I don't understand why the NFL and MLB are so popular. The Yanks are generally a short-minded bunch (wow, what a generalisation!), you'd think they'd lose interest after an hour or two. Still, shows that you can't class a bunch.
The NHL has at least one exciting game a night and name the last time there has been a clear favourite to win the stanley cup.
No it's not. What is staggering is hearing someone like John Madden (who is a sports fan) admitting he doesn't even understand the rules of hockey. I remember them interviewing peeps in Tampa and them admitting they were please the Lightning were doing great but they weren't watching it.
The NHL may have a good game a night. I'd expect half the NFL games to be good.
But hey, all a matter of opinion.
BTW, my football mates who saw their first ever hockey game on Saturday were bored rigid by it. I have tried to explain it was a bad game but of course they won't be spending £15 on it in the near future again.
What is staggering is hearing someone like John Madden (who is a sports fan) admitting he doesn't even understand the rules of hockey. I remember them interviewing peeps in Tampa and them admitting they were please the Lightning were doing great but they weren't watching it.
And I remember during USA 94 an interview by ITV journalists of a group of Americans and when asked "who do you want to win the World cup?" the group responded...
Doesn't say much for the universal sport of soccer does it...
What is staggering is hearing someone like John Madden (who is a sports fan) admitting he doesn't even understand the rules of hockey. I remember them interviewing peeps in Tampa and them admitting they were please the Lightning were doing great but they weren't watching it.
And I remember during USA 94 an interview by ITV journalists of a group of Americans and when asked "who do you want to win the World cup?" the group responded...
Doesn't say much for the universal sport of soccer does it...
*edited for typos*
Not exactly a fair comparison. Soccer is way bigger now in USA and NHL is supposed to be far bigger than soccer anyway.
Anywho, question for you...
how does the NHL (and NBA for that matter) do their draft when it comes to foreign players? What do they offer the Euro teams and how are 25 year old Russian stars drafted with 21 year old college prospects?
Well not taking JR has just screwed up the draft for a lot of teams below! CJ is quite simply the BPA. He has the freaky skills but none of the attitude of Randy Moss and will be spending his Februarys in Hawaii for many years to come. Al doesn’t pass on him so he can to try force someone like Tampa or Atlanta to offer a mega-trade.
2 Lions Joe Thomas – OT
The Lions don’t want to be here and continue to try to trade down. They follow Oakland’s lead in drafting to trade so take JT with the hope to trade him to the Cards for Adams and their #37. Not a trade that gives them full-value but needs must.
3 Browns JaMarcus Russell – QB
The Brown’s GM Phil savage knows JR well and Cleveland need a QB. Rumour is owner Randy Lerner is keen on him too which is enough to take the prototype QB to Ohio.
4 Buccs Gaines Adams – DE
They need to start thinking about replacing Simeon Rice and Adams is the best of a strong crop of Ends. Tampa can draft a WR in the 2nd round.
5 Cardinals Adam Carriker – DE
The Cards are another who wish to trade up or down from here now that Joe Thomas is gone. Levi Brown is a reach and Adrian Peterson doesn’t fill a real need with Edge James already in the desert although the Cards are sorely tempted and should take him.
6 Redskins Jamaal Anderson – DE
The Skins struggle to pass-rush which means the DE’s keep on tumbling! This is a reach and the Redskins will wonder if the trade for Lance Briggs might not have offered more value.
7 Vikings Adrian Peterson - RB
What-to-do? There’s no DE stud left and they don’t want to give up on Tavaris Jackson just yet so that rules out Brady Quinn. A trade-up for CJ is a possibility but instead the Vikings decide that All-Day is the BPA and he can team with Chester Taylor for an effective one-two punch.
8 Falcons LaRon Landry – S
Finally a team gets to pick someone who fills a desperate need. That Schaub trade with Houston really paid off as the Falcons take a player Houston themselves have coveted. A mega-trade with Oakland for CJ with Quinn still available is another possibility. Absolute slam-dunk selection for the Falcons.
9 Dolphins Brady Quinn – QB
The Fish have all sorts of issues at QB. Culpepper may not make summer camp due to his knee injury and Lemon has not been given a real chance. Quinn has been schooled by Charlie Weis and has all the attributes of a top QB.
10 Texans Levi Brown – OT
The Texans opt against taking a Corner and instead takes the second best OT in the draft. He will be badly needed to give Schaub some much-needed protection if Schaub isn’t to take the hits that his predecessor David Carr took.
11 49s Patrick Willis – ILB
Best LB in the draft goes to the big-spending, fast-improving Niners.
12 Bills Darelle Revis – CB
The Bills need a RB but are concerned by Marshawn Lynch’s upright style and character issues. Instead they decide to replace Nate Clemments but surprise many by choosing Revis over Leon Hall.
13 Rams Amobi Okoye – DT
He’ll only be 20 when the season starts and he should help the Rams stop the run. Okoye is an exceptional talent and could easily have gone in the top 10.
14 Panthers Greg Olsen – TE
The Panthers desperately need a new Safety but fear that Reggie Nelson is a reach here. So they solve another need at TE and draft far and away the best TE on the board. Olsen has it all and will be a great target to go with Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson.
15 Steelers Leon Hall – CB
A LB to replace Joey Porter would be nice but the Steelers also need help at CB and Leon Hall is a safer bet than any remaining linebacker.
16 Packers Marshawn Lynch – RB
The Packers won’t pass on the Oakland native to replace Ahman Green. Lynch has a mean style and is too big an upgrade for the Cheeseheads to fret over his character.
17 Jaguars Reggie Nelson – S
Nelson comes in as a replacement for Deon Grant who is now cashing in at Seattle.
18 Bengals Alan Branch – DT
Questions about Branch’s attitude have seen him fall but the Bengals aren’t passing on an athletic big-guy who just needs to (im)prove his work-ethic.
