Friday, August 31, 2007

NFL SWOT Analysis: NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Owens (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: The Cowboys have a talent-laden team that, on paper, looks like they could be right there with the Bears as the class of the NFC. Quarterback Tony Romo looks better than last year, and running back Marion Barber picked up right where he left off last season, scoring TDs as Julius Jones’s backup. Terrell Owens has had a great camp and preseason, and even managed stayed out of trouble. He seems poised for a huge season. Terry Glenn starts across from Owens and tight end Jason Witten will work as Romo’s safety valve receiver. If they can stay healthy, they are a dangerous trio who all could draw double-coverage. Problem for opposing defenses is, there are not enough defenders to go around. Someone will have single coverage. The defensive front seven is about as nasty as you can get. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will be the most fearsome tandem of OLBs in the league behind San Diego’s amazing duo. The team finally added a competent free safety in Ken Hamelin. Both Hamelin and Roy Williams will have fun taking turns seeing who dishes the bigger hit.

Weaknesses: The Cornerbacks will be tested. Top corner Terrance Newman was recently diagnosed with a torn plantar fascia in his right heel. Anyone who has had this knows the degree of pain that Newman will play through. Losing a step for Newman is music to WR ears, as Newman’s speed is his top asset. They do not have another corner on the roster with that type of deep speed. Unfortunately, a hurt Terrence Newman is still the best CB on the roster.

Opportunities: Defensive Ends Marcus Spears and Chris Canty will have a special opportunity with Wade Phillips around. In Parcells’s 3-4, the defensive linemen stayed put and tried to clog holes. In Phillips’s 3-4, the DEs have more of an attacking role. Spears has already expressed his pleasure with the new system. Wide receiver Patrick Crayton could show the team that he’s capable of being a starter. He’ll fill in for Terry Glenn early in the year as Glenn recovers from knee surgery.

Threats: Can Wade Phillips prove that he is not the Norv Turner of defensive coaches? Phillips is a great defensive coordinator, however, as a head coach, has had more than his fair share of bumps. If Phillips proves to be a leader, this team could be Super Bowl bound.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Tony Romo, from nobody, as the leader of the offense. Since the retirement of Troy Aikman, the Cowboys have lacked a true leader on offense. Romo has the door wide open to claim that role. It is his to lose.

Position Battle: The RB battle may last all season long. Julius Jones and Marion Barber are the perfect back, if only they were one person combined. Both want to be the starter, however neither has stepped up enough to the point where they can fully claim the job. Jones’s vast potential (if healthy) gives him the slight upper hand.

Rookie Contributor: OLB Anthony Spencer is a scary one. Going back to my mock drafts here on PHSports, I pegged him as the most-likely Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner. Don’t be surprised if he puts up a 12-sack performance this season.

New York Giants

Manning (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: The New York Football Giants can be a surprise team this year. Eli Manning can only get better. If he avoids having months like November last season, he could be poised for a big season. Once his receiving corps are healthy, he’s got several trusty targets. Most importantly, he has one of the best tight ends in the league in Jeremy Shockey. With Shockey and WR Plaxico Burress, Manning has two of the biggest targets in the league. The red-zone offense could be in good shape. Running Brandon Jacobs behind the right side of the offensive line will be hard for defenses to stop.

Weaknesses: The defensive backfield is in shambles regardless of if Sam Madison is available or not. R.W. McQuarters should in no way be a team’s #1 corner. Corey Webster is still developing at the other corner. Rookie Aaron Ross looks like he might be thrust into the nickel spot. James Butler played special teams for the majority of his career. He is the team’s new starting strong safety. Without Strahan, the defensive front seven looks much weaker. They desperately need him in uniform.

Opportunities: Brandon Jacobs is the new starting RB on the team. At 6’4” and over 260 pounds, Jacobs has impressive speed, running in the low 4.4s. If he played defense, his physical gifts would be on par with San Diego LB Shawne Merriman.

Threats: How much will this team miss Tiki Barber? Barber was a dependable receiving option out of the backfield, whereas Jacobs and Droughns are not. Left Tackle David Diehl is more of a natural guard. The Giants tried him at both tackles before. His pass-blocking skills are already in question.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Wide receiver Amani Toomer to Sinorice Moss. Moss must step up this year and claim the flanker position from the aging Toomer. Unlike Toomer, Moss can stretch the field, creating more opportunities for Burress and Shockey.

Position Battle: When Madison returns from his hamstring injury, look for some debate over who should assume the #2 CB spot. McQuarters and Webster will spend their time starting as an exhibition over who the starter will be once Madison recovers.

Rookie Contributor: CB Aaron Ross is the most likely contributor, but keep an eye on 2nd round WR Steve Smith and 7th round FS Michael Johnson. Smith will get opportunities in 4 WR sets to stretch the field. Johnson may get an opportunity to play at safety from time to time. If James Butler falters, Gibril Wilson will probably move to his natural SS position and Johnson will fill in at FS.

Philadelphia Eagles

McNabb (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: While Dallas is my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, if I had to pick a surprise team, it would be the Eagles. If McNabb can get off to a start like last season and sustain it, opponents are in trouble. Wide receiver Kevin Curtis steps in for the departed Donte Stallworth. They are essentially the same field stretching player, except Curtis might have better hands. The running game will once again be solid behind Brian Westbrook. Between rushing and receiving, Westbrook could put up 2000 all-purpose yards. The defensive line is built on speed all the way across. Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley have two of the most impressive first steps in the NFL at the DT position. Jevon Kearse, Darren Howard and Trent Cole will man the DE spots. Offenses can expect attacks from all four spots on most plays. Brian Dawkins returns as the QB of the defense. He was the glue that kept this unit from being a total loss last season.

Weaknesses: The Eagles do not have a lot to pick on when it comes to weaknesses. The Wide receivers are weak on paper. While pure talent is not abundant, chemistry might be the card under their sleeve. Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant and Greg Lewis must stretch the field so that McNabb and Westbrook can do their damage. If the WRs play down to their level, the rest of the offense is shorthanded and non-productive. They also have three new starters at Linebacker. Omar Gaither played on the outside last season, and a little inside to spell Trotter. Takeo Spikes looks like he could be on the downside of his career. Chris Gocong is a converted DE who needs to prove that he has coverage skills to go with his rushing skills.

Opportunities: Cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown need to play back up to the level they did two years ago. Brown struggled at times, and Sheppard was hurt for a large chunk of the season. The team moved several of their DTs, and elevated 2006 first rounder, Broderick Bunkley as a starter. Bunkley spent much of his time on the bench last season, but has come on strong this offseason. He ranks near the top of the DTs in the league when it comes to the Strength/Speed combination. He could potentially be another Tommie Harris.

Threats: How will the trouble with Andy Reid’s sons effect his coaching? Many speculate that he will not bring those issues onto the sidelines. However, something must be said for possible exhaustion. He already took time off this offseason to deal with his sons’ issues. The recent arrest only compounds the aggravation that Reid has as a father. If Reid falters from this, expect this to be his last season as the Eagles head coach. Another threat could be McNabb, choosing to hear rookie QB Kevin Kolb’s footsteps. The McNabb Camp was already openly upset about the pick. Hopefully the effects are not seen during the season.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: As the leader of the defense, Brian Dawkins (34 in a little over a month) has his hand slowly stretching out, ready to pass the torch. Yet nobody is reaching out to take it. The team is in need of a new leader. A career Eagle who will do as Dawkins does, and get going when the going gets tough.

Position Battle: There is a battle for the #3 WR. Hank Baskett, Greg Lewis and Jason Avant have been battling all training camp and preseason. As of now, Jason Avant looks to be in the lead, however one cannot overlook Lewis’s speed and Baskett’s possession receiver skills.

Rookie Contributor: Rookies are not likely to contribute much here. However, if injuries strike at LB, Stewart Bradley can play any LB position, but probably fits best on the strong side. RB Tony Hunt could get a few carries, but has been somewhat unimpressive this preseason.

