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NFL Season Preview

September 8, 2011

For our first post on the ProBono Sports Blog, we decided to write a season preview for the upcoming NFL season. Instead of covering every single team (BORING) we decided to pick four contenders, two pretenders and one surprise team from each conference.

So without further ado, and in alphabetical order, our NFL picks…and the greatest thing you’ve ever read (until we decide to post something else).

NFC

Contenders

 -Atlanta Falcons

It's ok, Brent Grimes understands that you can't find Shippensburg on a map.

The skies the limit for the loaded offense led by Matt Ryan that was the #1 NFC seed last year. Another year of experience under his belt and new weapon Julio Jones give Matt Ryan the chance for huge numbers. Mike Turner running the ball ain’t too shabby either, rushing for 1371 yards, third best in the league. But as the Packers proved once again, defense wins championships! Ranking 1st last year in rushing yards allowed and third in overall yards per game, ATL and first-time pro bowler and small school prospect Brent Grimes look like a Super Bowl worthy D.

 Green Bay Packers

BELT

They’re the champs until someone else hoists the Lombardi trophy in Indy later this year. The Packers got to showcase their deep, young roster last season when they were plagued by injury. Returning starters TE Jermichael Finley, RB Ryan Grant, a new draft class and a healthy Packers roster are tough to beat. Dom Caper’s Defense led by Clay Matthews and Heisman Winner Charles Woodson paired with Aaron Rodgers and all his weapons give GB scary good balance.

 -New Orleans Saints

PBSB exclusive: Big dudes are key on the line.

They lost Reggie Bush, but really that isn’t much of a loss, considering Bush was about 12% as productive as he was in college (that’s probably because he was getting paid better in college). The Saints offensive line is amazingly good, especially the interior. They signed Olin Kreutz to place between Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans. Nicks and Evans are arguably the top two guards in the league and they’re protecting the same guy. And that guy, Drew Brees, happens to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league as well. Last year the Saints had the third most passing yards and allowed the fourth fewest yards through the air. That’s a pretty deadly combination. Their running game should also improve. We already touched on the offensive line, and behind those guys are three solid running backs in Pierre Thomas, new addition Darren Sproles and rookie Mark Ingram. The only thing that scares me about the Saints is the possibility to repeat this.

 -Philadelphia Eagles

It was almost impossible to find a picture of Vick that didn't have a dog photoshopped into it. And one that he wasn't white.

The Eagles added a bunch of players this offseason, and a lot of them are really good players. But it all comes down to quarterback in the NFL. And it will be interesting to see if Michael Vick can build on the good season he had last year. It seems to me that defenses start to figure out rushing quarterbacks quickly. Vick had a good year, but defenses will be more keyed on his tendencies now, and if he isn’t more accurate he will put up some Jay Cutler-interception numbers. But Vick does have some great weapons in “the Deux Seans” (LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson). They also have some of the best cornerbacks in the league, so barring injuries in their secondary it will be tough to move the ball through the air against them.  And in the “no one but me cares department” the Eagles let go of Stewart “Boy Band” Bradley, which cannot help their chances to win or their chances with the ladies (his eyes pierce my soul).

 Pretenders

 -Dallas Cowboys

Romo's history with women is better than any stat he can put up. Bonus: Jessica Simpson near her peak!

Remember last year when the Cowboys were supposed to be the most talented team in the league and an easy pick to at least make the playoffs? Well that didn’t happen. Granted Tony Romo did get injured, but they still had John Kitna as their back-up…OK so maybe I found the reason they missed the playoffs.

Tony Romo does have some weapons on offense to go to. If Dez Bryant breaks out in year two the same way he did in my fantasy franchise in Madden, he’ll be really scary. But in all seriousness the Cowboys always seem to have a lot of talent, but never seem to be able to put it together and make something happen. And when they do, Tony Romo can’t catch a snap and hold the ball for a kick (That’s probably where John Kitna excels). It also doesn’t help that they’re in a tough division. Until the Cowboys show that they can do something with the excess of talent they have, I’m not a believer.

 -Minnesota Vikings

Donovan is still nimble...maybe.

Could the addition of Donovan McNabb bring the Vikings back to their days as crème of the NFC? I don’t think so. McNabb’s comeback will fall short, similar to their last veteran QB seeking additional glory and a ring. This move is safe, MIN desperately needs QB help, but the division is too tough right now to try to make gradual improvements. GB and CHI just played for the NFC title and the Lions are a team on the rise, cutting out MIN’s work for them. The good news for MIN: Brad Childress is no longer coaching your team and you still have the RB elite in Adrian Peterson.

 Surprise

 -Detroit Lions

There is no hiding Mr. Stafford; you are fragile.

Detroit really should have won two more games last year. Both times they faced Chicago, Detroit was on the losing end of a bad call, which ended up costing them the game. One of those bad calls came against Ndamukong Suh, who is an absolute freak. What makes him scarier is that he doesn’t seem to care about being penalized. The question will be whether or not Suh will get enough sacks to make up for his personal foul penalties that he seems to love committing. And with Suh in the middle, Detroit shouldn’t have the same issues against Chicago this year, or any other team as they should run right through the opponent’s offensive line. It’s a shame Nick Fairley got injured because Suh and Fairley would have been fun to watch tearing through O-lines. The biggest factor will be whether Matt Stafford can finally stay healthy. He only made it through three games last year and ten games his rookie season. Stafford to Calvin Johnson could be a winning combination for years to come, if Stafford can stay on the field enough to make that happen.

 AFC

Contenders

 -New England Patriots

Griffin adds great depth to the O-line.

