Thursday, September 30, 2010

49ers in Must-Win Situation In Atlanta

Now, I'm not normally a person who likes to use the "must-win" term liberally, but in the Niners case this weekend vs. the Falcons, another loss, and a drop to 0-4 would undoubtedly shatter their confidence and likely any shot at the playoffs in this year.

Now, teams have come back from 0-4 and made the playoffs before, and in a wide open and weaker division like the NFC West, it wouldn't be impossible. It's just that for all those expectations the Niners had coming in, an 0-4 start could signal an all-out failed season in some players eyes, especially with all this coaching/leadership (or lack thereof) turmoil going around. Still though, the Niners have a lot of talent on their football team, and they have noticeably more talent than any other team in this division, but they are just playing horribly right now, with no confidence and zero execution. It's not going to be an easy task in Atlanta either. The Falcons have a power running game, the one style of running game which can at times be effective vs. a typically stout Niner run D. They also have a passing game to go with it, and when they're both clicking together, they can be very hard to contain. I think the big key for the Niners will be to lock-down on Roddy White and not allow those big passing plays. They allowed Matt Cassell, who has really been a short-range, dink-and-dunk kind of passer through much of his time in KC to throw 2 long touchdown passes, and 3 total last Sunday. In fact, Cassell played better vs. the 49ers than Drew Brees' did the previous Monday night. If they allow Matt Ryan time and Falcon receivers space to do that this weekend, Atlanta will cash in on 'em (they've scored 68 points in last 2 games).

Offensively, it would really be nice to see them get something going early. They need to take a 7-10 point lead early and cash in on red-zone opportunities in order to allow their defense to relax a bit. They keep getting behind early and it's opening up all sorts of options for opposing offenses. Frank Gore and the run game should be something new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson should be focusing on. Atlanta allowed Tim Hightower to go for 115 yards on just 11 carries after Rashard Mendenhall collected 120 yards against them in week 1. I'd also like to see the Niners take some shots down field. I know Alex Smith has been pretty inconsistent so far, but I think he just needs a few big plays in order to give him a confidence boost. With Ted Ginn Jr. hurting, it kind of diminishes the Niners deep passing attack, but they can still send Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker (both TE's have basically the speed of a receiver) deep down the middle vs. linebackers and safeties. They need to work on exploiting other teams weaknesses, rather than just always sticking with their scripted game plan, and that's the biggest change I'm hoping for with Johnson taking over the play-calling.

Raiders Surprising: I don't think anyone really saw this coming, but it's the Silver and Black that are looking like the more steady of the two Bay Area football teams. Granted, they're still just 1-2, they were a Sebastien Janikowski field-goal away from being 2-1 and have responded very well after their opening week blowout loss in Tennessee. The defense has been pretty solid, especially that pass defense everyone knew would be, but it's the offense that has been gaining the headlines. Bruce Gradkowski has quietly taken Jason Campbell's starting QB job and the Raiders are getting the best QB play they've gotten since Rich Gannon was under center 10 years ago. Louis Murphy has really emerged as one of the better young receivers in the league and is Gradkowski's top target, but it's been Darren McFadden who's opened up the Raider offense. D-Mac is amongst the NFL rushing leaders after 3 weeks, and is very much looking like the #4 overall pick he was in '08. He's also contributed in the passing game as well, hauling in 10 passes for 80 yards and a score.

BASJ NOTES: We wanted to remind all readers here at BASJ check out The Giants Baseball Blog for San Francisco Giants playoff coverage, as well as The Warriors Rundown for Golden State Warriors training camp coverage. We've been mostly dedicated to Raiders and 49ers here at BASJ, as we normally are during football season, but we will have a post-season A's Review, as well as some more Stanford and Cal football talk in the upcoming posts, so definitely stay tuned for that!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Niners Drop to 0-3, Fire Jimmy Raye

After a flat-out ugly showing in Kansas City Sunday, which brought the team their third straight loss to start a season in which expectations where extremely high, the 49ers fired Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye.

Replacing Raye, who was in his 2nd season as Niners OC, will be quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson, who supposedly is known for his patience and communication abilities. One area which Raye struggled in, and an area which was just now recently brought to the forefront, was his communication and "old school" football terminology which was starting to become a problem. Whether it was communication issues, or not though, the Niners offense looked downright pathetic on Sunday, and not all of that was attributed to a much improving Kansas City defense. The 49er offense has only scored 38 points through the 3 games so far, and for an offense that sports some pro-bowl level talent (Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Brian Westbrook), that's just not acceptable. The Niners offense has looked out of synch all year long. Outside of that final drive against New Orleans last Monday night, there hasn't been one time this year in which I had confident in the 49ers offensive attack. They have been a model of inconsistency, and I really like the move to switch things up now rather than waiting until things spiral way out of control. There is still a ton of football left to be played, and the 49ers don't have the most daunting schedule out there, so they'll have more than enough opportunity to get themselves back on track.

As far as Alex Smith, he once again failed to take this game in his hands and carry the 49er offense. Now, I can't place the blame squarely on Smith's back. The offensive line did not play well, committing numerous false-start penalties, and allowing the Chiefs to get to Smith for 5 sacks. The also failed to give Frank Gore much running room throughout the day, as the Pro-Bowl running back gained just 43 yards on 15 carries. He was much more active in the passing game though, hauling in 9 passes for 102 yards, leading Niners' receivers in both categories. The 2 prime targets of Alex Smith though, Davis and Crabtree, have yet to really have their 2010 breakout games thus far. Crabtree and Smith have looked completely out of sync on more than one occasion, and it's kept the 2nd year wideout with 1,000 yard aspirations to just 81 measly yards through 3 weeks. Vernon Davis has been better than Crabtree yardage wise, but after reeling in 13 TD passes in '09, he's yet to find paydirt in 2010. I'm not one to necessarily pin a whole teams misfortunes onto one single individual, but I think it's safe to say that the Niners needed some kind of "change of pace" offensively, and whether or not letting Raye go will be the answer remains to be seen, but I do like the proactive approach. This season is far from over, and the Niners still have time to catch up with those lofty expectations they had coming in, but their margin for error has disintegrated.

Raiders Miss Win In AZ: The Raiders just missed out on a chance to move to 2-1 for the first time in years as Sebastien Janikowski shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt in the waning seconds of their game with the Cardinals. The Raiders got another 100-yard effort out of the emerging Darren McFadden and another solid, 250 yard, 1TD-1 INT performance out of newly named starter Bruce Gradkowski. The Raiders actually outplayed Arizona throughout the day, but Janikowski's 3 missed field goals, as well as a special teams break down on kick-off coverage early in the game is what ultimately did them in. They held Arizona to just 227 yards of total offense and racked up about 375 yards of their own. If they had played sound on their kickoff coverage, and Janikowski hit's at least of 1 of those 3 that he missed, the Raiders would be a surprise 2-1 football team. Even though they aren't, I think they've still opened some eyes and have sent out the message that they're no longer an off-week for opposing teams.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Put Up or Shut Up Time for Alex Smith

Where the 0-2 Niners go from here is really on the shoulders of Alex Smith. The Niners QB has had a very up-and-down opening to this 2010 season, looking downright horrible at times vs. Seattle on kickoff weekend, then taking about 2 full quarters to finally get into a rhythm vs. the Saints on Monday night. They obviously have the defense, and will bring a strong running game each Sunday, but they need Alex Smith to be consistent in order for this team to really flourish.

