Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Pipes the pipes are calling

Daniel Sepulveda is out for the season with a torn ACL.


The Steelers have signed Paul Ernster off of waivers to fill the vacancy at punter.
I wonder if he has ever had a punt blocked, maybe we'll get to see the Gardocki graphic again.

Other training camp news:

Casey Hampton is huge. But not in a good way.
Coach Tomlin goes Judge Jimbo Browntown on Casey.

The guys over at Blog n' Gold are already in mid-season form. Great quote from Hines Ward about Casey:

"At the end of the day, we know what Casey will bring to the table."

Troy "should have been in an 80s hair band" Polamalu and A-Fan's replacement Chris Kemoeatu also sat with minor injuries.

Anothony Smith is stirring up trouble again by getting under receiver's skin. This time it's Willie Reid.

Ben is cool, calm, collected, ready to kick ass.

In other news, I successfully made a post without mentioning the name of a recently un-retired Green Bay quarterback.

Go Aaron Rodgers.

Some dude over at Yahoo! music came up with a formula for ranking the best albums of all time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Team Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2007 Record: 9-7

If your grandfather rooted for a team in 2007, it was Tampa Bay. Coming into this season, they have 15 players on their roster over the age of 30. In the NFL, that makes this an old man's team. Additionally, with rumors quarterback-happy coach John Gruden might be seeking the services of the ageless wonder Brett Favre, the Bucs could get even older.

Tampa followed the NFC South trend last season of rising from the pits of misery to being division champions. Largely sparked by the emergence of running back Ernest Graham after Cadillac Williams suffered his second season-ending injury in as many years. Quarterback Jeff Garcia played above expectations, forming a formidable connection with fellow AARP member Joey Galloway.

The question for Tampa Bay coming into the season revolves around the ability of their key players to avoid injury. With Garcia and Galloway both in their late 30s, one has to wonder how many good years they have left in them. Galloway showed last year that he hasn't lost a step, but Tampa also showed an inability to find another receiver to compliment him. Tampa Bay brought in Antonio Bryant (former Pitt star) and drafted speedster Dexter Jackson (Appalachian State) to add depth to the receiving corps. The question remains: if Galloway goes down to injury, will Tampa be able to survive with Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton, Bryant, and Jackson as targets for Garcia?

On defense, the Bucs will be formidable once again (though it's possible their defensive stats are inflated by playing in a bad division). Last year's #4 overall pick Gaines Adams is coming off a solid rookie campaign where he tallied 6 sacks and 2 forced fumbles and should be even better this year. Derrick Brooks and former Colt Cato June anchor the linebacking unit and ageless vet Ronde Barber is solid at corner. Many see first-round pick Aqib Talib out of Kansas as the Bucs first true shut-down corner. With Phillip Buchannon anchoring the other corner, don't expect to see Talib in the starting lineup unless the injury bug strikes.

Tampa finished last year second in total defense and third in scoring defense, which are very solid marks for a team that only posted a 9-7 record. Tampa's defense allowed only one 300-yard passing game last year, to Jason Campbell of Washington in a game the Bucs won. Tampa has a fairly easy schedule this year (SOS 20) and gets Green Bay, Seattle, Minnesota, and San Diego at home. Tampa will be tested off the bat with a game in New Orleans, but they should be able to sail through Atlanta and Chicago before Green Bay comes to town in Week 4. The only "hard" part of the schedule comes as the calendar turns to December when Tampa faces all 3 division opponents consecutively, with Carolina and Atlanta back-to-back on the road. If Tampa wins two of three in this stretch, look for them to be coasting through San Diego and Oakland the last two weeks on their way to another division title.

Tampa is not a team without flaws. But New Orleans has question marks on defense and Carolina has a giant question mark at quarterback. Tampa has those two problems solved, at least for now, however the age factor of their team puts them in a dead heat (in my opinion) with New Orleans for this division. If they're going to win it again, the offense will have to play better than last season and key players like Garcia and Galloway will have to avoid injury. The secret's out on Ernest Graham, so teams will be ready for his running style. Tampa is a team that could make a run at the playoffs, but it would take a stellar performance in January for them to move past Wild Card Weekend.

Ian's 2008 prediction: 8-8
John's 2008 prediction: 9-7

Team Preview: New Orleans Saints


2007 Record: 7-9

A bad defense and key injuries doomed the Saints from the start last season, one which began with excitement and much optimism. However, the Saints fell apart quicker than the roof of the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. By time they started to recover, it was too late. Some may say the loss of Deuce McAllister and the offseason injury to Drew Brees was too much to overcome, but the truth is that Brees did play, that Reggie Bush did not live up to his billing as the #2 overall pick in 2006, and the defense was downright awful. So the question remains: which is the real Saints team - the one that went 10-6 in winning the NFC South two years ago or the embarrassing 7-9 team which resembled a shell of the previous year's squad?

