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Posted on: July 9, 2010 3:15 pm
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Posted on: July 9, 2010 2:59 pm
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Posted on: July 2, 2010 6:01 pm
Edited on: July 5, 2010 12:05 pm

Changing of the Guard - Part 2

When I started this series I felt as though I had locked down every king, but as the week rolled along I started to waffle a little on who I thought would take each division. After letting it rattle around I’m sticking with my gut.

The NFC South has long been a division with more parody than the entire league. It seemed every season that the team at the top of the heap would end up under the pile and the team looking up would find itself with no one else to look up to. This season however very little will change.

When a team is retooling itself there will be some pains. The Buccaneers have already had their share and if not for a Super bowl win in the 2000s the pain of it all might be too much to take. The upside is I like some of what the Bucs are up to and I can see this team being a contender in the future.

Just not this season.

Josh Freeman is a quarterback with a lot of upside and rookie wide receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams make a solid group for the Bucs to build with in the passing game. The ground game is a bit of a mix with an offensive line that should be able to move the pile but with running backs that have serious questions which could lead to a slower development in Tampa Bay. The defense needs to make some strides but I just don’t see enough quality playmakers on that side of the ball for this unit to warrant much respect. Tampa is moving forward but this will be another season of baby steps.

The Panthers are a team that has a lot of talent and youth but is in the unfortunate situation of solving a problem at the head of the offense. Carolina is a run first team but they need a quarterback that can find a way to move the ball on third down without turning it over on a regular basis. The unsteady Jake Delhoume has left for Cleveland so the Panthers are hoping to find solid quarterback play from either rookie Jimmy Clausen or fourth year player Matt Moore who showed solid upside at the end of last season. The offense has few playmakers in the passing game with Steve Smith being the lone bright spot but with a bruising offensive line led by bookend tackles Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah with 2 potent running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart Carolina should be able to move the ball consistently. The defense will continue to be a solid unit with linebacker standout Jon Beason moving to the outside creating a huge opportunity to turn up the heat on opposing offenses. I look for Carolina to find it’s identity on offense early and make a push to take the number 2 spot.

Matt Ryan has proven to be the franchise quarterback the Falcons were looking for. Now if Michael Turner can return to the form that he broke into his first season in Atlanta the sky could be the limit for an offense that has plenty of playmakers. Roddy White has quietly become one of the most consistent wide receivers in the game and will look to add to his 2009 totals, 85 receptions – 1183 yards – 11 TDs. That was his third straight season of more than 80 receptions and 1100 yards while he increased his touchdown total each year. White is set to have a monster season and Atlanta fans should be stoked at the prospect of what lies ahead in Roddy’s career. Unfortunately the defense in Atlanta still needs to form a bond and mature before the Falcons can take the division title. Without a solid pass rushing threat at linebacker and a secondary that’s sketchy the Falcons will have to rack up a ton of points every week to stay in contention.

Putting points on the board is not a problem for the Saints. Drew Brees is easily one of the top 3 quarterbacks in the league and in my opinion he is number 1. With solid leadership, good pre-snap reads, correct audibles and adjustments, poise, touch, accuracy and good arm strength it’s tough to point out flaws in his game. Of course with the weapons he has around him it’s easy to see why 2010 should be another season long Mardi Gras for Drew. Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are all names you will hear on fantasy draft day and for good reason. They can all find the end zone and Brees is great at showing them the way. With an offensive line that can buy him some time I’m hard pressed to come up with a reason to doubt the Saints will continue to light up the scoreboard. The defense was the big surprise last season with Darren Sharper announcing their arrival with 9 picks, 3 of those for touchdowns. Gregg Williams was the conductor of the turn around for the Saints defense and if not for coach Sean Payton pushing for, and ultimately taking a pay cut to get Williams the Saints might have never made the run to the Super bowl. With players like Jonathan Vilma, Sedrick Ellis and Will Smith the Saints can get after opposing quarterbacks and stop the run. Balance is the biggest asset to a winning team and New Orleans will only become stronger as the defense strengthens and matures while the offense thrives.

