As a companion to our Perfecting the Big Question series, we bring you Perfecting the Round Table where our contributors discuss various topics back and forth.
Rahat Ahmed (): Now that this NFL season is more or less a reality, we’ve seen an unusual amount of big-name players changing teams. The first thing that’s struck me involve two teams who, if I had to choose at this very moment, would be my Super Bowl picks: The New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. The former’s coup of both Haynesworth and Ochocinco is a massive blow to the Jets, Steelers and other competitors in the AFC. The latter somehow straggling away Asomugha from the Jets and then picking up Young in “free agency” (which is a completely underrated and potentially quite deadly move) puts them in a spot to fend off the constantly underachieving NFC East. Some would argue that the Falcons are better equipped than the Eagles (and honestly, considering what they gave up for Julio Jones, you pretty much have to assume they think they’re going all the way), but does Vick simply have that redemption factor backing him all the way to Indianapolis?
Andrew Feingold (): I think the whole Nnamdi talks to the Jets was a smokescreen he apparently wanted to play for the Eagles all along. It was a wise decision not to sign him giving them the cap to go after Plax and re-sign Cromartie and Eric Smith. Restructuring the cap for players like LT, Sanchez, etc. gave them some more flexibility. Next up is to re-sign Harris to a long-term deal. Of course, Rex Ryan said today it’s the best roster he has seen while with the Jets.
I think the Rams and Jags did some under the radar moves which should help them out for the upcoming season. I’m sure SI will predict a Pats-Eagles SB but one thing we know is that the best team on paper does not always make it to the big game.
Marcus Bui (): I agree with Rahat’s forethought into the NFL seasons so far, that on paper, the Patriots and the Eagles are the best teams—that’s on paper though. However, with the NFL’s incredible parity, I’d like to draw the attention to two teams that I think have a legitimate chance of surprising everyone with a deep post season showing: The Texans and the Lions.
Let me be the first to say that I am a Houston fan, and as such, you have to be a realist and not an optimist if you are going to root for a Houston team or be prepared to blow your brains out. As such, this is the first time that I am excited enough about the Texans that I don’t have to start any relevant sentence with “if [insert optimistic event here] happens, we’ll make the post season for sure.” Having a top 5 offense (with arguably the #1 WR and RB), multiple D-line Pro-Bowlers with a good defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips and having the only “major” loss in free agency so far be Vonta Leach—the Texans did what teams need to do during free agency in fulfilling needs with reasonable contracts. Johnathan Joseph was considered by most to be the second best DB available after Asomugha and they picked up Danieal Manning as well. This doesn’t provide the Texans with a top 5 defensive secondary but they no longer possess the type of secondary that literally loses them 5 games a year. Pair this with a weakening AFC South, where Peyton Mannings’s shoulders has to carry not only an aging Colts team but also his recently surgically repaired neck and a below average Titans (sorry, Rahat) and Jaguars, if the Texans go anything less than 10-6, then perhaps Houston really is just a cursed city.
The other team I’d like to draw attention to is the Detroit Lions. It’s crazy that it was only a short time ago that the Lions were 0-16. It’s not crazy though that being bad makes you good—with draftees like Stafford and Suh—I would say that the Lions are my pick for this year’s NFL dark horse. The Lions have a plethora of talent throughout their team. The Lions defensive is scary good—Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Stephen Tulloch (sorry again, Rahat), etc. I also feel that their offensive side is definitely something to watch as well. Dynamic RBs in Jahvid Best and rookie Mikel Leshourne, the league’s most athletically talented wide receiver in Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, an underrated O-Line (#6 in fewest sacks allowed) and finally, Matthew Stafford—who I personally think is better than fellow young QB’s Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco (both whom also lead playoff anticipating teams). Consider that the only real threat in their division are the Packers (sorry, Vikings and the Bears fans) but being bad in the prior year is so rewarding to NFL teams that not only do they get high draft picks, but they also get an easier NFL schedule the following year. I think saying that the Lions going 8-8 wouldn’t be too hard for anyone to swallow, but if they can steal a couple games, they’ll be in the heart of the postseason battle as well.
And with that, remember that you read it here first at Perfecting the Upset—“The Marquee matchup of Super Bowl XLVI is Texans and Lions.”
