Is Eli Manning overpaid? Uh, yeah.Is he an elite quarterback? It’s arguable, either way.
What isn’t arguable, however, is that this New York Giants team is built to last on both sides of the ball, and regardless of any “key” losses they’ve had, they should still contend for their division, at the very worst.
Then again, they looked as if they were destined to repeat for much of last season, until they collapsed out of nowhere and called it a season in their first playoff game.
Will that happen again? In today’s NFL, the only answer I can think of is “if they’re lucky”.
They have a hard-nosed turned softy coach (just kidding) and an overpaid quarterback who isn’t nearly as good as the rest of the world thinks he is.
Are those problems? Not really. Read on to see what the New York Giants should be concerned about in 2009.
5. Can Ahmad Bradshaw Be Derrick Ward?
While Derrick Ward’s departure leaves a 1,000-yard gap, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be Ahmad Bradshaw’s to fill.
If healthy, Brandon Jacobs figures to handle the bulk of the carries. However, if Jacobs’ reckless style of play were to have Bradshaw starting, there’s no reason to think why he can’t keep the Giants’ offense operating correctly.
With yardage jumps of 190 yards and over eight yards per carry in his rookie season, to 355 yards last season (five yards per carry), it’s evident Bradshaw can produce at a high level and makes the most of his chances.
4. Which Rookie Receiver Will Step-Up?
We know Steve Smith is starting in the slot, and Domenik Hixon’s experience and solid play should keep him as the No. 1 receiver.
However, the second starting spot is up for grabs, with two rookies, Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden, Sinorice Moss, and David Tyree battling it out.
Tyree has yet to stay healthy enough to try to live up to his 2007 Super Bowl helmet catch, which could likely end up in a release in favor of the younger, more talented receivers.
Moss has been a complete bust, hence the addition of Barden and Nicks, who should make Moss expendable, or at the very best, the fifth option.
Both rookie receivers are immensely talented, but Nicks appears to run more polished routes and has proven to have reliable hands.
Barden, on the other hand, has a continuous case of the “dropsies” and also hasn’t look very fast in camps.
Look for Nicks to have the job, and possibly even beat-out Domenik Hixon.
3. Are Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith the Answers?
He may not be Plaxico Burress, but in his first season with major action as a starter, Hixon performed fairly well.
The Giants brought in reinforcements, though, to “aid” Hixon and fellow starter, Steve Smith, as well as push them competitively.
Quite honestly, it was a youth/talent movement. Hence the lack of true desire to bring back a 35-year-old Amani Toomer or a 30-year-old Plaxico Burress.
While Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden are sound additions to the receiving corps, Hixon and Smith are still too talented to not get a fair shake as the starters.
2. Can Brandon Jacobs Stay Healthy?
Jacobs topped 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2008, and that was while sharing the backfield with fellow 1,000-yard rusher Derrick Ward sharing the ball.
Oh, and he missed three games.
Jacobs’ tough, physical running style has garnered praise from teammates and opponents, alike, but his reckless style of play causes worry in New York, and for good reason.
While it’s impossible to predict if he’ll play a full 16 games (I doubt it), what is easy to predict is his likely impact, regardless of the amount of games he suits up for.
Jacobs is the Giants’ offense now, and as long as he’s on the field, the “G-Men” will pound the ball, and will do it well.
So, can Brandon Jacobs stay healthy?
Sure. I just wouldn’t bet on it.
1. Will the Defense Remain Dominant Without Steve Spagnuolo?
As long as the new defensive coordinator runs the aggressive style Spagnuulo did, the talent should take care of the rest.
Despite losing Osi Umenyiora, the Giants still ranked sixth in the league in sacks, and fifth in scoring.
The additional loss of Michael Strahan to retirement only displayed the great depth the Giants had in their line-men, and in turn made two defensive ends, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, stars of their defense.
The addition of Chris Canty through free agency and Clint Sintim via the NFL Draft shows progress on an already nasty defense, one that should continue playing well.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Friday, September 11, 2009
Things were looking a little rocky for Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb in the middle of 2008, but an infamous “benching” helped turn the tide, and the Eagles finished a win away from the Super Bowl.Make that five NFC championship appearances in the Reid/McNabb era and, can we say, counting?
The offense is definitely still there, leaving the only real question to be the defense that lost some key players, as well as 68-year old defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to cancer.
And with middle linebacker Stewart Bradley’s ACL tear, the Eagles defense is quickly unwinding.