The New Orleans Saints will win the NFC South.

This next diagnosis is one of those moments where some of you might think I had some off-season minor surgery to clear up my headaches, or maybe it was a botched lobotomy.

The AFC East has long been reined over by the Patriots. Last season the Jets decided to overthrow the king and all of the Patriot rs went out and bought a Sanchize t-shirt to wear while they watched illegal sideline footage of Mark eating a hot dog. However the Pats found a way to retain the crown and in the process showed that the changing of the guard can sometimes prove to be very difficult.

What’s not difficult for the Bills is to find a way to remain at the bottom of the East. The one thing I do like is the apparent focus on the ground game with the drafting of C.J. Spiller following the acquisition of Eric Wood last spring. There is a ton of work to still be done on the offensive line and there is an obvious lack of playmakers but it’s a positive sign that the Bills at least know what they want their identity to be on that side of the ball. The defense is a unit that has plenty of talent but is stuck on the field for most of the game. If Buffalo can ever find a way to move the ball with a little consistency the defense should be strong enough to steal a couple of wins and eventually find their way to 500. The problem for the Bills is that they are slowly crawling forward in a division with one established powerhouse and 2 teams that are building very quickly.

The recipe for winning in New England has changed over the years. Lately the focus has been on Tom Brady and the air attack, but the fun stopped just short of a perfect season. It seems as though everyone has forgot about the secret ingredient that filled the bowl with trophies, defense. At least it seems that coach Belichick has with the way the roster has slowly eroded on that side of the ball. The departure of Richard Seymour should not be downplayed going into this season along with several questions at linebacker and secondary. Bunta-Cain was the only defender to post over 5 sacks on a team that once applied pressure at will. Brandon Meriweather is a young safety that will be a stud for years to come but the rest of the group lacks true consistent playmakers. This lays the team entirely at the feet of Tom Brady who's numbers last season returned to the average that he had prior to setting the world on fire in 2007. It could be that the ground game in New England became steady last season with a mix of backs, but I believe it's attributed to defenses adjusting to the Patriots style of offense forcing them to run the ball more. This is a turning point for the Patriots that some don't believe is coming. The trick of it is they could finish with a 9-7 record and miss the playoffs, which is where I have them. New England will finish third in the division.

The Jets defense will end up being at or near the top in almost every statistical category. With star Darrel Revis and the addition of Cromartie at cornerback this gives them possibly the best CB duo in the league. With solid safeties to back them up it will be difficult to throw on New York. The linebackers excel at getting after the quarterback and the defensive line eats up blockers with ease. Throw into the recipe Rex Ryan’s ability to dial up the correct pressure at the right moment and the potential for the Jets defense is unlimited. For the offense I’m not a big fan of Sanchez. I see holes in his game and seeing how his only solid target is tight end Dustin Keller I see Mark having a huge letdown in his second season. Luckily for Jets’ fans though the ground game should excel. Tony Richardson is one of the better run blockers in the last decade and he gets the luxury of leading the way for a young workhorse in Shonn Greene and a future hall-of-fame legend in LaDainian Tomlinson. His already envious job is made even easier by an offensive line that is tooled towards the run. Nick Mangold is one of the premier centers in the league while Ferguson and Woody lock up either side. New York will be very tough this season but with the big plays on offense more than likely coming from the running backs a 10-6 record with some losses in the division opens up the door for the team I look to sneak up on people.

Go ahead, start complaining…

Have you ever been to Miami? I never have but I’ve heard great things...

Yeah, I'm picking the Dolphins to with the AFC East. Before you panic hear me out...

With a sweep of the Jets and splits with the Patriots and Bills the Dolphins tied the Pats for the best division record in the AFC East last season. This is a team on the rise that had zero big play talent at wide receiver. Enter the sometimes abrasive Brandon Marshall who immediately fills the Phins greatest weakness on offense. With a one-two punch of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams at running back to go along with an offensive line that mauls in the run game Miami will look to pound the rock and run play-action in the style of Bill Parcells. This will give Chad Henne the opportunity to grow into the offense and he has the tools necessary to keep the ball moving down the field. If they can click I see a team that can eat up the clock on offense keeping an aggressive defense fresh. With a strong set of safeties and young cornerbacks in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith that will grow in their second season the Dolphins have a chance to create pressure and force turnovers via a front 7 that gets at the quarterback (ranked #3 in 2009 with 44 sacks).

