The Baseball Fan's Guide To The 2009 NFL Season: AFC Edition
It's the beginning of September already, and as the summer winds down and the leaves begin to change color, it symbolizes the start of many great things.
For some, especially us parents, it's the start of the school year. For others, it may be anticipation of new television programs. And for the sports fan, it symbolizes...playoff baseball?
That's right sports fans, playoff baseball. While millions of people anxiously await September each year for their pigskin fix, be it college or pro, there still are many of us out there who love the month of September for the exciting baseball playoff races it brings.
So what do you do if your first love is baseball, but you're also a big football fan? By the time the baseball postseason is over, it's almost November, and almost half of the NFL season is over. In other words, not only will you be shocked to see that Brett Favre is a Viking, but he's probably retired and returned twice more before you've even watched the first down of your favorite team.
So you're in a bind. You refuse to stop paying attention to America's Pastime, but you still want to be an informed fan when you finally get to start watching America's Game.
And you absolutely don't want to be the guy who is the laughing stock of draft day because you selected Plaxico Burress and Donte Stallworth in your fantasy football draft.
Well you've come to the right place. Rather than reading a lengthy magazine with tons of in depth coverage of the upcoming NFL season, taking up time you could be scouring the MLB waiver wire, this NFL season preview will get down to the nitty-gritty.
Each NFL team will be covered in three sections: Why they could win, why they might not, and what will most likely happen. Just for good measure, each team will get a fantasy player to watch.
So with all that said, here is your AFC season preview, baseball fans:
New England Patriots
Why They'll Win: The Pats have arguably the best coach, quarterback, and wide receiver corps in the game, and they play as a cohesive unit better than any other team, save Pittsburgh.
Why They Won't: Losing defensive leader Tedy Bruschi will hurt, especially for this aging D. Every team in their division improved during the offseason as well, so no wins will come as easy as they did for the Pats two seasons ago.
What Will Happen: New England was 11-5 with a QB who hadn't started a game since high school. Is Brady's return worth two extra wins? You bet, and the Patriots will win the division with a record of 13-3.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Fred Taylor, RB
Why They'll Win: Miami is a solid team all around. Not great anywhere, but good on defense, a good running game, a solid quarterback and coaching. Plus they won the division last year, and Jason Taylor will return with something to play for.
Why They Won't: They won the division last year, so there is no chance they sneak up on anyone in 2009. In a tough division, they've gone from hunter to hunted.
What Will Happen: No way they go 11-5 again, but they are a good team. Miami finishes second in the division with a record of 10-6.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Brian Hartline, WR
Why They'll Win: Acquiring T.O. gives the Bills a legitimate clutch go-to-guy, even if he is getting up there in age. They Bills will have a good defense, and will have plenty of weapons on offense, and that's always a good combination.
Why They Won't: Terrible coaching (remember that game against the Jets last season?) and maybe the worst offensive line in the NFL. When's the last time a team won with that combination?
What Will Happen: Buffalo will be up and down. They'll have their moments in 2009, but they throw some stinkers out there too. Third place finish at 8-8, but they'll be a team no one wants to play.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Fred Jackson, RB
New York Jets
Why They'll Win: A smash-mouth coach, a great running game, and a very good defense, including maybe the best cornerback combination in the AFC will be the key to any success the Jets will have in 2009.
Why They Won't: A rookie quarterback who has had his ups and downs in the preseason. Mark Sanchez will be the real deal one day, and he'll have his moments in 2009, but he'll take his knocks this year. Even if it's only this year, he'll hold this team back.
What Will Happen: They'll be competitive, but this division will be tough, especially for a team with a rookie QB. Last place at 7-9, but they're heading in the right direction and could surprise even this season.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Leon Washington, RB
Why They'll Win: Like the Patriots, the Steelers play as one cohesive unit. They've got a great defense, great receivers, a solid running game, a quarterback with two rings, and great coaching. What else do you need?
Why They Won't: It's extremely hard to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. A Super Bowl hangover may be looming this season.
What Will Happen: Baring any injuries, the Steelers will rival New England for best team in the AFC. The Steelers don't have too tough a schedule, especially for a reigning champ, so they'll win the division with a record of 12-4.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Steelers D/ST
Why They'll Win: Joe Falcco and Ray Rice should both get better, and the defense will once again be one of the toughest in the NFL, even without Chris McAlister and Bart Scott.
Why They Won't: Any defense with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed is going to be tough, however, Baltimore did lose their defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who is now coaching the Jets. There could be a learning curve adjusting to a new defensive coach, causing a few slip ups in Baltimore's season. Plus, they're in the same division as the reigning champion Steelers.
What Will Happen: The Ravens will be right there in the end with Pittsburgh, but their road schedule is a bit tough, and in the end, the Ravens will fall a game or two behind Pittsburgh. Torn between 11-5 and 10-6, I'll take the low number, but don't be surprised if that defense ends up pulling out that extra game.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Ray Rice, RB
Why They'll Win: When healthy, the Bengals' offense can score with anyone in the game. Carson Palmer is an elite QB, again, when healthy. Chris Henry promises to be on his best behavior, and Chad Ochocinco looks revitalized. Losing TJ Houshmanzadeh will hurt, but Lavernious Coles is a quality replacement.
Why They Won't: The running game is not great, with Bears cast off Cedric Benson the starting running back, but the real achillies heel of this team will be their defense. Simply put, the Bengals would be hard pressed to stop anyone from scoring.
