The Baseball Fan's Guide To The 2009 NFL Season: NFC 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 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 laughingstock 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 NFC season preview, baseball fans:
New York Giants
Why They'll Win: Great coaching, a very good defense with the best pass rush in the game, and a punishing rushing attack are always a recipe for success in the NFL, and the Giants will be no different.
Why They Won't: While much of the focus has been on the loss of Plaxico Burress, Eli Manning will also be without Amani Toomer in 2009, a guy he loved to throw to when he absolutely needed a catch made. The new receivers are all young and talented, but they need to step it up. If they don't, it could cost the G-men some games.
What Will Happen: The Giants passing game may take a while to develope, but Eli will make the throws when needed. This team is still predicated on the defense and the run, and the Giants will do both well. Tough division, but Giants win it with a record of 11-5.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Hakeem Nicks, WR
Why They'll Win: Maybe the most talented team in the division. A great QB, great coaching, a versatile running back, and a defense that gives opponents fits.
Why They Won't:
1.Philly's two best players, McNabb and Westbrook, have been injury-prone in recent years.
2. How will Jim Johnson's death affect this team, especially the defense?
3. Tough schedule.
What Will Happen: The schedule comes into play here. While the Giants get to play the Chargers and Raiders at home, the Eagles have to make the trek cross-country, and it could cost them a game. That will be the difference, as the Eagles will finish second to the Giants by a single game, with a record of 10-6.
Fantasy Player to Watch: DeSean Jackson, WR
Why They'll Win: Tony Romo and Roy Williams could make for a terrific duo. The D in Big D will be good, and if Felix Jones stays healthy, a running game that could rival the Giants' for best in the division.
Why They Won't: Tony Romo has yet to win in a big spot, Roy Williams has gotten a reputation for being lazy, and the coaching is suspect. Plus they play in the toughest division in football.
What Will Happen: The Cowboys will miss T.O., especially when they need a big play. They'll be up and down, looking like Super Bowl contenders one week, then a last place team the next. Bottom line, they're a good team, but not in the same class as the Giants and Eagles. Third place at 9-7.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Felix Jones, RB
Why They'll Win: Very good defense last season looks to get much better with addition of Albert Hainseworth from Tennessee. Clinton Portis is still a good running back, and the 'Skins do have weapons on offense. Plus, this is the first season the offense will remain in the same system in quite some time.
Why They Won't: It depends which team shows up in 2009. Washington looked like one of the better teams in the AFC the first eight games of 2008, and looked like one of the worst the final eight. The D will be great, but if the offensive line and Clinton Portis start to break down again, this team will not score enough.
What Will Happen: The offense will still be too inconsistent, as teams will focus on Portis and make Jason Campbell beat them. The defense will keep them in games, but Washington finishes last again even at .500 with a record of 8-8.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Redskins D/ST
Why They'll Win: The best running back in football and the best run-stopping defense in football. It's the old football adage: if you can run the ball and stop the run, you'll be successful. Plus this team went 10-6 and won the division with Gus Ferrotte at QB in 2008, and Brett Favre is way better than Gus Ferrotte, even at 40.
Why They Won't: The Jets were a run-first team in 2008 when Favre joined them. After he arrived, the Jets threw much, much more than they should have. To his credit, Favre was good until he got hurt. The key to this season for the Vikings is sticking to the run, even though they have Favre now. The more he has to throw, the worse off Minnesota will be.
What Will Happen: The past few seasons, Minnesota has seemed to be a QB away from making a serious title run. They have him now, and should win the division. They went 10-6 in 2008 with Gus Ferrotte and Tavaris Jackson, so there is no reason this team can't go 11-5 with Favre. They win the division again.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Percy Harvin, WR
Green Bay Packers
Why They'll Win: Sorry Minnesota and Chicago, but the best QB in the division plays in Wisconsin. The defense will be revamped with quality players all over the place, and the passing offense will be great as Aaron Rodgers will become an elite QB in 2009. The season may rest on the legs of Ryan Grant. If he can return to form from 2008, they'll give the Vikings a run for their money.
Why They Won't: Last season teams focused on Ryan Grant until Aaron Rodgers proved he could win games with his arm. Now that he's shown he's the real deal, Ryan Grant should bounce back. If he disappoints again, the Packers are in trouble.
What Will Happen: The Packers will be very good, and challenge the Vikings all the way to finish. They'll come up short by a game, finishing second at 10-6, but they are going to be a very tough out.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Ryan Grant, RB
Why They'll Win: They finally have a good quarterback who will have no problem throwing in the Windy City in new acquisition Jay Cutler.
Why They Won't: Cutler was good in Denver, but couldn't get the Broncos into the playoffs with a great receiving tandem in Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, and the Bears receivers are nowhere near as talented. While the offense did struggle in recent years, the defense last season was just as bad. If the D doesn't return to form, this team has no shot.
