Archives for: 2010, week 29

07/23/10

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-Digger's Daily-

NFC North was anything but normal last year. It's up for grabs in 2010. Once again Pittsburgh begins with a big question mark. This time it surrounds problem plagued QB Ben Roethlisberger and how Pittsburgh will survive his suspension. Was Cincinnati's '09 success for real? Can they repeat as North champs? Baltimore beefed up in a big way and now has the tools to become a major NFL force. Cleveland's Eric Mangini wasn't as effective as team owners would have liked in '09. He could be the first coach firing of 2010.

AFC NORTH

1) Baltimore Ravens Not many roster spots are safe. If Coach Harbaugh plays his cards correctly then training camp will be very spirited as players fight to make Baltimore's opening day roster. Roster weaknesses have been addressed. Ravens offense has an air of intrigue with a sound running game and, for the first time in a long while, gifted game breaking wide receivers. Coupled with one of NFL's stingiest defenses means Baltimore will be tough to beat. I don't see them losing often as they run away with the North. 9-7 will jump to no less than 11-5. Baltimore Ravens are ready.

2) Cincinnati Bengals Taking advantage of others misfortunes led to Cincinnati winning their first division title since 1990. Six games were won by 7 points or less. Bengals fans shouldn't expect more of the same in '10. Management made a monumental mistake with their first draft pick taking a TE. Rebounded nicely in 2nd (Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida) and 3rd rounds (Jordan Shipley, WR, Texas). Offense didn't click last year but it was clutch when games were on the line. A handful of WR's will battle for a job in preseason. Benson carried the load last year and Bengals hope there's plenty left in his tank. Defense ranked in top 10 of most major categories. Expectations will be high. Reality is closer to 8-8 or 7-9. Bengals had more luck than skill in '09.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers Roethlisberger's antics earned him a 6 week NFL suspension. Champions suck it up when leaders fall. Pittsburgh's defense will have to set up great field position for a weak offense. Offensive coordinators must devise a plan to score with limited talent. Steelers do not have an answer at QB. All offensive lineman need to put up career years creating lanes for a weak running game under attack from opposing defenses keying on the run. Questions have already surfaced questioning coach Tomlin's commitment to keeping this squad under control. False questions for a head coach one season removed from winning the Super Bowl. Nonetheless, 2010 can easily turn ugly early and often.

4) Cleveland Browns Browns fans suffered through a miserable display in '09. Cleveland was 1-11 after 12 games before giving fans a reason for optimism in 2010 by winning their final 4. False hope considering combined records for 3 of those teams were 16-32. Mangini is not the right coach for a rebuilding team even though he has a vote of confidence from front office officials. Another dismal beginning will be Mangini's last stint as NFL head coach. This team completely blew their draft. Huge question marks at nearly every position beginning with opening day QB, RB, WR. Browns should enjoy their current 0-0 record. At least they're tied for 1st.

07/22/10

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Indianapolis Colts almost pulled off a perfect season last year until their head coach decided to bench (rest) most starting players. They were 14-0 and leading the Jets at halftime of game 15. Starters were benched after halftime and watched in frustration as subs lost (team finished 14-2). Indy was out played in Super Bowl XLIV and seeks revenge in 2010. Plenty of off season moves by many AFC teams addressing various needs. Colts and Chargers appear to remain top 2 winning teams. Houston, Jets, Dolphins, Ravens & Chiefs on the rise. AFC play will be tough as any season in recent memory.

AFC East will be a dogfight. Brady will try resurrecting New England to dynasty status. The Jets were busy solidifying their roster after a tremendous '09 performance. Did they add talent or locker room headaches? Miami's players and front office brass believe they're the team to beat in the East? They may be right. Buffalo, well, every division needs a cellar dweller.

AFC East

1) New York Jets Here's an intriguing team. Head Coach Ryan's Jets defense established themselves as one of NFL's top units and most feared. The do just about everything right. Fast, smart and very hard hitting. Jets defense was reason #1 this group qualified for post-season play. Defense was responsible for setting up rookie Sanchez' offense with great field position most of the year. Key off season moves or did NY over spend on older players and trouble makers? LaDainian Tomlinson will try proving he's fit to become #1 back but will probably split time with Greene. WR's must catch the ball as they suffered through too many drops. The pressure is on Sanchez. The bar is high. After a successful '09 New Yorkers are expecting nothing less than a division title and playoff success. So is coach Ryan. Sophomore jinx or stardom? Jets should win no less than 11 (barring injuries). If defense dominates, perhaps 13.

