Sorry for the lack of updates the past couple weeks. It's been a rough couple weeks, especially last week. If I would have blogged last week I would have gone on a personal attack, which is something I don't want to do on this blog. So instead I'll just post this picture and laugh, and for the few people who get it, they'll laugh too.
I've been growing these babies for years..........
I'd also like to give a big shout-out to the guys from the Sleepy Sloths softball team. While we did have a rough season, it was fun pretty much all the way. Lots of times, especially last Wednesday, the guys helped me keep my head straight, and not flip out on or off the field.
OK, now onto the real business at hand. The best time of the year is less than two weeks away, kickoff to NFL season. Everybody is getting ready: kegs are being ordered, grills fired up, fantasy football line-ups being set. It's the time you've been waiting for since last February. Today, I'll start my preview with a look at the AFC, breaking down each division team-by-team. So lets get this blog started.
1. New York Jets- The Jets are my pick to win the AFC East, but I still don't think they will be as good as everyone expects them to be. Anyone can put together a team of solid, all-world caliber NFL players, but it all depends on how the team can gel together as a unit. Can Rex Ryan do that? It's possible, but he needs to stop running his mouth off about how good his team is.
The Jets have a strong running game lead by Shonn Greene. Greene showed flashes of greatness last year and looks to build on it this year, especially behind the solid offensive line that the Jets have built. The presence of LaDainian Tomlinson should also help Greene, allowing him to stay fresh throughout the game. LT has also looked great so far this pre-season, showing some flashes of the old LT. While I think those days are long gone, LT on a limited basis should be very good for the NY Jets.
I do believe, however, that the Jets have 2 major question marks going into the season. The biggest is the statuts of all-world cornerback Darelle Revis. Revis has not participated at all in training camp, and deosn't seem like he's planning on showing up until he gets a contract that makes him the highest paid cornerback in the NFL. Neither side is budging, which means it could go into the season, which could mean trouble for the Jets. Antonion Cromartie hasn't looked good in the pre-season, whether it is on the field or trying to name his 8 kids on TV. Not having Revis will take this defense down a notch.
The second question is whether or not Mark Sanchez is ready to emerge as a top level starting Quarterback. Sanchez struggled at times last year, and has not looked great so far this season. While the running game should be solid, it can't be relied on to heavily. Sanchez doesn't have to be the next Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, he just needs to be competent enough to not make mistakes in key situations. I still think the NY Jets win the division, but it's going to be closer than people think.
2. New England Patriots- The perennial powerhouse of the East the last few years faced quite a few questions this past off-season. Tom Brady's contract is expiring at the end of the year, and he has still yet to sign a new one. I find it very hard to believe that Tom Kraft will let Brady walk, even with the CBA contract looming, and owners not wanting to pay players if they're not paying.
Even though the team did very liitle to improve their offense, they're always a threat with Brady and Belichick. And with Wes Welker improving faster than expected from a severe knee injury, the offense should continue to be its normal self.
The defense, however, may be the question mark of the team. The Patriots don't have a big time pass rusher to get to the quarterback. They've gotten younger on defense through the draft, but it is asking a lot for this year's rookies to come in and fill the major roles this team is lacking. The team was also lite up by strong offenses last year, and face plenty this year, which could cause problems for a young defense. In the end, I think the Patriots just miss out on making the playoffs this year.
3. Miami Dolphins- There's no doubt the Dolphins realized that in order for Chad Henne to develop into an NFL caliber quarterback, he needed an elite WR. So they went out and acquired former Broncos standout receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall, while he can be a head case, is no doubt an elite receiver who instantly makes the Dolphins offense better. With an all ready solid running game with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, Marshall makes defenses have to respect the pass as well as the run game. Even with Marshall in the fold, however, Chad Henne still needs to develop into a quarterback the Dolphins can rely on. Just like Mark Sanchez in New York, Miami needs Henne to improve in order to have a shot at the playoffs.
