After losing Tom Brady to a devastating knee injury in the first game of the 2008 season, the Patriots rode the next 15 games on Matt Cassel’s inexperienced shoulders, barely coming up short of a post-season appearance. Just imagine what they can accomplish when back at full strength.
There are still questions and concerns, yes, even for the mighty Patriots, but there’s reason to believe 2009 could be a mirror image of 2007′s drive for perfection.
5. What Kind of Impact Will Joey Galloway Have?
Remember when Donte Stallworth started opposite of Randy Moss in 2007? Yeah, we saw fireworks.
Don’t let Joey Galloway’s disappointing and injury-plagued 2008 fool you. The guy still has some tread, even at 37.
Galloway has reportedly still been slightly slowed down from last year’s injuries, and hasn’t been as explosive as desired.
However, operating as New England’s third option, he won’t have to be.
If Galloway can stay healthy, it’s not unrealistic to hope for 40+ catches and anywhere from 600-800 yards.
This is the Tom Brady offense we’re talking about, here.
4. Tom Brady’s Back-Up
While confidence and morale is at an all-time high (since early 2008, anyways), there’s still slight concern for Brady’s knee, as well as the new plan in case he goes down again.
An injury like last season’s happening again would be a freakish and unlikely occurrence, but if it did happen, where would that leave New England?
With a shovel and searching for answers, most likely.
However, Bill Belichick and co. appear to be completely set with their quarterbacks, and envision Kevin O’Connell as a very capable replacement if called upon.
Hey, if they felt good about a guy who hadn’t started a game since high school (Cassel), are you really about to doubt them?
3. Fred Taylor and the RBBC
Fred Taylor is nearing the end of his career, and isn’t the second-coming of Corey Dillon, but he’s far more than serviceable at this point.
He wasn’t acquired through free agency to sit and let Laurence Maroney disappoint the Boston faithful again, so it’s likely that Taylor will be the “starter,” while Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk share the load, with Faulk mopping up third down duties.
Taylor doesn’t have the speed he once had, but his vision and timing has gotten better with age, and he’s been more productive inside the tackles than ever before.
New England will be a pass-first team regardless, so it only makes sense for them to rotate fresh bodies in and out throughout their games.
With three of their “top” backs over 32, however, I’m not sure how “fresh” they’ll be.
2. Can the Defense Get Back to Elite Status?
Belichick did the right thing by trading away Mike Vrabel, and the Patriots are probably better off with Rodney Harrison walking off into retirement.
Truth be told, New England wasn’t their normal self last year on either side of the ball, and while the defense may not be a top-five ranked squad, they can and should crack the top-ten.
They have a lot of young, interchangeable talent that just keeps getting better.
Both Jerod Mayo and Leigh Bodden reportedly look great in camp, and their defensive line is as solid as ever.
If their offense can get back to even half of what it was in 2007, you won’t hear much about the defense in 2009.
1. Tom Brady’s Knee
Coaches and teammates are reporting from camp that Brady looks crisp and fluid, and that the knee is officially 100 percent.
Don’t believe it?
Brady has participated in every single camp activity since being cleared to do so, and even had a practice in muddy and rainy conditions. Talk about a vote of confidence for that knee.
There’s even talk of throwing him back in the mix for the first pre-season game. Yeah, he’s ready.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Saturday, August 29, 2009
The Buffalo Bills started 2008 red-hot, but stumbled to their third straight 7-9 season under Dick Jauron down the stretch, putting his future on the line, while keeping the so-called “sleeper” Bills from the playoffs for yet another season.
While Trent Edwards has shown glimpses of talent that’s still good enough to keep J.P. Losman competing in the UFL, there are still plenty of questions with and surrounding him, leaving any Buffalo fan feeling a little uneasy about 2009.
Read on to see the top five questions racing through everyone’s mind as Buffalo gears up for 2009.
5. Will Marshawn Lynch’s Three Game Suspension Hurt the Team?
Lynch is a solid back with the potential to jump to elite status. The only thing stopping him?
Well quite literally in 2009, a three game suspension and some decent competition at the position.
Lynch hasn’t blown anyone away so far in his first two years, but he definitely has elite abilities that we can catch glimpses of at times, and is overall a fairly well-balanced back.