There should be no excuses this year, at least offensively. Brees will be back under center after throwing a career high 28 TD's, coupled with 18 interceptions, also a new high. The offense starts with him, and I believe he will deliver. McAllister is back on the field, but issues remain around his knee, which was recently drained. If he can stay on the field an entire year (the last time he played in all 16 games was 2003), the Saints can easily rival the Packers, and maybe even the Cowboys, for offensive supremacy in the NFC. Even without Deuce, the Saints will still have options to help out Reggie Bush, who is coming off his own injury which forced him to miss the final 4 games last season. Veteran Aaron Stecker and third year back Pierre Thomas will challenge Bush and especially McAllister for more carries in this explosive offense.

An already scary passing attack recently reloaded with the acquisition of former pro-bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey. Shockey gives the Saints a threat at the position for the fist time in a decade and gives them a legitimate red zone target. On the outside, Marques Colston, coming off back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons, leads a very young and talented receiving corps which includes Terrance Copper, Devery Henderson, and 2007 first round pick Robert Meachem, who missed all of last year with an injury. David Patten, the team's second leading receiver, brings veteran stability to this young group. The only question mark (besides health) on offense remains the interior offensive line. Tackles Jammal Brown and Jon Stinchcomb provide solid protection on the outside, but the interior will have to overachieve for the Saints to return to the NFC championship game once again.

Nothing on offense may matter, however, if the defense doesn't straighten up in a hurry. It all starts on the line, where coaches hope end Charles Grant returns to form after recording his lowest amount of tackles since his rookie year, while registering a career low in sacks. The rest of the line features average veterans Will Smith (who was arguably the Saints' top player last year), Hollis Thomas, and Brian Young (who, surprise, surprise, is coming off an injury). Feeling an upgrade was needed, especially on the interior, the Saints took USC star Sedrick Ellis with the seventh overall pick and got a steal when DeMario Pressley, who formed a dynamic pair at N.C. State with Mario Williams of the Texans, fell to the fifth round. Don't be surprised if the two rookies are starting side by side as the season draws to a close - that is, if Ellis gets into camp sometime soon. The former Trojan is currently holding out for a larger rookie contract.

The middle of the defense features three solid linebackers, but lacks much depth behind the starters. Scott Fujita, Mark Simoneau, and newly acquired Jonathan Vilma will provide solid support behind the anticpated revamped line. The unit that garnered most of the blame, however, was the secondary. It was certainly no fault of corner Mike McKenzie, who posted his best numbers since 2003. It was usually former Indianapolis starter Jason David or Jason Craft getting burned during weekly highlight shows. Despite both players actually posting better stats than the previous year, they were prone to giving up the big play. Enter former Patriot and solid contributor Randall Gay, as well as second round pick Tracy Porter. Both will challenge for the starting spot opposite McKenzie. The safety position is solidified with Josh Bullock, Roman Harper, and Kevin Kaesviharn anchoring the back of the defense.

There will also be a battle for starting kicker in training camp between inconsistent Martin Gramatica and rookie Taylor Melhaff. I look for Melhaff to win out, possibly ending Gramatica's up-and-down career. The Saints have a lot going for them - everyone is "reportedly" healthy, the offense should be a juggernaut, the defense looks rejuvenated with Ellis, Vilma, and Gay, and the return team can be dangerous with Reggie Bush returning kicks. As always, in the weak NFC, anything can happen. Look for N.O. to return to their 2006 form, win the division, and win a playoff game or two.

John's 2008 Prediction: 11-5
Ian's 2008 Prediction: 9-7

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Team Preview: Carolina Panthers


2007 Record: 7-9

If you're looking for the perfect model of under achievement, search no further than the Carolina Panthers. Since a heartbreaking 3-point loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, the men wearing sky blue have failed to win a division crown, while posting only one winning record the previous four years despite being pre-season super bowl favorites for at least the first two years. Attention Carolina: consider your window officially closed. However, everything about the Panthers still resembles success - but only on paper.

The offense is led by solid, yet rapidly declining, QB Jake Delhomme, whose biggest challenge at this stage of his career may be staying healthy. Delhomme is quickly falling into the bottom third of starting quarterbacks in the league, and I don't see a major comeback anytime soon. Luckily for him, however, he has constantly been supported by a two headed running attack...or not.

