Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Warrick a Seahawk?

Looks like WR Peter Warrick is the newest member of the Seattle Seahawks, signing a 1 year, 1.4 M offer.

Interesting. He immediately becomes our #3 receiver.

D-Jack, Engram, Warrick, Bannister, Jurevicius...... Pathon? Hackett?

I like this move. It's an improvement at a skill position, and Warrick might be able to stretch the field in ways Pathon or Hackett could not.

Sorry, Jerheme. You're out. For sure.

posted by colin_hesse @ 3:53 PM  0 comments

NFL Preview: NFC East

2004 Standings:

Philadelphia: 13-3
N.Y. Giants: 6-10
Dallas: 6-10
Washington: 6-10

Overview:
What a joke. You know, a lot of people ragged on the NFC West, and for good reason. However, there is no way that this division, overall, was better then the NFC West. Just a terrible conference after Philadelphia. By the way, the Eagles have several glaring question marks heading into this season, but still are the NFC favorites to return to the Super Bowl. None of the other teams have much of a prayer of making it to the postseason. Eli Manning has looked mediocre in New York, Dallas has an improved defense, but Drew Bledsoe does not an offense make, and Joe Gibbs must be wondering why he came out of retirement for the mess he inherited in Washington.

Philadelphia:
What an offseason! Thankfully I got to hear about them every single day, or I wouldn't have known that T.O. is a jerk (still is), Corey Simon doesn't want to be an Eagle (and how isn't), and Brian Westbrook wanted a new contract (and got one). There is a ton of pressure on this team, and the year will not be considered a success without a Super Bowl ring. Is that ring possible, with everything that has gone on? Absolutely. Is a Super Bowl trip an inevitability in a weak conference? Absolutely not.

Key Losses: DT Corey Simon, RB Dorsey Levens, DE Derrick Burgess, WR Freddie Mitchell, LB Nate Wayne, G Jermane Mayberry, LB Ike Reese

Key Additions: QB Mike McMahon, DT Mike Patterson

Offense: Forget all the hype about T.O. and Donovan McNabb. Once the season starts, if they remain healthy, they will be up to the task. The only problem might be the lack of any semblance of a wide receiver corps BEYOND T.O. I mean, they have no one! Freddy Mitchell is gone, and Todd Pinkston is out for the season. That means the second wide receiver is.... Greg Lewis, he of 17 receptions and 183 yards. Ouch. T.O. will be seeing a LOT of double coverage, unless Lewis really steps up. The rest of the offense will not experience any significant downturn. Donovan has improved as a passing quarter back every single year, though his performance in the Super Bowl was simply horrible. Expect him to depend on his legs a little more this year without a dependable passing game. Brian Westbrook is a playmaker who can run and catch, providing Donovan an underneath target. This team won't depend on their offense to win games anyways, but their offense shouldn't LOSE them too many games.

Gavin: Obviously Owens and McNabb will be the stars, but as Colin mentioned, I am so unimpressed with the rest of the receiver corps. Freddie Mitchell might have had a huge mouth, but he did catch the ball, and Pinkston (although a wuss over the middle) was a dependable performer. Greg Lewis just isn't the answer. Depth is also a large concern at tailback. Westbrook is a fairly small back, and if Philadelphia rests too much on him he could develop an injury problem. With Buckhalter out again, there is nothing to give Westbrook a spell. This should be a fairly consistent offense (and it will be against the garbage in this division) but nothing special.

Defense: Every year Philadelphia inputs new parts, and every year the end result is the same. This defense just is incredible. Much love should go to defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and his innovative all-blitz, all-the-time schemes. This year will provide him another year to prove his genuis, because several larges pieces of the vaunted Eagles defense will be missing, including all-world DT Corey Simon and effective linebacker Nate Wayne. The loss of Corey Simon seems to be lessened by the great preseason by rookie DT Mike Patterson, who the Eagles believe will easily step in and provide that needed punch in the middle. Few people remember that the Eagles defense began last season with a huge problem: They couldn't stop the run. Their savior was ye old Jeremiah Trotter, who used his girth for good instead of evil. I know I didn't see Trotter returning to playmaker form, and I'm not convinced that he can keep it up for another season. More pressure will be on Simoneau, who has been great against the pass, but inconsistent against the run. Another huge surprise last year was the amazing play by the baby Eagle cornerbacks Lito Shepperd and Sheldon Brown. That doesn't seem to be an anomoly. One on one coverage means more blitzes and more opportunities for beasts like Jevon Kearse and Jerome McDougle. This defense has a few questions, sure, but I expect it to be it's usual dominating self by Week 3 or 4.

Gavin: I doubted this defense last season and paid for it with each standout performance. I'm not going to make the same mistake this year. Until Jim Johnson is stopped this will be a top ten defense. Their schemes are always innovative, and with those young corners they are able to put incredible amounts of pressure on opposing QBs. Seriously, this is a stud secondary, one that all four could have made the Pro Bowl last year. Trotter should have been a Seahawk last offseason, and is back to being a beast in the middle. Of course Jevon Kearse will be good. Corey Simon will be missed, but Philly does have excellent depth. This is a defense that will carry them to 11 wins.

Overhyped Myth: This is the DEFINITION of overhype. The T.O. situation will mean BUPKUS once the season starts. I don't even know why this is still getting ink. T.O. needs the Eagles. The Eagles need T.O. Many yards and touchdowns will follow.

Understated Reality: The Eagles will be playing this season under a tremendous amount of pressure. Either they become the champions of the NFL or they have failed. Period. It remains to be seen how that pressure will affect them as a unit, especially if they lose a few games in a row. Fortunately for them, this division is weak enough that they could probably win the division with an 8-8 record, so their march towards the postseason will continue unabated.

General Prognosis: Well, they will make the postseason, and should be one of the top 2 seeds. Beyond that.... they are the favorite to reach the Super Bowl, but I'm not convinced. This is the new NFL. If you aren't named New England, the best team is usually not the winning team. My best guess is yet another NFC Championship game in Philadelphia, but the ride will end there once again for the Eagles.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Monday night, Sept 12, at Atlanta. This will be an early statement game about the real talent gap between these two teams, and should take a lot of the luster away from the Falcons.

New York:
Now we move on to the rest of the division, also called..... the dregs. The Giants are hoping that Plaxico Burress, Eli Manning, and a non-fumbling Tiki Barber can carry them into a wildcard berth, but they don't seem to understand that the rest of that team, especially the offensive line, is a non-factor. Sure, Michael Strahan might be able to get a few sacks, but no one is scared of that defense. The Giants are still a few years away from competing seriously for a playoff spot, and would be fighting for last place if Washington wasn't absolutely terrible.

Key Losses: RB Ron Dayne, DT Lance Legree, QB Kurt Warner, CB Terry Cousin, TE Marcellus Rivers, WR Ike Hilliard, PK Steve Christie, DT Norman Hand, DE Keith Washington, OL Barry Stokes

Key Additions: LB Antonio Pierce, T Kareem McKenzie, WR Plaxico Burress, PK Jay Feely, DT Kendrick Clancy, T Bob Whitfield, QB Tim Hasselbeck

Offense: More like offensive, unless Eli Manning changes his name to Peyton, switches teams with Peyton, and has Peyton change his name to Eli. You get the picture (and yes, I will use this same joke with EVERY OTHER TEAM IN THIS DIVISION). The NFC East should issue an apology to NFL fans for the offense they will be seeing from this division. It is an abomination that the priest from "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" should look into instead of making a crappy movie. I mean, this NFC East offense demons are destroying watchable football! Come on! Tiki Barber held on to the football last year, and racked up some big yards, but I've never really believed in him since his career started. Maurice Morris just seems like a better feature back. Plaxico will be pining for Gentle Ben before September is over, as Eli has just not looked ready. His progression has been slowed by what is, by general acclaim, possibly the worst offensive line in football. Archie Manning should fine himself for making his son spurn San Diego for the bright lights of the Big Apple. His son will find his extremely rich posterior on the turf numerous times, which will result in skittishness and some bad decisions and progressions. At least Shockey's a playmaker, right? Right?

Gavin: Thankfully Colin has to write the rest of this preview. These offenses are WEAK. Tiki Barber had a career year and is one year older. Can he keep it up? I'm not drafting him as a fantasy back. Can Plaxico Burress be a number one receiver? Not convinced. Of course, as Colin writes, this all depends on the growth of Eli Manning. Plenty of growth will be needed behind this weak sauce offensive line.

Defense: I hope that the Giants fans like Michael Strahan, because he will be the only reason to look forward for the Giants defense to appear on the field. Well, that's not quite true. MLB Antonio Pierce had over 100 tackles last year, and should provide some good leadership on the field. But still.... blah. The coverage is below adequate, as both Will Peterson and Will Allen had times where opposing offenses ate them for breakfast. Let me be honest. I don't like the Giants, and I never have. I admit that I am not a huge expert on this unit, but whenever I watched the Giants last year, that defense couldn't stop anyone. In fact, in every one of their 10 losses, the defense allowed 27 points a game. I just don't see marked improvement at any aspect of this defense. There needs to be an infusion of new blood, injecting life into a team that has been dull and boring the last couple of years. This is another team that will cause my hand to immediately grab the remote if they are on television.

Gavin: We still on this team? Can't we write about Family Guy?

Overhyped Myth: Eli Manning is ready to make "The Leap". Not from what I've seen, plus that injury he suffered against Carolina in the preseason might come back to haunt him. I haven't been a fan of this Manning after he engineered the draft day move to New York. I thought that was a classless thing to do, plus it was a horrible decision. Manning was not worth the price New York paid. He might prove me wrong, but I doubt it.

Understated Reality: This offense will not achieve consistent results until that offensive line is overhauled. Kareem McKenzie is NOT an overhaul. Every aspect of an offense revolves around a quality offensive line. Teams like Kansas City or Indianapolis would not have nearly as good of an offense without their respective, incredible, O-Lines.

General Prognosis: 6-10 sounds like the charm to me, though it wouldn't surprise me if NY only wins 4-5. The defense will lose some games, and the offense will lose some games. That's a prescription for suckage.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 25 at San Diego. Chargers fans will have an incredible opportunity to boo the hell out of Eli. I know I'll try to watch this game and boo a little myself.

Gavin: BOOOOOOOOOOOO

Dallas:
So much love has been given this offseason to the Cowboys that I have wondered if Jerry Jones has opened his pocketbooks and bribed several prominent columnists. To be honest, the hype has been ridiculous. This is an improved team, but not a drastically improved team, and they should struggle to reach the .500 mark, even with their weak schedule.

