Tuesday, August 30, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Detroit Lions

It's been very tough being a Lions fan, as if you need to tell one that. They haven't made the postseason since 1999, and have only been close twice since then, in 2000 and 2007. But, the tide seems to be turning. There is optimism in the Motor City, and many people are jumping on the bandwagon. Will the Lions live up to the hype?

What's New: Not anything major, but changes have been made. The additions were mainly on defense, and all should have impacts early on. They picked up CB Eric Wright from Cleveland, and FS Aaron Francisco from Indianapolis in the secondary, and LB's Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch from Jacksonville and Tennessee respectively to help fix the linebacking corps. The defensive line got some new faces too, with the additions of DE Keyunta Dawson from Indianapolis, and the drafting of DT Nick Fairley from Auburn, who when healthy, should form maybe the best interior D-Line combo with Ndamukong Suh. The offense didn't really get any attention this offseason, but Jerome Harrison and Rashied Davis come into the fray. The Lions mainly made moves that would help their needs, and that wouldn't necessarily create shockwaves.

Biggest Strength: The Lions have a dynamic passing game that few others in the NFL sport. If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy and live up to his #1 overall pick billing, then the Lions should succeed. They have maybe the league's best wideout in Calvin Johnson, and also have good supplemental pieces in Nate Burleson, Derrick Williams, and Rashied Davis. They also have a very underrated Tight End in Brandon Pettigrew, who finished 3rd amongst TE's with 71 receptions last season. They also have a young and improving offensive line, and that should help Matt Stafford stay healthier this season. But defense is where their biggest strength is. There may not be a better defensive line in the NFL today. Most people know about Suh and Fairley, but not many people know about the ends, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, who may be the most underrated tandem in football. They also have good young players in the secondary, combined with a good veteran presence.

Biggest Weakness: They lost rookie running back Mikel Leshoure to a season ending injury in camp, and that will hurt a running game that is a question mark. Jahvid Best is a young player who can create a spark, but isn't an every down back. Jerome Harrison wants to retain the form he had at the end of the 2009 season with Cleveland. The linebacking corps, while improved, may still be an area of concern, with a lot of unproven and young players in that group. The secondary also had problems last season, and while it is improving, it still may be a problem area this season, despite the presence of good players such as Louis Delmas, Chris Houston, and Eric Wright.

Outlook: Truly, the success of this season hinges on Matt Stafford staying healthy. If he is able to, there is no reason to think why this team can't become a playoff contender, and even test some of the NFC's better teams. They have a powerful offense, and an emerging defense with a defensive line that is ferocious. They are the trendy team to pick to do well this season, and there are plenty of reasons why.

Monday, August 29, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Miami Dolphins

The last couple of years for the Miami Dolphins have been pretty interesting. They have tried to replicate the success of 2008 when they won the AFC East, but they have had no such luck. Their QB situation has deteriorated with time too. Will this year be the year they finally get back to 2008 levels of success?

What's New: Not a whole lot, honestly. Their biggest free agent signing this year was Kevin Burnett, an ILB from San Diego, who will try to fill the void that Channing Crowder left when he retired. Also, the Dolphins addressed their offensive line with the additions of T Marc Colombo from Dallas, and Ray Willis from Seattle. In the draft, they also drafted Mike Pouncey, or Maurkice Pouncey's twin brother, and he hopes to have the same type of success that his brother did in Pittsburgh. Maybe the biggest changes were to the backfield. Gone are former standouts in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and in are Reggie Bush and rookie Daniel Thomas, who will look to replicate the successes of the departed running backs. The Dolphins didn't lose much this offseason either, so the core of the team basically stays intact.

Biggest Strength: On offense, their running game will still be a strong point, but it will have an interesting dynamic this season with the 2 newcomers. Daniel Thomas looks like he may get the bulk of the carries, while Reggie Bush will probably have around 20 touches per game. The Dolphins will probably need to rely a bit more on their passing game, despite the questions surrounding Chad Henne, and they do have the weapons to do so. Brandon Marshall looks fully recovered from his offseason issues, and Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are not bad wideouts either. Their offensive line is impressive and has very good players like Jake Long, and should not be a problem for the Dolphins this year. Defensively, they have a good linebacking corps led by Karlos Dansby, and spurred by the return of Jason Taylor, and their secondary is very underrated.

Biggest Weakness: Aside from the QB problems, their defensive line has some depth issues, and their running game while having the potential to be great could also become a big problem if it doesn't get going. But, the major issues surround Chad Henne. It was no secret that the Dolphins were trying to go after Kyle Orton this summer, and they obviously failed in that pursuit, and Dolphin fans let the team know that. Henne has had some good moments and some bad moments this preseason, but he has staved off a challenge from newcomer Matt Moore, but he is ready to take over if it all goes wrong. Not many people have confidence in Chad Henne, and that is the biggest problem.

Outlook: If Miami wants to compete this season for a playoff spot, they have to get better QB play from Chad Henne, and play better at home. They went 1-7 at home last season, and that sure won't cut it if they want to be a playoff team. If Henne doesn't play well, the Dolphins will have a bevy of problems to deal with. If he does, then there is a chance for a playoff berth. If not, then out come the hounds. If the Dolphins themselves don't seem that confident in Chad Henne, then why should anyone else?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys came into 2010 hoping that they would become the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium. But, the season ended as a complete disaster. Wade Phillips was fired midseason, Tony Romo was lost for the season due to an injury, and wins were hard to come by. The bright side was that they found a very good young coach in Jason Garrett, who was a former Cowboy QB. They have much higher expectations this year than what happened last season, so will that change the Cowboys' fate?

What's New: Honestly, very little. The only two free agent additions were both Cleveland Browns a season ago, in safeties Alan Ball and Abram Elam. They should both help the secondary improve from a unit last year that was at some points the worst unit in the league. Their main moves came in the draft, where they drafted such players as T Tyson Smith from USC, ILB Bruce Carter from UNC, and RB DeMarco Murray from Oklahoma. Their losses include RB Marion Barber and WR Roy Williams, who both went to Chicago, and T Marc Colombo, who went to Miami.

Biggest Strength: Tony Romo is back, and that should drastically improve the passing game from when he was out last season. They have an unique running game with their trio of backs, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, and DeMarco Murray. The loss of Marion Barber may hurt, but it probably will not leave a lasting impact. Their wideout group is also very good, with both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant becoming stars. The depth behind them is a bit suspect, but it's not major when they have a Tight End like Jason Witten. On defense, they still have one of the league's premier pass rushing units with guys like DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, and Anthony Spencer.

Biggest Weakness: Their offensive line could pose a major problem for them this season, as the losses they had on the line could pose to become problems with rookies and inexperienced players filling in the holes. Tony Romo may have some issues staying upright at times this season. The secondary had plenty of bad moments last season, and they may have a few this season as well. They failed in their chase of Nnamdi Asomugha, even though they have a decent group of corners in Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, and Orlando Scandrick, who just got a lucrative new contract. Overall though, the secondary group is still a problem.

Outlook: It won't be as bad as last year, but they still may not make the postseason. The offensive line and secondary issues could prove to derail the Cowboys this season, even though Tony Romo will be back and better than he was before the injury. The NFC has many good teams this year, and Dallas may struggle to keep up.

NFL 32 in 32: Buffalo Bills

Ever since a little something called the Music City Miracle in the 1999 playoffs, it's been pretty tough to be a Bills fan. No playoff appearances since that fateful day in Nashville, and they have not had a better record than 9-7, but that was 7 years ago. This is the second year of the Chan Gailey era, so will it be better than the first one?

