Fantasy Football News

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Week 4 already? Preview and Game Picks for the Weekend

Can you believe it's already been almost a month in to the season? I know I can't. Seems like just yesterday Cam Newton was being introduced as Carolina's permanent signal caller for the 2011 campaign.

Three games, over 1,000 passing yards and four touchdowns later Newton has hushed a few of his critics and opened many more eyes as the starter.

But, if he wants to prove all of his critics wrong he's still got a ways to go.

Yes, he did throw for over 400 yards in his first two professional games for the first time in rookie history. But he has also garnered the team just one win in three tries. A majority of the blame falls on the lack of consistency from his supporting cast, not to mention the injury problems they have faced early on. Either way, Newton needs to find a way to rally his team together and win some games.

I would love to see him shut all of his critics up this season.

Newton faces a tough task this weekend in Brian Urlacher and his Chicago Bears defense. Here are my game picks and thoughts about this game, and the other 15 match-ups on Sunday and Monday:

Bears over Panthers
*Despite all that I said about Newton looking good (above), Chicago's defense is just too much for him to handle at the moment. With Urlacher lurking in the defensive backfield, it will be tough to get anything going in the pass game.

Bills over Bengals
*I think Buffalo's first loss will have to wait until next week against the Eagles. For now, I don't think the distracted Bengals will be able to manage the upset.
Browns over Titans
*I'm still on Colt McCoy's bandwagon and I don't think I will jump off it until he disproves me at the end of the season. For now, I think he's more than just a game manager, and has the ability to create the big play needed to win games.

Lions over Cowboys
*Lets face it, despite the victory over the then-undefeated Skins last Monday night, Romo's offense looked out of rhythm and sputtered at times. With the Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection as strong as ever, I really don't think Romo will be able to keep up.

Steelers over Texans
*It appeared as if the Steeler defense of '08 came back out toward the end of the game last week, finally forcing a turnover (and turning it in to six points). With questions surrounding the backfield, Ben should have just enough offense to squeak by.

Saints over Jaguars
*After seeing a career-worst from quarterback Luke McCown a couple of weeks ago, I think it's safe to say Jacksonville has already pushed the panic button and put its hopes in rookie Blaine Gabbert.

Vikings over Chiefs
*Minnesota has been known to play a stellar first half of ball this season, and I think they can finish off the Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs in just 30 minutes of play.

Eagles over Niners
*Vick says he's 100% playing, and with that I think it should already give Philly the victory. The only player on San Francisco's defense capable of stopping him is linebacker Patrick Willis, and he's just one guy.

Skins over Rams
*Sam Bradford was torn apart by Baltimore last week, and is still suffering. Just imagine what will happen to a banged up Bradford against Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Ryan Kerrigan. Bad things.

Giants over Cardinals
*I am still not convinced of the Kevin Kolb experience, and New York is now riding a two-game win streak. Look out, Arizona secondary, Victor Cruz is coming for you.

Falcons over Seahawks
*Matt Ryan's defending NFC South champion Falcons (1-2) are off to a slow start, but what better way to bounce back then to play Seattle?
Packers over Broncos
*Aaron Rodgers has picked up right where he left off last season, and is currently leading the league in QB rating (120.9). No one else is really even that close right now.

Patriots over Raiders
*New England was stunned by Buffalo last week as Darren McFadden led the Raiders to an upset victory over the Jets. So New England is certainly on upset watch, but I'm not so sure they'll be able to pull it off this week.

Chargers over Dolphins
*If the Chargers expect to make a run, they'll need to win games before they hit the month of December (SD, year-in-and-year-out, plays their best ball in December).

Ravens over Jets
*This match-up is always a great one to watch, mainly because Jets head coach Rex Ryan likes to spout off at the mouth. But also because both teams have great defenses and like to showcase that. Flacco, though, has the edge over Mark Sanchez in this one, and I would take Baltimore's defense over New York's any day.

Monday Night Football:

Bucs over Colts
*When will Indy's first win come? Without Manning, do you think it's possible they could go winless this season? Oh my.

Photo credit
David Nelson: Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Julio Jones: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Is Michael Vick Right or Wrong About Officials?

Another week gone by, another Michael Vick injury.

Just a short week after Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback Michael Vick collided with a teammate a suffered a minor concussion, Vick suffers what was originally announced as a broken right hand in a 29-16 loss to NFC East counterpart New York Giants.

Yesterday it was revealed that he simply bruised his non-throwing hand, according to head coach Andy Reid. But nonetheless, the usually soft-spoken Vick had some strong words for the game's officials in a post-game news conference (as displayed in the youtube video below).


While he does raise a good point in terms of him taking hits in the pocket that quarterbacks otherwise would draw a penalty flag for, I simply don't think this was a smart move for Vick.

It's apparent that he has yet to come to the realization that NFL Officials (not "refs," because there is only one "referee" on the field at a time) are bound to treat Vick differently. It's rare that Vick sits in the pocket and takes a hit, seeing as he loves to move around and extend plays. He's a whole different breed of quarterback than the rest of the Manning's, Brady's, Brees' and Rivers' out there.

Like Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Vick holds on to the ball a bit longer and is going to be taking some hits. Whether or not they draw flags or not, that's solely up to the judgement of the referee.

There's no doubt he could've drawn a flag or two in Sunday's game against New York, but although he says "I'm not trying to complain or anything," that's pretty much exactly what he's doing here. And I don't think the league will be very happy to hear all of this.

The best thing Mike Vick could do right now, is to just stay quiet and keep doing what he does best: win football games for Philadelphia. If he can get his team back on track and bounce back from this 1-2 start, I think we will be seeing less and less of this. Philly is simply just frustrated by a slow start to the 2011 campaign.

Note to readers: This is my 200th post! Woo, that's a lot. Looking to add 200+ more in the near future! Thanks for supporting.

Video found on Youtube

And Then There Were Three: Buffalo Erases 21-point Deficit against New England

Coming in to Week 3's heavyweight match-ups, there were seven unbeaten teams in the National Football League. After Monday night's 18-16 Cowboys victory over the surprising 2-0 Redskins, there are only three still standing.

By far the biggest story of the weekend is, not the fact that Michael Vick suffered a bruise on his non-throwing hand (it isn't broken as originally reported), but rather that the 3-0 Buffalo Bills made a remarkable comeback against the, now 2-1, New England Patriots.