Unfortunately for him and the Bills, his offensive line is average, his quarterback is unspectacular, and the other two running backs “behind” him are fairly solid.
Lynch is still undoubtedly Buffalo’s feature back and future at the position, but an absence of three games could open the door to a three-headed dragon that could see his value and impact take a huge hit in 2009.
4. Is Dick Jauron Gone if the Bills Don’t Make the Playoffs?
Plain and simple: You betcha.
Jauron is a solid coach without great motivational tactics or the ability to convinced players into buying into his system unless it is successful immediately. (It never is).
Unless you count his days in Chicago when he had a famously “lucky” 13-3 season, Jauron has been consistently inconsistent, while leading very unspectacular teams into the depths of mediocrity.
While he has kept the Bills fairly competitive at 7-9 for three straight seasons, another sub .500 finish could be the end of the road for him and the current regime.
3. Will the Pass Rush be Better?
After putting up a woeful effort on defense in 2008, ranking 28th in the league with only 24 sacks.
Compared to the league-leading Dallas Cowboys’ 59 sacks, the Bills have a long way to go to achieve “elite” pass-rushing status.
While that type of leap certainly can’t be expected to happen overnight, the addition of rookie Aaron Maybin should add an instant punch from the outside rush, while a healthy Aaron Schobel should both aid the pass rush, as well as help bolster the league’s 4th ranked rush defense.
2. Can Trent Edwards Take the Next Step?
Edwards made J.P. Losman disposable without ever throwing more than 11 touchdowns in a season.
That speaks more for Losman being a bust than it does in Edwards’ favor.
However, with two bonafide top-level receivers and a stout rush attack with three solid runners, Edwards finally has all the tools necessary to compete at a high level.
Quie frankly, winning isn’t all that matters in 2009 in regards to Edwards’ future. If he can’t make things happen and put up better than average numbers with both T.O. and Lee Evans in the starting line-up, he may not be an NFL starter for long.
1.Get Your Popcorn Ready?
Despite showing slight signs of regressing last season, Owens still has the speed and size to dominate single coverage, and with Lee Evans on the other side, should easily make an impact for Buffalo.
The question is, however, does that mean the Bills can start talking playoffs?
Not so fast.
You can probably bet, even at 36, that Owens is still good for 1,000+ yards and 10+ scores, but he can’t make Trent Edwards into Tony Romo, and no amount of game-changing plays he makes can make up for the Bills’ suspect pass rush.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Thursday, August 27, 2009
You can talk about deja vu, waffling, retirement, the Packers, betrayal, or legacies all you want.
None of that changes what’s about to happen to the NFL in 2009.
While we probably all thought we knew what we were getting from Brett Favre as a Packer for 16 seasons, we had a “first” with Favre landing in New York last year, and are once again heading into the unknown with the future Hall of Famer.
However, while “unknown” could mean just about anything after a second consecutive summer of Favre drama, the Vikings are still inheriting an ageless quarterback who possesses all the excitement and possibility that Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson couldn’t muster up, not even if their talents were combined.
Forget about Favre’s shoulder, the new “tear in the rotator cuff” bit, and don’t buy that he’s coming back to “stick it” to Ted Thompson.
Don’t even make the mistake in assuming he’ll have another late-season meltdown, simply because his past four seasons haven’t ended favorably for him.
If you take a good, hard look at Favre, his role players, and what Minnesota has to offer him, this signing and this entire team has the makings of division winners, and quite possibly Super Bowl contenders.
The offensive line is solid. That means we shouldn’t be cringing in fear of an end to Favre’s streak.
That also means the holes for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor should remain open enough for the to do what they do best.
The special teams is good, led by consistent and reliable Ryan Longwell, while boosted by the versatile and explosive Percy Harvin.
The deep passing game? Check. Got it. See ya later.
Favre to Berrian. Write it down and save it. You’ll be hearing a lot of it.
Their tight end is probably the most athletic and complete tight end Favre has had in 10 years. Adrian Peterson is ten times the player and runner that Thomas Jones is, and Favre helped turn Jones into a red-zone free agent bust, to a Pro Bowl, 13-touchdown back.
Oh, and that defense led by the “Williams Wall” and Jared Allen-it ain’t half bad.
The point is, this team was already pretty damn good. So good, I might add, that people were picking them to win the division without Favre.
