Friday, September 28, 2012

NFL Refs to Return for Week 4

Well, the lockout that was having more of an impact on the outcome of games than I think anyone was expecting has officially come to an end.

The NFL and the referee association came to an agreement on Wednesday, just 2 days after what many are calling one of the biggest blunders in NFL officiating history. If you saw that Monday Night game between Seattle and Green Bay, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. What should have been a game ending interception by Green Bay in the end zone was miscalled and was ruled a catch by Golden Tate, who didn't even have a hand on the ball when the Packers defender came down with it. That was the most publicized miscall to come from these replacement refs, but they've been atrocious since game one between the Giants and Cowboys. I know one guy who will be extremely pleased to see the return of the professional zebra's is 49ers coach Jim Harbough. The replacement refs did about everything they could to prevent the 49ers from beating Green Bay in week one but the 49ers prevailed. They didn't have such luck in week 3 in Minnesota though, as the refs again played a big role in the 49ers 24-13 loss. Now that the real officials have returned and your looking to do some wagering on upcoming games, check players rewards card!

As bad as the officiating was in last Sunday's game though, the 49ers really didn't play well. It was the worst game I've seen them play since early 2011, as it looked like they completely underestimated the Vikings, which is something you don't expect to see out of a Jim Harbough coached squad. Their defense looked slower than usual off the ball, and their pass coverage and pass rush was nowhere near where it was in the first two weeks of the season. It almost seemed like the Vikings and 49ers switched identities before Sunday's game because the 'Vikes were the ones getting pressure on Alex Smith and really making the running game non-existent. Frank Gore ran well with the opportunities he got, collecting 63 yards on 12 carries, but the 49ers were down early and went into passing mode often. Unfortunately for them, Alex Smith didn't have the best of days, turning the ball over for the first time since week 12 of last season not just once, but twice. Smith had both a pick and lost a fumble and couldn't execute when the 49ers needed to keep drives alive.

Across the bay, the Raiders got their first victory of the season in impressive fashion over the Pittsburgh Steelers. We haven't talked much about the Raiders since the start of the season, but they re-inserted themselves into the conversation with that big win last weekend. The Raiders got the Carson Palmer they hope they'll be seeing more often than not, as the former Heisman winner had one of his more efficient games in the Silver and Black. He threw for just 209 yards, but had 3 TD's and a 104 passer rating vs. a top notch defense. The guy that really propelled the Raiders though was start running back Darren McFadden. 'Run DMC' had his first 100-yard game of the season and set the tone early for Oakland with a 64-yard touchdown scamper in the first 3 minutes of play. The Raiders have their holes on defense, but this offense can put up some numbers, and they'll be competitive as long as Palmer and McFadden are on their games.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two Weeks In, 49ers Sitting Pretty

The 49ers couldn't have scripted a better start to their 2012 season, rolling into Green Bay and beating the Packers, then following up with a decisive victory over the Lions on Sunday Night.

Just about everything has gone right for San Francisco in these first two games, and most football experts already have them atop the NFL Power Rankings list. In that first game in Green Bay, the replacement refs made things tough on the 49ers, allowing a block in the back to go un-flagged during a return that resulted in a touchdown by Randal Cobb, but instead of having that bring them down, the 49ers took it in stride. As good as they were last year, this 49ers team really doesn't have any holes. Last season you could beat them if you shut down the run and pressured Alex Smith because they really didn't have a lot of receiving options. Already, the newly stocked wideouts have payed huge dividends, not only for Alex Smith, but for Michael Crabtree. As good as Frank Gore has been through the first two, Crabtree has been as important as any other offensive player. Sure, Vernon Davis has two TD catches and Crabtree has zero, but Crabtree is the guy who Alex Smith is now looking to when they need to get that big third down completion. Mario Manningham and Randy Moss have also played big roles early on for the 49ers, and it's helped alleviate pressure of Crabtree. It's about 2 years later than 49ers fans were hoping for, but it looks like Michael Crabtree is the real deal, and a legit number one target.