For the first time in 15 head-to-head matches between Buffalo and New England, the Bills came out on top.

That's quite a feat for such a young and inexperienced team, especially considering what they had to overcome to pull off the unimaginable.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, one of only 26 NFL players in the history of the league to play college ball at Harvard University, has showed us all that he belongs in the top half of starting quarterbacks. In terms of not only athletic ability, but also leadership.

After losing one of his top targets in Lee Evans this off-season, Fitzpatrick has gone out and thrown for 841 yards and 9 TDs (64.9 %; 103.5 QBR) and just three interceptions in the Bills' first three games this season. He led Buffalo's offense to a blowout win over Kansas City (41-7) to open the season, and managed back-to-back three-point games against Oakland and New England.
Down 21-10 at the half, Fitzpatrick's Bills put up 24 in the second half and kicker Rian Lindell hit a 28-yard game-winner as time expired, pulling out with a 34-31 victory.

This, of course, would not have been accomplished if it weren't for Buffalo's ball-hawking defense, though, as they picked off Tom Brady four times (one for a touchdown) despite hitting the quarterback just four times all game, and not recording a single sack.

Turnovers costed New England the game, but there's no denying the fact that the passing attack is still as scary as ever, with targets such as Wes Welker (16 catches, 217 yards, 2 TDs in the game) and second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 109 yards, 2 TDs) to Brady's disposal.

Note to all fantasy owners: if by some miraculous chance Gronkowski is still available in your league, snag him up immediately without hesitation).

Aaron Rodgers' 2011 campaign continues to give me the sense that he and his crew are willing and able to defend the crown. Against Chicago on Sunday he threw his first interception of the season, to All Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher, but his three touchdown passes–all to TE Jermichael Finley–were enough to knock off Cutler's Bears in the NFC Championship rematch.

Cutler has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league this year (14), other than Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson, who has also been sacked 14 times. So far in his career, Cutler's downfall has been the fact he gets the snot beat out of him while he's in the pocket, forcing him to make bad decisions and poor throws.

What happened against Green Bay's defense on Sunday? Easy, he got hit four or five times, sacked three more times, causing two interceptions and a fumble (which was recovered). Green Bay's offense did manage to outplay Chicago's when all was said and done, but I think the Bears' biggest problem is protecting the quarterback.

But I guess it didn't help that Chicago went pass-heavy, attempting 37 passes and just nine Matt Forte carries–which went for just two yards.

Chicago has plenty of problems on the offensive side, I guess you could say. But before we bash them on defense, lets credit Aaron Rodgers and his offensive attack with another great performance instead. Now that the Pats lost, I believe the Packers will be the last remaining undefeated team.

Buffalo's win Sunday was by far the most impressive, but I personally am more intrigued with Detroit's story.
First, the front seven managed to keep Adrian Peterson under 100 yards for the day, and only let him in the end zone one time. Not too shabby.

But second, they too (like Buffalo) erased a large halftime deficit. Down 20-0 at the break, Matthew Stafford led his Lions to a 26-23 overtime victory after putting up 23 points in the third and fourth quarters.

Lanky All Pro wideout Calvin "Megatron" Johnson helped him out a bit with a couple of miraculous touchdown catches (7 Rec., 108 yards, 2 TDs), but I think it was tight end Brandon Pettigrew who was the most surprising target of Stafford's to step his game up. Though he didn't get in to the end zone all game, Pettigrew caught 11 Stafford passes for 112 yards, making a couple of big plays when the team needed them most.

If Detroit can win close games with a very ineffective running game–19 attempts, 20 yards as a team–then imagine what they could do when Jahvid Best averages between four and five yards per carry, as opposed to his measly 1.2 from Sunday afternoon.

Nonetheless, Detroit escaped Minnesota unscathed, and will live to fight another day as an undefeated squad.

Can't wait to see how they fare against the feisty Dallas Cowboys this weekend, fresh off a slim victory over the, then-undefeated, Washington Redskins.

Photo credit
Drayton Florence: AP Photo/David Duprey
Calvin Johnson: AP Photo/Genevieve Ross

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Week 2: Most Impressive 2-0 Teams

The second week of the regular season is in the books, and there are seven teams left unbeaten. Of those seven, I would say only three were expected to start the season off on such a high note.

What about the remaining four?

The Patriots and Jets respectively dominated each of its first two opponents.

New England put up 38 against Miami in the season opener, then went on to put up 35 in its home opener against San Diego on Sunday afternoon. During this stretch, MVP quarterback Tom Brady threw for a combined 940 yards, which is the second-most over a two-game period in NFL history.
New York may not have won by as large a margin in each of its first two games, but after scoring 17 fourth-quarter points and erasing a 14-point margin against Dallas, I'm certain that a three-point victory (27-24) is convincing enough. This past Sunday, Jaguars' starter Luke McCown posted an atrocious 1.8 QB rating (6/19, 59 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT) against New York's defense, scoring just three Jaguar points opposed to New York's 32.

Green Bay made its own impressive debut, dropping 42 points on New Orleans with some help from the defense and special teams. However, Drew Brees lit up Green Bay's pass defense for 419 yards and three TDs, coming just one yard shy of tying the game (barring a two-point attempt).

I was expecting Green Bay's top tier defense to have no trouble controlling Carolina's rookie quarterback Cam Newton this past weekend, but instead he passed for over 400 yards for the second consecutive week. A lack of a run game (Newton was leading rusher with 53 yards and a score on 10 carries) hurt Carolina in the end, who allowed the Pack back in the game after four turnovers.
Green Bay could easily be 1-1, or 0-2.

The other four teams: Houston, Washington, Detroit and Buffalo come as a bit of a surprise for most.

While, yes, I believe Houston is playoff-bound, and I picked Detroit as this year's surprise team in the NFC (but missing playoffs), I am still somewhat "shocked," in a sense, that they have come out of the gate swinging.

Houston had no troubled handling the Peyton Manning-less Colts (34-7 in week one), and was near-perfect in the passing category against Miami on Sunday (23-13). Washington has had some young guys step up, on both sides of the ball, with newly acquired Tim Hightower coming within four yards of topping 100 against Arizona this past week, and rookie defensive end Ryan Kerrigan recording eight total tackles, 1 sack, 3 PDs and an interception TD through two games.
Both Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick and Detroit's Matthew Stafford have come out in the first two weeks looking to solidify themselves among the talks of "elite" status. Both signal callers have really taken off since last season, as Stafford is coming off a year-to-forget. With a guy like Calvin "Megatron" Johnson to his disposal, it's really not a surprise that he topped nearly 600 yards and seven TDs against Tampa Bay and Kansas City.