Really. And now some people out there actually have the audacity to predict they’ll miss the playoffs?
Favre could stink it up for the final five games just like he did last year, and this team could still make the post-season. But with such a good supporting cast, not to mention and offense he actually knows (and has mastered), that doesn’t seem nearly as likely as Favre being successful.
The truth is, too many people aren’t giving Favre and the Vikings much of a chance. And the sad part is, they really don’t have much reason not to.
You see, fans across the nation got it all wrong.
This isn’t about Favre coming into an NFL town and trying to will it to victory. Instead, this championship-ready team is merely joining forces with the veteran to form a complete roster, one that was simply short a true, reliable passer.
Does Brett Favre put the Vikings over the hump and into Super Bowl contention?
Maybe, and maybe not.
But do the Minnesota Vikings give Brett Favre one last shot at a title? You bet.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The Jets accepted the fact that Eric Mangini wasn’t quite the “genius” everyone thought he was, and after saying good-bye to Brett Favre, began a true transformation.
With the hiring of Rex Ryan and drafting of Shonne Green, the Jets proved that they were heavily committed to running the football and shutting down teams with an aggressive defense.
Top it off with a new franchise quarterback, and the Jets have the makings for a competitive playoff team that could contend for years to come.
The question is, will one of those year’s be 2009?
Read on to see five things to watch for this season.
5. Mark Sanchez vs. Kellen Clemens
Sanchez was highly touted, and rightfully so, and is easily the best quarterback on the Jets roster, already despite being a rookie. While Kellen Clemens is a “veteran”, very little about his game would actually suggest it. Sanchez may not be polished in some respects and have NFL-ready game-managing skills, but he’s a true gamer, and has better instincts than Clemens.
Despite Clemens being dubbed the “opening day” starter for the pre-season, it’s unlikely he holds onto the job.
Sanchez can make things happen on the run, has a better arm than Clemens, and would give New York a Joe Namath, young-gun mystique that it hasn’t had in almost 40 years.
Look for the rookie to win the job.
4. The Rex Ryan Era
Ryan new how to build defenses and get them to perform at the highest level in Baltimore, so why would that change in New York?
The only difference now is the colorful Ryan has the ability to choose all of his players, rather than have his personnel decisions handed down to him and made for him.
Ryan knows talent, and he knows potential. But the best part is that he knows, with a deeper understanding than most, that there’s a difference between the two.
Eric Mangini left a solid corps of players that Ryan can easily work with, while some former Baltimore defenders, Jim Leonhard and Bart Scott, who were both successful in his system, joined the team.
Another thing to note is that Mangini has been around contending teams that had in-experienced or rookie quarterbacks. Just look at Joe Flacco.
The tools are there on both sides of the ball, and if we go by history, the Jets should be very competitive.
3. The Progression of Vernon Gholston
After being a rookie bust in 2008, while registering just 13 tackles, Gholston finally has life.
With Rex Ryan in town, he should receive the best guidance and teaching he’s ever gotten, and should every change to succeed in Ryan’s aggressive 3-4.
Gholston is even the starter to start the season, and he was picked to be Calvin Pace’s replacement after Pace was suspended for four games.
It may be difficult to hold off Pace when he gets back, but Gholston is too athletic to not make things happen in a Rex Ryan system.
Anticipate a break-out season for the second-year player.
2. Can Thomas Jones Do It Again?
Before Brett Favre, Jones was just cracking 1,000 yards and scored one measly touchdown in 2008. With Favre? Jones is still relishing in a 13-touchdown Pro Bowl season.
Post-Favre? You tell me.
Jones is 32, more than likely just hit the highest numbers he’ll ever get, and has fierce talent around him weighting for more carries.
Leon Washington, despite being in contract discussions, is still a home-run threat every time he touches the ball, making it an almost certainty that his touches will increase.
Throw in the rookie, Shonne Green, the Jets pre-determined “closer”, and Jones is suddenly in a very quiet RBBC.
If that is indeed the case, which it plainly is, there’s no way Jones scores over 10 touchdowns again, and could even struggle to top 1,000 yards.
But hey, if it means a division title, who cares, right?
1. Can Jerricho Cotchery Survive On His Own?
Cotchery isn’t particularly fast, and isn’t overly reliable in traffic or on deep balls.
