In this two-part series, I'll be dissecting the NFL in the most scientific, undeniable method possible:
High School Yearbook Predictions.
Many high school awards include best hair, class clown, worst car, most likely to be successful, etc.
On my list we have awards such as: most likely to finish 8-8, most likely to cut five or six starters before the regular season and most likely to win their division with a record under .500.
Nobody is exempt from this one; I'm handing out awards to all 16 AFC teams.
I hope you enjoy my list.
Not only will the Bengals have to contend with a locker room full of guys with a criminal record (which Marvin Lewis swears will be cleared up any day now), but they still have Chad Ochocinco who has threatened to tweet @rogergoodell during a game this year, much to the commissioners chagrin.
Player to Watch: Carson Palmer
Palmer is often left off of “elite QB” lists these days, mostly because he hasn’t played a full season since Pop Warner. So you have to assume that he’ll be putting on the gas this season to prove that he’s still got it. If, that is, he does.
It’s Eric Mangini’s team now, and some of the house cleaning has already begun. One has to assume that the Browns will do a little more during the preseason.
Shaun Rogers, Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth, all are guys that are either totally expendable, or have rubbed Mangini the wrong way. That, or they have been arrested for manslaughter.
Player to Watch: Martin Rucker
Robert Royal and Steve Heiden are the favorites to win Kellen Winslow’s old job, but Rucker is something of a dark horse. He’s certainly athletic enough to compete for the position, and neither Heiden nor Royal are great receivers, which is not what Brady Quinn needs from his safety valve.
The Ravens had a fantastic season last year, with an honestly pretty shocking 11-5 record under a first year head coach and a rookie QB. But the Ravens aren’t a lock for success heading into 2009.
The defense will be predictably good, but the offense is in for some struggles. Flacco looked lost in the Raven’s loss to the Steelers, and now he’ll be without the only reliable receiver on the roster, Derek Mason.
Player to Watch: Terrell Suggs
Suggs signed a huge deal this offseason, and if he’s going to be the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL, he’s got to produce. Suggs’s 69 tackles were good for only third best on the team (and tied with safety Jim Leonard), and he had “only” eight sacks. I think he’s going to have to put up double digit sack totals this season to ease the burden of his contract.
ESPN has issued a gag order on any and all stories related to Ben Roethlisberger this preseason, likely because they can’t bear to see any scandal blow up bigger than the Erin Andrews one right now.
This was supposed to be their moment! Sadly, it’s the only interesting story involving the Steelers until the Playoffs, so...
Player to Watch: Ben Roethlisberger
The last time Ben had an incident where he forgot to wear his helmet, he had his worst season as a pro. Now sure, he was injured, but it’s going to be interesting to see how he deals with the intense media and fan scrutiny that will follow him this season
Oh, Jacksonville, so sweet and innocent. How did you make the playoffs two years ago? There were even people who thought you might beat the Patriots! How messed up was that?
Now you’re not even broadcasting your preseason games because nobody cares enough to bother. There is a guy named Montavious Stanley on the roster though, which even I have to admit is pretty awesome.
Player to Watch: Ebbon Britton
Britton was straight up pissed off that he fell to the second round, having been passed over by teams in desperate need of offensive linemen (including the Jaguars who took Eugene Monroe instead).
There’s not even a guarantee that he’ll start, but I love “jilted linemen” stories, so keep an eye on Britton. You know, that is of course if the Jags are ever on TV.
Despite making major strides on defense, the Texans have managed to go 8-8 each of the past two years, and I don’t see anything that tells me any different.
Except maybe that Matt Schaub is made of glass, and the idea of Rex Grossman slinging passes over Andre Johnson’s head, besides amusing me to no end, probably points to a 6-10 record, more than 8-8.
Player to Watch: Steve Slaton
Slaton had a great year last season, no doubt, but slumps hit running backs harder than any other position in football, and it will be interesting to see whether Slaton is able to match his numbers in 2009, or if he’ll fall off like Ryan Grant or Joseph Addai.