Once started by the duo of Stephen Davis and Deshaun Foster during the Panthers' super bowl run, plans quickly shifted gears once Davis rediscovered his injury-prone days. In comes first-round pick DeAngelo Williams, the perfect scat-back compliment to Foster - except for the fact that Foster developed his own injury issues, and Williams has been denied the chance to demonstrate his true value. However, now that Foster is finally gone, it's Williams' turn to shine. At least, that would be the case had the Panthers not selected Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart in the first round of the most recent draft. How will this "combo" fare? That may be up to the rebuilding offensive line, led by second first-round pick Jeff Otah. Nevertheless, the Panthers have always had one dependable starter on the offensive side of the ball in WR Steve Smith. Smith has topped 1,000 yards in 4 of the last 5 seasons (he missed all but one game in 2004), and he should duplicate the feat this season barring another injury.

The defense once had (and to a degree still has) "dominance" written all over it. However, similar to the rest of the team, they have also been a major let down. Making matters worse (or better, according to some), gone now are once formiddable linemen Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins, while star end Julius Peppers is coming off of his worst pro season. The Panthers are hoping young and talented second year player Charles Johnson, as well as rookie Nick Hayden, will team with Peppers and a rejuvenated Darwin Walker to present a strong front on defense once again.

Finally parting ways with first round disappointment Dan Morgan, the linebacking corps welcomes another Miami (FL) alum into its spotlight in Jon Beason. Beason leads the young group as the focal point of this enigmatic defense. For as solid as Chris Gamble has been at corner, he has failed to live up to first round expectations (an emerging trend with this team). However, Gamble, Ken Lucas, and safety Terrance Holt provide an above average starting squad. Beyond that, unfortunately, is a crap shoot with primarily bad options including players such as Ricardo Colclough.

Overall, the Panthers should be good. But in the end, the offense is too old and unstable at QB, while too young and inexperienced on the line. Meanwhile, not even the Panthers' coaching staff knows what to expect from their defense as a unit from week-to-week. And, by the way, the special teams isn't exactly what it suggests it should be (i.e., special). All in all, the Panthers could surprise everybody (especially in the NFC) now that expectations have cooled off to near freezing, but I don't expect it. If they aren't careful, Atlanta could send Carolina to the bottom of the division.

John's 2008 Prediction: 6-10
Ian's 2008 Prediction: 8-8

Monday, July 21, 2008

Team Preview: Atlanta Falcons

2007 Record: 4-12

Mike Vick. Bobby Petrino. Enough said. The 2007 season for Atlanta was, in short, a disaster. After dealing away Matt Schaub to Houston in the offseason, Atlanta found themselves without a quarterback and struggled through the season on the hope that their record would be bad enough for Bobby Petrino to draft his star from college, Brian Brohm. As it turned out, Petrino jumped ship and Brohm dropped significantly from his mid-season draft hype. To add insult to injury, Schaub torched them for 308 yards in week 4.

The Falcons situation was bad last year, but some major offseason moves (cutting Alge Crumpler and DeAngelo Hall) showed the front office's commitment to restructuring the organization. The Falcons used their 11 draft picks to essentially draft a new defense (3 LBs, 3 DBs) to replace their 29th-ranked defense from last season. The Falcons also brought in Matt Ryan (QB-Boston College) and Sam Baker (OT-USC) in the first round of the draft, hoping to spark their new-look offense, replacing the 23rd ranked system from last year.

Atlanta's big offseason signing was running back Michael Turner from San Diego (or the artist formerly known as the backup to LT). With Turner, Atlanta brings in former Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who was the brains behind the solid Bettis years of the early 2000s. Atlanta's offense next year will have a different look than in previous years, being a primarily run-focused system, which will aid the development of Ryan. The Falcons also have speedster Jerious Norwood in the backfield, who will provide an excellent compliment to Turner.

The one bright spot for Falcons fans last season was Wide Receiver Roddy White's 83-reception, 1200+ yard season. White is a strong receiver with breakaway speed and will be the primary target in the new offense.

Since the beginning of the 8-division system, the team to finish last in the NFC South has won the division the next year. It's highly unlikely that this trend will continue unless all of the rookies on this team play out of their minds. Atlanta is at the beginning of a long rebuilding process and will likely be picking within the first two hours of the draft next year.

Atlanta is aided by a fairly weak schedule (SOS 21) in which they get the play the AFC West and NFC North, in addition to Philadelphia and St Louis. NFC South teams in the past have used the weaker schedule given to last place teams to catapult to the top of the division, but I honestly don't see this team putting together a 9 or 10-win season.

