got to be honest, it’s an improving defense and the addition of
Mark Ingram that has me leaning toward New Orleans in the NFC
South… and also making them a Super Bowl pick. If they knock off
Green Bay to start the year… if they start strong… they could
be heading to Indianapolis in February. (And of the two, starting
strong is the most important.)
thing is… Julio Jones could be a candidate for offensive player
of the year in Atlanta… so winning the NFC South is no easy task.
I like about New Orleans though is easy to see in their 2011 draft.
selection, from a trade that landed them Ingram, is huge. Basically,
the Saints had a decent running game. But… Reggie Bush, for all
his talent, explosiveness, and keep-an-eye-on-him dazzle, was
easily banged up. It’s hard to strike fear in the hearts of opponents
with a player that’s in street clothes and inactive.
other five selections went to two for defensive line, two for
linebackers, and one for a corner. Defense… defense… defense…
defense… defense. Now all five of those selections aren’t going
to contribute. Heck… right now at least one is injured and another
on the practice squad, and knowing that was the result of a quick
look. But it’s a theme…
organization was talented, and they trimmed away some of the rough
edges (Bush) and potentially made them younger and stronger (Ingram).
They were better on defense than they had been when they won a
championship, but they were still in the vicinity of average-at-best,
so they went out and got younger and faster with Gregg Williams
set up with lots of options to really dominate some games if the
offense doesn’t click.
all honesty, it’s the Falcons and Bucs that keep the Saints in
check. Those four tough games, along with the Packers on opening
night, will keep this team challenged and likely away from 13
or 14 wins. But make no mistake… the Saints are one of the best
five teams in the NFL.
the Falcons may be another one of the five.
is zero question that they will reach 10 wins. And I’m virtually
sure that barring Matt Ryan not playing, they will win 11 or more.
Tough defense… good team character… a record of quality performance
under this quarterback and coaching staff in recent years. Good…
good… even better.
things I am hearing about Julio Jones are great, and with Roddy
White and Tony Gonzalez, Ryan will have options for breakout plays,
great hands, and go-to reliability. Suddenly the Falcons appear
frisky and to-be-feared on offense. On top of that… all of their
draft picks seem to be sticking with the club. (I think only Andrew
Jackson… practice squad now… failed to make the opening day roster.)
So they may even be able to claim they are getting a bit younger
while remaining solid at their core.
trouble is… it’s a nasty word, but here we go… the trouble is
you believe the Falcons have gone 33-15 in the regular season
under Mike Smith? That’s true. It covers three seasons, and Smith
has never failed to win fewer than 9 games. 11 wins… 9 wins… 13
wins. Smith and the Falcons are also 0-2 in the playoffs over
those three seasons.
one expected 11 wins or the playoffs in 2008 after they went 4-12
in 2007. Not after the Bobby Petrino fiasco and other turmoil.
But when the spotlight got bright in 2009, they did slip a bit.
Did ok… but not a real improvement with just 9 wins and no playoffs.
2010… no one expected 13 victory or a division win.
like the Falcons. I think of them as a good, balanced organization.
Eventually though this needs to be brought up another notch. Another
division crown. Playoff victories. Expectations.
get this out of the way… because it becomes quite similar to why
I think Kansas City may improve in 2011 compared to last year,
and yet have a worse record. Last season the Bucs hit 10-6, didn’t
make the playoffs (in part thanks to New Orleans and Atlanta).
And, part of their ten wins included Carolina (beat them twice),
Cleveland, Cincinnati, Washington, and a run through the NFC West
(the incompetent grouping of St. Louis, Arizona, San Francisco
and Seattle… where they swept all four contests).
is a good, young team. This is also a team that turned in a solid
performance by defeating just about every club they should have
beaten in 2010. Easy as that.
2011 the role of conference rotation that was served in 2010 by
the washed out NFC West is being played by the NFC North… with
Green Bay and an improved Detroit club. (The Lions beat the Bucs
in overtime last season.) I don’t think it’s a stretch to say
we shouldn’t expect them to go 4-0 in those games.
is not lost though. The AFC games involve Indianapolis (early
in the year, so as we speak Manning is questionable), the inconsistent
Houston club that may be the best that division offers, and then
the weaker Tennessee and Jacksonville clubs. They could win any
of those games.
for every up… the third place finish in the NFC North gives them
San Francisco as one game, there is a down… the third place finish
gives them the 2010 underachieving Dallas as one game.
reality… things could get rolling. For the early season, only
Atlanta and New Orleans are there as major opponents, and they
get both of those games at home. (The road games against them
come later on.) With Detroit, Minnesota, Indianapolis, San Francisco
and Chicago rounding out the first seven weeks, they could easily
be at 4-3 or better when October ends.
Freeman appears ready for his close up. He showed poise and character
in 2010 without much around him. And, as symbolized by the release
of Cadillac Williams, the club is moving on, getting younger and
many teams allowed fewer points in 2010 than the Bucs, and the
defense looks loaded and ready to be a force this season.
all honesty the only problem I have with Tampa is that New Orleans
and Atlanta are better. That’s it. Last season the three clubs
in this division having 10 or more wins wasn’t a fluke, but it
will be hard to repeat.
gave them two wins because going 0-16 is just short of impossible.
