Friday, August 31, 2012

32 in 32: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers
Read the introduction here
Read the Saints preview here
Baltimore Ravens tomorrow

2011 Record: 15-1

Key Acquisitions: Cedric Benson, Casey Hayward, Phillip Merling, Nick Perry, Jeff Saturday, Jerel Worthy
Key Departures: Chad Clifton, Nick Collins, Ryan Grant, Scott Wells

The Packers were getting close to running the table before they lost to Kansas City in a really weird upset. The problem is that the Packers had no business going 15-1. Their defense was atrocious last year, but that had a lot to do with injuries and underachieving. They should have been much better last year, and they still have a good amount of talent on the defensive end. The D won't lead the league in anything, but they'll be better. Obviously the offense is great. Even though the running game was not very potent, this was the best offense in football. Why? Aaron Rodgers. I think he's the best quarterback in the league.  On top of that, he has really good weapons around him. The regular season record will drop a little bit due to the schedule and their division, but Green Bay will not play in the first round of the playoffs. I have them as the #1 seed in the conference, but now the issue is whether or not they can live up to expectations in the postseason.

Aaron Rodgers is great. As a passer, he's right up there with Brady and Brees, but the thing that he does better than those guys is run. Don't mistake Rodgers for Cam Newton or Michael Vick, but #12 can move. He would have been right near that 5,000 yard mark if he played in the final game of the season, especially after seeing what Matt Flynn did to the Lions defense.

I was very surprised that Cedric Benson was not signed until August, but I like this signing for Green Bay. Benson is a powerful back, and they could use him considering that speedster James Starks has always struggled with injuries. Alex Green is coming off of an ACL injury, so Benson could be all alone by the end of the year.

Greg Jennings is obviously an elite wideout. He has great chemistry with Rodgers and is a major factor down the sideline. It's not completely crazy if Jordy Nelson was the #1 wide receiver somewhere else. When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, I thought that Nelson made a legitimate case for being Super Bowl MVP. He had his breakout year last year, and is a really good talent. Speaking of really good talents, James Jones is amazing as a third receiver. I heard some trade rumblings about him earlier this week, and that's only because he's too good to be relegated to the slot. No team has given a suitable offer yet, so he's still a Packer. He's pretty dangerous. Donald Driver brings his experience back to this team, and he's still productive. Being this deep on the depth chart means that he'll be matched up against a lot of inferior defensive backs. He'll be good. Then there's the first NFL player born in the 1990s, Randall Cobb. He is fast. Fast I tell you. Aaron Rodgers will place the ball perfectly for him once he gets separation, so he'll have some big plays.

Remember Jermichael Finley? He was a disappointment last year, but that's partially because of the injury he suffered in 2010. This could be the year that he finally maximizes his talents, and possibly join the Boston TE Party and Jimmy Graham at the elite level.

The left tackle spot is the only hole on the line. Derek Sherrod broke his leg late last year, and he's currently on the PUP list. His counterpart on the right side, Bryan Bulaga is amazing. The interior is really good, with T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton. There's also Jeff Saturday, who is one of the best in the game, even at his advanced age. He showed no signs of slowing down last year.

Last season, B.J. Raji was not anywhere near the stud that he was in 2010. He still made the Pro Bowl, but only because a lot of people love his dancing. He should be much better this year. Jerel Worthy will most likely overtake C.J. Wilson at defensive end because Worthy is a better pass rusher, and they need that. Ryan Pickett is pretty good at stopping the run, but can't get pressure on the QB.

Desmond Bishop is a very important player to this defense, and he got injured in the first preseason game and was placed on IR on Monday. That's unfortunate because he is a very good linebacker. I'm not sure if he will return this year. A.J. Hawk is fine, and D.J. Smith looked good at times last year. Clay Matthews suffered a drop in production last year, but that's because teams were able to double team him due to the lack of other pass rushers. He was still really good. Nick Perry's ability to rush the passer should help Clay's numbers.

Tramon Williams is a great cornerback, but the opposite side of him could be an issue. Future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson is moving to safety this season due to the ineptitude of the safety position. It's no one's fault really, Nick Collins suffered a possibly career ending neck injury. Jarrett Bush will play at the other corner position, and I'm not sure what to expect there. Casey Hayward and Sam Shields could possibly take over that job. Morgan Burnett will man the free safety position next to Woodson. He did a really nice job last year when Collins went down.

Special Teams
Mason Crosby was much more consistent last year, becoming a reliable kicker. Tim Masthay was really good himself last year, so the kicking game should be in Green Bay's favor. The aforementioned Randall Cobb is still fast. Fast I tell you.

12-4, 1st in NFC North

Thursday, August 30, 2012

32 in 32: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints
Read the introduction here
Read the Texans preview here
Green Bay Packers tomorrow

2011 Record: 13-3

Key Acquisitions: Brodrick Bunkley, Chris Chamberlain, Ben Grubbs, David Hawthorne, Nick Toon (son of Al Toon. Just needed to say that as a Jets fan. Love Al Toon even though I never saw him play.)
Key Departures: Aubrayo Franklin, Robert Meachem, Carl Nicks, Tracy Porter, Shaun Rogers
Key Suspensions: GM Mickey Loomis (8 Games), Head Coach Sean Payton (Full Season), Will Smith (4 Games), Jonathan Vilma (Full Season), Assistant Coach and Interim Coach Joe Vitt (6 Games)

Some teams lose the offseason by letting good players walk in free agency, or failing to address a major need in free agency or the draft. The Saints however, all hipster on everyone. They found a way to have the worst offseason in the history of ever while locking up one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL to a long term contract. The bounty scandal has been talked about enough, I'm not going to get into that. The problem for this team is that in the NFL, coaches mean much more than in any other sport. A team can go from a terrible coach to a good coach and make a huge jump without major personnel changes. Just look at what occured out in San Francisco last year. The addition of Harbaugh to that team elevated them into the NFC Championship game. I would have expected that this team takes a step back even in the absence of the tumult, based on their schedule alone. Losing Sean Payton is going to be a huge blow, and they won't even have the assistant coach for the first six games of the year. This can go one of two ways: the team rallies around each other and pulls of a good season, while still losing a few games solely because of the lack of their coach, or, they will fail miserably. I wanted to predict them above .500, but I couldn't find enough wins on their schedule. They can become the Chargers East, great talent, elite QB, terrible coach.

Drew Brees is great. In terms of yardage, not only did he have the greatest season ever in 2011, he nearly broke the record back in 2008. He now has #1 and #4 on the list. He knows how to put the ball in the perfect spot for his receivers, and he has the ability to make big names out of random receivers. He always spreads the ball around, and without Brees, Lance Moore would be on 0% of fantasy football teams in the world.

This team has four good running backs, something that no other NFL team can boast. Let's start with my favorite man of the group, Darren Sproles. He set the all-time record for all-purpose yards last season, and he was a major weapon out for Brees. He was a great running back, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt in his limited action as the speedy ball carrier out of the backfield. He had 87 receptions last year and he was an amazing offensive weapon. He can do it all. Chris Ivory barely played last season, spending the first 6 games on the PUP list. He'll play a lot more this year and, considering that he's the fourth running back, will be a factor. Pierre Thomas really took a backseat last year, and he's always been a good second running back. Mark Ingram needs to stay healthy this season, and I'm not sure if he can. He scared teams off in the draft because of knees, and his knees were the issue.

Marques Colston is an important target for Drew Brees. While Brees is very accurate, he doesn't have to be when it comes to throwing to Colston. The Hofstra kid knows how to go up and grab the ball. The aforementioned Lance Moore is a security blanket for Brees when needed, and he's alright. Devery Henderson wasn't very good last year, but that didn't matter.

The Tight End Renaissance hit New Orleans last year and Jimmy Graham pulled off one of the greatest year in the history of tight ends. Too bad that it happened in the same season as the Gronkowski season. Graham could even be more talented than Gronk, and was a great target last year. Jimmy is a large individual at 6'7, and has amazing hands, making him almost impossible to stop. He only played one year of college football before being drafted in 2010, so he could still be a little bit green in terms of football IQ, so he might even be better. I know, scary.

The ends of the offensive line aren't that good, but it doesn't matter because Drew Brees doesn't get sacked very often. Carl Nicks is gone, but Ben Grubbs can fill in very nicely. Obviously he's a downgrade, because Nicks was so great last year, but Grubbs will be good. Brian De La Puente was only a rookie last season, so he should be improving this year, which means that he could jump into the conversation of top tier centers. He was really good last year. Jahri Evans played hurt in 2011, leading to diminished success. He'll return in full force this time around.

Brodrick Bunkley will be very good in run defense, just as he was last year. Sedrick Ellis will have to improve upon his performance recently to add a pass rush to the interior of the offensive line. Will Smith wasn't great last year, especially towards the end of the year when he seemed to fade. Cameron Jordan didn't rush the passer very effectively. Junior Galette will most likely slide into the starter's role in the wake of Smith's suspension.

Curtis Lofton is a very good tackler who played for their division rival Falcons over the first four years of his career. He doesn't let many ball carriers slip past him. David Hawthorne is pretty good at everything, so he'll provide a boost to this defense. This team will dearly miss defensive leader and really good linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson are both good in coverage, so it won't be terribly easy for receivers to break big plays down the sidelines. Unless of course either of the corners expect help from the debacle that is Roman Harper. He gets burned a lot deep downfield. Malcolm Jenkins was better, but not very good.

Special Teams
Garrett  Hartley and John Kasay are embroiled in a kicker battle that will be decided on the final cut day tomorrow. I expect Kasay to lose and subsequently get cut. Thomas Morestead was really good last year. Darren Sproles is a really good kick returner, and in addition to his offensive talents, Saints fans forgot who Reggie Bush was.