Atlanta has brought in a lot of building blocks that they can use for a solid team in the future, but they're not quite on the level just yet. However, all of the teams in this division have some serious question marks, so the Falcons may be able to put together a decent season.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 5-11
John's 2008 Prediction: 5-11

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Team Preview: Green Bay Packers


2007 Record: 13-3

The end of one era...The beginning of another era...Or not. Just when the Packers thought Brett Favre's playing days were finished, the 18-year veteran decided that he retired "too soon." However, this time, the Packers threw a wrench into the whole "welcome back the retired star" situation - they don't want him back, nor will they release him. So, with this problem looming over both the organization and their fans, let's take a look at the upcoming season for the boys from up north - their first without Favre on the field since 1991.

Without Favre on the roster, the Packers can finally move on to 2005 first round pick Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has waited about as long to start for the Packers as he did on draft day when he was taken 24th overall. However, just when he thought it was safe, he is looking over his shoulder at two highly regarded rookie signal callers - Louisville's Brian Brohm and LSU's Matt Flynn. Working in Rodgers' favor is the fact that he may be the perfect mix of the two - Brohm is a pure pocket passer, while Flynn is known more for his scrambling - giving him even more of an advantage (besides experience).

No matter who is chosen as the starter, he will have plenty of talent surrounding him. An impressive core of running backs is led by Ryan Grant, a rookie surprise who rushed for over 950 yards in fewer than 200 carries last year. If the ground game falters, weapons also abound through the air. The receiving core is led by veteran Donald Driver and young star Greg Jennings, who, along with James Jones, Donald Lee, and incoming top pick Jordy Nelson, provide enough talent to challenge any defense in the league. Include a young (with the exception of Chad Clifton), yet under appreciated offensive line, and the Packers' offense ranks at the the top of the NFC along with the Cowboys.

For as good as the offense is on paper, the defense may be just as talented. The Packers have at least one pro-bowler at every level of the defense with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, A.J. Hawk, and Al Harris, and have potential for many more. If Justin Harrell, Abdul Hodge, and Will Blackmon continue to make natural improvements, this defense could surpass their offensive counterpart as the scariest element of the team. However, one can usually find a minor flaw in even the strongest armor. That flaw in the Packers' defense is the safety position. While Atari Bigby and Nick Collins may be solid players, they certainly overachieved last season. They could just as easily under perform this year, thereby potentially dragging down the entire defense.

Overall, the Packers boast one of the best offensive and defensive units in the NFC, if not the entire league. Putting icing on the cake is K Mason Crosby, a second year player who can boom the ball just in case the offense stumbles under the guidance of a new quarterback new starter. And, as always, playing in the weak NFC, and even weaker NFC North, always helps matters. In the end, look for Green Bay to take the division title for the second consecutive year, but not without a couple rough patches during the year and a serious push from the Lions.

John's 2008 Prediction: 10-6
Ian's 2008 Prediction: 11-5

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Team Preview: Minnesota Vikings

2007 Record: 8-8

Their 2007 season was defined by the rise of Adrian Peterson from "rookie" to "elite running back." After starting the season 3-6, Minnesota won 5 straight games to put themselves in the driver seat for a playoff spot. However, teams had learned their lesson by week 15 and started stacking the box against AP, forcing Tavaris Jackson to win the game with his arm. Minnesota barely escaped in Week 16 in Chicago but ended the season with losses to Washington and Denver. Peterson had just 63 yards on 20 carries in the last two games.

The Vikings big offseason addition was defensive end Jared Allen from Kansas City, giving them one of the most formidable defensive lines in the league. They spent draft picks on getting some help in the secondary, which gave up 5 300-yard passing games last season. As usual, the Vikings run defense will be disgustingly good. In spite of having the #1 run defense in the league (74.1 yds/game) they had the league's worst pass defense (264.1 yds/game). This team isn't built to get into shootouts and struggles against teams with dynamic passing games. The Vikings start this season with games against Green Bay and Indianapolis, where their faulty pass defense will be put straight to the test. The Vikings did add former-CB-turned-safety Madieu Williams from Cincinnati, whose pass defense ranked 26th last year.

Last season, Minnesota out-passed their opponents in only one game when Tavaris Jackson bested Kyle Orton in week 15. Is Jackson the answer for this team? The Vikings go into camp with four quarterbacks on their roster and will have to settle on one by the time the season starts. Besides TJ, Minnesota has Brooks Bollinger, Gus Ferrotte, and John David Booty. Honestly, I think JDB might end up being the long-term solution for Minnesota. He probably won't play much this year, but if TJ struggles, look for the fans and media to usher a Booty call.

Maybe I just want to see him play so I can make that joke more often.

So what will happen to Minnesota in 2008? They are the trendy pick to win this division with the emergence of Adrian Peterson as a superstar. I'm not buying it (yet). Teams are going to stack the box against the run and make TJ beat them through the air.