It really showed on Monday night how good the Niners can be when Smith is focused. That last drive, late in the 4th quarter in which the Niners tied the game looked like vintage Joe Montana and Steve Young. Smith was making quick decisions, making right decisions, and really was the leader of the offense on that drive. Smith took Niners 82 yards on just 8 plays after the 2-minute warning. With the Niners down 8 at the time, they had to be perfect on the drive, score a TD, then cap it off with a 2-point conversion, and they did just that. After Frank Gore trotted in from 7 yards out, Smith connected with his most trustworthy target in Vernon Davis for the conversion. Only problem was, the Niners left Drew Brees and the Saints offense just a tad too much time. In a drive nearly identical to the one in which Brett Favre and the Vikings beat the Niners with early in the '09 season, Brees made a few incredible passes, coupled with a tremendous grab by Marques Colston, and once again, the Niners lost the game in the final seconds.

So yes, the 49ers are now 0-2, but I really am not ready to start panicking. The defense is looking every bit as solid as it was hyped up to be coming into the season. Also, after being pretty much bottled up in week 1, Frank Gore got himself going with 112 rush yards, 56 receiving yards and 2 scores. The young offensive line looked pretty solid vs. the Saints too, and I think they're going to come around nicely. Basically, it's up to Alex Smith to hold his end of the bargain, and outside of that second half vs. the Saints Monday night, he has yet to do that this year. What he did do in that Saints game though, was give fans hope that he's on the right track and will only move forward from here. Frank Gore was great, but Smith orchestrated the Niners to their highest offense output in nearly 100 games (413 yfs). I know every media outlet in the Bay Area is saying the same thing about Smith, so I'm not going to sit here and beat a dead horse. All I want to say is that it's time for Smith to eliminate any question there is about him as the 49ers starting quarterback, cause if Smith doesn't claim this job, it could be a few more years before the 49ers have a legit NFL QB under center.

Gradkowski Takes Over: Coach Cable and the 1-1 Raiders have announced that Bruce Gradkowski, who led the Raiders to a 16-14 victory over the Rams last week, will be the teams starting quarterback for the immediate future, taking over for Jason Campbell. I'm somewhat surprised Cable's making the move this early, but I do like the decisiveness. The team obviously rally's around Gradkowski and plays hard for him, and he's done a very good job in jump starting their lackluster offense every time he gets into games. I don't think we've seen the last of Campbell behind center for Oakland, but I do think Cable is going to give Gradkowski a few weeks to to see what he can come up with.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Players Losing Confidence in Singletary

The talk of last Sunday's loss to the Seahawks, and the miserable game management that transpired during that game just will not die, and it's starting to get to coach Singletarry.

During these last couple of day's, Singletary's shortcomings as a coach have been brought to the forefront, and he refuses to discuss the Seattle game with reporters, inclining only to speak about the upcoming match-up with New Orleans. The only real issue that kind of caught me off guard was that Singletary really isn't in tune with what's going on offensively and leaves that entirely up to OC Jimmy Raye and his assistants. That right there is a problem. A head coach needs to be versed on everything going on during the game, and needs to be involved, in at least some capacity, in a game plan. How else are they going to effectively manage a game? When Raye was having communication issues with his new assistant, Coach Singletary couldn't really intervene, because he really has no grasp of the offensive game calling. I mean, obviously Singletary is a defensive minded coach, and nobody expects him to be an offensive whiz or someone who's going to construct a dynamic offensive game plan. However, a head coach of an NFL football team needs to have some kind of grasp of their respective teams' offense, or defense. When the Niners were down inside Seattle's 5 on Sunday and not accomplishing anything, it would have been nice to see the head coach take over the play-calling and eliminate the communication confusion.

I had big expectations for Singletarry this season, even picking him as my favorite for NFL Coach of the Year for 2010, but after this whole situation, and after seeing his reaction to this whole situation, I'm already second-guessing myself. Now, the Niners can really reverse this misfortune, and make everybody forget about week 1's ugly loss, if they can somehow manage to upset the reigning Super Bowl Champs at Candlestick Park, and this really will be a good barometer to see just what kind of coach Singletary is. I'm not expecting the Niners to win, but they need to respond from last week, and make some sort of statement. The New Orleans Saints are going to make things even tougher than usual though, as they've had an extra couple of days to prepare for the 49ers after opening their season last Thursday. It also allowed them to sit down and watch the Niners play the Seahawks live, so the Saints have a very good idea of what the 49ers are doing on both sides of the ball.

I'm really ready to see the Niners start mixing things up offensively, like they should have done in the 2nd half of last weeks game. I want to see some more Brian Westbrook, and some Gore and Westbrook on the field together, and a little more of Delanie Walker out of the 2 TE set, as I think Walker is the teams 3rd best receiving option behind Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. Walker needs to be out there more often than #2 wideout Josh Morgan in my opinion. They should start taking some shots down-field (even though top deep threat Ted Ginn is out 2 weeks) and spread things out, a la Indianapolis Colts style, in order to spark some offense. They need to really create some things in order to even dream of keeping up with the Saints, but that won't happen until Alex Smith gets comfortable and in a groove. We saw it start to happen at the beginning of the game Sunday, but wasn't nearly the same after the failed red zone attempts. We'll take another look at this game in Saturday's post, when we discuss the Niners and Raiders week 2 NFL odds.

Stanford Football: The Stanford Cardinal, led by stud sophomore QB Andrew Luck, and running back, Stepfan Taylor as well as veteran wideouts Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen, have started their season off 2-0 (1-0 in conference) and are ranked #19 in the country. They smoked the Bruins last Saturday in their Pac 10 opener, as Luck threw for 2 more scores after throwing for 4 in the opener vs. lowly Sac State. Stanford's schedule tightens up a bit over the next few weeks though, as they host an improving Wake Forest next week, followed by a matchup with the Fighting Irish in South Bend, then consecutive games with #5 Oregon and #18 USC. We'll really have a good idea of what kind of team this Stanford Cardinal will be this year after that USC game. Right now though, they're ranked 19 and rolling with confidence, talent and great coaching.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Niners Disappoint in Week 1

The 2010 San Francisco 49ers had huge expectations coming into the season. The NFC West was wide open with the retirement of Kurt Warner from the Arizona Cardinals leaving the Niners the most talented team in the division.

