2009: Teams To Watch For

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2009: Teams To Watch For
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

I’ve said it countless times before, and I’ll say it many more times—the NFL is a league of parity. The essence of ‘Any Given Sunday’ is apparent every play of every game.

Last year, we, as NFL fans, saw many surprises, some good, some were bad. We were surprised with the success of teams like the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, and Baltimore Ravens. We were also forced to watch the train wreck of a season suffered by Detroit’s very own Lions.

Teams lost players for the year, and teams saw rookies step into roles they could only dream of. We saw Tom Brady lose his season during the first week. We also saw Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco lead their teams to the post-season.

What does the ever changing NFL have in store for us next year?

Five Teams To Watch Out For:

The New Orleans Saints

The key to the Saints season will be a balanced offensive attack. They finished first in the NFL in points, total yards, and passing yards, but 28th in rushing yards. That means the pressure’s turned up for running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Talks of bringing in Edgerrin James may prove helpful, as it would give the two younger backs a mentor, along with another running back to help the wear and tear down the stretch.

Drew Brees is an elite quarterback, I don’t think there’s any arguments as far as that goes, and he’s found his go to guy in Marques Colston. Along with Colston, Lance Moore has really come into his own, and with Bush and Jeremy Shockey as receiving threats as well, it’s no wonder that the Saints passing attack is so potent, and no wonder Brees made it so close to Dan Marino’s NFL record for passing yards.

The Saints looked to bolster a secondary that allowed 221.7 yards a game through the air by drafting Ohio State’s very own Malcolm Jenkins, who’s likely to start in his first year of service.

Can the Saints overtake the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers in the NFC South? Possibly, both teams have question marks in the secondary along with high octane offenses led by quarterback’s with intelligence and quarterback’s that can make all of the throws necessary.

The Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals had a dismal season, but what would one expect when you have your starting quarterback go down, and have two Pro Bowl wide receivers that lost the passion during the season?

Not much.

The Bengals defense, however quietly, ended the season ranked 13th in the league in total defense, even after linebacker Keith Rivers’ season was ended during a game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

With the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the arrival of Laveranues Coles, Carson Palmer’s primary target will remain Chad Johnson (I refuse to call him Chad Ocho-Cinco). Along with the running tandem of Cedric Benson and Kenny Watson should open some eyes, pending the offensive line creates a good push for the two.

Playing in the AFC North, the Bengals offense will have to be clicking on all cylinders against potent defenses in the rival Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals will bounce back from their previous season and give the Ravens a run for their money for second place in the division.

 

The Seattle Seahawks

Adding a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Houshmandzadeh will give quarterback Matt Hasselbeck a legitimate number one receiving threat to throw to this coming season.  The 11-year veteran out of Boston College is likely nearing his swan song and wants to return to the Super Bowl no doubt, he hasn’t seen that stage since his Seahawks lost to Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

The Seattle linebacking corps is going to be a huge asset, with the starters likely shaping up like this: Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry, and Leroy Hill. Along with an experienced secondary and defensive line, the Seahawk’s may look to become one of the NFL’s more formidable defenses, especially against the run.

Per usual the NFC West is no man’s land, with any team being able to win it virtually every year since the fall of the 49ers dynasty. It will likely come down to the Arizona Cardinals against the Seahawks. Only time will tell which of these teams will emerge with the division crown and a playoff berth.

 

The Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers offense was explosive at times, inconsistent at others. But the biggest flaw of the team was depth on the defense, with injuries plaguing them. The defense yielded nearly 335 yards a game, including almost 132 on the ground per game.

With their starters receiving time to heal this off-season and adding the dominant B.J. Raji out of Boston College to the defensive line, those numbers should improve greatly, pending the injuries don’t reoccur. But Raji’s frame will make it hard to run on the Packers this coming season, so at the very least expect the average yards per rush and average rush yards per game to drop.

Aaron Rodgers will have a year of experience as a full time starter under his belt, and he performed very well, throwing 28 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions. He made the fans of Green Bay reminisce to the glory days of Brett Favre, a Favre that was playing like a kid, a Favre that was happy to be on the team, and happy to lead the Packers to the playoffs. Can Rodgers do the same this year?

The New England Patriots

So, maybe this isn’t a surprise team at all, but perhaps they are.

The Patriots and a healthy Tom Brady will be looking to silence the doubters. Tom Brady’s going to be a madman, proving critics and fans wrong about the limitations they’ve already placed on him due to his knee injury.

Randy Moss and Wes Welker make up what could be the second best wide receiver duo in the league and adding a proven veteran like Joey Galloway isn’t going to hurt the Patriots at all. And let’s be honest with each other, it doesn’t matter who Tom Brady’s throwing to, he’s going to find a way to rack up the yards and the touchdowns, as evidenced by his 2007 campaign.

Adding Fred Taylor to the running attack will be hit or miss, will we see the old Fred Taylor? Or an injury riddled one? With today’s NFL seemingly consistently unified on the concept of running back by committee, he can only help Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney achieve to their full potential.

Defensively the Patriots lose two key members, at least as far as leadership, work ethic, and charisma goes. Rodney Harrison retired, and utility man Mike Vrabel was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs along with Matt Cassel.

It’s a team with really no weaknesses pending injuries don’t take their toll this season, and not as big of a surprise as most teams.  But for the first time since 2002 the Patriots missed the playoffs.

 

Other Teams Of Note:

The New York Jets

Pending the QB position, the Jets have a very good team under Rex Ryan. The defense will more than likely finish in the top ten of the NFL, and the offense could do great things if the starting quarterback (whether it be Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens) can find a rhythm and ride the talented running game behind a fantastic offensive line to the playoffs.

The Chicago Bears

The biggest area of concern for the Bears is the wide receiver group. Adding Jay Cutler was a great move, but without someone with No.1 talent to throw to like he had in Denver may hurt his numbers, and thus hurt his morale. The Chicago defense is probably talented enough to hold on for another year, though the emotional leader in Brian Urlacher is aging, and it’s showing year after year. The special teams remains ranked among the top of the NFL, even without Devin Hester assuming full time return duties.

 

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