What Will Happen: They'll be better on offense with a very good running game and a QB who can make throws, but now the defense is the big question. Still, the Bears will be slightly better than last year, finishing at 10-6. it will still probably only be good for third place.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Devon Hester, WR
Why They'll Win: A new franchise QB, a new direction, and new attitude could help Detroit sneak up on a few teams who may take them for granted. Having Calvin Johnson alone has to be good for at least one win, right?
Why They Won't: They're still the Lions.
What Will Happen: They won't go winless again, but they won't be good either. They could surprise a team or two...or three. Detroit will finish last again, 3-13, but it looks like they may finally be heading in the right direction.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Calvin Johnson, WR
Why They'll Win: Defense wins championships but offense wins games, and the Falcon's offense will win them plenty, especially with the addition of TE Tony Gonzalez.
Why They Won't: The defense is solid, but a little weak against the pass. The O should be able to make up for defensive lapses, but it could make for a few slip ups.
What Will Happen: Matt Ryan and the Falcons won't be able to sneak up on anyone like they did a year ago, but it shouldn't matter, as the Falcons will improve by one game from last season. 12-4 and a division crown for the Falcons.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Tony Gonzalez, TE
New Orleans Saints
Why They'll Win: They were 8-8 with the best offense in footbal and a defense that was terrible. The D will be better, and so will the Saints.
Why They Won't: It all depends on the defense. If they improve, they Saints will be tough to beat, if not, than Drew Brees will be breaking all types of records again, and probably still finish last. Plus, will Reggie Bush finally step up?
What Will Happen: Jonathan Vilma and company will be much improved, and while the offense won't put up points like last season they'l still be very good. Sean Payton is a terrific coach, and he'll have New Orleans thinking playoffs. They'll finish 10-6, good for second in the NFC South.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Pierre Thomas, RB
Why They'll Win: A very good coach, and a unstoppable running game will be the keys to success again for the Panthers.
Why They Won't: Two reasons: 1) The defense is average at best, and may even be terrible against the pass, and 2) Jake Delhomme is the quarterback.
What Will Happen: If the running game doesn't take a step back, then the Panthers be in most games, but the defense is going through a transition and Jake Delhomme is to inconsistent. It's going to be a tough year in Carolina, 7-9 for fourth place.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Jonathan Stewart, RB
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Why They'll Win: There just a quality organization. Every time they look bad they surprise people, and it could happen again this year. The defense is still good, too.
Why They Won't: Firing your offensive coordinator two weeks prior to the season is never a key to success. Throw in a rookie coach (who looks like he'll be good one day), a running game whose best halfback is injury prone, and Byron Leftwich, and that could equal more losses than wins.
What Will Happen: The defense will keep them in games, and they could surprise people, but it's not likely. The Bucs will finish 6-10 and last in the NFC South.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Kellen Winslow, TE
Why They'll Win: Defending NFC champions have playmakers on both sides of the ball, and the best wide receiver tandem in the NFC. Playing in a weak division doesn't hurt either. The running game looks to be much improved with rookie Beanie Wells replacing Edgerrin James.
Why They Won't: Kurt Warner's age, Anquan Boldin's happiness, a Super Bowl hangover, and a pretty tough schedule could all de-throne the reigning NFC champs, but it's not likely.
What Will Happen: The Cardinals continue to be the class of their division. They may not make it back to the Super Bowl, but I'm not going to write off any team that has Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald on it. They'll finish first at 10-6.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Beanie Wells, RB
San Francisco 49ers
WhyThey Won't: Who's their QB again? Exactly.
What Will Happen: The Niners will be much improved, but still won't be better than the Cardinals, mostly due to their QB situation. Second place at 9-7 is the best they'll do.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Vernon Davis, TE
Why They'll Win: TJ Houshmanzadeh and Matt Hassleback could create a solid TD Tandem. Most importantly, they'll be healthy.
Why They Won't: Houshmanzadeh will face plenty od double teams now that he won't be lining up with Ochocinco. The O-Line hasn't been the same since Steve Hutchinson left, and won't be much better this year either. Plus this team has been very injury prone since losing to the Steelers in the Super Bowl a few years ago.
What Will Happen: Seattle will be better, but not by much. Houshmanzadeh will add some offense, but he's no savior, and that's what Seattle needs him to be. They won't be terrible, just slightly below average at 7-9.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Julius Jones, RB
St. Louis Rams
Why They'll Win: New coach Steve Spagnuolo is a defensive genius and should make this team better.
Why They Won't: Spagnuolo is a terrific coach, but he's no miracle worker. This is a bad team with maybe the most overrated QB and RB in the sport.
What Will Happen: It's going to be another long season for St. Louis. They're rebuilding, and this may take some time. Add another win because of the coaching change, but that means the Rams will be 3-13, another last place finish in this weak division.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Stephen Jackson, RB
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.
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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