To be honest, Cotchery has been living in an elite receiver’s body, but has put in very average results.
It didn’t help that he has never had any truly elite help to take the focus off of him, but being the top (and only) option sure doesn’t hurt your stock, either.
There is no true second receiver behind Cotchery that is scary to opposing defenses, while Dustin Keller and Leon Washington are the only other effective options in the passing game.
If another receiver can’t emerge from the mix to help out Cotchery, he may fold up. Like a lawn chair.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Sunday, August 16, 2009
The Dolphins 2009 season is all about showing the league which team they truly are, the young, inexperienced 1-15 squad, or the turn-around, jump-start 11-5 team from last year.
Let’s be honest, even the most positive Dolphin fan has to agree: They’re probably somewhere in between.
Chad Pennington still has what it takes to lead a team to the playoffs, so as long as the Wildcat retains some unpredictability, and that no-name defense steps up, they still have a shot at staying competitive.
Still, there are questions that need answering, for both the present and the future.
5. Can Anthony Fasano Be an Elite Tight End?
That all depends on what you consider “elite“.
Is he going to stretch the field like Jason Witten, break a ton of tackles, or record several 100-yard games?
No. Fasano is a big, reliable target that can help move the chains and can be a factor in the red-zone. But he’s not a guy that can do a lot with the ball, and he’s not an elite play-maker.
He’ll get 40+ catches and could score some touchdowns, but he’s never going to be Antonio Gates.
4. Can Ronnie Brown Stay Healthy?
I doubt it.
Brown is definitely an elite back when on the field and fully healthy, and if he can stay on his feet, this growing offense could make him and absolute stud.
With 13 missed games due to injury in his career, Brown has work to do to convince his team that he can be counted on.
Brown did make it through a full season last year, however, and two full years removed from his knee injury could have him as strong and confident as ever.
3. Can Ted Ginn Jr. Take the Next Step?
I believe he can, and I believe he will.
Ginn was only so-so in his first year, but showed good progress with a new coach, system, and quarterback.
If he had a quarterback with a bigger arm throwing to him his value would be that much better, but Pennington is still good enough to help Ginn’s true ability shine.
After notching over 50 grabs and 700 yards in his second year, Ginn is poised for a huge season in the wide receiver’s historically lucky third year.
Over 80 catches and 1,000 yards isn’t unrealistic.
2. Will the “Wildcat” Formation Dominate Again?
With the addition of Pat White, it’s very possible that it will.
The Eagles may have one-upped the Dolphins by landing Michael Vick, but White brings a whole new dimension to the offense, and could take a lot of pressure off of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
This offense is built around the running game and trick plays, keeping the defense on it’s toes, and then smashing them in the mouth with powerful inside running.
If White is all he’s cracked up to be, Miami could have a very interesting and successful offense.
1. How Will Pat White Be Used?
In every way imaginable.
He’s a very athletic natural passer who has the speed and agility to play elite football at almost every offensive position.
He will obviously play some quarterback in certain packages, while also lining up with just Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams in the backfield, likely with some “direct snap” plays.
With great versatility and awareness, White should also be serviceable on return duties, while also spending some time working out of the slot at receiver.
White is a sensation in the open field, and with his solid passing ability, also poses a threat as a quarterback.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Vikings drafted the explosive and dynamic Percy Harvin, courted future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, and now are dealing with an MCL injury to Tarvaris Jackson.
While we may never be able to fully close the door on Favre, at least Minnesota can focus on their new, electrifying player, and finding out who their best quarterback is.
If they can get their focus back to simply playing football, this could still be a team to be reckoned with.
Continue on for more things to watch for.
5. Can Percy Harvin Be Their X-Factor?
Harvin is already being projected as the “target” in over 100 plays, which could leave him with 50 catches and close to 20 rush attempts.
He’s also going to be potentially used as a quarterback in Minnesota’s Wildcat formation.
There’s no question the height of his early value, as he brings so much speed and explosiveness, despite not running pure routes.
Harvin should also have a large impact on the special teams as a returner, where his play-making ability may best be showcased as a rookie.
4. The Pat and Kevin Williams Suspension Saga
Recent reports have the “Williams Wall” getting by their suspension from the league.