19 Titans Robert Meacham – WR
There is no Corner here to replace Pacman so the Titans become the first team to decide the pecking order of ‘the other wideouts’. Meacham is quick and tall and that gets him the nod over the others.
20 Giants Paul Posluszny – OLB
The Giants play the 3-4 and yet released both of their starting OLB’s. PP has all the intangibles to make it in New York.
21 Broncos Jarvis Moss – DE
This is a priority for the Broncos and Moss is a beast of a DE.
22 Cowboys Ted Ginn Jr – WR
Ginn Jr is the quickest of all the wideouts available and is also specialises in kick returning. Terry Glenn isn’t getting any younger and then there’s T.O…..
23 Chiefs Dwayne Bowe – WR
KC can’t keep relying on the run. Either of the Dwaynes will give Damon Huard a target other than Tony Gonzalez.
24 Patriots (f/ Seattle) Lawrence Timmons – OLB
The Pats need LB help and it’s really a toss-up here between Timmons and Jon Beason. Timmons has the better initials and that’s enough to get the nod.
25 Jets Joe Staley – OT
The Jets get themselves a great addition to their O-line and a huge slice of luck that Staley is still here.
26 Eagles Brandon Meriweather – S
The Eagles need to boost their Secondary. Meriweather has some character concerns but not enough to stop Phili pulling the trigger.
27 Saints Chris Houston – CB
Houston is small but has tremendous speed which is enough to ease the height concerns. The Saints need to upgrade their defence and this is a great start.
28 Patriots Michael Griffin – S
Full Back Brian Leonard is a reach here and the Pats already have Mills, Evans and Faulk amongst others. Safety is a much bigger need and either Grffin or Meriweather could have landed here.
29 Ravens Justin Blalock – OG
The Ravens really don’t have any needs and so can just look to see what’s left when it comes to their turn. Blalock has tremendous athleticism and intangibles and could play at Guard or Tackle. The same can be said for Aaron Sears but Blalock wins this race.
30 Chargers Dwayne Jarrett – WR
The only weakness the Chargers seemed to have during the regular season was a WR to take the pressure of Anthonio Gates. DJ’s stock has fallen as he is considered slow. His times may be slow but the tapes suggest his game-speed is plenty. DJ could be the missing link for Norv Turner’s Chargers.
31 Bears Aaron Sears – OT
It’s hard to imagine that the Bears won’t concentrate on the O in the draft. Some wags might suggest a QB here but addressing the O-line is more likely. Tony Ugoh and Ryan Kalil are other possibilities but Sears isn’t quite so much of a reach for the Bears as the others.
32 Colts Justin Harrell - DT
The Colts need to stuff the run and Harrell has the size and power to do that. An excellent run blocker - with speed to get outside - Harrell is a Colts-type of player.
33 Raiders Anthony Spencer – DE
The O-line is no longer a great need which rules-out Kalil, Ugoh and Ben Grubbs. Trent Johnson is too high to go here and the Raiders can wait for a QB later. The Raiders need someone to bookend with Derrick Burgess and the need has increased after Burgess demanded a pay rise. The Raiders have the option of gambling on Charles Johnson falling to #65 but instead decide to select a DE now and so choose Spencer over his Georgia team-mate Quentin Moses. As with JaMarcus the Raiders go against DT DeMarcus ‘Tank’ Tyler and bet on Marcus Thomas’ drugs past dropping him to #99.
My Raiders mock:
1/1 CJ WR 2/33 Justin Blalock OG 3/65 Charles Johnson DE 3/99 Eric Weddle S 4/100 Michael Bush RB 5/138 Troy Smith QB 5/165 Marcus Thomas DT 6/175 Antwan Barnes OLB/DE 7/211 Matt Trannon WR 7/254 Matt Clark K
A cancer on a team that's out of control sunny...watch Belichick get the best out of him, that's the very think he does best.
Goodbye to the great rinks of the past, gone but not forgotten.[br][br]Durham Ice Rink 1940-1995.[br]Lower Parliament Street 1939-2000.[br]Wales National Ice Rink 1986-2006.[br]Streatham Ice Rink 1931-2011.
Mandy going to the Pats doesn't affect my views on the Pats one bit. We needed to get rid and we did.
He may help the Pats win the Bowl. My guess is that he will be ok but nothing special. He's effectively been retired for two years and he's not the player he was. He doesn't have the burst anymore and a good Corner can shut him down.
I talked to a GM last Friday who knows Moss well. "I'll tell you what'll happen to Moss early on in New England," he said. "Two or three safeties, early in the season, are going to come and try to knock Moss' block off. He doesn't like to get hit, you know. And teams will learn that the way to make Randy very ineffective is to knock the crap out of him early in games.''
Moss ain't going to be much help to the Pats problems at Linebacker or in their Secondary. And then you've got the drafting of Meriweather and all the baggage he brings!!
too busy supporting the underachieving 49ers to worry about raiders, moss or the pats, roll on, next season
Crosby is a great player, but I'd have to say Ovechkin, who is also a great player but doesn't have the same kind of support, and who does something great on almost every shift." - Jaromir Jagr [br][br][br][br][br]
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) -- The Oakland Raiders canceled the final week of their offseason training program Friday after complaints from the NFL players' union about the intensity of the practices.
In a brief statement, coach Lane Kiffin said the players' union believes the Raiders' offseason program violated league rules on practice standards.
"The union has complained about the high level of intensity, player aggressiveness and fast pace of our practices and, as a result, has taken away the final week of our offseason program," said Kiffin, the NFL's youngest and least experienced head coach.
The Raiders won't hold next week's scheduled offseason activities, which were expected to be mostly weightlifting sessions.
This has traditionally been my favourite division in the NFC but not this year. 12 months ago I thought this could be a four-horse race with the winner having a real chance to make the Super Bowl. Since then I see regression rather than progression.
The Philadelphia Eagles would seem to be the early favourites. As always so much depends on QB Donovan McNabb. Can he stay healthy? Is he still annoyed that the front office drafted Kevin Kolb? Is he better than Jeff Garcia? These are the questions that continue to occupy the minds of Iggles fans.
