Reid Fischer's World of Rants

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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco 49ers’

NFC West Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 8, 2009

Teams listed in predicted order of finish:

1. Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks endured a very significant collapse a year ago.  They went from a perennial division championship team to a 4-12 also ran in the blink of an eye.  Definitely not what Mike Holmgren envisioned in his final season as head coach in Seattle.  It started from a get-go with a 34-10 loss in Buffalo, and before the Seahawks knew it they were out of the race.  Injuries had as much to do with this as anything, but the poor record seemed to give the team the excuse it needed to retool just a bit.  Jim Mora, Jr. takes over as head coach, and all he did his first season in Atlanta was lead the Falcons to the NFC title game in 2004.  The Seahawks are healthy, and with the additions they made are back in position to reclaim the NFC West.

Start with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.  Hasselbeck suffered a bulging disc in his back last year, and thus the Seahawks suffered perhaps the second most crippling injury blow in the league after Tom Brady.  Hasselbeck is a no brainer Pro Bowl talent, and with all due respect to Seneca Wallace, the Seahawks will be significantly upgraded this year with a healthy Hasselbeck.  I don’t believe Hasselbeck gets the due he should, for he should abosolutely be in the discussion of top QBs around the league.  His numbers speak for themselves throughout his career.  The Seahawks also made a major free agent impact with the pickup of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who escapes the jail that has been Cincinnati.  Houshmandzadeh no longer has to play in the shadow of Chad Ochocinco, and will be the clear featured receiver in Seattle.  Houshmandzadeh should be more at home in the northwest (he played college ball at Oregon State), but the fact that he is the number one guy will be a huge relief for him as well.  I believe he is in line for a huge year, and his presence will mean a big year for Hasselbeck as well.  The Seahawks also have receiving depth with veterans Nate Burleson and Deion Branch.  Tight end John Carlson also provides a good option in the passing game, plus he is a very good blocker.  The key for Seattle could well be the running game, for they will need i to be successful in order to draw attention from the passing attack.  It will be interesting to see how Mora and his staff divide carries between Julius Jones and new addition Edgerrin James, who was released by Arizona.  Jones and James are both guys who are used to being the primary back, and both are going to want their share of carries.  If they can co-exist, both are talented and capable of keeping a defense off balance.   I think with the right motivation, both will at least act like they are happy for a time, and if both are effective it will really make a difference for the Seahawks.  The offensive line features left tackle Walter Jones, who has been to multiple Pro Bowls but is also coming off knee surgery.  The Seahawks were decimated by injuries along the line last ear, so they expect improvement based on the simple fact everyone is now healthy.

The Seahawks’ defensive line was really pushed around a year ago, so they addressed that area by signing a pair of 300-pound defensive tackles in free agency, Colin Cole from Green Bay and Cory Redding from Detroit.  The Seahawks feel that if those two can tie up linemen, it will create more pass rushing and palymaking opportunities.  End Patrick Kerney was yet another Seahawk to be hit with injury last year, but now is healthy, and he is one of the more underrated pass rushers in the league.  Seattle will have a new look at linebacker, after they traded Julian Peterson, the team’s lone Pro Bowl representative, to Detroit.  To replace him, they used the fourth overall pick in the draft to tab Aaron Curry from Wake Forest.  He has looked great in preseason and should make an immediate impact.  He will be joined by the athletic Lofa Tatupu and hard hitting LeRoy Hill, who the Seahawks thought enough of to use their franchise tag on him.  The biggest question marks are in the secondary, but Seattle does have Marcus Trufant and they brought back Ken Lucas in April.

The Seahawks appear ready to turn the kicker position over to Brandon Coutu, who was on the roster all of last year even though the Seahawks had Olindo Mare.  Jon Ryan will handle the punting duties, and he has a very strong leg.  Nate Burleson and Josh Wilson should also be effective returning kicks.

I expect a big rebound year for the Seahawks.  They were so riddled with injury last year that they had very little chance of being competitive.  This year with everyone healthy they are in position to make a run.  Remember, this division was won with a 9-7 record last year.  I like the Seahawks to reassume the top position.