However, they looked anything but on Sunday afternoon in Seattle. The Niners were torched by the Seahawks, 31-6, as the team looked in disarray throughout most of the game. Alex Smith started out extremely well, completing 9 of his first 10 pass attempts, but the Niners, for whatever reason, couldn't really get Frank Gore (17 carries, 38 yards) and the run game going, and they turned into a one-dimensional offense once they got behind. They looked pretty good in the first quarter, although they really should have came out of it with at least 1 touchdown, but things changed drastically in the 2nd and got even worse after halftime. The Niners were shut out in the 2nd half, gaining just 95 yards of total offense, where everyone looked to be on a different page. There were missed routes by the receivers, and a bunch of penalties on the offensive line, but the worst part of that game for San Francisco was the inability to capitalize early in the red zone. The 49ers could have easily taken a 14-0 lead, in the 1st quarter, something a good team would have done after getting inside their opponents 5-yard line 3 different times. However, the Niners couldn't seem to get the plays in on time, forcing them to rush things and make dumb mistakes.

The defense, for the most part, did a pretty good job, although their secondary got a beat a few times on basic out-n-up routes ran by Seattle, in which Matt Hasselbeck looked like the Matt Hassellbeck of '05-'07. It surprised me too, because the Seahawks really didn't get any kind of a run game going, so the Niners knew they were going to be passing, and they still couldn't slow Seattle down after the first quarter. Now, I'm not at all ready to panic after just 1 game, but the defense, which was supposed to be the sure thing on this team, was exposed on Sunday, and they were exposed by one of the weaker teams in the league. Next Monday night, the Niners play host to the reigning champ New Orleans Saints on National Television, so a 0-2 start is looking like a realistic possibility at this point. If the Niners are going to have any hope at upsetting Drew Brees and Co. at Candelstick next week, they're going to need to get a %100 improvement from their safeties and nickel db's, and they're going to have to establish a run game. Whether that's mixing in Brian Westbrook to give the Saints a different look, or maybe using some more play-action, quick passes to open up the run game a bit. Either way, they'll need more than 38 rush yards per week out of Frank Gore if they're going to be successful, no matter who they're playing.

Raiders Smoked By Titans: The Raiders didn't fair much better, as they traveled to Nashville and got beat by the Tennessee Titans and Chris Johnson, 38-12. As expected, the Raiders just didn't do much offensively, as Jason Campbell struggled with a 69.7 QB rate (22-37 for 180 yards, 1 TD-1 INT) and got sacked 4 times. It wasn't really his fault though, the Raiders receivers didn't do much in the way of forcing space between them and Titan defenders. Fortunately for the Raiders, they have one bright spot come out of Sunday's beating. Darren McFadden had one of his best games as a pro, contributing 150 YFS (95 rush, 55 receiving) and a score. The general consensus coming into the year was that McFadden would compliment Michael Bush in Oakland's backfield, but DMac looked like a starter on Sunday.... Also, if your going to be doing and betting on the Raiders or Niners this year, check out Allen Eastman's "99 system". At a %70 success rate, it's the best NFL Betting System on the net!

Friday, September 10, 2010

NFL Playoff and Award Predictions


: QB Drew Brees, N.O.- Probably should have won it in 2009, for all he meant to the Saints and their Super Bowl run. I think he puts up even bigger numbers this year (40 TD/ 5,000 yards in reach) and the Saints should once again be one of the powerhouses in the NFC.

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Ray Rice, Bal.- It's tough not to go with the popular choice in Chris Johnson with this pick, but I think Rice has the chance to be equally as impressive on offense in 2009. The Ravens have an established passing game now, opening up plenty of holes for Rice to run through, and he'll be a large factor in that very passing game.

Defensive Player of the Year
: LB Patrick Willis, SF- Willis is already one of the top-3 all around linebackers in the league, and the scary thing is, he's yet to develop a consistent pass rush. I think that will arrive in 2010, as he leads a mean Niners defense with a 10 sack, 150+ tackle year with a few interceptions to boot.

Offensive R.O.Y.
: RB Ryan Matthew, SD- The young back has huge shoes to fill, replacing Charger icon LaDanian Tomlinson, but there are very high expectations for Matthews. He was the first back taken in April's draft, and I think he's going to leave a lot of teams kicking themselves for passing on him. 1,200 rush yards and 8 TD's are well within reach in that powerful offense and I expect him to get there.

Defensive R.O.Y.: SS Eric Berry, KC- The Chiefs are banking a lot of hope of turning their defense around on their top pick (#5 overall) and I think he's going to hold his share of the load. Keep an eye on Ndamukong Suh as well, but rookie D-lineman tend to take a little longer to develop in the NFL.

Coach of the Year: Mike Singletarry, SF: The hard-nosed coach has been pushing the right buttons in SF, and I think this is the year it's going to start paying off. The Niners should win the NFC West and be a factor throughout the league, and Coach Singletary needs to get a lot of credit for that.

Comeback Player of the Year: RB Clinton Portis, Was.- I think the Redskins are in store to surprise some people this year, with their new QB in tow and a rejuvenated offense. Clint Portis is no spring chicken in terms of NFL running backs, but is in the best shape of his career, and should return to his 1,100+ yard form. Keep an eye on Brian Urlacher and fellow Redskin Chris Cooley here as well.


AFC Playoffs:
Wild Card Round

Jets over Chargers
Pats over Steelers

Divisional Round:

Colts over Jets
Bengals over Steelers

Bengals over Colts

NFC Playoffs
Wild Card Round:

49ers over Eagles
Vikings over Cowboys

Divisional Round:
Saints over Niners
Packers over Vikings

Packers over Saints

Packers 27, Bengals 20

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NFC West Preview

Finally, we arrive at the NFC West, to end our 2010 NFL Division-by-Division preview/predictions.

1st Place, San Francisco 49ers

Offensive Players:
QB Alex Smith
RB Frank Gore
WR Michael Crabtree
WR Ted Ginn Jr.
TE Vernon Davis
RT Anthony Davis (R)

Defensive Players:
DE Justin Smith
NT Aubrayo Franklin
LB Manny Lawson
LB Patrick Willis
CB Nate Clements
FS Dashon Goldson

The Niners enter 2010 with their best, most complete team since 2002, and they're hoping this is the year they end their 8 year playoff drought. Alex Smith takes back over at QB after a very nice finish to last season, and he's finally got a few throwing options to look to in pro-bowl tight end Vernon Davis, and stud 2nd year wideout Michael Crabtree. They also have a new dimension in their backfield, as they've added Brian Westbrook to help Frank Gore carry the load. They also added speedy receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. to stretch out defenses and provide them a possible kick-return threat. The Niners real strength though, lies on defense. It's not coincidence either, as they're head coach was known as one of the best defensive players in NFL history, and he's got a lot of talent on that side of the ball to work with.