Now keep in mind I'm not saying the Dolphins will run away with the East, I'm not saying the Patriots are finished. What I'm saying is I believe the Dolphins are set to turn a corner in a division that will have a window open for a team to finally give the champ a punch in the snot-box. Of all the divisions in the NFL the AFC East will prove to be the most competitive and there will be some great ball games played between rivals. The schedule is difficult this season but it favors Miami down the stretch.

The Miami Dolphins will win the AFC East.

Posted on: June 24, 2010 3:59 pm
Edited on: June 25, 2010 2:34 pm

Changing of the Guard - Part 1

It seems that every season a couple of teams are still at the top of their divisions when it comes to preseason rankings. Some of these teams are still on top this year but a few look to be losing ground to franchises that have set themselves up to turn the corner.

I thought I'd take a minute to go over a few changes that I see happening this season, but first I'll hand out division titles to the teams that have been at or near the top for awhile that will be there again at the end of this season.

The Colts would be the first team that comes to mind. Peyton Manning has the luxury of working in the same offensive system with the same type of personnel again this season. If you look back at the WRs Manning has worked with it almost seems as if they have a mold hidden somewhere in Indianapolis and every other season or so they break it out and create a Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne duplicate that can just step in and contribute immediately with no drop off in offensive production. Even with a change at head coach the Colts continued to rack up yardage and points while remaining stingy enough on defense to make it to the big show.

Looking at the rest of the division it's hard for me to think the Colts will struggle much this season. The Titans are poised for a Titanic style meltdown with a QB that is facing disciplinary action from the league and possibly law enforcement and assuring that his development will be set back for another season. Star running back Chris Johnson is unhappy with his contract and most likely will hold out until he gets what he wants while the WR with the most upside, Kenny Britt, doesn't understand what it takes to be a starter in the NFL. Combine that with an underachieving defense and the problems in Tennessee are larger than the possibility of a playoff run.

The Jaguars will be second from the bottom in the South with an offense that is forced to rely on one player, Maurice Jones-Drew, in order to be consistent. The defense continues to disappoint under a head coach that is supposed to be a defensive mind. The Texans are the one team that could push the Colts for a division title but with a defense that still hasn't found it's identity and a starting QB that has problems remaining healthy the odds on Houston unseating the Colts get longer and longer.

The only other team that I have retaining their division crown is the Chargers, and to be honest I do so with a great deal of hesitation. Philip Rivers might be without his best offensive weapon in Vincent Jackson for 10 weeks making Malcolm Floyd his number one option. With a superstar TE that can't stay healthy, a rookie RB that's starting and a defense that is losing pop and aggression under Norv Turner the Chargers will still have their hands full in a division of misfits that are trying to step it up.

The Chiefs will finish last in the AFC West. Matt Cassel should see a spike in offensive production under the teaching of new offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss, and the offense as a whole should improve in the second season with Todd Haley. However the defense is still at a lack for playmakers in a division with some breakout offensive talent. I do believe moving into the future the Chiefs will have the opportunity to make a serious run with the young talent that they have in place but with Eric Berry being a rookie and probably the best player on a defense full of no names and retirees it will take some movement on that side of the ball to become a serious contender.

The Broncos are a bit of an enigma going into 2010. With an opportunity to draft some needed position players second year coach Josh McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow to add to a roster that had recently traded for Brady Quinn to compete with Kyle Orton. Unless McDaniels is planning on running a hybrid of the wildcat with 3 QBs in the backfield it's a real possibility that he whiffed in the draft. There's some decent talent on the defense but the offense looks to be taking a stutter step forward losing it's best option in the passing game and having no proven commodity at RB. I have the Broncos finishing third in the division.