2. Arizona Cardinals – Arizona has accomplished something that almost no one thought possible: they have defined themselves as a threat in the NFL.  This is a team that has had potential for break out for several years, and last year they were finally able to break through, winning the division with a 9-7 record.  Then, they managed to write off everyone who said that was a fluke by running through the playoffs, beating Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia.  The Cardinals then came very close to stunning Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.  Make no mistake about it, Arizona is a real player in the NFL.  Can they get back to the Super Bowl?  History says that will be tough, but the Cardinals should be able to contend for a playoff spot once again.

It’s hard to believe that Kurt Warner is 38, but he is still one of the most effective quarterbacks in the NFL.  Warner has had a renaissance in Arizona, after he struggled with the Giants and then was a backup to Matt Leinart with the Cardinals.  Leinart is still viewed as the quarterback of the future, but this is definitely Warner’s team.  The Cardinals told him as much when they signed him to an extension in the offseason.  Warner is extremely accurate and probably reads defenses better than anyone else in the league. Even though he is not mobile, he is surprisingly adept at avoiding the sack because of his ability to find the open receiver so quickly.  Not only that but he might have the best set of wideouts in all of football at his disposal.  Larry Fitzgerald has an ability to catch any ball at any time, open or not.  Sometimes he can outleap anyone and snag a ball even when double covered.  Anquan Boldin is also an outstanding route running and deep threat.  He has expressed unahappiness about his contract, so it will be interesting to see how that affects his performance.  Steve Breaston is also a very good option at third receiver.  He would be a sure starter on most teams, but his ability to play the slot alongside Fitzgerald and Boldin makes the Cardinals’ offense very difficult to slow down for any secondary.  The Cardinals took a risk in the running game by allowing Edgerrin James to leave for Seattle.  This is largely because they spent their first round pick on Ohio State running back Beanie Wells.  Wells has an intriguing combination of size and speed, and the Cardinals are hoping he can be the starter from the word go.  Otherwise, the ground attack will be in the hands of Tim Hightower, who is good but not spectacular.  The offensive line is a cohesive unit that plays well together, and returns intact from a year ago.

The defensive line is an enigma at this point, for the group did a great job stuffing the run in the playoffs, but played poorly down the stretch of the regular season.  They also were unable to generate a pass rush on Ben Roethlisberger when it mattered in the Super Bowl.  Darnell Dockett is their best pass rusher, and Arizona will be highly dependent on him to lead the charge to the quarterback.  Bertrand Berry is very capable as well on the other side when he is on his game.  The linebackers are very average and aging, led by Karlos Dansby and Chike Okeafor.  The strength of the team lies in the secondary, which is one of the best in the NFL.  Cornerback Bryant McFadden comes over from the Steelers, and joins Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to form an effective unit.  Safeties Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle are hard hitting and would each start for any team easy.

Kicker Neil Rackers is extremely effective and accurate in the clutch, plus punter Ben Graham is solid so there are no worries there.  The return game is a question mark with the loss of J.J. Arrington, but Breaston might be able to get a shot if the Cardinals are willing to risk minimizing his effectiveness at receiver.

Arizona is battling history in the sense that losers of the Super Bowl tend to have down seasons the next year.  The Cardinals appear to have the talent to buck that trend, but they still need to show they can consistently win on the road.  A hunch says they lose a close division race to Seattle but that they will find themselves in the wild card hunt.

3. San Francisco 49ers – It has been a long time since the 49ers have resembled anything close to the glory days of the 80s.  Last year was more of the same as the team stumbled to seven losses in their first nine games, resulting in the firing of Coach Mike Nolan.  The good news for Niners fans is the team seemed to show some life under Mike Singletary when he took over.  Singletary brought a fiery new attitude to the team and the coaching staff, and San Francisco managed five wins in its last seven contests.  There is hope in San Francisco, but there is also turmoil and distraction looming over like a dark cloud.

