What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Any way you slice it, the Jets made a statement during last season’s playoff win in San Diego. The scary part is they have built on that team since then. Granted, they need to get the holdout situation with Darelle Revis resolved, but once they do, it will be very difficult for teams to throw the ball against a defense with two shutdown corners and #1 draft pick waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez is on the verge of being the next breakout star in this league, and the Jets have put a solid line in front of him and a myriad of weapons around him.
While this is the Jets’ division to lose, both the Patriots and the Dolphins stand ready to snatch it away should they stumble. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady even after the ACL injury, Randy Moss seems to have a few more reps left in the tank, and Wes Welker will return by some point in September. They also added some depth at the tight end position and in the secondary. However, Miami also made plenty of acquisitions on both sides of the ball. Brandon Marshall becomes the true downfield threat Chad Henne needed to complete the passing game. Add that to running back Ronnie Brown and a solid offensive line anchored by Jake Long, and the ‘Phins sport a well-balanced offense that will give headaches to defensive coordinators across the league.
Even though the Baltimore Ravens have started resembling a MASH unit, they have too much talent and depth not to whether a few injuries. The loss of Domonique Foxworth brings questions, and they really need a healthy Ed Reed, but this team no longer relies solely on that fearsome defense. With offseason additions Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth, the Ravens will likely supplant the Vikings as the most interesting offense wearing purple.
The Steelers are likely the most balanced team in this league with or without Ben Roethlisberger. While it seems most probable that Big Ben’s suspension will be shortened from six to four games, the period Pittsburgh has to be without him may make or break their season.
This leads us to the team most likely to dissappoint; the Cincinnati Bengals. The Queen City Kitties have been garnering a lot of buzz around Terrell Owens, Ochocinco, but this comes from the same mentality that worships the over-the-hill Brett Favre. It makes sense though, because T-Old and King Brett I have some things in common: they’re way past their prime, they are cancers in the locker room (when they actually show up), and they haven’t won anything in years. Ultimately, the fate of the Bengals falls on the performance of the offense. The defense is one of the best in the league, but if the offense doesn’t perform after the team invested in Antonio Bryant, Jermaine Gresham, plus two wide receivers drafted in the third and sixth rounds, heads will roll in Cincinnati. And at the end of the day, it will all be for not if Cedric Benson doesn’t repeat his solid 2009 season on the ground.
FACT: The Colts are the defending AFC Champions and are returning most of the roster. FACT: Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the league; the only one who gives his team a chance to win every time he touches the ball. FACT: The Colts have developed a culture of winning while becoming one the NFL’s model franchises.
So why am I not buying the Colts?
FACT: The offensive live is old and largely mediocre. FACT: The Colts running game is a joke. FACT: The defense has some star power, but is largely a middle-of-the-pack unit that isn’t capable of dominating a ball game if it needs to. In other words, for the Colts run of 12-win seasons is to continue, a lot of “ifs” have to break the right way, and it may just be the number of “ifs” has finally surpassed Manning’s ability to overcome them.
Plus, the Colts are going to face a host of teams in their own division that historically play them tough. The Titans got rid of some age (replacing Kyle Vanden Bosch with first-round pick Derrick Morgan) while performing a bit of “addition by subtraction” by getting rid of chronic under-performer LenDale White. Once the Titans combine that with a full season of the game-changing Vince Young we saw in 2009 and the most interesting weapon in the league in Chris Johnson, they can easily give the Colts fits.
Don’t sleep on the Texans, either. This team could easily be a dark horse in the AFC. With Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson form the core of one of the league’s best high-octane offenses, if they can rekindle the running game, they will provide more than one surprise during the coming season. The big question mark will be the progression of the defense. While it boasts young stars like Mario Williams and Brian Cushing, they did lose Dunta Robinson in the off-season, and they get to face offenses like the Cowboys, Giants, Chargers, Ravens, plus the Titans and the Colts twice.
While the Chargers do face some pre-season holdout issues, and the transition to the post-LaDanian Tomlinson era has begun, but this is still one of the best squads in the NFL. Philip Rivers is a legitimate franchise quarterback even if he gets no respect, Antonio Gates is the league’s best tight end, and Malcolm Floyd is more than ready to become River’s #1 target. Now, the Chargers just need to find a way to keep playoff games off the foot of Nate Kaeding.
Meanwhile in Denver, Josh McDaniels is clearly building a team around guys who are not a pain in the ass. So far, he’s exiled (probably correctly) Jay Cutler to the NFL’s version of Ice Planet Hoth, he shipped Brandon Marshall to Miami, while adding drunk-but-quiet Kyle Orton. Then there’s this year’s draft where McDaniels passed over bad-reputation wide receiver Dez Bryant for Demaryius Thomas. Then there was the drafting of Saint Tebow.
But don’t forget that Tebow won a national championship at Florida while playing second fiddle at quarterback to the oft-maligned Chris Leak. For some reason, Kyle Orton is a guy who can’t get any love anywhere he goes, despite the fact that he wins football games wherever he goes. Whether or not Tebow sees the field this season matters little. What matters is this season when Orton mentors the young Saint to be an NFL quarterback is also a make or break proposition for Josh McDaniels.
On paper, the Cowboys offer one the most talented teams in the league. Too bad they don’t play the games on paper. Frankly, I’m convinced that the Cowboys as an organization are bi-polar. This is a team that can look dominant against Philadelphia team that was nearly a #2 seed in the NFC last year (more on why those days are over in a bit) and yet get destroyed by the more pretender-than-contender Vikings. Despite that inconsistency, Dallas just has too much talent on the roster not to be recognized as one of the top squads in the NFC. Hopefully, the soap opera that is the Cowboys is on hiatus as indicated by the shockingly silent off-season; this team can either win football games or be drama queens. It can not do both.
