2006 NFL Predictions

Well, it’s about that time. The 3rd round of preseason games is finished where we traditionally see the maximum time for each teams projected starters. I’m going to run down the NFC North, my home team’s division, and give my prediction of the final ranking and their corresponding records. I invite any and all to predict their divisions and to generally snipe and banter about my picks.

NFC North
Chicago Bears (10 -6)
I know you are all expecting me to rave about the prospects of the Super Bowl bound Bears, to wax poetic about the defense and to toss on my rose colored shades as I describe the thrill of donning a Rex Grossman jersey. Ain’t gonna happen. Yes, I think they will win the division but that’s largely by default. They undeniably have tons of talent and a Super Bowl caliber defense. At the conclusion of last year I was blooming with optimism for this season, I was hoping for a solid draft where the few holes they had were addressed and a couple key free agents signed to aid that offense. None of that happened, the only real bright spot was the addition of Brian Griese as a back-up QB, which is of course blowing up in our face as a QB controversy looms. The draft was simply awful, some talent was found, but most of it on role players instead of impact guys. We desperately needed to improve the passing game and failed miserably, we didn’t land a impact TE to be Grossman’s security blanket, we didn’t get a speed merchant to stretch the field. The other areas of need were DB, LB and Special Teams. Our attempt to improve the secondary netted us a criminal and it’s unclear if the front office realizes that there is a kicking aspect to the game. Cedric Benson was predicted to be a bust here from the get go, and I see no reason to change that opinion, only now he’s not only incompetent he’s a malcontent too. Wonder if we can send him to New England for Branch, not likely, eh?

Enough editorializing, lets look at the players on the field. The defense is stout, it will play up to expectations, though I predict a small step back from last season. The secondary will still struggle against top flight passing games and the depth at LB will show against big physical RBs. The pass rush is going to be scary and Rivera’s schemes are inventive and timely. The running game is going to be even more impressive than it was last season. As much as I dislike Benson, he’s lit a fire under Peterson and Jones and they will probably play with a serious chip on their shoulder. The O-line is the best there is and they will take pleasure in getting TJ some big games to stuff in management’s face. Who knows, Benson might even answer the challenge to earn some PT. The passing game is an entirely different story. Grossman has regressed and looks awful in preseason. I’m not one who’s eager to give Griese the ball yet since all his numbers are against 2nd string defenses, bad ones no less, but Grossman is giving me the willies. And he looked so damn good last season in limited action. He’s lost that command of the huddle. A bright spot is Rashied Davis at WR, he’s been utterly dominant, well as far as Bears WRs go, in the preseason and is a favorite target of both Grossman and Griese right now. Moose is practically glacial and Bradley hasn’t showed that flash he had pre-injury yet. The kicking game looks barely passable in contrast to the return game which is actually bordering on dangerous.

They’ve got talent, an easy schedule, and a easy division so I expect them to make the post season again. However unless Grossman finds the magic and the kicking game makes huge strides I am not expecting much else.
Minnesota Vikings (9-7)
**A new head coach and the same silly owner. An ancient QB and a collection of cast offs on offense. The O-line was bad last year but they added Hutchinson which will help, but I’m not ready to call Chester the next Shaun Alexander. Brad Johnson, while old, has proven that he can be efficient and can lead an offense. The WR core is pretty much non-existant, but I do think they’ll get some production out of Robinson, Taylor and Williamson. Tavaris Jackson has looked pretty impressive in a back-up role and could be the most popular guy in town if Johnson struggles. Still, this running game will really struggle which means the passing game won’t catch teams on its heels too often. Expect a lot of 3rd and long situations. The Vikes D, which is on the upswing, will keep them in a lot of games and with a pretty weak schedule will have them challenging the Bears for the division and hoping for a playoff spot. The secondary has some years on it and some high profile additions will be savvy and cause trouble for the young offenses in this division. The young aggressive front seven will compliment that secondary if they are able to keep the run in check. Uncertainty at LB is important and the new Cover 2 demands top notch play from that group. I think better teams will exploit that and teams with a good running game will render the pass defense somewhat toothless.

