Everything that has taken place thus far in the NFL preseason has got me more ready for this to get going than anything. From the Jets on Hard Knocks to Cowboys and a home Super Bowl looming. From the rookies impressing like New Englands Aaron Hernandez to San Diego's Ryan Mathews. From the return of legend Bret Favre to the emergence of Aaron Rodgers, this NFL season continues to get more and more promising and what better way than to give you our take on the championship possiblities. If you bet on sports it's that time.
Get After It!
The Real Deal Group:
Baltimore Ravens It isn't just hype. Even with the injuries to the Ravens secondary, their defense still has bite and can get after the quarterback. Rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody has made great strides through one preseason game. Recording five tackles, Cody controlled the middle of the defensive line and gave the Ravens reason to believe he's going to be an impact rookie in this league. However, for the first year in a long time it's the Ravens new high potent offense that should raise eyebrows. Bringing in a veteran playmaker in receiver Anquan Boldin gives the Ravens offense playoff experience and a huge target for 3rd year quarterback Joe Flacco to look for. After five seasons of 1,000+ yards receiving, Boldin is out of the shadow of top flight Arizona wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Throw in a little of 1,300 yard rusher Ray Rice and a splash of veterans Derek Mason and Todd Heap and the Ravens offense is off and running. The Real Deal. Yes I'm a betting man!
Indianapolis Colts Till Peyton Manning walks off into the sunset, the Indianapolis Colts are the real deal. At 33 Manning posted his best statistical year since his record setting season in 2004 en route to grabbing his fourth NFL MVP in 2009. Coming up short in the Super Bowl against the New Orleans Saints the Colts should be returning with an added incentive in 2010. Manning will get another weapon back in his high potent offense this coming season, receiver Anthony Gonzalez who missed all of 2009 due to injury after a productive first two seasons in the league. More important than Gonzalez, the Colts should expect to get the oft-injured, smash hitting safety Bob Sanders back. Sanders will try to return and stay healthy after missing a ton of games in the last couple seasons including 14 last year. Bottom line, the Colts have averaged 13-wins a season for each of the last five seasons, what else do we need to know? The Real Deal.
Green Bay Packers That's right, include The Pack. The NFL's second rated defense a season ago is back. Led by linebackers A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, and Clay Matthews the Packer defense is something to be reckoned with. With veterans Charles Woodson and Al Harris the Packer defense was tops amongst the league in takeaways a season ago. In his second year at the helm of the Green Bay defense, coordinator Dom Capers has a load of talent to work with including the previously mentioned and second year player nose tackle B.J. Raji. Then there is the offense, bulking up by drafting Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, the Packers will try to improve on the amount of times they let quarterback Aaron Rodgers end up on his back. Between Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and running back Ryan Grant, Rodgers should have plenty of options to turn to again the Packer offense. Last season Rodgers came into his own setting career highs in both touchdown passes and yards passed, all the while dropping his interceptions total nearly in half. Expect huge things from the Packers in 2010.
New Orleans Saints In my humble opinion, the Saints are a tough call. I didn't expect much from them last season and they won the Super Bowl. How do I keep them out of the front runners now? The Super bowl Champs were led by Pro-Bowl Safety Darren Sharper who picked off 9 passes last season and of course All-World quarterback Drew Brees. Brees was picked off only 11 times en route to a 4,388 yard passing season which included 34 touchdown passes. Nothing more impressive than his postseason numbers in which he recorded 8 touchdown passes, an average of 24 completions with nearly 250 yards per game, mistake free. Behind offensive guru and head coach Sean Payton, the Brees/Payton combination has taken flight and rarely looks back. After week 1 against Minnesota, the Saints don't see a 2009 playoff team till week 5 and thats against the new look Cardinals under the direction of Matt Leinart. After week 12 when the Saints square off against the Dallas Cowboys, the defending champs will have seen just two playoff quarterbacks, Favre and Romo. Can you spell repeat?