What's New: Not a whole lot. The major acquisition this offseason was in the draft, where they picked DT Marcell Dareus from Alabama. He should become a major force in the middle of that defensive line, or even at the ends. In free agency, they picked up WR/QB/Utility Brad Smith from the Jets, and he is a jack-of-all-trades and should open up the offense a little bit. On defense, they picked up 2 decent veteran linebacker in Nick Barnett from Green Bay and Kirk Morrison from Jacksonville. They did lose their former starting MLB Paul Posluszny to Jacksonville, as well as two good players from their secondary in Ashton Youboty and Donte Whitner. They did also get new uniforms (which look awesome by the way).

Biggest Strength: They have a very decent running game with their tandem of Fred Jackson and C.J Spiller. They are both unique and provide a change of pace when they are in the game. Also on offense, they have Steve Johnson at wideout, who had a breakout year last season, and he is going to possibly be better this year. On defense, LB Shawne Merriman has seen a resurgence in play in camp, and he looks to return to his form when he was one of the leagues best in San Diego.

Biggest Weakness: Well, everything else. Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven to be an adequate QB, but they do need to find a franchise QB soon, as he is not the long-term answer. Behind Steve Johnson and Brad Smith, there is not much depth at wideout. The offensive line has many question marks, and only a few stalwarts. On defense, they have a suspect front line and linebacking corps, aside from the players mentioned above, and their secondary was pretty bad last season, and it got worse with the loss of some key pieces. In short, there are a lot more questions than there are answers.

Outlook: Not good. It may take a miracle for them to get to .500 this season. They play in a tough division, with a tough schedule, and they have a few too many questions to be considered a legitimate playoff contender. On the bright side though, if it all goes wrong, Andrew Luck is waiting in the draft.

Friday, August 26, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: St. Louis Rams

With Sam Bradford at the helm, the Rams surprised a good amount of people with their success last year, as they came within one win of an NFC West title, and a .500 record. Bradford impressed many people with his play last year, and most of the great play came without many good wide receivers, as they were injured. This year, the Rams expect bigger and better things, but can they get there?

What's New: There are a decent amount of new faces in St. Louis this year, and most of the big ones will create immediate impact. On offense, the Rams added a decent target to their wide receiving corps in Mike Sims-Walker. If he can stay healthy, he may become a very good target for Sam Bradford. Also added on offense were RB Jerious Norwood, who may be a good complement to Steven Jackson, and guard Harvey Dahl, who was one of the better guards available in free agency, and he should fit in well with a young offensive line group. On defense, the Rams got better by adding FS Quintin Mikell from Philadelphia, LB's Zac Diles from Houston, Brady Poppinga from Green Bay and Ben Leber from Minnesota, and veteran corner Al Harris from Miami. All of these additions are quality additions, and should improve a defense that did have some problems last season. Gone are corner Kevin Dockery to Pittsburgh and starting Tight End Daniel Fells to Denver.

Biggest Strength: They have Sam Bradford, who impressed so many last year by setting many NFL rookie passing records. He has room to improve too, considering he didn't have his best wideout, Donnie Avery last season due to a knee injury. It helps to have a good running game when you are a young QB, and the Rams have just that, with Steven Jackson, Cadillac Williams, and newcomer Jerious Norwood. Their group of wideouts are also good, with Donnie Avery, Danny Amendola, and Mike Sims-Walker. The Rams also have a good, but young, offensive line, with only a few issues. On defense, the Rams pass rush is getting better, as they expect big things from DE Chris Long. The linebacking corps is also a good mix of young players and veterans, which should work well for head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

Biggest Weakness: Their offensive line has some issues, namely with a few holes at some spots, where young and inexperienced players will have to start. On defense, they can get a good pass rush going if their talent lives up to its potential, with guys like rookie Robert Quinn, Justin Bannan, and the aforementioned Chris Long. The secondary has good players, but it is the weakest spot on this team. They lost safety O.J Atogwe to Washington this offseason, and even though Quintin Mikell is an adequate replacement, they will see the effects of his loss. The corners are also young, and have not played incredibly well either.

Outlook: This team is becoming a very good young team, and as long as Sam Bradford can keep up his play from a year ago, the Rams have a chance to win the NFC West. The additions they made this offseason should improve their team, and overall they are a much better team than the one that won 7 games last season.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Oakland Raiders

Last year, the Raiders surprised many people with their resurgence, especially in their own division. They did not lose a division game last season, but only won 2 games out of 10 outside of their division. That was not enough to keep Tom Cable around, as Hue Jackson replaces him. There hasn't been much change in Oakland, so will this team be able to take the next step towards the playoffs?

What's New: Very little. Some additions include TE Kevin Boss from the Giants as former TE Zach Miller departed for Seattle, T Stephon Heyer from Washington, and SS Matt Giordano from New Orleans. They did not even have a first round pick in the 2011 Draft (the pick was used to get Richard Seymour), so C Stefan Wisniewski was their first pick in the draft at position 48. Most of the essential team remains from last year, of course sans all-pro corner Nnamdi Asomugha. Along with the new coach Hue Jackson, the Raiders have a lot of work to do to replace some of the departed players from a season ago, like G Robert Gallery and WR Jonnie Lee Higgins, and use what the roster has to their advantage.

Biggest Strength: If there is something that Al Davis loves in a player, it's speed, and the Raiders roster is chock full of fast players (see the Terrelle Pryor choice in the supplemental draft). The running back group is fast, the wide receivers and tight ends are fast, and the linebackers and corners are fast. The running game is very good with backs like Darren McFadden, and Michael Bush. They maintained one of the better running games in the NFL last season, and there is no reason to see why they won't this year as well.  The wide receivers are fast, with guys like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, plus the new addition at tight end in Kevin Boss. On defense, guys like Richard Seymour and Rolando McClain will have to anchor the defense that lost it's best player in free agency.

Biggest Weakness: Their QB situation is unsettled, and the choices aren't amazing. Jason Campbell is the incumbent, and both Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards have tried to unseat him. All 3 options are not amazing, and Jason Campbell is still the best option. The offensive line is a problem area, even though they have good individual talent. The overall group will probably allow a large number of sacks this season, and that is not something the Raiders need. Aside from the big players on defense, the depth is not impressive, and the secondary is of course, markedly worse than a season ago.

Outlook: Not good. There are too many questions, and not many of them were addressed in the offseason. Due to the plethora of major losses in terms of personnel, and a new coaching staff, the learning curve will be pretty large. The AFC West is a tough division with both San Diego and Kansas City posing threats, so don't expect much out of the Raiders this season.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: New York Giants

Last year was an up and down year for Big Blue. Most of the year was up, but for the few parts of the year that it was down, it was really down, and you don't need to remind a Giants fan of that. But, 2011 is a new year, and they are getting healthier (maybe), and a fresh sense of optimism (maybe again). Can the Giants have a rebound year?

What's New: There are plenty of new faces, but mainly due to departures and releases and not new signings. Gone are offensive line mainstays are Rich Seubert and Shaun O'Hara, who were both powerful forces on a very good offensive line, and replacing O'Hara is David Baas, a center from the 49ers. He has to replace one of the Giants better centers, although he will get help as the offensive line has gotten healthy again. More losses have mounted, as the Giants lost wideout Steve Smith to division rival Philadelphia, and TE Kevin Boss to Oakland. And, the Giants lost DT Barry Cofield to Washington. His replacement was going to be rookie Marvin Austin from North Carolina, but he is out for the season with an injury. There will also be an abundance of new faces in the secondary, due to the rash of injuries the Giants have had to deal with in training camp. 3 corners have already hit IR, and Prince Amukamura, the Giants first round draft choice, is out until at least the end of September with a broken foot. Veteran Brian Williams has just been signed in order to fill the voids.

