Reid Fischer's World of Rants

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Posts Tagged ‘Washington Redskins’

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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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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