The Eagles move the ball well and their D has been added too well this off-season with guys like LB Takeo Spikes and DT Ian Scott. For the Eagles to be in the Super Bowl hunt they’ll need DE Jevon Kearse to remain fit and continue to terrorise opposing QB’s. McNabb is an excellent QB and one can only hope he stays fit. The Eagles should be the team to beat.
The Dallas Cowboys would seem to be the most likely team to challenge the Eagles for NFC East supremacy. This is despite largely standing still this off-season. There are four main points of interest in the big D:
1 - Can they run the ball to supplement their effective pass Offence? 2 - Can Terrell Owens and the Wide Receiver corps catch the ball? 3 - Does the Defence have enough game maturity to stop teams passing on them? 4 - Is Wade Phillips more relaxed coaching style as good as the players keep telling us?
If the answers to the above are ‘yes’ - and if QB Tony Romo can back-up the hype that surrounds him - then maybe the Cowboys can finally start to think about playing football in January. Owner Jerry Jones is building the best stadium in the NFL (have you seen those video screens?!) and he’ll be expecting a team worthy enough to call it ‘home’.
How do you replace a guy like Tiki Barber? Tom Coughlin clearly doesn’t know judging by the events of this spring. Barber put up Hall of Fame numbers in the Big Apple and is a tough act to follow. I fail to see how the New York Giants are going to replace Barber’s 2,000 running yards.
The jury is out on Eli Manning and he doesn’t have many weapons to go to. Even in the off-season one of his weapons is hard to find since TE Jeremy Shockey continues to prefer to train down in Florida. Expect that story to ignite before the glare of the New York media before the season is out.
Throw in a D that last year liked to leave the opposing Quarterback alone and is set to be just as accommodating in 2007, and I see nothing to suggest that there won’t be a coaching vacancy in New York City come the new year. Keep an eye on incoming flights from Boston!....
Trouble in the Big Apple is good news for the Washington Redskins. It gives them the chance to avoid finishing bottom of the NFC East. This is a franchise who year after year kept thinking that they could win through free agency. An expensive mistake. Good teams build through the draft and the ‘Skins seems to have finally learnt that lesson.
That’s great for next year but no good for this year as there is nothing to suggest that they will challenge for a Play Off spot this season. The ‘Skins have a terrible D-line which should ensure plenty of work for their new Safety LaRon Landry.
Few teams will run the ball better than the ‘Skins, and I do think Jason Campbell will have a breakout season at QB, but that is not nearly enough to compensate for that Defence. Washington may be picking high in the 2008 draft, but at least they have all their picks to utilise.
The NFC North –
Has there ever been a Super Bowl QB more derided than Rex Grossman? Poor, [not so] old Rex. Make no mistake, Rex has a Super Bowl winning team around him but is he a Super Bowl calibre QB?
The Chicago Bears have an excellent D, even if LB Lance Briggs goes on strike they still have an excellent D, and so they rightly concentrated on the other side of the ball in the draft. Greg Olsen was the consensus best TE in this years class and he fell right into Lovie Smith’s lap. He will be an invaluable weapon for Rex to go to.
The other notable Offensive addition is Devin Hester. Hester had a record-breaking season in 2006 as a Kick Returner. Can he convert his game-breaking skill to playing Wide Receiver? I suspect not and I fear Chicago’s O may miss out on inheriting good field-position due to the overuse of Hester. Not that it will stop the Bears from making the Play Offs but I don’t see them making a return to the Super Bowl in 2008.
The Minnesota Vikings had the best rush D in the NFL last season and one of the best defences against the pass. When you have a starting position like that you really should not be able to fail. In fact, to fail you would need your Offence to be a complete shambles. Oh well, never mind eh.
Maybe I’m being unfair. The partnership of Chester Taylor and rookie Adrian ‘All Day’ Peterson should be as good a running back tandem as you’ll find in the NFC. They’ll need to be as the Vikes’ simply could not pass the ball in 2006 which is why they have added no less than five new wideouts this off-season.
There are certainly plenty of new weapons for Tavaris Jackson to go to; whether they are good enough, and whether he is good enough to locate them, I rather doubt.
Somehow the Green Bay Packers always win a few late season games that ruin their chances of acquiring high-draft selections. The Packers are not a .500 team and they really needed a strong draft if they were going to make a run at the Play Offs. Instead the Packers ignored their Offensive needs and reached for DT Justin Harrell in the first round. The Packers have a young, solid D and Harrell will help but they have an inability to convert field possession into points and it is this that cost them last season.
Brief analysis of Green Bay’s statistics explains just why Brett Favre was so keen on snaring WR Randy Moss and why he was apoplectic after hearing that Moss was willing to sign for the Pack for LESS than what he shall be getting from the New England Patriots. The Packers needed a go-to receiver in the red zone and Favre certainly saw Moss as being that man.
If that wasn’t bad enough GB are asking a lot of second-rounder Brandon Jackson to fill the void left by RB Ahman Green. The Nebrasker junior has a lot of upside, and Green may well have begun his decline, but the Packers Offence seems ill-equipped to give Favre one last shot at the Play Offs.
If you dig and dig and dig eventually you’ll strike oil. So thinks Matt Millen – General Manager of the Detroit Lions. Having spent top 10 picks in three of the last four years few thought that Millen would draft another wideout in the first round. Few, but not all, as I fully expected the Lions to do just that.
Calvin Johnson is no ordinary wideout. In fact, CJ is no ordinary human being. He is a freak. He is the ‘Super Freak’. A walking highlight reel that leaves college with the sort of physical tools that even the original ‘Freak’ Randy Moss did not possess. Millen made exactly the right call in acquiring the best player to hit a NFL draft since Peyton Manning.