Biggest Strength: While Eli Manning may think he is an elite QB, many disagree with him. Despite that, he is still very good and possesses great ability. He just needs to limit his turnovers, which he did not do last season. He still has his dynamic rushing duo in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, who may be the best running back tandem in the NFC. The offensive playmakers are good too, despite the offseason departures. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are both very good wideouts, and the Giants have high hopes for Tight End Travis Beckum, who will look to fill a void left by Kevin Boss, who went to Oakland. On defense, the Giants still have a menacing defensive line, despite controversy surrounding its premier player this offseason. They will rush the passer very well this season; better than most teams in the NFL will this season despite problems with injuries and contract negotiations. The linebacking corps is also very good, led by Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley, and they will be a perfect complement to the defensive line.

Biggest Weakness: The secondary has just been ravaged by injuries in the last 2 seasons, and it has taken victims again this offseason. Off to IR are 2 top corners in Terrell Thomas and Bruce Johnson, and Prince Amukamura is out for awhile due to a broken foot, as mentioned before. They will try to make do with what they have, and that may include moving FS Antrel Rolle to corner, therefore leaving a void in the secondary. The turnover problem last year may also come up again this year, both with interceptions and fumbles. The Giants' loss of playmakers on offense may result in Eli Manning forcing the issue more, which will lead to more turnovers, and that is not what the Giants want to see. For their sake, and their fans sake, they would also like to see an improvement in punting.

Outlook: This team is still pretty good despite offseason losses and GM Jerry Reese basically sitting on his hands. They will be competitive in the NFC Wild Card race, mainly because of Eli Manning and that pass rush. Despite the fact that the Eagles outclass them in the NFC East race, they may still be better than teams like Arizona, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Detroit, all of whom they will be competing with for the second wild card spot in the NFC.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Denver Broncos

It feels like forever since the Broncos hosted the AFC Championship game in January of 2006. Since then, the Broncos have not finished better than .500 and after a few late season collapses and 2 head coaches, the Broncos are in rebuilding. John Fox is the new man in town, and there is a lot of work to do. They play in a weak division though, but will that help them this season?

What's New: Not many major additions were made this offseason, the first under John Elway's watch, but some moves were made that will make an impact. They picked up Willis McGahee from Baltimore, and he looks to be the feature back for the Broncos this season, and will likely split carries with Knowshon Moreno, with the departure of Correll Buckhalter. They also added on offense WR David Anderson from Houston, who will likely see some more playing time with the departure of Jabar Gaffney and the injury to Demaryius Thomas. They also added TE's Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario, as they really didn't have any great TE's on the roster last season. Defensively, the biggest addition was the drafting of Von Miller, the LB from Texas A&M. He looks to help the pass rush which will also see a boost with the return of DE Elvis Dumervill. They also picked up DT Ty Warren from New England. All of these additions are going to help improve a team last year that was, in the nicest words, pretty bad.

Biggest Strength: On offense, Kyle Orton will be the starting QB Week 1 against Oakland, and he is underrated. He has good weapons to throw to in Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal, despite the injuries and departures of wideouts in the offseason. They have a decent running game too, and with an decent offensive line, they could have a better offense than expected. On defense, the pass rush will be very good with Elvis Dumervill and Von Miller, plus the addition of Ty Warren. They will have a better pass rush than expected this season.

Biggest Weakness: The rest of the defense however is a major problem. They have a decent linebacking corps, but other than Von Miller, it really isn't amazing, and there is very little depth there. There is little depth on the defense live as well, as last year proved. The secondary though is where the problems truly lie. Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins are very good players, but they are getting a bit long in the tooth. The rest of the secondary is a major problem. Not only is there an issue with depth, the starters aren't very impressive either, and with the issues surrounding Perrish Cox, a potential starter, their secondary could be even further behind the 8 ball.

Outlook: Not great. While they may have a decent enough offense, their defense is a serious problem for them to be truly competitive. They are improved from last year, but not by much. Even though their division is weaker than many in the NFL, San Diego and Kansas City are formidable teams. With Denver's defensive issues, the problems could mount too high for them to be close to .500. John Elway's rebuilding project may take 2-3 more years.

Monday, August 22, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Jacksonville Jaguars

Since their last playoff appearance in 2007, the Jaguars have gone through a complete failure of a season in 2008, and two years of rebuilding in the last two. But in both of those, they have been within striking distance of a playoff trip, until a late season swoon has done them in. They hope 2011 will be different, but will it?

What's New: Plenty, and most of the change is on the defensive side of the ball. Last year's defense was pretty horrendous, and especially the secondary, in which the Jags allowed 250 passing yards a game. They addressed these problems with the addition of S Dawan Landry from Baltimore and nickel corner Drew Coleman from the New York Jets. While this may not totally fix the secondary issues, these additions will certainly help to fix many issues. The linebacking corps got the most aggressive change when Paul Posluszny and Clint Session came over from Buffalo and Indianapolis respectively. This group was a major problem last year, and these new players will certainly help fix them in both pass coverage, run defense, and with big hitting. They also added DE Matt Roth from Cleveland for extra help with the pass rush. The major addition many people are talking about was the drafting of QB Blaine Gabbert from Missouri, and there is a question as to who will start this season, him or incumbent David Garrard.

Biggest Strength: The Jaguars have one of the league's best rushing attacks, and they have the running backs to boot. Maurice Jones-Drew can do almost anything, run, block, or catch passes, and is one of the most dynamic running backs in the game today. His touches may be reduced this year in order to keep him healthy, and Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim should get more touches. They also have a burgeoning TE in Marcedes Lewis, who lead the Jags in almost every receiving category. On defense, the Jags have a much improved linebacking corps and secondary as talked about above, and the defensive line is also underrated with guys like Aaron Kampman and Tyson Alualu, plus other contributors who have flashed in training camp.

Biggest Weakness: The offensive line has had some issues in camp, mostly due to injuries and the lack of OTA's, but it may still be an issue at the start of the season. Whoever is starting at QB needs to have good protection, and this offensive line group may have some troubles consistently providing it. The group of wideouts isn't amazing, but has some good players in Mike Thomas, Jason Hill, and rookie Cecil Shorts, however the overall group isn't very impressive. The linebacking corps and secondary both lack depth, and that could be a problem, however anything will be better than last year's group; some of the starters are now 3rd teamers this year.

Outlook: This team has the possibility to be better than many people expect, because they are a better team than they were in the last 2 seasons, while they have been ever-so-close to the playoffs. Because they will be better, they have a chance to win a wide-open division this year with vulnerable teams in the Colts and Titans, and a team that is unproven in Houston. If they are better than .500, don't be surprised.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last year, the Bucs maybe had the biggest turn-around of any team in the league. They went from 3 wins to 10 in only a season, but fell a tiebreaker short of the postseason. They have an emerging young star QB, a drastically improving defense, and a young team developing with their young coach at the same time. But, they didn't do much this offseason to improve. Will what they have be enough to challenge in the very tough NFC South?

What's New: Very little, if anything. The only free agent acquisitions of note were a punter, Michael Koenen, and a corner in Ashton Youboty from Buffalo, whom they just signed a few days ago from the writing of this preview. They did re-sign most of their key veteran pieces from last year, but the lack of new veteran leadership coming in to this young team could be an issue. In the draft, the Bucs drafted 2 potential stud DE's in Adrian Clayborn from Iowa and Da'Quan Bowers from Clemson. If they both are able to develop into the players the Bucs expect them to become, then this defensive line could be very scary, very soon. 

Biggest Strength: With Josh Freeman at the helm, they now have a very dynamic young offense. They also have LeGarrette Blount, who emerged onto the scene late last year as an important factor back for this offense. He showed a lot of promise, and Tampa is hoping that the promise nets the Bucs a dynamic running back. They have a young wide receiving corps that is developing, but shows plenty of promise as well. Mike Williams and Mike Spurlock are the 2 major wideouts, and along with Tight End Kellen Winslow. On defense, they have a young secondary group that is promising, but as of this writing has some injury problems. They also have a good young defensive line and linebacking corps too.