Key Losses: RB Richie Anderson, LB Dexter Coakley, RB Eddie George, QB Vinny Testeverde, DE Marcellus Wiley, S Darren Woodson

Key Additions: QB Drew Bledsoe, NT Jason Ferguson, CB Aaron Glenn, CB Anthony Henry, G Marco Rivera, LB/DE Demarcus Ware

Offense: Let me get this straight. People really think that Drew Bledsoe is going to march into Dallas, become the Drew Bledsoe of 10 years ago, and lead the Cowboys to 10 wins? Drew Bledsoe? Absolutely not. Fortunately for the Cowboys, the offense should revolve around improving running back Julius Jones, who gashed several teams last year, including the Seahawks. He has speed, but he also has a tough gear in him that can break several tackles on a given run. I like him, and he will ensure that this offense doesn't out and out reek. He will be helped by the offensive line, led by Larry Allen, who had a better season last year then he had had in years. Marco Rivera helped the Packers be a big running team for years, and he will do the same for the Cowboys. Where this team will struggle is through the air. Not only is Drew Bledsoe past his prime, but who is he throwing the ball to? Keyshawn Johnson? Terry Glenn? Well, Jason Witten is a nice target at the TE position, but the rest of the passing combo are, like, about 100 years old combined. This is no gamebreaker, and there is noone there to stretch the field. This has shown throughout the preseason, where teams like the Cardinals stacked the box and blitzed constantly, putting Bledsoe immediatey on his heels and putting the offense solely in the hands of Jones. This will still be an overall weakness for this team.

Gavin: Let's put this all in words columnists can understand... DALLAS SHOULD HAVE DRAFTED SOME OFFENSE. How on earth is this pile of aged crap supposed to be competitive? These are all names one could have been excited about ten years ago. Keyshawn Johnson? Wasn't he a Jet? Terry Glenn? Wasn't he a Patriot? Man, are there going to be a lot of disappointed prognosticators out there (note: this all should be down there in the overhyped myth as well). This is mediocre.

Defense: Two years ago this team had the #1 defense in the NFL. Last year? #16. Ouch. That's a drop, and the losses of Coakley and Wiley will hurt. What won't hurt is the addition of Demarcus Ware, who looks like an absolute stud. Holy cow. The interception of Matt Hasselback was unreal. He was two steps behind TE Jerremy Stevens, immediately closed the gap and dove in front of Stevens, snatching the ball out of the air. I was sold on this guy as of that moment. He could have the same sort of impact as Julius Peppers has with Carolina, and I'm not just saying that. I don't even like the Cowboys, but I like this kid that much. Because of him alone, this defense has the chance to improve from last year, probably ending at a spot from #9 to #12. MLB Dat Nguyen is a solid, though undersized, middle linebacker who is constantly flying to the ball. The secondary is, well, ok, as CB Terrence Newman has never really reached his potential and S Roy Williams sometimes seems to be looking for the big hits and missing some routes or just plain being beat. Reminds me a lot of John Lynch when he played for Tampa Bay. If Parcells has any real impact on this team, you will see it on the defense. I expect them to play with a lot of fire this year, and will win at least a few games for this team. However, this all depends if the defense can gel into the new 3-4 scheme, which might take a little while.

Gavin: After the aforementioned draft, the same prognosticators seem to think that Bill Parcells has his "guys" and the Cowboys will be unstoppable. Sure didn't look like that against the Hawks (minus those plays by DeMarcus Ware). They just don't have enough playmakers. They are weak in the middle. They are weak at linebacker. They are weak in the secondary. But they are Parcell's "guys". That should be enough.

Overhyped Myth: What else? The return of Drew Bledsoe does NOT vaunt this team into the stratosphere anymore then Eddie George did LAST year. His time is past, and no Parcells magic will change that. Face it. Old NFL quarterback's skills decrease over time, even when your name is Brett Favre. Bledsoe hasn't been elite for years and years, and he has looked terrible this preseason.

Understated Reality: This might be the last year for Bill Parcells if this team struggles again. I doubt that he will want to continue coaching a mediocre team, especially if he realizes, as he should, that this team is stuck in 6-10 and 7-9 land and will be for years.

General Prognosis: They'll win anywhere from 5-7 games, but they won't be vying for a playoff berth. They just aren't good enough offensively, and their defense, while improved, will not be a shutdown defense in the vein of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept 19 against Washington. Both teams are terrible, but Cowboys/Redskins games have a lot of passion behind them, and it's nice to see Parcells against Gibbs in any setting.

Washington:
Speaking of Joe Gibbs, why in the world did he leave NASCAR? Is Clinton Portis ready to rumble? Is that offensive line worth anything at all? Is Patrick Ramsey, FINALLY, ready to take the reins and lead the offense? Can the defense keep it up? Are there any more big questions surrounding this team?

Key Losses: WR Laveraneus Coles, RB Chad Morton, LB Antonio Pierce, CB Fred Smoot, WR Rod Gardner

Key Additions: CB Atrell Hawkins, WR Santana Moss, LB Warrick Holdman, WR David Patten

Offense: Ugh. It's hard for me to even write a paragraph about this offense. Patrick Ramsey. Has any quarterback been jerked around as much as Ramsey? It finally appears that he is it, and that might help him reach the tantalizing potential that Redskins fans has seen glimpses of. He has been known to be extremely accurate, though not recently, and, unlike Brunell, he has actual arm strength. His job becomes a lot easier if Clinton Portis wakes up and regains the form that made him one of the top-3 backs in the NFL. Clinton Portis absolutely killed my fantasy football team last year, so I hold a lot of resentment against him. He was gaining about 2 yards a carry with no touchdowns. Just nothing. I don't see anything to convince me that this will magically improve. The offensive line is about the same, though the return of T Jon Jansen from injury will be a massive help. The wide receiving corps completely revamped in what is probably a wash. Moss out, Coles in. Gardner out, Patten in. That's about the same, though it will be interesting to see how Patten responds to being more of the focus of the passing attack. In the end, though, I just can't see how this offense will become good. They were pathetic, and they probably will remain pathetic.

Gavin: Washington should write a letter of apology to NFL fans for the offense they are going to throw out there.

Defense: Now here is, or at least was, a great defense. To be honest with you, I have no idea how they achieved that. Shawn Springs is your #1 CB, and he has lost a few steps over the years with all his injury problems. S Sean Taylor is just weird, and the Redskins have considered already just dumping him. LB Levar Arrington has a ton of hype surrounding him, but has never put it all together on the field. DE Phillip Daniels is, well, Phillip Daniels, no one that should be counted on for a consistent rush. So again, I ask you, how was this defense dominant? I don't have any idea how to properly analyze this unit. It is one of the most baffling I have seen in doing these team capsules. Gavin, add something here, because I am stumped.

Gavin: The defense sure better be something, because otherwise this team will struggle to win four games.

Overhyped Myth: Clinton Portis is back and ready to shine. No, Portis is back and ready to get 1,200 yards and 6 touchdowns. That isn't what the Redskins thought they were paying for.

Understated Reality: The offense should improve, but the defense should sink back to the mediocre middle. That should result in very similar W/L results from last year.

General Prognosis: If anyone can do great things with this team, I would trust Joe Gibbs. But he really has low-quality talent at several positions, and the coaching staff isn't omnipotent. I don't see a lot of change for this season.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: The same Cowboys game, simply because that's the only time I would want to watch either of these teams.

Conclusion:
The Eagles. That's it. Try to put these other teams out of your mind.

posted by colin_hesse @ 2:51 PM  0 comments

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Ultimate Explosion!

Today's Ultimate Explosion will be fairly short, because I just wrote a ton. Deal with it.

- John Levesque deserves to be severely beaten around the head and shoulders for writing YET ANOTHER love note for Willie Bloomquist. How many of these does this guy need to write? I refuse to link to this crap. He sucks. He's a great utility guy, terrible everyday player who is taking valuable at-bats away from Jose Lopez. I'm hoping he just pulled his hamstring and is out for the rest of the season.

- Why exactly did Mike Hargrove send Matt Thornton out to pitch to Jason Giambi last night instead of George Sherrill? Let's send someone who gives up home runs and can't throw strikes out to pitch to the hottest hitter in baseball. That makes complete sense. Welcome back, Matt Thornton death spiral.

- I will be at the games Wednesday and Thursday and plan on thoroughly enjoying myself. Go Felix!

- No big news in the first round of cuts for the Seahawks. It would be great if they went after Corey Simon, but only if it made sense. Tubbs and Darby look great as starters. Peerless Price isn't necessary. We have enough WR depth now.

- Chad Ford doubts the Sonics again. You'd think Antonio Daniels was our MVP last year for all the love people are pouring on him. He wasn't even our sixth man, for crying out loud. Please people, enough already! On paper we actually are better than Golden State and Denver. Let's think that way.

- Good luck to the Storm tonight. I'll care if they advance to the Finals again.

Update: Isaiah Stanback wins the UW QB battle by default as the university's idiotic compliance department strikes again, as DuRocher isn't available for the first three weeks. I like this from the standpoint that Stanback gets for sure three weeks to see what he can do. If he sucks, we can always move forward with DuRocher.

posted by Gavin @ 3:56 PM  0 comments

NFL Preview: NFC North

2004 Standings:

Green Bay: 10-6
Minnesota: 8-8
Detroit: 6-10
Chicago: 5-11

Overview:
If you want a boring-as-anything league filled with mediocrity, last year's NFC North was your pride and joy. Every team had huge gaping flaws. Chicago turned a Rex Grossman injury into a train wreck of a year as one of my top five least favorite teams to watch (i.e. I'd rather watch the World Series of Poker). There's some bright spots this season, but again, the NFC just is terrible on paper comparatively to the AFC.

Green Bay:
The Packers can breathe a huge sigh of relief as QB Brett Favre returns for one more gun-slinging season. Yet can they stop anyone? This team is Mike Sherman's last shot in Green Bay. I see him being one of the coaches on the hot seat that could be fired mid-season.

Key Losses: G Mike Wahle, G Marco Rivera, S Darren Sharper

Key Additions: G Adrian Klemm, QB Aaron Rodgers

Offense: All in all, this should still be a decent offense. Brett Favre is Brett Favre. A leader, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and prone to just awful decision making. When Favre decides that he's going to have a bad game (like in the playoffs against the Vikings) he doesn't mess around (4 INTs). However, when on he is without comparison in arm strength and fire. I still don't want to be against him when the chips are down, which is why I think it sucks that the Hawks end the season against the Pack. The weapons are definitely still there. RB Ahman Green is a stud, although still needs help holding on to the ball. That gets old pretty damn fast, and is why we get the Shaun Alexander show instead of Green. WR Javon Walker and WR Donald Driver are a great combo, although Walker is going to have to show that he is not a one-year wonder. TE Bubba Franks will catch many a ball, although he still hasn't shown much growth the past few seasons. The huge concern has to be the offensive line. C Mike Flanagan missed most of last year with injury and they lose two amazing guards. There was a reason that Green Bay almost never missed a third-and-one conversion. Wahle and Rivera simply cannot be replaced. This is going to hurt Ahman Green, a back who loves going up the gut, and coach Mike Sherman has to be concerned about pass protection. Although Favre doesn't miss games, it only takes one hit to break an arm or a leg. It will be very interesting to see how this unfolds.

Colin: I actually rate this offense higher then Gavin. They have a solid running game and a solid passing attack, giving them the ability to go with what is working at a given time and be unpredictable with their schemes. Favre doesn't usually suck until the playoffs, and he had his best year in a while last year statistically. Now that the usual Favre horrible happenstance has happened before the season (hurricane, and I mean that, it was horrible and we pray for those in New Orleans), he can concentrate on football. This offense has the ability to get back to the postseason.