2) Miami Dolphins Dolfans started to believe in their team midway through the year. Miami began slow (0-3) and collapsed at the end (0-3). In between, they were playing inspired football (7-3). Chad Henne finally has receivers. Running game is one of NFL's best. I'm not a fan of Dolphins draft results but this is a talented front office so maybe they know what they're doing. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Miami wins the East. Henne is the key. Is he ready to "lead"? If so, Miami's future is bright. All the pieces are in place for success.

3) New England Patriots New England won the East in '09 but it wasn't pretty. Offense was out of sync often disrupting drives. Running game was non-existent, passing game stats looked solid but actual game play didn't translate into wins. 8-0 at home, 2-6 on the road. No major additions heading into '10. Offensive line needs to open up lanes for less than gifted backs. Randy Moss needs to keep his head in games. Patriots can go either way but appear to be nothing more than a .500 team.

4) Buffalo Bills Buffalo looked pretty solid in 5 of their 6 wins. However, they looked grossly outplayed in 8 of 10 losses. Bills will be lucky to beat any division rivals this year (0-6) which spells doom and gloom. This team isn't maturing. 30th ranked offense should get a jolt with the arrival of draftee C.J. Spiller (Clemson). Nothing else to report. Last place finish is all but guaranteed.

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NFC West

NFC West is up for grabs. Each team has something to prove heading into 2010. Arizona's gamer Kurt Warner retired leaving the team Matt Leinart's hands. 49ers no nonsense coach demands excellence. Niners have rising talent. The time is now for them to step up and be counted. Seattle lost their way in recent seasons almost seeming unmotivated at times. The Rams have a long way to go after front office gaffe's and injuries quickly turned a once proud franchise into a laughingstock.

1) San Francisco 49ers The time is now for SF to put themselves on NFL radars. There's no clear cut dominant team in the West. Maturity breeds consistency, or so I've been told. Mediocrity ruled the day last year. SF's once pounding running game never got going until late in the year. QB's never put fear into defenders or confidence into receivers. Overall team stats were just below middle of the road. Room for improvement on all fronts. Their 2nd first round pick netted highly regarded Mike Lupati (OG, Idaho) who many think is already All Pro material. 2nd rounder Taylor Mays (S, USC) is a heavy hitter. Penn State LB Navorro Bowman (according to ESPN) has "great physical skills, natural instincts and a nose for the football." 49ers addressed needs. Now it's time for this club to come together as a team.

2) Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart will be given every opportunity to win the starting nod. He's had mixed results over the course of a short career. Can he step up and play like a #1? Arizona's immediate future depends on it. Running game showed flash for the first time in years with the 1-2 tandem of Hightower and Wells (combined 1,391 yds, 15 tds rushing - 75 rec, 571 yds receiving). Cards schedule was easy in '09. Guess which team has easiest '10 schedule? That's right. Cards opponents, based on '09 records, are 114-142. Worst in football. Leinart & Co. couldn't write a better script for success. Defense has to step up and clamp down opposing offenses. Great coaching staff but draft never lived up to expectations beyond 1st rounder Dan Williams (DT, Tenn).

3) Seattle Seahawks New coach Pete Carroll first season in Seattle will be challenging. 2009 offense was abysmal scoring 14 or fewer seven times. Defense was just as inept surrendering 31 or more points six times. The result, 17.5 points per game scored by offense vs 24.4 given up by defense. It's amazing they won 5 even when playing the Rams twice. Running attack seemed lost. Passing game never bailed out team when needed. Bickering on all levels prevailed starting with WR TJ Houshmandzadeh's personal ratings complaint against Madden Football. 'Hawks draft did not go well. Perhaps Carroll needs a new scouting crew too?! A kick in the butt might re-energize a team clearly playing below potential.