Stafford is just getting around to finally showing off his skills, after missing all but three games last season. Fitzpatrick, the 28-year old former Harvard grad, set career-highs in yards (3,000), touchdowns (23) and rating (81.8) in 13 games under center for Buffalo last year. It's likely this will be his first chance to be the No. 1 guy for the entire season, barring injury.

*Best 2-0 team: Patriots
*Most surprising 2-0 team: Bills
*First to lose: Bills
*Last to lose: Packers

Photo credit
Rivers/Brady: AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Jennings: AP Photo/Gerry Broome
Kerrigan: AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Week One Taught us...

This is why we play the game.

Well, technically I should probably say "why we watch the game," because us fans and followers aren't the ones actually doing the hitting on the field. But either way the No. 1 thing I have learned after Sunday's game action is that it doesn't matter what a team looks like on paper. If the players aren't in unison, and they don't execute on the field, things won't pan out the way they are expected to.

Take Pittsburgh for example, like I just said in my previous post, Roethlisberger's offense didn't show up ready to play and Baltimore took full advantage.

There were plenty of other unexpected happenings this past weekend, and I am here to shed some light on them via a bulleted list for easier reading:

*If you don't put pressure on the opposing quarterback, and give him a nice little jab or two every once in a while, he will get too comfortable and tear your secondary apart. Piece-by-piece.

...
and vice versa
...

*Forcing turnovers, and turning them in to points will give you full advantage in this league.

(I kind of just pointed out the obvious in those first two bullets, but I thought it would be a good idea to reiterate the idea, in case someone hasn't been paying attention as of late).

*Special teams is not dead. Fans, including myself, have been rather critical of Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to move the kick-off up five yards and eliminate the running start of the kick-off team this offseason. But as we witnessed Thursday night and Sunday, the kick return hasn't been fully eliminated from the game.

It actually seems as though that aspect of the game has been as strong as ever after the first week of play. There have been more touchbacks, but we have seen a couple of kick return touchdowns already, and returners have been steadily returning kicks from deep within the end zone.
Rookie Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb (108 yards) and San Fran's Ted Ginn Jr. (102 yards) were among the returners to break free for touchdowns. Don't be surprised if we see several more this season.

*Injuries have started to affect teams already.

That's right, there have been big-time players already ailing and several could be lost for the season. Carolina's Jon Beason, Pittsburgh's Willie Colon, San Diego's Nate Kaeding and Kansas City's Eric Berry are among the list of players who have been lost for the season.

St. Louis may not have Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson for next Monday's matchup with the New York Giants, and Sam Bradford is a question mark, as well. Not to mention the lingering questions surrounding Peyton Manning's timetable for return.

What does this tell us? Your team could be hugely affected by an injury at any point during the season. Something else many were already aware of, but you never truly think about the possibility until it directly affects your team.
*Tom Brady is as strong as ever.

Miami's Chad Henne brought the Phins back in to the game late Monday night with two second-half touchdown passes, and he actually had a solid game going 30 for 49 with 416 yards, two TDs and just one interception. But, as we could clearly see watching the game on television, Tom Brady's Pats were in near-perfect form.

Albeit they were playing a Dolphin defense that allowed 38 or more points to New England in both match-ups last season. But either way, Brady owned the secondary Monday night throwing for 517 yards and four touchdowns (including a 99-yard TD pass to Wes Welker).

If that doesn't tell you the Pats are in mid-season form, then I truly don't know what it will take to realize this.

*Sebastian Janikowski still has the strongest leg in the game.

Monday's second game, between Oakland and Denver, featured a total of 25 penalties between the two teams. Oakland passed for just 99 yards and Denver managed 38 yards on the ground with three turnovers. Clearly an ugly game on both sides.

But luckily one bright spot came out of this one. Oakland's 33-year old kicker Sebastian Janikowski attempted a record-tying 63-yard field goal with seconds remaining on the first half clock. Not only did he get a great snap and hold, but he also split the uprights with a couple of feet to spare. The field goal ties Jason Elam and Tom Dempsey for longest-ever. What a kick.

What made it even more special? Oakland ended up winning by a field goal, 23-20. Thank goodness for Sebastian. If it weren't for him, this already long, gruesome game would have gone in to overtime. No one would have liked that too much.
*It could be another one of those seasons for Dallas.

Amidst all these "Tony Romo is a choker" talks, Mr. Romo goes and does this? Ow.

Ten seconds in to the fourth quarter, Dallas' running back Felix Jones runs the ball in from a yard out to give the 'Boys a 10-point lead. Mark Sanchez proceeds to answer Dallas' score with a touchdown of his own, a 26-yard pass to the returning Plaxico Burress. Romo and Sanchez then exchange fumbles on the following two drives, but Romo's three-and out forces a Dallas punt.

What happens next was a gift sent from New York's football gods. Joe McKnight blocks Mat McBriar's punt and Isaiah Trufant picks the ball up and runs it in to the end zone from 18 yards out. Tie game, 24-24. Romo fails to get in to the end zone and punts the following possession, and New York wins the game after Romo throws an interception deep in their own territory. New York's Nick Folk kicks a game-winning 50-yard field goal with less than a minute to play.

Of course Romo couldn't get his Cowboys in to FG position with under a minute remaining, and the Jets cap a 10-point fourth quarter comeback. Let the "choke" chants commence, people.
*Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Atlanta clearly have some things to work on as well, before they enter week two and expect big things to happen. Carolina fell to the Cards, but they really can't complain with the performance of rookie Cam Newton, who threw for a rookie debut record 422 yards and two touchdowns.
___________

The only determinant in how accurate these statements are, is time. Once week two hits this Sunday, these opinions can–and will most likely–change, and change rapidly. The regular season is a rollercoaster, so hold on tight.

Photos borrowed from Google (I do not own), no copyright infringement intended

Monday, September 12, 2011

Baltimore's Offensive Line, Defense Carries Ravens to Blowout Victory over Division Rival

It seems there has been a bit of a changing of the guards, in a sense, in the AFC North division after yesterday's blowout.

The Baltimore Ravens, just 2-9 against Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger is under center (entering Sunday), put up a franchise-best 35 points against Pittsburgh's aging defense in yesterday's game. Even more miraculous was the seven turnovers Baltimore's ball-hawking defense caused.

