2011 AFC West Previews & Predictions

The NFL season is about to commence and now we break down the AFC West. Last year this may have been one of the best divisions in football. The two best rushing attacks in the NFL came from Kansas City and Oakland while the San Diego Chargers had the league’s #1 ranked defense. Actually the Chargers became the third team since the AFL/NFL merger to finish #1 in offense and defense in the same season. The other two?? The Dallas Cowboys went on to win Super Bowl XII and the ’87 San Francisco 49ers finished 13-2 and were upset in the playoffs. Yet the Chargers didn’t even make the playoffs with all this firepower, finishing with a disappointing 8-8 campaign.

Well if the old adage of “to win in football you have to run and stop the run” still holds true, something definitely went wrong. The Oakland Raiders went undefeated in the division behind the second best rushing attack yet missed the playoffs along with the San Diego. The Chargers achieved their #1 offensive status with WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates missing a combined 17 games. This should have sabotaged the Chargers top rushing defense yet Rivers threw for more than 4,700 yards. Only the Kansas City Chiefs with Jamaal Charles’ 1,467 yards, the NFL’s second leading rusher, and Thomas Jones with 896 yards, made the playoffs. So what made the Chiefs complete the postseason equation where their counterparts could not?? By adding the performance of quarterback Matt Cassel who threw for 27 TDs and only 7 interceptions. He was third in interception percentage with only a 1.6% of his 450 attempts. This performance by Cassel solidified him as a legitimate quarterback and showed his 2008 season with the Patriots was no fluke. Now add to this equation the free agent signing of WR Steve Breaston, from Arizona and 1st round draft pick WR Jonathan Baldwin and you’ll see where our story begins…

Kansas City Chiefs 1960s AFL Logo

2011 AFC WEST PREDICTIONS

Kansas City Chiefs 12-4 *

San Diego Chargers 10-6 #

Oakland Raiders 7-9

Denver Broncos 2-14

So the Kansas City Chiefs banner will sit atop this division again. No team did more to strengthen themselves when it comes to balance. After leading the NFL in rushing attempts (556), rushing yards (2,627), and finishing tied for 4th in rushing attempts with a 4.7 yards per carry average, this team comes off the ball with consistency.  The seven man sled is alive and well in Kansas City practices.  This team had 72 runs of over 10 yards or more and pushed for first downs on 3rd or 4th and 2, 73% of the time up the gut.  When a team can come off the ball and push their opponent back it bodes well for the passing attack.

Do you realize the last time Coach Todd Haley last saw Steve Breaston, they were in Super Bowl XLIII together with the Arizona Cardinals?? Now Haley brings him in to line up with Pro Bowler Dewayne Bowe, who only gained 1,162 yards on 72 receptions and led the league with 15TDs. So the Chiefs will field one of the biggest sets of receivers and lets ask the question: What won’t this team do on offense?? They’d definitely like a rematch with the Ravens in the playoffs with this new group. It would definitely be a different story.

The Oakland Raiders have fielded one of the most underrated defenses for years yet their “send in the clowns” offense has sabotaged their efforts. They jettisoned JaM…we can’t even say his name…and brought in Jason Campbell and now grabbed former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor. So you can’t say Raider brass isn’t trying. With the emergence of Darren McFadden, there should be passing windows open just beyond the linebackers. Campbell has to throw the ball down the field and be more accurate this year.

Last year’s drafting of Rolando McClain and fellow linebacker Kamerion Wimbley are the heart and soul of the defense. Losing Namedi Asoumgha would doom most teams but the drafting of Demarcus Van Dyke (The U) at corner, Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson have covered well in pre-season. Most folks don’t realize that they finished 2nd in the NFL against the pass. They will not miss Asoumgha. The Raiders can go further than the 7-9 record we project if Campbell can play beyond his capabilities. However we see him as a marginal NFL talent and his upside is somewhere around a 3,000 yard season and 18TDs v 12 int. at best.

The enigmatic San Diego Chargers seem to lack a motivator to get them going. They keep falling behind early in games and come roaring back. Some games they win and others they fall too far behind and that is the reflection of Head Coach Norv Turner not getting his team up for the lessor teams. Phillip Rivers last year was magnificent and is the best of the young quarterbacks. He is in his prime, and without his two best receivers for 17 combined games, thew for 4,710 yards 30TDs and only 13 interceptions. He had to take some chances and still came up a winner. This year he will benefit from a projected 1,500 yard season for second year back Ryan Matthews out of Fresno State. Then when you add the defense and their play this team has no obvious onfield weaknesses. This team may be in need of a different coach to get them over the top. A coach that is more of a grinder that can get this team a little more battlehardened to go out and take care of business, no matter the opponent. We look for Coach Turner to be replaced at the end of the season. Remember they fired Marty Schottenheimer after he led the Chargers to a 14-2 record, so don’t be surprised.

