The NFL season is about to embark upon the start of the 2009 season, with training camps starting this week. The NFL draft, minicamps, and OTA's are behind us and teams are ready for the seven month journey in to February, at least for the Super Bowl contenders.
This time is filled with anticipation and excitement, with nearly every team at least on paper, hoping they have improved themselves from last season. Afterall, if a team is entering the season expecting to fare worse, someone's head is sure to roll in a hurry.
The premise of this article is to identify teams, who for whatever reason, have managed to rank highly among writers, analysts, and fans, but in my opinion, may be poised to disappoint in 2009.
I hope you enjoy the list and the challenges each team will face heading in to the season, and more importantly, I hope you find your team is not on the list.
It seems that year in and year out, some team from the NFC East fails to meet expectations. Coming off a 12-4 season and a division championship, the New York Football Giants may just have enough to stave off the hot pick of the offseason in the Philadelphia Eagles. Or...maybe not.
The return of Osi Umenyiora should only add fuel to the fire of an already impressive defensive unit which ranked in the top 10 of the league last year for points allowed, total yards, and rushing/passing yards allowed.
The potential problem for the Giants will be finding reliable and productive targets for Eli Manning. The exiles of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer leave Manning with a mediocre receiving corps to work with.
The Giants drafted two receivers in the first three rounds of the 2009 draft in Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden; however, if history is any lesson, production from rookie wideouts is always a crapshoot.
It appears a mess of a mix of Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss, David Tyree, and Mario Manningham will attempt to provide Manning some resemblance of a passing game to keep eight men out of the box for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
I don't think there's any mystery as to how teams will defense the Giants in 2009, and that means bad things for the productive but mistake-prone Manning.
If the Giants will again contend in the East, you can bet he will have to make his share of plays to move the chains. And I'm not sure he has the weapons to pull it off.
My prediction: 8-8
The feel-good story of the 2008 season may be the crashing back to earth story of 2009. I'm not trying to say the Dolphins didn't earn their 11-5 record last season, and I'm quite impressed with the fortitude and style of Tony Sparano. I'm just wondering if the lighting in a bottle can strike twice.
Let's face it, 11-5 in the AFC East is an impressive accomplishment, no matter how you try to skew it.
However, the 2008 Dolphins survived more on momentum and passion, than solid and consistent football.
Offensively, the Dolphins ranked 21st in points scored, 10th in passing yards, and 11th in rushing yards. Their surprise throwback to the "wildcat" attack made for some interesting press, and was able to throw a wrench in to some team's defensive gameplan.
Defensively, Miami ranked ninth in points allowed, but 25th in passing yards and 10th in rushing yards allowed on the season.
They selected two defensive backs and slash-man Pat White in the first two rounds of the draft, followed by two wide receivers in the third and fourth rounds.
I see no serious threat of a consistent passing attack, with fluttering lobs from Chad Pennington to Ted Ginn Jr. and Greg Camarillo.
The tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, with "wildcat" specialist Pat White could cause some trouble, that is, if they can afford to run the ball playing from behind all season.
The return of Jason Taylor and the signing of safety Gibril Wilson led a quiet off-season for the Dolphins.
In a division in which I expect the Patriots and Bills to be improved, I expect the Dolphins to fight the Jets for the cellar.
My Prediction: 7-9
I firmly believe that Jeff Fisher is a genius, possibly getting more out of less than any coach in the NFL. Can anyone be honest with themselves and tell me that was a 13-3 team last season?
Yes, the defense was stellar. Yes, Kerry Collins failed to make mistakes to cost his team games. Yes, they ran the ball right down people's throats. But seriously...
The Titans lost their mountain of the middle Albert Haynesworth to Washington. Now, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have paid the man what he was asking for either. But that doesn't change the fact that the aging defensive ends and linebackers of the Titans will be exposed more in 2009.
Cortland Finnegan is a bona fied stud at corner, but the rest of the defensive backfield will be challenged more in 2009, without the collapsing pocket the Titans were able to thrust on opponents in 2008.
Chris Johnson is a superstar who will be limited in 2009 only by how many carries they feel obliged to waste on LenDale White.
The addition of Kenny Britt from Rutgers and the acquisition of Nate Washington will attempt to help an anemic passing offense to support game manager Kerry Collins.
I look at this team and see no areas in which they significantly improved in the offseason, unless of course their game plan manages to give the ball to CJ every play. The only way this team returns to the playoffs will be on the mastery of Coach Fisher.
My Prediction: 9-7
The Carolina Panthers enjoyed a very successful season in 2009, despite lacking a formidable defense or having much of a threat out of the passing game except Steve Smith.
The Panthers flat run the ball down people's throat, with the tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart combining for over 2,300 yards and 28 touchdowns, gutting their way to a 12-4 record.
Don't expect to see those numbers repeated in 2009. The Panthers have a tough out of division schedule, playing teams from the NFC East and AFC East.
I love Jake Dehlomme's tenacity and fire, but unfortunately, his game and his weapons don't live up to the billing. Steve Smith remains a great receiver, but the supporting cast around him has to rank as one of the worst in the league.
Muhsin Muhammad managed to amass 900 yards receiving last year, yet I wonder if that's a complement to him, or a reflection of the rest of the guys.
If teams are able to stop the run game of the Panthers, and most of their opponents can, this team could struggle mightily to stay in ball games in 2009. I'm not sure Jake can sling it to stay in games, nor do I think the Panthers want to see that happen.
They did attempt to solidify their defense, with three straight defensive players chosen in the draft. Their defense ranked 12th in the league in points allowed, and 18th in yards allowed in 2008.
That may not sound terrible, but don't forget how little they were actually on the field with ground Fox chewing up the clock.
I see a hard fall for the Panthers in 2009. New Orleans and Atlanta both appear to be improved, at least on paper. I don't think you can say the same for the Panthers.
My Prediction: 7-9
Despite squeaking their way in to the playoffs with a record of 9-7 in 2008, the Arizona Cardinals nearly completed the glass slipper miracle of winning the Super Bowl.
This team was far from dominating, allowing only one point less than what they scored for the season last year.
Sure, they can fling it around as well as any team in the league with Warner, Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Breaston.
But they can also watch teams run through them like swiss cheese on defense.
The Cardinals endured a rather painful off season, losing both coordinators to the Kansas City Chiefs, and continue to be mired in a messy handling of Anquan Boldin's contract status.
They will attempt to rectify a putrid running game with draftee Chris "Beanie" Wells challenging Tim Hightower for the starting gig. As a team, the Cardinals ranked last in the league in rushing in 2008.
The defense remains opportunistic, yet error prone. Assuming Karlos Dansby shows, this below average unit may be just enough to keep the Cardinals competitive. You know, we give up 35 but score 38.
San Francisco and Seattle are definitely teams that appear improved for 2009. Who knows what kind of mess the Rams will field, but it can't get much worse, can it?
Unless Beanie Wells and the offensive line can prove they can run the ball even a little bit, I don't see the Cardinals contending in 2009. Their schedule is not over-powering, but neither is the 49'ers, Seahawks or Rams.
My Prediction: 8-8