Daily Archives: July 29, 2010

“NFC North Preview”

Aaron Rodgers was once Brett Favre's understudy as shown in this picture. Then Aaron took Brett's spot as the Packers quarterback and is now trying to take Brett and the Viking's spot atop the NFC North.

 To finish off my division by division breakdowns, we have the NFC West.  This division has become a  two headed monster.  There are two very good teams at the top, one mediocre squad, and a very weak team at the bottom.  When Brett Favre officially announces his return, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later, the Vikings and Packers will begin duking it out for divisional supremacy.  Lets get ready to rumble in the NFC North.

 NFC North:  Bears, Lions, Packers, Vikings (alphabetical order)

 Detroit Lions (4th place):  Detroit’s suffering will continue for at least another year.  This team has only won 2 games over the course of the past two years and has not won more than 7 games in a season since the year 2000.  It has been a brutal last 10 years.  Well expect this year to be pretty typical for the Lion’s faithful.  This team had the worst defense in the League last year and an almost equally as bad offensive attack.  Lots of weight will placed on 2nd year quarterback Matthew Stafford.  Can he live up to the lofty expectations?  Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in the game.  It is a shame that the Lions cannot really give him another solid receiver to play alongside.  Guys like Dennis Northcutt and Bryant Johnson have not been able to cut the mustard.  From a rushing standpoint, they still have Kevin Smith, who will hopefully be fully recovered from a devastating Week 14 ACL tear (last season).  They also have rookie Jahvid Best.  Do not expect too much from this duo though due to lack of an offensive line.  Defensively it gets worse.  There is really not one player of note on the entire unit other than recently drafted Ndamukong Suh.  Lions’ fans better pray this guy gets signed, lives up to the hype, and is ready to be an instant leader for this team on the defensive side of the ball.  That is a lot to ask of a rookie.  Do not expect the Lion’s

to win more than 5 games this year.

Chicago Bears (3rd place):  Da Bears!  Yes Chris Berman is in the Hall of Fame, but the Bears still do not have the look of a contender sadly.  No matter how excited Chris Berman can get people when talking about the boys out of the windy city, the team is not ready to be a force yet.  The Bears have not been to the postseason since 2006, and do not count on that streak ending this year.  This team suffered without Brian Urlacher last year defensively, and did not do much with the newly acquired Jay Cutler from an offensive standpoint.  Though the Bears finally added a complement to Matt Forte in Chester Taylor, this does not appear to solve the rushing issues.  This team was near the bottom of the League in rushing yards last year, and though Taylor should help a little, these guys do not really compliment each other well in that they each have a very similar style.  I just hope for the Bear’s sake, conflict does not arise between Forte and Taylor.  The receiving corps has not improved either.  This team is still lacking a number 1 threat for Jay Cutler to use his “super” strong-arm to throw too.  So do not expect this team to put up a flurry of points on a weekly basis.  Defensively, the unquestioned leader is still the man with “swag,” Brian Urlacher.  Urlacher along with Lance Briggs make up one of the League’s best linebacker duos.  Also, the addition of Julius Peppers to the defensive line should make an instant impact.  If Urlacher can stay healthy, expect this team to be much better defensively than they were last year.  The secondary did do a solid job against the pass so hopefully with Peppers rushing the opposing quarterback, their jobs can be even easier this year.  The Bears will be a decent team.  But do not expect them to sneak into the playoffs.  I am predicting 7 or 8 wins due to the lack of offensive stability. 