If Dez Bryant can provide a third viable option for the passing game and if Tony Romo can play leader and mitigate the aforementioned wackiness from which this team suffers, there are not very many teams in the conference that could keep the Cowboys out of Super Bowl. Of course, one of those teams could be the Cowboys, especially if they don’t address two areas. In general, the offensive line needs to understand that keeping Romo alive is a team function, particularly with the departure of left tackle Flozell Adams. The other soft spot is the secondary; it is time for Mike Jenkins to step up and lead that unit into providing an effective pass-defense.
Meanwhile, the Giants will be depending on their stockpile of defensive linemen to ease the pressure on a rebuilt secondary, one that depends on a healthy Kenny Phillips and the newly acquired Antrelle Rolle to stop the bleeding from last season. The odds that the Eagles will figure in the standings in this division stand directly in between “slim” and “none.” Read that as “none” for the Redskins.
The simple fact is that the Eagles are completely gambling on their young quarterback Kevin Kolb. You may think they are rebuilding, I may think they are rebuilding, the world may think they are rebuilding, but the Eagles seem to be in a complete state of denial. The post McNabb/Westbrook era offers a ton of uncertainties on offense, but anybody wearing green in Philadelphia seems to be sticking to the party line. The coaching staff seem convinced that Kolb was ready for full-time action last season, and some whisper that he might be a better fit in Andy Reid’s offense than Donovan McNabb himself. I guess September will tell all.
The Packer offense may be the best in the conference. When you watch the development this squad showed between game 4 and game 10 of last season coupled with the additions made during the off-season, it is hard not to picture Green Bay along side the Cowboys and the Saints as the class of the NFC. The offensive line that was Swiss cheese in September became a stone wall in December, a wall that only got mightier with the addition of first-round tackle Bryan Bulaga.
There is a concern that the loss of Aaron Kampman, the suspension of Johnny Jolly, and the starting-to-get-up-there age of the secondary leaves too many questions for a contender. First of all, those issues aren’t likely to spell a fatal drop-off for a defense that was ranked second in the entire league last year. More importantly, they are just question, not the facts that doom the Vikings.
FACT: The Vikings find themselves stuck in yet another soap opera, no thanks to the drama queen quarterback for whom they’ve mortgaged their future. FACT: Brett Favre joined a division-winning team and transformed it into a division-winning team. FACT: The Vikings did nothing to address the weaknesses which cost them a trip to the Super Bowl.
We all know the bullshit Brett Favre puts teams through every off-season now. It’s all just that…bullshit. But the big problem the Vikings don’t seem ready to address is that all their current eggs and all their future eggs are in Favre’s basket; a basket being bet on a Super Bowl championship. But the Vikings weren’t a Super Bowl-worthy team last year, and they’ve regressed in the off-season. The Viking running game rates only in the middle of the pack despite the fact it featured two stud-caliber running backs. Of the two, only Adrian Peterson remains, and while Peterson is a physical specimen the likes of which only come along once a generation, it all goes for naught if he can’t stop putting the ball on the ground.
But the real reason this team can’t run the football is because as a unit, the offensive line sucks out loud. Steve Hutchison is the real deal at guard, John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt may someday be legitimate NFL players, but Bryant McKinnie and Anthony Herrera shouldn’t be allowed as grade-school crossing guards let alone NFL linemen. Viking fans love to bitch about all the “dirty” hits Favre took against the Saints; they miss the point that a good line wouldn’t let defenders get that close that often. They rest of the league saw that; it’s no coincidence the Bears and Lions both stocked up on defensive linemen. When you add all that to the fact the Vikings’ secondary is a glaring weakness that was not realistically addressed (Lito Sheppard would have been a nice addition 5 years ago), this team may have enough talent to make the playoffs, but are “one and done” at best.
One could be accused of taking the easy way out by saying the defending Super Bowl champions are the best team in the league. But let’s look at what has changed: Drew Brees is still running a high-powered offense which is returning every key contributor. On defense, the goal in the off-season was to add to an opportunistic, ball-hawking defense so as to give Brees and the offense a bit more margin for error. That mission was accomplished by signing defensive ends Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson, and by drafting cornerback Patrick Robinson). Also, by keeping Darren Sharper, it is just another finger in the eye of the Vikings; a living, breathing reminder that Minnesota keeps coming up short in part due to its stupid player personnel decisions.
Not be overshadowed, but this division features another reasonably good football team. Led by Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, the Atlanta Falcons have the right combination of a high-flying offense and a defense that can allow the offense to take over games.
One would expect a team led by Mike Singeltary to feature a bone-bruising defense, and it does. Now it seems the offense is gearing up for some smash-mouth of its own, considering the 49’ers used two first-round picks to draft a couple of man-mountains in Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati for the offensive line. With an improved line and weapons like a healthy Frank Gore, receivers Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn, Jr., and tight end Vernon Davis, it’s “fish or cut bait” time for former #1 pick quarterback Alex Smith.
Oh, and the Cardinals after having lost a slew of key players such as Kurt Warner, Antrelle Rolle, Karlos Dansby, and Anquan Boldin, still feature talent like Beanie Wells, Early Doucet, and Larry Fitzgerald. That’s really all it takes to be the other team in this division that doesn’t suck.