Defense: If anyone wonders why Green Bay lost in the playoffs last year, they can point directly to a very porous defense, which especially in the secondary seemed lost. So, just like the Saints yesterday, Green Bay did almost nothing to upgrade this team. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila can make a sack every once in a while, but has to be classified as a bust at some point. Cletidus Hunt and Grady Jackson are a good pair of tackles, but are aging and lost a step last season. MLB Nick Barnett was the Isaiah K of the Packers, you could see him two steps behind on most big plays given up. He has skills, but has tons of improvement needed. The secondary is, to put it mildly, weak. In fact, Jonathan Quinn, medicine woman, should be able to put up huge numbers against this crap. An aging Al Harris is the "shutdown" corner, and the Packers desperately hope to have 2nd round pick Ahmad Carroll be the other performer. While Darren Sharper looked lost last season, Green Bay did nothing to replace him. Any opposing offense (say Minnesota for example) should be able to move the ball against this squad.

Colin: Brett Favre was pissed off that the Packers drafted a quarterback instead of giving him defensive help, and I can't blame him. He wants to win now, and the Packers didn't draft to win now, but to win later (I can't blame them either). There isn't a magic switch available to make this defense better, so they will limit the wins for this team. Basically, the offense will try to carry this team to the postseason while the defense struggles to make this team miss the postseason.

Overhyped Myth: Brett Favre is not Jesus incarnate. He throws way too many picks in bad situations now, and also can't defend. His return does not guarantee a playoff spot.

Understated Reality: I actually have two. The first is that the Packers have terrific offensive depth. If Green goes down, Najeh Davenport proved he could be an effective back. If Favre goes down, the Packers finally have a replacement in Aaron Rodgers. The second is that this defense will not allow the Packers to move forward, and in fact I see them as being highly likely to be a disappointment.

General Prognosis: The Lambeau Love is in full effect when it comes to national prognosticators. This team will not be able to fulfill their grandiose plans. Look for them to struggle in mediocrity at 8-8.

Colin: I actually see them getting to 9-7, which might be good enough to make the postseason in the weak NFC. This is Brett Favre. I just can't completely count him out. Ever.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 11 at Detroit... the new passing attack of the Lions gets to show up against this secondary

Colin: The new passing attack of the Lions? Have you watched them this preseason?

Minnesota:
This is the last year for Mike Tice to meet the expectations placed on this team, whether it's fair or not. Another quick 6-0 start followed by an 8-8 finish will not be acceptable. The Vikings get rid of Hollywood with Randy Moss... can they survive?

Key Losses: WR Randy Moss, RB Onterrio Smith

Key Additions: WR Travis Taylor, WR Troy Williamson, NT Pat Williams, DE Erasmus James, LB Napoleon Harris, CB Fred Smoot, S Darren Sharper, K Paul Edinger

Offense: This offense is very difficult to predict without Randy Moss. The full effect of the change just can't be seen until the games start. Still, the Vikings have to like where they are at. QB Daunte Culpepper became an elite QB, a threat to run, but with the ability to be a pocket passer (pay attention Michael Vick). If he goes down, the offense is lost. RB Michael Bennett was the starter in 2003 and can carry the load... if not Mewelde Moore showed his skills in a brief stint last season. The offensive line is healing from offseason injuries. If they come back at full strength, they will be formidable, led by C Matt Birk. TE Jermaine Wiggins had to be the ugliest pass catcher in the league last year. He would rumble into the middle of the field, park himself, and catch the ball. It was amazing to see. He gives Culpepper a great big target anywhere. The questions, of course, are at wide receiver, but WR Nate Burleson may be ready for big things. He is a trendy preseason pick, although I'm withholding judgment, for reasons I'll detail below. The complementary wide receivers are also there, in Marcus Robinson (great height and playmaking ability), Travis Taylor (solid depth), and first round pick Troy Williamson. How this unit meshes will determine how far Minnesota goes.

Colin: Troy Williamson looks like a possible stud, and can be the deep threat, allowing Burleson to be a D-Jack type #1 receiver, which is totally in his talent level. Culpepper just stepped it up big last year. His decision-making will play a huge role in how this offense does, if Mike Tice doesn't screw it up by calling stupid plays like the one against the Seahawks where Boulware intercepted Randy Moss. They might challenge the big boys of Indy and K.C. for offensive bragging rights before the season is out.

Defense: Every year Minnesota talks about improving their defense and then every year they are awful. This might be the year some of that changes, but I don't believe in this squad as much as America. DE Erasmus James and DE Kenechi Udeze will provide an athletic rush off both ends. DT Kevin Williams established himself as a premier inside force last season and will need to continue along those lines. The linebacking corps can't be any worse. LB Napoleon Harris (obtained in the Moss deal) will be an improvement, but wasn't that great in Oakland either. The addition of CB Fred Smoot, when paired with CB Antonio Winfield, gives Minnesota the best CB tandem in the division. Great pair. Depth is definitely an issue, as there is little support in nickel and dime packages. Also, the safety help is weak. Darren Sharper was awful last season (as mentioned above) and there is little reason to believe a player of his age is going to shake it off.

Colin: Don't forget the addition of DT Pat Williams, coming over from Buffalo. This guy is the definition of a wide load, and dominated the front line along with Sam Adams. He should free up Kevin Williams to be even more of a beast. This defense could, and probably should, make some huge strides this season.

Overhyped Myth: Nate Burleson will not be Randy Moss, no matter how many people want to stick him in that hole. He was a number two receiver. The jump to being number one is huge, just ask Peerless Price. Before we anoint him savior, I would ask us all to take a deep breath and withhold judgment.

Understated Reality: If the offense does survive the loss of its mercurial wonder and the defense improves in the way it should, Minnesota should easily win this division and challenge in the playoffs. However, there are still too many holes to make them a favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

General Prognosis: As I just stated, this is the easy favorite in this division. They could easily hit 10 wins with the weak teams they get to play twice.

Colin: Here's the thing. I love their offense. I'm almost in love with their defense. However. One thing. They have Mike Tice as their head coach. Mike. Tice. I just can't pick a team coached by Mike Tice to go deep into the postseason. Someone will completely outcoach him, whether it is Andy Reid, or John Fox, or even, God forbid, Mike Martz. This will happen. Mark my words.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Oct. 2 at Atlanta... the only game against a good team they play in the first four weeks

Detroit:
This season is all about Joey Harrington. Is he the man? Is he a bust? Tune in to find out.

Key Losses: Not anything

Key Additions: QB Jeff Garcia, WR Mike Williams, WR Kevin Johnson, TE Marcus Pollard, G Rick DeMulling

Offense: The only way this offense doesn't light it up is if the playcalling is abysmal or Joey Harrington can't do anything. They just have too much talent. In fact, this might be the best collection of young talent in the NFL, basically because that's all the Lions have drafted the past few years. I'm still a Harrington fan and think he can get the job done. He is steady under pressure and a better decision maker than given credit for. He needs to take more chances, as he gets spooked easily by even a near interception. Playing without fear (ala Brett Favre) is a necessary component of being a quality QB in the NFL. RB Kevin Jones was impressive in his debut last season and should only improve. He will give the Lions their best running game since Barry Sanders left. What can you say about the wide receivers? They are all talented, with the only question being WR Charles Rogers health. Roy Williams showed he could be a number one target last year, and Mike Williams did nothing but impress at USC. He may be a bit rusty after sitting the last season out but between the three will give Harrington plenty of options. TE Marcus Pollard is an underrated addition as well. The offensive line should be fairly solid, and have been so for the past year. Jones will have holes and Harrington will have time. All in all, a terrific offense on paper. Time to see the production.

Colin: I loved watching Harrington play at Oregon, which is terrible because I'm a Husky fan. He seemed so smooth, so confidant. I feel like I'm watching a different quarterback recently. I really want him to succeed, but it seems doubtful at this point. Reason? Offensive line. They are terrible, and Harrington seems to have his head on a swivel all the time.

Defense: Detroit should see some significant improvement defensively as youth matures. They are solid inside with T Shaun Rogers turning into a Pro Bowl worthy tackle, and Big Daddy Dan Wilkinson continuing to plug holes. DT Shaun Cody will provide an excellent rotation with little drop off. The Lions may have problems rushing the passer from the outside. They have plenty of ends with talent, but none that have become what they could. If one of James Hall (11.5 sacks still last season), Cory Redding, and Kalimba Edwards provide consistent pressure, this could be a fantastic front four. The linebacking corps really missed Boss Bailey. His presence provides an automatic upgrade. I've always been a big Teddy Lehman fan back to when he was with Oklahoma. He had rookie mistakes, but displayed enough presence to be encouraged for his future productivity. The secondary has some questions. A lot of depth, but a lot of mediocre depth. Dre Bly can pick off a pass one play and get beaten for 50 yards the next. CB Fernando Bryant disappointed last season and has to pick it up this year. The safties are weak and unmentionable. This is where the Lions will have to mask mistakes in order to stay in games with teams such as Minnesota. A better secondary than Green Bay, but not by much.

Colin: This is decent. The linebacking corps, if they gel, might become a bunch of playmakers, and they have an above average defensive line. Need to shore up that passing D, though.

Overhyped Myth: Jeff Garcia is not an answer. He has looked awful this postseason. Time to put a fork in him, not declare him the answer if Joey Harrington struggles.

Understated Reality: RB Kevin Jones could become a star. He has all the tools. I'm pretty much in love with his game.

Colin: Understated recently: It was stupid to take 3 wide receivers in 3 consecutive years. That means that one of your draft picks is your #3 wide receiver. You don't need a stud at that position, you need a Jerome Pathon, or a Ricky Proehl. You don't waste a high pick on a possible great receiver. Matt Millen..... no. Bad.

General Prognosis: This is a pivotal season for Detroit. With the improvements offensively and defensively this team should challenge for a playoff spot.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Oct. 9 vs Baltimore... those wide receivers versus the insane Baltimore secondary should make for an entertaining matchup

Chicago:
This team was INSANELY dull last year. Anyone remember that primetime slugfest with San Francisco going against Chicago? Man, was that a terrible game. UW could have played a decent match against this crap. This season might be over before it started with the loss again of QB Rex Grossman. I'm a huge Lovie Smith fan, but he might find himself on the outside looking in if Bears fans have to see a repeat of 2004.

Key Losses: QB Rex Grossman (injury), WR David Terrell

Key Additions: QB Kyle Orton, RB Cedric Benson, WR Muhsin Muhammed, K Doug Brien

Offense: The minute that Rex Grossman went down again the season for Chicago flashed before their eyes. They risked AGAIN not having an experienced backup and could see it take them right back to the pits of the NFL (only 231 points ALL last season). Rookie QB Kyle Orton has been named the starter. Orton was the easy Heisman pick halfway through the college season yet regressed. He has significant talent and a strong arm, but will have rookie struggles. At least he'll be better than Jonathan Quinn/Chad Hutchinson. RB Cedric Benson was my favorite of the big three in this summer's draft. He carried Texas for years and will be asked to do the same in Chicago to take pressure off of Orton. The offensive line, led by C Olin Kreutz, is fairly solid and will open up holes for Benson. The wide receiver corps should improve with the addition of Muhsin Muhammed, who isn't worth the money, but is way better than the underachieving David Terrell. He will get open and is a big touchdown target. WR Mark Bradley from Oklahoma has looked a little lost in camp but I am still a believer that he could be a decent help. Not an impressive offense, but if Benson can be the workhorse they can at least do a Baltimore approximation.

