Thursday, September 10, 2009

2009 NFL Preview

**Editor's Note: Due to time constraints, I had to finish this after the opening-night game. But believe me (or don't). That didn't change my picks.


Heading into this long-awaited NFL season -- seriously, it seems like the buildup has lasted for, like, 67 days -- the odds are stacked against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Forget the fact that the defending champions return, basically, their entire team and coaching staff. Recent history dictates that they'll become complacent and struggle, even, to make the playoffs.

Since the Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls to conclude the 2003 and '04 seasons, champions have flopped the seasons following their titles.

So the Steelers will do the same, right? We don't know in what fashion, but things won't go close to as planned in the Steel City, correct? Most national pundits seem to be buying this idea, going with the masses.

I ain't hopping aboard the bandwagon.

The Steelers will repeat as champions.

Simple as that.

Obviously, it won't be easy. But when is it ever?

On paper, however, they have the most talent. And a coaching staff that won't let hype get to any player.

That's the recipe for continued success.

So how will the season transpire? Here's my last-minute preview. I'm pretty sure, of course, that everything I say will happen is true.

So lay down your bets (and, by the way, don't listen to a word I say):


North Division
1. Green Bay Packers (11-5): The transition to the 3-4 defense will be smoother than most think, and the offense will be as explosive as ever. Who needs No. 4?

*2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): The Packers made a good choice, and so did the Vikings. Favre won't play every game, but he, and Tarvaris Jackson, will do enough to complement A.P. and sneak into the postseason.

3. Chicago Bears (9-7): Jay Cutler is definitely an upgrade at QB, and he'll help balance the offense, but a lack of big-play WRs will keep the Bears from being as explosive as the rival Packers.

4. Detroit Lions (3-13): There will be improvement -- but only a little. Lions fans can only hope that Matthew Stafford improves throughout the season and has as sunny of an outlook come dreary January in Michigan.

East Division

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): Not everything will be perfect -- think McNabb-Vick tension -- but there's way too much talent and good coaching to not hold on to the division.

*2. New York Giants (10-6): The lack of a big-play downfield guy will hinder the G-Men and allow opponents to put eight in the box, but Brandon Jacobs will still plow his way to his best-ever season and the defense will win some games by itself.

3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): For the first time in a few years, Dallas won't be one of the organizations that gets a lot of the league's attention (and time on ESPN). In fact, the new stadium's scoreboard will earn as much of the pub as the team. That's not necessarily a good thing.

4. Washington Redskins (6-10): Not every team in this super-competitive division can have a winning record. The Redskins might be a playoff team in the West, but with a shaky passing game and not as good of a defense, they'll lose several close games.

South Division
1. Atlanta Falcons (10-6): Just about everyone's back and Tony Gonzalez is added. What's not to like? The key pieces are all young and gaining confidence. And the expectations are raised. This is a playoff team for sure.

2. Carolina Panthers (9-7): The running game will, once again, be solid, but Jake Delhomme's not getting any better. And the defense is starting to age.

3. New Orleans Saints (9-7): It's a shame that a Drew Brees-led team can't do better, but the defense still isn't very impressive. And Pierre Thomas' injury isn't encouraging.

4. Tampa Bay Bucannears (6-10): This team will still be very competitive, but members of the new-look offense will take half the season to gel. And most of the six wins will come in November and December.

West Division
1. Seattle Seahawks (9-7): In the ugly West, the Seahawks will win ugly -- but win. Tim Hasselbeck will stay healthy and benefit from an improved and, yes, healthy corps of WRs. That'll be just enough to make the postseason.

2. Arizona Cardinals (8-8): The Super Bowl jinx will definitely hit this team, which is primed for a letdown. Kurt Warner won't make it through the season alive, and Matt Leinart won't be prepared to step in and perform. The defense will give up a ton of points.

3. San Francisco 49ers (6-10: They'll ride their running game to a handful of victories against mediocre teams -- many of them within the division -- but struggle against non-division opponents.

4. St. Louis Rams (5-1l): Steven Jackson will actually have some holes to run through, but that doesn't mean the Rams will leap into playoff contention. There is still a dearth of talent at most positions.


East Division
1. New England Patriots (11-5): Tom Brady is back, and that's about six wins right there. Sure, the defense is getting old and has some holes, but we'll be hearing Brady-to-Moss every week.