Sadly for Lions fans the addition of CJ means that they can look forward to Jon Kitna passing for 4,000 yards but not necessarily winning many games. The Lions D may well have actually regressed (and it was bad in 2006) with the loss of some key players such as CB ‘Dre Bly and DT Marcus Bell.
Tatum Bell will add value to the running game but this looks like another nothing season for long-suffering Lions fans. Don’t expect Millen to get the chance to draft WR Mario Manningham next season.
The NFC South –
Some significant changes took place in Atlanta. Jim Mora Jnr was ‘killed’ by QB Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino replaced him. Joey Harrington will now be Vick’s back-up after the Falcons traded Matt Schaub to Houston. In normal summers the change of a number two QB might not count for much but Vick is being investigated by the local constabulary regarding allegations of dog-fighting. One suspects that this story will run-and-run and will continue to affect events in Hotlanta for many months to come.
No team can run the ball like the Falcons as no team has a QB quite like Michael Vick. Well except for maybe across the border in Tennessee no team does. The problem with Atlanta’s Offence is its inconsistent pass attack. This brings us right back to Vick. Can Vick become a safer pocket passer? He’ll have to as Vick actually averaged more yards running the ball last season than he did passing it. By TWO whole yards! Statistics like that do not win you Championships.
The Falcons Defence is a mirror image of its Offence. No problem when it comes to the run, hopeless at playing the pass. The Falcons addressed this in the draft with DE Jamaal Anderson and CB Chris Houston being just two of six defensive picks. Both are impact additions but ultimately Atlanta’s season will be dependent on that man: Michael Dwayne Vick.
Ever since their Super Bowl success the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been on a steady decline. Fortunately for the Buccs they got their chance this off-season to change all that. Unfortunately for Buccs fans coach Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen blew it.
The Buccs decided not to trade with Detroit for Calvin Johnson and instead chose to keep their picks and bring in DE Gaines Adams, OT Aaron Sears and S Sabby Piscitelli. Adams will be a long-term replacement for Simeon Rice, Sears could project to Left Tackle and the Buccs were weak at Safety so all three should be long-term starters for the Buccs. The Buccs pass-rush was poor last season as was their Offensive line so that is yet more logic with the selections.
So why am I so down on the Buccs?
Because CJ was the consensus best player in the draft and was exactly the sort of weapon Gruden and new QB Jeff Garcia needed. And the Buccs had the ammunition to get him. They chose not to and they will regret that for years to come. Especially during CJ’s Hall Of Fame induction.
The New Orleans Saints are many people’s NFC pick for the Super Bowl. They nearly made it last year but the Bears were able to do what many others did last year – they ran right through the Saints defence. The Saints pass-D was fine and they could move the ball as well as anyone so Saints fans went into the off-season happy in the knowledge that all they needed was a road-grader to stuff the run to become legitimate contenders.
New Orleans caught a nice break when it came to making their first selection of the 2007 draft. Stud DT Alan Branch was still on the board despite the fact that for a long time he’d been seen as a top ten talent. Maybe even a top five talent. Instead Sean Payton and co opted against picking Branch and instead went for a receiver in Robert Meacham. There was no need for the Saints to take a wideout in round one and the Saints compounded the error by waiting until the seventh round before they addressed D-line.
The Saints Offence is so good they should be able to make it into the post-season. But they’ll need to replicate what the Colts managed to do in the AFC Play Offs and find a way of stopping the run. If they can then they can make it to Arizona next February.
One team who may well be in Arizona in February is the Carolina Panthers. They massively under-performed last season and needed very little work to become contenders. The work they did was excellent and they are therefore my favourites for the NFC Championship.
The most significant addition in Free Agency is QB David Carr, a guy who was routinely killed playing behind Houston’s O-line. Carr will back-up Jake Delhomme and don’t be surprised if he becomes the number one if he gets the chance. Exiting Carolina is wideout Keyshawn Johnson who has decided to pursue a media career.
Keyshawn will be replaced by Dwayne Jarrett. Jarrett was just one member of a stunning draft by Carolina who filled needs and added depth on both sides of the ball. Much shall depend on DeAngelo Williams staying healthy and jump-starting Carolina’s running game and the Offence playing much smarter football next season. That means less dumb penalties and turnovers.
I know the Panthers are often the trendy pick for the NFC title and recently they have made fools of the tipsters. Nevertheless, I still maintain there is no reason this season why this franchise can’t make another Super Bowl.
NFC West –
It’s fair to say that the Arizona Cardinals don’t have a great record in the NFL. But this is a new Cardinals. With a new coach in Ken Whisenhunt. And a new(ish) stadium. And they have a chance to be the first team to participate in a Super Bowl that they are hosting. Can they do it?
Of course not. But they are heading in the right direction.
The Cardinals recognised in free agency that they needed help defending the pass. New CB’s and DE’s abound but none of them set the pulse racing. The Cards did plenty of good work in the draft, despite missing out on the object of their desires OT Joe Thomas. However, this franchise is very much a work-in-progress.
Expect QB Matt Leinart to post some good numbers but not enough to compensate a porous defence. A .500 season would be a step in the right direction for the Cardinal franchise.
There are many people who have a sneaky liking for the St. Louis Rams. There are also many people who talk of Cristiano Ronaldo being the best (association) football player in the world. I guess it takes all-sorts to make the world spin around.
Can the Rams run the ball? Yes. Can they defend the pass? Yep. Can they pass the ball? Oh Hell yeah! This would all be fine and dandy if it wasn’t for the fact that the Rams are truly hopeless at stopping the run.
The Rams have drafted some late round DT’s but it seems their solution to the problem is to bulk-up first round selection Adam Carriker from a DE to a DT. It’s a lot to ask of any rookie to transform a team’s weakness; it’s crazy to expect a rookie to change position and do it.
Seattle have been the best team in this division for a while now. They took some heavy blows with injuries last season but still came within a whisker of making it to the NFC title game. QB Matt Hasselbeck is healthy again and if Shaun Alexander can post big yardage like in 2005/6 then everything points to the Seahawks Offence being productive next season.