Green Bay Packers (2nd place):  The Cheesheads may be disappointed with another 2nd place appearance, but count on this team to roll deep into the playoffs.  I have them cruising all the way to the Super Bowl.  It will take this team time to gel and it will help when Favre tires down the stretch for the Vikings come playoff time.  This team is led by a lethal offensive attack.  Aaron Rodgers has become one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the League hands down.  They got a great duo at receiver in the up and coming Greg Jennings and the seasoned veteran Donald Driver.  Hopefully Driver is healthy after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on both of his knees this off-season.  But luckily for the Packers, they have young guns James Jones and Jordy Nelson waiting in the wings.  Not to mention they have a very solid tandem of receiving tight ends in Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee.  I also forgot to mention that though this team lives on the pass, do not sleep on Ryan Grant pounding the rock.  The question is who can complement Grant down the stretch?  Possibly the seasoned veteran Ahmad Brooks or the Florida product DeShawn Wynn.  Offensively, this is the only question mark this team has if any.  Defensively the Packers number 2 defense of a season ago will be led by the linebacking trio of Nick Barnett, AJ Hawk, and Clay Matthews.  This the best linebacking trio in the League in my eyes.  They are young, tough, and very fun to watch.  Lastly, you have 2 very strong veterans in Charles Woodson and Al Harris anchoring the secondary.  Good luck scoring points on these guys.  Neither AJ Hawk nor Clay Matthews has really entered their prime yet.  There is lots of upside.  The Packers have the best combination of offense and defense in the entire NFC. 

Minnesota Vikings (1st place):  This team came up just short of making an appearance in the Super Bowl last season.  They are determined to go one step further this year and bring a Super Bowl title back to the twin cities of Minnesota.  And why shouldn’t they be confident?  They have a great core group of guys returning.  Minnesota also possesses both a great offense and defense.  Last season, the Vikings became a pass first offense.  I think Brett Favre is the only player in the League that could make a team that has the one they call “All Day” (Adrian Peterson) a pass first team.  Brett can still really play and put on quite a show last season.  And I fully expect him to put up great numbers again this year.  Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian are a great trio of targets for Favre.  All 3 are young and have a ton of upside.  Look for Favre to be slinging the ball all over the field again this year.  My question is will Sidney Rice be healthy?  Either way the passing attack will be lethal.  Then of course the Vikings do have the luxury of handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson, who has the ability to turn any play into a big time play.  If AP starts fumbling again though, who is the next guy in? Ryan Moats or the rookie Toby Gerhart?  This team does not really have a sure-fire compliment for Peterson nor do they really need one.  As long as Peterson stays healthy, it will be paradise in the Minnesota backfield.  Then from a defensive standpoint, this team stops the run with the best of them.  Guys like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Pat Williams are absolutely outstanding.  They not only stop the run, but they pressure the quarterback early and often.  Then in the secondary, the addition of veteran cornerback Lito Shephard should help turn this unit from average, to pretty good.  Big things will also be expected from the outstanding cornerback Antoine Winfield, and their injury prone safety, Madieu Williams.  All I can say is, watch out, because this Viking’s team will be scary.  Do not be surprised to see this team roll deep into the postseason.

So the NFC North should have a repeat champion in the Minnesota Vikings.  But do not sleep on the Green Bay Packers, who I think could overtake the Vikings come playoff time on their way to making an appearance in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1997.  Both of these teams are very strong in nearly all aspects of the game.  

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

-TheSportsKraze

“AFC North Preview”

How will the arrival of Anquan Boldin in Baltimore and another number 81 in Cincinnati affect the AFC North this year?

Welcome to perhaps the most brutal conference in the NFL.  Or at least the most physical.  These teams are generally tough both on and off the field.  Most off-seasons, you hear a lot of press about what these players are doing with their spare time and normally it is not good news.  You ever hear the saying, “No news is good news?”  Well the AFC North does not believe in that saying.  This is a division with great rivalries, great players, and great fans.  Many say Pittsburgh, or “Shitsburgh” as many Cincinnatians like to say, possesses the best fan base in American sports.  All I have to say is, there is no love lost in the rivalries of this very unpredictable and talented division.

