Sep 05, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Rejoice, for the NFL lockout is done and gone. No more talk about gross percentages, but plenty of talk about yards, blocks and tackles as we near another autumn full of gridiron Sundays.
Look elsewhere, though, if you’re seeking fantasy-geek stuff. Here we do something novel – look at the teams, what they have and what they need to do in order to make it to the Hoosier Heartland on the night of Feb. 5. Here is the division-by-division breakdown.
AFC East – Leave it to the Jets and Patriots to morph into the Yankees and Red Sox, feuding each other in public, drawing obscene amounts of attention and loathed by everyone outside of their geographic base. Oh, the football part – barring total upheaval, they’ll duel for division honors all season and home-field advantage in January. This leaves Miami wondering if Chad Henne and Reggie Bush can do them any good, and it leaves Buffalo, white helmets and all, grasping for good news to prevent yet another depressing and cold winter in Western New York.
AFC North – Really, it’s similar to the AFC East in the massive gulf that separates the top two from the bottom two. Pittsburgh and Baltimore open with each other and are likely to spend the next four months still at it, though from afar. Yes, the Steelers and Ravens have aging defenses, but there’s enough offensive production to make up for it. Besides, Cleveland, though doing all the right things and hiring a solid coach in Pat Shurmur, is still a year or two from really threatening, and Cincinnati is even worse, so it might as well throw Andy Dalton out there to see what happens.
AFC South – Everything in this division hinges on Peyton Manning’s neck. If it’s healed, and he doesn’t miss any games, Indianapolis still holds every card. If not healed, the Colts will sink fast, and Houston might finally take full advantage and get to the playoffs in its 10th year of existence. Down in Jacksonville, either the Jaguars contend early, or it might prove time to give rookie Blaine Gabbert the keys to the office. Tennessee was wise to hire within (Mike Munchak is a solid guy), but the Chris Johnson holdout is overshadowing a real opportunity to move up.
AFC West – No one, at this moment, trusts that Kansas City can repeat its 2010 ascent, as everyone will target the Chiefs and its robust running attack, using the template from the playoff loss to Baltimore. San Diego is burning to return to the top, and still in the best position when compared to Oakland and Denver. The Raiders are pinning a lot on new coach Hue Jackson and hoping the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha is not too heavy. And the Broncos start over under John Fox, and the concerns go way beyond whether Tim Tebow will ever contribute or not.
NFC East – Why, oh why, did Philadelphia give itself a “Dream Team” label? Whether you agree with it or not, Mike Vick and the Eagles are setting up for glory or disaster, no in between. By doing this, they somehow take the pressure off everyone else, no mean feat in this high-profile division. The Giants, with a strong running game and stronger pass defense, are set up well, and Dallas is focused on the right things with Jason Garrett in charge. Washington may not challenge, but it got rid of a lot of waste and baggage, never done before in Dan Snyder’s disastrous tenure.
NFC North – The truly scary part about Green Bay’s championship run was that it was done with a very young core of players. Just about everyone on the Pack is back to repeat, and they’ll be needed in what could be the NFL’s best division. As long as it runs and defends like usual, Chicago need not fret too much about Jay Cutler. Detroit is poised to, at last, make a serious playoff run, while Minnesota, vulnerable as anyone to the Los Angeles plans to get back in the league, is praying that Donovan McNabb still has a year or two left in his tank.
NFC South – Here’s another division crowded with fun possibilities. Atlanta has done everything but win in January, something that could haunt Matt Ryan soon if the trend doesn’t changes. New Orleans might zoom past the Falcons, anyway, with smart off-season signings and good players at every position. Tampa Bay, too, is trending upward, but 10 wins again might be asking a lot of the young Bucs. Carolina gave long-overdue Ron Rivera a coaching nod, and he’ll do well, especially if he allows Cam Newton to naturally grown, rather than rush him out when he isn’t ready yet.
NFC West – Just one favor to ask here – somebody please finish above .500? Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona can reach these minimum standards, all with attached strings. The Seahawks need someone to pass it to Sidney Rice. The Rams simply need to mature a bit more and are the safest bet, while the Cardinals have a keeper with Kevin Kalb (say that three times fast). Only San Francisco appears hopeless, and by October Jim Harbaugh might wonder why he left Stanford for this….then again, he might get the chance to draft Andrew Luck anyway.
Now, we have the obligatory don’t-bet-on-this-if-you-have-any-good-sense Super Bowl prediction. No matter how much the Eagles loaded up, they still don’t topple Green Bay, who will join the (sad to say it) Patriots in Indy for a real good vs. evil proposition. Or two other teams will make it, which is just fine. Just get it kicked off already.