The 49ers saw what they thought was good fortune on draft day, as the top receiver on the board fell to them at number ten.  The Niners grabbed Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech, thinking he would give them the deep threat they had been missing offensively.  Turns out they got more than the bargained for, because Crabtree remains the only unsigned draft pick as we head into week one.  Seems Mr. Crabtree thinks he should have been selected higher in the draft, and thus he wants top pick money.  He says he is prepared to sit out the season and reenter the draft next year if necessary.  The 49ers are just as stringent in their stance that Crabtree should be paid based on where he was actually selected, so we have a stalemate that’s going to continue for awhile, with San Francisco potentially in danger of losing the rights to Crabtree altogether if he follows through with his threat to sit out the year.  The absence of Crabtree would mean the 49ers would be stuck with essentially the same group of wideouts as last year.  Isaac Bruce is entering his 16th season in the NFL, and he briefly contemplated retirement in the offseason.  He can still get open, but is not near as explosive as his days with the Rams.  Josh Morgan did start to emerge in the second half of the season last year, and the second year wideout will be expected to step up in a big way if Crabtree doesn’t show.  The 49ers also signed veteran Brandon Jones from Tennessee, who will also be counted on heavily.  Tight end Vernon Davis will be asked to start living up to the potential he showed as a sixth overall pick in 2006.  Davis has been more valuable as a blocker so far, but now he will be needed in the receiving game as well.  Regardless of who is catching the ball, the 49ers know, at least at the start of the season, that Shaun Hill will be one throwing to them.  Hill is actually 7-3 as a starter, and the 49ers have tremendous confidence in him.  One reason for their second half surge last year was that Hill stepped in for J.T. O’Sullivan and seemed to inject some life into the team.  Hill is very much a journeyman, but if he continues to play well, the job will remain his.  Alex Smith has been the ultimate bust since being the top overall pick in 2005, and while the coaches desperately want to make him the starter, Hill has flat outperformed him.  Hill will have a luxury of an excellent running game with Frank Gore leading the way.  Gore has been the team’s workhorse the past few years, and there is no question he is the key to what they do.  He can run, he can catch, and he can block.  Gore has averaged well over 20 carries a game for the past three seasons, so it is scary to think where they would be without him.  The 49ers are making an effort to keep Gore fresher, so they tabbed Alabama’s Glen Coffee with their third round pick.  The idea is that Coffee can spell Gore for a few carries a game, and that way Gore should be fresher for the end of the year.  The offensive line has been horrible, allowing a staggering number of sacks the last two years, but the 49ers did sign free agent tackle Marvel Smith from the Steelers.  Smith has battled back problems, but the Niners are hopeful he can inject some stability into the group.

Defensively, the 49ers are a quietly improving group with talent.  The defensive line is anchored by pass rusher Justin Smith, who proved to be worth the money spent in free agency last season.  The 3-4 alignment the team plans to use this season should prove to be very beneficial to Smith, who will line up exclusively at right end, which plays to his pass rushing strength.  The linebackers are very talented, led by Patrick Willis, who is quietly becoming one of the game’s best players, making the Pro Bowl in each of his first two years.  He is joined by Takeo Spikes, who has been multiple Pro Bowls himself in his career.  The 49ers hope the 3-4 will prove to be better suited to both players.  The secondary is a mix of veterans (cornerbacks Nate Clements and Walt Harris) and youth (safeties Michael Lewis and Dashon Goldson).

The special teams is in good hands with reliable kicker Joe Nedney and punter Andy Lee.  The return game is also in very solid hands with Allen Rossum, who continues to be one of the most consistent kick returners in football.

While the 49ers do have some talent in place and a world of potential, I would feel better about them if they didn’t have the Crabtree distraction hanging over their head.  I also want to see improved play from the offensive line and secondary before I anoint them a playoff team.  Right now they are still a year away,

4. St. Louis Rams – It seems hard to believe it was 10 years ago that the Rams won the Super Bowl thanks to Kurt Warner Marshall Faulk, and the Greatest Show on Turf.  What was once one of the most feared offenses in NFL history is now arguably the worst team in the NFL.  Last year the Rams were a disaster in virtually every area, finishing 2-14.  Not surprisingly, there is a new sheriff in town in first year coach Steve Spagnuolo, who comes over from the Giants and brings a tough attitude to a team that certainly needs a little discipline.  The rebuilding is well underway, and things will be painful for another year in St. Louis.