There were originally scheduled to miss the first four weeks, but hen requested there be no suspension through an appeal, and and it was apparently granted
With all four of their opening games being against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season, having their run-stuffing wall intact could mean a hot start.
3. Can Adrian Peterson Stay Healthy For a Third Straight Year?
Adrian Peterson has had plenty of knocks early in his career, despite arguably being viewed as “the best back in the league.”
He plays recklessly.
He does nothing in the passing game.
But he’s also a true gamer and has jaws preparing to be dropped with every touch he handles.
But still, what everyone wonders is when will AP finally get a serious injury, and how will Minnesota respond?
Without Peterson, the Vikings could still potentially not miss a step, as they have a proven veteran in Chester Taylor to step up.
2. Brad Childress on the Hot Seat
While Childress has kept the Vikings competitive, and even led them to a 10-6 division title last season, he is still not a lock to keep his job.
Childress was already a hot seat candidate entering last season, and to keep his job, he must prove that he can stick with and win with ONE quarterback.
He must also get Minnesota back to the playoffs in order to prove 2008 wasn’t a fluke.
With the whole Favre fiasco behind us (maybe), Childress needs to stick with whoever ends up being his guy, and let Adrian Peterson and the defense do the rest.
Even without the Hall of Fame presence of Brett Favre, Minnesota should still make the postseason.
1. The Brett Favre Affect
The Favre “effect” could go in a few different directions.
If Favre decided to come back, this could positively affect the team with an entrance to the playoffs, and possibly a shot at a Super Bowl.
Then again, there are many skeptics that are convinced that Favre, 39, is no better than the options they already have.
Regardless of whether or not he does come back, the mere possibility of adding Favre at any time of the season could disrupt team chemistry and focus.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Friday, August 14, 2009
You can call him a dog killer, a highlight reel waiting to happen, or a running back in a quarterback’s body.
Frankly, you can call him anything you want.
Just make sure now that you preface his name with “Philadelphia Eagle’s quarterback”.
Of all the possible destinations, Vick lands in a cozy environment where he’s unlikely to be used, and will likely see dust collect on his hands and legs, while Donovan McNabb and co. make another run at an NFC Championship game appearance.
While the signing is both controversial and exciting, very little of it makes any sense, quite honestly, for either side.
The Eagles won’t be using Vick in any packages that would have him line up at receiver. No, he was too much of a risk for something is useless as that.
Besides, their receiver depth stretches all the way out to California, with stud burners like DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, and Jeremy Maclin lining up for McNabb slants and bombs.
And then they even have Jason Avant to think about.
No, a receiver, Michael Vick is not.
Running back, then?
Again, it just doesn’t fit.
Sure, there will be a few plays where Vick steps in under center and is used in a Philly’ version of the Wildcat, but how much of that can we realistically expect to see without it disrupting the cohesiveness of the offense?
Not a whole lot.
And let’s not even get started on Donovan McNabb and his infant-like maturity when it comes to other quarterbacks taking the field.
The truth is, when it’s all said and done, Vick is, at the very worst, a sensational player on the Eagles shelf, ready and able to make an impact if he is needed.
Kevin Kolb, congratulations, (and I’m sorry) but you just lost your job.
Vick should, in due time, make his way to the “number two quarterback” clipboard section, master the offense, get acquainted with his future receiving weapons, and start to dream of all the possibilities that go along with being a Philadelphia Eagle.
Let’s face it. Kolb may have talent, but up until this point, has shown nothing spectacular, and no true signs of “coming around”.
He wasn’t exactly blowing people away with his performance against the Baltimore Ravens last year, either.
So, while there will be plenty of Kolb defenders/promoters out there, I beg of you (all of you) to take a good, hard look at Kolb during the pre-season, and tell me with an honest, blank face, that you’d prefer him over Vick.
But enough about Kolb. He’s just a speed-bump. A mere pebble in the way of Vick’s path back to fantasy and NFL greatness.
Ah, but the great Donovan McNabb. Now there is a true task.
Well, at least that’s what we’re led to believe.
After last season’s near-meltdown, McNabb is still very much in limbo as far as the Eagles’ front office is concerned, and adding Vick could be a quiet sign that McNabb won’t be around after 2009, and Vick could be a potential candidate to take over the reigns.
