I know it's June and the closest thing to football we have to look forward to is the OTAs and training camps...
it is never to early to look at how the draft and free agency has affected your favorite team, and take a look at who will make the playoffs come year's end
In part 2 of my column, here is who I think will make the playoffs in each of the divisions in the NFC, along with the wild cards.
After a 2006 where the Buc's defense ranked 17th in total defense, Tampa Bay showed the league why they are still to be feared, pulling in second in total defense in 2007.
Jeff Garcia showed that veterans can still play the game, and play it well. Garcia threw for 2,440 and 13 touchdowns, with only four interceptions.
His efficient play was perfect for Gruden's offense, especially since he loves to pound the ball. Earnest Graham was the surprise of the NFL, from literal nobody to rushing for almost 900 yards.
The offense was efficient, they did not wow anyone but were enough to go 9-7 and earn a playoff berth.
With the addition of Aqib Talib, this Tampa Bay defense just got better.
Along with last year's first round choice Gaines Adams who started the second half of the season and recorded six sacks, I expect these two young players to make names for themselves in Kiffin's defensive schemes.
And of course we can not forget Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber. With this defense it is not crazy to say the Bucs can't repeat as division champs.
Buccaneers' Final Record: 11-5
I know what you're thinking: that I am just going to talk about Adrian Peterson in this whole section and not mention anything else, right? Wrong.
Don't get me wrong I believe Peterson (a healthy Peterson) and his offensive line (a healthy offensive line) will boast one of the league's best running attacks.
But these is more to the Minnesota offense then No. 28.
Tavaris Jackson is feeling the heat from rookie John David Booty, who seems like the perfect fit in this Minnesota offense, mainly because Booty prides himself on getting the ball down field rather than "making plays" and turning the ball over.
Jackson will work extra hard in camp with newly acquired Bernard Berrian who came from rival Chicago Bears. Expect Sidney Rice to contribute heavily as well.
The defense is still great, but when I heard Jared Allen was traded to the Vikings, I felt a breathe of fresh air.
Expect this defense to be within the Top 10 of both pass and run defenses. Allen does more than rush the passer, he reminds me alot of a recently retired Michael Strahan in that he can pursue the ball carrier. He can play both the pass and run very well.
Chad Greenway has alot to prove being a first-round pick, and I think he can be one of the best young linebackers in ths league. Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield will sure up the secondary along with veterans Darren Sharper and Madieu Williams at the safeties (but don't be surprised if Boulware takes William's spot very soon).
Vikings' Final Record: 12-4
I give all the credit in the world to Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, but with 13 returning pro bowlers and recently acquired felon Adam Jones, who won't take Dallas?
The offense led by erratic-yet-effective Tony Romo, look for Romo to duplicate if not top his numbers from last year. He will have more than enough time to throw because that offensive line led by Flozell Adams is the best in the league.
Owens, Glenn, Witten, Crayton, and even Barber will have their fair share of caught balls, enough to make even Mr. Owens happy.
With the departure of Julius Jones to Seattle; it is now time for Marion Barber to shine.
He is a very aggressive runner, and in this league if you are that kind of runner, don't expect to play a full 16 games, but with the drafting of Felix Jones, Dallas can sub Jones in and just use Barber at goal line, but Barber is the unquestioned starter.
The defense is very, VERY good. Wade Phillips is a defensive-minded coach, and even with Sparano gone, Dallas will not skip a beat.
The 3-4 scheme is perfect because Ware is a monster on the outside, and Tank Johnson is a formidably Defensive Tackle, he can draw double teams, freeing up Anthony Spencer, former first round pick, and Marcus Spears.
The Boys' have one of the leagues best secondary's. As I mentioned previously, Adam Jones will make an immediate impact in both the return game and at corner back.
Terrence Newman is still one of the best corners in the NFL. Hamlin is the only player I worry about, after making alot of mistakes last year with stupid penalties and over playing the ball at times.
Still, this juggernaut of a team does not look to be stopped in the playoffs by a wild card again. Second time's a charm.
Cowboys' Final Record: 14-2
In probably the weakest of any NFC division, I think Seattle will barely make it out. I am not hating on Seattle, they have been winning this division for awhile now, and I think they can definitely make some noise come playoff time.
Shaun Alexander is out, which is also an indicator of what Seattle is going to do this season: pass.
Matt Hasselbeck enjoyed the best year of his career, posting 3,966 yards and 28 touchdowns. Hasselbeck learned to trust all of his receivers and spread the wealth throughout the receiving core.
Julius Jones looks to be the favorite to start, his ability to catch the ball will also help Hasselbeck and move the ball. Deion Branch is still injured with his calf. If he can come back to even 60%, he can draw double teams leaving Engram or Burleson open.
Lofa Tatupu leads a pretty stout defense. Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings are one of the best corner back duo's in the league.
Beside those starters, Seattle does not have depth, they are like alot of people say "one injury away from no playoffs," but because it is the NFC West, you can't go with otherwise.
Seahawks' Final Record: 11-5
They will challenge Dallas for the NFC East crown, but this team with a healthy Donovan McNabb is hard pressed to not be a 10-win team.
Fantasy owners (like myself) last year saw the versatility in Brian Westbrook, and were rewarded handsomely. This year should be no different, Westbrook is looking to duplicate last years MVP-like numbers.
McNabb is a great quarterback in this league and has proven that he can help his team win, either with his feet or arm.
Kevin Curtis is still one of the best receivers that no one watches. But the unquestioned leader of this receiving group is LJ Smith. He will have another pro bowl year, and soon will be up there with the Gonzalezes and Gates of the world.
The loss of Jevon Kearse (although he did not put up huge numbers) is still bad, but Victor Abiamiri is looking pretty good from OTA's.
The best LB core that you've never heard of: Matt McCoy, Omar Gaither, and Chris Gocong. These 3 young LB's will cause alot of sleepless nights for offensive coordinators.
Lito Sheppard is still part of this team even with trade rumors everywhere, I believe the Eagles want him.
But enough about Sheppard, I want talk about Samuel. He is the second best defensive player that went to a different team (Jared Allen being one); with him, there is no doubt that Philadelphia will be one of those teams that will shock you.
Eagles' Final Record: 12-4
I would have put New York, but the loss of Strahan, Wilson, and Mitchell hurts alot.
This Carolina Panthers team is healthy now, and they are a last minute team, they can play under pressure very well.
Jake Delhomme is back from rotator cuff surgery, and he says he feels great as the days go by, and I believe him. He has Mushin to throw to again, and along side a healthy Steve Smith makes them a formidable duo at receiver, the same group that got them to the Super Bowl.
Jeff Otah was their first round pick, but it's the other first round pick that will make some noise. Johnathan Stewart had Top 10 skill: he was a bruising back that had enough speed to get by in the open field, he had surgery on his toe, but like a Willis McGahee situation in Buffalo, you can recover from injury and still be a great.
DeAngelo Williams is the starter right now, and maybe Carolina will implement a two back system, but it won't be long before Stewart is their go-to-guy.
The Carolina defense is young and fast. Jon Beason had 140 total tackles last year, and Thomas Davis will play a bigger role with the retirement of Dan Morgan now out of the way.
Landon Johnson will fill that LB spot, and this core is finally together and will make plays in 2008.
Julius Peppers will have an all-pro year this year, he is getting healthy and he seems to be bulking up. Expect him to nab double digit sacks.
The secondary is shaky, but it will do. Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas will have to step up big time to take some pressure off the weak safety play. Even with bad safeties, don't sleep on the Panthers.
Panthers' Final Record: 11-5