This is a Redskins blog so I won’t go into too much detail on the rest of the league, but it seems obligatory to give my predictions for the season. I’ll rank the divisions here with very brief rationales given for each team. I expect this to turn out to be spectacularly wrong, but I’m not worried about it because the magazines written by the guys who get paid for this crap are usually wildly inaccurate themselves. (Note – I will go into much more detail for the NFC East teams, and any other teams we play this season, shortly before the respective games.)
First Place: San Diego - The Chargers have possibly the most talented starting lineup in the NFL, and I’m expecting the defense to rebound dramatically over last year partly, but not exclusively, due to the return of Shawne Merriman (I’m assuming the criminal charges over assaulting Tila Tequila blow over in a relatively quick manner - I’m not totally clear on who Tila Tequila is, but I think she has something to do with reality TV, so I’m probably uninterested in learning more).
Second Place: Denver - The Denver offense should still be decent even without Cutler. They still have very dangerous skill position players, but more importantly they have an excellent offensive line. The defense should still be terrible.
Third Place: Oakland - I appreciate the Raiders because they make the Redskins look well-managed. They will have very strong running game, but JaMarcus Russell’s development as a passer and everything about the defense are in question. Oh, and the head coach just broke the offensive line coach's jaw.
Fourth Place: Kansas City - The Chiefs are rebuilding, which is bad enough, but the fact that they fired their offensive coordinator during preseason means thing aren’t even heading in the right direction.
First Place: Baltimore – The usual outstanding defense. Flacco succeeded last year with some serious training wheels (played about the whole game behind max protect with only two reads) but I have a feeling he can handle it if they open up the offense up a little. If I’m right about that, I expect the Ravens to be a Super Bowl contender.
Second Place (Wildcard): Pittsburgh – Historically great defense, but they made the playoffs last year despite their offense rather than because of it. They have a terrible offensive line and running game, although that may improve is Rashard Mendenhall is healthy for the season. I consider Ben Roethlisberger to be rather overrated, and unless the offense gets hot and just the right time again I don’t see them making a run for the Super Bowl.
Third Place: Cincinnati – No offensive line whatsoever. A quarterback who would be pretty good… if he had an offensive line. Defense isn’t that great either.
Fourth Place: Cleveland – Full-blown rebuilding mode. I honestly can’t think of a single strength on this team, other than the fact that both of the back-ups to the ancient RB Jamal Lewis (Jerome Harrison and rookie James Davis) have shown potential.
First Place: Indianapolis – I don’t need to tell you about the offense. They have significantly beefed up their defensive tackle position. The idea of the Colts with a strong run defense is pretty scary.
Second Place (Wildcard): Tennessee – Chris Johnson and a strong offensive line will keep the offense interesting. Albert Haynesworth was obviously a huge loss to the defense, but they have some good young talent at tackle. The defense will slide a bit, but will not collapse.
Third Place: Houston – Schaub’s for real, and he has one of the best WRs in the league (Andre Johnson) and a very dangerous RB (Steve Slaton). Offensive line isn’t great, but isn’t nearly as bad as it was in the David Carr days. Don’t know what to make of the defense – if the line beyond Mario Williams solidifies they could be fairly solid but I’m not convinced that will happen.
Fourth Place: Jacksonville – I really like David Garrard as a quarterback. All of his offensive line and all of his receivers were hurt last year, so I don’t read too much into his apparent regression. Defense, however, is a problem.
First Place: New England – Brady will be fine. Next.
Second Place: Miami – They’re improvement last year was impressive, but came against an easy schedule. If the Jets didn’t have a rookie quarterback I might have the Dolphins in third.
Third Place: New York – See above. Sanchez might be great, but this isn’t a team that sets him up to succeed immediately like Atlanta or Baltimore last year.
Fourth Place: Buffalo – Another team that fired their offensive coordinator in the preseason. Terrell Owens isn’t enough to make up for a totally shattered offensive line. This could be an ugly, ugly year.
UPDATE: They also cut their starting left tackle today. Disaster is coming.