Colin: ZZZZZZZZZZZZ..... *snort*...... ZZZZZZZZ...... *what the*....... ZZZZZZZZ

Defense: Chicago didn't have a great defense and didn't make enough acquisitions to jump rankings tremendously. T Tommie Harris was a stud as a rookie and can only improve inside. The pass rush will depend on the health of DE Adewale Ogunleye and the progress of DE Alex Brown. It is a pretty darn big question mark. Depth is a huge issue along the line, which means they will struggle against power running attacks like Green Bay. The linebacking corps will be strong as long as MLB Brian Urlacher is healthy. He is a difference maker and immediately will upgrade the club from what they saw in the last few games while he was hurt. His absence allowed LB Lance Briggs to become a leader as well. Overall, this is the strength of the defense. The secondary, to continue the trend through this entire division, ranges from mediocre to awful. Quick, name a playmaker. I'll take five... waiting... waiting... that's what I thought. S Mike Brown made some huge interceptions, but gives up as many big plays. CB Jerry Azumah should be a nickel corner on a good team. Basically, pretty poor.

Colin: ZZZZZZZZZZZZ..... *snort*...... ZZZZZZZZ...... *what the*....... ZZZZZZZZ

Overhyped Myth: Not that many around this team, since there is zero hype. The defense is weaker than people believe, I think.

Colin: Overhype? The Bears? How about they are a quarterback away from competing? No, sorry. Many other pieces remain unsolved.

Understated Reality: RB Cedric Benson can be the savior of this season. I just can't stress what he can provide. 30+ carries, 100+ yards each and every game. The Bears desperately need him in there, and if he goes down the Bears should just forfeit.

Colin: You have got to be kidding me, Gavin. Cedric Benson will absolutely NOT be the savior of this season. He might give them 1,000 yards, but most backs give you that nowadays. No halo surrounds him. Put down the champagne and step away from Benson. Just back off. He's not a sure thing, he has some similar weird issues surrounding him like Ricky Williams coming out of Texas. The whole contract situation had some interesting happenstances. Just back off.

General Prognosis: This team should be competitive, but in a 6-10 way. They at least should be more watchable, but only if Orton can be NFL ready.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 11 at Washington... just curious to see what this team is made of

posted by Gavin @ 3:55 PM  0 comments

Monday, August 29, 2005

NFL Preview: NFC South

2004 Standings:

Atlanta: 11-5
New Orleans: 8-8
Carolina: 7-9
Tampa Bay: 5-11

Overview:
As the last three years have shown, this entire division seems to rest entirely on the shoulders of one Michael Vick. Actually, it's up to Atlanta's DEFENSE to continue their marked improvement of a year ago if Atlanta has a prayer of returning to the NFC Championship game. New Orleans made no changes to a more inconsistent and maddening team then the Seahawks. Carolina is back, and John Fox is ready to make some noise in a weak division, and, heck, conference. Finally, John Gruden wants to return to his winning ways, but the whole rebuilding process should take a bit longer.

Atlanta:
Or.... The Michael Vick Show, sponsored by your friends Jim Mora Jr. and Rich McKay, and used to be sponsored by new Seahawk headman Tim Ruskell. People thought that Vick would make a difference, but very few people thought that they would reach the NFC Championship game. However, a revamped defense and powerful running attack made up for a terrible passing game.

Key Losses: LB Matt Stewart, PK Jay Feely

Key Additions: G Matt Lehr, LB Ed Hartwell, PK Todd Peterson

Offense: This offense depends on Vick remaining healthy, more for his legs then his arm. This was the #1 rushing attack per game in the NFL, led by Warrick Dunn, helped by T.J. Duckett, and put together by Vick. Most analysts didn't believe that Dunn could handle a full workload, and it remains to be seen if Dunn doesn't start to wear down this season. If he does, Duckett could be an adequate replacement. He hits the hole hard. Very hard, capable of dragging multiple linebackers with him for some time. The wide receiving corps is, well, pathetic. Peerless Price has completely underachieved, and Dez White is a complete joke. Michael Jenkins underachieved last year, and Atlanta, while outwardly saying all the right things about how Jenkins is ready to become the #1 receiver this year, has to be worried about where the passing attack will come from. My best guess is Alge Crumpler, who had a great season and should remain the top target for Vick (if he actually passes the football). It seemed to me that Vick was so ready to run that he couldn't stay in the pocket long enough to progress through his reads and make something happen through the air often enough. The offensive line is undersized, but should be up to the task of cutblocking, since that's what their offensive line coach, Alex Gibbs, formerly of Denver, is all about. All in all, an ok offense, but not one that will carry a team to the Super Bowl.

Gavin: I don't know if I would even call this offense "ok". Yes, Michael Vick can make some incredible highlight reel plays every game, but it's the plays he doesn't make with his arm that don't make the press. I don't put the blame entirely on the wide receivers (although they collectively are awful). Vick has to become more of a pocket passer for this offense to succeed, because eventually they will be exposed in the same way as Philly did in the playoffs as a team that you can stack 9 in the box to stop the run. Warrick Dunn can't make it against that. Can Roddy White, pick from UAB, make a difference? Only if Vick improves. This offense will struggle against a team like Carolina until that improvement is consistent.

Defense: 2 years ago, the Falcons defense was one of the worst in the league. Last year, they magically turned things around and became one of the best. That should worry Falcons fans, as those kind of success stories don't usually carry from year to year in the NFL. The Falcons were lucky with injuries, and a pretty easy schedule (did you look at that division?) and were throwing a new look out there that teams hadn't seen and weren't as able to prepare for. DE Patrick Kerney became a top-5 DE in the NFC, and seemed to carry that defense with his energy and quickness to the football. Rod Coleman was extremely effective on the inside. Honestly, that entire D-Line seemed to all have career years, and they were not a young line. They have some interesting young blood, led by 2nd year man Jordan Babineaux, but it remains to be seen if they can continue the massive surge of a year ago. The linebacking corps improved with the offseason signing of Ed Hartwell from Baltimore, who is a very good run-stuffer who is marginal against the pass. The secondary is the weak link. DeAngelo Hall is a possible stud, but noone else is anything above adequate, especially either safety. If the pass rush falls off, teams might be able to pick apart the Falcons through the air.

Gavin: I totally agree with Colin. I would be concerned if I was a Falcons fan. I remember two seasons ago a Dallas Cowboys defense that, with unique schemes, was the number one defense in the NFL. I also remember what happened to them the year following. The Falcons simply lack a lot of premier players. They thrive on making people like me look stupid, and maybe they do it again, but I'm not so sure. The signing of Ed Hartwell was a terrific one (although they did overpay). I am very curious to see how they do, because the offense is not going to consistently score.

Overhyped Myth: Michael Vick carried that team last year. Not exactly. In fact, he needs to make a huge improvement in his accuracy, because the passing attack was generally atrocious, and the Eagles completely shut that team down. The defense carried the team last year, and it remains to be seen if they are up to the task this year.

Understated Reality: T.J. Duckett is a #1 back who has accepted his role and gives a TON to that offense. He is a Jerome Bettis-type back who explodes through the hole and easily picks up the 3rd-and-1's that haunt certain other teams. Warrick Dunn and Vick might make the flashy runs, but Duckett makes the hard but necessary runs that are essential to win ballgames and grind down the clock in the 4th quarter.

General Prognosis: If you listen to ESPN, they are a Super Bowl contender. If you listen to me (and I have no reason why you should), they should struggle to make the postseason. They have a tougher division this year. Carolina is back and ready to rumble. Tampa Bay is improved (if not by much). New Orleans is always good for an upset, especially late in the season. The NFC is weak enough that they should make it, but it won't be the joyride some think.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 18 against the Seahawks. Let's see if our revamped D can handle the running attack. The preseason results would seem to say.... no, we can't.

New Orleans:
They were 8-8 last year? How in holy hell did that happen? Anyone? Bueller? This is the story of an underachieving offense led by inconsistent Aaron Brooks and a horrible defense led by absolutely noone. Faced with that, some might have bravely decided to make some huge moves and revamp this team. New Orleans management decided against that course, and this is largely the EXACT same team as last year. Genius. Genius.

Key Losses: S Tebuckey Jones

Key Additions: RB Antowain Smith, WR Az-Zahir Hakim, RT Jammal Brown, RG Jermane Mayberry

Offense: When they are firing on all cylinders, they can really put some points up on you. Unfortunately, they are not usually firing on all cylinders. Jim Haslett SHOULD make this offense run entirely through Deuce McAllister, who is the best player on this roster. Unfortunately, again, usually the offense runs on Aaron Brooks using short routes and, of course, Brooks being inaccurate and a poor decision maker doesn't help matters. The offensive line is strong enough to help Deuce run up some big yards. The problem is the defense is bad enough that this offense can't be as conservative as it should be. They need to score 30 points, and that means not using their strength as much as they should. That puts the onus on Aaron Brooks, who has one incredible receiver in Joe Horn, and a couple other guys. Stallworth supposedly is a good receiver, but he hasn't showed anything the last couple of years besides his helmet getting knocked off by Hamlin. Basically, this is a weird offense that doesn't look extremely good on paper besides the Deuce. If the defense can limit points, the Saints can be an effective grinding team. It remains to be seen if Haslett can pull that off.

Gavin: This is the year for Aaron Brooks. If he still manages to throw the one dumb change-the-momentum interception the Saints fan base will clamor for a change. The draft of QB Adrian McPherson is very interesting. We may see him if the team struggles. Another good offseason acquisition is WR Az Hakim, who can hopefully catch some of the balls meant for the eternally disappointing Dante Stallworth. A lot of pressure on this offense to score, because the defense is going to be awful.

Defense: Again, you are management. You just had the worst rush defense in the NFL. You decide to.... make absolutely no changes in personnel? Are you kidding me? You are in the same conference as Atlanta and Carolina? You make NO CHANGES? The laughter in Carolina and Atlanta must be echoing off the rooftops. They just gave us 151 yards to Chester Taylor of the Ravens. Yeah, I'm never heard of him either. Don't get me wrong. Mike McKenzie is a decent cornerback, and Charles Grant is a terrific DE, so they have a few weapons. It's just that they, seriously, don't play well as a unit. Their linebacking corps is especially terrible, with no headliners and no playmakers in the bunch. Not much more to say here. They were horrible, and they will continue to be horrible. Good night.

Gavin: This is beyond wierd to me. I just don't understand it. You are just asking to be awful when you are bad against the run. You can't control the clock, you can't stop third downs, you can't do anything. They will be able to rush the passer and have a mediocre secondary. I just see one of the worst defenses in the NFL here on paper. I just can't stress how terrible this defense looks. Maybe Haslett knows something we don't.

Overhyped Myth: Aaron Brooks is, finally, ready to have a mistake-free season. Absolutely not. He has consistently made poor decisions throughout his career. There is no reason why he will stop now. You can not depend on this guy to carry your team to the playoffs, much less anywhere deep in the postseason. The Saints should cut their losses and try to really find the answer at the quarterback position.

