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Monday, August 29, 2011

NFC West Preview

Arizona Cardinals

Last Season:5-11

The Cardinals got their off season acquisition in Kevin Kolb. Larry
Fitzgerald finally becomes a true deep threat as he has a quarterback
that won't be afraid to take shots down the field. Kolb also has
threats in newly acquired Todd Heap, new draftee Ryan Williams RB from
V-Tech, and the combination of Andre Roberts and Early Doucet split
out wide.

Ranked 29th overall in defense, the Cardinals have to get better this
season. Losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Eagles, the
addition of CB Patrick Patterson should be a nice fit. That being
said, pressure on the quarterback and better play from the safeties is
pivotal to the Cardinals success.

With games at Washington, Seattle, home versus Pittsburgh and then
straight to Baltimore the Cardinals have a tough schedule to deal
with. Additionally, Kolb has to go back to Philly to play Vick and
the Birds, and also play the Cowboys towards the end of the season.
Tough hand to deal with.

Sleeper: Andre Roberts WR

Prediction: 7-9


Last Season: 7-9

It is always worth mentioning when quarterbacks have to learn new
offenses, and Sam Bradford in his second year has to do that. Josh
McDaniels takes over as the new OC for the Rams and his goal is to be
more aggressive and more pass oriented. I think this will be a great
fit for Bradford and the Rams. Mike Sims-Walker was a great sign for
St. Louis, and the pass oriented offense will lighten the load for
Steven Jackson. Don't expect Amendola to get 85 receptions this year,
but i still see him playing a key role as a possession receiver for

Defensively, Chris Long is not overrated and his value will be largely
on display this season. James Laurinaitis is an absolute beast for
the Rams line backing core and he will be surely counted on to have a
big season. The Rams know they have the pieces on the offensive end
of the ball, so they drafted DE Robert Quinn out of UNC in the first
round of this year's draft. I love the pick. Quinn will fit in great
with this young defense, and he will be hungry for sacks.

The Rams schedule is tough; games on the road against the Giants,
Packers, Cowboys, Browns, and Steelers as far as out of the division
goes. This will be a tough season, but I think the Rams have the
right pieces to remain competitive.

Sleeper: Danario Alexander WR

Prediction: 8-8

San Francisco 49ers

Last Season: 6-10

Jim Harbaugh is in as head coach and he immediately let the public
know the Alex Smith will be his guy at quarterback. I highly dispute
this decision, but I am certainly not qualified to be a NFL head
coach. That being said, Smith better show up for Harbaugh as 8 or 9
wins could easily make the playoffs in the NFC West.

Frank Gore will be a beast coming out of the backfield as long as he
and the 49ers get on the same page and get this contract in tact. I
think it will get done. Adding Braylon Edwards will be a nice fit to
go hand in hand with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. I just don't
trust Smith to get it done and be CONSIST for 16 games in this league.

Defensively the 49ers took Aldon Smith, OLB from Missouri, with their
first pick and he will be a nice player to go along side with a very
strong line backing group in San Francisco. However, when you go 1-7
on the road clearly the defense needs to step it up. With road games
against Philly, Detroit, Washington, and Baltimore the 49ers will have
to unify early in the season.

Sleeper: Josh Morgan

Prediction: 6-10

Seattle Seahawks

Last Season: 7-9

Pete Carroll got it done in Seattle last season and he won a playoff
game against the Saints. What a crazy season.

With Matt Hassellbeck gone, I am very nervous for the Seahawks and who
the quarterback is. As of now it looks like Tarvaris Jackson, but
consistency will be an issue there and we may see Whitehurst earlier
than we all think.

Marshawn Lynch had a heck of a touchdown run in that playoff victory
over New Orleans, but with a weak passing attack this season, I can
see defenses stack the box on Seattle. So, can newly acquired Sidney
Rice live up to his huge contract and put up quality numbers while
remaining healthy? Its going to be tough for the Seahawks, but Rice
will get plenty of targets to have a big season.