Biggest Weakness: They didn't pick up very many pieces in free agency, and that may hurt their progress and desire to take the next step. The team is still growing, so the youth may lead to some problems at certain positions. Their secondary is not entirely that deep, and with some injuries that they are facing, the limited depth will be challenged. There also is not much depth on the rest of the defense either, and also on the offensive line. The starting groups are all pretty good, but if injuries come, the Bucs will be challenged to find a   good amount of suitable replacements. 

Outlook: They have a very good young team, but the lack of new faces and a tough division may cause some choppy waters this season for Tampa. It doesn't help that their schedule is tougher than last year's too. They won't be awful, but there is a realistic possibility that they may be a little bit worse than last year due to some challenges from inside the division and out.

NFL 32 in 32: New England Patriots

Last year, the Patriots tore through most of their competition in the regular season, only losing to the Browns and Jets on the road. However, when the Jets got a second shot to beat the Pats in Foxborough, they backed up their talk and shocked the NFL world. Now, the Pats are on a mission to win the Super Bowl after a 6+ year absence. They are very good, but are they good enough?

What's New: They made 2 trades this offseason that shocked a good number of people. The first one was for disgruntled DT Albert Haynesworth from Washington, and despite his attitude, he should fit well into the new 3-4 scheme the Patriots want to employ this season. With Vince Wilfork also disrupting the middle of opposing offensive lines, Haynesworth may be able to regain his 2008 form. They also traded for WR Chad Ochocinco from the Bengals, who can experience a renaissance of sorts with Tom Brady throwing to him. With Wes Welker and Deion Branch, the Patriots can find a dynamic trio of wideouts now, along with their abundance of Tight Ends. They also picked up T Nate Solder in the draft from Colorado, and also picked up LB Andre Carter from Washington, DE/DT Shaun Ellis and SS James Ihedigbo from the division rival Jets. They addressed almost every major and minor need this offseason in both the draft and free agency.

Biggest Strength: Of course, Tom Brady is still one of the NFL's best QB's, and he was able to squeeze 14 wins out of the offense last year, sans a major wideout player like the newly acquired Ochocinco. With him now in the fray, plus the Tight Ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, they have possibly the most dynamic passing game in the NFL. The running game is not amazing, but they have an abundance of backs to use for whatever they want to use them for. The offensive line got a nice upgrade in rookie Nate Solder, but the only issue is that he may start quicker than the Patriots want to. On defense, the additions they made were very helpful to all facets of the unit. They have an impressive defense line, good group of starting linebackers, and an impressive secondary. They are basically stacked at every position on their team.

Biggest Weakness: There really isn't a major weakness on this team, and there really wasn't one last year either. If you have to nitpick this team, their offensive line has a rookie starting on it. But, the rest of the line is very good, and has some of the best players in the NFL. The linebacking corps has a depth issue, but it's not a major problem to deal with.  They are one of the few teams that have few or no major question marks, and it's also amazing how well they have looked in the preseason.

Outlook: The Patriots may be the true super bowl favorite for this season. They have few weaknesses, and they are a regular season juggernaut. The problem this season for New England may very well be getting over the playoff hump. They haven't won a playoff game since the loss in Super Bowl XLII, and that mental block has proven that it exists. But if they can get over it, there may be nothing stopping them this season.

Friday, August 19, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Washington Redskins

Last season can only be described as a disaster for the Washington Redskins. The Donovan McNabb trade clearly blew up in their face, and they had a little circus going on with Albert Haynesworth. It couldn't have gotten much worse for Mike Shanahan in his first year in Washington. Will this year be an improvement, or could it possibly get worse?

What's New: There are a lot of new faces on this team this season. They start at the WR position with the additions of Donte Stallworth from Baltimore and Jabar Gaffney from Denver. They also added NT Barry Cofield from the division rival Giants, FS O.J Atogwe from St. Louis, RB Tim Hightower from Arizona. and tackle Sean Locklear from Seattle. Guard Chris Chester comes over from Baltimore, and DE Stephen Bowen comes from Dallas to the nation's capital as well. In the draft, they added DE Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue, who combined with Brian Orakpo can really bring a strong pass rush to this team. However, they also lost some important pieces too, with guys like Casey Rabach going to Baltimore and Andre Carter going to New England. All of these changes however don't amount to a huge change in the talent level for the Redskins.

Biggest Strength: They have a decent set of running backs in Washington, with Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain, who will need to help whoever is starting at QB by giving them a balance on offense. They also have a decent group of receivers with guys like Santana Moss, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, and TE Chris Cooley. On defense, the Redskins have a very good pass rush with one of the league's best at it in Brian Orakpo, rookie Ryan Kerrigan, and London Fletcher. Their 3-4 Linebacking corps  a very good collection of talent, and that should help an average defensive front and secondary.

Biggest Weakness: Obviously, it's the QB position. They didn't do anything to upgrade the QB position at all this offseason, even though some may consider the Donovan McNabb trade an upgrade to locker room stability. Rex Grossman played decently at the end of last season, and he is the incumbent next to John Beck. They both aren't amazing talents, and most people know what they'll get out of either QB, and it doesn't help that the collection of offensive weapons in Washington isn't amazing. A better collection of weapons would obviously help them, but they need to get a surprise performance from either QB to get an extra win or two this season.

Outlook: Not very bright. This QB situation is not a desirable one to have, clearly, and they will need a great combination of surprises and career performances to have a shot at the playoffs. It will take plenty of them for the Redskins to live up to Rex Grossman's prediction of them becoming NFC East Champs. It may not be a very pretty year  in the nation's capital for the Redskins.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The NCAA's Disaster Control

The amount of NCAA scandals in the past year have been amazing in their number, and even more amazing in their scope. From USC, UNC, Tennessee, Ohio State, and now the atom bomb of them all in Miami, they have all stunned the college football world and rocked it to its core. It's been clear that the NCAA has done very little to remedy this problem, other than some blatant hypocrisy and banning the use of bagel spreads at team breakfasts. The NCAA needs reform badly, and they know it as well as we do. But, what should they do, and how can they use Miami as an example?

The way the NCAA can create an "atmosphere of compliance" amongst its members is through using an example with punishment, and the NCAA has a golden opportunity to use Miami as the prime example of deterring this kind of activity. How they do that is a hot topic of debate, centering around the use of the dreaded death penalty.  But, that is not what they need to do. Sure, this scandal is bigger than the one that sent SMU to the gallows around 25 years ago, but in 2011, there are better ways of punishing a team without suspending their program. Probation, loss of scholarships, heavy fines, bowl bans, suspensions are all part of this major punishment, but there is one other thing that the NCAA has hid in the closet for years, but it can create the desired NCAA outcome. A media ban. As Bomani Jones said on Around the Horn, why not ban televising of their football games nationally or locally?, And, they can go even further and ban radio games locally. The way these schools can make plenty of money is through TV broadcasts of their games, and also getting exposure through other forms of media, and it would all go away if there was a media ban on the team.  The team can still play, albeit in front of a very small audience and make a lot less money. It is an idea not thrown around often, and could be well used in this situation.

But how can the NCAA fix these issues overall throughout the whole spectrum of the sport? The truth is, there really isn't a simple answer. The issue is so widespread, that a single sweeping idea to fix the problem will not work. A comprehensive set of rule changing and NCAA mission statement changes are the only way to eliminate this problem from being such a major issue for major programs. The issue won't go away entirely of course, but it can be put in remission with better rules and enforcement. It may also come with a stipend for players or a different method of payment, which may be sacrilege, but will go a long way towards nullifying the influence of boosters running rampant like Nevin Shapiro did.