As for the Denver Broncos, this is a rebuilding year. Coach Fox needs to let Tim Tebow start the season. It would energize the fanbase and possibly the organization. Then they could make a move to Kyle Orton if he founders. With a season start hosting Oakland and the Bengals, and if they can get to a 2-0 start, they could salvage the season with the early promise. This would be the recipe to offer your team and fans some hope. However Tebow isn’t favored by John Elway, who is in the front office, and that doesn’t bode well. During the pre-season Tebow was dropped to #3 on the depth chart and you could hear the disappointment from Bronco fans all over the blogosphere. With all of this going on and the need to revamp the defense, it’s time to completely rebuild and go younger. Don’t be surprised if a trade couldn’t send a Champ Bailey or a Kyle Orton away for future draft considerations. So start Tebow and see what you have. He’s under contract and you have nothing left to lose.

So that is your AFC West in a nutshell. All indications point to Kansas City reigning over the division with some competition from the San Diego Chargers. It’s hard to pick against a team that has several former NFL head coaches in one staff.  They learned a valuable lesson about playoff intensity from the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s playoffs. They will be more formidable this time around. The road to Super Bowl XLVI is a path that they can take with a few lucky bounces of the ball. Are the Chiefs ready for primetime??  We say absolutely…

2011 Predictions Continued …and the winner of the NFC is…??

The new version of the George S. Halas trophy given out last year. Emblematic of the Champion of the NFC

With every NFL season comes the prognostication of who will win each division and then who will win the Super Bowl. Well we’re not going to reveal that just yet but we are certain of several things. One, is our crystal ball is a little hazy but it usually works. It uses D Cell batteries and Duracell usua…..oops ,excuse me.  This happens whenever I write the article myself while having tequila…yet I digress

Our choices to make this year’s NFC Championship race are as follows:

1. Green Bay Packers – NFC North Champs w/ homefield advantage throughout playoffs.

2. Atlanta Falcons – NFC South Champs w/ second seed in the playoffs. If the Packers stumble in the divisional round, Falcons would host the NFC Championship Game.

3. Philadelphia Eagles -NFC East Champs. Will participate in the wildcard round and can only host the NFC Championship Game if #3 seed and lower meet. Will host the 6th seed wildcard weekend.

4. St. Louis Rams – NFC West Champs. Will participate in the wildcard round and can only host the NFC Championship Game if #4 seed and lower meet. Will host the 5th seed wildcard weekend.

5. Detroit Lions – The top record of non divisional winners and will face the 4th seeded team on the road during Wildcard weekend. Could only host the NFC Championship Game if #5 and #6 teams were to meet. (Has never happened)

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The second best record of a non division winner and will face the 3rd seed during Wildcard weekend on the road. Cannot host any playoff game no matter what.

Now that the lesser teams are vanquished, how would the playoffs line up.  Try the St. Louis Rams hosting the Detroit Lions during wildcard weekend. This would be a game to determine who would have the upper hand between two teams that would figure prominently in the Super Bowl chase in the upcoming years. In a game like that we would have to take the team with the most playmakers and that would be the Lions moving on.  In the other wildcard matchup, Tampa would face Philadelphia in a matchup to mimic those from the 2000 -2003 where a physical battle would be determined by mistake proof football.  The big question would be “Can Philadelphia stand up to the battle-hardened Buccaneers??” We say no…just like in 2010 and most of Michael Vick’s career he would be recovering from a late season injury and wouldn’t be 100%. This game would be a 50/50 toss up and would tilt in the upstarts favor if the game stayed tight.  In a game like this, the Eagles would have to get on top of the Bucs, 14- 0 or 20-3, and get them out of their gameplan early. Being a finesse team would play against the Eagles and they’d go down in wildcard weekend in the second upset of the playoffs.