That brings me to the Raiders and what I believe to be a team that has more upside combined with a ton of baggage than any other team in the league. Oakland took a huge step forward by releasing Jamarcus Russel and adding Jason Campbell to the roster. This gives them stability at the QB position and an opportunity to find an identity on offense. With a one-two punch at RB with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush combined with a quality TE in Zach Miller all the Raiders need to do to be consistent is find a way to run the ball and work play-action effectively. The defense has enough quality players to be steady and if they can merge to play at a high level Oakland could sneak up on teams and steal enough wins to be 8-8 which could be enough to push San Diego for a playoff spot in a weak division.
Now let's get to some changes at the top.

The NFC West is looking to be shook up this season with the Cardinals losing Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin. Coach Ken Wisenhunt will be forced to earn his pay while he finds ways to overcome the holes in the game of his new starting QB, Matt Leinart. Leinart's arm strength, or lack of, will be the first hurdle, his inability to make pre-snap reads the second and his questionable leadership the third. Losing Warner is the brick that brings the wall tumbling down. On a team that was reliant on offense to win in tight games it will now be an unproven QB who will be forced to lead the charge. The Cardinals are still talented enough to finish second in the division but the glory days will be gone for at least this season.

The Rams are rebuilding with a rookie QB that has suffered two shoulder injuries in college, to the same shoulder. It's unsettling that a team that has had it's season stole from them on more than one occasion over the past couple of seasons due to an injured starting QB would look to rebuild by bringing in a rookie QB with health concerns. Steven Jackson is still a very capable runner but the offensive line is still weak and with a rookie at QB Jackson's workload will still be high, not good news for Steven who at this point in his career would be better served by a few less carries. With Donnie Avery as the number 1 WR it's tough to see the offense scoring many points this season. I do like the Rams defense moving forward and I would have been really excited for this unit if draft day had gone a little different.

The Seahawks have made moderate strides the past 2 seasons but what intrigues me the most is how quickly they fell and stayed there after the loss to the Steelers in the Super bowl. Going into this season the Hawks have just enough on offense to keep themselves in the upper 16 of the league in yardage and scoring but there are glaring holes on defense that could lead to a quick demise. I could easily see Seattle falling to the bottom but for right now I'm going to keep them at third in the division.

And now we'll look at the 2010 NFC West division winning San Francisco 49ers. It's tough to name a division winner with Alex Smith as the starter but the second year in the same offensive system with the talent that he has around him lends the opportunity to keep it simple, limit mistakes and play pressure free. Frank Gore, Glenn Coffee, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree will make the game slow down some for Smith and by the middle of the season I look for this offense to be the cream of the division. The defense will be the straw that stirs the drink and you better believe that a Mike Singletary coached team will come hungry and aggressive every week. The 49ers easily have the best defense in this division and with offenses that have lots of question marks that will be all they really need to take the crown.

Posted on: June 16, 2010 6:03 pm
Edited on: June 17, 2010 1:02 pm
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Posted on: April 14, 2010 4:13 pm

Walk Softly

Walk softly, knowing you carry the biggest stick.

Whichever metaphor you want to put to the phrase or however your mind wraps around the concept understand this.

The short little Irish Catholic man that runs the Steelers has no problems with letting it dangle, he just doesn't talk about it.

There's no denying that the trade of Santonio Holmes was a non-verbal, non-physical slap upside the head of the Steelers' locker room. If the Jets had not offered up a 5th round pick for 'Smokey' Holmes he would have been cut, plain and simple.

The message is an easy read. It's time to start doing things the Rooney way or you will all be finding new homes.

It's about damn time IMO.

I've listened to some people spout off about how a 5th round pick was inadequate compared to Santonio's value, and it's hard to disagree. However if you put it in the context of zero return or little return it makes a great deal of difference. If Holmes was released he could of signed anywhere with no return on the Steelers investment of drafting, training, educating and preparing Santonio to be a NFL caliber receiver. A fifth round pick is a decent return on a player that you would have otherwised gained nothing from in releasing. Remember, the Jets will be without Homes for the first 4 games of the season so a higher draft pick would have been out of the question. Add to this the proximity to the draft and how little time there was for negotiating and the Steelers made out very well for a player they wanted rid of.