Rahat Ahmed (): As much as I like the Lions (mostly because of the Jim Schwartz-connection and his siphoning off of former Titans), they’re still a year too early. Most importantly, as C.D. pointed out in his article, I don’t trust Stafford’s health. And Stanton, while sufficient for running a middle-of-the-pack offense, is not the guy who can manage a game for a Super Bowl contender. And if we’re talking about the NFC, I can see both wild card spots going to the Bucs, Falcons or Saints—whichever NFC South team doesn’t win the division. That is a brutal division that, sadly for the Panthers even with the reassuring moves they’ve made, has 3 legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
C.D. Hale (): My thought on big-ticket free agents is this: More often than not, you’re paying big bucks for what a guy has done, not what he’s going to do. For instance, Asomugha isn’t going to improve as a cornerback, nor are other big-ticket free agents. The key is to find young, cheap guys through the draft and free agency that serve as building blocks for a championship contender. Let’s be honest, for all the high-profile pickups of the Jets and Patriots, it’s teams like Green Bay and Pittsburgh—those who build their franchises in-house—who experienced the most success last year.
As for everyone’s Patriots vs. Eagles Super Bowl prediction, it’s a simple one; it’s also the wrong one. Michael Vick can’t stay healthy, and let’s not forget that his short-armed pass into the end zone last year cost the Eagles a playoff victory against the eventual champion Packers. Meanwhile, the Patriots have become uber-reliant on aging vets the last few years. Meanwhile, they haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2004. This is not a coincidence.
Nick Britton (): I can safely predict that the Miami Dolphins will not be in the playoffs this year. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to watch the Jets and Patriots get better by the day while Miami re-signs 74-year old Jason Taylor. I don’t know that Kyle Orton is the answer but I’d prefer him to any other QB on the roster now. Unfortunately, I don’t think it matters at this point: Matt Moore of Panthers fame was signed the other day. Still Henne’s team, though. I think we’ve seen the best Henne has to offer.
The big news for the Dolphins was Reggie Bush. A lot of people were down on Ronnie Brown, but I always liked him. And I really liked Ricky Williams, as ineffective as he was. If Brown goes to the Patriots [Ed: Brown has since signed with the Eagles.], I can assure you he’ll have an excellent season. The Wes Welker Effect. I wouldn’t mind seeing Williams back. I think he might return but I doubt Brown does. My guess is Miami starts the season with Bush as the feature back and rookie Daniel Thomas out of K-State backing him up. I say just keep handing it off to Lousaka Polite. And I don’t want to make light of a serious illness, but Brandon Marshall being not right in the head was a given, no? In all seriousness, I think it’s good he’s addressed it publicly and he’s getting treated for it. Let’s just hope he can get treatment for the QB problem.
Anyway, I think you can pretty much bank on either the Pats or the Jets winning the AFC East and getting a wildcard.
The Florida team to watch this year is easily Tampa Bay. Josh Freeman is a stud and I think he’ll be a top 5 QB this year. I think they need another WR, though, to line up opposite (the other) Mike Williams. I thought Steve Breaston would be a good fit but he’s on the Chiefs now. And Maurice Stovall went to the Lions. But I think Freeman and Boise State fan LeGarrette Blount make Tampa Bay the favorite in the NFC South. Blount was a monster last year in just half a season. I do agree with Rahat that this division is brutal.
I don’t think Michael Vick is what the Eagles need. Regardless of what I think about him as a person, I don’t think highly of him as a QB. I’ll say that last year was flukey and he comes back down to earth this year. I like the Vince Young signing though, and I like the Asomugha signing. Even with a down-to-earth Vick, there’s no way anyone in the NFC East competes with the Eagles this year.
I agree on the Patriots. I still think they win the division or a wildcard, but the balance of power in the East has shifted. They’re too old.
Bradley Freedman (): I find it hard to argue that both the Patriots and the Eagles aren’t going to be even better this year than they were last year. They are both real threats to win a Super Bowl, even though neither of them are my pick. (For the same reasons given by some of my colleagues: Vick’s unreliability and the Patriots’ age.) For what it’s worth, my Super Bowl pick is the Packers. There’s that old football cliche that when a good player comes back from an injury, it’s like adding a new signing. Considering that they were able to win a championship in spite of numerous injuries last year, I see a healthy Packers team repeating by virtue of adding the players who were supposed to be there last year.