5. Can Brent Celek Get It Done at Tight End?
Celek may never be as athletic and the underwhelming L.J. Smith was, but he could end up being as reliable as Chad Lewis was.
McNabb hasn’t had a reliable, sure-handed receiver at tight end in years, and Celek proved he can bring that to the table last year.
He’s faster and more athletic than given credit for, and he is also growing as a route runner while possessing great hands.
His stats are sure to be limited with so many quality options around him, but his value can’t be ignored.
Still, an upgrade could and probably will be made. You can up-sell Celek as much as you’d like, but if New England releases one of it’s four quality tight ends (and they will), you can bet Andy Reid will take notice.
4. Will Brian Westbrook Keep His Starting Job?
For some players, the saying “age is just a number” rings truer than for others.
With Brian Westbrook, that most certainly is the case.
Despite being 30 and on the shelf after ankle surgery, Westbrook is still defined as one of the more complete and versatile NFL weapons and a fantasy God.
Wetbrook IS the Eagles offense.
While LeSean McCoy will undoubtedly claim the starting role at some point withint the next two or three seasons, there’s no reason why the still dnyamic Westbrook shouldn’t be the full-fledged starter for all of 2009.
3. Will Jeremy Maclin Supplant Kevin Curtis For the No. 2 Receiver Spot?
After signing as a free agent and putting up solid numbers of over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in 2007, Kevin Curtis missed half of 2008 with a hernia injury.
Needless to say, his two-year time in Philadelphia has received mixed reviews.
However, he’s back to full health, is still a sure-handed burner, and only sits second to second-year man DeSean Jackson.
Jeremy Maclin, on the other hand, is just as fast as Curtis, but he’s much bigger and stronger. He’s better suited to run deep routes and post routes, while Curtis is smaller and quicker, leaving him better suited for the slot.
In reality, while Maclin could end up “claiming” the two spot, the actual roles of the players probably won’t change.
2. Can the Defense Stay Elite?
The Eagles have experienced a summer of great loss on the defensive side. They’ve witnessed the passing of their legendary defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, and have also seen veterans Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard leave.
While there remain questions at safety, the front line should remain constant with pressure on the quarterback, as well as stuffing the running lanes.
However, the recent loss of Stewart Bradley could shuffle the linebacking corps, which could potentially mean disaster for a defense without a true identity.
The talent is there. The rest hangs on some leaders stepping up, as well as the coaching.
People can hang on 2008′s stats all they want, but like it or not, this will be a different Philly defense in 2009.
There was only one Jim Johnson.
1. Does Michael Vick Catapult Them to the Top?
It improves them, without a doubt, but his presence alone doesn’t mean nearly as much as all of Philadelphia thinks it does.
Jay Cutler in Chicago means something.
Brett Favre being a Viking means something.
Michael Vick as a back-up quarterback and/or Wildcat specialty? Not quite as much.
He will undoubtedly serve an explosive and important role in the offense, but it’s not like the league hasn’t heard of the guy before.
There’s no guarantee that he’l be effective as strictly a runner or receiver, and whenever he is behind center, defenses will be on high alert.
Just worry about his suspension first, then break out the wine and dream of all the salivating highlight-reel possibilities. And I do emphasize possibilities.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Thursday, September 10, 2009
Tags: Andy Reid, Brent Celek, Brian Dawkins, DeSean Jackson, donovan mcnabb, Eagles Defense, Eagles Offense, Jeremy Maclin, Jim Johnson, Kevin Curtis, LeSean McCoy, michael vick, Philly, Stewart Bradley
The Redskins started hot in 2008 and showed the world their potential.Unfortunately, with a disappointing 2-6 finish, they missed the playoffs, causing mixed reviews and a lot of uncertainty.His presence can’t hurt, as Washington didn’t have a lineman top four sacks all season.
With Haynesworth wreaking havoc in the middle with Cornelius Griffin, Orakpo should have plenty of time to make things happen.
4. Can Clinton Portis Avoid Another Late-Season Slide?
After tearing it up in the first eight games of the season, Portis appeared to hit a wall, and stunk it up in the final eight contests.While you could easily blame this on nagging injuries and too many carries, you could also blame the ineffective Jason Campbell and predictable Jim Zorn.
Portis can last the season, but his productivity will continue to suffer if Jason Campbell cannot progress.
3. How Good Can Albert Haynesworth Make the Defense?
Haynesworth is a big, big man.
He can plug the middle and eat up running backs, but he also has the strength and agility to get to the quarterback.