Can the NCAA fix the problem? It will take awhile, but it can be done, and it starts with using Miami as an example. The widespread problems throughout this great sport can take it down, and as much as the NCAA has swept it under the rug, they can't do it anymore. Here is the proof that change is needed, and it is needed fast, but how they do that, we won't know for awhile. But, the first step is acknowledging a problem, and at least the NCAA knows it has a major one.

NFL 32 in 32: Pittsburgh Steelers

Just as there is a Madden Curse and an SI Jinx, there is a Super Bowl loser hangover. Teams usually do not do well after they lose the super bowl the season after. The Steelers haven't lost a Super Bowl since 1995, but now they must deal with the prospect of a super bowl hangover. But this is a tough team, and they will fight. Will they beat back the hangover, and defend their AFC title?

What's New: As with the Jets, there is not much new at all. The only additions of note are wideout Jerricho Cotchery from the Jets and Kevin Dockery from St. Louis. The other addition worth mentioning came in the draft with Cameron Heyward from Ohio State. Good teams do not need an amazing amount of change, but it would be good for this team considering the way that the Super Bowl went for them. The losses have mounted, mostly on the offensive line. They lost both Flozell Adams and Trai Essex to free agency, and their offensive line did not need the losses of two major cogs in that unit.

Biggest Strength: The offense is still going to be very good with Big Ben still throwing and taking more hits than almost any QB in the NFL, and Rashard Mendenhall is still running, and running well, along with Mewelde Moore. The receiving corps is still very good with Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, and the newcomer in Jerricho Cotchery, and don't forget about TE Heath Miller, who is still one of the better tight ends in football that very few people talk about. On defense, they still have a great front 3 with guys like NT Casey Hampton, DE's Brent Keisel and Ziggy Hood, plus the new guy in Heyward. And, they still have a very balanced linebacking group and secondary as well. They are the Steel Curtain after all.

Biggest Weakness: The offensive line had a ton of trouble in their first preseason game against Washington, and if that continues, then the Steelers offense will surely sputter. Ben Roethlisberger can take hits like very few QB's can, but if he is constantly under pressure and running around he can't get to making the throws that he wants to, and the offense will never get off to a good start in games. And, even though he is tough, he still may have trouble taking a constant barrage of hits. If this problem is not fixed, the Ravens may have their number early in the season, and the Steelers of course do not want to get behind the 8-ball early.

Outlook: Using the same principle as was used for the Jets, because the Steelers didn't change very much, they still will be one of the best teams in the AFC. The offensive line issues could become major problems if not tended to soon, but they still have the defense to beat anyone in the league, and an offense to keep up with as well. The Ravens will be a major challenge in the division, but the Steelers will still be around, despite the issues they may have. They will be good again, and still one of the AFC's best.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: San Francisco 49ers

The life of a 49ers fan has to be frustrating. They haven't made the playoffs since 2002, and they also haven't had a winning record since then. They also have had no winning seasons since then, and 4 different head coaches. And that's not even including the QB flops in-between. Now, another new coach has taken charge in San Francisco, and can Jim Harbaugh lead this team to the postseason?

What's New: Basically the entire front office and coaching staff, yet the roster hasn't seen a large amount of turnover. The new GM, Trent Baalke has a ton of pressure on him to bring in the right personnel to help Jim Harbaugh and his new coaching staff. Only the running backs coach, defensive line coach, and offensive line coach last year were retained. The lockout surely won't help the new coaching staff implement their new schemes with the team. On the roster front, gone are center David Baas, corner Nate Clements, NT Aubrayo Franklin, and OLB Manny Lawson. These are pretty sizable losses for a team that didn't do a whole lot to replace them. Their notable acquisition was WR Braylon Edwards, who combined with a healthy Michael Crabtree will create a nice wideout duo for the '9ers. They also added safeties Madieu Williams and Donte Whitner, and added corner Carlos Rogers as well, alongside rookie DE Aldon Smith from Missouri.

Biggest Strength: They have the running game with Frank Gore, who is still one of the NFL's best at the position. They also have great weapons in the passing game, with Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree, plus Vernon Davis as well. If it wasn't for their QB problems, they would have a very potent offense with all of the capabilities that they have. On defense, their D-Line has gotten better with the addition of Aldon Smith, and they still have maybe the best linebacker in the NFL today in Patrick Willis.

Biggest Weakness: On defense, their secondary leaves a lot to be desired, and problems are still going to arise from the loss of Nate Clements, even though he was a major bust there. The offensive line has some problems too, especially last year after allowing 44 sacks, and losing center David Baas to New York. But the major question is of course at the QB position. Is it Alex Smith's team, or rookie Colin Kaepernick's team? The first preseason game did not answer any of those questions, and there is still no indication of who the opening day starter will be. There is no consensus among experts and fans alike as to who will be the opening day starter, unless someone impresses plenty soon. But either way, the major question this year will be can the QB position settle down enough to give the '9ers a chance to win?

Outlook: Because of the QB turmoil, along with a suspect offensive line and issues on defense, this team is not where they need to be in order to compete for a division title, even in the NFC West. If (by some miracle) either Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick plays better than anyone expected, only then will this team have a chance at sniffing the playoffs but until then there are too many questions about this team to give them a chance at a playoff run.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: New York Jets

How many times will Rex Ryan say that this is the year that the Jets will make the Super Bowl? Well, as many as he feels we need to hear it, even though his team has been one step short of the big game two times running. Will this year finally be that year? Did they do enough to get over the hump?

What's New: Not much, but the additions that the Jets made sure made shockwaves. Gone is Braylon Edwards to San Francisco, and in are Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason to replace him. Those 2, along with Santonio Holmes form a dynamic wideout group that is very good despite seeming like they lack something. The Jets also drafted help for their defensive line in DT Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple. There isn't much new overall, mostly due to their failed chase of Nnamdi Asmougha, but what is new can make them better.

Biggest Strength: They have the running game that is underrated with Shonn Greene and LT, and that hasn't changed at all. Their receiving group has changed with the ones mentioned before, but overall the group is basically the same as it was last year, which is good, not amazing. They have a good offensive line which needs to be in order to protect Mark Sanchez, who still does have plenty to prove in order to help the Jets get over that hump. On defense, they still have a shut-down secondary with Revis and Cromartie, and the depth issue has been addressed and is not as bad as people think, along with the safeties too. 

Biggest Weakness: The pass rush. Last year, the sacks came through the amazing amount of blitzes Rex Ryan  used, not pure pass rush from the 3-4 defense. They lost Shaun Ellis to New England, and that will hurt the pass rush up front. They are asking a ton of the linebacking corps to develop pressure, and there is some doubt as to whether they can do that. Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, and David Harris are very good LB's, but thinking that they can generate most of the pressure from OLB rushes in the 3-4 is a bit... optimistic. The defensive line doesn't have much there, and they need to have it exceed expectations in order to develop the stronger pass rush they need.

Outlook: Due to the fact that the Jets have not changed that much this offseason, they will be a very similar team to last year, which means that they will be very good. Do they have enough to overcome the Patriots in the AFC East? That is a question that has yet to be answered, and whether they can may not be the biggest question, since they have done so already a year ago in the playoffs.  Can they finally get over the hump and go to the Super Bowl? If they develop a pass rush without an assist from the blitz, sure they can. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Minnesota Vikings

Almost everything that could go wrong for the Vikings last year, did go wrong for them. Brett Favre didn't live up to the hype, the team had plenty of injuries, and their stadium collapsed. Now, they have the QB many thought they should have acquired before, and a new coach, plus a new roof. Can they compete for a playoff spot?