Understated Reality: The Saints could easily have a top-5 rushing attack IF they make the running game a central part of their offense. That is one place where Brooks can be valuable, running the ball out of the pocket and playing some misdirection plays with Deuce. This is the best part of this team.

General Prognosis: The absolute best hope is 9 wins. I will guess on 7 wins, with a few wins towards the end that, once again, will result in misplaced optimism about the future. This defense can't give you any more then that.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 11 at Carolina. A Week 1 matchup where that running defense can take center stage, either shutting me up or proving me right in all respects. I would wager on me being proven right..... this time.

Carolina:
A team that had all the classic signs of a Super Bowl letdown last year, though injuries played a tremendous role as well, especially those of Stephen Davis and Steve Smith. They started 1-6, but had a real chance at the postseason later on. They are a scary team to think about this year, as John Fox seems poised to make some real noise in the NFC.

Key Losses: WR Muhsin Muhammad, LB Mark Fields

Key Additions: TE Freddie Jones, G Mike Wahle, S Thomas Davis, CB Ken Lucas

Offense: Can they stay healthy? That's the main question surrounding this team, because they lost their #1 playmaker of a year ago in WR Muhammad, now with the Bears. QB Jake Delhomme has proven himself to be, if not spectacular, a consistent, quality quarterback at the NFL level. He takes charge, and seems to have improved at throwing the deep ball. He also seems to light up in the 4th quarter, a nice trait to have in your quarterback. The running back situation is interesting. Steven Davis, if healthy, is the logical choice, but he will be challenged for carries by DeShaun Foster. If either of them really does stay healthy, the running game should be alive and well in Carolina behind a strengthen offensive line led by T Jordan Gross, a monster of a tackle. Even the wide receiving corps seems to be quality, led of course by Steve Smith, but don't forget about Keary Colbert, who put up some pretty nice numbers as a rookie. Ricky Proehl is just one of those people you like to have on your team. He somehow always gets open, even though physically I have no idea how. IF.... IF..... If this offense stays healthy, they should have the ability to really put up some points, whether through the ground or through the air. Even John Fox improved last year in opening up the offense and becoming more flexible instead of going with the running game even when it wasn't working. There should be cause for optimism here.

Gavin: This should be a terrific offensive team. I have never seen a team go through the type of injuries Carolina did. It was flat out insane. To lose your top two running backs, top wide receiver, top defensive tackle, and it continued. The good news is that the major factors are all back. Steve Smith is a top five wide receiver. Keary Colbert is a terrific number two. Stephen Davis/DeShaun Foster are a great tandem. Jake Delhomme was one of the hottest QBs in the league the second half of the season. One of the main reasons I think this is the best team in the division.

Defense: There are a few questions around this unit, but, by and large, it should be extremely good. CB Ken Lucas is a solid pickup (though overpriced) and should be a fine complement for up and coming star Chris Gamble. The loss of Mark Fields will be a huge blow, more for his leadership skills then for the talent level on the field. The real question will be if DT Kris Jenkins can return to his worldbeating self after injury problems last year. If he can, then that D-Line will be incredible, led by freak-of-nature Julius Peppers, who can do everything on the field. The weakness might be in the linebacking corps, which might hurt both the run defense and will hinder the ability to run a zone defense out there, which is a pain Seahawks fans know all too well. I would expect good things to happen with this unit. They don't need to be a top-5 unit to be successful, their offense should be good enough to pick up the slack. They should be in the top half of defenses, and that should lead to several wins and a probable playoff berth.

Gavin: Well, they should be pretty good for sure on the defensive side of the ball. I'm interested if Julius Peppers has a NFL Defensive Player of the Year type season. I think he could do it... The secondary should be decent, although we all are well aware of Ken Lucas' shortcomings. He was most definitely not worth the money, and Carolina will regret it. That linebacking corp won't be awful, because Dan Morgan is still around. Another year older, but still around. I wouldn't want to be an offense going up against this regularly.

Overhyped Myth: The loss of Muhammad will really hinder that offense. Absolutely not. He hadn't even flashed that type of talent until last year, and they have Smith, Colbert, and Proehl, who are MORE then adequate. Enjoy Chicago, Muhammad, and enjoy watching the postseason and cheering on your old team.

Understated Reality: This is a Super Bowl contender in the weak NFC, for sure. In fact, I believe they are the strongest team in this division, and will talk about that more in the prediction blog we will run out soon. They know what it takes to get to the Super Bowl, they have excellent coaching, great veteran leadership, and the fire to prove they weren't a one year wonder. I would actually be shocked if they don't make it past the wildcard round of the postseason.

General Prognosis: See above. This is a good team that very few people are talking about. No one was talking about them during their Super Bowl run, either, but that didn't stop them from almost upsetting the Patriots. They could be the representative once again.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: September 18 vs New England. This will be a real early-season test that will show a lot of people where this team is at, even if they don't end up winning the game. They might actually lose Week 1 because they will be looking forward to this game.

Tampa Bay:
This team reminds me of the Mariners. They got real old, real fast, and now they are in full rebuilding mode with not a lot of hope on the horizon. Bucs fans have to hope that Jon Gruden can pull some magic out of the Chucky hat, and that Brian Griese can actually become a consistent quality quarterback, two things that are doubtful for this year.

Key Losses:

Key Additions: RB Cadillac Williams, WR Ike Hilliard, TE Anthony Becht, DT Chris Hovan

Offense: Well, Gruden, it's go time as for whether you still are an offensive genuis. Your tools are the enigma that is Brian Griese, an unproven and already hurting rookie in Cadillac Williams, an old and, well, bad offensive line, and a bunch of no-name wide receivers except for rookie stud Michael Clayton. Can that offense manufacture some big games? Maybe a few, but it won't be in the top half on the NFL by any means. Griese showed something last year, and is definitely a better fit then Chris Simms, who I could never believe had so many people fall in love with him. Whenever I watched him, he sucked, whether in college or in the NFL. He made bad decisions, rushed, got flustered in the pocket, and couldn't lead the offense. But he had a good arm! His dad won a Super Bowl! Who..... the hell..... cares? So Griese will be an upgrade, but that isn't so much a compliment to Griese as it is an indictment on the state of this franchise. Williams is a stud, but he was already getting worn down in college, so it remains to be seen whether he can last the wear and tear of a full NFL season, especially stuck behind this miserable offensive line. This line has been bad for several years, even when they did win the Super Bowl. Well? Still is. Williams might be able to find a hole TO run in. Finally, Michael Clayton might make some noise, but there is noone else to make big plays for this offense. Weak, weak, weak. This will be a boring team to watch.

Gavin: Kudos to Colin for the excellent Chris Simms rant. I totally agree. Cadillac Williams should be good. Michael Clayton was the best rookie WR in the league. This offense should be okay, but as long as the o-line blows will struggle with consistency. As Colin said, we will see a few great performances that makes people think Tampa's better than they are.

Defense: They got even older. Sure, they still have Simeon Rice, who had 12 sacks last year, and they still have Greg Spires, who had 8 sacks last year. That means that the defense won't be terrible. However, their true intimidating days are behind them, those days when they could psyche the other team out before the ball was even snapped. Booger McFarland hasn't been as good as Sapp, and you can't think that Chris Hovan will suddenly turn back into a good player. Derrick Brooks is also older, but he still should have a nice year or two left in the tank. All in all, the linebacking corps still should be solid, and extremely fast, but, again, they just aren't as good as they used to be. Somehow this secondary managed to be the #1 passing defense last year, allowing just over 160 yards a game. However, this is not a huge strength. Barber is, well, old, and Brian Kelly has never truly developed into a prominent stopper. All in all, the defense should be solid, but injuries might be a problem, and there isn't tremendous depth on this roster. If things go downhill, everything might fall apart all at once.

Gavin: Until Tampa's defense struggles, I will be a believer. They are a dynasty. Maybe this is the year. Colin has lots of great reasons above. Until that shows however, I just can't totally doubt. They keep on doing it. Of course, they will have to in order for this team not to lose 11 games.

Overhyped Myth: Jon Gruden has lost his coaching fire and edge. He hasn't lost his edge. He simply has no players to get an edge with. The NFL is a players league. Bill Belichick was not considered a genuis until he was with the Browns. Mike Holmgren hasn't won a playoff game with the Seahawks. Bill Parcells had a terrible season with the Cowboys last year. If Gruden gets some players, he will win again.

Understated Reality: This isn't a team on the rise. This is a team still falling, needing a huge infusion of young blood before it will rise again. They are capable of a few nice wins, but won't make any kind of noise in the division or the conference.

General Prognosis: One of the worst teams in the NFL even with the above-average defense. They will struggle to get back to the 5 win mark, but that will be it.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: October 2nd against Detroit. This might be the game that puts Joey Harrington out of a job, if he can't get it done against the Bucs.

Conclusion:
A boring division. Seriously. Expect the media to talk about the Falcons, but expect the Panthers to be the class of the division.

posted by colin_hesse @ 5:36 PM  2 comments

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Seahawks 1st Half Thoughts

Many of the starters played the first half of tonight's game against Kansas City. Not a very impressive half, with some plusses and minuses.

Plusses:

- Marcus Tubbs... the man was a beast on the inside. He looks like a huge impact player. If so, our defense is going to be tough to deal with.
- Darrell Jackson... he looks like a number one receiver, especially going up against Patrick Surtain, an impressive corner. His routes were crisp and he held on to the damn ball.
- Secondary... after getting creamed in the first drive, they responded with Andre Dyson's interception of Trent Green on the second drive and then were never threatened by Jonathan Quinn, Medicine Woman. Side note: KC fans need to be pray over the health of Trent Green, because they are toast if he goes down.
- DJ Hackett... spectacular diving reception on a third down, looks like a keeper.
- 3rd Down Percentages... we played the West Coast offense well on third down, and on the flip side our defense didn't give up a conversion, unlike last year.

Minuses:

- Linebackers... Lofa Tatupu, Jaime Sharper, and Tracy White were, to put it mildly, abysmal. All missed holes, all missed tackles, all didn't make plays, enough to let Larry Johnson run for 170 first half yards. I'm hoping Lofa is a lot better than that, and Tracy White wasn't great anywhere (gave up TD to Tony Gonzalez too).
- KC first drive... surgical precision. We looked lost.
- Hasselbeck... while the stats look good, Hasselbeck misfired on several balls that could have led to additional points.
- Running Game... 9 carries, 7 yards. Do I need to explain more? Shaun had nowhere to go. Also, missed yet ANOTHER third and one. Please, can we actually pick those up this year?
- Walter Jones... got pushed around all half, major culprit in the running game.
- Penalties... too many again for a Mike Holmgren coached team.

posted by Gavin @ 7:09 PM  3 comments

King Felix Take 5: Absolute Disgust

Let me get something out fo the way up front. Felix had a great game. There is no way we can complain after he allowed 3 extra-base hits and 4 flyballs. It just so happened that 2 of those flyballs left the yard for all 3 runs he allowed. He was and will be fine.

He is the only reason to watch this Mariners team right now.