Marc Bulger does remain the starting quarterback, and the Rams are hoping he can return to levels from a few years ago, especially his 4,000 yard season of 2006.  Bulger has not been able to stay healthy consistently, and he tends to linger in the pocket too long, leading to sacks.  He does have a good arm, and the Rams will be counting on his stability at the position.  The Rams also hope that his declining production the past few years is an aberration, not a trend.  What will make things a little tougher for Bulger is that he will throwing to a very average group of receivers.  Longtime veteran Torry Holt was let go in a cost cutting move, so the Rams will go with Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson, who comes over from Atlanta.  Tight end Randy McMichael does put up decent numbers and is a good blocker.  The key for the Rams is they are going to have to rely very heavily on their running game.  Steven Jackson is by far the best player on the team, for he has ability to run between the tackles, catch out of the backfield, and really make people miss.  The Rams did sign fullback Mike Karney from the Saints, so that is a clear indication that the running game may actually be a priority in St. Louis.  Jackson should post big numbers, and he might be able to get them into the end zone enough to help improve on the total of 2 wins from a year ago.  The offensive line is also a major bright spot for now and the future, for the Rams spent their first round pick on Baylor tackle Jason Smith.  They also signed center Jason Brown from Baltimore.  Veteran Orlando Pace was let go in another cost cutting move, but the new coaches felt that Pace’s production had dropped significantly anyway.

Despite major efforts to upgrade the defensive line the past few years, the Rams have remained bad against the run and have been equally unable to generate a pass rush.  Rookie Chris Long did have four sacks last year, but now the Rams will be counting on him to start showing his potential and justify his second overall selection a year ago.  The Rams will also need production out of Leonard Little, who had six sacks last year.  The linebackers are in the process of being retooled, but I like the second round selection of Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis in the draft.  The Rams hope that he will eventually become the leader of the defense the way he was at Ohio State.  The rest of the group is very young and there are expected to be growing pains.  The Rams have decided to basically retain the same secondary as last year, highlighted by cornerback Ron Bartell and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe.

The kicking game is actually in decent hands with kicker Josh Brown and punter Donnie Jones.  Both have strong legs and are accurate.  Derek Stanley is expected to get the first crack at returning kicks and punts, but he has yet to show any consistency in that area.

The Rams are undertaking a major rebuilding effort, and the immediate future does not look good.  Many home games are not expected to sell out, resulting in local television blackouts.  I think Spagnuolo and his staff will have success eventually, but this has the look of a very rough year for the Rams.

Coming later this week: playoff and week one picks

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Week Two Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 12, 2008

This NFL season is certainly shaping up to be very intriguing on a number of fronts.  Could we possibly have a playoffs that doesn’t include New England OR Indianapolis?  It could be possible if Matt Cassel proves to be no Tom Brady and the Colts take too long to get it together after their disastrous week one effort.  Are the Jets the new favorite in the AFC East, or is Buffalo for real?  Are the Steelers ever going to get their due for being consistently good?  Is the Bears defense back to the level of two years ago?  Who is going to win the awful NFC West?  It’s only one week into the season, and a number of my season picks are threatening to blow up in my face already.  I keep telling myself it’s still early, but it is possible that my AFC Super Bowl pick may not be all its cracked up to be. I still think Jacksonville’s defense will not allow them to be a disappointment.  Was I nuts to pick the 49ers to win the NFC West?  I still maintain they’ll be a surprise by the end of the year.  Was I drinking the Kool-Aid on the Minnesota hype?  I still think they have a team that is scary talented.  Am I underestimating Aaron Rodgers? I have to admit he looked very good in week one.  We’ll see if he can maintain it over the long haul.  Are the Chargers in trouble without Shawne Merriman?  Or is that wishful thinking on my part?.  It did seem like someone forgot to tell them the season started for three quarters against Carolina.  Speaking of the Panthers, are they once again a contender in the NFC? That offense could really come alive when Steve Smith returns from suspension in week three.  How praytell did the Falcons win a game, let alone dominate? I reserve judgement until I see them against someone other than Detroit.  

At least I got a few things right in week one.  The Cowboys dominated on the road.  The Browns looked lost and confused.  The Giants looked dominant like you would expect a defending champ to be.  The Bengals REALLY stink, or did you see Joe Flacco score on a 38-yard touchdown run while jogging through the Bengals defense? The Seahawks looked horrible on the road.  Brett Favre can still play a little.  Donovan McNabb looks poised for a big season.  The Raiders are a mess akin to Days of Our Lives as usual.  The Broncos offense could be scary good.  Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.  Perhaps that was more the Raiders are awful.  