What's New: The QB situation is brand new. The rookie Christian Ponder will have to wait a bit for his time to start, as he is now behind Donovan McNabb. McNabb of course had his horrible season in Washington, and now he looks to rebound in a better offense for him, and a better environment for him too. The problem is though, that the Vikings lost a pretty big weapon in Sidney Rice. They will try to replace him with Michael Jenkins from Atlanta and Devin Aromashodu from Chicago. They will have to replace a lot in Sidney Rice, and no one knows how well these other 2 receivers will fit in. Percy Harvin will now have a bigger role to play as well. The offensive line got an uptick too with the addition of Charlie Johnson from Indianapolis.

Biggest Strength: They still have Adrian Peterson, who is one of the best running back's in the NFL. He wasn't fully up to speed last year, but this year he well should be. The group of receivers isn't as good as last year, but is still pretty good with the additions talked about before. The offensive line is also a good veteran group too, and they will need to be good to keep Donovan McNabb off his can. On defense, their linebacking corps is very impressive, with guys like Chad Greenway, E.J Henderson, and Jasper Brinkley.

Biggest Weakness: Their defensive line took a hit with the losses of Pat Williams, and especially Ray Edwards, and with only a few players that are still big impacts on the defensive line, they may not rush the passer as much as they are used to, or as well as they are used to. And, the secondary is also an issue, even though they have good players. The secondary unit overall is still going to cause some problems on the back end for that defense.

Outlook: They play in a very tough division, and they will also have a tough schedule to deal with as well. They have a good overall team, but they don't have the great group of talent to overcome teams like Green Bay, and others who they will be competing with for a wild card spot. They will be better than last year, but likely not good enough for a playoff spot.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Kansas City Chiefs

Along with Tampa Bay, Kansas City was maybe the NFL's biggest surprise last season. Combine a good coaching staff with the league's best running game and a decent QB, plus a cakewalk schedule, the Chiefs were able to surprise everyone and win the AFC West. This year though, they aren't going to surprise anyone, and with a revitalized Chargers team waiting to strike, can KC repeat?

What's New: Nothing major, but there are some acquisitions that are worth talking about. On the offensive front, 2 new wideouts are going to try to be the perfect complement to all-pro Dwayne Bowe. 1st round pick Jonathan Baldwin from Pittsburgh and Steve Breaston coming over from Arizona should provide a nice trio of wideouts for the Chiefs, along with emerging TE Tony Moeaki. On the offensive line, Jared Gaither comes over from Baltimore, and he should help sure up the O-Line. On defense, there were also some other acquisitions of note. LB Brandon Siler comes over from San Diego, NT Kelly Gregg comes over from Baltimore, and SS Sabby Piscitelli comes over from Cleveland. The defense was right in the middle of the NFL ranks last year, and they were one of the best at getting after the QB. These acquisitions should only make the Chiefs D better.

Biggest Strength: On offense, it is the running game. It's coming off being number 1 in the NFL, and Jamaal Charles plus Thomas Jones has become an impressive combo. With the new wideout acquisitions, the offense is very, very good. Now they need to hope that Matt Cassel has a rebound year somewhat. On defense, the Chiefs can get after the QB better than a lot of teams. Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson anchor a very impressive pass rush that seems to be getting better by the day.

Biggest Weakness: The offensive line could use a little fixing up, but it was a good unit last year and should be OK this year. The secondary is good too, but again could use a little fix too. There are no glaring weaknesses on this team, although some may say that Matt Cassel is not the answer for the Chiefs. There may not be much agreement on that point though, but his performance in the playoffs left a lot to be desired. He has a lot to prove this year.

Outlook: They are in a 2 horse race with San Diego to win the AFC West this season, and there is no doubt that they can compete for it. San Diego is a tea on the rise, and on the rebound after a bad year last year, and the Chiefs still have a lot to prove, especially with a much tougher schedule this year than last (they only beat one team with a plus .500 record in the same Chargers). Can they compete? Yes. Will they repeat as AFC West champs? That's still an open question.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Seattle Seahawks

Last year's Seahawks could have been the most successful bad team in the history of sports. A 7-9 season is a bad season in the NFL under most regards, but the Seahawks made it to the divisional round of the playoffs, thanks to a weak division, and a run that will never ever be forgotten. Now, the NFC West may be a competitive division, and will the Seahawks be able to keep up?

What's New: Plenty. It all starts with the departure of a Seahawks staple, Matt Hasselbeck. To replace him, the Seahawks picked up Tarvaris Jackson from Minnesota. There are plenty of questions about him, and his competitor Charlie Whitehurst, which many wonder whether can be answered in time for the start of the regular season. There are an abundance of weapons for whoever is going to start though. Sidney Rice also made the westward trek from Minnesota, and TE Zach Miller made a northern journey from Oakland. This no doubt gives the Seahawks a potent offense, if the QB can get it down the field. The defense was also updated, in the form of Jimmy Wilkerson and Alan Branch, plus the offensive line got a refresh with addition of Robert Gallery.

Biggest Strength: The WR and TE groups are about as good as they come. Sidney Rice and Mike Williams have become a great 1-2 combo that can match any other in the NFL, and John Carlson and Zach Miller are a great TE combo too.  Pete Carroll can develop talent like few other coaches can, and this group of receivers is evidence of that. Marshawn Lynch also had his revival in the playoffs too, and a formidable running game plus this receiving corps has created a great offensive unit.

Biggest Weakness: The QB position of course is a major question mark, and with a QB battle like this the repetition between the QB and wideout is lost. It also doesn't help that the offensive line isn't very good either. Injuries and lack of talent reaching their full potential have contributed to this problem, and it doesn't look like it will be getting much better soon. The defense was also one of the worst in the NFL last year, and not much was done to address this. And, the defense lost its heart and soul in Lofa Tatupu as well.

Outlook: Despite the abundance of offensive weapons, there are too many questions about this team overall to really make them a playoff contender, especially in a tighter NFC West than usual. The negatives outweigh the positives, and unless a stroke of luck befalls this team again, it's hard to see them making a playoff run.

Friday, August 12, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Cleveland Browns

Where has the promise from the 2007 season gone? They were a tiebreaker away from making the postseason, to going 4-12, 5-11, then 5-11 again. Now that Mike Holmgren has gotten his feet in the sand in Cleveland, he's finally starting to make some moves, starting with the new head coach Pat Shurmur. Has there been enough changes for this team to compete? Or will it be the same old, same old Browns?

What's New: Mostly, the newness is in the coaching staff. Pat Shurmur was the offensive coordinator for 2 years in St. Louis before coming over to Cleveland, and he will look to implement a new style for an offense that has needed it plenty in the past 3 years. There is a new defensive coordinator too in Dick Jauron. He has proven that he can change a defense in many ways, and he's done that in the past. Without the head coaching duties, he can step back and really focus on a defense that can be good, but needs more tutoring. They only made 2 free agent signings of any note, CB Dmitri Patterson from Philadelphia, and RB Brandon Jackson from Green Bay, to complement Peyton Hillis. 1st round pick Phil Taylor will look to anchor a defensive line that needs one badly.

Biggest Strength: Their running game. Peyton Hillis has gone from one of the many backs in the rotation in Denver, to being on the Madden cover in Cleveland. He surprised everyone last year with his performance, and he'll look to do that again in the face of the Madden Curse. Brandon Jackson will also help spell Hillis when needed. The offensive line in front of both of the backs and QB Colt McCoy is also very good, led by Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach.

Biggest Weakness: They are sorely lacking talent on the defensive side of the ball. Dmitri Patterson will help the secondary, but he was a liability in Philadelphia. There is some young talent there, but there is not enough talent ready right now to make this defense good enough, even with Dick Jauron's tutelage. Offensively, their only wideout of note is Josh Cribbs, and while he is explosive, he's really the only choice Colt McCoy has on offense. Brian Robiskie is up and coming, but not quickly enough it seems. Mohamed Massaquoi is also a good target, but he has had injury problems.