Detroit Lions (7-9)
I actually think this team will be formidable one day. Right now they are cleaning house and as good as Martz is at tuning an offense he is going to need some time with this group. Kitna is a fine QB, but I’m not sure I see him managing a Martz system as well as the guys in St Louis did. Plus the purge at WR is going to leave a talent vacuum so that when Kitna makes his reads there won’t be wide open windows to throw into. Kevin Jones is a young back with all-star potential, but he’s no Marshall Faulk. I’m not sure Martz will be able to be as creative as he would like with him and his pass blocking is going to open Kitna up to tons of big hits, especially against some really good defenses they face. The Lions have had an underrated defense in the past but I suspect they’ll take a step back. They too are shifting to the Cover 2, but I just don’t think they have the talent for it. They’ll be starting probably 2 rookies in Sims and Bullocks both at keep positions in this system, that worries me. Also they don’t have physical corners to challenge the run and Dre Bly has a habit of getting burned trying to make the big play. They will be solid in the middle against the run and will force teams to throw the ball, I suspect they’ll have success at it though. I do expect these guys to round into form towards the tail end of the season to make the record look respectable.

Green Bay Packers (3-13)
So are you watching tonight’s preseason game? If you’re a Packers fan you probably are and I bet your asshole puckered up tight when you watched Favre’s first two possessions. I got a good laugh out of it. Have I mentioned how giddy I am that he’s back? That’s probably setting the Pack back 2 years in the rebuilding process as they continue to try and win enough games to keep Favre sane. I’m betting the wheels come off in grand fashion this year. That line and that defense are just riddled with problems. Talk all you want about AJ Hawk, they lost Jim Bates and he was the only thing holding that D together last season. The big FA addition was Charles Woodson, a guy who couldn’t get on the field for a shabby Oakland D. The offense isn’t much better with a mystery at running back and a very questionable line. Look at it this way, at least Donald Driver’s going to have a nice fantasy season.

AFC North:

Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)

With the sharpness and level of comfort Palmer showed tonight, I think the Bengals aren’t going to miss a step from last year. I have them losing to the Pats, Colts, Broncos and Panthers, but that Denver game will certainly be winnable.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

Ben Facelikeaburger and the Steelers are going to be close to last year, but they don’t quite have the weapons they need.

Cleveland Browns (7-9)

It’s Cleveland. What more needs to be said.

Baltimore Ravens (5-11)

McNair’s not going to help this team do anything.

I’ll check in in a day or so when I have more time…

As an avid Browns fan, I just have to say that your projection is way off base. The browns will not win 7 games this year. They lost thier only decent offensive lineman for the entire season, and they have a QB with barely any experience. Edwards is still battling injuries, and it’s been two years since Winslow saw the green grass of a football field. I say they go 4-12.

I also think that the Ravens will be better than that for sure, I’ll pick them at 8-8.

I predict the Packers will suck ass and Duffer will be on suicide watch by week six.

Season-ending rankings for each division:

AFC East

  1. New England
  2. Miami
  3. Buffalo
  4. N.Y. Jets

AFC North

  1. Cincinnati
  2. Baltimore
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Cleveland

AFC South

  1. Indianapolis
  2. Tennessee
  3. Jacksonville
  4. Houston

AFC West

  1. Denver
  2. Oakland
  3. San Diego
  4. Kansas City

NFC East

  1. N.Y. Giants
  2. Philadelphia
  3. Washington
  4. Dallas

NFC North

  1. Chicago
  2. Minnesota
  3. Detroit
  4. Green Bay

NFC South

  1. Carolina
  2. Tampa Bay
  3. New Orleans
  4. Atlanta

NFC West

  1. St. Louis
  2. Seattle
  3. Arizona
  4. San Francisco

In the AFC East, it looks like a tossup between Miami and New England. The Jets seem a little thin in spots, and is anyone out there predicting great things for Buffalo? I don’t frankly know a ton about Miami, but I can fairly say that I’ve been following New England and they look pretty darn good to me. People make a big deal about the Deion Branch situation and the weakness of the WR position, but I’m not really buying it. Troy Brown is overlooked by everyone, but you don’t have 13 years in the NFL if you’re not a really outstanding player. Reche Caldwell will kill a drive or two this year with a drop, but he’s not the worst guy in the world at his position. Childress may step up, and the Pats will probably get a guy this week or next off the scrap pile. Then there’s Chad Jackson, at least theoretically, since he’s basically not been seen or heard from this entire preseason. The Patriots have a ton of depth at tight end and fullback, so expect those guys to take a big role in the passing game.