He adds anywhere from seven to ten sacks to a Redskins team already surviving with solid talent; That, with his presence, could ultimately make the leap to elite.
However, if his supporting cast can’t make the jump, Haynesworth could go down as a free agency bust.
2. Is Jim Zorn on the Hot Seat?
Zorn is most definitely on his way out of Washington if he can’t prove to Dan Snyder that his system works. And the only way he can do that is by getting to the post-season, and possibly winning a game.
Zorn hurt Snyder’s insides with a 6-2 opening tease, and then sliding to an 8-8 finish.
And while the defense wasn’t always scoring all A’s, the offense was ugly and boring, leaving the Redskins to wade in mediocrity.
If Zorn’s chosen one, Jason Campbell, can’t succeed early, it could be both of their necks.
1. Is Jason Campbell Still Their Franchise Quarterback?
If you were Jason Campbell, would you feel comfortable?
You’ve heard about Derek Anderon, Brady Quinn, Jay Cutler, Brett Favre, and now even Michael Vick.
They are all better than you, they all want your job (probably not Favre), and your team would have preferred any one of them over you.
Oh, and there was also Mark Sanchez.
Hell, your coach even thinks Josh Freeman is better than you.
And believe it or not, there is even a growing support group for Colt Brennan.
The point is, while Campbell has shown excellent game-managing ability, he hasn’t shown and type of a killer instinct or ability to truly take over games.
If that doesn’t show-up in the early going, someone else could be behind center for Washington.
After a solid draft and a big offseason full of DeAngelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth signings, the Redskins look to be back to their winning ways.
Take a look at five things that could be preventing that from happening.
5. Good-Bye Jason Taylor, Hello, Brian Orakpo?
Jason Taylor was a wine-and-dine chance that failed. And considering his weak 3.5 sack total, he wasn’t very difficult to say goodbye to.Now he’s back with the Dolphins, and now Washington is starting over with a new defensive end. Isn’t that what they should have done in the first place?
Orakpo brings excellent size and athleticism to the Redskins front line, and also brings the versatility to drop back and be used on the outside as a linebacker.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Monday, September 7, 2009
The Cowboys were supposed to be “America’s Team” again.
They were fresh off of an impressive 13-3 record and 2007 division title. They were Super Bowl contenders, and at the very least, playoff guarantees.
Well, one broken pinkie later, and all that 2007 created in Dallas was ruined.
Fast forward to the off-season, and the team has lost several starters from last year, including star receiver Terrell Owens, pass-rush specialist Greg Ellis, and safety Roy Williams.
The Cowboys have a lot of ground to make up, despite having a smart offensive plan and a slew of weapons.
Read on to see the top five issues facing the Cowboys as they prepare for August’s pre-season action.
5. The Addition of Igor Olshansky
The Cowboys got most of their pass-rush from Demarcus Ware last season, and brought in Olshansky from San Diego to add power to their front line.
Olshansky wasn’t brought in to rush the passer. His strength and brutality on the line will be of great use, as Dallas tried to improve on their 12th ranked rush defense.
The addition of Olshansky doesn’t completely make-up for the losses of Greg Ellis and Chris Canty, but he’s the type of player in the trenches that can change the tone of a game.
4. Can Ken Hamlin Bounce Back?
After a fantastic debut season with Dallas in 2007, where he registered 62 tackles and five interceptions, 2008 saw Hamlin regress after signing a big, six-year contract.
The money may have gotten to Hamlin for a year, but threats of a possible release (if 2009 goes sour) should snap him back into form.
Hamlin has little help at safety, but his secondary play and pass rush are bordering on elite.
He’s the clear-cut starter, and at only 28, is still one of the most talented safeties in the league.
3. Can Roy Williams Effectively Replace T.O.?
After showing glimmers of star-quality in Detroit, Williams came to Dallas in a trade, and after one lackluster half-season in the big “D”, Williams’ time to step up is coming.
His presence prompted the release of Terrell Owens, and with no other proven receivers aside from Patrick Crayton, Williams is officially the designated “star” receiver for Dallas.
However, it’s arguable that the Cowboys’ current third receiver, Miles Austin, is the best overall receiver on the team, and could end up thriving in the Cowboys new, balanced attack.
Regardless of how Austin or Crayton perform, Williams should see plenty of targets, that is, once he gets back on the field.
2. Marion Barber vs. Felix Jones
There are rumors swirling that the Cowboys intend on using Felix Jones and Marion Barber together on the field at the same time.