The turnover margin matched the point total of Pittsburgh's entire squad, getting in the end zone just one time–11-yard pass from Roethlisberger to second-year wideout Emmanuel Sanders in second quarter. It was Roethlisberger's first three-interception game since November 9, 2008 against the Indianapolis Colts.

Riding a three-game win streak against Baltimore (including the AFC divisional game in 2010), Pittsburgh expected to drive in to Baltimore and walk away with another game in the W column. But thanks to a near-perfect offensive line, Joe Flacco and Co. came away with the team's biggest win against Pittsburgh, ever.
Pittsburgh's normally stellar defense thrives because they are able to get to the quarterback and force turnovers. But not yesterday.

The Steelers didn't force a single turnover, and sacked Flacco just one time..in the fourth quarter. In total, I believe you could count the number of times Flacco was even touched on one hand.

Fans and some experts would like to give Flacco the credit for this convincing victory, but there's no doubt that the offensive line deserves all the credit. Not to mention the defense, of course. Joe was given a short field on several occasions after Ray Lewis and Ed Reed forced turnover after turnover. And to top it all off the offensive line gave Flacco ample time to find an open man.

One more stat to point out: Ray Rice ran for 100 yards–106, to be exact–against Pitt's defense to become just the second running back to run for 100+ in the last 51 games. Well, technically he is the only one to accomplish that feat, because he just so happened to be the same guy who last broke 100 against James Harrison and company. He has Pittsburgh's number, what can ya say?

Head coach John Harbaugh could not have asked for a better start from his team, but he knows that if they don't keep a high level of play the next 15 games, this victory will mean nothing in the end. These two teams will be in the playoff hunt when they meet again in November, without question.

Photo credit: Patrick Semansky/AP

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Week 1 Game Picks

So far in 2011, I'm one for one in my game picks (predicted Green Bay's defeat of the Saints on Thursday). Not a bad start to the new season, if I do say so myself.

Here are my picks for the opening slate of Sunday afternoon games, plus Sunday and Monday night's games. (Note: normally I would give a couple sentences previewing each game, but I'm on a tight schedule this morning...maybe next week you'll get lucky).

Sunday September 11, 2011

Atlanta over Chicago
Pittsburgh over Baltimore
Cleveland over Cincinnati
Houston over Indianapolis
Tennessee over Jacksonville
Kansas City over Buffalo
Philadelphia over St. Louis
Detroit over Tampa Bay–UPSET
Carolina over Arizona–UPSET
San Diego over Minnesota
Seattle over San Francisco
Washington over New York (Giants)–UPSET
Dallas over New York (Jets)
Monday September 12, 2011

New England over Miami
Oakland over Denver

Photo found on Google, no copyright infringement intended

2011 Season Preview: Playoffs and Award Predictions

"What's that, playoffs?! Don't talk about playoffs, you kidding me, playoffs?!"

Thanks to the famous words of Jim Mora, I can bring to you the official 2011 playoffs preview. In my AFC and NFC season preview I picked division winners and wild card contenders. But as far as who will be making the playoff runs and beat out the rest for a Super Bowl appearance? That's coming up.

Wild Card Round

6 New York Jets @ 3 San Diego Chargers

Norv Turner brought his Bolts back to the playoffs with an AFC West title and third seed in the playoffs, yet was still not the best team on the field in San Diego. Rex Ryan's Jets were too much for Shaun Phillips and SD's defense as Mark Sanchez and New York's offense puts up 31 points.

NYJ 31-17

5 Baltimore Ravens @ 4 Houston Texans

Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson led the way for the third highest scoring team in the league this season as the Texans captured the franchise's first winning season, division title and playoff appearance. However, Ray Lewis and Co. were too much for Houston's high-powered O, forcing three Schaub mistakes in the first round victory.
BAL 28-14

6 Dallas Cowboys @ 3 Green Bay Packers

Tony Romo is back! Despite the huge season from Romo (my pick for Comeback Player of the Year), the Cowboys fell short in the postseason yet again, getting knocked off by the defending champs.

GB 38-28

5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 4 St. Louis Rams

Tampa is young and hungry–"youngry"–and Raheem Morris' mindset paid off against the West's champion St. Louis Rams in this first round matchup. Ronde Barber's defensive unit was too much for the second-year signal caller Sam Bradford in the Rams' dome.
TB 21-10

Divisional Round

6 New York Jets @ 1 New England Patriots

A rematch of last season's divisional matchup between the three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and GQ's cover boy Mark Sanchez. Sanchez and the Jets are looking to make a third straight AFC Championship appearance, until Brady and his boys came and spoiled it.

NE 28-17

5 Baltimore Ravens @ 2 Pittsburgh Steelers

Yet another divisional matchup between these two teams, second straight. As much as I'd love to believe that Baltimore finally stepped up its game against Pittsburgh in the playoffs, it's just not going to happen this season...again. Pittsburgh–safety Troy Polamalu in particular–owns Baltimore's Joe Flacco.
PIT 24-14

6 Dallas Cowboys @ 1 Atlanta Falcons

Another can happen, right? Right. That's exactly why I'm picking the Falcons to fall in their first game of the postseason for a second straight season. I'd love to see "Matty Ice" have a breakout performance in the playoffs, but Romo's Boys are poised for another solid game.

DAL 34-21

5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 2 Philadelphia Eagles

Tampa is youngry! But Michael Vick and his Eagles were on fire all season, there's no way they let a couple of Buccaneers get in their way of the Super Bowl this season. Vick runs all over the Bucs en route to a convincing victory.
PHI 38-17

Conference Championships

2 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 1 New England Patriots

New England got the best of the Steelers the last time these two played for the AFC Championship, and I believe it will happen again. Brady is still at his best, and this could be the last year that he's at the very top of his game.

NE 35-24

6 Dallas Cowboys @ 2 Philadelphia Eagles

Another year, another Cowboys failure. Despite reaching the NFC Championship, we can deem this season of Romo and Dallas' a failure, because they fell short of the Super Bowl thanks to NFC East counterpart Philadelphia.

PHI 31-21

Super Bowl

Road to Indy:

2 Philadelphia Eagles vs. 1 New England Patriots

Ah, a rematch of the 2004 Super Bowl XXXIX, in which New England defeated Philadelphia 24-21. Unfortunately I believe the same thing will happen. Not the exact score, but the Patriots 2000s "dynasty" is overdue another championship. Welker wins the MVP that he's been waiting for all these years.