On the defensive side, the Dolphins gave up the most fourth quarter points of any team in the NFL last year. They brought in Mike Nolan to try and improve that, as he did with the Broncos defense last year. They also brought in free agent linebacker Karlos Dansby to improve a pass rush that lost Jason Taylor and Joey Porter to free agency. The Dolphins are also small upfront, after losing nose tackle Jason Ferguson to retirement, and replacing him with under-sized DE Randy Starks. In order for the Dolphins to make the playoffs, they'll need improved play from Chad Henne, and a big time effort from the defense.
4. Buffalo Bills- New coach Chan Gailey has a lot in front of him in his first year as head coach. Where to start? How about improving an offense that has been ranked at the bottom of the league the last few years. So far this pre-season, the Bills offense has looked improved under Gailey. C.J. Spiller looks to be every bit as a good as advertised. Trent Edwards has looked much more confident behind center than he has in recent years. The key to any hope for the Bills offense, however, will be the offensive line. The line was decimated with injuries last season, and the team is hoping that Demetrius Bell can improve in his second year as starter. The running attack should be the best part of the offense. A three headed monster of Spiller, Marshawn Lynch, and Fred Jackson, when healthy, should be fun to watch. The team also needs someone to step up as a second wide receiver opposite Lee Evans. Roscoe Parrish looks like he will finally be utilized properly in an NFL offense, but the team needs Steve Johnson to step up as a #2 WR.
On the defensive side, the team is transitioning to a 3-4 scheme, and are expected to go through some growing pains, as evident in the pre-season. Kyle Williams is another undersized player playing the nose tackle position. The team let go of Aaron Schobel, and hope that Aaron Maybin, Chris Kelsay, and Chirs Ellis can step-up and fill the pass rushing void. The secondary was the strong point of the team last year, but Jairus Byrd may not be ready for the start of the season due to a nagging groin injury. If the offense continues to play as well as they have this pre-season, and the defense steps up their game, the Bills may be better than people expect. Not playoff caliber, but 6-7 wins may not be out of the question.
1. Baltimore Ravens- In my opinion, the Ravens will be the most imprvoed team in the AFC this year, and the team to beat in the AFC. They'll be that good. Joe Flacco showed more improvement in his second year, and he should get even better in his 3rd year. Ray Rice is a speedster in the backfield, and has the ability to break any run into a long scoring play. The team realized that its receivng corps needed help, so they went out and traded for former Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin gives Flacco a number one receiver that he has been lacking since he came into the league. The team also has the best offensive line in the NFL. Michael Oher is making the move to left tackle, but it should be an easy transition for the second year palyer.
The defensive side continues to be as strong as ever. They're secondary, which has been plagued by injures in the pre-season, will be the big question mark. Ray Lewis is a monste on the inside, and continues to be one of the best inside linebackers in the game. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are 2 of the best defensive linemen in the game. As long as the secondary doesn't completely fall apart, the Ravens are the team to beat in the AFC North, and the favorites to win the AFC.
2. Cincinnati Bengals- On the offensive side, the Bengals look to be in great shape. The addition of Terrell Owens to an already potent offense makes them even better than expected. As long as Owens and Chad Ochocinco don't let their off, and sometimes on, field antics distract the team, they should be one of the top offenses in the league. Cedric Benson also continues to have his career get better and better after being a disappointment in Chicago. Young rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham also looks to be a great athletic specimen and a solid addition to a team that was a lacking a strong tight end last season.
The Bengals were never really known for their strong defense, but the team improved greatly with Mike Zimmer in charge last season. Rey Maualuga looks to be a future star at linebacker. Domata Peko and Tank Johnson are strong on the inside. The secondary is strong, but has the potential to give up big plays. They need Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph to improve this year so the team is not constantly involved in shoot-outs. The Bengals, however, look like a strong enough team to gain one of the two Wild Card spots in the AFC.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers- Normally one of the class organizations in the league, the Steelers were rocked with their most controversial off-season ever. Ben Roethlisberger is suspended for at least the first four games of the year. While never being found guilty of sexual assault, Commissioner Roger Goddell had enough of Big Ben's antics, and suspended him before he did something else stupid. The team also traded away troubled receiver Santonio Holmes, who is also suspended for the beginning of the year.