Now, the offense has gotten a lot of pub after putting up 30 in Green Bay, then 27 on Detroit, but once again, the 49ers train is powered by their defense. They did a terrific job containing Aaron Rogers in week 1, then they made Matt Stafford look like a rookie in week 2. They blanketed Calvin Johnson, who was the one player I was afraid would give them trouble, by using bracket coverage on him and never really leaving him one-on-one down field. With his number one target consumed by the Niners secondary, Stafford looked out of whack. It also helped that the 49ers gave Detroit many different looks in blitz packaging, which kept Stafford on his toes, and like they have so well the last two seasons, they absolutely shut down the Lions running game. The move of Aldon Smith to an every down linebacker has made a large difference. There is really no area of the 49ers team that should be graded any lower than an A these first two games. Even David Akers hit a key 63-yard field goal in the opener which was a huge in the win over the 'Pack.

Just about the only thing I'd like to see a little more of going forward, are a few more shots taken down field to Randy Moss, and a little more of Frank Gore touching the football. If Harbough was worried about Gore running out of steam, he can breath easy, cause Gore has looked about as explosive and quick as I've seen him these first two weeks. He'll have a much tougher go of it vs. the strong Vikings run D on Sunday, but even getting him the ball on swing-outs and screens a few more times per game would work for me. He's still the 49ers most valuable offensive asset, he needs to be getting more than 15-18 touches per week.

Monday, September 10, 2012

2012 NFL Award and Playoff Predictions

Well, I know the season started up yesterday and we were too busy to get our awards and playoff predictions out before kickoff, but nonetheless, we had it all prepared and figured we'd post it anyway. Week one WAS NOT taken into account for any of this.


MVP: QB Tom Brady, New England- Brady has as many weapons at his disposal now than at any other point in his career. Also, the Pats' improved running game should open up the field even more for him. He should be in the top 3 in yards passing, TD's and QB rating by the end of the year and very well could lead the Pats back to the Super Bowl.

Offensive POY: RB Arian Foster, Houston- Foster looks primed for a career year with close to 100 percent health and the return of Matt Schaub. Now teams won't be able to load 8 in the box like they did so often last year after Schaub went down. With a full season, Ben Tate keeping him fresh and running behind that O-Line, I could easily see 2,250 total yards and maybe 20+ total touchdowns in 2012 for the elusive back.

Defensive POY: LB Aldon Smith, San Francisco: He had 14 sacks as a part-time rookie in 2011, and now he's an every down player. With a year under his belt and the extra opportunity, look for him to easily approach 20 sacks and 80+ tackles. There are a lot of players in this league who can get after the passer, but Smith has the chance to make in impact in a variety of ways.

Offensive ROY: QB Robert Griffin III, Washington: RG3 can do a little bit of everything, and although he may not match Cam Newton's incredible rookie season of a year ago, he should come pretty close. 3,500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 20 total TD's is well within range for the talented Baylor alum.

Defensive ROY: CB Morris Claiborne, Dallas: The uber-talented cover corner is the reason why the Cowboys expect their secondary to be a strength in 2012, rather than the weakness it was last year. Claiborne is a picture perfect corner, with size, physicality and speed to match up with any reciever in the league. Look for him to become a shut-down guy early one.

Comeback POY: QB Peyton Manning, Denver: Unless Manning goes down with another injury, he's the clear-cut favorite in this category and this the easiest selection of all the post-season awards. He may not be the arm he was in Indy, but after watching him torch the Niners secondary in the dress rehearsal preseason game, I have no doubts he'll throw for 30+ scores if he stays on the field.

Coach of the Year: Romeo Crennel, Kansas City: I have to agree with the consensus pick on this one. Crennel has enough talent in KC this year to make the Chiefs a serious contender. If he pushes the right buttons, they'll be a playoff team and that's what most are expecting.