The O-line was brittle last season and will need to improve for Hasselbeck and Alexander to fully function. Worryingly for ‘Hawks fans it would seem that the same personnel will have to make that improvement.
The Offence may be much the same but the D is very different. The ‘Hawks have brought in lots of new guys to try to turn around one of the league’s weaker pass-D and D-lines. We’ll have to see if they have done enough but I expect the offensive improvement to boost Seattle’s Defence and I expect the ‘Hawks to have another run at the NFC Championship.
You’ve got to love the job that Personnel VP Scot McCloughan and Coach Mike Nolan have done in San Francisco. They have taken one of the worst teams in the NFL and built a roster that is on the way to being genuine Super Bowl contenders.
The ‘Niners had a terrible D last season so they went out in free agency and brought in a tonne of defensive help. The most notable new boy was CB Nate Clements who signed a monster mega-million dollar 8-year deal. Far less attention was paid to the addition of DT Aubrayo Franklin from the Ravens but that may turn out to be one of the shrewdest bits of business done this off-season. Look out for new LB Patrick Willis who was the first of a few nice selections that the ‘Niners made in the draft.
The ‘Niners Offence last season struggled to develop a passing game that could compliment its strong running game. With that in mind ‘Frisco dealt its 2008 first rounder to the Patriots so that they could jump back into the first round of the draft and acquire OT Joe Staley. Staley is a versatile lineman who should develop into solid protection for QB Alex Smith. The problem for Smith is he may lack potent weapons to throw to.
How far the 49ers go will largely depend on whether Smith can become close to a Pro-Bowl quality QB. They have the third easiest schedule in the NFL (Arizona have the easiest) and if Smith can step-up there is no reason why the ‘49er Empire’ cannot look forward to some Play Off football.
“All hail the New England Patriots; the 2007 Super Bowl Champions.”
So have said so many ‘experts’ that one could almost think there was little point in playing the season. Well, as former Cardinal Coach Denny Green might have said: they can crown the Pats asses because I ain’t ready to.
There is no doubt that the Patriots made a huge splash in free agency. The biggest of them all was the acquisition of WR Randy Moss for a mere 4th round pick from the Oakland Raiders. Moss was just one of four new wideouts and for the first time nobody can point to his receiving options if QB Tom Brady fails to post Manningesque numbers. Not that Brady has ever needed to do so to win games.
Moss was a malcontent in the Raiders dressing room who quit trying on the field but the Patriots should be able to keep him in check through a mixture of success on the pitch and strong, disciplined leadership off it. Maybe the more interesting question will be whether Moss still has the burst to get separation from elite Corners and whether he is the player he was. What is for sure is that the Pats have a powerful Offence and if Laurence Maroney can emerge as a franchise RB then a team is going to have to score a lot of points to beat the Patriots.
That may just be possible as the Pats failed to beef up their D in the draft and though the D is hardly weak, it is vulnerable. This is especially so in the Secondary and a great deal may depend on CB Asante Samuel who is threatening to go on strike if his pay demands are not met. History tells us that the Pats are unlikely to be willing to write the big cheque Samuel is looking for and if he does hold-out the Pats could be exposed in their backfield. That is not good when you’re likely to have go through the Colts to get to the Super Bowl.
The Miami Dolphins had the most controversial draft of 2007. New Head Coach Cam Cameron shocked the NFL world when he and GM Randy Mueller opted to pass on QB Brady Quinn and instead opted for speed-merchant Tedd Ginn Junior. The Fish fans booed Cameron for that decision and even some Miami players have pronounced their shock and bemusement at it. At the time of the draft I agreed. Since then I’ve come around to Cameron’s thinking. Quinn smells like a system QB and I have doubts that he’s as anything like as good as many profess. The Dolphins acquired John Beck in the second round and don’t be surprised if he develops into a sound QB under the tutorage of Miami’s new QB Trent Green.
The key for the ‘Fins is the success of Ginn. He is a play-maker with the ability to change the course of a game. He should be an effective return-man but he’ll need to show he can be a genuine receiving deep-threat if he is to justify being drafted at #9. Overall the Fish have recruited well this spring. The bulk of the draft was well received due to the nice job done filling holes. There has been a huge exodus of players to go with the many new signings and it is inevitable that next season is going to be a transitional one for the franchise. Cameron was Offensive Co-ordinator at the Chargers last season and if he can somehow get some success from the O-line - the Fish could develop into a good run-first team.
The D should be one of the best in the NFL and if Green can marshal his troops into a cohesive unit, Miami could muster a .500 season. Based on last season, the Dolphins have the easiest schedule in the AFC but if Quinn starts leading the Browns to greater successes than Miami are enjoying, Cameron better get used to boos from his own fans.
The Buffalo Bills did well last season and almost put themselves in the Play Off picture. Finding a way to win is never a bad habit to have but there is a risk that it masks underlying weaknesses. The Bills are a team who needed a bit of help in different areas rather than a whole lot of help in one area. As normally occurs in that situation, they’ve only been able to strengthen certain areas.
The Bills supplemented their high-octane Offence by drafting a couple of RB’s, a back-up QB for J.P. Losman and a new TE. Losman is a QB who divides opinion regarding his ability and Trent Edwards will exert pressure on his job in due course. Losman will hope that a new Guard and a new Tackle should offer him more protection but he may be disappointed considering the Tackle is Langston Walker who was part of the Raiders fantastically bad O-line in 2006.
RB Willie McGahee departed for Baltimore but I don’t foresee the Bills missing him too much. Willie was largely unproductive last season, though he can point to the O-line he was running behind, and the Bills can expect first rounder Marshawn Lynch to make an instant impact. Lynch runs angry and will terrorise defences providing he can stay healthy. Lee Evans is quickly establishing himself as a premier WR and should help open up some room for Lynch.