First Place: Arizona – They have the best receivers in football, and a quarterback who despite his age is more than capable of exploiting them. Even if Kurt Warners doesn’t hold up, Matt Leinart should be perfectly capable if he steps in. I’m not at all sold on the defense, and I’m still disgusted that a team that flat out quit for half of 2008 managed to make the Super Bowl. This is a very reluctant first place pick.
Second Place: Seattle – I had them first until left tackle Walter Jones got hurt (again). Their collapse last year was based on a ridiculous number of injuries. They should at least rebound a bit, but not enough to catch Arizona (unfortunately).
Third Place: St. Louis – An injury-prone quarterback and a weak offensive line isn’t exactly a winning formula, but I don’t think they were quite as bad as they looked last year.
Fourth Place: San Francisco – A total mess, especially since Michael Crabtree shows no sign of coming in anytime soon. Very little upside here. Frank Gore is wasted on this team.
First Place: Green Bay – The offense should be outstanding this year – I think Aaron Rodgers is for real. I was worried about the defense before, but reportedly the new 3-4 scheme is taking. If the defense is decent, this is a very dangerous team.
Second Place (Wildcard): Minnesota – Sage Rosenfels is a talented quarterback who can liven up your offense, but plays in an undisciplined fashion that creates a lot of turnovers. So they brought in Brett Favre instead. I honest to God don’t see how Favre at this age is better than, or even significantly different from, Rosenfels. By the way - remember when the Redskins had that great Rosenfels vs. Todd Husak quarterback derby?
Third Place: Chicago – They’re not this low because of the offense, I really do think Jay Cutler is an excellent quarterback. But the defense isn’t what it once was.
Fourth Place: Detroit – As bad as they were last year, the 0-16 was at least partly due to bad luck. I like Jim Schwartz, and I don’t think a 6-10 is out of the question. But they’re clearly not even close to anyone else in the division.
First Place: New Orleans – Scary, scary offense. If the defense progresses to half-way decent the Saints could really do something.
Second Place: Atlanta – I expect a little regression from Matt Ryan, and the defense is singularly unimpressive. But the Falcons will still be decent.
Third Place: Carolina – Strong running game. Erratic and perpetually overrated quarterback. Shaky defense.
Fourth place: Tampa Bay – Rebuilding. Completely rebuilding.
First Place: New York – Dominant defensive line, that now has more depth than last year to keep everyone fresh. Brandon Jacobs and a couple of good change of pace guys behind him at RB. An offensive line that isn’t the most talented but plays together well. Eli Manning isn’t half what is brother is, but he’s certainly good enough to take advantage of the strong team around him. Of course if you get pressure on him...
Second Place (Wildcard): Philadelphia – Let’s face it, they’re never that bad, and they’ve invested significantly in getting younger on the offensive line. Westbrook has been the centerpiece of their offense for year, but they also have enough good young skill position guys that he won’t have to be the only guy you game plan around anymore. I’ll talk about Michael Vick’s potential role in a future post.
Third Place: Dallas – DeMarcus Ware is one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the league and Jay Ratliff is a great nose tackle, but outside of them the front seven is unimpressive, so they come out to slightly above average. The running backs are very frightening. It’s hard to know what to make of Tony Romo – if you underestimate him he will tear you up but he can also be forced into mistakes. I think Dallas is the most beatable team in the division, but they could also go and make a Super Bowl run just to piss me off.
Fourth Place: Washington – You can read more about these guys here. Yes, this last part was hard to right. It would be far from shocking if the Redskins win this division, but it would take a lot going right. As I believe I mentioned before, the NFC East is home to the three best pass rushes in the conference, and that just happens to match up against our (potentially) biggest weakness: the offensive line. The offense might, just might, take a major step forward, but I’m not comfortable assuming that. The defensive could be absolutely dominant, but if it turns out to be just good it may not be enough. You’ll recall that I predicted a 9-7 record for the Redskins. This still stands, but in this division we might still miss the playoffs with that. This is irritating, as we would win the NFC West and at would least make a good run for it in the South or North.
Baltimore vs. Green Bay
Yes, I really do believe in the Packers. For the AFC I really want to pick the Colts or Patriots, but that would seem too easy. I’m going with the Ravens because I really do think they could be formidable and unlike New England or Indianapolis I could actually feel good about it on the off chance I guessed right.