Washington Redskins

Campbell (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: The running game should be the bread and butter of this offense. Clinton Portis claims to be back from his injury, however the team was able to keep backup RB Ladell Betts who came out of nowhere last year to rush for over 1000 yards. Leading the way for the running game is an offensive line geared towards the run and an underrated fullback, Mike Sellers. On defense, London Fletcher leads a solid LB corps that has looked great this preseason. Fletcher has the ability to attack the line like a bowling ball as well as patrol the line in a read/react function. Tight End Chris Cooley looks like QB Jason Campbell’s favorite target. He could be in for a big year.

Weaknesses: The defensive line is about as weak a defensive line as there is in the NFL. A power rushing team can have their way with this defense. Last offseason’s big acquisitions, Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle-El and Andre Carter, gave coaches fits last year. Only problem was, it was their own coaches. Randle-El and Carter did not play up to their contracts. Lloyd was almost cut from the team after clashing with coaches.

Opportunities: Cornerback Carlos Rogers showed flashes toward the end of the season, securing his status as a starter on this defense. He could be in for a big year. Rogers is a physical corner and in the hybrid cover-1 defense that Greg Williams will run this season, Rogers will be around the line of scrimmage supporting the run defense more often. QB Jason Campbell was a winner from high school through college. Could he be the QB that helps turn this franchise back around?

Threats: The team is getting old with major contributors getting into their 30s. London Fletcher, Shawn Springs, Phillip Daniels, Renaldo Wynn, Cornelius Griffin, Pierson Prioleau, Chris Samuals, Jon Jansen, Randy Thomas and Mike Sellers are all 30+ years of age. If this were a Super Bowl contending team, this might be ok. However, this is a team constantly on the rebuild, and trading draft picks and settling on filling the roster with older players is not the best way to rebuild a team.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: LB Rocky McIntosh from Marcus Washington as the up-and-coming linebacker on the team. McIntosh was an afterthought last season, however the only player on the Skins to study more film than McIntosh this offseason was Jason Campbell. The preparation shows, as McIntosh has been all over the field this preseason. If this continues into the season, the Skins could look good for trading up in the second round in 2006 to seize the physically gifted LB.

Position Battle: Strong Sefety, Pierson Prioleau is fighting off a strong challenge from phenomenal rookie LaRon Landry. The coaches love Prioleau. In fact, when Prioleau went down in the opening play of last season with a season-ending injury, you could almost immediately see the effect on the defense. Landry, on the other hand, is one of the most physically gifted safeties to enter the league. The thought of having him line up nest to Sean Taylor has Redskins coaches thrilled, and opposing receivers shaking in their cleats.

Rookie Contributor: Landry could be the lone contributor in this year’s draft class. This is very common for the Redskins who love mortgaging their future and trading their draft picks away, only to end up in the basement of the league anyway. Keep an eye on H.B. Blades if there are injuries among the linebackers. He looked good this preseason.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Hope or Hype???

Check out an NFL practice field and you’ll see dozens of guys sporting dozens of different attitudes.

"Training camp couldn’t be a bigger waste of time. When is practice over?”
“Just don’t get hurt.”
“I think I’ll pull a quad tomorrow and miss a week of practice.”
“When exactly are we going to revisit my pathetic contract?”
“I need this day to be perfect, or I’m gone.”
“I’ll be cut any moment now.”
“I hope I can at least make the practice squad this season.”
“Hello, new contract!”

You could go on. However, often we forget what talent evaluators - and no, I don’t mean what coaches, scouts, GMs, and player personnel directors are wondering.

I’ll step out of my lazy work polo shirt and into a variety of team gear and bad slacks.

Each team is targeting all sorts of players. However, each one is targeting only a handful of guys to turn it up, turn it around, or hopefully not turn it down as the season approaches.

Let’s take a gander…

Arizona Cardinals
Radar: Leonard Pope [Tight End]
Can we develop an underneath target for Leinart that will bolster an already studly wideout corps?

Atlanta Falcons
Radar: Jamaal Anderson [Defensive End]
Will we silently regret trading away Matt Schaub for the next ten years?

Baltimore Ravens
Radar: Bart Scott [Linebacker]
Was it a mistake not to throw money at Adalius Thomas and worry about the salary cap after a potential Super Bowl season?

Buffalo Bills
Radar: Entire defense
With so many defensive veterans gone, who will become the leader of this defense?

Carolina Panthers
Radar: Dan Morgan [Linebacker]
Can our defensive leader every stay healthy for an entire season?

Chicago Bears
Radar: Devin Hester [Punt Returner, Kick Returner & Wide Receiver]
Can he be that good again?

Cincinnati Bengals
Radar: Leon Hall [Cornerback]
Did we get an absolute steal of a shutdown corner in the middle of the 1st round of the draft?

Cleveland Browns
Radar: Romeo Crennel [Head Coach]
Is this the right man to lead our team into the future? Especially when he’s flipping coins to choose a starting quarterback!

Dallas Cowboys
Radar: Ken Hamlin [Safety]
Can we support a talented guy, named Roy, with him and Roy the consistent elite playmaker he has the potential to be?

Denver Broncos
Radar: The TE position
We’ve spent the time and the money, now when does a guy emerge from Shannon’s shadow?

Detroit Lions
Radar: John Kitna [Quarterback]
Can this guy help turn around a culture of losing? Can he hold onto the ball in the 4th quarter?

Green Bay Packers
Radar: Charles Woodson [Cornerback]
Can he remain one of the NFL’s best recently kept comeback secrets still?

Houston Texans
Radar: Owen Daniels [Tight End]
Where on Earth are we going to find a proper compliment to Andre Johnson on this roster? (Perhaps...Jacoby Jones?)

Indianapolis Colts
Radar: Bob Sanders [Safety]
Can our defensive MVP stay healthy when we need him the most?

Jacksonville Jaguars
Radar: Maurice Jones-Drew [Running Back]
Have we been harboring an absolute gem who’s on the verge of becoming one of the NFL’s best game-breaking backs?

Kansas City Chiefs
: Brodie Croyle [Quarterback]
How do we tell if this guy is our QB of the future?

Miami Dolphins
Radar: Ted Ginn [Wide Receiver]
Was this the guy who we were supposed to take with the 9th overall pick in an NFL Draft?

Minnesota Vikings
Radar: Pass-rushing DEs
Can a dominant defensive line make our defense entirely suffocating?

New England Patriots
Radar: Laurence Maroney [Running Back]
We’ve done it before without a stud back, but can we do it with this guy, stud or not?

New Orleans Saints
Radar: Deuce McAllister [Running Back]
Can we get a repeat performance out of Deuce in ’07 and further allow Reggie Bush time to develop and prosper?

New York Giants
Radar: Amani Toomer [Wide Receiver]
Can Eli’s security blanket remain healthy and potentially emerge as our veteran leader or will Steve Smith put him on the fringe?

New York Jets
Radar: Darrelle Revis [Cornerback]
After missing so much camp, can Revis turn into the shutdown corner our defense desperately needs?

Oakland Raiders
Radar: Jerry Porter [Wide Receiver]
Is this guy a malcontent or simply misunderstood? Or both? Should we even bother to find out much longer?

Philadelphia Eagles
Radar: Jevon Kearse [Defensive End]
When, if ever, will he attempt to justify that mega-contract from a few years back?

Pittsburgh Steelers
Radar: Santonio Holmes [Wide Receiver]
Is this his breakout season opposite of Hines Ward?

St. Louis Rams
Radar: Adam Carriker [Defensive End/Linebacker]
Can he rejuvenate our defensive front and aid our emerging secondary with a consistent run-stopping threat? (Then again, when was this defense “juvenated” to be rejuvenated?)

San Diego Chargers
Radar: Nate Kaeding [Kicker]
When the big kick arrives, will it even be close?

San Francisco 49ers
Radar: Darrell Jackson [Wide Receiver]
Is he the downfield threat Alex Smith needs to take it to the next level?

Seattle Seahawks
Radar: Nate Burleson [Wide Receiver]
Was he a complete waste of Steve Hutchinson’s potential contract?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Radar: Carnell Williams [Running Back]
Which year was a more telling tale for the Cadillac: ’05 or ’06?

Tennessee Titans
Radar: Nick Harper [Cornerback]
With the Pacman out for the season (at the very least in Tennessee); is Harper the true CB of our future?

Washington Redskins
Radar: Carlos Rogers [Cornerback]
Can this guy avoid becoming the NFL’s most picked-on CB by opposing WRs?

