2008 NFL Preview!

Tonight marks the first preseason game of the year… at least the first one for me. As you may know, I was basking in the warm glow of Kanye West during the Hall of Fame Game (where the legend of Colt Brennan was born… I told you so), so tonight’s matchup between the Arizona Matt Leinarts and the the New Orleans Reggie Bushes in “The Battle of the Underperforming USC Stars” will be my debut. As usual, the preseason has given birth to NFL fever, a disease that has been steadily shutting down my immune system since our absurdly early fantasy draft on July 4th weekend. Now the rosters are being polished, the season tickets are flying off the shelves and I’m dusting off my Ki-Jana Carter and Vinny Testaverde jerseys in preparation for the season. Yes, I really do own both of those jerseys… no they aren’t of the Nittany Lions or Browns variety.

If there is anything that I love more than the actual game of football, it’s the discussion of the game of football. Preseason speculation, draft talk, college kids on the verge of stardom, there isn’t one aspect of the game that I don’t enjoy… other than perhaps Miami’s uniforms (seriously, it’s a dolphin in a helmet). In the interest of quenching my desire for football talk, I will now talk to myself for a few minutes, and through this I will engage you in a one-sided conversation that you most certainly will disagree with at some point. Just take a deep breath and remember that if I’m wrong, nobody could have seen it coming. If I’m right, then I told you so and you should have been listening.

Four Teams to Watch in 2008:

St. Louis Rams

The odds makers have the over/under for Rams wins this season set at 7.5. I hereby encourage you to bet the entire farm on the over. Last season’s total collapse can be attributed to injury, not lack of talent. Marc Bulger is a perfectly capable QB when given a healthy offensive line, a healthy Steven Jackson is as dangerous as any RB in the NFL and a beefed up defense (complete with future Pro Bowl DE Chris Long) puts St. Louis on the verge of making something happen this season. While they may not yet have the firepower to vault over Seattle and win the division outright, they will benefit from a weak 2nd half schedule and could be this year’s answer to last season’s Cleveland Browns.

New York Jets

Honestly, the Jets really aren’t that bad. The front office opened up the purse and made some serious improvements on the defensive end of the ball, the current offensive line is better than average and Thomas Jones very quietly amassed a 1000+ yard season on the ground last year. Oh yeah, they also picked up some quarterback from Mississippi. The addition of Favre to the lineup could potentially make a dramatic change in the offensive side of things, allowing Coles and Cotchery to catch more balls down field and forcing defenses to cover the entire field. The o-line and newfound passing options could allow Jones to explode on the ground and… I can’t believe I’m saying this… the playoffs could be in the picture?

Philadelphia Eagles

The NFC East this year is undoubtedly the most terrifying division in the league… as it is nearly every year. The Redskins will be on the rise under the leadership of Colt Brennan by week seven, the Cowboys are your future NFC Champions and the Giants stumbled into a Lombardi Trophy last season. Lost in the shuffle of NFC East dominance are the much maligned Philly Eagles. Word from camp is that McNabb looks better than he has in years, Brian Westbrook is (in my opinion) the most valuable player in the game and the WR corps seems to get a little bit better with each passing week. On top of a strong offense the Eagles feature a quietly formidable defense with a secondary (Lito Sheppard, Brian Dawkins and Asante Samuel) that rivals any in the NFL. If the team can stay healthy, the NFC East could absolutely explode this year… assuming they don’t kill each other in the process.

Oakland Raiders

I’m almost certain that I’ll regret this choice when the men in black are drafting in the top five next year, but since we’re talking about “teams to watch,” I guess it’s still fair to throw them in. Al Davis, in typical Al Davis fashion, has thrown a fortune at the team, signing every gansta thug and malcontent in the entire league with an expiring contract. With the revised cast of The Longest Yard taking the field this season, expectations are higher than usual and eyes are focused on 2nd year QB Jamarcus Russell and rookie RB Darren McFadden. Since it is Oakland, we’re not looking for a playoff team here, just maybe something that isn’t completely embarrassing. However, if the offense can open up some holes for McFadden and Fargas, if the defense can maintain a tolerable level and if Jamarcus can be kept from the buffet, there could be a real possibility for improvement in the bay.