On to the divisional round where the big boys would then kick things into high gear.  First the Buccaneers would take on the Atlanta Falcons for the third time in the season and would play them to a stalemate. However being that the Bucs were in their first foray late in the playoffs you’d have to figure the Falcons would force an additional turnover that would send Tampa to defeat. The Falcons would then make the pilgrimage to the NFC Championship game for the second time in their history.

There they would take on the Green Bay Packers who would best a Lion team who was in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. The Lions would be arriving on the scene a year too early for their best effort and would lose to the Packers setting up the NFC Championship Game. Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers.

In a rematch of the previous year’s divisional playoff game won by the Packers 48-21, this would be a little closer based upon the cold weather. Yes, we’re saying that being in Lambeau Field would benefit the Falcon defense. The year before, the Falcons were carved up in a controlled environment at home.  In the arctic climes of Lambeau, the playing style would bring the teams closer together in terms of score. Yet the Packers would prevail 26-17 to make it to their second straight Super Bowl with the George S. Halas Trophy presented by former Packer legend Jerry Kramer. Hopefully Kramer would be there to deliver the trophy on the backdrop that he would be a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Packer faithful would then descend on Indianapolis in search of their 14th championship.  Would they get it?? Sorry, you’ll have to stay tuned for that.  As for this look into the crystal ball… Green Bay would represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI… So who would they play??

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2011 NFC East Previews & Predictions

Flying Eagle Desean Jackson

Well the NFL has turned on it’s axis. Gone is the smashmouth reputation of the NFC East as 3 of the 4 teams will take to the air like never before.  Only the earthbound Washington Redskins are going to root it out the hard way. Dynamic playmakers in space will be the norm as the Eagles with the receiving trio of Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant will open up playbooks all over the division to keep pace.

One of the real reasons for this paradigm shift can be attributed to Michael Vick becoming the Eagles starter, and the Cowboys drafting of talented WR Dez Bryant to team with Pro Bowlers Jason Witten and Miles Austin. The Cowboys have a fleet of 3rd down back types in Tashard Choice, draft pick DeMarco Murray, and Felix Jones. That tells you Coach Garrett and Tony Romo will have the artificial sky at Jerry World filled with footballs. 

To keep pace in this space race, the Giants last year drafted super talented wideout Hakeem Nicks to team with and Mario Manningham,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       to have their own fleet of playmakers. Ironically it was the Giants who forsaw the change in the division playing style first. Last year they made the move to increase their ability to cover 3 receivers by bringing in former cornerback and current free safety Antrel Rolle (The U) formerly of the Cardinals. This allows the Giants to mix up their nickel coverages with 3rd CB Aaron Ross. They had growing pains last year yet figure to be more solid in the secondary this year. The Eagles copied this formula by winning the arms race for CB Namedi Asoumgha and acquiring CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to team with All Pro CB Asante Samuel. To win in the NFL in 2011 you must be proficient against 3 receiver sets. The Packers won it last year with their 3 good corners and this is trending across the National Football Conference. If you can’t defend 3 receivers in the NFC East, you’re going to be dead in the water. So where is this leading??

2011 NFC EAST PREDICTIONS

Philadelphia Eagles 12-4*

New York Giants 10-6

Dallas Cowboys 7-9

Washington Redskins 2-14

So why didn’t we address the Washington Redskins yet?? In a division where every team is going to assault their own record books in passing, the Redskins come in with last year’s 31st ranked defense against the pass. You remember that memorable Monday Night last year when the Redskins secondary took a ride on the Michael Vick Experience, losing 59-28, right?? Well to further enhance our reputation that Mike Shanahan is in over his head he only drafted one DB!! That wasn’t until the 5th round. After fumbling with the Donvan McNabb situation, releasing Clinton Portis (The U) who was slowing down, the keys to the offense are handed over to QB John Beck. Who?? Exactly! He’ll be handing off to ….zzz… sorry we want to keep you awake for the rest of this article.  This should be the swan song for Coach Shanahan as this team needs to get younger. During that type of transition a younger more dynamic coach is needed. One like John or Jim Harbaugh those players can relate to. The Redskins have been one of the most mismanaged organizations of the last decade and it’s embarrassing to watch. This once proud franchise whose games back in RFK that are so romantically revered, have to suffer through Daniel Snyder’s regime. We’re embarrassed for Redskins fans. Mike Shanahan?? One of history’s most overrated coaches whom the game has passed by.

