Friday, September 07, 2012

How the NFC could shake out in 2012

For every AFC preview, there must be an NFC one! Here is how I project the NFC division races will shake out.

NFC East
Projected finish: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys
Going up: Redskins. They will be dramatically improved at the most important position and could have a fairly stout defense again.
Going down: Giants. The champs have nowhere to go but down, and they have not always handled success well.
Summary: I think any team could win this division. The Eagles have the most talent, but their execution and QB Michael Vick's injuries were problematic a year ago. The Cowboys also have a lot of talent, but I question how their lines will hold up over the course of a season. This is the league's toughest division.

NFC North
Projected finish: Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings
Going up: Vikings. They're in rebuild mode, but some of the young players who gained experience last season, notably QB Christian Ponder, should be better.
Going down: Packers and Lions. Green Bay won't go 15-1 again, not even close. Detroit still has no secondary and no offensive line. Not good in a division with QBs Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, as well as pass rushers extraordinaire Jared Allen, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews.
Summary: I think the Packers are in much tougher this season. Interesting to me that a 15-1 team is breaking in five new starters. Chicago's defense is due to decline because of age and injuries and it has little in the secondary, but it's offense should be dynamic. Any of the top three teams could win this highly competitive division.

NFC South
Projected finish: Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Bucs
Going up: Panthers. If their defense improves a reasonable amount, they have the talent on offense to hang with Atlanta and New Orleans.
Going down: Saints. At some point not having a coach, GM and defensive captain has to catch up to them. 
Summary: Atlanta is supposed to be good every year, and this one is no exception. But at some point the Falcons need to have a run in the playoffs. The Saints could win the Super Bowl or be 8-8. Was 2010's 10-6 record a mirage for the Bucs? Or are they closer to last season's team that ended the year with 10 consecutive losses.

NFC West
Projected finish: Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams
Going up: Seahawks. Two good options at quarterback -- Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson -- which is two more than they had last season. Who they will throw to is the major question. The defense and run game are sound and they enjoy a very good home-field advantage.
Going down: 49ers. They're probably going to make the playoffs again, but it's tough for me to see Alex Smith having another nearly mistake-free season and their injury-prone RBs staying healthy. A strong defense got career years from everyone in their secondary. I know the Niners are good, but I question if they can sustain it.
Summary: If you could combine the Cardinals receivers with the Rams RBs, you might have a pretty good offense. These two seem a notch below the Seahawks and Niners.

How the 2012 NFL season might work out - AFC preview

I know, it's been a while. Let's just call it an extended hangover from the Packers' Super Bowl victory in 2011.

I think it's high time to resume NFL blogging, so let's start with how I see the AFC division races breaking down this season. Every year there are surprise teams, and I'm sure this year won't be any exception. Educated guesses as to whom they will be are the best I can offer.

AFC East
Projected finish: New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins
Going up: Bills. Buffalo should have a stout defense, and if RB Fred Jackson is healthy enough weapons on offense.
Going down: Jets. I don't see this offense working. What are they? Ground and pound team? Vertical passing team?
Summary: It seems as if the Patriots have won this division every season for two decades. The Dolphins will have a decent defense but RB Reggie Bush would have to be the second coming of Barry Sanders for their offense to have a chance.

AFC North
Projected finish: Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns
Going up: Ravens. Yes, their LB corps are depleted a bit with Terrell Suggs' injury and Jarrett Johnson's FA departure, but they still have a lot of talent on that side of the ball and a versatile offense with several playmakers. A Super Bowl is not out of the question.
Going down: Steelers. Age on defense and injuries at several key positions (NT, RB to name two) is not a good combination. Pittsburgh needs a RB to emerge and good health along its lines. I realize it's a risk to underestimate the Men of Steel.
Summary: Ohio's teams won't crack the top two unless the front-runners have major injuries. Can the Bengals sustain their momentum? Cincy has a lot of solid pieces, particularly on defense and with the QB-WR combo of Andy Dalton-AJ Green. Browns fans should prepare for another housecleaning. Rookie RB Trent Richardson would need to rush for 1600 yards for them to have a chance at a wild-card berth. This is the conference's strongest division.

AFC South
Projected finish: Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts
Going up: Titans. RB Chris Johnson bounces back and QB Jake Locker develops, giving Tennessee a wild-card berth.
Going down: Texans. But they still probably win the division despite some FA losses on the O-line.
Summary: I think Houston ultimately will win this division, but every team behind them should be better, and in the cases of Jacksonville and Indianapolis, a lot better. In fact, if QB Blaine Gabbert develops and RB Maurice-Jones Drew emerges from his holdout funk, the Jags could make some noise. They have much better weapons at WR than a year ago. The Colts had a lot of systemic changes, particularly on defense, and I don't know if they have the right parts to make it work.