2008’s Potential Breakout Players

Selvin Young – RB Denver Broncos

Young was a pleasant surprise last season, taking over for the constantly injured/suspended/irritated Travis Henry and picking up over 700 yards. With Henry now facing a year-long suspension for, well, being Travis Henry, expect to see Young become the starter in Denver and rack up his first 1000 yard season.

Kevin Curtis – WR Philadelphia Eagles

It’s hard to call this season a breakout season when you consider that Curtis managed to put up numbers in both yards and receptions that were comparable to the elite receivers in the NFC. Unfortunately for Mr. Curtis, he hasn’t yet reached that “household name” status… until this year. If McNabb truly is as good as people suggest, Kevin Curtis will be his go-to guy and could be poised to become a major threat at WR in the league.

Donte Stallworth – WR Cleveland Browns

Stallworth, a man that has visited more NFL teams than the Monday Night Football crew, has now landed in Cleveland… until he’s traded to (insert name of team) next season. For the time being, he does still happen to be an immensely talented receiver on the edge of stardom, playing with a QB that loves to throw the ball around. The only thing hindering Donte’s success this season is Donte himself, or maybe the parade of talented ball-catchers taking the field in orange every Sunday.

Greg Olsen – TE Chicago Bears

In a reasonable world, Olsen’s breakout year should have been last season. Unfortunately, then rookie Greg Olsen took to the game a little slowly, eventually piling up decent numbers late in the season but never becoming a real target at TE. With one season under his belt and another training camp behind him, he could evolve into the player that stunned onlookers at the 2007 combine.

Michael Turner – RB Atlanta Falcons

A solid option as a backup RB in San Diego, Turner managed to look impressive even in the shadow of future Hall of Famer Ladanian Tomlinson. Now, with a six year deal in Atlanta, Michael Turner will be the focal point of an offense that makes up for what it loses in defense with serious losses in offense. While he won’t be carrying the Falcons to the playoffs this year, he will be Matt Ryan’s only real weapon.

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: Colt Brennan – QB Washington Redskins

Forget the hype over Matt Ryan, the mystique surrounding Joe Flacco or the inevitability of Darren McFadden, Colt Brennan is the real deal. While experts disagreed, I declared this to be one of the strongest QB drafts in recent memory, and I stand by that claim. Brennan has the ability to be a dazzling NFL Quarterback, one that I fully expect to usurp the constantly underperforming Jason Campbell. While not exactly a juggernaut, Washington hasn’t yet been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Should Brennan adapt quickly to the system, and should the system realize his potential, we could be witnessing the birth of a new superstar in the NFL.

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chris Long – DE St. Louis Rams

Can Chris Long’s collegiate 187 tackles and 22 sacks convert into NFL dominance? Perhaps not immediately, but immediately enough to put him leaps and bounds above his classmates. The restructured Rams defense will be certain to use Long to his full, terrifying, bruising potential leaving a trail of blood and teeth throughout the NFC West. If Brennan is a stretch, then Long is a lock.

The League’s Biggest Question Marks

Can Parcells turn it around in Miami?

Had it not been for the ineptitude of the Baltimore Ravens, the ‘Fins would have finished the season winless… that being said it’s hard NOT to turn things around to a certain degree. Unless Miami really does lose every single game this year, Parcells is destined to see some improvement. Unfortunately without an offensive line, quality receivers and a quarterback it’s going to be more than a little difficult to make any serious moves in a division finished out by teams that either dominate the entire league or are, in fact, making serious moves.

More than Parcells, the real questions might be:

Can Ricky Williams ever really be Ricky Williams again?

Can Miami solve the quarterback problem?