The I Can See It Group:
New England Patriots Read this, the Patriots are sleeping giants. Go ahead, read it again. The Patriots are sleeping giants. With rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots have gone ahead and added another offensive weapon with tremendous hands to quarterback Tom Brady's arsenal, an arsenal which seems to be getting healthier and healthier every day. With Wes Welker, less than a year removed from knee surgery, and Randy Moss, Brady returns with weapons he is very familiar with and weapons that produce monster numbers when healthy. As for the defense, the Patriots are going to have to see bigger strides from linebacker Jerod Mayo who had a less than stellar sophomore season in 2009 and from second-year defensive lineman Ron Brace, who will have to make noise after the season ending injury to Ty Warren. When I look at the Patriots it comes down to three things; (1) Can Tom Brady stay healthy and show that 2007 form that came us those mind blowing stats. (2) Does the Belichick defense have bark and bite? (3) When the Patriots pass on players of superior talent, do they know what they are doing or are they just outsmarting the room? Can't sleep on the Patriots.
Dallas Cowboys The Cowboys have a ton of pressure on them in 2010. The possibility of a home-game Super Bowl is looming. They've added stud rookie wideout Dez Bryant, for all intents and purposes expects to be great after being handed the number worn by Hall Of Fame receiver Michael Irvin. In 2009 they removed the playoff win monkey from their back and also witnessed one of the greatest seasons of defense by a Cowboy, Demarcus Ware's pummeling season. Returning Jay Ratliff and a powerful Cowboy defensive line, the Cowboys are left with just one gaping hole, the offensive line and the hole left by Flozell Adams. The Cowboys opted not to address their offensive line needs through the draft but more so with Doug Free, the same Doug Free who played well in the absence of Flozell who was out with injuries some of last season. Given the stakes that are set forth in JerryWorld, Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense will be looked at to get better on the offensive side of the ball than what they've put out in the first couple preseason games. Expect the Cowboys to make a ton of noise early and often this season. Just put your questions around what kind of noise that will be.
Minnesota Vikings The Vikings are quickly slipping off my radar screen, especially with the emergence of how enthralled by the Packers I really am. Both the Bears and the Packers are supposed to cause problems for the Vikings in the NFC's Norris Division. As the Vikes look to duplicate their success, almost minutes from the Super Bowl, in 2009, the reality is that things around them are becoming more circus like by the minute, not a characteristic of a Super Bowl team. While they return a very good defense and many good offensive weapons, the recent problems with migraines and receiver Percy Harvin should be more than alarming. Then there is the questions around Brett Favre, head coach Brad Childress, and the Viking locker room. Rumours of coaches being asked to lie about the whereabouts of veterans who went to get Favre in Mississippi, Favre's lack of respect for the offense and head coach Brad Childress, and of course the injury to said quarterback. All that being said, they still retain the services of the NFL's most exciting running back, Adrian Peterson. Last season Peterson ripped off another 1,300 yard season breaking the endzone 18 times. If the Vikings have to rely on the legs of Peterson, they're in good hands errr legs.
San Diego Chargers The Chargers still pull top rank in my books in the AFC West, and my conviction that Philip Rivers is still one of the games most underrated passers even after finishing 3rd in QB rating just last season. The Chargers biggest problem is at left tackle, learning Saturday their insurance policy on holdout Marcus McNeil, (11-year vet Tra Thomas) has decided to retire rather than handle another tough NFL season, has left the Chargers with no blind spot coverage to Philip Rivers. Another problem for the Rivers offense is Vincent Jackson, who has yet to report to camp in the midst of yet another contract holdout. For the Chargers there remains a bright spot, Ryan Mathews. The rookie running back out of Fresno State has impressed very early. His performance from mini camps to the preseason games have left people nodding in agreement that he is the frontrunner in the NFL offensive ROY campaign. Furthermore, Mathews is replacing LaDainian Tomlinson, huge shoes for a rookie but seems to be the right guy to do just that. If the Chargers can get Jackson and McNeil back in camp, expect them to do more than just tread water.