AFC North: Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers (alphabetical order)

Cleveland Browns (4th place):  It seems like the Browns have been inhabiting the cellar for some time now.  In actuality, they have resided in this position every year but 2 since the year 2002.  So there is quite a familiarity with always looking up at their rivals in the standings.  And this year will be no different for a town where things continue to get worse.  The Indians have been god awful the past few years.  Their “King” and savior Lebron James, just jumped ship and added insult to the wounds by having a 1 hour special to make the “Decision,”  and the Browns continue to struggle.  Also lets not forget that winters in Cleveland are awful.  But this team truly does not have much to bring to the table.  They had the worst offense in the League last year for a reason.  They had a passing attack that reminded me of watching a high school team (averaging 129 yards per game).  This year they will have a new QB in Jake Delhomme, who can hopefully rekindle the fire a little bit.  Also their rushing attack will rely squarely on the shoulders of Jerome Harrison and the rookie out of Tennessee, Montario Hardesty.  Now Harrison is not terrible, nor was Cleveland’s rushing attack last year.  But this was partly because they ran the ball so much.  Also on the offensive side of the ball, much will be expected of Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs.  Massaquoi had a few big games last year, and has the talent to be a big play receiver.  But does this really sound like an offense that will be able to score against the likes of the Ravens, Bengals, or Steelers?  On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns are nearly just a bad.  This unit will depend heavily on a hopefully healthy Shaun Rogers, a hopefully healthy D’Qwell Jackson, and the always fun to watch Eric Wright in the secondary.  With the arrival of TO in Cincy and Boldin in Baltimore, Wright along with his buddies in the Cleveland secondary may actually need some Pepto Bismal.  Lastly, realize the best play the Browns have is on their special teams.  No team in the League possesses a threat like Joshua Cribbs in the return game.  This may be the Brown’s only hope to steal some games in the brutal AFC North.  As many in Cincinnati say, “If it is Brown flush it down.”  Well the Browns sadly are going to be down, and are in for another long season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (3rd place):  Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the best run franchises in professional sports will go a second consecutive year without tasting the postseason.  It is not that the Steelers are even so bad, it’s that the Bengals and Ravens will be very tough this year.  When talking about Steeler football, defense always comes to mind right away.  And this team does have a rough a tough defensive unit.  They are one of the top run stopping teams in the League, but do struggle with defending against the aerial attack at times.  James Farrior and James Harrison continue to get better with age it seems like.  Troy Polamalu, when healthy is one of the League’s best.  And Ryan Clark is becoming more and more well-known around the League for his bone shattering hits.  But the flash of the secondary cannot hide its inability at times to defend against the pass.  Big hits only can get you so far in this League.  Guys like Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, and all the recently drafted rookies in the secondary could make or break this team down the stretch.  Can Pittsburgh prevent the big play?  Offensively this team has a major issue before the season even starts.  Big Ben Roethlisberger, their quarterback and leader, will miss at least the first 4 games, and possibly more.  This will hurt.  It would not have been as big of a blow in the past, since the Steelers were always a smash mouth running team.  But they have turned into a pass first offense along with most of the NFL.  Can Dennis Dixon make sure the Steelers do not dig themselves another early season whole this year?  Because believe me, the Ravens and Bengals will be too tough to allow Pittsburgh to dig out of a massive early year deficit.  Is Rashard Mendenhall ready to carry the load as the featured back?  How many more solid years does Hines Ward have left?  The loss of their top receiver Santonio Holmes hurts, and it will be interesting to see if young guns Mike Wallace and Limas Sweed are ready to step up.  Pittsburgh will be a good team this year and win probably 6 to 8 games, but they will not be good enough to make the playoffs.  There are just too many question marks on both sides of the ball.