Jones’ versatility, speed, hands, and athleticism allow Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett to place him just about anywhere.
Barber, on the other hand, is still the Cowboys’ bread-and-butter chains mover, as well as their short yardage and goal-line stud.
Jones figures to (at the very worst) play on third downs, return kicks, and slide out on special plays, strictly as a receiver.
They both, along with third running back, Tashard Choice, are immensely talented, and should combine their efforts to form a formidable rush offense.
Contrary to popular belief, a talented three-headed horse at the tailback position is in no way a bad thing.
That is, unless you’re talking about fantasy football.
1. How Will Tony Romo’s Break-up’s Affect Him?
First T.O. had to go. Now there are reports that “it’s over” between Romo and now ex-lover, Jessica Simpson.
Oddly enough, both departures from Romo’s life could turn out to be the best thing possibly for him.
Terrell Owens was getting too big, even for Dallas, and whether you believe in jinxes or not, Simpson’s involvement in Romo’s life brought a negative and almost “unlucky” vibe.
With a clear head and a new mind-set, Romo should be able to spread the ball around more, while relying on one of the finest trios of running backs the league has to offer.
Even if Roy Williams can’t take hold of the number one spot, Romo should perform well.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Monday, September 7, 2009
If they can run the ball the way they’re built to, the Raiders could have an outside chance at competing for the division.
If they do, jaws may drop. But if they don’t, and the past repeats itself, jaws could be struck.
Take a look at five things that will have to be decided in order for that to happen.
He showed glimpses of his past potential in his first season with Denver, but was slowed by nagging knee issues in his second year.
After signing a huge contract with the Raiders, Walker has yet to put forth any type of production worthy of even being called mediocre.
Still, Walker is as healthy as he’s been in years, and still has a shot at one of the starting positions.
He will be in heated competition with rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey and veteran Chaz Schilens, as well as return specialist, Johnnie Lee Higgins.
If Walker is fully healthy, the rest rides on the arm of JaMarcus Russell.
Things didn’t work out between Al Davis and Lane Kiffin, and while Cable is almost certainly not Davis’ first choice to run his team, at least Cable takes direction and does as he’s told.
However, to be successful and get Oakland back to a competitive level, Cable will have to go against the grain and surprise some people with some truly exceptional coaching.
While that is still a possibility, something tells me Davis is simply biding his time until he finds the right guy to coach his team past 2010.
Write it down. Cable’s days are numbered.
Yeah, it goes the other way, too.
After dropping from Super Bowl contenders back in the days of Rich Gannon, the Raiders have finally gotten to a point where the talent on the defensive side of the ball is good enough for playoff contention.
They’re young, fast, and physical, and praying for an offense.
The Raiders have grown into a running team that is ineffective in the passing game, leaving the defense to fend for itself with countless “three and outs” to kill momentum.
With another year under Tom Cable, and a potentially improved pass attack, this could be the year that the Raiders defense is able to wreak havoc with a decent supporting offense.
Then again, it is the Raiders.
His speed and acceleration were destined to take the league by storm.
But that didn’t happen.
No, McFadden and former college teammate Felix Jones were actually outdone by their former fullback at Arkansas, Peyton Hillis.
However, with McFadden getting most of the snaps and Hillis back at fullback in Denver, McFadden could finally be poised to break out.
That is, if Michael Bush doesn’t get in the way.
The early word has McFadden as the favorite to start, with Bush entering as the short yardage and goal-line runner.
This also means a complete demotion for last year’s starter, Justin Fargas.
After starting his first offseason with nagging injuries and a case of the dropsies, Heyward-Bey has reportedly come around a bit, and had a practice recently where he caught “everything in sight”.
While there are certainly growing pains to be expected, Heyward-Bey still has the talent and athleticism to succeed, and he’ll have every opportunity to do just that.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Sunday, September 6, 2009
Tags: Al Davis, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, jamarcus russell, Javon Walker, jeff garcia, Louis Murphy, Michael Bush, NFL Team Preview, oakland raiders, Raiders Defense, Raiders Offense, Tom Cable
After upsetting franchise quarterback Jay Cutler, Denver and the star quarterback went their separate ways, leaving McDaniels and co. without a true gamer at the position, albeit with several knew, young pieces to work with on defense, as well as a stud rookie running back in Knowshon Moreno.
But aside from that, there hasn’t been much done since the Cutler drama or in pre-season to have fans and experts lean one way or another on McDaniels and the Broncos’ future.