The Slow Your Roll Group:
New York Jets No, no, no. I do not buy this. Rex Ryan is a fun coach, great interview, and fierce competitor, but does it translate? We'll see but I don't buy it yet. 2nd year quarterback Mark Sanchez is going to take a Sophomore dip, that happens, however for the toast of New York his rookie year wasn't all that impressive. Sanchez was sacked 26 times and threw 20 interceptions during the regular season, throwing just 12 touchdown passes. Even with the addition of a LaDainian Tomlinson, Sanchez is still going to have to pick up the pace after losing running back Thomas Jones who has flat out hustled in the past five seasons in the NFL. As the holdout of All-World cornerback Darrelle Revis continues, the Jets should be concerned that question mark Antonio Cromartie is their backup plan. Not all bad though for the Jets, some things I'm on board with. 1st round draft pick Kyle Wilson satisfies my Boise State love. Wilson would have been great under the directon of Revis but still has looked very good in the early goings. Can the Jets do everything they think? Or are they just writing a ton of checks they can't cash? You decide.
The Outside Chance Group:
Atlanta Falcons A playoff team two seasons ago. Two straight seasons of better than .500 ball for the first time in franchise history. Matt Ryan needs to have a bounce back year from his 14-interception performance in 2009. An offense that includes Ryan, Michael Turner, and Tony Gonzalez, they'll be solid, with the Atlanta Falcons it comes down to their defense. Last seasons first round draft pick, defensive tackle Peria Jerry, is healthy after missing his rookie season to injury. Veteran Falcon linebacker Mike Peterson is in his second season in Atlanta and 6th season in Mike Smith's defense. Both Peterson and Jerry will be looked at to improve a defense that ranked 21st in the league last season. Great coaching and good quarterback play combined with a good defensive performance this season, and they've got a chance.
Houston Texans Ask yourself how many times you've included the Texans in the pre-season discussions? Over the past three seasons the Texans finished 9-7(2009), 8-8(2008), and 8-8(2007). Got average anyone? As much as we want to include the high powered Texans passing game, with quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson, and the bone crushing Texan defense, with Mario Williams, Brian Cushing, and DeMeco Ryans, can we? Till the Houston Texans learn how to close out games like their Week 12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a game which saw Indy score 21 in the fourth and come back to win, I don't think so. Till the Houston Texans learn how to beat teams they're supposed to beat, the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9 in 2009), rather than dropping two to that very opponent, I don't think so. However with all those star players, they have a chance.
San Francisco 49ers Impact offensive weapon, (TE, Vernon Davis 78 catches, 965 yards, 13 touchdowns), power running game, (RB, Frank Gore 1,120 yards 10 TD's), dominating defensive player, (LB, Patrick Willis 152 total tackles). To go along with their performance demanding head coach, the legendary Mike Singletary, the 49ers seem to have all the key parts to make some noise. The NFC West is moving on without Kurt Warner in Arizona, a new head coach in Seattle, and the St. Louis Rams who are years away from relevance, all signs pointing to the 'Niners handling that division with ease. However, the only remaining question is the biggest one of all: QB Alex Smith. After winning his position back last year, the former top pick overall managed 18 touchdown passes and turned the ball over through the air only 12 times. If Alex Smith can turn it on this season and connect the only open link for the 49ers, a re-birth of football in the bay is very much alive. They have a chance.
The Darkest Horse Group:
Washington Redskins I'd be remissed if I passed on mentioning the Washington Redskins. For the first time in recent memory, they've got a quarterback who still has bullets left in the chamber, including the passion he'll bring in those 'Skins v. Eagles games. Donovan McNabb brings a
ton to the 'Skins, mainly his leadership and big game preparation. Head coach Mike Shanahan, has made no bones about putting his foot down in Washington very, very early. With last years first round pick Brian Orakpo really coming into his own late last season he's steering into this season looking as the future captain of the 'Skins defense. Behind Shanahan, Orakpo, and of course Donovan McNabb, the Washington Redskins are going to play a major role in determining the winner of the toughest division in football, the NFC East.