2nd Place, Seattle Seahawks

Offensive Players:
QB Matt Hasselbeck
RB Justin Forsett
RB Julius Jones
WR Deion Branch
TE John Carlson
LT Russell Okung (R)

Defensive Players:
LB David Hawthorne
LB Lofa Tatupu
CB Marcus Trufant
FS Earl Thomas (R)
SS Jordan Babaneaux

The Seahawks seem to have a new swagger a attitude under head coach Pete Carroll, but that doesn't change the fact that they have a suspect running game, a thin receiving corps and an aging QB. I really don't see why they decided to cut their best offensive player, T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I really don't see much logic in that move right before the season like that. They have some bright young players on the defensive side of the ball, including linebacker Lofa Tatupu and rookie safety Earl Thomas. Only question on defense for them is if they're going to generate any pass rush. If Hasselbeck can return to his 2007 form, and one of their running backs emerges as a regular starter, then they could surprise, and I wouldn't put it past them with Pete Carroll running the show.

3rd Place, Arizona Cardinals

Offensive Players:
QB Derek Anderson
RB Tim Hightower
RB Beanie Wells
WR Larry Fitzgerald
WR Steve Breaston
LT Levi Brown

Defensive Players:
DT Darnell Dockett
DE Calais Campbell
LB Joey Porter
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
SS Adrian Wilson

The Cards have a pretty stout defense, but they lost a huge piece of their puzzle this offseason when Kurt Warner retired, leaving them with a big mess at the QB spot. They had such little confidence in former 1st rounder Matt Lienhart, that they flat out released him a last week, leaving the quarterback duties to Derek Anderson, who's coming off a dreadful '09 campaign (3 TD/10 Int, 888 yards in 8 games). If Anderson can revert to his 2007 pro-bowl form though (29-19, 3,787 yards), then the Cards will be alright, but that's a big if. Then again, I don't think they expected that rejuvination out of Kurt Warner when they added him in similar fashion a few years back. They do still have the freak, Larry Fitzgerald at wideout, who I still think is the best in the league when he's healthy.

4th Place, St. Louis Rams

Offensive Players:
QB Sam Bradford (R)
RB Steven Jackson
WR Laurent Robinson
RT Jason Smith

Defensive Players:
DE Chris Long
LB James Laurinaitis
FS Oshiomogho Atogwe
SS James Butler

The Rams used their the #1 pick in April's draft to grab QB Sam Bradford, and they're hoping he can take right off in his rookie year like Matt Ryan did a few years back with Atlanta. He does have a sound running back to ease the pressure in Steven Jackson, but the Rams are paper thin at wideout, leaving Bradford without many legit targets to throw to. They're hoping Laurent Robinson grabs the role of #1 wideout, but he's a #2 or 3 in a good offense. They also have some questions up front on their O-line. Defensively, they have just as many questions. They'll be slightly better than last year (1-15) but not much.

(R) indicates Rookie

Upcoming BASJ Posts:
Friday- NFL Playoff and Awards Predictions
Saturday- 49ers/Seahawks Preview, Raiders Preview
Sunday-49ers/Raiders/NFL Kickoff recap

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

NFC South Preview

1st Place, New Orleans Saints

Offensive Players:
QB Drew Brees
RB Pierre Thomas
RB Reggie Bush
WR Marques Colston
WR Devery Henderson
TE Jeremy Shockey
RT Jonathan Stinchcomb

Defensive Players:
DE Alex Brown
DE Will Smith
LB Jonathan Vilma
CB Jabari Greer
CB Tracy Porter
FS Derrick Sharper

This is the easiest pick of all division winners this year, even easier than the AFC West. The reigning world champs return an identical offense, and bring in an improved defense as they hope to repeat their super bowl victory of a year ago. They brought in Alex Brown to help generate some more pass rush, and brought Clint Ingram in to help nail down the run. They'll still give up some points on defense, but their D should be a top-15 defense, and with this offense, that would be more than enough. They need to let Pierre Thomas loose, and give him 250 carries (it would probably yield around 1,200 rushing yards if they did that) and allow him and Bush to be on the field together more often. Getting some more consistency out of Jeremy Shockey would be a nice bonus as well.

2nd Place, Atlanta Falcons

Offensive Players:
QB Matt Ryan
RB Michael Turner
WR Roddy White
WR Michael Jenkins
TE Tony Gonzalez

Defensive Players:
DE John Abraham
LB Sean Witherspoon (R)
LB Curtis Lofton
CB Brent Grimes

The Falcons need to improve on defense big time in order to have any shot at making a playoff run. They do have just enough offense, led by solid young signal caller, Matt Ryan and have a punishing running game with Michael Turner. They also have one of the top young wideouts in the game in Roddy White (1,153 yards, 11 TD in '09), and a legend at tight-end in Tony Gonzalez. They have more than enough offense, it's just that defense that needs to hold their end of the deal. They got burned through the air badly last year, and brought in corner Duanta Robinson to team with solid coverman Brent Grimes. Their safeties could use an upgrade though, and they need to get a pass rush from someone besides John Abraham (who will constantly be double teamed).

3rd Place, Carolina Panthers

Offensive Players:
QB Matt Moore
QB Jimmy Clausen (R)
RB DeAngelo Williams
RB Jonathan Stewart
WR Steve Smith
LT Jordan Gross

Defensive Players:
DE Tyler Brayton
LB Jon Beason
CB Chris Gamble
CB Richard Marshall

The Panthers aren't that exciting, but they shouldn't at all be taken lightly. They have a nice offensive line and a dominant running game. They also have a very smart quarterback at the helm right now, although he won't put up prolific numbers. If Matt Moore struggles, or the Panthers aren't winning, they'll likely go to rookie Jimmy Clausen, who's got a bigger arm than Moore. Steve Smith remains their own true receiving threat, but they're hoping rookie Brandan LaFell pays off more than Dewayne Jarrett has. Defensively, they have a nice secondary, but they're going to get run on, and the loss of Julius Peppers will hurt.

4th Place, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offensive Players:
QB Josh Freeman
RB Cadillac Williams
WR Mike Williams (R)
TE Kellen Winslow
RT Jeremy Trueblood

Defensive Players:
DT Gerald McCoy (R)
DE Stylez White
LB Geno Hayes
LB Barrett Rudd
CB Aqib Talib
CB Rhonde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Sean Jones

I actually really like the makings of the Bucs D, especially that solid secondary. Their offense though, is a huge question mark. Josh Freeman is coming off a year in which he had a QB rating of under 60, and threw almost 2 times as many picks at touchdowns. The Bucs are hoping he can turn it around and grow, but I don't think he's that great. He also doesn't have a whole lot to work with. Outside of Kellen Winslow, there really isn't a proven threat on the team. I like rookie Mike Williams and fellow rook Arrellious Benn has a heap of talent as well, but they're just too raw right now. Halfback Cadillac Williams should be even better in his second full year back from his surgery, so they do have that to look forward to.