Don't get me wrong, this team is good and in the bad NFC, they will challenge for a playoff spot (which means they'll be in the vicinity of .500). However, against teams like Indianapolis, New York (Giants), and New Orleans, they're going to struggle, especially if the game gets to be a shoot-out (which is entirely possible against New Orleans or Arizona).

Once they get the Quarterback situation figured out and improve their secondary, they'll be in position to make noise in the NFC, but for now, I don't see them reaching the double-digit-win plateau.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 9-7
John's 2008 Prediction: 6-10

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The $aga Continue$: $tanley Druckenmiller v. Dan Rooney

If you've been anywhere in the general viscinity of Pittsburgh lately, you either welcome or fear any news containing the name "Stanley Druckenmiller."

Who is he? Well, Stanley is a multi-billionaire investor originally from the Pittsburgh area who is interested in buying the team.

Dan Rooney is shaking in his boots.

But really, what has Dan Rooney done in recent years?

Did he re-sign Alan Faneca? Vomit. Hey, Dan, it's okay...the success of our running game (which features a rookie RB and a Pro-Bowl RB coming off a broken leg) and our passing game (featuring a much richer Roethlisberger) now hinges on a totally unproven Offensive line of Willie Colon, Kendall Simmons, Justin Hartwig, Chris Kemoeatu, and Marvel Smith (maybe) with the highest-paid backup in the league of Max Starks sitting on the bench.

Did he raise ticket prices this past summer after signing Roethlisberger to a huge contract? Yes.

Did he raise ticket prices after the Steelers went 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs? Yes.

In the past two seasons, nosebleed seats that used to run $55 have gone up to $62. Other tickets increased by much more (lower bowl seats by about $15, club seats by about $25). What does this mean? If you're a season ticket holder, you're now paying $70 more per ticket to sit in your same seats. If you have a pair of seats, that's $140 a year. Not to mention gas prices and parking and...
Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing some things change. Although Druck wouldn't be able to paint his face anymore if he was the owner, he's a season ticket holder, he's sat in the seats with the fans. Druck said he'd keep the team in Pittsburgh, so there's really nothing to worry about.

Hey, the fans of Green Bay own a share of that team, and I haven't seen any front office decisions that seem "questionable" as Smizik would have us think.

If Aaron Rodgers leads that team to the playoffs, which he is perfectly capable of doing, the Packers might look like geniuses for-well...we'll see how the Favre saga turns out. MJD delivers some solid smack-talk over on Yahoo! That one's definitely worth reading.

Smizik says the fans would be losers if the Rooney's don't control the team. How does he know? Have we ever experienced the Rooney's not being the owners? To paraphrase Lewis Black: "How do we know there aren't other [owners] that just give stuff away?"

Hey, Druck is a multi-billionaire, he's not really going to be concerned about the profit line. Rather, he's going to be concerned with winning. Yes, football is a business, but it's also a game. People like Smizik are on the side where a team that goes 8-8 can charge it's fans more to see their mediocrity. If I'm going to pay more to see the Steelers, I want them to be competitive.

The Steelers have, over the past few years, ranked well in ESPN's annual Fan Satisfaction Ratings. 2007 (9th), 2006 (3rd).

From what it seems to me, the Pittsburgh media establishment is trying to paint Druck as the bad guy. Smizik says it would be bad to let a fan run the team because he couldn't make hard business decisions. I guess Druckenmiller didn't come by his 3.5 billion net worth by making hard business decisions.

I guess that also means Smizik things was a good business decision:

Steely McDouche ready to be booed off the field.

The last word on this one goes to Talking NFL:

Bottom line: The Rooney's made the "business decision" to create a mascot.

Fans hate the mascot.

Fans > Rooneys

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Team Preview: Detroit Lions

2007 Record: 7-9

Tom Petty wrote, "The waiting is the hardest part." For Detroit fans, the only relevant sympathizers might be fans of Pirates baseball. However at least the Pirates, throughout their struggles, have made some changes in the front office. Since Matt Millen took over in 2001, Detroit has posted a 31-81 record. 7 of those 31 wins came last season.
Remember, this was a team that reached the playoffs six times in 9 seasons during the 1990s. One would think that a team at the bottom this long would have improved via the draft. Wrong. Millen's biggest failure has been his inability to draft well. Some of his highlights (or lowlights) include Joey Harrington (#3 in 2002), Charles Rodgers (#2 in 2003), and Mike Williams (#10 in 2005).