One thing I know, this could be a season unlike any other.  Or maybe it will be just like any other.  For 11 consecutive seasons, there have been at least five teams in the playoffs who did not qualify the previous year.  With the exception of the 2006 Seahawks, the Super Bowl loser has missed the playoffs every year since 2000.  Even at that the Seahawks only made it past the first round the next year thanks to Tony Romo’s butterfingers.  Here are the numbers:

2000 New York Giants – Lost Super Bowl XXXV
2001 New York Giants – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2001 St. Louis Rams – Lost Super Bowl XXXVI
2002 St. Louis Rams – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2002 Oakland Raiders – Lost Super Bowl XXXVII
2003 Oakland Raiders – 4-12 record, no playoffs

2003 Carolina Panthers – Lost Super Bowl XXXVIII
2004 Carolina Panthers – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2004 Philadelphia Eagles – Lost Super Bowl XXXIX
2005 Philadelphia Eagles – 6-10 record, no playoffs

2005 Seattle Seahawks – Lost Super Bowl XL
2006 Seattle Seahawks – 9-7 record (made playoffs, 2nd round exit)

2006 Chicago Bears – Lost Super Bowl XLI
2007 Chicago Bears – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2007 New England Patriots – Lost Super Bowl XLII
2008 New England Patriots – ??????

This does not bode well for the Patriots in light of Tom Brady’s injury.  I know, I picked the Patriots to return to the AFC title game, but I also said they were done if Brady went down.  It will be interesting to see if the Patriots continue the trend of Super Bowl losers struggling the next year.  On one hand, it is hard a fathom a team threatening history one year and missing the playoffs the next year.  On the other hand, the Patriots missing the playoffs this year would be right in line with what the NFL is about much of the time. I still shudder when I think of the Broncos going 6-10 in 1999 after winning back to back Super Bowls and being favored to compete for a third.  After all there is the old cliche “On any given Sunday……”   Now on to the picks.

Last Week: 9-7

– Jaguars over Bills: I have to admit I really struggled with this one.  The Bills dominated Seattle last week, and the Jaguars look like they could be in trouble.  Still, I can’t picture the Jaguars 0-2, especially with Jack Del Rio having a week to drill discipline into his team before the home opener.

– Cardinals over Dolphins: Surprise stat of the week: the Cardinals actually went 6-2 at University of Phoenix Stadium last season.  The Cardinals at 2-0 would rank among the season’s early surprises, but it would be an even bigger surprise if Chad Pennington had a big day against what is becoming one of the league’s most underrated secondaries.

– Jets over Patriots: Brett Favre’s home debut in New York puts an extra charge into this one, plus the Jets would just love to stick it to the Patriots in the wake of Spygate last year.  I have a feeling Matt Cassel will find the road to be much more daunting than Gillette Stadium.  Oh, and he doesn’t have the luxury of facing the Chiefs.

– Titans over Bengals: No Vince Young for Tennessee, but it won’t matter.  There are high school teams that tackle better than Cincinnati’s defense.  The Bengals offense looked a little confused too last week.  Carson Palmer under 100 yards passing?  The Marvin Lewis watch begins in Cincinnati.  I say 75 percent he’s axed before the year is over.

– Steelers over Browns: Pittsburgh will run away with the AFC North.  The Browns proved last week that they are a ways from the elite against Dallas.  This one will be competitive due to the rivalry factor, plus an emotional under the lights home crowd in Cleveland, but the Steelers are the class of the division and they will prove it.

– Vikings over Colts: Chalk this one up as the most intriguing game of the week for me.  Is this an elimination game of sorts already?  The Colts cannot be confident heading into the loud Metrodome after getting shelled at home in their opener.  Minnesota needs Tarvaris Jackson to show that potential we keep hearing about, but the Vikings defense will follow the Bears blueprint and harass Peyton Manning.  Peyton, meet Jared Allen.  Good luck.  The Colts at 0-2? It seems beyond crazy, but it might just happen.

– Broncos over Chargers: Denver’s confidence is sky high after destroying the Raiders on the road, plus Brandon Marshall is back.  If D’Angelo Hall couldn’t cover Eddie Royal one on one, how are the San Diego corners going to handle him and Marshall?  The Chargers pass rush will really miss Merriman, plus Antonio Gates is hobbled.  The Broncos might allow a high rushing day for LT, but their offense will be enough to win a shootout and enjoy a large lead in the AFC West.  San Diego at 0-2? Seems really crazy, but it just might happen.