Who will start at quarterback remains a mystery. If the team is looking for more of a pocket-passer, then Byron Leftwich is the man. If they want someone that can move around and is more athletic, then Dennis Dixon is their man. Coach Mike Tomlin has yet to name the starter, and might not name one until the first few days before the home opener. Whatever QB does start, they'll have to do it behind a suspect offensive line that has looked bad all year. Thatc will also mean bad news for running back Rashard Menedenhall, and WRs Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. If the offensive line struggles are not solved, then it could be a long season for the offense.
The defense, however, continues to be a strong unit. The linebacker core is solid, with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley two of the best in the game. The team re-signed nose tackle Casey Hampton, and remain strong in the secondary with Troy Polamalu and a returning Bryant McFadden to go alongside Ike Taylor at cornerback. While the defense is strong, the struggles of the offensive line, and questions at Quarterback will keep the Steelers in the end from making the playoffs.
4. Cleveland Browns- The Browns, just like the Bills in the East, are in re-building mode. They brought in Mike Holmgrem to right the ship. Out are quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, in our Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. The team also drafted Colt McCoy, but he's not expected to see any action this year. Delhomme struggled last year in Carolina, and it remains to be seen if he can improve while being surrouneded with fewer weapons. Jerome Harrison is a strong running back who is capable of big plays,but a questionable receivng corps may cause defenses to focus too much on Harrison. Joe Cribbs is the only other real threat on offense. The offensive line is one of the best in the league, and one could make a case that LT Joe Thomas is the best in the league. The success of the offensive will depend on the play of Jake Delhomme.
The defense looks improved, but still faces questions. Nose tackle Shaun Rogers is one more mishap away from facing a long suspension. The cornernbacks look improvied with the addition of Sheldon Brown and first rounder Joe Haden, and the inside linebackers look solid with D'Qwell Jackson and Scott Fujita, but the outside linebackers look questionable at best. With the Browns being in rebuilding mode, it looks unlikely for them to compete for a playoff spot this year, especially in a divison as solid as this one.
1. Indianapolis Colts- Until Peyton Manning is no longer the quarterback of this team, I find it hard for any team in this division to overcome the Colts. Manning is that good. He manages the game like no one has ever before. He can see the field better than anyone, and always seems to know exactly where to throw the ball, or what play to call. Add to that a fully healthy set of receivers, including Reggie Wayne and the always consistent Dallas Clark, Manning should be just as good as previous years. Joseph Addai and Donald Brown provide sturdy help in the backfield, and are reliable enough to take pressure of Peyton.
The defensive side of the ball is led by defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. They combined for 23 sacks last year, and always find ways to get to the quarterback. The addition of first rounder Jerry Hughes should allow Freeney and Mathis more rest, keeping them healthy as the season goes on. The Colts also re-signed linebacker Gary Brackett, who solidifies the linebacking corps. If safety Bob Sanders could ever stay healthy, the defense would be a Top 10 Unit every year. But as long as Peyton Manning is in charge, the Colts are the team to beat in the AFC South.
2. Houston Texans- A team that has slowly been putting together a quality product the past few years, I think the Texans are poised to finally make the leap this year, earning their first playoff berth in franchise history. The offense is solid. Matt Schaub has developed into a top tier quarterback in the NFL. Of course, it helps to have the best wide receiver in the league in Andre Johnson on your side. A healthy return for tight end Owen Daniels should allow for Johnson to see less double coverage, as Daniels was a dangerous threat last year before a knee injury ended his season early. Steve Slaton was expected to emerge as a star running back, but head coach Gary Kubiak has lost faith in Slaton because of his fumble problem. With rookie Ben Tate out for the year, Arian Foster steps in as the starter, and is expected to see a solid work load.