7-9, T-2nd in NFC South

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

32 in 32: Houston Texans

Houston Texans
Read the introduction here
Read the Broncos preview here
New Orleans Saints tomorrow

2011 Record: 10-6

Key Acquisitions: Alan Ball, Shayne Graham, Bradie James, Donnie Jones, Whitney Mercilus
Key Departures: Mike Brisiel, Jacoby Jones, Neil Rackers, DeMeco Ryans, Mario Williams, Eric Winston, Lawrence Vickers

This team was hilariously unlucky last season. Andre Johnson had a nagging hamstring injury all year and he was completely terrible. Then there's also Matt Schaub getting hurt, just when everyone was starting to realize that the Texans were probably on their way to the Super Bowl. Then, backup Matt Leinart got hurt. So of course, this is the point at which the city of Houston was punching holes in their walls. Rookie T.J. Yates even had to leave the season finale with an injury. Jake Delhomme came in and they lost. They hung onto their playoff spot due to the ineptitude of their divison, and entered the playoffs with a healthy Yates. Just when you thought that there was way too much bad karma surrounding this team for them to win a playoff game, they beat the Bengals, and they almost beat the Ravens with a 3rd string rookie drafted in the 5th round as their QB. The reason: the defense was one of the best in the NFL. The offense has always been the hallmark of this Texans team, but that shifted in 2011. While they lost Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, they won't skip a beat. The defense might be the better unit on this team, the offense should score a lot of points. This is why the Texans could be one of the best teams in the NFL this year.

Matt Schaub is a very good quarterback who never gets the respect that he deserves. Year in and year out, he has helped the Texans be one of the top offenses in the NFL. He can sling the ball. His favorite target Andre Johnson will be healthy again this year, so Schaub should have a nice year even though Houston has been throwing the ball much less lately.

Arian Foster is arguably the best running backs in the NFL. He has great speed and is also able to power his way through tackles. He's the best running back in his division this year because of Jones-Drew's future injury caused by his holdout. Foster is also a very good pass catcher and he can block really well. An all-around back, which is why he's so valuable. Don't forget about Ben Tate.  He should be a starter somewhere else, but he was really good last year. The Texans running game will still be great even if Foster goes down with an injury at some point this year. They'll be a run-first team, with the threat of the pass in certain situations.

When they need to pass, Andre Johnson will be targeted a whole lot. He could be on the decline, but it's possible that he could be back in form. That will provide a major boost to this bad receiving corps. Kevin Walter should not be a #2 receiver, and Lestar Jean will probably be the third option. Schaub will have to work hard to make something out of these receivers.

The offensive line took a few hits in free agency this year, losing the right side of Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel. The line was a key factor in the great rushing attack last year, so these losses could be major. They'll be replaced by a couple of backups. The rest of the line is still there, with center Chris Myers being a great run blocker. He opened up a lot of holes up the middle for the running backs.

Mario Williams is gone. As if Wade Phillips cares. Williams missed most of the season with injury, and while having him there would have helped, they were still a great defense without him. J.J. Watt is a really talented defensive end who had a successful year in rushing the passer and stopping the run. He's an all-around talent and should improve now that he has a full training camp to work with this defensive scheme. That's scary. On the opposite side, Antonio Smith was a good pass rusher in his own right. The nose tackle Shaun Cody isn't very good, but with the attention that the ends will attract, Cody could be a beneficiary.

Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed are really good pass rushers. Barwin amassed 11.5 sacks last year, stepping up pretty nicely in Mario's absence. Reed might be demoted to package usage with first rounder Whitney Mercilus arriving. He's a stud of a pass rusher, so there will be a lot of sacks to go around this defense. Brian Cushing was amazing last season. He was a real jack-of-all-trades, with tackling being his best skill. He was also able to get pressure on the QB when needed. Bradie James wasn't good last year, but his familiarity with Wade Phillips could help him improve.

Johnathan Joseph is a very good corner, and he's a very reliable shutdown guy. Kareem Jackson improved from his rookie season, so he should still be on the upswing. They have two quality safeties in Glover Quin and Danieal Manning.

Special Teams
Shayne Graham is the kicker now that rookie Randy Bullock is on injured reserve. He has struggled with consistency at times. Donnie Jones isn't very good. Danieal Manning will take over as kick returner now that Jacoby Jones is gone.

12-4, 1st in AFC South

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

32 in 32: Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos
Read the introduction here
Read the Steelers preview here
Houston Texans tomorrow

2011 Record: 8-8

Key Acquisitions: Mike Adams, Justin Bannan, Andre Caldwell, Drayton Florence, PEYTON MANNING (sorry for my outburst), Tracy Porter, Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme, Derek Wolfe
Key Departures: Brodrick Bunkley, Brian Dawkins, Andre Goodman, Mario Haggan, Spencer Larsen, Ryan McBean, Eddie Royal, Tim Tebow

On March 20, 2012, the batteries fell out of the clock and Tebow Time ended. The most famous bad quarterback in the history of history left, and was replaced by the best quarterback of all time. The G.O.A.T!     Peyton Manning switched his uniform color for the first time since 1998, going back to the orange that was so familiar to him at Tennessee. The era has begun. Around him is basically the same average team that rode on Tim Tebow's coattails to the playoffs last season. The offense around Manning isn't great, and the defense is fine. They won a playoff game with Tebow, and if they don't at least make it back there in 2012 with Tebow x48954458686787658902476524309187578942043765754321423678908765432456789087, it's a disappointment. Peyton Manning is an automatic 10 wins, and has always been throughout his career.

Peyton Manning will not play like the Peyton Manning of old. That guy is gone. He's in Indianapolis and he hasn't had any neck surgeries yet.  Four neck surgeries later, out comes a diminished version of what he used to be. He still has the ability to read defense like the old Peyton Manning, but physically, it's going to be tough to recapture what he had. I don't however expect him to miss any games due to injury. If the doctors though he could get re-injured, he would not have been cleared to play. He'll be above average.

I don't trust either running back to show any consistency at all this season. Willis McGahee carried the load pretty well in the absence of Knowshon Moreno, but McGahee was seemingly done before that. He wasn't very good in his final year in Baltimore, so 2011 could have been an anomaly. He's been up and down for a few years now. Moreno, just isn't very reliable. He hasn't been very good either.

Demaryius Thomas is the real threat on this offense. He's the guy to worry about because of his ability to get separation. He also has pretty good size. Eric Decker isn't going to help Peyton Manning very much because he had stone hands at times last year. While he had a stretch of very good games, he dropped quite a few balls. Andre Caldwell was fine in 2010, but had a terrible 2011 season. Brandon Stokley reunites with Manning, and while he's old, he has previous experience (and pretty good chemistry) with #18 and his hands make him an asset.

Jacob Tamme comes over from Indy to join Manning on his comeback tour. Tamme is a seemingly average tight end who was really elevated by Peyton Manning's ability. I don't think he's great, but he'll be above average. Being that the guy throwing him the ball is more Peyton Manning than PEYTON MANNING, he's not going to look like a Pro Bowler. But since that guy's name is still Peyton Manning, Tamme will look better than he should.

The offensive line, oh boy is this a disaster. Ryan Clady has been pretty over the past few years after he was considered to be the best offensive lineman in the NFL. The rest of the guys are a disappointing group of guys who will get Peyton Manning killed. They have looked good during the preseason so far, so they could have improved as a unit. Judging based on past performance, I think Manning should have gone to the Jets and away from this offensive line. You know, because I'm a Jets fan. Love of the Jets aside, he should have run far away from Denver.

The loss of Brodrick Bunkley will definitely hurt this defensive line. He was a monster against the run, and Justin Bannan will have to take his spot, a situation in which nobody is a winner. Rookie Derek Wolfe will have a grand ole time rushing the QB, and could be the major factor in this team's pass rush. While Wolfe takes up space in the middle, that leaves room for Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller to roam. Said all opposing QBs: "NO!" Both also have shown the versatility to play both defensive end and linebacker.

D.J. Williams is serving a six game suspension to begin the year, and that could prove to be a major blow to this defense. Joe Mays and Nate Irving aren't the most trustworthy guys at the middle linebacker positions. Old man Keith Brooking is on this team. He's not going to do much at all.

Champ Bailey has recently been overlooked as a shutdown cornerback due to the attention that Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha have receivers, but Bailey does it year after year. He never seems to stop annoying opposing receivers. Tracy Porter is on the opposite side of him, and he was atrocious last year. The safeties are really bad. Mike Adams hasn't been very good throughout his career, but he isn't a complete disaster.

Special Teams
Both Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt put together fantastic seasons last year, which leads me to believe that this year's special teams unit will be very productive. Eddie Royal is gone, and they haven't found themselves a kick returner to take his place.

10-6, T-1st in AFC West

Monday, August 27, 2012

32 in 32: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers
Read the introduction here
Read the Lions preview here
Denver Broncos tomorrow

2011 Record: 12-4

Key Acquisitions: Mike Adams, David DeCastro, Leonard Pope
Key Departures: James Farrior, Chris Kemoeatu, Mewelde Moore, Hines Ward

The Steelers have talent. They have a lot of talent. Roethlisberger is a top ten quarterback, and he has some offensive weapons around him. The unfortunate part is that they have been plagued by injuries on both sides of the ball. What's even worse is that defensively, not only are they fragile, the personnel is aging, and quickly. I think they'll be decimated by the injury bug this year, and it's finally the year for them to take a step back. They'll still be fine, but not in the playoffs.