Now on our facebook page it’s been fun to listen to Dallas Cowboy fans decry that the Super team from Philadelphia hasn’t looked like it in the preseason. All of the NFL will struggle this year with rhythm and timing early. The offenses will struggle until they gain they’re sea legs around the 4th week and after that we will be in for a season of high scores as defenses, who haven’t totally conditioned this offseason, start to tire.

As for Cowboy fans, there will be plenty of offense as Romo has to pass to keep the Cowboys in games and coming from behind with such a suspect defense. Romo is going to flirt with 5,000 yards this year. He’ll be forced to. Already he owns the all time Cowboys yardage mark for a season with 4,629 and the two highest touchdown totals with 36 & 29 respectively. Quit with the Troy Aikman comparisons already. He threw for over 20 TDs in a season just once. Romo needs to trust his new freak of a weapon in Dez Bryant. If he is one on one with a corner, chuck that ball deep and don’t settle for the 4 yard pass on 3rd and 17. What Romo needs is some daring. The Cowboys will come undone with the same formula as in 2010: inadequate pass rush, trouble stopping the run and a secondary that suffers from the lack of a rush. You can score so much but invariably you have to stop your opponent.

Justin Tuck

As for the New York “Football” Giants, they are the team with the total package right now. They can beat you running the football with Ahmad Bradshaw and a rejuvenated Brandon Jacobs or they can send a fleet of receivers into your secondary. They seemed to have smoothed things over getting Osi Umenyiora back to camp and should field a fierce rush. The question is can the secondary play as well as advertised?? The other question mark is the enigmatic Eli Manning who threw 25 interceptions last year. What is puzzling about his play is you can watch him quarterback on drives where he looks off the safety, then complete his footwork and deliver a 20 yard strike downfield. Then follow up with an interception where you’re shaking your head at home “Didn’t he see that linebacker sitting there?” He has to become more efficient with the football and not leave his defense out to dry so much. Yet it’s this “on again-off again” part of his character that will cost the Giants, and they will miss the playoffs again because of it.

Let the comparisons begin for the Philadelphia Eagles. Are they going to be the ’94 49ers who signed a slew of free agents then went on to win Super Bowl XXIX?? Or the 1995 Miami Dolphins who picked up 8 free agents in an attempt to get Dan Marino his ring, only to fall short once the team didn’t gel and stumbled to a 9-7 finish?? We’ll say closer to the 49ers situation.  It’s only a matter of time for this team to get open and scoring on offense. They brought in RB Ronnie Brown to aid LeSean McCoy in running between the tackles. They have WRs Sinorice Moss formerly of the Redskins and Steve Smith of the Giants to add further explosion if Macklin or Jackson get hurt. On defense, they pulled a coup when they signed Asoumgha. The fact they had Rodgers-Cromartie already in the fold from the Kevin Kolb trade was enough of a boost to the secondary. Now they can be special.

On defense, the Eagles linebackers were abysmal last year. Go ahead start both Casey Matthews from Oregon and Greg Lloyd out of UConn. Both are high motor guys and come with great pedigrees. Remember Pittsburgh Steeler great Greg Lloyd from the 90’s?? Yup thats his son and you remember Matthews who came up with a huge forced fumble in the 4th quarter for Oregon during the National Championship Game?? Yup, thats him! The younger brother of Green Bay’s Clay Matthews and son of Cleveland Brown great Clay Matthews. Put these guys on the field and let them run to what they see. The signing of free agents Anthony Hargrove (Saints), Cullen Jenkins (Packers), and Darryl Tapp (Seahawks) should provide some additional pass rush. They lost safety Quentin Mikell to free agency but I bet he regrets not entertaining a one year tender to play on this team. Can the City of Brotherly Love have a Super Bowl quality team?? This team is loaded for bear and once they jell they can be monstrous. Funny thing is we didn’t even begin to talk about Michael Vick yet. NFC East champ?? Easily. NFC or Super Bowl Champ? We shall see…

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2011 NFC North Previews & Predictions

We are marching toward the 2011 NFL season and the anticipation has gotten to many a football fan. We are no different. As we look forward to an exciting 2011, it’s hard to believe we are just 7 months removed from the most important NFC North game ever. The rumble for the NFC Championship Game between the Chicago Bears, and the Green Bay Packers.