All the other units look pretty solid, if not more than solid. Kicker is still a bit of an unknown, but Gostowski hasn’t given anybody the shakes yet.

So I’m predicting great things for the Patriots. 11-5, maybe? And just to fill out the prediction, let’s have Miami at 10-6, the Jets at 8-8, and the Bills at 4-12.

NFC South:

Buccaneers, 10-6: Yep, I said the Bucs will be 12-4. The same old but phenomenally effective defense takes a step back this season, but still finishes in the top 5 overall. Fortunately, four years of sensible drafting on offense finally pays off this season, when a pass-weak but run-happy offensive line paves the way to a 1,500 yard season for the Cadillac. The passing game will be hampered somewhat by poor protection, at least for the first half of the season, but with defenses keying on the run I expect Chris Simms to throw for 3,500 yards and 20 or so touchdowns. Unfortunately, he’ll also throw 14 interceptions. David Boston will be this season’s Joey Galloway, becoming the starter at split end by midseason. Galloway will take a step back from last year, but should be good for 1000 yards and six TDs. Michael Clayton will prove that his rookie season WAS a fluke, but establish himself as a solid slot reciever for years to come. Alex Smith becomes a genuine threat at TE; not much yardage but perhaps 8 touchdowns.

On defense, not much changes. Indeed, not much has to. Simeon Rice will have something of a down year, but Ellis Wyms and DeWayne White will do enough to compensate.

Matt Bryant proved to be a reliable kicker last year, and should continue that trend. Not too much leg, but very accurate.

Naturally, we’ll fail to return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown for the 31st consecutive season, because taking away the announcers’ most reliable statistic at this point would just be cruel.

Panthers, 9-7: Everyone’s NFC Superbowl pick for about the last four years will disappoint again. DeShaun Foster will be hurt, Eric Shelton is too slow, and DeAngelo Williams is too green. Without a reliable running game (again), and with Keyshawn Johnson having become essentially a skinny tight end at this point in his career, it will be up to Steve Smith to carry the team. He won’t disappoint, but unless he can produce a 2,000 yard, 20-touchdown season there just won’t be enough offense here.

The defense was actually pretty mediocre last season- 19th against the pass, 8th against the run. Lots of sacks, but forcing a lot of 3rd and longs isn’t very useful when you let the opponent convert. They’ll live and die by takeaways- more than three and they win, less and they lose.

Perhaps they win a wild card berth, but I doubt it.

Falcons, 6-10: Yes, they got John Abraham and Lawyer Milloy. Sounds good, but the defense was already pretty good. The running game was terrific. The passing game was… abysmal. So, how do you balance a run-heavy offense? Simple, get rid of your best red-zone tailback. Now you have an anemic pass offense AND a weak running game. Seriously, Atlanta’s offense is going to be bad enough to more than make up for any improvement on defense. Sure, they traded for Ashley Lelie, but a) he’ll have about 10 days total to learn the offense before they open the regular season, and b) he wasn’t good enough to supplant 36-year old Rod Smith in Denver for the #1 spot, so I doubt he will contribute greatly in Atlanta. In three seasons as a starter, he has 1 1,000-yard season and one 50-catch season (both 2004).

If there’s a bright spot here, it’s DeAngelo Hall. He’s going to come into his own this year as the best cover corner in the league. He may even see some time on offense.

Saints, 6-10 : All the potential in the world, but they’re not ready yet. They have a good chance of being the offensive powerhouse of the division, but that defense is going to suck. Brees is the real deal, and his supporting cast could be as good in New Orleans as it was in San Diego. Of course, he doesn’t have an individual player with the skills of LT or Gates on this offense, but he does get Joe Horn (a true #1 reciever, which he’s never had before), the much-discussed RB pairing of Deuce and Reggie, two solid complementary recievers in Chris Horn and Devery Henderson, and a line which should be significantly improved from last year.