Vick isn’t even 30 yet, and while his speed and athleticism will start to fade around 34 or 35, he still has a little under a decade to prove himself worthy of his number one overall selection in 2003.
That is, of course, if he hadn’t already done so.
Regardless, Vick isn’t a publicity stunt, an offense/coach/team crying for help or attention, and he isn’t exactly a replacement.
Not yet, anyways.
No, Vick is an insurance policy. It’s hard to believe we’re saying and reading about Vick being a possible savior to a team, especially one with a possible future Hall of Famer still under center, but that could very well eventually be the case.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The fact is, all we know about Vick and the Eagles is that he’ll be wearing green in September.
What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Friday, August 14, 2009
After going 13-3 in 2007, many fans felt they had their 2008 Green Bay Packers figured out.
But here we are, almost two summers later, and now we’re all making biased predictions on a 6-10 team without a true identity.
We know Aaron Rodgers can get it done on offense, but what about the offensive line and—almost as important—what about Ryan Grant?
Read on for those issues, as well as three others to monitor as the Packers gear up for an August that hopefully is full of answers.
5. The Brett Favre Affect
Yes, he’s retired, for now.
But even though he won’t be wearing green and gold again, he still could very well play a key role in what happens with the Packers in the NFC North this season, and quite possibly the playoffs.
The truth is, with Favre, you can never say never, and it’s ringing especially true when discussing his retirement plans.
There are rumors going both ways, and they’ll continue to do so until the initial kickoff to the 2009 season.
Until then, prepare for an August full of Favre drama, and a possible impending signing with the Minnesota Vikings or some other team.
4. Ryan Grant and the Ground Game
Grant began 2008 with hamstring and YPC issues after a contract hold-out, so this time around, he should be far more ready for the rigors of an NFL season.
Without the proper reps and training last season, Grant’s body wasn’t completely ready for the pounding, and his vision was nowhere near it was in 2007.
Still, despite not being at his best, Green Bay committed to the run, and Grant ended last season with over 1,200 yards.
The disappointing side of that was the team’s average 17th ranking in the NFL in rush yards per game, as well as Grant’s inability to convert at the goal-line effectively (four scores).
While the Packers will attempt to maintain a balanced offense as always, they still plan to run Grant 20-25 times a game, while spelling him with Brandon Jackson.
But after last year’s slow start, combined with another season of uncertainty in regards to the offensive line, can we truly expect progression?
3. The Offensive Line
The Packers O-Line has been a constantly changing group, and could possibly change for the worse (or better) depending on how you look at them, with the loss of Mark Tauscher.
It still isn’t unrealistic to imagine Tauscher re-joining Green Bay, but with so many young, active bodies ready to compete, it’s probably time to let the 32-year-old walk.
Another issue for Green Bay is assessing if Chad Clifton is still good enough to keep around, or if he has enough left in the tank to warrant any kind of a commitment.
In the mean time, it’s fair to say that this could be the make-or-break season for several players on the inconsistent line, especially Daryn Colledge.
In all regards, this is a very talented group of players in a solid system, although their consistency and toughness is routinely questioned.
2. Is There a Sophomore Slump in Line For Aaron Rodgers?
True, Rodgers isn’t “literally” a sophomore quarterback, but as far as his starting experience goes, he’s a newbie.
Rodgers performed sensationally last year, as he took over for the departed Favre, and tossed 28 touchdowins, over 4,000 yards, and even ran for three more scores.
Rodgers helped make Green Bay one of the more productive and efficient offenses, as he guided them to a 5th overall ranking in points scored, as well as 8th in total yards per game, and 8th in passing yards per game.
1. Will the Transition to the New 3-4 Defense be Successful?
Dom Capers came into Green Bay to shake up a few things.
In their old 4-3 defense, the Packers had too many players in wrong positions way too often, and it was clear that several of the players didn’t always understand their roles fully, as some of them often looked lost.
With Capers’ new switch to the 3-4, the goal is to get the right guys in place, get after the quarterback, and end the season with a better ranking than 2008′s 26th against the run.
With rookies Clay Matthews Jr. and B.J. Raji, it’s not impossible to expect at least a slight improvement, as the 3-4 defense is designed for active linebackers (which Green Bay has) to make plays and rush the passer.