Executive of the Year: Phil Emery, Chicago: The first-year Chicago GM has the Bears looking to make a huge impact in 2012. He didn't make a whole lot of additions, but the ones he did make should provide a lift to this teams offense. He brought in one of the most talented WR's in the league and a guy who's had tremendous success with Cutler. He also added Michael Bush, one of the best short-yardage backs in the league. The improvements should make Chicago a force in the NFC.



Wild Card
Baltimore 27, Denver 23
Kansas City 21, Pittsburgh 17

New England 31, Baltimore 24
Houston 28, Kansas City 13

Houston 34, New England 27


Wild Card
Packers 37, Saints 33
Chicago 24, NY Giants 20

49ers 26, Bears 20
Falcons 31, Packers 27

49ers 20, Falcons 17

Super Bowl

San Francisco 49ers 27, Houston Texans 24

Sunday, September 9, 2012

NFL Preview: NFC West

1st Place, San Francisco 49ers: 13-3

Offense: QB Alex Smith, RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Randy Moss, T Joe Staley, C Jonathan Goodwin

Defense: DE Justin Smith, LB Patrick Willis, LB Navorro Bowman, LB Aldon Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, S Dashon Goldson, S Donte Whitner

The 49ers had one big hole in their team last season, and they were still able to come within a few minutes of a Super Bowl birth. This year, they have dramatically improved their receiving group, and now have a plethora of weapons for Alex Smith to use. Their defense returns the same exact unit that was one of the best, if not the best in the league last season. There is some question regarding Frank Gore, who had a miserable second half in 2011, but this team looks better than the one that went 13-3 a season ago.

2nd Place, Seattle Seahawks: 9-7

Offense: QB Russell Wilson (R), RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Sidney Rice, T Russell Okung

Defense: DT Brandon Mebene, DE Chris Clemons, LB Leroy Hill, CB Brandon Browner, S Kam Chancellor, S Earl Thomas

Seattle really reminds me a lot of last years 49ers squad. They have a top notch defense that should keep them in pretty much every game, it's just a matter of whether or not they can come up with enough offensive firepower. They have one proven wideout in Sidney Rice for the rookie Wilson to throw to, but they do have a decent O-Line and a top notch back in Lynch. They should be a +.500 team, but there's really no way for them to knock of San Fran, or make a serious run at a playoff birth this year, barring major injury.]

3rd Place, Arizona Cardnials, 6-10

Offense: QB John Skelton, RB Beanie Wells, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Michael Floyd (R), T Bobby Massie (R)

Defense: DE Calais Campbell, LB Daryl Washington, LB Paris Lenon, CB Patrick Peterson, S Adrian Wilson

The Cards will have another rough go of it this year, as they just haven't found a QB to replace Kurt Warner since he left them a few years ago. Kevin Kolb has been a disaster and lost out to Skelton for the QB1 spot, but Skelton isn't a whole lot better. Their running game is also in shambles, as Beanie Wells can't seem to stay healthy, and their O-Line is a work in progress. Defensively they're average, as they can turn the ball over, but really don't stop teams consistently.

4th Place, St. Louis Rams: 3-13

Offense: QB Sam Bradford, RB Steven Jackson, WR Steve Smith, G Harvey Dahl

Defense: DE Chris Long, DE Robert Quinn, LB James Laurinaitis, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Quinton Mikell

The Rams are in a similar boat as the Cardinals. They have a solid QB, and a nice running back but their O-line and receivers won't allow those two to work like they can. Defensively, they have holes all over the place, as they don't generate a lot of pass-rush and don't do a great job against the run. Their secondary looks a little better this time around, but not good enough to overcome the other shortcomings on defense.

NFL Preview: NFC South

1st Place, Atlanta Falcons: 13-3

Offense: QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, WR Julio Jones, WR Roddy White, TE Tony Gonzalez, G Justin Blalock

Defense: DE John Abraham, LB Sean Weatherspoon, CB Dunta Robinson, CB Asante Samuel, S Thomas DeCoud

The Falcons don't have the most stacked defense in the league, but it's just good enough to prevail with their outstanding offense. They have the best receiving tandem in the league in Jones and White, and even Gonzalez has shown he still has a lot left in the tank. They'll have to play well in order to fend off the Saints, but they have more than enough talent to do so.