The Texans defense will face struggles in the first four games without Rookie of the Year Linebacker Brian Cushing, who was suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The Texans also lost star cornerback Dunta Robinson to free agency. But they still have star defensive end Mario Williams, who has made the Pro Bowl the last two years. Even if the secondary has its struggles, the offense has enough fire power to be able to stay in any game. That's why I think the Texans will finally break through this year, earning a Wild Card Spot and their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
3. Tennessee Titans- The best thing the Titans have going for them is that they have the most explosive offensive player in the league in running back Chris Johnson. Johnson rushed for over 2,000 yards last year, and shows no signs of slowing down. Defenses will be hard pressed to find ways to stop Johnson. The Titans also saw the resurrection of Vince Young as their potential starting quarterback of the future. Young replaced Kerry Collins after an 0-6 start, and showed the flashes of potential that made him the #3 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Young will need to rely on a young set of receivers in order to succeed, he can't just rely on his speed and the elusive Chris Johnson.
The Titans defense faces an uphill climb after finishing 28th in the league last year. They let Kyle Vanden Bosch walk in free agency, weakening an already unsteady defensive line. The Titans hope that first round pick, defensive end Derrick Morgan, will be able to step in and provide an immediate boost to their pass rush. Nobody in the linebacker corps prooves to be a real threat. In the secondary, Cortland Finnegan stepped up as a playmaking threat at cornerback. But other than Finnegan, nobody in the secondary is proven enough to provide a constant threat. The Titans should be competitive in 2010, but not enough to compete for a playoff spot.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars- Just like the Titans, the Jaguars offense relies heavily on play-making running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Despite his small stature, Jones-Drew provides a burst of speed every time he touches the ball. The problem the Jaguars have, however, is that they don't have any young emerging threats on offense to help Drew out. One would have to think that this could be the last hooray for David Garrard as starting quarterback. Even though David Garrard signed a 6 year, $60 million deal in 2008, Garrard has yet to show the ability to lead the team to the promised land. Mike Sims-Walker emerged as their #1 wideout, but he too showed signs of decline af the end of the year, scoring only 1 touchdown from Week 12 on last year.
The defense is a unit in transition. Gone are veteran defensive tackles John Henderson and Rob Meier, in are young defensive linemen Tyson Aluala and D'Anthony Smith. They went out and signed defensive end Aaron Kampman, but one man can't turn around an entire defense. The Jags traded for middle linebacker Kirk Morrison, but he's not the same player he once was. Free Safety Reggie Nelson is a solid playmaker in the secondary, but cornerbacks Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox are only ordinary at best. The Jags are a team stuck in the middle of nowhere, and if they don't start getting more people in the stadium, may be playing somewhere else in the near future.
1. San Diego Chargers- The Chargers continue to be far and away the class of the AFC West. I'd be very surprised if they did not win this division by more than 3 games this year. Compared to the other teams in this division, they are that good. Quarterback Philip Rivers, no matter how overly-cocky he is, is the best QB in the division. The Chargers will rely heavily on 1st round pick Ryan Matthews to carry the load at running back. Look for 300 touches for him this year. The wide receivers remain a question mark, especially with the holdout of #1 wideout Vincent Jackson. Jackson is suspended the first three games, but it doesn't look like he'll be on the Chargers when the season starts anyways. Expect Jackson to be traded. This means Malcolm Floyd will have to step in and fill the #1 void, and then there's the always dependable Antonio Gates at the tight end position.
The defense still has playmakers, but their getting older. Shawne Merriman isn't the same linebacker he once was, neither is defensive lineman Luis Castillo. The secondary is also a question mark. Quintin Jammer and Antoine Cason are ok, but nothing special at the cornerback position. They also lack playmakers at the safety position. The offense should be good enough to win the division for the Chargers, but I would not expect anything more than 10 wins from this team.