The success of Aaron Kampman’s transition from traditional defensive end to outside linebacker will also be something to watch, going hand-in-hand with the defensive changes.
If the offensive line and running game can pick up some slack, the likely much more comfortable Rodgers should be able to put up even better numbers.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Thursday, August 13, 2009
After a horrid 0-16 season made the Lions the laughing-stock of the league, Matt Millen and Rod Marinelli were sent packing, and Jim Schwartz was brought in to right the ship.
This is arguably a job that can’t be corrected in one season, and probably not even two or three, but if anyone can get Detroit going in the right direction, it’ll be a defensive-minded coach who will run the ball and keep his quarterback protected.
At least, that’s the hope.
The Lions have made strides by adding quality players to compete at several lacking positions, including receiver and linebacker.
While their roster certainly offers more buzz than 2008′s did, is there already room for optimism, or will Lions fans be gearing up for another run at a winless season?
5. Can Calvin Johnson Do It Again?
Johnson broke out in his second season, hauling in 78 catches for over 1,300 yards and 12 scores, despite playing for a winless ball club.
But don’t blame him for that.
Johnson did all he could to keep Detroit’s ineffective offense in games, while watching his defense blow any leads they could conjure up.
While that isn’t certain to change in 2009, the one thing Johnson won’t be worrying about is getting the ball.
Both Matthew Stafford and Daunte Culpepper have big, strong arms, and have the ability to go deep and get the ball to Johnson.
True, Johnson cracking 1,300 yards and grabbing another 12+ scores might not mean a division title or the playoffs in 2009, but at this point, Detroit will have to take it’s bright spots where it can get them.
Congratulations, Matt Millen, this one worked out for everyone.
4. Can Kevin Smith Be a True Feature Back?
If the carries are there, and the passing game holds up it’s end, Smith should easily crack 1,000 yards, and could even aim for 10+ scores.
His solid play and ability to be effective at both running and catching the ball made Rudi Johnson obsolete in 2008, and will likely render all other rushers as after-thoughts in 2009.
Smith isn’t a burner, but he combines great vision with solid speed, and elite between-the-tackles running.
The big question is if the off-season acquisitions and addition of Brandon Pettigrew on the line will shore up his blocking enough to help him make that extra step.
3. Is Jim Schwartz “The Guy” For the Job?
His 10 seasons in Tennessee lead us to believe, yes, yes he is.
Schwartz may be picking up the pieces in one of the most dysfunctional NFL cities we’ve seen in some time, but if teams like New Orleans and Atlanta can overcome trying times and embarrassing lawsuits to make the playoffs, then greener pastures could be on their way for the Lions.
Schwartz has assembled a patch-work defensive line-up of former studs, such as Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, and could easily coach Detroit into a competitive team in his first season.
It will take time to get the right players for his system, but with years of experience with Tennessee, there’s enough evidence in playoff appearances, defensive stars, and NFL ranks that suggest he indeed is the man for the job.
2. Matthew Stafford vs. Daunte Culpepper
While the jury is still out on Daunte Culpepper, fans and experts alike are eager to see what Matthews Stafford has in store for both Detroit’s future, as well as present success.
Culpepper. while wildly inconsistent at times, developed a solid connection with star receiver Calvin Johnson, and proved in spurts that he’s still a serviceable quarterback.
It’s clear that his knee injuries from his past hinder his mobility and confidence, and at least up until late last season, he still hadn’t shown the league he was the same passer he was three or four years ago.
It’s very possible that it’s time to label him a “washed-up” veteran, but if Detroit can save Stafford’s body from a brutal beating in his first year, while stealing solid games from the aging Culpepper-then why not?
However, if you ask players around the league, including future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, they’ll say it’s best to just “throw them into the action”, in regards to Stafford.
The argument can truly be made either way, and despite rumors that Stafford has a good chance of being the starter on day one, it’s sure to be a heated battle throughout pre-season.
In the end, Stafford is a near-lock to be starting around mid-season.
1. When Will They Get That First “W”?
Despite the new regime, solid draft, and key additions on both sides of the ball, it still looks like quite the uphill climb for Detroit.
It’s not enough to just make progress in a growing division like the NFC North. The Lions, despite their best efforts, watched as the Vikings, Packers, and Bears all widened the gap between the cellar dwellers, furthering the notion that regardless of their record in 2009, Detroit will inevitably find themselves at the bottom of the division.