Buffalo’s Offence looks more promising than their Defence. Though they drafted highly-regarded LB Paul Posluszny they let go LB’s London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes. That spells trouble. Expect the Bills to be involved in some high-scoring shoot outs in 2007.
When your coach gets to cameo in one of the final scenes on HBO’s The Sopranos you know you must have arrived. They don’t call him ‘Mangenious’ for nothing. Eric Mangini studied at the feet of Bill Belichick in Boston and he studied well. Mangini is one of the brightest Head Coaches in the sport and the New York J-E-T-S are enjoying the benefit. But are they ready to take on the Patriots?
Jersey’s team did well last season and Mangini has done a great job is building a strong, young side. He added to it in the draft by bringing in CB Darelle Revis and LB David Harris in a clear attempt to counter the Pats new receiving options. They also boosted the D-line and Mangini looks to have a Defence who can compete with what the Pats throw at them.
The Jets had a productive Offence last season and that certainly should be the case this year with the inspired acquisition of RB Thomas Jones from Chicago. Jones is a class Back and was one of the best bits of business by any team this off-season. QB Chad Pennington and star WR Laveranues Coles will be glad to have him around.
So can New York’s other team dethrone the Pats? Probably not. But it is possible. Especially if Pennington can perform to something like ‘Tom Brady standard’.
AFC South –
The Jacksonville Jaguars performed way below expectations last season. With the exception of the 44-17 thrashing of the Colts they had a mediocre season. A surprise for a team some felt were capable of challenging in the Play Offs.
The core of the team is good and the Jags have merely tried to tweak it. They’ve brought in some extra receiving options, though departed TE Kyle Brady will be missed, and Reggie Nelson is a Safety who could be a playmaker in the backfield. The Jags have a powerful running game through Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor and they should be capable of competing with the Colts for the AFC South.
The one fly in the ointment for Jax is regarding their QB position. Byron Leftwich is an ordinary QB and I’m no fan of the alternative- David Garrard. A move for QB Daunte Culpepper would make sense now that he has been released by the Dolphins.
Whereas it can be said that the Jags under-delivered last season, few would argue that the Tennessee Titans did the opposite. The Titans were 0-3 when they let loose rookie QB Vince Young and somehow he propelled them to an 8-8 season. For a while there they were even Play Off contenders and almost all of that can be laid at the feet of Young.
Sadly it looks like he’s going to have to do that again. Young was the playmaker in TT’s Offence last season and he is going to need to be again. The Titans front office flat-out baulked at giving Young some weapons to help him out. That may sound harsh since they brought in 4 receivers (3 of them in the draft) but none of them stand out as the sort of high-quality option that Young will need.
Just to make matters worse, they replaced a high quality back in Travis Henry with second-round draftee Chris Henry. The surname is all that they are likely to have in common. 892 rushing yards at an average of 3.3 YPA in college does not smell like a replacement for a guy who rushed for 1211 yards at an average of 4.5 last season.
Defensively the Titans also look weak. Last season they had arguably the worst D in the NFL and little has been done to help it. The D-line is brittle resulting in overtime for the DB’s. Safety Michael Griffin has been added but the Titans will have to play next season without the suspended CB Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones. Pacman, along with Henry and Young, were a game-stealing trifector that carried TT to a .500 record. Looks like Young may have to do it all on his own next season.
Ever since football returned to Houston the people of America’s fourth largest city have suffered. The Texans struggle to run the ball. The Texans struggle to pass the ball. The Texans struggle to stop teams passing. The Texans strength is stopping teams running and they are merely average at that.
Houston most certainly has a problem.
Amobi Okoye is a stud DT. He’ll only be 20 years old next season and it is easy to see why the Texans drafted him first up. The Texans D-line isn’t great, despite constantly drafting D-linemen in the first round, but it was not Houston’s biggest need. It could be argued that Okoye was the best player available when Houston came to pick but run-stopping was the least of Houston’s problems and so the decision to choose Okoye has to be questioned.
What the Texans really need is to protect their QB. Matt Schaub inherits that job from David Carr and though he may be an upgrade, he will eat turf like Carr did before him if Houston’s O-line does not skyrocket its game. OT Jordan Black will definitely help and Ahman Green is a proven running back but cheese from Switzerland still does not have as many holes as the Houston Texans.
From the ridiculous to the sublime. The Indianapolis Colts are a live action billboard of how to do things right. Remarkably, last season it didn’t look like they could win the Super Bowl, due to their inadequate run defence. However, Safety Bob Sanders returned from injury and helped transform the D enabling the franchise to win a long-deserved Super Bowl. But can they repeat?
Well they still have QB Peyton Manning, the poster boy of the NFL and arguably the sport’s best player. Manning ended up putting on a clinic versus the Patriots in AFC Championship game and one can only surmise that he will be an even better player next season now he finally has a ring to wave at his oh-so-bitter critics.
The Colts Offence looks as good as ever. RB Dominic Rhodes should be a loss but I’ll bet the Colts running game barely misses a beat. It’s what you expect from the Colts. GM Bill Polian, Coach Dungy and Manning himself have consistently produced the sweetest offensive game throughout this century. The addition of wideout Anthony Gonzalez may have been a luxury draft pick but Gonzalez is tailor-made for the Colts passing game and there is the genuine possibility that the Colts Offence is going to be even better than in previous seasons.
No less than five players deserted the Colts D and there has to be a concern that they could be vulnerable, especially in the backfield. However, Indy always school young players so that they are ready to step in when the veterans depart for pastures new. They will need to be ready as we do not know whether the Colts Play Offs run-stuffing Defence was an aberration or a sign of things to come.
There is no doubt that the Colts are not as defensively sound as their AFC Championship rivals. Moreover, it is possible Indy will find themselves in shootouts when they begin their Play Off campaign. Nevertheless, who better to lead a team in to a shootout then the sharpest shooter of them all – Peyton Manning?