– Chiefs over Raiders: Dud game of the week.  The rivalry is nasty enough that the game could actually be fun to watch, but these are two of the worst teams in the league.  The Chiefs are reportedly having trouble selling out Arrowhead for this game, which tells all you need to know about the state of football these days in Kansas City.  Still, the Raiders are a mess in every way, and Larry Johnson will run for enough to get KC a rare W.  

– Giants over Rams: The G-men’s biggest challenge will be overcoming a 10-day layoff after opening the season with their Thursday night win over Washington.  St. Louis was maybe the worst team in week one, so there is nowhere to go but up.  This seems like it could be a trap game for New York if the Rams’ offense wakes up (Torry Holt 1 catch for 9 yards last week – are you kidding me?).  Still, the Giants should be able to rely on their championship experience and pull out a win.

– Saints over Redskins: New Orleans will really miss Marques Colston, who is out 4-6 weeks.  Still, Drew Brees has enough targets for the team to score offensively.  The Redskins looked like they didn’t know which end was up offensively last week.  If that continues, New Orleans will win a low scoring affair.

– Bears over Panthers: This should be a great game.  Both teams pulled shockers in week one, so it’s hard to say which of these teams is better right now.  The Panthers are without Steve Smith for another week, so that gives an edge to the Bears defense.  Chicago won on the road during their Super Bowl run two years ago, and the hunch is they’ll find a way to pull out this one.  This one really could go either way though.

– Packers over Lions: Aaron Rodgers played well last week in the spotlight, and the Packers look like they have a statement to make.  Detroit? The Lions should be embarrassed losing to Atlanta.  Home field advantage won’t help the Lions if they keep playing like that.  This won’t exactly be a difficult road environment for Green Bay’s young signal caller.

– Buccaneers over Falcons: Brian Griese gets the start for Tampa so that gives slight pause.  Still, the Falcons aren’t playing Detroit anymore.  Matt Ryan could be in for a rude awakening this week against Monte Kiffin’s defense.  Tampa Bay almost stole one last week and could be just good enough to make things interesting in the NFC South.  On a side note, I am kicking myself that I didn’t rank Michael Turner higher in fantasy this year.  He could have some big games this year even though he’s playing for the Falcons.

– Seahawks over 49ers: Seattle is still really banged up, and I really want to pick the upset.  Thing is, Seattle has a tremendous home field advantage, and there is no reason to back San Francisco on the road right now after the way they played last week.  Besides, Matt Hasselbeck has got to play better this week doesn’t he? This could be a really sloppy game.

– Texans over Ravens: This game has been moved to Monday night due to Hurricane Ike, which makes it the first Monday night game in Texans history.  Even though it won’t be nationally televised,that’s enough for me in this toss-up matchup.  Baltimore’s defense is still good, but I still want to see Joe Flacco on the road.  Houston is a much better team than what they showed last week.

– Cowboys over Eagles: This too will be a fantastic game.  In a way it’s a shame one of these teams will have to start the year 1-1.  I like the Cowboys in what should be a raucous atmosphere for their home opener, on a Monday night no less.  Still, the Eagles pose a big challenge.  The sway factor will be a monster game from Terrell Owens, eager as always to show Andy Reid and company they did him wrong.

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Week One and Season Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 5, 2008

Football is finally back!  I know, they’ve been playing the preseason games for a month but that doesn’t count.  Last night’s win by the Giants over Washington officially kicked off the year.  Count me among those that feels the Giants are really being slighted and are not being given the respect a defending champion should deserve.  Yes, they lost their top two defensive ends (Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to a season ending injury in preseason) but they still the defending champs, and last night they played like it.  The Redskins looked lost offensively most of the game, in large part because the Giants managed to get pressure on Jason Campbell.  Eli Manning didn’t have a great game, but he made enough plays early to give the Giants the lead, and Plaxico Burress proved he is still the real deal. 