2nd Place, New Orleans Saints: 11-5*

Offense: QB Drew Brees, RB Mark Ingram, RB Darren Sproles, WR Marques Colston, TE Jimmy Graham, T Jermon Bushrod

Defense: DE Will Smith, LB David Hawthorne, LB Curtis Lofton, LB Jonathan Vilma, CB Patrick Robinson, S Roman Harper

The Saints have had a premiere offense since Drew Brees arrived in town, but they've never quite had the defense to match it. This year, they've brought in two huge additions at linebacker and should be much better this time around under Steve Spagnuolo. They will have one of the best linebacking corps in the league once Vilma is back in shape and ready to go, and they again should be back in the playoffs come January.

3rd Place, Carolina Panthers: 9-7

Offense: QB Cam Newton, RB DeAngelo Williams, RB Jonathan Stweart, WR Steve Smith, C Ryan Kalil

Defense: DE Charles Johnson, LB James Anderson, LB Luke Kuechly (R), CB Chris Gamble, S Charles Godfrey

The Panters are a team on the rise, but in this division and conference, they are still a little short. Cam Newton should be even better in his sophomore season, and I think the running back duo of Williams and Stewart could be in for a 2,000 yards on the ground this year. Like with the Saints though, their defense is the question mark, but unlike the Saints, they don't have quite the offense to overcome defensive mishaps.

4th Place, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-9

Offense: QB Josh Freeman, RB Doug Martin (R), WR Vincent Jackson, WR Mike Williams, T Jeremy Trueblood

Defense: DE Adrian Clayborn, LB Lavonte David (R), LB Mason Foster, CB Eric Wright, S Ronde Barber

The Bucs should improve upon their 4-12 record of a year ago, but not by much. They have improved their defense and made it more explosive with the addition or Jackson and the drafting of Martin. That should help Freeman rebound from an off 2011 season. Unfortunately for them, they have a somewhat patched together, young defense that will take some time to lean to play together.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North

The NFC North also has 3 teams that expect to make the playoffs. If they stay healthy and play the way they should, at least 2 will make it.

I like Green Bay, just because they've been here many times before and have proven they don't need a top notch defense to win this division. The Bears and the Lions will certainly give them a run for their money.If your planning on betting on a team this year, click here to check out the odds.

1st Place, Green Bay Packers: 12-4

Offense: QB Aaron Rodgers, RB Cedric Benson, WR Greg Jennings, WR Jordy Nelson, TE Jermichael Finley, C Jeff Satruday

Defense: LB Nick Perry (R), LB Clay Matthews, LB A.J. Hawk, CB Tramon Williams, S Charles Woodson, S Morgan Burnett

The Packers didn't do a whole lot to improve their 32nd ranked defense from a year ago, but they're hoping a full season out of Clay Matthews and the rookie pass-rusher Nick Perry will help improve that number. With their high powered offense, even just average play on defense should be enough for them to compete for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I know their division is improved with the Bears making strides and the Lions sporting a high-powered attack themselves, but the Packers are still the cream of the crop. It should be interesting to see what their running game does this year behind Cedric Benson. Last year, the Packers got little production out of their backfield, so if Benson has another 1,000+ season in him, it'll make this offense that much tougher to stop.

2nd Place, Chicago Bears: 11-5*

Offense: QB Jay Cutler, RB Matt Forte, RB Michael Bush, WR Brandon Marshall, T Gabe Carimi

Defense: DT Henry Melton, DE Julius Peppers, LB Brian Urlacher, LB Lance Briggs, CB Charles Tillman, CB Tim Jennings, S Major Wright

The Bears have a chance to be a better version of the Baltimore Raves this year. They have a deep, complete defense and the makings for an explosive, balanced offense. They're banking on the Mashall-Cutler connection to produce like it did in Denver, and with the running game the Bears can bring, they should be able to do that with ease. The only area I wonder about with Chicago is their receivers outside of Marshall. Devin Hester is a speed demon, but never has been a consistent pass-catcher. Lovie Smith believes rookie Alshon Jeffries will be an impact reciever right off to bat to help, but only time will tell. As long as this defense stays healthy, and they can keep their big 3 (Cutler, Marhsall, Forte) on the field together, they should be as tough as anyone else in the NFC.

