As the football fans of America slowly get football fever for NFL Kickoff ’10, I will kick off Baltimore Chops coverage. Here are XLV predictions/thoughts/anecdotes on The Road To XLV:
I. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. The New York Jets will not fulfill their self imposed expectations of winning a Super Bowl. Rex Ryan’s crew will struggle early with or without Revis, will come on during a soft mid season schedule, but ultimately will not have enough to garner a trip to Dallas. Mark Sanchez needs more seasoning, Shonn Greene has to prove health and fumbling issues are behind him, and this team needs to prove they can play with a bulls eye on their back. The Jets will be good, but not Super.
II. Brett Favre’s latest return will be for naught. The Minnesota Vikings will be the disappointment of the 2010 season, starting with a Week 1 loss in New Orleans. Sidney Rice will be sorely missed during the first half of the season and Percy Harvin isn’t a lock to play any week with persistent headaches. I believe the bend over backwards for Brett attitude of this organization will doom them. And letting Chester Taylor walk to Chicago was a mistake. This team has done nothing to improve, and has actually taken major steps back. The 12-4 darlings of the NFC North in 2009 will limp to 8-8 in 2010.
III. The NFL rule changing where the umpire lines up before the snap has already begun heated debate in league circles. Peyton Manning has already spoken out about how much it will effect the Colts and any team running the no huddle offense. The referee has been moved from around the spot where the middle linebacker would stand on the defensive portion of the field to 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage and the offense. Spotting the football and running backwards is going to test umpire conditioning and the patience of offenses. *The old rule will be in effect for the last two minutes of each half, so true two minute drills should not be altered.
IV. The central theme of the 2010 season will be the lack of confidence in what, or if, a 2011 season will look like. Every indication from players and owners is that a war is on the way and not much progress is expected to be made. The lack of a salary cap, holdouts, expensive stadiums, and the ludicrous rookie contracts have created a dividing rod for the owners and players association. It is no surprise that teams have been unwilling to hand out multi year deals with loads of guaranteed money this off season due to a lack of perspective on the future collective bargaining agreement. Enjoy this season, NFL fans. It might be the last of the NFL as we know it.
V. Attendance and blackout issues will extend its reach past just bottom feeding teams such as Jacksonville and Cleveland. Both New York teams recently had to put single game tickets on sale to satisfy NFL demands for sell outs and avoid embarrassing blackouts. The recession that has landed over 15 million people out of work, along with egregious PSL’s, will cause attendance to decline for the third straight season. Eric Grubman, executive vice president of NFL ventures and business operations, predicted overall ticket sales will drop 1% to 2% this season. USA Today reported today that at least 11 teams have consulted league cooperation on dealing with blackout issues for the upcoming season. The NFL has priced out the average Joe, and the entire league is suffering.
VI. Another factor in the sinking attendance numbers has to be attributed to the change in the way and preference we have in watching out football. The invention of the Red Zone channel, HD televisions, instant replay, and fantasy football have made the NFL more enjoyable from the comfort of your living room. Fans would rather save thousands of dollars, track their entire fantasy team, and not miss a touchdown from around the entire league by not going to the stadium. A recent USA Today poll asked where most fans prefer to watch games. The results don’t lie: In the stadium 10%, At home with my HD TV 81%, Sports bar 9%.
VII. Never has the NFL been more about the QB position than right now. You need to have an elite quarterback to be taken seriously as a contender. Gone are the days where a mediocre quarterback can take you to a Super Bowl on the back of a good defense and running game. Rex Grossman and Neil O’Donnell are no more. If you don’t have one of the top 15 signal callers in the game, forget any dreams of going to Dallas in Feb. Teams pass more than ever and they do it more efficiently than ever. Drew Brees can match wits with Peyton Manning in the big game, but Kyle Orton can’t.
VIII. Speaking of QB’s, here are my Top 15 signal callers in the league right now: 15. Jay Cutler 14. Carson Palmer 13. Matt Schaub 12. Matt Ryan 11. Donovan McNabb 10. Joe Flacco 9. Brett Favre 8. Tony Romo 7. Aaron Rodgers 6. Phil Rivers 5. Ben Roethlisberger 4. Eli Manning 3. Drew Brees 2. Tom Brady 1. Peyton Manning
IX. The most interesting quarterback controversy involves two players that are no longer teammates. Kolb or McNabb? McNabb or Kolb? The Eagles decision to trade the best quarterback in franchise history to a division rival speaks volumes about what they think Donovan has left in the tank/how good they think Kolb is ready to be. Andy Reid’s coaching career will be defined by this move. If Kolb flops, Reid will be looked at as the guy who was carried by Donovan. If Donovan flops and Kolb leads Philly back to the postseason, Reid will be hailed as a coach who has a system that will work despite the signal caller.
X: As the forward pass continues to dominate offensive philosophies around the NFL, the influence of the spread will grow more and more. Mouse Davis should smile wherever he is because the spread he helped to devise has entrenched its way into our Sunday living rooms. What team doesn’t trot out 3 or 4 receivers on most passing plays? How many teams actually use anything more than a 5 step drop? Tons of receivers, quick and efficient passes, and no huddle attacks leaving the defense gasping for air? Yup. The spread is now part of the NFL landscape.