The NFC North, formerly the NFC Central, had it’s first NFL champion in 15 years and ironically both times it was the Green Bay Packers. So how much has changed?? Does this division still hold the NFC’s best two teams?? Did the Chicago Bears let a golden opportunity get away from them by not capitalizing in the 2010 NFC Championship Game??  Will Donovan McNabb solidify the Vikings and give them another chance to get to the Super Bowl as Favre did for them two years ago?? What about the Lions?? Have they made enough of the right moves to chase down their heated rivals in Chicago and Green Bay?? Huh, ….oh and what about the Lions??

2011 NFC NORTH PREDICTIONS

Green Bay Packers 13-3*

Detroit Lions   11-5#

Chicago Bears 7-9

Minnesota Vikings 5-11

We were the first to speak of the champion Packers having won the Super Bowl with their second string. Aaron Rodgers ascended to the upper echelon of quarterbacks who are playing this game and at 28 has a ton of time left to become an all time great. Accurate, mobile, and fearless he stands to wrest the mantle of NFL’s best QB from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning with an excellent 2011.  Think about it.  Of the 3 Super Bowl seasons Tom Brady had the best statistically in 2004, where he threw for 3,690 yards 28TDs, and 14 interceptions.  Last year despite missing 2 games with injury, Rodgers threw for 3,922 yards 28 TDs and only 11 interceptions for the Packers. That’s before we get into last year’s magnificent playoff run.

The Packer offense will see some transition with RB James Starks fighting it out with injured incumbent Ryan Grant returning. Jordy Nelson nearly broke Jerry Rice’s Super Bowl record for receiving yards so he will take some time away from aging Donald Driver. As for the defense, gone is longtime Packer Nick Barnett who was admirably replaced by new ILB starter Desmond Bishop. Clay Matthews has entered the realm of NFL super star. He is a complete defender and an excellent pass rusher with 10.5 sacks last year who is only going to get better in his 3rd year.

The new safety tandem is Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins, with Atari Bigby having moved on to  Seattle. The Packers young secondary is still anchored by All Pro Charles Woodson who has had a positive influence on the growth of fellow corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.  All told, this secondary was responsible for 24 interceptions (2nd in the NFL) and should improve in 2011. No chance they are unseated as NFC North champion, they are just too well equipped.

Yet there is a storm brewing to Green Bay’s southeast. Dormant for more than an NFL decade, has been the moribund Detroit Lions. Draft busts of the Matt Millen regime behind them, his former Washinton Redskin teammate Martin Mayhew is putting together a championship caliber squad. One that will see great gains this year if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy. Its paramount he matures with his team onfield this season.  The Lions also brought in Titus Young from Boise St. to give them another deep threat alongside Calvin Johnson.

There was a setback when they lost draft pick RB Mikel Leshoure, fomerly of Illinois, for the season. This team still has quick striking Jahvid Best out of the backfield and signed Jerome Harrison and Maurice Morris to pick up the slack.

However it was the selection of DT Nick Fairley in the 1st round that sent shockwaves throughout the league.  He is joining a Motown defensive line that had 44 sacks last year. Fairley should terrorize NFC North quarterbacks with Ndamokung Suh for years to come. He should be fully recovered and ready to roll when the regular season will get under way.  After a four game winning streak to conclude last season, this team was bolstered by a solid beating handed to the Patriots in last week’s pre-season game.  Never underestimate what it means for a team to learn how to win and see themselves as winners.

Sadly, the great Devin Hester (The U)  is being legislated out of the game.

Now lets be fair… the new kickoff moving to the 35 yard line, was a bullshit move by rule makers to negate the special teams advantage the Chicago Bears have enjoyed with Devin Hester. The NFL’s greatest kick returner. It’s backlash for his turning close games into Bear victories over favored opponents.

There is no other way to see it.  There in lies the problem.  It’s not a television show of who’s to be voted off of the island, it’s a sporting endeavor. The Bears play smashmouth, close to the vest  football in cold weather and rely on stout defense and superior special teams. Last year they had improved play from the quarterback position as Cutler trimmed his interception totals and showed more command of the offense.

Team brass finally brought in some help with the signing of Marion Barber and Roy E. Williams, fomerly of Dallas to help with the running game and the receiving corps. With the shortened off season, most teams will struggle to find their offensive rhythm early and the Bears could be one of those offenses. Yet they have drafted several young offensive linemen and should be ready to roll in 2012. Problem is they should have a few growing pains in ’11.

When will the Vikings learn to bite the bullet and develop a quarterback?? They have run retread after retread at this position and haven’t come up with a championship yet. There was magic in the first year with Favre, however reality set in once he was injured and Sage Rosenfels had been released.