But let’s be honest… they are going to be destroyed by their divisional
schedule, and it gets no easier after that.
quarterback… new head coach… and here that unites with the shortened
offseason to equal a disaster in development.
let’s look at it from a “what could go right” concept.
opens with a yet-to-be-proven Arizona, and brings Jacksonville,
Washington and Minnesota to Carolina for games before the end
of October. New head coach Ron Rivera is a solid defensive guy…
and I think we could quickly see the Panthers improve on what
was a brutal disparity between points given up (one of the worst
in the league at over 25 per game) and points scored (league worst
at about 12 per game, at 196 total for the year, and 75 points
behind the closest low-scorer).
teams kept the Panthers from scoring last year… and they will
be teeing off on the quality Panthers running game because they
have zero fear of the Carolina passing game.
is going to be a season to forget.
division in football.
is going to be a very deserving team… despite my predictions,
likely one with 10 or 11 victories… heading home after playing
16 regular season games because a playoff spot is guaranteed to
each division winner, so the NFC West gets to send someone to
I am not going to predict great things for Arizona here in writing,
I will tell you that of all the swirling controversy and whiffs
of potential in this division, I do like a few things here more
than what is in place in other divisional organizations.
Wisenhunt strikes me as a fairly even-handed coach. That isn’t
meant as a review… but rather that I seldom seem to catch Arizona
too high or too low. They tend to play hard week after week. And…
ok… sum it up by saying a rotation of Derek Anderson, Max Hall
and John Skelton should have led to worse than a 5-11 record.
Kolb. A quarterback that will be given the keys for the full season.
Arizona is likely to improve each week during the year.
thing that scares me is that this club gave up points virtually
without compare in 2010. (Carolina and Dallas were the only other
NFC clubs to give up more than 400 points.) While they weren’t
awesome in 2009 either, they did give up about 6-points-per-game
less than they did in 2010… so an improvement to general league
average could be enough if the offense responds.
2009 the Rams scored 175 points. Yuck.
year they added Sam Bradford… that’s the Legendary Sam Bradford
to you… and scored 289.
sort of. They bring back Steve Spagnuolo for a third year, and
have shown solid improvements under his guidance. Plus… do not
underestimate Josh McDaniels as an offensive coordinator. Could
be huge for Bradford and the offense.
remember those horrendous quarterbacks I just mentioned for Arizona
last year? Yeah… well… the Cardinals also scored 289 points in
2010, and I don’t recall the Arizona offense getting the same
press that rookie Bradford and St. Louis were getting.
4-12 Denver Broncos averaged about 4-points-per-game more than
St. Louis last season. Washington outscored them by a couple too.
In short, we’ve been down the Steven Jackson and an unstoppable
wagon train ride before with the Rams. Easy folks, easy, take
it down a notch.
is plenty to like here… and a lot to get excited about… but let’s
not raise the bar to 9 or 10 wins and the playoffs just yet.
fact… they may have the most brutal opening schedule in football.
0-8 is possible. Don’t believe me? Ok…
at New York (Giants), Baltimore, Washington, at Green Bay, at
Dallas, New Orleans, at Arizona.
the first 8 games. Do you see them at 4-4 after that stretch?
If they are… I will be wrong. Because the second half of the season
has some potholes, but nothing nearly as severe as that opening.
is a team that should surge in November and December. The question
is surviving the start to take advantage of it.
like the Sidney Rice acquisition. Could be huge. (Could also be
a tremendous flop.) After that… eh… not so much.
problem is there is a whole lot of “maybe” in Seattle.
example number one. Find the search engine of your choice and
enter these four words… Marshawn – Lynch – Seahawks – Saints…
and I pretty much guarantee that one of the first three results
will be a video of a great touchdown run.
back over his career and you will find questions about his personal
life (legal troubles), some injuries, and lack of consistency.
I like him as a player. I would be willing to build a backfield
around him, and even think of him as the featured back. Talented…
can impact and take over any game… great option to have. My understanding
is that he supports the communities he plays in. Wonderful. Good
there is also pretty much nothing you could type or say after
his name that would surprise me on a Thursday afternoon news update,
with the result of the item being that he wouldn’t play on Sunday.
to look a bit deeper at this? Ok…
Jackson… Charlie Whitehurst… Josh Portis… there are the quarterbacks.
Are you winning a division with those quarterbacks? In six of
the eight NFL divisions… no. The NFC West? Maybe.
Washington… Marcus Trufant… I could list any group of names you
want… offense or defense… will they be in the play of the game
moments in any particular week? Maybe.
maybe… maybe… and with at least one team winning the division
and getting a postseason spot, maybe counts as enough here.
think Jim Harbaugh has a chance to be a decent NFL head coach.
(I also have moments when I wonder if Alex Smith has really been
given a fair shot at leading this club.)
check out the schedule first. Seattle at home, Dallas at home,
the road for Cincinnati and Philadelphia, Tampa at home, and then
the road for Detroit. There are several teams… St. Louis definitely…
that would trade for those six opponents in a heartbeat. After
that, they have Cleveland and Washington, and unbelievably then
still have five divisional games against this so-so group. So…
yeah… they have no ability to cry about scheduling problems. If
they play well, there is plenty of opportunity to get into the
Gore and Michael Crabtree give them some decent skill players,
and Braylon Edwards and Vernon Davis have their moments as well.
I can’t say I love their defense, but it’s not hideous.
true summary though is simple… they need a minimum of three touchdowns
to have a chance to win any game. The defense isn’t holding anyone
under 10… and most opponents will score at least 20-24. How often
will the 49ers score 21…23… 27 points? From what I’ve seen of
that offensive line… showing in the preseason the same comedy
they displayed last season… I’m guessing the over/under answer
will be less than half of their contests.