NE 28-14
Regular Season Awards

MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Best quarterback: Aaron Rodgers
Best running back: Adrian Peterson
Best wide receiver: Larry Fitzgerald
Best tight end: Jason Witten
Best offensive lineman: Maurkice Pouncey
Best defensive lineman: Ndamukong Suh
Best linebacker: Patrick Willis
Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers
Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Julio Jones
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Von Miller
Comeback Player of the Year: Tony Romo
Breakout Player of the Year: Colt McCoy/LeGarrette Blount
Best player on new team: Nnamdi Asomugha
Coach of the Year: Gary Kubiak

Note: photos found on Google, no copyright infringement intended

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Regular Season Kick-off: Saints/Packers Preview

IT'S HERE!

Football is back and as strong as ever, and as always the defending Super Bowl champions will be hosting the season's opening game, which kicks off in less than 10 minutes.

The four-time Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, led by Pro Bowler Aaron Rodgers, play host to 2009's Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Wisconsin's Lambeau Field.
We are in for a treat tonight, because we have two of the league's top 10 highest-scoring offenses going head-to-head, as well as two of the league's top defenses. Both team's have hard-hitting linebackers (Clay Matthews III for GB and Jonathan Vilma for NO) leading the way for defensive units that know how to create turnovers.

Something's gotta give in tonight's match-up, right?

Right.

Expect a big game from Super Bowl XLV's MVP Aaron Rodgers, and a couple of turnovers from Green Bay's defense. Either way, I think there will be plenty of points being scored on both sides and this game will be decided by a field goal.

Mason Crosby. Yes, you heard me. Green Bay's kicker will be the difference in tonight's game, which obviously will be settled by a last-second field goal.

My Prediction: Packers 31, Saints 28

You heard it here first. Enjoy tonight's game!

Photo found on Google, no copyright infringement intended

(Note: I will be posting my yearly award predictions tomorrow, as well as my playoff and Super Bowl predictions. So stay tuned!

2011 Season Preview: Division-by-Division Outlook (Part 2 of 2: NFC)

Part two of my season preview will take a closer look at how the NFC will unfold. Yesterday I previewed the AFC with few shocking predictions.

Unlike the AFC, the other side of the league is expected to look much different this season.

National Football Conference

North:

Green Bay Packers 11-5
Chicago Bears 10-6
Detroit Lions 8-8
Minnesota Vikings 6-10

As much as I'd like to predict a Detroit Lions division title and run to the Super Bowl, I just can't. There's no way. Of course they are going to see a more matured Matthew Stafford, a very dominant Calvin Johnson and a fierce Ndamukong Suh tearing apart opposing quarterbacks. But there's no way the Lions will be able to beat out, not only the defending Super Bowl champs, but also the defending division champs.

Green Bay's offense adds a couple of weapons this year as they will have a revamped TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant, who are both returning from season-ending injuries last year. Aaron Rodgers will be as healthy and ready to go as ever, and Clay Matthews III and Charles Woodson will continue to lead Green Bay's top five defense in pursuit of another ring.

The only thing that worries me about Chicago is Jay Cutler, though he proved he has what it takes to win games. Had his knee not bothered him in the NFC Championship game and forced him to sit out, he could have seen his Bears in the Super Bowl rather than Green Bay. But a few added weapons on offense this offseason (Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Sam Hurd, Matt Spaeth and Chris Spencer) and defense (former NE safety Brandon Meriweather) will add depth to the roster in preparation for a repeat.

I really like the look of Detroit's defensive line, with reigning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh leading the way for the squad. The drafting of DT Nick Fairley was huge, although he may be bothered early on by a foot injury that is forcing him to miss the season opener against the Bucs. Second-year running back Jahvid Best will be looking to break out as the No. 1 guy in Detroit's backfield as the offense prepares to face some tough defenses both in-division and out of division this year.

Minnesota seems to think that signing washed up veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb to a short-term contract would temporarily fix their problem while they prepare rookie Christian Ponder to be the team's franchise quarterback for years to come. I agree that this would certainly allow Minnesota to ease Ponder's transition to the pros, but they can't expect to win this season with McNabb under center.

He was a disaster in Washington, and with the loss of Minnesota's top target in Sidney Rice, the Vikings' offense will be one-dimensional this season–Adrian Peterson, once again will be Minnesota's entire offense.

Minnesota has a very talented defense that may be able to bail McNabb out a few times, but it will take a miracle for the Vikings to win games if the defense allow 28+ points in any given game. Peterson is the best player on the team, offensively and defensively, and will be the center of attention for the Vikes. In such a tough division, with two constants (Green Bay and Chicago) and a third up-and-coming (Detroit), it will be tough for Minnesota to even win games within the division.

Offensive MVP: Adrian Peterson
Defensive MVP: Clay Matthews III
Rookie to watch: Nick Fairley
Breakout performer: Jermichael Finley
"Shocking" performer: Jahvid Best
Best player on new team: Roy Williams
Coach of the Year: Jim Schwartz
East:

Philadelphia Eagles 12-4
Dallas Cowboys 10-6
New York Giants 6-10
Washington Redskins 5-11

Michael Vick is fresh off signing his second career $100 million contract, and is poised to make a Super Bowl run after an early exit to the eventual champs in the Wild Card round. There will be stiff competition in the East, as usual, but the Eagles are a notch above the rest of the NFC East.

Philadelphia was looking to take its game to the next level this season, so they went out and made a few acquisitions, adding depth with All Pro CB Nnamdi Asomugha, pass-rushing DE Jason Babin and nickelback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. These were just moves on defense. On offense they signed a backup for Vick, Tennessee's QB Vince Young, a backup for LeSean McCoy (Phins RB Ronnie Brown) and even another target for Vick (NYG's Steve Smith).

All these additions dubbed the Eagles a "Dream Team" by ignorant fans over the offseason. Luckily for the rest of the league, you can't truly be nicknamed the "Dream Team" until you win at least one championship. And if you're going to go that far in giving Philly this nickname, they better capture three or four consecutive Lombardi's.