NFC North Preview

1st Place, Green Bay Packers

Offensive Players:
QB Aaron Rogers
RB Ryan Grant
WR Greg Jennings
WR Donald Driver
TE Jermichael Finley
LT Chad Klifton

Defensive Players:
DT B.J. Raji
LB A.J. Hawk
LB Nick Barnett
LB Clay Mathews
CB Charles Woodsen
CB Al Harris
SS Atari Bigby

The Packers are one of the most complete teams in the NFL this year, and they could be on their way to the Super Bowl if they can keep everyone healthy. Aaron Rogers is an elite QB, and he's got a few targets he's more than comfortable with in Jennings, Driver, Finley and James Jones. They also have one of the most underrated backs in the league toting the ball for them in Ryan Grant (2,456 rush yards over last 2 seasons). They also sport a top-3 defense, led by a stacked linebacker group and a sound secondary. Their schedule also works in their favor, as it ranks 22nd toughest in the league. If they can figure out their old friend Brett Favre (0-2 vs. Minesotta in '09) Then they could be in store for a 14-win season as the class of the NFC.

2nd Place, Minnesota Vikings*

Offensive Players:
QB Brett Favre
RB Adrian Peterson
WR Percy Harvin
WR Benard Berrian
TE Visanthe Shiancoe
LT Bryant McKinnie
LG Steve Hutchinson

Defensive Players:
DE Ray Edwards
DT Pat & Kevin Williams
DE Jared Allen
CB Antoine Winfield
CB Cedric Griffen

The Vikings will once again have the ancient, yet amazingly productive, 40 year-old Brett Favre running their offense, but he'll be without his #1 target from a year ago in Sidney Rice for at least the first half of the year. I'm very surprised that the Vikes didn't go after the recently released T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who landed with the Ravens just 2 days after being cut by Seattle. Still though, I think the Vikes will be just fine, as I'm expecting Berrian to step up, and let's not forget that they still have that guy named Peterson running the football for them. Defensively, they bring back pretty much the same, tough unit they finished last season with. They're going to be very tough to run against, and they're hoping their pass defense is just as stingy. The Vikes are on their way to the playoffs again, that's for sure, but without Rice, I don't see them as quite the powerhouse they were a year ago.

3rd Place, Chicago Bears

Offensive Players:
QB Jay Cutler
RB Matt Forte
WR Devin Hester
WR Johnny Knox
TE Greg Olsen
C Olin Kreutz

Defensive Players:
DE Julius Peppers
LB Brian Urlacher
LB Lance Briggs
CB Charles Tillman
CB Zack Bowman
SS Daniel Manning

The Bears should be a big improvement on their 7-9 campaign from last year, but they're in a very tough division, and will need some lucky breaks in order to sneak into the playoffs. I think they're defense will look a lot more like the traditional, tough Bears D with the addition of Peppers, and the return of Urlacher. Offensively, they need Jay Cutler to mature, and cut his mistakes down big time. They also need Matt Forte to return to his 1,238 rush yard rookie year, and I think he's primed to do so. The real wild card for Chicago will be their passing game though, and whether or not some reliable targets will emerge for Cutler to throw to. There are certainly some intriguing options like Hester, Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox. I also like young tight-end Greg Olsen. If only they weren't in the same division as Brett Favre and Aaron Rogers.

4th Place, Detroit Lions

Offensive Players:
QB Matthew Stafford
RB Jahvid Best
WR Calvin Johnson
TE Brandon Pettigrew

Defensive Players:
DT Ndamukong Suh (R)
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch
LB Julian Peterson
CB Chris Houston

The Lions have an improving, young offense, led by 2nd year QB Matthew Stafford, 3rd year wideout Calvin Johnson and rookie running back Jahvid Best. Give them 2-3 years, and this bunch could be the next big threesome in the NFL, but they have a ways to go. Defensively, this team is in shambles, especially in their secondary, where they're going to have a helluva time trying to keep opposing aerial attacks in check. They should try and use back Kevin Smith as trade bait in order to try and get some cover help in there, or they'll have a tough time improving on last years 2-win season.

(R) Indicates rookie
* Indicates Wild-Card team

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NFC East Preview

Finally, we arrive in the NFC. With the start of the season just around the corner, we'll be posting something everyday here at the BASJ from now until kickoff Sunday. Here is our NFC Predictions:

1st Place, Dallas Cowboys

Offensive Players:
QB Tony Romo
RB Marion Barber
RB Felix Jones
WR Miles Austin
WR Dez Bryant
TE Jason Whitten
RT Marc Colombo

Defensive Players:
NT Jay Ratliff
LB Keith Brooking
LB Bradie James
LB DeMarcus Ware
CB Terrance Newman
CB Mike Jenkins

The NFC East is looking like, once again, a pretty tough division, but I think the Cowboys will prevail. I'm expecting a huge breakout season from Felix Jones (1,000 rush yards, 500 receiving yards well within reach) and I really like the weapons at Romo's disposal. I think Roy Williams and Marion Barber are the wildcards though. If they have bounce back years and Williams finally plays up to his capabilities as a Cowboy, then lookout NFC. On defense, I love their linebacking group, as they're going to be tough to run against and probably be in opponents back fields quite often. They have some question at the safety positions, but their corners are rock solid.

2nd Place, Philadelphia Eagles*

Offensive Players:
QB Kevin Kolb
RB LeSean McCoy
WR DeSean Jackson
WR Jeremy Maclin
TE Brent Celek
LT Jason Peters
RT Winston Justice

Defensive Players:
DE Brandon Graham (R)
DE Trent Cole
LB Stewart Bradley
CB Asante Samuel
SS Quintin Mikel

I really like the Eagles young offense, and their young defensive unit for that matter. I think Kevin Kolb is going to be the next, real good young QB, a la Ben Roethlisberger, Phil Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Schaub. He's got some talented, speedy wideouts and a big, reliable tight-end to throw to and it should make for an interesting aerial attack. If 2nd year back McCoy can improve on year one and stay healthy, then I think he'll emerge as one of the better young backs in the league as well this year (1,800 all purpose yards a realistic possibility), kinda like Ray Rice did with Baltimore last year. Their defense, as always under Andy Reid, should be consistent. They have a good secondary, and some young, impressive athletes in their front-7. These top-3 teams in this division are so evenly matched, but I really like Philly, even if SI has them in 3rd.