The Donovan McNabb experience should only be one year, unless he has an outstanding season. Which is the two fold problem. When do you take the reigns from an elder quarterback and take the lumps with a young and growing one?? From Sean Salisbury to Jim McMahon, to Warren Moon, to Randall Cunningham, to Jeff George…they’ve been doing this since 1992 at the expense of developing a young signal caller. The one exception was to allow Daunte Culpepper to develop and he gave the Vikings some great seasons.  So if the season goes well, McNabb could retard Christian Ponder’s growth.

With McNabb, we see a quarterback going through the motions, not one with a chip on his shoulder to prove himself. That won’t bode well for the Vikings if they look to him for leadership. They have a strong running game in Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart yet are suspect at receiver. Right now the strength of this team would be to run the football and keep their aging defense off the field.

If it doesn’t go well this year, be ready to move in another direction and build with your young quarterbacks. At this point we see a fading legend hanging on with a mediocre receiving corp and a defense that last year started to give up  yards on the ground toward the end of the season. Donovan takes a look at the tapes of last year’s offensive line performance and the hits on Favre, he may audible to all rollouts. Add to that LT Bryant McKinnie (The U) gets cut for coming into camp out of shape?? Donovan could be in for a long year. As Donovan goes, so go the Vikings. A tough year indeed

2011 NFC South Previews & Predictions


First things first, we’d like to welcome you to the best division in all of pro football. Although the NFL’s marquee rivalries exist between it’s glamour teams, no division is as competitive from week to week like the NFC South. Do you realize that since the division’s inception in 2002, there has been NO repeat champion in it’s history??  It also has the distinction of being the only division in the NFL, where each team has played for the conference championship and a right to go to the Super Bowl in that same time. Not even the NFC East can match that because neither Dallas or Washington have sniffed the NFC Championship in the last decade. This division is defined by physical, spirited play punctuated by last year’s bloodbath between the upcoming Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons in week 13. The hardest hitting game of the NFL season came down to a game sealing interception by Falcon CB Brent Grimes with under a minute to go. As a going away present, Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman was given an unnecessary roughness, personal foul for hitting him several yards out of bounds. Man, you have to love football season!!

As we make our way toward the 2011 season, there are several questions about the teams in this division. Are the New Orleans Saints poised to reclaim the divison from the Falcons?? Are the Buccaneers and the aforementioned Josh Freeman for real after a 10-6 season?? Have the Buccaneers improved enough to unseat them both and become the 10th different division winner in so many years?? How will the Carolina Panthers progress under new coach Ron Rivera and develop Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton?? What will become of last year’s #1 draft pick, quarterback Jimmy Clausen??

To answer a few of these questions, you’ll have to read deeper into this article. As for our picks

2011 NFC SOUTH PREDICTION

Atlanta Falcons 12-4 *

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5 +

New Orleans Saints 9-7

Carolina Panthers 3-13

We look to the Atlanta Falcons to end the revolving door of NFC South Division Champions. Head Coach Mike Smith has them playing mistake proof football behind a power rushing attack that is augmented by the play action passing of Matt Ryan. With the NFL’s leading receiver (Roddy White) in the fold, it will be interesting to see how potent the offense can become with 1st round draft pick Julio Jones from Alabama. The Falcons overspent for Jones’ services but it seems as though they figure to score with Green Bay if they see them again in the playoffs. They still need a player to emerge to rush the passer along with John Abraham. It was this glaring weakness that was exposed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the 48-21 loss to the eventual world champions. Last year’s big splash was CB Dunta Robinson. He needs to play up to his potential and not be overshadowed by his Pro Bowl counterpart in Brent Grimes. That embarrassing playoff loss should keep this team motivated and working hard to improve.

It’s time for Matt Ryan to win his first playoff game.  He has amassed a regular season record of 33-13 and has led his team to 2 division championships. Going into his fourth season should be able to handle the entire playbook as well.  He still has workhorse running back Michael Turner and now has 3rd down back Jacquizz Rodgers from Oregon State to add to the explosive Jones. The Falcons are primed for a Super Bowl run and on the Georgia Dome turf this team will  be hard to catch. Right now they still have the lone weakness of rushing the passer that hasn’t been addressed.

The Buccaneers young signal caller, Josh Freeman.

