time zones where the game didn’t overlap, but it did where i live in the Mountain time zone.  My viewing choice would have been the same no matter what party was on the infomercial.  Sports just flat trumps politics in my household, that’s the way it works.  We all clear on this?  Excellent!  Now to the picks:

Last Week: 8-5 (.615)  Season: 71-44 (.617)

– Bills over Jets: Last week the Jets barely beat a Kansas City team that they were supposed to destroy.  Frankly, Kansas City had the upset pulled off if not for some ultra conservative play calling by Herm Edwards on the Chiefs’ last possession they had with the lead, which resulted in a three and out, and allowed Brett Favre a chance to drive the Jets for a go ahead touchdown.  The Jets have turned it over more times than their opponents in their past three games, and they’ve somehow managed to win two of them.  That is not a recipe for success if it keeps up for the Jets.  Buffalo meanwhile is coming off a surprising loss to Miami, and knows they must win this one to maintain their division lead with a Patriots showdown looming next weekend.  I expect a big rebound game from Trent Edwards and I expect the Bills defense to force Favre into a couple of turnovers he won’t be able to recover from.  Buffalo gets the win at home.  

– Broncos over Dolphins: I know I seem to always fall into the trap of picking my team to win, but this is one that the Broncos should be able to get regardless of badly they’ve played recently.  They are coming of a much needed bye week, they are getting injured players back (Tony Scheffler, Brandon Stokley, Selvin Young), and the running game will also get the added bonus of Ryan Torain’s much anticipated debut.  If he is still available in your fantasy league, claim him now, because it’s only a matter of time before Torain is the starter.  Torain was the talk of training camp before he got injured, and he should shine in Denver’s system.  In any case, the Broncos offense should be able to get back on track in this game against a Dolphins pass defense that is ranked 25th.  Miami did get the win last week against Buffalo, and should be able to run the ball with Ronnie Brown and the Wildcat formation, but they don’t have enough offense to keep up if Denver is clicking.  The Broncos get a narrow home win.

– Jaguars over Bengals: I simply refuse to give up on Jacksonville.  How this team is 3-4 is absolutely beyond me.  If they can’t win their next two games (this one and the Lions next week), then I suppose there really is no hope for them.  I still think the Jaguars will be a playoff team when everything is said and done, but they need Maurice Jones-Drew to be more dominant, and they need David Garrard to manage the game better.  Jacksonville let a home game slip away against Cleveland, and they know that urgency is starting to settle in with the AFC race so tight.  Going on to road to Cincinnati and all the empty seats that await is not intimidating, and the Jags’ defense shouldn’t have any trouble harassing Ryan Fitzpatrick or shutting down Cincinnati’s less than stellar running game.  The Bengals’ passing game doesn’t have much hope either after Chad Johnson (or Ocho Cinco or whatever) and T.J. Houshmanzadeh have now both disappeared for weeks.  Jacksonville wins in a laugher here.

– Browns over Ravens: This should be a very good, low scoring, defensive game.  Baltimore clobbered the Browns in Baltimore week three, but this is always an emotional game for the Cleveland fans since the old Browns left for Baltimore in 1995.  Cleveland is playing infinitely better since that week three meeting, and gave a very impressive performance in Jacksonville that made me wonder if I wrote them off a little too early after their 0-3 start.  The Ravens have been very impressive too, and would actually be in playoff position if the season ended today.  Joe Flacco had by far his best game as a pro against the Raiders last week, and Willis McGhaee finally looks healthy.  That being said, if Derek Anderson can avoid costly turnovers against the Ravens defense, Cleveland will sneak away with a win in this one.  

– Texans over Vikings: In a mini-upset pick, I think Houston will continue their winning ways in the Metrodome.  The Texans have now won three straight, and their offense has looked more and more impressive each week (I’m still kicking myself for stupidly cutting Matt Schaub in one of my fantasy leagues after week three).  Houston’s passing game will cause all kinds of problems for a Vikings secondary that gave up 48 points to a less than explosive Bears offense before the bye.  Minnesota has had a disappointing start and has certainly failed to meet the preseason hype, and they will be a desperate team playing in front of a raucous home crowd, but I just can’t see how they’ll be able to contain Houston’s offense.  Even a huge day for Adrian Peterson may not be enough to keep up, and on a hunch I say Houston wins a close one at the wire.  