Whether or not any of the big free agents lead their team to a Super Bowl, the nature of these signings is fascinating. I don’t remember a time when so many teams have doubled-up with superstars at key defensive positions. Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth on one team? Who ever heard of a team being deep at nose tackle? Based on the early reports from Patriots training camp, Belichick may be switching to a 4-3 with Wilfork and Haynesworth in the middle. This would no doubt make Haynesworth happy, and Haynesworth is frightening when he’s happy. If Belichick is moving to a 4-3, then, along with the Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly pairing up in the middle for the Lions, I’m looking forward to watching these two 4-3 schemes more than any team’s 3-4 in 2011. Hell, I’m looking forward more to those defensive fronts than I am most teams’ offenses.
Like many fans I was also looking forward to the sheer audacity of a Revis-Asomugha project in New York. But the trio of Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, and Samuels in the secondary for Philadelphia is almost as ridiculous. Of course, this is assuming the Eagles keep all three players and keep them all at corner. If that’s the case, at any given time the Eagles are going to have a Pro-Bowl corner standing on the sidelines. It will probably be Samuels.
Defense seems to be where much of the top-level talent is in this free agent class. And defense seems to be where much of the creativity is going to be this year. Yes, it’s a heavy-handed creativity, based on the premise that two stars are better than one. But I’m looking forward to it, especially since it is not going to be the sort of thing that every team can copy. Any team can decide to incorporate multiple eligible passers with the wild cat or go to a running back tandem. But not every team will be able to stack multiple Pro Bowlers in the same position.
Andrew Feingold (): Despite the age of the Pats at certain positions, they have young pieces in line at the RB, O-line and defensive positions. They are also the favorites to win the AFC East, which means home field advantage once again. For the Jets to take the next step, they need a home playoff game and for Sanchez to develop further. While the Packers are a popular pick to make it back to the SB, I want to see if the Falcons can breakthrough.
C.D. Hale (): See, I’m not so sure being the favorite in the East is a path to home-field advantage. The Jets are tough, and the Dolphins (despite their mediocrity) tend to play the Pats hard. Meanwhile, teams like the Chargers and Colts can feast on weak divisions and perhaps carve out their own path to home-field. Plus, I’m just not sure where the Pats’ game-breakers are. Ocho and Welker are both solid No. 2 receivers, but they lack a go-to threat. The running game is good but not great. And Brady, for all his other worldliness, hasn’t exactly set the playoffs on fire the last few years. If you get to him, the Pats are extremely beatable, as evidenced by the Divisional Playoff round last season.
Call me crazy, but I think the Colts or Chargers have one more run left in them. Maybe San Diego needed to be humbled last year, to show that you can’t start the season halfway through and still make the playoffs. Plus, again, awful division.
Andrew Feingold (): The Texans are on the cusp of winning that division even though they have a tough schedule this year. Peyton just lost his left tackle, and this is the first time I can remember he’s had a major health concern coming into the season. The Chargers have an easy path but Ryan Mathews is already banged up and the defense lost Brandon Siler and Kevin Burnett. While they should win the division, the Chiefs are still a solid team and when was the last time Norv Turner won a big game?
By the way, the Pats beat the Dolphins 41-14 and 38-7 last season, and this year they will have the quarterback carousel. Clearly the Steelers and Ravens have to be in the discussion as well.
C.D. Hale (): All good points, and while I picked the Texans to make the playoffs, that division still belongs to the Colts, Manning injury or no. Manning is a machine. Yeah, he’ll miss the preseason, but he’ll be there in Week 1 steering the ship, throwing to a (finally!) healthy receiving corps. As for the Chargers, yeah, Mathews is banged up, but Tolbert is solid enough, and let’s be honest, that offense goes through Rivers anyway. The NFL is a league now won with passing and pass rushing (e.g., the Packers last year), and I’m not sure the Pats have enough of the latter to go all the way. And while Brady is a stud, Welker hasn’t been the same player since he blew out his knee and Moss left town, and Ochocinco is a Pro Bowler in name only at this point. I’d argue their best receiver is up-and-coming tight end Aaron Hernandez.