Big Ben is a really good QB. He does a lot for this team, and his strong arm really helps with his young group of receivers. He also has a knack for avoiding hits by escaping the pocket while under pressure. His size and elusiveness in the pocket has been a key to his career because the offensive line hasn't been terribly consistent over the past few years. His ability to play through injuries is really valuable.

Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in the last game of the season, and he won't be available until sometime later in the years, if at all. Isaac Redman will take his place as the starter, and I don't know what to expect from him on a full-time basis. He and Jonathan Dwyer can be a fine duo. They can also turn out to be a complete disaster.

Mike Wallace is going to end his holdout and will probably report to camp tomorrow. Let's write him off for at least the first half of the season because people never do well coming out of a holdout, especially this late in camp and he won't get to practice for too long, and won't get into a preseason game. He's also at great risk to get himself injured. Antonio Brown will definitely fill his shoes pretty nicely. After him, there's Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Sanders is a young talent who has enough ability to step up into a bigger role. Cotchery is a reliable veteran with good hands. There isn't any depth after these four guys. Or three guys because I know and you know that Wallace will have a lost season.

Heath Miller is a good pass catching tight end who also happens to be a major factor in terms of blocking. He'll be more involved in the offense this year. Leonard Pope isn't great, but he's a good second option at the TE position.

First round pick David DeCastro was supposed to come in and provide an immediate boost to this line. Well, his ACL and MCL had other ideas. Now they'll have to use the motley crew of replacements who did a nice job for them last year, but there are possible issues with consistency. Fellow rookie Mike Adams is a good addition at the left tackle position. Willie Colon is really good when he's on the field. Will Willie be on the field? Time will tell. There's obviously Maurkice Pouncey, who is one of the best centers in the NFL. The position vacated by DeCastro could be the death of this offensive line, and this offense.

I see a real lack of a pass rush on this roster, especially with two of the key linemen coming off injuries. ACL alert! Third torn anterior cruciate ligament that I have mentioned so far. Casey Hampton will most likely miss some time at the beginning of the year due to his ACL. On top of that, he's 34, and I have questions as to whether or not he can hold up throughout the season. Brett Keisel and Da Beard will have to take a back seat to Cameron Heyward in 2012. The second year defensive end needs to develop. Keisel will end up playing a lot due to the futility of Ziggy Hood. Keisel will get hurt.

The bulk of the sacks on this team will be generated from the linebackers. Lamarr Woodley was dealing with a lingering injury and still ended up terrorizing quarterbacks. James Harrison is old, much like a lot of other defensive players. He's fine, but age will catch up to him. Lawrence Timmons turned in a productive 2011 campaign while Larry Foote isn't very good at this point in his career. Young players Sean Spence, Stevenson Sylvester, and Jason Worilds will be very important for this season and for the future.

Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis are the cornerbacks. While Taylor was very good last season, he will always be remember for being victimized by Tim Tebow in the playoffs. Just a bad game, so he's still fine. Lewis was horrific last year when he was on the field. The safeties are both very good with good histories. Polamalu has concussion problems, while Ryan Clark is aging quickly.

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham isn't consistent at all and there is no telling how he will do this coming season. Punter Jeremy Kapinos was alright last year, but he could have been better. Antonio Brown is a very good return man, but I'm afraid that his new offensive role will scare the Steelers away from using him on returns too often.

9-7, 2nd in AFC North

Weekly Awards 8/27/12

Best Player in Baseball- Mike Trout until further notice. In other words, for the next 15 years.
D'oh!- The Dodgers in 3 years when they realize how much money they are paying Adrian Gonzalez.
Right Tackle of the Week- Austin Howard belongs in the Hall of Fame. That is, if Wayne Hunter was considered a good blocker. Either way, Howard didn't get lifted up and thrown like Wayne Hunter, so he's an automatic improvement.
Jets Touchdown of the Week- Oh wait!
Impressive Minor Leaguer of the Week- Both Tyler Skaggs and Collin McHugh made their major league debuts last week, and both were extremely impressive. Unlike McHugh, Skaggs has always been a highly touted prospect. Also unlike McHugh, Skaggs was not sent down to the minors before ever appearing in another game. I've already talked about McHugh, but Skaggs is a five pitch pitcher with great movement. He has command of the strike zone, and won't overpower hitters, but he won't get touched up too often.
Amar'e Stoudemire/JaVale McGee Stupid Act of the Week- The Jets get this for not trying to use their stupid Tebow package in a game situation. While everyone knows that it won't work, it's best if they at least see what it looks like at game speed. Instead, the organization wants to act like they're running a covert operation in which no one can know anything about that package. Not like Tebow did the same thing last year. As if Tony Sparano didn't run that in Miami. They also need this award for treating Tim Tebow like a starter. All first-team players and Tim Tebow will not play in the preseason finale. Stupid.
Fix Your Bullpen- Last chance before the waiver deadline! Come on Metsies! Hopefully someone will give up a reliever that is under contract for next year for the return of either Scott Hairston or Andres Torres, both of whom are on waivers.
Skip Bayless Annoying Analyst Award- He basically said on national TV (I'm paraphrasing): "Tim Tebow is terrible unless his receivers are wide open and people aren't trying to defend him." I love him.
Birthday of the Day- Ghanaian National Team midfielder Sulley Muntari turns 28 today. Shout out to Darren McFadden. Also to his fantasy owners that will be in tears by Week 6.
Mike Trout Award- Trout.
NL Version of Mike Trout- Drew is cooling off a little bit now. With that comes the complete downward spiral of his team.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

32 in 32: Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions
Read the introduction here
Read the Falcons preview here
Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow

2011 Record: 10-6

Key Acquisitions: Ryan Broyles, Jacob Lacey, Riley Reiff
Key Departures: Bobby Carpenter, Chris Harris, Eric Wright

Matthew Stafford had one of the best seasons in the history of football. Of course, it came in the same year that Tom Brady and Drew Brees had (in terms of passing yards) the two best seasons in football history. He was finally able to stay healthy for a full season, and he definitely gave Detroit a breath of fresh air. Offensively, this team is very talented, even with an anemic running game. The reason for this, that Calvin Johnson guy. He's alright.While the offense could be one of the best in football, the back end of the defend is  not very good, and that could be the death of them this year. Their schedule this year is very tough, especially because they have to play both the Packers and the Bears twice, and the NFC is much better. If they can put it all together, and stay disciplined on and off the field, they have put themselves in position to be in playoff contention this year.

Stafford was amazing last year. He had the 5th most passing yards by any one quarterback in a season in the single of football. That's extremely impressive. Would have gotten a lot more attention if the seasons ranked 1 and 2 on that list didn't happen in the same year. The guy who got to 6th on that list last year won a Super Bowl. I don't think Stafford is going to be that amazing this year, but he's a great quarterback. He has great chemistry with Calvin Johnson, and the fact that the Lions made the playoffs without a reliable running game is a testament to Stafford's ability.

Speaking of those running backs, Detroit has three talented backs on their roster. Unfortunately, all three of them were injured at some point in 2011. Mikel Leshoure missed all of his rookie season with an Achilles tear, and Jahvid Best joined him on IR in November due to concussion issues. Kevin Smith even got hurt after taking over for Best. Best was very good at the start of his rookie season, but whether it be turf toe or concussions, he hasn't been fully healthy since 2010. If he is at full strength, along with Leshoure and Smith, this rushing attack can be very good. However, that's a huge if.

Calvin Johnson is too good for words, but let me try. He has sprinter speed, he's really tall, and has great hands. He can also jump really high. He's also a good route runner. Yeah, need anything else? Titus Young will most likely emerge as the #2 target as the season goes along after his pretty good rookie campaign. For now, Nate Burleson will be the one lining up across from Megatron, and he's always been a very solid receiver. He's not going to hurt this team as the second option. Kasim Osgood can be good when he doesn't play much, and he won't be needed to do much of anything on this team, which is great for them. He's a disaster if his role is too big. Ryan Broyles has the most receptions in the history of FBS (or Division I) college football. He tore his ACL in November, so he can't be on the field to begin the year, but he's contribute pretty nicely when he is ready.

Both Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew are complete tight ends. Both are great blockers and have great hands, creating a great 1-2 punch. Neither of them will be considered elite in the Tight End Renaissance (see: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham), but they're both very good.

The offensive line will be a very important to this team's success because of Stafford's past injury troubles. I think that they can handle that challenge. Rookie tackle Riley Reiff will be a massive upgrade over Gosder Cherilus on the right side. Jeff Backus can struggle in pass protection, but he's a good run blocker. The guards are good, and the center Dominic Raiola is getting older and is definitely showing signs of slowing down.          

The defensive line is arguably the best in football. The ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch form a great duo. They combined for 19 sacks in 2011, and when they weren't bringing down the QB, they were constantly applying pressure. Ndamukong Suh is a menace on the inside, and he's always causing havoc in the pass rush. He draws extra attention, freeing up Avril and Vanden Bosch to attack. There's is also Nick Fairley who is chock full of talent, but he just needs to put it all together. Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are also good pass rushers. Opposing signal callers will be deathly afraid to play against the Lions. If they aren't they should be. The line will struggle to stop the run as they did last year, which is why they have Sammie Lee Hill and Corey Williams.

The linebacking corps is very solid. Justin Durant was pretty good at stopping the run last year, while DeAndre Levy took a major step back last year. He wasn't very good, but was much better in previous seasons. Stephen Tulloch is an all-around linebacker, but he's best at making tackles. He has had at least 92 tackles each of the past three seasons.