4) St. Louis Rams No winning seasons since 2003 and team has been progressively degenerating. Cumulative record last three seasons stands at 6-42. When you're this bad drafting becomes ultra important. NFL #1 pick was Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford. Rams had better be careful not to mortgage their future on this kids contract. That said, Bradford has the tools necessary to become an upper tier signal caller if handled correctly. Rams second 1st round pick addressed another important team need when they selected offensive lineman Roger Saffold (Indiana). I'm a bit skeptical on their remaining picks and firmly believe a golden opportunity to build a powerful team was lost. Rams will not win many and seem years out from returning to competitive football. New ownership needs a big wrecking ball as this franchise needs a complete makeover.

07/21/10

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NFC South

Super Bowl XLIV Champion New Orleans are the obvious odds on favorite to win NFC South. They're better, deeper and maturing quickly. They should have no problem as repeat division winners unless they haven't stopped partying.

1) New Orleans Saints Saints take dead aim at back to back titles. Solid draft netted a future starting CB (Patrick Robinson, FSU), future starting TE (Jimmy Graham, UM) and local DT from LSU Al Woods. None figure to be immediate impact players but they'll fit right in with a very deep and talented squad. Brees' targets are maturing nicely. Running game may need a boost to help give the defense a rest. Defensive players are ball hawks. These guys swarm to the ball and create turnovers (26 int, 15 fumbles). They ran off to a stunning 13-0 record. Saints have the 27th hardest (6th easiest) scheduling heading into 2010. 14 wins is a possibility.

2) Atlanta Falcons After an 11-5 finish in '08 and additions to key positions on offense heading into '09 Falcons fans had high hopes. Atlanta soared early before crash landing mid-season. 4-1 quickly turned into 6-7 before rebounding to finish 9-7. Team needs were met in the draft with the selections of LB Sean Weatherspoon (Mizzou) and DT Corey Peters (Ken). To help protect oft pressured QB Ryan Atlanta tabbed 2 guards, Alabama's Mike Johnson & Joseph Hawley (UNLV). Atlanta has all the tools to return as a playoff challenger. Solid talent at most positions. Falcons middle of the road defense holds the key to success or failure.

3) Carolina Panthers I was a bit off last year in one of various NFC synopsis. I expected Carolina to put the naysayers to rest and make the playoffs. Their 8-8 record is quite deceptive. Offense scored 10 or fewer points five times. Play selection was miserable which was no help to Jake Delhomme who looked weak armed and lost while posting career worst numbers. Panthers really needed to better position themselves before draft day. Their first pick came in round 2, 48th overall. A very questionable pick taking Notre Dame's QB Jimmy Clausen. Many question marks heading into training camp covering all bases from starting qb to health issues with runningbacks. 2010 will be a transition season unless questions are answered early and new role players step it up.

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tampa production on both offense and defense ranked near last in all categories. They're a long way from climbing back to championship status. QB situation was a revolving door before Josh Freeman took over. Weak running game produced only 5 td's. Bucs gave the ball away 34 times. Offense scored 10 or less six times. Another long year awaits but there's light at the end of the tunnel if fans can be patiently supportive. They had a great draft. 3rd pick of the NFL draft was Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma. 2nd round pick UCLA's DT Brian Price. Their presence will be felt immediately and should mature into fine players for years to come helping restore Tampa's reputation for no nonsense defense. 4th rounder Mike Williams (WR, SYR) might turn out being the steal of this draft if he can straighten out personal off field issues. 2010 will be filled with ups and downs. No reason this team can't win 5-7 games.

07/20/10

NFL 2010 Preseason Predictions - NFC North

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NFC North

Let's for now speculate Brett Favre is back for another title run in '10... Green Bay piles on points... Chicago finally lives up to potential... and, Detroit fulfills dreams of winning at least one game.

1) Minnesota Vikings 6 NFC Championship fumbles, including two lost inside the red zone at key moments cost the Vikings a Super Bowl trip when they had every opportunity to blow out the eventual champion Saints. Favre will be back. So will a maturing and gelling team of gamers. Peterson must protect the football his number is called. As a safety precaution, Minnesota went after another RB in this years' draft. Stanford's powerful Toby Gerhart. Offense has it all. Defense must tamper their over aggressive play to eliminate long td's. Coaching staff is one of NFL's best groups. Vikings will be in the thick of things all year long. 12+ wins can be had again (health permitting).

