Monday, September 7, 2009
Ever since starting this blog last February I have looked forward to the arrival of the 2009 football season. While I enjoyed being able to share my thoughts on the college basketball season and UNC's run to the title, the NFL is not only the sport I know the most about, but also the one which I most thoroughly enjoy. Now after the doldrums that is the NFL offseason and the horrible impostor that is the NFL preseason, the real thing finally arrives this week as the Titans and Steelers kick things off at Heinz Feild in the Steel City Thursday night. I will post picks for each week of the season on Fridays on this blog (or Thursdays depending on the schedule). Anyways to kick off here's my predictions for the 2009 season. I'll post the standings for each division followed by a brief paragraph on my thoughts on that division.
DISCLAIMER: I did actually go through the 2009 schedule and pick every game, so the records reflect those picks and are not arbitrarily assigned. *'s represent wild card teams.
The AFC North produced the two participants in last year's AFC title game in Baltimore and Pittsburgh and all indications point to those two teams being among the class of the AFC once again this year. The Steelers return almost the same roster that won the Lombardi Trophy last year and actually may have upgraded that team by replacing the aging Larry Foote with uber-athletic Lawrence Timmons. Also keep an eye out for CFL prospect Stefan Logan who made the Steelers roster by being absolutely electrifying on returns during the preseason. Many thought the Ravens may take a step back after losing Bart Scott and Rex Ryan, but the defense has looked intimidating as ever in the preseason and Joe Flacco appears poised to have a stellar sophomore campaign in 2009. The Bengals should be a solid team with a good defense composed of two young stars at corner (Leon Hall and Jonathan Josepth) and two more at linebacker (Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers). Unfortunately Cincinnati runs into Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice a year so their shot at the playoffs is slim. Cleveland looks to once again be going nowhere fast and should end up at the bottom of the division.
New England 13-3
New York Jets 3-13
Buffalo Bills 3-13
With Tom Brady back and some upgrades on both sides of the ball (Fred Taylor, Shawn Springs) the Patriots look to have a chance to regain their 2007 form, a scary thought for the rest of the league. The offense should once again be explosive, however the defense is young and lacks veteran leadership after the departures of Vrabel, Bruschi, and Seymour this offseason. The Dolphins will take a step back based on the tougher conference schedule and the return of Brady for the Pats. The Jets will most likely struggle due to the same factors coupled with a rookie quarterback at the helm. The Bills have shown no semblance of an offense this offeseason and look to pick in the top 5 of next year's draft.
The AFC south looks to be an absolute powerhouse this year with no teams projected to finish below .500 in my preview. The Jaguars are my sleeper team of 2009, as they were decimated by injuries last season and now return a more healthy team that finally has a legitimate receiver in Torry Holt. While many feel Holt is on the downside of his career, he is a talented route runner with good hands who can fulfill a similar role as Derrick Mason does in Baltimore. Peyton Manning no longer has the options he used to at wideout, but the addition of Donald Brown along with Manning's ability should earn the Colts the second wild card this season. The Texans are a chic pick to make the playoffs and just miss out to the Colts and the Jags. I expect Tennessee to regress as Kerry Collins rarely puts together back to back solid seasons and the loss of Albert Haynesworth will slightly downgrade the defense from last season.
San Diego 11-5
Kansas City 6-10
Many experts say the Chargers have the most talented roster in the NFL this season and have picked the Bolts to win it all this year. However as they have been saying that for the past 5 years I hesitate to crown them until they actually make it to the Super Bowl. San Diego should have three legitimate candidates for comeback player of the year in Merriman (if he stops choking reality television stars), Cromartie, and LaDainian Tomlinson. The defense will be improved and the offense has talent at all the skill positions. The rest of the AFC west makes me sad for football as three proud franchises are all floundering. Kansas City shows the most promise for the future but I don't expect any more than 6 wins this year. Oakland continues to horrendously overpay for players doomed to disappear in the Black Hole (see Javon Walker, DeAngelo Hall, Randy Moss, and most likely Richard Seymour). Denver has fallen the furthest going from having one of the most promising young QB-WR duos in Cutler and Marshall a year ago to now having the less than impressive duo of Kyle Orton and Eddie Royal (who to be fair is a good player).
