[Editor's Note: This has been a great week for us here at MSF with so many great new sports writers joining the crew. Today's debut is being made by Matt Noonan, the creator and editor of Noontime Sports, as well as the Sports Director for Wheaton College Radio. Matt is a die-hard football fan and will be covering the NFL, among other topics, for us moving forward.
Enjoy Matt's first post below, a complete 2009 NFL preview with division-by-division predictions. And welcome aboard Matt!]
September is finally here!
The days are getting shorter, the cool autumn breeze is quickly approaching, and most importantly another season of NFL football is just days away. Are you excited? I am!
The start of the NFL season really should be considered an important holiday. It is in my book. It truly is a time where every fan knows their team matters and that this new beginning could be something special come December and January. Super Bowl dreams are discussed while men, women, and children gather around their living room television to cheer on the local stars. And, of course, all those fantasy gurus are sitting on their computer monitoring every snap.
Yet, with all the high hopes for another season, some teams will have great seasons and some teams will ultimately fall short of pleasing themselves and their fans. It is time now to break down the true winners and losers for the 2009 NFL season.
We all know the big story for this particular division: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Patriots will be the team on everyone’s radar Week One, when they welcome the Buffalo Bills to Gillette Stadium. All eyes will be on No. 12, along with the five men that make up his offensive line. Look for the Patriots to be one of the top dogs this year, as long as Brady can hang in the pocket and be protected.
With the New England Patriots hoping for a repeat of 2007, this clearly means Miami and New York will go south. The Dolphins and Jets do have the talent on both sides of the ball, but look for these two squads to probably earn seven or eight wins total. Also, do you really trust Mark Sanchez as your starter in New York? I certainly do not, which is one of the main reasons the Jets won’t be competing in the post-season.
Lastly what a great idea by Ralph Wilson Jr., bringing in one of the biggest headaches ever to the Buffalo Bills. Who is excited to see T.O. and Trent Edwards arguing? [Editor's note: put your hand down, Tony Romo. You don't count.]
You know once the middle of the season arrives in October and November, the cameras will be focusing on the Bills’ sidelines rather than the contest. So don’t get your hopes up for a possible playoff or Super Bowl year Bills fans, as this acquisition could set you back even further.
AFC East predicted order of finish:
After winning their sixth Super Bowl in franchise history, the Pittsburgh Steelers are clearly the strong favorite to win this division, but it won’t be easy. Big Ben Roethlisbeger needs to rebound in regards to his statistics (touchdowns vs. interceptions), but also by ignoring any off-field drama from this summer.
Do not count out the Baltimore Ravens, a team that faced Pittsburgh three times last season, including the AFC Championship game. The key question in Baltimore is how much will their defense and running game improve? Watch for a decent sophomore season from Joe Flacco, but nothing spectacular.
The Cincinnati Bengals have made some moves, but with all the reports already this preseason surrounding the questionable health of quarterback Carson Palmer, it is most likely that the Bengals will resume the role of the Bungles. Chad Ochocinco has promised change, but what exactly does he mean? No Twittering?
Then there are the Cleveland Browns, who will continue to remain the laughingstock of the NFL. They once were a great team with Jim Brown, but now an organization in turmoil. Good luck Eric! [Editor's Note: Browns fans, quick! Ignore Matt and take some solace in this much more hopeful post.]
AFC North predicted order of finish:
Pick the Indianapolis Colts to win this division, but do not count out defending AFC South champ Tennessee, those pesky Houston Texans or even the Jacksonville Jaguars. I expect all these teams to compete, with the division crown going down to week 13 or 14 at the earliest. So if one team emerges with a 5-1 record early in the season, do not automatically count them as your winner.
This league is filled with talented backs, including the Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew, Steve Slaton of the Texans, the Colts’ Joseph Addai and the Titans’ Chris Johnson. Overall, solid defensive play, the team speed that will be in display especially in Indy, Nashville, and Houston, and lots and lots of touchdowns are what will make this division very competitive this fall.
AFC South predicted order of finish:
- Texans and Titans (Both teams will finish tied for third)
I would like to apologize to all the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and Oakland Raiders fans because clearly this is yet again…NOT YOUR YEAR!!
This year, the strongest team in the AFC West is clearly the San Diego Chargers, and it’s not even close. Do any of the three teams I mentioned even have a prayer of coming close to challenging the Bolts? I doubt it!