– Packers over Titans: MAJOR UPSET ALERT.  I’ve had a gut feeling on a couple of these this year (Cowboys-Rams being right at the top), and while I have by no means gotten them all right, I have a real gut feeling on this one.  Tennessee has no doubt been the league’s best team with their 7-0 start, and they’re coming off a real emotional Monday night win against the Colts, and that’s why I sense a letdown here.  The Titans have a day less preparation, while the Packers are coming off a bye and will be well rested and healthy.  Green Bay is also two weeks removed from their big win over the Colts, so they won’t have that lingering in the rear view mirror anymore the way it’s still fresh for the Titans.  The key for Green Bay is to avoid turnovers against Tennessee’s stout defense, but I think the Packers will be able to run with Ryan Grant.  If they can, Aaron Rodgers should have an opportunity to make some plays.  Tennessee is built to win a tight, low scoring game, but what if Rodgers has a big day?  Can the Titans offense keep up?  A hunch says Green Bay pulls the upset and knocks off the league’s last unbeaten team.  

– Buccaneers over Chiefs: Needless to say, I am not picking an upset here, although the Chiefs actually did show a surprise pulse last week.  They were actually able to run a little with Jamaal Charles, Tyler Thigpen gave a performance actually resembling an NFL quarterback, and the defense was able to force turnovers.  The problem for Kansas City is that they’re about to face a Tampa Bay team that is hopping mad after they felt they gave one away in Dallas.  The Buccaneers defense has been awesome all year, and Thigpen will find it much harder to move the offense against it than he did against the Jets.  The Buccaneers’ offense has been up and down this year, but it seems like the trend should be up against the Chiefs.  Jeff Garcia is a smart, veteran QB who will not be rattled by the Arrowhead noise, and the Bucs will be able to withstand the early Chiefs’ punch and have enough to pull away for a road win.  

– Falcons over Raiders: Atlanta was needless to say screwed last week in Philly.  Down by six with just over two minutes to go, and receiving a punt, this sequence ensued.  Despite the fact that Adam Jennings clearly didn’t touch the ball, the refs said he did, and gave the ball to Philadelphia.  Brian Westbrook sealed the Eagles’ win with a touchdown run two plays later, and the Falcons were robbed of a chance to potentially take the lead with plenty of time on the clock and roughly 60 yards to go.  Since there was over two minutes on the clock, replay couldn’t be initiated by the booth upstairs, and the Falcons couldn’t challenge because they used their three timeouts to conserve time on defense while the Eagles were trying to get a first down.  This is a ludicrous flaw in the challenge system: should the Falcons have been asked to save a timeout just in case of a blown call?  Of course not.  The challenge system does not take into account blown calls after all challenges have been used.  This is a rant better served for another column, but the point is the Falcons gave a very admirable performance on the road in a hostile road environment, and by all rights may have had the game stolen from them, and I say they will be highly motivated to make a statement against the Raiders.  Oakland looked awful in Baltimore (what else is new?), and it seems like the Raiders should already be trembling of the thought of a very angry, motivated Atlanta team.  Oh, and the Falcons just happen to have more talent.  Atlanta wins in the Black Hole, erasing the memory of a bad loss in Philadephia

– Giants over Cowboys: This NFC East rivalry always bears watching, particularly after New York’s playoff win in Big D last year.  Dallas is still without Tony Romo for one more game (he is expected back Nov. 16 after next week’s bye), so the Cowboys certainly face an uphill battle in the Meadowlands.  Dallas did sneak away with a much needed win against Tampa Bay, and could still find themselves 5-4 after the bye even with a loss here.  Still, the Cowboys are in flux for this one, with Brad Johnson looking over his shoulder at Brooks Bollinger if he has a bad start to the game.  The Giants continue to prove that their title last year was not a fluke, and that everyone who predicted them to miss the playoffs this year (and in many cases finish under .500) seriously missed the boat.  The Giants showed a lot of guts picking up a win in Pittsburgh in a physical game where a lot of teams would have folded up.  This one actually has the look of a blowout if the Giants continue to be able to run the ball effectively and pressure the quarterback they have all year.  The Giants continue to flex their dominance in this one.  Is a Mount TO eruption coming if he has another bad game?