3rd Place, New York Giants

Offensive Players:
QB Eli Manning
RB Brandon Jacobs
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
WR Steve Smith
WR Hakeem Nicks
TE Kevin Boss
LT Davis Diehl

Defensive Players:
DE Justin Tuck
LB Kieth Bullock
CB Terrell Thomas
SS Kenny Phillips
FS Antrel Rolle

The Giants should be just fine on offense, with little Manning, the two-headed beast at running back, and some young, up-and-coming wideouts. They used to have a dominant defense to go with that offensive attack, but that disappeared in '09. They're hoping some better health, and a little bit of luck will put them back to their pre-2009 form, but I just don't think they have the talent to be that top-3 defense again. They need to improve their pass-rush, and strengthen their run defense in order to keep up with Dallas, but I just don't see them quite at that level right now. Being in the NFC East, they also have one of the tougher schedules to face, and I just see 10-6 as a best case scenario for them.

4th Place, Washington Redskins

Offensive Players:
QB Donovan McNabb
RB Clinton Portis
WR Santana Moss
TE Chris Cooley
LT Trent Williams (R)

Defensive Players:
NT Albert Haynesworth
LB Brian Orakpo
LB London Fletcher
LB Andre Carter
CB DeAngelo Hall
CB Carlos Rogers
SS LaRon Landry

The Skins brought in Donovan McNabb this spring in order to revamp their passing game, and I think it was a good move. McNabb should mesh nicely with Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, as long as the three can stay healthy. The same can be said for running back Clinton Portis, who had a slew of serious injuries last year, but is just 1 season removed from a 1,500 yard, 9 TD season, and as long as he can stay healthy and provide 15-20 carries per week, the Skins' offense should be just fine. Their defense has the potential to be very good, as they always seem to compile some big names, but they never seem to mesh well together. They're in for a huge upgrade over last season's 4-12 run, but I don't think they're quite good enough to make the playoffs, especially in this division.

*indicates wild card team

(R) indicates rookie

Monday, September 6, 2010

AFC West Preview

1st Place, San Diego Chargers

Offensive Players:
QB Phillip Rivers
RB Ryan Mathews (R)
WR Malcom Floyd
TE Antonio Gates
C Nick Hardwick

Defensive Players:
DE Luis Castillo
LB Shaun Phillips
LB Shawne Merriman
CB Quentin Jammer
CB Antoine Cason

The Chargers lost a few big pieces of their offense this spring when Ladanian Tomlinson left for the Jets and Vincent Jackson decided to virtually quit the Chargers. They're hoping Ryan Matthews picks up the slack left by LT, and Malcom Floyd steps up in Jackson's spot, but those are some big shoes to fill. I think it would be wise for the Chargers to go after recently released wideout TJ Houshmandzadeh to help fill that void left by Jackson. Regardless though, the Chargers are in the worst division in the NFL, and still have Rivers and Gates to run their offense through. They also have one of the better defenses in the league, so they'll make the playoffs. How far they go once they get their could be the real question though.

2nd Place, Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Players:
QB Matt Cassell
RB Jamal Charles
RB Thomas Jones
WR Dwayne Bowe
WR Chris Chambers
WR/RB Dexter McCluster

Defensive Players:
LB Mike Vrabel
LB Tamba Hali
CB Brandon Flowers
SS Eric Berry (R)

The Chiefs have some questions on the defensive side of the ball, but in this division, every team has questions. Their offense, I think, will end up surprising people this year though. I think Matt Cassell will settle in some more in year 2 in KC, and with 2 stud running backs to help carry the load, and two very reliable receivers to throw to, I think he's in for a 25 TD season. Their defense has some holes, but also has a few nice pieces, including rookie safety Eric Berry. I also like the guy they have pushing the buttons on defense, and that is Romeo Crennel. I don't think the Chiefs are good enough to make the playoffs in 2010, but I do think they are the 2nd best team in this division.

3rd Place, Oakland Raiders

Offensive Players:
QB Jason Campbell
RB Michael Bush
RB Darren McFadden
TE Zach Miller
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey

Defensive Players:
DT Richard Seymour
LB Trevor Scott
LB Rolando McClain (R)
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
CB Chris Johnson
SS Tyvon Branch

The Raiders are improving, albeit at a very slow pace. I think they actually have a shot at .500 this year, though I think 7-9 is a more realistic possibility. Jason Campbell brings stability to the QB spot, and I think McFadden will emerge this year and provide the Raiders with a solid 1-2 rushing combo with Michael Bush. The Raiders just have no receiving options, and are going to need these guys to play out of this world in order for the Raiders to have an effective passing game. At least tight-end Zach Miller, easily the most underrated at his position in all the NFL, will help Campbell. The Raiders strength lies on defense though. They're going to be extremely tough to pass against, and they improved their front 7 in the draft, making them a much tougher run D in process. I think they're in for a nice turnaround in '10.

4th Place, Denver Broncos

Offensive Players:
QB Kyle Orton
RB Knowshon Moreno
WR Jabar Gaffney
RT Ryan Harris

Defensive Players:
NT Jamal Williams
LB D.J. Williams
LB Akin Ayodele
CB Champ Bailey
CB Andre Goodman
FS Brian Dawkins
SS Renaldo Hill

Like the Raiders, the are hoping their defense will win them some games for them. Unlike the Raiders though, the Broncos had one of the weaker D's in the league in '09. Their hoping Jamal Williams will help plug up run holes up front, and they're hoping their veteran secondary can stay healthy throughout the whole season. Offensively, they have 2 QB's waiting in the wings who will likely each get a look this year. Those 2 guys are Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow. Problem is, I don't think any of them will end up being elite NFL QB's. I like Knowshon Moreno, but he's apparently fragile, and may not be able to carry the ball 300 times in a season.

(R) indicates rookie

AFC South Preview

1st Place, Indianapolis Colts

Offensive Players:
QB Peyton Manning
RB Joseph Addai
WR Reggie Wayne
WR Pierre Garcon
WR Austin Collie
TE Dallas Clark
C Jeff Saturday

Defensive Players:
DE Robert Mathis
DE Dwight Freeney
LB Gary Brackett
FS Antoine Bethea
SS Bob Sanders

The Colts can keep up with anyone on offense, and pair that high powered attack with a speedy, disruptive defense. With Mathis and Freeney putting pressure on opposing QB's, and Sanders and Bethea shadowing receivers, the Colts are one of the tougher teams to pass against. They can be run against though, which is the one area of weakness. There other question area is their own rushing attack as Addai hasn't rushed for 1,000 yards since 2007 and Donald Brown is coming off of a lackluster rookie campaign. I think their running game will be just fine though, as Addai looks healthy, and Brown looks hungry. Peyton Manning has so many weapons though (add a returning, healthy Anthony Gonzalez to the receiving mix), that even if they don't run the football at all, they'll still produce enough offense to beat most teams in this league.