Problem is, the NFC South is always one on defense, and the Saints really don’t have one. They have an excellent pass-rush threat in Will Smith, but not much to go with him. The secondary was always bad, and now is bad and old.

The Saints will pull off one or two extra wins with a scary return tandem: Michael Lewis (who admittedly never really recaptured his comeback-season form) and Reggie Bush (who will probably fumble a few punts).

I’m with you on the Bengals, I think they’ll really excel this season against a brutal schedule. Palmer did look legit and the national love affair with Chaz Johnson should continue.

As for the Steelers, I predict a bigger back slide than you do. The loss of Bettis and Randle El will be deeply felt, much moreso than statistics would predict. Hines Ward’s gimpy hammy is worth watching too. The defense is also minus a couple starters, though history dictates they’ll be replaced handily. Cowher’s contract situation might well come home to roost if this season gets off to a bumpy start.

I think you’re backwards regarding the bottom two teams. The Ravens are going to be halfway decent. McNair will indeed improve that offense, though it’ll be offset by the step back the defense takes. Nonetheless, they will beat up on crummy teams and get in the ballpark of 8-8.

The Browns are going to be an unmitigated disaster for the umpteenth year in a row. That running attack is feeble and the defense will get stampeded regardless of those pricey additions. They’ll be better than the Packers, and maybe better than the Jets, but that’s about it.

Wow, you’ve got the Titans finishing over .500? Really…lay off the smoke, bro.

I thought that Tennessee prediction was a stretch, then I saw the Raiders pick. Careful, you might strain something.

Did I say that? In either the Titans or the Raiders case? I don’t believe I did…

Actually, I think the Raiders will finish at .500.

New York Giants

I truly believe that Big Blue will win the season opener hosting the Colts. I see a 4-2 divisional record, a clean sweep (4-0) of the AFC South, splitting with the NFC South at 2-2, (the Falcons own the Giants for some reason,) and going 1-1 against the Bears and Seahawks. That adds up to 11-5, which seems attainable, if a bit homerish.

Losing nose tackle Kendrick Clancy to free agency was a major problem this offseason. It was particularly bad timing, with such a weak crop of DTs in the draft. Rookie Barry Cofield, picked up in the middle rounds, has some potential, but interior linemen usually take two full seasons before they start producing.

While most Giants fan are much happier now that the Wills era is over in the secondary, I’m worried. Neither Will could catch a cold, but both were stout in run support; particularly Will Alen. (The repeated reports from Miami about his “near interceptions” were hysterical all through camp.) Sam Madison went to the Deon Sanders school of tackling, and McQuarters doesn’t look much better. Corey Webster – the Giants first pick in the draft (2nd round) last year – is a complete unknown to me in the run game.

Lavar Arrington was brought in with much fanfare, but reports of his knee swelling up have been as regular as clockwork. The loss of Nick Griesen was a blow to the linebacker depth, but the middle round rookie Gerris Wilkerson is supposed to be of the same mold; equally good at all three positions.

So I see very bad things going for the Giants against the run. The entire season could play out exactly like that Panthers game last year. Losing Clancy and Will Allen means the Jints are soft in the middle and at the edges. Strahan is world class against the run, but Osi is not. Michael Strahan and Antonio Pierce do not a run defense make.

However, all that said, all 11 starters return to the high-powered offense. The OL is starting to get some much-deserved respect, and the depth only improved. Jacobs looks to step in and help save some wear on Tiki, whom I consider to be one of the top three backs in the league. It’s Tomlinson, Tiki, and Edge, and everybody else is an also-ran. When they pull you off the field in passing situations, you just aren’t enough of a factor. You don’t need a good back on the goal line; you need a big offensive line. (That’s why the QB sneak is so popular in the league.) You do need a good back in the backfield on 3rd & long, though. On 3rd and 10, Tiki can pick up the blitz, or chip block and convert a swing pass into a first down conversion. What can Alexander or LJ do? Cheer from the bench as they watch, since they get pulled on passing downs.

