Wednesday, August 20, 2008

2008 NFL Preview - Post 3

Today, its part three in a four part series for the annual NFL preview! Please, contain your excitement. My apologies for the lack of a post yesterday – a headache kept me in bed until the mid afternoon and by then, I wasn’t in much of a mood to post.

In the past, I’d throw a 20,000 word epic post up here that would take everyone a week to read. Last year I realized that’s not the best idea, and this year I’m following my model. Two divisions a day through Thursday. And Friday, will be my second post of the year over at SpartyAndFriends (click if you missed the first one).

So let’s continue – today, the AFC North & West


2007 Standings

Pittsburgh (10-6)

Cleveland (10-6)

Cincinnati (7-9)

Baltimore (5-11)

Cleveland pulled out nothing short of a miracle last season, and they were rewarded with exactly the same thing they’ve gotten every year since they came back into the league – an early tee time, and a nice front row seat to watch the other twelve teams in the playoffs. I don’t know how much stock I put in Derek Anderson repeating last season’s performance, or Braylon Edwards & Kellen Winslow playing a full 16. The Browns still strike me as a team on the rise, but this season feels like it might be a small step back before they can make the next push forward. Prediction: 8-8

Baltimore made three solid picks through the draft in Joe Flacco, Ray Rice & Tom Zbikowski from Notre Dame (yes, I had to look that one up. Twice. And now my spell-checker hates me), and they not only managed to lose very little in free agency, but they held onto their biggest chip in Terrell Suggs. Unfortunately, Willis McGahee still has a lingering injury, and although Joe Flacco has a cannon for an arm, it doesn’t look like the Ravens have any intention of letting him under center this year unless they have to. With a weaker, aging defense and an inexperienced offense, they probably have another year or two before they can get the players and the favorable schedule to expect to be serious contenders in the AFC again. Prediction: 4-12

Pittsburgh has got an absolutely brutal schedule – seven playoff teams, plus two against the Browns who just missed the postseason in 2007. Ben Roethlisberger had a fantastic year last season, but the Steelers fell apart when it came to playing anyone wearing a Jacksonville uniform. They added another solid runningback in Rashard Mendenhall, but lost a handful of good players through free agency – most notably Clark Haggans and Alan Faneca. Just looking at the games they have throughout the season, I can see seven different games where they will probably be the underdog. That’s not good. I’ll give them credit for squeaking out at least one of those. Prediction: 10-6

And then there’s Cincinnati. For a very long time, the Arizona Cardinals were, single-handedly, the worst run franchise in the NFL. In the past five or six years, the Detroit Lions have come rushing up from the middle of the pack to lay a solid grip on the title. But the Bengals are making an awful strong push to contend for the crown. They can’t keep team morale out of the toilet. They can’t put a quality team on the field, since half the team out of prison long enough to learn the playbook. And just when they were turning a corner, tossing out problem children like Odell Thurman and Chris Henry, they went right back to their old demons and resigned Henry this week so they could field a legitimate starting wide receiving corps. This team is going nowhere, and they’re getting there as fast as they can. There’s a legitimate chance that with their schedule they could go 0-16. Prediction: 2-14 (They gotta sneak one or two out somehow…)


2007 Standings

San Diego (11-5)

Denver (7-9)

Oakland (4-12)

Kansas City (4-12)

I wrote this in a post during last year’s Championship RoundSan Diego and their fans have never won a thing. Yet everyone wearing a San Diego Chargers jersey – players, fans, staff, cabbies in the street – all act like the Chargers are the rightful heirs to the next great NFL dynasty. I’ve seen nothing to make me think they’ve got anything more than another division title and another playoff flameout in them this year. Philip Rivers and LdT are both coming off of knee injuries, and Antonio Gates hasn’t set foot on a practice field this year with problems with his foot. Their defense is still strong enough to keep them in most games, but the offense might not be there this year. The schedule is pretty soft with only four 2007 playoff teams, but the trip to London in late October to face the Saints certainly won’t help matters. Prediction: 11-5 (soft schedule oughtta help them out a lot, at least until playoff time)

The Chiefs made some big strides this offseason, locking up Jared Allen and drafting Glenn Dorsey to give them one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. Drafting Branden Albert to shore up what was already a good offensive line was another good move. Sadly, they still don’t have a quarterback worth handing the offense to, and Larry Johnson’s body might be nearing the end of the load it can carry. They’re following the Ravens’ mold of slowly building a team, then hoping to get lucky and hit the jackpot in the draft, the free agent market, and the schedule all in the same season. This isn’t that season. Prediction: 6-10

You can’t imagine how much this hurts to admit, but I’m actually pretty high on the Raiders this year. Not like “playoffs” high, but closer to “maybe running at a .500 season”. JaMarcus Russell has some experience under his belt; Darren McFadden gives them a legitimate running threat (though Justin Fargas will still carry some of the load). The defense wasn’t really all that great last year – though in fairness, since the offense was so awful, teams never felt the need to run up the score on them. But scoring 115 less points than they allowed never helped. They upgraded the offense through the draft and through free agency, shipping out malcontent Jerry Porter and importing Drew Carter… and malcontent Javon Walker. If they can bump the weekly point average from the 17+ it was last year up to 20 or more this season, they can probably make a serious push towards eight wins or more. Prediction: 8-8

And as high as I am on Oakland, I’m just as down on Denver. Jay Cutler has yet to prove to anyone that he’s a capable NFL quarterback. The runningback by committee option has revolutionized the way the entire NFL does business, but the Broncos have gotten passed by the rest of the league. They’ve got the biggest names in the league in their defensive backfield, but they were still one of only five teams in the league to allow more than 400 points last year. They’ve got a tough schedule to contend with, including the AFC East and a back to back road trip to the Eastern Time Zone. This is not their year. Prediction: 4-12

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