Jacob Lacey is a fine corner, and should be a capable replacement for Eric Wright, who was pretty bad last year. Chris Houston and Aaron Berry are both solid corners, but nothing spectacular. They both make some terrible plays, contributing to what was a terrible pass defense last season. Louis Delmas will provide a much needed boost to this secondary. He was dearly missed at the end of the year.

Special Teams
Jason Hanson has been a reliable kicker despite being so old. He never ceases to amaze me, being 42 years old now. I guess you can be old if you just need to swing your leg once in a while. Punter Ryan Donahue was miserable last year, and Ben Graham will most likely steal the starting gig away him. Stefan Logan wasn't terrible in the return game last year.

10-6, 3rd in NFC North

Saturday, August 25, 2012

32 in 32: Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons
Read the introduction here
Read the Bengals preview here
Detroit Lions tomorrow

2011 Record: 10-6

Key Acquisitions: Peter Konz, Asante Samuel
Key Departures: Curtis Lofton, Ovie Mughelli, Mike Peterson, James Sanders, Eric Weems

Oh the Falcons. Picked them to go to the Super Bowl last year. They went up to New York and put together a stinker of an offensive performance, ending their season way before it should have ended. They never lose at home, so that's an automatic 8 wins right there, and this is this team's year. The Saints are going to be diminished after losing their coach for the season (NFL coaches have a huge impact on their teams) and the Panthers and Buccaneers are on the rise, but not at playoff level just yet. They'll win the division, but with their conference being so strong, they really can't afford to underachieve again. Matt Ryan has never won a playoff game, and he definitely is talented enough to do so. While Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez are getting older, offensively this team is really talented. That's part of the reason why I feel the window is closing, age. The defense was solid last year, and while they lost Curtis Lofton, they've vastly improved their secondary.

Matt Ryan is a very good quarterback. There are a bunch of people who will look at his lack of a playoff win and make the case that he's not good, but of course, those people are entirely wrong. He knows how to lead this team to wins, and with the receiving corps that he has, scoring points won't be that hard.

Michael Turner is now 30 years old. That's an ominous sign. This is probably the last year of productivity for him because he is a running back. He led the NFC in rushing last season, and I don't expect him to slow down this year. Usually when RBs reach this age, they have another good year before they fall flat. He's going to be as good as usual, but he could possibly slow down a little bit at the end of the year.

Roddy White is now nearing the end of his prime. He knows how to catch the ball. Well, sort of. He should get a lot more receptions than he does. He had a major issue with drops last year, even though he was able to get 100 receptions. He's still elite, but he really needs to iron out that issue. Julio Jones is going to have his breakout season this year. All cornerbacks released a joint statement: "Oh God no!!!" Jones has all the physical abilities to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and he's probably going to make that leap this year. He looked great as the season wore on after being seemingly non-existent at the start of the year. After these two, Harry Douglas is a very good slot receivers. He'll be the beneficiary of the extra attention paid to White and Jones.

Tony Gonzalez came back despite turning 36 in February. He's one of the best pass catchers ever, regardless of position, and he was still really productive in 2011. He's getting older but it seems that he won't ever stop catching passes. He had 80 last year, which seems completely ridiculous for a 35 year old, but I expect that from him by now.

The offensive line is very solid. Left tackle is the only glaring weakness, as neither Sam Baker nor Will Svitek were any good last year. Being Ryan's blind side, that's a concern, but the rest of the line is very good. Tyson Clabo and Todd McClure are both very proven veterans.

The Ray Edwards signing looked to be a major bust last season, and they really need him to step it up and be the pass rusher that the Falcons paid big bucks for. John Abraham is still producing, but he's pretty old at 34, and everyone is just waiting for age to hit him. He's still a very skilled pass rusher until then. The defensive tackles are both very good, even though Corey Peters isn't a good pass rusher.

Sean Weatherspoon was beyond impressive last year, and he's only going to get better. He could be one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL by the end of the year. He is a tackling machine. Speaking of tackling machines, the departure of Curtis Lofton is really going to hurt. It hurts even more than he went to the Saints. Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent will have to pick up the slack in his absence.

It was really hard to complete passes against Asante Samuel last year even though he was unhappy and probably wasn't playing as hard as he's capable of. It was even tougher for passes to be caught on Brent Grimes. This cornerback tandem is going to be really good. Dunta Robinson will be a package corner, and he's pretty good so his new role will maximize his talents. The safeties aren't terrible, but Thomas DeCoud isn't great.

Special Teams
Matt Bryant has been an elite kicker in recent seasons, and he's probably going to continue that trend. Matt Bosher was terrible last year, but he was only a rookie and he'll get better. Losing Eric Weems is a blow, and now the Rodgers boys; James and Jacquizz (brothers, but not twins) are going to be competing for that job.

10-6, 1st in NFC South

Mets Rookies and Cherington the Genius

I've had just about no time to do any writing this week, so there are some things that I need to say, starting off with the Mets and their rookie starting pitchers:

Matt Harvey pitched a gem on Wednesday against the Rockies, and while it wasn't like the dominance of his start against the Reds, he pitched very well. His fastball was working, and by working, I mean fast. His average velocity was at 95, and I remember him reaching all the way up to 98 MPH. He did what Matt Harvey does best, he threw a lot of fastballs. 76.5% of his pitches were heaters, and it was hard to hit them. He and Kelly Shoppach did a great job of pitch selection. He got ahead in the count very often, and from there he did a great job of not giving the batters anything to hit. Once he had them in a hole, he was able to throw his curveball and his slider into the dirt, and he got a lot of strikeouts from chased pitches. All of his four pitches were very good throughout his start.

I did not get to watch Collin McHugh's major league debut, but by all accounts it was great. He has a very effective curve and gets his strikeouts more by finesse than power. His fastball averaged 89.7 MPH, but he still got 9 strikeouts. If this is really how good he is, the Mets pitching staff for the next 10 years is shaping up pretty nicely; Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Collin McHugh, Jonathan Niese, Mike Pelfrey/Dillon Gee. Obviously Dickey and Santana will be there for the first few years, but not much longer after that.

Okay, I love Ben Cherington. He just made one of the smartest moves in baseball history. He recognizes that his team is going nowhere this season (except down) and he lit a stick of dynamite to his team without jeopardizing their future. He cleared a giant load of salary, allowing for a lot of flexibility in the offseason to improve this roster and in particular, the pitching staff. Trading Josh Beckett was a no-brainer because he was not working at all in Boston. He's the Jason Bay of the Red Sox at this point. Adrian Gonzalez is playing very well, but he's not even close to living up to his astronomical contract. Carl Crawford had an atrocious season in 2011, and was playing well when he returned from injury this year, until of course he had to get Tommy John surgery. He may not come back until 2014, or at least late in 2013. The pitching staff of this team is terrible, and once they use their extra money to improve that, they could be in contention next season. Remember that Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz are all still on this roster.

Friday, August 24, 2012

32 in 32: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals
Read the introduction here
Read the Titans preview here
Atlanta Falcons tomorrow

2011 Record: 9-7

Key Acquisitions: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Dre Kirkpatrick, Terrence Newman, Mohamed Sanu, Devon Still, Travelle Wharton, Kevin Zeitler
Key Departures: Cedric Benson, Andre Caldwell, Chris Crocker, Keith Rivers, Frostee Rucker, Jerome Simpson, Bobbie Williams

This team was reasonably surprising last year, even though people knew that the defense would be very good. Andy Dalton was much better than expected. Everyone knew that he would be good eventually, but the chemistry that he quickly fostered with A.J. Green was amazing. Green is a great receiver who whose combination of size and speed makes him a special talent. In terms of weapons this offense is very thin outside of Green. Defensively they have lost a few players, but should still be very good. They have a tougher schedule than last year. Dalton struggled near the end of last year, and he's probably going to be affected by the classic sophmore slump, so I expect him to take a step back. Those issues combined will lead the this team missing the playoffs. It wouldn't surprise me if they do get into the postseason because the AFC is not as deep as usual.

Andy Dalton's accuracy as a passer is a major asset to this team. He becomes much more erratic as the passes are deeper, which is why A.J. Green is so valuable. Throw it anywhere near Green's tall frame, he has a chance to catch it. Outside of that, Dalton is a great QB to move the ball down the field using short passes.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a fine running back who looked much better than he actually is because of the New England offense. He's an average runner who won't really make great plays unless the offensive line creates giant holes for him. This offensive line will consistently give him a lot of daylight.

I've already talked enough about A.J. Green, but other than him, the receivers on this team are not very good. It looks like Brandon Tate is going to be the #2 receiver, and he's another Pats castoff and he hasn't done much of anything in his career as a wide receiver. Mohamed Sanu was chosen in the 3rd round of this year's draft, and he's going to have to play a pivotal role on this roster. There is absolutely no depth here.

Jermaine Gresham and Donald Lee form a pretty nice combination at the tight end position. Gresham is a real weapon while Lee has shown that he has pretty good hands.

Travelle Wharton and Kevin Zeitler will be new starters on this pretty good offensive line. Wharton has always been a solid blocker, while Zeitler, a rookie whose main job is to be better than Bobbie Williams. Williams is a really good blocker, but at his advanced age, it's hard to maintain his success over the 16 game season. The rest of the line consists of returning starters Kyle Cook, Andre Smith, and Andrew Whitworth. All are fine at what they do, nothing spectacular, but in the NFL it's hard to find an offensive line with 5 guys that are at least average.

Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson showed last year that they could consistently apply pressure to the opposing offense. Both are very good young pass rushers. Geno Atkins led to team in sacks at the defensive tackle position, which does not happen very often. He's a rock in the middle who has the athleticism to get after the quarterback. He also terrorizes running backs consistently. Domata Peko is a very good defensive tackle in his own right. His strength is stopping the run, but he attracts extra attention from pass blockers because of his size. It would help this front seven if Keith Rivers was still with the team, but he could never stay healthy, so trading him was a reasonable decision. Rey Maualuga is an above average linebacker who does a lot on defense. Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson both did well last year.