The big worry is Luke Petitgout’s back. I clearly remember the game when he first hurt it, opening day 2003 against the Rams when Kurt Warner got the concussion. He could barely stand or sit. Ever since then, he has had to jump the snap count in order to block premiere pass rushers. To his credit, he does both amazingly well; he not only jumps the snap count better than anyone I’ve ever seen, but he also usually takes a DE completely out of the game. The problem is that his constant guesswork will draw the false starts, especially on the road. All preseason long he’s been in and out of the lineup with back spasms. This does not bode well.

Eli will NOT complete 60% of his passes. He is what he is: a mid 50s guy. Part of it is the vertical offensive philosophy, but the other is that he’s just not a real accurate guy. He didn’t throw many rookie interceptions last year; they were mostly bad (high) throws on good reads. High throws get picked. So basically, Eli has arrived. He likely won’t get any better than he was last year, but that will be good enough.

It would not be particularly surprising to see the Panthers blueprint all year long, with the Giants being unable to stop the run putting them in a hole that Eli feels he needs to force his way out of, resulting in picks. But the Giants gameplan is to come out hard and fast, put the other team in a hole early, and then swarm the passer with 17,000 quality pass rushers to knock the opposing signal-caller onto queer street. I see that as a rock-solid strategy, and one that will pay huge dividends.

Yup, 11-5 is my pick.

For the 7th year in a row, the Redskins won the offseason. Seriously, there is no matching the buying power of The Danny. He set another payroll record and got all the players Gibbs wanted. So once again, we headed into the preseason with the attitude of “Gosh, with all these great players, how can we possibly lose?”

Well, we have Clinton Portis out for a while with a separated shoulder. They traded for T.J. Duckett, which I think is awesome, but he can’t match Portis’s ability to run side to side. We could also have three of our four started defensive lineman injured along with our top cornerback. On top of that, Brunell is showing his age again, and Campbell is nowhere near ready.

We’ve been outscored 87-13 in the first three preseason games. Who cares, it’s the preseason, right? Well, sure. Except the starting offense hasn’t scored once. Not even a single point. I read an article the other day in which Al Saunders says they’ve shown about 2% of his 700 page playbook, and that they’re progressing exactly as he feels they should. The way I figure it, if they can’t get the easy 2% right, what’re they going to look like when they get to the hard stuff? The starting defense is in the same system for a third year (after switching systems every year since Snyder bought the team), yet they all seem confused and bewildered out there. Where’s the pass rush? Oh yeah, injured. To top it all off, our kicking game is in the toilet. When did John Hall start to suck so hard?

They’ll go 7-9 and end up in third place in the NFC East. The only division rival they’ll beat twice will be the Cowboys, and that’s just because T.O. has already started to work his cancerous magic.

If it makes you feel any better, Pittsburgh didn’t score a single offensive point in last year’s preseason, and still won the Super Bowl.

I’m worried about the Redskins. They have to hold up their part of the Best Division In Football.

On an unrelated note, Mike Greenberg has been predicting LJ will set the single season rushing record this year because of Herm Edwards. A long-suffering Jets fan, he is quick to point out that as much as he loves Curtis Martin, the only reason he led the league in rushing a couple years back is because Herm will consistently run the ball in passing situations. As he said this morning:

“2nd & 17, Herm will run every time. The defense is playing soft and will gladly give you 8 yards on the ground because they just don’t care. That happens 3 times a game, you get a free 24 yards. Add that up over a season, you’re talking 400 yards.”

Having watched all the Jets games Herm coached, I have to agree with him.

For an ongoing discussion of the Steelers and NFC East, you can go here:

Fourth Annual Steelers Thread

Second Annual NFC East Thread

In the preseason at least, Jerious Norwood looks really, really strong. I know, it’s preseason, but even early in the game when the starters are playing he’s been running like his tail’s on fire. It makes me very slightly less depressed about getting rid of Duckett.

Where are all those damn front-running Packer fans? Couple years ago you couldn’t shut them up…