Take a look at the OBP of the lineup Mike Hargrove put out there last night.

Ichiro: .344 (That actually seems higher to me then I would have thought from watching him this past month. He has looked terrible at the plate recently. I would have hoped for a .350 to .360 OBP from our leadoff hitter.)
The Ignitor: .290
Ibanez: .354
Sexson: .363
Beltre: .301 (Wow, actually over .300 now! Go Beltre!)
Dobbs: .207 (ouch!)
Betancourt: .267 (at least he adds the spectacular defense, eh?)
Reed: .321
Torrealba: .331

Let's compare this to a good lineup, shall we? Let's call this team Team B.
Player 1: .352
Player 2: .316
Player 3: .322
Player 4: .320
Player 5: .341
Player 6: .387
Player 7: .320
Player 8: .318
Player 9: .343

Ibanez and Sexson are the only two Mariner players that improve on those statistics from Team B. Even Ichiro doesn't favorably compare to their leadoff hitter.

This to say that our offense as presently constituted can not consistently win. In fact, it's not even remotely watchable. King Felix is the only part of this team that makes me want to watch the Seattle Mariners. Next up would be Richie Sexson. Then Guardado. Ichiro is kinda pissing me off, so I wouldn't even put him in the top 5. Instead I would put Betancourt's defense and George Sherril in there.

How can we improve? Well, if Ichiro, Reed, and Beltre performed up to expectations, that would be a huge help right there. Unfortunately, Bloomquist, Dobbs, and Betancourt are black holes in our lineup. They make outs over 70% of the time. That's. Not. Good. Dobbs makes an out about 80% of the time. That's not just.... not good. That's. Absolutely. Terrible.

Team B?

Why, the #6 team in the AL in runs scored. (The Mariners? #12, in front of Minnesota and Kansas City)

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

posted by colin_hesse @ 1:08 PM  0 comments

Friday, August 26, 2005

NFL Preview: AFC East

2004 Standings:

New England: 14-2
NY Jets: 10-6
Buffalo: 9-7
Miami: 4-12

Overview:
The Patriots are good. The Patriots are good. The Patriots are good. The Patriots are good. And, as my all-time favorite *sarcasm* sportswriter Stephen A. Smith would say.... "They have Tom Brady. Quite frankly, that's all you need." Cue stupid little white-man dance shuffle that makes me laugh every single time, aaaaaaaannnnddddd...... break! By the way, this might be the strongest conference in the AFC. The Jets were a missed field-goal away from the AFC Championship, Buffalo was the most improved team in the NFL, and even Miami beat New England in what most experts refer to as.... a miracle.

New England:
What's there to say? I have learned never to doubt the Patriots until they lose. The task this year will be to win without super-coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, while their defense will be without the heart and soul of the team in Tedy Bruschi. Will that matter? Doubtful.

Key Losses: Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, LB Tedy Bruschi (for the season), LB Ted Johnson, CB Ty Law, G Joe Andruzzi

Key Additions: LB Chad Brown, LB Monty Beisel, CB Duane Starks, QB Doug Flutie

Offense: Is there a weakness in this offense? You have Tom Brady, one of the most efficient and smartest quarterbacks I have ever seen. You just almost never see him make a poor decision, though the Hawks made him make a few, and, for some reason, he always sucks against the Dolphins. You have Dillon running the football, who is a horse, durable, and can carry the team if Brady is ever off. You have a decent offensive line, not the best, but one that doesn't cause the big mistakes and opens the holes for Dillon. You have an improving wide receivers corp led by now superstar Givens and not-far-behind Deion Branch. Let's not forget a great tight-end in Daniel Graham. Wow. How in the world do you stop this team? If you take the Miami approach, you try to get continuous pressure on Tom Brady IF your cornerbacks are good enough to work in single coverage. Brady becomes a tad gun-shy if he is always sitting on his bum when a play is over. Besides that, if you play the Patriots, just plan on needing to score over 20 points, because this offense will do their job. It might not be fancy, but it works.

Gavin: Is there a weakness to this offense? Yes, there are two. The offensive line lost some key performers and may struggle. As Colin noted below, the loss of Charlie Weis to Tom Brady may turn out to be extremely important. However, Brady is one of the smartest QBs in the league and shouldn't disappoint. Corey Dillon may end up being the staple, and he is a feature back. If he remains healthy he could come close to leading the AFC. The wide receivers are young and getting better, and I actually see Branch as better than Givens.

Defense: Bill Belichick will have to re-earn his "guru" label this season, because the defense, at least on paper, has holes in it for the first time in years. Start with the absence of Crennel, Bruschi, and Law. These individuals were the heart and soul of the team. They always stepped up for the big play when needed. Crennel knew how to motivate and how to game-plan as well as Belichick did. Is ex-Cardinal Duane Starks the answer at CB? He's decent, but he is not the shut-down corner Ty Law was (and is). Will Chad Brown remain healthy? Recent evidence would say, "Of course not." And anyone should know that a linebacker from KC will not be a huge addition to the team. This defense will have something to prove. NT Vince Wilfork showed massive improvement last season. He will have to continue that to allow Richard Seymour the freedom to roam. Willie McGinest needs his body to hold up another season, because his leadership and knack for big plays (especially against the Colts) played a huge role last year. This defense still will be good, but I don't see spectacular in their future. They could prove me wrong, though. The Patriots usually do.

Gavin: Have to agree with Colin here. There are some major questions surrounding this defense. The loss of LB Tedy Bruschi and the retirement of LB Ted Johnson are huge losses. There's a reason the Pats got by last year with a CB corp of a wide receiver and a guy named after the band Earth, Wind, Fire. Their linebackers were so amazing that they could patrol the entire center of the field and make plays. Still, Rosevelt Colvin could step up and be the man he was in Chicago before going to New England, and they still have LB Mike Vrabel. I was watching the TV and the commentators siad the New England secondary was amazing. I'm not convinced. They could really struggle against a quality passing attack. Still, this is Bill Belicheck's team, and I won't doubt until I see them lose consistently.

Overhyped Myth: Tom Brady is not, quite frankly, all you need. The reason for the Pats success remains amazing game-planning and impeccable execution on both sides of the football. Personally, if Brady was injured for a few games, I would expect the Patriots to play just as well with Doug Flutie.

Understated Reality: Duane Starks is worse than Ty Law. Chad Brown is worse than Tedy Bruschi. This defense, thus, will be worse. Probably not a LOT worse, but it will be worse. It has to be. Right? Is Belichick that much of a magician?

General Prognosis:
They will make the playoffs. They will win playoff games. They are the favorite to win it all. Bill Simmons will write many glowing reviews that will make me want to puke. What more do you want?

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: That Pittsburgh game, same as Gavin. Game of the 1st half of the season. Bar none.

NY Jets:
What a terrible way to lose a playoff game. Almost as bad as your most consistent receiver dropping a pass in the end zone, eh? The Jets are hungry for a shot at the top. Coach Edwards has seemed to learn the basics of clock management, the inestimable Paul Hackett was given a pink slip, assuring that the offense will open up, the defense looks incredible..... very, very few holes here. Perhaps the 2nd best team in the AFC..... if Chad Pennington is healthy.

Key Losses: RB Lamont Jordan, TE Anthony Becht (though any Jets fan would tell you that they were glad to see him go), RT Kareem McKenzie, NT Jason Ferguson, WR Santana Moss

Key Additions: CB Ty Law, WR Laveraneus Coles, K Mike Nugent, TE Doug Jolley

Offense: This is an offense that needs two specific things to happen in order to succeed. #1. Chad Pennington's arm must not fall off. As it is, people are still not sure about his arm strength. Will he be able to throw the ball to Coles? #2. Can Curtis Martin keep it up? That last year was incredible, and Martin is a year older. Running backs don't usually improve at this age. In fact, they usually pull an Eddie George and become completely incapable of bursting through a hole. I stand by my previous statement that they may be the 2nd best team in the AFC, but both those situations will have to come true. Personally, I believe that something in the middle will occur. The Jets will win by their defense, so they only need an adequate offense to succeed. Martin should still get 1000 yards, and Pennington will remain one of the most disciplined and accurate quarterbacks in the NFL. The offensive line remains a strength, led by C Kevin Mawae, who the Seahawks should have never let escape. Don't forget Mike Nugent's addition to this offense. I was one of the 5 people in America who liked that draft pick. I watched Nugent at OSU. There is a reason why people were referring to him as the MVP of college football. He can kick the ball a mile WITH tremendous accuracy. If the Jets get to the oppenent's 35 yard line, they are almost guaranteed points on the board. There is a psychological edge there that will take some pressure of Pennington and Martin.

Gavin: This analysis is where Colin was overcome by Jay Bilas disease. He also sees the Jets offense as "long". 2nd best team in the AFC? Is the heat getting to you in Phoenix? This offense needs a lot of help. Chad Pennington is an overhyped QB who lacks arm strength. Curtis Martin at some point will slow down and he doesn't have Lamont Jordan to spell him this season. The wide receiver lineup is pretty darn poor, no tight end of note. Don't you think they could have spent a first round pick upgrading one of the above positions instead of Nugent and picked him up in the second round? Why, yes! This offense isn't one of a top five AFC team.

Defense: The strength of this team, and perhaps one of the top-5 defenses in the NFL. You have Ty Law as one of the cornerbacks, assuring you of shutting down the Givens and Harrisons of the world. Jonathan Vilma turned himself into an excellent MLB, one that can easily direct the defense and one who will NOT miss a tackle. The defensive line remains strong, with Abraham providing the rush and Robertson plugging the middle. Forget the names, though. This defense, year in and year out, just seems to perform. Coach Herm knows the right buttons to press, and they always step up in big games. I have no idea why. There are bigger names in several defenses, including Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and New England. However, I expect the Jets to remain with them through the entire season. In fact, they might challenge whatever record there is of most games decided by 1-3 points the entire season. Like.... every game.

Gavin: Alright, this is better. Still, many legitimate questions do surround Ty Law's effectiveness coming off this latest injury. Jonathan Vilma is a major stud. John Abraham is a major stud. This is a terrific overall defense and will keep the Jets in many a game.

Overhyped Myth: The loss of Paul Hackett will drastically improve the offense. Sorry, but the weapons just aren't there. Pennington's arm might not be able to fling it over 30 yards, Coles is the only receiving weapon, and you can't expect Martin to match his numbers of a year ago. I agree that Hackett had to go, but there is no way that this offense will be "wide open" this year.

Gavin: And yet... the second best team in the AFC???

Understated Reality: Losing Lamont Jordan will hurt. He allowed Martin rest, and provided an excellent 1-2 punch that most teams, especially Seattle, couldn't handle. His loss will weaken that offense even more then it already is.

General Prognosis: It's easy to look at this team and predict them to lose 9-10 games. The hype might be too much for this team. However, I believe in these guys, and expect that aggressive defense to carry the Jets to the postseason, to lose in the 1st round because of what might turn into a horrible offense.

Gavin: This is where Colin pulls a Joe Morgan and contradicts himself. Second best team in the AFC or easy to predict a 9 loss team? Seems a little wierd. Look, the Jets are not going to be a terrific team. They are going to be okay and are going to challenge for a playoff spot but aren't going to be able to challenge for a title.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: October 2nd at Baltimore. Defense vs. Defense. Who will win?