Here’s five things to think about for the 2009 season:
5. How Will Peyton Hillis Be Used?
In many different ways, and much more often than Knowshon Moreno-lovers would like to see.
The fact is, Hillis is an outstanding blocker, but it would be an absolute monstrosity to keep him at fullback full-time.
He has elite receiving skills combined with great power rushing ability, making him a great, three-dimensional weapon all over the field.
He’ll be listed as a fullback, but should garner a lot of offensive attention from Josh McDaniels, as he’ll line up as a receiver, tight end, running back, and fullback.
McDaniels has been very vocal about his immense and underrated talent, and he’ll be sure to expose his attributes to the rest of the league, even moreso than Mike Shanahan did last year.
After Orton started his Denver career with three first-half interceptions in a pre-season game, you could see fans calling for McDaniels’ head, and it got even worse when his back-up, Chris Simms, posted much better numbers in the same game.
Still, Orton has good experiene, knows how to win, and is still learning the system.
If Brandon Marshall jumps ship, it could get more difficult for all parties involved, but with Eddie Royal, Tony Scheffler, and a sound rush attack, Orton should be able to thrive in a very pass-happy New England-style offense.
Whether that translates into wins or not will ultimately be on the defense.
It’s sad, but also a very possible truth, considering the new head coach has only elite offensive credentials to his name, and while he’s attempted to address the defense through the draft, he simply many not have the players to make it happen in year one.
Denver fans, prepare for a full-blown rebuilding year with some progress near the end of the season.
However, with two disgrunted super stars in one off-season, McDaniels is either very bad at comunicating and managing elite talent, or he’s simply ridding of prima-dona athletes.
For now, call it a combination of the two. After all, most great coaches (he’s not great yet) have to be both smart and crazy sometimes.
Marshall has all but given up on Denver after rehab and contractual issues, while also citing a downgrade at quarterback as a reason for his “wanting out”.
After all, the guy is in a contract year.
The Denver regime continues to claim Marshall won’t be traded, but if the Jets bite on the current offer on the table (Marshall for David Harris and a first round pick), it’s something that could definitely happen.
While it’s unlikely the Jets give up both the player and the pick, it’s becoming almost even more unlikely that Brandon Marshall is in a Denver uniform come week one.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Saturday, September 5, 2009
See: Edgerrin James.
While Todd Haley isn’t a fool, he sure isn’t a fan of pounding the ball, either. He and the Chiefs will never be a smash-mouth, run-first offense, and the quicker everyone realizes it, the better.
Matt Cassel is on board to help make Dwayne Bowe a machine, and to take enough attention off the ground game to make Johnson appear less slow and banged up than he truly is.
He may not have a ton of tread left on his Herman Edwards-ran rampade tires, but he’s still an elite back if used correctly.
Does that mean a rushing crown and a happy camper hat for the entire season? Very unlikely, but if there’s consistent balance, Johnson will undoubtedly be a huge part of it.
But his attitude and work ethic have to change. Immediately.
Bowe has been consistent in his first two seasons, and with excellent build, solid speed, and great body control, he has the makings of an Anquan Boldin in Haley’s explosive air attack offense.
A few weeks being demoted to the third team unit should have him ready to prove himself in 2009.
That’s right, Brodie Croye. Sit back down, Tyler Thigpen.
Gone are the days of the spread offense. Gone are the predictable offensive sets, as fun as some of them were to watch.
With Matt Cassel (after week one, of course), the Chiefs finally have a passer that has the arm and legs to carry an offense, something they haven’t had since Steve Bono (forive me for saying so).
Cassel certainly is seeing a talent drop-off from his magical run in New England, but he still has enough talent and good coaching to win some games and help KC make some noise.
That, or this was the worst trade Scot Pioli has ever made, and the best one Bill Belichick has.
The offense will be more balanced and more efficient, but without Tony Gonzalez and another dependabe option across fro Bowe, it will be hard to top 4-5 wins.
On the bright side, however, the Chiefs aren’t exactly playing in a tough division, with only one team (San Diego) posing as sure-fire division contenders; a division returning zero teams with better than an 8-8 record in 2008.
But can Haley really be expected to take this tea to glory without Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, or a polished veteran like Kurt Warner at his disposal?
And woeful is putting it nicely.
Through three pre-season games this year, Kansas City has registered four sacks, which is only six shy of their league low total of 10 in 2008.
Are they getting better? Sure, but that really isn’t saying much, now is it?