What Will Happen: This team is not very good. They'll put up points, but mostly because they'll be playing from behind a lot. The Browns may be the only thing saving Cincy from a last place finish. Looking at the schedule, the Bengals will go 6-10 and finish next to last in the division.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Chris Henry, WR
Why They'll Win: They probably won't, but if they ever figure out their QB situation and Braylon Edwards has a bounce back season, they could sneak up on a few teams.
Why They Won't: Where to start...Jamal Lewis is getting old, Braylon Edwards is coming off a terrible year, Kelen Winslow is gone, there's no set QB, they have a new coach, and no defense. Too many question marks and not enough answers.
What Will Happen: The Browns will be rebuilding again. They could surprise some people, especially if they score points at the same rate they did two years ago, but it's doubtful. Cleveland will finish last, going 4-12, and may even end up with a worse record than Detroit.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Derek Anderson, QB
Why They'll Win: Houston will have a high powered offense lead by Steve Slaton and stud receiver Andre Johnson. If Matt Shaub can stay healthy, they could be the highest scoring offense this side of New England. The defense is much improved this season as well, and Mario Williams has made Texans' brass look like geniuses for taking him over Reggie Bush out of college.
Why They Won't: While the defense is better, and Mario Williams is a stud, the Texans still look a little vulnerable up the gut, and in the secondary.
What Will Happen: The Texans build on last year's 8-8 season. It will be a very tight race in the division with the Colts, but Houston pulls it out by a game, with an 11-5 record.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Owen Daniels, TE
Why They'll Win: They still have Peyton Manning, period.
Why They Won't: Joseph Addai took a step back last year, and could lose his starting job to rookie runner Donald Brown. The defense is solid but nothing to write home about, and the Colts will be without Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy this year.
What Will Happen: The Colts will not win the division as easily as in years past, but they'll still be a quality team, with a great QB, who will contend. In the end, they finish 10-6, losing the division by one game to the upstart Texans.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Anthony Gonzalez, WR
Why They'll Win: A tough defense, great ground game, good special teams play, and great coaching. No team will do the "little things" better than the Titans.
Why They Won't: The defense is still good, but it did lose the best defensive tackle in football when Albert Hainesworth signed in DC. Can Kerry Collins duplicate what he did last season, or will Vince Young return in 2009. Either way, the QB situation will probably be the Titans' downfall in 2009.
What Will Happen: When you don't make mistakes, have great coaching, and play good defense, you're going to win some games. However, don't expect another 13-3 season from the Titans. They'll be solid, but they'll struggle to score, causing them to finish third at 9-7.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Titans D/ST
Why They'll Win: They finally have a good to receiver—even if Tory Holt is up there in age—one of the most accurate QB's in the game, and a great RB in Maurice Jones-Drew.
Why They Won't: For starters, the defense is nowhere near what it used to be. Losing Fred Taylor may hurt. Can the small frame of Jones-Drew withstand being a workhorse back for the first time in his career? If not, the Jags have no shot.
What Will Happen: This team is not going to be very good. The Jags were 5-11 last year, and now both the offense and defense look worse in 2009. Last place again at 4-12.
San Diego Chargers
Why They'll Win: They have the best offense and defense in a division that looks to be dreadful. Somebody has to win it.
Why They Won't: Sure they were up and down last year, and Tomlinson looked old at times in 2008, but if the Chargers' team plane crashed and every starter on the team died, they'd still be the favorites to win this division. That's how bad the other teams are.
What Will Happen: Chargers win the AFC West almost by default. Their non conference record is tough, especially since they'll be playing the tough NFC East. They'll still go 10-6, more than good enough to take the division crown.
Fantasy Player to Watch: LaDanian Tomlinson, RB
Why They'll Win: New coaching staff and new attitude in Oakland mixed with a healthy Darren McFadden, and a quality insurance policy for JaMarcus Russell in Jef Garcia could make for a surprising season in Raider Nation.
Why They Won't: They're still the Raiders.
What Will Happen: The Raiders will show improvement, and even surprise a few teams. They'll finish second behind the Chargers, despite still having a losing record at 7-9.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Jeff Garcia, QB
Why They'll Win: Kyle Orton is not a sexy name, but the guy just knows how to win. The ground game can produce 1,000-yard rushers out of almost anyone, and if Brandon Marshall is still on the team, the receiving corps are excellent. Plus, they play in a terrible division.
Why They Won't: Too much turmoil this offseason. Denver lost its head coach, its franchise QB, and may even be forced to trade their No. 1 wideout. Oh yeah, and with the exception of Champ Bailey (who is not getting any younger), the defense is still not good.
What Will Happen: It's going to be a lost season in Denver without a doubt. Denver might do better to just cut their losses and make this a rebuilding year. Next-to-last place at 5-11, and even five wins may be pushing it.
Kansas City Chiefs
Why They'll Win: Can't think of anything, can you?
Why They Won't: This may be the worst team in the league. Larry Johnson is not good anymore, even when he's not miserable, the o-line stinks, the defense stinks, new quarterback Matt Cassel has only been a starter for season and is currently hurt, and they traded away their best player. At least the Royals are not the worst team in the city anymore.
What Will Happen: I look over the schedules for each team and pick the games one by one, and looking at the Chiefs' schedule, I can't see any games that are clear cut wins. KC went 2-14 last season, and may even be hard pressed to duplicate that this year, especially if Matt Cassell misses significant time due to in jury. Still, I'm gonna give the Chiefs two wins, maybe they sneak up on a team or two. 2-14 again, and again a last place finish.
So there it is baseball fans. Now you'll be well informed when you finally get to watch football after the World Series, and you won't need to miss any important baseball down the stretch.
We'll see you in November.
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