As for Baltimore and Pittsburgh, they might be the two best teams in the AFC for all we know. However, I don’t trust Flacco or those receivers, and Pittsburgh is quietly getting older on defense.
As for the NFC, it’s a toss-up. My best guess is Green Bay, as they won the Super Bowl with some of their best players on the shelf, but damn, that’s almost too easy a pick. Atlanta could get it done, but there’s something about Matt Ryan I just don’t trust. Maybe it’s that crappy nickname. Philly? Super teams rarely work in the NFL. Dallas? Wishful thinking. Tampa? Not ready. Same for Detroit. I’d say New Orleans, but they seem like a team that caught lightning in a bottle and rolled to a title. I don’t see them doing that again.
Here’s a question to turn this on its head a little bit. Who will be the worst team in football? I vote Carolina. Tough division, no QB. Hell, aside from the fact that Ric Flair is their most famous fan, they have no personality of which to speak. Plus, Jimmy Clausen seems like a punk.
Sean Koo (): I know my timing is off, but going back first I would say that there is no team that did not want Nnamdi. Regardless of his age or injury history, he is worth the risk and the Eagles got him at a bargain. Second, while both the Patriots and the Eagles made the biggest splash, neither of them will be in the Super Bowl. I think you guys have thoroughly picked apart the Patriots, so I’ll just throw in a note about the Eagles. Not even considering a Michael Vick injury, the Eagles need the most help on defense, and everyone has forgotten about how they have a new defensive coordinator who was the former O-line coach. Aside from him being completely new to coaching that side of the ball, he has never put a defensive system in place and no one can expect him to do wonders in his first year. If it was as easy as plugging any coach in, Sean McDermott would still be there.
My vote is that the Packer or Saints will come back out of the NFC. The NFC South will be brutal, but I expect the Falcons to come back to earth—by the end of the season teams were figuring them out. As much as I would love the Bucs to win the division, they’re still a season away from really contending. They need to find stability with another winning season and getting into the playoffs will be a more likely goal before making a real push the following year.
My dark horse for the NFC is the Vikings. Yes, McNabb is old, but with Percy Harvin and AD, McNabb will get them as far as Favre did, and the defense should still be solid, even with Edwards leaving.
I’d say it’ll be the Steelers again out of the AFC, but there’s just too many good teams to really tell. Colts, Pats, Steelers and Chargers as division winners—as usual aside from the 1 or 2 off years, but that’s the AFC. Good teams stay good and the bad teams stay bad.
Worst team is going to be the Bengals. They don’t have a QB, their head coach has been through the wringer, they’re in a division with two superior teams and a promising team in the Browns. Somehow they are signing defensive free agents, but they still seem to be standing still. The Bengals challenge the Raiders for worse franchise but they even have less talent than the Raiders (who would be the best Vegas bet on possibly doing something out of no where like win the division).
Marcus Bui (): I’d agree with you Clint with the Panthers as the worst team in football. I do think they will have a 4 win season though—which might net them second or third to last though. For them to not be in last place, they need to play at their biggest strength: Their running game. Last year, they hardly ran the ball, I know, I had both Deangelo and Stewart on my fantasy team. Since their QB, WR, TE is mediocre (I think I’m being pretty lenient there), that too should promote running the ball more. The panthers are solid enough on the O-line and defense that I could feel hopeful for them. You never know, maybe they’ll surprise us. “Worst” case scenario would be they just had to wait a year for Andrew Luck.
Sreesha Vaman (): I’d nominate the Redskins as worst team in football. They might look better than they really are because they are in a tough division, but they’d be equally miserable in worse divisions. At the moment, their only QB options are John Beck, a marginal backup, and Rex Grossman. Don’t get me wrong, there is talent there. The defense isn’t all terrible—I even started them once last year and did well that week—and they definitely took a step in the right direction by getting younger this off-season, but that means growing pains before results.
Nick Britton (): If John Beck is even on your roster, hell, even your practice squad, you’re really up shit creek. The Bengals are looking at the Redskins and saying, “Well, at least we don’t have Beck, right?”