3rd Place, Detroit Lions: 9-7

Offense: QB Matt Stafford, RB Micheal Leshoure, WR Calvin Johnson, WR Titus Young, TE Brandon Pettigrew, G Rob Sims

Defense: DE Cliff Avril, DT Ndamukong Suh, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, LB Stephen Tulloch, CB Chris Houston

The Lions have one of the most explosive passing games in the NFL, but just about every other area of their football team is a question mark right now. Their backfield should be solid once they get Leshoure back in week 2 and they could get a huge boost if Jahvid Best comes back and contributes at some point. Their defense is a large question mark though. They have some pass-rushers and can handle the run OK, but they'll be outmatched by a lot of the big passing teams in this league with their spotty secondary. Still, Stafford and Johnson together give this team hope, and they'll always have a shot to win with those two on the field.

4th Place, Minnesota Vikings: 4-12

Offense: QB Christian Ponder, RB Adrian Peterson, WR Percy Harvin, WR Jerome Simpson, T Matt Kalil (R)

Defense: DE Brian Robinson, DE Jared Allen, LB Chad Greenway, LB Erin Henderson, CB Antoine Winfield

The Vikings have much of the same problems on D than the Lions do, and nowhere near the offensive firepower to make up for it. The jury is still out on Ponder, though he had some nice moments in the preseason. Percy Harvin and AP are offensive studs, but when opposing defenses have just those two to focus on, things will be tough. They need other guys to step up and help those two out in order for Ponder to be a success. Defensively, they won't stop many high-powered passing teams, but they will get after the QB. In this tough division and conference, they'll be lucky to improve much on last years 3-13 campaign.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East

This is the only division I'm really having trouble predicting. With the depth in the NFC this year, it'll be tough for them to get two teams into the postseason. I see all 3 teams having a pretty even shot at winning the division, depending on which stays the healthiest. So when you see 3 teams that are pretty evenly matched, what do you do? Go with the reigning Super Bowl champs.

1st Place, New York Giants: 11-4

Offense: QB Eli Manning, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Victor Cruz, WR Hakeem Nicks, T David Diehl, Kevin Boothe

Defense: DE Justin Tuck, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Osi Umenyiora, LB Mathias Kiwanuka, LB Michael Boley, CB Corey Webster, S Antrel Rolle, S Kenny Phillips

The reigning Super Bowl Champs brought back almost the same exact cast that won it all last year. They did lose two key offensive pieces in Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs, but they had players emerge last season (Cruz) and drafted a solid back this April (David Wilson) that should make up for that. Manning is right in his prime, and a good candidate for 40+ TD passes throwing to the best WR duo in the league. There defense can absolutely get after the passer, and a healthy year from Prince Amukamara should help tigthten up the pass coverage. They again should be one of the most well-rounded teams in the league, and should have no trouble returning to the postseason to attempt to defend their tittle.

2nd Place, Philadelphia Eagles: 10-6

Offense: QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jeremy Maclin, TE Brent Celek, T King Dunlap

Defense: DE Jason Babin, DT Cullen Jenkins, DE Trent Cole, LB, LB Mychal Kendricks (R), Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, CB Nhamdi Asomugha, S Kurt Coleman

If the Eagles stay healthy, they could be as good as any team in the NFC. The squad that was dawned the nickname the 'Dream Team' prior to last season didn't quite click like most thought they would. This time around though, with a year under their belts together, they should do a much better job. If they can get bounce back seasons out of their two star corners, their defense will be just fine with one of the best defensive fronts in football. Offensively, they'll go as Vick goes. If he's healthy for 15-16 games, the Eagles are going to be tough and will be right up there with the Giants. If he plays 8-10 games, they'll run into much of the same luck they had a year ago.