AFC North -
Changes in Head Coach at the Pittsburgh Steelers occur about as frequently as successful British tennis players. Is Mike Tomlin big enough to fill Bill Cowher’s shoes? He’ll need to be if the Steelers are to make a Super Bowl run.
The Steelers suffered last season due to the health issues of QB Ben Roethlisberger. This season he should be fit and raring to go. If he can repeat his Super Bowl form then the Steelers are set for a stellar season. The team is solid with a potent Offence for Big Ben to lead. One problem though is lineman Adam Faneca who wants more cash and wants it now. He could disrupt the team and Tomlin needs to show who the boss is.
The D is a nice 3-4 zone blitz Defence that sometimes plays some Cover 2. Tomlin will blend some Tampa 2 into the system and I see no reason why Tomlin and Defensive Co-ordinator - LeBeau can’t make it work. They certainly began drafting players who should be able to adapt. They may be in a tough division but Pittsburgh are contenders.
So are the Cincinnati Bengals. Poor old Cincy have kopped some stick in recent times. They have had so many players getting up to no good off the pitch that Cincy have gained the nickname: ‘SinCity’.
Wideout Chris Henry is one of those players and he’ll be suspended for the first eight games next season. There’s no doubt this will be a huge loss to star QB Carson Palmer but the Benglas have enough to cope with the loss until Henry returns. The Benglals have a solid running game - thanks to Rudi Johnson - and have added to it by drafting Kenny Irons. I expect good things from the Bengals Offence.
Ultimately Cincy will rise or fall on how their D performs. Last year wasn’t great with the Secondary getting picked apart by opposing QB’s. Leon Hall was drafted in the first round and the Safety will help, as will Odell Thurman who is returning from a year’s suspension. The Line Backer is a playmaker.
If the D can step up and perform as well as their team-mates on the O then the Bengals have a chance to go far this season. Firstly though the franchise needs to stop beating itself. There’s a reason why they call it the ‘Bungles’.
The Cleveland Browns received rave reviews for what they did in the draft. They managed to pick-up a franchise Left Tackle in Joe Thomas and a franchise QB in Brady Quinn. Suddenly there’s hope where there was none. Or is there?
I’m not so sure. I have no problem with Thomas. He is a stud and I’m sure he’ll protect whoever his QB is once he’s settled his pay issues with the franchise. Quinn I’m not so sure about. Contrary to the pre-draft hype there was only one elite QB in the class of ‘07 and he was drafted first up by Oakland. Quinn may well develop as an effective QB for his local team but don’t expect much if anything from him this season.
There is nothing particularly well that the Browns did last season. They should now pass the ball a little better thanks to the upgraded O-line. They may run the ball better though new RB Jamaal Lewis is unlikely to do a great deal. Defensive Co-ordinator Todd Grantham has his work cut-out to improve the pass-rush and will possibly revert to blitzing teams to keep them at bay.
Browns fans feel that this is they year the franchise turns around. Considering the history of what the NFL did to Cleveland it is hard not to hope that they are right. Their fans are passionate and deserve some of the basketball success the city has been enjoying. Don’t expect much from them this season though and Dallas will be selecting high in the 2008 Draft with their acquired pick from Cleveland.
For much of 2006 the Baltimore Ravens looked like a red-hot Super Bowl contender but then in the Play Offs the Colts showed up and shut them down to score an improbable win. The Ravens are a tough team and those who are hoping that they may still be suffering a hangover from that defeat are likely to be disappointed.
Offensively the Ravens had two concerns last season; how much longer QB Steve McNair could lead the team and how to run the ball. The McNair issue still stands and the Ravens attempt to draft Brady Quinn tells us that they know McNair may only have one good season left him in. With that in mind they drafted Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. The concern for the fans that make up the ‘Ravens Nest’ is that Smith is no more likely to be able to replace McNair next season than back-up QB Kyle Boller so for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl they are going to need McNair to lead them to it.
At least McNair now has a RB who can take the pressure of him. Jamal Lewis was an adequate Back but new signing Willie McGahee should be far more effective and give Baltimore the running game they so badly lacked last season.
Nothing much needs to be said about the Ravens’ D. Even without LB Adalius Thomas it is still an awesome machine. Last season it was the best in the NFL and it will be one of, if not the best Defences in 2007. If McNair can stay healthy you can be sure that Baltimore will be right in the Play Off picture yet again.
AFC West –
The AFC West has been a dogfight of a division for many years and this season promises more of the same. Whereas in previous seasons as many as three teams have competed for a Play Off spot this season it should only be two. But what a darn fine two they are!
The Denver Broncos threatened the Play Offs last season and this season they should at least make them. The one concern for the Broncos is the responsibility that is riding on second-year QB Jay Cutler. Cutler is a highly promising QB who I believe can go on to be better than his fellow 2006 classmates Vince Young or Matt Leinart. He impressed in his five starts in 2006 and will love having the new option of TE Daniel Graham as well as new WR Brandon Stokeley. Both are excellent additions to Denver’s Offence transforming its ability to beat teams without having to run the ball.
Denver was good at running the ball last season and they will be even better next season. Not only have the passing options improved but new RB Travis Henry is an upgrade on Tatum Bell and expect him to join fellow divisional Backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson in easily passing 1,000 yards rushing.
Defensively the Broncos have strengthened with the influx of new blood via free agency and the draft. The Broncos have added new D-line and Secondary personnel that must have Defensive Co-ordinator Bob Slowik salivating just thinking about the havoc they are going to wreak.
As Denver look forward to a place in the post-season the Kansas City Chiefs can forget any hope they have of joining them. In fact KC could find themselves struggling for any wins after seeing their O-line decimated in the off-season. Twelve months ago KC lost Willie Roaf and now they have seen Will Shields and Jordan Black leave Arrowhead. It is hard to see how KC can withstand the lost of such high-quality players and RB Larry Johnson is likely to suffer as a consequence.