Nevertheless, the Eagles will win the East. I actually had them winning the East before free agency even began, so of course I still have them winning the division. People have already overlooked the Dallas Cowboys, much to my dismay. With a healthy Tony Romo back, the possibilities are endless for this Dallas Cowboys offense. Especially with the second-year wideout Dez Bryant looking for a monster breakout season, and All Pro Jason Witten and Miles Austin catching passes from Romo, rather than Jon Kitna.

I don't have much faith in Eli Manning in New York, despite his comments this offseason saying he is "an elite quarterback in the NFL." Of course I'm not surprised he said that to the media, what's he supposed to say 'no, I'm not a good quarterback at all?' What I don't like about him is his inconsistency when the ball is in his hands. Too many interceptions and fumbles. He will need to prove his worth to me this season without Steve Smith and Kevin Boss in his arsenal of weapons, too. I just don't think New York will be able to get the job done and make it back to the promise-land in 2011.

Want to hear something funnier than Eli Manning and elite quarterbacks? The Washington Redskins quarterback controversy. Now that's funny. John Beck and Rex Grossman are the two options the Skins have, and Grossman thinks they're making the playoffs? I don't think so. Yes, Grossman has taken a team to the Super Bowl (Chicago in '06), but that Bears team had possibly one of the top 15 or 20 best defenses of all-time, and one of the game's best return men in Devin Hester.

Grossman/Beck's Skins will not even be in the top three in the NFC East, let alone make the playoffs in 2011. Sorry Skins fans!

Offensive MVP: Michael Vick
Defensive MVP: DeMarcus Ware
Rookie to watch: Ryan Kerrigan
Breakout player: Dez Bryant
"Shocking" performer: Tashard Choice
Best player on new team: Nnamdi Asomugha
Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett
South:

Atlanta Falcons 13-3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6
New Orleans Saints 10-6
Carolina Panthers 3-13

Atlanta swept through the South easily last year, putting up a 13-3 record and a first round bye in the playoffs. Green Bay, of course, then went on to blow up Atlanta's D for 48 points in their Divisional round matchup. But Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan is as poised as ever to make a run this season, and with Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez being joined by rookie wideout Julio Jones out of Alabama, A-town's offense is ready to blow defenses up.

Unfortunately for Drew Brees and his Saints squad, who will kick-off their season tonight against Green Bay, New Orleans lost a key piece to its defense: Darren Sharper. New Orleans didn't bring the veteran safety back, and personally I think it will have a huge effect just for the simple fact that the other two teams are youthful and looking for nothing but a nice playoff run this season. I believe, that with a 10-6 record, the Saints will miss the playoffs this season. Shocker, I know right?

This isn't about the Saints being a team on the downfall, because they really aren't. This is more about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by young, blooming quarterback Josh Freeman, and the Bucs being "youngry" (aka "young and hungry" as head coach Raheem Morris puts it). Freeman will be the guy to step it up this season and put up a miraculous run to the playoffs as a wild card team.

The injury-ridden back Cadillac Williams is finally out of town, paving the way for LeGarrette Blount, a bruising, yet surprisingly-elusive second-year back out of Oregon. He put up a spectacular rookie performance with 1,007 yards (5.0 YPC) last season, and will look to build on that under Morris' guidance.

I really like this squad, and they already managed to finish 10-6, just missing the playoffs, last season in Freeman's second season in the pros (25 TDs, 6 INTs, 3,451 yards, 95.9 Rating). The sky is the limit for the Buccaneers, who still have veteran leadership from possible future Hall of Famer Ronde Barber on defense.

The Saints will be a tough opponent to beat out for second in the division, but this Bucs team, of all the teams out there, have the talent and ability to do that this year–and they will. Just wait and see. Oh, and also keep your eye on the six-foot, 250-pound Blount, he will be the one running over linebackers and defensive backs on his way to double-digit touchdown totals.

Carolina, though they are starting a whole new era this season, will continue to struggle and find themselves at the very bottom of the South once again. Cam Newton has already gotten the starting nod on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see how this ends up. After about three or four seasons, I'm expecting a similar story to Oakland's JaMarcus Russell...sorry Cam. There's no doubt he will be the rookie to watch in this division, though.

Offensive MVP: Matt Ryan
Defensive MVP: Jonathan Vilma
Rookie to watch: Cam Newton
Breakout player: LeGarrette Blount
"Shocking" performer: Harry Douglas
Best player on new team: Ray Edwards
Coach of the Year: Raheem Morris
West:

St. Louis Rams 9-7
Arizona Cardinals 6-10
Seattle Seahawks 4-12
San Francisco 49ers 4-12

The difference between this year and last year is that this season the division winner will at least have a winning record. Not by much, but it's a start. We will also see a new division winner: St. Louis.

Seattle lost veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee Titans) and ended up downgrading to long-time Minnesota backup Tarvaris Jackson. They also overpaid for Minnesota's star receiver Sidney Rice, who started just six games in '10 and has just one proven season (2009: 83 Rec., 1,312 yards, 8 TDs and a Pro Bowl appearance). Other signings include Robert Gallery, Zach Miller and kicker Jeff Reed, none of which I see making an immediate impact and allowing Seattle to return to the playoffs right away.

Pete Carroll is attempting to turn this franchise around, but I don't think he's making the right moves. Perhaps they should do all they can to get the first round pick in 2012 and select Stanford's Andrew Luck? Or at least trade up for him when April rolls around. That's what this team needs the most right now.

Anyways, Arizona will be the second place finisher despite the overpaying of "franchise" quarterback Kevin Kolb. This signing made All Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald very happy, which is always a plus, but other than that I'm not so sure the signing will end up well for Fitz and the crew. Kolb can make the short passes with accuracy, but when it comes to throwing the deep ball his arm doesn't seem to be pro material. Larry Fitz will realize this soon enough, and when he does it could get ugly on the field. Good enough for six victories in 2011, but don't expect a playoff run coming from Arizona.

Luckily for Seattle, they won't be the only ones sitting at the very bottom of the West, though. San Francisco and the fresh face of new head coach Jim Harbaugh (Baltimore coach John Harbaugh's brother in case you couldn't tell by looking at the two) have made a point that they would like to stick with Alex Smith at quarterback for the time being.

Smith re-signed with the team this offseason, but the drafting of Nevada's signal caller Colin Kaepernick in the second round (36th overall pick) of this past April's draft tells us Smith is only a temporary fix. And by fix, I mean more of a "placeholder." Smith's career record is 19-31 in 50 starts with the Niners. So it's obvious that Smith's time is up in San Fran.