3rd Place, Dallas Cowboys: 10-6

Offense: QB Tony Romo, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Miles Austin, WR Dez Bryant, TE Jason Witten, C Phil Costa

Defense: LB Anthony Spencer, LB Sean Lee, LB DeMarcus Ware, CB Brandon Carr, CB Morris Claiborne (R)

In Dallas, the Cowboys have had some major injury issues the last few seasons, but if they can keep their top two wideouts on the field with Witten and Murray, then Dallas will sport one of the best offenses in the league. There still are major questions about Tony Romo in the playoffs, but if he has his supporting cast healthy this year, he should have no trouble leading the Cowboys to a successful regular season. On Defense, they have one of the best, if not the best, pass-rusher in the game in Ware, but their front-7 is very average outside of him. Their secondary should be improved this year with the #5 overall pick in April's draft in Claiborne. This should be one of the best battles for tops in the division in the entire NFL between New York, Philly and Dallas. It's going to come down to whichever team stays healthiest.

4th Place, Washington Redskins: 4-12

Offense: QB Robert Griffen III (R), RB Roy Helu, WR Pierre Garcon, TE Fred Davis, G Chris Chester

Defense: DE Stephen Bowen, LB Ryan Kerrigan, LB London Fletcher, LB Brian Orakpo, CB DeAngelo Hall

The 'Skins are in for a rebuilding year under rookie QB RG3. Early returns have been their for the rook, but he really doesn't have much talent around him on offense, especially in the backfield. Washington will have a tough time generating a run game, and their O-line isn't anything special, so I foresee a lot of pressure being put on Griffin by opposing D's. Their Defense is a little further ahead of their offense, but you can still beat them in the air. They're a couple years, and a few solid upgrades on both sides of the ball away from returning to contention.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC West

1st Place, Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5

Offense: QB Matt Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles, RB Peyton Hillis, WR Dwayne Bowe, WR Steve Breaston, T Eric Winston

Defense: DT Dontari Poe (R), LB Tambi Hali, LB Derrick Johnson, CB Brandon Flowers, CB Stanford Routte, S Eric Berry

The Chiefs look like one of the most improved teams in the NFL, and they didn't even have to make many adds in the offseason to get there. What they'll be relying on is the return of their offensive start, Charles, and their defensive leader, Berry. Both guys went down early in 2011 and KC never really recovered. Both are fully healthy now, and the Chiefs did bring in a few pieces that should help them out. Hillis could give the Chiefs one of the best 1-2 combo backs in the league and Routte will further improve an outstanding secondary. The one question I have with KC is their passing game. They have the weapons for Matt Cassel, but they need him to bounce back from last years 10 TD/1,713 Yard line.

2nd Place, Denver Broncos: 10-6*

Offense: QB Peyton Manning, RB Willis McGahee, WR Erick Decker, WR Demaryius Thomas, C J.D. Walton

Defense: DT Ty Warren, DE Elvis Dumervil, LB Von Miller, LB D.J. Williams, CB Champ Bailey, S Mike Adams

The Broncos surprised everyone last season when they not only made the postseason, but won a playoff game behind Tim Tebow. This year, they have a much more traditional QB under center, and he looks primed for a big comeback. Manning has looked great in the preseason, and has already built a rapport with the young receivers. It may be tough to get another big season out of McGahee, but they won't need him to do as much if Manning is Manning. Defensively, they have a the pass-rush and secondary to shut teams down, but need their run defense to perform.

3rd Place, San Diego Chargers: 8-8

Offense: QB Philip Rivers, RB Ryan Mathews, WR Malcom Floyd, WR Robert Meachem, TE Antonio Gates, T Jared Gaither

Defense: LB Shaun Phillips, LB Takeo Spikes, CB Quentin Jammer, S Atari Bigbi, S Eric Weddle

The Chargers again will rely on much of same formula they've used the past few seasons; a lot of offense and crossing their fingers on defense. The offense lost a big contributor this offseason though in Vincent Jackson, and I don't think they adequately replaced him. They'll need Gates to get back to 1000+ yards to help make up for the loss. Mathews looks like one of the best young backs in the league, especially behind this O-line, but he has trouble staying on the field. There defense has some players in the secondary, but not enough to make up for a lacking run D.