I am genuinely baffled how many people are predicting a bad year for the Giants.  My hometown newspaper, the Denver Post, predicted a 20-19 Redskins win yesterday.  Of the 16 experts on espn.com, only one is predicting the Giants to win the NFC East (to be fair they actually didn’t last year) and seven of those experts believe the Giants will miss the playoffs.  The Sports Guy on espn. com is offering the following: Prediction No. 9: The Giants finish either 7-9, 6-10 or 5-11.   Plleeeasseee.  If you know anything about football, you know that is unlikely for a defending Super Bowl champion, particularly one with a tough defense that has proven over the years it can win on the road.  At least Sports Illustrated is picking the Giants to go 9-7 and win one playoff game.  I’m not saying the Giants will repeat, or even that they’re a lock to win the division (the Cowboys are loaded and dangerous and perhaps the favorite in the NFC).  I’m simply saying the Giants should at least get a little more respect than they’re getting.  Their next two games are at St. Louis and home against Cincinnati.  It’s very possible the G-men will begin the season 3-0, and there are several idiots out there thinking they won’t make the playoffs?  If they were playing in the AFC maybe, but not in the mediocre NFC.

Now, to be fair, I offer my picks for the season, and I have as much chance of being wrong as anyone else (and probably will be).  It is easy to forget that there is numerous turnover in the league every year, and there will always be surprise teams, as I offer a couple of shockers below. 

NFC EAST CHAMP: Dallas (13-3)  The Cowboys blew an opportunity last year with a home playoff loss.  The offense returns loaded as ever, and if everyone on the roster behaves this is the team to beat in the NFC, and maybe in the league.  The addition of Pacman Jones is huge if he stays out of trouble, as he is one of the top kick returners in football and a solid corner.  Zach Thomas also shores up the linebacking core.  Tony Romo and Terrell Owens have a clear chemistry that will allow the offense to light it up again this season. 

NFC NORTH CHAMP: Minnesota (10-6) I still believe the Vikings would have been a real player for the Super Bowl if they had gotten Brett Favre.  Tarvaris Jackson will have pressure on him all season, but with Adrian Peterson back there the Vikings will score a lot of points.  The league’s top run defense got even better with the addition of Jared Allen.  Expect at least 15 sacks out of him. 

NFC SOUTH CHAMP: New Orleans (10-6) The Saints have as much offensive talent as anyone and were a real disappointment last year.  This year they should be able to turn it around and be able to win a division that is up for grabs.  Reggie Bush should explode in his third year with a healthy Deuce McAllister accompanying him at running back.  The key will be how well their defense performs.  Carolina could be a darkhorse here, but they are likely to wear down with so many key players having a history of injury. 

NFC WEST CHAMP: San Francisco (9-7) This is my real surprise pick.  The 49ers have stunk it up in recent years, and start a no name quarterback in J.T. O’Sullivan.  Thing is, Mark Martz has taken over as offensive coordinator and brings receiver Isaac Bruce with him from his old days in St. Louis.  Martz has had success with all kinds of quarterbacks (Kurt Warner in 1999 anyone?) and the Niners will benefit from playing in an awful division.  I actually thought about Arizona here, but the Cardinals will continue their pattern of underachieving in the desert. 

NFC WILD CARDS: New York Giants (11-5) Philadelphia (10-6)  Both teams play in the rugged NFC East, which produced both wild card teams last season.  The Giants, as mentioned above, are much better than the respect they are being shown, and will prove it by returning to the playoffs.  The Eagles prospects could well depend on the health of Donovan McNabb, but they finished last season with a bang and should continue that momentum into the season. 

You may notice the absence of Green Bay.  I stand by my opinion that they made a colossal error rejecting Brett Favre in favor of Aaron Rodgers, and that distraction will carry over.  You don’t simply replace a legend quarterback, it doesn’t happen.   I don’t think the Seahawks will make it because they have benefited for years playing in a weak division, but their lack of running game will kill them, in addition to the fact that they don’t have many stars that jump off the page. 

NFC WILD CARD ROUND: New Orleans over Philadelphia, N.Y. Giants over San Francisco

NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND: Dallas over N.Y. Giants, Minnesota over New Orleans

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Dallas over Minnesota

AFC EAST CHAMP: New England (12-4) The Patriots will be very good once again.  The health of Tom Brady does seem to be a question mark, and a caveat here is that if he goes down they are done.  The Patriots will not challenge for 16-0 again but will be able to win the division without much difficulty thanks to a friendly schedule.  Randy Moss should have another big year. 

