The 2009 season of NFL football looks to be an interesting one. It sees 11 head-coaching changes (many of them new to the job), the Cutler Diva Drama, holdouts, the return of Tom Terrific and the possible returns of Vick and Favre.
With all of these variables, and with roster cuts far in the future, predictions right now are a little premature. But its fun, and, if I happen to be right at the end of the season, I can look back and say, "Wow, I called that in June!"
We'll start with the NFC.
This is a difficult division to call, because there are three new head coaches in the division (well, Singletary was interim last year, but...) Here are my picks:
- Arizona: I'm giving the division to the Cards because, despite the Super Bowl hangover, they are (right now) the most stable team with the least likelihood of some kind of roster shake-up.
- Seattle: Experience and maturity keeps the Seahawks in the mix in this soft division, but that maturity could bring them down if the injury bug bites.
- San Francisco: They could possibly take the division or they could lose every game. The 9ers are in a state of flux, because they don't have their starting QB named, and they're still looking at getting him offensive weapons. If it were August, this would be a problem—good thing for them it's June.
- St. Louis: After a dismal season, the Rams have made a coaching change and some cuts and trades. I wouldn't look for them to be Super Bowl champs this year, but I would call this year a "rebuilding" one. They look like they're making all the right steps, so it should be an interesting year for the Rams.
- Atlanta Falcons: I like the Falcons because I feel like they have a lot of young talent, good coaching and went through a post-Vick karmic rebirth last season. They are not the Falcons they were under Vick, and even though it's a tough division. I think the Falcons will come out on top.
- New Orleans: If they can get the defense to match that high-powered offense and no one gets hurt, the Saints should be a force to be reckoned with. Again, the division is going to be a tough one for any team to outright win.
- Carolina: The Panthers are coming off a decent NFL season, but they have to find balance in their offense. They have great running offense and okay passing, but the defense will be the key here. Peppers is unhappy, which causes distractions and may end up causing a trade, which would be very bad for Carolina.
- Tampa Bay: I do not have an irrational hatred for all things Tampa Bay, I promise (I still hate the Rays and their cowbells, but I'm neutral on the Bucs). What's the reason why Tampa Bay is down here? It's a tough division, the teams are pretty equal in talent and because of the coaching change.
I'm not even going to try ranking these teams. A Chicago Bears with Cutler could take the division. A Minnesota Vikings with Vick in the Wildcat and Jackson under center could take the division. A Vikings with Favre under center could take the division. And the Green Bay Packers with Rodgers are still a force to be reckoned with and they could take the division.
The only thing I feel comfortable picking for the NFC North is this: the Detroit Lions will not win the division.
- Philadelphia: They made some good offseason moves. They didn't lose anyone too big; they picked up a great WR in the draft in Maclin, and they picked up a coordinator who worked with the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator last year. That is bound to help. I like the addition of another ex-Patriot in Hobbs; he's inconsistent, but the Eagles' secondary is good enough that they won't notice.
- (3 or 4) Dallas: The loss of TO is big for the Cowboys. They needed him as that deep threat and to draw the double team. There's also a lot of pressure on them this year to preform, they've been so good and projected to be NFC favorites, and win the Superbowl, but they can't win in the post-season. They are like the NFL version of the Chicago Cubs, only without the championship drought. (For those of you who don't know, the Cubs have now lost 9 straight post-season games. That's three years of being out in the first round.)
- (2 or 4) New York: (Or Jersey...) The Giants are still a good team. They have that big distraction named Buruss still hanging around, and they lost their defensive genius to a head coaching job, but they'll make some noise in this division.
- (2 or 3) Washington: The Redskins need confidence. They need their QB to have it, their coaches to have it and their fans to have it. The reason I have put the Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins with the possibility of moving up or down the rankings is because all three teams have the talent and the ability to win games, maybe even win the division. The question is, will they reach their potential?
Now onto the AFC
- San Diego: The Chargers should again be a playoff team. They have the talent, a few injured players returning and a descent off-season. LT may be on the decline, however, so that could shake things up in the west a bit.
- Denver: New head coach Josh McDaniels made a splash early in the off-season with the Cutler Diva Drama. It ended in a messy divorce that will hurt the Broncos, but they should still win some games and probably won't have a losing record. (I'm a Patriots fan, of course I'm going to side with Josh and hope he has a decent season, just not better than the Pats)
- Kansas City: The additions of Pioli, Cassel, and Vrabel from the Patriots certainly help this team which did pretty much nothing last year. It will be up to Cassel to prove he's not just flash in the pan and new coach Haley to prove that this team can win games. The only place to go is up.
- Oakland: I think we have to face one truth in all of this: as long as Al Davis gets to make decisions, the Raiders are screwed. If new head coach Tom Cable can stand up to Davis and avoid being fired, that team has a lot of talent, if not...
Like the NFC North, this is a division I just can't make up my mind on. Saint Tony has retired, along with a good bit of the coaching staff. Its gotten so bad that Peyton Manning has actually called them out on national TV. He's clearly frustrated and uncomfortable with what has to be a big change for the Colts. No Rhodes, no Harrison and new coaching may make the beginning of the season tough for Manning and Co. They could win the division or this could be called a "building year".
Between Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Houston, with the talent they have and the moves they've made in the off-season, I don't have a favorite. My gut tells me that it will be one of these three, not the Colts, who wins the division.
- (or 2) Baltimore: Tough defense, good arm and football IQ for Flaco (trust me, I've seen him play live and its amazing), and a gritty, tough vibe, the Ravens look good. They are my tentative number one, because like the Colts, you can never count the Steelers out.
- (or 1) Pittsburgh: The possibility of the Superbowl hangover is looming, the chance that Big Ben takes up alligator wrestling to top his motorcycle accident is there and the Madden curse is just waiting in the wings to claim another victim. Despite all of that, the Steelers are again in contention for division.
- Cleveland: This town deserves someone to play well. While I don't think the Browns have any shot at the post-season, I think they will win as many games as they lose this year.
- Cincinnati: The Bengals are all over the place, they are getting arrested, not showing up for training camp but showing up on ESPN in LA doing something completely unrelated to football. They are just a mess. And if you think those off-field distractions won't bother their game, wrong.
- New England: No. 12 is back, Welker and Moss know the offense better this year, they picked up some good free agents and made some good draft day moves to freshen up an aging defense. The loss of Vrabel and the retirement of Harrison does not help, but Rodney Harrison was injury-prone, and Vrabel is past his prime. The additions of Galloway and Taylor are excellent, considering they have three passing weapons, and Taylor can join the Morris-Maroney running back by committee group. Look for them to be the top of the AFC east, and possibly the AFC.
- Miami: Ronnie Brown and Chad Pennington will do their best to take the Dolphins back to the playoffs. They could be a wild card team, they could even possibly take the division, but with an entire off-season and hours of film, I don't think defensive coordinators will be fooled by the Wildcat.
- New York Jets: (Or Jersey...) All eyes will be on Sanchez this year which is probably not great for the young rookie. I wouldn't look for him to be the post-Favre savior, but as long as he doesn't crack, he should win a few games. I wouldn't look for the Jets to be as dangerous this year, new head coach, new QB, etc., but they made some good moves for next year.
- Buffalo: I know, TO is at Buffalo. He'll help them. But you have to remember, the AFC East secondary is used to going up against guys like Randy Moss, they won't be dazzled by TO's ability to catch balls no human should. Sure, he'll help the Bills, and they certainly won't be a bad team, but I think them taking the division is a little far-fetched.
That's all my rankings, premature and slightly-biased though they may be. Feel free to argue!