Can Miami stop cultivating talent only to trade it away for some magic beans?

While I feel pretty confident that under Parcells’ leadership the last question will be answered with a resounding “yes,” the other two remain up in the air. It’s impossible to ask one man to turn a team with that may problems into a contender overnight, but remember… 2-14 is a 100% improvement from last season.

Can Brett Favre make some noise in New York?

A resounding, absolute yes. While Favre certainly does have two major factors working against him (the Madden Curse and the fact that he’s playing for the Jets), his performance last season was no fluke. A good game is a fluke, being one interception away from the Superbowl is not. Favre will enter the Big Apple with comparable offensive lines and backfields, better receivers and an upgrade at tight end. If he can survive the various voodoo plagues that seem destined to haunt him, Favre could be the missing piece of the puzzle in a team that has gotten substantially better in the off-season. Let’s face it, it isn’t going to hurt Kellen Clemens to spend a year or two learning from one of the best in history either.

Can the Patriots make another run at an undefeated season?

Probably not. I have somehow managed to accept the fact that I live in a world where Eli Manning has a Super Bowl ring, but Randy Moss does not. Where Jared Lorenzen has a Super Bowl ring, but Junior Seau does not. Where Tom Coughlin has a Super Bowl ring, but Bill Bellichik doesn’t have one for each finger. However, the fact remains that the Giants did beat the Patriots in the most important game of the year. Eli Manning, who clearly spent ample amounts of time bullseyeing womp rats in Archie’s back yard, did manage to pull off the most unlikely move in Super Bowl history… cementing his status as a Super Bowl Champion and giving Mercury Morris an erection. Thus, if the New York Giants can topple the Patriots, games at San Diego and Indianapolis don’t offer much promise. I’ll give New England a final record of 13-3.

Can Marvin Lewis pull the Bengals out of a nose dive before he finds himself unemployed?

Carson Palmer hates Ohio State, Chad Johnson hates The Bengals and the rest of the team hates the judicial system. The team still tethers its running game to an over-the-hill former star and the defense was one injury away from starting local high school kids at linebacker. On top of those issues, Cincinnati happens to be looking down the barrel of one of the most daunting schedules in the NFL. For the record, the Bengals will be facing the Packers, Saints and Colts in the preseason, the Giants and Browns in September, the Cowboys, Jets and Steelers in October, the Jags, Eagles and Steelers in November and will then cap things off with the Colts and Steelers in December. No team is happy to see that murderer’s row on their horizon, and damn sure not the Bengals.

If Lewis can somehow remember exactly what it was that made him a “defensive genius” and if he can keep the locker room in check, there is still the possibility that things can turn around for the boys from Porkopolis. They have enough offensive talent to scrape by with a mediocre defense… unfortunately they can only dream of such a defensive distinction. For Marv it comes down to one thing, “Can you win shootouts week after week?” It’s possible, but with that schedule I wouldn’t call it probable.

Can Darren McFadden and Matt Ryan live up to the hype/salaries?

No and no. While it’s certainly appealing to think of McFadden lighting up the field in his home debut, the Oakland faithful need to remember that the Raiders already have a 1000 yard rusher in Justin Fargas. While D-Mac is going to be in the league for a while, he’s not going to be Adrian Peterson, and no sensible game plan would involve benching a proven asset in favor of gambling on a rookie, so a split-back situation is really the best you can hope for. Wait, these are the Raiders… what am I thinking? They’ll trade Fargas away for a late round draft pick, or a bologna sandwich if Al Davis happens to be hungry at the moment.

As far as Matt Ryan goes, come on, let’s be realistic. It won’t take long for NFL defensive coordinators to adapt to the Falcons’ passing scheme (also known as Operation: Throw it to Roddy White). Unless Michael Turner is somehow able to simultaneously police the backfield, play offensive line and throw in a little tight end, poor Matt may find himself in Tim Couch territory very quickly. I usually don’t get behind a running quarterback, but for Atlanta you have to make an exception. Matt, your offensive line is easier to plow than the Tri-Delts on BC’s campus, just try to get out of the way.

The AFC/NFC Championship Games

What’s more exciting than the Super Bowl? The two games that decide exactly who will be playing IN the Super Bowl! The burning question is, who will we be checking out in these action-packed, never disappointing matchups that set us up for the biggest athletic event of the year? The answer is:

NFC – Dallas Cowboys Vs. Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota is currently one QB away from being my odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. I honestly don’t believe that Tavaris Jackson has what it takes to get the job done, but I do believe that the best ground game in the NFL and a defense that could kill you with its thoughts are enough to get them at least this far. Jackson may not be a complete wash this year, and standing behind that offensive line with the weapons he has at his disposal he needs only to be “adequate” to stand one game away from the big game. Dallas is good, very good, but it’s yet to be proven if they’re going to be more of a paper tiger than expected. Can Marion Barber succeed as an every down back? Will the weakness of the WR positions (not named Owens) ultimately be the Achilles Heel? Will Pac Man somehow end up running off with Jessica Simpson? Since I have them in this game, I’m admitting that I have faith in the ‘Boys, but I wouldn’t go out on that ledge without a net.

Final Score: Cowboys 27 – Vikings 24

Tavaris Jackson chokes in the big game, leaving it all on the shoulders of Peterson and the defense. Unfortunately, that just isn’t enough to beat the Cowboys at home.

AFC – San Diego Chargers Vs. New England Patriots

Sure, it’s a boring pick, but I fully expect a repeat of last season’s AFC title match. From top to bottom, I don’t think that there’s a better team in the NFL than the Chargers. Their defense is the best in the league, they have the receivers, they have the offensive line, they have the QB and most importantly they have Ladanian By-God Tomlinson. Playing in the lowly AFC West should all but guarantee a playoff berth, and they have the guys to win one game at a time. The Pats are, well, the Pats. New England is, at times, capable of beating a few NFL teams without even fielding a defense. With Randy Moss spending the off-season practicing routes with Wes Welker and Tom Brady being Tom Brady it isn’t too difficult to see a repeat appearance in the title game. However…

Chargers 24 – Patriots 17

The San Diego secondary takes Moss out of the game, proving to the world what fantasy owners have known all along – Laurence Maroney is overrated.

So, there you have it. I have managed to predict a Chargers V. Cowboys Super Bowl in 2009. For the record, I’m taking the Chargers in that one, barring injuries or acts of God. Jerry Jones will have to cry himself to sleep on his golden pillow before racing out to draft the last ten Arkansas Razorbacks that he hasn’t yet wrapped his bony little fingers around.

We’re looking at a fascinating season in the NFL this year (yes, I do say that every year), so much so that I’m even somehow interested in the pre-season (I also say that every year). It’s all coming back, the agonizing over fantasy waiver wires, the screaming at a television, the beer, the blood and the arguments. At some point over the next few months you will cheer, you will throw your hat, you will hug a stranger, you will intensely love and hate the same player in the same three hour period, but most importantly you will care about something. The NFL is just a game, that much is certain, but somehow it’s more than that. The NFL is hometown pride, it’s stories of redemption and stories of epic failure, but more than anything it is one game that has been played in almost the exact same way for decades that brings people of all stripes together. It will be my obsession and the obsession of countless other faceless junkies for the rest of this year, well into the next… welcome to football season. Now, Shane, pick a team.

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2 Responses to “2008 NFL Preview!”

  1. Kevin Says:

    You had me untilt the very end as there is NO WAY Shane will ever pick a team.

  2. Jared Says:

    I wanted to add:

    You will check http://www.wwtdd.com to see what chick Romo is boning, thus who you can cry vengeance upon when he throws 11-30, 193 yds, 0 TD, 3 INT during fantasy playoffs. (Made up stat line because I don’t want to revisit that week)

    Who said I’m bitter?

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