AFC North
Projected finish: Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
Going up: Chiefs. A run of injuries to star players cost them the division last season, and the combination of better health and better depth means they take it this year.
Going down: Chargers. Where will they be better than last season? Pass rush, maybe. Their lines are in tough shape. RB Ryan Mathews is hurt again. And their WRs have a lot to prove.
Summary: The Chiefs get the nod based on stability and my projection that they can't possibly be as devastated by injuries as they were in 2011. Peyton Manning will help the Broncos, but I think they overachieved last year. The Raiders' season comes down to RB Darrin McFadden's health and QB Carson Palmer bouncing back to the level he has demonstrated he can play at in the past.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2010 NFL season: How were our AFC predictions?

Each fall I predict the outcomes of each NFL division. Previously, I posted on my picks for the NFC's four divisions compared to those in three major NFL annuals - Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly/Yahoo.

What follows are the outcomes of the AFC predictions:

AFC East
Actual: New England, NY Jets, Miami, Buffalo
Bayee: NY Jets, New England, Miami Buffalo
SI: NY Jets, New England, Miami, Buffalo
TSN: NY Jets, New England, Miami, Buffalo
PFW: NY Jets, New England, Miami, Buffalo
The winner is: No one and everyone. The Jets ultimately knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs, but nobody expected a 14-2 Pats regular season.

AFC North
Actual: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati
Bayee: Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland
SI: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland
TSN: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland
PFW: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland
The winner is: SI, which also predicted the Steelers will win the Super Bowl.  At least the other publications had the sense to pick a playoff team - the Ravens - in first. Not me. I fell for the Bengals. In a season of bad predictions, that was my worst.

AFC South
Actual: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee
Bayee: Houston, Indy, Tennessee, Jacksonville
SI: Indy, Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville
TSN: Indy, Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville
PFW: Indy, Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville
The winner is: All three publications got the Colts right, and everyone was wrong on the Jaguars. I take small consolation in having Tennessee third.

AFC West
Actual: Kansas City, San Diego, Oakland, Denver
Bayee: San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, Denver
SI: San Diego, Oakland, Denver, Kansas City
TSN: San Diego, Kansas City, Oakland, Broncos
PFW: San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland
The winner is: No one. TSN at least had the Chiefs second, while SI picked them last. PFW had Denver second. Obviously the Chargers were heavy favorites.

Biggest surprises: Kansas City and Jacksonville
Biggest disappointments: San Diego, Houston and Cincinnati

One interesting note - each of the three NFC disappointments (San Francisco, Dallas and Minnesota) changed coaches during the season. Not only did the three AFC disappointments keep their coaches all season, they kept them for next season (though Houston overhauled its defensive staff).

2010 NFL season: How were our NFC predictions?

Some of the more fun posts to write each season are the looks back at how several major publications as well as myself fared in our preseason picks.

My three for comparison's sake are Sports Illustrated, Sporting News' annual (which incorporated Street and Smith's a few years back) and Pro Football Weekly, which has teamed with Yahoo Sports!

NFC East
Actual order: Philadelphia, NY Giants, Dallas Washington
Bayee: NYG, Dallas, Philly, Wash.
SI: NYG, Dallas, Philly, Wash.
TSN: Dallas, NYG, Philly, Wash.
PFW: Dallas, NYG, Wash., Philly
The winner is: No one. No one saw Philly (or Michael Vick) emerging, nor Dallas imploding under coach Wade Phillips. Washington (bad) and the Giants (decent) were about what was expected.

NFC North
Actual order: Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit, Minnesota
Bayee: Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago
SI: Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit
TSN: Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit
PFW: Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit
The winner is: No one. No one picked the Bears higher than third (I had them fourth, but I did see the Lions improving more than others). No one saw the Vikings' meltdown coming either. And no one could have imagined the nightmare season Brett Favre (and those close to him) endured.

NFC South
Actual: Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Carolina
Bayee: New Orleans, Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay
SI: New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay
TSN: Atlanta, New Orleans, Carolina, Tampa Bay
PFW: Atlanta, New Orleans, Carolina, Tampa Bay
The winner is: TSN and PFW came closest here, nailing the first- and second-place teams. NO ONE saw the Bucs' dramatic improvement coming. And I'm sure SI would like its pick of the Panthers (whom the magazine projected would make the playoffs) back.

NFC West
Actual: Seattle, St. Louis, San Francisco, Arizona
Bayee: San Fran, Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis
SI: San Fran, Seattle, Arizona, St. Louis

TSN: San Fran, Arizona, St. Louis, Seattle
PFW: San Fran, Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis
The winner is: Well, someone had to win this division. This division's imploding team was the 49ers, closely followed by the Cardinals. SI tabbed the Seahawks second, and no one saw the Rams as anything but a cellar dweller (or close).

Biggest surprise team: Bears
Biggest disappointment: Take your pick - Cowboys, Vikings or 49ers

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Michael Vick tells us what has made the difference for him this season

Michael Vick thought it was all over last summer, just one year after his release from prison. His second chance might be his last.

What could have been destructive instead laid the foundation for Vick's return to NFL stardom and the Philadelphia Eagles' ascent to one of the NFC's elite teams.