It will be very hard to throw on this team anywhere near the sidelines. The corners are not only very top heavy, this is a very deep position. Leon Hall is a really good corner, but he is coming off of an Achilles injury and it is not certain whether or not he can play (and if so, how effectively) this year. They went out and drafted athletic Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round this year who happens to be compared to Antonio Cromartie a lot (which is a very good thing, but only when on the field. Outside of that...I think he wants to avoid those parallels). Nate Clements and Terrence Newman are aging veterans who have had success in their careers with Clements playing as good as usual last season. Jason Allen isn't very good, but as the 4th corner, he's a good option. Pac-Man Jones is still on this roster in case you forgot. The middle of the field seems to be much weaker. Reggie Nelson is fine, but Taylor Mays is the real problem. As the strong safety, it doesn't help if he can't really cover receivers that well. He has a tendency to be burned in the passing game.

Special Teams
Mike Nugent somehow found a way to be consistent all of a sudden after struggling with just that during his career. I'm not sure whether or not he can continue to be as sure-footed as last year. Ken Huber wasn't very good last year. Brandon Tate has done well in the kick return game in the past.

7-9, 3rd in AFC North

Thursday, August 23, 2012

32 in 32: Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans
Read the introduction here
Read the Bears preview here
Cincinnati Bengals tomorrow

2011 Record: 9-7

Key Acquisitions: Zach Brown, Steve Hutchinson, Kamerion Wimbley
Key Departures: Cortland Finnegan, Daniel Graham, William Hayes, Chris Hope, Jason Jones

I picked this team to make the playoffs last year and nobody believed in them. I was nearly right and this team is basically the same as last year, but they will take a step back for one reason: Jake Locker. I do think that picking Locker was the best option for the future of the team, and they need to stick with him throughout the season. Chris Johnson is going to be much better this year, because nobody loses all of their talent in one year. Unless his name is Jason Bay. Kenny Britt has health problems along with legal issues, but he'll be good when he plays this year. The defense looks solid even though they lack a threatening pass rush. This team is young and impressive, but until Locker has a full season under his belt, I'm not ready to launch them into the playoffs just yet.

I am a huge fan of Locker, but he needs to go through the usual trials and tribulations of a young quarterback. While he has Matthew Hasselbeck to mentor him as he did last year, but there he hasn't had enough time. Aaron Rodgers had three years behind Favre, but one year on the bench won't do the trick. I think he's really good, but not just yet. Hasselbeck is a smart guy and probably a really good mentor, but Locker will be inconsistent, like a normal QB with minimal or no experience. He'll show improvement as the season wears on however.

CJ2K's holdout is the biggest reason why he was a complete failure in 2011. Missing all of training camps, especially with the lockout, was a terrible decision by him. He got better as the season wore one because he was starting to regain his form. He'll be in playing shape right from the get-go to start this season, so he'll be fine. He's too fast to be as terrible as he was last season.

As I said before, Kenny Britt will most likely be suspended for the beginning of the season, but he's a dynamic deep threat who knows how to use his size to his advantage. Nate Washington filled in for Britt last year as the #1 receiver and was surprisingly very good. I don't think anyone expected him to have much success as the top guy. Damian Williams has been inconsistent throughout his career, but he has shown flashes of brilliance. Kendall Wright is really fast and could have a very big impact on this team. He most likely won't get as much attention as someone with his skill level should, and he'll be a major deep threat.

Jared Cook was very good last year, and it seemed that the flashes of greatness that he had shown in previous seasons were signs of future success.

The offensive line is very, very good. Steve Hutchinson is a great left guard, and has been one of the best at his position for a very long time. Chris Johnson will fall in love with the holes created by Hutchinson. Michael Roos is a very good tackle, and so is his counterpart David Stewart, who is coming off of an injury riddled 2011 campaign, but he's healthy now and will be fine.

Derrick Morgan will be much better than he was last year because he's healthier. He'll attempt to form a very good pass rushing duo with Kamerion Wimbley. The team as a whole was terrible at getting after the QB last year, and while they added something in Wimbley, I'm not sure whether or not it is enough. Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy are both good young players. This is each of their second seasons, and both very fine last year. Will Witherspoon is a veteran linebacker who will do a nice job on the outside, as he has his whole career.

Cortland Finnegan is gone. Fortunately for Tennessee, Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty are both nice cornerbacks. Nothing spectacular, but they will do a very good job of slowing down receivers. Michael Griffin is a really good safety who is a black hole in the middle when he is at his best. He really knows how to force all plays to be down the sidelines, and with those two corners there, that will be hard for an offense to consistently do.

Special Teams
Rob Bironas will have another typical Rob Bironas season. He's going to be a really good kicker and he won't miss much of anything. There will be a few games that he wins for them by kicking so many field goals. Brett Kern was amazing at the beginning of his career, but he tailed off last year. Marc Mariani is an improving young return man who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2010. He has shown the ability to take it to the house.

8-8, 2nd in the AFC South

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

32 in 32: Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears
Read the introduction here
Read the Chargers preview here
Tennessee Titans tomorrow

2011 Record: 8-8

Key Acquisitions: Michael Bush, Geno Hayes, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Shea McClellin, Chilo Rachal, Eric Weems
Key Departures: Marion Barber, Corey Graham, Brandon Meriweather, Amobi Okoye

What if. What if Culter and Forte had not gone down late last year? The answer is, they would have made the playoffs and most likely won at least a game. Cutler is much better than people give him credit for, and Matt Forte is coming off of a career year. I'm not a big believer at all in the "contract year" stupidity. He's very good. Nothing to do with playing for a contract. The Brandon Marshall trade was an epic coup. The offensive line doesn't look great, but Mike Tice just happens to take mediocre lines and make them good. He's an elite offensive line coach. Being the Chicago Bears, the defense is very solid. They were surprisingly low ranking last year. They ranked 17th, but I definitely see that number getting much lower this year. This is a "sexy" pick this year and there's good reason for that. They actually could win the division because of the lack of defense on the Packers.

Jay Cutler is just like Tony Romo. Neither of them get nearly enough credit for what they do. Cutler is a really good passer, and he actually is a leader unlike what some people think. He unfairly gets criticized for his body language and what happened in the 2010 NFC Championship Game against the Packers when he got hurt and left the game. I don't know what it is about him, but people enjoy piling on him. You need to respect his talent.

Matt Forte is a great running back. He was really good before last year, and he was even better last year. I expect him to sustain his performance this year at an elite level. The Bears have two legitimate backups for him. Michael Bush is a great running back who along with Forte will form a very hard duo to stop in the red zone. Bush should have signed somewhere else to be a starter because he has that kind of talent. Kahlil Bell was very good in limited action last year to replace Forte when he went down.

I love the Brandon Marshall pickup. He had amazing chemistry with Jay Cutler in Denver, and Cutler was the one who helped launch Marshall to stardom. Marshall also helped Cutler play better too. I expect Marshall too pick it up this year. He hasn't played with a quarterback as good as Cutler since he played with Cutler. Marshall was great last year but he's going to be even better. Earl Bennett was pretty good last year, and I expect him to breakout with Brandon Marhsall seeing a lot of attention on the opposite side of him. Alshon Jeffery looks to be a really good receiving option. Dane Sanzenbacher and Rashied Davis are both fine receivers.

Roberto Garza is a really good center who should provide a lot of time for Cutler to pass. Gabe Carimi was considered to be a really tackle coming out of college, and it seems like he's going to be a very good blocker. J'Marcus Webb did better as the season wore on, until the last game of the season, when he was decimated. Neither Chilo Rachal or Lance Louis is great, but working with Mike Tice never hurts an offensive lineman.

That Julius Peppers guy is advancing in age, but the one talent that he will always have is his ability to get sacks. He knows how to get it done in the pass rush. Israel Idonije is moving to defensive tackle to make room for Shea McClellin on the end. Idonije is a very good run defender. Henry Melton will be playing next to Idonije and had a great season getting after the QB, forming a nice combination with Idonije this year.  McClellin is very good at rushing the QB, so with him and Peppers, the line looks to be very scary for the guy under center.

Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are getting older. Does it look like it? At all? Urlacher has been elite for seemingly the past eternity and he will always play at a high level. He's not stopping. He's the NFC version of Ray Lewis. You're just waiting for Father Time to catch up with him, and it never happens. Lance Briggs isn't slowing down either. Two defensive leaders who are about as smart as any defensive players that I have watched.

The safeties look to be very sketchy. Chris Conte is only in his second year, and while he played really well last year, he's not getting any help from Major Wright. Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman manned the corners pretty well in 2011, and it was very hard to get any big plays down the sidelines against the Bears. D.J. Moore is a nice defensive back to have in nickel and dime coverages.

Special Teams
Adam Podlesh wasn't a very good punter last year, but he wasn't terrible. Chicago really expects him to step it up and so do I. Robbie Gould is always a good kicker. He's been consistent for this team. Devin Hester is the best return man in NFL history. Period.