Before last season, quarterback Jon Kitna guaranteed a 10-win season. The team started off with promise, coming out of the gate with a 6-2 record. The wheels fell off the wagon down the stretch as the Lions went 1-7 in the second half. The Lions enter this season with 7 consecutive losing seasons on their heels. The team has the young talent to develop into a contender in the NFC North. With the retirement of Brett Favre in Green Bay, Jon Kitna becomes the most experienced quarterback in this division. I refrain from saying "best" because no one has really seen what Aaron Rodgers can do.

Could this be the year the Lions finally break their losing streak? The guys over at Pride of Detroit don't seem to think so. The Lions have been blasted (for good reason) by Yahoo! blogger MJD in his Shutdown Corner.

The Lions have the 10th hardest strength of schedule, but much of that is due to having to play the AFC South, none of which posted a losing record last season. From the NFC, they get the NFC South, whose champion (Tampa Bay) they beat 23-16 last season. Can Detroit make it to .500? Their schedule mirrors last season, with the easier games at the beginning and a hard stretch run, featuring Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota and Indy as the calendar turns into December. However, only the Indy game is on the road. Maybe, just maybe, the Lions could pull a win or two out of that stretch and make a run at .500. And a run at .500 in the NFC means a run at a playoff spot.

In the NFC North, Minnesota is the trendy pick to win the division, but Tavaris Jackson is an unproven Quarterback with an average receiving corps at best, which means teams will stack the box against AP, forcing Jackson to beat them through the air. Could the Detroit-New Orleans game in Week 16 be a battle of division leaders? That's a scary thought, but it very well could happen. With rookie running back Kevin Smith and 1st round pick Gosder Cherilus a mammoth at tackle, the offense may become multi-dimensional. Additionally, with the departure of Mike Martz, we may see more of a running game out of the Lions next year, which will help them out when the temperature drops (even though they play in a dome).

For as good as their offense could be, their defense is that bad. The Lions defense was last in the league in Yards Allowed (377.6/game) and Scoring Defense. The next closest was Buffalo at 362. The Lions D was also the 4th-most penalized and allowed the 2nd most time of possession. Only Detroit and Minnesota gave up over 4000 passing yards last season, and Detroit gave up the most passing TDs with 32 (only Detroit and New Orleans were over 30). Only Oakland gave up more rushing TDs than the Lions.

The only big move the Lions made in their league-worst secondary was to trade for Browns CB Leigh Bodden. As a side note, the Browns were 28th in the league in Passing TDs allowed. The Lions spent 4 draft picks on their defensive front seven. What does this mean? That the Lions secondary will once again be mincemeat for opponents. While drafting an Offensive Lineman was a good choice by Millen, he did nothing to get help for his foundering secondary. While they have the offense to stay in games, they don't have the defense to stop teams, which will result in a lot of high-scoring shootouts. If you're a fantasy owner, you'll probably want a Lion or two on your team, as long as it's not the defense.

2007 Ranks:
Total Offense: 19th
Scoring Offense: 16th
Total Defense: 32nd
Scoring Defense: 32nd

Until their defense improves, this team won't make it over the hump and challenge for a playoff spot. Maybe their defense will step it up this year, but I don't see it happening. Then again, in this bad division, anything could happen.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 6-10
John's 2008 Prediction: 9-7

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Team Preview: Chicago Bears

It's now on to the lackluster NFC North, starting with the Chicago Bears.


2007 Record: 7-9

The defensive-minded Chicago Bears are looking to rebound from a severely disappointing 2007 campaign after failing to reach the playoffs last year following their somewhat surprising Super Bowl run the year before. The boys of Chi-town really went to it this offseason and attempted to achieve several goals, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

1) Re-sign inconsistent QB Rex Grossman and bring in no new competition - check.

2) Cut Cedric Benson, their only true, every down back - check.

3) Finally, to really upgrade the offensive weapons, do not retain the services of starting wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian - check.

If you support these decisions and believe they were the correct moves to make, please contact the Bears' front office immediately about a management position because you would fit in perfectly.

However, it's not all doom and gloom in the Windy City. The Bears still have an above average defense led by perennial pro-bowler Brian Urlacher, newly re-signed Lance Briggs, and injury prone safety Mike Brown. The defensive line and secondary also have great depth at their disposal, while the team also added youth to the roster with 13 draft picks, including potential late round steals in S Craig Steltz (LSU), CB Zach Bowman (Nebraska), OT Kirk Barton (Ohio St.), and 6'4" WR Marcus Monk (Arkansas). This group does not even include potential week one starters Chris Williams (OT), Matt Forte (RB), and Earl Bennett (WR). Additionally, shedding former first round pick Benson, as well as rapidly declining Muhammad, may be somewhat of a burden lifted off the organization's shoulders - the Bears can now focus completely on Forte (whom many believe is a future star) and other much younger players without feeling obligated to give high draft picks and established veterans the majority of the playing time.