…and I’m spent.

That is unless you have a few guys on your collective radars, of whom you’ve like to comment a bit about.

Until next time…

Friday, August 24, 2007

NFL SWOT Analysis: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Lewis (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: On paper, the Ravens defense looks as good as, if not better than, their Super Bowl XXXV winning team. Although, Marvin Lewis is not at the helm of this defense, do not count out Rex Ryan (son of Buddy) who should land a head-coaching job next off-season. The talented defensive line is led by DE Trevor Pryce who does nothing short of dominate when he’s on the field. Underrated NT, Kelly Gregg and up-and-coming DE Haloti Ngata man the other spots. All are capable of tying up a couple of offensive linemen, freeing up their linebackers. Inside backers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott, one of the top tandems in the NFL, will take turns attacking the line of scrimmage, while Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson put pressure from the outside. The starting defensive backfield could possibly be the best in the league. Corners Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle are still atop their game while safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry are coming off a great season together. On the offensive side, QB Steve McNair is in his second year with the team, and looks more comfortable. Running backs Willis McGahee and Mike Anderson will lead the charge as a 1-2 punch. TE Todd Heap continues to be one of the best in the league.

Weaknesses: The offense has been a difficult place for this team to build momentum. On paper, the offense has either remained the same, or decreased in talent, except arguably at running back. However, there is some potential. Depth becomes a concern in the defensive backfield. If McAlister or Rolle go down for any significant period, the team will be in dire straits.

Opportunities: Wide Receiver Mark Clayton could put the “3rd Year WR” rule in effect. If he can step up and be a go-to receiver for Steve McNair, the Ravens may not need to lean on the defense so much this season. Another WR ready to do big things is Demetrius Williams, who has looked impressive during camp and the preseason.

Threats: The offensive line has had a major overhaul in the last two years. Guards Jason Brown and Chris Chester have about one season worth of starting experience between the two of them. Right Tackle Adam Terry has two starts under his belt. Mike Flynn and Jonathan Ogden are the only starters with significant starting experience. Hopefully, Ogden is back soon. As good as supplemental draftee Jared Gaither has looked at Left Tackle, he does not have NFL regular season game experience.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Bart Scott from Ray Lewis, tackling machine. Bart Scott is emerging as the do-it-all linebacker. While this may not happen right away, it is definitely in the cards. Scott has slimmed down and looks like he’s on the verge of making a name for himself.

Position Battle: At this point, there aren’t any major battles, as the starters are nearly set. If WR Demetrius Williams keeps up his strong play, he could challenge Mark Clayton. If Clayton also does well, they could cut into Derrick Mason’s time. When Dan Cody comes back from his injury, he could push Jarret Johnson at the OLB spot opposite Terrell Suggs.

Rookie Contributor: Left Tackle Jared Gaither will hold down the fort until Ogden is back, but keep an eye on LB Antwan Barnes. Barnes is a speedy LB who converted from a pass rushing DE. If Jason Brown or Chris Chester either falter, or one has to move to center, look for 1st rounder Ben Grubbs to make his debut. He is a road-grading run blocker.

Cincinnati Bengals

Palmer (Image Courtesy of

Strengths: The offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions. Once again, All-Pro QB Carson Palmer has his talented duo at WR, Chad Johnson and T.J. Hoozyadaddy *ahem* Houshmandzadeh, to throw the ball to. Behind him, he has the dependable Rudi Johnson, who has averaged 1400 yards per year for the last three seasons. The team also boasts a talented defensive backfield, loaded with young starts. First round picks in back to back years, Johnathan Joseph and Leon Joe, look like the next great tandem of corners in the league. They join the team’s #1 corner, Deltha O’Neal. At safety, Dexter Jackson joins 25 year-old Madieu Williams. Together, this unit could buy the defensive line that extra second or two to get to opposing QBs.

Weaknesses: Inside the offensive tackles, who are currently on the mend, the offensive line seriously lacks talent. They have players they can get by with, but they must gel as a unit if they plan to keep strong defensive lines off Palmer and Johnson. Not making things easier is the fact that Palmer has always lacked that safety-valve receiver. Rudi Johnson is not what you would consider a pass catcher. Reggie Kelly definitely is not one either. The team continues to leave this situation unaddressed. Third downs are much easier to convert when you have a dependable safety valve or two.

Opportunities: Ahmad Brooks has an excellent opportunity to make up for his name being sullied when he was dismissed from the University of Virginia. He has the middle all to himself, and has the talent to be one of the better MLBs in the game. He can also make this team forget about a once-promising Odell Thurman.

Threats: The front seven on defense will not scare anyone. The last thing a team needs is to face an offense that is confident that they will run all over you. On the defensive line, the Bengals have a mix of overachievers. While overachievers are nice to have, the nature of an overachiever is that occasionally they will play down to their level. Domata Peko was a nice surprise last year at DT, but if he comes back to earth, the remaining options are not good.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Deltha O’Neal to Johnathan Joseph, as the #1 CB, eventually. Joseph had a strong year last season, starting nine games as a rookie. He broke up 20 passes in the process, which is no small feat. With a prototypical size/speed combination, Joseph will spend many years covering opposing teams’ top receivers.

Position Battle: A common place for position battles is the third WR position. This is very true of the Bengals. Right now, Tab Perry, Reggie McNeal and Antonio Chatman are the front-runners in the battle. Perry has been given every chance, but to come up with two catches after being targeted nine times in a preseason game is not going to sit well with coaches. The team is high on converted QB McNeal, but he is still working on the transition to wide receiver. Chatman could end up with another crack at the job that should have been his last season, but was lost due to injury.

Rookie Contributor: Unfortunately, the rookie who would have been the biggest contributor was lost for the season. Running Back Kenny Irons would have backed up Rudi Johnson and gotten most of the backup carries during the season. Cornerback Leon Hall will probably have the largest impact out of the rookies. He could end up being a starter by 2008. Keep an eye on Marvin White. He will be the first safety off the bench and has a lot of upside.

Cleveland Browns

Quinn (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: Keep a close eye on this defense. We could be witness to Crennel building another Patriots defense. We see familiar faces like Ted Washington and Willie McGinest, and we see some relative unknowns that could have an impact. Two second-year players, OLB Kamerion Wimbley and ILB D’Qwell Jackson, lead a solid set of linebackers. Both were pleasant surprises last season. DEs Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith would be DTs anywhere else, which is perfect for Crennel’s 3-4 alignment. Safeties Sean Jones and Brodney Pool are coming into their own, and could allow Crennel to run more of a Cover-2 style in the defensive backfield. If Jamal Lewis and the line can stay healthy, this offense could have the surprise running game of the division. The team is also hoping that TE Kellen Winslow ramps up his progress and ends up in more highlight reels than motorcycle accidents (Note: PHSports does not condone mockery of motorized vehicle accidents)

Weaknesses: While the defense looks good overall, the CBs leave a lot to be desired. Leigh Bodden and Kenny Wright started nine games apiece last season due to injuries on the squad. Both are the starters now. At Wide Receiver, the team would like to move Joe Jurevicious to the slot position, where he has had success before. However, nobody is stepping up to replace him on the split side. Someone needs to stup up behind Jamal Lewis and be effective when giving him breaks.

Opportunities: Like Mark Clayton of the Ravens, WR Braylon Edwards is also subject to that “3rd Year WR” rule. He was decent, despite the QB issues the team had last year. If the QB position is solid throughout the year, Edwards could have a breakout season. He has all of the physical gifts necessary for him to catch everything thrown in his vicinity.

Threats: The offensive line definitely needs LG Eric Steinbach to have a full recovery from his knee ligament injury. He is the heart of that offensive line. A power passing team like the Colts could have their way with this defense. A healthy McGinnest will be needed to pull pressure away from Wimbley so he can rush the passer. Current starter, Antwan Peek will not be able to provide that for Wimbley.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Brady Quinn is the future of this franchise, and the team must get him in there. At this point, he is the best QB on the roster. Charlie Frye is a decent option as a #2 QB, but he seems to have reached the limit of his potential. Derek Anderson and Ken Dorsey could fetch the team a late round draft pick for 2008 if they choose to trade one of them.