2) Green Bay Packers Green Bay's stunning opening round overtime 51-45 loss stung. The Pack's defense entered the game on a roll. Until Kurt Warner completely dissected them completing 29 of 33 passes and 5 touchdowns. Needless to say opposing offenses will be testing this squads secondary early and often in 2010. No help came by way of draft so it appears Packers brass are comfortable with current talents turning it up a notch this year. Pack defensive lapses of letting teams march downfield in closing minutes is clearly what separates them from elite status.

3) Chicago Bears Jay Cutler was never able to live up to the savior status bestowed by local Chicago media groups. Lack of positive play making by wide receivers and an ineffective ground game severely hindered Bears chances of advancing up field. Bad field position and poor time of possession kept Bear defenders on the field for way too long. 2010 can go either way. Coach Lovie Smith is on the hot seat.

4) Detroit Lions Detroit pulled off another good paper draft. Problem is this organization's recent history seems to make rookies go bust. There's no upside in Motor City. Repeating two wins in 2010 might be a long shot. Lions combined 2008 & 2009 record? 2-30.

07/19/10

Permalink 04:41:49 pm, Categories: All World All Sports Blogs  

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NFL 2010 Preseason Predictions - NFC East

-Digger's Daily-

The 2010 NFL regular season kicks off September 9th with a bang. In a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game, Minnesota takes on defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. Dallas is getting a head start on competitors when they become the first team hitting practice fields (July 24th). From coast to coast plenty of news will be coming from NFL cities as teams try to stay injury free this preseason prepping for a grueling 16 game war. Every division will be a fierce battle. Plenty of question marks will be answered one way or another. Can Romo finally step up a become a big game QB? Will the Giants bounce back to Super form? Can New Orleans take advantage of a weak schedule and repeat? How about those tarnished stars? Will Roethlisberger, Vick, Owens and company ever straighten out their troubled persona's?

Each day this week I'll be breaking down the NFL division by division. First up NFC East.

1) New York Giants A series of devastating injuries to key personnel derailed New York's season (8-8) after they opened up 5-0. Manning and a young receiving corps were often out of sync. Look for the offense to be explosive this year if the line is sound. On defense, draft picks were a bit questionable and may not provide immediate impact. However, if all returning injured players are fully healthy then this will be a dangerous team in every facet of the game. 7th hardest NFL schedule heading into 2010. Coaches will have them ready to play. Giants are hungry and will emerge division winners.

2) Dallas Cowboys The Cowboys finally enjoyed a strong regular season finish in '09 winning their final 3 (2 by shutout). Dallas even found a way to win their first playoff game since December 28, 1996. Excitement is in the air once again heading into 2010 for a team which many think has never realized full potential. QB Tony Romo continues to be plagued by lack of leadership critiques and inability to perform in big games. Coaching staff play calling and lack of player control/respect carries over once again. If they can keep the sideshow off the field then Dallas could be primed for a Super run. Explosive weapons on offense and aggressive defense (NFC low 250 points against) set the stage for a big year. Despite all their talent something always seems to unhinge this squad. 2nd place on the way vs NFL's 3rd toughest schedule. They'll be in the wild card hunt.

3) Washington Redskins Welcome Mike Shanahan, new coaches and new team field general Donovan McNabb. The Redskins are finally getting their act together. Questionable first two draft picks could pay huge dividends if these players are committed to excellence (Trent Williams, OL, Oklahoma & Perry Riley, OLB, LSU). Washington is probably another 2 years from making a serious run. However, do not take this team lightly. 'Skins will be greatly improved from a dismal 4-12 shellacking of 2009. Expect these seasoned vets to play inspired football. 8-8 is well within reach.

4) Philadelphia Eagles I've always believed a few screws must be loose in the minds of Philly's personnel decision makers. On and off over the years the football world has wondered aloud what life would be like without Donovan McNabb under center. Well they're about to find out how quickly life changes after trading away a career 92-49-1 quarterback who led Eagles teams into the playoffs in 8 of 10 seasons. Worse yet, McNabb was traded to division rival Washington. Revenge is sweet McNabb gets two cracks per seasn vs a team he knows inside and out. Kevin Kolb filled in well when McNabb missed time and will be given every opportunity to claim starter status. On the field Michael Vick gets a crack to unseat Kolb. Off field troubles continue haunting this guy and might lead to getting cut or traded. It's going to be a very long season in Philadelphia. Terrible draft picks makes one wonder if it's time to replace their entire scouting staff. 11-5 might become 5-11 (if they're lucky).