2. Kansas City Chiefs- This may be a surprise to some of you, but I really don't see any of the next 3 teams in this division winning more than 6 games. I think the Chiefs are a team moving in the right direction, especially offensively. Scott Pioli brought in Todd Haley, former Cardinals offensive coordinator. This year, he brought in former Patriots staff Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel to manage the offense and defense respectively. Matt Cassel didn't live up to his large contract last year, and needs to prove he is capable of handling the offense or he may risk being replaced next season. The Chiefs now have a solid 1-2 combination at running back, with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. Expect them to be the focal point of the Chiefs offense. Dwayne Bowe was in the doghouse for most of last year, but should be better this year. Bowe is a legit #1 WR when he has his head on straight. Chris Chambers proved to be a decent #2 last year, and the addition of rookie Dexter McCluster in the slot should make the Chiefs offense that more dangerous.
Expect the defense to struggle as they switch back to a 3-4 scheme under Romeo Crennel. They didn't do much to the personnel to help with the asjustment. Two of the Cheifs top draft picks in the last few years, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, don't really fit the 3-4 scheme. They also don't have a quality nose tackle to man the inside. The lone brightspot on the Chiefs defense should be fifth overall pick Eric Berry, who should be a playmaker at the safety position. Overall, however, expect the Chiefs to be in a lot of high scoring games this year.
3. Denver Broncos- The Broncos took a step backward offensively this off-season, letting go of their best threat Brandon Marshall. While he may have clashed with coach Josh McDaniels, he was still unquestionably one of the best receivers in the game. Now, the Broncos will rely more on their running attack of Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter. Kyle Orton remains the starter, but Brady Quinn is waiting in the wings in case Orton slips up early. What role Tim Tebow will play remains to be seen after the Broncos questionably took him in the 1st round of the Draft. They also took WR Demaryius Thomas, hoping he can fill the void left by Marshall. They are also looking for contributions from Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney.
The Broncos did get better defensively. They acquired Jamaal Williams to be the nose tackle of their 3-4 scheme, going along with solid veterans Justin Bannan and Jarvis Green at the end positions. The linebacking corps took a hit with the loss of sack master Elvis Dumervil, and now hopes that Robert Ayers and D.J. Williams can live up to their potential. In the secondary, Champ Bailey continues to remain a top cornerback, and Andre Goodman is playing just as well. They also have veteran free safety Brian Dawkins, who hasn't lost a step with age. While it seems McDaniels has a plan for this team, I just have a feeling this team will take a step back this year, especially offensively.
4. Oakland Raiders- The Raiders got rid of what could go down as the biggest bust in NFL Draft history- former #1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell. They replaced him with Jason Campbell, who got a raw deal in Washington, and is looking for a fresh start in Oakland. Darren McFadden has yet to show his potential at running back, so it may be Michael Bush who gets the call as the new #1 in Oakland. The wide receivers remain a question mark, with Lois Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bay both looking to emerge in their second seasons. Their top pass-catching threat is tight end Zach Miller.
On the defensive side, Richard Seymour remains a viable threat at defensive end, but doesn't have much to go along with him upfront. The linebackers should be better with the addition of first rounder Rolando McClain, who shoud become a tackling machine inside. Trevor Scott may also become a valuable pass rusher. The seconday remains the strong point of the group. Nnamdi Asomugha is probably the second best cornerback in the league, and strong safety Tyvon Branch should continue to become a solid playmaker for the team. However, I still expect this team to finish last in the division.
So I see the playoff spots in the AFC breaking down like this:
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. New York Jets
4. San Diego Chargers
5. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Houston Texans
As I said, I still think the Baltimore Ravens are the team to beat in the AFC, but I think the Colts finish with the better record because they play in a weaker division. I could see the Patriots challenging for a Wild Card spot, along with the Steelers if Big Ben returns to his Super Bowl form.
I'll be back, hopefully sometime by the end of the week, with a preview of the NFC. It probably won't be as long as this one, as I have more knowledge of the on-goings in the AFC than the NFC, but I'll still try to make it enjoyable.
Again, please try and spread the blog out to your friends. I'm trying to get as many followers as possible, and it's not off to a great start. But the more I blog, the more I hope to get my name out there.
CYA Later guys,
P.S.- I apologize to anyone offended by my sideburns joke. (Or do I.....)