Defensively Earl Thomas will be crucial to the Seahawks success. The
kid is a beast and I think he will have another stellar season. But
games on the road against Dallas, Pittsburgh, Giants, and the Bears I
do think the Seahawks are in for a tough fight. I don't like Seattle
this season.

Sleeper: Ben Obomanu WR

Prediction: 5-11

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

NFC South Preview

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last Season: 10-6

I wrote prior to last year they did all the right things, putting the right young guys in positions to succeed and their success seemed to instill astonishment They did a lot of promising things last season. The problem for the Bucs stems from the fact they play in the same division as the Saints (i.e. Sean Peyton/Drew Brees) and the surging Falcons. I don't know if Raheem Morris and company have what it takes to make a dent in the super competitive NFC South.

The new ESPN QB rating scale was advertised to be a simpler and easily understood version of the old QB ratings. Its just as esoteric but puts things on a 100 point scale. To me this is just like the metric system- yeah our version is more complex and probably not as good- but it's ours damnit.
Anyway- Josh Freeman ranks among the second tier in the new rating scale, just below the Tom Brady's and Peyton Manning's, but above Romo, Cutler, and many other pro bowlish quarterbacks. If we believe in this new scale, then Freeman is a betting man's friend. However, he doesn't pass my eyeball test and I'm not sold on it yet. Maybe it's the Jheri Curl, but I need to see more John Elway-like plays before I put my dollars on him.

Prediction: setback year 8-8.

Fantasy Sleeper: LaGarret (French for "The Garrett") Blount


Carolina Panthers

Last Season: 2-14

I'm sitting on a rooftop deck in Hatteras North Carolina. The weather is perfect and the cool breeze is pacifying my negative sentiment towards all things Carolina. With that said, the 2010 Panthers were among the worst teams I've ever seen. Jimmy Clausen put Steve Smith on suicide watch and John Fox was a dead man walking. The best part of the season: the excitement of uber-bust or burst candidate Cam Newton. (Thanks to the new salary scale, Newton may become the first player in history to make less as a pro than he did as a collegiate athlete). Newton's potential gives cause for hope- hope that the future is bright and hope that Steve Smith doesn't pull a Private Pyle.

Ron Rivera, the architect of the dominate Bears' and underrated Chargers defenses, finally gets his shot at a head coaching gig. He brings certain toughness to the squad and along with Newton, a promise of good things ahead. Poor Jimmy Clausen will watch as his career degrades from franchise savior to career backup with every Cam Newton snap. Newton strikes me as a rich man's Vince Young. Just as big, faster, and less insane. If DeAngelo Williams and Stewart round back into form, this could be a very interesting offense. The addition of Legedu Naanee gives some much-needed depth at the receiver position. Middle Linebacker, Jon Beason, is as solid as Sears but doesn't have a lot of help on the defensive side of the ball.
Rivera's got his work cut out for him, but I like the team's prospects in the long run.

Prediction: 4-12

Fantasy Sleeper: WR Legedu Naanee


New Orleans Saints

Last Season: 11-5

As defending Super Bowl Champions, anything less than a championship is a disappointment. Losing in the playoffs to a 7-9 Seattle team was devastating. The Gregg Williams defense that came together so well in their championship run disappeared as Marshawn Lynch ran roughshod on his way to a game clinching touchdown.

The Saints made some nice moves in the off season, including the replacement of Reggie Bush with Darren Sproles and drafting Mark Ingram. Sproles is a cheaper option and an established play maker, and Mark Ingram has largely flew under the radar for a former Heisman Trophy winner.

If the defense holds up, they'll be in the thick of it come the playoffs. A healthy Shaun Rogers in the middle of the defensive line could be a huge help.