The Chargers will rebound from their second-round exit in the 2009 playoffs and certainly be one of the top dogs in the AFC this year. Look for an exciting year by Philip Rivers and a rejuvenated LaDainian Tomlinson.
As for the Broncos, Chiefs, and Raiders, as long as they can all start grooming the young talent, separate themselves from all the media attention, and just focus, I would say these teams could become spoilers for certain squads down the stretch in November and December. But that’s about it.
AFC West predicted order of finish:
- San Diego Chargers
- Kansas City
The true “Black and Blue” division of the NFL will be on display this season as every game for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins matters. This division is filled with offensive, defensive, and special teams talent that surely are a must-see every week when divisional matchups are on the schedule.
For the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, this is the year these squads need to compete for the top spot. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones showed the door to big names such as safety Roy Williams (Bengals), shut-down corner Adam “Pacman” Jones (CFL), and sent wide-out Terrell Owens packing (Bills). Now the ‘Boys have some work to do and are certainly one of those teams that need to make and win a playoff game this year. Otherwise, who knows what will happen next. The same is true for the Redskins, where Albert Haynesworth became the latest high-priced free agent acquisition. The pressure is on Jim Zorn to meld this talented roster into a winner.
As for the Eagles, the entire attention and media buzz will ramp up come week three when Michael Vick becomes eligible to play, but the attention will certainly remain in New York due to the high contract of Eli Manning. The Eagles and Giants could easily end up as the two best squads in this division, but without a true #1 target for Manning, don’t be surprised to see the Cowboys overtake them for 2nd place.
NFC North predicted order of finish:
There are too many storylines to discuss in this particular division, but let’s start with the Detroit Lions. Many in Detroit are hoping for a squad that could do what Miami did in 2008—win 10 more games than the previous season—which I doubt will occur, although stranger things have happened. The Lions will certainly be loved, enjoyed, and watched by many, as no one wants their misery to continue after an 0-16 season in 2008. All the hopes lie on the broad rookie shoulders of Matthew Stafford, but he has to prove he’s worthy of starting.
The Chicago Bears certainly made some noise this offseason, acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler from the Broncos. But what does it mean when the best receiver on their team is a former cornerback? Greg Olsen, you will be the go-to target.
Don’t look for anything exciting in Green Bay this fall, despite their hot preseason, but do become more engaged when the Vikings pay a visit on November 1st. Minnesota will be on everyone’s radar because this team certainly has as much talent as any NFC squad. The only question is will Brett Favre blow it down the stretch again? The chances of a slide similar to what the Jets saw last year should be diminished when you consider that all Favre needs to do is just give Adrian Peterson 25-30 touches a game. The fact is, however, that Favre must deliver the Super Bowl dreams or else Vikings fans may start demanding refunds for his jersey and tickets.
NFC North predicted order of finish:
This should certainly be quite an exciting year for the NFC South. All four teams need to prove themselves as possible playoff teams, and the New Orleans Saints just seem too powerful on paper to fail, which hopefully translates into 11 or 12 wins. Expect great things from Drew Brees, and look for newly acquired defensive coordinator Greg Williams to bolster the defense.
The Falcons and Panthers both fall under the same category, which is they have the potential to be great teams, but question marks surround them. The Panthers fell short of advancing to the NFC Championship game last year and Matt Ryan’s magic ride ended in the desert. Both teams have a chance to be very good again, but the offenses must deliver in order to compete with the Saints.
I hope Raheem Morris has some tissues and a good shoulder to cry on because this will not be an easy season for the rookie head coach. Talent is there, but Kellen Winslow and Antonio Bryant are aging. Throw the underwhelming Byron Leftwich into the mix as the QB and it just seems like Tampa Bay will not be a great team.
NFC South predicted order of finish:
The Arizona Cardinals have to be considered the team to beat in the NFC West this fall, yet don’t count out the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers. The St. Louis Rams will do nothing, but in the end, I think we could be looking at a three-way horse race to the finish line.
The way to win this division is simply to win at least eight or nine games and then you are golden. Come playoff time, one or two of these squads may be an easy first-round knock-out for a possible Super Bowl representative.
NFC West predicted order of finish:
[Editor's note: What do you think of Matt's picks? Chime in with your comment below; I'm sure Green Bay fans can't get there fast enough! Stay tuned for Matt's future work here at MSF, but also follow his blog Noontime Sports and check him out on Twitter.]