Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Would Have Written This in Chalk if I Could: 2009 NFL Predictions

Last year, I picked a Dallas/Jacksonville Super Bowl. Both teams missed the playoffs. Peter King picked a New England/Dallas Super Bowl. Which NFL preview would you rather read, Peter King's or Some Guy's? I thought so! Good to have you aboard.

Without further ado, my thoughts coming into the 2009 NFL season...

The Chicago Bears suck.
You could argue that no other team got a larger upgrade at a position than the Bears got with Jay Cutler at QB. However, there were certain conditions in place that enabled Cutler's success in Denver, like actually having wide receivers. Here's a list of Bears wideouts this year: Hester, Aromashodu, Bennett, Broussard, Burgess, Davis, Iglesias, Kinder, Knox, Peterman, Rideau. Half those guys sound like names generated from Madden '10. Their best receiver is a guy that was a DB two years ago. Reminds me of when the Vikings' best DB in 2000 was Robert Tate, who was a wide receiver the year previous. In other words, that's not good. I don't care how good RB Matt Forte and TE Greg Olson are. If you're going to win more than 8 games, you need wideouts. You just do.

Even such, there's a lot of ifs pertaining to the Bears' qualities. Will Matt Forte repeat '08 or will he pull a Cadillac Williams? Is Greg Olson even that good in the first place? Do people realize Cutler is 17-20 as a starter? Yes, Denver's defense helped contribute to that, but the Bears gave up 22 points and 334 yards a game last year, a far cry from their Super Bowl year in 2006. They only had 28 sacks, tied for 22nd in the league. As much as people want to believe it, plugging Cutler in at QB isn't automatically going to lead to 3 or 4 extra wins. These aren't the 2006 or the 2003 Bears. They aren't even close. Cutler puts up great fantasy stats, but hasn't proven he can carry a team, especially after last year's disaster down the stretch in Denver. I think the Bears go 8-8 and miss the playoffs.

Green Bay is the dangerous team in the NFC North, not Chicago.
No, this isn't an elaborate reverse jinx. The Packers offense scares the crap out of me. Rodgers quietly passed for over 4000 yards last year using two reliable, proven targets in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Ryan Grant had a "down" year and still ran for 1200 yards. They're bringing back the same offensive line. That looks pretty damn good on paper, not to mention their schedule - Detroit twice, Cincinnati, St Louis, Cleveland and San Francisco. They have 10 wins in them.

They're also the proud owners of this offseason's done-to-death stat: they scored 39 more points than they allowed, and only went 6-10 somehow. Bad luck like that is only temporary.

Indy isn't done yet.
I see Bill Walsh/George Seifert parallels between Tony Dungy/Jim Caldwell. Many people seem eager to write them off after years of consistent success due to age and Dungy being gone, but they've done such a great job of adding young talent over the years that I can't bet against them. Phase out Marvin Harrison, plug in Anthony Gonzalez. Phase out Joseph Addai, plug in first round pick Donald Brown. Some of the names are gone but the talent is still there. I don't think the AFC title game is unreasonable for them. I don't think it happens, but I wouldn't be at all surprised.

Derrick Ward will kick ass.
Lots of parallels to Michael Turner last year - going to the NFC South, going from 2nd option to starter, rookie QB, not much of an offense other than one wideout (Roddy White/Antonio Bryant). The concern is that Ward will be sharing carries with Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams. Turner was supposed to share with Jerious Norwood last year and he rendered him almost useless, partly because he was given every chance to succeed, just as Ward will. Even if Ward does split carries, the worst case scenario is that he assumes the Brandon Jacobs role in a three-back committee. He did outstanding as the 2nd option in such a scheme, and he will perform even better as the starter.

Joe Flacco makes the leap.
I have no resource or reliable information to back this up. Just a feeling. For a rookie QB, he really impressed the hell out of me in the playoffs last year. He's the real deal, and he can only get better.

This year's 2009 inexplicable turnaround team? Nobody.
I don't see it this year. I think there are enough teams that are good enough to establish a glass ceiling of sorts. Sure, there might be teams with enough talent to take advantage of an easy schedule (Seattle or some other team in the West divisions), but they're far from contenders. This year's turnaround teams are in plain sight: Green Bay and New Orleans. Too much talent there to be denied.

The AFC meanwhile is like the NFC in the mid-80s. You have six excellent teams (New England, Indy, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego) that could all arguably be Super Bowl contenders. I don't care how good Houston or KC think they are. Those six are impenetrable.

This is already the weirdest Vikings season I can remember.
I'm terrified to pick them to do anything. They remind me so much of the 1998 team, but with the good and bad extremes cranked way up - the good might actually be better, the bad is worse. You can't help but love their offense, especially if Visante "Third Leg" Shiancoe keeps catching everything. The defense will be top 5 again. And it's all led by a guy that makes Denny Green look like George Halas.

Like the Cutler/Chicago deal, it's a little silly to assume that plugging Brett Favre in at QB is going to automatically lead to a 13-3 record or something of that sort. It's a little like the Cavs adding Shaq - what does he REALLY add to their team that an otherwise lesser-known replacement player wouldn't? Is Sage Rosenfels REALLY that bad? Is Brett Favre REALLY that good? I think it's a difference between a C and a C-, and a small one at that. After slagging Favre for being terrible three out of his last four years in Green Bay and the latter half of last year, I can't just suddenly suspend disbelief to the point that he's going to lead a team to a title, no matter how good of a supporting cast he has.

Vikings fans just have to keep telling themselves that this year is a no-lose situation. They could win the NFC, even a Super Bowl. They could crash and burn, which would spell the end of Childress. I'll obviously take the former, but I can live with the latter.

The Giants will miss Plax, but not that much.
Obviously they'd be that much better with him, but they still have the best offensive line and the best front seven in football. Those two aspects cannot be undervalued - their depth on defense means they can present a variety of looks, enough to give Bill Belichick nightmares, not to mention withstand a rash of injuries.

They have a coach and a quarterback who have both been there before. They still have Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw ready to assume the Derrick Ward role, and another great looking RB out of their seemingly endless assembly line in Danny Ware. Their only concerns are their wideouts and secondary, but unlike the Bears' woeful crew, the Giants are loaded with potential - Hakeem Nicks has had an outstanding preseason, and Steve Smith looks ready to be upgraded from "the OTHER Steve Smith" status. I don't think there's a better team in the NFC.

So, with that said...

Green Bay at Minnesota - Minnesota (If you're not rooting for a Vikings/Packers playoff game, you're not a football fan.)
Philadelphia at Arizona - Philadelphia

Minnesota at New Orleans - New Orleans (Can totally see the Vikes secondary folding like an accordion while their offense struggles to keep up with Brees and Co.)
Philadelphia at NY Giants - NY Giants

New Orleans at NY Giants - NY Giants

Tennessee at San Diego - San Diego
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis - Indy

San Diego at New England - New England
Indy at Baltimore - Baltimore

Baltimore at New England - New England

The Rematch: NY Giants vs. New England - NY Giants

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