Outlook: It seems like the rebuild is taking more time than expected, and Cleveland fans will have to wait a little longer for this team to truly be a contender. Good work has been done and a decent foundation has been set, but there isn't enough there right now for this team to be a threat for a playoff spot just yet.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Carolina Panthers

When you have a season like the Panthers did last season, it can be reasonably inferred that changes would be made. And boy were they sweeping. The Panthers have a new head coach in Ron Riviera, a new attitude, and of course, Cam Newton. Does his presence have the ability to change the fortunes of a franchise who could use it badly?

What's New: The head coach and the look of the QB position, for sure. Ron Riviera had been the defensive coordinator in San Diego, and he took the helm of a pretty good defense during his tenure there. He looks to turn around a pretty average defense with good talent and transform it into a dominant defense the likes of which he is used to. And, the Panthers made a very good trade for TE Greg Olsen, who should be a good safety blanket for whoever starts at QB this season. But, the focus at Panthers camp has been and remains on the QB situation. Cam Newton has a chance to start, but there is doubt as to whether he will. He still has to overtake the incumbent Jimmy Clausen, and newcomer Derek Anderson from Arizona. This 3 way QB battle has the makings of one that the entire league will want to watch. Most of the emphasis this offseason was placed on re-signing the plethora of free agents the Panthers had, including DE Charles Johnson, RB DeAngelo Williams, and CB C.J Wilson. Overall, there isn't much new to speak of on the Panthers roster.

Biggest Strength: They still have a great 1-2 punch at RB with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and that is always a QB's best friend. They still have a great wideout in Steve Smith (not the one that defected to Philly), and with Greg Olsen, the offense doesn't have a terrible look. Defensively, the squad isn't that bad with guys like Charles Johnson at DE, and Thomas Davis at MLB. Don't forget also about their underrated offensive line.

Biggest Weakness: The QB position will be a struggle this year for whoever starts. Cam Newton is still a raw talent, and Jimmy Clausen and Derek Anderson have a lot to prove. The secondary is also a sore spot for this team. But the real issue is the combination of all of these factors plus the youth and lockout lag time, this could become a tough year fast for Carolina.

Outlook: It doesn't help that they are playing in one of the toughest divisions in football, the NFC South. Their schedule isn't the most favorable either. It looks like they will improve from a season ago, but not enough that they will challenge for a playoff berth in a very crowded NFC.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Go West, Football Teams in Need (or made-up need)!

Ever since the NFL left LA twofold in 1995, the city has always been used as a bargaining chip for markets to build new stadiums for their teams or else they'd hit the Mayflowers headed for LA. The city got close twice, once in 1996 when then Seahawks owner Ken Behring announced he was moving the Seahawks to Anaheim. But, lawyers thwarted that quickly, and the Seahawks are still in Seattle today. Los Angeles was awarded the 32nd NFL franchise in 1999, but only if they could get a stadium deal done, but they never did, and that team was then awarded to Houston, and they are now entrenched in the heart of Texas. Now, with the passing of the finances for the billion dollar blockbuster that is Farmers Field, a team is most certainly destined for LA. But, the question now is, which team? There are 7 that have been in the majority of rumors, and now it's time to look at the likelihood for any of them to hit the moving vans.

100% No Chance of moving: San Francisco, Jacksonville

The 49ers have a stadium deal in nearby Santa Clara pretty much ironed out, and now all that is left to fix is whether the Raiders will be moving in with them. But that question will be dealt with later. The ownership situation is fine, and if the stadium deal is finished, they aren't going anywhere for a long time. And, I don't know how many times Wayne Weaver has to say he's not selling the Jaguars before people understand that he isn't. Sure he's old, but as long as the franchise is owned by a Weaver (not Jered Angels fans), it isn't going anywhere. Couple that with a nearly impossible to break lease with the city, there is zero chance that the Jaguars are leaving northeast Florida. The ticket sales will go up when the winning starts, and lord only hopes for that city that it starts soon. When it does, the problem will go away, and hopefully the Jaguars will stay out of the moving rumormill.

Not Likely to move, but there is an out that they might: Minnesota, Buffalo

The Vikings have had their fair share of issues with the outdated Metrodome of late, and they want a new stadium. They have a possibility of one in Arden Hills, a suburb of Minneapolis. If all goes well on the government side of things, a vote could be called for in September or October to iron out the deal.  The lease at the Metrodome expires after this season, and if no deal is reached, that's when the problem may really crop up. But Zygi Wilf has said not to worry, so people shouldn't just yet. Buffalo is a strategic market for the NFL because of its proximity to Canada, and the NFL wants to maintain that. When Ralph Wilson dies, his heirs have said that they will sell the team to the highest bidder, and that could be an LA group like AEG, but I doubt it considering the local support in western New York.

Wild Card: Oakland

The general idea about the Raiders is that no one has any idea about what the Raiders will do. It's doubtful that a new stadium will be built in Oakland where Al Davis wants it, and they don't want to share a stadium with the 49ers. They may have to give in, in order to stay in the Bay Area. They are stuck in Oakland until after 2013, but then the question remains, what will Al Davis and his heirs do? That's why they have a category all to themselves.

Plausible, but not definite: St. Louis

It's well known of the connections Stan Kroenke has with Phillip Anschutz of AEG. With these connections, and the fact that Kroenke wants to give up control of all of his professional sports franchises by December 2014, and the fact that the Rams lease at the Dome in St. Louis is up after 2015, it seems that this team could be a prime candidate to move. The stadium situation doesn't help either. The question is, does AEG want to wait that long?

Pretty Likely: San Diego

Sure Alex Spanos doesn't want to give up operating control of the team, but he does want to sell a minority stake. The Chargers have been trying to get a stadium deal in the San Diego area for a decade and have come out empty. They don't have the money to build a stadium privately, and with the LA market being a secondary market for the Chargers (all road games have to be shown in LA), it seems that this could be a perfect fit. The allure of a new stadium in downtown LA may be too hard to resists for the Chargers, who once played in LA at the start of their existence in the 60's.

A team that moved to LA would have to play in the Coliseum for 3-4 years before Farmers Field is ready, but there is no doubt that a wait like that may be worth it. The NFL may want 2 teams in LA, one NFC and one AFC, but I think LA could only support one team. Nevertheless, it looks like a team is destined for LA soon, and now it's not a question of if, it's a question of when, and LA hasn't had that certainty since the 1980's.

NFL 32 in 32: Cincinnati Bengals

The 2010 could not have been more of a disaster for the Bengals. Predicted by some to make a Super Bowl trip, they instead went from 2-1 to 2-11 by week 14. Many have called for Marvin Lewis' head, but he stayed on through the lockout. Is there any hope of a surprise playoff run in store for the Queen City this year?

What's new: Well, it all starts in Cincy with those players that aren't there anymore. Carson Palmer refuses to show up at camp and says he will retire instead of playing with the Bengals, Chad Ochocinco was traded to New England, and they lost their best corner to Houston in Jonathan Joseph. So what did they do to replace these losses? In terms of the QB position, they added Andy Dalton through the draft and Bruce Gradkowski through free agency. While Gradkowski will likely start the year under center, expect to see Andy Dalton soon after unless Gradkowski truly shines. At the WR position, the Bengals added a dynamite receiver in rookie A.J Green from Georgia. He should be able to give the Bengals the deep threat they lost in Ochocinco, but the question remains whether they have the QB to get the ball down the field. And at corner, they replaced the departed Jonathan Joseph with Nate Clements, who never lived up to the potential that San Francisco hoped he would. Some other new pieces that arrived via free agency are OLB's Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard, guard Max-Jean Gillies, and Tight End Bo Scaife.