Finally, while special teams can mostly be ignored for some of the teams in the league, speedster Devin Hester and reliable kicker Robbie Gould make the Bears' unit one of the most dangerous in the game, and one that will keep their team in contests longer than they should actually last.

The bottom line is that anything can happen in the relatively weak NFC from year to year. However, despite rumors of Chris Simms and whispers of Brett Favre coming to Chicago, the truth is the Bears are not going to come close to repeating what they did two years ago with their current QB situation. Throw in a rookie running back from Tulane (who I think is overrated), a receiving corps whose best player is second year TE Greg Olsen, an O-line with only one reliable starter (Olin Kreutz), and a solid, but aging and injury prone defense, and you are looking at a team where the defense/special teams might outscore the actual offense. In the end, a weak division/conference saves them from complete embarrassment, but the Bears will still hibernate in January for a second straight year.

John's 2008 Prediction: 7-9
Ian's 2008 Prediction: 5-11

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

New writer!

I am proud to introduce a new member to the Steelers n'at staff, John. John is an expert in, well...pretty much all things sports and he'll be a great addition to the blog.


Team Preview: Dallas Cowboys

2007 Record: 13-3

Dallas had another fantastic regular season that was followed by post-season disappointment. In all honesty, it's enjoyable to see the Cowboys struggle in the post-season. This team is a textbook case of potential for a breakdown. Tony Romo, who was brilliant in some games and horrid in others (see 5 interceptions against Buffalo). However, he was only out-passed in 4 games last season. One of those three was the season finale against Washington where he didn't play the whole game. Two of the three came in wins over Miami and Washington and the other game was against a man named Brady.

Besides New England, Dallas might have the best all-around receiving corps in the league with Terrell Owens, Patrick Crayton and All-Pro tight end Jason Witten. The 'boys get Terry Glenn back from injury this year, adding depth to their receiving unit. The team lost running back Julius Jones to Seattle, but kept workhorse Marion Barber and drafted speedster Felix Jones out of Arkansas. Expect this team to put up big numbers on offense again this season.

On Defense, the team needed to get help in the secondary. So they went out and signed Adam "The Artist Formerly Known as Pac-man" Jones and drafted Mike Jenkins (CB-South Florida). Drafting Jenkins was an excellent choice. Signing Jones, well...that remains to be seen.

Coach Wade Phillips isn't exactly the most animated person in the world, and his locker room, with Owens, Jones and former Bears D-lineman Tank Johnson will have more ego than Freud's bedroom. If this team starts struggling, the tempers may erupt and this team might go down in flames. They have a fairly easy schedule so this shouldn't be an issue. The only "difficult" portion of the schedule comes as the calendar turns to December with games against Seattle, Pittsburgh and the Giants. However, only the Pittsburgh game is on the road, giving the Cowboys an advantage heading into "choke in the playoffs again" season.

If this team starts to slide, Wade Phillips is going to have a powder keg on his hands about as big as the Balkans in 1912. Nevertheless, this team can score and score quickly if need be. They have playmakers that can get them out of sticky situations (like the Buffalo game last year). The Cowboys have an average schedule, ranked 14th hardest in the league. Their offensive prowess and strength of their defensive front 7 (led by OLB Demarcus Ware) puts the pieces in place for another NFC East Championship, even with the defending-champion Giants and youth-infused Redskins nipping at their heels.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 11-5
John's 2008 Prediction: 12-4

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Team Preview: New York Giants

2007 Record: 10-6

Raise your hand if you saw this one coming. No one expected to see Eli hoisting Lombardi's Trophy in February. Yet behind some solid defense and an offense that got things done when it had to, the New York Giants were Super Bowl Champions. The Giants did what only the Steelers had done before, winning 3 road games to get to the big game then taking home the prize.

After starting the season 0-2, the Giants won 6 straight going into their bye week. They went 4-4 to close out the season, including a 3-point loss to the New England Patriots in week 17.

However, in the playoffs their defense made big plays when they needed to, including an overtime interception of Brett Favre to set up the game-winning field goal.

Michael Strahan retired in the offseason, but I don't think that's going to make a huge difference in the defensive front that just dominated New England's line in the Super Bowl. This is a very good defensive team. The offense is suspect at times with the receiving corps plagued by dropped balls and interceptions (see Minnesota game).

Are the Giants good enough to repeat? Yes. Do I think that they will? No. This is a team that got hot in the playoffs. Yes they beat some good teams on the road (Dallas, Green Bay, New England). If they get hot again in the post-season, they have the skill personnel necessary to bring it home (we saw this last year).