Position Battle: The battle of the Wright’s could easily go wrong. Do you take a relatively big and slow corner with experience and replace him with a slightly faster, slightly smaller inexperienced corner? The fact is that Eric Wright has much more upside than Kenny Wright has, but is probably more prone to making a mistake. If the team has bad record early, it would be wise to put the younger Wright in place and let him learn on the fly.

Rookie Contributor: Obviously, Brady Quinn will be a huge rookie contributor if he is starting. However, one cannot forget Offensive Left Tackle Joe Thomas is the highest rated offensive lineman to come out of the draft since Jordan Gross. He is the prototypical offensive lineman. He is huge and agile, and has great footwork. A strong pass blocker and a monster run blocker, he learned his trade on a Wisconsin team that likes to run. He will spearhead the running game with his partner in crime on the left side, Eric Steinbach.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Parker (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: The Steelers can come at you with a power and finesse running game. Three power runners compliment the lightning that is Willie Parker. His near 1500 yards and 13 touchdowns brought him to the elite level of RBs in the league. Behind him are the crushing trio of Najeh Davenport and Verron Haynes. Together they will wear out defenses behind an offensive line that has the scariest duo of guards in the league, Alan Faneca and Kendall Simmons. Feeding off that running game will be Ben Roethlisburger, who took his bumps last year after a horrific motorcycle accident (see note from Cleveland SWOT Analysis). Big Ben still has the trusty WR Hines Ward and TE Heath Miller. Defensive Linemen Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton will clog off offenses, while allowing ILBs James Farrior and Larry Foote do their damage attacking the line. Troy Polamalu will do his usual patrolling of the defensive backfield, while taking on new responsibilities in coverage, as the safeties cover more in the Cover-2 defense.

Weaknesses: Gone are the days of the Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd, and the days of Jason Gildon and Joey Porter. Now it is Clark Haggans and James Harrison. Somehow, that does not strike fear in the hearts of offensive coordinators. The team drafted LBs Lawrence Timmons and Lamarr Woodley, but they probably will not win the starting jobs this year. As of now, Woodley will replace Clark Haggans on third downs.

Opportunities: Verron Haynes could see a lot of time on the field if he beats out Dan Kreider for the fullback job. Haynes also doubles as a ball carrier, which makes him more valuable than Kreider. If he wins the job, he could end up getting his fair share of goaline carries.

Threats: Many will have to remember that though this is a team, one Super Bowl removed from being the defending champions, they have many different cogs in place. At the top of all of that is new Head Coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin could end up doing wonders for this team. However, will the change be too much? The team could have a tough transition from the traditional 3-4 defense to Cover-2

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Mike Tomlin will be at the forefront of the Pittsburgh media as he replaces a legend who replaced a legend. Many are looking for Tomlin to continue that trend and be a great coach for a long time. This torch passing carries a heavier load than any player position on the team.

Position Battle: Cornerback Deshea Townsend is fighting for his starting job against Bryant McFadden. McFadden fits the mold of a Cover-2 corner that Tomlin likes. Like Ike Taylor, McFadden has no problem coming up to the line and helping with the run. Townsend is more of a cover corner. Another battle will be at WR opposite Hines Ward, where Santonio Holmes holds off Cedrick Wilson, who has looked good during training camp and the preseason.

Rookie Contributor: OLB Lamarr Woodley will see the field as a 3rd down rusher, and hopes to be this year’s Mark Anderson (Bears). Lawrence Timmons may see the field more down the stretch of the season as injuries have slowed his progress this training camp and preseason. Keep an eye on DE Ryan McBean, as he reminds me a lot of current Steeler, Aaron Smith.

PHSports’ 5 Sleepers and 5 Busts for the 2007 NFL Fantasy Season

Each year dozens of sports websites offer their lists of busts and sleepers for the fantasy football season. These lists are entirely speculative and based on mostly nothing but gut feelings. Having now degraded the uncertain nature of predicting sleepers and busts, the staff at PHSports has decided to jump aboard the ship and offer what its own crystal ball revealed for the 2007 fantasy football season.


1. LaMont Jordan (RB, Oakland Raiders)

Yes, I can sense the double take followed by the rubbing of the eyes you all just experienced. A Raider? As a sleeper? Well, after last season this team, and Jordan, has nowhere to go but up. Jordan’s sub-par 2006 lays the groundwork for an improved season. Furthermore, Dominic Rhodes’ 4-game suspension to start the season is the ultimate early Christmas present for Jordan, who has two years under his belt with his Oakland teammates. That camaraderie, along with Lane Kiffin’s new system, will propel Jordan to be a solid #3 back.

2. Greg Jennings (WR, Green Bay Packers)

This second-year wide-out from the frozen tundra goes against the traditional notion that wide receivers don’t usually pan out until their third season in the league. Now, we aren’t saying that Jennings will provide Ocho-Cinco type stats to your depleted fantasy roster, but he did have 45 receptions for 632 yards last season. Since then, the Packers have dropped veteran WR Robert Ferguson, and Jennings has claimed the 2nd starting WR spot opposite Donald Driver. With Brett Favre’s arm likely being the key to the Packers’ offensive scheme again this season, look for Jennings to get at least 90-100 looks from the aging QB. NOTE: since the drafting of this article, Packers' #1 WR Donald Driver was carted off the field with an undisclosed injury. Keep an eye out on this situation since it could boost Jennings’ status as a sleeper.

3. Vincent Jackson (WR, San Diego Chargers)

Now, here is a WR entering that supposedly grand third season, and one who PHSports thinks will put up the numbers in 2007. Admittedly, Jackson had a statistically forgettable 2006 season. His 27 catches for 453 yards aren’t noteworthy, but the 6 touchdown catches are nothing to sneeze at. 2007 should see Jackson’s totals rise, even though he is still competing with the arguably the league’s best TE in Antonio Gates. The key to Jackson’s stats this season is the arrival of Norv Turner. Though he’s never amounted to much of anything as a head coach, Turner has played a key part in improving the passing offense of his past teams, and will do the same for the Chargers.

4. Brandon Jackson (RB, Green Bay Packers)

Green Bay fans must be loving us right now. (There’d better be a rise in hits from Wisconsinafter this article). The second Jackson of this list has a great opportunity ahead of him at the side of Brett Favre. Thanks to the injury to Vernand Morency, who still claims the #1 spot on the Packers’ depth chart, Brandon Jackson has seen and will continue to see most of the touches with the first string offense. Jackson has shown promise in the preseason, so the job appears to be his to keep. Though we don’t expect magical numbers from the rookie out of Nebraska, he will produce good numbers. This is probably the biggest “reach” of our sleeper picks.

5. Alex Smith (QB, San Francisco 49ers)

The lone quarterback on our sleeper list could very well have the breakout season of 2007. Although he no longer has QB guru Norv Turner to guide him, Alex Smith is working with a very solid team that experienced some quality success last season. Furthermore, Frank Gore will help to alleviate the pressure from the young quarterback. The 49ers have also added some depth to the receiving core, adding Ashley Lelie and Darrell Jackson in the off-season, not to mention the help he’ll get from a healthy Vernon Davis. Don’t be surprised if Alex Smith is a top 10 fantasy QB by the end of the season.


1. Shaun Alexander (RB, Seattle Seahawks)

It pains us to put this former TD and rushing champion at the top of this list, but there are far too many questions surrounding his injured foot and his ability to bounce back. Alexander only played in 10 games last season, and only managed 3.6 yards per carry (ypc), a far cry from the 4.8 ypc in 2004 and and 5.1 ypc in 2005. He’s also no spring chicken, turning 30 before the regular season starts, so we have to wonder whether he has enough youthful energy left in him to return to his glory years or if he’s on course to become the next Marshall Faulk.

2. Randy Moss (WR, New England Patriots)

So much hype and so many expectations can only lead to disappointment, especially considering that Randy hasn’t even practiced with the team since early August. People tend to overreact when a quality wide receiver switches teams, assuming that the mere pairing of a quality wideout with a team’s quarterback will lead to sheer magic. Unfortunately, those people are forgetting Peerless Price to Atlanta, Muhsin Muhammad to Chicago, oh and Randy Moss himself to Oakland. Sure, Randy could pull a Donté Stallworth and provide immediate help to his new team, but given his lack of practice time with Tom Brady, we wouldn’t be shocked if he didn’t finish in the top 2 on his team in receptions.

3. Tom Brady (QB, New England Patriots)

When a team has basically been crowned the Super Bowl champion by a solid portion of the media during the off-season, it’s usually been a bad sign of things to come (see Washington Redskins under Daniel Snyder). The Patriots went out and signed about 400 new wide receivers for their GQ QB after the AFC Championship loss to the Colts last year. Unfortunately for Papa Brady, this has fans expecting a 5,000 yard season with 30+ TD passes (finishing second only to Jon Kitna’s self-projection of 50 TD tosses). Given those over-reaching expectations, Brady’s got fantasy bust written all over him. He may still have an okay fantasy season, especially if he and his new wideouts can get on the same page despite injuries. However, he won’t be worth the 2nd or 3rd round selection that will be used on him in most leagues.

4. Marc Bulger (QB, St. Louis Rams)

What a difference a signature makes. Before Bulger signed his new contract extension a few weeks ago, some of the staff here at PHSports had him pegged for a sure-fire sleeper pick. Bulger was poised to have a “contract year” to guarantee himself the big bucks from the Rams or some other team after the 2007 season. But then, it happened. The Rams caved and gave him a 6-year, $65 million extension … so now he’s settled financially and ready to underachieve.

5. Clinton Portis (RB, Washington Redskins)

The man of many disguises has become way too injury prone very early in his career. The injuries coupled with a 1,000-yard backup RB in Ladell Betts who proved his worth last season, make Portis a very risky selection in any fantasy draft. He’s only played a full season once in his three years as a Redskin and he’s seen zero action this preseason. Even if he is fully healthy by the start of the season, Portis will only be getting about 60-65% of the touches after Betts’ solid 2006 campaign, thus limiting his fantasy production.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

10 Points on How To Draft and Maintain Your Fantasy Team

Earlier in the week, I offered a few points on how to create the ultimate fantasy league. Today, it’s all about winning the championship from start to finish. Draft day is the most important day of the season, so the majority of points focus on it. Maintaining and upgrading the team you drafted can also help you establish fantasy football ascendancy and plenty of street credibility amongst your league mates.

In this article, I will not be including the wisdom imparted to you by the talking heads at ESPN, such as stating that it’s okay to draft running backs who are members of two-back systems. I’ll also not be telling you that such two-back systems only work with road-grading offensive lines, but neither did ESPN.

Nevertheless, these points serve as a blueprint for success in all leagues and a guide for the utterly lost.

1) Prepare for Your Championship
In competitive leagues, research is the name of the game. Last season, if you did not land one of the top three picks in the 1st round, then you were not likely to be in the regular season championship conversation. This is not common.

Here are my suggestions to a relatively new or struggling player.

1) Make an initial list of 150-200 players depending on how many are being drafted overall and participate in at least one draft in a league which you will treat like a mock. This will give you an idea of who is drafted where and this allows owners to view biases in action.

2) Adjust your big board accordingly and always consider the big board a large suggestion. Also, develop a plan of attack by allotting bench position numbers and think of various draft position scenarios. Never be rigid or static in your approach because this will only limit you in pursuit of the grand prize.

3) Listen keenly to conversations between yourself and other members of the league in the days heading into the draft. You’ll be sure to grab a few nuggets along the way.

4) Focus and execute. The draft is all about making quick decisions and trusting your instincts in the heat of the moment.

2) Target > Reach
All of these points emphasize the need to actively and creatively pursue the title. Knowing where players normally land and targeting players by offering trades to move up a few spots to pick up that player who will round out your starting core is a good adjustment in avoiding the infamous reach. If you see your league mates dashing for a specific position all at once, know that there’s a whole lot of value hiding somewhere.

3) Get at Least 1 RB in First 2 Picks
It either takes a very confident or arrogant owner in a 10-12 team league to pass on a running back in the first two rounds. While many fantasy gurus preach that you must draft a running back in each of the first two rounds, high-quality quarterbacks (yes, that Peyton guy) and the elite wide receivers are more potent options once you pass the sure-fire studs..

4) Draft to Develop a Team, not for Trade Bait
Every year, you hear stories about fantasy footballers drafting players such as a 3rd running back or a 2nd quarterback (in a 1QB league) as trade bait. On draft night, they are not trade bait, but estimated quantities. As bench players produce, they will become bona fide trade bait. It’s not the other way around. If you know your team strengths, then you will draft in the later rounds to provide depth in your weak areas.

5) Draft for Dominance at Positions
If you are in the 6th or 7th round and you’re trying to decide on whether to take a 2nd receiver, 3rd running back, or a dominant defense (e.g. Chicago, Baltimore), then draft the beast defense. This reasoning places the likes of Antonio Gates, the NFL’s top tight end, above a WR1 ranked between 10 and 15 such as Donald Driver despite the latter having stronger fantasy numbers. Of course, one should not go overboard and ignore the high-yield positions such as quarterback and running back, especially in two-quarterback leagues.

6) Avoid Drafting a Kicker
Kickers are important. They score points regularly and are somewhat consistent. However, they are usually dime-a-dozen and do not need to be drafted, especially in keeper leagues. Kickers can be had in free agency. Every year, there’s a kicker who no one drafted that will finish top five in scoring.

7) Scour Free Agency to Pluck Sleeping Giants
Free agency has made bad teams good. If your team picked up Tony Romo, Marques Colston or Maurice Jones-Drew at some point during the season, then your team likely filled some major voids and won some games it would have lost had it not been for the pearls found deep in the ocean.

8) Good WRs Available in Early Season FA Market
Here’s my fair warning to everyone who goes buck wild on wide receivers in rounds 3-7 of the fantasy draft. Don’t do it just because the rest of the crowd is. Eventually, the value wanes and some higher value player at another position falls precipitously down the draft board. Good wideouts can always be acquired via free agency early in the season. Keep your eyes peeled for the depth charts.

9) Investigate Free Agency Moves to Seek Trade Targets
Free agency also demonstrates which players are fickle and easily agitated, and this is done simply by knowing the number of roster moves they make. These are your trade targets because they may give up on a slow starting stud by the 3rd game of the season.

10) Know NFL Player Trends
If you are a serious fantasy player or a stats geek (guilty on both accounts), you are aware of certain players that perform early and struggle to sustain that level of production. The opposite holds true in some cases. Be wary of this.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

10 Points on How To Run A Fantasy League

With two preseason games in the bag, the fantasy football buzz is dominating the sporting undercurrent. For those new to the process of creating a league or feel your league needs a revitalization of sorts, then you should internalize these pointers on how to run a fantasy football league. Even if you're a seasoned commissioner who runs the perfect league, these ten major points may still be of great benefit.

To provide context on our experience, all four contributors have been commissioners of competitive and fair fantasy leagues. All have had good and forgettable stories to tell while at the fantasy helm. These ten points represent the best practices gained through over 30 years of combined fantasy football experience.

1) Find Dedicated League Members
A league is only as good as its members, regardless of how structured the league is. Moreso, you should steer clear of members who are in more than two, maybe three competitive leagues for the simple fact that they have overextended themselves.

Good members who are dedicated will fortify the league through quality suggestions for best practices and regular league-wide banter. Commissioners can enable league members to provide suggestions through an annual review at season's end, which can allow certain recommendations to be subject to a league vote. This reinforces the value of the league member and increases their dedication to the league. (Side note: This sounds eerily familiar to a Communication Theory course I took in my undergraduate studies.)

2) Keeper Leagues a Plus
Once you find those dedicated members, make it a keeper league. However, when you do the keeper league, make sure of two things. First, make absolutely certain that the first three rounds worth of players are off-limits. No one likes a league where they know they have no shot of selecting a perennial top 5 pick ( e.g. LT). Second, institute a three-round deduction for every year in which you keep a player. For example, if Joseph Addai was selected in the 9th round of last season's draft, he can be kept this season for a 6th rounder and next year for a 3rd round pick on the condition that he is kept on the roster when able to perform ( i.e. not on injured reserve).

3) 2QB League Is The New Paradigm
Like many things as they seemingly progress, fantasy football has evolved. The days of the one starting quarterback league are numbered. You can totally miss on your top quarterback and still win the championship. In 2003, I selected Kurt Warner who turned out to be a bust, but I picked up emerging backup Marc Bulger in free agency and proceeded to win the regular season. A top 5 backup, as Bulger was entering the 2003 season, would never be available in free agency. You cannot bomb on both of your quarterback picks and win the title in a two starting QB league without shenanigans taking place in the trade market.

4) A Defined Trade Policy
Where there are trades, vetoes are not far behind. In some leagues, players (you know who you are) veto for the sake of vetoing and this drives commissioners wild. Have a defined trade policy saying exactly how many vetoes effectively nix a trade and utilize your power as commissioner to throw out shady votes which may have little to do with the value of the players being traded. Also, have a deputy commissioner with an independent mind on hand in the case that you (the commissioner) are involved in a trade. This will undoubtedly enhance the legitimacy of the commissioner and the league as a whole.

5) Free Agent Draft Is The Wave Of Today
At this point, free agent drafts are only a part of the more advanced fantasy football leagues. Yes, free agent drafts are time-consuming for the commissioner who must lock teams from picking up free agents five minutes before kickoff of the first game. Yes, commissioners must update the waiver priority based on overall record every week and this can be a laboring task. But, while some may think it's a disabler ( i.e. from picking up free agents during games), the free agent draft enables league members to enjoy football viewing in its purest form - be it at an NFL stadium or at a bar with friends and not with your laptop in front of you as myself and many others have grown accustomed to. It also enables the older folks with families to take care of adult duties and not worry about other league members dashing to the free agent page to pick up Anquan Boldin in a memorable first half performance [of his first career game] against the Lions.

6) Make Draft A Full-Day Event
Draft day is the single-most important day of the fantasy football calendar. Depending on how much disposable time league members may have, the commissioner can organize activities such as a cookout that will allow junior members to build rapport that may aid them later in the season when they need to pull off a trade.

7) Offline Draft The Only Way To Go
Much like house music, the offline draft is the only way to go in a competitive fantasy football league. If you live within one hour of the draft site, you must be at the draft, no questions asked. Being a local who misses out on the draft is tantamount to heresy and a means for permanent expulsion. If your members are spread out all over the country, find a conference line to use for a few hours and enforce time limits on picks. Another added bonus of offline drafts is the ability to target players through the use of trade propositions on draft day.

8) Interaction, Interaction, Interaction
Talking smack is an essential in fantasy sports. If you're only drafting and setting your lineups on Sunday morning, then you're doing a disservice to yourself and the league. Interaction is absolutely key to any league staying afloat and talking smack about your opponents is quite fun.

In my simple mind, three rules exist for talking smack: Keep it funny. Keep it fresh. Avoid making it personal. If the last of the unspoken rules are breached, don't be afraid to step in and rectify the situation, because lingering resentment can suck the life out of a league faster than you can say Houshmandzadeh.

9) Fractional Points Are ... A Good Thing
Fractional points are messy to say the least, but ties are even messier. Some leagues prefer to break ties with bench points, but members should not be rewarded for leaving Player X on the bench who scored 30 points when his starter only got 10. Awarding fractional points may result in thinking you've won on Tuesday to losing on Wednesday due to a scoring change, but the team who started the most productive players win every time.

10) Payout Structure Needs To Favor The 14-Game Championship
For years, the null hypothesis in fantasy football payout structures has been to reward the playoff champion handsomely and leave the scraps to those who were successful in the regular season. This needs to change. Winning the 14-game title is a much more impressive feat for a manager than winning what is usually a three-game title. The payout structure needs to manifest this truth, while also awarding weekly high scores in the regular season.

One more note about fantasy playoffs. They should reflect the real playoffs, however, players on good teams are rested regularly, often putting the best teams during the regular season at a major disadvantage.

Monday, August 20, 2007

NFL SWOT Analysis: NFC North

Chicago Bears

Urlacher (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: Many things went right for the NFC Champs, except winning the Super Bowl. On paper, the team may have actually gotten better. The defense is still solid and deep. Team captain Brian Urlacher leads the charge on a monster defense that has more in its arsenal than last year. DE Mark Anderson begins his second year as the starter, moving former Pro Bowler Alex Brown to a backup role. He joins the pocket-collapsing DT Tommie Harris and speedy rush end Adewale Ogunleye on the line. Free Safety Mike Brown joins a talented trio of CBs, Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher and Ricky Manning. Top to bottom, this defense is top-notch. On the offensive side, the line returns intact with All-Pro Olin Kruetz making the blocking calls from the center position.

Weaknesses: The weaknesses on this team are mostly on the offensive side of the ball. The questions start at the QB position. Grossman must get over his inconsistency. He was great early in the season, and began to sink to levels that should have had him on the bench. The receivers are equally to blame. Berrian was a big play threat one week, and an afterthought the next.

Opportunities: Adam Archuleta steps in Strong Safety. This is the same defense where Archuleta did his damage in St. Louis. Expect different results here than in the Redskins defense last year. He is back with his former coach, and ready to prove the Redskins wrong. Another player looking to redeem himself from a sullied name is DT Dusty Dvoracek. Dvoracek had issues at Oklahoma that kept him from being a higher draft pick. If he shows maturity he could wind up paying large dividends starting alongside Tommie Harris

Threats: Age on the offensive line is probably the biggest concern for this team. Roberto Garza is the only lineman under the age of 30. The team must have a plan for the future for both tackle positions. A QB controversy could be exactly what the doctor ordered – for offensive euthanasia.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Cedric Benson from former Bears RB Thomas Jones. Benson has been running his mouth since his rookie year. It is time for him to put up or shut up. If he is all talk, this team will miss Thomas Jones.

Camp Battle: The battle will be for the third WR spot. Rashied Davis and Mark Bradley battle, while newly converted Devin Hester tries to convert to WR. The fact is Hester played some WR in college, so the transition may not be long. He could be a home run threat, if Grossman can get the ball deep that fast.

Rookie Contributor: Tight End Greg Olsen will most likely split time with Desmond Clark. Olsen projects as the TD scorer of the two. It would be wise for Grossman to get comfortable with Olsen early. Another rookie to keep an eye on is seventh rounder Trumaine McBride who the coaches love as their fourth CB. Miniature scat-back, Garrett Wolfe could win hearts by breaking a couple of 50-yarders.

Detroit Lions

Johnson (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: If the Lions perform as well as QB Jon Kitna predicts, we could see a record-breaking offense at play. However, it is not likely that he will throw 50 TDs. It remains to be seen whether the passing game will be prolific, but the team looks like it has finally turned the corner. The likely third WR, Mike Furrey, on the team led the NFC in receptions last year. Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson have the potential to be one of the top tandems in the NFL. Once Shaun Rodgers is back in game shape, the DT rotation is very strong. The key is for them to force things outside and allow speedy LBs Boss Bailey and Ernie Sims to pursue along the line.

Weaknesses: So why not 50 TDs for Kitna? The running game is a weakness right now. Tatum Bell has a lot to prove. Shanahan gave up on him because of a mild case of fumblitis. Bell has to hold onto the ball until Kevin Jones is back and in condition to carry the load. For the most part, the offensive line has underachieved. Hopefully new faces Edwin Mulitalo and George Foster can help solidify that line.

Opportunities: CB Stanley Wilson takes over for Dre Bly as the team’s speed corner. Teams would be wise not to shrug Wilson off. Those that watched him at Stanford know that he has that playmaker’s mentality and has the speed to make up for minor mistakes.

Threats: Speed on defense is nice but when your two most sure tacklers are your CB (Fernando Bryant) and SS (Kenoy Kennedy), there is potential for problems. The team could cause many turnovers, but could have trouble with power running teams.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Larry Fitzgerald to Calvin Johnson, The Amazing Receiver Who is Actually a Good Guy. Gone are the Michael Irvins, Andre Risons and the Keyshawn Johnsons. Receivers like Fitz and Calvin Johnson are a tribute to Art Monk-like receivers who are secure enough to let their performance do the talking.

Camp Battle: Dewayne White, Kalimba Edwards and Ikaika Alama-Francis, Defensive End. In Dewayne White, you have Simeon Rice’s understudy who the team paid a large sum to lure in free agency. In Kalimba Edwards, you have a physically gifted player who never lived up to his potential. In Alama-Francis, you have a Julius Peppers Clone whose potential is through the roof. Regardless of who wins the starting jobs, this team sorely needs help from the DE positions.

Rookie Contributor: Calvin Johnson should earn the starting role opposite Roy Williams, and his impact could be felt very early on. Johnson has the potential to re-write the rookie record books.

Green Bay Packers

Favre (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: The strength of this team has shifted over to defense. The strength of the defense lies in some non-household names. Defensive End Aaron Kampman was a relative nobody until he put up 15.5 sacks last year. He leads the charge along a defensive line full of non-household names. The linebacking corps, led in the middle by Nick Barnett and flanked by last year’s monster rookie AJ Hawk look great. Corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris lead the Defensive Backfield. While the overall names sound somewhat unimpressive, Defensive Coordinator Bob Sanders has a great unit as a whole. On offense there is little to talk about other than a decent WR situation with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones, and the bookends on the offensive line, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. If your name is John Madden, then of course, there is future Hall of Famer, Brett Favre.

Weaknesses: Running back is a major weakness. The team seems high on Brandon Jackson, however, this team cannot depend on their running game. Brett Favre will have to throw the ball a lot, and succeed at doing that for this team to do well. Without a decent running game in place, opposing defenses will be able to drop an extra man into coverage, or send an extra man after Favre. Ok, I’ve said Favre too much, where’s Frank Caliendo when you need him. “That’s T-R-B-L, Terrible!!!”

Opportunities: Nick Collins needs to show that he can be the QB of the defense. He followed up a promising rookie season with a bit of a sophomore slump. This year should be his coming out party. If given the chance, Aaron Rodgers will have to show whether he will “Pan Out” in the NFL.

Threats: The team has many young starters, which could lead to inconsistency. The cornerbacks are getting up there in years and they don’t have strong backups. Someone among the young set of backup corners needs to step up. Jarrett Bush has looked good in the preseason.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Dan Marino to Brett Favre as, statistically, the most prolific passer in NFL history. Favre should break the TD record this year (6 to tie Marino). If he can throw for over 4000 yards, he will also pass Marino for most passing yards in NFL history (3861 yards to tie Marino).

Camp Battle: Wide Receivers Greg Jennings and James Jones. The team seems content with keeping Greg Jennings as the starter, even though he is having a slow preseason. On the other hand, third rounder James Jones has been something short of spectacular. If Jones keeps up his performance, he could be in line to start next to Driver.

Rookie Contributor: James Jones looks like he will be a contributor. DT Justin Harrell will start alongside Ryan Pickett. He could be a pocket collapsing DT who will spend time in offensive backfields with his inside push. Also, keep an eye on safety Aaron Rouse, who will challenge Marquand Manual and Atari Bigby. Rouse is a huge safety, built similar to Sean Taylor.

Minnesota Vikings

Peterson (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: This team must feed off the running game. The offensive line is built to pound away at the opposing defense, and between Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson, defenses could wear down to the 1-2 punch. Between LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson and Center Matt Birk, the team can run up the left side all day. Productive DTs Kevin and Pat Williams return to lead the defense, along with CB Antoine Winfield and safety Darren Sharper.

Weaknesses: The team needs production from the DEs. Erasmus James cannot stay healthy and Kenechi Udeze is unproductive (zero sacks in 16 starts). On paper, the WR corps look weak. Two rookies are in the top four spots. Starters, Bobby Wade and Troy Williamson, do anything but strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenders. Tarvaris Jackson could end up leading the NFL in interceptions.

Opportunities: Chad Greenway is back from a season ending injury last year. He is looking good this preseason and could fill a huge hole on a historically underachieving linebacking corps. Troy Williamson has the opportunity to keep the third year WR rule intact. Historically, many wide receivers came into their own, during their third season. Williamson, with newly corrected vision, could be the next in line. We all know what corrected vision did for Herman Moore’s career.

Threats: Anytime you have a QB controversy, it is a threat. Travaris Jackson is the young fiery QB with the cannon for an arm, while Brooks Bollinger is the somewhat steady QB with an accurate ball. Both have their pros and cons, however this team cannot have a split locker room on this decision.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: The Vikings could take the torch from the Oakland Raiders, as the worst franchise in the NFL. Could the team be on the move? Could they land in Los Angeles? Who knows?

Camp Battle: Marcus McCauley and Devonte Edwards for the third CB spot. McCauley is a little raw, but carries a lot of potential, Edwards knows the defense and got plenty of playing time last year. Who plays more this season will depend on how the team does early on.

Rookie Contributor: Wide Receiver Sidney Rice has been getting a lot of looks early. He probably could have stayed in college another year and possibly been a top 10 pick in the 2008 draft. Adrian Peterson has looked great in camp and the preseason. He could easily monopolize the carries from Chester Taylor if the team tanks early. He will most likely get the goal line carries, as Taylor has a tendency to fumble there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NFL SWOT Analysis: AFC South

Houston Texans

Ryans (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: Last year, WR Andre Johnson came into his own with 103 receptions. One of the most physically gifted receivers in the league, Johnson could even improve on last season (especially his yards per catch). He leads an underrated/unknown set of receivers who have a new QB at their helm. Depending on some key elements, the Houston Texans offense could turn some heads. Gary Kubiak’s Zone-Blocking scheme could be in better effect this season. The Offensive line is deep, along with Mark Breuner working as a sixth offensive lineman. If they can grasp Kubiak’s scheme, Ahman Green could be in for a surprise year. Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner DeMeco Ryans mans the middle linebacker spot as captain of the defense. He joins cornerback Dunta Robinson and defensive end Mario Williams as the young talented core of the defense.

Weaknesses: Management has left this team with a major lack of star power, especially on offense. This team is in dire need of a face for the franchise. Passing on Vince Young and Reggie Bush could haunt this team for the next 12 years. Bringing in Gary Kubiak as the coach last year was a step in the right direction. However if management continues to riddle this team with ineffective players, even a proven offensive genius like Kubiak cannot overcome the challenge.

Opportunities: Many view Matt Schaub as an upgrade over David Carr (myself included). However, one cannot forget that Schaub has yet to be a true starting QB in this league. While Schaub does not boast the arm-strength Carr exhibited, he can definitely put the ball on a spot, delivering with better accuracy. Owen Daniels could reap benefits from Schaub’s addition. Schaub comes over from a team that relied heavily on its tight end in the passing game. Defensive End Mario Williams must step up and show why the team chose him over Young and Bush as the #1 pick last year (besides his relatively simple contract situation).

Threats: As talented as they are, this is still a young defense that has not come of age. No starter is over the age of 30, with Marlon Greenwood being the elder statesman at 29. A young defense is a breeding ground for mental errors.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: While it is easy to focus on Schaub here, one must take notice of the new starting Defensive Tackles, Anthony Maddox and Amobi Okoye. While Maddox has taken lead over a former 1st rounder (Travis Johnson), Okoye is this year’s 1st rounder coming in with expectations all over the board as he is only 20 years old.

Camp Battle: Andre Davis, David Anderson, Keenan McCardell, Jerome Mathis and Jacoby Jones, for the third Wide Receiver spot. Right now the competition is in the above order, with Davis in the lead. Jones started out in the lead, but dropped passes in training camp are hurting him. David Anderson has done the opposite and held onto the ball. Keenan McCardell was signed late this offseason, and brings plenty of experience to the table. Coaches love Mathis’s speed and want him on the field. Davis, however, who came into camp on the fifth team offense, has been the most impressive. He could regain some of that luster that made him a deep receiving threat that showed flashes with the Browns.

Rookie Contributor: Okoye is obvious, but keep an eye on fourth round CB Fred Bennett. He is a tall lanky corner who is in competition with Jamar Fletcher for the third corner. If successful, he could be giving Demarcus Faggins a run for the starting spot by season’s end.

Indianapolis Colts

Manning (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: The defending Super Bowl Champs return with their elite passing/receiving trio of QB Peyton Manning and WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. In the draft, the Colts used their first rounder on a home run threat, Anthony Gonzalez. He should team with Harrison to help stretch the field, as Wayne, RB Joseph Addai and TEs Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher get open underneath. Though Tarik Glenn’s departure cuts deep, the other four starters on the offensive line return. On defense, DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are arguably the top DE tandem in the league.

Weaknesses: After getting mauled in free agency, the defense has questions from top to bottom. With Booger McFarland’s season-ending injury, a decent DT rotation is now in shambles. Raheem Brock will get the most time while Ed Johnson, rookie Quinn Pitcock and Darrell Reid try to fill the other hole. Cato June’s loss will be felt. Freddy Keiaho has big shoes to fill, taking over June’s vacated weak side spot. Gary Brackett will have to shoulder some of the load in the June loss. Losing both CBs Nick Harper and Jason David hurts. A very young crew takes on the task of covering opposing receivers. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden get the starting nod.

Opportunities: Many opportunities available on defense, but the biggest will be at corner behind the starters. The diminutive Tim Jennings looks to be the 3rd CB for now. Return man, T.J. Rushing is penciled in at the 4th spot. Rookies Daymeion Hughes and Michael Coe bring some much needed size and talent to the table. Hughes might be better suited for safety, but has enough coverage skill to be a corner. In college he was a ballhawk. Coe, a big corner, made a late name for himself with his individual workouts. He is build a lot like Marlin Jackson, but probably has a step on him.

Threats: The Colts will have every team gunning for them. The amount of rookies that could potentially contribute is unbecoming of a defending champ. This will be a true test of the coaching staff. Can the offense be good enough to keep the defense off the field.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Too many to list. Most significant will be offensive left tackle Tony Ugoh, from the retired Tarik Glenn, protecting Manning’s blindside (unless, of course, Manning decides to become a lefty).

Camp Battle: Ed Johnson, Quinn Pitcock and Darrell Reid, Defensive Tackle. Ed Johnson seems to have the early advantage, getting the start in the first preseason game. However, Pitcock is the longer term solution. Reid is the dark horse who seems to be getting some looks.

Rookie Contributor: The Colts have a strong draft class, which could have several contributors. However, keep WR Roy Hall in your periphery. He is a big WR (6’1” 240) who did great in camp, and could also be in line for time as an H-Back.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jones-Drew (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: If the offense can click, they have many puzzle pieces that will fit together well. They have a nice 1-2 punch at running back, with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Both compliment each other well. If Taylor can stay healthy all season, they can do some damage together. The defense is solid from top to bottom. They have arguably the best tandem of DTs in the league with John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. They might even have the best trio, with Rob Meier.

Weaknesses: The offensive line must step up and do a better job than last season. Left Tackle Khalif Barnes had a sophomore slump. Brad Meester will be lost for most of the season, leaving center to be manned by Dennis Norman. The corners need to step up and perform better.

Opportunities: Byron Leftwich has been the most impressive Jaguar this training camp. That is either a horrible thing, or a great thing. When Leftwich is playing at his peak, the Jags offense is hard to stop. Northcutt and Jones can stretch the field, complimenting Leftwich’s strong arm. The team could have a nice pass rush tandem on its hands. Reggie Hayward is probably their biggest threat, though he is coming off a season ending injury last year, during the first game of the season. Bobby McCray stepped in and registered 10 sacks last year. Paul Spicer will back them both up, mostly in a run stopping capacity.

Threats: While Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams did a great job manning the corners, the safeties left a lot to be desired last season. This season there will be first time starters at both safety spots. At the top of the depth chart are Gerald Sensabaugh and Nick Sorenesen. First round pick, Reggie Nelson, will most likely be in the free safety spot in the near future. Sensebaugh will fight fifth rounder Josh Gaddis and newly signed Sammy Knight. Knight has starting experience, but that should not be the case here. If the safeties don’t make the right calls, and produce weak results. This defense could be in for a long season.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: MLB Mike Peterson to Justin Durant, eventually. Durant is underrated, coming out of a small school called Hampton. However, coaches and scouts know the value of a player like Durant. He has that squatty stature, but also boasts terrific speed and agility. What sets him apart from the other great athletes coming out of college is that Durant is a student of the game. He shows great presence, and has the makings of an eventual defensive captain.

Camp Battle: Wide Receiver resembles a war, not a battle. Ernest Wilford, Dennis Northcutt, Matt Jones and Reggie Williams are all vying for starting jobs. Williams was just recently moved to the third team, which could indicate the possible release of the former 1st round pick. Matt Jones mans the slot position for now. Wilford and Northcutt are penciled in as starters.

Rookie Contributor: Free Safety Reggie Nelson will most likely be thrown into the fire early. He could play cornerback if he had to. However, Nelson brings his athleticism over to free safety. He has that combination of coverage ability and ball-hawking skills.

Tennessee Titans

Young (Photo Courtesy of

Strengths: The Titans are a team that could surprise some people. Vince Young is a weapon that only one team could match (until a little dog fighting incident). Putting Young behind an offensive line stocked with young bookends and a nasty trio on the inside. Offensive Tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart could be a strong tandem for years. The towering Stewart quieted many critics who did not think he could be a starter in the NFL. Inside, one of the top centers in NFL history, Kevin Mawae, is flanked by guards Benji Olson and Jacob Bell. They will give Young plenty of time to decide who he’s passing to or whether he will take off running the ball himself. Vince Young could put his name up there with the elite before we know it.

Weaknesses: The receiving game is weak. Brandon Jones is the top WR of the bunch. But, between Roydell Williams, Courtney Roby and Eric Moulds, it’s hard to say what they have at the other WR position. Tight End Ben Troupe has yet to live up to expectations tied to his size, speed and athletic ability that makes physically makes him an Antonio Gates clone. Luckily, Young has incredible wheels. If he was a pocket passer, he might be in trouble. Vanden Bosch disappointed last year with 6.5 sacks to follow up 12.5 from the previous year. Haynesworth was off to his best season before being suspended for mistaking Andre Gurode’s face for a welcome mat. Overall, the defensive line underachieved last season. Defensive tackle Randy Starks is running out of chances. There is a lot of unrealized potential across that line.

Opportunities: The defensive backs on this team have an opportunity to be a solid unit on this defense, and prove that they do not need a cancerous teammate like Pacman Jones. CBs Nick Harper and Reynaldo Hill team up with safeties Chris Hope and Lamount Thompson. Michael Griffin plays the wild card. Either he will be the third cornerback, or he will challenge Lamount Thompson for the starting free safety spot. If Chris Hope progresses from last year, he will be a top 10 safety.

Threats: For some reason, this team is where many great prospects come to realize they are not that great. Don’t get me wrong. This team has had its share of players that have achieved at or beyond expectation, but there seem to be a lot of underachievers, and this year’s team is full of them. This list includes Troupe, DEs Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy, DT Randy Starks, CB Andre Woolfolk. You could even put Pacman Jones on that list for his off-field behavior. LenDale White could be on his way there. If Courtney Roby and Roydell Williams do not pan out, they are right along with the rest. Let us hope Vince Young is never part of this conversation, except to show that they have players that can be great too.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Steve McNair to Vince Young, the Key to the Hearts of Titans fans. Drafting Vince Young is the reason why teams like the Houston Texans suffer from year to year, and teams like the Titans have hope. Titans fans have their hero. Now the question is…can he take this franchise to the playoffs more often than McNair did?

Camp Battle: LenDale White and Chris Henry, Running Back. Don’t be fooled by Chris Brown starting last game, and being atop the depth chart. Tennessee might just be marketing him to teams to trade him. It is common practice in the preseason. This could have been White’s job without trouble. However, his laziness and lackadaisical approach forced the team’s hand and they drafted competition in Chris Henry. Henry has not put it together on the field, however physically, he’s a phenomenal prospect. Henry is reminiscent of Jerrious Norwood. Regardless of who wins, they will make a strong 1-2 punch.

Rookie Contributor: Defensive back Michael Griffin could help this team forget about Pacman Jones. While he doesn’t exactly have Jones’s explosiveness (though he’s not far), Griffin brings plenty to the table in his coverage skills and versatility. He will also keep clean off the field, keeping him on the field more often. Running back Chris Henry will be another contributor. Keep an eye on WR Paul Williams. Once he gets the offense, he could produce numbers.