Buffalo:
Does anyone know what to expect from this team? J.P. Losman is thrown into the fire with massive expectations on his shoulders and few people but Mel Kiper Jr. believing in him. Willis McGahee no longer has Travis Henry looking over his shoulder. That Bills defense must once again be a Top-5 defense.

Key Losses: QB Drew Bledsoe, LT Jonas Jennings, DT Pat Williams, RB Travis Henry

Key Additions: LT Mike Gandy, QB Kelly Holcombe

Offense: All Willis, all the time. That has to be the strategy going into this season. Bledsoe had to go, as everyone outside of Bill Parcells realizes that Bledsoe is done as an effective quarterback. Buffalo has to be hoping for a Roethlisberger-type year from Losman, one where the new quarterback has little to no pressure while the running game carries the offense to 18-24 points a game. McGahee seems to be completely injury-free, but the Bills will live in constant apprehension about that knee giving out once again. Losman has not looked good so far in the preseason, but if the Bills win early without depending on the passing game, he might be able to settle down and understand that he has a terrific wide receiving corps. Eric Moulds has consistently been incredible for several years now, while Lee Evans stepped into his own last year, catching everything thrown his way and perhaps surpassing Moulds as the #1 receiver on the team. Basically, the weapons are all there. This offense depends on Losman limiting his mistakes and playing within himself, while allowing McGahee to run roughshod over opposing defenses. That, honestly, just might work.

Gavin: Colin's right, the weapons are all there. It's all on JP Losman. If he can have a Roesthlisberger type season, this team wins 10 games. If he has a Boller type season, this team wins 7 games. Pretty simple.

Defense: It just might work because this defense was the 2nd best defense in the NFL last year. What a division for defense! New England, the Jets, Miami...... these are all potential top-1o defenses, all residing in the same division! Sam Adams should once-again use his gigantic weight for good, plugging huge holes in the middle the way that he never did in Seattle (no, I'm not bitter). The linebacking corps is the best outside of possibly Baltimore, led by Posey and Takeo Spikes. They are fast, they fly to the football, and they are extremely smart. Excellent against both the pass and the run. Troy Vincent, a consummate professional, is making the switch from corner to safety. I expect him to shine in that position, adequately becoming the last line of defense for Buffalo. By the way, Nate Clements is another stud at cornerback. Basically, I don't see a weak spot here. You can't run against these guys. You can't consistently pass against these guys unless you have Randy Moss. Basically, you have a defense that should, barring injuries, be automatically placed into the top-5 defenses and could easily be the #1 defense in the NFL. This team might eerily remind you of a certain Baltimore team that won the Super Bowl a few years ago.

Overhyped Myth: J.P. Losman is ready to seamlessly step into the starting role. I expect some problems for this guy in the first few weeks of the season. It will be up to McGahee and the defense to win for the first month and a half, and we might see a start from Kelly Holcombe before Halloween. Losman has a long way to go, and expectations in Buffalo are a little too high to allow normal 1st year starter jitters.

Understated Reality: This team could vie for the Super Bowl. Easily. That defense is awesome. McGahee is awesome. The wide receivers are awesome. All they need is an adequate performance by the quarterback, basically where the QB doesn't lose the game for them with costly turnovers. This will be one exciting division to watch.

General Prognosis: See above. For all the hype surrounding the Jets (to which I'm contributing), this is the team that might be able to take it to the Patriots. The Pats might be vulnerable to the run, and that defense might be able to pressure Tom Brady into some mistakes. A lot of mights, but I could really see it.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: October 30 at New England. If Losman is still starting, this is the game of the season for the Bills. A win here WILL carry the Bills into the postseason.

Miami:
Ta da! Nick Saban is here to save the day! He's brought his sidekick Ricky Williams back to provide entertainment while rookie Ronnie Brown brings the running attack back to Miami. That defense still has a little sparkle left in it, and they have players that, together, create a semblance of an offense, so that means something, right?

Key Losses: QB Jay Fiedler, CB Patrick Surtain, assorted junk

Key Additions: DE Kevin Carter, DT Vonnie Holliday, SS Tebucky Jones, RB Ronnie Brown, RB Ricky Williams, coordinator Scott Linehan

Offense: Yuck. They scored 275 points last year, and might struggle to score that many this year judging by the preseason. That's what happens when A.J. Feeley is supposed to be your starting quarterback. WHAT??? The offensive line is a joke, which means that whoever runs, whether Williams or Brown, isn't going that far. The wide receivers corp is..... a joke. Marty Booker? Blah. Chris Chambers? Under..... ACHIEVER..... Randy McMichael at TE? Blah. Honestly, Nick Saban might be pining for his offense at LSU before this season is over. There is a LOT of work that needs to be done here. I can't even write everything I want to about how bad they are. Basically, I am a 6'5" gangly, white guy with glasses and little to no depth perception. I might be a key addition to this offense. Eric Karabell, the ESPN Fantasy Football guru, might be a key addition to this offense. Tony Reali might be a key addition to this offense. John Clayton might be a key addition to this offense. You get the picture. They. Are. Bad. At least they won't be on Monday Night Football every week like last year.

Gavin: The Dolphins have to be a huge reason why the NFL is trying to change how Monday Night and Sunday Night Football are scheduled, because they almost singlehandedly wrecked ABC's ratings. Utterly unwatchable. There should be no way a team that bad gets scheduled that often and the Hawks have to beg and scrape for everything they get. Will the offense be better? Not if AJ Feeley is the QB. Not with the jokers they have for an offensive line. I'm still going to avoid this team like the plague.

Defense: What happened to this once-proud franchise? Sure, Zach Thomas is still there, along with Jason Taylor. By themselves they should hold this defense up to at least decent. Beyond that.... Junior Seau is not a difference maker, and he hasn't been in 5 years. Kevin Carter might be decent, but he has consistently underachieved in every place he has been. Same goes for Vonnie Holliday. Again, don't count on anyone from the Chiefs to make a huge difference on the defensive end. They might be fine against the run, but they will be extremely vulnerable against the pass. Losing Surtain will hurt. Sam Madison is, what, 40 years old now? A couple of no-names round out the secondary. Saban prides himself on a great defense. He might need to wait a year or two to do that in the NFL. Don't forget the strain the offense will place on this defense. They will basically be trying to pitch a shutout every game. They will be playing with the lead probably 20% of the time. Finally, they will be on the field 70% of the time, so they will be extremely tired by the 4th quarter. Yowch.

Gavin: Stay away from this defense from a fantasy perspective. Old. Older. Oldest. That's the Miami defense. I look for them to crumble.

Overhyped Myth: Nick Saban will save the day. Um, no. No coach could get to .500 with these guys. They need a quarterback, badly. In fact, I'm a little surprised they didn't pick up Jeff George. He can't be any worse.

Understated Reality: Ricky Williams will be a non-factor. Have you seen him this preseason? He has no drive. He is doing this to get back the money that was going to be taken from him. He is just fine to be Ronnie Brown's backup. For all the news that has been printed on him, he will not matter to the NFL season.

General Prognosis: Um.... suckage? General suckage? They should battle the Titans for the worst team in the AFC. They might win that battle depending on when Steve McNair gets injured. WHEN. He gets injured. Nick Saban will be bald by the end of this season. A 3 win team, 4 at the most.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: None? OK, Sept. 11 against Denver. For some reason. Who am I kidding? I'll flip the channel if I ever see them on my television.

Conclusion:
A classic tale of 3 strong teams and their runt brother that tails along, trying desperately to be part of the crowd. Do not be surprised if the eventual AFC champion comes out of this division.

posted by colin_hesse @ 1:35 PM  0 comments

Thursday, August 25, 2005

NFL Preview: AFC North

2004 Standings:

Pittsburgh: 15-1
Baltimore: 9-7
Cincinatti: 8-8
Cleveland: 4-12

Overview:
This division was obviously dominated by the Steelers last year, as the above record denotes. What is not as often discussed was the large disappointment in the performances of Baltimore and Cincinatti, two teams that were preseason postseason picks (say that three times fast). Both teams sputtered and performed far below expectations. The Browns were a train wreck waiting to happen but enter the year with more optimism.

Pittsburgh:
Will Ben Roethlisberger have a sophomore slump? Enquiring minds want to know. This team has always been my second-favorite team in the NFL, not sure why, so last year was exciting for me.

Key Losses: WR Plaxico Burress, T Oliver Ross

Key Additions: TE Heath Miller, WR Cedrick Wilson, WR Fred Gibson

Offense: I remember back in the day when Madden 95 came out. I would be the Steelers against Colin (Detroit). Jerome Bettis ruled that game at the height of the stiff arm. I would run to the sideline, destroy the cornerback, and crank off 20 yard runs routinely. Not since those years had Jerome Bettis been the player he was in 2004. He regained some of his lost speed to hit holes, and no one can take him down one-on-one. Whether he can keep it up this year is a huge key to this offense. Luckily, the offensive line is mainly intact, and outside of Kansas City is the best in the AFC (although possibly with some speed issues in pass protection). There will be holes for Bettis, and time for Roethlisberger. Big Ben enters his sophomore season with plenty of questions as well. Is there a sophomore jinx? What will be the effect of losing Plaxico Burress? Personally, I feel it is minimized by the addition of TE Heath Miller, a steal of a 1st round pick. Free agent addition WR Cedrick Wilson was a pretty consistent performer for the 49ers last year and could fill the hole well, especially when paired with WR Antwaan Randle El. Hines Ward is one of my favorite players in the league, and won't let the time off from training camp affect him. This offense won't score 40, but it will be very consistent.

Colin: Jerome Bettis in Madden sucked. There, I said it. How anyone can say that Cedrick Wilson was pretty consistent last year is beyond me. Bettis found a 6th life last year. That won't continue. Roethlisberger WILL have a sophomore slump, not because of a lack of talent, but because he played above himself last year. This offense actually will struggle for the first few months of the season. However, come November, I look for this thing to gel, and really gain steam inevitably heading into the postseason. Surprise performer: Antwaan Randle El. Big things will happen from this man.

Defense: When you have a consistent offense combined with this defense... man. Pittsburgh had the #1 defense in the league in terms of pts against (only 251) and returns most starters. They were that good without NT Casey Hampton, and with him returning can only improve. He now has a great backup in NT Chris Hoke, and one cannot forget DE Aaron Smith, who came out of nowhere to be a fantastic rusher. Basically, the Steelers do an amazing job drafting talent and it shows. Who knew most of these names before last year? Speaking of which, LB James Farrior turned into the next Ray Lewis, while Joey Porter continues to recover from his gunshot wound. The secondary's strength is at the safety position with S Troy Polamalu and S Chris Hope, although they have problems crowding the line too much. The corners have to be termed a weakness. Aging and fairly slow, but even Willie Williams proved he still had game left after leaving Seattle. This will be a team tough to score on again. A major strength.

Colin: They made my fantasy team last year. They will be awesome once again, and will be one of the top-3 defenses in the NFL. Dick LeBeau is in his 2nd year as D-Coordinator, and has the guys he wants for the system. Kendrell Bell was expendable. The only weakness might be in the corners, but the safeties are strong enough that they might be able to cope.