– Eagles over Seahawks: Seattle came out of nowhere and blew out the 49ers last week, although that may not be saying much.  (The Mike Singletary press conference video you’ve surely seen by now says it all about the state of things there).  Given that, we’re not giving Seattle much credit for that one.  Matt Hasselbeck is still out and so are most of his receivers, and that can’t be a good thing for Mike Holmgren’s club over the long haul.  The Eagles showed how their offense is really dangerous when Brian Westbrook is healthy, and that’s another uh oh for Seattle.  Even though the Seahawks are at home, that won’t be much help against the Eagles’ pressure defense, which is sure to have a field day against Seneca Wallace.  Philadelphia is one of the best teams in the league when healthy, and they frankly should have no problem rolling here.  

– Bears over Lions: This is my eliminator pick this week.  Sure, the Lions showed some fight at home against Washington, but they folded like a house of cards when it counted.  Chicago’s offense gave a complete performance against the Vikings before the bye, and the defense has been swarming.  Even though the Bears have given up more points than usual, they’ve made up for it by forcing turnovers at key times and even scoring touchdowns.  This is not good news for Dan Orlovsky, who has not yet shown he can handle pressure well.  Couple that with Detroit’s inability to consistently run the ball, and the Bears defense should be in for a feast.  Chicago is tied for the lead in the NFC North, and they know they need to win this one with a big game against Tennessee coming up.  Chicago should win this one easily.

– Cardinals over Rams: This should be an entertaining game that actually has a lot of subplots.  The former St. Louis Cardinals return to Missouri to play St. Louis’ current team, the Rams.  Dick Vermeil, the coach of the Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl Championship team, is back to be honored in a pregame ceremony.  Kurt Warner, the quarterback of that team, returns as a member of the Cardinals, and is having a great year to boot.  Not to mention, the Rams are slowly showing signs of making a play in the NFC West, where no one has really managed to take control.  The Rams gave great effort in New England last week and if nothing else showed they are not lumped with the dregs of the league.  Arizona is the current leader, and they can extend that with a road win here.  The Cardinals took a tough loss in Carolina last week even though they showed they could play with the Panthers on the road. (West coast teams are still winless when facing an early kick on the east coast this year).  A couple of quick second half turnovers doomed Arizona last week, but their high octane passing game should have a big day indoors on the carpet at the Dome.  The Cardinals continue to surprise with a hard fought win, and a happy homecoming for Warner.  

– Colts over Patriots: Upset alert.  The Sunday night game is one that for the past few years has easily been the league’s showcase game.  These two teams have always battled at the top of the AFC, and had three memorable playoff meetings this decade.  Some luster is taken off this year’s meeting with the absence of Tom Brady and the Colts’ struggles this year.  The Patriots have shown a lot of gusto starting 5-2 without the league’s top quarterback, and came from behind to beat the Rams last week.  As Matt Cassel feels more comfortable, big plays are starting to open up for Randy Moss and Wes Welker.  Indianapolis is coming off two tough losses, but returns home and gets reinforcements.  Top running back Joseph Addai and run stuffing safety Bob Sanders are both expected to be back Sunday night, and that will give the Colts a huge boost in a game they absolutely must win if they want any chance of staying in the AFC race.  The rivalry nature of this game, and the desperation the Colts are surely feeling will be the swing factors as they pull off the upset at home.  One thing is for sure, I know with absolute certainly that Peyton Manning will not allow himself three bad games in a row.  

