Saturday, August 25, 2007

2007 NFL Preview - Part I

Rather than bombard everyone with my standard NFL breakdown of the impending season (you know the type… eight divisions, postseason predictions, takes me two weeks to write and takes you three days to read – though most of you probably realize how stupid I sound after about twenty minutes), I’ve decided to break this year’s preview up into a few separate posts.

So… uh… here we go! Today, the NFC West & North.

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks: ’06 Record (9-7), ’07 Prediction (10-6)

San Francisco 49ers: ’06 Record (7-9), ’07 Prediction (9-7)

St. Louis Rams: ’06 Record (8-8), ’07 Prediction (7-9)

Arizona Cardinals: ’06 Record (5-11), ’07 Prediction (7-9)

For the third year in a row, the Seahawks look to be largely uncontested in their run to the division title. They’ve got a healthy Shaun Alexander and a (presumably) healthy Matt Hasselbeck on the offensive side of the ball. Their defense was very solid last season, rating in the top-10 in both yards and points per game, though their rushing defense (12th in the NFC at 126.8 ypg)

This year, everyone’s “sleeper” team seems to be the 49ers. I like them; I Think that another year of maturity for Frank Gore, Alex Smith and Vernon Davis can only help them. But their defense (no better than 10th in the conference in any major category) still leaves a lot to be desired. There’s a chance they could be the 2001 Rams – monster offense but no defense – but there’s a better chance that they’re on the outside looking in when the postseason starts.

Speaking of the Rams… This year’s version is very reminiscent of that 2001 team, except these guys have very little chance at reaching the playoffs – let alone the Super Bowl. Their offense is ridiculously strong (how many people realized that Steven Jackson had more yards from scrimmage than LaDanian Tomlinson last season?), with Marc Bulger inking a new contract this season and #1 target Torry Holt healthy as ever. But their defense hasn’t shown any glimpses of keeping other teams off the scoreboard or slowing down an opposing running game, although their pass defense did rank 3rd in the NFC.

And finally, the class of the NFL, the team that nobody wants to play, yes, your Arizona Cardinals. There might not be a franchise in professional sports with a sorrier history than the Cardinals, and yet every season the pundits find something about this team that makes everybody think “this is the year!” Let me tell you something – this is not the year. They’ve rebuilt their offense very nicely, getting Matt Leinart through the draft last season and adding Edgerrin James through free agency what was already the best young receiving corps in the league. But that’s it. There’s no defense. There’s no offensive line. They’ve got four or five players that can make a difference on any given play, and they’re all on one side of the ball. That’s not a formula for success. That’s a formula for another last place finish and high draft pick in April.

NFC North

Chicago Bears: ’06 Record (13-3), ’07 Prediction (11-5)

Minnesota Vikings: ’06 Record (6-10), ’07 Prediction (9-7)

Green Bay Packers: ’06 Record (8-8), ’07 Prediction (6-10)

Detroit Lions: ’06 Record (3-13), ’07 Prediction (5-11)

Much like their counterparts atop the NFC West, the Bears have virtually no competition for this division title. Again. In fact, their main challenge throughout the regular season should be to stay atop the overall NFC standings (or close to it) to give themselves the best shot at a first round bye. Well, the main challenge will probably be trying to remain calm every time Rex Grossman takes a five step drop. But with a healthy (if slightly less dominating) defense, and even a mediocre offense, they should be able to lock up the NFC north by about Week 12.

The Bears’ main competition, aside from themselves, looks to be the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota’s offense was, well, weak last season, not ranking in the top half of the conference in any major category, and averaging under 18 points a game. Tarvaris Jackson under center provides them with a good young QB, and a split backfield of Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson behind what is shaping up to be the best offensive line in the league should give them plenty of upgraded pop from the offense. The defense was already one of the better, if underrated, units in the NFL last season (61ypg rushing allowed? Are you kidding? Too bad they allowed 238ypg passing…). All they need to do is match last season’s production, and the Vikings could be contending for a playoff berth.

Everyone seems high on the Packers this season, referencing the way they finished ’06 on a four-game winning streak as a sign of good things in ’07. They had a good defense, ranking in the upper half in all major categories except the one that matters – points allowed. Any offense with Brett Favre will always have a chance to contend, not to mention be near the top of the league in most passing categories. But the division is tough, and finishing second last season only ensured them a tougher out-of-division schedule this season. I don’t see them breaking .500 this year.

And then, there are the Lions. I might have to flip-flop on the earlier statement that the Cardinals are the sorriest franchise in all of professional sports – the Lions give them a run for that title just within the NFL. They’ve got tools on offense in Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Jones & Tatum Bell that most offensive coordinators would kill for. And yet somehow they manage to underachieve every single season. Every year I pencil them in for anywhere from 3-12 wins – this year’s no different. They could put it all together and roll the rest of the league. But more than likely, they’ll get slightly better (they can’t really get worse from a 3-13 season) and still leave Detroit fans feeling completely unfulfilled.

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