2nd Place, Houston Texans

Offensive Players:
QB Matt Schaub
RB Arian Foster
WR Andre Johnson
TE Owen Daniels
LT Duane Brown

Defensive Players:
DE Mario Williams
LB Brian Cushing
LB DeMeco Ryans
SS Bernard Pollard
CB Glover Quin

The Texans have kept pretty much the same core in-tact over the last 3 seasons, and I think this year it's going to really start paying off. I like QB Matt Schaub and can see him having his first 30 TD season while he continues flirting with the 5,000 passing yard mark. Young running back Arian Foster is also set for a breakout season (I'm expecting 1,100 yards, 8 TD). I also like the top-3 targets Schaub throws to in Johnson, Daniels and Walter. They just need their defense to bring some more consistency to the plate, and I think that will happen this year. They have a stud pass-rusher in Mario Williams, and a young Brian Urlacher type in Brian Cushing (once he gets back from his 4 game suspension) and have some nice young players developing in their secondary.

3rd Place, Tennessee Titans

Offensive Players:
QB Vince Young
RB Chris Johnson
WR Kenny Britt
TE Bo Scaife
LT Michael Roos

Defensive Players:
DE Derrick Morgan (R)
DE Jacob Ford
LB Will Witherspoon
CB Cortland Finnegan
SS Chris Hope

The Titans hope Vince Young takes the quarterback reigns for good this year, and holds it for the next half decade at least, and I think he will. He finished off last year nicely, carrying the Titans to an 8-2 record after he took over in week 8. Now, most of that success was attributed to Chris Johnson's freakish year (16 TD, 2,000 yards, 5.6 YPC), but Young looked like a whole different QB as well, actually throwing more TD's than Int's for the first time in his career. Still though, questions surround the Titans' passing game, as Young has very limited options outside of WR #1 Kenny Britt. They also have some defensive questions to answer, like who's going to put pressure on the QB, and will they be able to stop the run?

4th Place, Jacksonville Jaguars

Offensive Players:
QB David Garrard
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
WR Mike Sims-Walker
WR Mike Thomas
LT Eugene Monroe

Defensive Players:
DE Aaron Kampman
DT Tyson Alualu (R)
LB Kirk Morrison
CB Derek Cox
CB Rashean Mathis

The Jaguars have a few nice pieces, I really like the hyphen bros' Jones-Drew and Sims-Walker, but I've never been sold on David Garrard as a starting QB, and I don't think the Jaguars are either. He's not horrible, but he just doesn't have a whole lot of upside. I wouldn't be surprised to see Jacksonville possibly look at the recently released Matt Lienhart for depth. Defensively, they don't have a whole lot either. I like rookie Alualu at DT, and their corners, but they're going to get run on like crazy, and don't have a pass rush to speak of.

(R) indicates rookie * indicates AFC Wild-Card team

Sunday, September 5, 2010

AFC North Preview

First Place, Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Players:
QB Carson Palmer
RB Cedric Benson
WR Chad Ochocinco
WR Terrell Owens
TE Jermaine Grisham (R)
LT Andre Whitworth

Defensive Players:
DE Robert Gathers
DE Antwan Odom
LB Ray Maualuga
LB Dhani Jones
CB Leon Hall
CB Jonathan Joseph
SS Roy Williams

In a stacked AFC North, in which even the lowly Cleveland Browns seem to be improving, I really like the Bengals. I know Ben Roethisberger will only be out 4 games now, and the Steelers will be rock solid when he gets back, but I really like what the Bengals have done on offense and with their defensive backfield. They have one of the best receiving tandems in the league, albeit two guys well into their 30's, and have the rejuvenated workhorse Cedric Benson (300 carries, 1200 yards, 6 TD) looking to build on last years breakout. They're going to be one of the toughest teams to pass against with corners' Jonathan Joseph, Leon Hall and nickelback Adam "Pacman" Jones blanketing opposing wideouts. If Carson Palmer can play the whole year like he did the first half of '09 (14 TD's/7 Ints, 1,832 yards and a 90 QB rating), and most importantly, stay healthy throughout the year, the Bengals should win 12 games. If Palmer goes down, so do their playoff hopes though as they have no experienced backup QB.

2nd Place, Pittsburgh Steelers*

Offensive Players:
QB Ben Roethlisberger (out until wk. 5)
RB Rashard Mendenhall
WR Hines Ward
WR Mike Wallace
TE Heath Miller
LT Max Starks
C Maurkice Pouncey (R)

Defensive Players:
NT Casey Hampton
LB LaMarr Woodley
LB James Farrior
LB James Harrison
CB Ike Taylor
SS Troy Polamalu

Everybody, including Sports Illustrated, likes the Steelers to win this division, but I think the loss of Roethlisberger for the first 4 games will be a bigger blow than expected. Not too mention, the Steelers lost one of his most reliable targets in Santonio Holmes this offseason. Their defense is once again rock-solid, and they have one of the best rushing attacks in the league, led by one of the nastiest O-lines in the league. If they can survive the first four weeks though (likely with Dennis Dixon doing the majority of the quarterbacking) and get to week 5 at 2-2 or 3-1, then they'll be just fine. No matter who wins this division, at least 2 teams, maybe 3 will make the playoffs, and the Steelers will most certainly be one of them.

3rd Place, Baltimore Ravens

Offensive Players:
QB Joe Flacco
RB Ray Rice
WR Anquan Boldin
WR Derrick Mayson
TE Todd Heap
LT Michael Oher

Defensive Players:
NT Kelly Gregg
DT Haloti Ngata
LB Ray Lewis
LB Terrell Suggs
FS Ed Reed
SS Dawan Landry

The Ravens improved their offense this offseason and solidified their passing game with the addition of all-pro wideout Anquan Boldin, but they failed to put their attention on their defense, which surprisingly, has become the weakness of the team. They shouldn't have any problem scoring points with their offense revolving around Flacco and Rice, two pro-bowlers who are still improving. They do, however, have one of the weakest secondarys in all the NFL, and are going to have some trouble providing a consistent pass-rush. That said, the Ravens are still a good enough team to make the playoffs and would actually be the favorites in some of the weaker divisions in the league. They just need their vets to carry that defense and hope that a few guys emerge in that young, unproven cornerback bunch.

4th Place, Cleveland Browns

QB Jake Delhomme
RB Jerome Harrison
WR Mohamed Massaquoi
LT Joe Thomas

NT Shaun Rogers
LB D'Quell Jackson
LB Scott Fujita
CB Eric Wright
CB Sheldon Brown

In a division where the top-3 teams are so closely matched, this is the one certainty in the AFC North. The Browns just don't have enough firepower to match up with most teams in the league, let alone three of the league's top-1o teams. Delhomme will be an improvement over Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson at QB, but not much, and isn't the answer for the future. I really like Jerome Harrison at running back, and Mohamed Massaquoi has shown some glimpses of greatness, but that's about all they got on offense. New GM Mike Holmgren is in just his first year with the Browns, so I expect vast improvements. The one area where they can build around is their defensive secondary, where they have one of the better CB duo's in the league.