– Steelers over Redskins: The Monday nighter should be a great one, and it’s not because of the halftime interviews of Barack Obama and John McCain (in fact that should be an excellent time for a bathroom break).  The Steelers lost a tough one to the Giants last week, and will be looking to rebound on a national stage.  Washington is coming off a win over Detroit, but lost Clinton Portis to an ankle injury late in the game.  He still rushed for 125 yards, and says he will be ready to go for the Steelers, but is he 100 percent?  The Redskins have been one of the league’s top surprises at 6-2, and should be fired up for a Monday night game at home, but they haven’t faced a defense as physical as Pittsburgh’s since their week one loss to the Giants.  Pittsburgh will have a fire in their belly as well, and will be able to run the ball with Willie Parker.  If Portis is indeed beat up, the Steelers defense will smell blood in the water and force Jason Campbell to beat them.  Campbell has played well, but a hunch says the Steelers D will be slightly better.  Pittsburgh wins what should prove to be one of the best Monday night games of the year.  I believe the Steelers and Redskins are both playoff caliber teams, and an interconference loss shouldn’t be crippling to either one.  Keep in mind Washington already has all three division road games out of the way, which will really help them down the stretch.

BYE: Chargers, Panthers, Saints, 49ers

NOTE: Those of you need to submit picks and/or fantasy lineups before first kickoff, keep in mind that starting NEXT WEEK NOV. 6 the Thursday night games begin.  Make sure any picks and lineups are turned in accordingly.

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How’s that For Openers?!?

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 9, 2008

Wow.  That’s all I have to say after watching the Broncos absolutely trash the Oakland Raiders last night to cap off week one.  I certainly didn’t expect a 41-14 blowout win.  Sure, I am always an optimist about my team and always can come up with a reason why they will win, but I sure didn’t expect complete domination to that degree.  Only on one other occasion in their history have the Broncos scored more points in an opener (I still remember that day vividly. I was sitting in the south stands as a sixth grader when the Broncos trounced the Bengals at Mile High.)  Sure, they were playing the Raiders, who true to their tradition kept shooting themselves in the foot, but it is impossible to not be optimistic and excited as a Broncos fan after their effort last night.  Taking into account everything that happened around the league in week one, I am more convinced than before that the Broncos will return to the playoffs.  If they can can score 41 points without Brandon Marshall, imagine when he’s back next week. 

Eddie Royal’s performance last night was phenomenal: nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown, all while going against one of the league’s premier corners in D’Angelo Hall, who received a $66 million contract from the Raiders in the offseason.  The Broncos certainly look like they have a steal in the draft in Royal, who when paired with Brandon Marshall should be even more explosive.  Throw in Tony Scheffler, who came up with a huge 72 yard catch last night, and Darrell Jackson, who caught a 48 yard touchdown pass, and Jay Cutler certainly doesn’t have a shortage of targets.  The running game should benefit from the weapons in the passing game, and the offensive line seems in better shape than last year.  It is a testament to rookie left tackle Ryan Clady that you didn’t hear his name called at all last night.  That means Clady did his job, not allowing a sack and not getting called for a penalty all night. 

Defensively the Broncos weren’t spectacular, but they got the job done.  The Raiders gashed them on the ground in two games last year to the tune of 185 yards per game.  Last night they rushed for 150, which is a slight improvement, but the Raiders still ran for over five yards a carry.  The Broncos will have to shore that up, and will get a good test next week with LaDainian Tomlinson.  The Broncos certainly took advantage of the opportunities presented to them by the Raiders’ ineptitude offensively, and that’s part of what a defense needs to do.  They did get good pressure on JaMarcus Russell a number of times, which is something they weren’t able to do last year.  As the season goes on though, the Broncos will need to make sure they can consistently stop the run and put pressure on the QB.  Last night the run wasn’t much of a factor for the Raiders because the Broncos jumped out to an early lead, but the Broncos will need to stop the run in order to win close games. 

The Broncos have a huge game next week with San Diego coming into Mile High.  The Broncos are the only team in the AFC West with a win in week one.  Just one week into the season, the Broncos find themselves in a conference where the defending champion Patriots have lost their MVP quarterback for the year, the perennial powerhouse Colts looked confused in a week one loss, the chic pick Jaguars got stunned in their first game, and the favorites in their own division, the Chargers, lost on the last play in their first game.  The AFC is wide open for the taking, and the Broncos find themselves in the thick of it with a number of other teams.  This should definitely be a wild ride in the NFL this year.

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