Now buoyed by the fact that they learned how to win last season will propel the Buccaneers into the playoffs in 2011. Coach Raheem Morris has to get some early pressure from draft picks Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers, and Mason Foster to help cover secondary deficiencies until CB Aquib Talib gets back from suspension. Where did they learn how to win? Well last year going into week 15 they hadn’t won a game against a team with a winning record. They had lost several close games to teams with winning records but when it counted in the last two weeks, they beat the playoff bound Seahawks 38-15. Then in the last game of the season they outhit and beat the defending champion Saints 23-13 in the Super Dome. In that game the Saints were trying to catch the Atlanta Falcons to steal the NFC South but called off the dogs when they realized the Bucs weren’t going away.

What has been lost in this offseason is how good this team was playing when the season’s final seconds ticked away. Did you know that Josh Freeman completed 61.4 % of his passes and finished the season with 25TDs thrown to only 6 interceptions?? Or how about Freeman was second only to Tom Brady with an interception percentage of only 1.3% with 474 passing attempts?? Right, we know you didn’t. The NFL pundits are too busy talking about Manning and Brees than to actually see what is happening on a week to week basis right in front of them. Consider that he is only going into his 3rd season. Yikes!! Now add to that battering rams RB LaGarrette Blount, then FB Earnest Graham, and you can see this team overpowering the weak tackling New Orleans Saints as they did last January.  They have to approve against the run and they addressed their defensive front 7 with 3 picks and several free agents. On the rise and will make the playoffs this year. Possibly the promised land next year.

Descending back to the pack are the New Orleans Saints. The light defense that couldn’t tackle Marshawn Lynch in last year’s playoffs is still in tact. Why they are returning to the pack?? Try the fact that in their Super Bowl season when they had Darren Sharper, they led the NFL with 26 interceptions. Those numbers fell to less than 10 for the 2010 season and the last time we saw the Saints secondary?? Matt Hasselbeck threw for over 400 yards, 4 touchdowns and had a perfect passer rating in the Seahawks WildCard 41-36 win. They added DE Cameron Jordan in the draft to help the pass rush but the team returns with 10 of 11 defensive starters who underwhelmed last year. So the last two times we saw this defense was when division rival Tampa took their lunch money and Matt Hasselbeck throwing a 7 on 7 skeleton drill. Listen, Drew Brees can pass for 6,000 yards and wouldn’t be able to right this ship.

As a passer he has been on a roll ever since arriving in New Orleans. Brees has won a Super Bowl, passed for over 5,000 yards in a season and has been regarded as one of the best in football.  All of this after the Chargers left him unsigned with a shoulder that needed surgery, it seemed his career was over. So here we are several seasons later in the midst of Brees’ renaissance, will he take the ball out of his hands and hand it off to a Mark Ingram as often as he should?? A question no one is really asking. If Ingram provides a more stout running game, it will rest the Saints defense, but will it knock the Saints passing game out of it’s rhythm?? Last year, the Saints were knocked out of a good passing rhythm by their own defense’s inability to get off the field. It’s one of the reasons Brees tossed 22 interceptions last year. Interesting questions that we think it will take New Orleans beyond this year to figure out. So no playoffs trip this year.

In Cam they trust. Coach Rivera has decided to go with Newton in their final pre season game and we know what that means: He’s going to start the season barring a subpar performance. Somehow this could be the vanguard of introducing the spread offense as a pro football attack. With power backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart still in the fold, we know the Panthers will be running the football. Against some 8 man fronts this season, Newton or Clausen should have 1 on 1 opportunities to showcase their arms. If Clausen gets in the game he needs to hit on those since he’s auditioning for his next NFL stop with each throw. Its a mistake if the Panthers start Newton right away. They should let him get into the season first before inserting him into the lineup, somewhere around week 5. Right now the Panthers have a great young group of defensive linemen and building a solid defense around MLB Jonathon Beason. They just need to trade QB Jimmy Clausen, WR Steve Smith for draft considerations and bring in some weapons on the outside. Right now, they’re in last place in the NFC South.

Next up, the NFC North!!

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2011 NFC West Previews & Predictions

In the NFL, all divisions are not created equally. The NFC West has been in flux for the last decade without a clear cut champion. Even the 2008 Arizona Cardinals run to Super Bowl XLIII was a season where they were 9-7, and lost a late season game 47-7 to Matt Cassel and the Patriots. Last year’s 7-9 division champion Seahawks was more of a product of a young St. Louis Rams team that came up short in the end than brilliant Seattle play.  As we march into 2011, it looks like the Rams will rise from the ashes in this division.