* indicates AFC Wildcard Team
(R) indicates Rookies

Saturday, September 4, 2010

NFL Previews: AFC East

Today we're starting our first ever NFL division-by-division preview here at The Bay Area Sports Journal! We'll be breaking down each division in the NFL, giving a small preview of each team, including key players, and predicting how each division will play out. We'll start in the AFC East and finish with the NFC West. So here we Go

1st Place, New England Patriots

Offensive Players:
QB Tom Brady
RB Laurence Maroney
RT Sebastian Vollmer
WR Randy Moss
WR Wes Welker
WR Julian Edelman
TE Aaron Hernandez

Defensive Players:
DT Vince Wilfork
LB Tully Banta-Cain
LB Jerod Mayo
SS Brandon Meriweather
CB Leigh Bodden

The Patriots have a nice mix of youth and effective veterans, and one of the best football minds out there to put the pieces together. I'm expecting big things out of Tom Brady in his second full year recovered from that ACL tear. With his same reliable vets in Welker and Moss, along with some rising youngsters like Edelman, Golden Tate and Aaron Hernandez, I think a 40 TD/4,500 yard season could be on tap for Brady. Their running game has enough guys who know how to run the ball that they should be fine, even if they don't have a clear-cut #1 workhorse. The question with the Pats lies on defense though. They have mostly a veteran heavy bunch with a decent secondary, but they're hoping to improve up front. They added run-stuffing Gerard Warren to the D-line in effort to due just that. The Pats definitely have some holes, and aren't the Patriots of 4-5 years back, but they aren't in an extremely tough division and should be the team to beat.

2ND PLACE, New York Jets*

Offensive Players:
QB Mark Sanchez
RB Shonn Greene
WR Braylon Edwards
WR Santonio Holmes
TE Dustin Keller
LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson

Defensive Players
DE Shaun Ellis
LB Davis Harris
LB Calvin Pace
CB Darrell Reevis (holdout)
CB Kyle Wilson (R)
LB Jason Taylor
CB Antonio Cromartie

Everybody likes the Jets for the AFC champs this year, but I'm not sold just yet. They could really be something if Mark Sanchez can take that huge step forward, but I think they're still a year away from being legit powerhouses. They have a mean defense, even if holdout Darrel Revis doesn't come back (but I think he will) and one of the best young running backs in the league. The only question mark with them is their passing game. Santonio Holmes was signed in effort to boolster the WR depth chart and should help out. I'm expecting a big second year out of tight end Dustin Keller as well. They have a solid O-line and a good coach. They really have all the makings, they're just waiting for Sanchez to develop.

3rd Place, Miami Dolphins

Offensive Players:
QB Chad Henne
RB Ronnie Brown
RB Ricky Williams
WR Brandon Marshall
WR Davone Bess
TE Anthony Fasano

Defensive Players:
DE Jared Odrick (R)
LB Channing Crowder
LB Karlos Dansby
CB Vontae Davis
SS Yeremiah Bell

Like the Jets, the Phins are an up and coming team who are really a year or 2 away from being really good. They have a bring young QB with a big arm in Chad Henne, and now have a premiere, true #1 wideout for him to throw to in Brandon Marshall. They have an effective two-headed monster at tailback with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams sharing the rock. I also like how Tony Sporano has put together their defense, which I think is one of the more underrated D's in the NFL. Still though, they have a lot of gelling to do on the O-line, and they have really a whole new look compared to where they were at this time a year ago. The only constant is their running game. They're probably a .500 team right now, but like the Jets, could really be something in a year or 2.

4th Place, Buffalo Bills


QB Trent Edwards
RB Fred Jackson
RB CJ Spiller
RB Marshawn Lynch
LT Demetrius Bell
WR Lee Evans

NT Kyle Williams
LB Paul Pozlusky
LB Aaron Maybin (R)
CB Terrence McGee
FS Jarius Byrd

The Bills still have a ways to go before being relevant again. They're coming off of a 2 win season and I don't think Buffalo fans should be expecting much of an improvement. Trent Edwards is a solid back-up QB, but I think he's proven each year that he's over matched as a starter week in and week out. On top of it all, he'll also be throwing to a paper thin receiving group. The one area where the Bills are solid however, is at running back. They have 3 serviceable backs, and all three have the ability to be very good when they're on (and in shape in regards to Lynch).

* indicates AFC Wildcard Team
(R) indicates Rookies

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Niners, Raiders Set for Final Tune Up

The Niners and Raiders each played respectively in their preseason game at Candlestick last weekend, as both of their first units saw their most extensive playing time of the preseason thus far. Now they prepare for their final tuneup of the preseason Thursday night as the Niners host the Chargers and the Raiders host the Seahawks.

I didn't have a chance to respond to last weekends Niners/Raiders game yet, and although I don't want to get into that too much, there are a few things I wanted discuss regarding that game (mostly on the Niners front). Not only did Alex Smith save his best outing for his final tuneup (9-15, 115 yards and 1 TD), he once again did it without his top-2 receiving threats in the lineup. Second-year wideout Michael Crabtree, and All-Pro tight-end Vernon Davis (who actually got into a verbal confrontation this week in practice) were each unavailable, but should make at least an appearance in Thursday night's finale. A couple of guys who did make their 2010 preseason debut were running backs Frank Gore and Brian Westbrook and each looked mighty impressive, albeit briefly. Gore ran 2 times for 58 yards, including a 49-yard scamper on his first carry of 2010 game action. Westbrook looked pretty darn good as well, breaking off a 17-yard run, but only had 2 carries himself, and didn't get any looks in the passing game. I can't wait until the opener to see exactly what Singletary and Jimmy Raye have in store for the Gore-Westbrook duo. I've heard rumblings of using them together in the backfield at times, and I think that would really give this offense a whole new dynamic.

The Raiders, who have had a surprisingly solid preseason, looked well themselves for much of this weekends game. Jason Campbell was 6-8 for 93 yards before a Patrick Willis sack knocked him out of the game in the 2nd quarter. It shortened Campbell's day, and probably ended his preseason, but the Raiders QB1 should be in the clear for the September 12th opener. Campbell's injury immediately started rumors of the Raiders potentially going after Matt Lienhart as insurance for Campbell, but that rumor was never confirmed by any legit source and doesn't appear to have any legs. I also don't see Lienhart making a lot of sense for this Raider team right now. I think a good veteran QB who can hold the fort for a few years like Campbell is really a good fit. Lienhart would be entering a less-than-ideal passing situation and very well could end up being J-Russ #2. Not saying Leinhart won't end up being a decent NFL QB, I just think he's going to need to be surrounded by some talent in order to get his career kick-started and give himself confidence. The Raiders actually don't have a horrible QB situation right now and aren't necessarily desperate for another project.