I’ll nominate the Raiders by default. The Raiders win the title automatically until they make the playoffs or Al Davis dies.
Shaughn Balezentes (): I’m surprised no one has nominated the Seahawks as the worst team in football. They had Matt Hasselbeck for years and brought in Charlie Whitehurst last year to be his eventual replacement. Obviously they didn’t see enough in Charlie after a year with the team to think he could be an adequate replacement, so they’re solution is to go out and sign Tavaris Jackson. Granted they signed Sidney Rice as well, but who is going to get him the ball? their offensive line was a mess last year, and they think they’ve got those problems solved through the draft and the signing of Robert Gallery, except all the draft analysts say they reached for all of the linemen they drafted and Gallery has been injury prone the last few seasons. Maybe hiring Tom Cable as the O-line coach will help, but in the NFL talent wins and the Seahawks don’t have much.
Masahito Ogasawara (): As much as I’d like to feel optimistic about this season, and there certainly have been good moves made by the Texans, this culture of failure that has existed since the franchise’s inception still makes me a pessimist when it comes to this team. It seems like every year, the so-called experts on TV declare Houston as the “sleeper” or “dark horse” in the preseason, and for the past few years, they predicted that this team will finally get over the hump and make the playoffs. We all know that didn’t happen, and I’m starting to feel that those analysts jinx us every year. So regardless of all the great moves we’ve made this off-season (I have to admit, bringing in Wade Phillips alone gave me false hope for a few days that our defense got better already) until I see it, I won’t believe that this team will make the playoffs.
First, it doesn’t matter how great our offense is, it’s proven to be a moot point in the last 3 seasons when we finished in top 5. This league is about defense, as it is in any other major sports league, and until we prove on that side of the ball, we will never make the playoffs. Talking about Wade Phillips and the improvements he can bring as well as his track record of success is all fine and good, but one thing this team still lacks is the ability to pass rush. Mario Williams moving to OLB is a huge risk and still a big unknown. As great as he is, he’s still 6’7, 285 lbs. DeMeco Ryans is coming off of an Achilles’ tendon rupture and history doesn’t bode well for him as far as type of injury is concerned. I’m not optimistic how Cushing will transition to the 3-4, and he hit a major sophomore wall last year. One glaring need that our GM has ignored is the NT position. We’re not gonna survive with Earl Mitchell/Shaun Cody at NT all season, unless you are playing Madden. Signing Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning was huge and will definitely help our secondary, but Wade Phillips 3-4 defense is all about the front 7 generating pass rush, and until we improve in that area, the improvements in the secondary won’t be as beneficial. And speaking of which, we still have Kareem Jackson and Jason Allen at our other CB spot, and they are very good at “escorting” opposing WRs into the end zone on a regular basis.
Finally, I think the loss of Vonta Leach will hurt our running game a lot more than people think. He did make Foster look good last year, and our running game will suffer this year in my opinion. And no, the Colts are not going to suck, and I think Peyton’s neck will be just fine. If anything, he will have more weapons available this year (hello, Dallas Clark) and he still had the Colts winning the division last year despite all the injuries that offense had. Once again, it’s their division to lose, and they are still the clear favorite to win the AFC South.
Rahat Ahmed (): The team with the worst record in the NFL this year will not be the worst team. The Panthers will get mauled in their divisional games and are slated to play the Colts, Texans, Packers and some other very competitive teams. They’ll once again have the worst record, but in terms of actual gameplay, I may have to pick the Buffalo Bills. Fitzpatrick is not a solution, though I do like him. And losing Posluszny is going to hurt them a lot in a division packed with offensive threats (yes, the Dolphins make this list because of Marshall and Bush).
The major power that I don’t see making the playoffs this year is the Colts. The Texans breaking out has become a broken record, but things have to click sometime. Regardless of the final standings, the team has progressed quite a bit over the past three years, and this is the year they take the division. The Jaguars and Titans are wild cards, but Manning can only do so much for a team that should have gone no better than 7-9 last year with the talent present. In fact, if he does take this team to an 11+ win season and a trip deep into the postseason, we may have to once and for all anoint him the greatest quarterback ever—though that’s a different discussion altogether.
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