Same old, same old in the NFC West. The team who wins the division will be flirting with .500, and may not even win a game in postseason play–Seattle was the lone exception after upsetting the New Orleans Saints last season.

Offensive MVP: Larry Fitzgerald/Steven Jackson
Defensive MVP: Patrick Willis
Rookie to watch: Patrick Peterson
Breakout player: Sam Bradford
"Shocking" performer: Cadillac Williams
Best player on new team: Sidney Rice (despite being overpaid)
Coach of the year: Steve Spagnuolo
Playoff Seeding:

1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Green Bay Packers
4. St. Louis Rams
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Dallas Cowboys

Photos found on Google, no copyright infringement intended

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

2011 Season Preview: Division-by-Division Outlook (Part 1 of 2: AFC)

The season is finally upon us, as we are just over 24 hours from the start of the 2011 regular season kick-off between the New Orleans Saints and defending champion Green Bay Packers.

Note: I know it's obviously been quite a while since I've posted anything, but with the season beginning I will be sure to set aside time each day to update the page.

Well, we all have our opinions on how the season will unfold, but the great thing about it is that every season more than one team comes out of the woodwork and shocks everyone–i.e. Kansas City won the West last season, Tampa Bay finished 10-6 in the South despite missing the playoffs, and Seattle defeated defending champion New Orleans in the playoffs.

Who will do the shocking this season? To be truthful, there are numerous candidates to breakout this season. Here is who I believe will win out each division, how the playoffs will unfold and a few more miscellaneous awards for the coming season, in addition to the shockers of '11.

American Football Conference

North:


Pittsburgh Steelers 13-3
Baltimore Ravens 12-4
Cleveland Browns 8-8
Cincinnati Bengals 3-13

This division will not change a bit this season. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both neck-and-neck as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the North, and both will once again be playoff-bound. As for the bottom-half, Cleveland has more upside than Cincinnati. The Browns have found its franchise quarterback in sophomore Colt McCoy while the Bengals will be testing the waters with rookie Andy Dalton under center. We may not see former Pro Bowler Carson Palmer again until 2012, at the very earliest.


Just like every other offseason, Pittsburgh's big moves in free agency revolved around bringing back its own players–Ike Taylor and offensive linemen Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott. Pittsburgh's offensive line should see more stability and consistency as long as rookie Marcus Gilbert can live up to expectations. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seems very confident under center when Maurkice Pouncey is in the lineup–expect that to continue in to 2011.

On defense, Pittsburgh brought back Taylor, although he may be out of rhythm the first few games of the season due to his broken finger sustained in the first preseason game. They also restructured the contracts of linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, both of whom have been constant weapons in Pittsburgh's defensive arsenals–Woodley is an up-and-rising pass rusher in this league.

Baltimore is in a similar situation in terms of the defensive side of the ball. Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have aging defenses, and if they don't make adjustments via the draft in the coming years (Pitt drafted DT Cam Heyward and DB Curtis Brown, Bal drafted CB Jimmy Smith with early draft picks), they could see themselves off the list of top-tier defenses. But when it comes down to it, both will be top five, maybe even top three in overall defense this season. And will once again make it deep in to the postseason.

The key to Baltimore's success all comes down to the right arm of quarterback Joe Flacco. He has lost a couple of weapons this offseason–WR Derrick Mason, TE Todd Heap and RB Willis McGahee have all left town–so Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice will be forced to handle the load, as rookie Torrey Smith adjusts to the professional level.

Cleveland's situation really interests me. Colt McCoy had a rather impressive rookie campaign with little to no help last season, getting victories against teams such as New England and defending champion New Orleans. I highly doubt the "Madden Curse" will have much effect on workhorse Peyton Hillis, and it will be interesting to see how Pat Shurmur's first full-season as head coach will pan out. No playoffs for Cleveland of course, but a solid 8-8 finish would certainly catch the attention of fans everywhere.

Cincinnati: Do I really need to go there? Owner Mike Brown really messed things up with veteran Carson Palmer, giving him an ultimatum, and now it appears as though Andy Dalton will be thrown under the bus by fans when he comes out this year and is crushed by his opponents. No Ochocinco, a distracted Cedric Benson and a rookie wideout as the No. 1 target (A.J. Green)? Recipe for disaster. The fans may end up stoning Brown, or head coach Marvin Lewis, by season's end.

Offensive MVP: Joe Flacco (plays with better consistency)
Defensive MVP: Troy Polamalu/Ray Lewis
Rookie to watch: A.J. Green
Breakout performer: Antonio Brown
"Shocking" performance: Colt McCoy
Best player on new team: Lee Evans, Bal
Coach of the Year: Pat Shurmur
East:


New England Patriots 14-2
New York Jets 12-4
Buffalo Bills 7-9
Miami Dolphins 4-12


The East may end in similar fashion as 2010, as well. We all know Tom Brady is still king of the quarterbacks, despite Aaron Rodgers' performance throughout the playoffs and Super Bowl last year. Brady has done it three times, and has been in the playoff hunt nearly his entire career. I am in no way a Patriots fan, or Brady lover, I'm just telling the truth.

So-called NFL fans seem to think that if you aren't a Patriots fan then you should automatically hate Brady, but that's just proof of ignorance. Brady and Manning are not "overprotected," it's the quarterback position in general that is seen as "overprotected" by the league. Enough of this Brady-hating, it's obvious he can play the game, and play it at the highest level possible. Football is, for the most part, all about physicality, clearly. But that isn't the only aspect of the game, and these ignorant fans have yet to realize that.

Brady knows the x's and o's like the back of his hand, and he can pretty much do whatever he wants with the football. Of course he does have a great coach, Bill Belichick, leading the way and giving him some help, but lets face it, Brady is one of the best quarterbacks the game has seen–top 10 in history, easily.

Now that we have that out of the way, I'm gonna go ahead and say it: Rex Ryan's Jets are not going to beat them out in the division. New York has a great team, and a top 5 defense no doubt. But on offense New York isn't quite up to par with the Pats. New York does force a lot of turnovers on defense, but New England's offense are not a team to give the ball up easily, and actually forced the most on defense in 2010 (39 to New York's 30).

When it all came down to it in the post-season, New York did get the best of the Pats (28-21) as Sanchez outperformed Brady in the passing game. But Sanchez's six playoff games aren't quite enough to convince me he can handle the pressure of winning a Super Bowl. It will all come in time, but for now New England is still ahead of New York.