Baltimore Ravens (2nd place):  The bad boys out of Baltimore will make the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive year.  And though they would prefer to win the division, they will still be a tough out as a Wild Card.  This team has had a fantastic off-season and finally look to have the tools of a top-notch offensive squad.  So the Ravens will finally have a very tough offense to compliment their always tough defense.  Defensively, it is the same story it has been for the better part of a decade.  They stop the run better than anybody, rarely ever giving up 100 rushing yards in a game.  Ray Lewis, the future Hall of Famer, and possibly the best linebacker of all time continues to perform even at the ripe age of 35.  They also feature a very strong safety tandem in Dawan Landry and Ed Reed.  Plus Terrell Suggs, along with Ray Lewis may be the best linebacking duo in the League (even though Ray is 35).  But the corners have been a question the past couple of years, and may be the only minor flaw on this otherwise awesome team.  Can Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, and David Carr defend the likes of the Bengal’s outstanding trio of big play receivers?  These matchups will probably determine who wins the AFC North.  So strap in for some excitement there.  There is also the Ravens now revamped offensive side of the ball.  Joe Flacco, looks to be a quarterback that will continue to win in this League for some time.  And now he has some great weapons to throw to in Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and Donte Stallworth.  He also still has the former ASU standout, Todd Heap to throw too.  Also the Ravens possess one of the best rushing attacks in the entire League.  Between the up and coming Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and big boy Le’ron McClain, defenses beware.  These guys are no fun to deal with.  And with the look of a team that should really be able to throw the ball downfield, teams will not simply be able to just key on the vaunted Raven’s rushing attack.  Look out for the Ravens in 2010, as they look to go deep into the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals (1st place):  Who Dey Nation has been celebrating for the past couple of days.  The TO Show has arrived in Cincinnati to add to an already solid receiving corps.  This team, which was one of the League’s best in running the ball last year should now be able to throw deep with authority.  They have 3 big play receivers in Owens, Ochocinco, and Bryant.  Not to mention the surehanded Andre Caldwell to act as a possession guy, and Jermaine Gresham at tight end.  Also they have one of the League’s best running backs in Cedric Benson.  Carson Palmer has a heck of a team to work with offensively.  Be ready to witness the Carson Palmer of 2005 all over again. Redemption will be so sweet for the former USC standout.  The Bengals on the defensive side of the ball last year, behind the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, became one of the League’s elite.  Do not expect that to change this season as guys continue to get healthy.  The Bengals were extremely efficient at stopping both the run and the pass.  The cornerback tandem of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph is now known around the football stratosphere as one of the League’s elite.  Really for the Bengals, there are two question marks.  First of all is Carson ready to start playing like an elite quarterback again(which I think he is)?  And secondly, can the Bengals get healthy at safety and defend against a team like the Ravens, who have so many weapons?  With the Bengals, as with any team around the League, the big challenge is to stay healthy.  But this is by far the deepest and most talented team Marvin Lewis has ever had in Cincinnati.  Look for this team to have a big time year and play deep into the postseason.

So there you have.  The AFC North will be brutal as usual and will be represented in the playoffs by both the Bengals and Ravens like last year.  The only real question in this division is can the opposing secondaries handle the deep threats of the Bengals and Ravens?  We will begin to find out come September.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

-TheSportsKraze

“NFC South Preview”

Can Matt Ryan lead the Falcons past the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints?

 The NFC South had a banner year last season producing their first Super Bowl Champion since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took it home behind a stellar game by Dexter Jackson in the 2002-2003 season.  Jon Gruden was at the top of the coaching realm at that time.  Now he is one of the best analysts that ESPN has to offer.  But how about those Saints?  What a heartfelt story and exciting team to watch.  It was a very well deserved victory for the team and the entire city of New Orleans. 

NFC South:  Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4th place):  Things have not been the greatest in Tampa Bay for the past couple of years.  This franchise has not made the playoffs since 2007, and that does not appear to be changing this year.  They have both an abysmal offense and defense these days, that really struggles at defending the pass.  First of all the problem for this team starts at quarterback.  The 22-year-old, Josh Freeman, has a world of potential, but no business starting in the NFL yet.  This is not a League that young guys can typically make an instant impact in such as the NBA.  The running back combo of this team in Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward is mediocre at best.  It is hard to run a ball on a team that will have such an anemic passing game.  Which leads me to how much the loss of Antonio Bryant will hurt.  The Bucs were towards the bottom of the League in the passing game last year, think what it will be like this year with Kellen Winslow as your only real receiving threat (he is a Tight End).  On the defensive side of the ball, things get even worse.  The only names you will recognize are guys like Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib.  You recognize Ronde, because he once was great, and Aqib because of his run ins with the law.  Plus Ronde looks to be all but retired, and may actually be retired before the season starts.  So there you have it, not much hope for Tampa Bay in 2010. 