Through three pre-season games, they’ve shown an ability to lock things up inside the 20, refusing to allow more than 17 points in a game.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Friday, September 4, 2009
After finishing off a late season run with a whipping of the Broncos, the Chargers eked into the 2008 AFC Playoffs with an 8-8 record and a division title, despite battling injuries and inconsistency for much of the season.
While they couldn’t get past the eventual Super Bowl champions Steelers, they did have an impressive victory over the Colts, and showed true grit, despite missing several key players.
Still, the Chargers remain a mixed bag of possibility and inconsistency, and while they’re immensely talented, their window for a Super Bowl run is beginning to close.
5. Can Philip Rivers Repeat his 2008 Success?
Rivers jumped from pedestrian stats in his first two years as a starter, to suddenly near-MVP production.
He has a strong arm with excellent accuracy, and benefits from a well-balanced offense and a full boat of offensive weapons.
The emergence of Vincent Jackson is what probably caused the biggest climb in production for Rivers, while Antonio Gates, Darren Sproles, and LT helped out immensely in the passing game.
There are rumors that the Chargers will try to run more than pass in 2009, but the odds are in favor of a very balanced approach.
Rivers has proven time and again that his work ethic and passion for the game never fails to match his growing talent.
Considering Norv Turner’s specialty is offense, Rivers’ production and efficiency don’t appear to be changing for the worse anytime soon.
If his supporting cast (namely LT and Gates) can get back to full health, Rivers will have all he needs to stay fantasy relevant, as well as possibly guide his team to the Super Bowl.
4. Is Norv Turner on the Hot Seat?
Turner is an offensive wizard. Yes, this is true.
But even Mike Martz gets fired.
Turner has kept the Chargers competitive and exciting in every year he’s called the shots, but if 2009 doesn’t see the Chargers improve significantly, it could be his last season.
An epidemic of injuries didn’t help the cause in 2008, but with his key players (LT, Antonio Gates, Shawne Merriman) expected back at 100 percent, there will be no excuses for Turner not producing with a team so heavy on talent.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Darren Sproles
Regardless of the franchising of Darren Sproles, LT is still “the man” in San Diego, and will still see the bulk of the carries.
But the most important thing is not who will get you the most fantasy points (some would argue that), but the impact they can have on the team together.
Tomlinson can still run well inside the tackles, is extremely effective near the goal-line, and still has the speed and elusiveness to change games.
He may not be what he was two years ago, but even his “average” out-put is good enough to start for well over half of the league.
Sproles will continue to electrify the league on returns, while seeing increased touches and looks, both in the air and on the ground.
Rest assured—LT will keep the starting totes, while Sproles will hang around for one more year to help give the Chargers one of the more feared ground attacks.
2. Shawne Merriman’s Comeback
Before his double-ligament tear that ended his 2008 season, Merriman was a one-man wrecking crew that attacked opposing quarterbacks, stirring up memories of Lawrence Taylor.
Despite not being able to play last year, he displayed tremendous courage and work ethic in the offseason, as he still tried to play in the Chargers’ first game, despite having very minimal lateral movement.
The thanks? The Chargers drafted his potential replacement, Larry English.
While English may indeed become a good player, as well as a key defender for San Diego, it won’t be before Merriman puts together another 10+ sack season.
He’s had a full year to recover, and is reportedly back to full speed, and is entering his contract season with a burgeoning chip on his shoulder.
He may not be a Charger past 2009, but his comeback could be one of the more impressive story-lines of the season.
1. Will the Defense Get Better?
Judging by their woeful rankings (31st against the pass), the Chargers clearly have a lot of work to due.
The fact is, they weren’t a great pass-rushing team without Merriman’s tenacity on the outside, however, and lost even more help on the line with the departure of defensive end, Igor Olshansky.
Their secondary should be back to full force with Antonio Cromartie and tackling machine Eric Weddle (safety) leading the way, but unless Merriman can make a full comeback, and rookie Larry English can have an impact, they could suffer another long season.
Just like on offense, the talent is there for this team to succeed. However, that won’t matter unless the right calls are made by the coaches.
All of San Diego’s issues could form together in a domino effect, and the most important piece could very well end up being Shawne Merriman.
If he can get back to his 2006 form, or even 2007, their pass rush would be ignited, and the pressure would be eased on their secondary.
Considering Merriman is in a contract year, there’s a strong possibility he and the Chargers enjoy a successful season.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Thursday, September 3, 2009
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.