LJ is not a happy chappy and there have been rumours that he may be traded to pastures new. He had a stunning season in 2006 which was not fully appreciated due to LT’s record-breaking season in San Diego. LJ carried the ball over 400 times for over 1,700 yards and it would be a miracle for him to match that in 2007. Expect Michael Bennett to shoulder more of the running duties as Coach Herm Edwards continues to try to batter opposing Defences into submission.
You can’t beat a good QB controversy and KC certainly has a nice one going on. The Chiefs wish to replace Trent Green with the green Brodie Croyle despite Damon Huard’s veteran leadership when called upon last year. It makes sense to give Croyle his shot in his second NFL season, and KC have Huard waiting in the wings, but Croyle is likely to struggle behind a rebuilt O-line and it’ll be interesting to see how patient Edwards and the fans are with him.
KC’s D looks solid with plenty of new blood including LB’s Napoleon Harris and Donnie Edwards plus DT Turk McBride. Herm Edwards knows how to coach defence and will put the new faces to good effect in his Tampa 2 scheme. That should keep KC in games - and the Arrowhead crowd will always give the Chiefs huge homefield advantage - but I still see this as being a slow rebuilding season.
The San Diego Chargers were the best team of the 2006 regular season and somehow managed to beat themselves in their Play Off defeat to the Patriots. Since that loss they have changed their Coach and his two Co-ordinators which has left many wondering if they have ruined their chances of future success.
The Bolts have a tremendous team on both sides of the ball and needed little work post-season. They needed a WR and so drafted Craig Davis, a player who should stretch the field with his pace. They have also beefed up the Secondary by drafting S Eric Weddle in the second round and CB Paul Oliver in the Supplemental Draft. This was sensible business to add extra options, depth and youth to the squad.
The other decision made was to refuse to trade back-up RB Michael ‘The Burner’ Turner. This is clearly a decision that shows that the franchise feels that they are very close to glory and they have bet on that in keeping Turner rather than cashing in on him. Turner should play a crucial role in covering for LaDanian Tomlinson as it is totally unrealistic to expect LT to have another season like last year. Turner is a quality player in a quality team.
Man-for-man there is not a better squad of players than the Chargers. Can new Coach Norv Turner take them to the Super Bowl? Yes. I’m not Turner’s biggest fan but he is an old-head who should keep the ship sailing a steady path. The Chargers are unlucky to be in the same division as fellow Super Bowl contenders Denver but they will have learnt from last year’s mistakes and will be determined to avenge them. They also don’t have the weight of expectation of a Patriots or a Colts. They should go far; very far.
The Oakland Raiders class of 2006 was just about as bad a football team as they come. So out went much of the coaching staff and in came 32 year old Head Coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is the son of legendary Defensive Co-ordinator Monte Kiffin but was actually known for his astute Offensive play-calling mind whilst Offensive Co-ordinator at the University of Southern California. He’s already made his mark by shaping the coaching and playing staff his way and seems to be winning plenty of support from Hall of Fame Owner Al Davis.
The problem for the Raiders last season was their Offence. Their tactics were antiquated and totally unfit for purpose. The Raiders O-line was astonishingly bad though whether this was down to the coaching or players is moot. Kiffin seems to have decided it was a mixture of both and has recruited new blood and possibly switched to a new system - the Zone Blocking Scheme. The ZBS is a relatively simple system which Kiffin hopes his players can grasp and execute effectively enough to give the skill players a chance to score points. The players will have to battle it out in pre-season to win a spot on the O-line with every position seemingly up for grabs.
Not only is the O-line much changed, so is the rest of the Offence. WR Randy Moss was perceived to be leukaemia riddling the locker room so Kiffin chemoed him out of Oaktown in an effort to rebuild team morale. WR Jerry Porter was an outcast last season but Kiffin has brought him back in to the fold and had also given one of his former USC pupils, ‘Big’ Mike Williams, a chance to earn a receiving slot. Seven of the eleven players Oakland drafted play on the Offence and it is now Kiffin and his coaches’ job to gel them into a respectable unit.
The great thing for the Raider Nation is that they have an excellent, young Defence. Defensive Co-ordinator Rob Ryan transformed his players into a formidable unit that somehow kept the Raiders in games last season. The likes of new DE Quentin Moses and S Donovin Darius should compliment it and like the Offence, though for very different reasons, there should be a battle royale for starting places. Another DT would be useful in helping to stop the running machines that inhabit the AFC West – and there is speculation Tank Johnson could be brought in for the second half of the season – but even if no new player arrives I still look for Oakland to have one of the top five Defences in the NFL next season.
There is one other key consideration when assessing the Oakland Raiders prospects for next year. The Raiders spent the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft on QB JaMarcus Russell. Russell is a stud, a guy with every physical attribute a QB could desire. He is big, strong, sufficiently mobile and most importantly of all – he can make any pass. He has shown leadership skills but he is still raw and far from being NFL ready. I expect him to sit much of the season out to learn the ropes and for Kiffin to ask Josh McCown to lead the Offence instead.
The Raiders made a lot of changes this spring for the short and medium term and it is unrealistic to expect a sudden upsurge in results. Al Davis rightly decided to re-build rather than re-load but he may not have too long to wait before he sees his team winning. The Raiders may only win 6 to 8 games next season but the foundations are there for them to be up there with the Chargers and the Broncos as early as 2008.
So who do I see competing in Glendale, Arizona on the 3rd February 2008?
The NFC is something of a crapshoot and any number of teams could emerge as the front-runners. I’ll stick my neck out and plump for the Carolina Panthers though any of Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Seattle could easily make it too.
The AFC could also be described as a crapshoot as there are a bunch of contenders there too. The AFC remains on a level above the NFC and if any of the AFC contenders inhabited the NFC they would be the overwhelming favourites to make the Super Bowl.
The bookmakers make the Patriots the favourites with the Colts, Chargers, Ravens and Broncos leading the chasing pack. I felt San Diego were the best team last season and I still feel they are now. I predict that they will survive the war that is the AFC and go on to beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XLII.