Carolina Panthers (3rd place):  Next you have a Carolina Panther’s team that is coming off of a very disappointing 3rd place finish.  Well expect the same this year.  The one thing this team has going for them is a very strong defense.  Jon Beason is rapidly becoming one of the best linebackers in the League.  He is another great NFL linebacker out of none other than the U (Miami University).  Chris Gamble is a gamer in the secondary and can come up with some big time plays.  But the loss of Julius Peppers will sting.  Regardless if the guy was overpaid, he still contributed big time and really was a guy that offensive lines keyed in on freeing up others on the Panther’s defense to run rampant.  Can the Panther’s secondary still do well without a Julius Pepper’s attack coming at opposing QB’s?  We will find out.  Offensively, there is a brand new look with the sad departure of Jake Delhomme.  It will be interesting to see how Matt Moore does with the pressure of being the starter and having a guy like Jimmy Clausen breathing down his throat.  At least there is a great 2 headed monster at running back in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.  Oh yeah, they also have a guy named Steve Smith to throw to.  But the loss of Muhsin Muhammad will hurt and somebody will have to step up as the number 2 receiver.  All in all, this Panther’s team has a lot of question marks.  But expect the rushing attack to be solid and do not be surprised to see this team win between 6 and 8 games. 

Atlanta Falcons (2nd place):  Atlanta will boast a solid offensive attack again this year led by their fearless quarterback Matt Ryan.  Ryan is getting close to entering his prime and continues to develop into a very strong NFL quarterback.  This team has targets for him to throw to such as Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and the future hall of famer, Tony Gonzalez.  But make no mistake, this is still one of the NFL’s few run first teams.  Between having a healthy Michael Turner, Jason Snelling, and the explosive Jerious Norwood, opponents should fear the rushing attack of Atlanta.  Also word on the street is that Michael Turner has had a fantastic off-season and has a big time year forthcoming.  On the other side of the ball, you may not have heard of many of these guys if you are not from Atlanta, but they are tough.  Led by linebacker Curtis Lofton and safety Erik Coleman, this defense is very solid.  They work very well as a collaborative unit and this year should be no different.  The only question is can this team improve in stopping the pass?  If they are able to improve as a secondary unit, they could challenge the pass happy Saints for the divisional crown.  Expect this team to come up just short of a Wild Card spot, but to have a very solid season. 

New Orleans Saints (1st place):  I know it has been a trap in recent history to pick the defending Super Bowl Champs to make any noise the next season.  I know the past couple of years the defending champs have faltered in even making it back to the playoffs, but this team looks too good not to at least make the postseason.  They are led by possibly the game’s best quarterback in Drew Brees.  They have an outstanding receiving corps in Colston, Henderson, Meachem, and Shockey.  Also they have probably the best receiving running back in the League in Reggie Bush.  This team can hurt you in so many ways offensively.  And with the way Drew Brees spreads the ball around, it does not really matter who you put around him or what defenses you throw at him.  Brees will put up points.  Also this team has the best run/pass balance in the League.  They are old-fashioned, and though they appear pass happy at times, they are able to do this due to an established rushing attack.  Though the loss of Mike Bell will hurt, expect Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush to carry the load just fine and really compliment each other well.  Then on the defensive side of the ball, can Darren Sharper repeat his amazing performance of a year ago?  Or at least half of the performance?  For a Super Bowl Champion, the Saints did not have a great defense.  They really lived and died on the bend and not break motto.  But who cares.  If you are putting up points the way this team does, all the defense has to do is hold opponents under 30 (sometimes 35).  Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper, and Roman Harper just have to ensure that this defense does not totally collapse.  Due to the amazing scoring ability of the offense, they predominantly have to defend against the pass as teams try to catch up.  Is the defense up to the challenge? 

So the NFC South looks to be very good as usual.  I see the Saints repeating as champions and the Falcons having a great season, but just missing a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.  The Saints will break the recent streak of defending Super Bowl Champions not making the playoffs. 

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze. 

-TheSportsKraze