XI: Pete Carroll was the most interesting and fresh coaching hire by any NFL team. The circumstances surrounding his departure from USC get murkier by the minute, but at least he brings some energy into a franchise that has been zapped of it in recent years. Is he a better coach after all his success in the collegiate game or will this be the same Pete was saw over a decade ago? Either way, he makes the Seahawks a fun franchise to watch in the coming seasons.
XII. 2010 will be the last chance for Raven greats Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Todd Heap to bring another title to the city of Baltimore. Lewis has a ring from his dominating 2000 season, but Reed and Heap where both drafted after the Super Bowl year. All three have led the Ravens through a decade of great success, but have not added another trophy to the case in M&T Bank Stadium. 2010 could be their last year together as Lewis is on his last legs, Reed is oft injured and set to begin the year on the PUP list, and Heap’s replacement(s) were selected in this past April’s draft. Three of the most popular Ravens in history have one more chance to do something special together. It’s now or never.
XIII. The Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West. No, I’m not kidding. I believe the 5-11 team from a year ago, the same team that hasn’t had a winning year since 2002, will find away to beat out San Diego for the division crown. Tom Cable has been my guy since the day they hired him and no one can tell me those guys don’t play hard for him. The defense is going to be one of the most underrated in the entire league. Rolando McClain and LaMarr Houston were brilliant picks to team with Richard Seymour and Nnamdi Asomugha. The trade for pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley may turn out to be the steal of the off-season. And don’t forget the quarterback. Jason Campbell isn’t great, but he is good enough to win close games, unlike JaMarcus Russell. Just Win Baby!
XIV. Most improved team: Detroit Lions. I’m sticking with my pick from last year to make even bigger strides in year two of the Jim Schwartz regime. I love the 1st round picks of Ndamukong
Suh and Javid Best. Look for Matthew Stafford to cut down on his INT’s and become far more efficient in the red zone. Completion percentage will never be his strong suit, but he can get the ball downfield to a streaking Calvin Johnson with the best of them. Jim Schwartz is starting to put the pieces of a defense together. Suh and free agent signee Kyle Vanden Boesh will give the Lions a pass rush for the first time in over a decade. 5-11 might not look like much improvement, but look for this Lion team to walk into to 4th quarter with a chance to win in more than half their games.
XV. Biggest step back: Buffalo Bills. How does a team that hasn’t seen the postseason since the Clinton administration take the biggest step back? Tough question, but this team might be that bad. Chan Gailey was about as uninspiring of a hire as you can imagine. The division boasts three potential double digit win playoff teams that should beat them up soundly in all six division games. C.J. Spiller was a great pick and could turn out to be an explosive NFL player, but the offensive line and quarterback position stink. The defense will struggle to adjust to a 3-4 scheme and this team will be thinking about if Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker is worth the #1 overall pick by early November.
XVI. Darrelle Revis will prove to be worth all the headaches and money it cost to keep him happy and in a Jets uniform. Holdout, nomad existence, and lack of practice isn’t enough to derail the leagues best defensive player. Revis is the most gifted corner the league has seen since Deion Sanders. Sean Gilbert’s favorite nephew is now paid like the big time corner he is. He and the Jets defense will tested early and often with games against Baltimore, New England, and Miami. Rex Ryan thought that Revis has the greatest season for a corner in the history of the league last season. He is going to need to duplicate that production for the Jets to be as great as they have the potential to be.
XVII. Offensive lines will be the key to several potent offenses living up to their potential. Cowboys, Giants, Jets, Patriots, Chargers, Bears, Eagles and just about every other possible contender have question marks heading into the season at one or several line positions. All those teams also boast quarterbacks they believe in and a multitude of talented skill players. In order for those QB’s to get the ball into the hands of the guys that can make plays, those offensive lines must produce at a high level consistently.
XVIII. Circle your calender for Week 15. San Francisco @ San Diego, New Orleans @ Baltimore, Philadelphia @ NY Giants, NY Jets @ Pittsburgh, Green Bay @ New England, and Chicago @ Minnesota will all have playoff implications.
XIX. Joe Giglio’s No Excuses Must Watch Game of the Week: Busy? Working? Getting married? Unless you are on fire, these are the games you can’t miss for each week of the season:
Week 1: Baltimore @ NY Jets
Week 2: NY Giants @ Indianapolis
Week 3: Atlanta @ New Orleans
Week 4: Washington @ Philadelphia
Week 5: Minnesota @ NY Jets
Week 6: Baltimore @ New England
Week 7: NY Giants @ Dallas
Week 8: Green Bay @ NY Jets
Week 9: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
Week 10: Baltimore @ Atlanta
Week 11: Indianapolis @ New England
Week 12: New Orleans @ Dallas
Week 13: Dallas @ Indianapolis
Week 14: Miami @ NY Jets
Week 15: Green Bay @ New England
Week 16: NY Giants @ Green Bay
Week 17: Cincinnati @ Baltimore
XX. Don’t sleep on Tom Brady. While I don’t believe this version of the Pats have enough around him to add a fourth ring to his impressive collection, Brady is as formidable as ever. He had a 2009 (28-13-4398) off of knee surgery that is better than a career year for 90% of the league. Two years removed from surgery will make Brady even closer to his greatest form of ’07. Moss, Welker, and the addition of physical tight end Rob Gronkowski make Brady someone that commands the respect of the best. The Pats aren’t great, but their quarterback makes them dangerous.