2011 NFC WEST PREDICTION

St Louis Rams        9-7  *

Seattle Seahawks  6-10

Arizona Cardinals 5-11

San Fran 49ers       3-13

St Louis Rams have the best young quarterback in Sam Bradford and another solid season with Stephen Jackson at running back.  Last year, Coach Spagnuolo’s team had to learn how to win and did so with a 5 game improvement in the win total. If they can get a significant contribution from WR Austin Pettis, drafted from Boise St to help Bradford further develop. Folks seem to forget that Sam Bradford is only a few years removed from a Heisman trophy season that saw him throw for nearly 50 TDs as a junior. This is no fluke. Now that Chris Long is coming on (last season 8.5 sacks) and James Laurinitis leadership at linebacker, this team is on the rise and should rule the NFC West for the next few years. They have a murderous early schedule but starting with week 9, should run the table the rest of the way. The only notable game to show that they have grown up is the week 16 matchup in Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve. Just don’t be thrown off when they start out slow.

The Seahawks will look like a totally retooled team in the early part of this season and will revert  back to the enigmatic bunch we saw through much of last season. Only this time it’s going to be growing pains through breaking in Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback once sorry Tavarris Jackson underwhelms again. The second time is a charm, he helped collapse Minnesota when they kept him and let Sage Rosenfels go. So once Favre got injured…they crash landed with Jackson at the controls and that was a team with the same offensive co-ordinator and new wideout Sidney Rice there as well.  Same story, different channel.

They also have to find a leader to take over for Lofa Tatupu who was released. Aaron Curry has to move into that role and now needs to develop into the elite linebacker his draft status calls for. Will Marshawn Lynch blossom into the running back that emerged with the great run in last year’s playoff or will he revert back to the on again, off again runner he was in Buffalo?? This team will win a few games early but will descend to search mode as they need to find out who they are. They still don’t have an identity and the second half of the season will be a struggle for Coach Carroll and his team.

As for the Arizona Cardinals, congratulations on finding a quarterback in Kevin Kolb but you spent too much for him. Should have kept Rodgers-Cromartie and had the division’s best cornerback tandem with he and Patrick Peterson. Yes go ahead and start the rookie and let him take his lumps.  The Cardinals are still anemic rushing the football and teams can gang up on Larry Fitzgerald now that Steve Breaston is gone to Kansas City. Early Doucet and Andre Roberts have to have early success at receiver on the other side or this team will have a long season on offense. Kolb will be out to prove that he is a top flight quarterback and he should have kept his job in Philadelphia. Truth is, he played like he was given the job and not one that he earned. Both Mike Vick and Kafka from Northwestern had better statistics in last year’s pre-season.

Yet Kolb will solidify this franchise’s quarterback situation for the first time since Neil Lomax. Yes Kurt Warner was outstanding for 2 years, we mean a quarterback to build a franchise around for a 5-7 year run. He needs one of his other receivers to emerge to begin the process. On defense this team is in a little bit of flux so they need to break out on offense to win games. They just don’t have enough horses to do that at this point.

San Francisco needs to blow the team up and start from scratch. You have Colin Kaepernick as a quarterback, who isn’t ready, and busts Alex Smith and Troy Smith to man the position until he is. The first item up for bids is to trade Frank Gore for several draft picks to an AFC team. The Browns, Bengals, Patriots, Bills, Colts, all need a marquee running back. Several of those teams want to get over the hump and think they are a running back away, capitalize on it and get some draft picks.  Especially a team you can expect to underwhelm and get even higher draft picks from the resultant record. With an anemic offense and an underachieving receiving corp in Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn Jr, expect 8 man fronts to limit Gore’s effectiveness anyway. He wants to be traded and won’t run hard once the team dips out of contention, so alleviate that problem.

Right now go with Vernon Davis as your leader on offense and Patrick Willis on defense. Treat the 2011 campaign as a prolonged preseason and see who will fit Coach Harbaugh’s future roster. Don’t be surprised if former Stanford Cardinal Toby Gerhart doesn’t find his way to the bay to join next year’s draft pick Andrew Luck (Stanford) if the 49ers finish 3-13 as we think they will. The rebirth of the 49ers could just be in it’s beginning phases and this is a glimpse into next year for 49er fans to get excited about.

Next up: NFC South

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