4th Place, Oakland Raiders: 6-10

Offense: QB Carson Palmer, RB Darren McFadden, WR Darrious Heyward-Bey, WR Denarious Moore, C Stephen Wisniewski

Defense: DT Richard Seymour, DT Tommy Kelly, LB Rolando McClain, LB Miles Burris (R), S Tyvon Branch,

The Raiders are in the same boat as San Diego. They're relying on their team improving with new philosophy instead of infusion of talent. They have largely the same cast that went 8-8 last season, but they finished the year terribly under Palmer. Getting a healthy season out of Run DMC will be huge and would help out the offense immensely, but is no given with his history. Their secondary is also in shambles right now as they're starting two castoffs at cornerback and the underachieving Michael Huff at strong safety.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC South

1st Place, Houston Texans: 13-3

Offense: QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster, RB Ben Tate, WR Andre Johnson, TE Owen Daniels, T Duane Brown

Defense: DE J.J. Watt, LB Brian Cushing, LB Connor Barwin, LB Whitney Mercilus, CB Kareem Jackson, CB Jonathan Joseph,S Danieal Manning

The Texans look to me like one of the most well-rounded teams in the AFC this year. They have the makings for an explosive offense with the return of Matt Schaub behind center, and the terrific halfback duo of Foster and Tate. They also have their big wideout fully healthy for the first time in over a year. What makes them so good is that they have the defense to match their potent offense. With a solid linebacking corps led by Cushing, and a potential shut-down secondary, they have the weapons on both sides of the ball to keep up with anyone in the league. Their big key will be to keep everyone healthy. If they do that, and get a nice return from Schaub, they could find themselves in the AFC Championship, which they came so close to last year.

2nd Place, Tennessee Titans: 8-8

Offense: QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Johnson, WR Kenny Britt, TE Jared Cook, WR Nate Washington, G Steve Hutchinson

Defense: DE Kamerion Wimbley, LB Will Witherspoon, LB Akeem Ayers, CB Jason McCourty, S Jordan Babineaux

The Titans are a team on the up, but an improved division and a young QB could make it hard to do a whole lot more than 8-8 in 2012. The big key for their offense though will be the return of Kenny Britt, who's absence last year allowed teams to gear up with 8 guys in the box to stop CJ2K, which helps out both the run and passing game. Now with the emergence of Washington alongside Britt and Cook, the Titans have some weapons for Locker to use.  Defensively, they still have some holes as they don't have a big pass-rush threat, but their secondary is solid and they should far decently against the run.

3rd Place, Jacksonville Jaguars: 6-10

Offense: QB Blaine Gabbart, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR Justin Blackmon, WR Laurent Robinson, C Brad Meester

Defense: DE Jeremy Mincy, DE Andre Branch, LB Daryl Smith, LB Paul Posluszky, S Dawan Landry, CB Derek Cox

The Jags are also a team on the rise, but probably a year or 2 away from being legit contenders. They appear to have found a QB able to lead them for the better part of the next decade, and have improved recieving corps big time this offseason. Justin Blackmon should be the leagues best rookie wideout in 2012, and Robinson is a great red-zone option (11 TD's in 2011). Luckily for them, MJD ended his holdout this weekend, so he should be ready for week one. Still, the problem with the Jags, and something they need to address to help Gabbart is their pass protection. They have to do better this season on that front. Their defense looks solid, with good pass-rush generated by the D-Line and a good linebacker group.