As for the rest of the East, it really isn't going to matter that much in 2011. Neither Buffalo nor Miami have been on my "surprise" radar for this season. C.J. Spiller is poised to breakout, despite backing up Fred Jackson, but Ryan Fitzpatrick lost his No. 1 target after Lee Evans left for Baltimore. In the passing game, ranked 24th last season, Steve Johnson looks to be the only viable option and even he only has one solid campaign under his belt.

Miami is giving quarterback Chad Henne yet another chance, much to the dismay of the fanbase. Matt Moore was brought in from Carolina to back Henne up, for when it doesn't work out for Chad, although I would like to believe that Miami would have been better off making a move for Denver's Kyle Orton. Either way, it looks like the only offensive improvement made–other than the drafting of center Mike Pouncey–is the addition of elusive tailback Reggie Bush. Bush's biggest impact will likely be made on special teams, but having him as an extra guy in the backfield will be a boost as well.

Offensive MVP: Tom Brady
Defensive MVP: Darrelle Revis
Rookie to Watch: Daniel Thomas
Breakout performer: Brandon Spikes
"Shocking" performance: Shawne Merriman
Best player on new team: Chad Ochocinco
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick
South:


Houston Texans 11-5
Indianapolis Colts 10-6
Tennessee Titans 6-10
Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11

The news that Indy's Peyton Manning will miss his first career game on Sunday due to his neck surgery this offseason is great news for at least three teams–if not the entire NFL. I have been saying this for a couple years now, I know, but I really do think this is finally Houston's time to shine.

Houston and Indy will face off on Sunday, and with recently un-retired Kerry Collins making the start for Indy, you know Houston's revived defense will be feisty and hungry. Collins could be in for a rough day. Newly hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips implemented the 3-4 defense this offseason, moving All Pro defensive end and former first round pick Mario Williams to outside linebacker. The drafting of defensive end J.J. Watt this season will add speed to the outside.

The trio of Williams, Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans at linebacker, in addition to SLB Connor Barwin puts Houston in the top-tier of linebacking corps. In the secondary Houston missed out on CB Nnamdi Asomugha this offseason, but added depth by signing Cincy's Johnathan Joseph and drafting Miami's Brandon Harris.

Led by Pro Bowlers Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels, the Texans already have one of the highest scoring offenses in the league. All Houston needs to do to make its first playoff appearance since entering the league in '02 is keep opposing offenses under 30 points. Not too hard, right?

Indianapolis will still be in the playoff hunt, considering Manning shouldn't miss any more than two or three games. But if he doesn't return to action by week five, this squad could be in trouble. In fact, even with Manning back in the lineup, I don't have this team making the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Shocking, huh?

Tennessee finally got Chris Johnson's contract dispute settled, but defenses will key in on him and CJ2K will only manage around 1,300 yards and eight TDs (according to my calculations at least). Matt Hasselbeck will handle the snaps this season as new head coach Mike Munchak's Titans prepare rookie Jake Locker to take over the reins in 2012.

After the recent release of veteran quarterback David Garrard, Jack Del Rio has shown he's ready to move on in Jacksonville. Luke McCown will make the start Sunday, but I wouldn't be surprised if rookie Blaine Gabbert took over by the start of October.

Offensive MVP: Chris Johnson
Defensive MVP: Mario Williams
Rookie to Watch: Blaine Gabbert
Breakout performer: Mike Thomas
"Shocking" performance: Joseph Addai
Best player on new team: Barrett Ruud
Coach of the Year: Gary Kubiak
West:


San Diego Chargers 11-5
Kansas City Chiefs 9-7
Denver Broncos 7-9
Oakland Raiders 5-11

Kansas City shocked the world last year by knocking off the defending division champion Chargers and snagging the title with a 10-6 record. The Baltimore Ravens' stout defense trounced them in the first round of the playoffs, but KC's 12th-ranked offense put up a nice campaign in 2010 nonetheless.

But there's no way I'd bet against San Diego returning to the playoffs in '11, especially with a hungry Shaun Phillips roaming the defensive secondary. The Bolts brought back WRs Vincent Jackson and deep-threat Malcom Floyd. A healthy Antonio Gates and a pair of RBs poised to breakout (Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert) gives All Pro signal caller Philip Rivers plenty of weapons.

On defense SD brought in a couple of veterans to temporarily fill in some holes–Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker and Bob Sanders at strong safety–both of whom still have something left in the tank. Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer continue to anchor the secondary at cornerback.

There's no doubt Kansas City has the top running game in the division, led by speedster Jamaal Charles and the hefty vet Thomas Jones. But overall San Diego's offensive firepower and defensive explosiveness (despite the loss of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who left for Carolina), and the fact that San Diego plays its best football in December is enough to trump the Chiefs for its second division title in three seasons.

Denver's quarterback controversy has been settled, and we knew all along that the Broncos would choose the more modern passer–Kyle Orton–over the run-first, use-my-size-to-my-advantage Tim Tebow. Tebow has what it takes to win in this league, but it was obvious Denver was looking more for a guy who could drop back in the pocket and throw a rocket to Brandon Lloyd running a deep route down the field.

Denver will luckily have the league's 2009 sack-leader, Elvis Dumervil, back this season, and rookie outside linebacker Von Miller will likely make an immediate impact on the new-look defense led by new coordinator Dennis Allen (formerly the team's secondary coach).

Same old, same old in Oakland. Al Davis continues to drive players away from the franchise. Nnamdi Asomugha left for Philadelphia, Robert Gallery to Seattle, Bruce Gradkowski to Cincinnati, Zach Miller to Seattle, Thomas Howard to Cincinnati. And Davis thought it would be a bright idea to deal with troubled Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, drafting him in the year's supplemental draft. Could be another long season for Jason Campbell and Co. in Oakland.

Offensive MVP: Philip Rivers
Defensive MVP: Tamba Hali
Rookie to Watch: Von Miller
Breakout performer: Ryan Mathews
"Shocking" performance: Robert Ayers
Best player on new team: Steve Breaston
Coach of the Year: Norv Turner
Playoff Seeding:
1. New England Patriots
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Houston Texans
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. New York Jets

(Full playoff predictions will be posted after the NFC division-by-division outlook is posted, which should come either later tonight or tomorrow afternoon).

Photos borrowed from Google, no copyright infringement intended