Last year’s NFL season gave us another action-packed, hard hitting block of 20-plus weeks. It also gave us some pleasant, and not so pleasant, surprises.
Who would have ever thought the Miami Dolphins would go 11-5 and win the division after going 1-15 the year before?
No one could have predicted the Arizona Cardinals going to the Super Bowl, especially when all the experts thought they would be one and done in the playoffs.
It was supposed to be America’s team in the Big game, and they failed to even make the playoffs. This is simply the NFL, and as ESPN analyst Chris Berman says, “That’s why they play the game!”
This year will be no exception. There will be one or two surprise teams that weren’t supposed to be playoff bound heading to the postseason. One player will rise out of obscurity and be every fantasy owner's steal. There will be a Super Bowl contending team that misses the playoffs.
I am not a genie, a psychic, or a palm reader, but I am going to attempt to predict some of those surprises. Thus, I give you ten things to look for as a surprise in this year’s 2009 NFL season.
The Kansas City Chiefs Will Challenge the Chargers In the West.
Yes, those Chiefs that went 2-14 and only scored 291 points last year.
Most who read this will say that picking up Matt Cassel will not be enough to turn it around, and they are right.
But watch out for a much-improved defense to help out the struggling offense. The addition of Tyson Jackson at end will help the pass rush, which already has Tamba Hali and Glenn Dorsey. Look for veteran leadership out of Mike Vrabel at Linebacker, and an improved secondary.
On offense, Tony Gonzalez is gone, but watch for Dwayne Bowe to have a break out year, and Larry Johnson to return to form. The schedule could give them a bit of a problem, but then again they do play in the West, which could be weak again this year.
Kurt Warner Will Have Another Pro Bowl Caliber Year
Warner had a Pro Bowl year last year, throwing for nearly 4,600 yards and 30 touchdowns. Many people are saying that the Cardinals will have a flop of a season.
Then there are some that are saying Matt Leinart is heading into the season more hungry than ever, since he has been MMA training in the offseason.
The bottom line is that it’s Kurt Warner—he's been to three Super Bowls and numerous Pro Bowls. He has the game’s best receiver tandem in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. No running game? No problem. He had no running game last year and they still won their division. Look for him to hit the air for over 4000 yards and 35 touchdowns this year, and earn a trip to Miami in late January.
There Will Be Another Team That Challenges the Lions at Going 0-16.
The Lions truly were the sister of the week for everybody in the NFL. Dan Orlovsky stepping out of the back of the end zone for a safety, and still trying to come back in and make a play will forever be the image I have of the 2008 Lions.
This year, someone else will challenge the Lions for futility. I am going to narrow it down to two teams. First, I'm going on a limb with the Denver Broncos. I still think Brandon Marshall will be gone before training camp is over. I also think that Kyle Orton doesn’t have what it takes to win games in the AFC.
They have a solid defense, but will they be able to completely shut down teams? A tough schedule will help, as I think Denver has what it takes to be embarrassing team No. 1 in 2009.
The number two pick for awful team of 2009, is the awful team from 2008, the Lions. Matthew Stafford will not get the job until at least mid-season, thus Daunte Culpepper will be throwing the picks for the first few weeks. This, paired with a realistic shot at starting 0-6, have the Lions circling November 1 versus the Rams as their hope for win number one.
The Cincinnati Bengals Will Make the Playoffs.
Even if I weren’t a Bengals fan, I would have no problem putting them in the playoff picture. They get Carson Palmer back, Cedric Benson seems ready to prove the naysayers’ wrong, and the defense looks to be the best it has ever been under Marvin Lewis.
Offensively, the line appears to be the big picture. Will Andre Smith be the force at tackle that Willie Anderson was for years? Will the other lineman gel together and be able to protect Palmer.
On defense, they may have drafted a potential monster at end in Michael Johnson. Scouts at one point had him as a top ten pick, but Johnson has been said to be lazy at times on the field. Since joining the Bengals, the coaches have had nothing but praise for him. Combined with defensive tackles Antwan Odom and Tank Johnson, and Geathers at end should form a good pass rush.
Perhaps the most interesting spot on defense is at linebacker, where the Bengals stole Rey Maualuga in the second round. Together with last year's first-rounder Keith Rivers, along with the addition of safety Roy Williams, the Bengals' defense should be tougher, much like the other teams in the AFC North.
Raiders Head Coach Tom Cable Will Make it Through the Season.
Cable is an Al Davis guy, which says it all. He does have some guys that can make plays, and they will make just enough to be competitive in ’09.
Look for Jeff Garcia to step in and take the reins, win a few the Raiders probably weren’t supposed to, and to help keep Cable’s head just above water.
Perhaps Cable's biggest advantage in keeping the job is that no one else really wants the job. I mean, they have certainly gone from a Commitment to Excellence to a Certainty of Failure in just a few years.
Steven Jackson Will Win the NFL Rushing Title.
Sure, the Rams will only improve marginally in the first season under Steve Spagnuola, but the defensive minded coach will want to play ball control.
Jackson, when healthy, is one of the best in the game. He had 1,000 yards last year, while missing four games and part of another.
Look for him to get Eddie George-like games with 25 plus handoffs. He will go for over 1,600 yards, maybe more, and beat Adrian Peterson, who won’t be "Favre" behind.
The Atlanta Falcons Will Make the Super Bowl In the NFC.
The dirty bird may be returning to Miami for another shot at Super Bowl glory. Another year of experience will do Matt Ryan well, along with a big target in Tony Gonzalez, a defense that is as good as any in the NFC, and Michael “The Burner” Turner at tailback.
Watch out for the Falcons to make some big noise and challenge for the NFC Title.
The Dallas Cowboys Will Not Make the Playoffs.
I know I am now the most hated person in the world, but they are still a Wade Phillips team. I am not sold on receivers Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams. Plus, the defense just doesn’t appear to have the toughness it takes to win games in the NFC East.
Rashard Mendenhall Will Be the Steelers' Leading Rusher.
Willie Parker has been solid for years, but look for a younger Mendenhall to get the bulk of the carries by season’s end and run for close to 1,000 yards. He will emerge as their starter in the playoffs, and be the future of the organization.
Parker is just a bit too injury prone for me to think that his time is not up. Mendenhall missed most of last season with an injury, so at least he will be fresh.
Both Brett Favre and Michael Vick Will Be Starting Quarterbacks In the NFL at Some Point This Season.
Now, the Favre prediction is a pretty safe bet. The guy wants to play; he has been rehabbing the bicep, throwing to high school kids, and is looking sharp according to Viking people.
But the Vick prediction is out there. I think that he will be reinstated, but that no one will pick him up. Look for him to join the upstart UFL and run all over the competition. An NFL team will see this and pick him up for the stretch run. Most likely it will be a team that is at the bottom of the league, thus Vick starts at some point late in the NFL season.
Again these are just my Cinderella predictions. Chances are I may be lucky to have one or two of them come true. But, what do you think? Who are your surprise teams and players?