AFC NORTH CHAMP: Pittsburgh (11-5) The Steelers have a tough physical defense that will help them win a lot of games, particularly in cold weather late in the year.  Rashard Mendenhall could be a rookie of the year candidate and will help ignite their offense and will complement Willie Parker. 

AFC SOUTH CHAMP: Jacksonville (12-4) One of my other surprise picks.  This has traditionally been an automatic for Indy, but the Jaguars are ready to break out.  Their defense is without question a top five unit, and the offense will benefit from the addition of Jerry Porter at wideout.  The Jaguars nearly upset the Pats in the playoffs on the road last year.  David Garrard is underrated as a passer and it wouldn’t shock me to see him in the Pro Bowl. 

AFC WEST CHAMP: San Diego (11-5) The Chargers biggest question is if they can stay healthy.  LaDainian Tomlinson appears healthy and ready to go, but Antonio Gates does not.  Shawne Merriman declined surgery so he could play this year, and that will be interesting to see if that affects the Chargers.  Still, there is enough talent that they are the division favorites considering the rest of the division. 

AFC WILD CARDS: Indianapolis (10-6) Denver (10-6)  The Colts will still make the playoffs even if they don’t win the division.  Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning and the offense will be good as usual.  Call me crazy, but I think there could be a leftover effect from their stunning playoff loss to San Diego last year.  The Colts in recent years have debunked the theory they can’t win on the road, but something doesn’t seem right about this team entering the season.   As for the Broncos, I realize this looks like a hometown pick, but I expect big breakout years from Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.  The run defense can’t possibly be any worse than last year, yet the Broncos still managed seven wins as bad as it was.  Slight improvement in that area should lead to a few more wins, and the fact they have four games against the Chiefs and Raiders will put them in the playoffs.

I’ve left out several good teams, many of which would make it if they were playing in the NFC.  The Jets will barely miss out of the postseason, and it won’t be Brett Favre’s fault they don’t get there.  The Jets made several improvements in the offseason, but a difficult early schedule will put them behind an eight ball they won’t be able to get in front of.  The Titans are a solid team that made the playoffs a year ago, but this year they will also fall just short.  I believe the Browns, one of the “hot” teams in this year’s media, were a fluke last year.  It would not shock me to see Derek Anderson usurped as the starting QB by Brady Quinn at some point, and that will doom the Browns. 

WILD CARD ROUND: Pittsburgh over Denver, Indianapolis over San Diego

DIVISIONAL ROUND: Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, New England over Indianapolis

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Jacksonville over New England

SUPER BOWL: Dallas over Jacksonville    

The Cowboys have every piece necessary to win it all.  They came very close last season, and I believe they too would have beaten the Patriots in a Super Bowl rematch had they had the chance.  Last year’s playoff loss will serve as motivation all year and this season they will be able to get it done. 

Before we wrap up, I also offer my selections for the rest of week one.  Picks do not take point spread into account:

– Bills over Seahawks: The Bills are an intriguing team, and the Seahawks are banged up. 

– Dolphins over Jets: A mini upset, but the Dolphins will be significantly improved.  Chad Pennington gets revenge.

– Patriots over Chiefs: The question is will Kansas City even get a first down.  This is a complete mismatch.

– Ravens over Bengals: Both teams will be bad this year.  Cincy has a potentially explosive offense, but the Ravens defense will help them pull this one out at home.

– Steelers over Texans: Houston is improving, but a rough assignment for the opener.

– Cowboys over Browns: This will be a good game, but the Cowboys pull it out on the road.

– Colts over Bears: Colts win opener at new stadium, Bears quarterback woes continue

– Jaguars over Titans: Jaguars win tough road opener in a key division game off the bat

– Broncos over Raiders: Even without Brandon Marshall, the Broncos make enough plays to win on the road

– Chargers over Panthers: No Steve Smith, no chance for Carolina.  Chargers roll at home

– Eagles over Rams: Philadelphia rolls at home against a Rams team trying to figure out its identity

– Lions over Falcons: Dud game of the week…Two bad teams square off at the Georgia Dome

– Vikings over Packers: Adrian Peterson begins spectacular season with Monday night show at Lambeau…Packers see how life will be without Favre

– Saints over Buccaneers: Saints win emotional opener at the Superdome against division rival

– 49ers over Cardinals: I’m shocked how many people are picking Arizona to win this game….Niners will be surprise team this season

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