Overhyped Myth: Ben Roethlisberger is not the best QB in the division. He doesn't make mistakes and can seem smarter than he truly is. However, there is plenty of growth needed before the Steelers can depend on him to take them to the promised land. He will need plenty of help from the running game.

Colin: Who's better then him in this division? Carson Palmer? Trent Dilfer? Kyle Boller? How about giving us a real myth, Gavin? The overhyped myth about this team is that they are the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. There are questions surrounding this team, including the health and production of Jerome Bettis, the production of Big Ben, and whether the defense can maintain their high level of production. More questions then the Pats, for sure.

Understated Reality: This season rides on the Bus. If the running game is solid and consistent, this team wins this division and makes a serious run at the Super Bowl. If he falls back to 2002-2003 versions, they ride Big Ben too far.

General Prognosis: This is a scary good team that no one should want to play. Bill Cowher and company have done it again.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 25 vs. New England... you want me to explain this?

Baltimore:
Same old story last year... great defense, crappy offense. Can the supposed offensive genius Brian Billick actually show up? Will anyone score on the Ravens?

Key Losses: No one of consequence

Key Additions: WR Derrick Mason, QB Derek Anderson, WR Mark Clayton, DE Dan Cody, CB Samari Rolle

Offense: All you need to know about how improved this team could be is right up there. The Ravens lost no one important and gained real weapons. Now it is up to QB Kyle Boller to show all the doubters that he is an NFL quarterback. If he isn't up to the challenge, the Ravens drafted QB Derek Anderson from Oregon St, who could truly be a steal. WR Derrick Mason had the most receptions in the league and WR Mark Clayton might be the most NFL ready rookie. 3rd WR Clarence Moore has showed glimpses of greatness and at 6-6 is a matchup nightmare, especially around the goal line. It's like having a second tight end. Speaking of tight ends, the Ravens have to be incredibly excited to get TE Todd Heap back. Heap is a gamebreaker in the form of Tony Gonzalez. I love his game. Finally, of course whenever you have Jamal Lewis with nothing hanging over his head you will have a great running attack. Lewis will be running behind an effective but aging offensive line. T Jonathan Ogden has lost a step and gets beaten more regularly, but is still one of the top ten in the league. The rest of the key performers are all on the wrong side of 30. This could become an issue in both endurance and health. Still, the Ravens could actually average 20 points, which could be enough to run the table because...

Colin: Word out of Baltimore is that people are already starting to be a little ancy with Boller's performance this preseason. He has absolutely no excuses with the weapons he has this year, plus he has about five coaches specifically there to work with him, including all-time UW favorite Richard Neuheisel. Jamal Lewis is only 25. There, I said it.

Defense: This defense is going to be freaking insane. There are some issues with the defensive line in the switch to the 4-3 front. I would actually call them weak in the middle. Former NT Kelly Gregg isn't that impressive a player and it will be interesting to see how LB/DE Terrell Suggs makes the transition back to being on the line every down. He's such a great player though, that it shouldn't make a huge difference. Of course, when discussing this defense one cannot forget the best defensive player in the league, LB Ray Lewis (with all respect to S Ed Reed, the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year). Lewis is always around the ball, and is the emotional leader of this defense. You could not have any other linebackers and still call it good. I would be a little worried about getting a LB from the Rams to plug a hole (Tommy Polley), because the Rams LB corps last year was flat out awful. This secondary is just nuts. The aforementioned Reed at safety, CB Chris McAlister (probably the best corner in the league) on one side, CB Samari Rolle (top ten) on the other. If the opposing team goes to three or four WR sets, the Ravens plug in CB Dale Carter and of course, CB Deion Sanders. Any team that throws for 200 yards against this team will have earned it, which is why I am really looking forward to the game below against Indianapolis.

Colin: I actually don't know if the defense will be "insane". I don't know if the defense will be top-5. I'm serious. Ray Lewis seemed a bit slower last year, missing more tackles then I had ever seen (at least in the games I watched). The secondary on paper is phenomenal, but the D-Line is just ok, and it remains to be seen how the new scheme will shape out on the field.

Overhyped Myth: The offensive additions mean nothing if Kyle Boller doesn't improve. You can hype Derrick Mason all you want, but if Boller can't get him the ball this offense will still spin its wheels. Another myth is that the transition to the 4-3 defense may weaken this team. Many of the Ravens personnel were strong in the 3-4 and could struggle this year in the different scheme. I guess I just wonder why you mess with such success.

Understated Reality: Anything less than a 10 win season will be a huge disappointment for this team. They are built to win now. Also, another reality is the return of TE Todd Heap may be just what Boller needs. His loss last year cannot be understated.

General Prognosis: I am hoping to watch every Pittsburgh/Baltimore game. They will be insanely entertaining football games. These teams will battle out for the division lead until the last week.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 11 vs. Indianapolis... Peyton Manning against this new secondary. Who comes out on top?

Cincinatti:
This team took a step back last year to try and take a large step forward this year. As with the rest of the front runners, it all lands on the QB spot.

Key Losses: No one of huge value

Key Additions: DE/LB David Pollack, OLB Odell Thurman

Offense: This is a team that offensively stayed pat that probably could have used some upgrades at the offensive line positions and at tight end. RB Rudi Johnson took the next step as the replacement to Corey Dillon and is solid to the tune of 1500 yards and 10+ touchdowns. They have a great backup in RB Chris Perry as well. WR Chad Johnson had an inconsistent year (less than his mouth would like you to believe), and so the resigning of WR TJ Houshmandzadeh (Oregon St teammate of Johnson's) was extremely important for Cincinatti. The depth at WR is actually fairly impressive. WR Kelley Washington was pretty darn good at Tennesse and one cannot forget about WR Peter Warrick, who can still break a long run-after-the-catch a few times a season. QB Carson Palmer was... okay last year. He had some great games and some poor games, but overall made Marvin Lewis look good for choosing him over QB Jon Kitna. He will have to take a leap forward this year. However, I feel that the offensive line is fairly weak, and doesn't give Palmer all the time he needs. This is a unit that needs to step it up. I would deem it mediocre.

Colin: They have been 8-8 the past two seasons, and I wouldn't be surprised if that remained constant this season as well. Palmer looked very vulnerable at times, the O-Line is nothing special, and Johnson seems more interested in yapping his mouth then catching the damn ball. Almost the Seattle Seahawks of the AFC, except since the AFC is deeper they aren't as much a playoff threat.

Defense: Any team coached by Marvin Lewis should have an excellent defense. The draft helped them out tremendously. DE turned LB David Pollack might have been the best defensive player in college football last year. OLB Odell Thurman is huge and plays with a mean streak. He can take plays off and is termed "dumb" when it comes to picking up a playbook. Not a great combo for a rookie. The defensive line gives up too many rushing yards. DE Justin Smith can get some good pressure on the QB, but needs help on the other side. The rookies should help the linebacking group, but that's asking for a lot from them to upgrade their run support. Depth is a major issue on both lines. If any of the starters go down there is absolutely nothing to plug in. The secondary is definitely a strength, with Pro Bowl CB Tory James paired with former Bronco Deltha O'Neal as a solid one-two punch. Unfortunately they play in a division focused on the power running game (Jerome Bettis and Jamal Lewis).

Overhyped Myth: Cincinatti is not ready for prime-time. They lack enough playmakers on both offense and defense to win games, especially against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. While they still are better than what Cincy fans used to have to deal with, they have entered the "Mediocre Zone" that Seahawks fans are well aware of.

Understated Reality: Any chance of a playoff berth rests on the growth of Carson Palmer, as yet another young quarterback in this division. His decision making will be crucial against the insane defenses he will see regularly.

General Prognosis: 9-7 is the best Cincinatti can hope for. They just don't have enough to do better.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 18 vs. Minnesota... good test for this club

Cleveland:
One of those teams I tried to stay as far away from last year. Boring, unredeemable football. Might improve... but not much. Look forward to Romeo Crennel's first season as head coach.

Key Losses: TE Kellen Winslow, Jr (injury), WR Andre' Davis, Defensive Line

Key Additions: QB Trent Dilfer, RB Reuben Droughns, WR Braylon Edwards, G Joe Andruzzi, T LJ Shelton, CB Gary Baxter, S Brian Russell

Offense: Well, it can't get much worse. The Browns were absolutely abysmal offensively last year. They didn't have a single outstanding player, and it showed (only 276 points). To put that in perspective, Miami scored 275, and we all know what a light show THAT offense was. QB Trent Dilfer is a good start. He's a smart player, and while he won't run up the yardage, he will limit stupid mistakes. His speciality is not allowing an offense to beat itself, and the Browns could really use that. RB Lee Suggs was hurt for much of the year, but is a suitable runner, and RB Reuben Droughns should share the load effectively. Hopefully they never term either the feature back, because it would be a bad decision. WR Braylon Edwards is a stud and gives them a great possession threat. Not much help with him in the passing game, especially with another season ending injury to TE Kellen Winslow. Getting G Joe Andruzzi from the Patriots is an underrated move. They should at least be watchable.

Colin: Dilfer won't lose you games, but he sure won't win you games. I expect Droughns to be another in the long line of Denver running backs who sucked after they left the mountains (I'm looking at you, Portis). Edwards is a stud, but Dilfer isn't a really accurate passer, especially downfield. The conservative offense won't allow Edwards to really BE a stud. The injury to Winslow will really hurt the Browns offensive chances to be respectable.

Defense: GM Phil Savage has to be given credit for unloading an entire expensive underachieving defensive line on Denver. That took some doing. Unfortunately there's not much left over. Grabbing CB Gary Baxter from Baltimore was a major coup. The linebacking corp is fairly strong, but the defensive line replacements are stopgaps. Crennel will have to lean on his own defensive expertise to keep this team in games, because this roster should scare no one. I feel their moves in the offseason probably helped them more for next year than for this one. At least Crennel feels like he has his kind of players... character "Ruskell" fellows. I can't trash on that.

Overhyped Myth: Reuben Droughns. He is yet another product of the Denver offensive machine. I sure hope they aren't resting anything on him, because Browns fans will be pretty darn disappointed. Lee Suggs is at least as good, and probably better.

Understated Reality: You cannot help but like the type of quality veterans brought into this team. Trent Dilfer, Joe Andruzzi, Gary Baxter, all players which can help instill a winning environment in a team desperately in need of it. The Browns have done nothing since coming back into the league and are hoping that this is the final rebuilding job necessary to regain respectability. These veterans are the first step.

Colin: To me, the understated reality is how good a coach I think Romeo will be. Sure, this team might not do as much this year, but I am genuinely excited to see how he does. You can be sure that this team will play hard, play well, and play to the best of their abilities. That will be enough to generate a few interesting upsets that will encourage those poor Cleveland fans who have had to deal with so much crap.

General Prognosis: Look, this isn't a great team. But it is an improved team, and I especially look forward to seeing how this offense performs (and Braylon Edwards). Good luck Trent!

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 18 at Green Bay... this team could make a statement about their improvements at the Frozen Tundra

posted by Gavin @ 8:52 PM  3 comments

 


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