2. New York Jets (7-9): Look for the Jets to improve throughout the season as people -- from the coaches to the players -- get on the same page and gain confidence in each other. The building process will make strides under Rex Ryan.

3. Miami Dolphins (6-10): Tony Soprano's first-year magic will lose some luster with a subpar nucleus of running backs and big-play skill guys. Some of those close wins from a year ago will become L's.

4. Buffalo Bills (5-11): This could get ugly -- on the sidelines. T.O. will not be happy with Trent Edwards, and that'll create unpleasant discourse. It'll also cost Dick Jauron his job.

North Division
1. Pittsburgh (13-3): Everyone's back and Big Ben is one of the NFL's top three quarterbacks. What's not to like? This team has already put last season behind it and is hungry for another championship.

*2. Baltimore (10-6): The Ravens are for real, and they'll feast on the division's bottom-feeders along with the Steelers. Expect a strong running game to be complemented by an even more confident Joe Flacco who will open it up a bit more in his second season.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (6-10: Carson Palmer's return will give the offense a bit of life, but this team, as a whole, is a mess that can't be fixed by one, or two, players.

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): The Bengals might be bad, but the Browns will be worse. Points will be hard to come by, especially with such a late decision on who the starting quarterback will be. The defense is nothing special, either.

South Division
1. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): The Colts are under the radar entering the season, and I'm sure they're happy with that. In addition, I'm positive Peyton Manning will be as ready as ever to lead this team back into the conversation. He's still got plenty of weapons to use toward achieving that.

*2. Tennessee Titans (10-6): The Titans will suffer from some close losses against teams that are simply more efficient in end-game scenarios, but they remain rock-solid on defense and Kerry Collins will do enough to lead them back to the playoffs.

3. Houston Texans (9-7): This team has a bunch of talented skill players on both sides of the ball, and you know no franchise is itching more to make the playoffs. But they're still a bit soft, and they're in a division chock-full of teams that know how to slug out ugly games.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9): David Garrard is one of the league's most underrated QBs, but he simply lacks the skill players to get it done every week. The defense, which fell apart last year, will be improved but not dominant.

West Division
1. San Diego Chargers (12-4): If the Chargers don't roll to this division title, they're hopeless. There is no way they shouldn't win it by a few games. L.T. is healthy, Philip Rivers is in his prime, the defense is stacked. Enough said.

2. Denver Broncos (6-10): I know this team has all kinds of issues, but I still like it more than the Chiefs and Raiders. If Brandon Marshall behaves himself, Kyle Orton will have a nice pair of wideouts to sling it to.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (5-11): Matt Cassel's first year in K.C. won't be smooth. For one, there's a lack of targets to throw to (no Randy Moss or even Tony Gonzalez). Secondly, he's got a malcontent, L.J., in his backfield. I guess that's why they're paying him the big bucks.

4. Oakland Raiders (3-13): Give me one reason why the Raiders will win more than three games? Seriously. They have a very raw, struggling quarterback. Their running back of the future can't hold onto the ball. And their owner's senile. Yeah, No. 1 pick coming right up.


Wild Card round

(3) Minnesota def. (6) Atlanta
(5) N.Y. Giants def. (4) Seattle

(3) New England def. (6) Tennessee
(4) Indianapolis def. (5) Baltimore

Divisional round
(1) Philadelphia def. (5) N.Y. Giants
(2) Green Bay def. (3) Minnesota

(1) Pittsburgh def. (4) Indianapolis
(3) New England def. (2) San Diego

NFC Championship
Philadelphia 27, Green Bay 18: The Eagles will get enough big plays from their passing game and "trickeration" and win the turnover battle to get to the game they should have made a year ago.

AFC Championship
Pittsburgh 20, New England 16: Brady and Co. will be able to move the ball, but the Steelers' tough-stuff defense will stiffen in the red zone, holding the Pats to field goals. And when the fourth quarter rolls around, Big Ben will be the Q.B. taking his team on the game-winning drive.

Pittsburgh 26, Philadelphia 17: In the Battle for Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh will win a year's worth of free cheese steaks for bringing home a second consecutive championship. Big Ben deservedly will take home MVP honors for another heroic performance in place of a dismal running game. The Eagles will have chances, but squander them with turnovers and remain a franchise without a single title to boast.

The Steelers will fly back west, relatively speaking, with No. 7.

No comments: