Monday, August 27, 2007

2007 NFL Preview - Part II

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 South & East, and AFC West (I’m a writin’ fool!). Click here for Part I of the Preview – NFC West & North.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints: ’06 Record (10-6), ’07 Prediction (9-7)

Carolina Panthers: ’06 Record (9-7), ’07 Prediction (7-9)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: ’06 Record (4-12), ’07 Prediction (6-10)

Atlanta Falcons: ’06 Record (7-9), ’07 Prediction (4-12)

Let’s be honest here guys – the Falcons and Michael Vick (and to a lesser extent, Joey Harrington) are the story of this division this season, if not the NFL itself. Everything they do will be chronicled – every loss will be met with “Wonder how it would have turned out with Vick on the field”, every win will bring about talk of a lost season. The thing is, if the team uses the whole Vick situation as motivation, they could really come together and maybe even make a run at the division.

For as great a story as the Saints were last season, they got a lot of bounces in their favor, not to mention at least two or three wins on emotion alone. Their defense played ridiculously far above their heads last season (in ’04 & ’05 they ranked 14th of 16 in the NFC in points allowed – in ’06: 3rd), but the offense is legit. I think they give back a game, maybe two, but still play well enough within the division to make the postseason.

Carolina is a complete enigma. Every season for the past three, I’ve put far too much stock in their defense, and given Jake Delhomme way too much credit. The problem is, their defensive stars can’t stay together on the field long enough to stop any of the league’s better offenses. And even though DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams are a solid backfield tandem (not to mention the best wide receiver in the NFL in Steve Smith), Delhomme isn’t consistent enough to give them a QB threat. And honestly, nobody’s screaming for David Carr to get a start anytime soon…

Finally, Tampa Bay. The fact that their QB options this season consist of a 37 year old playing for his fifth team in as many years, and a 32-year old who retired rather than have to play for the team tells you everything you need to know about the Bucs right now. Their defense really dropped off last year, which was probably more a product of their offensive ineptitude being unable to give the defense a breather on the sidelines between possessions. They’re not scaring anyone this year, though Cadillac Williams might return to his early ’05 form…

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles: ’06 Record (10-6), ’07 Prediction (11-5)

Washington Redskins: ’06 Record (5-11), ’07 Prediction (9-7)

Dallas Cowboys: ’06 Record (9-7), ’07 Prediction (8-8)

New York Giants: ’06 Record (8-8), ’07 Prediction (5-11)

People seem to forget that the Eagles managed to go 10-6 and win a playoff game without their franchise QB under center after Week 10. They also managed to go 5-2 to wrap up the season. With Donovan McNabb back (and by all accounts, healthy) there’s no reason to think they can’t at least duplicate those 10 wins in 2007. The defense is still playing at a high level, even with the front office’s decision to cut Jeremiah Trotter last week. And Brian Westbrook continues to produce just about every time he touches the ball. If they can avoid major injuries, they should be a serious threat to the Bears’ NFC supremacy.

The Redskins could be the “surprise” team of ’08 (they’re 20/1 to win the NFC at right now, and 40/1 to win it all). They lost Clinton Portis for most of last season, and Jason Campbell didn’t get a start until Week 11 (they went 5-2 with him under center in the final seven games). Their defense can still give people problems – Sean Taylor is one of the most underrated safeties in the NFL – and in a weak conference, a jump to 9-7 might be enough to get them into the postseason.

I’m not a big fan of the Cowboys’ chances this season. Wade Phillips’ “Let ‘em play” style just seems like it’s going to backfire by about Week 9 or so. I just foresee Terrell Owens finally snapping with the lack of discipline, and I have no idea just how far he’s going to go. There’s probably a 5% chance that he commits homicide on the sidelines this year after Romo misses him on a Go route. If they can hold it together though, Dallas’ defense is still one of the better ones in the league. I just don’t know how much I trust Tony Romo and the Barber/Jones running back combo platter.

And finally, the Giants. I’m trying my hardest not to laugh while writing this part of the preview. I have absolutely zero hope for the Giants to be contenders this season – their offense wasn’t that good last season, and they lost their #1 running back. Their defense wasn’t that good last season, and it got worse this year losing Michael Strahan, Lavar Arrington, and roughly 2/3 of their starting defensive backfield in one preseason game already. Needless to say, they’re staring a top-10 draft pick straight in the face.

AFC West

San Diego: ’06 Record (14-2), ’07 Prediction (12-4)

Denver Broncos: ’06 Record (9-7), ’07 Prediction (10-6)

Kansas City: ’06 Record (9-7), ’07 Prediction (7-9)

Oakland Raiders: ’06 Record (2-14), ’07 Prediction (4-12)

The Chargers were the class of the NFL during the ’06 regular season, but completely imploded in their first round playoff game. I remember that game well, mostly because my fingers nearly imploded while live blogging the game from a hotel in Orlando, Florida (here’s Part I, here’s Part II. And just for the hell of it, the earlier live blog of the NFC playoff games). As for this season, the downgrade from an offensive minded coach who turtles in the playoffs to a turtle minded coach who gets defensive in the playoffs (wow my head hurts) is probably going to cost them a game or two. Not to mention that LaDanian Tomlinson probably won them at least one game by himself last year – there is no way in hell he repeats the numbers he put up in ’06.

Denver kind of falls into the second spot in this division by default. They have a promising quarterback who, barring injuries, will get a full season to prove why the Broncos traded up to draft him a couple seasons ago. And, as is par for the course, the Broncos have a solid multi-headed monster in the backfield, starting with Travis Henry and Mike Bell, and the receiving corps is still solid all around. Not to mention they probably have the best defensive backfield in the league with Champ Bailey and Dre Bly. It probably isn’t enough to overtake the Chargers, but it should be enough to get them into the playoffs.

The Chiefs aren’t nearly the team they were last season, and last season they barely limped into the playoffs anyway before getting smoked by the Colts in the first round. While all the talk is about Larry Johnson’s workload, the focus should be on a depleted offensive line guarding Damon Huard, the newly minted starting quarterback. Not to mention the Chiefs haven’t fielded anything better than a middle of the road defense in a few years (literally – they were 9th of 16 AFC teams in three major defensive categories last season; yards per game, rushing yards per game and points allowed, and 11th in passing yards allowed). They’re a middle of the pack team that caught a good run and a good schedule in ’06 – not this year.

And then, there are the Raiders. A team so inept that their #1 pick – the #1 overall draft pick last year – would rather sit a season by making outrageous contract demands than play for them. A team that looks to be relying on a “mobile” QB coming off of two major knee surgeries in the same season, on the same knee. A team whose “Just Win, Baby!” mantra gets more and more laughable every year. But hey – at least the statistics said they had an above average defense last season. Of course, that’s probably because their offense averaged a ridiculous 10.5 points per game in ’06 – once teams scored twice, they eased off the accelerator knowing they probably didn’t need to do much more for the W. I give them a couple more wins this season, though it’s more out of pity than anything else.

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