2007 Rankings:
Total Defense: 7th
Scoring Defense: 17th
Total Offense: 16th
Scoring Offense: 14th

As far as schedules go, the Giants have an "average" schedule, ranking 15th hardest in the league. They have tough road games in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. I see them having a similar season to last year, where they struggle against divisional opponents like Dallas and Washington but win games when they have to and post a record good enough to make the post-season. The secondary has some question marks and has given up big games through the air, meaning they are capable of losing a shootout. While they have a great front 7, their secondary and offense is, at best, average, meaning they are capable of falling into a cold slump and losing as many as 10 games. But with their schedule, I don't see this happening.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 9-7
John's 2008 Prediction: 8-8

Friday, July 4, 2008

Team Preview: Washington Redskins

2007 Record: 9-7

This was a team that at the beginning of last year had a lot of potential to develop it's young players (like quarterback Jason Campbell). They snuck in to the playoffs with a clutch win over Minnesota in week 16, then beat the Cowboys JV team the last week of the season to wrap up the #6 seed. The tragic death of Sean Taylor brought this team together last year and they hopped on the back of backup QB Todd Collins. After a botched kickoff return by the Seahawks, they looked to be in position to move on to the second round of the playoffs. But a missed field goal and a few interceptions later, the Seahawks were travelling to Green Bay.

The Redskins have the 13th hardest schedule in 2008, but they have the defense in place to weather the storm. They only gave up 300 passing yards in one game last year, and that was to a guy named Brady. However, TO burned them for 174 receiving yards and four TDs in week 11. The Redskins spent two second-round draft picks on wide receivers with huge up-sides (Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly) who look to be the replacements for the aging Santana Moss and the injury-prone Antwaan Randle El. El Yeah (as we knew him so affectionately) hasn't produced as much in Washington as they had hoped when they signed him to a big contract after he carried the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory.

The biggest question for this team is the quarterback. After franchise QB Jason Campbell went down with an injury in Week 14, Todd Collins lead the team to 4 straight wins to catapult their record to 9-7 and into the final playoff spot. With the drafting of two of the top four receivers in the draft, the team now has depth at the skill positions, which are anchored by running back Clinton Portis and tight end Chris Cooley. If the young wide receivers develop, I wouldn't be surprised to see this team challenging for a playoff spot once again. Once they decide on a quarterback, as long as they don't second-guess themselves, they should be set to move forward into the season. I'm not sure if this team is quite ready to make a run at the division title this year, but they should be in the running for a wild card. The Redskins very well may surprise people and win the division in 2009, but for 2008 I don't see them quite at that level.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 10-6
John's 2008 Prediction: 10-6

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Team Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

I have decided to start my season previews with the NFC East. I'll go from bottom-to-top per how teams finished last year, which means we're starting with the Philadelphia Eagles.

2007 Record: 8-8

The big news for the Eagles this off-season was the signing of cornerback Asante Samuel. While some experts have questioned this move because the Eagles already have Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard at cornerback. However, let's not forget that the Eagles secondary got torched for over 300 yards through the air four times last year. Granted, one of those was by a man named Brady (380). But the others were by Romo (324), Brian Griese (322) and Jon Kitna (446).

Let me repeat that. The Eagles seconday gave up 322 passing yards to Brian Griese and 446 to Jon Kitna.

Going into the 2008 season, the offense once again will go through Brian Westbrook, despite the fact that they have a fairly talented receiving corps led by Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown. The player on the hot seat will be quarterback Donovan McNabb. Due to his injury problems and struggles over the past few seasons, their may be calls for 2nd-year quarterback Kevin Kolb to take the reigns. Kolb threw 30 TDs and only 4 INTs in his final year at the University of Houston before being drafted by Philadelphia in the second round in 2007. He's a big guy with a big arm that could help the Eagles offense to get vertical and stretch the field.

The rookie to watch on this team is DeSean Jackson, kick returner extraordinaire from Cal. The Eagles are hoping his speed can add a spark to their return game and receiving corps. The Eagles defense lacks a big name in the front 7, but they should still be solid.

2007 Ranks:
Total Defense: 10th
Scoring Defense: 9th
Total Offense: 6th
Scoring Offense: 17th

Until the Eagles get their Quarterback situation figured out, they're still only a middle-of-the-pack team in the NFC. Granted, this team did go 8-8 last year and finished only 1 game shy of a playoff bearth. The NFC East faces the NFC West and AFC North this year, meaning Philly gets the benefit of playing St Louis, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Cincinnati. Overall, I see this team making a push towards .500, which might get them close to the playoffs in the NFC.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 7-9
John's 2008 Prediction: 6-10

The long and short of what you need to know about the Eagles: