Strengths – Leave it to T.O. to possibly be an Addition-by-Subtraction for one team, while also being a nice addition to another. Owens should be the best thing that could have happened to Lee Evans. While Evans has somewhat come into his own, he’s always lacked that running mate who can free him of the double-teams. Behind the line, Marshawn Lynch should have less pressure as he now has two backups that can step in at any time. Fred Jackson was there, but adding Dominic Rhodes could be a big win. The defensive line is underrated and goes deeper than most would realize. The fresh legs will be a huge help in the 4th Quarter.
Weaknesses – The offensive line has completely re-shuffled. Gone is All-Pro LT Jason Peters. Langston Walker moves from the right side to fill in. Brad Butler slides over from guard to RT. There will be battles at both guard spots. Finally, free agent Geoff Hangartner will be making the line calls from the middle. The defensive backfield has a lot of question marks. Donte Whitner is on the verge of losing his job. Bryan Scott has a ceiling, and it’s not high. Terrence McGee plays with heart, but isn’t built to take on #1’s like Moss, Fitz and Andre Johnson.
Opportunities – Langston Walker takes on some really big shoes, that may not be as big as they seem. If Walker stays away from giving up double-digit sacks, he’s already outdone Peters, because Walker is just as good (if not better) at run blocking. On the other side of the ball, after watching Dominique Rogers-Cromartie’s success in Arizona last year, it’s time for Leodis McKelvin to step into the starting role and show why he was drafted ahead of DRC.
Threats – For a team that made moves that a team makes to put themselves over the top (e.g. Terrell Owens), they have a lot of rookies vying for significant playing time. Aaron Maybin could be a mainstay on passing downs. Both guards, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre are challenging a couple of journeymen. Shawn Nelson has the most potential at TE. Jairus Byrd could push Whitner to start at FS.
Passing/Receiving the Torch – Trent Edwards takes the reigns as the unquestioned QB of this team. He didn’t really receive the torch from anyone other than the shell of himself who was constantly looking over his shoulder.
Position Battle – Both OG spots where Eric Wood will battle Kirk Chambers on the left side and Andy Levitre will battle Seth McKinney on the right. There will also be a battle at FS where Whitner will fend off Ko Simpson and Jairus Byrd.
Rookie Contributor – Several, due to good drafting. Wood, Levitre, Nelson, Maybin and Byrd have been mentioned. However, keep an eye on LB Nic Harris, who will mostly be a special teamer. He has “Ian Gold” written all over him.
Strengths – One of the strengths that I always stress is continuity. With the Dolphins returning 20 starters (one will switch positions), this is almost as good as it gets. With C and FS the two new faces, the Dolphins can build on last year’s success without having to re-invent the wheel. At QB, they have the comeback player of the year. Pennington is one of the highest football IQs and is a great game manager. The running game should once again be a strength, running behind a line that was built for smash mouth football.
Weaknesses – Why did they choose to ignore upgrading at WR again? Sure, Ted Ginn is a flyer and Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo are big targets, but are any of these guys turning into Go-To receivers? The DBs have a lot of question marks as well. Yeremiah Bell has been an asset, but how confident can you be in Gibril Wilson when the Raiders gave up on him? The Allen duo at CB isn’t awe inspiring either. Will Allen needs to scour Florida for the fountain of youth while Jason Allen needs to tap into some of that potential that made him a first round pick.
Opportunities – Back to the running game. A healthy Ronnie Brown, who claims that he is 100%, and a rejuvenated Ricky Williams, who claims that he feels younger than he’s ever felt, could do some major damage behind that offensive line. Before Brown went down to a season ending injury two years ago, he was the top performing back in the league at the time. Now that they have the running game, and the comeback QB in place together, this team could be a contender.
Threats – Here’s where the Dolphins should worry. They have one of the worst kinds of threats to have. They are not a very deep team. Holes created by injuries to starters won’t easily be patched up. If the team can stay healthy, they will do well. If the injury bug hits, it will be a long season.
Passing/Receiving the Torch – This is a team where many of the players are caught in the middle. Not many are ready to pass the torch. Not many are ready to receive it. Is that a good thing? Is it bad? Hard to tell this early.
Position Battle - QB2: Pat White vs. Chad Henne. With Pennington’s injury history, the backup QB is extra important in Miami.
Rookie Contributor – Pat White will probably take the Wildcat snaps. While there are three DBs that have potential, don’t expect to see them much this season. WR Patrick Turner could get a look or two as well.
New England Patriots
Strengths – When you have Tom Brady throwing passes to this veteran receiving corps, there isn’t much to worry about. Randy Moss and Wes Welker will catch the lion’s share of passes. Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis are the wild cards. Galloway, who plays younger than his age, could be a diamond in the rough for this team. This offensive line is completely intact and has Super Bowl experience. Oh…and…let’s not forget, they’re the Patriots. (Ok…that almost made me sick…but the truth does ring there)
Weaknesses – While the CBs are deep, they have a lot to prove. Two of the three potential top contributors had the Lions and the Redskins give up on them (Leigh Bodden & Shawn Springs respectively). Couple that with the fact that the OLB spot is a weakness outside of Audalius Thomas, and you have a formula for disaster. If there is a lack of pressure on the opposing QB, these CBs will be spending too much time in coverage, and will be exploited.
Opportunities – Fred Taylor could step up and be what Corey Dillon was to the Patriots a few years back. Taylor could be the workhorse that opens things up for Kevin Faulk to do his damage. This is a deep, versatile set of backs that the team can do a lot with. From a coaching standpoint, Belichick has taken full control of the offense once again. Can he prove that he is the reason this team dominates on offense, or will he prove that Weis and McDanials were the geniuses?
Threats – Will Tom Brady start to hear footsteps? An injury like that has changed some careers for the worse, regardless of what condition the player comes back in. If Brady goes down to another injury, there isn’t another Matt Cassel type to take over again. This offense also thrives on the play of its TEs in the red zone. If nobody steps up, things could clam up pretty quick on the red zone offense.
Passing/Receiving the Torch – Ty Warren from Richard Seymour as the dominant 3-4 DE on the team. Warren was an absolute beast last year (coming off a down year). Another will be Gary Guyton from Tedy Bruschi (unless Paris Lenon beats him out). Guyton was a great college free agent find last year.
Position Battle – LOLB: Pierre Woods vs. Tully Banta-Cain. Woods is penciled in to start, but Banta-Cain is in his second stint with the club, and could use that experience to help win the job. RT: Nick Kaczur vs. Sebastian Vollmer. Kaczur is in the dog house with his legal troubles. That is why they drafted Vollmer, who is a great pick.
Rookie Contributor – Minor contribution at best, unless Vollmer beats out Kaczur. Darius Butler could get some looks if the CB injury bug hits the Patriots for the umpteenth season in a row. Ron Brace should get some time, spelling Vince Wilfork.
New York Jets
Strengths – The defense is the major strength of this team, especially with Rex Ryan aboard. This is an underrated defense that could find themselves ranked highly by the end of the season. The defense is led by talented set of DBs. Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard will roam the center fields, while a foursome of CBs led by Darrelle Revis keeps receivers in check. An offensive line with a lot of potential returns this season completely intact (yet another team that will benefit from this “phenomena”).
Weaknesses – Any time you start a rookie QB (unless it’s Peyton Manning), it’s a weakness. Mark Sanchez will hit bumps in the road. The question is: Can the rest of the team step up when he needs them? If there is one spot on defense that I would focus on as a weakness, it’s the most important component of a 3-4 defense: The OLBs. Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace are serviceable, but not dominant, like a James Harrison, Shawne Merriman or DeMarcus Ware. Both OLBs combined for 11 sacks last year. A pitiful number when you consider this defense is designed for those players to rack up the sacks. Also, with Pace suspended for the first four games, the team turns to 2008 6th overall pick Vernon Gholston, who was non-existent last season.
Opportunities – Chansi Stuckey could pick up where Laveranues Coles left off. Stuckey is no stranger to making a big catch. Now all he has to do is build chemistry with Sanchez as the #2 receiver. Dustin Keller, on the other hand, needs to become the safety-valve that will be extremely valuable to Sanchez. On the other side, Bart Scott and David Harris have the opportunity to be the next Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. Scott steps into the limelight, in a position meant to make plays, as David Harris will play an equally important, yet less spectacular role of taking on the blockers.
Threats – Age comes into question here. How old are Thomas Jones’s wheels? While he is in great condition, and Leon Washington’s presence eases the load, Jones is getting up there in years and in RB years, he’s ancient. Will contract woes for Jones and Washington cause drama? For a relatively elderly defensive line, there are too few backups to speak highly of. Maybe the Kareem Brown to TE project won’t last that long. When Kris Jenkins went down last year, it was nearly as devastating as losing Favre.
Passing/Receiving the Torch – This one is obvious. This went from Chad Pennington’s team, to Brett Favre’s team, and now it’s Mark Sanchez’s team. Maybe Sanchez can prove that just being a USC QB gives you the credentials to be an NFL starter.
Position Battle – WR: While Stuckey should win the WR2 spot, he’ll get pushed by Brad Smith and David Clowney. If you could take the strengths of each player and put them into one player, you would have your ideal WR. The two that lose out on the WR2 battle will end up entrenched in a battle for WR3. Not too shabby, considering this team will probably put more Three WR Sets out there.
Rookie Contributor – Obviously Sanchez, but don’t be surprised if Shonn Greene steals some goal line carries from Jones and Washington.