Given that he plays for the Texans, I’m going to hazard a guess that his numbers will fall off some this season.
The Colts have a new coach, new coordinators, and are looking to come back from a somewhat disappointing 2008 (where they went 12-4, mind). But I don’t think the loss of Tony Dungy will be as big a deal as it initially seams.
Jim Caldwell has the potential to be a good coach, and the offense begins and ends with Peyton Manning as it is. If Manning can stay healthy and focused, the Colts should compete with the Titans for the division again.
Player to Watch: Reggie Wayne
It’s his first year without Marvin Harrison, so Wayne is going to be seeing some different coverages this season.
If the Colts struggle again in the running game, Wayne and Dallas Clark are going to have to carry the offense on their back, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they deal with the added pressure.
The story of the year last season was Tennessee’s surprising rise to dominance. Strapping themselves to a dynamic rushing attack and the arm of Kerry Collins, they started 10-0, and won the AFC South.
However, Collins is 36 and he's Kerry Collins. At some point this season, the Titans are going to have to lean on Vince Young, and that's not promising.
Player to Watch: Jovan Haye
Haye’s has got some big shoes to fill, as he tries to replace Albert Haynesworth in the Titan’s defense. Thus far, Haye’s highest career honors have come from accidentally sharing the same fantasy profile as Mark Teahen on FoxSports.com, so we’ll see how he reacts to his new job.
Kansas City Chiefs
You can’t really blame them for taking a chance with Matt Cassel. The Patriots lost Tom Brady minutes into the season, but they regrouped under Cassel and nearly made the playoffs.
However, he was really untested on the Patriots, mostly completing short, high percentage passes to Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Now? He’s throwing to Dwayne Bowe and…um…I’ll get back to you on that.
Player to Watch: Mark Bradley
The Chiefs are in a mess. Now that Tony Gonzalez has left for greener pastures, they have Bowe (who has been wildly inconsistent), Mark Bradley, and Bobby Engram.
Engram is best suited for the slot, so that leaves it up to Bradley to be the team’s true No. 2 receiver. To put this into perspective, Bradley had 30 catches last year for 380 yards. Yeah.
Last season, Al Davis held a press conference to detail how much, exactly, he hated Lane Kiffin. He even brought charts and a posted novel-length diatribe on an overhead projector.
Now, it turns out that Lane Kiffin really is a huge jerk, but that doesn’t change the fact that Davis is crazy, and will probably be calling the press in at some point to chat about how he doesn’t like Tom Cable’s shoes or how he’s ordering JaMarcus Russell benched for “that young Jeff Garcia guy.”
Player to Watch: Mike Mitchell
It’s too easy to pick on Darrius Heyward-Bey, so I’m going to be watching Mike Mitchell. A lot of scouts didn’t even have film on the safety, but that didn’t stop the Raiders from taking him in the second round.
And apparently, a few other teams were trying to sneak him onto their draft boards at the last minute too. Mitchell probably won’t start any games this season, but it’s worth watching to find out if he has something that the rest of us didn’t see coming out of college.
Everything looked like it was going to be great for Josh McDaniels. The Broncos weren’t a bad team, really.
They had a franchise quarterback, a top 10 receiver, a good running game no matter who lined up in the backfield, and a defense which needed a lot of tweaking. In four months; however, McDaniels managed to alienate Jay Cutler so much they had to trade him, push Brandon Marshall to demand a trade, add seven more questionable running backs, and he really hasn’t improved the defense much.
If they start out anything worse than 4-2, the locker room is going to implode at the bye week.
Player to Watch: Kyle Orton
Orton was actually decent last season in Chicago, including a few games toward the end of the season where he single-handedly kept the Bears in playoff contention.
Now he’s in a situation with better blockers, a true No. 1 receiver, and a more diverse running game. He may not be Jay Cutler, but I think Orton will be able to surprise a lot of people with how well he does. Until he learns where all the good bars are in Denver, of course.