I agree with the trade 100%.

The question now will be whether or not the rest of the club understands the message.

With a quarterback that is as dumb as he is gifted the clock is ticking on his tenure in the 'Burgh'. If Ben Roethlisberger doesn't keep his nose out of the 'pile' there won't be anyone left to wash his face.

In Ben's first podium speech pleading his innocence in a sexual assault incident, yeah there's more than one, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin stood by his side in a show of support. This time he stood all alone.

That shows exactly what the front office and coaching staff think of Ben's behavior.

Tick, Tick, Tick...

I find it hard to believe that Mr. Rooney won't suspend Ben for a minimum of 2 games. 4 is the number that comes to mind, but will Roethlisberger continue to behave in a juvenile manor? IMO it's only a matter of time until he strays from the straight and narrow and finds himself on a bus out of town. Believe it or not there is a possibility of Ben being moved on draft day, it's been reported (Ed Bouchette 1250AM) that the Rooney's, after hearing the Georgia D.A.'s press conference, are so disgusted that the talk of moving Ben began immediately after.

So what if Ben was to be traded? Would you have a problem with it? If he came to your favorite team, would you cheer for him?

I guess Ben should have looked the history of the Steelers over a little better.

Maybe he could have kept his stick from dangling in public, then he wouldn't have to talk at all.

Posted on: March 30, 2010 1:43 pm

Being Prepared

This isn't about right or wrong, it's not my place to judge before the facts are known.

This isn't about jumping the gun, I have yet to hit the panic switch.

This isn't about saving face, the Steelers have as solid a record as any other team in the league when it comes to handling player issues.

This is about being prepared to win, period.

In the aftermath of Ben Roethlisberger's recent off the field conduct it makes me wonder as a Steelers' fan whether or not the Rooney's have looked into the possibility of moving forward without their franchise quarterback. If not, it's high time they did or else the consequences could be dire.

If Ben were to be charged Roger "the Hammer" Goodell would suspend him immediately. He's the face of the Steelers and a high profile player in the NFL. The Rooney's would be hard pressed not to take disciplinary action of their own and the Pittsburgh fan base would scream for his blood, or at least for his immediate release. The fans in Western PA are very passionate about the team and would rather suffer without Ben than have to cheer for him on Sundays.

This creates a huge problem in that the Steelers have no viable replacement for Ben on the roster and seemingly no interest in finding on this off-season.

Charlie Batch was resigned to a 2 year deal that if he was forced to start though I could only hope that he made it halfway in each healthy. He's aged and brittle which is a horrible combination. There was a point in time where Charlie coming onto the field meant the chances of winning were still solid. He has a great understanding of the offense but the scheme that Arians has implemented would require him to win by using his arm the entire game, something that Charlie cannot do.

That leads me to Dennis Dixon and the same dilemma. Regardless of what some fans want to believe Dixon will not be a starter in the NFL due to his throwing ability. He had some decent passing numbers in college but it was attributed to him being able to take off on opposing defenses with his awesome running ability. This kept the defense honest enough for him to get some wide open looks and be able to complete the ball with some ease.

Now before anyone jumps on the Ravens game from last season let's take an honest look at it.

The big pass plays he had were off of play-action and the first one that he completed was almost under thrown to the point that the play was dead. In the end Dennis threw the pass that cost the Steelers the game. He was a possible Heisman candidate because of his legs which is why the Steelers should have been using him in a slash role from day one. In the end he will be considered a waste of a draft choice not because he doesn't have talent but because of the Steelers reluctance to utilize his abilities since his acquisition.

As of yet I have not heard any interest from Kevin Colbert in trying to draft a developmental quarterback in the later rounds. After signing no free agent with any youth combined with at least limited starting experience the writing is on the wall. The Steelers are going to ride this thing out with Ben and hope for the best.

I'd feel a heck of a lot better if they prepared for the worst.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com