11-5, 2nd in NFC North

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

32 in 32: San Diego Chargers

San Diego Chargers
San Diego Chargers (Powder Blue!)
Read the introduction here
Read the Raiders preview here
Chicago Bears tomorrow

2011 Record: 8-8

Key Acquisitions: Atari Bigby, Ronnie Brown, Aubrayo Franklin, Rex Hadnot, Melvin Ingram, Jarret Johnson, Le'Ron McClain, Robert Meachem, Roscoe Parrish, Kendall Reyes, Eddie Royal, Michael Spurlock, Demorrio Williams
Key Departures: Luis Castillo, Patrick Crayton, Kris Dielman, Tommie Harris, Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill

Phillip Rivers had a down year. He was not 100% healthy, though he refuses to admit that. There's no way that the man was at full strength. He's obviously going to turn it around. Ryan Mathews is going to be hurt for the beginning of the year, and his health has been a constant issue throughout his career. Unfortunately, they lost Mike Tolbert to the Panthers. The depth of the wide receiver group is very good. Offensively, this team is pretty set, especially if Mathews stays on the field for most of the season. Defensively, this team has a little bit of talent, but I can see that being a complete disaster like is was last year. The only issue with the Chargers is that they always start the season slowly, and end on a hot streak. It's been a major problem ever since Norv Turner became the coach, no consistency in terms of performance. Turner isn't a very good coach, and I fully expect this team to underachieve once again. Just because they always do that. Every single year.

Phillip Rivers is one of the best QBs in the league (I have him at 6) even though he was bad last year. He still got himself a lot of yards, but the interception totals were very unnerving. He'll bounce back. I don't even have doubts about that.

Ryan Mathews is really good. I felt that he would make the jump to an elite running back this year, and he still might, but I'm afraid that he'll be sidelined a lot during the rest of his time in the NFL. His young career has been littered with injuries and it's probably going to continue. He'll most likely begin playing sometime in September, and he'll be a shot in the arm for this team. Ronnie Brown will have to hold it down in his absence, but he's been virtually non-existent for a while. He was a non factor last year with the Eagles, but I think he'll be at least serviceable in San Diego.

Losing Vincent Jackson is more insignificant than you would think. I'm not a fan on his. I am however a fan of Malcolm Floyd as a #2 receiver, but not as the top guy. Vincent Brown's broken ankle is a blow, but the other guys are pretty good. Robert Meachem and Roscoe Parrish have both had success over throughout their careers as speedy weapons downfield. Neither of them have ever, nor will be asked to play on every down. Eddie Royal was very good in Denver, when he was not hurt. I think he'll prove to be a very good pickup for this team.

Antonio Gates is consistently a great tight end, when he's on the field. The problem is no one knows whether or not he will be on the field. It looks like he's at full strength right now, but don't expect that to last very long.

The offensive line has a couple of holes. Jeromey Clary and Rex Hadnot are both disasters. Both are probably going to be starting for this team. Clary rivals Wayne Hunter when it comes to pure ineptitude, but I still give Hunter the edge. Outside of those guys, the line is pretty good. Nick Hardwick is a great center, who didn't allow a sack last year. Jared Gaither is a really good tackle, but it would help if he can stay healthy. That helps.

The defensive line has nobody that can consistently apply pressure to the quarterback. Jaques Cesaire and Antonio Garay are pedestrian at their respective positions, and this line isn't going to scare anybody. Especially when they send the 3 man rush. Unless they are being blocked by Wayne Hunter. Melvin Ingram looks to improve the terrible pass rush. He's going to make an immediate impact as a threat in pass defense. Jarrett Johnson is a good run defender, while Shaun Phillips is a very good pass rusher. He wasn't at his best last year, but he'll form a nice duo with Ingram. Takeo Spikes is still in the NFL. Yeah, I know right. He's a non-factor at this point, but he did have a very good career. The production just isn't consistent anymore.

The secondary is going to be bad. It was terrible last year, and it will be terrible again. Quentin Jammer is old and getting slower, and both he and Antoine Cason aren't very good at coverage. Atari Bigby is a mediocre at best safety. Eric Weddle is the one who will carry the burden of the mistakes made by the corners and Bigby. He's really good, but I don't know if leaving it all to him is fair.

Special Teams
In 2010, the Chargers were the only team that I have ever seen miss the playoffs because of their special teams. They kept getting punts blocked (especially by the Raiders) and missing kicks and giving up big returns. It was pure hilarity to watch, but torture for all fans of the Bolts. Nick Novak and Nate Kaeding will battle for the kicker job. Novak did well when Kaeding went down last year, and they might decide to continue with him. Mike Scifres is an elite punter. He knows how to back a team up against their own endzone. Michael Spurlock and Eddie Royal will be the ones returning kicks. Royal is a dynamic punt returner who had some success doing it in Denver. He's a terrible receiver and okay kick returner. He'll have his moments.

8-8, 3rd in AFC West

Monday, August 20, 2012

32 in 32: Oakland Raiders

Oakland Raiders
Read the introduction here
Read the Jets preview here
San Diego Chargers tomorrow

2011 Record: 8-8

Key Acquisitions: Ronald Bartell, Tony Bergstrom, Mike Goodson, Patrick Lee, Owen Schmitt, Shawntae Spencer, Dave Tollefson
Key Departures: Kevin Boss, Michael Bush, Bruce Campbell, Quentin Groves, John Henderson, Chris Johnson, Jarvis Moss, Stanford Routt, Lito Sheppard

The Raiders. Oh the Raiders. Talk about a revolving door of coaches. Nobody has been able to establish a culture or a system with this team over the past decade. Lack of continuity continues with Dennis Allen taking over the team. This comes after Hue Jackson helped to fix this offense, but that doesn't count because it's the Raiders. Carson Palmer was not very good last year. Darren McFadden isn't ever healthy. The offense looks very bad on paper. The defense doesn't look great either. If this isn't bad enough, their division is in for a big year. Peyton Manning is now in their division. That's an automatic two losses. Peyton Manning.

Carson Palmer is average. He hasn't been very good since his injury problems started to arise. He was absolutely terrible last year, but that was because he missed all of camp and the beginning of the season due to his "holdout" (if you would call it that).

McFadden is really good. Unfortunately for the city of Oakland, he's also really hurt all the time. I was reading in Sports Illustrated, that if he played 16 games each of the past 3 years, he would have ranked no lower than third in the league (projections based on his yardage in the games that he did play). Now they've lost Michael Bush, who is a starter on most teams (the Bears bid the most for him as some sort of strategy to guilt Matt Forte into signing a contract). No, I would not trust Mike Goodson to carry the load when Darren gets hurt.

This wide receiving group is three deep. The three aren't stars either. Being that they are on the Raiders, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, and Denarius Moore are fast. None of them are great at route running or simply catching the football. Moore may be the exception though. He should be the #1 receiver after his surprisingly stellar performance last year.

Khalif Barnes is very bad at pass blocking, but he's an exceptional run blocker. For a team that is expected to run the ball a lot anyway, he's very good to have. Stefen Wisniewski had a very good year last yea, earning All-Rookie Team honors. Jared Veldheer is a very good young tackle. He's well on his way to Pro Bowl level.

The defensive line looks very solid. They have two monsters in the middle in Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. Seymour is getting up there in age and I'm not sure if he's going to have the same production that has been expected of him throughout his career. I have to problems with Lamarr Houston, Desmond Bryant, Dave Tollefson, nor Matt Shaughnessy. None of them are amazing, but they're not going to be terrible. Houston did show the ability to pressure the quarterback last year. The same can be said with Tollefson.

The risk factor with the rest of the defense is scary. Rolando McClain is the only reliable guy in this group, and he might miss some time due to a possible suspension. Draft bust Aaron Curry has to be a starter on this team, and even after he was traded to the Raiders, was not very good. When McClain is out, the burden will be on a fourth round pick, Miles Burris. This will probably be a completely disastrous unit.

Safties Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch are very good, but this team will be very vulnerable to the big play down the sidelines. It seems as if they don't care to keep their good players, allowing both Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt to walk in each of the past two offseasons. Ronald Bartell and Shawntae Spencer will have to step in and man the corners, something that neither of them are great at.

Special Teams
The best special teams unit in the NFL. Sebastian Janikowski is such a great kicker. Sea Bass has the most powerful leg that I have seen on a kicker. Not only is his leg powerful, it's pretty accurate. He makes seemingly impossible field goals with ease. Shane Lechler is a real master at pinning his opponents deep inside their own territory. He's one of the best punters of all time. Yeah, I said it, he's a great punter. Amazing punter. Punter. I should rank the best punters of all time. Lechler would be near the top of the list. Jacoby Ford is a really good punt returner with elite speed. He had some big returns last year.