4th Place, Indianapolis Colts: 4-12

Offense: QB Andrew Luck (R), RB Donald Brown, WR Reggie Wayne, TE Coby Fleener, T Winston Justice

Defense: DE Corey Redding, LB Robert Mathis, LB Dwigth Freeney, CB Vontae Davis, S Antoine Bethea

Like every other team in this division, the Colts are too headed in the right direction, but are too young to do much but learn in 2012. Andrew Luck already looks like the real deal, but the other offensive weapons are less inspiring. Wayne should be a good target for the kid, and his TE from Stanford will be a solid security blanket, but the Colts need someone to step up in the backfield, preferably Brown. Defensively they still have their trademark speed and pass-rushers, and they've improved their secondary a bit. The big issue with them has been stopping the run, and they switched to a 3-4 this season to try to improve that.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC North

1st Place, Baltimore Ravens: 12-4

Offense: QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice, WR Torrey Smith, WR Anquan Boldin, T Bryant McKinnie, T Michael Oher

Defense: DT Haloti Ngata, LB Ray Lewis, LB Jameel McClain, LB Courtney Upshaw (R), CB Lardarious Webb, S Ed Reed,

The Ravens took a huge hit over the spring, losing their top defensive talent for most, if not all of 2012 to a torn Achilles tendon. Still, the veteran led Ravens have a strong enough defense to overcome the loss, especially if they get a big rookie year out of Courtney Upshaw and the slimmed down Ray Lewis. Offensively, coach John Harbough is ready to open up the playbook for Joe Flacco, and he's got the perfect wideout to take shots deep with in Torrey Smith. This offenses success again will rely on Ray Rice though, and the effectiveness of their offensive line. If the Ravens offense improves like many believe it will, it'll will take a lot of slack off their D.

2nd Place, Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-6*

Offense: QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Issac Redman, RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Mike Wallace, WR Antonio Brown, C Maurkice Pouncey

Defense: DE Brett Keisel, LB LaMarr Woodley, LB James Harrison, LB Lawrence Timmons, CB Ike Taylor, S Troy Polamalu, S Ryan Clark

Although the Steelers D was tops in the NFL a year ago, they face a much tougher task in 2012. They're a year older and didn't add much to their roster in the offseason. Plus they're undergoing an identity change on offense, in which they'll be relying on the backfield much more often, something that they got away from with Roethlisberger under center. Still, they have two extremely talented wideouts in Wallace and Brown, and will have a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield after Mendenhall returns in October sometime. They will need some young players to step up on defense, and their offensive line and they should be alright. Not the powerhouse of 4-5 years ago, but a solid all around squad nonetheless.

3rd Place, Cincinatti Bengals: 9-7

Offense: QB Andy Dalton, RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis, WR A.J. Green, TE Jermaine Gresham, T Andrew Whitworth

Defense: DT Geno Atkins, DE Michael Johnson, LB Ray Maualuga, LB Thomas Howard, CB Leon Hall, S Reggie Nelson

The Bengals are one of the up and coming teams in the AFC, but they play in one the NFL's best divisions. They don't have a lot of room for error, and I just don't think their offense is deep enough to keep up with Pittsburgh quite yet. They're headed in the right direction though with Dalton and Green, but they need a couple other pass catchers to emerge. Defensively, they should be even better than last years bunch that ranked 7th in the league. Cinci has a strong front-7 and a sturdy secondary that should help keep them in most games they play. If they get a big year out of the "Law Firm" and get a few receivers not named Green to produce, they could very well overthrow the Steelers.

4th Place, Cleveland Browns: 5-11

Offense: QB Brandon Weeden (R), RB Trent Richardson (R), WR Greg Little, T Joe Thomas

Defense: DE Jabaal Sheard, DT Ahtyba Rubin, LB D'Qwell Jackson, CB Joe Haden, CB Sheldon Brown

The Browns are in the middle of the rebuilding process, but they hope they found their offensive backfield to lead them through it. They took halfback Trent Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden early in April's draft, and both are expected to play heavy roles for the Browns right off the bat. Unfortunately for Weeden though, other than Greg Little, there aren't many options to throw to. Cleveland will likely rely on the defense and running game to set the tone for them, but neither is good enough yet to carry them.