Don’t believe it? Well, on paper at least, the schedule to start the season is, well, brutal.
Detroit opens the season on the road against a New Orleans Saints offense that can score on anybody, along with a defense that is regarded as “much improved”.
They then go home to face the Vikings and Redskins, and then have road games at Chicago and Green Bay sandwiching a match-up against the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their sigh of relief? Their bye week in week seven.
Their first realistic chance at victory comes the next week against a woeful St. Louis team that, after a overhaul of it’s own, probably is on even ground with them.
Can Detroit fans handle an 0-6 start? Well, they may have to.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The big news this off-season in Chicago was the acquisition of former Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, as well as a sound NFL Draft.
The Bears added depth and competition to their receiving corps, and also added a few players on defense that bring youth and versatility to an aging defense.
There are many questions surrounding the Bears that could be answered by the end of August, as well as a few others that may take the entire season to answer.
5. Greg Olsen as the New Starting Tight End
It has recently been reported than Greg Olsen will officially take over in Chicago as the top tight end, relegating the veteran blocking tight end, Desmond Clark, to the bench.
While Clark will still be used a lot, and quite possibly just as much as Olsen, he will not be featured in the passing game as often.
Olsen’s tremendous size and speed should provide a big target for Jay Cutler, which should potentially open up a lethargic passing offense.
From a fantasy perspective, look for Olsen’s numbers to improve greatly, with 70 catches and over 800 yards being fairly realistic.
4. Will the Offensive Line Be Better?
Only a few years removed from having one of the better line’s in the NFL, Chicago is slowly but surely working it’s way back to the NFL’s elite.
They have some aging players, as well as a few young, raw prospects.
While they have made strides in the rush offense, pass protection continues to be their Achilles’ heel.
An established Pro Bowl quarterback like Jay Cutler could take some of the pressure off of this growing offensive line.
3. Can the Defense Still Be Elite?
Brian Urlacher had an off year, the Bears said good-bye to Mike Brown, and the few defensive rookies they did draft aren’t projected for immediate impacts.
Throw in an injury to Charles Tillman, and there are suddenly enough questions regarding this defense, that it’s difficult to call them elite anymore.
If Urlacher can bounce back and show he’s still a prime-time performer, he could take up enough space and garner enough attention over the middle to allow Lance Briggs and others to roam free and make plays.
Craig Stelz stepping up at safety will also be a huge issue to be watched. Stelz has a great cerebral game with goo instincts, while receiving knocks in regards to his speed and explosiveness.
His development, as well as the improvement of Chicago’s overall defense chemistry, could have a huge impact on how the defense plays out.
Still, even if there aren’t as many changes as Chicago fans would like, the defense as it stands is still easily the second-best defense in the NFC North, which won’t keep them from being competitive.
2. Who Will Step-Up at Receiver?
While Jay Cutler is a substantial improvement under center, his mere presence alone doesn’t guarantee any change of production out of the receiving corps.
The rookies and veterans will have to put their own effort in to make a successful transition to an above-average squad.
Devin Hester’s speed, explosiveness, and improved route-running keeps him s the number one option, while Earl Bennett and Rashied Davis are the early favorites to round out the top three spots.
Rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox are definitely going to be a part of the offense, but only their preseason play will guarantee one way or another just how much of a role they will play.
Iglesias is in a mold much like Bennett, while Knox is a flat-out burner who would potentially work as Chicago’s best slot receiver.
1. Is Jay Cutler Chicago’s Savior?
He’s not Jim McMahon, and there’s no guaranteed Super Bowl.
Then again, he’s not Cade McNown, Rex Grossman, or Kyle Orton, either.
He’s much better.
Cutler may not have won more than eight games in a season yet, but he’s young and hasn’t had much help in the form of solid defense in his two and a half seasons as a starter.
While his weapons regress to a return man-turned-receiver and a fast tight end (Greg Olsen), Cutler still has a big arm and the moxie and confidence to guide a dramatic offensive turn around.
If Kyle Orton could toss nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns with these weapons, just imagine what Cutler could be capable of.
Don’t expect a huge drop-off from 2008′s numbers.
I can’t believe the Bears Betting Odds this year. I think there is some value there.