Prediction: 10-6

Fantasy Sleeper: Darren Sproles


Atlanta Falcons

Last Season: 13-3

2010 was another step in the right direction for the Falcons. Unfortunately, the Bucs and Saints have managed to keep stride. Matt Ryan emerged as a top flight quarterback able to win games on his own. The Falcons brought Alabama WR Julio Jones into the fold. Matty Ice now has another big time target. The re-signing of Jason Snelling was a great move. Michael Turner is fantastic, but running backs with a lot of mileage make me nervous and Snelling did a solid job filling in for Turner last season.

Atlanta went 13-3 last year and they're bringing back many of the pieces essential to that strong season.
If they can figure the passing defense out (22nd in the league last year) they'll be in the thick of things.

Prediction: 12-4

Fantasy Sleeper: Jason Snelling

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kansas City

Last Season: 10-6

The Todd Haley regime took a step in the right direction last season. Jamaal Charles ran for just under 1500 yards, Bowe caught over a 1,000, and Matt Cassel earned a trip to the pro bowl. However, the Chiefs struggled in the division going just 2-4 against AFC west opponents. In order to take the next step, Kansas City will need to figure out a way to win in the division.

The Chiefs used their first round draft pick on WR Jon Baldwin and signed Arizona WR Steve Breston. The surprise in training camp thus far is that neither is currently listed as the started opposite Dwayne Bowe. Somebody named Jerheme Urban is slated as the number 2 receiver thus far. The plan is likely to bring Breston on as a slot receiver and Baldwin as the two. TE Tony Moeaki is Cassel’s safety valve and will continue to be the second leading receiver. Jammal Charles is poised for a dominate fantasy year butwill it translate? He should rceive more carries as Thomas Jones’ role continues to diminish. Kansas City shouldn’t be taken lightly but the Chargers are still the class of the division and I feel they return to the top of the AFC West. The Cheifs will find themselves in a difficult wild card race.

Prediction: 9-7

Fantasy Sleeper: WR Steve Breston

San Diego Chargers

Last Season: 9-7

The AFC West was the Chargers to lose in 2010, and they did just that. Norv Turner’s team has been famous for is early malaise and ability to pick things up before letting you down in the playoffs. Last year,the malaise never really ended. Holdouts and injuries never let the team get off the ground.

Enter 2011, a healthy Ryan Matthews and frisky defenseshould put the Chargers back on top of the division. I loved the resigning of Safety Eric Weddle and acquisition of Bob Sanders. If Sanders stayshealthy, they’ve got one of the best combos in the league. Expect a nice regular season before a playoff swoon.

Prediction 13-3.

Fantasy Sleeper: RB Mike Tolbert

Denver Broncos

Last Season: 4-12

Former head coach Josh McDaniels took a wild gamble when hemoved up in the draft to take Tim Tebow. It’s the kind of gamble that, fair or unfair, needs to pay dividends immediately or its your ass. Well, McDaniels is gone and it appears Tebow will start the year on the bench.

Tebow looks good to me. He will never put up great stats, but he’s a leader and strong as hell. The Broncos aren’t going anywhere and Kyle Orton is a nice asset to trade off. Just a few weeks ago, we all thought Orton was taking his talents to South Beach. New HC John Fox feels Orton’s the better option to win at QB. However, you’re not winning much Orton and you should see if Tebow’sworth the time and effort to develop. Orton to Brandon Lloyd 30 times a game and Moreno disappointing at tailback-no desire to watch this team.

Prediction: 6-10

Fantasy Sleeper: WR Eddie Royal

Oakland Raiders

Tom Cable returned the Radiers to respectability from the ashes of the JaMarcus Russell debacle. For his efforts, he was shown the door. Tom Cable and TE Zach Miller now reside in Seattle. Jason Campbell continues his unprecedented run at learning a new offensive scheme almost every year and Al Davis defies death once again.

I can’t see much coming from this Raiders squad. They have a few pieces but their best players on both sides of the ball are gone and many of the positive changes seem to have eroded. While the AFC West is weak overall, the Radiers will do little to take advantage of it.

Prediction: 4-12

Fantasy Sleeper: RB Michael Bush

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

AFC North Preview


Last Season: 12-4

Can Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl this season? With the departures of Willis McGahee, Todd Heap, and Derrick Mason the Ravens offense will need a big pick-me-up from new acquisitions Ricky Williams and Lee Evans. Evans, I thought, was a huge pickup for Flacco as he is a big time deep threat as evidence from his time spent in Buffalo. Williams is a quality #2 back, and with Ray Rice getting 20+ touches a game, Williams won't be called on to do a hole lot. Torrey Smith, WR from Univ. of Maryland, was the Ravens big offensive draft pick and he will have big expectations right off the bat.

Defensively the Ravens are always stout against the run. With Haloti Ngata as the franchised DT, Ray Lewis as superman in the middle, and Mr. Ed Reed coming up for support, the Ravens will be great once again versus the run. However, last season the Ravens were shaky against the pass, ranking 21st in the NFL. Trying to tighten things up, they selected Colorado's Jimmy Smith in the first round to bolster their secondary. While Smith had off the field issues coming into the league, this could be a great fit for him given the leadership in the Ravens defensive huddle.

Overall this team is a playoff team for certain. With road games against Seattle and San Diego, the Ravens do not have that tough of a schedule. But I think losing Heap and McGahee will cost them a game.

Fantasy Sleeper: Ed Dickson TE

Prediction: 11-5


Last season: 12-4

The Steelers come into this season as Super Bowl runner ups. The mentality is no different this season: Super Bowl or bust.

#1 against the run last season, this defense is flat out stacked. Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel on the ends (and new 1st round pick Cameron Heyward DE), Ike Taylor and Polamalu in the secondary, and then a monstrous line backing group of Farrior, Timmons, Harrison among others. How do you not like this team to go far into January?

Offensively, Big Ben just wins. The addition of Jericho Cotchery will be a nice fit, a healthy Hines Ward can always help, Mike "Usain Bolt" Wallace running 9's, and Mendenhall carrying the load for this rough and tough offense. A nice battle between Emmanuel Sanders and Arnaz Battle for #4 receiver will be nice to watch come week 3 in the preseason. The Steelers are stacked and if they stay healthy they will play a few extra games in January.

Looking at the schedule, the Steelers travel to Indy, Houston, Kansas City, and two games against Baltimore make for a tough year. But with a stout defense, expect big things.

Fantasy Sleeper: Jericho Cotchery WR

Prediction: 12-4


Last season: 5-11

Where were the Browns during this free agent explosion in August? They lost Shaun Rodgers to New Orleans, Massaquoi is hurt, and Cribbs won't get many opportunities to return kicks. So again, where were the Browns during this free agent free fall?

Had the Browns made some moves I would have liked them a bit more, but without a true #1 receiver, the Browns are going to struggle. Don't get me wrong, Peyton Hillis is a beast, but he didn't score a TD in the last 5 games last season! He was worn down. Ben Watson will likely lead the team in receptions again, but who will step up for McCoy? Cribbs? Robiskie? Greg Little out of UNC? Time will tell.

Defensively the Browns are good and with Hayden and Brown on the corners they do have the option to stack the box to stop the run and allow the defense to play man coverage. Phil Taylor, the Browns 1st round draft pick, will get time at DE as he should be a beast with a high motor. But with games at Indy, Oakland, San Francisco, and Houston the Browns will have a tough time doing better than last year.

Fantasy Sleeper: Brandon Jackson (injury pick for Hillis)

Prediction: 5-11


Last Season: 4-12

Mike Brown won't allow Carson Palmer to be traded, so Palmer is retired (for this season it seams) unless he decides to honor his contract. What a bonehead mistake by Brown. Why would you want to start a rookie quarterback in the AFC North, when you could potentially trade Palmer and get some players in exchange and then sign a veteran QB (McNabb, Hasselbeck, Vince Young etc). Nope, let's start Andy Daulton and hope it all works out. Oh, and by the way, your top two receivers aren't there anymore.

Not only does this spell bad for Daulton, but now the "Playing for my next contract" Cedric Benson will be facing 8 and 9 in the box. This is going to be a tough year in Cincy. Games at Denver and Seattle, and then home versus Indy, I do not see this team winning many games.

Fantasy Sleeper: AJ Green WR

Prediction: 2-14
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Saturday, August 13, 2011



Last season the Bills finished the year 4-12. With Head Coach Chan Gailey having zero time with his players in the off season, I do not expect the Bills to make much progress this season. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be behind center, and to his credit the guy is a fierce competitor. However, with the departure of Lee Evans, Fitzpatrick has #1 and #2 targets with Stevie Johnson and Roscoe Parrish. Johnson came alive last year and could be a valuable pickup in fantasy leagues this year, but how much can you depend on the Bills to produce. With CJ Spiller missing valuable time in OTA's, he will likely split carries with Fred Jackson. Jackson has better hands than spiller, but Spiller is absolutely dynamic in open space. The Bills drafted DT Marcell Dareus #3 overall, and really hope that he can bolster their D-line to help stop the run game. With Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence on the corners, it would be huge for the Bills if Leodis McKelvin can step up in the nickel role and give them a much needed bump on coverage on 3rd downs.

4-12 last season, with some competitive games, and their defense could (fingers crossed) be better this season if Merriman and Nick Barnett have Pro Bowl caliber years, I consider the Bills to be similar to the Lions of last season. They will lose a few games by double digits, but for the most part they will be in all of their games for the first 52 minutes, but how do they close them out will be the questions.

Fantasy Sleeper: Buster Davis WR

Prediction 3-13


Last season: 7-9

With Tony Sparano still holding down the fort, and Chad Henne (feelings hurt and all) behind center, the Dolphins are hoping for a big season in Miami. The departures of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown led to the arrival of Reggie Bush from the New Orleans Saints. Bush will get a bulk of carries, so it will be interesting to see how he holds up throughout the year, while Daniel Thomas (rookie from KSU) will likely get some carries as well. Chad Henne must have a good season. It seemed like the Dolphins would take a run at McNabb or Orton, but they stayed quiet and only brought in Matt Moore. So Henne is the guy Dolphin fans, the guy that has thrown more INTs than TD in both of his seasons as starting QB. Brandon Marshall, a man of two minds, could go for 100+ receptions this season as the Dolphins are going to have to throw a lot more now that their two ball carriers are gone. Marshall is a star in this league, but he also will get some help from up-and-comer Davone Bess and Brian Hartline.

Looking at the defense in Miami, they were good last year which is why their record is a little misleading. 7th against the run and 8th against the pass, the Dolphins defense was stout. Forcing turnovers will be critical this season and you can bet that Vontae Davis and Chris Clemons have a small wager on INTs for this season. I would like to see something out of Jared Odrick, 2nd year DE out of Penn State, as he has a tremendous upside as a pass rusher and run stopper.

Fantasy Sleeper: Daniel Thomas - how long will Bush be healthy...

Prediction: 6-10


Last Season: 11-5

Two straight years with Mark Sanchez behind center and two straight years of falling one game short of the Super Bowl. While I am not a big fan of Sanchez, that is a crazy-good start to a career. But could this be the year that Rex and the Sanchize get it done? Keeping Santonio Holmes was huge for the Jets as he and Sanchez has great chemistry. Losing Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith will be interesting to see how the offense adapts, but the late addition of Derrick Mason was a nice move by the Jets front office.

Defensively we all know the Jets are terriffic Revis island and Cromartie are two dominant corners, but look for Brodney Pool (FS) to step up and have a better season this year. Looking at the Jets schedule, it gets hard right away with a tough three week road trip against Oakland, Baltimore, and New England beginning week 3. The Jets cannot have any let down games this season as the AFC is too competitive to make the playoffs without 10 or 11 wins. Sanchez will be the leader once again, but can the Jets man-up for all the talking that their coach does. Could be a fun ride in New York this year.

Fantasy Sleeper: Joe McKnight

Prediction: 12-4


Last Year: 14-2

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are a dynamic duo having one more games in the past 10 years than any other quarterback/coach tandem. (Manning/Dungy and McNabb/Reid right behind them) The Patriots offense will always be good with Brady behind center. It got some upgrades with Ochocinco and draft pick Shane Vereen. So expect the Pats to put up points and Brady to have another MVP-caliber season.

The main focus for New England is their defense. Horrible against the pass (30th), they spent the off-season trying to upgrade their d-line to get more pressure on the quarterback. Albert Haynesworth, yeah, he can help a little bit. With Haynesworth's presence on the line, he will attract double teams, Tight Ends staying in to help protection, and it will open up outside blitzes from corners, safeties, and the line backers. Great move by the Patriots with Haynesworth, especially if he plays anything close to a few years ago with the Titans.

With out of division games against the Steelers and Eagles on the road, and a home contest against Peyton Manning, I think the Patriots will have a few tough games, but for the most part be double digit wins.

Fantasy Sleeper: Aaron Hernandez TE


Friday, August 12, 2011


Dallas Cowboys

The storyline heading into last season focused on if Dallas could be the first team to host a Super Bowl. We all know how that turned out. Aside from Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware (and perhaps the flashes shown by Dez Bryant), the entire team appeared to regress. The o-line got old, the secondary self-destructed, and Marion Barber died. New coach Jason Garrett did keep things competitive over the last half of the season, which says a lot about the man. The squad could have easily mailed it in.

Garrett brings a steady hand to a team that needs it. The Princeton educated coach played under Jimmy Johnson. Johnson’s style of discipline and independence (from Jerry) brought the team its last tastes of glory. To bring the charisma of Johnson into the fold, Dallas signed Rob Ryan to coach the defense. The defense, which ranked among the franchises worst ever last season, sorely needed a shot of bravado. Dallas also took a very conservative approach to free agency; cutting under-performers such as Marion Barber’s corpse, Roy Williams, and Marc Columbo, and re-signing the likes of Doug Free, Kyle Kosier and Marcus Spears. The offense will perform well with Felix Jones, DeMarco Murray & Co. handling the run attack and as long as Romo stays upright, Austin and Bryant should both have nice seasons. If Marty Bennett can finally emerge as a legitimate threat to compliment all-pro Jason Witten, the passing game will be among the league’s best. Defensively…who knows…The secondary is counting on Terrance Newman to stay healthy, Mike Jenkins to bounce back and Alan Ball to stay away. I could see another 6-10 year just as easily as a 11-5 year. I say 9-7 and they miss the playoffs, but stay competitive in every game.


Fantasy Sleeper: RB DeMarco Murray

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan’s first season in Washington went about as well as every other Dan Synder hire. I suppose the biggest lesson learned from the 2010 season for the Redskins was “If a division rival (who you play twice a year) wants to trade you their starting quarterback, you might want to decline.” The off field dramas, from the McNabb out of shape issue to the adventures of Albert Haynesworth, proved more interesting than anything happening during the games.

The Redskins have put together a solid secondary. They bulked up their defensive unit signing Safety AJ Otogwae and CB Josh Wilson to an already formidable secondary group, stole up-and-comer DE Stephen Bowen from Dallas and used their first two draft picks on OLB Ryan Kerrigan and DL Jarvis Jenkins. I love what their doing on defense but is it enough to compensate for their issues on offense? To improve the locker room, the Skins dealt 100 million dollar man and alleged sex offender Albert Haynesworth and cut the slumping Clinton Portis. Washington brought in RB Tim Hightower as Portis’ replacement. Hightower started well in Arizona then trailed off. I seriously doubt he will make waves in the NFC East. Santana Moss remains the most potent weapon on the offensive side of the ball and Fred Davis appears poised to have a breakout season (especially in the likely event Cooley goes down). However, who will get the ball to them? John Beck, who looked great in the game he won in Miami (the only game he won in Miami) and Rex Grossman are the top QB’s for this team. In a quarterback driven league, the Redskins do not appear to have a starting caliber quarterback on the roster. Expect good things on defense and hideous things on offense.


Fantasy Sleeper: TE Fred Davis

New York Giants:

The team appeared poised to make a run at a championship coming into last season. However, in true Tom Coughlin form, wild swings between good football and bad football led this team home come playoff time. Consistently inconsistent play occurred at all levels of the team and it does not appear the Giants did a lot to address their issues in the off-season and lost a couple of keys to their past success.

The departure of TE Kevin Boss likely hurts the worst. Boss proved a reliable and consistent target for Eli Manning. I was shocked to see the Raiders steal him away so easily. There’s still a good deal of talent around Manning. Hakeem Nicks is a fantastic receiver and the Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs combo give the Giants a fighting chance in any game. Defensively, the Umenyiora saga drags on and the team lost its number one draft pick to injury indefinitely (Prince Amukamara). I see the team struggling throughout the year with the pendulum swinging towards bad football more often than it does towards good football. Ultimately, Tom Coughlin loses his job at year’s end and the team enters a rebuilding process on the defensive side of the ball.

Prediction: 8-8

Fantasy Sleeper: WR Mario Manningham

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles entered 2010 with dreams of the Kevin Kolb era. Those quickly faded into oblivion and the Michael Vick redemption tour took center stage. The Eagles with McCoy, Jackson, and Vick appeared unstoppable at times last season. Vick played like some 13 year old Madden junkie was controlling him. Defensively, they played an inconsistent brand of football. Rookie Safety Nate Allen flashed potential and Asante Samuel pieced together another pro bowl year, but overall they lacked an identity. This lack of identity paired with the wear-down of Vick ultimately led to their demise.

Everyone knows the Eagles won the off-season. On paper, they appear the number one contender to unseat the current NFL champion Packers. The Eagles ended free agency loaded with names: Cullen Jenkins, Nnamdi Asomugha, Ronnie Brown, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, Vince Young, Steve Smith and the list goes on. Rarely does this methodology work out. However, Andy Reid runs a tight ship and the Eagles count themselves among the best run organizations in the NFL. Michael Vick’s health will determine the fate of the Eagles. If he can stay healthy, and I mean at full strength not dinged up all year, the sky is the limit. Vince Young is a nice insurance policy and could whether the storm but he’s simply not prepared to take the team for a deep playoff run. With a healthy Michael Vick, the Eagles are clearly the class of the division and perhaps the conference.

Prediction: 12-4

Fantasy Sleeper: WR Jason Avant
It was only Pre-Season Football last night, but it felt great seeing those guys in pads in primetime television
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Thursday, August 11, 2011


Chicago Bears

For all the hype of a Mike Martz-Jay Culter offense, little came of it. The Bears ranked 28th last season in passing. Not exactly a rebirth of the greatest show on turf. Then again, the team did finish 11-5, so something went right. Chicago’s season ended on a sour note after Jay Cutler left a playoff game in the hands of Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie. Cutler received a barrage of criticism for his lack of toughness. When you play for a team that boasts the likes of Mike Ditka, Richard Dent and Mike Singletary you had better be an amputee candidate before you leave a playoff game.

The Bears were so taken with the 2010 Dallas Cowboys, they decided to shop former Cowboys like they were at some sort of JoS A Banks sale. Chicago signed Roy Williams to be their number one wide receiver. An interesting proposition, considering Johnny Knox (last year’s number 1) caught 51 balls for over 900 yards last year and Roy Williams hasn’t matched that for some time. The Bears also brought over WR Sam Hurd and the artist formerly known as Marion Barber. Kidding aside, Barber and Williams give them red zone threats and actually compliment existing pieces. Williams is a big tall receiver and a nice target for Cutler near the goal line. Barber’s best years were as a backup, and in Chicago he returns to that role. If he can rekindle some of that ferocity, he should serve as a nice change to the smaller faster Matt Forte. Throw in first rounder OT Gabe Carimi and the Bears have done a few things to improve their offense. Defensively, the Bears still have Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher. Although weathered, I see no reason to doubt this group. The key to this year is Cutler and Martz; can they make it work in a competitive division? Is Cutler the reincarnation of Jeff George or is he something more than a big arm?

Prediction: 10-6

Fantasy Sleeper: Marion Barber

Minnesota Vikings

In hindsight, the Brett Favre interception that ended the Viking’s 2009 season was a prelude of things to come. The Vikings started 2010 with the Favre saga. Prominent Viking players flew to Mississippi and pleaded with Favre to secure his return. Then we found out Favre had a penchant forlechery. Next we found out that he was completely washed up. Panic ensued. The Vikings acquired Randy Moss only to realize he too was washed up. In the end, creepy Brad Childress lost his job, Brett’s streak ended, and somebody named Joe Webb was under center.

The top storyline leading into 2011: Can Donavon McNabb redeem himself and bring the team back to contender status? Doubtful. McNabb’s leash will certainly be longer than the one he wore in Washington. Minnesota wants rookie QB Christian Ponder to develop along the sidelines and unless the team tanks, he will remain there. The Vikings lost Sidney Rice to free agency and did not replace him with a viable deep threat option. If McNabb stumbles, defenses will focus on locking down Adrian Peterson and essentially stifle offensive production. The team’s offensive fate hinges on McNabb and that’s a dicey proposition especially since the team cut future Lipitor Spokesman OT Bryant McKinnie. Defense is Coach Leslie Frazier’s specialty and he’ll have his workcut out for him. The loss of Ray Edwards, who served as a nice compliment to Jarred Allen further complicates his work. I think its going to be a long season in Minnesota , one where the lack of a stadium and rumors of a Los Angeles move dominate storylines.

Prediction: 5-11

Fantasy Sleeper: WR Michael Jenkins

Green Bay

The Packers took it all last year. They didn’t always look the part but they peaked at the perfect time. Aaron Rodgers is a statistics machine. As long as the team provided him with a modicum of protection, he delivered. Rodgers did this despite the fact opposing teams keyed on him and ignored the Green Bay running attack after Ryan Grant’s injury. Pair that with all-pro Clay Matthews and dominate force BJ Raji and you find yourself holding theLombardi.

Green Bay enters 2011 with a target on their backs. The team has questions along the offensive line and Charles Woodson is a little long in the tooth. They’re playing what should be the most competitive division in the NFC, and both the Lions and Bears made improvements. That said, the Packers have stars in the right places, a top notch QB, great receivers, a fantastic pass rushing duo and great veteran leaders. They’ll make another run at theNFC Championship.

Prediction: 11-5

Fantasy Sleeper: WR James Jones

Detroit Lions

The Lions finished 6-10 last season and struggled to keep key players healthy. The team has come a long way from the Matt Millen days. Calvin Johnson is a force of nature on the offensive side of the ball as is Suh on the defensive side. However, Javid Best and Matthew Stafford couldn’t stay healthy and the team continued to struggle.

The health of Matthew Stafford and Javid Best will continue to be a point of concern for the Lions in 2011. Shaun Hill is a quality backup but he’s not going to get you many wins in this division. The team added depth on both sides of the ball by drafting DT Nick Fairley and WR Titus Young. There’s a lot for Lions fan’s to get excited about but should do so with trepidation. Stafford has given no indication from previous years he can stay on the field. Also, Detroit lacks a quality secondary. The team’s pass rush may inspire fear, but the secondary will not. I think they’re headed in the right direction, but 2011 isn’t going to become a breakout year for the long tortured franchise.

Prediction: 7-9

Fantasy Sleeper: WR Titus Young