San Diego Chargers
The wheels are falling off LaDainian Tomlinson, but the Chargers will still be in contention every game they play. The problem is that I just don’t trust Phillip Rivers and Norv Turner to have a productive season.
Much like last year, they’ll float along, and win the division more by accident than anything else. It won’t take much to win the AFC West, and the Chargers won’t have to win more than eight games to do it.
Player to Watch: Shawne Merriman
Merriman has been very public about his belief that his knee has fully healed, and the Chargers had better hope that it has. Merriman’s injury left a huge hole in the Chargers defense last season, and they desperately need him to return in full form this year.
Additionally, Merriman needs for himself to come back in top shape, because he’s playing out the last year of his contract, and will be looking for a huge payday in a potentially uncapped year next year.
Not only has the T.O. circus landed in Buffalo, but Dick Jauron is due to get fired unless he can put together a playoff run. The team is still teetering on the brink of moving out of Buffalo, and Marshawn Lynch is already clearing his schedule for his yearly meeting with the commissioner.
The Bills are already such a hot mess, I don’t even want the season to start, for fear of what might actually happen with them.
Player to Watch: Lee Evans
There’s no doubt that Evans is a talent, but the former Wisconsin star has consistently fallen short of production expectations in the NFL.
Now that’s not hard to believe with UFL Superstar JP Losman and Trent Edwards as his quarterbacks, but now with Terrell Owens dictating that defenses stop focusing on Evans, he absolutely must produce, even with a mediocre quarterback.
New York Jets
I have to hand it to Rex Ryan, he‘s made everybody forget about the Brett Favre situation in New York. Of course, he’s done it by calling the other teams in the AFC East, including the Patriots, out on the carpet.
The only problem is that the Jets won’t be particularly good this season. Favre isn’t the only Jet that fell off at the end of last year, just the most noticeable, and Mark Sanchez seems doomed to struggle in his first year.
Player to Watch: Vernon Gholston
It’s too early to call Gholston a bust, but he certainly has all the markings. The Jet’s first round pick last year didn’t produce in his limited time last year, and doesn’t seem to be great fit for Rex Ryan’s scheme.
Gholston is a near lock to see a lot of action while Calvin Pace sits out a suspension, but the question is will he be able to motivate himself to take advantage of it?
Seriously, Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony (and thereby Jennifer Lopez) are on the ownership group? Are they stockpiling for the next year “Land Shark” Stadium hosts the Super Bowl?
And what exactly is a “Land Shark” anyway? Aren’t they enemies of Dolphins? Oh the Dolphin’s season? Probably 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
Player to Watch: Pat White
White is probably not the most flashy pick the Dolphins could’ve made, but he’s going to make things interesting. A lot of teams, starting with the Ravens, were able to stop the Wildcat late last season because the realized that Ronnie Brown is not a very good quarterback.
Enter Pat White, who is, admittedly, also not a very good quarterback, but he’s legions better than Brown was. With White operating the gadget plays and Brown and Ricky Williams running the options, the Dolphins offense should be a lot harder to shut down in 2009.
New England Patriots
I don’t like to admit it, but if Tom Brady’s dreamy knees come back at even 80 percent, the Patriots are pretty much a lock to win a first round bye in the playoffs.
Past that, it’s a bit more hazy, because their defense is still awfully shaky, but it’s still hard to pick anybody else. Unless Brady gets hurt again, or somebody steals his flower pots. Then all bets are off.
Player to Watch: Pierre Woods
While all the attention has been focused on Brady this offseason, one of the most compelling stories for the Patriots going into training camp is the battle to replace Mike Vrabel in the linebacking corps.
Woods will be given the first chance at the position after playing well in limited time last year, but if he struggles in camp or early in the season, Bill Belichick won’t hesitate to pull him for Tully Banta-Cain or call Junior Seau out of retirement (again).