XXI. Trent Dilfer is the best NFL analyst ESPN has to offer. But instead of giving us as much Dilfer time as possible, they World Wide Leader will continue to trot out Chris Berman’s overplayed Two Minute Drill.
XXII. Network Broadcast Rankings: 1. CBS 2. NBC 3. FOX 4. ESPN…Football Night in America is becoming the best three hours on television.
XXIII. 2011 NFL Draft Top 5 Mock:
5. Cleveland- Marcell Darius, DT, ‘Bama
4. Carolina-Robert Quinn, DE, UNC
3. St. Louis- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
2. Jacksonville- Jake Locker, QB, Washington
1. Buffalo- Ryan Mallet, QB, Arkansas
XXIV. A.J. Smith’s arrogance is going to cost San Diego a chance to be a special team. I have long thought that this guy is one of the more underrated executives in the NFL. Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil are vital cogs to a team that was a Super Bowl favorite heading into last postseason. Now? They are either suspended and/or awaiting new well deserved contracts. Smith makes himself bigger than the team. He did it with the Brees tenure, Rivers/Manning fiasco, the Marty firing, Tomlinson’s ugly divorce from the team he resurrected, and now with two current franchise stapes. A.J. is overrated, and because of him, so are the 2010 Chargers.
XXV. Tim Tebow will be the Denver Broncos starting quarterback in Week 17 vs. San Diego. The Broncos are going to stink and they will want to take a look at their future, regardless of the fact they presented Kyle Orton a contract extension a few weeks ago. Josh McDaniels drafted Tebow to eventually be his guy, and the NFL is a now league. Tebow has too much of an upside and the Broncos have way too much invested for this kid to sit the bench in meaningless late season games.
XXVI. Won’t but could: Bears and Titans. I have both these teams pegged for 7-9 campaigns,
but if there are teams that can crash the playoff party in each conference, they reside in Chicago and Tennessee. The Bears added Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor, and Mike Martz to a group has one more shot to make the postseason before ownership tears this group apart. If the offensive line can block for Jay Cutler, this team has a chance. If not, Lovie and Co. are going to joining the millions of unemployed in this country. A friend and I recently had a conversation in which he asked me what I thought of the Titans. My response? “They could be good…or they could stink.” This team has the best running back in the sport, the leagues most tantalizing quarterback, and a high quality coach. Yet, they started 0-6 last season, before finishing 6-2. If they can be consistent, they have a shot.
XXVII. Players on the verge of a breakout year: Jermichael Finley, Hakeem Nicks, Harry Douglas, Shonn Greene, Chad Henne, Rashard Mendenhall, Lardarious Webb, Dashon Golden
XXVIII. Players destined to take a step back: Steve Smith (NY edition) and Steve Smith (Carolina edition), Brett Favre, Matt Schaub, Fred Jackson, Marion Barber, Joey Porter, Hines Ward
XXIX. Coaches on the hot seat: Eric Mangini, Gary Kubiak, Jack Del Rio, Josh McDaniels, Tom Coughlin, Brad Childress, Lovie Smith, John Fox
XXX. AFC East order of finish: New York, Miami, New England, Buffalo
XXXI. AFC North order of finish: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland
XXXII. AFC South order of finish: Indianapolis, Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville
XXXIII. AFC West order of finish: Oakland, San Diego, Kansas City, Denver
XXXIV. NFC East order of finish: Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, Washington
XXXV. NFC North order of finish: Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit
XXXVI. NFC South order of finish: New Orleans, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Carolina
XXXVII. NFC West order of finish: San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona, St. Louis
XXXVIII. AFC Wild Cards: Miami, New England
XXXIX. NFC Wild Cards: Atlanta, New York
XL. Offensive Player of the Year: Ray Rice, RB Baltimore
XLI. Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis, MLB San Francisco
XLII. Coach of the Year: Tom Cable, Oakland
XLIII. Rookies of the Year: Offensive ROY: C.J. Spiller, RB Buffalo. Defensive ROY: Ndamukong Suh, DT Detroit
XLIV. MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB Green Bay
XLV. Last, but far from least. Feb. 6, 2011 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas: Ravens over Packers.
Rodgers vs. Flacco. McCarthy vs. Harbaugh. Lewis and Reed vs. Woodson. This season will come down the play of the quarterbacks (what else did you expect?), and Rodgers and Flacco have shown that they are ready for prime time. In a re-match from a December Monday Night Football game from ’09. Flacco and the Ravens will take home the trophy. The game will be a cooronation for the two gifted signal callers and quite possibly the changing of the guard at the top of the league for many years.