Green Bay 11-5
Green Bay was a much better team than their record indicated and the Packers look to take a Lambeau Leap into the playoffs this year in Aaron Rogers second season as the starting quarterback and the defensive shift to a 3-4 (which we here at VFSS are very supportive of). Chicago almost made the playoffs last year and the addition of Cutler finally brings the Windy City a legitimate quarterback, even if he is a bit of a baby. The Vikings have become a sexy pick with Peterson and Favre but I am banking on Favre breaking down by late October and turning into an interception machine. The Lions manage to get some wins this season but still end up picking first next April.
*New York Giants 11-5
The NFC East again perhaps the most talented division. While Washington looks to take a step backwards the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys all are legitimate contenders in the NFC. The Eagles have one of the quickest and athletic offenses in the league with weapons such as Westbrook, McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Maclin, and of course Michael Vick. The Giants have issues at wide receiver but I expect Nicks or Manningham to step up as the top option by midseason, and ultimately their defense is so good (Osi comes back healthy to join Tuck) they don't have to light up the scoreboard. Dallas falls just short of the playoffs, hopefully due to a punt hitting the Texas-sized scoreboard.
New Orleans 10-6
Tampa Bay 6-10
Atlanta manages to win the division as Matt Ryan continues to emerge as the leader of a potent offense with Turner, White, and Gonzalez all as Pro Bowl caliber weapons. The Saints do make a jump this year with a slightly improved defense, but still fall short of the playoffs. The Panthers who only a couple years back had one of the best defensive lines in the league look to be susceptible to the rushing game, and Jake Delhomme also makes the Panthers susceptible to any team with a secondary who can catch a football. The Buccaneers look to be in a transition phase under a new coach and the firing of an offensive coordinator right before the season never seems to bode well.
St. Louis 6-10
San Francisco 4-12
Arizona once again sneaks into the playoffs with a sub-par record by winning the weakest division in the NFC. All the teams in the division look to be improved, but a daunting schedule and a recurring lack of talent prevents any team from supplanting the Cardinals. Arizona remains a team that will be inconsistent but dangerous if they make it to the playoffs. Seattle looks to be improved and has the best chance to overtake the Cardinals for the division title. The Rams should improve with a better defense and a healthy Stephen Jackson but still are not ready to be a playoff team. San Francisco is in a building stage under Mike Singletary and could make a leap in a couple years but not this season.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
When I arrived as a freshman back in the fall of 2006, despite being a huge football fan I was about as excited for UNC's football season as Michael Vick would be to attend a PETA rally. With the exception of watching Hakeem Nicks (a player who I watched single-handedly destroy my high school in the state semifinals) emerge as a force at wideout, the competition between Joe Daily and Cam Sexton to see who could throw more game crushing interceptions didn’t exactly do much to augment my enthusiasm.
Then at the end of the season, John Bunting was fired and replaced by Butch Davis, and while despite my initial skepticism at the idea of hiring a coach fired by the Cleveland Browns (a team not exactly synonymous with winning) Davis quickly built some genuine excitement about UNC football. While Davis’s inaugural campaign wasn’t exactly a roaring success (only amassing four wins, one more than the previous season), the team definitely showed flashes of promise.
By the time I entered junior year I was legitimately excited about football season. While the team faltered a bit down the stretch in part due to injuries, the 2008 season saw Nicks further emerge into a first round pick (breaking UNC receiving records along the way), the Tar Heels defeating Notre Dame in what was by far the most electrifying atmosphere I have ever witnessed at Kenan Stadium, and the team fall just short of winning their first bowl appearance since 2004 in a thrilling game versus West Virginia.While Nicks, Brandon Tate, and a few others are now gone, the 2009 Tar Heels football season holds more promise than any year I have been here. Perhaps that is just a function of being a sentimental senior, but the Associated Press Top 25 seems to agree with me on that one. The Tar Heels return two talented running backs in Draughn and Houston as well as a defensive front seven that has the potential to be right there with Virginia Tech as the ACC’s most formidable units. So I ask all of you Tar Heels to take your nose out of the 125 pages of reading your history teacher assigned this weekend and get excited and loud as the football season kick’s off. While basketball may always reign supreme here, the boys that play in the Dean Dome may not be the only team you are talking about in December this year