Can the Pats do any wrong? (Ok, well other than the whole “Spy Gate” thing) Anyway, the rich get richer. Last year, Tom Brady proved his studliness once again. By the end of the season, he made Danny Woodhead a household name. You’re welcome. But now with a marquee target again at his disposal in Chad Ochocinco, Brady seems destined for another prolific season. The other big off season addition, Albert Haynesworth, gives the Pats crazy depth on the D-Line of their new 4-3. But will these  two additions, who left their former teams on bad terms, shape up for Bill Belichick a la Corey Dillon and Randy Moss?

-New York Jets

PBSB hears that real estate is at a premium on Revis Island

Rex Ryan, Bart Scott and co. can’t wait to get another shot at bringing the Lombardi trophy back to New York…or New Jersey…either way. The Jet defense is stout with Revis Island and an imposing front seven. The defense never seemed to be the problem with the Jets. Now in his fourth year, Mark Sanchez looks to move into the upper echelon of QBs by bringing the Jets O up to par with their D. Adding Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason to an offense with the backfield of LT and Shonn Grenne could make this transition easier for the “Sanchize” or just simply make Sanchez not waste this nickname.

 -Kansas City Chiefs

Berry isn't afraid to crotch-punch someone.

The Chiefs were the number one rushing team in the league last year, with 164 yards per game. That was thanks to Jamaal Charles, who had a breakout season. Their weakness was passing though. Perhaps Matt Cassell wasn’t what some thought he was when he filled in well for Tom Brady in New England. Or maybe it is because the Chiefs only have one receiver. Who is Jerheme Urban? Well he is the 30 year old guy with 87 career receptions who is starting across from Dwayne Bowe as the Chiefs’ number two receiver, according to ESPN. On the defensive side of the ball the Chiefs have some great players. Brandon Flowers is a top ten cornerback, Tamba Hali is scary coming off the edge (14.5 sacks last year) and Eric Berry is my hero. Berry is the most promising young safety in the league and led the Chiefs with four interceptions last year. He reminds me of the greatest safety ever, Mike Brown. What’s that, you don’t know who Mike Brown is? Well catch up. The Chiefs could really be something if their passing game could improve to give Jamaal Charles some space, which they should be able to do.

 -Pittsburgh Steelers  

Girls cannot resist Big Ben. No matter how many reasons he gives them.

When Ben Roethlisberger isn’t sexually harassing women, he’s winning football games. And a lot of the time, he’s winning big football games. And when Troy Polamalu isn’t doing Head & Shoulders commercials or sitting on the sidelines injured, he is making plays. If Polamalu and Roethlisberger are healthy, Pittsburgh may be the scariest team in the league. Any play, whether the Steelers are on offense or defense, could turn into a touchdown for them. They get at the opponent’s quarterback and force mistakes. In the 14 games Polamalu played last year, he had 7 interceptions and overall the Steelers had 21 picks for the year. Pittsburgh threw only nine interceptions the whole season. And it’s not just Polamalu on the defensive side of the ball. They have one of the best linebacking crews in the league, which was a big factor in allowing just 61.4 yards on the ground per game, tops in that category. A team that holds on to the ball, stops the run and forces turnovers is hard to beat.

 Pretenders

 -Indianapolis Colts

Manning's big head hurts.

Is the health of Peyton Manning a concern? This is a Manning that we have never before seen. The so-efficient-he’s-robotic QB is rarely seen battered and not 100%. And the rise of young QBs like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco take away attention from Manning. If Manning does start the season, it will be his 209th, keeping him as the closest active QB capable of surpassing Brett Favre’s 297 consecutive starts record. With Manning on the field, he always gives the Colts a chance to win, but his supporting staff will have to overachieve a lot this year. Could this be one of the rare years that the Colts, dare I say it, don’t win the AFC South? They’ve won 7 of 9 years, with TEN winning in 02 & 08. Manning and only Manning can keep this team competitive and seeking to play for a Super Bowl on their home turf (the Super Bowl is in Indy this year). In fact, according to nfl.com, only five Super Bowl hosts have even made it to the postseason, failing to advance past the league championship game.

  -San Diego Chargers

Eyes up here!

The Chargers are led by Phillip Rivers, the ultimate fantasy football quarterback. He puts up amazing numbers, but those numbers don’t always translate to the win column. More than 4,700 yards is great, but if it doesn’t help the team win, does it really matter that much? It’s not all Phillip Rivers’ fault though. He put up those yards while his number one receiver was holding out for the first eleven games last season. Where would Tom Brady be without Randy Mos…Oh, actually nevermind. But anyway on the defensive side of the ball San Diego added Bob Sanders, who is a game changers when he’s healthy, but the last time he played a full season was also the last time Lindsay Lohan was sober (P.S. the answer is never). Much like the Cowboys, until San Diego shows that they can win games and not just put up sexy stats, I do not trust them.

 Surprise

 -Houston Texans

Andre Johnson is too good to have no nickname

This team has grown up in a tough division, but has put together a competitive team because of this. The Texans need to become the team they want to be–an offense with Andre Johnson paired with a playmaking defense. An emerging defense led by now LB Mario Williams added much needed depth to its secondary with former CHI standout Daniel Manning and CB Jonathan Joseph. Not much needs to be done on the offensive side of the ball as long as they have someone to lob it up to Andre Johnson. Not to mention they have the 2010 league leader in rushing Arian Foster (1,616 yds 16 tds). This team has the potential to win the division and possibly a playoff run. They’ve been sharks swimming in the waters of the AFC and now do they smell Manning blood?

And with that we advise you to tune into the NFL season opener tonight…unless you’re reading this late, in which case you are behind the curve.

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