Biggest Strength: They were not very healthy on defense last year, but they will get many of the injured players back, and when the whole crew is combined it is not a horrible defense. They have a decent front 4, linebacking corps, and secondary. None of these units will blow you away with amazing talent but nevertheless is a combined very decent group. Offensively, the Bengals still have Cedric Benson, who can be a very good running back at times.

Biggest Weakness: They don't have much on offense. Aside from A.J Green, the wideout corps is very thin, and Jermaine Gresham is still unproven. The offensive line is also a sore spot, with another relatively unproven group. And, this is a QB driven league, and Bruce Gradkowski while sometimes having good moments is not the QB of the future. That, is Andy Dalton's title, and it remains to be seen whether he can take it. If not, another situation like the one in Carolina could arise, especially if they get the 1st overall pick in next year's draft.

Outlook: Well, in the most optimistic world, a great year by everyone on the team could get them a near .500 finish, but playing in the AFC North and with a tough schedule, it is hard to see the Bengals winning more than 6 games this year. There is some talent there, but there is not enough of it to make the Bengals a contender. Marvin Lewis' seat is already very hot, and it may get even hotter, very quickly.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl hangovers happen, but normally they happen with the losing team. In this case, the Saints had a Super Bowl hangover (sort of) last season. They finished 10-6 and the season ended unceremoniously with the upset loss in Seattle in the wild card round. Now newly restocked, and fresher this year than last, the Saints look to reclaim the NFC South crown, and be a Super Bowl contender once again.

What's New: There isn't a ton that is new in New Orleans, but there are some new players worth taking note of. The first place to look is in the backfield, where the rotating door of running backs has been replaced with free agent Darren Sproles, and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. This new combo in the backfield should give the Saints a needed dose of balance to their offensive attack, which is still one of the best in the NFL. The secondary features some new additions in corner Fabian Washington from Baltimore, safety Paul Oliver from San Diego, and a ton of re-signings including safety Roman Harper. Other newcomers to the team include LB Will Herring from Seattle, DT's Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers, from San Francisco and Cleveland respectively, and center Olin Kreutz from Chicago. The additions weren't exactly earth shattering, but the combination of the re-signings and sound free agent pickups will work wonders for a team that needed a breath of fresh air.

Biggest Strength: The offense is still as good as any other in the NFL. Drew Brees is still one of the NFL's best QB's, and with the new dash of excitement in the 1-2 punch in the backfield, the offense gains some balance that it has lacked. And they still have one of the league's premier pass offenses, with young and up and coming players. They may have one of the league's most balanced offensive attacks, up there with teams like Philadelphia, Atlanta, and New England.

Biggest Weakness: It's truly is a struggle to find a major fault in this team, because there isn't one. There are some minor isssues, like the defense having a lot of young players that still need to develop, and may have to fast because of Gregg Williams' defense, but the number of veterans on the D-Line and in the secondary will offset that. Keeping the defense healthy is really the biggest goal, and is needed of course, but their depth is impressive enough that it may not matter.

Outlook: They are a Super Bowl contender. They have improved in almost every way from a season ago, and have one of the best leaders in the NFL. They will be tested often this season, especially in their own division, but there is no reason to see why this team can't challenge for a Super Bowl this season.

Monday, August 8, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Tennessee Titans

2008 seems like it was more than 3 years ago for Titans fans. After the recovery from an 0-6 start in 2009 to get to 8-8, 2010 was a season to forget. Now, the completely revamped Titans look to improve and take a wide-open AFC South. But, are they too early in the rebuilding process to be able to do so?

What's New: Plenty. It starts with the head coach, Mike Munchak. He had been the offensive line coach for 11 years under Jeff Fisher, and now he is the first new head coach for the Titans since the middle of the 1994 season when the Titans were the Houston Oilers and the ousted coach was Jack Pardee. Munchak knows this team very well, and that should help acclimate the new QB, Matt Hasselbeck. After his less than pleasant departure from Seattle, he takes the helm of an offense which does have arguably the NFL's best RB in Chris Johnson, despite his current holding out (as of the time of this writing). And Hasselbeck will be learning a new offense from new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, who is coming over from the UFL. Most of the focus though in the draft and free agency was focused on the defensive side of the ball though. New additions to the D are Jordan Babineux, Frank Walker, Barrett Ruud, and others, who look to turn around a poor defense from last season. Offensively, there is not much new other than Hasselbeck and Palmer, aside from the rookie 1st round pick Jake Locker, but he does not figure to see much action at all this year as he develops.

Biggest Strength: Chris Johnson is one of the league's biggest playmakers, and he should help Matt Hasselbeck and the offense progress with their learning curve. The offensive line was also pretty decent, and they'll have to be once again in order to keep Hasselbeck upright. Hasselbeck himself is no slouch at QB, but he does have to deal with a lack of weapons on offense. Defensively, they do have some good pieces in the secondary in Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner.

Biggest Weakness: Offensively, and especially in the passing game, the Titans don't have an abundance of weapons aside from Kenny Britt. It will especially show up with the Titans lack of good TE's. Defensively, the Titans are young and have some promising players in all areas, but they still need to develop in order to be a major force, especially in a division with the Texans and Colts. Overall, aside from Hasselbeck and Johnson, there just is not an abundance of premier talent on the Titans roster this season.

Outlook: Not much rosier than their 6-10 season from a year ago. Matt Hasselbeck will add stability to the QB position which the Titans have lacked for years, but the learning and development curve under a new head coach and offensive coordinator will be steep. Combine that with a tough schedule and a tough division, there is not much promise for this season in Nashville. However, the rebuilding process does look like it's on the right track for the future.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Chicago Bears

Last year, the to-be NFC North Champions surprised everyone with a 11-5 season and a 2 seed in the playoffs, despite not having an offensive line or an abundance of weapons for Jay Cutler. Now, they are looking to defend their NFC North title against the Super Bowl champs and 2 up and coming teams. Can they?

What's New: Not anything major, but there are some new pieces in Chicago this year. Marion Barber and Roy Williams come over from Dallas, and Williams figures to be at least in competition for the #1 wideout spot with Johnny Knox. Amobi Okoye, a castoff from Houston's defensive transition will look to resurrect his career on arguably a much better defense. The losses figure to become bigger issues for the Bears this year, as they did lose their offensive line anchor in Olin Kreutz. They also lost safety Danieal Manning to Houston, and that could be a bigger loss than many think in the secondary. The biggest loss could be TE Greg Olsen, who was a major safety blanket for Cutler when he was under pressure, and they really did not pick anybody up to replace him. Chicago overall did not change much, but some losses and gains could prove to have major impacts for this team in 2011.

Biggest Strength: Jay Cutler is still one of the league's premier QB's, despite being sacked plenty often last year and not having enough weapons on offense. The same probably will be said this season too. The biggest strength is still in the defensive front 7. They can get after the QB with ease, and Amobi Okoye will likely reach bigger heights playing alongside Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. And, the Bears still have Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and they don't mess around.

Biggest Weakness: The offensive line. Losing Olin Kreutz will be a major loss for one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Kreutz was able to anchor the line and the rotating door at tackle and guard positions, and now he is gone. The rookie Gabe Carimi may make some impact, but having Kreutz would have been a major help to his development. It does not look like the line will be any better than it was last year, and that will be a major problem for Jay Cutler, and Matt Forte and the running game.

Outlook: This team did overachieve slightly last season, and that was a result of playing in a weaker division and getting some help from Jay Cutler and a lucky draw in the playoffs.  This year, don't expect the Bears to be so lucky. They still have the front 7 to compete and keep them in games, but otherwise, there may not be much on this team that is better than it was last season. The playoffs are not out of the question, but it's doubtful that it will be back-to-back NFC North titles for Chicago.