4-12, 4th in AFC West

Weekly Awards 8/20/12

Best Player in Baseball- Seemed like somebody forgot to tell Mike Trout that he's supposed to be in a slump. His team is in a slump, but not him.
Impressive Minor Leaguer of the Week- Trevor Bauer was brought up to the major leagues earlier this year, but he had to be sent down because the that he approached hitters was not major league ready. He has great stuff, but he's not nearly aggressive enough to max out his potential. In the minors, he was able to throw pitches out of the zone and get hitters to chase after it. Once he was called up however, the batters started to just take his pitches for balls, which is why he walked so many batters. The second that he learns to start challenging hitters to hit his pitches (which they probably cannot do very often), he's going to be great. His fastball isn't overpowering, but he has great command of all of his pitches and his breaking balls have a very sharp break to them.
Amar'e Stoudemire/Javale McGee Stupid Act of the Week- Boston Red Sox management. Everyone knows that Carl Crawford needs to have Tommy John surgery. He can't even throw properly. It took a meeting with him to convince them to shut him down for the season. That's because they are shortsighted enough to believe that they still have a chance at the playoffs. The Red Sox are a joke. Fried Chicken and Beer.
Fix Your Bullpen- Frank Francisco tried to do it again. last week. Once again he created a save situation out of a 6-1 game. Once again, Jon Rauch bailed him out. Closers are stupid.
Wow- Wayne Hunter is bad.
Skip Bayless Annoying Analyst Award- All people on ESPNRadio that still have hope for my Jets. They're hopeless. Stop it.
Birthday of the Day- Todd Helton. Always underappreciated. The most dangerous hitter that nobody knows.
Mike Trout Award- The man is great.
NL Version of Mike Trout- He'll never be Trout, but he's not too far off.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

32 in 32: New York Jets

New York Jets
Read the introduction here
Read the Eagles preview here
Oakland Raiders tomorrow

2011 Record: 8-8

Key Acquisitions: Yeremiah Bell, Josh Brown, Quinton Coples, Demario Davis, Stephon Heyer, Stephen Hill, LaRon Landry, Chaz Schillens, Tim Tebow
Key Departures: Plaxico Burress, Marquice Cole, Jim Leonhard, Brodney Pool, LaDanian Tomlinson, Jamaal Westerman

Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan have neglected this offense for the past three years, and they will finally see the effects of this. Ryan prides himself on his defense, but as the head coach, he has to care about all phases of the team, but he doesn't. That's why he should still be a defensive coordinator (a job at which he is elite). This is the final year of the Mike Tannenbaum era because if the Jets get to .500, I'll finally be convinced that Tebow has divine intervention on his side. Speaking of Timothy, let's dispel the argument of Tebow being a "winner." He's 8-6 as a starter, but he's a winner! He honestly should switch positions. He'd be a nice fullback (I'm actually not joking). The offense has no weapons, and on top of that, the offensive line cannot protect anyone, regardless of who is under center. There will not be nearly enough points scored for this team to make it to the playoffs. Defensively this team will rely more on elite scheme than elite talent. I like certain players on defense, but Rex's coaching allows the lesser players to overachieve. I still expect them to be a Top 5 defense, but with the ineptitude of the offense, they'll be on the field way too much.

I had to write a whole separate article about the quarterbacks earlier. I said it there and I'll say it again, Mark Sanchez is going to have his best season, even if the stats won't prove it. When he first came to New York, it was very evident that he didn't put in the necessary effort to become as good as he can be. It looks like he finally gets it, and he's already showing that his ability to read the defense is improved.

Shonn Greene. Oh Shonn. He's not a great running back, but he's not terrible. He's run through the holes created for him, but he's not going to do anything spectacular nor is he going to be a reliable playmaker. He doesn't have great speed nor is he the strongest, he's just another guy. He's nice to have as the second running back on a team, but not as the feature back. Unfortunately, the delusional Jets organization wants to Ground and Pound with this guy. Talk about not knowing what you have. Simply put, that's a horrific decision. Joe McKnight does however has great speed, and did some nice things as the third down back last year. Bilal Powell is fighting for that job, and he's a powerful back who has been pretty good in training camp so far, in case you put any stock in that. John Conner is a great fullback. The blocks that the Terminator throws are pretty awesome. He's also valuable in short yardage situations.

Santonio Holmes isn't elite. He's an elite #2 receiver, but as the top guy, he doesn't cut it. It's especially bad when the guys after him are all unproven. Holmes is a malcontent who will get annoyed whenever the throws don't go near him, even when he's double covered. Let's just say that he's going to be pretty angry this year. I do like Stephen Hill. He has great speed and he can really stretch the field with his running. He has an issue with drops so far, but he's improving. He knows how to get separation from the defense, and I expect him to be the primary receiver by the end of the year. Jeremy Kerley was fine last year, but as the full-time slot receiver I expect some good things from him. All Patrick Turner does is drop the ball. Drops, drops, drops, and more drops. I don't get this team's love affair with him, but it has got to stop. Jordan White doesn't have very good speed, but he is a pretty good route runner. He's not going to have much of an impact, but he will help move the chains once in a while. Chaz Schillens was a starter on the Raiders, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy throughout his career. He's not very good either. When it comes to receivers, this team is deep, but there isn't anyone that will put fear into an opposing defense. Unless of course they lose sleep over Antonio Cromartie. Yes, the cornerback is going to start playing both sides of the ball. He's a dynamic athlete, but most corners move to defense because they can't catch the ball. Whatever.

Dustin Keller has always been a very good tight end, and Mark Sanchez's security blanket. He's a very good option over the middle of the field, especially when he's in constant trouble. That brings us to the debacle that is Wayne Hunter.

Wayne Hunter can only be described as a turnstile. He whiffs on blocks, or he goes down and allows the rusher a free path to Sanchez. Too many times I have seen the defensive end literally push Hunter so far into the backfield that they were able to pressure the QB without getting around Hunter. There was even a play last night against the Giants in which (I'm not kidding) Mathias Kiwanuka lifted Wayne off the ground, threw him aside, and went about his business. A guy who shouldn't be in the NFL starting at RT is not good for this line, because nobody else can hold their blocks long enough for there to be legitimate protection. Sanchez has to spend time getting away from Hunter's mistake that he doesn't have time to look downfield and go through his progressions to get off a good pass, or he walks into a sack allowed by someone else. Speaking of other people, the rest of this line is actually very good. Nick Mangold is the best center in the NFL, while Brandon Moore and D'Brickashaw Ferguson are both elite at their respective positions. Brick had a down year, but he'll bounce back pretty nicely. Matt Slauson isn't the great guard, but he doesn't hurt this team. They tried to trade for Jeff Otah, but he failed two physicals and the trade was voided. He was later cut by the Panthers. I fully expect Austin Howard or Stephon Heyer to step in and take over the starting RT role by Week 1. Anyone is better than Wayne Hunter.

I never thought I would write so much about an offensive line. Tweet me (@WilliamBotchway) with all of the Wayne Hunter jokes that you can think of. I might actually make embarrassing Wayne Hunter a recurring theme.

Sione Pouha is a good nose tackle, but he's not very good as a pass rusher. He was a force in defending the run, but he doesn't exactly have the pass rushing talent. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was also very good in run defense, and he was better at getting to the QB. He'll get better as he grows. Kenrick Ellis will get his opportunity to shine this year, and I expect him to show some improvement. His ceiling is very high, but I'm not sure if he's going to put it all together. Marcus Dixon and Mike DeVito are very good in certain situations, with DeVito being a viable threat on passing downs. Now we get to Quinton Coples. The first round draft pick who has shown that he can shut off his motor and play completely unmotivated. In classic Jets fashion, they looked at this and saw, first round pick. He has great talent, but I really hope that his mind is in the right place this year. If it his, he will be the best pass rusher on the team.

Demario Davis looks to be a pass rushing linebacker, and Rex Ryan already loves him. If Rex loves a guy on defense, that's usually a great sign. Calvin Pace is getting old, slow, and he's always hurt. Not a good recipe, but when he's on the field, he's a good tackler. Hopefully his dreadful year was just an anomaly. Bryan Thomas can play at linebacker and on the line, and he's a veteran leader on this defense. Bart Scott is looking old and slow himself, but he always finds a way to turn it on. He's not at his best, but he's still fine. Now to get to my two favorite people in the front seven. Aaron "Mayhem" Maybin played mostly on passing downs last year, but due to his great performance, I see him getting some more playing time. He was a draft bust (11th pick in 2009) picked off the wire by the Jets last year. He led the team in sacks and showed what made him such a high pick, his pass rushing talent. He did just what his nickname suggests, the man caused mayhem. David Harris is the soul of this team defensively. He's still extremely underrated, and a very good linebacker. He's not Patrick Willis elite, but he's in the second tier.

Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the league. We all know that. With Antonio Cromartie on the other side, this team sports the best cornerback tandem in the league (rivaled by Philadelphia). Cromartie is a great playmaker and doesn't get enough credit in terms of coverage. Kyle Wilson is a very good defensive back in packages with extra wide receivers. He's never going to put a receiver on an island (see: Revis Island), but he does a pretty nice job in coverage. LaRon Landry is an amazing safety, when he's healthy. He's one of the best in the league, except that he can never be fully healthy. He's essentially Bob Sanders Part Deux. Hopefully he can stay on the field this year. Yeremiah Bell is a very smart safety. He's a very good tackler too, with 107 total tackles last season. There's Eric Smith too, who is pretty slow for his position, but he's good in certain packages.

Special Teams
We have a kicker battle brewing here. I expect Josh Brown to win the job over Nick Folk, probably because Brown has been consistent over his NFL career and Folk has been anything but. Also, the punter, T.J. Conley is completely atrocious. He has terrible last year, and he had three shanks in a row last night. Terrible punting performance. He needs to be replaced. Joe McKnight apparently led the NFL in return yards per kickoff last year (according to CBS). That was completely unexpected, but he does know how to take it to the house. Jeremy Kerley will probably handle the punts. Antonio Cromartie does make cameos on special teams, and to great results.

6-10, 3rd in AFC East

**NOTE** 9-7 means that Rex Ryan is the smartest man on the face of the Earth. A Super Bowl and we need to put him on Mount Rushmore.

32 in 32: Jets Quarterbacks

Okay, I have a lot of thoughts on the QB situation with my Jets, so I actually had to create a completely separate article.

Having both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow can work if executed correctly. Being the Jets of course, they have already messed everything up.

I think that Mark Sanchez is in for his best season as a quarterback. Due tot he fact that the offense around him is so bad, the improvement won't show up statistically, but I have a hunch that he'll start reading defense better and making smarter passes. He's not as bad a passer as he has shown in the past. So far in the preseason, he has looked good when he has time to get off a throw. The only issue is that the receivers can't exactly catch the ball, but that's not Sanchez's fault. Sanchez is an average quarterback at worst, and his ceiling is still high (second tier level, he's never going to be Tom Brady) because he has already shown flashes of playing really well. He's 4-2 in the postseason, all of the games on the road. Not everyone can say that. While the Jets were very defense oriented in those years, he had to make big plays when it counted, and he really delivered in the playoffs. No QB can make it to back to back AFC Championships unless he has some talent. I do think that he has a future in the NFL, but the direction this team is going, I highly doubt it will be in NY.

That brings us to the most famous backup in the history of sports. He's a backup. He has lead a team to the playoffs before, which means that if Sanchez happens to go down with an injury, I trust him more than I do Greg McElroy. I still don't think that he can throw. He's basically Vince Young in terms of playing style. Both are bad passers, but very good runners. Tebow is a better runner than Young, but both are very good backups, if they are used as such. Ideally, the Jets would drop this stupid wildcat idea, but they won't, so here's how it would actually work:

  1. Use it sparingly. Between 2-5 plays a game, it should never expand to 20 plays like I have heard before, because that's just absurd.
  2. Don't make this the Red Zone system; it becomes less of a gimmick and more of a gameplan, and it's a pretty terrible gameplan.
  3. Don't expect it to gain major yardage; everyone knows the possible outcomes of the play: Tebow runs to the right, Tebow runs to the left, Tebow gives it to Shonn Greene, Tebow makes a terrible throw.
  4. Never interrupt to flow of the offense. If Sanchez is leading the team down the field, Tebow should never enter the game. Only use this when the offense seems to be stalled.
The Jets will ignore all of this, and at some point start to alternate plays or drives between the QBs, which is the worst possible outcome of this. Tebow is a better passer than all wildcat quarterbacks in the NFL, but the wildcat does not work alongside of a conventional system, it's best used as something to have in the arsenal, only to whip it out a few times a game. 

Unfortunately for all Jets fans and for Mark Sanchez, I believe that the Jets want Tim Tebow to be their starter. If they really wanted to go forward with the Sanchize, then they would have upgraded the offense; get him a legitimate deep threat, improve the offensive line (attempting to get Jeff Otah when they knew that he would fail his physical doesn't count), and let Mark throw the ball more often instead of attempting to try this "Ground and Pound" that doesn't work in today's NFL. Stephen A. Smith said it best, "the fix is in." The Jets have set this whole thing up for Tebow to be the future of this franchise.

That's why I called a guy to fix my wall since I punched 37 holes into it. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

32 in 32: Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles
Read the introduction here
Read the Cowboys preview here
New York Jets tomorrow

2011 Record: 8-8

Key Additions: O.J. Atogwe, Demetress Bell, Fletcher Cox, DeMeco Ryans
Key Departures: Ronnie Brown, Winston Justice, Asante Samuel, Owen Schmitt, Juqua Parker

Really disappointing start to the season in 2011, but they really ended the year on a hot streak. Overall, this team is up there with one of the most talented teams in the league. I can't even come up with a good reason why they were so bad at the beginning of the year. Their defense should have been much better, and I expect great improvement this year. Vick always gets hurt and I see him missing at least 2 games, as he always does. Hopefully for the Eagles, it comes at a weak spot in their schedule, because Andy Reid is very good at developing and teaching QBs. Whoever the backup is, (Trent Edwards, Mike Kafka, or Nick Foles) he will be at least average under Reid.

I'm not sure if Vick's explosiveness is still there, but his improved skills as a pocket passer makes him so good. At 32 years old, he probably won't be able to scramble around like Mike Vick, but his accuracy is decent enough for him to still be very good. We all know about his powerful left arm.

LeSean McCoy is one of the best running backs in the NFL. His elusiveness is great. Dion Lewis wasn't terrible has the second back last year.

DeSean Jackson had a really down year last year, but I'll chalk that up to the holdout combined with the shortened training camp. His downfield speed makes him such a great deep threat, and I think he'll return to form this season. Jeremy Maclin is a great second option with great hands. Jason Avant is a really consistent receiver. He's very sure-handed and is a great security blanket receiver.

Brent Celek really has to step up this year. He looked very average in 2011, but that's not what was expected of him. I don't consider him elite, but he has to play like the above average player that he has shown in the past.

Jason Peters has made the Pro Bowl each of the past 5 years, but he has a ruptured Achilles tendon right now, and I'm not sure if he's going to be available at the beginning of the season. Todd Herremans and Demetress Bell will do a good job in his absence, with one of them moving to the bench one he returns. Evan Mathis was a real rock at the left guard position last year. Hopefully he can continue to keep guys in front of him.

Somebody forgot to tell Jason Babin that he was supposed to be as bad as the rest of the team last year. He was a terror for all offenses last year. He found ways to get his hands on the QB. No matter what the situation, he found ways to get into the backfield. It was really impressive. Darryl Tapp and Brandon Graham were very good situational pass rushers last year. Trent Cole is a very good rush end himself. They'll do a  great job at pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Fletcher Cox is considered to be a great defensive tackle, so I'm excited to see him make some major stops this year. I haven't even gotten to Cullen Jenkins, who was a major piece of the Super Bowl team in Green Bay. He wasn't nearly as dominant as usual last year, but I see him just eating up space in the middle. Overall, the defensive line is the best unit on this team. I have no idea why the Texans traded DeMeco Ryans, but hey, that's a gain for the Iggles. He's a leader and a really good linebacker. He's very reliable. Akeem Jordan and Casey Matthews are decent linebackers.

Nnamdi Asomugha has a quietly good year last year as he continued to frustrate wide receivers. With Asante Samuelgone, DRC will stop playing the nickel corner position and move to the second cornerback position. He's a really good playmaker even if he didn't exactly show that last season. Joselio Hanson will take over at the nickel corner role. Oshiomogho (VICTORY!) Atogwe and Nate Allen are really good safeties. Atogwe has experienced a drop off in play lately, but he's still very good.

Special Teams
Alex Henery barely had any field goal attempts last year, but he only missed 1 of 11. I expect more attempts this year, and he showed great accuracy. Rounding out the all Henry/Henery special teams unit, is Chas Henry. He wasn't very good last year, but he has competition in Mat McBriar. I expect McBriar to win the starting job. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be the one back to receive kicks this year, and that means good things for this team.

10-6, 2nd in NFC East

Friday, August 17, 2012

32 in 32: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys
Read the introduction here
Read the Cardinals preview here
Philadelphia Eagles tomorrow

2011 Record: 8-8

Key Acquisitions: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Dan Connor, Kyle Orton, Brodney Pool
Key Departures: Alan Ball, Martellus Bennett, Derrick Dockery, Abram Elam, Bradie James, Kyle Kosier, Terrence Newman, Laurent Robinson

I've always been a notorious Romo defender. He is an elite quarterback in a difficult division and conference. His team doesn't help him out much either. I originally thought that they could make a run to the postseason, but looking around at the NFC, that's not going to happen. Romo is still great, but there are a lot of questions to be answered about this team, especially on offense. I do like that they finally took care of the glaring issues in the secondary.

Tony Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. I currently have him as the 7th best, which is good considering that Rodgers, Brady, Brees, and both Mannings are all on pace for the Hall of Fame. I'm not saying that Romo will ever get to that level (unless the man starts to win in the playoffs), but he's not as terrible as people keep saying.

Demarco Murray came out of nowhere last season to become one of the best rookie running backs in the league. I don't see him as an elite rusher, but he's at least decent. With him being the only reliable back on the roster, that doesn't make for a very potent attack. Felix Jones has injury troubles, and he's very inconsistent. This is not going to be a good season for the rushing offense.

Miles Austin is good, but he really needs to stay on the field. If he is hurt again, this group of receivers will become a gigantic joke. Dez Bryant is athletically impressive, but I'm still waiting for him to put it all together and become as good as he is capable of being. He's a great talent, but his off the field troubles coupled with his problems with learning the offense, I don't know what to expect from him. Kevin Ogletree is the third receiver. Yeah. That's why if Austin is hurt, there's no hope.

Jason Witten's spleen is going to keep him out for a while, and that's a major issue. Romo's security blanket is hurt, and the backup tight ends are not even close to the talent of Witten.

The offensive line is having some issues now. Doug Free and Tyron Smith switched positions, and both are currently struggling to adapt to their new roles. I'm not liking what I am seeing from the whole line so far. In the first preseason game, Romo was under pressure on nearly every snap. That was just horrific.

Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears are both fine defensive ends. Neither of them are anything special. Jay Ratliff has always been a rock in the middle of this defensive line. He has been a Pro Bowler each of the past four years. Everyone knows about the best pass rusher in the NFL, Demarcus Ware, and what he does for this team. On the other side of him, Anthony Spencer is pretty good too. On the inside, Sean Lee is one of the most underrated linebackers in the game. His breakout year last year went unnoticed by a lot of people, but he was great. Dallas also looks for some improvement from Bruce Carter this year.

Brandon Carr is a big improvement over Terrence Newman, and a great addition to this team. I am in love with the draft pick of Morris Claiborne, it was such a good move to trade up for him (a rare good move by Good Ole Jerry). Mike Jenkins is also a very good corner, and I wonder who is the one that will be used as the third option out of these three. There's also Orlando Scandrick who is pretty good himself. When it comes to the safeties, Gerald Sensabaugh is the best one on the team. I do expect a few packages with 3 corners and Sensabaugh all on the field.

Special Teams
Dan Bailey must have angered a coach in a past life. He was effectively iced on crucial field goals late in the season last year, once by his own coach, Jason Garrett and once by Tom Coughlin. Mat McBriar is gone, and Chris Jones has to take over the full-time punting job. He wasn't terrible last year. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is probably going to be running back kicks, and that's fine with me since he's a fellow Ghanaian.

8-8, 3rd in NFC East